DRAWN & QUARTERED
Courtesy Marvel Comics
Comic series "Big Hero 6" is getting a revamped look, thanks to the artwork of David Nakayama, who is working on the monthly five-issue limited series.
Homage & reinvention
David Nakayama says he is technically a freelance illustrator, but the local-born artist made his reputation working for Marvel Comics. Because of that steady relationship, he's now working on the biggest project of his career, drawing what was once a minor superhero group in the Marvel Universe.
"Big Hero 6" originated in 1998 mainly as a support cast to two Japanese mutants, the X-Men's Sunfire and the sometime villainous Silver Samurai. Ten years later to the month, the team gets a creative reboot courtesy of Nakayama (30, from Nuuanu and a Punahou School grad) and popular X-Men scribe Chris Claremont. The first issue of the revamped "Big Hero 6" is in comic book stores now, the first in planned a monthly five-issue limited series.
Speaking by phone from his Alhambra, Calif., home office, Nakayama said he is preoccupied with something other than drawing his first showcase title -- his wife is expecting their first child. In the meantime Nakayama is nurturing his own "child."
"This is basically a brand-new series," he said, "even though the characters are basically the same as before. So there are no expectations behind this book."
Returning "Big Hero 6" characters include de facto leader Hiro Takachiho and his superpowered teammates, Honey Lemon, Gogo Tomago and Baymax.
"Chris and I reinvented the characters and their costumes, down to their haircuts. ... Hiro, unfortunately, had this very stereotypical look, with the bowl haircut and horn-rimmed glasses, so now I gave him this mad-scientist hairstyle that fans of anime will recognize, a Tokyo Giants baseball T-shirt, the character 'roku' (for the number six) on his jacket sleeve, and generally gave him more cool clothes to wear to give him this very young, genius appeal."
Nakayama said he did pay homage to illustrator Gus Vasquez's original depictions by keeping the characters' costume color schemes. "Honey Lemon is the obligatory spunky and sexy chick, the hottie of the group, but her old outfit was this completely formless Chairman Mao-like jacket. So while her new jacket still has yellow stripes, I opened it up and shortened it to a bolero jacket to expose her midriff, plus I gave her a cheeky, lemon-shaped tattoo.
"And Baymax, who used to be this big, green reptile that sort of looked like the Hulk, I redesigned him to be a robot more like the traditional Japanese mecha."
Gone are Sunfire and Silver Samurai, replaced by Wasabi, a sushi chef and knife expert, and Fred, a Japanese-American who can transform himself into a dragonlike creature.
Courtesy David Nakayama
Illustrator David Nakayama interned at Top Cow Productions and was hired by Marvel Comics in 2007.
MARVEL editors' familiarity with what Nakayama describes as his "lighthearted, cartoony style" -- plus his Japanese last name -- helped him get the job.
He wanted to bring elements of Japanese animation "that the original didn't take advantage of. That style of drawing lends itself to this kind of comic book, doesn't it?"
It's been a patient trip up the industry ladder for Nakayama. After graduating from Punahou, he spent four years at Washington University in St. Louis, where he got his B.F.A. in illustration. To further refine and develop his comic-book drawing skills, he attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art in New Jersey.
It was there that he met and learned from the legendary illustrator and his sons Adam and Andy, who have carried on the Kubert legacy in their own superhero comic-book work.
After two years of study, Nakayama earned an internship at publisher Top Cow Productions, and later a regular job drawing Top Cow's "City of Heroes." Marvel hired him around 2007.
Nakayama has just finished the third issue of the limited series, in which the team has been sent to New York by the Japanese government to investigate an energy disturbance.
Once the Big Hero 6 run ends, what's in the artist's future, besides raising the newest Nakayama?
"It's no secret that I've been a Marvel fan for like forever, so I'd like the chance to work on every one of the company's iconic characters in a serious manner before I die, like Captain America, Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk."
Enter to win one of Nakayama's original sketches at Gecko Books & Comics, 3613 Waialae Ave., 732-1292. The artist plans to hold a signing session at the store in January.