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The Secret Origin of DAVID FINCH

X-Men #200
Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Editor’s Note: David Finch has been one of superhero comics’ top artists for almost two decades, but many may not realize his humble beginnings. With that in mind, Newsarama is re-publishing this September 28, 2007 interview with the artist.

David Finch

David Finch

Credit: Sam Aronov / Shutterstock.com

Looking at David Finch and comparing him to his artwork is a study in opposites. The man himself is so quiet and unassuming, yet his artwork is bold and aggressive.

It was especially obvious at Comic-Con International: San Diego this year, where anyone walking by Marvel’s booth couldn’t miss the giant mural covering one whole side of a wall featuring Finch’s art, his superheroes almost shouting out at passers-by, larger than life and overwhelming. But finding Finch himself was another matter, as he was sitting at an unmarked table among a half dozen other creators, graciously signing comics for fans, his timid smile and bald head quietly blending into the background of Comic-Con.

But comic book readers don’t line up at an artist’s table or buy comic books because of his or her personality. No, they’re in it for the art. And lots of them are responding with reverence to what Finch has been doing recently with Marvel’s heroes. It is those awe-inspiring, bold images of superheroes that have turned so many people into fans of David Finch.

And as Finch was named as the latest artist working with Jeph Loeb on a project for Marvel, joining names like Michael Turner and J. Scott Campbell, he seems to have graduated from his status as one of the company’s “Young Guns.” No longer does his career resemble his reserved manner; it’s instead become as assertive and filled with movement as one of his two-page splashes.

As the artist traveled to comic book conventions this summer, Newsarama sat down with Finch to discuss his life and career, both up to this point and going forward, and to find out more about the person Behind the Page.

Newsarama: Your career began with Image Comics back in the 1990s. How did you break in? Was it tougher breaking into the business being from Canada or is there a pretty large faction of people from up there?

David Finch: There’s a pretty large faction of people from Canada. I’m sure it’s not as easy as living in New York. But nowadays, with so many conventions – it’s how I got in and seems like how most people got in. And with the internet, before people even become a professional, they can break in by meeting up with amateur writers that want to get into the industry. If I was getting in now, I would definitely go on the internet. I could have done some comics stuff even if I wasn’t getting paid. I never had that opportunity.

NRAMA: So you broke in by attending comics conventions?

David Finch: I brought my stuff around to conventions for two years. And finally, I went to New York, and it’s kind of funny because there were no editors anywhere. But Top Cow had a booth, so I showed my stuff to them. You know, Marc Silvestri’s my biggest influence. At the time, Image was the dominant company, you know? And I didn’t think there was a chance that I could start at Image. I figured I would have to start at a small, independent company and work my way up.

But yeah, I started at Image in ’94. The company was trying to grow at the time. So they were willing to take artists who were pretty unpolished, which I was.

Nrama: It was a convention in New York?

Finch: It was a convention on Long Island. There were two comic conventions that weekend, and I went to the first one – it was a total wash. We had driven 14 hours or something.

Nrama: “We?”

Finch: I went with my mom and my stepfather, and they were both getting a little discouraged, you know? So we went to the next convention, and my stepfather says – ’cause I wasn’t in school, either, which was driving them crazy…

Nrama: How old were you?

Finch: I was 22. And my stepfather said, “OK, this is it. Last one, and if this doesn’t work out, you’re going to have to go to school.”

Nrama: Oh, man. Aren’t you glad it worked out?

Finch: Well, I think I would have stuck with it anyway. They were very supportive. I would have just had to do it while I was going to school, which I wanted to avoid if I could.

Nrama: Not a school person, huh?

Finch: I, uh … I got kicked out of high school a few times.

Nrama: What were you, a wild guy?

Finch: No. [laughs] I just didn’t care. I don’t really think it was engaging. And I couldn’t go back to high school, so I had to go to one of those adult, “make-up-high-school” kind of things.

Nrama: “Earn your GED” school?

Finch: Yeah. And I… I didn’t pass that either. I slept through my exam. [laughs] And I didn’t tell my mother that. So, had I not gotten into comics when I did, my whole life would have blown up.

Nrama: [laughs] You would have had some explaining to do!

Finch: [laughs] Oh, yeah. Because I got into comics, I didn’t have to tell her until years later. It like, just disappeared. So yeah, I was running into a wall.

Nrama: You lucked out in more ways than one. OK, let’s back up a little. You said your mother and stepfather were supportive of your drawing?

Finch: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I didn’t really draw seriously until I was 20. I failed high school art a few times. For me, it was – you know – sitting down and drawing a cone and a sphere on a table with charcoal just wasn’t interesting at all. I hated it. I thought it was copying things. And I had to do a color wheel. Not even using color — just cutting out pieces and gluing them onto a paper. I hated it. So I didn’t do well.

And it wasn’t until I found comics later … because my sister used to read comics. And I used to tease her about it.

Nrama: Now, that’s kind of backwards from what you usually hear. A lot of women got into comics because of a guy sharing his comics, but you got into it because of a girl.

Finch: I know. Yeah.

Nrama: This was your older sister?

Finch: Yeah, she’s a year older. She got into comics because of Elfquest. She had the X-Men stuff and everything. And I used to read her comics. I used to read a lot. I never have time anymore. But it grabbed me right away. Artistically, it’s creating worlds. You create an entire reality, and you get to set the rules. It was very exciting, and I never imagined it was like that. I was aware that there were comic books. I had seen them before, but it never clicked for me until I just opened them up and started reading.

Nrama: I encounter that all the time with friends. They look at me sideways when I try to tell them about comics, but then they finally open the right one up and boom! It’s there.

Finch: Yeah! And I think there’s a right comic for everyone. In Europe, they’re read by all kinds of people, and in Japan, everybody reads them.

Nrama: They have Westerns and romance and all kinds of genres.

Finch: They’re just so pigeonholed here. But you know, even here, there are a lot of things out there that aren’t superheroes that are great. And honestly, it’s probably my favorite stuff to actually read. But people don’t give it a chance. It’s seen as kids stuff. I think it’s kind of changing – with the bookstore market growing.

Nrama: Yeah, I think so. And like we talked about earlier, how Comic-Con is so much more mainstream and Hollywood is drawing from the medium.

Finch: I feel conflicted about it, because career-wise, for me, I don’t have the ability to do mature comics. I would love to see the industry become more mature, but it wouldn’t work out for me. [laughs]

Nrama: You prefer drawing superheroes.

Finch: Yeah.

Nrama: Is that because you picked up those X-Men comics first?

Finch: Yeah. It was exciting to me. I liked the power behind it. Comic art – it’s very aggressive, I think. And I’m not really an aggressive guy, but for me, drawing comics is kind of a relief. It’s like I can kind of pour it out onto the page. I can let it all out. That’s why I like darker, angrier art, ideally.

Nrama: What was the first thing Image had you doing?

Finch: It was backgrounds for Marc Silvestri. Cyberforce #6. I had done a couple pin-ups before that, but that was the first thing to get published.

Nrama: And you were on Cyberforce for awhile then, right?

Credit: David Finch (Image Comics/Wizard Entertainment)

Finch: Yeah, I ended up taking over within six months or something like that. I did a Ripclaw #1/2. That was my first, “on-my-own” comic book. And I did a Cyberforce Annual, and with that, I got the Cyberforce job. Looking back, I can’t believe that they didn’t have a better option at the time. [laughs]

Nrama: You’re wondering, “why’d they go with me?”

Finch: Yeah!

Nrama: They must have seen the makings of what all your fans see now.

Finch: You know, I’d like to think so. I know Marc believes in me. He always has. Especially when I didn’t believe in myself at all. When I first started, it was tough. I didn’t know where I was going with my art at all. And he never lost confidence in me. And that made a big difference for me.

Nrama: What do you mean you didn’t know where you were going with your art?

Finch: I mean, I got in on the Image style, and that’s what I loved. But I could never do it. Like all the long, beautiful rendering and the whole Jim Lee, defined style. I loved it, but I didn’t have the ability to pencil that way.

Nrama: It’s just not your style.

FInch: Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. I tried and tried, and it was like beating my head against the wall. And I was regressing artistically. I was starting to get a lot worse. And then finally, I talked to my inker, Matt Banning – “Batt” – and he said I needed to just look through all my comics and just go in a different direction, because it wasn’t working. And it wasn’t.

So I looked through everything, and I found Simon Bisley, who was always one of my favorites. And I talked to Joe Benitez and said, “I don’t know if I should do this because it’s so different from what we’re doing here.” Honestly, there’s never pressure at Top Cow to do a “house” style, but when everybody else is working in a particular style …

Credit: David Finch (Image Comics/Top Cow)

Nrama: Well, sure, and that’s what was selling really well.

Finch: Right. Oh, yeah. And something that has always been a factor for me is that I don’t look at myself as an artist at all. I definitely look at what’s popular and try tailoring my tastes to what is popular. And I know that’s going to paint me into a huge corner online [laughs], but that’s OK. It’s alright.

Nrama: Well, wait a minute. You weren’t able to do what was popular, David. You just said that when you tried to do that at Image, it didn’t work. You had a different style -your own style and preferences. I think you’re more of an “artist” than you acknowledge.

Finch: Well, yeah. I guess what I’m trying to say is … I never want to forget what it is as a fan that I liked. I got in because I liked the kind of work that was exciting. My tastes have changed over the years, but I try as hard as I can not to let that affect the way that I draw. I like a lot of the more so-called, you know, “intellectual” comics. The non-superhero stuff. But I remember what I liked when I first got in. I never want to forget that.

Finch: I remember reading an interview with an artist, and he had an anatomy that I loved. And that’s why I liked him. That’s why I liked any artist – because they had the cool looking characters. He said he used to worry about that kind of thing, like if an arm looks right, but he doesn’t worry about that anymore. He’s much more concerned about the page layout and making that work. And I remember thinking, man, I never want to be that guy. [laughs]

Like, I never want to forget what was always important to me. And for me, what’s important is making stuff look cool. That’s just who I am; that’s my style. I’m sure that’s going to alienate me from a lot of writers too. [laughs]

Nrama: Well, if it’s who you are, David, then it’s who you are. Not every artist is going to fall in line with the rest of the soldiers. But getting back to your career, your first big break was getting Cyberforce, because it was your first ongoing. But what was the next big step for you in your career? Was it getting work at Marvel?

Credit: David Finch (Image Comics/Top Cow)

Nrama: I think, after Cyberforce, I wanted to do Ripclaw, which was my favorite character. And they wouldn’t let me do it because Ripclaw just had a series that had gotten canceled. Sales weren’t high enough. So they didn’t have confidence in publishing it. So I kind of hit a dead end. So I thought I might as well just make something up. So I ended up doing Ascension. And it did really well.

And .. I, you know, bailed out of it pretty fast, which I have done probably too many times in my career, which is not good. But it started out really strong, and I think it pushed me to a higher level. I got longer lines at conventions – well, at least people would come up. [laughs]

Nrama: [laughs] They finally cared who you were.

Finch: Yeah! And after that, I did Aphrodite IX, which seemed to do really well. And I walked out, I think, after two issues. At that point, Top Cow was so frustrated with me, which you can imagine. They put a lot of promotion into that. I guess I was just in a place in my career where I wasn’t motivated. And that’s how I ended up at Marvel in the first place – just kind of washing out at Top Cow.

And I think I realized when I got to Marvel that I had to actually start taking it seriously. Also, I was hitting 30, so I thought, “I can’t keep living this way.”

Credit: David Finch (Image Comics/Top Cow)

Nrama: You weren’t taking things seriously before that?

Finch: [laughs] No, I wasn’t taking anything seriously at all. I used to work if I needed rent money, you know? And what made me start to take it more seriously is when I had to borrow rent money from friends. I wasn’t working at all. I would hang out and play video games all day. So … yeah. Things had to change fast.

Nrama: And they changed when you went to Marvel?

Finch: Yeah. Well, Marvel won’t put up with it, really. And why would they? Everyone wants to work at Marvel. It’s the biggest, best company out there. And I knew that going in – if I didn’t take it seriously, then nobody would take me seriously. I thought, if I wasn’t going to take things seriously at Marvel, then I’d be better off not going and ruining my name there. If I made the jump to go to Marvel, then I had to take it seriously or else I might as well walk away from comics. You know? Which is true. That would have been it.

Nrama: Wow, it sounds like a big turning point for you personally as well as professionally.

Finch: Yeah. I felt great about it at the time, too. It felt so much better to have that attitude. I’m not really depressive. I wouldn’t say I was depressed. I mean, I felt happy enough. But I definitely felt happier when I was working. [laughs]

Nrama: So what was the first thing you did at Marvel? It was X-Men stuff, right?

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Finch: Yeah, I did two short X-Men stories for X-Men Unlimited. It was my first time drawing Sabretooth and Jean Grey. It was good. And then I did Call of Duty, which was the firemen story. I did seven issues of that.

Nrama: Was that a challenge for you as an artist?

Finch: Well, even the X-Men Unlimited stuff challenged me quite a bit because I got a tight script. And I’d never dealt with that before.

Nrama: For people who don’t know, what does “tight script” mean?

Finch: Tight script means what everybody works with nowadays: Panel one, panel two, with descriptions. Whereas before, I would just get a synopsis – a couple pages – and I could make everything up. Which, you know, as an artist, it’s ideal not to have limitations. ‘Cause if there was something I didn’t feel comfortable drawing, I could just change it. And things were so skewed toward the artist in the ’90s, we could get away with that. But now, we actually have to have stories [laughs], which is a bit of a shift. So it was a huge challenge going to Marvel and having to draw what was on the page, and having to draw a lot of the character moments, which I had never had to deal with before.

Nrama: “Character moments.” You mean talking heads.

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Finch: Yeah! Talking heads. I just didn’t have any skills that way at all. And it’s still something I’m not good at, but at least I can pull it off so that the story keeps going.

Nrama: That’s funny, because you did so much work with Brian Bendis, and people always claim he has a lot of talking heads. Yet your run with him didn’t come across that way.

Finch: He does. He does a lot. The thing about Bendis, though, is that his characters are so alive – that was the only point in my career where people said that I’m really good at that kind of thing, the character stuff. And I knew at the time that I’m no good at it, but it’s just that his characters are so believable and well-written that I think it compensates for the fact that the artwork doesn’t really carry that across as well as it could. I think people can bridge it even though it’s not there in the art.

Nrama: It must have been pretty exciting for you when you got to work with him.

Finch: It was. I had read his stuff at Image beforehand, you know? He’s one of a kind.

Nrama: He has such a unique voice, especially when he was doing Ultimate X-Men with you.

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Finch: Yeah. And when I found out he was doing Ultimate X-Men, what happened was that I did a cover for the first issue that we did. And I guess Brian had real concerns about whether I could do it or not – because I had never drawn Spider-Man before, and I was never known for drawing that sort of a character, and also, being able to really follow a script. Brian was really concerned, because he is so script-oriented. So I did that cover and I did a couple pages, and what they didn’t tell me was that it was like a try-out, and they were happy enough with it. And I found out about a year later that I was actually trying out. I guess they figured, why tell me? I had no idea I was auditioning for that one.

Nrama: But it worked out.

Finch: Yeah, thankfully. I think probably, creatively, I want to say it was the best time in my career. It was and it wasn’t, for me. I think collaboratively, it was. And I probably didn’t really appreciate it at the time, which is how I always operate. [laughs] But artistically, I’m always trying to find myself, and at the time, especially, I didn’t really know what kind of artist I wanted to be, and it was difficult. And Brian, his sensibilities are so opposite to where I feel strong. So I was really tailoring everything that I did to Brian, as much as I could. So I was being much more defined by the scripts than what I might have wanted to bring to it myself.

Since then, I’ve found more what I want to do, the kind of art that I want to do. And I feel more confident. But I feel like I kind of lost something too.

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: But during your collaboration with him, on both Ultimate X-Men and New Avengers, I thought it seemed like, sometimes, he played toward your strengths in those issues. I remember those big spreads and larger action images, especially in that Avengers story.

FInch: Oh, yeah. It’s true. I’m probably making it sound like … I mean, I said it was so opposing to what I do. That’s not actually true. I didn’t really know the kind of art that I wanted to do. And Brian is a really good guy – he’s very attuned. So yeah, he wrote things that I felt comfortable with.

Nrama: What I meant was that it seemed like your art was being shown off in those issues.

Finch: Yeah, he definitely knows how to write to the strengths of his artists. I think the problem that I had was that I didn’t know what my strengths were. I didn’t really know what I wanted my art to be.

Nrama: Man, you’re beating yourself up. You keep saying, “the problem I had there was” and “the problem I had here was.” Don’t you ever look at this stuff and see what a good job you did? Most artists are like that, though. They only see what’s wrong.

Finch: Well, I don’t know what advantage you could possibly have from just looking at what you did and saying, “Oh, this is great. It’s perfect.” The honest truth is looking at it … you know, it’s not like all I see are the things that are bad. I see the things that I know I want to approach differently. And I always want to keep doing that, because for me, that’s the appeal of the job. The fact that for you to ever do a perfect job is impossible. Or even anything that you can be proud of a year later is impossible.

Nrama: Oh, come on. There must be something you’re proud of. Looking back at your career so far, what’s your favorite issue, or favorite page?

Finch: X-Men #200. I got to spend almost two weeks on that, so that would be the one.

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: See? And you’ve got to admit that you’ve grown as an artist. And listening to you talk about that guy you used to be who didn’t take his art and his life seriously, you’ve obviously grown as a person. I mean, you’re married now – when did that happen? About the time you started to take things more seriously?

Finch: It happened later, actually. I went in stages. The first thing that I did was start to work. And then I started to live like not quite so much of a slob, so I started cleaning my apartment. [laughs]

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: [laughs] It’s an important stage.

Finch: It is! You know you’re growing up when you start cleaning up after yourself. And then, I quit smoking. And then I started eating better. It was one thing after another. I just started getting myself under control, you know?

And then, I think, I never really intended to get married. It wasn’t like it was part of a plan. But then, I met Meredith, and I could tell right away. I think there are times when you don’t realize you didn’t have something until you have it. It was that way for me. And I knew right away. I’ve never for a second thought for a second that I regret not being on my own anymore. Because you know, kids are hard, but I love the kids, and I got that as a package deal, you know? I came in, and they were already there with Meredith, and I got to see how I fit. And I liked it.

Nrama: You fit.

Finch: I got lucky.

Nrama: Well, she comes along with you to all the shows that you do.

Finch: I couldn’t do it without her. She runs the booth. And talks. [laughs] I’m not so good at that.

Nrama: Uh huh. [laughs]

Finch: [laughs] Usually.

Nrama: No, you are usually quiet. But I don’t want to point that out or you’ll stop talking. OK, David, how would you describe your style now?

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Finch: I would describe my style as Marc Silvestri-based, which it is. I think there’s a lot of Simon Bisley, and I don’t know if that really shows, but the way I construct my shadows is based on his stuff originally. And then from there, that kind of bridged me to Mike Mignola and Kevin Nolan, especially, who was a big influence on Jim Lee. So I would say I’m Marc Silvestri, Kevin Nolan, Simon Bisley and …

Nrama: OK, forget the other names. I asked about you. Your style. You said you like to do superheroes, but you like to do the darker stuff. Describe what it is you do that is your style.

Finch: I don’t think I could describe my artwork without just listing names. I don’t feel that I have any real spark of anything that’s my own.

Nrama: You totally do! You may have taken a little from here and a little from there as you developed your style, but you’ve made it your own. You don’t see that?

Finch: When I look at it, I just see parts of all the artists that have, you know… I just see them.

Nrama: I look at your work, and I say, “that’s David Finch.” That’s what your fans see.

Finch: Wow. [laughs] I’m glad. But I don’t see it. I really do feel like it’s almost like mixing chemicals, and there you go.

Nrama: You’re working with Jeph Loeb next on the Ultimatum series, right?

Finch: Yes, although that’s been pushed back a little bit.

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: So what are you doing between now and then?

Finch: Next, I’m doing a four-issue Wolverine arc with C.B. Cebulski. He’s such a great collaborator. We talked, and we have a lot of the same ideas. We never really have contradictions about what we want from the story. He’s a great writer. Then I’m doing Ultimatum with Jeph Loeb. And then, ideally, I’ll go back to Wolverine afterward.

Credit: David Finch (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: Why Wolverine?

Finch: Wolverine was one of the first books I read. It was the book that made me want to draw comics, Marc Silvestri’s work on it and Adam Kubert and John Buscema. It’s got a lot of the darkness and grittiness that I really like. It’s the sort of thing I feel comfortable drawing. It seems natural for me.

Nrama: After all that talk earlier about you not being sure what you wanted to do as an artist, it sounds like you’ve figured it out now – and you’re doing it. It’s the kind of stuff you will do on Wolverine, and the stuff you just did on Moon Knight, right?

Finch: Much more of that, yeah. I’m still working on it. But more detail-oriented. I just like over-the-top, action. And not even the action. What I like more than anything … somebody was describing Jim Lee’s art, or maybe it was Jim Lee talking about what he thinks is important, but I remember it’s making characters larger than life. Making the stories seem larger than life, just based on having the characters be as majestic as possible and everything just being, I guess, as exaggerated as possible and as big as possible.

I know some of that is from the Image days and that may go out of vogue somewhat, but it seems like there’s still a market for that. And that’s the kind of art I want to do. I know the story is more important now, and I love that. I love it when someone brings up a comic for me to sign, and you can tell they’ve read it a lot. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about the story. But I want to make those stories exciting for them. I want to make those characters larger than life. Like I said, I want to remember what made it exciting for me. I don’t ever want to forget that.

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