Kris Anka is one of Marvel’s superstar artists making a splash drawing some of the X-Books before moving onto titles like Captain Marvel, Star-Lord and his current series Runaways with Rainbow Rowell of Fangirl and Eleanor and Park fame and colorist extraordinaire Matthew Wilson (The Wicked + the Divine, Paper Girls). He also redesigned Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman costume and has a keen eye for character design and fashion.
I had the opportunity to chat with Kris Anka at FlameCon about his work on Runaways, approach to storytelling and costume design, and more.
Graphic Policy: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Why are your characters of all genders drawn so sexy? Why are they so attractive?
Kris Anka: It feels like in superhero comics that it’s always been part of it. If it’s people with powers, why not make everyone hot? Everyone can enjoy it. You’ve got something for everybody. It’s fun to make everyone hot, and they’re hot in different ways. Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.
GP: One thing I like about your art is that the character clothing reflects their personality. What’s your favorite outfit that you’ve drawn in Runaways, and what are your inspirations for the outfits?
KA: Addressing the second question and specifically talking about Runaways, a benefit is that they’ve been around for a while. Hopping into the book, Rainbow [Rowell] and I know these kids. We kind of equate our run and the original run. The original run was looking for them, and now we know them. So, we’ve hit the ground running, and there’s not a lot of questions in our head of who these kids are.
Inspiration is fairly easily, especially since I’m from L.A. I was a freshman in high school when Runaways #1 came out. I was the same age. I went to high school with all of these kids so I knew them. It’s really easy for me to equate what their looks are and who they are in kind of a 2018 vibe.
Inspiration comes from life, and I can sort of string it all together and combine it into who they are. Because they’re growing and hitting their later teens. Chase is 20. That’s kind of the age where people start changing. We can grow with and kind of experiment a little bit. It’s kind of fun with Karolina where she used to be so young hippie. She was a vegetarian and health conscious. And, in L.A. now, people who are health conscious are fitness conscious. She’s part hippie, but she’s also a festival kid. There’s also athleisure, and she’s very active.
We’re kind of able to grow them into new looks that still feels like them. That helps narrow and specify your focus on them. It’s really fun building wardrobes and all these things. There’s not a lot of guesswork. I know exactly where to go.
In terms of a favorite outfit, it’s in [Runaways] #12, and one of them you can see on the cover for issue 13, which is Karolina’s dress. That dress took me eight hours to design. When you see issue 12, it took me so long to draw these pages. But it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had.
GP: What do you think sets apart the Runaways from the other Marvel superhero teams, who might get more buzz or bigger movies?
KA: The Marvel Universe has always prided itself on being the world outside your door. The Runaways is even more specific where it feels like kids you might actually know. On a superficial level, the fact that it’s West Coast already sets it way far apart. That kind of allowed Runaways to live in its own world. In a lot of ways, it feels like a creator owned book that just happens to be in a world where you understand the powers.
It’s got this different of these feel like actual teenagers you may know. I think that’s what it’s survived on. The personalities are so specific, and it never forced them to be a big superhero book. Because Teen Titans and Legion [of Superheroes] and all those teen superhero books have that to them, but also have the huge, overarching superhero plot. We kind of don’t, and this allows it to be much more about them as people than things they have to deal with.
So, you get a lot of melodrama, a lot of teen heartthrob drama when you’re 18 and all the bad decisions you make. It makes the Runaways feel more whole because we don’t always have to figure out, “Who’s punching this issue?” We can spend a whole issue just crying and look at what they’re going through.
GP: Speaking of crying, the big Karolina/Julie Power breakup in Runaways #10 tore at my heart strings. How do you get in the mindset to draw such a big emotional beat that rips the Internet in half?
KA: That was a big one because Rainbow and I had talked about it for months. We needed to be very clear on what it was, especially in a world where there’s so many kinds of media with bad queer relationships, especially with how messy sometimes breakups can be. We didn’t want to sugarcoat it and not make it real because they’re also eighteen. Eighteen years old don’t make exactly the easiest decisions. They’re pretty damn rough about things. We wanted to ground it in who they are and what they’re going through.
Even if people don’t like the decision, they can understand why these two characters are in that same place and why this is happening. [Rainbow and I] talked about this scene a lot to get the right kind of nuance for it. This thing is happening, but they both have an agency to this decision rather than someone just getting thrown under the bus. I like Julie and Karolina together, but [the breakup] also felt right with this overarching story of bringing the family back together. How messy it got made sense with all the buildup.
So when we got there, it was kind of tough, and it worked with the rest of the story. It wasn’t something where we were like, “We gotta do this.” It felt right.
GP: Yeah, it didn’t feel like the comics version of a sweeps week plot twist. So, I was a big fan of Gert’s new look in Runaways #11 and her walking through L.A. What was your thought process in designing her new look?
KA: We had been talking about the Gert look since I started on issue one. When I signed back onto the book, one of the things that Rainbow really wanted to do was: A- bring Gert back. B was the fact that there’s this huge important factor of (The timeline stuff with her is so strange with the Marvel Universe and sliding timelines.) when Gert debuted in 2003, the idea of having crazy hair colors was so counter culture and a little taboo.
Gert’s whole character was about acting taboo. The guys’ clothes to hide her, having purple hair, and cynical and crabby. She wanted to be the antithesis to all the other girls around her. Now, that we’re in 2018, and [dying hair] is so commonplace, all these things that she had that were countercultural are common. What does that do to someone who is also coming back from the dead and seeing all her friends grow up without her.
Rainbow always wanted [to change Gert’s look], but I don’t remember the beginnings of that conversation. The big thing was that this allowed us to do the lost character arc that she was going through, superficially. Where she’s like, “What do I look like now?” We wanted to have a scene where she sees all these people with purple hair, and she’s like, “Shit, this thing I did to spite the adults and be this kind of rebel, everyone has”. [She’s] no longer a rebel in this world.
We wanted to have Gert refocus on herself where she doesn’t need to be this counter to everybody. She can kind of calm down. She’s still Gert, but we can have it where she doesn’t need to be so loud any more. [Colorist Matthew] Wilson also wanted to hint at the future Gert [who leads the Avengers] so a lot of that first outfit based on design cues from future Gert like the green corset top and the grey skirt. We wanted to allude to all of that, and the fact that she goes back to her natural hair color. It’s kind of fun to go in the middle of [her timeline] and find something that still feels Gert, but doesn’t feel like she’s trying. Because one thing we did in our whole run is that Gert doesn’t have her own clothes. For the entirety of the first two arcs, she’s wearing Chase’s clothes or hand-me-downs because she doesn’t have a wardrobe.
That’s part of it. She never was herself yet. She’s still looking. That’s our first moment. We spent a long time thinking about what Gert’s look was going to be. It took us a year. I remember one day that we arrived at the same thing where [Rainbow Rowell] saw a photo of Chadwick Boseman with this t-shirt with kind of a military button pattern. She saw that, and separately, I thought that Gert seems like someone who would see Hamilton and get really into Hamilton and dress like that. We both brought military jackets to the table and said that should be the Gert look. Also, that’s her parents’ look too: these steampunk military time travelers. We alluded to that, she would definitely be a Hamilton fan, and this was the look that Rainbow wanted so it all fit. That’s new Gert.
And stylistically, it also keeps her separate from all the other girls on the team. She doesn’t look like Karolina. She doesn’t look like Nico. She doesn’t look like Molly. There’s a lot for the individual, but not in a forced way any more. It’s only on one page, but that one outfit took 11 months of work.
GP: It’s cool. I love hearing about behind the scenes stuff. I have one final question not related to Runaways. I’m a big fan of the WicDiv Christmas Annual that you worked on, especially the Baal and Inanna male nudity part. How did you get onboard with that unique project?
KA: I had done the Baal cover of him getting out of the pool [for WicDiv #19], and it kind of became a thing. When [Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie] were coming up with the idea for a Christmas issue, they said one of the stories was about Baal and Inanna doin’ it. They were like “We should get Kris to draw it.” It was all very nonchalant. The amount of nudity that showed was up in the air, and they said, “As much as you want and whatever you’re comfortable with.”
We didn’t want to go super over the top with it, but we wanted to just get some dicks in there. It was very chill job. Let’s just draw these two guys having a good time and draw some dicks because there’s never dicks in comics. It was all fairly easy.
Runaways #12 is out on August 29, 2018.
Follow Kris Anka on Twitter