The following is an interview with Patrick McDonnell regarding the upcoming release of the graphic novel, The Super Hero’s Journey, with Abrams ComicArts and Marvel. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with McDonnell about his creative approach to revisiting fan-favorite superheroes, the lasting impact that the characters have with readers of all ages, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: With the release of your new graphic novel, you have the opportunity to share with readers a bit more about yourself and what you have learned throughout your career. What can you share with us about the genesis of this project which provided you with such a unique opportunity to connect with readers via everyone’s favorite superheroes?
Patrick McDonnell: The book began for me many years ago, as a 10-year-old at my family’s kitchen table drawing Captain America and the X-Men. Then, in 2021, after finishing a book collaboration with the Dalai Lama (Heart to Heart), I was wondering, “What next?” Fate stepped in when Abrams’ Editor-in-Chief and good friend Charles Kochman asked if I’d like to create a book using the Marvel superheroes for Alex Ross’ imprint MarvelArts. It was an incredible opportunity and a childhood dream come true.
The Super Hero’s Journey is my love letter to the groundbreaking comics I grew up with, their wonderful creators, and how they touched my life. It was a pure joy to work with characters and artists I admired and looked up to. When I first started this project, I knew I wanted it to be fun and cosmic, and to have it feature as many heroes (the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and Black Panther) as I could fit. It was important to me to include the two powerful Jack Kirby quotes that start and end the book and to have one of my favorite characters, the Watcher, take Mr. Fantastic on an inner journey to find that super being inside us all.
BD: The creative process of writing and illustrating for such well-known and beloved characters can be a daunting experience. How would you describe your approach to creating with characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain America, and what did you find to be most rewarding/challenging about the process?
PM: I had approached The Super Hero’s Journey with the same excitement and open heart I had as a kid when I first read those early Marvel classics. Playing with those iconic characters was like being with old friends – to all us long-time readers, that’s just what they are. Approaching this book as a mashup of my own art with actual pages and panels of Lee, Kirby, and Ditko felt like we were working side by side and together telling a new story. I was trying my best to capture their magic, fun, heart, and energy. The most challenging aspect was making this unique version of storytelling work, and the most rewarding part is that I think it did.
BD: In revisiting the works of comics greats like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, was there anything new or intriguing that you took away from the work that you hadn’t anticipated when you initially read the stories?
PM: As a working professional, I’m blown away by their unbelievable output. That was an amazing body of work. Thousands of pages and you could tell that Lee, Kirby, and Ditko gave 100% of themselves for every assignment, especially for Kirby. The amount of characters, costumes, and cosmic concepts he produced is astonishing. His creativity flowed out of him like a river. Those early comics just explode with the artistic excitement of inventing something new.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that The Super Hero’s Journey may connect with and impact readers?
PM: My hope is that readers will relate and connect to that initial wonder, [that] innocent love they had for their first comic books. To think about how artists and their art adds so much to our lives and how we view the world. The Watcher starts the story saying, “The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.” The Super Hero’s Journey is about opening your eyes and hearts to see the beauty right in front of us.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
PM: In my comic strip, MUTTS, there’s a character named Guard Dog. He’s one of those unfortunate dogs who’s been forever chained up out in a backyard. Guard Dog has been in the strip for many years to raise awareness and to hopefully inspire an owner to unchain his own dog. I’ve been promising my readers to someday free Guard Dog. That day is getting closer. Lately, I’ve been working out the details for a long serial storyline, similar to the old adventure strips like Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie. It’s something new for me and MUTTS and I’m looking forward to creating it. If you’d like to read MUTTS every day, you can subscribe to have the comic strip emailed to you at mutts.com.