I had the pleasure of talking with artist Aaron Kuder at the Central Arkansas convention, ComiConway. Our conversation covered areas from his artistic origins of creating characters in the backseat of the family vehicle on road trips as a young man to talking about the importance of the medium itself. We also discussed the very understandable daunting feelings that can be attached when illustrating the longest running comic series of all time and how working with one of your favorite writers can relieve some of those fears.
Kuder hasn’t been in the comic game for too long. His first opportunity arose in 2010 when his friend Chris Burnham called to ask if he was willing to fill in on The Amory Wars at BOOM! Studios while he moved to work on Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. for DC. Kuder explains how this was a gamble. He was leaving a steady job as an electrician; a job with benefits, which is a luxury that isn’t guaranteed in the comic art business, for what was essentially a job that was only promised four to five months. Luckily for him, his work on both The Armory Wars and later from The Key of Z, also from BOOM!, paid off. Soon, he would be doing interiors for both Marvel and DC.
When looking at Kuder’s art, there is a feel of familiarity that complements a similar tone of unique. There are some elements of Frank Quietly style, but with the dynamic action of Jack Kirby’s later work. Curious about how he got his artistic start, I ask about his origin story, to which Kuder explain wasn’t formal. He never went to art school. He explains that he was drawing comics before he really knew what comics were. In the backseat of his family vehicle he would create characters he laughingly described as, “…very 70s.” Later in life he would draw caricatures of teachers, and had constant support from his friends. Despite this, he never applied this to his professional life. He explains that he always worked, from being a bartender to an electrician, which was until that call from Burnham.
While incredibly gifted, Kuder explains that it was luck that lead to his current status at DC. He describes his popularity as purely word of mouth. His work at BOOM! took him to working on interiors on Legion Lost at DC, and the same at Marvel with the team-up book The Avenging Spider-Man. It was his consistent work on these series and a few covers that lead him to DC’s legendary series, Action Comics. Kuder was slated to work with Andy Diggle after Tony Daniel left the book in mid-2013, but due to scheduling issues from the writer it wasn’t until later that year that editor Eddie Berganza called Kuder to ask if he was interested in working with Greg Pak.
Pak, who had had a legendary career at Marvel, had recently enjoyed success at DC with Jae Lee on Batman/Superman and was asked to take the flagship Superman title. When Kuder was offered the chance to work with Pak, he was thrilled. Kuder, who describes their pairing as kismet, explains that through some of Pak’s work at Marvel on his Hulk series, that he was reintroduced to his love for comics. Kuder elaborates, “When we were first discussing Action on the phone, I told him I use to redraw action scenes from Planet Hulk to see the way I would do it.”
When I asked about if he was more excited to work with Pak than working on the series itself, he said that it was definitely Pak. He acknowledges that Action Comics is a huge opportunity and a daunting one, but feels that since there has been over 900 issues of the comic, and that “… I want to be different than any Superman artist that you’ve seen before, which is impossible.”
The collaboration with Pak also gives Kuder a lot of opportunities as a visual storyteller. I asked about which script method he preferred, and he described the plot first method that Pak employees to be ideal. Kuder told me that “It gives me room to play around, have more fun with characters and tweak the view of the reader. Full script is good because it gives me the challenge of trying to stay in someone’s head, but with plot first, it gives me a lot of opportunities as a storyteller.”
This lead to a question I had about sequential art. I wanted to know how difficult it was for him to use art to tell a story. He explain that it felt natural and that he had always used his art as a way to tell a story. Kuder goes on to elaborate that he is his own harshest critic. He follows this by explaining that he always use some advice he picked up from a lecture he attended of Maus creator Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman described comics as the only medium that truly captures the way we think or recall. Kuder paraphrases Spiegelman: “We think in quick still images much like in comic panels. Our perspective is limited. That’s always helped. There are too many moving pieces to depict how something will be experienced.”
My final question for Kuder was about any characters that he hasn’t had an opportunity to work on that he wanted a chance with. He told me how difficult that it was to succeed with creator owned superheroes these days, but he would love to try. He was grateful for the opportunities he has had. “I’ve played with the Avengers in Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers, I’ve done Superman, Spider-Man, Deadpool” he happily explained. “I wouldn’t mind to do some Jack Kirby New Gods stuff, but I would, also, really love to do is some stuff with the Starjammers” he mentions, which lead to us talking about the Corsair’s mustache and consistent out of date outfit.
It was refreshing to talk to an artist with as much enthusiasm as Aaron Kuder. While we talked, he happily signed comics for fans, critiqued the portfolio of an aspiring artist and showed me a few of the commissions he was working on. Although we never discussed interactions with the fans, we never needed to. He’s a creator who loves comic art, the comic’s community and loves telling stories that only comics can tell. I look forward to what Aaron Kuder has to offer in the future.