If I had to make a Mount Rushmore of the best current cover artists, Mike Del Mundo would be one of the easiest selections. 1 And the interesting thing about his place there is it isn’t because of his remarkable craft (which is evident) or his potent colors (which are impossible to deny), but because of the rare storytelling gifts he brings to the form.
In the hands of many, covers are pin-up adjacent, cool looking pieces of characters that stand out strictly for the craft. But with Del Mundo, you can see the story he’s trying to tell, the thought behind the process, and how every cover isn’t just a chance to look cool, but to help us peer into the comic or character a piece belongs to.
While, of course, looking extremely cool as well.
Del Mundo has been working for Marvel and beyond for over ten years, creating some of the most iconic covers in the game over that stretch, and I thought it was time to dig deep – real deep – into what goes into his work that I and many others love so much. That’s what we did last month, as we sat down for an extended chat over Zoom about his approach to art, his career, and more, before discussing some of my favorite covers from his rather extensive library of options.
You can read the full piece, albeit one edited for clarity, below, as we jump in to the chat in media res, as Del Mundo and I had already been discussing our mutual admiration of the early 1990s at Image Comics before we started recording.
Also, this piece is open to non-subscribers. However, if you enjoy what you read, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more features like this one, as well as to support my work going forward.
We were just talking about ’90s Image and Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee and all that, and you just touched on something I really love. It’s not like you look at some of those artists and think, “This is the most perfectly, technically well-drawn art I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” But what it does have is a crazy amount of energy. And I feel like kids from that period, you could feel that. Was that something you tapped into when you were younger?
MDM: I never really thought about it, but yeah. We’re kids. We’re just trying to have fun. That was the main thing with everything you do. You want to play basketball, and it’s not trying to get good at basketball, it’s wanting to just take the ball and shoot it into the hoop, right? That’s the fundamentals of it. Everything that you get into is to have fun.
For me, that was the same thing with comics. It was just exciting, energy, fun, all that stuff. So I think, back then, there was nothing about trying to become structurally “good.” It was just, “Oh, this is so cool, all the energy, all the hatching, all the styles of the comic.” And that’s what I gravitated towards, the costumes, everything. I wasn’t really thinking anything about how something should look structurally. I was just trying to make it more cool.
The basketball analogy is a perfect one, and not just because I’m a huge basketball fan. But when you’re a kid and you’re out on a basketball court, you’re not with your friends trying to do the perfect triple threat pose or something like that. You’re like, “I want to shoot a buzzer beater. Somebody count down from five and I’m going to shoot at the end. If it goes in, we win.” Even though it’s not real, that’s what you’re talking about.
When you’re a kid, you’re tapping into the cool, you’re tapping into the energy of all of it. I will say, that was one cool thing about the early ’90s and late ’80s is just all those artists, they were doing so many new things relative to the way things had been. And any time you tap into the new it’s special. One of my favorite things about your covers is I’ll often look at them and think, “I have never seen a cover like that.” That’s really cool. So maybe you’re somebody’s Jim Lee.
MDM: Oh, man. That’s a pretty great compliment. Yeah, I don’t know, man. The ’90s, like you were saying, is them tapping into all these new things. And at the same time, as a kid, you’re discovering all these new things. So when we’re older, we’ve gone through seeing so much art, we’ve dissected what we like and what we don’t like. We’ve gone through what we used to like and maybe grown out of those things.
As a kid, comics were just brand new. I got into comics pretty much during the Image era, just before that. Uncanny X-Men #275 was my first X-Men comic. So all that stuff from there, it was just discovery, man. I wish I could go back as a kid and see how excited I was to see that Jim Lee art. Or how excited I was to find out Whilce Portacio was a Filipino guy. I still remember my dad saying, “You know that last name is a Spanish last name. That guy looks Filipino. He might be Filipino.” And I looked at Wizard Magazine, I’m like, “Oh, shit.” He did #281. So those things were really exciting, man, all that discovery phase.
My guy was Humberto Ramos. I was so obsessed with Humberto Ramos when I was a kid.
Yeah. Impulse blew me away. That was another situation where I’d never seen anything like that. I know that Humberto was very manga influenced in a way that a lot of artists weren’t at that time. When I saw it, I was just like, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
MDM: That whole crew of artists, like Humberto, Herrera, Meglia, those guys were were a big influence. It’s crazy because my influences start to feel like they keep changing, and they are different for different periods. So the ’90s would’ve been all the Image guys. And then, as I went to the 2000s it was more of the Meglias, the Ramoses, the Herreras, Joshua Middleton, all these dudes. And then you keep going. It’s interesting to see how many things I’ve put in my repertoire with my art. There’s some of those things in it. You probably don’t see it, but it’s a whole mass of it. It’s pretty cool.
I was going to bring that up because when I was looking through varying articles with you where you talked about influences, it was graffiti artists like Kane and Bacon, ’90s comic artists like all the guys we just talked about, but also one of the great influences for comic artists that people don’t talk about, mostly because you just don’t see it in the work, and that’s Leyendecker.
J.C. Leyendecker is just a massive influence for a lot of comic artists. The funny thing is sometimes fans look at artists as this Voltron of their influences, but that’s not really how it works. You are a composition of all these different artists, to a degree, but for you, do you think the influences are less direct and more that they were your guides as you figured yourself out and what you wanted your voice to be?
MDM: Yeah. Exactly. A lot of my influences now are outside of comics. Sometimes it’s not even visual arts. It could be a sculptor, or certain styles that I see or buildings or whatever. But yeah, it was a learning process. All the way until now. I’m still learning, but I kept changing with certain influences. So, it was more of the learning process with my influences, for sure.
You mentioned the Bacon and Kane stuff. When I see those guys, I’m still like, “Fuck.” Those guys still influence me, no matter what. I think, for the main thing, is graff 2 artists, when they do things, there’s no thought into it. I mean, there is thought into it, but they’re just wilding out. That’s like hip-hop, right?
MDM: And I feel like sometimes, when you’re in commercial art, your goal is to make something finished, whereas, with graff, it’s just like, “I’m going to do whatever I want.” It’s my thing. It’s my image. So it influenced me in that sense, too. Like, “Oh, snap, I never would’ve thought to do shapes like that,” because maybe, to me, the rules were bent in that way and I’m like, “Yeah, it works. I should start bending rules more often.” I think that’s more of a reminder to just keep doing what I was doing when I was first discovering things because the longer you are in art, our goals are to just keep getting better as artists.
But the better I get, I feel like things get a bit more refined. It’s not that I don’t take enough chances, but all the things that you did before might not apply now. You know what I mean? I’m like, “Oh, what was I doing back then?” or, “Ugh, what was I doing?” or, “Shit, what was I on?” You know what I mean? “That’s kind of cool. Why am I not doing that now?” So I tried to zone back to what I was doing before, as well.
When you first started doing covers for Marvel, it was almost like you were figuring out what you could or could not do. And the further you go along, like with something like Fantastic Four Road Trip #1, that model kit one, I don’t think your average newer comic artist would try something like that. Do you feel like the further you go along, the more you feel like you can really push it? Maybe not in the same way that a graffiti artist could, but you can push it?
MDM: Yeah, it’s confidence. I mean, I’ve been doing covers for a bit over a decade at Marvel, so it’s more a confidence thing, for me. And also, with that FF cover, I just had that idea. I already had that idea that I was just going to do it as fan art, kind of like, when you see through Invisible Woman, no one’s ever really drawn her organs, basically. So it’s always an invisible thing. So I had that idea and then this story came around. When they sent me the script, it was in the script.
They were like, “Yo, you want to do a cover for this, a Fantastic Four cover?” And then they sent me the script and it was basically about how the FF were going through these weird changes. It was almost like a horror story. And with the Invisible Woman, that’s what was happening to her. You’re starting to see all her insides and stuff. And I was like, “Damn. This works perfect.” And then I just sent them the idea and I was like, “It goes with the story. Let’s do something like this.”
Initially, the idea was just showing that off. I had almost somehow came up with the homage to the Invisible Man toy. And then we’d do it with the Invisible Woman and then we were like, “This just works perfect.” So that’s how that happened. Another thing, too, to answer your question, is it’s a variant cover. And when you do variant covers, sometimes you can get away with not doing it so story related. I still made it story related, but the FF weren’t in it. It was just her. So a lot of times, you could get away with it when you’re doing variants. I’ve been doing that now.
That was one thing I was going to bring up because the A cover always feels like it has to be story related, in some capacity. And then the variant, you seem to get more freedom. Are variants maybe one part story and then the rest of the parts style — do what you want, basically, as long as you make a compelling piece that people are going to want to buy?
MDM: Yeah. Exactly. I just did a Spider-Man Symbiote cover. It was a variant, as well. And it’s really just about the Symbiote, just the main idea of that character. I don’t think it really had anything to do with the story because the story has the Hulk in it and stuff like that. And I was just like “Man, I’ve got this great idea for the Symbiote cover.” It’s a variant. So they’re cool with it.
I find that the things I’ve been doing these days, I’ve been just getting my first ideas out there. And it’s been great that way because sometimes you do five ideas, but you do always have that favorite one. These days, I’ve been getting my favorites out there. So it’s been good.
I work at an advertising agency and a quiet agency rule is if you have, let’s say, three logos for a client, and you send the three logos, and one of them is just included so you can have that third logo, the rule is they almost always choose that third logo you don’t want them to choose.
MDM: When I was first doing covers, I was pretty proud of most of the things that I did, but yeah, I think back then I would choose something because I was all out of ideas. I would just send it out. I’m like, “They won’t go for this.” And then they go for it and I’m like, “Crap, now I have to make this idea cool somehow.”
But my whole take on things now is when I do anything, any idea they choose I’ll be happy with. So when I send things in, everything is something I have to be cool with because I have to expect them to choose the one that I probably won’t want. So for me, it’s a lot more work that way, but I don’t want to be stuck with an idea that I just don’t want to draw. That would be the worst.
Let’s talk about covers in specific. Near as I can tell you got into Marvel because of C.B. Cebulski. Either he found you or you connected with him and, next thing you know, you’re up at Marvel.
MDM: Yeah, that was a crazy story, man.
You want to get into it? I’d love to hear it.
MDM: Sure. I always want to tell it because C.B. just…I always have so much respect and gratefulness for C.B. because when I look back at the things that I showed them, or even looking at the covers before, even the process of things, I’m like, “Man, was I good enough?” This could’ve totally went another way. I could’ve maybe not got my job during that weekend at (Toronto) Fan Expo and it might have taken longer (to get in at Marvel). It might have taken years.
And C.B. just looked at my portfolio and was like, “Wow.” They seemed very surprised. He was offering me work right there and I was jumping for joy in my head. I’m trying to keep it cool at the same time, because my portfolio didn’t have much comic-related stuff. I had comic work, but the sequential work that I actually showed C.B. was a Raptors comic that I did. That was really the only comic I had ever done. It was an eight pager for Chris Bosh for the (Toronto) Raptors.
MDM: First he saw this Pan’s Labyrinth fan art poster I did and that’s what he got stuck on and was like, “Oh, this is really good.” And then he asked me if I had sequential work. And they’re just looking through the pages and that’s how I got my job. It was a nice hardcover-bound book. And at the time, most people were showing off their art portfolios, and I guess maybe it just looked professional and I tricked them into giving me a job. Because the book was already nicely done. I don’t know what it was, but what I could say is that C.B. has a great roster of artists that he’s discovered. When you look at it, he just has that eye for talent and I’m like, “Damn. Even me.” I was surprised. I look back and I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I guess C.B. saw something.”
I remember he used to do those ChesterQuest things where he found Sara Pichelli and a bunch of different artists in Europe. I imagine a lot of it is finding someone that’s already talented and then seeing something more that could be in them, but you said he gravitated towards the Pan’s Labyrinth piece. You’ve done interiors. You did a lot of stuff with Thor, you did an Elektra run, you’ve done a lot of different books on interiors, but you are, I would say, probably primarily known as a cover artist. Is that a matter of opportunity or choice? Do covers appeal to you more than interiors?
MDM: Covers are easier. I think most people will agree with me with that. I have fun with both. Covers, to me, I find that I kind of got it. I feel very confident in doing them and it’s just more of figuring out what’s next, what can I do better, and this and that. They’re definitely easier. You’re pretty much working on one panel, and you’re figuring out how to tell a story without telling a story, and creating a cool concept with it. But in the end, you’re just having fun because you’re drawing that person or whatever on that cover and that’s it. You don’t have to repeat it. You don’t have to try to be consistent with things. You’re just having fun. I find it more to be just zoning out.
With interiors, I’m still learning. I feel like I’m still brand new in interiors. I mean, I guess I put in my 10,000 hours, but I haven’t put in my 30,000 or 40,000. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still trying to get better. I think I’m getting better with each book, but for me, interiors are more of a challenge and I like doing it because of that. I don’t feel like I’m there yet.
Yeah. You keep getting better. Bringing basketball back, it’s like some basketball players who decide during the offseason that there’s one thing they want to work on. It’s like, “Okay, this time, I’m going to work on my post game,” and then suddenly, LeBron comes back and he’s good in the post. It’s the same thing for artists. There are always weaknesses in your game, and it’s about trying to find ways to get better.
MDM: There are so many things involved in interiors that I think it’s a whole lifetime of … Until you get to your old age, you’re still trying to figure something out.
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about some covers in specific. We’ll start with X-Men Legacy #6.
MDM: Awesome. That is still one of my favorite covers.
I love it. It’s amazing. I don’t know what your first cover project was. I know it wasn’t X-Men Legacy, but I feel like X-Men Legacy was where I first noticed your work. And while there’s a ton of different covers to choose from for this run, I really love this one. I mentioned earlier about how one thing I appreciate about your art is you always find atypical solutions for covers, and I mean that in a very good way. So when it comes to developing cover ideas, what are you looking for? In this case, I know it’s definitely reflecting the story to a certain degree, just because that is the fundamental nature of Legion and David Haller and everything, but what are the roots of your covers and the ideas you brew up for these?
MDM: This one was really interesting, man. If I can remember, I was trying to figure out … I don’t know, man. It’s hard to explain how I think.
But the idea for the cover basically is, Legion, he’s got all these mutants in his head. And I don’t know how I came up with it, but I thought it would be really cool to just have these word bubbles just engulfing him, just as many word bubbles as you can. And each one has a different typesetting. That was just to show the different voices that’s coming out. And then, from there, I just thought it would be cool to even have the tails wrapping around him. That’s where I got excited. I was like, “Oh. Man. Yeah.” The tails wrapping around him is cool because it’s almost choking him or really hugging onto him. So I wanted to actually make the word bubbles alive, almost, like snakes.
That’s the coolest part because, even if you just had the bubbles by themselves, you can still get the feeling that it’s claustrophobic or that he’s being overwhelmed by it. But the fact that he’s getting wrapped up by it is inescapable. That’s awesome storytelling.
MDM: Yeah. I just wanted to keep going with the whole claustrophobic feel. And then from there, I was like, “Hey, let’s have fun.” So me and my boy, Marco D’Alfonso, we always collaborate on ideas and things that we could do, he helped me out with some of the things we put in there. If you look at it, I think all of these are Easter eggs. So it’s all from scenes from movies and stuff like that, hip hop lyrics.
I like the “One does not simply…” from The Fellowship of the Ring.
MDM: There are so many. Some of them you probably don’t even remember because this was 11 years ago. I mean, was this before memes? So there’s a lot of it. Those Easter eggs, to me, are my favorite things. In terms of coverage, even if a cover looks crappy to me now because, as an artist, you get better, your skills get better, you look back, you look at the things that you could’ve done, but the things that always remain powerful for me are those Easter eggs. So I always feel like, “yeah, okay, that might be something I could’ve worked on better, but man, it’s kind of cool just to have that in there.” Those little tidbits.
Did you hand write a lot of these in?
MDM: I did. A lot of my friends are graff artists and they always destroy me for it. But I was like, “I want to put my personality into it” as well.
This is a weird fascination, but whenever you see handwriting from a comic artist and you see the art from the comic artist, I would say nine times out of 10, even 99 times out of a 100, you can see the line in the handwriting. Even when you’re changing styles in that, I was just like, “Oh, that’s him, that’s him, that’s him.”
MDM: I don’t think I’m that good at it, to be honest. This took a long time. I was erasing. But I was like, “That’s me. I’m just going to do it. At least they’ll just see what I do.” I didn’t want to use just fonts and stuff. I was just like, “You know what? I’ll start here and then, as I go through books, hopefully they’ll just recognize that that’s my handwriting.”
It would have been so different if it was fonts. It wouldn’t have the same feel because all those bubbles are supposed to be different peoples’ personalities. And if all of them were just Arial and Times New Roman, it wouldn’t have fit the vibe of the piece.
MDM: Yeah. With my covers, I’m always trying to fake that traditional look. When you put fonts in there, it’s so clean and tight that it doesn’t look traditional. So that’s another reason why I did it this way. And then even some of these fonts, you could see it, I might have drawn over actual fonts and just made it more hand-drawn — a template to make it hand-drawn so it’d look more traditional to me.
Yeah. I mean, that’s just font-based photo reference, basically, right?
MDM: Yeah. Even the X-Men Legacy, I put a ton of textures on that, as well.
I love that you put the creative team in there, too. That’s a really nice touch. But Legacy was a pretty long run, in terms of doing the A covers and everything. Does it change things for you when you’re doing an extended run? At the very least, it feels like you would really have to keep pushing yourself because if you do another cover that’s pretty similar, people will be like, “Ah, you already did this one before.”
MDM: Yeah, that was a conversation we had for X-Men Legacy. Editor Daniel Ketchum, he was really good with it. He was just like, “Hey, can we do something different? Because we already did a closeup shot of Legion’s head. So let’s try something maybe far away.” We were very conscious of that. We would almost save certain ideas for maybe three issues down, so nothing would overlap that looks similar.
Here’s cover to Elektra #2. This one I was originally pulling out of the rotation, but I wanted to bring it up for a very specific reason. I love this cover. I know in the past you were a B-Boy. You were a break dancer when you were younger for quite some time. When I heard that, it made so much sense to me because I’ve always felt like there was a rhythmic, musical quality to your work. I feel like this cover, because it’s so balletic, it’s so about motion and flow, it almost feels like you could have a score to this cover.
I know this is one of those influences that’s probably extremely difficult to place, but do you feel like that rhythmic quality, that B-Boy musical connection, is something you carry forward in your work, even if it isn’t maybe as overt as some people would expect?
MDM: For sure. I think it’s just maybe I don’t have it consciously in my work. When I do covers, I don’t think about the B-Boy aspect of it, but maybe it’s just more in the way of how I move with my art. It does have a lot of similarities and I do apply what I did back then with B-Boying to everything I do now. They’re very similar, dance and my comics. It’s very hard to explain, but it’s similar in terms of how I approach it, like the complexity of things, the style, all that stuff.
The only difference, I would say, between art and dance is that there’s music involved in the dance. You’re moving. Your body’s moving with the music. With comics, it’s a little harder because you’re trying to create almost a solidified piece with a little bit of abstractness, so you can’t be just stroking your arms and Jackson Pollocking it. You know what I mean?
MDM: You almost have to calm it down and keep your arms steady. So that was the only difference. But yeah, I never really looked at it that way, but it’s there, the movement of it, for sure.
You work digitally, right?
MDM: Yeah. Well, half and half. My newer covers, there are some that have been traditional. So I’ve been delving into that more because I feel like there are textures and things that I can’t get digitally that I’ve been getting traditionally.
So when you say half and half, do you mean some of your covers are purely traditional, like you’re penciling it, inking it, painting it, traditionally? Or is it half and half in the sense that you do part of it digital and part of it traditional?
MDM: Right now, I could say it’s more of the finished pencils and then going in and doing it in color digitally.
One of the things I like about this one is it just feels so painterly. I guess, if Elektra was a painter, she would definitely use blood as one of her favorite colors, even though it’s not a very good color.
MDM: This is a throwback, man. I don’t even remember a lot of them when I was working on it.
Oh, yeah. God, do you have any idea how many covers you’ve done? Because I know you had that post on Instagram awhile back where you realized, in the middle of writing the post, that you’d been drawing covers for 11 years for Marvel. It has to be hundreds, right?
MDM: Yeah. It was crazy, man. I remember, when I was first doing covers, I would run to the comic store when one came out. I’m just staring at it like, “Oh, my god. I’ve got a book on the shelf.” That was before and I wasn’t getting as many jobs. I’d get three, maybe, if I’m lucky, covers a month. Sometimes it’d only be one. And I was working for a design firm at the time, so I was doing my design work and my Marvel art there.
But then when things really picked up eventually, sometimes I’d forget. I’m like, “Oh, crap, I just did this cover.” There was a point where I was doing four, five, six covers a month and it just started to get overwhelming in a good way. So I tend to forget at least what my process was during that time. I’m looking at it like, “Is this traditional? Did I actually do something traditional? That’s kind of cool.”
A random thing I like on social media is when an artist shares a cover and they’re like, “I guess this came out this week.” And to us, the readers, it’s just like, how did they forget they did it? But at the same time, it’s probably difficult for you to know when all of your pieces are coming out constantly because you’re doing a lot. It’s a high-volume thing.
MDM: I don’t know exactly when they come out, but I think, for me, I just take notice to solicitations, because you always get tagged on your solicitations. But when it comes out, I don’t really pay attention. I used to, though. Just like anything, like we were talking about, everything being brand new. I used to just go to the store and just be like, “Oh, this is so cool.”
I remember talking to this one artist who was in-between big interior jobs, so he was doing a bunch of covers. And we were talking about how covers, in some ways, can be like a business card for interior artists. It’s a reminder of, “I’m still here. I’m still doing this stuff. Pay attention to me.” I guess, if you’re primarily a cover artist, you’ve got a shit ton of business cards.
MDM: Yeah. That’s the cool thing about being a cover artist.
You’re kind of always out there?
MDM: Well, if you want to move on and do things, you could still do a cover here and there and just disappear. Like you said, a business card, you keep your name out there, like, “Hey, I’m still doing things,” because what happens is, when you go and you do decide to do, I don’t know, something like a creator-owned book, that takes up a lot of time. Right? Being there, you won’t be showing a lot of your work. So sometimes, when you do a cover here and there, it just keeps it out there in the ether.
This is a Darth Vader variant you did for the 2015 series. I want to bring this one up because it’s, in some ways, a lot more straightforward than a lot of your pieces. But I love it, and it really taps into one of the things that I’ve told you before that I love about your work, which is its storytelling. This is one of those one’s where, to me, it’s like we were talking about having three ideas or five ideas, or whatever, and sending them all to somebody. This feels like one where you came up with it and you’re like, “Got it. I nailed this,” and then you just send the one because you know it’s going to be the one.
MDM: Yeah, exactly. I don’t remember, but I do remember saying, “Yeah,” but you know what? For me, I was like, “Yeah, they’re going for it.” That was it.
You were kind of surprised by it?
MDM: I don’t know. For me, when I come up with something that I’m just like, “This is so good,” you’re like, “Oh, man. If I could do this, it’d be amazing.” So it’s not that I’m surprised by it, but I’m just like, “I want it to be done.” I want it to be approved and have it to be out there. And when that happens, I get anxious about it, like, “Oh, if they don’t choose this, that’s the end of me.” I don’t remember if I actually just sent this one to them, but it might’ve been one of the covers where I’m like, “I’m just going to send this out to you guys and we’ve got to go with this one.”
Have you ever tried talking somebody into a cover they didn’t pick? Like, you sent three and they picked the one you don’t really want, and you’re just like, “Are you sure you don’t want number one? Because, let me tell you, number one is the best one.”
MDM: I always do.
MDM: Not talking them into it, but when I send it out, I’ll be like, “Yeah, here’s the three,” but I always say, “This is my first pick. This is my favorite one,” and I’ll try to kind of sell it. I’m terrible at selling covers. I’m not as articulate. I wish my words were a bit more persuasive, but I do my best. But if it’s something that I really, really, really like… It’s like, “This is it. This has to be it.” I’ll just send that one out and just try. And a lot of the times, it works.
There are many different ways to do a good cover, but some covers are more like pinups or something like that. But like I said earlier, one of the things I really appreciate about yours is they’re always storytelling in a single image. This is such a great character piece. I even showed this to my wife because she loves Star Wars. She doesn’t read comics and was still like, “This is amazing.” I’m curious whether a crucial element of your process is trying to make sure that whatever piece you’re doing, whether it’s an A cover or variant, character is always the driving factor? Like you’re trying to say so much about these characters in a single image. It’s all about storytelling and it’s all about those characters, in specific.
MDM: Yeah. It’s mainly story. I always tell people … They’re like, “Yeah, man, your covers always have all these ideas and concepts,” and I’m always like, “Yeah, it’s mainly to compensate for my lack of talent.” Like my draftsmen skills and stuff. And it truly was that mentality back then. I just didn’t feel like I was that great, in terms of my skills. I was learning, right? So I was like, “Well, if I can put out good ideas, then those ideas usually travel pretty far.” If I can get away with having a crappy piece, but have a great idea in there, then at least that idea will stand the test of time. So I just got into the habit of that, as well as my background is design. So before comics, working at a design firm, that’s all we did was create, basically, branding and concepts for different merch and advertising. You said you work at an advertising firm, right?
MDM: So a lot of that, I took and, when I went into comics, I applied all of that. Everything I learned in design, I mixed it in with comics. So even with font types, layout, design, all that stuff, I just put that in there. I got used to it and I really like it. I really have fun with creating ideas. Still, to this day, man … I did a Beta Ray Bill cover recently that has … There’s nothing. It’s just a really cool cover of him just flying with his hammer. That might be one of the first covers I’ve done without really putting any thought into it. It was more just like I just wanted to do something cool. And that was hard for me. I was like, “Shoot, man, I’m not that dude.” I’m just not that good with that single image without anything on it. So yeah, it’s a compensation thing.
That’s super funny. I just looked at the Beta Ray Bill cover. It’s great, but at the same time, it is considerably different than something you would normally do. But as an outsider, I was like, “Oh, man. That one was probably way easier than all these ones that are all complex and super thought out.” But anything that’s way different than your normal process is often going to be more difficult because you’re going outside of the way you work. It’s a challenge because you have to think about something differently.
MDM: Yeah, exactly. But I wanted to take the challenge and was like, “Man, I want to get good at just drawing cool shit,” just as its own image. I don’t want to be a scam artist. And also with the Beta Ray Bill thing, I was just like, “I don’t know what I could do with this character.” Like you were saying, with Darth Vader, there’s just this whole cool story with it. Beta Ray Bill is just like, “I’m just going to do something really cool.”
I want to go over the cover to Weirdworld #5 really quick, just because I read that this was your favorite book to work on, at least at some point. And one thing that’s interesting about this one is how you did the interiors for it too. Does it change things at all for you when you’re providing covers and interiors on a project, at least in the calculus of how you approach a cover?
MDM: Well, this looks cool because, aside from Arkon, we were creating a lot of the world. It’s a brand new Weirdworld. So we had a free-for-all for what we could do with it. I’m like, “There needs to be a gnome in there or a dwarf with a baseball cap.” “Well, do it.”
With the covers, it was kind of cool because a lot of things could trickle into the interiors. The covers were always done first. So when I did the covers, you get the ideas of characters that you’d like to put inside the book. Sometimes that goes well, too, with certain things. I did a Deadpool cover way back in the days and it was Deadpool Kills Deadpool. It was just a bunch of Deadpools that we had to create and I put in a lot of the Deadpools, including Pandapool. They actually saw that and then they put it into the book. So that was cool. A lot of times, covers, because they’re done ahead of time, before the interiors, things could get used within the book and the ideas on them can get used within the book, too.
You know that Tetris Effect thing Olivier Coipel would do for Scarlet Witch? Have you ever seen that?
MDM: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite covers, man.
I love that. I just learned the story behind this because I wrote a piece about it and I asked Brian Michael Bendis about it. That effect that he does, there was a B-cover to House of M #1 that Joe Quesada did that had that same effect. Bendis saw that because they had to do it a million years before the book came out, because they had to put something out there to sell it. And he saw that and he’s like, “Oh, we’ve got to work that into the book.” And then it became this thing that was just an iconic visualization. I just think that’s cool. Whether it’s Pandapool or that effect, you’re right, the covers come out so much earlier. I’m surprised that doesn’t happen more often.
MDM: Yeah. And sometimes they’ll be like, “Yo, we don’t have much for you. We’re still working on the script, but here’s a small tidbit for it.” “Okay, I’ll figure something out.” And then even sometimes it’s like, “We don’t have the character done to look at the character. So you do what you’ve got to do and we’ll put it into the book.”
One of the things that stands out about this is the color. This is one of those things that should’ve been obvious that I didn’t pick up on it at first, but I missed that the blood covering Arkon is meant to represent all the different species that are literally underneath him after being killed by him.
MDM: It’s funny you say that. It should’ve been obvious because, when I did it, I also said the same thing. I was like, “I should’ve made it more obvious,” but I think I put so much dry ice in there that it took away from it. That’s what I’m saying. These are the things that I look back at, going like, “Shit, I wish I told the story more,” because the main idea is the-
I know artists hate looking back on their work, but do you feel like, when you look back on pieces like this, that maybe you learn something about what you might do, going forward, like, maybe next time, less dry ice?
MDM: Less dry ice and I find painted covers, through this time, I found that my style in doing things painterly, it’s harder to decipher images. So you almost have to do a solidified line around things or just consciously, however you want things to look, you’ve got to emphasize on it some way or another. But also, we’re doing things on fly. Things happen so fast, sometimes you’ve just got to send it in. And then, when you look back at it two months later, that’s where you start kind of seeing certain things that you could’ve done better. I think that’s going to be a never ending process, as well.
Oh, yeah. I’m sure. How important is color to your process? I know somebody like Russell Dauterman works with Matt Wilson even on covers, but could you ever imagine someone else coloring your work?
MDM: I could. But I’m just a control freak with everything I do. And my process is so on fly that I can’t solidify a final image for colors. I like to work. I’m doing Spawn right now and I’ve been doing my inks myself and doing all these things. And I have my good friend Marco D’Alfonso helping with the colors. Even him, when he colors it, it still comes back to me and I still have to go at it even more. So I feel like my process finishes all the way until the work gets sent to print. It’s hard for me to collaborate, in that sense. Even if a colorist was to do my work, I would probably … I don’t know. I’d love to see my work done by someone else, but I just feel like at this point, I want control over it. I’m a control freak, in that sense.
I’m not going to say all painters are control freaks, but when I talk to Esad Ribic, he has worked with a lot of colorists and I always get the impression that his process is incomplete when he doesn’t get to color it himself. It’s a necessity because of how grueling deadlines can be, but it was a step of the process that’s really missing when he doesn’t get to do it himself.
MDM: Yeah. I think that and it’s partly an illusion. Maybe if someone else did do it, I’d get used to it. I think it’s more of a comfort as well as part of my process, and it’s just a matter of getting used to having someone color it. But that’s also a long process that would have to happen if I did that.
You did the Amazing Spider-Man #1 cover for hip hop cover month that was an homage to Midnight Marauders, the A Tribe Called Quest album. You actually just posted this on Instagram, and you shared how you originally included the Tribe stripes in it more in one of the sketches. So you have all those different versions, the three to five or whatever ideas you come up with.
Do you tend to go a bit harder than you might expect Marvel to agree to, both in hopes that they do agree and that, if you have to back it up from there, that you’re still in a place you’re happy to be in? Because I’m sure you probably guessed that they would say no to the stripes just because it’s not standard costume for Spider-Man and everything like that, but at the same time, it’s like you want to include that because it feels more right for the album?
MDM: Yeah. I don’t know what the reason for that was. It could’ve been because they wanted Spider-Man to really look like Spider-Man. I find when you are doing a Spider-Man book, he’s really got to be there, clearly. But I also think that maybe it was a legal thing because we’re doing homages to album covers. Amazing Spider-Man, the type couldn’t be yellow. Initially, it was yellow and we had to switch that because of legal. So that could’ve been a legal thing or it could’ve been the fact that they wanted to be Spider-Man. But yeah, to answer your question, I think your question was do you go beyond what’s asked.
Basically, do you want to push the boundaries as far as you can on your initial sketches because there’s a level that you want for your own pieces and if you go further, if they ask you to dial it back, you’re still going to be happy.
MDM: Yeah, that’s exactly what I do. I do the best I can with my ideas to the point that I can’t think of anything anymore. So for this one, what was cool about this cover was the OG track cover is pretty much Spider-Man inverted. So when I saw that girl, I was like, “Oh, she already looks like Spider-Man. You just put her upside down and she’s hanging on a web.” So I thought that was really cool. I didn’t have to do much. The concept was already there. She was already almost in the Spider-Man pose and all I had to do was put the stripes in. And I was like, “That’s really cool,” the fact that these ideas are already put in there for me.
Did you pick Midnight Marauders or was that given to you?
MDM: It was really cool because Axel (Alonso, Marvel’s former Editor-in-Chief) hit me up, and he’s like, “Yo, we’ve got this really cool initiative that we’re doing with hip hop covers.” And at the time, I really didn’t even know that Axel knew that I was into hip hop, but he hit me up and he was like, “Yeah, we want you to do the Spider-Man Midnight Marauders version.” And I was like, “What?!” I remember hitting him up and saying, “Do you even know how important this is to me? I didn’t even know you knew I was into hip hop or maybe you didn’t and this was just a chance thing,” but I didn’t choose it. He came up to me with it and I was like, “Oh, my god, this is the best.”
This album is everything to me and my childhood. This is the first Tribe album I actually started listening to. My hip hop starts in this year, ’93 and up. With anything before that, I had to go back and put my knowledge into it and listen, but Midnight Marauders was one of my first CDs I ever bought in that year. My mom got me a CD player and I think she got me The Bodyguard soundtrack for Christmas, which was cool, but then from there I just went off on hip hop.
A lot of times, I didn’t even know what I was getting into. I just wanted to get into something cool. And it was really discovering just like comics. So I was just basing everything off the cover. And I think, for this one, I remember I really wanted that. Remember, back then, you wanted to buy the albums because you heard the single?
MDM: I think it was Award Tour when I saw that on Rhapsody. I was just like, “Oh, man, I need this album.”
I just talked about singles the other day. I brought this up to somebody who was probably in their mid-20s and the idea of a CD single was just an utter mystery to them. It was so bizarre to them and I was just like, “It’s what the ’90s were, man.”
MDM: Maxi singles. Yo, remember the maxi singles?
MDM: It’s amazing because this cover is really important to me. I was just so grateful to be able to do this cover just because, when I bought this album, I remember going into HMV and … Was it HMV or Sam’s? Either way, I was with my mom and I remember it had an explicit sticker on it. And I was like, “There’s no way she’s going to get this for me. There’s just absolutely no way.” And I’m like, “Why does it have an explicit sticker on it? There’s no swearing in Tribe.”
So I remember going in the back and just ripping the sticker off and just coming back and then kind of just being super shiesty about it. And she got it. That kind of changed everything, in terms of my ears, my hip hop ears, and what I would get into. So this is huge. Low End Theory and all the other albums. Everyone has this discussion of what’s better, but for me, Midnight is, just because of all these stories I have towards it.
It reminds me of people who say sometimes about X-Men fans that the most important X-Men team to you was the one that was a big deal when you were 13. And I kind of feel like that’s true with albums as well. My favorite Beastie Boys album isn’t Licensed to Ill or Ill Communication, it’s Check Your Head. That was the one that I first listened to and it was the one I connected with. And while I love all their other albums, it’s the one that has that specific childhood connection. It goes back to the idea of energy, too. It’s like those artists when you were a kid, or the graffiti artists, or the hip hop, it just all ties back to the energy that you connected with in a very formative time in your life.
MDM: Yeah. It is generational. It’s what era you grew up with, no matter what. Even with Run DMC, I had to walk my way back to listen to all the other Run DMC albums. The one that I got into was Down With the King. That’s the album that I bought. So you gravitate towards what you’re discovering at the moment. It’s just everything’s so brand new to you, so I think even your memories are so vivid at that time. You can remember when you first bought that album. You can remember when you first bought this album. The older you get, things get-
Less vivid, less vivacious.
MDM: Yeah, you didn’t have that paper route that you put all your money towards and you grinded just to get that one album. So you have a story that goes with your purchases and the things that you listen to or even the comics that you read.
I do think it’s funny, too, though, that … This isn’t just hip hop, but I feel like it’s very prevalent in hip hop. I really loved Wu-Tang when I was a kid, and I still love Wu-Tang, but one of the funny things I really loved about them was I remember listening to their music and there were comic references, like Method Man and Johnny Blaze, and Ghostface goes by Tony Starks as well, all the stuff like that. And I just remember thinking, I was just like, “These guys are nerds like me.” There’s a lot of that overlap and those are things you don’t really think about.
MDM: Yeah, I feel like there’s so much overlap between hip hop and comics and it’s mainly hip hop overlapping into comics. The vice versa usually doesn’t go the other way. So I always try to put that look back to hip hop, take the hip hop and put it back that way. But a lot of times, it’s really the other way around, but the really cool thing about hip hop and comics is they’re so similar. You almost think, what was it influenced by? Was hip hop influenced by comics in a way of how you name yourself? Everyone has an AKA.
Like MF Doom?
MDM: Everybody. Not like you’re using your name. Even Drake is not named Drake. So everyone has a different name and it’s usually not a normal name. It’s like Ice-T, Ice Cube. So when you think about it, it’s very similar to comics.
MDM: Yeah, secret identities. So I don’t know. Is that an influence from comic books, maybe?
I never really thought about that. Especially in the early days, when you think about Soulsonic Force and all those different groups back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, those were super comic book names.
MDM: Yeah, man. Cyberforce. I mean, Soulsonic Force came out way before that, but in terms of those names, they’re very comicky.
I feel like I have to jump into this now. You did the cover art for Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s album “Alfredo.“
This one is interesting to me because I haven’t found anything about the process on this. Vlad Sepotov did the art direction. I’m curious as to how that project came together and how different it was having an art director to work with?
MDM: I didn’t really work with the art director. The process was quick. It was pretty easy and it was a pretty awesome process. Freddie hit me up about doing a cover awhile back, but then when he hit me up to do this, they already had the idea in hand. So this isn’t my concept or idea. I just pretty much…
MDM: Yeah. It’s funny, (Gibbs) sent me an emoji, basically. It’s a really cool story, but he’s like, “Hey, we’re doing an album. I’m doing an album with The Alchemist.” And I was like, “Damn, man, that’s crazy,” because The Alchemist is a top five producer for me. I’ve been buying his albums since the glory days and then I’ve been into Freddie since time. Huge fan.
So those two guys together, I was like, “Whoa, this is legit. I’ve got to do this.” So yeah, he hit me up and he was like, “Yeah, we’re doing this album. It’s called Alfredo. Do you think you could work this in?” He sends me an emoji of … I think it’s one of those standard emojis on your phone where it’s a hand with … I think it was the pasta emoji and the hand emoji. It looked like it was done real quick, but it was a tiny icon. Picture an emoji icon of this cover. And they’re like, “Do you think you could work this in and make something out of it?” Then that’s it. I tried to do something with it and that’s what came about.
But initially, it was cleaner. It was a cleaner cover, but it was still painted, and the background was a teal color or a baby blue. It was really clean. And that’s what we did with the art director. He did his magic with all the textures and made it look more vintage. He did good job with it.
I do think it’s funny that all the theories about the album cover are just like, “Oh, yeah, the cover is totally a play on The Godfather.” I love that the origin is really you were just sent some emojis and they were like, “Do something with this.”
MDM: Yeah, man. It literally was that. And sometimes that’s how it works. So that’s all Gibbs and his team, Lambo 3 and the art director. 4 I’m not sure where the idea came from, but that’s their whole concept. So if that was Gibbs’ concept, I could see that coming from him because, creatively, that guy just thinks so different, even with his approach to things and his raps.
Last one we’re going to talk about, we’re going to go back to comics on this one. I love your variant to X-Men #20. I imagine they were probably just like, “Uh, it’s Mystique,” and you just do something with it. But instead of talking about the cover in specific, I want to use this as a jump off to talk about variants.
So when you came up, variants were a thing, but I don’t feel like they were like they are today. In the last half decade or so, it feels like the interest in variants went from strong to absurdly high to the point where I’ve talked to retailers who say that the most popular artists often aren’t interior artists, but cover artists. Like if you’re Artgerm or Peach Momoko or Joshua Middleton, you can sell books just on their covers. Does it feel like, for you as an artist, like there’s been a big change of interest in that world, as well?
MDM: Just for me?
No, I mean…you seem like you do more variants now than you used to. I’m interested if it feels like there’s more heat behind variants than when you started. It seems like covers, really, they went from a thing that could sell to a thing that does sell.
MDM: Yeah. I guess it’s more investment these days, right?
I don’t know what it is. I know that there’s people who have Mike Del Mundo all in their pull list and it’s like, any cover that comes out from you, they get that. Maybe this is one of those things where it only feels like this from the outside rather than the inside because you’re always just doing the work and you’re not thinking about this type of thing.
MDM: Yeah. I like hearing what the outside has to say because, when you’re on the inside, you don’t know what’s happening around you. You don’t know where you are in the industry. You know what I mean? We’re just working. Yeah. I guess I didn’t even know that that’s what I was doing, was just variants. But yeah, I guess I am just doing variants.
Well, maybe not exclusively.
MDM: It might not be an exclusive thing. I get covers here and there now. I’m not exclusively Marvel, so it could be that. I couldn’t explain it, but I could just say that the fact that it’s out there and there is a big popularity to variant covers, man, it’s cool with me because you’ll get covers like this.
Like what we discussed before, variant covers, you could kind of go and just be more focused on the character and what we could do with the character, aside from the story. That’s what came about with this Mystique, is when I took the cover and I was like, “I’ve never done Mystique. I’m the biggest X-Men fan. That’s my childhood, so I’m in. And it’s a variant cover? Alright, cool.” We don’t have to go story based. We just come up with something that’s situated upon who Mystique is.
What kind of information do you have when you start a cover like this? Is it just “it’s Mystique?”
MDM: They send you everything that you need. You get a bit of the script, I think. I got a couple of the interiors that came in and the view of the characters that’s involved. So I did do a little bit involved with the story. We have a Magneto in there, Destiny, Professor X. So we put in a little bit of the story in there. So I do get that info, but for the most part, I just put everything to the side and was like, “Let’s go. Let’s just do something with Mystique. She’s never been really touched a bit.”
The thing I really like about this is it’s a funny idea, the idea for doing that. I love superheroes doing ordinary things, and this seems like it’s dumb office antics in some ways. But at the same time, especially when you think about the issue it belongs to, it underlines the threat that Mystique can be without you really thinking about it. She can be anyone at any time and that is something not to be trifled with, which is precisely what the people in the comics are doing. I love that because it’s got that edge, the double-sided nature to it, which is fundamentally who Mystique is. She can be anything.
MDM: Yep. Even that whole office thing, I was just like, “Does this even work? Why would she be in a Kinko’s?” But I’m like, “Nah, that’s what the X-Men logo in the back is in there.” I’m like “This is the X-Men office. They have to have a photocopier.”
Yeah. I mean, it’s a variant, too. It’s like you were saying, you can get away with things you wouldn’t normally be able to get away with here.
MDM: Yeah. Then I was also like, “Man, is this even relevant? Do people still go and photocopy things? I wonder if it would just be over 30s people that would understand what’s happening here.” Even putting your face to the photocopier, I was doing that when I was elementary school. We were going into the libraries. That’s where you would try to get away with putting your face in the photocopier, but that’s such an ancient thing to do. But then again, there you go, it’s like a ’90s throwback.
Last question for you. I mentioned it before. You’ve been at it in the covers world for 11 years now. You had that awesome retrospective post on Instagram, sharing some of your favorite covers, but I’m interested in how much things have changed for you over that time and how much what you wanted to do with your art has changed over that time. Has what you want to do with your art changed at all or is still just find that story and make it happen?
MDM: Yeah, my goals have changed in terms of…I want to do my own thing. Working with all my favorite characters, I’m grateful enough to touch and be able to do 90% of it. So it’s awesome and then it’s like, well, where do I go from there? Well, I’m turning 40. By the time I’m 50, I don’t want to still look at myself and be like, “I don’t have any sort of ownership of my own characters.”
All of us, as kids, we were reading comics. I just remember drawing my own books and that’s what got me excited. Creating cool characters, like, I don’t know, Knife Runner or something. That’s what was fun about it. If I was kid right now and they asked me what I want to do, I’d be like, “Well, I want to create cool stories of all these weird characters that I have,” influenced by the ’90s.
And I remember drawing panels. I remember trying to draw comics and being so pissed, like, “Aw, it doesn’t look like WildCATs. It doesn’t look like any of these things. I wish I could draw professionally. I wish what I did looked professional and I could create my own stories.” That was my goal as a kid. And then, as time went by, you realize, “Oh, I’ve been just doing stuff for the companies.” So it’s good to go back to the essence of what you were having fun doing. Obviously, you’re going to have fun drawing all the X-Men and the Avengers, but what’s really cool is that, after 10 years, I’m like, “Whoa, the best thing about working in comics this long and getting good is I could actually create books.”
So now, when I have a story or a character I want to do, I’m not that kid anymore, frustrated about not being able to draw something that looks cool. Now, you have the skills. So next up is just to kind of relive that childhood with the skills.
Yeah. And then, someday, a kid will be drawing Knife Runner and trying to become the next Mike Del Mundo.
MDM: I never really thought about it, but I’m like, “Man, I could actually do a book.” I could actually do a book. I could color it. I could do everything, so why am I not doing that? That was what I was frustrated about as a child.
Is that something you’re doing on the periphery of the cover work?
MDM: Yeah, that’s the next step. The goal is to go into creator-owned and see how that works. I have a bunch of stories. I have a few people helping out. At this point, it’s just a matter of getting organized. We’re slowly getting there.
Thanks for reading this art feature interview with artist Mike Del Mundo. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more content of this variety.