X-Tra Sauce – The Outback Era X-Men: Part 2 – Marc Silvestri’s New Mutants?

In the previous installment I talked about how The Outback Era for the X-Men was the best because of how fresh and new all of Chris Claremont’s ideas and stories were. None of that wouldve worked as well without the right artists collaborating with him. We got the perfect artist in Marc Silvestri. But that almost didnt happen. Chris Claremont wanted Alan Davis and Barry Windsor Smith on Uncanny while editor at the time, Ann Nocenti, had signed Marc Silvestri on to do New Mutants. Wait….what??

Look at this smoldering hunk.

Let’s rewind for a minute and just talk about Marc Silvestri. This guy…..phew….this guy is one of the luckiest creators to ever step foot into the comic industry. It’s almost a miracle he ended up as the artist of basically the most popular title in all of comics. Hell, it’s a miracle he even got into the industry at all. Originally he wanted to be a film maker, which is very interesting when you approach his art. You can see the influences of him trying to draft a story as you would a film in his work. Silvestri only started taking art seriously right before he got into comics. As detailed in Comics Interview #76, he only got into art so he could meet girls. After this he dabbled in art on and off and tried a year of college, thinking he’d perhaps enter the medical field. School, however wasnt for him. His cousin, Fred, said you’re good at drawing why don’t you do this for a career?

The story of him even getting his foot in the door is a rather literal one. As detailed in that same interview as well as the “Wizard Marc Silvestri Millennium Edition Special.” Silvestri and his brother went to a convention where DC writers and editors were at but wasnt able to show his portfolio at the convention. So at the urging of his brother they found out where editor Joe Orlando’s hotel room was and knocked on the door. Much to Orlando’s dismay, Marc’s brother told him he needed to look at this work. Not super impressed until he saw some sequential pages, he told him he needed to shape up and be able to work faster. Silvestri lied and said he could pump out the pages in time and soon had a job at DC Comics.

For about a year, Silvestri got work on one issue each of anthology titles “Weird War Tales”, “House of Mystery”, “The Unexpected” and “Ghosts” doing small, usually 8 page stories. Silvestri felt like he wasn’t making any career momentum with them, so this time he showed his portfolio to Marvel Editor In Chief Jim Shooter – the Head Honcho himself. Shooter offered to double his pay rate and hired him on the spot. Silvestri started out on the Conan books and almost blew it on his first issue as he overdrew the whole thing. See below:

Sort of making it up as he went, Silvestri started to carve out a little career for himself. He mainly was doing King Conan, which was a bimonthly double page book and started to feel burnt out on that assignment so he did some fill ins in What If?, Master of Kung Fu, Moon Knight, etc. Next he did Marvel Graphic Novel #17 – Revenge of the Living Monolith, a book he hates his rough, early work on.

After this he did a short little run on the Web of Spider-Man books with a whole host of different inkers. It’s a fascinating period of his art, but one that really isnt emblematic of his signature style. At this point, these random gigs weren’t exactly paying the bills for Silvestri and he seriously considered leaving the industry altogether after feeling so dissatisfied. It’s here that he gets his lucky break as after drawing the Avengers in the Living Monolith Graphic Novel, he got offered the job as artist for Roger Stern’s The X-Men VS. The Avengers miniseries. The funniest part of this job is that the editor of the series, Ann Nocenti, also the editor of all the X-Men books, liked his art so much they moved him off of this before he even got to the fourth issue because they wanted to lock him into drawing an X-book. You’re probably thinking that’s Uncanny X-Men and you’d be wrong. Well…technically. It’s at this point he accepts a new job, but as the artists for the side book, New Mutants. He reveals all in the Comics Interview #76 piece:

So, Silvestri leaves The X-Men VS. The Avengers halfway through and is all ready to start penciling New Mutants when he finds out John Romita Jr. is leaving Uncanny. Continuing his bold, flippant moves that really propelled his career’s upward trajectory, he goes to Ann Nocenti and asks to be put on the main book. All of a sudden, this new artist who has done maybe 20-30 credits to his name at this point in the industry is on the biggest book in comics at the time. I cannot stress enough to all of you how INSANE this is. He doesn’t even have a small run on a book that fans would have gone crazy for similar to Jim Lee’s Punisher rise to stardom. He just does 3 of 4 issues of a crossover mini and-BAM- he’s now one of the biggest names in comics. Like I said before, this man is capital L Lucky.

One of the things that’s really interesting here is how good that X-Men money was. That’s superstar money apparently. It’s also very humorous to see Chris Claremont wasnt so sure about this move. He wanted his future Excalibur collaborator as the main artist, or maybe Barry Windsor Smith. Can you imagine if the 80’s X-books had Davis or Smith draw the Outback Era while Silvestri went on to draw Birdbrain?? What would Excalibur have looked like without Davis? What would all of the books looked like?! Think of how different all of their careers would be. I can’t imagine that era of New Mutants would have been the book to make Silvestri the Image Comics superstar he’d become. It’s incredibly fascinating to look back on this behind the scenes transitory period for the X-Offices.

So, Silvestri comes on the book with Uncanny X-Men #218 during a very weird post Mutant Massacre period for the books where you can tell Chris Claremont wants to or perhaps NEEDS to shake up the whole book. Silvestri’s wild loose art filled with sketchy villains, rippling beefcakes, and gorgeous supermodel women is a HUGE change from the more formulaic art that came before. You can see instantly this book is going to be DIFFERENT. This stuff right here is NEW! From here to issue #227 Silvestri draws most issues as Claremont starts to systematically rebuild and blow up the franchise bigger than ever before in the Fall of the Mutants issues. The Uncanny X-Men we all know are dead. Something new stands in it’s place.

Silvestri expands more on his working relationship with Claremont in this interview and shows how they seemingly both were very interested in Australia and the Outback and change. He says Claremont wanted the X-Men to become “Legends” like in old Westerns and where better than to throw them into the wild frontier of the Australian Outback. It’s interesting to theorize if this era would’ve even happened with an Alan Davis or Barry Windsor Smith as a collaborative partner. I think we owe a lot more to Silvestri for this new status quo than we may think.

We get more of a candid look at their working relationship. It’s very cool to see Marc note that Claremont is still super enthusiastic about everything he’s writing instead of being a jaded, burnt out guy. Like I’ve been trying to prove, this is the creative high point of his run and it’s clear he is creatively refreshed and fully invested in what he’s building here. It’s also cool to see how Silvestri wasn’t just a work horse doing the art while never talking to Chris, this era is a real collaborative effort between a writer renewing himself and a relatively new artists staking out his claim to rule the comic world. There is so much “new” energy here, you can’t help but get swept up in it all.

Here is more material from a 1988 interview with Marc Silvestri from Marvel Age #69 which goes in depth about Silvestri’s handling of the characters with Claremont. I think it’s interesting how into Rogue he is and how he says he wants to do more with her mental health and the personalities in her head. You can definitely see from how much of an impact Silvestri makes on not just the art, but the story as well. His new youngblood influence really creates some great new developments for all the characters.

Another thing that was great about Silvestri being on these books is that he never seemed intent on wanting to do a “greatest hits” run. He wanted to do Mr. Sinister. He wanted to do the Outback. He didnt want a return to the old classic stuff, much like Jim Lee did when he got on the books after Silvestri. He notes in the Wizard Millennium Edition he had no problem not doing Magneto. He saw the value in his character development and didnt want to go back to what was. Again, his new ideas foster an unparalleled era of creativity.

I find personally that these big name comic superstars did their best work when they had something to prove, before they became huge names that can command their own comics or companies and this is extremely true for Marc Silvestri. His stuff starts off a little rough around the edges but he and inker Dan Green(Who we will get to in a future article) end up throwing down some of the most unique, creative comic art you could ever want. It’s a new guy carving out his own corner of the industry. We literally see him go from “Conan guy” to Image Comics founder industry titan Marc Silvestri before our own eyes here. His style is something so bold, so new that it bucks all constrains of the “house style” and honestly is a huge factor in the transformation of the whole visual medium. It’s amazing, groundbreaking work. It is the best.

Let me also point out what great taste Silvestri has in X-Men characters. He GETS that Alex Summers does in fact, suck. He also gets that Magik is far and away the BEST New Mutant.

I still wonder what Marc Silvestri’s New Mutants would have been like. It’s one of those things that keeps me awake at 3 AM when I’m tossing and turning. What would the X-Men books and the comic industry in general look like in that universe. Would we even have ever had our beloved mutants go to Australia? Would Marc Silvestri be some filmmaker credit, long forgotten about or would New Mutants have become the more popular book? Would Rob Liefeld even get on the X-books? It’s crazy how close we got to all of these monumental changes. I for one thank our blessings that everything shook out the way it did. Uncanny X-Men and Chris Claremont needed some new, youthful energy all about change and evolution and thankfully, they got it in Marc Silvestri.