Jim Rugg joins the Grand Design club with HULK GRAND DESIGN. Like Ed Piskor (X-Men Grand Design) and Tom Scioli (Fantastic Four Grand Design), Rugg handled everything on the book: pencils, inks, colors, and lettering. With the book set to release on March 16, 2022 (3:16 y’all!), the Pittsburgh-based cartoonist took some time to talk about the project. Check out the interview below and make sure you tell your local comic shop that you want HULK GRAND DESIGN!
Monkeys Fighting Robots: Let’s start with something basic. Why Hulk? What about the Green Goliath made you want to tackle just an incredibly gigantic project?
RUGG: Hulk is the first comic book character that I remember. Before I started reading comics, I had a Hulk cereal bowl. I was 6. And every morning before 1st grade, I would eat breakfast and read his origin and study John Romita’s Hulk drawing. Plus, I loved monsters and Hulk was like the coolest looking monster ever. As a cartoonist, I look at Hulk and think – he’s one of the greatest, most well-known fictional characters of the 20th century. It is exciting to get to play with a character of Hulk’s stature, quality, and longevity.
MFR: What was the initial process in getting Incredible Hulk Grand Design started? Did you approach Marvel or did Marvel approach you? Was there a lot of negotiation involved?
RUGG: I think Marvel asked for a pitch. After Ed Piskor’s X-Men Grand Design, I sent Marvel a proposal for a Hulk Grand Design book. Nothing happened for a while but eventually, Marvel green-lit Tom Scioli’s Fantastic Four Grand Design. And then I think they got back to me in late 2019 or early 2020. There was a little negotiation. Nothing unusual.
MFR: Were you given any kind of deadline, or was that something you set for yourself?
RUGG: I didn’t have a deadline right away. We figured out the number of books and pages and I started working. Then when I was about halfway through the first book, we decided on a deadline. I made this book during lockdown, so there were some unknowns and ups-and-downs. I think Marvel’s editors were working from home most of the time. Early in the lockdown, I was told to stop working on Hulk – that’s when I did Octobriana 1976 – the world’s 1st blacklight comic book.
MFR: How much leeway did Marvel give you once the project was green-lit (pun intended)?
RUGG: Marvel gave me a lot of leeway. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I hadn’t done much work for Marvel before Hulk Grand Design. I would send things in like outlines and pages. And they mostly just said, great, keep going. I’m used to working on my own books without any outside input or feedback. So I was very comfortable with this approach. Wil Moss took over editing the book early in the process. When we talked about it, I felt like he viewed it as a unique project and gave me a lot of freedom as a result. He and his assistant editors were great – when I needed something, had questions, had ideas, they were there. But he also gave me a lot of room to make Hulk Grand Design like I would make Street Angel or one of my other books. As I got more comfortable, the book really became a dream project. Ultimately, if you love Hulk Grand Design or you hate it, it’s on me. Marvel was awesome in that they hired me to be me and they really let me do what I wanted. I could not be happier with that part of the experience.
MFR: I know this was an immense research project as well. I mean, you are a self-described Hulk fan, but we are talking hundreds of issues here. Did Marvel give you access to all the Hulk back catalog? How did you go about reading so many comics? Did you have a set ‘reading schedule’?
RUGG: I bought comics, borrowed comics, I read reprints and digital copies of many of the comics that I couldn’t find. I would read like 20 issues a night. Some days, I would read Hulk comic books all day. Eventually, I had a Google doc that was broken into 80 pages. Each page had a sentence or two description. That was my script. When I started a new page, I would write/draw the page based on that description. It usually took 2-3 days to make a page. I would reread the relevant issues during the writing process.
MFR: Did you take notes as you read?
RUGG: Yes. I was overwhelmed when I started. So I began making very basic notes on index cards – who did the Hulk fight? Anything else noteworthy in the issue like the artist, characters, story? So I ended up with a huge stack of index cards that summarized the Hulk in chronological order. From there, I organized the notes into pages.
MFR: Was there anything new about the Hulk you connected with as a character? Anything new about the book you discovered?
RUGG: Hulk is a static character for the first 20 years. The changes are mostly visual as different artists take over. That was interesting. It’s not entirely new, but seeing it issue by issue was exciting – a lot of good comic book artists drew Hulk. In the late 200s, the Hulk’s character begins to evolve with writer Bill Mantlo. And then Peter David comes on and continues to explore some of the threads that Mantlo introduced. It was interesting for me to see how creators approached Hulk. He is so different than most of the Marvel heroes. So watching creators try to develop his character was interesting.
MFR: So what would you say is your favorite story arc?
RUGG: Mr. Fixit. That was different. It was what drew me to reading comics. The characterization was very different than the Hulk Smash green monster Hulk. But it felt like a good version of the character to me. Weirdly, I think it’s Hulk at his happiest moment. Jeff Purvis’ art is strong too. That’s a fun story arc. But Hulk is full of fun stories. I enjoyed John Byrne’s brief run as writer/artist. I like when Hulk’s S.H.I.E.L.D. girlfriend is turned into Ms. M.O.D.O.K. Across 60 years of history, there are so many great stories!
MFR: Did you have a favorite writer and artist?
RUGG: Sal Buscema does a great green Hulk. Buscema draws Hulk almost like a pyramid shape. He looks very powerful. Before this project, I thought Herb Trimpe was my favorite Hulk artist. And I love Herb Trimpe’s Hulk! But Sal Buscema’s Hulk is probably the iconic version from my childhood memories.
MFR: What story arc did you like the least?
RUGG: The Pantheon. I hated it. It was the storyline that made me quit reading Hulk. And when I look at it critically, it’s the least Hulk-like arc and runs for 4 years. I can see how a creator would go in this direction. It’s a different take on the character. But I feel like it turned a unique character into something generic. It featured a civilized Hulk in a costume – i.e. like most of Marvel’s superheroes. And Hulk was constantly getting his ass kicked during this arc. I don’t read Hulk because I want to see Hulk smashed. The supporting cast of the Pantheon bored me as well.
MFR: You love to work with different mediums, tools, and methods. How did you decide what method to use for each page or moment?
RUGG: I approached each page differently. When I started a page, I only had a sentence or two of description. So I considered everything – tools, look, tone, story, characters. And then I would use whatever media I thought would look the best with the page’s story. I used everything – paint, ink, markers, nibs, brushes, wash, digital, printer, scanner, ballpoint pens, notebook paper, pencils, colored pencils, collage. I guess it’s somewhat intuitive. I would also keep a list of different ideas that I wanted to use from color palettes to collage to book excerpts and advertising. I think I was able to use most of them.
MFR: Did you try any new art methods with Hulk Grand Design, anything you had never tried before?
RUGG: I used markers a lot more than I have in the past. But I can’t think of anything that was completely new. I definitely used more materials and techniques in this book than any other (except maybe Supermag). Using different materials and methods was a huge part of the fun of making this!
MFR: Do you have a favorite page, sequence, or image from the project?
RUGG: I’m happy with how the last page turned out. But honestly, I’m happy with most of the pages. I had one page that required major changes and I think the revised page is much better so that’s good. There are a couple of Hulk vs Wolverine pages that I’m proud of – one in Monster and one in Madness. The first Mr. Fixit page is a personal favorite.
MFR: Is there an aspect that you struggled with?
RUGG: I struggled early in the project. Trying to shape the narrative was tough. There was so much to fit into the story. I also struggled stylistically and with confidence. This is a giant character. I guess I was intimidated. But after I started working on pages, it felt great. Each page felt like a chance to tackle a new character or fight or version of the Hulk – that became very exciting.
MFR: And finally, what do you hope we (the readers!) will get from Incredible Hulk Grand Design?
RUGG: I hope longtime fans will get a chance to remember some of the stories and moments that made them Hulk fans. Whether it’s character moments, artists, covers, etc. As long-time fans, they know Hulk. I hope they will have moments of awe as they see my interpretations of the Hulk. And I hope it provides a little bit of community for Hulk fans. I used to love talking comics with friends or at the comic shop. So I hope Hulk Grand Design readers will enjoy the book and enjoy talking about it with their fellow Hulk fans at the shop or online. For new readers – it’s a chance to share my enthusiasm for the character and the medium of comics. I hope it blows their mind and makes them fall in love with comics and they become life-long comics readers.