Interview: Sideshow Designer JP Mavinga Creates Soulfire Variant Cover for Aspen Comics
Artist and Sideshow designer JP Mavinga has had a hand in bringing both the Aspen Premium Format™ Figure and Grace Premium Format™ Figure to life in honor of Michael Turner’s immensely popular comic book legacy. Inspired by Turner’s artwork and stories, Mavinga has used his artistic expertise to create beautiful, collectible variant covers for several books from Aspen Comics, including Soulfire.
The most recent variant JP Mavinga had a chance to design appears on the B Cover of Michael Turner’s Soulfire volume 8, Issue #5 (pictured above), which was released in stores on October 30th. The cover to this volume’s penultimate issue features Grace of the Rahtumi in her iridescent splendor, preparing to channel her magical abilities to protect the world from the cold clutches of technology.
Fans looking to bring this issue home for their collection can check the shelves of their local comic book store or visit an online retailer to place an order. The variant also makes a perfect pairing for the upcoming Grace Premium Format™ Figure, expected to arrive in stock very soon!
Sideshow had a chance to speak with JP Mavinga, as well as President of Aspen Comics Frank Mastromauro, about honoring Michael Turner’s legacy, celebrating the heroines of Aspen Comics, turning iconic 2D designs into statues, and more.
What does Michael Turner’s Soulfire mean to you as a comic series?
JP: I first noticed Turner’s work because of the exceptional design choices, sensual lines, and meticulous detail in his art. He successfully drew a broad range of content including real-world backgrounds and architecture, fantasy and science fiction characters, vehicles, objects, and environments. His characters could be dressed in the top designer fashions of our time or some spectacular sci-fi/fantasy armor, but they were always drawn with adroitness and rich detail. How could I not become a fan?
Soulfire was all those things, tackling sci-fi and fantasy genres; the book is basically all the best elements of Turner’s work cranked up, full blast.
Frank: Soulfire has tremendous meaning to me and has been one of the main driving forces of Aspen Comics for the past 15+ years. It was the title that launched our company as Michael Turner’s newest created series, and it’s been an honor to keep the title going after Michael’s passing along side Soulfire writer, our close friend, and colleague J.T. Krul. It’s a huge part of my life and I couldn’t imagine it any other way!
JP, have you done other cover work for Aspen comics?
JP: I had the honor of illustrating variant covers for a series called Artifact One, created by Vince Hernandez and J.T. Krul with really stunning interior art by Romina Moranelli. I also drew a cover for Nu Way, an exciting action series also written by J.T. Krul.
Lastly, there was another Soulfire cover, Soulfire: The Heart of Eternity #1, which I think was a limited edition variant. I’m humbled and thankful that the Aspen Comics crew gave me a shot at these.
JP, did you do the colors for your cover? How do you approach Grace’s magical palette?
JP: Yes, I drew and colored this cover. Grace has had so many different depictions and that really helps for both ideas and freedom. My favorites tend to be from the first volume, with Mike Turner and Joe Benitez’s drawings. I’m a huge fan of colorist and painter Peter Steigerwald (Artist and Co-Owner of Aspen Comics) who colored the first volume and tons of other material for Aspen Comics and beyond.
Frank, how do you choose artists to work with for variant covers? How are variant designs chosen?
Frank: We’ve been very fortunate to work with some of comics’ most talented artists over the years. When we discuss covers, we try to pair artists with the series we feel they would enjoy working on, but would also knock the cover art out of the park.
We often provide story elements and potential ideas for them to do a few quick layouts from and then pick the cover layout we feel works best. Sometimes they already have ideas of what they’d like to do as well, which is just as good. Seeing new cover art come in is always a great part of the day!
Are there any signature Turner design elements that are essential to any depiction of Grace?
JP: I think that his signature is woven into the overall design. The wings, the crown, the hair, and always stylish armor. Every artist that draws Grace does take their own approach and find their own degree of inspiration from Turner’s original designs. For me, it’s making sure that all the features have a sense of rhythm and flow and, of course, extravagant but congruent details.
Frank: Michael named Grace after his incredible mother, so the number one answer to this question would have to be strength and pride. Those aren’t necessarily design elements, but Michael always made sure to depict the character of Grace with those qualities in mind, regardless of what she was going through in the comic.
We try to retain that as we progress the series along. Her memorable look and appearance that came from Michael’s steady, sweeping lines, the unique wings he gave her, and the ornate elements he would add to her outfits and clothing are always features we have current artists look at when they’re drawing her. Grace’s signature ‘wing’ tattoos under her eyes are also a big identifier that Michael added which we ensure all artists include and draw correctly.
What were the challenges of designing this character for a three-dimensional Premium Format™ Figure versus a cover illustration?
JP: The statue wasn’t just another version of Grace, since statues don’t occur often- it had to be more definitive as a statement. The approach was a study of Michael Turner’s design language.
Each piece of armor, clothing, and jewelry was designed to work together as dimensional elements. This means, that beyond art, there are physical production considerations that do affect design choices. Mark Newman, the sculptor of the Grace PF, contributed a great deal to the design as he crafted the sculpture. Mark’s work is elegant and nuanced; he is one of the best at what he does.
The final product had to work as a strong design top-down, but it also had to evoke Mike’s overall design language in an encompassing way that all of us fans would recognize. While it might be crazy to have such a lofty goal, I can’t imagine taking a shot at a statue like this any other way.
The cover, on the other hand, is one of many that have been illustrated. Conservatively guessing, there have probably been no less than one hundred covers featuring Grace. It was an original design where I just tried to deliver a compelling image to editor Gabe Carrasco and the team while hoping I am not too much of a headache.
Where should new readers jump in to the story if they are looking to check out Soulfire at their local comic store?
Frank: With the recent announcements of our Fathom and Soulfire animated feature films at Mythos Studios, we took the initiative to ensure we have a great jumping on point for new and curious readers that may want to check out and look for those titles at their local comic book store.
The new Soulfire volume 1 Starter Edition TPB is 200 pages of Michael’s incredible art and story, priced at only $12.99 to make it affordable and accessible for every reader. There is a Fathom volume 1 Starter Edition TPB as well, so anyone looking to get into our titles can do so anywhere comic books are sold!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Frank: JP has been such a fantastic artist and creator to collaborate with. From his work on the Sideshow Fathom and Soulfire statues, to the stunning covers he’s been able to draw for us, we truly appreciate his hard work and it’s been a pleasure to see each new project come to life. Everyone at Aspen is thrilled for the upcoming release of the new Soulfire Grace Premium Format™ Figure and cannot wait to have one sitting in the front room of our office. The design of it is simply incredible and we hope every fan and statue collector who picks it up feels the same way!
JP: My thanks to all of the fans who buy the books and statues and continue to celebrate Michael Turner’s work. A thanks to Mark Newman, Kat Sapene, and Mike Tolentino and many others who really brought their best to this statue.
Thanks to Michael Turner, for his inspiring work and career, Frank Mastromauro, Pete Steigerwald, Vince Hernandez, Gabe Carrasco, Mark Roslan, J.T. Krul, and the Aspen Comics family for all that they do.
Our thanks to JP Mavinga and Frank Mastromauro for giving us some insight into the rich world of Soulfire and the history of Grace as one of Michael Turner’s iconic characters! Fans can find JP Mavinga’s Soulfire volume 8 Issue #5 variant cover in comic stores now, along with the Soulfire volume 1 Starter Edition TPB from Aspen Comics.
Additionally, don’t miss the upcoming Let Your Statue Sideshow Facebook group exclusive Chatcave episode featuring a direct conversation with JP Mavinga. Join us in the group on Wednesday, November 13th at 4pm PDT for the chat, and be sure to check out the Grace Premium Format™ Figure giveaway- rules to enter will be announced exclusively during the Facebook group live video. Can’t make it to the live video? There will be a chance for fans to message questions in advance that will be discussed with JP during the chat- check the playback if you aren’t able to tune live in on the 13th.
If you’re looking to learn more about JP Mavinga and his life as an illustrator before the Let Your Statue Sideshow group chat, check out his official Sideshow Artist Profile below.
Be sure to add some magic to your comic book statue collection and bring home the Grace Premium Format™ Figure, set to arrive in-stock soon!