By Paolo Rivera

Mythos: Captain America. 2007. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.
Captain America was the final installment in the Mythos series, a 23-page retelling of his origin. Now that I think back on the project as a whole, Cap was the only issue that wasn’t “updated” for modern audiences. The reasons for that are (obviously) unique to Cap’s personal story — created before America entered WWII, he preceded even the company that would come to own him. When Paul Jenkins and I were first approached with the concept, the main goal was to bridge the gap between Marvel comics and Marvel movies, easily done through the excision of anachronistic references.

Mythos: Captain America, Page 19, Panel 2. 2008. Acrylic and gouache on bristol board, 11 x 17″.
But Cap was different. This was a period piece that demanded earnest historical research. Every detail in every panel had to ring true, even though the story itself flirted with fantasy. While I used every source at my disposal, what often helped the most was the on-line community of WWII reenactors, whose dedication to accuracy — and willingness to share — afforded me an authority I would not have otherwise had.

Mythos: Captain America, Page 12, Panel 3. 2008. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 x 17″.
When we started with the X-Men in late 2004, the Marvel brand was a competitive force at the box office, yet those movies were all produced by licensees. Marvel Studios had an ambitious plan, but its first movie, Iron Man, was still 3 years away. While we had less than nothing to do with those carefully laid plans, Marvel’s publishing arm did want our schedule to coincide with at least some of those releases.

The series did less than amazing in terms of sales, but Marvel still followed through with the project until we had enough issues to collect into a beautiful hardcover. If nothing else, it proved to be a fantastic platform for jumpstarting my career — aside from being paired with a top-tier writer, I got to illustrate the cream of the crop in terms of Marvel characters. And all that while I was still a rookie: when they gave me the job, I had painted just 34 pages for them.

Mythos: Captain America, Page 18-19. 2008. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 22 × 17″.

The fact that I was commissioned to work on Marvel’s flagship characters so early on was a privilege I recognized from the start, however, the benefits extended to my original art sales, which quickly became a third of my income (a much-welcomed addition since I was such a slow painter). If you’re not familiar with the comic book art market, the price paid always comes down to which characters are on the page. Art is a commodity like everything else, and fame always trumps any intrinsic value. Captain America was (and always will be) more famous than me, but he has been kind enough to let me share in the spotlight.

With regard to my painting technique, it had not changed much since Mythos: Ghost Rider. I was a little older, more experienced, and more confident in my skills, but the basic process was the same. If you’d like more details about my methods, I took an exhaustive, 6-post look at the creation of the above page on my own blog. I don’t paint much anymore, but when I do, the steps are basically the same.

Mythos: Captain America. 2008. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.
Steve Rogers. 2008. Super Sculpey Firm, 3″ tall.

Another practice that I continued with Cap involved sculpting maquettes. One of the things I love most about Marvel heroes is that they don’t always look the part. In fact, Captain America was the first in the entire Mythos series who had the classic heroic look (despite the fact that he doesn’t start out that way). Creating that square jaw from scratch ensured that I got exactly the look I was going for, panel after panel. This was the largest of the maquettes I’ve made — the head’s about 2 inches tall — and I still use it as a general reference for all types of heroes. You can see more pictures of it here, and more about my sculpting tools here.

Mythos: Captain America, Page 14. 2008. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.
Mythos: Captain America, Page 2. 2008. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Cap’s story was also a dream to paint because of the wide array of places and people that set his stage. At first glance, he may seem to be one of the most jingoistic creations of all time, but in terms of setting alone, his adventures spanned continents, from the Lower East Side to Italy to Russia to Tunisia. No other book offered such diversity.

Captain America: The First Avenger. 2011. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 16 × 24″.

Perhaps one of the coolest things to come out of painting the issue was to be cited as an inspiration for last year’s movie. Cap himself, Chris Evans, mentioned our issue in an interview about his preparation for the role (video below). To top it off, I also got to paint a limited edition poster that was given to the cast and crew, including Joe Simon, who co-created Cap along with Jack Kirby. I heard that he loved it, which is more than I could’ve asked for.

That wraps up this rather extended look at Mythos. If, by some incredible chance, you still haven’t had your fill, here are all the Wacky Reference Wednesdays that feature art from Cap: week 12, 24, 32, 33, 3539, 404967, 707172, 737779, 8081, 83, 9199100, 109, 110113, 122139, 140154, 186, and 190. There’s also plenty more of the original art that can be seen at Splash Page Comic Art.