Orla Hodnett talks to Cork-born Marvel comic artist Will Sliney about his career and the industry in Ireland
Marvel is certainly the most recognisable name in the world of comic books since its beginnings in the 1960s, with the successes of its film studio adding to its notoriety. Recently added to the payroll was artist Will Sliney, a Cork native who joined in February of this year. Not only has Sliney worked on the most recent incarnation of The Defenders for Marvel with writer Cullen Bunn, he has pursued his own passion project in the form of Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn. Between successes at home with his Celtic Warrior project and his work at Marvel, Sliney has established himself as one of Ireland’s foremost comic book artists.
Things have gotten much bigger over the years. What started with a couple of people just wanting to draw comics is now an industry
Sliney’s interest in comics began early having gown up watching Marvel cartoons like Spiderman and X-Men but it didn’t immediately strike him to work for the company behind these cartoons. “I used to love drawing all the way through school, but it was really only when I was in college that a comic shop opened up in Cork and that’s when I began to realise there [were] actually jobs in this . At the time there weren’t any conventions in Ireland. So I started doing a bit of research online, asking questions in forums and stuff, asking how to break into the industry.”
Since he began working, the world of comic books has changed somewhat in Ireland. At the time I spoke to Will, he had just returned from the Dublin International Comic Expo (DICE), an event which Will feels is indicative of a growing comic book industry in Ireland. “ We’re producing and publishing bestselling books amongst our own people. And a lot of us have gone on to work for some of the biggest publishers in the world. Not only that, but there’s more comic shops opening, more conventions popping up in Ireland all the time, with more and more people attending them. Even the guys at Marvel and the way they view Ireland from the outside – it’s considered a big player in the industry now.”
Sliney’s career trajectory is no accident. Needless to say, hard work has gotten him to where he is. “My career was moving up the ladder,” says Sliney of his achievements. “I had been working non-stop for years.” Having worked for Irish companies, and other larger international companies, among them Boom! Studios, Sliney had made a name for himself in the industry. “The more I was publishing, the more it was getting seen by different editors, so I came onto their radars over the years. I would meet with different editors and talent scouts at conventions and they would give me advice and tell me I was getting close. Then eventually this time last year at DICE I met Marvel’s talent scout C.B. Cebulski. He had been watching my work for years. He had a look at my most recent portfolio and he said they were ready to work with me.”
Aside from his work at Marvel, Sliney has pursued a personal passion project in his graphic novel Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn. The graphic novel was an enormous critical and commercial success in Ireland, with Sliney already preparing a sequel in the form of the myth of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. “It’s something I’ve been tipping away on for years. I always wanted to do something with Cú Chulainn. I’ve loved the story since I was very young. I figured the best route for it was through an Irish publisher. I knew O’ Brien press had started doing graphic novels, so I set up a meeting with them and pitched it.”
The more I was publishing, the more it was getting seen by different editors, so I came onto their radars over the years
For Sliney, his online presence has been of particular significance. He’s very active on his blog, on Tumblr and on Twitter, which for him is essential in the comic book industry today. “Online presence is crucial. When you start out, it gives you a reason to keep producing art. I used to post on various art forums and I would get critique. Online you can keep expanding your fan-base. You can post up processes behind your art, which helps others to learn. Most importantly it keeps you visual. It’s very easy to be forgotten. You always have to be producing and showing your work. Before it would only be seen if you got published or in an exhibition. Now you post it up on Twitter and get a reaction.”
Sliney got his first chance with Marvel as part of their new enterprise, Marvel NOW. The project is what Sliney has described as “a creative shakeup within Marvel.” This innovation has come as a result of a growing readership, which can be attributed to the successes of Avengers and the Iron Man series. “A lot of artists go their whole career without getting their own series from issue one, so it was perfect timing that they brought me in from the ground level in Marvel. I was shocked they did choose me. It’s been brilliant.” Fearless Defenders, Sliney’s first project for Marvel, has unfortunately been cancelled since this interview, but this is by no means the end of his time at Marvel. “Marvel have given me assurances that when that ends that there will be more there for me, which is great.”
With future projects at Marvel in the pipeline and his second instalment of Celtic Warrior underway, things are looking very promising for Will Sliney. “I’m excited for what the future holds for me,” he admits, and it certainly seems Will Sliney will be a name to watch out for in future.