Interview with Aaron Kuder (January 2024)

The artist on the new volume of DAREDEVIL talks about coming onboard the title and his collaboration with the DD creative team, his design work and what excites him about drawing comics. Many thanks to him for this great discussion!

This interview was conducted over video call on January 27, 2024.

Kuljit Mithra: Thank you for doing this interview. I had spoken with [Daredevil writer] Saladin Ahmed in October, and I had also wanted to speak with you as well. Glad we were able to work something out today.

Aaron Kuder: You also interviewed [Daredevil colorist] Jesus [Aburtov] too, recently.

Mithra: Yes, that was very interesting the way he described how he colored a lot of your work. And that's something I wanted to ask you as well. We'll get to that for sure.

I just wanted to start with how my comic collecting habits have changed over the years. I don't collect everything now, so my universe of comics is just Daredevil. So while I was aware of you and your work, I don't think I've ever actually read any of your work, if that makes sense, until you came onboard Daredevil.

Kuder: Oh, for shame! [Laughs]

Mithra: Yeah, I know, sorry. [Laughs] I know that you worked on Action Comics, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, titles like that. I've got a lot of your work on order.

I'm looking at it for the first time and I'm trying to figure out your style and what it reminded me of because it's not typically what we've seen on Daredevil before. Usually Daredevil is dark but Jesus Aburtov seems to be doing things differently with the colors, and your inking, with some solid line outlines... I'm probably not saying any of this correctly in the artistic terms here...

Kuder: Honestly, it's a different language to be able to dissect. Especially visual comics. It's completely a different language, even for folks that go to art school, which I did not. They have a vocabulary that kind of that sweeps over large encompassing ideas to describe art and it's very hard to do with comics because we're all drawing the same IP. We're all drawing the same images. And so the nuance of how to describe one thing versus another, it's very circumstantial.

Mithra: I thought of artists Nick Pitarra and Frank Quitely, reminded me of that kind of European style. Is that what you were influenced by?

Kuder: Nick and I kind of came onto the same scene at the same time. Frank, he was definitely an influence. I wouldn't say he's where I derived my style from, or where the roots of it come from. For me, it's kind of a blend of so many different artists that have influenced me over the years and that goes from everybody like Art Adams and Alan Davis and everybody that did Dark Horse Legends back in the 90s, and some of the Image cats. I think one of the people that doesn't get really name dropped much that was a huge influence was Grzegorz RosiƄski, he's a Polish comic book artist. He had a comic book called Thorgal. I was always a big fan of Tintin and Dylan Dog and a lot of European comics. When I found Thorgal, his style is very similar to Moebius, you could probably swap them out at different times. That hit me at just the right time. It's just some beautiful stuff. And so, you're right with the European connection there. That was a huge influence as a kid.

Mithra: Did you grow up with comics or you got into it later?

Kuder: When I was a kid. We moved around a lot, my family and I, and oftentimes I was in the back seat with a drawing pad and a bunch of comic books, driving from state to state. That's really where my imagination budded.

Mithra: Awesome. I think I've been collecting for maybe forty years now. We'll see how long I keep going on, all this stuff [waving at comics in office] where's it going to go? I'm sure my kids aren't going to keep it.

Kuder: It won't be your problem. [Laughs]

Mithra: In terms of coming onboard Daredevil, Saladin had mentioned the editorial team had suggested your pairing. Did you even know him? Because there are some teams that never really talk to each other. Like the writer just writes it. The artist just draws it and they never really collaborate.

Kuder: Right. It's different with every writer that I've worked with. There's always a cordial connection to an extent. Sometimes good friendships spawn from that. We were put together by the editorial team, but we had worked together for like a eight page little story for Amazing Spider-Man, like some big anniversary issue, 750 or something like that, where it was just a ton of different artists and people.

Mithra: That's the same editorial team as Daredevil, right?

Kuder: That was Nick Lowe on Spider-Man, but the Spider-Man editorial house is the same as the Daredevil house. It was actually through that eight pager that I got to see just a little bit of Saladin's heart, as it were, a story heart where so often in comics, we forget about the character and the drive of the characters and I could see just in those eight pages, like, this guy gets it. He gets the emotional beat of the story and the silly spandex fights, it's a good balance. He's open to your feedback. He's very open to talking about ideas and stuff like that. I'm probably really more of a pusher than him. I wouldn't say bully, but if I see a story breaking down in a certain way, I'll throw out a suggestion nine times out of ten, it works. And on that tenth time, we talk about it.

Mithra: I had asked Saladin about your collaboration and he said 'there are some artists that you will describe something in a panel and they will evoke it exactly. And it's incredible. And then there are some artists who will sort of understand the story you're trying to tell and kind of push it further. And Aaron's kind of more that kind of artist and it's awesome.' So that's why I brought it up. It sounds like you're able to go back and forth on many things here. Is he suggesting how panels should be drawn? Like, is he even putting that in his script or is it more 'here's what's going to happen' like the old way of how scripts were done, going back after it was drawn?

Kuder: It's a hodgepodge of the old Marvel way and a straightforward script. When it comes to the fight scenes and stuff, that's more of a visual, environmentally, in an engrossing moment. In the last couple of scripts, he's given me lots of room. He'll say pages X through Z, we need a fight scene. We need X, Y, and Z to happen and then by the end of that fight scene we need him or this character to be here. So when it comes to the parts of the story that have dramatic plot points or particular moments of mood, Saladin's very good at giving me exactly what I need for trying to convey that when it comes to the fight scenes and stuff like that. He's very good at just letting me do my own thing. I mean, it's very frustrating to get some scripts with fight scenes in particular or large action scenes and have it all choreographed out on the page. That doesn't always translate in the words, versus how you can break it down on a page in the drawing part.

Mithra: That's interesting, but I'm glad it's working.

Kuder: Just to kind of expand upon my process with the way that I approach storytelling... when I get the script... and this is true for any script... I look for moments of humanity to put into it where it's the everyday stuff, the everyday scenes are the ones that are really where I can put more of my creativity in. Showing just all the little nuance stuff, like if you're in a kid's bedroom and there's sneakers everywhere, or if you're in a diner and you have background characters that feel real and feel like you could tell their story just by looking at them in the background. That's the stuff that I like to interject the most.

Mithra: So did you have like a lot of discussion about some of the kids in the Home, the church, and all these new supporting characters that have come with this relaunch? It sounds like you've tried to make each of those kids have a purpose in this instead of just being there.

Kuder: Oh, absolutely. When I heard the angle of the story where he's taking care of children and is in this youth center environment, I just loved it. I absolutely loved the idea of a street level hero that is actually getting their hands dirty with social consequences. They're like social scenarios that actually affect people, instead of just beating up people that don't know how to use their words. But yeah, the kids are great. I would love to do a book just on them. Like, get rid of Daredevil for an issue and we'll just hang around with the kids. See what adventures they go on.

Mithra: That reminds me of when Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr. were on the book and they had the Fatboys, the skateboarding kids. They had their own adventures in Annuals and things like that. So, maybe you can get some more backstory for that.

Kuder: That era of Daredevil is really when I started reading comics and I really fell in love with Daredevil in the first place, in particular, the Romita Jr, early Weeks and Al Williamson. Those guys were like the forefathers of Daredevil in a lot of ways to me.

Mithra: I wanted to get an idea of some of the design things that you've done because of all the religious backstory of the comic, obviously with him being Father Murdock now. So, a lot of design work that you've put into some of your panels are like double page spreads, stained glass windows and circular representations of his radar, things like that. When you got offered the project, were you hesistant at all, considering DD's critical history?

Kuder: No, I didn't even know that when it was first proposed to me that Saladin was a part of it. They just said, what do you think about Daredevil? And I said, yeah, I don't even care, I'm in. Who else is on writing? Okay. I want to do Daredevil. The thing I've always loved about Daredevil is that he's a street superhero. It seemed like every street hero had guns. But if he picked up a gun, it was a big deal. I love that he's not street violence, he's street justice, and he's not all that super, I mean, he's not like Spider-Man, he's still like a superhero and he has powers. But, he's not super strong, he's not going to throw a car or anything like that. I love how humane he is, how tangible he is.

Mithra: Okay, that's great. I'm glad you were a fan from before. So just to get back to the religious design work, how much research did you do? I'm not Catholic. I wouldn't even know how to even draw these kind of things. Even like what Matt Murdock is wearing, is there a specific way that you have to draw anything like that?

Kuder: Um, I wouldn't know. I'm not Catholic. When it comes to religion in general, I have my own personal views, but I have had the benefit of having been exposed to quite a few religious organizations by way of family. My family's all over the spectrum, I have been able to observe a lot of different religious beliefs and spirituality and things like that. So not so much Catholic, so sometimes there is just straight up Google research. When it comes to the youth center in particular, that was just out of my head. I actually built a Google model or a 3D model of the youth center, all five stories of it. Just to be able to give it that feeling of being built and was repurposed for this in New York, with tall ceilings on the 1st floor. Not so much on the others, little things like radiators instead of central heating there. The details, you know, interesting.

Mithra: I'll have to go back and look at some of that.

Some of the seven deadly sins, like sloth, envy and glottony have been revealed so far. How much design work was involved for that first demon that took over Elektra and the others.

Kuder: The only demon that I didn't design was the one that takes Ben over, but the rest of them are all my design. I'll say as far as the design of any of the demons, or the sins, none of them are based on anything other than my imagination or conversations with Saladin.

Mithra: I really enjoyed the way you showed the oversized demon head on Elektra.

Kuder: I'm a huge Miyazaki fan, Hayao Miyazaki. He did Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. I think it was in Spirited Away. He has a number of characters, at least a couple of characters that are all somewhat spiritual and have like giant heads on tiny bodies. And so I kind of just wanted to tip my hat to Miyazaki for that stuff.

Mithra: Yeah! That was another one of those things. Like, I know I've seen something like this before, but I just couldn't place it.

Another question I had was related to Jesus Aburtov's coloring. I really like the way that the reds really pop off on the texture of the costume, if that makes sense, there are some panels that you've done where I just go, wow, this just looks really amazing, especially... there's one, it's the full page of just Matt putting on the mask, right? Like that one, it just looks like a simple red, but it isn't simple.

Kuder: Oh, there's a lot of subtlety to it, but there's a lot of different red in there to make that red.

Mithra: And I did ask him, what does he call that color of red? He called it "red ketchup". But that red seems to just pop off the page. When you're inking your own work in issues 1 & 2, I did notice a difference in colors. I don't know if you're doing a separate pencil or you're doing traditional, or are you doing digital?

Kuder: I do whatever works, honestly. Issues 1 & 2 are I think 99 percent traditional. Issue 3 is my pencils and Cam Smith did an amazing job inking those. On issues 6, 7, I just finished up 7, I inked them myself.

Mithra: Yeah, because I did notice with some of the other guest artists that have come on as well, there's just a different type of inking style. I think yours is more suited to the coloring than with the other artists, it seems to be more shading, more tone to it. Am I describing it correctly, or...

Kuder: It's hard, I don't really want to comment on other artists styles or anything like that. It's hard to find artists that, or at least I've been told by editors, that it's hard to find artists that do a similar style to myself. A lot of other artists that are coming up now have different influences. There's a lot of people that are really trying to much more ink washes and things like that. And, I think 90 percent of them do the ink wash stuff on the computer. I actually did a little bit of tonal stuff in the 1st issue with Elektra. And when she's possessed, it kind of gave her a little haze around her, and I did that digitally. It was after I scanned in the pages. It all depends on how you're telling a story, it's really not an easy job, no matter how you do it. So more power to anybody who can just get it done.

Mithra: Yeah, and I'm sure your deadlines are pretty tough, right?

Kuder: They're the bane of my existence.

Mithra: Even with the previous volume, Marco Checchetto had to take a break and let somebody else draw.

Kuder: Yeah, he's a monster. I don't know how he was able to do as many issues in a row that he did. In the 80s and 90s, there was a lot less drive for detail and, well, it's not to say that they weren't detailed things back then, it was a different time. It was a different time of storytelling. I'm not going to say it was easier to draw, but there's an element of faster to it. It was printed on newsprint. My inner child just glows whenever I smell newsprint still to this day. The medium was a lot more forgiving of quick fixes and mistakes. I think it wasn't until the late 90s that people kind of started taking it as an art form seriously.

Mithra: And I guess with social media, comics need to be perfect.

Kuder: It can be perfect, but you'll have half as many issues in a year. Right? That's the payoff. That's the cost of it.

Mithra: Yeah, that's funny. I don't know how you do it.

So the solicits just came out and that's going to be the 60th anniversary issue. I'm really excited to see what Marvel wants to do with that, because it's going to be almost 90 pages. I'm eager to see what else will be in there. I also remembered you have a variant cover coming up for issue #7 as well before that. Once again, I just love that red. Like even some of the fight sequences, there's a red background.

Kuder: When Saladin and I had our first couple of interactions and talking to editorial, there were some colorists that we were going to use and it didn't work out. I was not familiar with Jesus's work beforehand. Devin [Lewis], the editor, was like, 'hey, Jesus is amazing, let's use him. I've been trying to get him back under my umbrella for a long time'. And, immediately I was like, all right, just make sure, I want hot rod, cherry red, that is the line in the sand for me. Like you can do whatever he wants with the rest of the colors, but that's Daredevil to me. Is that possible? Like you could taste the cherry.

Mithra: So he called it "red ketchup" and "red tootsie" and you're calling it cherry.

Kuder: It's actually more of a ketchup than a cherry, but I'm thinking like maraschino cherry, which I don't even like to eat.

Mithra: So it has that sort of shine, like how he's able to put that on your art. That's pretty funny.

I wanted to get your opinion on this... when I interviewed Saladin I asked why Matt remembers who he was right away. One of the things he said was basically (paraphrased) 'Marvel needed to get Daredevil into his costume in the first issue, so we could show the super heroics'.

Kuder: I mean, that's the character, right, as much as I adore what Chip [Zdarsky] and Marco did. If I were President of Marvel for a day, I might have waited like a couple months, to give the fans that breather space between that run and then where he is now. But I absolutely understand the desire to get him back in costume, from a marketing point of view, but also in the sense of having the feelings that everybody had with Chip and Marco's run continue and not have there be such a disconnect. You know, there's multiple ways to look at it.

Mithra: So, thank you for this. I'm glad I was able to get ahold of you and get some time here. I know that you're busy with these deadlines. Do you have your own set area in your house with your drawing table and you're over that for the whole night?

Kuder: I'm in a studio with a computer desk set up for my digital stuff. And then I have two other drawing desks, because I work traditionally to do whatever it takes to make it work. At one point, I think it was in issue 2, Daredevil is standing on top of the youth center at the very beginning. And there's all these rings, all the radars going out. So, just the difference between traditional and digital, a lot of artists would just draw that digitally because it's a lot easier to handle giant circles. They don't really make a lot of templates for it. I use a ton of these templates, different sizes and stuff. [Holds up green plastic drafting template with circles] But for that page, I had to actually make my own tool, where... I don't know where I ended up putting it... but it's just a metal rod that I drilled holes in and used it as a compass for all the different ellipse sizes.

Mithra: Oh, wow.

Kuder: So that's why I have like multiple desks and stuff like that. It's like, if I get an itch in my head, just try to figure out a new way to tell the story in a way that you haven't seen before. Maybe that's one of the other fun parts for me.

Mithra: I definitely remember that page, but it's funny, all the work that you've put into that and there are going to be people that will pass by that page in under a second without appreciating it.

Kuder: I mean, honestly, I do this more for the kids than the fans. I mean, most of the fans are our age and that's fine. I still love comics, you know, I'm not trying to say I'm not doing it for you, but my favorite stuff and my favorite times at conventions and things like that are when some little kid comes up to me and has my comic book rolled up in his back pocket, and he pulls it out and he's like, 'Can you sign this'? My heart just blows up then. Like that's why I do this, you know.

Mithra: It sounds like you're enjoying this stint on the title, and comics in general.

Kuder: I do feel extremely privileged to be able to do this for a living.

Mithra: That's wonderful. I thank you for your time once again.

Kuder: Well, absolutely a pleasure.

Mithra: It was nice to speak with you. I look forward to 6, 7 and that anniversary issue. I'm really looking forward to that.

Kuder: All right, I hope you enjoy them. Thank you. Bye.

Mithra: Bye.

(c) 2024 Kuljit Mithra & Aaron Kuder
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear

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