Pop Mhan (Bionifigs)

Interview with Pop Mhan, illustrator of BIONICLE Glatorian comics

Version originale de l’article en français, à ce lien.

On the occasion of #810NICLEday, the worldwide BIONICLE day where fan sites organize festivities and unveil various exclusives, BIONIFIGS publishes an interview with an artist who has left his mark on the franchise.

For the first time for a media in French, we are pleased to reveal on this August 10, 2020, an exclusive interview with Pop Mhan! The Thai-born American artist has worked on popular licenses such as Ghost Rider, Tomb Raider, World of Warcraft, Batgirl and The Flash for both Marvel and DC and other publishing houses such as Top Cow and Wildstorm. From 2009 to 2010, he illustrated the double series BIONICLE: Glatorian and BIONICLE: Journey’s End also published by DC, concluding the epic saga produced by the LEGO group for a decade. Bionifigs.fr had the pleasure to ask him a few questions, ten years after his contribution to this universe.

This interview is available as a video on the BIONIFIGS YouTube channel, whose verbatim is reproduced here in full, for those who also like to read.

BIONIFIGS.fr how are you ten years after the comics BIONICLE: Glatorian and Journey’s End (yeah, sorry about that but it’s been ten years already…) and what are your projects for 2020?

Pop Mhan — It’s been a good 10 years since Bionicle: Glatorian and Journey’s End. I’ve spent them drawing even more comics, writing and working on my own projects. For 2020, I am preparing to launch a campaign to fund a Collectible Card game I created called RumboBots! It’s funny, the RumboBots Game came to be because I was working on a battle system for Legos and Bionicles. A system where you build your robot and battle
them. The system evolved from there into a card game but can still use parts and pieces and even though I created my own story and lore, as well as a look and feel for the game and toys, I will always think fondly about how the Bionicle helped inspire this game!

BFIG — Did your work on BIONICLE bring you something in particular? Maybe some techniques or some opportunities for further projects?

Pop — The work I did on Bionicle made me much more comfortable drawing robots and mechanical parts and pieces. In the past, I’d sometimes avoid projects with a lot of tech in it because I didn’t like drawing tech that much. Because I was more comfortable with drawing robots, I didn’t hesitate with the designs forRumboBots. My familiarity with working on Bionicle parts and pieces and elaborate design work also helped me to design the game with game mechanics that uses pieces and parts. I’m very lucky to have worked on Bionicle when I did. It definitely helped me with my own stuff.

BFIG — How have you been hired on BIONICLE ? How did you become familiar with the franchise?

Pop — Well huh, I have a good track record at DC Comics licensing department for being reliable and easy to work with. I’m able to work well with third party companies and take direction and offer creative input in a friendly way. Myart isn’t horrible too bad either so that’s a plus. When the spot became open for Bionicle, I was invited to try out for the job and LEGO liked my work enough to put me in the spot. I have to admit that I didn’t really know much about Bionicle before taking the job. In fact, one of the hardest parts of the tryout was trying to draw the characters accurately. That was pretty rough.

BFIG — How does it feel to be the artist who put an end and drew the big finale of a 10 year-old fan favorite saga? Did you feel more pressure to conclude a big story born in 2001?

Pop — In hindsight, I’m a bit sad that a cool property like Bionicle ended. I was told about the plan to end Bionicle and launch Hero Factory maybe 4-6 months before the end of the Bionicle series. At that time, DC Comics was gearing up to see if they would be handling the Hero factory comics for LEGO and who would be drawing the book if the project started. I was asked to draw a sample pinup but I’m not sure what happened afterwards because right after the Bionicle project, I started on Worlds of Warcraft and lost touch with the LEGO license.
As for the pressure, I think so but because it was so hectic at the time to finish the project and then doing the Hero Factory tryout and also trying out for Warcraft and a few other projects, I didn’t have much time to worry, or to feel the pressure of the end of Bionicle.

BFIG Were you aware of the BIONICLE lore before working on it? What is your feeling with this universe?

Pop Well, you know as I said previously, I’m not that familiar with BIONICLE before you know working on the project. I love the BIONICLE lore and the property after working on it, I mean I did a lot of work studying, you know, about BIONICLE and all the different pieces and all the different parts and all the elaborate mechanical engineering that is put into each piece and part and because of that I truly appreciated the elaborate, intricate and fancy pieces afterwards. That’s my feeling, that said, I do think that the lore is pretty phenomenal. I mean there’s so much to it and yeah it was a very cool, very cool property.

BFIG What was your first reaction when the LEGO guys told you “Hey Pop, can you draw two planet-size robots and some villagers next to it to represent Mata Nui and Makuta? Did you think “It’s as easy as Galactus” or “Oh man that’s kind of a challenge…”? How do you manage to draw such big characters in comic books?

Pop — It was hard, it was really really hard. When LEGO said hey they want me to draw the two heroes that were planet sized, my first thought was how on earth would I ever portray that and how would they fit on a comic page, like people would be so so small, and that was part of comics is that you’re able to bend and warp things a little bit and I definitely had to do that because honestly if I had to draw the planet and the villagers and everything, the villagers would be just a speck of dust and I think you know much of it was me drawing specks of dust but you know the size of the planets are also relative, right ? You could have huge huge huge planets like Saturn size and you can have very very small planets like pluto size, right ? so there’s much variety in there so even though the heroes are planet size we could say you know they’re more pluto than saturn *laughs* but yeah it was definitely a challenge and it gave me headaches for a long time trying to figure out how I was going to draw that.

BFIG — In 2010, there were some talks between the fans about the nature of the heavenly body that hit Makuta’s robot head. Some medias spoke about a violent impact with planet Aqua Magna, whereas it’s just a small fragment of it in the comic book. Do you have a personal interpretation about it?

Pop — I don’t and I will say that I’m going to avoid input on that because Greg, Greg Fartshey is the writer on the book and obviously his interpretation is going to have much more weight to it than mine, I pretty much just followed what Greg wrote and directed me to write or directed me to draw so in that way I’m going to say I don’t have any input on that.

BFIG — What were your relations with the creators of Bionicle? Did you work with the author Greg Farshtey or with a bigger team?

Pop — I worked mainly with the editor and the assistant editors on the book and I would also see LEGO’s emails sometimes as well as Greg’s sometimes. So in that way I didn’t really..althought I was given Greg’s email in case I needed to speak with him further, it never got to the point where I did need it to so in that way we weren’t as close as we could have been I guess, but that’s okay I worked with a great team at DC Comics, I was never at a loss for input or direction. Although I would love to hang out with Greg and grab a beer sometimes *laughs*. That would be great.

BFIG — At the very beginning, BIONICLE was a very successful toy brand for kids and teens. Did you have particular constraints regarding this young audience? Maybe in the way to draw and give life to this universe?

Pop — One of the things about being a licensed artist or an artist that works on licensed properties like me is that you know we’re always very careful about how the things that we draw are depicted, things that could be seen as controversial or inappropriate for you know different various ages. I can speak for myself that I’m very aware of what things are appropriate or what things are not so in that way yeah definitely. I’m very aware, although for the LEGO licenses because we’re always drawing blocks and things like that there’s not as much of a constraint, things like violence we have to curb it a little bit, obviously we’re not drawing things where BIONICLE are getting smashed in such a violent or graphic way, I guess, compared to other things I’ve had to drawn before there are definitely things you have to worry about with that.

BFIG BIONICLE fans are now between 20 and 30 (or more! Damn.) and are more into darker and mature contents. Would you draw it differently if you had to work on it today?

Pop — No, because you know again, you’re drawing for LEGO and because I’m drawing for LEGO I always have to worry about the age constraints in a way I am representing the brand when I’m working on their property and the LEGO brand is very geared for younger audiences. If it was my own project yeah obviously I can go much darker and much more graphic with it to which I do, on my own work.

BFIG — Were you influenced by the drawings of the artists who worked on BIONICLE before you? (Carlos D’Anda, Randy Elliot, Stuart Sayger, Leigh Gallagher…)

Pop — Yes! yes, When I was asked to try out for the BIONICLE property, one of the reasons that LEGO really liked Leigh Gallagher’s work a lot and I guess my abilities to chameleon other people’s work when I need to helped me to make the transition because the thing is, when a property goes from one artist to the next, it’s sometimes not in the best interest to go completely different than what people are used to so what I try to do when I’m jumping into a project that’s already been worked on by another artist is, I already have a look in my mind of what the work will look like at the end but until we get there I’d skew my own style to reflect more of what was seen before and then gradually over time start pushing it towards what I would do with my own work. So yeah! There was a lot of influence there.

BFIG — Is there a story-arc in the first BIONICLE saga, between 2001 and 2010, that you’d have liked to draw, other than the Glatorian?

Pop I will say that the one that Stuart Sayger worked on was pretty awesome, I forget what they’re called exactly [BIONICLE: Ignition published by DC en 2006-2007] but it had a lot of water in it and I’m a big fan of drawing water and the darkness, that’s conveyed in underwater scenes and stuff so I’d really like to have a go at that.

BFIG — You created your own YouTube Channel four months ago with a beautiful drawing of Mata Nui when he took the appearance of a Glatorian, and then, about twenty videos. Can you present us the concept of your channel?

Pop — Sure, the concept of the Pop Mhan Comix channel is to :
1 show people the things that I draw and have them follow along and see how things could progress from beginning to the end.
2 is also to start doing “how to’s” and tutorials so they can also draw things or they can also see how I draw things and if they can use the tips and tricks that I can do or that I show them, then awesome! And you know, hopefully grow the channel nice and big and also to promote RumboBots and some of the other personal work that I’ve got going on when the time comes.

BFIG —  In your video you say that Mata Nui is your favorite “superhero”, after Superman. Is it because he wears a cape or because he has less details to draw?

Pop *Laughs* I would say that because he has less detail to draw. Drawing the bionicles, one of the hardest parts was the amount of details, that was crazy, I spent a lot of time drawing all those little circles.

BFIG — Thank you so much for your Pop answers and especially for the quality of your art! See you in France for a Convention one of these days?

Pop — Hopefully as soon as this Covid thing is done and I’m able to connect with anyone in France and I’m able to go! I would love to meet all of you and say Hi! I would love to talk with as many BIONICLE fans as possible. So that’s it for me, thank you very much for all the questions. I’ve had a great time remembering about BIONICLE and I had an even better time drawing it, what was it like… 10 years ago ? Oof that was a long time ago! But it was really nice to talk about it again and revisit the ideas and I hope I will see all of you very very soon, please follow me on my youtube channel Pop Mhan Comix, with the X. And be sure to pick up RumboBots when it comes out. And I’ll see you soon.

Interview conducted on August 6, 2020 for Bionifigs.fr.
Questions by Exo-6, translation and editing by Sonic and Toa~Katsuhono.

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À propos de l'auteur : Fondateur du futur Bionifigs en 2006, ayant initié de multiples projets tels que l'encyclopédie en français BIONICLE Nuvapedia, les conventions nationales de fans en France ou encore plusieurs concours avec la marque. Rare version d'Exo-Toa avec des genoux.
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