Shawn Martinbrough Tells All About Thief of Thieves

by Stephen Walker

Stephen Walker recently spoke with the artist of Thief of Thieves from Robert Kirkman's Image imprint, Skybound, Shawn Martinbrough. Shawn talks about his career, working on Thief of Thieves and more!

COMIC RELATED: What got you into comics?

SHAWN MARTINBROUGH: I have been a Marvel and DC Comics fan since grade school. I majored in art at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts and Music and subsequently received my BFA in Illustration from The School of Visual Arts. During my junior year at SVA, I landed my first professional job doing full color painted work for Marvel Comics. I have been working in the industry ever since, having illustrated stories and created characters for Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse and now Skybound/IMAGE.

CR: Who are your influences and what advice would you give to aspiring artists?

SM: There are so many artists that influence me both in and outside of the comics industry. Film and television are major inspirations for my approach to storytelling.

Whenever I give lectures, I advise aspiring artists to not only learn the basics of drawing and perspective but to approach becoming a freelance illustrator as a business. I describe my artistic process and my entry into the comic book field in my art instruction book, How To Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling published by Watson Guptill/Random House. Writing this book was a great opportunity to share a bit of my artistic process and provide advice to help artists hoping to break into the field.

CR: Let's talk about Thief of Thieves, which you're the artist for. How did you get involved with the series from the Image imprint Skybound?

SM: Robert Kirkman reached out to me, said that he was a fan of my artwork and had a new project that he was developing that would really suit my style. Once Robert sent me the premise, I became very excited about the possibilities of working with these characters and helping to build this new universe.

CR: Are you enjoying working on the series?

SM: Working with Kirkman, Nick Spencer, James Asmus and now Andy Diggle has been great fun and creatively, very rewarding. Colorist extraordinaire Felix Serrano continues to amaze everyone with his color choices and storytelling. The folks at Skybound are really good people and a pleasure to work with as well. I have to tip my hat to editor in chief Sean Mackiewicz, who keeps things running smoothly.

CR: What makes the series unique is how many writers are on the book with each story arc. How does that work?

SM: For my department, which is creating the artwork, it is really quite simple. I get the scripts from Mackiewicz and illustrate them. Typically, I will discuss story points or any questions I might have with the specific writer of each arc.

CR: How is it working with the likes of Nick Spencer, James Asmus, and for the latest story arc, Andy Diggle?

SM: It has been a very smooth process overall. When I read the scripts, it is clear that each writer has their own distinct style, yet the overriding tone and voice of Thief of Thieves is impressively consistent. I credit this to Robert's involvement and vision for the series. Working with both Spencer and Asmus has been great and now that Andy is on board, I am really excited about the future possibilities for the series.

CR: In the latest story arc the main character, the master thief Redmond, and his gang, are about to pull off the heist they have been building up to in Venice. What can you tell us about what's going to happen?

SM: Of course, I cannot provide any spoilers but I will say that certain questions will be answered and of course, new challenges for Redmond will present themselves.

CR: Can you go through the process of how you layout panels and if you have any input in the character designs?

SM: I tend to favor layouts using horizontal panels. However, it strictly depends on the script and how many panels the writer calls for. Nick Spencer averaged four panels per page so I used horizontal panels which gave me more room to tell the story. We got into such a groove that it became the preferred visual approach. When Asmus came on board to write the second arc, he incorporated that pacing (give or take a panel or two) into his scripts.

Regarding character designs, I have a ton of freedom to create the looks. There were only one or two times where I had to alter a design due to Robert having a specific look in mind for a character.

CR: Is it true that the series is being turned into a TV series? If so, are you excited about it?

SM: I believe Robert and Co. are still in the deal making phase. My primary focus is making the Thief of Thieves comic book the best it can be. However, I am excited and curious about the possibility of seeing a live action version of the series.

CR: What can you tell us about it and your involvement in it so far?

SM: I cannot tell you much. Robert gives me updates from time to time. For now, that is the extent of my involvement.

CR: Who is your favorite character to draw?

SM: Conrad/Redmond is my favorite. He was the first character I designed and is the character I draw the most. All the characters have their own special traits that make them fun to draw. It is always fun and challenging to create the various looks for new villains that are introduced in the series.

CR: How much research have you done into the world of thieves to get the feel and locations right in the series?

SM: I use a ton of references. Whenever I get a new script I research the locations. For example, the current Thief of Thieves storyline, written by Andy Diggle, is set in Venice, Italy so I have totally immersed myself in the visuals of the canals and architecture. Regarding the characters, I always try to give them a distinctive look that is representative of their personalities and background. It is also important to me to add diversity wherever I can. Fortunately, Robert has been very supportive of my choices in this area.

CR: Do you have any input in the writing process and would you love to write an issue yourself in the future?

SM: No. I strictly create the artwork and designs. However, as a writer, it would be fun to write a three part story.

CR: How involved is Robert Kirkman in the series?

SM: Robert oversees the writing process. When he first approached me to work on Thief of Thieves, I believe Robert had the story worked out until issue #25 or so. It is part of my protocol to send every finished page to him. Robert is very involved in cover design. That is probably the area where we have the most back and forth. He is very particular about approving the cover designs. With regard to the visual storytelling for each issue, Robert is very trusting in my choices.

CR: Do you think now that you have done this series you could become a master thief yourself?

SM: Heck no! There are too many factors to consider in order to become a half way decent thief.

I would say that any aspiring thief should go through at least ten drafts of their heist before they execute it. The fact that most people are too lazy to put in that much effort and preparation when there is the risk of serious jail time astounds me!

Learn more about Shawn's work at his website:

And pick up his book, "How to Draw Noir Comics..." on Amazon.

Stephen Walker/Writer, Reviewer
Otherwise known as Agent Steve, Stephen is from England and enjoys reading comics and collecting comic art prints and original pieces. He is also a part of DarkAvengerINC, a group of reviews on YouTube, and maintains his own blog and YouTube channel.

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