In anticipation of the episodes that will culminate in the conclusion of the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel is rolling out a new initiative that will bring the series together with top artists from around the world: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Art of Level Seven.” According to Marvel’s press release, a different image will be released each week, timed to coincide with the show’s upcoming episode. Each piece of art — commissioned from a popular comic artist — will feature a “first look” at an episode’s “key” event, offering fans clues about the show’s characters and plot. New art will be released every Thursday in advance of the series’ remaining six hours.
EW has an exclusive look at the first piece to be released in the series, which teases Tuesday’s upcoming episode “Turn, Turn, Turn” where Coulson and his team come face to face with The Clairvoyant. In the most recent episode, the team deduced that their deadly enemy is most likely a mole hiding within the organization, working from the inside. The newly released art, designed by acclaimed artist Mike Del Mundo (Elektra, X-Men Legacy) seems to confirm this fact by showing us a maze of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a rat inside — hinting ominously at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption and a possible traitor. EW spoke with producer Jeff Bell about the idea behind creating this initiative, and how this particular piece ties in with the show’s upcoming explosive episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you talk a little about what inspired you to create this initiative and this art?
JEFF BELL: Sadly, I can’t take I could take credit for this particular idea, but I think one of the great things about Marvel is that all of the universes and everything connects — it all originally came from the comic-verse, it was all inspired by the writers and artists and the comics. And from that, [Marvel head honcho] Kevin Feige, and the movie universe people. I think it’s a really lovely way to bring it all back, because a number of the artists have worked for Marvel and are working for Marvel, and so to go back to them and let us inspire them for the work and see how they respond to it is really exciting. And I think in the world of Mondo and limited edition art, getting to do something like this will feel really special to fans who collect them, and for us as mementos of the show it was a really exciting idea.
The show already has such a great level of fan connection, but for this particular venture, I think that’s what really appeals to me — that personal interaction, which really raises the bar in terms of how you connect with them.
I think it’s really cool. Just the idea of having this art and having different people interpret the show, and then like you said, letting the fans collect that and own that…in a world where Twitter and Facebook give you the illusion of connection, this is actually a tangible way to do it. I also think we have such a diverse base — we have hardcore Marvel fans, and then we’ve got families with kids, and college kids, and there are so many different ways to reach different people. And a large group of our fans do live online and through Twitter, and we have a great cast who loves doing that.
How long was this kind of initiative planned? Or did you always have a plan to introduce something like this in some way, even if it wasn’t necessarily through art?
At the beginning of the season, in the same way that the writers room figures out what the arc of the season is going to be, and you pitch ideas and you have dreams and hopes, the marketing and the publicity and the creative support team is also doing that, and they’re coming up with all kinds of different ideas. Some of them come to fruition and some of them don’t, but the idea to pull something like this off takes some planning and some time. And so the idea has been to do something like this for a very long time, and for me as a person — I was in art design before I became a writer, and I love comics and art — it’s been a great boon to what we do, having it memorialized this way. It’s funny, you’ll find TV writers who’ve got their name on a big multimillion dollar episode, and then they see someone else who wrote a comic with their name on it, and we all just want to write a comic. We all just want a comic we can own that has our name on it. Because the TV screen is so ephemeral, but to have a comic that you wrote, or to have a poster that commemorates an episode that you wrote, is pretty cool. So we’re all looking forward to that.
How did you go about picking the artists? Was there a certain criteria that you used?
The same way that you cast a show, you cast an artist. You find what the material is — this person, I like what you do here, I think they’d have an interesting take on this, whether it’s more graphic, whether it’s more figurative, whether it’s more emotional, whether it’s a montage of images. And I think as the art directing team looked at their short list of artists and looked at the episodes coming up, they tried to pair the right emotional combination. There’s men and women and I think we’ve done a really nice job of doing that. There’s a broader spectrum of illustrators. There are people who do comics, there are people who do covers or movie posters or editorial illustrations, and I would say people have skills in many fields that way.
What can you tease about the way the poster ties into this next episode?
What’s exciting for us is that this poster goes on sale tomorrow morning [ed. note: each poster in this series will be made available to order as a limited edition high quality print, limited to 100 copies.] It goes on the MarvelStore.com at 1am PST. And we want to tease out a little bit that’s coming. For fans who saw “End of the Beginning,” we’ve been looking for The Clairvoyant, and the team came to some realizations and conclusions where we think it’s is a high level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and so the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. being a maze and that there’s a rat in the maze and no one trusting anyone…I thought Mike did a great job of capturing that. I think if you saw 16, the stakes really went up a lot, and I think when you come back nexy week for 17, that will only continue to be more true. And we feel like if you look at a 22 episode season as a movie, we’re in the 3rd act of the movie. And from here on, its just full on action and urgency and momentum, and sometimes it takes awhile to set everything up, but we think we’re going to bring all those dominoes together really nicely for here through 22.
Is this initiative something that you think you plan on continuing for the series?
I hope so. I think to do every episode makes it less special, but I think to do this type of thing makes it super cool. And if the fans embrace it, I’m sure we’ll continue to do something.
Let us know what you think of the new art, and check back for more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. coverage, including a postmortem Q&A with Bell and Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel TV, following Tuesday night’s episode.