By Joe McGovern
Updated February 11, 2016 at 06:19 PM EST
Deadpool: Michael Muller; Illustration by Rob Liefeld for EW


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It was 25 years ago this month when the mercenary antihero known as Deadpool first appeared on a comic book’s pages. The person holding the pencil — and developing the perverse yet earnest mutant-psyche that’s made the character so famous — was renowned illustrator Rob Liefeld.

Liefeld introduced Deadpool as part of the vast repertoire of Marvel’s The New Mutants. He was a secondary character then, a few years away from headlining his own comic series. Liefeld, 48, has both been heavily involved and non-included at different points in the decades of Deadpool’s evolution, but the artist is a particularly proud papa this week as his “Merc With a Mouth” makes his debut as a movie star. (His previous appearance, in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Liefeld addresses below.)

In addition to designing a Deadpool movie poster for Mondo, Liefeld also drew an exclusive illustration for EW (above), which ran alongside the unfiltered interview with Deadpool himself in the print magazine.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, thank you for this illustration that you designed for us.

ROB LIEFELD: When you guys asked me, I said, “Oh my gosh!” My favorite magazine, since it launched in 1990 or whenever. And it’s survived the wars. So I’ve got comic book deadlines that I’m trying to meet, but I took last Sunday and I looked at the page and I knew exactly how I was going to fill it up. I sat down at 9:00 a.m. to work and at 7:00 p.m. I said, “I’m done.”

So it was just another day at the office?

I took a break for lunch. I literally started with the lower left corner and went clockwise all around. It was so much fun. I was very excited to do it.

When did you first get involved with this current movie of Deadpool?

I was very fortunate that after X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out in 2009, the producer Lauren Shuler Donner asked me to come to her offices. And we knew that we could’ve done Deadpool better. She and her staff, they didn’t want to do Deadpool right by me, but by the fans. So we just ran ideas about how to get him right.

The fan outcry regarding Deadpool after that film was kind of severe.

Well, it was like teasing. The fans had been hyped that the character was great but then the movie went off track.

So what was the result of that meeting?

For those two hours, I acted as an advisor. “Don’t do this; yes, do that. More of this; less of that. Trust the fans.” But not knowing if anything I said would be used. I was just excited to be included, to help get the fans more of the Deadpool they deserved.

Had you met Ryan Reynolds at this point?

I met him shortly after.

What was your first impression of him?

I was shocked at how big he was. He’s a physical beast. I’m a very average-height man and when Ryan approached me, I said, “Wow, you’re so tall!” And then he hugged me and as he hugged me he whispered, “Yes…I am…so tall.” I thought, “He’s Deadpool!”

It’s amazing how the character seems very organic within him.

Exactly. He has that Adonis presence, the perfect superhero template, and obviously he’s super charismatic and charming. And then — then he has that tongue. You can’t play Deadpool without that tongue. So I was very happy as well when I found out that he was also going to be a producer on the movie. That was very good.

What do you think about the job that director Tim Miller did with the film?

You would never, ever believe that he had not directed a major motion picture before. It looks like the work of a seasoned vet. But it’s not just the way it looks — it’s the way he handles the rapidly changing tone of the film. One minute it’s a comedy, then next it’s an action film, then next it’s a love story, then next it’s a grudge match, then next it’s a cancer drama. The narrative structure of the film is why I fell in love it.

I won’t ask you if you think Deadpool the movie is better than the comic. But did you ever have that experience of seeing a movie and thinking it was better than the comic?

I’ve been collecting comics since I was 5 and I had a stack of Superman comics. I can cite the movie version of Superman, 1978, because that was better than any comic I’d read up to that time. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor was not the Luthor I had seen in the comic books. He was more of a wisecracking mastermind. That definitely stuck with me. And he had hair the whole movie, not until the end did he rip the wig off. I loved that. And kryptonite never looked that way in the comic — that crystalline, chandelier quality.

Deadpool’s opening credits sequence is a 360-degree swiveling deconstruction of a freeze-framed action scene. What was it like watching that for you, as someone who’s so connected to the pictorial version of the character?

Oh, come on! It’s maybe my favorite part of the movie. The opening credits are just incredible. Audiences are so not ready for that — and they roar. Five years ago when I saw the script, it said, “Page One, Scene One: Juice Newton, ‘Angel of the Morning.’” And I remember howling back them. It such a great way to bring us into that world.

And the use of the Juice Newton song is not mocking. The movie has a lot of retro appeal and its perspective is that “Angel of the Morning” is a good song, which is refreshing.

I love all the ’80s stuff, from Juice Newton to Wham! I was in a test screening and one of the ladies who scored the film “Excellent” was called on to explain why the movie was great. And she said, “Oh, gosh, I just love the music! The music is so great!” So I said, “Well, we won her over.”

Were you on the set when they were shooting Deadpool in Vancouver?

I was there for a couple days. It was so fun to be there and see Ryan do his thing. I have a blink-and-you’ll-miss-me little piece in the movie. You’ll likely miss me the first time. It’s in the bar and Deadpool bumps into me and says “Liefeld.” It’s funny. I’m literally an Easter Egg and very happy to be one.

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