Gregg Schigiel Interview

Gregg Schigiel at TCAF 2015

Originally published in March of 2000. Gregg had recently left Marvel Comics and I decided to interview him in an effort to get some behind the scenes information about a recent controversy there. Rumor had it John Byrne wrote and drew a Hulk vs. Wolverine story but produced something that he knew Marvel wouldn’t like. His method of trying to get it published was to hand it in so close to the absolute deadline that Marvel would have to make a choice in either publishing it as is, or pay for a costly re-write/draw and publishing it late. As the story goes, editor Tom Brevoort chose to fire John Byrne from the book and pay for the re-do of the issue.

Gregg was professional and didn’t reveal anything when asked, but he did talk a lot about his time at Marvel and the things that he contributed, his love of comics and his future. At this time Gregg is doing a creator owned comic through Image Comics called PIX, which sounds like the idea he describes in this interview. I have since met Gregg at conventions and he’s always fun to talk to and tells me he still fondly remembers doing this interview.

 

An Interview With Gregg Schigiel

Wow, are you in for a treat this month. Gregg Schigiel was an assistant editor at Marvel Comics. You probably know his work from the ‘Fast Lane’ inserts he penciled for Marvel Comics and many other magazines. Others might recognize his work from various What If? issues. In this interview he tells us a lot of information and opinions about comic books, both as a fan and as someone who worked in the industry. He also tells us about the Starfox one shot, other ideas he has and a whole lot more!

 

Jamie: I assume you’re a comic book fan. When did you start reading comics? What were the first issues you bought and titles you got into?

Gregg Schigiel: Yeah, I am a comic fan. I started “reading” comics probably around the time I was seven or eight years old, or thereabouts; hard to remember exactly when. Amazing that I can’t remember the general stuff, but I remember a lot of otherwise insignificant details as you’ll soon see. But anyway, I remember my older brother and one of my cousins were into comics and I used to sort of look on. I definitely remember looking at the old Marvel collections like ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS and MARVEL’S GREATEST SUPERHERO BATTLES. They were these great, big collections published by Simon and Schuster. I still have the copy of SUPERHERO BATTLES and you can see the spine breaks on the stories I was entranced by; the X-Men vs. the Blob being the big one. I thought the Beast was the coolest thing, and Iceman and Angel. They were amazing to me. I mean, to have WINGS!? Are you kidding me? That’s great.

But anyway, I remember looking at those books a lot. I put “reading” in quotes above because I never really READ them. I just looked at the pictures…a lot. For example, I loved looking at the Silver Surfer/Thor fight by John Buscema, and there was a Daredevil/Sub-Mariner story by Wally Wood that really caught my eye. So yeah, I did a lot of looking at pictures.

Before that, I definitely watched cartoons. Cartoons are what probably got me into the whole idea of superheroes, especially Batman stuff. Loved Batman. Watched the cartoon (remember that from when I was a wee tike, round about 2 years old), the Adam West show (ran in syndication everyday after school on WDZL Channel 39 in North Miami Beach, FL), and Superfriends. I loved that stuff.

As I was getting older I got more into comics myself. We used to stop at a drug store before going to sleep at my grandparent’s house and buying two or three comics and some Presto-Magic packs, which I wish they still made. Those and shrinky-dinks. The earliest books I remember buying were BATMAN stuff, GREEN LANTERN and an issue of CAPTAIN CARROT AND THE AMAZING ZOO CREW (vs. the Justa Lotta Animals…it was so cool to me, the superheroes as animals). Eventually I started going to a local comic book store with my brother. And while he was regularly buying Marvels and DC, I used to fish in the 10 cent bins for anything with Batman in it, or any of the Superfriends. I ended up with a lot of BRAVE AND THE BOLD, DC COMICS PRESENTS, and other DC stuff, SUPER-SPECIALS and what-have-you. Really fun, superhero stuff.

Eventually, I started to buy ongoing series. The first books I can distinctly recall consciously picking up and trying out and getting hooked on was POWER PACK. I was really into POWER PACK, it was my little discovery. I picked up the current issue at the time (it had Dragon Man in it, who I didn’t much like) and the first issue. I was hooked. I still love the premise of kids with super powers. It’s almost perfect. POWER PACK and G.I. JOE. G.I. JOE was big.

Anyway, for a time, my brother and I actually fazed out of buying and reading comics. Not sure why, but it happened. Every now and then I’d pick up a book here or there (the new FLASH series being a perfect example), but it wasn’t regular. However, one day I was looking at the newspaper and saw an article about a new comic book that was out that had some controversy. Apparently, characters were cursing, and there was some intense, more mature material in it. I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time and well, that’s all I needed to hear. I asked my mom to take me to the comic store, plunked down my four bucks and walked out with a comic that had (and still does have) one of the coolest covers ever: BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE. I took it home, read it, and was back in the comic book habit. Years later I re-read that book and it actually made sense to me. But man, when you’re 11 and you read that…

My brother and I got back into the comic scene with vigor. We made lists of what we were gonna collect (so as to not double up) and filled our back issue lists. I was buying BATMAN stuff, FLASH, AVENGERS, THOR, POWER PACK, X-FACTOR (the original X-Men…the Beast, for crying out loud), the HULK, the new ongoing WOLVERINE series had just started, and all sorts of stuff. So yeah, we were really into comics. Bought ’em by the bushel and spent summers reading them just as fast. And that was it.

So there’s my probably over-long explanation of my early history with comics. Basically, I just loved superheroes, be it from TV or other exposure, I found them cool, and from there I got into comics. Eventually, that turned into a fascination with the medium itself, and so on and so on. But, let me get to the next question already…

 

Jamie: What did you do before you started at Marvel?

Gregg Schigiel: In the months before I was on staff at Marvel I was in college. In the summer before my senior year I interned at Marvel. I went back to school after that and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in advertising in May of 1997. Shortly thereafter I tried to get freelance work as a penciler. I showed my work at Marvel, got positive response (but no work) and went back to the boards to work up new samples. Matt Idelson, who was then an editor at Marvel gave me a DEADPOOL plot to work from. I did five pages and sent them in. Kelly Corvese called me the morning he got the samples and offered me an issue of WHAT IF?. I remember that day, hell, that week, vividly. It turned out to be WHAT IF? #104, starring the Silver Surfer and the Impossible Man (What if the Impossible Man had the Infinity Gauntlet?). I worked on that between August and September of 1997. My brother got married in September, and by the end of the month Tom Brevoort called me about an assistant editor job. I started as Tom’s assistant editor at Marvel in October of 1997. 1997 was a big year.

 

Jamie: Did you always want to work in comics or is this something you just happened to luck into?

Gregg Schigiel: Never planned on anything else. I decided I wanted to make comic books when I was in about fourth or fifth grade. Around that age it was a decision between comic books, comic strips or animation. I decided comic books was right for me, for the type of work I wanted to do.

Yeah, I’ve always wanted to work in comics. I love comics.

 

Jamie: How did you become an Assistant Editor?

Gregg Schigiel: Well, as I mentioned, I was an intern at Marvel. I worked in the Tom Brevoort/Glenn Greenberg office. After the internship I kept in touch with people at Marvel, visited when I could fly up from Florida, and generally kept up appearances. I also must have been a pretty decent intern in that Tom called me up an offered me the opportunity for the job. I flew up, interviewed, and within a month I was on staff, hired right smack dab in the midst of Marvel’s bankruptcy. Talk about a career move.

 

Jamie: What duties does an Assistant Editor do anyway?

Gregg Schigiel: Every office breaks their responsibilities down differently, and that could change depending on who the assistant is, who the editor is, etc. The easy answer to the question is, “whatever the editor tells them to do.” But that’s dramatically oversimplifying things.

In general, an assistant editor at Marvel is an editor’s right hand man. You make phone calls, check in and work with talent, work within Marvel and the different departments (Production, Manufacturing, Accounting, other Editorial Offices, Creative Services and Licensing, Legal, Sales, etc, etc.), deal with schedules, run material around, deal with letters pages, and more. You help your editor with whatever, all in an effort to put the best book together in a timely fashion.

In my experience with Tom, I tended to deal more with art related concerns. I worked with the Bullpen (production) putting covers together (picking colors for logos and cover copy, placement of those things, etc), worked with artists on cover sketches, followed work through the production process, and calling a lot of folks a lot of times to check on stuff or just talk shop. It was really quite cool. I learned a lot.

But honestly, I can only speak for myself in terms of what I did. Again, every office has a different breakdown. I was horrible with schedules. I didn’t keep track of them. Tom dealt with the writers more. I spoke to writers from time to time. I speak Spanish, so I worked with Carlos Pacheco quite a bit on AVENGERS FOREVER, and Leo Manco and Jose Ladronn on BLAZE OF GLORY and THOR stuff, respectively. I certainly can’t say that’s something on the list of assistant editorial responsibilities.

And even then, depending on the individual project, responsibilities broke down differently. The work split on AVENGERS wasn’t the same as it was on AVENGERS FOREVER, or AVENGERS 1 & 1/2, or AVENGERS: DOMINATION FACTOR, you know? So, there’s no list I can give you: I did this, Tom did that, assistants do this, editors do that. It’s definitely a team situation. You just work together to get the books done, as best as possible, as much on time as possible. I like to describe the job as the same thing every month, different every day. That is to say, every month the books had to go out (to the printers), but every day brought new challenges or what-have-you to getting that done.

 

Jamie: Spill the beans time, what editor’s office is the most cluttered and who’s is the cleanest?

Gregg Schigiel: By far, without question, without even a doubt in my mind, without ANY second thought, can tell you, in all honestly, that I was most assuredly the winner of “messiest desk and office” award. Ask anyone on editorial row. I many times proposed not even having a desk, because I couldn’t see it anyway, and just working on the floor. I had toppled stacks of paper surrounding my chair…it was like a coral reef. Tom’s a patient, patient man in that respect. But I could find anything…in about five minutes.

The cleanest desk…that’s probably a toss up between Bobbie Chase and Mike Marts. Their offices are kept in nice, clean, orderly fashion. I could never do it.

 

Jamie: Do you know if you want to become an editor or a freelancer?

Gregg Schigiel: Well, seeing as I am no longer an assistant editor, I’m gonna go with freelancer. My last day at Marvel was January 28th. I was offered a job working as an illustrator at Nickelodeon and accepted. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision.
But, even if that weren’t the case, my answer would be the same. I’ve always wanted to eventually do my own thing. I’d love to write and pencil material (and if I ever learn to ink, that too). I always had that in the back of my mind, even as an assistant.
I remember before I started working at Marvel, some of the other folks on staff were telling me not to do it. They thought I’d be throwing my freelance career to the wind. I even made a deal with one of them that if I didn’t get freelance work within a year, I had to quit. And I’m pretty sure I would have done just that…had I not gotten freelance work. Phew! In the end though, no, I have no real interest in being an editor at Marvel.

 

Jamie: Do you have any specific goals for the future? Titles or characters you really want to do, or some self published character?

Gregg Schigiel: Oh, jeez, this is a HUGE question. Honestly, I could go on longer than I did about how I started reading comics.

I have very specific goals for the future. I have a definite career plan mapped out in my head. So far, everything’s going pretty well according to that plan. But this is far-reaching stuff, that honestly, for now, I don’t want to totally get into (if anything because it’ll take too damn long). In the end though, my most important goal as far as this business goes is to do what I can to keep the medium of comic storytelling, sequential art, as a viable, and profitable means of expression, entertainment, and communication. Lofty? Yes. Achievable? That’s what I’m saying. How? I’m working on it.

The second part of that question is easier to answer. If you’d have asked me four or five months ago, the answer point blank would have been POWER PACK. Before I started working at Marvel I’d developed a pitch for them that I’m still very pleased with and proud of. Since then, other folks have taken the PP reins, so my stuff will have to stay in a drawer, or find another outlet.

Beyond them, there are certain characters I’d love to have a chance to work with. I have a take on Ultragirl that I’d LOVE to have see the light of day. She’s a wonderful character with a veritable blank slate. I have stuff I’d love to do there. I’d like to do something with Peter Porker, the Spider-Ham and the litany of Marvel Funny Animals out there (in fact, they’re part of my Ultragirl proposal). I have an Avengers story I’d live to do, moreso as a What If? because it’d literally change the Avengers completely. It would be amazing to work on something with Batman, sure, but I don’t think my take on Batman is in line with the current approach. I have some new characters and stuff I’d like to try out as well. And I’d love to do some humor stuff, and some non-superhero, human drama pieces. I’m very interested in doing DIFFERENT sort of material. I like characters that are otherwise not cared about or paid attention to. Ultragirl being the perfect example. Dazzler being another. These characters get moans and groans or a unanimous “huh?” when mentioned. I like that. It gives you a lot more freedom to do something creative and different. The problem with that, though, is that I’m still pretty green in this business, so I’m not really “bankable”. I won’t get the chance to do much of this stuff, if any of it. But that’s a whole other issue.

And absolutely, I will do some sort of self-published comics work. Yes. I have ideas for formats, content, all sorts of stuff that Marvel certainly would never do, nor DC as far as I can tell, or any of the companies currently publishing, that I’m aware of. So, I’ll do it my way by myself. I know it’s do-able. And you know what they say, if you want something done right…

 

Jamie: Tom Brevoort has credited you with coming up with the Marvel Militia. Where did you get the idea for that?

Gregg Schigiel: First, I thank Tom for that. In the end, he had to say, “Yes, Gregg, go for it.” So I’d like to volley back some credit to him.

But, yes, the Marvel Militia… I conceived the Marvel Militia out of several things, most importantly my passion for comics. Other factors were things like declining sales and what I consider less than stellar marketing strategy in comics. So, taking the “one man against the world” stance, I came up with THE MARVEL MILITIA. The alliteration and all was in the tradition of F.O.O.M (Friends of Old Marvel) and the M.M.M.S. (The Merry Marvel Marching Society). I considered it a modern update thereof.

At Marvel we often talked about what brings people into comics, how we got into them, etc. I know I got into them through my brother and cousin and cartoons. Others though friends, or hearing about them. Comics have for many many years been a grass-roots scene. There are no TV, radio, or print ads for comics as there are for toys, or movies, or soap. People share comics, turn people onto them. The Militia was an effort to remind people of that, to put the power to “save comics” into the hands of those who care enough to do so.

It’s a funny thing, the Militia, in that it totally didn’t get the response I was going for. Just after the first one hit, people were calling it a sales ploy and a gimmick and all this stuff. I could no believe how misinterpreted my words were. I specifically mentioned comics from DC and Image and such in that column to make it clear that it was about comics, not MARVEL comics, per se. Sure, we wanted Marvel books to do well. But that’s not what was at the heart of it. We even got some folks objecting to the use of the word Militia, in that it denoted a military, extreme group. As far as my intentions were, a militia was a group of citizens who rose up to defend themselves, their land, their stake, if you will. I thought the parallel was pretty good. A pretty simple metaphor, I thought.

Then, with other columns, the message got even more distorted. I wrote one in AVENGERS about how that title was the third highest selling Marvel book, and how we could get to number one. That would mean outselling the two main X-MEN titles (at the time we were out-selling WOLVERINE). I even said hey, don’t stop buying X-MEN! But we were accused of being jealous, playa’ hating, all sorts of stuff. Eventually, it lead to a long, fairly dramatic column once again explaining the purpose of the Militia. I call that the “LOVE” column.

Interestingly, my favorite column got no response, and that was my “Summer Movie” schtick. I talked about how with the onset of the summer movie season, comics fans could get people into comics that were similar, if not better than, movies they enjoyed. But yeah, we got no feedback on that bad boy.

In the end though, there were people that got it, and sent us their stories. I printed some in the various letters pages I worked on. I enjoyed doing it, that’s for sure. At least a little part of me felt like I wasn’t just sitting by on the sidelines.

Now that I’m gone I’d like to think that someone might take up the “mantle of the militia”, but who knows. Originally, I tried to make it something that could appear in any letters page for any book. You know, like an umbrella idea. Grass-roots stuff. But nobody ever took it up and joined me. Oh, well. But who knows, the little green camo box is still saved as a digital file, so the Militia could always come back.

 

Jamie: Let me be the first fan to ask this. How do you pronounce your last name? ;D

Gregg Schigiel: The spelling is totally whack, I know, but the Schigiel is pronounced SHEE-GULL. And Mjolnir is pronouced MI-YOL-NIR.

 

Jamie: Hey, you were around when Byrne suddenly left the Hulk. Do you know why that happened?

Gregg Schigiel: Yes, I was indeed around for that, and I do know why that happened. However, out of respect for Tom and John, and how they treated the whole situation, I’d rather not address it. I just don’t think it’s my place, or the right time. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t an amicable working situation, so it was definitely for the best, as far as I’m concerned.

But beyond that, I have a problem with the increased “insider” feelings that a lot of comics fans have come to “expect”. With the ease of information, it’s become much easier for folks to know what happens behind the scenes. Now, while much of it is very interesting and fascinating in many cases, I think it’s come to the point where too many people’s opinions are colored by that information.

I prefer that the material, the comics, stand for themselves. I think any sort of “true story” or muckraking certainly affects fan response to stories.

This was especially clear to me in October of 1998. I had been working at Marvel for a year. I, along with my fellow assistants, had been doing an online chat on AOL, and otherwise having a good time. And then, at the end of the month, a third of editorial, production, and various other departments at Marvel were laid off. Friends of mine lost their jobs. It was a horrible, horrible couple of weeks. I do not recommend such an experience for anyone. So within days, the message boards were abuzz, with such claims as, “why did they fire this one and that one? I hate that one!” And “that one” happens to be a good person, a human being, you know, who wasn’t happy that “this one” got fired. There was a lot of survival guilt in those weeks, and reading this stuff didn’t help. Hell, I heard there was a poster who said one of the people at Marvel should quit their job and kill themselves because the poster didn’t like a comic book they worked on. This is a horrible thing to say, to even suggest. That sort of thing bothers me quite a bit. I don’t purport to get along with everyone, but I certainly don’t say that about people I know, let alone someone I’ve never met or talked to who’s comic book I’m not fond of. Do you see what I mean? The stories that SHOULD be most important are the ones on the page. One day maybe I’ll tell the John Byrne story, but for now, again, I’d rather not. I don’t think it’s my place.

 

Jamie: Right now you’re probably best known as the artist of the Fast Lane inserts. How did you get that job?

Gregg Schigiel: Ah, yes, the FAST LANE inserts…
Very basically, I approached the people in Marvel’s Licensing and Creative Services department about possibly doing some work. I showed them samples of my older work and the current work I was doing and told them I’d love to do something with them, whatever it might be. I did some spot illustrations for them and that worked out, and then I was offered the FAST LANE gig. It was too sweet a deal to say no.

The people in Creative Services were wonderfully accommodating. They let me pick the inker, gave me a wonderful deadline, let me check things out at each stage of production (a definite advantage of being there). It was a great experience. But yeah, I got the job the way you get any freelance work, really. I looked for the opportunity, showed my work, and there you go.

 

Jamie: Some online fans and even Wizard has complained about the Fast Lane inserts. How do you react to that?

Gregg Schigiel: It doesn’t really bother me all that much. I have a pretty good sense of humor about a lot of this stuff. I know it wasn’t ground-breaking. But it wasn’t supposed to be. It’s a public service announcement, you know? It’s a “One to grow on” or “The More you know” bit.

What did bother me was the constant complaints about it from people who refused to just ignore it or tear it out. It’s four sheets of paper! Just rip it out. I know I did. Yep, AVENGERS #1 & 1/2 had it in there, and I ripped it out proudly, and asked others to do the same. Why? It had nothing to do with not liking it or having a problem with the insert. No. Not at all. It just wasn’t supposed to be there. Tom and I tried to get it so that the insert would not appear in that comic book. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the insert appeared. Now, that book is one I’m particularly proud of and happy with, and I just didn’t think the insert was right for it, so I took it out. I even rolled my copy up and put it in my pocket for much of the day, just to make it as authentic as possible.

But that was the thing that got me most, the constant complaints about it being there, period. That was made even better by the continued complaints when part 2 came along. It was like, “What? There’s MORE?! ARRGGHH!!” The first one ends with a “to be continued…” You’re gonna get part 2, you know.

In the end it just got funnier and funnier to me, to the point where Chris Giarrusso, who does the great Bullpen Bits strips on the Bullpen Bulletins page, and I worked up a gag for the Bullpen Bits. That was a lot of fun to do. I kept intending to call WIZARD as well, to see if they might be interested in putting an insert in there too, you know, something funny, just for WIZARD, but I didn’t.

Only comic book readers get so vehement about such a thing. Those inserts have appeared in various mainstream magazines, GIRLS’ LIFE, BOYS’ LIFE, MUSE, SCOLASTIC, and I’m sure kids either read it or move on. Sure, it’s in the magazine, but you just move on, you know?

But again, at a certain point I do find it all very funny, especially the online stuff, newsgroups and whatnot. People are very fearless and mean and pig-headed when they get behind their keyboard. One of my favorite online posts ever was a review of GENERATION X #51, which I’d guest-penciled. It read, and I quote, “That art sucked. What happened to Dodsen.” Everything about that was funny to me. The pointlessness of it, the lack of genuine opinion, the misspelling of Terry Dodson’s name. People online can be whoever they want, say whatever they want. And that’s fine. I just don’t take it terribly seriously.

 

Jamie: Marijuana is somewhat popular with the Gen-X crowd. There is even a push to get it legalized. What’s your opinion on Marijuana?

Gregg Schigiel: Look at that, GEN X to Gen-X, now THAT’S a transition!
I honestly don’t know enough about the stuff to give a proper, official stance. I know for me, personally, I don’t smoke it or anything else and never have. I know the smell of it makes me ill, so I’m not a fan of that. I also know people who were really into it and I can’t say I was impressed at the effects on those people. At the same time I know people who are perfectly good people, people I like, good friends, who are or were into it, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. I know there are people that feel very passionately about it. Again, I can’t relate, so I’d rather not, you know, put out a position statement about it.

 

Jamie: Did you get any formal art training? If so, where and for how long?

Gregg Schigiel: Now that’s changing the subject!
OK, art training. I’ve been drawing since I was about five years old. I remember drawing Flintstones characters in kindergarten…or at least what I claimed were Flintstones characters (I couldn’t tell you if they were any good). From that point I just drew all the time. I took art classes in junior high school and high school as well, but in a lot of ways that was essentially more practice, you know? However, a great experience in high school was when Ted McKeever came to speak to our art class. As it turns out, he went to the same high school I did. Someone got in touch with him and he came and talked to us for like three hours. It was tremendous…and very encouraging.

After high school I attended School of Visual Arts for a whopping month before I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted the college experience and I wasn’t getting that at SVA, so I left. I ended up going to the University of Florida. I took no art classes there. But I did continue to do artwork, especially for my classes. I took advertising classes and literature classes and tried as often as possible to incorporate art and comics into my work, writing papers in comic form and stuff like that.

Before I started at UF and after SVA I did have one of the most important training experiences ever. I took an eight week workshop taught by Will Eisner. It was fascinating, educational, inspiring, everything I could have ever wanted. I learned so much in that eight weeks about storytelling and the comics medium. I wouldn’t even know where to start. It was amazing.

Then, I learned a great deal as an intern with Marvel, showing work to editors and getting critiques. In fact, critiques were quite helpful to me.

But in the end, at least for me, it’s been just a constant drawing, lots and lots and lots of practice. I draw every day, to this day, continually working to get better.

 

Jamie: Who are your inspirations for writing and art?

Gregg Schigiel: On the art end, there are a bunch of different influences an inspirations. Certainly what I learned in Eisner’s class was major. The first artist whose work I recognized and followed was Alan Davis, and I’m still a huge admirer of his work. Without question, John Buscema is one of my heroes. I got the opportunity to work with him when I was at Marvel and every moment of that experience was a pleasure. In fact, both he and Sal are wonderful, wonderful people, and quite possibly the most professional people I’ve come across in the comics business. Amazing. Anyway, I must have read HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY I don’t know how many times. That book was huge. I still have my dog-eared copy.

Mike Wieringo’s work has definitely been an influence on my work. I remember his work on FLASH and ROBIN and then SPIDER-MAN. I loved it. In a lot of ways it was influential in terms of being artwork I admired. On the other side of the coin, he was being published, and popular, doing the kind of work I did; cartoony stuff. I’ve always had a cartoony style. I love the look of a simpler image. I think it’s more visually powerful in a subdued way, much like Scott McCloud talks about in UNDERSTANDING COMICS, when he discusses icons. Anyway, yeah, Mike’s stuff has influenced me, especially in the past five years. Same with Carlos Pacheco, who as far as I’m concerned, is the best gesture/body language guy in the business, in addition to being a fantastic storyteller.

But, above and beyond that, on the artistic end, I cannot explain how much the work of the Walt Disney Studios has influenced and inspired me. Just in the past year, after I saw Tarzan, I was drawing every acrobatic character I could think of in all sorts of new and interesting poses. It definitely shows, I think, in the FAST LANE stuff, especially the last page of Chapter 3. I was all kinds of Tarzan-inspired. But, beyond that, the work they do, cartoons used to tell stories that people get into and care about. Their commitment to overall design and art. From Pinocchio to the Lion King, the work is art. Not only that, but it’s beloved by the masses. People get attached to these drawings, you know? What amazes me is that if you drew a comic book in that style it’d immediately be dismissed as “kiddie stuff”. And then I’ll watch Beauty and the Beast (again) and note that these are drawings, iconic images, cartoons of people. Gaston. Are you kidding me? He’s not “realistic” by any comic book standard. But in that movie he goes from being a comic figure to a pretty frightening bad guy. Again, this is a cartoon drawing, you know? And we follow him, and his change, and totally buy it. This is a movie that got nominated for an Academy Award! If it got published as a comic and came out in the direct market, (a) it wouldn’t sell for beans and (b) it would be passed off as a kid’s book. That’s a shame. It shouldn’t be that way.

I’ve been trying to slowly make my work more cartoony, actually, more in that model, the Disney way, if you will. But it’s very difficult to convince comics people to go for it. “What? Thor’s chin is too big, his nose too round.” You know? It’s really very screwy, I think. Again, look at Archie. It’s totally cartoony, but totally representative and accepted by mainstream audiences. Peanuts. Look at it. Those kids’ heads are HUGE! But who doesn’t love Peanuts? The world is mourning Charles Shultz, and rightly so. But do you see what I’m saying?

Yeah, I know, I’ve veered off topic. Let me get back to the question at hand.
I’d say in terms of inspiration, well, beyond the people mentioned above, and Disney stuff, I mean, there are people whose work I see and am inspired by. People whose work I’m generally excited by. Mike Mignola’s work, Paul Smith’s LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, STRAY BULLETS by David Lapham, anything by Kyle Baker, Jeff Smith’s BONE, Jill Thompson’s SCARY GODMOTHER books, David Yurkovich’s DEATH BY CHOCOLATE and THRESHOLD, recently the work of Jules Feiffer has been blowing my mind, and MAUS, by Art Spiegelman (in my estimation the best comic ever, for many many reasons). I look at that stuff and get inspired.

And then, as different artists came into my reading world, I certainly was influenced. Basically, anything I read and liked I learned from. I could go on and on and on forever listing names. And then within the past two years I’ve learned more and more. Working with George Perez’ll learn ya quite a bit. And what hasn’t been said about John Romita, Jr., you know? Jerry Ordway, Ron Garney, etc. I mean, without even trying I’m sure I’ve been inspired by whatever I’ve seen. I remember Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee’s stuff being like nothing I’d ever seen, you know? I have old sketch books from junior high and high school where that influence is certainly clear. And then there’s the non-comics influences. Children’s books are surely an influence. Dr. Suess, Lane Smith, Shel Silverstein, Maira Kalman.

Honestly, the artistic influences are all over the map. Heck, Jeff Dee’s work in the Dungeons and Dragons book DIETIES AND DEMIGODS was influential when I was in junior high school. His drawings of the Norse Gods were amazing to me. I definitely remember copying those.

On the writing the end, the influences and inspirations are different. In terms of comic writers, again, I point to any of those mentioned above in terms of writer/artists. Alan Moore’s done amazing comics work, but it seems everyone knows that.

Most of my writing inspirations and influences come from outside comics, though. Outside the genre even. I’ve always admired the work of Mark Twain, with Huckleberry Finn being a wonderful book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court being another. I’ve really enjoyed the work of Tom Perrotta, and I’ve liked what I’ve read of Kurt Vonnegut.
Television and movies and plays have influenced and inspired me as well. David Kelly’s work, specifically PICKET FENCES, was an influence. That show totally made me re-think the approach to genre and what a story can be about.

PICKET FENCES, for me, showed me that good characters could let you tell any kind of story. I mean, just because Batman’s a detective and a superhero in the archetypal way, that doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there, somewhere in the Batman mythos, to tell ANY story. Even a story about getting old could be told. With characters like Alfred, or Dr. Leslie Tompkins, or even Commissioner Gordon, you know? And you can still make it a Batman story, you know? It just got me to look harder at the potential for characters and stories. A great show.

Plays, especially stuff by David Mamet; that’s great stuff. There’s a musical called Into the Woods that’s amazing, totally fun and original and interesting as a story. The only musical I genuinely like.

Movies have also been big for me. Definitely. When I see a good movie I’m definitely inspired. A good film, a good screenplay. Anything. A good book or play or even a song; these things make you look up and take note of the potential of creativity. It’s a kick in the ass. It’s like someone saying, “HEY, look at what’s been done! YOU can do this! DO THIS!!” Spielberg certainly, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Woody Allen stuff, and more recently the films by P.T. Anderson, the good Quentin Tarantino stuff, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, all sorts of things.

So many things can do that when it comes to creativity. Anything funny, you know, a good comedian or comedy. Hell, a good conversation can do it. The people you spend time with. All that stuff.

Finally, a huge influence on my writing and my approach to stories and the kinds of stories I like to tell has been children’s literature. My favorite book/story ever is ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. I love it. It’s brilliant. That, PETER PAN, fairy tales, all that stuff. This is the very basics of story. The plots are rich in their simplicity, the characters are full in their seeming lack of depth. There’s so much to them…but that’s brought to the story by the reader. Hansel and Gretl are kids on the run. Now, I’ve never been on the run, but all I need to hear is that premise and I bring those feelings, of being on the run, of being unloved, to the table. I bring that by way of imagination, or finding that feeling within you. It’s the same thing in comics. And then there’s the sense of magic, of fantasy. No one’s explaining this stuff. It just happens. BUT, in the scope of the story, it all makes sense. You suspend all disbelief. You accept it. I love children’s literature. From ALICE and PAN to more modern stuff, like MATILDA or THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, or two AMAZING books by Jules Feiffer, THE MAN IN THE CEILING and A BARREL OF LAUGHS, A VALE OF TEARS. I read this stuff and I get excited to write. I want to be a part of that. I want to create that same feeling I felt for someone else.

I realize I’ve talked about a lot of stuff there, but I did answer the question, right?

 

Jamie: In What If #114, you and Jay Faerber designed a bunch of neato characters that were kids of various superheroes. If you were allowed, would you make those relationships and characters come about?

Gregg Schigiel: First, thanks. I thought those characters were pretty neato, too.
Now, I assume you’re asking if I’d make those relationships and resulting kids actually happen in “real” continuity, right?

Um, probably not. I’m not a huge follower of continuity. I like it when it helps a story. I like it when it’s a special treat for the reader who’s been faithful enough to follow along. But I don’t like it when it forces you to bend a story so it’ll “fit”. I just want to write and read and draw good stories. I think continuity has in some cases taken over these characters’ lives and limited the stories you can tell. That’s not a good thing.

I like the Creeper. I think he’s a wild, interesting character. BUT, if I wanted to do a Creeper story, people would expect me to address what Len Kaminsky did, and what Ditko did, and what happened in ECLIPSO. Why can’t I just tell a story about the Creeper being crazy and creepy, you know?

Only in comics is this the case, too. Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes…a few times, I believe. He kept bringing him back. How about THAT continuity? I’m a huge SEINFELD fan. I’ve seen ’em all multiple times. I remember in an earlier episode Kramer says he only takes baths. In a later season, he’s got issues with shower water pressure. In another he’s living out of his shower, eating, making calls, etc. The continuity be damned. Why? Because they had a funny bit. I say better to do the funny bit, the better story, then throw it away because in this fictional world, where everything is made up, where creators decide what happens, it was said otherwise by people writing FICTIONAL characters.
Now I’m not saying continuity is evil or wrong. It DOES help build a sense of reality and believability. But after 30, 40, 50 years, well, it can become an obstacle that’s not always worth jumping over.

I remember mentioning Dazzler a few times as a character with potential. And the response, aside from moans and groans, was “how will you explain this, that and the other about Allison Blair?” I was like, why explain any of it? It has nothing to do with the ideas that are currently being proposed for this character. Besides, if our target market is 11 to 15 years olds, let say, they’ve probably never read a Dazzler story. They don’t know that Dazzler’s name is Allison Blair! And for those die hard Dazzler fans, what would they rather see, a Dazzler story that doesn’t explain details that aren’t integral to said story, or no Dazzler story at all? See what I mean? And then there are those who say the character is dated, that she’s a product of the time. That holds no water. What, there’s no music nowadays? She couldn’t have adapted and moved from disco to something else? The Beatles didn’t forever play poppy, sugar-coated stuff and love songs. Look at Madonna! And what, the Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man, or the Hulk, they weren’t products of the time, of a time where radiation was an unknown quantity? People create obstacles. Continuity potentially being one of them.

Anyway, once again, I’ve meandered off topic.To make that story happen, the Secret Wars kids, in this day and age, would require jumping a LOT of hurdles. I liked it as a What If? concept. I think the idea had a lot of potential, but as an alternate world thing, like M2 or Mutant X, you know?. I know my mind was racing with ideas for those characters. But I think the time for those characters, the window of opportunity, has passed. I hope it’s a story that remains as well-liked as it seems to be. I think it’s nice that way, as a simple story.

I do like those kids, though. They are pretty neato. I loved drawing Crusader. She’s a fun character to draw. And I was honored when Carlos and Kurt and Roger included them in the end of AVENGERS FOREVER. That was a nice treat, a good use of continuity.

 

Jamie: You have a Starfox One shot coming out soon, can you tell us about it?

Gregg Schigiel: Oh, sure I can tell you about it.
The first thing I can tell you is that it looks like it might not be coming out after all. Actually, that might be an exaggeration. I’ve just recently learned that the marketing/sales folks at Marvel have decided they “can’t sell” a Starfox one-shot, and that it’d lose money, so it’s been put on indefinite hold. Suffice it to say, I’m not thrilled by the news. It’s a project I’ve been wanting to do for years now and it was happening. Now, it apparently is not. Then again, I haven’t given up on it. I’m still gonna see what I can do with it, see if there’s some way to have it see print. I mean, I’ve talked to Mark Powers about it and he feels the same way I do. We want this thing to happen.

Barring that, I can say that the story is something different, a type of story Marvel hadn’t done in a LOOONG time. A lot of fun. It’ll catch all the online folks by surprise, definitely. I want the people who’ve been talking about it to actually see it, you know? I’ve been reading the posts, I’ve been seeing what people have been saying about how I described the one-shot. I want desperately to read those same people’s comments after this thing comes out…whenever it comes out.

But anyway, just for the sake of answering the question, I can tell you the one shot stars Starfox and Thanos, predominantly. Avengers, X-Men and members of the Fantastic Four appear and play a role as well. But even with all these characters, it’s a very basic, simple story, something I think a lot of people would relate to in some way, and enjoy, even if they don’t necessarily agree with it.

Basically, I look at the character and I think one thing, and that’s the thing everyone thinks of him. I took that one thing and spun a story out of it. Again, it’s a different kind of story. It’s NOT traditional. It’s NOT typical. It’s, well, again, I don’t want to give anything away with it. Within the first five pages though, the premise is well established and all the mysteries will fall away. It’s gonna be a scene, baby, a straight up scene. People will love it or hate it, but this book’s got merit. Now if only the people that can help prove that would get off this “unsellable” kick. It’s not a good thing.

It presumes that something IS “sellable”. Now, I don’t mean to be a pessimist, honestly. I love comics, I hate saying this stuff myself, but here it is. Basically, the claim is that a one-shot starring Starfox won’t sell, or rather, won’t make money. OK, that presumes SOMETHING can sell. I’ve seen the numbers. I know how they’re going. They’re going down, some more drastically than others. There was a time when books were selling, easily, in the multi-100,000 copy range. Heck, books were breaking a million copies sold! Now, a #1 issue opens at MAYBE 50 to 60,000 copies. Even books like X-MEN or AVENGERS have declining sales. It’s a slowly slipping slope, and it’s scary. But the point is that how can one claim to not be able to sell something when there’s not really proof that they can sell ANYTHING?

Kyle Baker did an interview in The Comics Journal recently, a decent interview. But the stuff I found most fascinating was him talking about sales and how it worked over at DC. It’s the same deal. He talked about how the Warner Brothers and Cartoon Network books barely sell. He’s like, that’s Bugs Bunny, you know? Everyone knows Bugs Bunny. He’s on TV every day, he’s in commercials and films with Michael Jordan, but they can’t sell him in a comic book. People will buy him as a salt shaker or a backpack or a toilet brush, but no, his comics don’t sell.

These things do not sell themselves. Just putting a solicitation in PREVIEWS and a blurb in Wizard ain’t gonna do it. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. Distribution, pricing, format, all that stuff. It’s not right.

Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out a way to get this book done. I’m VERY happy with the six pages that are drawn, and I was just putting tweaks on the script which I was having a lot of fun with. Hopefully, one day, folks will get to see all this stuff.

 

Jamie: Is Tigra going to be in the One Shot? What will she be doing?

Gregg Schigiel: Tigra is NOT in the one-shot. She’s got nothing to do with the story at hand. It’s a Starfox one-shot. It’s about Starfox and Thanos. Tigra’s got no place there. The ONLY reason for Tigra to appear is because she was last seen with him in AVENGERS, Vol. 3, #4. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about with continuity. I have a Starfox story. Tigra’s not involved at all. Her life is totally unaffected by this story. She has NOTHING to do with it. But everyone expects her life and recent travails to be explained. It’s a wrong-headed approach. I’d just as soon not address her at all. I’ll leave her life to another story, or another writer, you know? If I HAD to put her in the story, I’d have Starfox kill her within the first two pages, just to prove a point. Maybe by page three he’d wake up from a dream, or in an intergalactic prison, or in a pool of kitty blood or something. But man, wouldn’t those pages make people stop in their tracks. It’s funny, when Newsarama first approached me to comment on the Starfox one-shot, I told them what I wanted to say about it. I was amazed at how people added meaning and stuff to what I said. They really made some bold conclusions. The best part was that they were getting so upset that I had ideas for Tigra and the aquatic Stingray.

I worked in the Avengers office for over two years. I cannot remember EVER reading a letter or e-mail requesting Starfox or Stingray to show up, EVER. These were characters that as far as I could tell, were as well loved as Gilgamesh, you know? So I come up with this story, and say what I said to Newsarama, and suddenly everyone’s worried about what I’m gonna do to Stingray! Well, here’s a tidbit about my plans for Stingray. I have none. I think the character is funny. He makes me chuckle. I said that to raise an eyebrow or two, to make me giggle when I read the article, and to make people wonder, what could he POSSIBLY have in mind for Stingray?! After I SAID I had plans for him, I DID come up with one idea for the character, and that idea is so far gone that people would lose their minds reading it. Something very existential, Metamorphosis-like in tone and feel. Totally non-mainstream comic booky. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to do it, just to see if it can be done, but that story will never happen, so don’t anybody worry about it. Stingray’s gonna be just fine there in limbo. So everyone that never cared about him can continue not to care about him. It still cracks me up how upset people got about the aquatic Stingray.

I DO have an idea for Tigra, though. And guess what? It’s has .6% to do with Starfox in any way, surprise, surprise. Her adventures with would be mentioned within the first page and not discussed any more, to set up a premise moreso than to establish continuity. The idea I have for her is not about that. It’s about her, as a character. There are no fights of the superhero variety. There’s no jumping over things or crawling under stuff. My premise for Tigra is basically a new-fangled romance book, a soap opera style story, about a woman who’s had an extraordinary life so far who wants to try and be normal. Which would be fine, you know, since she’s a strong-willed woman with set goals. Except, she’s covered in tiger fur and has a tail. How does a woman deal with sexual harassment when she’s always walking around in a catsuit, you know? That’s very interesting to me right now, more so than her fighting, you know, The Dogmen, or whatever. But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with that sort of thing either. I don’t know if my Tigra premise works for what’s the generally considered target comic audience, young adolescent boys (though I highly doubt that’s the actual market these days). I don’t argue that. I think Tigra versus the Dogmen could be a lot of fun, full of high action and adventure. BUT, that’s not the story I’d like to tell (though, the more I think of it, I would have loved such a story when I was 12).

And before everyone starts saying I have no regard for superhero comics and what they should or should not be, let me say that I DO have ideas for “real” superhero comics, too. You just asked me about Tigra, so I answered. I would love there to be a book called MARVEL HEROES AND VILLAINS, which would essentially be SECRET WARS, the series; a sort of Challenge of the Superfriends starring Marvel characters. No real-world angst, no Peter Parker and the Daily Bugle. Nope, just a group of ten to twelve heroes every month dealing with ten to twelve villains. Superheroes doing cool, superheroic stuff. Flying and blasting and lifting and running. As a kid, that’s what’s cool. Kids like Aquaman and Hawkman. I know I loved Hawkman. But the second I actually read a Hawkman story I was bored to tears. He was in a museum with old stuff and who knows what. Dude, just give me a guy with wings, a mace, and an awesome helmet, you know? I remember this kid, Marvin, from elementary school, who LOVED Aquaman. Loved him. Did he know he was a king whose wife went nuts and whatever? No. He was a guy who could breathe underwater and talk to fish. Superheroes have a great range for stuff. You can tell a story about Aquaman talking to a snapper or you can tell a story about the history of Atlantis, and both can be excellent. BUT, neither of these would sell worth a damn these days. People outside of comics would find stuff about Atlantis interesting. Kids would find a talking fish interesting. But comics folks — nah. I find THAT interesting.

Harry Potter wouldn’t sell as a comic book. Just look at the BOOKS OF MAGIC. Is anyone, kids or adults, lining up by the thousands to have Neil Gaiman sign their copies of that? No. Does Neil get featured in People Magazine? Does Timothy Hunter show up on the cover of Time? No. But Neil does get mentioned in Entertainment Weekly as the “winner of the week.” Why? Because he made a deal to write books and films instead of comics. Because, you know, “comics are for losers…but hey, did you read yesterday’s Dilbert! He’s hilarious.” It’s a funny and tragic and sad dichotomy. Anyway, Tigra does not appear in the one-shot.

 

Jamie: You are both writing and drawing the Starfox one shot. Do you prefer doing one over the other?

Gregg Schigiel: I prefer drawing my own material. I’ve never had anyone draw one of my stories, so I can’t relate that experience, but I have worked off other plots. I found in nearly every case, even though I enjoyed the story, I wanted to change the pacing, the page breaks, suggest dialogue, tweak a scene or an ending. One of the advantages of working the “Marvel Method” was that I got to do some of that, pacing-wise and stuff. But, even so, with just six pages of STARFOX done I think the work is stronger in terms of technical drawing, the storytelling is more cohesive, the facial expressions are “on”, the scripting will be punchy, etc, etc. I think the fact that it’s MY story makes it more fun to draw, more personal. It’s one of the beauties of comics, that you can present an almost pure creative vision. I love that. It’s that sort of attitude that’ll surely get me in trouble one day, though.

I remember just after WHAT IF #114, the Secret Wars story, we were thinking of doing a follow-up. I brought a bunch of ideas to the table, new characters, possible story lines, etc. I talked to Jay about a bunch of stuff and he put his story together. That was still very early in both our careers, but I remember getting a little frustrated by it. These were characters that were in my head too, that I had a take on, but I wasn’t always seeing that on paper, you know? It was being filtered through another mind. But I had the same frustrations as an assistant editor. We’d be working on THOR and I’d have an idea for something, and then Dan Jurgens would come up with something else. Certainly something good, yeah, but there’s still gonna be that frustration creatively. I had a screenwriting teacher in college who called that “killing your babies.” That is, letting your pet ideas, the stuff you’re really attached to, die for the sake of the story or the project or whatever. No one likes to do that, and therein lies frustration. In the end, the sequel What If? project would have been a lot of fun, really very cool, but I think it’s fine as a story in our heads, too.

 

Jamie: Do you have any future work coming up?

Gregg Schigiel: Well, I have a lot of ideas for stuff I’d like to do. I’d love to do some humor comics. I have an idea for an Avengers comedy book that’d be really fun and funny and timely. Right now though, I’m just trying to get some sort of confidence built up about me, something that’ll allow me to do some of this stuff. It’s VERY difficult. I worked at Marvel. People know me there. As far as I could tell, people liked me there. But it ain’t about that, you know? I’m not a name. And these days its names that apparently sell comic books. Garth Ennis could sell Starfox. Warren Ellis can maybe sell X-MAN. It’s a different market these days, a different way of doing business. I can’t say I’m terribly fond of it. But that’s the price of doing business…at least for now.

But I still want to draw stuff. I’d love to get a shot to write something that’d be published. I like doing covers. I’d love to do a cover for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, just to have done it and been a part of that show in a roundabout way. I’d love to do my Ultragirl stuff. I’d like to draw the Beast, and Batman, and I’d like to draw the Hulk for something. But this is just a wish list, you know? Right now I’m working over at Nickelodeon drawing Spongebob Squarepants a lot. If I can make Starfox work, then that’ll be next. Otherwise, I’m gonna try for this Avengers thing I have cooking. Maybe that has a better chance, you know, in that it’s AVENGERS, which is a name. Only time will tell.

And then, further down the line, like, much farther down, I’ll definitely be doing my own thing. It’ll be good.

 

Jamie: How did you get work at Nickelodeon and what kind of cartoon(?) is Spongebob Squarepants? (and exactly what kind of work are you doing on it?)

Gregg Schigiel: The work at Nickelodeon came from someone over there looking for people to do artwork for their Product Services division. I did some samples figuring it’d be a nice opportunity for freelance work, some extra bread and some new exposure and experience. They guys at Nick dug my samples enough to ask me to come on board full time. They made me an offer, I considered it, and accepted.

Spongebob Squarepants is one of the NickToons which is on Saturday Mornings on Nickelodeon. It’s actually pretty funny. It’s about Spongebob, who’s a sponge, who wears square pants. He’s sort of this geeky, nerdy fellow. His good buddy is Patrick the starfish. His neighbor gets annoyed by him, and he’s got some sort of friendship/relationship with this female squirrel that lives underwater in an air-bubble biodome thing and walks around in a scuba suit thing. Spongebob works at a undersea fast food joint. It’s fun. Give it a watch. It’s very much a Nickelodeon cartoon. If you’ve seen some of ’em, you’ll know what that means.

What I’m doing at Nickelodeon is working with the NickToons team in the Product Services division. That means I’ll be doing illustrations that’ll go in style guides and stuff for use in consumer products, be they lunchboxes, underoos, toy packaging, cereal boxes, whatever. NickToons covers SpongeBob, CatDog, Hey Arnold, and the Angry Beavers. Right now SpongeBob is big stuff, so that’s what I’m working on. I have nothing to do with the cartoon itself, but moreso the licensing thereof. Yeah, not nearly as exciting sounding as the comic book stuff, but there you go.

Joe Simon Interview

Originally published in December 1999. Joe Simon was the first golden age creator I interviewed. Being a comics historian I was happy to have interviewed him. He was able to clear up a question I had regarding Kirby’s claim of Spider-Man’s co-creation. I did this interview via fax machine, which was a mistake. I sent a list of questions and Joe wrote brief answers in whatever space there was between the questions and sent it back. With one exception (Dave Sim) I never did another interview via fax machine again.

 

An Interview With Joe Simon

 
Hello everyone. I’m back and this month I have an interview with Joe Simon! For those that don’t know, Joe Simon is one of the Golden Age creators that laid the foundation of the comic book industry. He is the co-creator of Captain America and *many* other hot selling titles and characters in the Golden Age. The amount of successful comics he did with and without partner Jack Kirby would take up a monster amount of space. You’ll just have to trust me when I say he’s done some good comics. Anyway, most of these responses were given to us via fax machine. Enjoy!
 
Jamie: Two years ago, the wife and daughter of Jerry Siegel filed copyright papers to get Jerry Siegel’s half of the copyright back in regards to Superman and related characters. In April of this year the copyright office awarded the Siegel heirs, saying they now regain their half of Superman, meaning profits from all new Superman products should be split 50/50 between Time Warner (DC Comics) and the Siegel heirs. As a golden age creator, what is your opinion on this?

Joe Simon: Good for the Siegels!

 

Jamie: Apparently the copyright law for cases like the Siegel heirs are for characters that were created before they began freelancing with a publisher. How often was it that a freelancer created a character and “shopped around” to find a publisher for it?

Joe Simon: I can’t speak for other creators. No one ever offered such a project to me – None that was credible, anyway –

 

Jamie: There seems to be a long standing dispute about you and Jack Kirby getting released as Editors at Marvel back in the 40’s. Has either Stan Lee or Martin Goodman fessed up to how Goodman found out you were working for DC on the side?

Joe Simon: Not that I know of – This was over 55 years ago, Stan told me he can’t remember last week.

 

Jamie: Which editors did you enjoy working with the most over the years?

Joe Simon: Which editor? I can’t think of one editor I worked with as an editor. The various companies did have editors but we always acted as our own editor, so the question has no answer.

 

Jamie: Do editors still ask you to do fill in stories for them?

Joe Simon: No. I get many requests to do articles + reminiscences – I’ve been too busy –

 

Jamie: Today your involved with licensing characters you created. How did you manage to get ownership of these characters considering the time period they were created in?

Joe Simon: Through contractual agreements

 

Jamie: The most famous licensing agreement you have is over Fighting American, which Rob Liefeld uses for his Awesome Comics line. Have you read the Fighting American comics he’s produced and what do you think of them?

Joe Simon: They are pretty exciting, graphically – Nicely printed. Great coloring

 

Jamie: Do you have any other characters licensed out? If so which ones and where to?

Joe Simon: Yes. Several Including the Fly to Batfilms

 

Jamie: What is Batfilms and how will the characters be used?

Joe Simon: Batfilm Productions are executive producers for the Batman films. The Fly is expected to be used as he was in the comic books.

 

Jamie: What is the craziest character you created?

Joe Simon: Craziest character? Jamie, they were all crazy. Who else would fly around in colored underwear? I think the cutest was Angel in Boys Ranch. Did you know that we never got around to revealing or determining the real name of Speedboy in Fighting American. I like The Geek, a rag-doll pretending to be human. The Prez, an adolescent in the White House, just like the current occupant.

 

Jamie: Do you know why Captain America became so successful when the Shield, a similar character appeared first?

Joe Simon: In my opinion, Cap was far superior

 

Jamie: Have you been reading Captain America comics over the years? If so which writer/artists team is your favorite?

Joe Simon: No – Sorry I haven’t been reading them –

 

Jamie: On your webpage, Simoncomics.com you say you created the original Spider Man which was then used by Jack Kirby, and later re-done by Steve Ditko into the character we know today. Can you explain how all this happened?

Joe Simon: It’s in the website. Click on Web Magazine

 

Jamie: Do you believe that Jack Kirby pitched the idea of Spider Man to Stan Lee?

Joe Simon: Yes. He admitted to it – Ditko confirmed it.

 

Jamie: Today comic fans are learning about the behind the scenes politics and editorial/writer/artist disagreements within comic companies, and how they are affecting stories. Was that present back in the golden age as well?

Joe Simon: Constantly.

 

Jamie: In a book called Comics: Between the Panels they have a quote from you where you say all History of Comics are crap. Can you explain why?

Joe Simon: I don’t believe I said that. What I meant was they’re all derived from hearsay and old clippings –

 

Jamie: The Comic Book Makers seemed to be a big success for you and your son Jim. Do you plan on doing any more comic history books?

Joe Simon: Possibly. We may do a second version.

 

Jamie: here are a number of comics with a “Suggested for Mature Readers” label on them, telling non-typical types of stories in them. Do you think this is a good thing?

Joe Simon: We did it first with Young Romance – But it was just a cover gimmick to entice buyers. The contents were very tame –

 

Jamie: What do you think is missing from today’s comics that would really entertain the readers?

Joe Simon: I haven’t read them. Haven’t seen any for years. DC and Marvel stopped sending them.

 

Paul Levitz Interview

Originally published in February of 1999. I did this interview in part because my editor Sheryl Roberts was a big Legion of Superheroes and Paul Levitz fan. After I e-mailed it in she thought I was hard on Paul (brutal was the word I recall) and she told me she e-mailed him an apology for the interview. Every time I re-read this interview I cannot find what I asked that was so hard, except perhaps some industry ‘comics not selling as well as they used to’ stuff and getting him on record on Bill Finger Bat-Man co-creator credit (which I think even Paul is happy has changed for the better). I’m not sure how Paul felt about it and I haven’t bothered to ask him either. I think this was the first ‘online’ interview that Paul did and if I remember right it would be several years before he did another.

 

An Interview with Paul Levitz

For those who don’t know who Paul Levitz is, look inside your DC Comics. You’ll see his name in the fine print beside the title ‘Executive Vice President and Publisher of DC Comics’. So he’s a big chief, but he was also a comic pro – best known for writing the Legion of Superheroes. He talks to us today about the state of the industry, current goings-on at DC, and his former work on LSH.
 

Paul Levitz at 2016 San Diego Comic Con

Jamie: Exactly what does the Executive Vice President and Publisher of DC Comics do? What is your job description?

Paul Levitz: The job is basically to supervise the day to day operations of the company. I spend the majority of my time on our publishing business, and the balance working with our product, promotional and media licensing.

 

Jamie: What was the path that took you from lowly fanboy to VP of DC? What kind of educational preparation did you get and how did you get hired at DC initially, and what did it take to stay there and to move up?

Paul Levitz: The path is mostly luck, I suspect, and being in the right place at the right time. I was going to NYU’s business school while I was working as an assistant editor at DC (two days/wk of one, three days of the other–the work providing the means for me to pay for school, obviously). Joe Orlando had hired me to do his text pages freelance while I was in high school, having decided from my fanzines that I could be a writer before I thought I could be, and later asked me to come on staff. Over the next few years, when more business/editorial opportunities opened up as Jenette arrived at DC, I was one of the rare folks with some knowledge of both.

 

Jamie: What is your opinion on the current comic market? Some people say it’s been niggling upwards since February ’98. Is this true?

Paul Levitz: I think the market’s fairly stable. The better retailers’ sales are rising, but we’re still losing some of the weaker ones.

 

Jamie: What do you think is needed to improve the comic industry?

Paul Levitz: More great comics, more places to buy comics.

 

Jamie: Some people think we need to change the 32 page pamphlet format to something else. Do you think we would gain readers if they were in Archie style digests or in magazines?

Paul Levitz: All depends on where you can offer those formats for sale. For example, the Archie digests are perfect for young girls with their supermarket display space, but I doubt that would work for super hero material…and Vertigo-type material wouldn’t even be allowed in the door.

 

Jamie: How is DC trying to get non-comic readers buying comics?

Paul Levitz: We did a major cross-promotion with Cartoon Network last year, giving away hundreds of thousands of comics and advertising this on tv. We’re also reaching out thru bookstores for our paperback formats.

 

Jamie: Over the last few years we have seen a number of quality books come out from DC like Chase and Young Heroes in Love but they soon get canceled. Do you have any idea why these books don’t succeed?

Paul Levitz: Not enough people think they’re great.

 

Jamie: Looking back on those titles, is DC going to do anything different with Keith Giffens new title Vext?

Paul Levitz: It’s different type of material, and perhaps that will help.

 

Jamie: What new titles and Archives can we look forward to in 1999?

Paul Levitz: I can never keep track of what stage we’re at in making announcements, so I don’t do them. Watch DC OnLine.

 

Jamie: Now that Hypertime is established in the DC Universe, will the Elseworlds label still be used?

Paul Levitz: Yup.

 

Jamie: Hypertime has been called a continuity mistake fixer by some fans. Do you agree with this?

Paul Levitz: Time will tell.

 

Jamie: Continuity has been a hot topic as of late. Some pro’s say it hinders the the industry, while others seem to revel in it. What’s your opinion on continuity?

Paul Levitz: I loved playing with continuity as a writer.

 

Jamie: Will there be any more Kingdom related story lines?

Paul Levitz: Yup.

 

Jamie: Does DC already have something planned for the next ‘skip week’? If so, what?

Paul Levitz: Next one is a JSA stunt.

 

Jamie: Is there any chance Bill Finger will be credited as Batman’s co-creator in the Bat-books?

Paul Levitz: Not likely. Bill was technically Bob’s ghost writer rather than the co- creator, so for a host of legal reasons it’s unlikely to ever happen.

 

Jamie: What titles do you read that are not published by DC Comics?

Paul Levitz: Varies with the month…the new Spirit, Cerebrus, any of the classic Marvel titles when written by a writer I enjoy (I’m dipping into Thor and Avengers occasionally these days).

 

Jamie: What do you think caused the shift from dark/grim hero comics to bright/fun comics, and how long do you think it’s going to last?

Paul Levitz: The tide seems to shift with the mindset of the major writers working at a time. The grim/gritty crew had the tail end of Vietnam and Watergate as their childhood worldview, and that probably showed in the work. I’m not certain what the next generation responded to–maybe Reagan?

 

Jamie: Do you think this shift to bright/fun comics has hurt the Vertigo line?

Paul Levitz: Nope.

 

Jamie: Paul, you are certainly considered *the* writer of The Legion of Superheroes by the majority of fans. Here are some questions related to the Legion: How did you get the writing assignment the first time? How did you get the writing assignment the second time?

Paul Levitz: I was a lifetime Legion fan, and at the time Jim gave up the book for a staff gig at Marvel (1976) I had a fair amount of influence over assignments, and must have begged/pleaded/persuaded Denny to give me the chance.

Second time out, Mike Barr was editing the series and talked me back on when I was between major assignments and the book came open.

 

Jamie: You’re work on the second run is far better than the first run. What changed to make you a better writer?

Paul Levitz: Mostly me. I had the maturity to stick to assignments I could do, instead of overcommitting my writing time and spreading myself too thin (result: fill- ins, sloppy work, etc.). Plus the great advantage of the long collaboration with Keith, at the peak of his fecundity.

 

Jamie: Speaking of writing, who were your mentors and what did they teach you?

Paul Levitz: Joe Orlando taught me the most about comics writing and editing. My creative inspirations as a writer came from Roy Thomas’ work, particularly on the Avengers, and therefore at one remove from Stan Lee’s. Denny was particularly helpful in teaching me how to tighten and edit my copy.

 

Jamie: It was fairly common knowledge in fan circles that you used cards to keep track of the characters in your second stint as LSH writer. How exactly did that work?

Paul Levitz: Never used cards, actually. Probably comes from a remark about using a SCORECARD to keep track. Basically, a column down the left spelled out the plotlines I had in works. Sequential columns were labelled by upcoming issues, and indicated the developments I expected.

 

Jamie: We know that you were for the reboot of the series when it happened. As a fan instead of “The Boss,” what do you think of the post boot Legion now?

Paul Levitz: Couple of good stories–particularly the riff on xenophobia–but I’m a harsh judge because I can’t help seeing it through the eyes of my personal preferences. It’s not a title I can judge objectively.

 

Jamie: What can fans do to show their commitment to the Legion if they don’t feel the current books are worth buying?

Paul Levitz: Write MacAvennie and Carlin, tell them.

 

Jamie: What conditions would have to be in place for you to consider a third stint at writing the Legion books?

Paul Levitz: Never thought I’d do a second run, so I certainly don’t expect to do a third. When I’m done with the day job, who knows…

Jerry Ordway Interview

Originally published in January 1999. I ask some questions that make me wince, but also asked about some controversial stuff that was going on at the time and re-discovered a new reason to not like editor Eddie Berganza.

 

An Interview with Jerry Ordway

 

For years now Jerry Ordway has been known as the guy doing Superman, and lately the Power of Shazam. He was recently fired off Superman, and decided to tell us why and how. He also let us know about his future plans at Marvel and possibly Image Comics. On with the interview!

 

Mike Carlin and Jerry Ordway at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con

Jamie: Where did you get your first break in comics and how did you end up working at DC and Marvel?

Jerry Ordway: My first break came when I got work through a talent search DC did at the 1980 Chicago Comicon! Mark Silvestri, and Larry Malstadt were the other “finds.” DC was first to hire me, so I stayed with them, only leaving twice, to work on Fantastic Four. Now make that three times, as I left them after being fired from Adventures of Superman recently.

 

Jamie: How does one get the much desired job of working on Superman?

Jerry Ordway: I worked my way up, like any job, til I felt I’d earned a shot at either Batman or Superman. Dick Giordano, VP of DC at the time, (1985) thought I’d be more suited to Supes. I also drew tremendous inspiration from the first Superman Movie!

 

Jamie: Why do you think Superman has been so successful for the last 60 years?

Jerry Ordway: Mainly because it’s a terrific character, with a great back story! Partly because DC has a strong vested interest in keeping it going, and the money to do carry it for periods of time when it’s not doing so well. Without a corporate sponsor, it could have fallen by the waysides in the eighties, I think.

 

Jamie: Do you think Captain Marvel-Shazam will ever be as popular as he was in the 1940’s?

Jerry Ordway: I don’t see it happening, for much the reason I used in the Superman answer. Cap hasn’t received the same commitment from DC that Superman has, and they’re not willing to treat it like a staple as they do Wonder Woman,Flash, etc– keeping the title in print through good and bad times. Maybe this attitude is a holdover to the great legal battles DC had with Fawcett, I don’t know. They own this big Icon, and they just don’t push it! It’s frustrating.

 

Jamie: What are your opinions on Rob Liefeld’s Supreme?

Jerry Ordway: Hey, I thought Alan Moore made that book special. Sure it’s a take off on Superman, but what about all the all too obvious clones of the Xmen that are published? Moore invested a personality into Supreme, and made it work.

 

Jamie: You’re best known for your Superman and Shazam work, what else have you done?

Jerry Ordway: I’ve done All Star Squadron, Infinity Inc (which I co-created for DC) inked Fantastic Four, half of Crisis, Co creatd WildStar for Image, plus done characters of my own. Currently I’m writing and drawing 3 issues of the Avengers!

 

Jamie: Are you at all interested in doing another creator owned project through Image or Wildstorm?

Jerry Ordway: Absolutely, though I would rather do it for Image. The problem I have is, I can’t afford to draw several issues for free, and hope to earn a royalty after the book comes out. I’d hoped to attempt that this next year, if I still had the Superman writing gig to bring in some money every month, while I worked on “Proton” a character I created. It’s a liberating experience, working for nothing! Ask any small press guys!

 

Jamie: What about doing some non-superhero work through Dark Horse or Vertigo?

Jerry Ordway: Again, I’d rather do my own stuff,like “the Messenger” which is more sci-fi based, but I have no interest in Vertigo. I don’t need to swear that badly in print.

 

Jamie: There have been some rumors around you and Dan Jurgens being fired from the Superman books. One rumor says two big name writers were interested in doing the books and the new editor fired the two of you to get them. Then the powers that be came down on the new editor and asked him to hire the both of you back. Is this what happened?

Jerry Ordway: Kind of. I was told that Berganza had no authorization to fire me, but did so on his own while Mike Carlin was away on vacation. When Mike got wind of it, he offered me the job back, but by this time, I had already accepted the Marvel assignments, and I didn’t think it would make for a good working relationship to write for Berganza, an editor who wanted me gone. Dan’s exit was apparently approved, as he had been on Superman for like ten years straight, and they wanted new blood. In my case, I’d only been dialoguing Kesel’s plots for a year, and hadn’t been to a Superman story conference in over five years, so they couldn’t blame me for what was going on in the books! I was looking forward to a fresh start on the character, and Cavalieri had given me a year’s commitment, which I think DC should have honored! They offered me nothing in exchange. This, after twelve years being loyal to them (WildStar notwithstanding).

 

Jamie: So if DC offered you work on another one of their other titles, would you take it?

Jerry Ordway: I want an apology from a higher-up there. None has been forthcoming, despite the fact that I was fired without authorization, in some botched scheme of Berganza’s. I know that Waid, who was apparently offered the book, and then had the offer rescinded, got an apology from DC. Why not me? So no, I won’t work for them, until they treat me with some respect.

 

Jamie: We know you’re doing the inks to Thor #9 and filling in for Avengers #16-18. Anything else coming up?

Jerry Ordway: Dan Jurgens and I have got an idea for a project that Jurgens and I would both work on– two separate titles, four issues each, involving the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Marvel’s probably going to green light it for the fall of 1999. Besides that, I’d like to work on my own characters!

 

Jamie: Speaking of your Avengers fill in, you said you were doing a ‘Marvel Family’ of sorts by bringing in Warbird (formerly Ms. Marvel) and Photon (formerly Captain Marvel II). Will you also be bringing in Quasar and Genis due to their relationship to the Captain Mar-vel name?

Jerry Ordway: Editor Tom Brevoort said I had too many characters already for my 3 issues, so no Quasar or Genis. sorry. Maybe they’ll find their way into the new project? Who knows.

 

Jamie: Did Avengers editor Tom Breevort ask you do fill in for Avengers or did you come up with the idea first and pitch it to him?

Jerry Ordway: I got the call for them to do it about three days after I was off Superman, and it was their idea. I was already committed to do the inking on the Thor issue, so it was just good luck on my part. I’m not a good one to write proposals and such. I just like to have stuff pop up, which I then can pour my energies into!

 

Jamie: Will you also be inking your Avengers fill in?

Jerry Ordway: The Avengers stuff is being inked by my WildStar collaborator, Al Gordon! Al Vey, an old friend, may ink the last one, depending on his schedule, otherwise Al will do that too.

 

Jamie: Are there any Marvel characters you would really enjoy working with, obscure or major?

Jerry Ordway: Daredevil, Spider-man, you name it! I grew up on the core books, and loved them all!

 

Jamie: If you had the chance to do another comic book in the ‘Power of Shazam’ style would you do it?

Jerry Ordway: Probably, even though it would be creative suicide. I like all-ages stuff. I have young children of my own, and there’s very little wholesome stuff for them to read. I’m not a prude, but I think comics in general are way too skewed to the older readers these days. It takes some of the fun out of it for me. I have enjoyed more adult material myself, but I think comics are slowly dying because they can’t appeal to kids– and then if something comes out that is kid-friendly, like Batman or Superman Adventures, they can’t get them into the mass market! Believe me, I love comic stores, but they aren’t as accessible as drugstores were in my childhood.

 

Jamie: Which is a stronger. Your desire to draw or write?

Jerry Ordway: I like to write stories, but the artistic side of me fights to draw them! Really, I’ve enjoyed collaborations in the past, but there’s nothing like having the pressure resting firmly on one back (mine) to get your heart pumping!

 

Jamie: What tools do you use when drawing and inking?

Jerry Ordway: I use mechanical pencils, HB lead in the summer, 2H lead in the winter. I prefer the rougher finish strathmore drawing paper, and ink with a Hunt #102 crow quill pen, along with a Grumbacher #2 brush dipped in Pelikan ink. For my color work, I use Dr Martin’s Transparent Watercolor Dyes, which are increasingly hard to find!

 

Jamie: How do you fix your mistakes?

Jerry Ordway: I use white-out, or sometimes an electric eraser.

 

Jamie: When you write and draw a comic, how much do you put into the writing part? Do you make a full script first or do you make basic plot and go on from there?

Jerry Ordway: I either do a really detailed plot, or break the story down in small layout form. I like to indicate dialogue in my plots, as a way to help me when I dialogue the pages faster.

 

Jamie: As an artist working with other writers, how much detail do you like? Lots or little?

Jerry Ordway: I like a fair amount of description, but hate when the writer can’t rein it in to six panels or less.

 

Jamie: Who are your inspirations as both an artist and writer?

Jerry Ordway: Artistic inspiration comes from everyone who ever put pencil or pen to paper, but especially, Kirby, Wood, Ditko, John Buscema, Alex Raymond, Neal Adams, Byrne, Zeck, Romita– and more! Writing comes from Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Byrne, Mike Carlin, Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and lots more!

 

Jamie: Have you been contacted about doing Marvel Knights or Marvel Tech related work?

Jerry Ordway: I was contacted about a year ago to see if I was interested in doing the Punisher, which I was not. I think Grant and Zeck said the last word on that character.

 

Jamie: Anything you want to say to your fans?

Jerry Ordway: Thanks for the support. This wouldn’t be much fun without an interactive audience! People have followed my work right from the beginning, and I owe my livelihood to them! I hope I can keep them entertained.

 

George Perez Interview

George Perez – 2003 HobbyStar Toronto Fan Expo

This was originally published in June 2000.

This interview became a wake up call for me. Normally when somebody got some breaking news other sites would mention it and link to the source. It was seen as ethical, without it being formally defined in that way. George Perez leaving the Avengers (which was a top selling book at that time) was major news and it wasn’t announced anywhere yet. When I told Comic Book Resources I was stunned to see that instead of mentioning it and linking to the interview, they instead contacted George, got confirmation and then announced the news themselves as if they broke it. I learned after that to not give them anymore news. The internet comic community, which used to be very volunteer minded, co-operative place was now commercial. The desire to maximize traffic to make money was now more important.

Anyway, I’ve seen George at many conventions over the years and he’s always been super nice to me. He’s generally known as one of the nicest creators out there.


An Interview With George Perez

George Perez has been working in the comic industry for about 25 years. While some hot pencilers come and go, he’s is one of the very few that remains a fan favorite through the years. He has a long list of very popular works behind him both in DC and in Marvel. Among them, Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, Crisis of the Infinite Earths, and currently Avengers. George answers all sorts of questions and gives us some details about when he is ending his run on Avengers and starting his new work Crimson Plague, coming out through Gorilla Comics.

 

Jamie: We have heard lots from Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek about why they formed Gorilla Comics, but we have yet to hear from you. What is your reason for doing comics through Gorilla?

George Perez: The chance to be in full control over my own work is way too tempting to resist. However since I was on exclusive contract with Marvel, I couldn’t work on any new projects until July 2000 when my Marvel contract expired. Except for CRIMSON PLAGUE, which predated that contract With Event Comics seemingly on hiatus while Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti worked on marvel Knights it seemed the perfect time and place to restart the series. With Joe and Jimmy’s generous blessings, CRIMSON PLAGUE became my contribution to the Gorilla launch.

 

Jamie: Crimson Plague is coming out again through Gorilla Comics (Image). For those that don’t know anything about the series, what is it about?

George Perez: It’s about a genetically engineered woman who was first discovered as an embryo inside a dead woman on a mining colony on one of Jupiter’s moons. As the woman (named DiNA: Simmons) grew to maturity it was discovered that her blood was becoming more and more toxic until it was capable of totally disintegrating any organic or non-organic matter. And since DiNA: is a woman, the scientists learn that her menstrual blood could become an airborne virus capable of destroying an entire planet. She becomes a walking crimson plague– and that plague is on its way to Earth.

The artistic gimmick for this series is that every featured character is modeled and named after a real person. There really is a Dina Simmons (who is now pursuing a modeling career using the DiNA: Simmons spelling of her name). It’s a real artistic challenge.

 

Jamie: After the one shot, will Crimson Plague turn into an ongoing series? If so can you draw both it and Avengers at the same time?

George Perez: CRIMSON PLAGUE is scheduled as a limited series, currently eight bi-monthly issues, although that may change. As for AVENGERS, my contract expires in July and it looks like I won’t be continuing with it as a penciler past Issue #34, another double-sized issue. I just need to take a break from the monthly grind for a while and I’ve been offered a few short-term assignments that I’m looking forward to working on.

 

Jamie: What all happened with that eHeroes.com thing? Fans are still confused.

George Perez: As of now, there are still talks going on and, hopefully, this will all be settled by the end of June. I wish I could be more definite and forthcoming, but I’m just waiting with guarded optimism. Things look promising though and Gorilla Comics will survive regardless.

 

Jamie: Will Gorilla Comics be keeping their TPB’s in print and accessible like DC Comics does?

George Perez: That’s one of the cornerstones of Gorilla policy.

 

Jamie: Avenger fans wonder and worry how long you’ll be on the series. Any definite answer?

George Perez: I think I answered that already. It hasn’t been announced officially, but I see no reason in keeping it mum now. I should explain that this decision has nothing to do with my working relationship with anyone on the AVENGERS team. I love them all. It’s just that, according to my last medical check up, I need to slow down. My blood pressure’s up and my diabetes needs to be controlled better. That means more exercise, among other things, and my current schedule just doesn’t allow that. I’ll still be doing a lot of work; it just won’t be on a monthly title for a year or so.

 

Jamie: If you could add one more character to the Avengers, simply so you can draw them who would it be (excluding the Beast)?

George Perez: Tigra. I love the babes.

 

Jamie: You have done a lot of costume designing for Avengers, do you have a favorite?

George Perez: The Scarlet Witch. I think her costume is a perfect reflection of her character.

 

Jamie: Kurt Busiek is big on creating minority characters and made the amount of them on the Avengers team a major plot line. What is your feeling on minorities and their portrayal in the Marvel Universe?

George Perez: As a member of minority group myself, (I’m Puerto Rican) I must say that the issue never really meant anything to me one way or another. To me a hero transcends racial barriers. It is nice to see different races represented, but I’m more likely to follow a character because he or she or it is written well and drawn well. I do, however, enjoy characters having distinctive personalities and often that is well-served by the character having a unique background that distinguishes him her or it from the other. For example, I always liked what Victor Stone (Cyborg) brought to the Teen Titans dynamic. Ironically, the one Puerto Rican character I am credited for creating, the White Tiger, was actually created by writer Bill Mantlo. I just visualized him, using my childhood as reference. But it was Bill who gave that character his soul.

 

Jamie: There is a rumor floating around that after Avengers you and Kurt are going to do a series for DC featuring their Golden Age characters. Any truth to it?

George Perez: None whatsoever. Besides, I wouldn’t have wanted to compete with the memory of James Robinson’s and Paul Smith’s GOLDEN AGE. I thought that was great.

 

Jamie: You had once penciled a JLA vs. Avengers crossover that never saw print. One side says it didn’t come about because of politics, the other (Jim Shooter) said it was because of bad writing and when the writing got fixed you had found other projects to do. What is your take on that mess?

George Perez: To tell you the truth, this is a very old topic and my position is already well-documented, so I’ll just let it pass. All I can add is that, regardless of statements to the contrary, there was no other project I wouldn’t have dropped if the JLA/AVENGERS project ever had gotten greenlighted.

 

Jamie: Some people had doubts that you could keep a monthly deadline when it was announced that you were penciling Avengers. How do you draw all those details and keep the book coming out regularly?

George Perez: With great force of will and little sleep. Actually, it’s the only way I know how to draw. I love groups and details. I just had to work on my work discipline. Despite my health problems, I’m proud of that achievement.

 

Jamie: Where did you get your art training and how did you develop your popular style?

George Perez: I’m self taught and my style was based on emulating the artists whose work I admired.

 

Jamie: Who are your art influences?

George Perez: This is always a hard one. There are so many. Among the comic artists my first major influences were Curt Swan, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Starlin, Nick Cardy, Mort Drucker, George Woodbridge, Leonard Starr, Murphy Anderson, the list goes on and on, and continues growing. Outside the comics field I’ve been forever inspired by the likes of Norman Rockwell, Alfonse Mucha, N.C. Wyeth, Virgil Finlay, Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, Bob Peak, Richard Amsel and so many others.

 

Jamie: If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?

George Perez: Probably interviewing an artist.

 

Jamie: You have been a very popular artist for a long time, while many hot artists turn lukewarm in a few years. To what do you owe your longevity?

George Perez: I haven’t the foggiest idea. I try to maintain a certain level of excitement to my work and never sacrifice storytelling for flashy visuals– although they are not mutually exclusive. I just hope that my love for what I’m doing is evident– and contagious.

 

Jamie: Which of your many projects on are you proudest of?

George Perez: Inking Curt Swan on “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” A dream come true.

 

Jamie: Are there any writers you have yet to work with that you’d really like to?

George Perez: Yep. If Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Mark Waid, James Robinson, Grant Morrison, Devin Grayson, or Garth Ennis are ever interested in working with me, I’d be proud to be in any of their company.

 

Jamie: As of late we’ve had Siegel’s family, Joe Simon and now Martin Nodell ask for their characters copyrights back. What is your take on these events?

George Perez: I’m all for creators getting all the rights they can and there seems to be little dispute about the validity of the Siegel’s claims. There does appear to be some disagreement with the others, and I’m not familiar enough with those cases to make a valid judgment. Speaking strictly from a moral and artistic standpoint, however, I believe that all these creators were screwed out of just rewards for creating characters that have netted millions for their respective publishers. But then again, business decisions are seldom made by artists and moralists.

 

Jamie: I hear you are involved with a few charities. CBLDF just gave you a DEFENDER OF LIBERTY AWARD for the money you raised for them over the last three years. Can you tell us which charities you work for and what you do for them?

George Perez: I do pretty much the same thing for all of them. I go to conventions and draw like crazy, donating all my commissions to charity. I also boost the amount by printing up some color prints (colored gratis by my friend Tom Smith) of my CRIMSON PLAGUE characters DiNA: Simmons and Shannon Lower and those girls hawk them and pose for photos — all for donations. Among the organized charities I’ve worked for are The Charlotte Firefighter’s Burned Children Fund, The Muscular Dystrophy Association, Make-A-Wish, Florida Hospital Diabetes Association and The Juvenile Diabetes Association. I’ve also raised money to help some friends in dire financial straits and have presided over a few charity auctions as well. Interestingly, the CBLDF is the only charity that I ever have to explain or justify — and that makes it all the more imperative that we never take it for granted.

 

Jamie: I notice you are now posting on the ApeNation.com Message board, but you are very rarely seen elsewhere on the internet. Do you visit any other comic related web sites or gatherings (like Usenet)?

George Perez: No. I browse and lurk from time to time, but I’d never get any work done if I sat and typed answers all day — like I’m doing now. Hmmm.

 

Jamie: Anything else you’d like to say to the readers?

George Perez: Only that I’d better get back to work — or else they’ll have nothing of mine to read next month. Take Care.

Colleen Doran Interview

Colleen Doran – 2008 San Diego Comic Con

This interview was originally published in January 2003.

Colleen Doran is one of many creators I “knew” via online for many years before getting to meet her in real life. In this interview I ask her about the Warren Ellis Form and I think enough years have gone by that I should probably explain what that was and why it was important.

In the 1990’s most “comic book” talk on the internet happened on Usenet, which was a pre-world wide web and pre-web browser message board. You needed a software like FreeAgent and know your ISP’s Usenet server details to access it (like POP3 e-mail). Outside of that there was the CompuServ forums, but you needed to be a CompuServ customer to access them. One of the flaws of Usenet is that it was open to everybody and there wasn’t anybody in charge that could ban trolls. The most you could do was put somebody on ignore, but if they replied to a comment of somebody else, you’d see their comments (and their insulting and or lying about you). There was plenty of abuse, up to and including an asshole making a death threat against Peter David.

Warren Ellis created a Warren Ellis Forum on Delphi and nicknamed himself Stalin. He made it crystal clear that trollish or even bad behaviour would not be tolerated and anybody engaging in it would be banned from the forum. This lead to a popular forum with lots of comic creators and well behaved and often intelligent fans communicating regularly. A number of those fans are well known comic creators today. Other comic creators followed Warren’s lead and went on to create their own message board/forums.

Back to Colleen, she saved my bacon with this interview. CollectorTimes was a monthly web magazine and I needed an interview before the end of the month. I had an interview set up with another creator but because of Christmas stuff getting in the way, they bailed on doing the interview with apologies. Desperate, I took a chance and e-mailed Colleen to see if she would agree to an interview and get it done between Christmas and New Years. She agreed and came through for me. I would later meet Colleen in person at my first San Diego in 2008 and took this picture of her.

 


Colleen Doran Interview

Colleen Doran has been working professionally since the age of 15. Throughout her career she’s worked for all the major publishers as either an artist and/or writer. She has also worked for Lucas Film and Disney, among other companies. These days she is mainly known for doing A Distant Soil through Image Comics, a story she’s been wanting to do since she was a teenager. In this interview Colleen talks to us about A Distant Soil, her success outside of the traditional comic industry and other topics.

 

Jamie: You have been doing A Distant Soil (a.k.a. ADS) for a number of years now. How long do you see yourself going with the series?

Colleen Doran: I started doing this book professionally when I was in high school, which is hard for me to believe now! In fact, some of the pages in the current edition are actually from the original pencils samples I was showing publishers when I was a kid! It is very strange, I suppose, to be doing the same book all these years, but I am determined, if nothing else. I intend to go until the story is told and then it will be over. However long it takes. I imagine another year or so.

 

Jamie: Do you have a definite end for it planned out?

Colleen Doran: Oh, yes. The current storyline has about five issues left. I have two other, much shorter, story arcs, but I know the ultimate ending of every character and plotline. I have it all planned out.

 

Jamie: Among some creators there is a movement to do quick, cheap, thin graphic novels. But when you collect ADS you do more issues than usual, creating thick books. Why?

Colleen Doran: As a reader, I am not satisfied with thin, expensive books. They look cheap and cheesy. I hate them, always have. I want to give the reader real value for their money and a sufficient chunk of story to give them hours of entertainment. That is what I want as a reader, too.

From a purely commercial standpoint, a thin graphic novel disappears on the stands when it is spine out. It doesn’t have a satisfying heft and feel and less perceived value.

 

Jamie: Have you considered going straight to graphic novel with ADS? You’ve mentioned before that you lose money on the single issues and it’s the TPB royalty cheques that keep the series going.

Colleen Doran: The comic books don’t lose money, they just don’t make any. If it takes me two months to do an issue and I only earn $1,000, for all intents and purposes, I have lost all the money it took me to live on for that time.

I am afraid of getting bogged down while working on a huge chunk of story, so I would rather produce it in installments, even if it doesn’t really bring in any income. It is an enormous undertaking to do a 200 page book and to work in a vacuum for all that time with no feedback. I would prefer to just dole it out to those who want to see it. Those who don’t can wait for the trades.

 

Jamie: I recently bought a full color ADS graphic novel published by  StarBlaze Graphics, I also noticed they published some of Matt Wagner’s Mage books as well. What happened to them?

Colleen Doran: Donning was a bit of a mess. They were having financial problems for years before I signed on with them and had been bought out by their printer, so they weren’t an independent publisher like I thought when I went to them. They were very badly managed. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the books they were publishing. Some of them were very good, but many were downright amateurish. Some of the books like Gate of Ivrel and later volumes of the Thieves World graphic novels had terrible sales, only a couple thousand each, and that was for color original graphic novels at a time when the comic book market was doing very well. Many other companies had GN’s selling tens of thousands of copies.

Eventually, Donning decided to close its trade publishing division. They sold our contracts to another publisher and there was a big class action lawsuit. Many of the authors ended up suing them, including me. It was a nightmare. We all settled out of court, but Donning has disappeared off the radar for good, I think.

It’s not uncommon for small publishers to be badly managed, particularly when they start to get big and expand. They don’t have the expertise to handle it. Donning was yet another example of that. They just weren’t qualified to do the business they were doing and yet wouldn’t go out of their way to get people with real expertise in the market. They had very limited knowledge of the direct market and they weren’t too savvy in the trades, either. In fact, their whole foray into graphic novels was something of a fluke. Before Donning began publishing graphic novels, they were really a kind of vanity press. They did subsidized books, pictorial histories. Cities and towns paid Donning to publish these things. So, when they did get the idea to begin publishing graphic novels and they sort of took off, they weren’t prepared to handle it, and they botched it pretty badly. They lasted as a graphic novels publisher for only about seven or eight years.

Donning had had some mild success doing science fiction books for a few years before they got into graphic novels. The Starblaze line was created by science fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas. They published a few books that did very well and that is how they got their feet wet in trade publishing, but they were complete know-nothings when it came to the direct market. They pretty much ignored it. It was weird.

 

Jamie: I understand you sell a lot of ADS books outside the traditional comic bookstores. Can you give us a rough estimate, percentage wise, of where your books get sold?

Colleen Doran: My orders on the third graphic novel came in and showed that more than 50% of my sales on the new trade were outside the direct market. A big chunk of those go to libraries, too. I wish I had more market penetration in major bookstores, but that is slow in coming. However, libraries love my books!

 

Jamie: You also attend Sci-Fi conventions and sell many books there do you not?

Colleen Doran: Yes, I do a number of them, though I have cut way back in the last couple of years because my work schedule is really brutal and I am just not doing many conventions anymore. I could expect to see much higher numbers at the World Science Fiction Convention than I would at San Diego Comic Con even though Worldcon would have only about 10% the attendance as San Diego. My take would be 100% higher at Worldcon.

 

Jamie: There was a rumor that CrossGen was going to try and “poach” some creators/books from Image Comics in order to grow their own creator owned line. Have you been approached yet?

Colleen Doran: I am committed to Image.

 

Jamie: Once ADS is completed, will you put the whole thing on CD Rom and sell it?

Colleen Doran: I hadn’t even thought about that! Maybe.

 

Jamie: You did a small web comic with Warren Ellis called SUPERIDOL for Artbomb.net. What was it like working with Warren?

Colleen Doran: I love working with Warren. I was thrilled when he chose me to do Super Idol. He has such great ideas and he is an exciting writer. I am working with Warren on a new graphic novel for Vertigo called Orbiter as well. I am penciling and inking it and am painting the cover. I am almost finished. I think I will be finished in a couple of weeks. It is 100 pages! I also worked with Warren on an animated project called Distance. I was the principal conceptual designer. It was optioned by Sony, but they shelved it after Final Fantasy tanked and the option has returned. I don’t know what’s going on with it now.

 

Jamie: Did you do SUPERIDOL on paper or did you work on a computer?

Colleen Doran: Oh, Super Idol is entirely hand painted. Each panel was a separate painting.

 

Jamie: Was getting it scanned in and looking right a big pain?

Colleen Doran: It really wasn’t too much trouble. Looked pretty good to me right off.

 

Jamie: The art and storytelling style in SUPERIDOL was very different from ADS. Had I not seen your name I would not have guessed it was you. What influenced you to draw in that manner?

Colleen Doran: I choose to do every project in a different style. I try to come up with something that suits the book. I believe that a cartoonist’s job is to create a unique look for each book and do what is necessary to tell the story in the manner that is most appropriate to the story, to the best of their ability. I don’t try to twist each project to suit me, I try to suit the project. I approach my work in much the same manner that an actor approaches a role. I want to disappear into the work. I don’t want to leave any stamp on the work except the stamp that gives the reader a feeling of satisfaction that they have thoroughly entered the world of the story. My job is world building. Some artists complain about having to change their style to suit a project, but no one complains if an actor changes his entire personality to fit a role. That is what I think I do best with my work: I change to suit the role, and the role is the story.

 

Jamie: Do you see yourself doing more “freebee” webcomics in the future?

Colleen Doran: Well, I didn’t do it for free! I got paid. But if someone wants to pay me to do another, sure!

 

Jamie: Do you see yourself trying to make a serious go at web comics like some artists do?

Colleen Doran: Not unless there is income to be derived from it, though I may do a couple of comics for A Distant Soil on my own website, just for kicks. Unlike a lot of artists, I am a pro and do this for a living, so the prospect of making my web comic an expensive hobby has little appeal. Some web comics pay, but most do not. If I want to do something for fun, my impulse is to go skydiving, not drawing! I need to get away from the board once in awhile!

 

Jamie: You were a frequent visitor to the Warren Ellis Forum. Has it’s demise affected you the same way it affected other people?

Colleen Doran: I don’t know how it affected other people because I am rarely online anymore. I didn’t really spend much time online before the forum and even before the forum went down, I drastically cut my online time. I am naturally introverted and while I enjoy communicating with other people, my desire to do so has a limit. Too much makes me nervous and upset. I have been very hermetic of late.

 

Jamie: These days it’s popular for some creators to say enough with the work for hire superhero comics! What do you think of them?

Colleen Doran: Well, whatever they want to do. But I don’t have any problem with it. I think about the project first. If it is a project I want to do, I will do it. I like superheroes and would gladly do them again.

 

Jamie: Legion fans tell me you had an Element Lad story done 10 years ago. Today the character is dead. Can you tell us about that story?

Colleen Doran: You know, I was a big Legion fan for many years. Everyone  knew that. But the last Legion editor flatly informed me that anyone who had been part of the previous Legion mythos was not welcome back on the book. In fact, I was slated to write and draw an issue of the Legion with Element Lad as the main character! My script had been approved by then editor KC Carlson, right before he left DC Comics, but when the new editor came along, he refused to go forward with the story and I didn’t get paid for my work. He wouldn’t even return my phone calls. I was very upset by that, so I stopped reading the Legion entirely. I didn’t even know Element Lad was dead until now! I guess I should be really upset! He was my favorite character!

The last time I was up at DC, I did show the Legion editor my new work on Orbiter and he completely changed his mind about me and asked if I might want to do some Legion work again sometime. However, he didn’t last another week at the company.

Anyway, that Legion story I did was written by Keith Giffen. I will never forget it. It was important to me in a lot of ways. It wasn’t my first Legion work, but it was my last. When I was in high school, Keith Giffen had seen my work in a fanzine and called to offer me a job on the Legion! I really wasn’t ready for it, but a few years later, I did get some small Legion jobs. Keith Giffen has always been very important to me. He was one of the first professionals to see my potential and he always treated me with absolute fairness and honesty. So, to get to work with him on a Legion tale with my favorite character Element Lad, was a real treat.

The story concerned Element Lad’s girlfriend Shvaughn Erin, who actually turns out to be a guy who has had a sex change! The fans went wild! Some of them really hated it! Politically correct gays got up in arms about it. Others were cool. I thought it was audacious and I loved it! However, there are about four pages in it that were drawn by Curt Swan. I became so sick with pnuemonia while working on that book I almost died. I’ll never forget it! I couldn’t even hold a pencil or speak. So, Curt finished the job. In a way, it was good, because I got to collaborate with Curt who was always one of my big heroes. Every year for Christmas and my birthday he would draw me a little picture of Element Lad with hearts and flowers or something. My agent would get him to do them for me. I loved Curt and I miss him terribly.

 

Jamie: What are you doing in the future?

Colleen Doran: Well, I am working on Orbiter as I said before. It is a science fiction tale about the space shuttle. The shuttle went on a mission and disappeared. Ten years later, it returns! Mayhem ensues. As a total space program geek, this is a dream project for me and I went gonzo on it. Frank Miller told me I was outdoing Geoff Darrow! The detail is out of control. I am loving it.

Also, I am doing a new series for DC with Keith Giffen. It is called Epoch of Zodiac or Zodiac for short. I am penciling and Bob Wiacek is inking, which is a blessing because I am very hard to ink and Wiacek is one of about three people who can pull it off. Zodiac is an epic fantasy about the warring houses of the Zodiac. It is very dramatic and political and is, in my humble opinion, Keith Giffen’s best work. People are going to go ape over this book. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever drawn in my life because each house of the Zodiac must have distinct looks, styles of architecture, clothing and props. Nothing can look comic-bookish or costumey. It is a monster task. The goal is to have the styles so distinctive that one look will tell you with which house someone is associated. That’s not at all easy. However, I think I am up to it because I am notoriously detail obsessed. Keith says I am the most fun he has ever had working with an obsessive compulsive!

I am also working on future issues of A Distant Soil. A Distant Soil is the story of a young girl who is born the heir to an alien religious dynasty. She is the center of a conflict between rival factions fighting for control of their world. It is extremely complex and highly character oriented. I adore working on this book. It is nearing the end of the principal story arc and we finally get to see who wins. But good guys are not always good guys in this story and things really don’t go in any one direction, so I am keeping people guessing. No one has correctly
pegged the ending.

I have only told one person what happens: Jeff Smith. I was pulling a marathon session on A Distant Soil one night and he was going berserk on Bone and we both just said “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!” During this eight hour phone call that went until about 5 AM one day, we both told each other everything about our books and where they were going and he had exactly the kind of reaction every author hopes for when he heard what I was up to, so now I am moving toward the end with confidence. If Jeff says it’s good, I’m okay!

I am also working on The Six Swans for Image. It is an adaptation of the old Brother’s Grimm tale of six brothers who were changed by their wicked stepmother into Swans, and the trials their sister must endure to save them. It is a very straightforward telling, but I have added some elements of my own. It will be a combination of illustration and graphic storytelling, much like Stardust, I imagine.

 

Jamie: Do you have any work lined up outside of the comic industry?

Colleen Doran: Actually, until this year, I have been doing a lot of illustration outside of comics, but this year I have so much comics work, I have cut back. however, I have been speaking to a major film studio for a few weeks about doing conceptual work on a feature film. It is up in the air. I am excited about it, but would have to live out of the country for awhile. I do not know if I will take it or not. It all depends.

 

Jamie: You have told a wide variety of interesting stories about your experiences in the comic industry, with crazy fans, bad publishers and other creators. Have you considered doing an autobiography comic?

Colleen Doran: I have thought about it, but actually, I have been working on an autobiographical screenplay with Keith Giffen. A publisher got buzz about the project and has approached us about doing it as a graphic novel first. We haven’t decided. The buzz on the screenplay is incredibly good. People who have read parts of it have laughed their heads off. Some of my experiences were horrific, but we have turned them into comedy gold. It’s the best revenge, really.

 

Jamie: I know in the past you had problems with crazy fans trying to break your hand and stalking you. Do you still have these problems today?

Colleen Doran: Very rarely. When I went pro, I was a very young girl. I was fifteen. I weighed 95 lbs and looked 12. Every creepy old pervert from coast to coast was chafing my trail. I got older, I got wiser and I learned to fight back. It has slowed down considerably.

Actually, Harlan Ellison took care of the stalker. This guy began creeping around when I was a teen. He used to write me letters saying I looked like a “little English schoolgirl”. He was in his thirties, I think, when he started, and here I was, a teenage girl. He would send me resumes and newspaper articles about him with his age scratched out so I wouldn’t know he was a middle aged perv. The guy was a total creep. This went on for a decade. One day I was boo-hooing to Harlan and he just said “Give me his number. I’ll take care of it.” Apparently, he made a phone call to this freak that scared the bejeezus out of him. We didn’t hear from him for two solid years. Then he started back up again and I went right to the police. Stalking laws have come a long way in the last decade and I think he finally got he message that if he didn’t stop his nonsense, he was going to end up in jail.

 

Jamie: Do you think the comic industry has matured since you began working in it?

Colleen Doran: Hell, yes. To be perfectly frank, I would like to blot out all of my early experiences and pretend they never happened. I am so enjoying my life in comics today, it is hard to believe it is the same business. My life now is the way I always dreamed it would be.

Kevin Nowlan Interview

Kevin Nowlan – 2007 HobbyStar Toronto ComiCON

This interview was originally published in July, 2007.

I have a horrible confession to make. When I was at a convention looking for somebody to interview, I was actually looking for Kevin Maguire. I did not know what he looked like so I was walking through the artists alley looking at names on the tables and saw a Kevin and immediately went over to introduce myself and ask for an interview.

Kevin Nowlan agreed, but said he had just done a long interview about his career that was now out in the TwoMorrows Publishing Modern Masters series. He asked me to pick it up and try to not ask him the same questions. This was a reasonable request and not unusual either. I usually try my best to avoid asking the same questions as I think one of the goals of an interview is to learn something new about the subject so I was glad Kevin made me aware of the Modern Master’s book on him.

Since Kevin agreed to the interview I felt I ought to go through with it. I was able to pick up the Modern Masters book right at the convention itself and took it home to read it. Little did I realize how great of an artist he was and felt dumb for not knowing who he was before. I came up with questions and did the interview via e-mail. Off to the interview.


Interview with Kevin Nowlan

Kevin Nowlan is a jack of all trades when it comes to comics. He’s known for penciling, inking, lettering, coloring and even color separations. He’s also done a bit of writing. Nowlan is probably best known for his work with Alan Moore on the Jack B. Quick stories within the ABC line of books, but he’s been working in the industry since the early 80s. Kevin answers questions about his early experiences in the industry, his art, Alan Moore, recent Witchblade & X-men work, and more.

 

Jamie: I imagine there wasn’t a lot of professional comic artists in Nebraska where you grew up. Who was the first comic professional you met?

Kevin Nowlan: No, Nebraska is pretty much a comic artist free zone. I think Gil Kane was the first professional artist I met. The Fantagraphics guys went out to eat with him when I was visiting them in Connecticut. I was too frightened to speak but I hung on his every word.

Later, I saw him again at conventions and inked a couple of stories that he penciled. For a while, I seemed to be his go-to inker at DC. They kept calling me every time he was scheduled to pencil something.

 

Jamie: I believe you inked both Gil Kane and John Buscema’s last work, which was in the comic Superman: Blood of my Ancestors (what a title, yeech!). Did you feel at all uneasy about inking another artist from the golden/silver age?

Kevin Nowlan: No, but I wasn’t as comfortable inking Buscema’s pencils as I had been with Kane’s. With Buscema, there was less information on the page. The book was in limbo for a year or more after Gil died. He’d penciled the first 24 pages but no one could think of an appropriate replacement penciler. There just aren’t any Gil Kane Juniors out there.

John Buscema seemed to make sense. Their styles couldn’t be more different but the book already resembled a Conan Annual so who better than John Buscema to finish it?

 

Jamie: Early in your career you worked for Fantagraphics. How did you first meet Gary Groth and work for him?

Kevin Nowlan: I sent them some sample drawings and they published them in The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes. They were just starting to move toward publishing comics so Gary tried to get me involved in one of those projects.

 

Jamie: What projects was he trying to get you to do?

Kevin Nowlan: A Harlan Ellison story, “Eyes of Dust” and an adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s “Welcome to Hard Times”. Those didn’t work out but “Grimwood’s Daughter” a 5-part back-up story in “Dalgoda” was one of my first assignments. It was written by Jan Strnad. I hope it will be collected one of these days.

 

Jamie: You said Al Milgom gave you some solid advice on your first work for Marvel. What advice did he give you?

Kevin Nowlan: He warned me about trying to draw faster and encouraged me to just work at drawing better. He said that many of the really fast artists who cut a lot of corners have trouble getting work when times get tough. I took it to heart but I’d still like to pick up a little speed. Some of my favorite artists work or worked incredibly fast: Owen Fitzgerald, Kirby, Buscema, Byrne.

 

Jamie: When you draw normal people they end up looking much more ‘real’ than the standard superhero comic artist. Where did you learn to add in those very human looking flaws to the characters and do them well?

Kevin Nowlan: I try to imagine how the characters and settings would look if they were real so that I’m not doing a new version of someone else’s drawing. Then I exaggerate the proportions or gestures or expressions to give the drawing a little punch. But I like to start with reality. For instance, when I was a kid I copied Superman drawings by Curt Swan and put the little parallel lines under Superman’s shoulder even though I didn’t really understand what they were. Later, I tried to draw a shoulder by looking at the way the deltoids connect with the triceps instead of just repeating someone else’s abstraction. But I never like to get too clinical about it. Those things evolve as you work on them until eventually you have your own abstraction.

 

Jamie: Another thing I really admire is your ability to draw detailed facial expressions. Do you have people pose for you and take pictures for reference?

Kevin Nowlan: I’ve done that before but I don’t make a habit of it. It depends upon the requirement of the job. I vacillate between realism and exaggeration. I went through a phase where I was taking lots of photos for reference. Nowadays I’m more likely to make stuff up and if it doesn’t look right at first I’ll keep sketching until it does.

 

Jamie: You mentioned in your Modern Masters interview that you go to the library to get reference material on things. Are you still doing that today or does Google take care of that?

Kevin Nowlan: Yeah, Google is a lot faster. You can find 50 photos of fire hydrants in two minutes. But there are still things that you’re more likely to find at the library.

 

Jamie: You were working when comics were printed on newsprint. Today the printing process is much different and comics are generally printed on much better paper. How did the upgrade in production qualities change the way you work?

Kevin Nowlan: It’s easier to be subtle now. The printing isn’t just better, it’s more consistent. Letterpress ink could look great or it could be run light and you’d lose half the color. The art has to be a little more refined than it did on newsprint. You see everything, whereas newsprint would soften the images up a bit.

 

Jamie: I have to wonder, your work in comics is often short stories, pin ups, inking and so on, all over the place. Do you make your living on comics alone or do you have outside work?

Kevin Nowlan: Mostly comics. I do a few commercial jobs from time to time but nothing steady.

 

Jamie: You spoke to Alan Moore on the telephone over the Jack B. Quick work for the ABC line. What was he like?

Kevin Nowlan: He was terrific. I had a little trouble with his accent but I got most of it. He was also surprisingly open to any of my concerns or preferences.

 

Jamie: You are the co-creator of Jack B. Quick. What did you contribute to the character?

Kevin Nowlan: The visuals. I don’t think Alan had anything specific in mind for the appearance of the main characters. Or if he did, he didn’t share it with me. It wasn’t until the third or fourth story that he described what someone would look like, and that was a secondary character, Mr. Murk from the Dairy.

 

Jamie: Will there be any new stories with the Jack B. Quick character?

Kevin Nowlan: There will if Alan decides to write them. I don’t know what his plans are but I don’t see much point in doing a Jack story without him.

 

Jamie: In X-Men First Class Special, you gave Jean Gray the smallest boobs I’ve seen on female superhero in a very long time. Did that sail through without any uh.. suggestions from editors?

Kevin Nowlan: Yes. The editors, Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby were as
obliging and supportive as any I’ve worked for, almost to a fault. I think I needed someone to step in and point out that I’d drawn Jean Grey way too thin on the cover. But I was trying to suggest that all the characters were young, barely out of their teens. I think I was more successful with Bobby and Hank on the story inside. For some reason, exaggeration seems to work better when you’re drawing males. But females come in different shapes and sizes. I’m trying to avoid drawing them like they all have the same bodies.

 

Jamie: You’ve been inking Witchblade over different pencilers lately; Matt Haley, Stephen Sadowski, and Rick Leonardi. Are you supposed to keep it all looking similar?

Kevin Nowlan: No. I don’t think that would be possible. They’re three very different artists.

 

Jamie: Are you inking on paper or doing it on computer?

Kevin Nowlan: On paper.

 

Jamie: How many more issues of Witchblade are you doing?

Kevin Nowlan: Three.

 

Jamie: You have also worked with DRAW! magazine showing penciling and inking. Do you have any desire to teach comic art?

Kevin Nowlan: I’ve thought about that a little. In the right situation I think it could work.

 

Jamie: In your Modern Masters interview, you mentioned wanting to do a complete Graphic Novel. Are you any closer to doing that?

Kevin Nowlan: I hope so. The Man-Thing graphic novel is back in my hands now and I’m hoping I can clear my plate and finish the remaining pages later this year.

 

Jamie: Was that supposed to one of those thin 80s Graphic Novels with Steve Gerber?

Kevin Nowlan: Yes.

 

Jamie: How many pages are left to do?

Kevin Nowlan: Twelve — fifteen at the most.

Chuck Rozanski Interview

This was originally published in April of 1999. Chuck was quite angry at Diamond Comics (the only major comic book distributor) and specifically Diamond’s owner Steve Geppi. He had legitimate reasons for this as they were in partnership with two online retailers and they appeared to have an unfair advantage over not only comic book stores but other online retailers too. Chuck called the US Department of Justice to have Diamond investigated for being a monopoly. The Department eventually sided in Diamonds favour and took no action against them. The online retailers involved are no longer in operation.

This interview was republished in print in Gauntlet Magazine #19. That magazine’s issue was about censorship and sadly, because I lived in Canada I wasn’t able to buy it the normal way through my comic shop. Canada border guards are very nitpicky when it comes to material coming over the border and tend to flag a lot of stuff that would be perfectly okay if a Canadian produced and sold it within the country.

Sadly this is still an ongoing issue even today. Diamond’s experience with the border guards is that one “problem” book will hold up the entire shipment coming into Canada, which is why they don’t ship anything that could be controversial. In fact the only other country Diamond wouldn’t ship this magazine to was China.

I did manage to get a copy of the magazine though, but I had to contact an understanding US retailer who mailed it to me directly, which meant paying extra for it.

An Interview With Chuck Rozanski

For those that don’t know Chuck Rozanski is, he the owner of Mile High Comics. Long time readers might remember their ads in Marvel Comics and in various industry magazines. He has been in the business of selling comics for decades and has an influential voice in the comic industry.

Below is a very eye opening interview where he discusses his opposition to recent Diamond Comics / Steve Geppi dealings with online super stores AnotherUniverse.com and the upcoming NextPlanetOver.com. Also discussed are his near purchase of Marvel Comics publishing arm and his thoughts on other industry matters.

 

Jamie: You recently asked the Department of Justice to investigate Diamond Comic Distributors. For those that don’t know what is going on, can you explain what Diamond is doing to warrant this investigation?

Chuck Rozanski: My initial contact with the Justice Department was when they called me for my opinion on Steve Geppi’s acquisition of anotheruniverse.com. I told them that I considered his personal ownership of the leading Internet retailer of comics to be a direct conflict of interest with his other role as the owner of Diamond Comic Distributors, the sole-source supplier to the retail comics trade of Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse publications. But I told the investigators that I was negotiating with Steve Geppi personally to find ways to mitigate the conflicts involved with his ownership of anotheruniverse.com.

Unbeknownst to me, however, at the same time as I was trying to explain to Steve that he needed to find ways to utilize the huge Internet mailing list (400,000 addresses…) of anotheruniverse.com help the Direct Market retailers dependent on Diamond, Diamond was secretly negotiating an arrangement with yet another Internet retailer, Next Planet Over, to enter into a deal by which Diamond would provide exclusive shipping from their Sparta warehouse. This arrangement allows Diamond to collect shipping and fulfillment fees for a period of two years from Next Planet Over, while denying this same opportunity for that same two-year period to any other Diamond accounts. It also allows Next Planet Over nearly immediate access to the huge Diamond Star System inventory backlist of trade paperbacks, toys, cards, etc. with minimal, or possibly no freight charges. The Diamond team also revealed, under intense questioning by retailers, that they were going to warehouse inventory in the Sparta warehouse for Next Planet Over, including back issue comics. The revelation that caught everyone by the most surprise, however, was Steve Geppi’s admission that he had an option to purchase equity in Next Planet Over. If exercised, that option would give him partial ownership of both major Internet retailers of comics product.

This information came out by accident at the annual DC Comics retailer meeting the weekend of March 12-14, and it’s sudden release caught the Diamond management team by surprise. They tried to convince the approximately 65 retailers in attendance that their secretly negotiated contract with Next Planet Over was no threat to other Diamond accounts, but were met with extreme skepticism. All the retailers with whom I had discussed the matter at the DC meeting were very concerned about the possible implications of Diamond/Steve Geppi making this bold intrusion into comics retailing. Given that he already owned the majority of stock in anotheruniverse.com, Steve Geppi was viewed as now having a personal interest in gaining a percentage of the retail market for comics.

While I had already resolved at the meeting that I had to call the Justice Department (I promised them I would call them back if the situation with Steve Geppi changed…), I was given added impetus by Diamond’s announcement of March 17th that all retailers currently being serviced out of Diamond’s Sparta warehouse (including Mile High Comics) would be shifted to Diamond’s warehouse in Plattsburg, NY effective April 8th. The net effect of this shift (according to our Diamond customer service representative) is that it will now take seven days, instead of five, for Mile High Comics (and all other retailers formerly serviced out of Sparta) to receive a Star System reorder unless we are willing to shift from truck freight to UPS. Given that UPS shipping costs are significantly higher, we’ve just seen a degradation of our service. Meanwhile, Next Planet Over has nearly immediate access, and theoretically no freight costs. All this because they’re willing to pay Diamond a fee to ship for them.

According to Diamond, the shifting of accounts from Sparta to Plattsburg is being done to facilitate expansion of the Star System. But the fact that the displacement to Plattsburg comes right on the heels of the admission by the Diamond staff that they had a secret arrangement to give space in Sparta to Next Planet Over, makes this entire process highly questionable to many retailers. In any event, whether it was planned, or not, this move increases the already significant competitive advantage of Next Planet Over over the retailers who were displaced from Sparta. It was this combination of events that made me feel that petitioning the Justice Department for relief was the only option left.

 

Jamie: If Steve Geppi/Diamond Comics continues their plans with NextPlanetOver.com, what will their positions in the industry be like one or two years from now?

Chuck Rozanski: I have no way of knowing. Much depends on the negative feedback they receive from retailers, fans, and the Justice Department. I have already been told that they are changing the reality of some of the answers they gave to the retailers in Baltimore. I have to believe that they were expecting little, or no, reaction to the eventual announcement that they were taking fees for giving Next Planet Over competitive advantage over their captive retailers. The fact that comics retailers have taken to the Internet to inform the entire world of comics about how the Diamond team is altering the competitive environment of comics retailing, seems to have never occurred to them. What they do now completely depends on how much negative reaction they get…

 

Jamie: You have asked for other retailers to join you in getting Diamond investigated. How has the response been?

Chuck Rozanski: I’ve actually been working primarily on a very lengthy report to the Justice Department about the entire history of my interactions with Steve Geppi about anotheruniverse.com. Since I had been trying to reason with him for five months prior to the DC retailer meeting, this report is up to 22 single-spaced pages, and still growing. I actually have only sent my Justice Department letter to comicon.com, and a couple other individuals. They have been spreading the word. I am now receiving e-mails from around the world faster than I can download and answer them… Once my report is finished, and I post it on our website, I am anticipating far greater response.

In terms of feedback, I have had 100% support. There are those who are (quite naturally) skeptical that we will win, but all those who have written me have praised me for taking this public stance in opposition of the Steve Geppi/anotheruniverse.com/Diamond/NextPlanetOver.com potential combination.

 

Jamie: Diamond has come out with a press release discussing the terms between them and NextPlanetOver.com, what was your reaction to the release and the information in it?

Chuck Rozanski: They’re working like crazy to “spin” this information now that they’ve been forced to reveal their secret dealings. If the press release you’re referring to is the one where they say that Steve Geppi “forgot” that he owns a small part of Next Planet Over, I would ask how anyone could believe such a statement? The retailers at the DC meeting asked Steve point blank if he owned any stock in NPO, and he swore he didn’t. Now they’re saying he does, but he didn’t contribute any funds.

So how did he get the stock? No one ever gave me stock for nothing…That’s just one of many inconsistencies in their press release. I think it’s safe to say that these guys are sweating the proverbial bullets.

 

Jamie: The press release says Diamond is exclusively fulfilling internet orders from NextPlanetOver.com, what does that do to others selling comics online, like Mile High Comics?

Chuck Rozanski: Since we specialize primarily in collectibles (back issue comics, toys, etc.), this will have less impact on Mile High Comics than others who sell more new, or Star System backlist. Those who have been selling Star System backlist are now at a huge competitive disadvantage, as they now have to either buy massive amounts of inventory and stock it at their in-house shipping site, or pay the huge expense of setting up a fulfillment point in Sparta. Otherwise Next Planet Over will have up to a seven-day advantage in filling orders for Star System Backlist. There is also the fact that they will have to pay freight, while Next Planet Over theoretically does not. And don’t forget that Next Planet Over will have a much greater likelihood of being able to discover when the Star System is running short on a desirable item. When we call in to Star, they tell us if an item is in stock, or not. But they never tell us how many are left… Even if Diamond sets up a “firewall,” it seems reasonable to assume that the managers of Next Planet Over will figure out how to get the information on what’s available on the other side of their same building.

 

Jamie: The press release also says NextPlanetOver.com will be buying comics from the comic companies and selling/shipping them to individual customers within 2 days. Does this not make them both a distributor and retailer?

Chuck Rozanski: Sure seems like it. This would very negatively impact our N.I.C.E. new comics subscription club. How can we compete with a distributor selling to consumers?

 

Jamie: NextPlanetOver.com had earlier announced they made deals to carry titles and online content from Abstract Studio (Strangers in Paradise), Oni Press, Slave Labor Graphics and Adhesive Comics. Will this not help those publishers?

Chuck Rozanski: Maybe. The industry currently receives most of its sales from about 3,000 independent retailers. If even just a few more of those retailers are forced out of business by these new practices, will the lost sales volume be made up by just one company? It could be that they end up with fewer sales, not more. Also, did these publishers realize who they were actually making a deal with when they agreed to give preferential treatment to Next Planet Over? These are all companies who pride themselves an being very retailer-friendly. What will they think as the truth reaches them? How will they explain their actions to retailers who have supported them for many years?

 

Jamie: You clearly feel betrayed by Diamond’s deal with NextPlanetOver.com, do you think you can trust Diamond or Steve Geppi again?

Chuck Rozanski: No.

 

Jamie: Exactly what would you like the Department of Justice do to Diamond Comics and Steve Geppi?

Chuck Rozanski: I am now a firm advocate that the exclusive relationships that Diamond has with any comics publishers must be voided. We trusted Diamond and Steve Geppi, and I feel they have betrayed that trust. I once advocated the exclusive relationships because I felt that maintaining stability in the world of comics was more important than fears of monopolization. I now fear Steve Geppi and Diamond far more than I fear chaos.

 

Jamie: What would Diamond have to do in order to convince you that they are no longer competing against retailers through NextPlanetOver.com

Chuck Rozanski: 1. Publish the contract between Diamond and Next Planet Over for everyone to see.

  1. Offer the same terms and services allowed Next Planet Over to anyretailer at the same cost
  1. Guarantee in writing that neither Steve Geppi, Diamond, or any member of the Diamond staff would ever take any equity position in a comics retailer ever again.
  1. Immediate divestiture by Steve Geppi of his personal stake in anotheruniverse.com

 

Jamie: Do you think the industry would improve if Diamond Comics had competitors?

Chuck Rozanski: I think Diamond has done a pretty good job of shipping comics. But I would sleep better at night if I had an alternative to their service. Otherwise they are free to inflict deals upon us like the Next Planet Over deal, and we still have to buy from them.

 

Jamie: Is there any chance you would start a distribution company to compete with Diamond Comics? If not why?

Chuck Rozanski: No. My wife ran a distribution service (Alternate Realities) for ten years. She found that the economies of scale in distribution greatly favor those who operate near great masses of population. Since there are only about 8 million people living within 500 miles of Colorado, any distributorship I could set up would be highly inefficient compared with a distributorship based in one of the more populous states. Besides, I am proud to be a comics retailer. Making comics fans happy is what gets me up with a smile every morning. I don’t want to do anything else.

 

Jamie: At the recent Retailer Representative conference between Diamond and retailers, there seemed to be other complaints about Diamond policy. Can you tell us what they were?

Chuck Rozanski: Actually, no. That meeting was so intense, and I was involved in so many discussions about anotheruniverse.com and Next Planet Over, that the rest of the meeting was a blur. I know that Rory Root from Comic Relief in Berkeley, and Mimi Cruz from Night Flight Comics in Salt Lake City briefly raised other issues, but I was distracted, so I don’t know what they were.

 

Jamie: How do you feel about DC Comics option to buy Diamond Distribution in three years?

Chuck Rozanski: It seems an unreasonable consolidation of the market. But I respect the individual members of the DC management team very much. After this situation with Steve Geppi, however, who I had considered a personal friend since 1977, I would like their assurances that any such deal would be reasonable to be put into writing.

 

Jamie: How has Mile High Comics remained successful in today’s market?

Chuck Rozanski: Internet, Internet, Internet. We run Internet auctions, we have six million back issues listed on our website, we send weekly e-mail specials, we cut deals with companies like Excite, and we post thousands of items on ebay.com. The Internet is now over half of our business, and all of our earnings. Without the sales we derive from the Internet, we would go out of business very quickly.

 

Jamie: Mile High Comics has an associate program for selling back issues, how much has that helped your company?

Chuck Rozanski: Not very much in terms of sales, but the goodwill has been great. Sharing revenues with anyone willing to send us a little business has been very pleasant. Even if we don’t generate many sales, we make lots of new friends.

 

Jamie: In terms of getting new comic readers, how do you think the industry proceed. Should we try to latch comic books to other stores or should we try to make comic shops like music and book stores?

Chuck Rozanski: My vision is entirely different. All of our stores are very profitable right now, as we have shifted over to selling more backlist and collectibles. I started selling comics in 1970, and in those days new comics were a tiny part of the business. I view the Direct Market boom period of 1986-1995 as being an aberration. The income from new comics was never intended to keep stores in business. New comics are (were) a way of getting collectors to visit your store. Selling new comics was a service you provided in order to sell them backlist. We’re now seeing a return to that more stable world, and retailers who have adjusted are doing very well. But this is bad news for the publishers, and for Diamond.

 

Jamie: Do you think putting comic books in book stores or other places would draw people to comic retailers?

Chuck Rozanski: It’s been tried, and didn’t work. I believe collectors like going to an environment where they can speak with individuals who share their same dreams and manias. That seldom happens in any book or record store.

 

Jamie: Some readers complain that comics are too expensive. Do you agree?

Chuck Rozanski: Yes! Ron Perelman wrecked this industry when he rammed through the yearly price increases after he took Marvel public. They took comics from being a cheap, disposable, impulse item to being (of necessity) a collectible. Once readers became (at least partially) investors, the industry collapsed. Comics should be a buck. But rebuilding sales volume to the point where that would again be feasible is such a herculean undertaking that I doubt it will ever happen. But it sure would be nice if one of the publishers were to take the economic risk of trying to work prices back down.

 

Jamie: Fans also complain that event story lines and gimmicks are hurting the industry, driving long time readers away in the long run. What is your opinion as a retailer?

Chuck Rozanski: Long-time fans complain. But publishers find that the “silent majority” buy more when those tactics are used. I think it might be a mistake to give too much credence to fans who know when, and how, to provide input. They’re good folks, but they are only one perspective.

 

Jamie: Mile High and Jim Shooter attempted to buy the publishing arm of Marvel Comics not that long ago. Exactly what were you two planning on doing with Marvel if you bought it?

Chuck Rozanski: I was supposed to be in charge of all marketing. I was going take Marvel on the Internet in a massive fashion, and use the Internet to drive more business into comics stores. I was also going to try and get top creators on reduced priced books. A tough job, but I was going to break the price cycle… Jim was going to run editorial, and his goal was to provide more stand-alone stories, plus make sure that the stories that were written were more understandable, and maintained the integrity of the Marvel Universe.

 

Jamie: Jim Shooter said you talked him into self publishing his Daring Comics line and using a limited print run of 5,500. Why the limited print run?

Chuck Rozanski: I knew that Jim could get only a limited amount of credit from Ronalds to print. I debated the issue with my staff here at Mile High Comics about how many of a new Jim Shooter book would absolutely, positively sell. I argued for 10,000, but was voted down. Everyone pointed out that the market is so bad these days, that even a Jim Shooter book (in Black & White) probably wouldn’t sell more than 6,000 copies. Well, that didn’t make economic sense. So I came up with the idea that we could have Jim sign 500 of them, and sell them for about $10 each (later raised to $17.95). If we sold a bunch in advance, and we gave Jim 90% of the gross from those signed issues, then the project was guaranteed breaking even. Since that was really the only goal of the first issue, that’s where the number came from. Some folks thought this was some scheme to drive up the price on the first issue, but it wasn’t. We just had to make sure that Jim generated enough income to pay the printer.

Tony Isabella Interview

Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con. Tony is holding his just awarded Inkpot award.

This Interview was done via e-mail and was originally published in May of 2000. I decided to bring it back now due to the news of a Black Lightning TV series. Tony was one of the first comic creators I got to “know” via online when I joined the internet. He wrote a Tony’s Online Tips column and posted frequently on usenet (and old pre web browser based message board of sorts). Tony had actually requested letters for X-Files (Topps) on usenet and I was one that replied. I got a number of them published in the Topps X-Files series, particularly towards the end of the series.

I should also note that Tony stopped doing Tony’s Online Tips back in 2010. He currently writes a blog and you should probably read his Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning Facts in regards to some of the things he says here in regards to the character.

 

If you read Comic Buyers Guide or visit Tony’s Online Tips, you already know who Tony Isabella is. For those that don’t, he’s a long time writer who has also been an editor and comic shop owner. He has recently been getting some freelance work and he is here to tell us about his work, his past and some things he’s involved with outside of comics.

 

Jamie: What do you do differently that separates you from most comic writers?

Tony Isabella: I don’t know; maybe my deodorant isn’t strong enough.

 

Jamie: Which method of writing do you use most and prefer? “Marvel Style” or full script?

Tony Isabella: I’ve been using full script almost exclusively for several years because that’s what was requested by the artist or required by the editor. However, I went with “Marvel Style” on my MARVEL COMICS: DAREDEVIL story with Eddy Newell because a) I wanted to make sure I still remembered how to do it, and b) Eddy and I wanted to show we could do it. However, I should point out that my plots are fairly detailed. They even include some dialogue.

I don’t have a strong preference for one method over another. I’m adaptable to the needs of the story, the needs of the artist, and the needs of the client.

 

Jamie: I know you’re doing a Daredevil one-shot. When is it coming out and what is it about?

Tony Isabella: It’s one of six “Marvels Comics” one-shots; these are the comic books published within the Marvel Universe itself. They come out at the end of May. Ours features a Daredevil unlike any you’ve seen. Eddy has done his usual magnificent best to make me look good. And that’s all you’re getting out of me.

I think that a reader spending $2.25 for a comic book deserves to experience all the surprises within that comic book first-hand and not after having already read about them elsewhere. I’m proud of this story; I want my readers to get all they can out of it.

 

Jamie: In the May edition of Gauntlet Magazine you tell a story about Jim Shooter nixing a Ghost Rider story you wrote which had some religious elements in it. Do you think he did that because he wasn’t religious himself?

Tony Isabella: I think he did it mostly because he could, although I was also told at the time that he was an agnostic and the story offended him. I think if you look at interviews from creators who were working at Marvel at the time–I left for DC shortly after he came on staff–you’ll see a picture of an arrogant guy who didn’t really know too much about the Marvel Universe. He certainly never grasped that he was trampling on the conclusion of a two-year story approved and supported by three previous editors.

 

Jamie: Do you have any other stories that didn’t make it to Gauntlet that you can share here?

Tony Isabella: I think I covered the Ghost Rider stuff pretty thoroughly in that article. As for other stories, heck, I’ve got lots of them…and if I keep writing a daily online column I’ll probably get to them all by next Thursday.

 

Jamie: Do you have any new work you can announce yet?

Tony Isabella: Sadly, no. I don’t like to announce stuff until I’ve finished it and been paid for it. I do have a project awaiting a contract, various proposals being looked at by various editors, and a number of characters and concepts I’m developing.

However, out on the stands now is the first chapter of the three- issue back-up serial I wrote for Claypool’s ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK #83-85. It’s a little ditty called “Better Read Than Dead.” It’s sort of a parable for our times involving Elvira, a library bookmobile, and a censorious group called Protect Our Old People.

It was a very satisfying story to write.

 

Jamie: You’ve been doing daily columns at Tony’s Online Tips  for a long time. Do you think your column is responsible for you getting your recent assignments?

Tony Isabella: I think it’s certainly helped. It keeps my name out there before the readers and those editors savvy enough to appreciate/understand online promotion. And it’s also been a useful tool for promoting the assignments I get.

Case in point: CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY’S TORCH, the novel I wrote with Bob Ingersoll. It had the best sell-through of any of the Marvel novels to that point; an impressive number of copies were sold through my website via Amazon Books.

 

Jamie: In your column, you are a big booster of Archie Comics. Why?

Tony Isabella: I honestly enjoy their titles. The late Frank Doyle was one of the best comic-book writers in the history of our industry. George Gladir has done many excellent scripts as well. And Craig Boldman has turned JUGHEAD into one of my favorite comics.

I also think the rest of the industry can learn a lot from Archie Comics. Their characters are among the most visible in comics and I’ve found their digest magazines in nearly every supermarket I’ve ever visited.

Their comics are wholesome reading for younger readers, though I’d like to see more variation in the body types and skin colors of the high school students.

Finally, Archie serves a segment of the comics-reading public that is generally ignored by all other publishers and most direct market retailers. I think they can attract new readers to our stores and to a lifelong love of comics.

 

Jamie: With Tony’s Online Tips, you do a lot of comic-book reviews. How many comic books get sent to you per week or month?

Tony Isabella: I’ve never kept a strict count, but it’s over 300 items a month. I try to read as many as I can, but I have to set aside some time to actually write the columns…and to take care of my kids…and to answer interview questions.

 

Jamie: What comics do you buy on a regular basis?

Tony Isabella: Very few. Mostly stuff I don’t get sent for free and off-brand titles that seem interesting. I do buy extra copies of everything I write because my relatives are much too cheap to buy copies for themselves.

 

Jamie: Okay, I’m going to spill the beans. You were the secret “Deep Postage” compiler of The X-Files letters pages for Topps Comics. I understand there were quite a few behind the scenes problems doing those comics. Can you tell us some stories about the problems you faced?

Tony Isabella: The basic problem was that whoever was approving the comics over in Chris Carter Land were the poster kids for anal retentiveness. Although it’s possible that they were so picky because they never wanted the comics out there in the first place.

The main reason the comics fell behind schedule was because it took so long to satisfy the X-Files people. They went over *everything* with a fine-tooth comb, including the letters columns.

After I had written a couple of letters pages, I started writing them 50-75% longer than Topps could actually fit into the issues. That way, after the X-Files folks made their cuts, Topps still had enough to fill the pages. This also saved me from having to return to completed columns and add additional material.

I rarely ran negative letters in these columns because the editors were afraid that the X-Files people would want even more changes in the material. Almost from the start, there were never enough useable letters for our needs. That’s why I started including the “Deep Postage” news items…and making up letters completely.

I also wrote the Xena letters columns, but those were a lot easier to produce.

 

Jamie: Do you know why Topps Comics stopped publishing comic books?

Tony Isabella: Given the market conditions, falling sales, and the difficulties in producing their best-selling title, which was The X-Files, the company opted to get out of comics for the time being. I hope Topps gets back into comics publishing in the future because they were a terrific client. They paid well. They paid fast. And the people I worked with were very professional.

 

Jamie: You are best known as the creator of Black Lightning. I was curious what kind of research did you do before creating him?

Tony Isabella: The first series didn’t require much research. Although it was somewhat grittier than other DC super-hero comics of the time, it was still fantasy-based.

The second series was much more realistic. I did research for two years before writing the first issue. I went to Cleveland’s inner city, interviewed all sorts of people, tutored gang kids, and did my best to get it as right as I could without losing the fantastic elements entirely.

 

Jamie: You have often said that another writer doing Black Lightning would be like crossing the picket line. Why do you feel that way?

Tony Isabella: I’ll try to make this short. I was unfairly fired from the title I created, a title on which I was doing the best work of my career. As far as I’m concerned, this is an ongoing labor dispute between myself and DC and will remain so until they do the right thing by me. Which the company will likely never do.

There’s a lot of history between myself and DC over my creation of Black Lightning. Promises that weren’t kept. The fabrication that the artist of the first series was a co-creator of the character. The failure to promote the use of the character outside the comics industry to any great extent. And so on.

Given all this, my position is that no one other than myself should write Black Lightning. I’m ready and able to write as many Black Lightning comics as DC is willing to publish. They need no other writers for this creation of mine.

 

Jamie: Some of your fans know you went through a serious period of depression, can you tell us about that?

Tony Isabella: I was diagnosed with clinical depression around the time I was fired from Black Lightning. I probably had it all my life, but it was that event…along with some personal problems in my life which shall remain personal…which triggered self-destructive behavior on my part and convinced me to seek medical help.

I got some therapy. I got some drugs. The first worked well, the second didn’t. Eventually, my therapist and I found other ways for me to deal with my depression. Being here for my kids was the most powerful motivating factor in my improved condition.

I’ll suffer from depression my entire life, but it’s an enemy that I know and that knowledge gives me power over it. There are more than a few graves on which I want to dance; I intend to live long enough to accomplish that modest goal.

 

Jamie: Outside of comics, you are running for the board of your local (Medina County) Library. Can you tell all the stuff you do that’s involved with that and how is it going?

Tony Isabella: One doesn’t run for a position on the board, one applies. When there are vacancies on the board, they are filled–alternately–by the Medina County Commissioners and the presiding judge of the Medina Court. I’ve applied for the last two openings and never got as far as an actual interview.

The Commissioners eliminated me because I had an agenda, which is to say I think the First Amendment is a good thing. The judge went with the typical political hack; God forbid he should appoint an average citizen to the board.

Currently, I have “divorced” myself from participation in library matters in protest of the board’s decision to put filters on some of the library’s computers. It was a blatant attempt to mollify the Medina Christian Coalition and didn’t even succeed on that base level. The cowardice of the current board disgusts me.

I’ve been exploring the possibility of legal action to overturn the board’s decision, but, without the assistance of the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, that probably won’t happen. I don’t have the financial means or legal expertise to challenge the board without help…and the ACLU has turned down my every request for assistance.

I still support the ACLU. I know the organization doesn’t have the manpower to fight every battle. But it was very disappointing when they walked away from this one. Especially since they had gotten involved with library concerns previously.

 

Jamie: You were also a comic book store owner for a while. Can you tell us more about that?

Tony Isabella: Cosmic Comics was easily the most successful comics shop in the Cleveland area for nine of the eleven years I owned it. We had a full line of comics–the only store that did–and a good selection of magazines and paperbacks.

I enjoyed running the store and serving my customers, but I wanted to get back to full-time writing. Seven years into the gig, I was ready to sell, but my waste-of-oxygen attorney was never able to find a buyer who could actually afford to pay me even a fraction of what it was worth.

Unfortunately, Cosmic Comics lost its location…right on the heels of my suffering a considerable financial loss from my involvement with the International Superman Expo of 1988. The new location was so awful that I couldn’t hire or keep good employees. This led to an increase in employee theft and in shoplifting.

Add the afore-mentioned attorney, later disbarred from the practice of the law, albeit not soon enough to help me, and the store became a money pit for the last two years of its existence. I didn’t make a dime from it in those final years.

It’ll make a heck of a book someday. Might do for comic shops what Psycho did for motels.

 

Jamie: As a former editor, retailer and long-time freelancer, you have a wide perspective on the industry. What do you think needs to be done to improve it?

Tony Isabella: We must look beyond the Direct Sales Market, beyond the flavors of the month, and beyond the editors and publishers who have slim knowledge–creative or historical–of the comics art form. And we must stop pissing off the readers who have stuck with us for years and years waiting for us to get our acts together.

That and hire me a lot more often.

 

Jamie: I was wondering what your opinion is on current legal battles between Marvel and creators over the rights of characters, battles such as Joe Simon with Captain America, Marv Wolfman over Blade, etc…

Tony Isabella: I hope they win and win big. The comics industry has treated creators abominably since its earliest days. I’d love to see these guys balance the scales a bit. As far as I’m concerned, if the comics industry can only exist by treating its creators poorly, then it doesn’t deserve to exist one more day.

 

Jamie: Anything else you want to say?

Tony Isabella: Often readers ask why I’m not writing more comics. They ask the same question of many other comics creators as well. The answer, more often that not, is that editors and publishers aren’t hiring us. If they hire us, we will write and draw.

If readers want to see more comics by favorite writers and artists, by creators who aren’t this month’s flavor, they absolutely must do three things…

One. Let the editors and publishers know, frequently and politely, that you’re ready to give them your hard-earned cash for new comics by these creators.

Two. Actually buy the comics we do. Let’s suppose, for example, that MARVELS COMICS: DAREDEVIL #1 turns out to be the best-selling of the six specials. Odds are someone might figure Eddy and I had a little to do with that success…and that someone might hire us for more projects.

Three. Assuming you like the comics we do, write the editors and publishers and let them know you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us. Tell your retailer you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us. Tell your fellow readers you liked them and convince them to buy more comics by us.

Thanks. You’ve been a lovely audience. Don’t forget to tip the interviewer as you leave. He’s been working his way through beauty school and obviously needs all the help he can get.

Ramona Fradon Interview

Janet Heatherington and Ramona Fradon – Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con 2006

This interview was done at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con in April of 2006 and was published in June, 2006. I still regularly see Ramona at San Diego Comic Con and occasionally on panels.

 

Ramona Fradon is one of the great silver age penciler-creators. She co-created Aqualad and Metamorpho. Fans remember her for long run on Aquaman, the early Metamorpho stories and Super Friends. She is also well known for drawing the Brenda Starr newspaper strip for 15 years. I met her at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon and did an interview on April 29th. We cover a wide range of topics, taking careful consideration to not duplicate questions she had just recently answered on a panel (moderated by Janet Heatherington) about her career. You can hear that panel here.

Now on to the interview which includes a special appearance by another popular creator.

 

Jamie: How are you Ramona?

Ramona Fradon: I’m fine, thank you.

 

Jamie: Are you enjoying Toronto?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes.

 

Jamie: Have you been out to see the sites at all?

Ramona Fradon: No I haven’t, I’ve been sitting here drawing steadily.

 

Jamie: Are you making money?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. It’s very nice.

 

Jamie: Okay to start off, I’ve recorded your panel and I’m going to try not and duplicate those questions. At the beginning you said you read comic strips. What strips in particular?

Ramona Fradon: Oh I like all the daily newspaper strips. I liked Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, Alley Oop, Mandrake the Magician and more. The only one I didn’t really like was Brenda Starr (laughter). I never read it, I didn’t like the way it looked.

 

Ty Templeton (to Ramona): Hi, I can’t let this convention end without saying you are one of my favorite people in this business. I love absolutely everything you have ever done. My name is Ty Templeton and I worked on Plastic Man at DC. We’ve shared characters. I didn’t want to interrupt this conversation but I at some point just had to come by and shake your hand.

Ramona Fradon (to Ty): Thank you very much.

Ramona Fradon (to Jamie): Lets leave that part in (laughter).

Jamie: Okay (laugher).

 

Jamie: You said your father got you into becoming an artist. How did that go about?

Ramona Fradon: Well, he just kept saying it was conditioning. When I got to high school I took a lot of art courses. Not because I was particularly interested in it, but because it was something I could do. I had neglected studying so I couldn’t get into college with the grades I had. So I went to art school but I didn’t have any idea of what I’d do.

 

Jamie: So you just went along with the flow?

Ramona Fradon: Yeah, I went a long with the flow. When I got out I was just bewildered. I had no idea and I just got steered into cartooning.

 

Jamie: When you were learning art was there any particular influences that you had?

Ramona Fradon: Will Eisner. I just thought he was incredible when I first saw the Spirit. It was just the way it should be you know? There was a mix of serious and cartooning.

 

Jamie: Did you ever get a chance to meet him?

Ramona Fradon: I was nominated for an Eisner and at one point I was on a stage with him and shook his hand.

 

Jamie: He was here two years ago.

Ramona Fradon: He was a genius, definitely a genius.

 

Jamie: Oh yes. You mentioned that you almost worked with Fox?

Ramona Fradon: I got a script from Fox and I returned it because I heard they didn’t pay. I then did three scripts for Stan Lee at Timely. The last job was for the dogs (laughter). It was bad.

 

Jamie: Were there any other publishers besides DC and Marvel that you worked for?

Ramona Fradon: No, just those two. And mostly DC.

 

Jamie: So you never bothered with Charlton?

Ramona Fradon: I never knew anything about them. I was lucky.

 

Jamie: At DC how strict was the creative process of drawing? I know they were a lot more strict than Marvel.

Ramona Fradon: Well DC was interested in maintaining a certain format. When I started they wanted to maintain the 6 panel grid, two panels to a line. They didn’t really want to deviate from that. But as time went on they got looser. By the time I finished I could make any type of layout that I wanted. I mean, they were strict at first, they were very worried about the continuity from one panel to another.

 

Jamie: The storytelling?

Ramona Fradon: Yes, sometimes I could get something in the wrong place.

 

Jamie: Did you every deviate from the script at all?

Ramona Fradon: I never wanted to. Unless it was something that was so horrible to draw (laughter). The most that I would do is when the writer would say… and this is the thing that made me quit cartooning… there was a panel where I had to draw thousands of roses being dropped out of an airplane. And I thought, I cannot do this, this is just insane (laughter). So you have to think of ways of abbreviating the idea, the impression. Thats the only way I would change things.

 

Jamie: You’ve spent a long time on Aquaman. Do you know why Aquaman stuck around while other superheroes didn’t?

Ramona Fradon: I really don’t know. I guess it was all the silly young men that kept reading him. He’s changed though, I don’t see him as the character at all.

 

Jamie: Are you surprised Aqualad is still around after all these years?

Ramona Fradon: Yes, I never understood while he had any appeal to begin with (laughter).

 

Jamie: I know you took some time off and then they called you back to work on Metamorpho.

Ramona Fradon: Yes, I think I was out for about 3 years. George Kashdan called me and asked me to at least help get it started. I then stopped again around 1973 I think.

 

Jamie: Why did you stop?

Ramona Fradon: I had a baby. She was clinging to my knee while I was trying to draw and it was terrible. So I just quit.

 

Jamie: What went into the creation of Metamorpho? Were you given any visual cue’s on how he should look?

Ramona Fradon: No, no, we did do a lot of talking about it. The first sketches I did and I think I may have them somewhere.. I made him a conventional type hero with a cape and tights and whole thing. That didn’t seem to work, then we talked some more. I think I finally figured it out that since he was based on 4 basic elements that he should be divided into 4 parts and that he shouldn’t have any clothes on. I mean.. otherwise, how would he do that? So it just evolved as we reasoned it.

 

Jamie: Do you know why they ended his series?

Ramona Fradon: I don’t know, I know it sorta fizzled out and they keep trying to revive it from time to time. I think his time you know..

 

Jamie: It came and gone.

Ramona Fradon: Yeah.

 

Jamie: So how did you end up working at Marvel?

Ramona Fradon: Well, I didn’t “end up” (laughter). It was the 70s, I was retired for about 7 years and there was the womens movement. They had a Womens strip and they wanted a women to illustrate it. I heard somewhere that Stan Lee really loved my work on Metamorpho and maybe they were hoping I could still draw that way, but my drawing was really rusty. And besides, it wasn’t the same story.

Jamie: Yeah, not the same character. The Cat is not Metamorpho.

Ramona Fradon: No, not at all. My drawing has always been really influenced by the script. It tends to change with the script and that was quite different.

 

Jamie: The last story that I know of, that you did was an 8 page Aquaman for Just imagine Stan Lee’s Aquaman.

Ramona Fradon: Oh that’s right, yeah. That was hard to do. That was bad. I mean, I was rusty. It’s very hard to get back into illustrating a script after you’ve been gone a long time. That was not my proudest moment (laughter). And I hate the colors. There is a woman down here she’s got that.. have you seen her coloring? It’s beautiful! The computer stuff is just bad.
Jamie: Going back to Metamorpho, do you know how they decided on the colors of the character?

Ramona Fradon: I don’t know if I did that or not. I have a feeling that I did. I never colored so I’m not sure how I would have. I don’t know.

 

Jamie: Did you like inking your own work?

Ramona Fradon: No. It was like doing it all over again.

 

Jamie: I heard Kirby said the same thing.

Ramona Fradon: I never got a handle working with a brush. You never know what it’s going to do.

 

Jamie: As of late a lot of your work is being reprinted by DC. Hopefully you are being compensated for that?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. DC has been really good about royalties, they really have. I can’t complain. I get paid better now than when I was first drawing them (laughter).

 

Jamie: That’s good to hear. Have you seen the new [Showcase] Metamorpho trade?

Ramona Fradon: Yeah.

 

Jamie: Do you like it better in black and white or color?

Ramona Fradon: I think I’d like to see it in color.

 

Jamie: So you have no interest in going back and doing comics at all?

Ramona Fradon: No.

 

Jamie: Been there done that?

Ramona Fradon: Yes. It’s WORK. I don’t draw easily. I’ve seen some of these artists and they just spin it out. Marie Severin is like that. She’s just do-do-do-do and it’s a finished drawing. I can’t do that. I really struggle. It’s hard unless I’m up against a deadline I just put aside all inhibitions and just draw. Then it’s easy. Otherwise it’s just hard for me. I keep editing and changing.

 

Jamie: I’m trying to think of a Brenda Starr question that hasn’t already been asked…

Ramona Fradon: On Brenda I did my own inking.

 

Jamie: You penciled and inked that?

Ramona Fradon: It was a more comic style. It was easier to ink that. Every week, 7 pages. I used to number the panels. 25-26 panels a week, penciled and inked. It was just a grind. It was horrible (laughter). And it wasn’t like the strip was making a million dollars either. The Syndicate was so cheap. In over 5 years I didn’t get in increase in pay.

And not only that I used to get the receipts, the statements, and I began to notice that when the receipts went up, the production costs went up. And that was what my pay was based on. This went on and I thought it was crazy. So I got a lawyer. Then it didn’t happen anymore. They are just criminals.

 

Jamie: They didn’t want to pay you any more?

Ramona Fradon: I just can’t say enough bad about the Syndicate. Everybody I know that worked for them was treated badly by them. They’re all criminals in expensive suits.

 

Jamie: You mentioned Dale Messick left Brenda Starr under bad circumstances.

Ramona Fradon: She hated them. She made them hundreds of millions of dollars over the years with movies rights and merchandising. They fired her actually and they didn’t even give her a wrist watch. They probably ripped her off for all those years too. She promised she’d live forever so they’d have to keep paying that puny pension they gave her.

 

Jamie: Okay, you are doing commissions now. Is that going well for you?

Ramona Fradon: Oh yes. It’s as much as I want to do and I can do it whenever I want.

 

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