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.


Kurt Busiek Interview

Originally published December 1998. This is the first of I believe 3 interviews I did with Kurt. He was my favourite writer during this interview. He’s still one of my favourites today.

Kurt Busiek 2009 San Diego Comic Con

Kurt Busiek 2009 San Diego Comic Con

An Interview with Kurt Busiek

Kurt Busiek is the hottest writer in comics today. Currently his busy schedule includes mega hits like Avengers, Iron Man, and Avengers Forever, the successful new comic Thunderbolts, and his critically acclaimed Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Now on with the interview.


Jamie: I’m told writing Iron Man was one of your dream jobs. How do you think you’re doing on the title so far?

Kurt Busiek: I’m really not the guy to review my own work; I have no perspective on it. I’m certainly having fun, and I don’t think I’m screwing up too bad. I generally see more faults in my own work than virtues, but that’s not a bad thing, since it means I’m always trying to improve. But I’m reasonably pleased.


Jamie: Why did you ask Roger Stern in particular to help you with Iron Man and Avengers Forever?

Kurt Busiek: Aside from the fact that he’s a terrific writer, Roger and I collaborate well together, Roger’s sensibilities and mine are close enough so that we’re pulling in the same direction, as it were, and Roger’s got great strengths in continuity and research, which is a big help on FOREVER.


Jamie: Out of curiosity, was there a request to have someone (Jerry Ordway) fill in a few issues of Avengers for you and George Perez?

Kurt Busiek: There was certainly pressure from above to get the books back on schedule. Tom and George and I discussed it, and we realized that the only solution that would work swiftly was getting someone to fill in. Tom had been wanting to get Jerry to do something for him, so it looked like the obvious choice.


Jamie: What do you think makes Avengers and Iron Man the success it is today?

Kurt Busiek: I would hope it’s that they’re solid, accessible, exciting superhero comics that deliver an enjoyable package in every issue, without making you wait until next month to see if you liked what you just read. That’s certainly what I’m striving for.


Jamie: Why did you choose to take Hawkeye out of Avengers and into Thunderbolts?

Kurt Busiek: I can answer that, but not for a few weeks. The story’s not over yet, and I won’t spoil how it wraps up.


Jamie: Why did you have Baron Zemo pull the plug on Thunderbolts deception so quickly?

Kurt Busiek: I didn’t see any reason to drag it out until people were sick of it. I thought it’d make more sense to play with the deception for a while, and then change direction when people weren’t expecting it — it’d be more surprising that way.


Jamie: What makes Thunderbolts unique from other ‘villain go straight’ comic books?

Kurt Busiek: Depends on the book, I’d say. In SUICIDE SQUAD, they were being forced into it. In LIBERTY PROJECT, they were being reformed by the authorities. In THUNDERBOLTS, what they do is their own choice. They haven’t fully gone straight yet, and may never do so. The book could just as easily turn back into a book about a group of villains, after all — so I think its unpredictability is a big part of it.


Jamie: Describe how you write Astro City differently than your Marvel titles?

Kurt Busiek: Well, I write it full-script, for one thing. But beyond that, it’s not an easy answer — not because there isn’t much difference (there is!) but because it’s not something I find easy to articulate. The Marvel titles operate off of the basic question. “What happens next?” ASTRO CITY doesn’t — its basic question is more, “So, how do you feel about that — ?” The Marvel books are the best examples of the superhero genre I can muster, while ASTRO CITY is exploring the genre and its implications, and seeing what can be done with it beyond general genre expectations. That’s not to say that AVENGERS, IRON MAN and T-BOLTS don’t defy expectation — but I’m trying to tell good, fun, involving, exciting superhero stories in those books. In ASTRO CITY, I’m looking to see what else I can do with the superhero as a story vehicle. I hope that makes some sort of sense.


Jamie: Why do you choose to write Astro City using unrelated short stories?

Kurt Busiek: They’re all related, in the sense that they take place in the same context and build a history that affects what takes place within it. But I don’t see any other way to do it — if I picked one set of leads and followed them on an ongoing basis, it wouldn’t be ASTRO CITY, it’d be HONOR GUARD, or JACK-IN-THE- BOX, or SAMARITAN, or whatever. Being able to jump from protagonist to protagonist gives me much more freedom to explore the genre through different viewpoints and different conflicts, to tell a variety of human stories by focusing on different humans, depending on the story I want to tell.


Jamie: Astro City has a unique perspective on superheroes. How did you develop it and what is your philosophy regarding it?

Kurt Busiek: I thought about superheroes for twenty-plus years, mostly. I’m not really sure what you mean by my philosophy regarding my perspective on superheroes; I don’t know what such a thing would be. But I see superheroes, as a concept, as a rich metaphorical genre in which ideas, conflicts and more can be personified by iconic beings, and the human experiences they resonate with can be played out on a broad, almost fairy-tale like canvas in a way that can’t quite be done with any other genre. This fascinates me, so ASTRO CITY is my way of creating a context in which I can play with that idea and see what can be made of it, without limiting myself to a single character or group of lead characters. It’s an engine of exploration. I don’t think that’s what you were asking, but maybe the answer’s in there somewhere.


Jamie: Would you prefer to do Astro City on a monthly or bimonthly schedule?

Kurt Busiek: Monthly.


Jamie: Now that Astro City is being done “under” DC Comics will there be any advertising within or changes to the paper stock?

Kurt Busiek: There’s always been advertising in ASTRO CITY; I can’t see why DC would change that. The paper stock has changed several times, too, depending on what paper balances economy and good reproduction best at any given time. Image had its economies of scale and used gang-bought paper over most of its line, and ASTRO CITY used whatever the “standard” was at the time. I assume that’ll be the same at DC, and any changes will be dictated by DC’s line-wide choices.


Jamie: Why do you bring back a lot of largely forgotten characters in your Marvel titles?

Kurt Busiek: Why not? I like ’em, and if I have fun stuff I can do with ’em, why not do it?


Jamie: How do you feel about writers changing the history of Marvel characters?

Kurt Busiek: Writers have been changing Marvel history at least since Stan Lee retconned Captain America disappearing toward the end of WWII and Bucky dying into Cap’s history in AVENGERS #4. I don’t object to it in principle — I’ve done a bit of it myself, here and there. What matters is what comes out the other end — is it good or bad? And that’s a subjective judgment that each creator, editor or reader is likely to have his own views on.


Jamie: Some people don’t think continuity is all that important and should be disregarded in order to get new readers. Do you think maintaining accurate continuity is important?

Kurt Busiek: I like exploring the characters’ histories, so I think it’s valuable for them to have a consistent history to explore. But I don’t see it as a necessity — certainly, there are plenty of great MICKEY MOUSE stories without much story- to-story continuity, and even wild shifts in tone and setting, as Mickey might be a young suburbanite in one story, a daring barnstorming pilot in another and a sorcerer’s apprentice in a third. There are many, many ways to tell good stories, and a consistent continuity is only one of them. I like it, myself, but it’s a choice, not a rule.

I do think that the publisher of a shared-universe line of titles should make a choice as to how continuity will be treated, so that choice can be consistent across the line instead of varying from creator to creator — but then, I guess that, too, is a choice…


Jamie: How much research did you do before starting your Marvel titles?

Kurt Busiek: Tons. I filled in the gaps in my collection so that I have complete runs of AVENGERS, AVENGERS WEST COAST, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, THOR, WAR MACHINE, WONDER MAN, THUNDERSTRIKE, MS. MARVEL, VISION/SCARLET WITCH and just about every other series that could be considered part of the “Avengers” family of titles. Then I reread them all, and keep them all close to hand for easy reference.


Jamie: In your opinion, what does a story need to be successful?

Kurt Busiek: Define “successful.” If you mean, what does a story need to be aesthetically satisfying, I think it needs to be well-structured, involving, with characters you can be drawn to care about struggling for something that matters, and it should reach a conclusion that seems fitting, even if the characters fail. It should be well-crafted and have some emotional resonance, and should deliver whatever effect the creators intended, whether that effect is instilling a particular theme or intellectual idea, or merely evoking a memory of a particular time and place.

On the other hand, if you mean, what does a story need to be commercially successful, that’s something that varies depending on the audience. Cool poses and lots of detailed inking could be enough one year, and a dismal flop in a later era.


Jamie: Have you ever re-read something you wrote and hated it? If so, what?

Kurt Busiek: Sure. I did an Arsenal story in SECRET ORIGINS that I thought was nicely understated in the script, but none of it worked on the page; it’s flat, bland and empty. I think SPIDER-MAN/X-FACTOR: SHADOWGAMES is a wretched mess. But in both cases, I tried my best under the circumstances, and just missed the ball. It happens.


Jamie: What comic books do you read?

Kurt Busiek: Tons. These days, favorites include KANE, USAGI YOJIMBO, SUPERBOY, SAVAGE DRAGON, CASTLE WAITING, MAISON IKKOKU and AKIKO, to name a few.


Jamie: What do you think is necessary to bring comic sales back to it’s former glory?

Kurt Busiek: I think we’ve got to do good, accessible stuff that’ll appeal to whatever audience it is we’re choosing to shoot for, we have to package that material in a format that target audience is willing to pick up and look at, we have to sell it in places that target audience actually shops, and we have to promote it in such a way that the target audience knows its there. I think this means rethinking the packaging and distribution of comics, as well as the content — it’s no good trying to attract more women by beefing up the romance content in a standard superhero comics and assuming that women will come flooding into comics shops to buy a product they’ve never been interested in and don’t, on the surface of it, have any interest in now, just to discover that there’s some minor alterations to the material that they might like if it didn’t come wrapped in spandex and fight scenes. I don’t see any reason to cling to the 32-page pamphlet, to gear everything for the audience that comes into comics shops first and foremost, or to assume that there’s any one approach that’ll please all audiences. Hundreds of thousands of readers buy FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE and CATHY collections — those readers are just as much comics readers as fans of SPAWN and HULK. And there are more of them.

However, I don’t expect publishers to do the kind of drastic rethinking and retooling it would take to produce mass-market-friendly comics packages; it’s very expensive to do so, and nobody wants to risk that kind of capital these days.


Jamie: Do you ever get the urge to write something that doesn’t have to do with superheroes? If you wanted to write within another genre what would it be?

Kurt Busiek: Sure. In the past, I’ve written JONNY DEMON (fantasy adventure), RANSOM (high adventure), WIZARD’S TALE (fantasy), MICKEY MOUSE (funny animals), VAMPIRELLA (horror), ELVIRA (humor) and more. I love superheroes, but that doesn’t mean I’d never want to write anything but superheroes.

I’d like to write all kinds of stuff, from space opera to mystic adventure to slice-of-life human drama to historical comics and more. I like telling stories, and there’s all kinds of stories to tell; why limit myself?


Jamie: Not including the artists you’re working with now, what artists would you like to team up with in the future?

Kurt Busiek: There are plenty of them, from Jerry Ordway and Alan Davis to Stu Immonen and Walt Simonson, from Lee Weeks to Alex Toth, Steve Leialoha, Bruce Timm, and countless others.


Jamie: Do you like to read novels? Do you have any favorite authors?

Kurt Busiek: sure. I’ve been reading since I was 3, and I’m not done yet. Favorite authors include Nevil Shute, Walter Tevis, Lawrence Block, Dick Francis, Madeleine L’Engle, James Thurber and more.


Jamie: Do you have any desire to write a novel or a screenplay?

Kurt Busiek: Sure, someday — not that I have any time at the moment…


Jamie: I hear your going to be a daddy soon. When is the baby due?

Kurt Busiek: December 7th.


Jamie: Superhero books often shy away from having characters turn into parents, and then having them raise their kids over the long haul. Do you think superhero books ought to explore this area of life?

Kurt Busiek: I don’t think it’s a question of “ought to.” Superhero comics have no particular responsibility to do so, though FANTASTIC FOUR comes to mind as a book that’s dealt with that area for decades now. I think that if writers can get good stories out of it, then great — but if they’re not interested there’s no reason to push them into it. At both of the major, long-lasting hero universes, they have a policy about time crawling along very slowly to keep the characters young, which makes it very difficult for babies to age normally — every year Franklin Richards grows is another year older the X-Men and Spider-Man get, and Marvel would rather keep those characters young, for commercial reasons. So there are logistical problems in the major universes; it might be easier to explore in a continuity that doesn’t have this kind of time policy. I’ve touched on the subject in ASTRO CITY, and I’m sure I’ll return to it in the future; I set the time policy there, after all, so I don’t have to consider the repercussions of my decisions on the stories and series of other writers…


Jamie: You used to be a well known letter hack. Has the urge to write a letter and see it printed disappeared?

Kurt Busiek: Pretty much. Writing stories and having them printed is a much bigger thrill.