Originally published in October 1999. I was a really big fan of Thunderbolts as I was an old Avengers fan and seeing those Masters of Evil villains come back as heroes in disguise was a big fanboy moment for me. So I wanted to talk to the artist, whom I’ve long enjoyed from his Spider-Man and New Warriors work. I made the mistake of making assumptions in this interview, something that’s gotten me in ‘trouble’ before and since.
An Interview With Mark Bagley
If you love Marvel, you probably know who Mark Bagley is. His pencils have graced the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, New Warriors and currently, Thunderbolts. This issue we get Mark to reveal his beginnings, weaknesses, where he swipes from, what offends him, and more!
Jamie: What did you do before you started penciling professionally?
Mark Bagley: Let’s see, I was in the Army for 3 years during which time I had a top secret code word security clearance. I’d tell you what I did but then, well you know. I went to art school for a few years, got married, worked construction for a few years and then got a job at Lockheed doing technical illustration for about three years. All the while I was trying to break into comics.
Jamie: When did you know that you wanted a career in drawing comics?
Mark Bagley: I’ve wanted to draw comics since I was a kid. I really think that the first time I picked up a comic I thought, “Man I’d love to do this!” I think I was around 9 years old. I finally got my first break when I was 27 (I’ve always been sorta determined).
Jamie: How did you break into Marvel?
Mark Bagley: This is kind of an old story, I won the Marvel Try-Out Contest. I was working at Lockheed at the time and about ready to give up trying to do comics for a living and get on with my life, when the contest came out. I thought that it was just a Jim Shooter gimmick and I wasn’t going to do it. Luckily, a friend of mine who owns the Dr. No’s comic store, Cliff Biggers, gave me the contest book and said if I didn’t do it, I’d hate myself. Well a few months later, I got the phone call saying I’d won first place! Marvel flew me to New York and I met a bunch of editors and one gave me a shot (thanks Mike) and I spent the next year and a half working at Lockheed during the day and drawing funny books until 3 or 4 every night. Just about the time Lockheed started laying people off, I was getting enough work from Marvel to quit and do comics full time. A scary thing when you’ve a wife and new baby, to go freelance, but it’s been 16 or so years and I’ve never regretted it.
Jamie: What title did/do you enjoy penciling the most and why?
Mark Bagley: It’s never been the title so much as the people I happen to be working with. Doing Spidey was a dream job, my goal since I was a kid. But New Warriors was a blast with Fabian, and the T-Bolts with Kurt has been awesome fun.
Jamie: What art supplies do you use?
Mark Bagley: As a penciler my tools are pretty basic. I use drafting pencils, Pink Pearl erasures, triangles and the like. I think that the only tool I use that may be out of the ordinary for a penciler is a drafting arm instead of a T-square. I first used one at Lockheed and realized how much easier it made life at the board.
Jamie: What is the most difficult thing for you to draw?
Mark Bagley: I don’t think that I do crowd scenes, automobiles or women particularly well. Plus I’ve always felt my faces were not very strong. Aw Hell, I think that I could improve every area of my drawing. I may have a lot of people fooled but I always think that I need a lot of work. There are so many guys out there (and I use the term “guys” in it’s non-gender specific aspect) who are so terrific and I see their stuff and go “Man, I wish I could do that”. I don’t get jealous or envious (O.K. maybe a little), but it sure does challenge me to keep working on my craft, and trying to improve my skills.
Jamie: What do you do when you get stuck for drawing ideas?
Mark Bagley: I swipe from John Buscema or Alan Davis (Heh Heh!)
Jamie: Outside of comics, what are your hobbies?
Mark Bagley: I like to watch baseball, exercise (lift weights, run, hike), I shoot a pretty mean game of 8-ball, I love to read and go to the movies. I’m not a big outdoors type, but I do love rock climbing. Lastly, but not leastly, I enjoy hanging with my homies (my wife and daughter).
Jamie: I know you like Pro-Wrestling. You keep adding wrestling references into the Thunderbolts artwork. Which federation do you like the most and who are your favorite wrestlers?
Mark Bagley: I’m seriously not sure what your talking about. I do try to throw some cultural references into my drawing, but I don’t really know much about Pro-Wrestling. Sorry. (though Goldberg is a monster!)
Jamie: How are things going so far with Fabian Nicieza with him taking over Thunderbolts?
Mark Bagley: I hate him. If he lived near me I’d kill him. As it is, I’m thinking of sending a couple of my brother-in-laws up to Jersey to rough him up.
Jamie: Is there a copy of the original Hawkeye/Moonstone drawing that you had to change because it was too raunchy? If so, can you send it our way?
Mark Bagley: Yes and no.
Jamie: With the Thunderbolts, you gave complete makeovers to villains. How did you come up with the different looks and costumes to those characters?
Mark Bagley: Costume design is just a lot of fun. Each character was so distinctive that it wasn’t hard to come up with a look, especially given Kurt’s pretty clear ideas on the direction we were heading. Plus, Kurt sent me a sketch of a possible Citizen V costume which I basically just tweaked a bit.
Jamie: Did you have any input into the who the New Warriors and Thunderbolt members would be?
Mark Bagley: Really, no. Both books were pretty much established, structure wise by the time that I came aboard.
Jamie: What is your opinion of the relaunched New Warriors?
Mark Bagley: Like the old expression goes, If you want my opinion on that subject you’ll have to beat it out of me.
Jamie: Thunderbolts seem to be one of the few new titles launched by Marvel in the last few years that has succeeded without any nagging cancellation rumors. What’s the secret to launching a successful new title?
Mark Bagley: Beats me. Kurt’s a terrific writer and I’m a solid, consistent penciler who cares about his craft. T-Bolts was, and continues to be, a very story driven book with interesting characters and well thought out story’s, but I also thought Heroes For Hire and Kazar were great books. Maybe we manage to keep our readers because no one is yet sure how these guys are going to end up, and the journey there is the real hook that keeps the fans buying the book.
Jamie: You were the penciler when the controversial story lines surrounding Spider-Man started. Those being the Clone Saga and the Death of Aunt May. At the time, did you feel that mistakes were being made? Was it difficult to draw those issues?
Mark Bagley: I thought the clone saga was a gamble, but a good one. I think the results would have been a lot more satisfying but for a number of editor changes and some bad decisions upstairs. It lost focus and direction, went on way too long, and just became a mess (and Aunt May is REALLY dead, damn it!). It did become less fun to draw those issues, although I think the stories I did with Mark DeMattais were actually my best drawn issues (damn, but he is good).
Jamie: Your best known for your Marvel work. Did you do anything for other publishers?
Mark Bagley: Nope, Marvel been very, very good to me.
Jamie: If you had a choice of working a monthly title with any DC character, which would you choose?
Mark Bagley: Probably the big cheese, Superman. He and Batman are the icons. I’ve also always had a soft spot for The Martian Manhunter. Once again, the most important ingredients would be my writer and editor.
Jamie: Have you ever thought about breaking away from publishers and doing some creator owned work? (Why or Why not?)
Mark Bagley: Nah, I’m a coward. Besides I grew up on mainstream Marvel and DC, I really do love their universes.
Jamie: I hear you are a Georgia Cracker. Is that true? 😉
Mark Bagley: A piece of advice: Much like only a black guy can call another black guy the “N” word and get away with it, so to only one Georgian should call another Georgian a cracker. I’m an Army brat, and as such I’ve lived everywhere from Hawaii to Germany to Korea. But I’ve lived in Georgia for over half my life and I call it home.
Jamie: Anything else you would like to add?
Mark Bagley: Nah, it’s 12:35 in the a.m. and I’m getting up at 6:00 a.m. so I’m going to bed. Will just thank everyone for buying T-bolts and sticking with it, you are all very appreciated and Fabe and I hope you will continue to enjoy it.