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.