Mark Bagley Interview

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!
 

Mark Bagley at 2010 C2E2

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.

 

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.