Home > CR Interviews
CR Sunday Interview: Joe Casey
posted February 16, 2014
I've known the writer Joe Casey
for a little over ten years now, which means I've known him for the majority of a career that already seemed old when we talked in a stale, pre-media hub backroom at Meltdown Comics for a Comics Journal
interview. I've interviewed him every two or three years since. What I admire about Casey's relationship to comics right now is that despite concurrent opportunities and responsibilities in other media
he has sustained a full-on press doing a variety of creator-driven projects. The Bounce
are at the heart of his current output; he's also responsible for a series
using the Dark Horse-owned superhero comics from a generation ago. Since we began talking over an excruciating several month period completely my fault because of a desire to use what follows in a slightly different way than usual -- I've since backtracked, so you get it here in its full glory -- Casey has completed one giant Jack Kirby
-related project (GØDLAND
, which worked with much of the same language of "cosmic comics" the King of Comics used at times) and begun another (writing with a number of talented artists on the latest Captain Victory project
; a concept owned by Kirby).
I appreciate Joe's time, patience, work, and, ultimately, his candor. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Joe, I'm sort of fascinated by the fact that we have so many productive writers that have been around comics for years and years now. You have a lot more on your plate now than when we first talked a decade ago. Do you write differently now? How is the actual act of writing, how you make the time, how you use that time, different than when you started?
Y'know, it's a little tough to get any real perspective on how I manage my time these days. Maybe that's because
there's a lot on my plate at any given moment. Sometimes I think I'm Mister Time Management, really on top of all my shit. Other times, I'm really behind the eight ball, just scrambling to keep up with everything. But that push and pull... it's the nature of the beast, no doubt about it. This is the life I chose, so I'm sure as hell not gonna bitch about it too much. In fact, I feel like right now I'm more committed than ever to actually making comic books. I hope
that's the case, anyway. All the animation and television and feature work flying around always threatens to be a distraction, as much as they're opportunities, too. On top of that, it's not like I'm phoning in superhero scripts to Marvel
on the side... my comic book work consists primarily of creator-owned series that take a lot of attention and a lot of focus to keep them going at a certain standard of quality. I don't know if I write any differently now, but I do
know it definitely takes more effort to set aside time to write comic books in the specific manner I like to do it. But so far, so good.
SPURGEON: Do you feel a kinship to the writer you used to be? Are there things that you used to write about that are less interesting to you now? What about things that you never thought you'd engage that you're engaging? It seems to me there's a thematic continuity, but that you may approach things in a more focused manner project to project.
On the rare instance when I do
cast a backwards glance, it's pretty obvious to me that the writer I used to be was incredibly naive. Probably in a good way, but naive nonetheless. But, then again -- to indulge in a painful cliché -- the world was very different then. My
career path happened to coincide with two evolving circumstances that, over a space of ten years or so, completely had an effect on me and my work that I never could've anticipated. And, I might add, neither one really exists anymore. The first was already occurring when I broke in... the "writer-driven" era of mainstream comics. I've said this before, but it was something that I was able to take full advantage of, I definitely used it to further my career and position myself in the industry and all that crap. So, y'know, yay for me. But I never could've predicted that I'd have that kind of lucky timing.
The second thing was the... legitimizing
of comic book creators within other areas of entertainment. Or, more specifically, "Hollywood" (to use that nebulously goofy term). As anyone who was around back then probably remembers, in the mid-90's, comic book creators were not taken too seriously as creative entities outside of comics. There were exceptions... but those exceptions had tended to leave comic books behind altogether to assimilate more fully into the machinery of Hollywood. And, more often than not, those guys simply became cogs in that machine, not the powerhouses they were considered to be in comics fandom. And in other cases, creators eventually came running back
to comics where they realized they had it pretty good (in terms of basic creative freedoms and productivity, if not in terms of money). So just as things started to genuinely turn in our favor, there I was, ready to take advantage, just like a lot of creators of my generation. It's allowed things like Ben 10
or Generator Rex
or the X-Men: Legends
videogame or Man Of Action
's feature slate or our executive producer/showrunner gigs to happen in a much healthier environment ("healthier" being a relative term, of course).
And, as I said, both of those circumstances have pretty much come and gone at this point. Mainstream comics are completely and totally editorially-driven now, maybe to a fault. But, then again, who am I to say that? They're certainly adept at making money, which is probably their primary function these days. So, hey, good for them. And the Hollywood thing... well, the novelty of it has worn off. We've got more power and respectability in the Hollywood arena, but we're also a dime a dozen (which, ironically, ends up limiting
that power). Let's put it this way: Frank Miller co-directed a big hit, based on his own comic book property... then he directed a big, fat bomb, based on one of the masters of the medium's most famous strip. That sentence alone would've been almost inconceivable 15 years ago, outside of our geek dreams. Now we can speak it out loud and no one even blinks in mild disbelief.
To get back to the meat of your question, how it affects my work
-- how I'm approaching it now -- is something that's tougher to identify. Especially from my
perspective. Believe it or not, I think the avalanche of work I currently deal with has resulted in my comic book work being less... posed
. Is that the word for it? It's much less self-conscious. It's more personal. Even the genre stuff. Hell, especially
the genre stuff. So I guess I let my personal issues hang out there a bit more. Conversely, I think maybe I've gotten more refined at my craft, so those issues are less identifiable in the actual text. Or subtext, as the case may be. But, to me, I'm putting a lot more out there for the world to see. For me, that's
the "thematic continuity" that I can identify. Feel free to disagree with that...
SPURGEON: I think that's a fair assessment, Joe, but I'm interested in both the how and the why of that general theory. Can you point to something that expressed itself in one of your comics from the last five years -- or if you don't want to pull back the curtain, a plot point or a narrative sequence in your comic -- that would have been out of bounds in 1998. And also: why do you think you're a different writer then you were 15 years ago? Because I know you know enough about comics history to know that not everyone changes. Was it a matter of developing a skill set that allowed you to say certain things? Is it about realizing you can say certain things through your work that you never thought about exploring there?
I think, more than anything, I started to relax a little bit and just tried to think of cool shit to do in comic books. But, in doing that, even more
of my personality started to bubble up in the work. It hasn't been a conscious thing at all, but it's definitely happened and when I look at the last few years, I can see it pretty clearly. I think something as over-the-top as Butcher Baker
actually contains some of my most subtle character work, in terms of how it relates back to me and my own life. I think the GØDLAND
finale expresses a very emotional worldview, even amidst all the cosmic spectacle and purple prose. I'm talking about some really "uncool" ideas in there, but they're incredibly important to me, personally. And the entire conceit of The Bounce
has a lot to do with what's happening in my life right now, and what's been happening the past couple of years, but you'd probably have to know me really well to see past the nouveau superhero
story that exists on its surface and understand what I'm really
talking about. So I don't shy away from working through some of my personal shit through my work, but luckily I think my chops are developed enough now that I'm never shoving it in anybody's face. It's never blatant to the point of being distracting.
So I'm even more committed to the concept of personal expression through artistic endeavor. I mean, I always have been, to a certain extent... but as a younger writer, I wasn't good enough to pull it off in any meaningful way. I had raw energy, but no real finesse. To do this work well, I think you need both in equal measure. I've got a little more mileage now, been knocked down a few times, I've seen more shit go down around me. You can have any number of responses to the passage of time... it can make you cynical, it can wear you down to a nub, it can infect you with all sorts of negativity if you think the world is somehow passing you by. But for me, I just get more charged up to keep creating, to keep pushing myself, to try and discover new places to take this art form. I'm still a big process junkie, but I suppose I'm more interested in harnessing process knowledge to achieve some sort of deeper self-discovery through the work itself, both in the doing of it and in the finished product.
I'm sure that comes across like a lot of bullshit, New Age-y rhetoric, talking about it in an interview like this. But it's not talked about enough in this industry, on the "mainstream" side especially. High concept is all well and good, and I appreciate it, but that's certainly not all there is to being a creative artist. Y'know, "making it" or being successful is just a small component in the overall scheme of things. I'm trying to know myself better, and a lot of that can happen through the work that I do, the things I create.
SPURGEON: You enjoyed a lot of success early on and you're one of the guys that has enjoyed enough success that you're a model for how some folks would like their careers to progress... is that a difficult transition, from this kind of watching people and seeking out models to having people look at you that way?
I think "success" is all about how you look at it, how you choose to define it for yourself. Just getting into this business on any
level was the only kind of success I ever dreamed about, ever since I was a kid. I just wanted to be in the mix somehow. So, what's happened since has been pretty mind-blowing. But I also I think I had some lucky breaks early on and I know I worked my ass off to take full advantage of every opportunity that was presented to me. That's how I look at it now. Besides, I really don't think I'm much of a career role model, either. Nor should I be. I started out just wanting a
career... I ended up having my
career. And no one else is going to have my career.
SPURGEON: For that matter, you have a body of work now, you're a known creative quantity. Is it odd -- is it even aggravating -- to encounter your own work in re-purposed form? I see bits and pieces of what you did in The Intimates, what you've done with Iron Man, what you did with WildCATS popping here and there... do you consider just part of the creative cycle, or do younger writers process their influences differently now?
. [Spurgeon laughs] Well... que sera, sera
, right? I think, at first, it was weird to see little things I'd done, techniques I'd tried, concepts I'd explored, show up in other comic books, especially in certain instances when it was just so goddamn obvious
. And even certain things, approaches, ideas, opinions on craft that were, at best, tolerated and, at worst, vilified
when I would do them. Then again, those instances are still so few and far between... especially when you consider how much has been lifted from guys like Frank Miller, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison over the years. Warren and Garth, in particular, don't get nearly the amount of credit they deserve for contributing to the comic book writer's toolbox as much as they did.
But that's a good part of what writing is... you read something, see something, hear something, whatever it is... you're inspired by it, you want to test drive it for yourself or you simply assimilate it and it shows up in your own work. Those creators I name-checked... they're obviously influenced by other sources, too. There are countless things that I've lifted from other, better writers than me over the years. So many great writers have inspired me in so many ways, I guess I do look at it as just part of the ongoing creative chain, and we're all just links in that big chain. And I'm still on the lookout for new things to (hopefully) influence me, inside and outside of comics. I'll admit, it gets tougher to be as much of a student as I used to be, the deeper into my career that I get, but I'm still out there trying...
SPURGEON: You noted the passing of editor/translator Kim Thompson, and talked about how important his stint at Amazing Heroes was in processing a view of the industry that corresponded to the work you were seeing. Do you still do that? Do you still pay attention to the milieu in which comics are created? Do you see major differences between the industry you entered and the one in which you're working now?
I suppose I pay as much attention as my job demands. Or as much as I feel like at any given moment. Take your pick. But, admittedly, I'm not the comic book reader
that I used to be, and I'm certainly not hip-deep in those larger, behind-the-curtain conversations like I had been previously. I hear my share of gossip, just like everyone else does.
But, y'know, I'm just not all that interested in who's next up at bat writing or drawing Firestorm
or whatever big event the WFH publishers are planning and what they have to say about it. And even though the readership -- for mainstream comics, at least -- skews a lot older than it did when I was a teenager reading Amazing Heroes
and Comics Interview
, most things still seem to be marketed as though the audience exists at that level, which is weird enough. And add to that, we're living in an Access Hollywood/TMZ
-era of entertainment journalism, which was bound to spread to our "milieu", too. So from my vantage point, there's so much bullshit flying around... no one's informed
enough to be able to tell real truth to power, if anyone's even interested
in that kind of thing anymore (and I'm not sure I
am, either). That didn't really exist 20 years ago when I was on the other side of the gig, trying to understand all the moving parts of the overall machine. And, of course, there were a few less moving parts back then, too.
I do think it's ironic that, the bigger the comic book industry gets, in terms of perception and money and Hollywood connections and corporate branding concerns, it seems like it's a lot easier for new writers to break in and make a name for themselves. Overall, that's a good thing for the newbies and the hopefuls out there. Then again, the trade-off seems to be that you can have more "success" -- i.e. more visibility, more assignments -- if you're willing to suppress personal vision and fall in line with the needs of the corporate overlords (bear in mind, I'm using the term "overlords" in a completely tongue-in-cheek way... in reality, labeling them as
"overlords" probably gives them way
too much credit). And for less money, too. In my first few years as a working pro, I kinda stumbled my way through things and was lucky enough to find my voice and establish some sort of quirky brand despite my ignorance, and despite occasionally -- sometimes even inadvertently -- pissing off my share of overlords. But these days you really gotta know how to dance if you want to avoid the quicksand that exists out there.
SPURGEON: One through-line to our many discussions is that creator's rights has been sublimated into a more general push and pull of abuse and exploitation at the companies. There are a couple of recent developments that I wonder if you could talk about in terms of what you just said in response to the last question, and our general discussion on such matters. The first is the rise of sort-of mainstream alternatives: you're seeing writers settling in not just at Image but at places like IDW and Boom in a much more significant way than you were five years ago. I assume there's a market element to that -- there are only so many chairs -- but I also assume there's a massive quality of life/quality of work issue involved. Also, I wondered if you had response to Mark Waid posting a lengthy essay on this matter aimed at just the kind of names-getting-out-there emerging talent you just talked about?
I feel like we've probably touched on this before, but I still contend that part of it is that, as a creator/freelancer in this industry, you'll end up enduring as much "abuse" as you allow
yourself to endure. As usual, Waid provides a lot of spot-on insights. He's a natural mentor, so when he talks, it's a smart idea to pay attention. I think new writers -- either already working or aiming to work in the so-called mainstream -- should always strive to see things as they really are, not how they would like
things to be.
My friends and I have talked recently about how this new generation of mainstream comic book writers -- folks that have broken in at the Big Two over the last five or six years -- were completely unprepared for the editorial climate that exists now. These guys thought they were breaking into the same writer-driven WFH industry that I did... an industry that my generation thrived in. And so they project themselves like a second-rate Warren Ellis or Mark Millar or even Mark Waid circa 2000, with all the bluster and ego that those
guys could easily get away with back then. These newer writers... a lot of them put their "personas" out there and I'm assuming they expect the publishers, editors, etc. to automatically accommodate them and -- as we've seen at DC Comics in particular -- it doesn't get them nearly as far as it did for the writers of the previous generation (if, in fact, it gets them anywhere at all).
In other words, in a writer-driven WFH industry, a writer can obviously swing his dick pretty far and wide and get tangible results. In an editorially-driven WFH industry, not so much. But it's fun to watch some of them try. If anything, the publishers seem to allow the pretense
of a writer-driven industry to persist -- when it clearly no longer does -- because it allows them to better control the writers who work for them. Now... is that "abuse"? Not really. But these writers ought to know better.
But, y'know, a few of these new guys seem to have a lot on the ball... it won't take them long to figure out some new way to maneuver this weird corporate minefield and hopefully make it work to their advantage. But they're not quite there yet, and there's just no need for all the Y2K-era posing that happens with quite a few of them. That specific environment no longer exists, so let's not keep acting like it does. The future -- even at Marvel and DC -- still contains infinite possibilities, but it's never going to get to that next stage until the new guys start standing up straight and upsetting a few apple carts, and not only through their work.
Being on this side of it now, I do still find it all pretty goddamn fascinating, y'know? And, of course, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the new generation of mainstream comic book writers actually do
dream of being packed together in some faux TV-style writers' room situation for days at a time to have their ideas and their stories "vetted" and their individual voices suppressed, instead of doing what all of their heroes did (and probably still
do) when they
made comic books... which was to sit in a room all by themselves -- with their keyboards or their art tables and their singular imaginations and their own creative sensibilities -- and just slog it out month in, month out. Countless classics were born out of that method. Would Alan Moore ever have subjected himself to a writers' room
in order to make comic books? Would Frank Miller? Would Steranko? Was the work you'll find in The Best of Milligan & McCarthy
made that way? Was Starlin's Warlock
? Was Morrison's Doom Patrol
? Or [Walt] Simonson's Thor
? Or [Howard] Chaykin's Blackhawk
? Or Elektra: Assassin
? Or Hitman
? Or Master of Kung Fu
? If those comics set the bar for you -- and they have for me -- it kinda makes you think, doesn't it...?
I'm not trying to sound cranky here. I honestly don't have a dog in this fight. But I've put in my hours in those types of rooms, in comic books and
in television. I left Marvel Comics -- this was pre-[Bill] Jemas/[Joe] Quesada -- when that same kind of interference fucked me off, too. So I feel like I know what I'm talking about here. These days, I just think there's more individualized talent out there than the corporate publishers are set up to handle. And it's not even that the Big Two are so conservative in their ideas -- they do their fair share of crazy shit -- it's just a very different climate that's become more and more difficult to subvert. And I think there's been enough examples historically of creators subverting these corporate IP's that prove
that's what can drive sales and, more importantly, attract new or lapsed audiences. But that's not a top-down management philosophy, so I can't see that kind of subversion happening again anytime soon.
SPURGEON: Quick follow-up on Waid. He didn't name names. There's a criticism that flashes every so often that when guys like you and Mark are critical of the industry but won't put a face on what you feel is happening that isn't right, you're sacrificing some of the power of your criticisms but also allowing people to kind of pretend that there aren't real people at the heart of these decisions, that there's a systematic broken-ness in which even the people doling out whatever abuse are hostages. I know how difficult it is to name names because even when there are only a few names involved -- like say with Before Watchmen -- things can get ugly and defensive and really heated really quickly. It's a small room, comics. Do we need to name names? How much of comics' creator-rights issues are systemic and how much are the actions and choices made by people?
I would agree that it's probably more the game and not the players. So... naming names? There's also such a thing as professional decorum, Tom. Y'know, we try to traffic in it every so often, when we can. But I would
also say that some of the players -- maybe even a good number of them -- do have the power to change
the game and they make the choice not
to, because it doesn't serve their own personal/professional needs. Some have, but most don't. It's an old story, isn't it? When you're on the outside, looking in, you see all the flaws in the system, you shake your fist at it and vow, "When I
get in, I'll change the whole goddamn thing! I'll make it better for everyone
!" But then you enter the game, you learn the rules just to stay
in it, you take it in the ass for years, you work your way to the top (such as it is)... and at that point, why would
you bother with changing the game? I mean, why change a system that you've finally mastered? It takes a real visionary -- with a helluva strong back -- to work their way through a system, to make it work for them to the point where they have real success, and still hold on to that goal to change it.
SPURGEON: I want to ask about a bunch of your projects over the last two or three years, some which are probably way closer to your heart than others, but bear with me. I thought it interesting to read you think out loud on a sort of hired-gun project you did for Marvel called Vengeance. You kind of sussed out, or seemed to be sussing out, that the overall Marvel story had some thematic lapses, in that its villains didn't have a place in the general thematic arc, and that you were kind of poking around the idea of disillusionment and the shock of an adult sensibility being thrust upon teens as a way of getting to why those characters behave that way in those stories. I don't know if you want to comment on the specific construction, but I wondered if you could talk about the need to feel your way through thematic issues when you take on a story like that. Because that seemed to be where the fun was for you.
These days, when I take on a WFH comics gig, I'm more interested in fucking with certain expectations of the form than I am in fulfilling some editorial mandate (or even a perceived fan mandate, outside of my own). I can do both, but I have to be honest where my personal interests lie. It's obviously good fun to get paid to, as you said, "think out loud". I'm certainly musing on comi books -- where they're at, what they're meant to be -- even as I'm writing them. In this case, musing on Marvel Comics specifically. And, of course, working with Nick Dragotta was a complete revelation. He was ready to experiment as much as I was. And, like I said before, it's interesting now, a few years on from Vengeance
having been released, how other creators at Marvel will pick at its bones, using characters we created, etc. Dragotta and I have a good laugh about that.
And on the "meta" side of things, that book in particular was our commentary on the so-called "event" book. Ever since Marvel and DC brought them back in the mid-Aughts, they've gotten more and more bloated while containing less and less thematic resonance. I mean, at least something like Marvel's Civil War
made a half-assed attempt to be relevant to the times it was being published in. DC's Final Crisis
was a reflection of Grant's specific take on the mythology of that universe, a personal vision at work, which I'm always interested in seeing. But beyond those examples, most event books seem pretty out-of-control to me, and just getting all the issues (and their tie-ins) out on time seems to take precedent over telling a resonant story.
Y'know, I've occasionally been asked to do that kind of work, to play around on the periphery of these events, and in that respect all I really know how to do at this particular point in my career is to kinda take the piss out of them. The Zodiac
book that Nathan Fox and I did for Marvel... that was all about looking at their continuity at the time, where the Green Goblin -- sorry, Norman Osborn
-- had legitimately taken some high-level executive position in the United States government, which I thought was a goofy enough idea that I couldn't not
comment on its inherent goofiness. That is
part of the fun of it all, the slightly subversive nature of it. So that book was a bit of a piss-take, and God bless Marvel for actually publishing it. It sold well enough and I guess they got a good, new character out of it. All's fair in love and comics.
I do think I've done my best WFH stuff when I've been slightly on the outside, looking in. I'm pretty proud of quite a few of those Marvel books: Vengeance, Zodiac, First Family, The Last Defenders
, the two Iron Man
mini-series, the Earth's Mightiest Heroes
series I did. I was given pretty free reign -- which, in this case, means I had some good, soild editorial guidance
but no editorial interference
-- and I brought a certain point of view to each of them. Not to mention, the high caliber of artists I worked with on them. I suppose they were all my vision of what a "Marvel comic" should be (if there really is
such a thing anymore), and how many cult-level creators get to claim that
SPURGEON: Something I always wanted to ask someone who does their own superhero genre material and also works within established property sets: is it ever exhausting to build a house from the ground up to serve a specific story? Do you sometimes feel like you're doing that thing where a set designer will build a working intercom on a stageplay set that no one will ever use, that you're burning a lot of energy for a verisimilitude that's demanded by an audience ahead of any reasonable expectation put on most genres?
On the one hand, it's incredibly difficult and it takes an enormous amount of bandwidth to really do it right. And I'll be the first one to admit, I really don't know how good (or bad) I am at it... because as much pre-planning and prep work I try to do on these things, I still end up having to invent things on the fly and make them seem like they've been there all along.
For instance, take the urban geography in Sex
... obviously I knew all the boroughs of Saturn City beforehand, I knew the name of the main river, etc. I knew there was a city-wide, fast food chain of Mexican restaurants called "La Bomba De Taco" and other similar details. But, at the same time, I didn't know where the Alpha Brothers hung their hats at night, when they weren't out being gangsters, collecting their protection money. I found myself writing issue #10 and I had to figure that out on the spot.
And even beyond stupid shit like that, you're right, there are details within details within details that make up a fully fleshed-out fictional world... most of which will never be picked up on by the reader. But, of course, I
need a lot of those details in place to be able to write with some level of authenticity. Because -- and this is where the other hand comes in -- I'm just enough of a creative control freak to love this shit. The deeper I can go, the better the experience is for me. So, yeah, it a burns a ton of energy... but I've got a ton of energy to burn.
SPURGEON: A lot of your more recent projects have a curious energy, which is interesting to me in that it's not a break from past work but kind of plays up a different element of it. There's a fecundity to stories like
Butcher Baker that really pops for me when I go back and look at that work -- it's sensual in an overheated way. I don't know if it's a more appropriate question to that work or to your work overall, but how important is it to you to capture a certain overripe quality with some of these works, this feeling of bodies and violence and a certain level of heated interpersonal relationships? I think your "cool" comics may get attention than your warmer ones, if that makes any sense.
I get what you're saying. In terms of what gets more attention, I think it's just the nature of the game, and the milieu I tend to operate in. I'm not claiming to be doing Art Comix by any stretch of the imagination (even though I feel like there's an element of that in certain things that I do). Most of what I do are intentionally commercial endeavors and part of their commerciality is what I like to call the "flip-through feeling". Basically, it's when you're in a comic book store and you pick up something new and do the cursory flip-through, just to get a sense of what it is you're sampling (and possibly purchasing). Well, there's a specific energy that comes from that flip-through, a kind of vibration that comes out of the book, travels through your hands and eyes and gets into your nervous system when you're experiencing your very first taste of something exciting. It's a first impression, basically, but it can be an incredibly powerful thing.
Imagine -- or remember -- going into a store and flipping through the first issue of something like Elektra: Assassin
. Or American Flagg!
. Or maybe Grendel
#13 (the first Bernie Mireault-drawn issue). Or Grant's JLA
#1. Or even Paul Pope's Battling Boy
or Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree
, to name some more recent releases. There's something undeniable that happens when you're simply absorbing the initial vibe of the product you're holding in your hands for the very first time. An inexplicable excitement. Colors leaping off the pages. Out-of-context imagery that sticks out in your mind. It's got nothing to do with the actual narrative, it's just an initial sensory input experience... but one that might forever influence how you feel about a particular piece of work. To me, that's powerful shit.
A book like Butcher Baker
is, on some level, specifically designed to try and provide that experience. Hopefully, the book goes on to fulfill whatever promise that the "flip-through feeling" might give you. But I knew it was going to be one of those comic books that, as I said, practically vibrates in your hands when you first get a hold of it. It's an interesting aesthetic to actually strive for, since most of the time, in most books, it one of those things that just happens. But I was interested in doing a book that was very conscious of that experience.
With the hardcover collection that's out now... its low-fi design approach is meant to evoke a different
feeling than the single issues did. It's more subversive, but maybe more indicative of the narrative itself. But the hope is still that we're providing a unique experience
for the reader. To me, most commercial-minded, corporate comic books don't seem to have that goal. They're more about providing information, whether it's continuity-based information or the necessary info to set up the next event story or serving a publisher's more corporate-minded, synergistic responsibilities to the greater brand. And don't get me wrong... I'm glad that schism exists. It gives me more elbow room to operate as more of an independent, to do my
How Butcher Baker
fits into my oeuvre (to use an incredibly pretentious word to describe my body of work) is a separate issue. I do think it was, for me, a personally transformative work just like Automatic Kafka
was for me a decade earlier. Just the process of doing it opened me up a little more. It showed me something about myself that was useful -- and maybe even vital -- to the work that came after it. It's been awhile since I've really looked at it, but in my mind, it's one of the more effective things I've done in comic books. And, of course, Huddleston's art in it is pretty fucking breathtaking, too.
SPURGEON: One way to look at
Butcher Baker is a deconstruction of America-first superheroes, soldiers and favorite sons granted special powers in times of war by some sort of brain trust. In other words, it seems to be about a type of storytelling or character as much as it is a vehicle for a story or a character. When you're working with a character like that, is the commentary on the type that develops accidental or purposeful? Do you still have some interest in poking or prodding at the genres in which you work?
Well, y'know... the notion of "meta-commentary" -- even in commercial
comic books -- has existed from way back. One of the earliest
examples came from the masters themselves, Lee and Kirby, in Fantastic Four
#1. Remember what those guys were doing in the years right before
they kicked off the Marvel Universe... generic, simplistic monster comics that no one really gave a shit about. What's the FF's first adventure? They fight generic, simplistic monsters... and then bury them in the ground forever. Pretty obvious, right? Were they conscious
of it? Who knows? But it's right there.
And for me, if I'm really going to peel that onion, I guess I feel like both meta-commentary and especially outright satire
were important parts of my
personal comic book reading experiences in the 70's and 80's. In other words, my formative years. There's a ton of it in the books that are now considered seminal to a lot of people of my generation and beyond. But not only were those aspects often very subtle, there were other more obvious, more populist aspects to those books that were picked up on and imitated by a lot more people. I mean, let's face it, so-called "dark realism" is a lot easier to emulate than to strive for the insight and intelligence it takes to pull off effective satire. So, the satire got kinda forgotten by the professional generation that followed (or, even worse, it was done badly). But I
never forgot about it. In fact, to me, pop culture in general has become so
incredibly self-aware that to not
include some satire/meta-commentary in my work would just seem weird. It's just adding another dimension to an art form that should
be as multi-dimensional as possible.
So, yeah, to get back to your question... the Butcher Baker character is absolutely a take on the gung ho "super soldier" type. It's not jingoism, in terms of being overtly "pro-America", because I don't think he was. Butcher was simply the self-actualized hero on the back nine of his career, cashing in on his own iconography to get laid. That
was the archetype I thought would be interesting to explore. But certainly, a character like that, you're leaning into particular tropes that, at this point, most superhero comic book readers are pretty familiar with.
As far as being a "type" of story... I'm not sure I thought any more deeply than writing a balls-to-the-wall exploitation comic book. I'm sure that, in itself, is a type of story. And as I'm doing it, I'm also pretty sure that different levels within the work will present themselves. Either I discount them or I embrace them, depending on what feels appropriate at the moment I'm writing it. I know I don't set any hard and fast rules
for myself, in relation to what you're asking. Then again, I've been doing this long enough now that things rarely "just happen", if you catch my drift.
SPURGEON: There were two interesting contextual moments in the way Butcher Baker was processed. The first is that it was the recipient of a mystery teaser campaign -- so I wondered what you might have learned about the audience right now doing that -- and the other is that there are all sorts of elements in there that are extreme when engaged on the surface, the nudity and violence, that it changes the way we might process the story. You have to be aware of that? Was that an intentional effect? Is there an audience takeaway from Butcher Baker that you were particularly gratified to see.
I'm sure I said this somewhere before, but that whole Butcher Baker
teaser campaign, putting out one a day for a month, was pure performance art. Yeah, okay... it was a way to announce the existence of the book. But that was almost secondary to the challenge of making the teaser campaign work as its own weird kind of storytelling exercise. I think it was a little ahead of its time... had we done something like that a few years later, now that Image Comics are riding a much healthier sales wave, I think it really would've primed the pump and the book would've sold a lot better.
I saw a few reactions from people that seemed to suggest that Butcher Baker
got them more excited about comics
in general, more excited about the potential of the medium. That was pretty gratifying. I think that has a lot to do with that "flip-through feeling". There's just a particular energy that comes out of that series that seemed to be somewhat contagious. Maybe it was my own balls-out attitude at the time really coming through in the work itself. To have your own, personal excitement actually translate to readers is a pretty special thing.
SPURGEON: Do you like the publishing elements putting your books together? Because a lot of the assignment and the nuts and bolts work are left to you in a way they aren't at the big companies? Is there a time doing one of the Image books you were particularly happy with a choice you made in presentation or creative time?
To have that level of control over your own work... it's a blessing and a curse. Y'know, when I was a kid and I drew my own stupid comic books, I would draw covers with everything
on them. If I was doing my version of a Marvel comic, I'd draw the old 70's masthead across the top of the cover and the issue number box, I'd put in the price and the Comics Code seal. I'd draw all of it. Badly, of course, but it all had to be there for it to feel "legitimate" to me. So, the overall look of a comic book -- even the "nuts and bolts" work -- was something I paid close attention to early on. Maybe that seeded some sort of obsessive compulsiveness in me when it comes to design and packaging. I have zero training in it, but I stick my nose in it, regardless.
I've had opportunities to do it at the big publishers, too. The Uncanny X-Men
covers that happened early in my ill-fated run, I had a pretty heavy hand in those designs. It was just me and Ian Churchill and Richard Starkings working together to make something we hoped would signal a new era in design at Marvel. Not a lot of editorial input there, we were trusted to come up with something cool. I did it again on my Wildstorm books, especially the Wildcats Version 3.0
covers and the Intimates
covers, working with the artists and Rian Hughes. Those turned out pretty good, too. I'm pretty sure that
amount of control just wouldn't happen these days.
On the Image books, I've worked with really good people there, too. Richard Starkings in the beginning, then Drew Gill for awhile and now Sonia Harris pretty much exclusively. Lately, it's gotten a lot more fun, because I'm more inclined these days to more or less throw any perceived "rules" completely out the window and see how different and (hopefully) unique we can make these things look, from a design point of view. Fortunately, not only is Sonia great at what she does, she's willing go to those strange places with me and see what comes of it. She takes my numbskulled notions and executes them flawlessly, makes them actually work. She's also been putting together the teasers and the house ads on the most recent series. It's definitely an important part of the whole process for me. The "curse" part of it is that it's clearly an area where you can easily nit-pick something to death, all in the hopes of getting things just right
aesthetically. Sometimes it can drive you fucking nuts. And it's not like there's any correct
way to do it. There really is no rulebook for these things. So, in that respect, it all comes down to my own opinion. Again, for better or for worse.
So when I think back, over the past few series, I've been pretty happy with the look and the design of everything that's come out, from the teasers to the monthly comic books to the collected editions. And every time I've thought I might be tapped out, that I had no more new ideas or inspiration on how to present these things, some random idea has presented itself and set us down a path to some new avenue of design.
SPURGEON: To what extent do you consider the artists with who you work co-authors? Or do you consider them something else, like collaborators? I so think of books like
Butcher Baker, and
Bounce as yours while at the same totally realzing that the work on the page is a collaboration. I see yours as the primary authorial voice. There's a lot of pushback against that notion right now in comics, that every collaborator -- or at least the primary artist -- is a co-author?
there a lot of pushback? I guess I'm not paying close enough attention, but like I said before, I'm well aware that the writer-driven era of comic books is pretty much over, so maybe it's more of a meritocracy out there, in terms of whose name is driving sales (if it's not just brand names alone at this point). And that's actually just fine with me. I squeezed a lot of juice out of that grape, but it's interesting to imagine what might be coming next, in terms of what's valuable from a marketing standpoint.
When it comes to my
work, I suppose you could argue that my voice is a pretty strong one... but as they say, it takes a village. Obviously, these books wouldn't exist -- outside of my own demented mind, at least -- if it wasn't for the efforts of the people I work with. Not just the artists, either. Colorists, letterers, designers... we're all
collaborators, but obviously someone has to steer the ship, so to speak. I'm closing in on 20 years doing this professionally, and I've worked my ass off to get to a place where I have a certain degree of control over my projects. Whatever name recognition I might actually have -- and, admittedly, it's probably not a lot -- I try to use to the fullest extent possible. At this point, I think the people who actually agree to work with me pretty much know what they're getting into (for better or worse), and I feel like every single name listed in the credits of my books can claim some sort of authorship of the final product. We're all responsible for the books actually existing
in the forms that they do, y'know?
Having said that, are they all "creators" in the strictest sense of the word? Well... probably not. Then again, when you get into the semantics of it, that can be a minefield all its own. But in creator-owned comics, especially, we're still a team. I've played in bands all my life, and sometimes I've been the main songwriter and lead singer (God help us all) and other times I've just been a guitar player, playing someone else's riffs. Either of those situations has its own rewards, but the consistent
reward in any of those scenarios is the satisfaction of being part of a collective, part of a team that's creating something greater than just the sum of its parts. When it comes to comic books, we work together to get these books out every month (or whenever they end up coming out). And, on the whole, I pick my collaborators pretty well, I pick team players.
SPURGEON: Sex is an interesting book to look at in the wider context of your career because there are both significant past favorite themes of yours, and then some things I've not seen you tackle. This seems like a slightly different exercise in world-building for you, the city seems a more significant element to the book than I'm used to see from you. Is that a fair assessment? How was putting this book together different?
On the world-building tip... other than the effort involved, this isn't too different than the other creator-owned work I've done. But this one set out to present a world -- in this case, a major metropolitan city -- with a fair amount of verisimilitude, which is not something I can say about GØDLAND
, for instance. So, yeah, that's a different kind of thinking than just opening up my brain and letting my imagination fly.
But even more than that, I think it's different because it was put together completely in a vacuum. I just thought of it, I developed it, I brought in my collaborators, developed it further, and we started making it. I didn't really talk about it to anyone. In general, I keep projects in development pretty quiet until I'm ready to announce, but this one was really
on the down low. Luckily, Image agreed to publish it, so all that work we'd been doing had somewhere to go. But, honestly, this was a book that I had absolutely zero
expectations for, sales-wise. I had no way to predict what the reaction would be, whether or not we would grab any
readership whatsoever. When the first issue sold as well as it did, and all the multiple printings that followed, I was pretty fucking shocked. And, I'll admit, between that and The Bounce
selling so well out of the gate, I got a little swept up in the general heat and buzz that Image is generating right now. I got too wrapped up in sales data. It actually felt weird to sell that many comic books... and then you start to wonder if you should be chasing that dragon all the time. But then I remind myself that quite a lot of the writers I've really admired in comics -- since I was a really young reader -- have never been known for being especially "hot" creators. David Michelinie, Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, Doug Moench, John Ostrander, Roger Stern, Peter Milligan... these were guys that were simply doing their jobs well and, out of that hard work, creating inadvertent classics. I can dig that.
So now, thankfully, things have settled down and my books are selling more at the cult-level numbers that I'm used to, numbers that are probably more appropriate to the material I'm doing. I'm back to just concentrating on making the books good, making them worthwhile for the readers who are
hanging in there for the long haul.
SPURGEON: There is a lot of stuff in Sex about struggles with vocation and career, a classic Joe Casey preoccupation. This is fairly straightfoward, but how does the inclusion of a significant sexual element and storylines constructed around sex have an impact on how you develop this look at people uncertain or uneasy with what they're doing with their lives?
Obviously, I think both sex and career are primarily adult concerns. Not to mention assessing your life -- or reassessing, as the case may be -- after you've already got a significant number of years under your belt. That can only
happen during adulthood. In relation to the series, Sex
, there's admittedly an element to the whole thing where I'm hitting you over the head with it. The explicit sexual content, it's a hook to maybe get you in the door. From the beginning, the aesthetic idea was to replace the capes-and-tights aspects of a superhero comic book with purely sexual aspects. It's a pretty even trade off, as far as I'm concerned. The sexual elements in the book are about as pervasive as the spandex elements of a typical superhero comic book. From an allegorical viewpoint, it's asking the question, "Can these characters -- lifted right out of a superhero-styled story -- exist without
the superhero tropes?" That's where the main uncertainty comes from, for them and
sometimes for me as a writer. Even I
don't know the answer, but I think it's worth exploring.
SPURGEON: I'm not sure I've ever seen you work with class issues, Joe, although maybe I'm spacing on something obvious. This book is very class conscious -- status, and money and the opportunities that buzz around each of those things is a major driver of the storylines. And yet I'm not sure I've seen you break with a standard take on these things: money isn't happiness, sometimes you need money to explore certain opportunities, and so on. What are your thoughts on how class plays into the lives of these characters, and how does you own life inform that, given the significant surges you've seen in your career at times.
I suppose I'm somewhat
interested in exploring the notion of a financial class system... and, in that exploration, examining how much -- or how little -- it really means to the individual characters in the series. I think I'd even throw in the class distinctions between "superhero" and "super-villain". At least, I'm playing them as a sort of class distinction that exists in Saturn City. But I would also say that, in my mind, I'm not dealing with class so much as a sociological circumstance (if it's possible or even worth it to try and make
that distinction). It's more about how the characters view themselves
and how they perceive their own relationship to the society they're living in.
But, y'know, from a strictly sociopolitical standpoint, this is not an area where I can provide a ton of personal insight. Let's face it, I'm a white male living in the United States and I realize the leg up that's given me, over the years. I'd be stupid not to. But the fact is, I've always been so self-involved (i.e., narcissistic) that being "class conscious" was never of any real interest to me personally, nor have I ever categorized or viewed anyone else on that basis. Maybe it's part of being a creative person... I'm more "ego conscious" than anything else. I do think the nature of Art (or having an artistic temperament) is such that, at its best, Art exists to obliterate class distinctions -- any
barriers, really -- and provide something completely universal, something that can be shared by everyone. This applies to comic books most of all, at least in their original form. Cheaply priced entertainment, accessible to just about anyone, rife with potential to rise above its original pulp pretentions. In theory, at least.
SPURGEON: Is there anything we should miss about Wizard magazine?
Occasionally, it looked pretty. On a slightly more serious note, I think Wizard's
run is, on the whole, an interesting document of mainstream comics in the 90's and the early 2000's. It's the epitome of everything that was good and
bad about the era, all in one glossy package. It certainly provided me the very brief but poppy, Tiger Beat
-portion of my own career, complete with a photo spread that you could tear out and hang in your school locker. Although, being called Marvel's new "golden boy" during the Bob Harris-as-EiC/bankruptcy era was a dubious distinction, to say the least.
So, aside from its occasional prettiness, I'm also really glad it had a finite lifespan. There was a brief period of time that it seemed to have way
too much power and influence in the industry, as ridiculous as that
sounds in hindsight. So I guess there's some poetic justice that it couldn't adapt to the times.
SPURGEON: In contrast to Sex, which I find very controlled in terms of how you're organizing the information in front of the audience, although it only comes to them in certain measures, The Bounce has this flood of confusing perspectives and scenes that seem to fail to connect. It's not a tool I think you use a whole lot, building an effect out of a barrage of verbal-visual information, but what do you value out of being able to build a story where things aren't necessarily clear from the start.
I'm not sure I agree, but I do see what you're getting at. To me, Sex
is a much more freewheelin' comic book, at least in relation to what else is out there in the current marketplace. Its narrative is much more influenced by European comics and French New Wave cinema than it is Amercian superhero comic books (even though it uses some familiar superhero tropes as part of its conceptual foundation). The other main influence is the novelistic approach of long form comics like Love & Rockets
, which also eschews the more traditional, hyper-dramatic peaks and valleys that superhero comic books provide. Not to mention, I just find a lot more resonance
in that work than I will ever find in any modern Marvel or DC book, so that's what I'm
trying for in Sex
, on the other hand, is much more rooted in Western comic book traditions. There are costumed characters running around fighting each other, there's a lot of wacky sci-fi concepts flying in every direction, there are moments of pure melodrama. Of course, like Sex
, I'm employing a novelistic approach to the story, but that's just how I like to deliver long form narratives when I'm free of any corporate publishing concerns.
In other words, if I were writing Captain America
, I'd feel a responsibility both to Marvel and to the readers to deliver a comic book each and every month that provided a certain kind of surface experience. You want to grab the readers by the balls on each and every page and always keep them coming back. You'll use any trick in the toolbox to make that happen, because that's your job
when you're writing company-owned comic books. That's mainly what they've hired you to do, to put asses in seats and keep their brand and their IPs profitable. It's often very exploitative. But with my creator-owned work, those particular expectations don't exist (unless, of course, I specifically place them on myself).
From a narrative perspective, The Bounce
is actually very deliberately constructed, so even though the early issues seem to be presenting random information that might not seem to link up, I'm hoping the readers trust me enough to take the ride... because it all does
connect, eventually. I'm just not spoon feeding it to you. Maybe that's frustrating and maybe that's not the storytelling trend at the moment, but I suppose on some level, that's a valid reason to do it. At the very least, The Bounce
tries to provide a unique experience for the average superhero comic book reader. Certainly different from any Big Two superhero series...
SPURGEON: For that matter, you've recently released multiple series into the marketplace that have a bit of structure and heft to them in a way that kind of stands against that first issue being a clear grab for the audience's attention. Do you still feel any pressure to do that, to kind of nail down an audience for a book? Is that a way, perhaps that entertainment across media has changed, this kind of impatience for clarity and pay-offs?
I didn't feel any pressure when I was developing them. That's the fun part. It was only when the orders on the first issues came in that I felt any kind of nervousness. Not about what I was doing, but about the very thing you're talking about. These are stories that are designed to unfold. It's not about a huge blast of... whatever right at the top, something designed to feed into that first issue money-grab model. I think both Sex
#1 and The Bounce
#1 are pretty good first issues, but they're both the beginning
Actually, the first trade paperback collection of Sex
that's out now is probably more representative of the entire series than any first issue could possibly be, for anyone still curious about checking it out. That's why we priced it at just under ten bucks for eight issues' worth of content. Usually, books of that length would cost twice as much. But we wanted it to be just as accessible for people to check out as a single, #1 issue might be.
come to some new conclusions about my work as I've been knee-deep in doing these particular books. However long they last, I'm feeling like these series will probably be my last long form narrative projects for a while. You and I talked in Seattle a bit about this... when it comes to future work, I'm thinking a lot more about non-linear, "anti-story" projects. Really lean into my Art Comix interests (such as they are). Maybe more Warhol-esque, I guess. Something even beyond Steranko's notion of "Zap Art". Maybe something that speaks more to the Tumblr culture of presenting comic book-styled information, those countless single-panel Tumblr posts that isolate moments out of larger stories, which itself is very anti-literary in nature. But it's certainly interesting. At least it gives me somewhere new to go with this, a new path to explore, a new range of possibilities.
SPURGEON: That one has begun to cohere a bit for me, save for one thing: I don't quite get what the superhero metaphor adds that perhaps a more direct address to theme might have been able to achieve on its own. How mindful are you of that the genre serve the story, and what is the current appeal of that set of metaphors for you with these new books?
Well, obviously I think the idea of "the superhero" contains a certain amount of meaning. There's a resonance there. It represents something in the culture, maybe now more than any time in the history of its existence. Within my own work, I try to use it to represent different things, depending on the story I'm telling. In Sex
the superhero tropes represent a particular lifestyle, an arrested adolescence, a phase of life that one might want to "grow out of". Simon Cooke could have been anything in his prior life, but the fact that he was a superhero forces the readership -- who, I'm assuming, is probably as well-versed in superhero comics as I am -- to confront that idea in a new way. Maybe it forces an older fanboy to question his own attachment to a genre and characters that, in a more sane world, are really meant to entertain children exclusively. It has for me, as I'm writing it.
In The Bounce
, the superhero represents the idea of the "authentic self"... where the goal is to fully inhabit your own identity. To be comfortable in your own skin. In a culture where we often deny
what we are, while simultaneously taking great pains to influence the world's perception of who we are -- as opposed to simply accepting who we really
are -- the notion of a "real world" versus a Silver Age-y "superhero world" and characters caught between those two worlds seemed to speak to that idea.
To address something more "directly"... I don't know why I'd bother to craft a story
, rather than just writing an editorial or present those ideas in a more journalistic fashion. But that's not what I do. On the one hand, I'm trying to discover things about myself through my work. That's the part that's personal to me. On the other hand, I'm a song-and-dance man, y'know? I'm out here trying to entertain people. Not to mention, I've seen creators I admire -- guys that are way more talented than I'll ever
be -- pull themselves out of the trenches and take their shot at transcending genre and it seems incredibly difficult. When Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz can't finish Big Numbers
... well, I dunno. Maybe there's some lesson to be learned there. I'm sure that's probably overly harsh, but whatever...
SPURGEON: Between the time we started going back and forth now, the last issue of
GØDLAND came out. I always got the sense that that was not a struggle for you, but that that one might have changed a bit in terms of what you wanted it to do and what it ended being good doing. For instance, I think you may have wanted to engage some aspects of the comics on which it comments that you maybe didn't get to, just because of the way the story was flowing and the strengths of it on the page with doing very specific things. I wonder if that's a fair assessment of what was going on, and I wonder if you could talk about that one specifically in terms of how a longer project might change concept to execution. Are you happy with the book as concluded?
I can tell you this... it's a weird feeling not to have it swirling around in my brain anymore. I carried those last two issues around with me for a long ass time. I think you're right about its overall evolution, and I would have to say that luckily
it became its own thing as it went on. And I think Scioli and I at least had the foresight to let
it evolve. After all, that was the theme of the series from the very beginning!
If it had just remained some sort of pastiche, I don't think it would have meant much in the long run. Then again, in that way, it became even more
in tune with the spirit of Kirby... because, ultimately, the book was about the power of Art and Creativity. Especially the Finale
. Part of me thinks the entire series was a way to set up that last issue so it had a particular kind of resonance, while still (hopefully) being its own thing. Am I happy with it? I'm about as happy as anyone as restless as I am could
SPURGEON: The oddest thing about
GØDLAND may be that it seems of an entirely different age in two ways: the comics iconography and stylistic modes on which it builds its language, and doing this kind of sprawling series divorced from TV episodic and season-arc images. Are we going to see more books like this? Do you feel like maybe episodic comics are too tightly tied into "season" models and what was at one point called writing for the trade? Because I think the comics that you and I enjoy from the history of comics, there's a certain "series" quality to them that I'm not sure we see anymore.
Yeah, television and comic books have been borrowing from each other in really strange ways over the last two or three decades, as our generation of readers grew up and some of them ended up working in TV. So the long form storytelling that the most critically acclaimed shows now get recognized for seems like old hat to me, as it should to just about any attentive comic book reader of the last 40 or 50 years. At the same time, the latest generation of mainstream comic writer has, in turn, taken those television techniques and re-applied them to serialized comic books. I think, if I were to pinpoint the three most prevalent influences on current comic book writing
-- in particular, mainstream superhero writing -- it would be Vertigo in the 90's, manga-via-Warren-Ellis'-interpretation (the so-called "widescreen" and "decompression" techniques), and episodic, seasonal television. Of course, none of those things have influenced me
particularly... but that might be down to my own stubbornness, more than anything else. I've probably actively resisted them in my own work. Y'know, I gotta be me...
And, you're right... that kind of "endless narrative" that typified the superhero comics we grew up on doesn't exist in the same way at all anymore, that kind of random ebb and flow that monthly comic books would provide over a long period of time. I love that stuff so much. Recently, I've been re-buying the Denny O'Neil/Luke McDonnell run of Iron Man
from the early 80's. For some reason, they've been showing up cheap in bargain boxes and, even though I read them when they were originally coming out, I seem to appreciate them more now. They're not the greatest examples of craft, and both creators have done more notable work elsewhere, but there's some kind of invisible, dependable rhythm to those comics that really appeal to me. And it's not like important things weren't happening, continuity-wise. This was when Rhodey first took over as Iron Man, during Tony Stark's second, more serious bout with alcoholism (think about that
sentence for a moment... I was probably twelve years old
when I first read these comics!). That's kind of a big deal in the history of the character. But, still, it just didn't feel like anything more than good ol' pulpy superhero comic books. Looking at them with a more critical eye, it comes across like extremely capable craftsmen doing their best to engage a teenaged readership month-in, month-out. I dunno... I just dig that on so many levels.
I'm sure that sort of mid-list dependability doesn't fly at the big publishers anymore. It's not a desirable thing. The economics of it don't make sense to them (or their shareholders). Not to mention, it's not sexy. But, goddammit, it is to me
. It's sexy as hell. And if, at any
point in its run, GØDLAND
was somehow able to tap into that sexiness even a little bit... then mission accomplished, as far as I'm concerned.
SPURGEON: Since we did the bulk of our talking and now, Dynamite announced you'll be doing work on a
Captain Victory series with a roster of prime talent kind of settled in that landscape where indy/alt touches mainstream. How does a project like that even come together? Do you get a phone call? Do they float an idea? Were you the one that settled on that group of artists and this approach?
Pretty simple. Nick Barrucci got in touch, asked me if I wanted to re-launch the book. First thing I said was, "This is how I'd want to do it...", figuring he'd never go for it and I'd be off the hook. But, y'know, he went for it. For me, it was a chance to take the next step up from what I'd already been doing at Dark Horse with the Catalyst Comix
series. From there, I went recruiting. I was friends with Nathan Fox and Jim Mahfood, we'd worked together already on various things. So they were my first calls. Ulises Farinas was next, fresh off the Dark Horse work we were already doing together. Farel Dalrymple and I had exchanged e-mails in the past. We'd tried to keep things open, in terms of us working together on something
, and this turned out to be the right thing at the right time. But Jim Rugg, Michel Fiffe, Benjamin Marra and Connor Willumsen... these are creators that I'm a huge
fan of, but didn't know personally at all. Those were just e-mails I sent out of the blue (although Tucker Stone was the one who put me in touch with Marra). Luckily, pretty much all of them were fans of Kirby and Captain Victory in particular. So, it all kind of fell together. The idea of collaborating with all of these guys on something that I
consider a really important property in the history of comic books -- even beyond its Kirby pedigree -- is really wild. I'm psyched that it's all happening like this. When it was finally announced, just seeing my name in that list with all those guys -- not to mention, the "created by Jack Kirby" credit -- was one of the proudest moments of my career.
In terms of the "approach" itself... I don't want to say too much about it this early. I definitely don't think it's anything that anyone is expecting from a book like this (or from Dynamite as a publisher, for that matter). But it's something that I hope will ultimately honor Kirby's creative spirit. It's not going to be a pastiche at all. Besides, I don't think he
would've wanted that. He seemed to me to be someone who advocated originality of talent over everything else. I'd like to think he'd get a kick out these particular creators interpreting some of his ideas and his concepts in the way we're gonna do it.
SPURGEON: You've done a lot of work with Kirby properties but I'm not sure that's included late Kirby? Is there a difference with something like Captain Victory and the earlier, prime-of-career Kirby material? Is there anything you specifically like about this character, that universe?
Well, there's the obvious historical context: Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers
was probably the first Direct Market-only title I remember buying. Granted, I was a little too young to really comprehend what it meant to be
a "Direct Market-only" title but in retrospect, it was a book that opened the door for pretty much every classic indie series that came after... so many of my favorites as a kid, from Nexus
to Jon Sable
to American Flagg!
to Mister X
to Love and Rockets
and beyond. I could really go on and on. But I was the perfect age for that new world to be opened up to me, right when I needed it. And, once again, Kirby proved himself to be a pioneer. He was the originator in breaking open that market at an independent level -- basically legitimizing it overnight with his very presence -- and I'm sure he doesn't get enough credit for it.
On a craft level, it really is pure, uncut Jack Kirby comics. It's only 13 issues and one special, but I feel like he left it all on the field with that run. In terms of the gig I've
taken on, I look at it as tons of genius raw material to work with. The whole cloning thing and the way he did it... that's a concept that was way ahead of its time (in comic books, at least). Plus, there's some obvious meta-commentary in those original issues that, for me, betrays a certain kind self-awareness that I think a lot of people don't often ascribe to Kirby. It's one thing to have certain feelings about your history and the way you or your work have been treated, and to express that stuff in interviews... it's another thing to be able to channel those feelings into your work in a way that isn't obvious, a way that works for the story. I certainly didn't pick up on that stuff when I was originally reading them as a kid. I was just taking the ride, being entertained by the weird madness on display on every page. Now I look at it with a different perspective, but it's still just as great.
SPURGEON: We've talked a bit about Kirby as a creative force, but I'm not sure we've ever talked about him as a writer -- and if we did, it's a subject worth re-visiting given this project. He used to be considered a flat-out bad writer of comics, but a lot of folks over the last 10, 15 years have made a case for certain strengths of his even if he was never a sophisticated scripture of comics. How do you think of him as a writer?
Okay, lemme try to come at it from this
angle... in my opinion, the simplest definition of a "bad" writer is someone who 1) can't communicate ideas effectively and 2) doesn't entertain the reader. And Kirby never, ever failed at either one of those. Obviously, he was never that kind of polished wordsmith that certain fans like to get excited about. But I would argue that some of those very same wordsmiths lack a certain visceral quality in their work that Kirby just seemed to bring forth so effortlessly. I only wish I
could do what he did so well when he wrote his own stuff. Now, granted, I think the lettering
in the later Captain Victory
issues leaves something to be desired. The overuse of quotation marks can get a bit annoying... but I chalk that up to possibly a novice letterer misinterpreting Kirby's intentions in the script. Maybe I'm wrong about that... obviously I wasn't there. But that's an armchair academic critique. And a weak one, at that. In reality, Jack Kirby was never a mere "writer" or "artist" or any other label the rest of us desperately cling to in this medium. Kirby was nothing less than a force of nature. And I don't think anyone in this industry -- either pro or fan -- is qualified
to critique his writing (which, to me, is merely a component of his overall storytelling talent). Let's all just accept that he was a master and move on. In the book we're
doing, at the very least, we can try to honor his pioneer spirit by pushing the envelope in our own way. We'll see how it goes...
SPURGEON: Let's get to the real meat of this thing, Joe. Bill Mantlo or Robert Loren Fleming?
Oh shit... that's a tough one. Personally, I'm a bigger Fleming fan from way back, but I would never take anything away from Mantlo, his body of work or his influence on a lot of creators of my generation. But for an aspiring comic book writer trying to figure out how to break in (which I was), Fleming was like a bonafide
Cinderella story. And not only did he give me hope, he was pretty damn good, pretty much right out of the gate. Hope and
talent... that combo meant everything to me when I was a young kid. But, having said that, my appreciation for Bill Mantlo has certainly grown as time goes on, looking back on what he did over his comics career. As I get older and (hopefully) wiser, I'm more in awe of his body of work.
Maybe there's a mentality that existed with Mantlo and his particular career that I do happen to identify with... I'm a "study hard, work hard"-kind of guy. I feel like there's a lot of creators out there who have way more talent than me, but I can fuck shit up with my personal work ethic when I have to. Find me a grindstone, I'll put my nose to it. It's really the only way I know how to keep moving forward in this art form... by staying inspired and working hard.
And, look, I'm still in the middle of this thing. I've said this countless times... but people probably forget that Lee and Kirby were in their forties
when they created the Marvel Universe. And Kirby went on to create the Fourth World and OMAC and Kamandi in his fifties
. So anyone who thinks this is a game that requires a young man's enthusiasm to achieve some sort of greatness doesn't have to look any further than those examples to debunk that opinion. So for me, there's still tons to do and tons to achieve.
* Man Of Action
* Joe Casey At Image Comics
* Joe Casey At Dark Horse Comics
* from Sex
; art by Piotr Kowalski
* photo by my from 2012
* that Ben 10 fellow
* image from The Intimates
, I believe by artist Scott Iwihashi
* three informational-style print publications from the a comics industry now long gone
* from Catalyst Comix
, Dan McDaid
* from Vengeance
cover art by Gabrielle Dell'Otto
* scene-setter from Sex
; art by Piotr Kowalski
* two images from Butcher Baker
; art by Mike Huddleston
* page from The Bounce
; David Messina on art
image; againt, Kiowalski again
* The Bounce
image; Sara Pichelli this time
* image from the GØDLAND
finale; Thomas Scioli art
* Jack Kirby's Captain Victory
* from The Bounce
[below]; from Messina
* as always, all art is copyright to their copyright holders -- it doesn't need me to say so for this to be so -- and is used here according to the principles of fair use (ditto)