Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview Mark Chiarello, illustrator, former art director and editor in the comics business. As a painter, he has worked on such projects as the Batman story Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. As an editor for DC Comics, he co-created the Batman: Black & White mini-series (for which he received Eisner Awards in 1997 and again in 2003) and fan-favorite series like Solo and Wednesday Comics. He tells his history starting at Disney World, then Animation, then Marvel Comics Epic imprint under Archie Goodwin, his initial works at DC Comics, worked with creators like Darwyn Cooke, Tim Sale, on projects like Solo and Wednesday Comics and some details around his leaving DC Comics in 2019.
Mark Chiarello has worked on some of the most critically acclaimed series in the history of the comics industry.
🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians, Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Mark Chiarello
00:00:39 Early days
00:01:47 Early reading comics
00:04:27 Always be a comic artist?
00:06:53 Family support
00:07:46 Pratt Institute | Kent Williams, John Van Fleet, George Pratt
00:09:13 Reading comics still?
00:10:45 Kent Williams, Archie Goodwin | Moonshadow
00:12:35 Disney World | Animation
00:13:56 Galaxy Rangers TV show ~1986
00:15:43 Lost Planet 2 for Eclipse ~1987 | Scott Hampton
00:17:25 Start Marvel as Archie Goodwin’s assistant
00:18:22 Marvel Epic Imprint graphic novel and ~1988
00:19:35 Archie Goodwin
00:21:08 Archie’s influence in managing artists
00:22:30 Coloring for the Marvel graphic novel Shadow
00:23:56 Hellraiser, Kent Williams
00:25:13 Coloring Wolverine, The Punisher | Mike Mignola
00:26:41 Leaving Marvel
00:27:26 Topps | Bram Stoker’s Dracula ~1992
00:29:00 Rerelease: referring old comics
00:30:50 Mike Mignola is the master of black and white
00:32:14 Coloring Hellboy: Seed of Destruction | Mike Mignola
00:34:55 Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop, Book by Howard Chaykin, John
00:36:47 Visual construction of the book
00:39:26 First color editor at DC
00:41:50 Coloring Vigilante covers ~1995
00:42:55 Cover regrets?
00:44:07 Cinematography of covers?
00:45:28 Batman black and white ~1996
00:47:32 Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke
00:50:56 Batman: Hush #608-619 ~2002 | Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee
00:54:15 Alex Toth
00:56:51 Alex Toth’s unseen portfolio
01:00:09 Alex Toth and Jack Kirby
01:01:09 52 The Series | JG Jones
01:02:47 DC’s Variant cover program ~2014
01:04:22 Darwyn Cooke
01:09:23 Wonder Woman covers | Adam Hughes
01:11:46 Dave Johnson
01:13:12 Detective Comics – Tim Sale
01:16:02 The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics, Book by Mark
Chiarello and Todd Klein
01:16:55 Coloring changed to a degree?
01:18:03 The New Frontier ~2004
01:20:40 Solo ~2004-06
01:22:15 Michael Kaluta: Artist you didn’t work on
01:24:37 Time Sale: Artists that you worked on
01:25:22 Prom Night
01:27:41 Richard Corben, Dave Stewart, Spectre
01:29:58 Howard Chaykin
01:31:36 Who decided the order of the stories?
01:33:15 Michael Allred, Laura Allred
01:34:57 Teddy Christianson
01:37:04 Scott Hampton, Damian Scott
01:38:44 Sergio Aragonés, Brendan McCarthy
01:41:20 Wednesday Comics ~2009
01:43:15 Paul Levitz
01:44:28 How select the artists and writers?
01:46:27 Demon Catwoman
01:47:31 Hawkman, Kyle Baker
01:48:57 Sergeant Rocks, Joe Kubert
01:50:20 Superman, John Arcudi, Lee Bermejo
01:51:19 Batman, Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso
01:52:57 Wednesday Comics: Kamandi, Strange Adventures | Ryan Sook, Pope
01:54:47 Wednesday Comics: Dave Bullock, Deadman
01:55:31 Wednesday Comics: Flash comics, Brendan Fletcher
01:56:47 Did you want to do a second series?
01:58:23 Before Watchmen Series
01:59:45 End of time with DC
02:02:23 Trading Cards career, Second Baseball book
02:04:07 Wrapping Up
02:04:40 Carmine Infantino
#MarkChiarello #BatmanBlackAndWhite #WednesdayComics #ComicArtDirector #DCComics #ComicBookHistorians #CBHInterviews #ComicHistorianInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex Grand: Welcome again to The Comic Book Historian podcast. I’m Alex Grand with my cohost Jim Thompson. Today, we are speaking to Mark Chiarello, who is a painter, art director, and editor in the comics business. As a painter, he has worked on such projects as Batman story Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.
Alex Grand: As an editor for DC Comics, he co-created Batman Black and White miniseries, for which he received Eisner Awards in 1997 and again in 2003, and fan favorite series like Solo and Wednesday Comics. Mark, thanks for joining us today.
Mark Chiarello: Oh, cool. Thanks for having me.
Alex Grand: Yeah. So, we’re going to have Jim start off with kind of the early parts of your life, so Jim, go ahead.
Jim Thompson: Yeah Mark, that’s what I usually like to do, is to start from birth forward and just get a sense of your relationship with comics as a kid. So, I know you were born on Halloween 1960 in New Jersey. Where in New Jersey?
Mark Chiarello: New Jersey, right in the middle in Freehold, where Bruce Springsteen is from.
Jim Thompson: Okay, and tell me about your upbringing, like your parents, your basic upbringing.
Mark Chiarello: Sure. I mean, it’s probably going to be boring. So we’ll get to comics really fast, but I grew up in suburbia New Jersey in the mid/late 60s and 70s, and like every other kid, my dad worked for Ford Motor Company and my mom was a housewife, a homemaker, and it was just like a normal growing up as a kid. Watched television non-stop, repeats of The Twilight Zone, and The Brady Bunch, and Mary Tyler Moore. Just a regular kid, really.
Mark Chiarello: I always drew in my room all the time. I was a quiet kid and kept to myself a lot, and I spent most of my time just sitting around drawing all day.
Jim Thompson: Were you an early reader?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I really was, and it’s still something that I do non-stop here. I just love to read, always have. I hope I always will, I hope my eyesight doesn’t go. But yeah, I love to read
Jim Thompson: And was it noticeable that you were a better artist than the other kids at some point, and if so, what point was that?
Mark Chiarello: Well, it was and it wasn’t. I’m a shy guy, so I never really showed my drawings to anybody. I’d never speak up in school and say, “Hey, look what I drew.” I’m just not built that way, but I was singled out as the best or one of the two best artists in the whole school, and then I went to college, I went to Pratt Institute, and all of a sudden, everybody else is better than you.
Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah. No. I can’t wait to talk about Pratt, because that’s interesting in terms of going. I think, even your roommates, but first, when did you start actually reading comics?
Mark Chiarello: Well, when I was a kid, obviously in the late 60s, the Batman, Adam West TV show was such an event that you just fell in love with that stuff, you fell in love with that show and that character and that world. But I didn’t realize that, “Oh, wait a minute. You can also buy comic books with these characters.” And it wasn’t until years later a good friend of mine, one of my best friends as a kid, a guy named Mikey Miller, he started collecting Spider-Man comics, and this must be like 1970 or something.
Mark Chiarello: I was like, “Oh my God, these are great.” And yeah, they were. I just fell in love with that world. Like Spider-man, shit, John Romita was drawing it, and Stan stopped and I think Gerry Conway started and then Ross Andru started drawing them.
Jim Thompson: And were you mainly a Marvel reader or did you do both?
Mark Chiarello: Purely Marvel. That’s who I was. Even a good friend of mine from high school, a guy named Frank, he was the big DC guy, and I’m like “Oh, that’s such crap, how could you read that stuff? It’s so antiquated! Oh my God, it’s terrible! Marvel is what you should read.”
Mark Chiarello: I mean think about it. Those early 70s, mid 70s, Barry Windsor Smith was doing Conan and Howard the Duck was real fun and you were coming off all those great years of-
Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah. No, I’m the same age as you and Steve Gerber, John McGregor, the Master of Kung Fu with… it was just such riches that it’s amazing what was being produced during that early 70s period, all over the place.
Alex Grand: The writer-editor age of Marvel.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, yeah. And it showed. Man, it was cool.
Jim Thompson: So at some point when you were going to decide to go to art school, did you have in mind “Hey maybe I’ll end up in comics?”
Mark Chiarello: No, not at all. I was this, again, quiet kid who sat at home and drew all day and you graduated from high school, college rolled around, and I enrolled at a mainstream college in New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and I went for literally two weeks and I was just miserable. I’m like, “I want to be an artist. I don’t want to do this shit. I don’t want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant.” I actually quit the school and I enrolled in Pratt. It was a short layover. And it was like, man! It was like I came home. I hate to use that phrase, but holy shit I was around all these great artists who were into exactly what I was into.
Mark Chiarello: But to answer your question, no, I didn’t expect to be a comic artist. My whole thing was, when I was a kid, there was the publication TV Guide. You’d get it every week, I’m not even sure that they even produce it any more, but you’d get it every week and it would tell you what was going to be on that week, and “Oh my god, they’re going to show Jaws this week!” Or whatever it was, all the TV shows. But these great, famous American illustrators would illustrate the cover of that.
Jim Thompson: Including Jack Davis.
Mark Chiarello: Jack Davis, one of the great, great, greats. Bob Peak, Bernie Fuchs, I love Fuchs. As a kid I would see Time magazine with these artists on the cover, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated used illustrators on it. I was a bit odd in that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to do that stuff. I wanted my mom to be able to walk into the drugstore, the supermarket, and say “Oh, yeah, my son did that painting of Magnum PI on the cover of TV Guide!”
Jim Thompson: Yeah, I used to clip them and put them in scrapbooks. I was a TV Guide nut about the exact same thing.
Mark Chiarello: Do you still have them?
Jim Thompson: No, I do not.
Alex Grand: Your mom probably threw them away, huh?
Jim Thompson: No, she was pretty good. I mean, I still have every comic I ever bought. She was not one of those moms. I don’t know what happened to the scrapbooks, but yeah. I used to take out everything from TV Guide, especially the drawings, and especially-
Mark Chiarello: Are you an artist yourself or you just were a fan?
Jim Thompson: I drew all the time too. I ended up not being an artist. I thought about going to art school but I went to law school. But yeah, I can draw a little bit.
Jim Thompson: Now, were your parents supportive when you switched over to art school?
Mark Chiarello: My parents have always been lovely, they’ve always been supportive of whatever I wanted to do, but they kind of looked at me sideways like, “Well, you’re going to starve. You’re going to be an artist” You know what I mean? Because growing up in the New York area, Italian parents… There was that cliche view of the starving artist with the beard and not making any rent.
Mark Chiarello: But then, right after college, I got a job with Disney down in Florida and it was the first time that they thought, “Well, maybe he is going to make a living” Because again, the American public knew Walt Disney as a successful artist.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, as soon as you had that Disney stamp of approval, everybody relaxed I’m sure.
Jim Thompson: Let’s go to Pratt for a few minutes. I had read that you had, and I’m not clear if you were all together, but you were roommates with Kent Williams, John Van Fleet, and George Pratt? Is that true?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, George lived upstairs, he was on the floor above us, but he was always in our room and we were always in his room. Yeah, but Van Fleet and I were best friends and Kent, the four of us, oh my god, we were inseparable. It was a really incredible year of artists and some incredible, incredible people who I’m all still in touch with.
Alex Grand: What year was this, Mark?
Mark Chiarello: Oh, man, don’t ask years or anything like that.
Alex Grand: Was it 1980 or-
Jim Thompson: Well, Pratt was in in 1980. So at least that was part of it for sure because I looked up that. He was-
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I want to say like ’81, ’82, right in there. ’83 right in those.
Alex Grand: Okay. Early 80s, all right.
Mark Chiarello: But I meant, like I said… and I apologize because I know I’m talking really fast, but I just had a really big cup of coffee. So I apologize.
Jim Thompson: No, that’s good.
Mark Chiarello: But when I was saying about, when I got to college I was among my people, Kent and John and George and a few other guys, we would sit around and we were exactly like each other. We’d talk about, “Oh, the new Raiders of the Lost Ark movie came out, and let’s go see Blade Runner.” And we’d go to the magazine shops and look for Brad Holland illustrations. It was the greatest time. We were all fraternal.
Alex Grand: That sounds great.
Jim Thompson: And isn’t that amazing that you all ended up working in comics at some level or not?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, because we were all comics fans as kids.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, by that point, were any of you reading comics still?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I mean, that was an interesting time because you had the… there’s a phrase for that time of comics, you know Rocketeer and Love and Rockets. What do they call that? Not the independent market but those kind of not Marvel and DC stuff.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t the alternative stuff that is so indie but it was the age of the Hernandez brothers had come on the scene. Dave Sim was doing Cerebus, Chaykin was doing American Flagg!. I mean, all of that stuff was out there and was really incredibly groundbreaking and, yeah, accessible-
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true we loved that stuff. Man, when Rocketeer first came out, the first couple issues that he did, that Dave did, that was just beautiful stuff, but you also had Frank Miller drawing Daredevil out of Marvel and that was the coolest shit, too. You know?
Jim Thompson: Yeah, and then he switches over and does Ronin, and it’s like, look at the production value of that. And you guys must have all been so aware of that it’s no longer on comic paper and looking… there was so much experimentation in terms of design at that point, which I assume you had an interest in that early on because it’s such a feature of your own work.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that just turned us on because we… Well, when I first met Kent, or when I first move in with him, he was drawing a short story for, I’m pretty sure, it was Epic Illustrated which Archie ran, Archie Goodwin, and I was like “Oh my god.”
Mark Chiarello: And look, I’m going to say something, please don’t laugh at me, but you’re going to think I’m ridiculous, but I never realized people wrote and drew comics. Of course, logically, they did and they do, but I didn’t realize that you could get a job doing that, that these were real people. When I had roommate who was actually drawing this stuff, it really opened my eyes, and Kent said to me, “Geez Mark, you’re the biggest comics fan out of all of us. I know this guy at Marvel named Archie Goodwin, you’re really very similar people. [inaudible 00:11:37] the sweetest guy. You should go get a job with him.” So that’s my first foray into the professional-
Alex Grand: That’s how you met Archie, okay.
Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s great! That’s really interesting, and they were doing things that looked like what you might see at school, because I’m thinking of Moonshadow and what Moose was doing. And you guys are looking at stuff like that, right?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Well, as roommates, Kent did a fill-in issue of Moonshadow and George came downstairs and they were both painting it together in Kent’s room. It was astounding, and I got to know Jay and I really love his work. I guess that’s my point, it showed me that, well, people do this, you can do this.
Alex Grand: Right. It’s capable, it’s not just a mythical thing. It’s a real thing.
Mark Chiarello: Exactly. It demystified it for me.
Alex Grand: Right, demystified it.
Jim Thompson: I’m going to take you out of Pratt now, and get you in the real world, and Alex is going to take you from there.
Alex Grand: Okay. So, what did you do at Disney World when you started there in Florida?
Mark Chiarello: Well, I started as an intern. This program, they would take a few people every year, and I moved down there, and I think they took two graphic designers, two animators, and one illustrator, and I was the one illustrator. I was picked out of all the art schools in the country, and I moved down there. “Oh my god, Disney! This is going to be cool.” And it really was cool, but I didn’t like living in Florida. I’m such a tri-state area guy, I’m such a New Yorker, that it was like, “I hate Florida! Jeepers.”
Alex Grand: I hear you felt it was kind of boring, maybe?
Mark Chiarello: Well, it was always hot. One of my nerd things is the Disney Parks: Disneyland and Disney World. So that was fun because I’d go every day after work or after lunch, or whatever, but other than that I missed home. So I didn’t stay there very long at all and I moved back up.
Alex Grand: So, wait, you were just there for maybe a year or something?
Mark Chiarello: Oh, much less. Much less. Just a bunch of months.
Alex Grand: Just some months. Were you doing animation there? You were doing animation, basically.
Mark Chiarello: No. No, I wasn’t in the animation department. I was in the illustration department.
Alex Grand: Illustration, okay.
Mark Chiarello: And we would do brochures for the park or posters for the park.
Alex Grand: Oh, okay. I see. Which is certainly a skill that we’ve seen of yours. Okay, I see what you’re saying. So then, after Disney you went up to New York, and is that when you started working on the 1986 Adventures of Galaxy Rangers TV show?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, it really is. Man, I forgot about that! Yeah, I got a job right away. Most of the animation is done out here in California but there was a show that was being produced in New York called The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. I guess it was on Channel 11 TIX in New York, but it was 65 episodes and I was sort of the art director, but I would also organize everybody else.
Alex Grand: Would you draw stills as well or animate things or was it more like you were overseeing the project?
Mark Chiarello: I was hired as a storyboard artist. So we would get the script and it was a half hour animated show and we would have to storyboard every scene, and I was doing that and it was fun, but then my boss said, “Well, you’re kind of like the adult of all of these 20 storyboard artists. Why don’t you organize the whole thing, the art of all this stuff and get it all together and ship it off to… ” I think it was animated in Japan. So would FedEx it to Japan and make sure all the characters were coded and all that stuff. So my seeming maturity elevated me to art director sort of.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s great. So is that when you realized you can be both an artist and manage other artists? Is that where your first taste of that?
Mark Chiarello: I guess it is. I think it is. Over the years I’ve always had a hard time because I embraced being the art director so much at DC, I always had a hard time coming home on the weekend and doing any artwork because I was exhausted from the job. But, yeah. Yeah, I’ve always been torn in my head. Should I be an artist or should I organize artists? Be an art director? I’m never quite sure.
Alex Grand: Right, it’s kind of a hybrid conflict. So then, why did you leave that TV show and how did you get into doing Lost Planet 2 for Eclipse in ’87? Was that your first published comic? Tell us about that transition and doing that comic.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that was after college. So we all moved down the street to , well Pratt is in Brooklyn. So we all moved the next neighborhood over to Park Slope. Van Fleet and I shared an apartment and George Pratt lived around the corner, and George was the nicest guy on the planet. We’d always have other artists hanging out, staying over. One of the guys he became friends with was Scott Hampton, who was from North Carolina, and Scotty’s a cool guy. Scotty is such a brilliant, brilliant artist, and we really hit it off and he said “Hey, my brother Bo is putting together a comic book called Lost Planet for Eclipse. Would you want to… ”
Mark Chiarello: He knew we would talk about American history all the time, I’m a big history nut, and he said, “Hey, there’s a story about Amelia Earhart. Would you want to draw it?” And I was like, “Man, cool, absolutely!” It was like a 10 page story, whatever, and he sent me the script and I was really excited about it and there was that moment where I got the script and I was like, “Holy shit. I have to actually draw this thing now.” That’s frightening because I’m one of those artists that feels that everyone judges me as a human being based on my art. If they don’t like my art then they’re not going to like me.
Alex Grand: Yeah. That’s funny, like you take it personally.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, and to this day I really wish I wasn’t like that but I am. But, yeah. So, I did that story, it came out okay.
Alex Grand: And then what made you go to Marvel? Your friend who knew Archie Goodwin, was it the introduction that then you got into Marvel? How did that work?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was still very close with Kent and all the guys, George and Van Fleet, and Kent said “Hey, I’m still working for Marvel. I’m doing jobs for him here and there. Go see Archie, I think he’s looking for a secretary or an assistant.” So, I met a guy name Carl Pot, he said “I have an opening, do you want an interview?” But I actually didn’t get the job and-
Alex Grand: You did not get the job?
Mark Chiarello: Then I went around the… What’s that?
Alex Grand: You said you did not get the job?
Mark Chiarello: I did not get the job with Carl, but I went literally down the hall and met with Archie and Archie said, “Yeah, I’d love to hire you here. If you’re a friend of Kent’s then absolutely.” We chatted for 10 minutes and I got that job.
Alex Grand: Oh wow.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was Archie’s assistant for maybe a year and a half.
Alex Grand: That’s awesome. So then, that’s around the time when you had some involvement with the Marvel Epic Imprint graphic novel and ’88 Someplace Strange by Nocenti and Bolton, is that correct?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that was one of the books. Archie ran Epic Illustrated, and it had just ended at that time when I came on. I think Shooter had just left Marvel, so that’s around the timeframe, and then DeFalco took over. Archie ran Epic, which was a magazine, but then it segued into an imprint, a series of comics, and that was a great time for me to step into this because we started reprinting the Moebius stuff from France with graphic novels, and we did Akira, that was the first time it had been translated into English. But yeah, the John Bolton book was one of them and it was just such a great learning ground.
Alex Grand: So you were editing some of these books, right?
Mark Chiarello: No, I was just Archie’s secretary. I was Archie’s assistant. I’d answer his phone and I would type up scripts that he asked me to. I was just kind of like the all-purpose power tool. I just did whatever Archie needed me to do.
Alex Grand: Oh, I got you. Okay, okay. So he was editing and then you’d assist him in these processes of putting these books out.
Mark Chiarello: Totally, yeah, and that’s where I learned by chops really. I have said it before and I will say it until the day I die, the fact that I was working with this guy, Archie Goodwin, was just the most incredible learning experience to this very day. I mean, I have a great dad, but Archie became my second dad.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome.
Mark Chiarello: Oh, man! I’m sure both of you have mentioned Archie to people or they’ve mentioned Archie to you and-
Alex Grand: Yes, absolutely. Always positive.
Jim Thompson: We get this in almost every interview, that he is the person no one speaks bad of.
Mark Chiarello: It’s so true. It’s absolutely so true. He was just the funniest guy you’ve ever met. He was sort of like, always equate him to the comedian Bob Newhart. He was Bob Newhart.
Alex Grand: That’s awesome. That’s a great analogy
Jim Thompson: I love Bob Newhart, man.
Mark Chiarello: You would’ve loved Archie, and he was a brilliant writer. To this day, I think he’s probably still my favorite writer ever in comics. His stuff was so adult and it was so incredible. And certainly, certainly the best editor ever, ever to work in comics.
Jim Thompson: And he knew how to cater those stories just right for the artists. I mean, what he did at Warren with how he gave Steve Ditko the opportunity to do that run of stories that Ditko did and Toth and all the others. It’s like he understood how to write it for those specific artists. He’s a real talent at that.
Mark Chiarello: You’re absolutely right. He was the king of that stuff.
Alex Grand: Do you feel like he was an influence on you in being malleable to work with various artists on different projects?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I don’t mean to be corny about it but he taught me the basics of what I did all those years at DC. I distinctly remember him saying, “Mark, here’s what you do. You hire the very best guy you can.” And I apologize, I use the term guy to mean men and women, guys and gals.
Alex Grand: Right, sure. The best-
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, “Hire the very best talent you could possibly find, and then get out of their way. Just facilitate them. Make sure the accounting department’s not up their ass or make sure whatever. Let them draw, let them do what you hired them for. Don’t try to tell Bill Sienkiewicz what colors to use.” You know what I mean? That stuck with me, and all those years at DC, I was at there for 26 years, the best thing about all those years was that relationship with those artists, being able to talk to Adam Hughes and Tim Sale, and not tell them what to do, but just get them jazzed to do what they do.
Alex Grand: Right. Yeah, and I think Tim Sale and Howard Chaykin told us that about you, that you’re very creator friendly and you let them create, and I think that’s a mutual respect you have for each other, it sounds like.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, yeah. We’re all into the same stuff, so just have fun with it really.
Alex Grand: Right. So, now, around that time did you do the coloring for the Marvel graphic novel Shadow where Kaluta returned to the character? Did you color that book?
Mark Chiarello: Man, I forgot about that. Yes, I did. You know that old process, Blue Line Coloring? You know that stuff?
Alex Grand: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Mark Chiarello: They printed out the pages on Blue Line, which is this weird… they print the artwork as this light blue line work and then there’s overlay, like a piece of acetate with the line work on top. Really arcane, bizarre process. Mike was really late. Kaluta was supposed to ink that book and it was gorgeous, but then he was really running very late with it so they got Russ Heath, I believe, to ink it, but all the time had been eaten up by those guys.
Mark Chiarello: So, the colorist was supposed to be a guy named John Wellington. He was supposed to color it but he had literally three days to color the entire graphic novel. So, John asked me, he said, “Hey, come sleep over at my place for three days. We’ve got to work non-stop on this thing.” So it was me, Wellington, a guy named Dick Jainschigg, and Steve Busalado, who’s still very active in comics, and the four of us sat there for two, three days and just cranked on it, and I think we did an okay job considering that there was a gun to our heads on it.
Alex Grand: That’s a great book. So, yeah, I would say so.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah.
Alex Grand: So then, yell us about Hellraiser. How did you get into the Clive Barker Hellraiser book? And you did a story with Kent Williams, right?
Mark Chiarello: No, I don’t think I’ve ever actually worked with Kent. The Hellraiser story I did was… Shit, shit, my memory’s gone. Man, I think Jan Strnad wrote it maybe? Yeah, and I painted it. I illustrated it, and I honestly can’t remember how that came about. I used to hang out in the offices a lot because it was fun, you were young, you were in your 20s, and you could play baseball in Central Park-
Jim Thompson: You had done a cover for the issue before it or so, and then you did the one story. At least, that’s what you indicated
Mark Chiarello: But, I mean, I’m sure you’ve been up to the Marvel office, it’s all editorial and legal, and all this stuff, but once in a while you’ll see, “Oh, hey. There’s Mike Miller walking down the hall, and there’s Bill Sienkiwicz.” I mean, it is like that.
Alex Grand: That’s awesome.
Mark Chiarello: So, when an editor sees Bill Sienkiwicz walking down the hall, he’ll say, “Hey Bill, come here. You want to draw this thing for me?” And I think that’s how that Clive Parker story came about.
Alex Grand: Right, right. Like, “Hey, Mark. Help us out. Do you want to do this?” Yeah, and then you did some covers for the Epic line books, and you were coloring some Marvel books and some covers, and you work on some characters like Wolverine, The Punisher, and Moon Knight. That’s correct, right?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I sort of started because until recently, I never had real faith in my talent. So it’s like, oh my god, again, I have to draw this thing? So sort of like, I won’t say chickened out, but I realized that while I’m a really good colorist, I might as well just be a colorist in comics. You can make a lot of money doing that, and it’s a little like coloring in a coloring book when you’re a kid. It’s-
Alex Grand: It’s kind of fun.
Mark Chiarello: Fun and a lot less stress, unless there’s a killer deadline. So yeah, I colored a lot of stuff. I colored some Wolverine stuff that John Buscema drew, and some Punisher stuff, and that’s what sort of segued into me meeting Mike Mignola because he needed a colorist on a project and I was considered one of the better colorists.
Jim Thompson: Was the Bram Stoker Dracula?
Mark Chiarello: No, it was Walt Simonson wrote this Wolverine graphic novel. Something Jungle, like Jungle Tales, Jungle something, like Wolverine in the jungle, and Mignola drew it and Mike asked me to color it, and I did. Again, it was on blue line, so it was kind of painted color, and we really hit it off. We had a lot in common, and we worked together for quite a few years after that.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s how that started that relationship off. And why did you leave Marvel? What year was that? Was that early ’90s, at some point, right? Was it ’91 or so, ’92? When and why did you leave Marvel?
Mark Chiarello: Definitely late ’80s, early ’90s. I think I wanted to be a freelancer. I was asked several times by DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald if I wanted to come on as an editor there, and I didn’t really. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to try my hand at, “Well, okay, can I do this?” And I was young and dumb and having fun being in New York, and like I said, you’d go up to the office and I met my best friend Jack Morelli up there, who was a big Marvel letterer at the time. And we would hang out, and you’re young, you’re really not looking at your career very much, where should it go.
Jim Thompson: Which is good segue to where my next question is, which is where did you go next? Was it you did a few projects with Mignola at that point, besides what you had done with Marvel? You did the Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. That was for Topps, right?
Mark Chiarello: That was Topps, yeah. Topps, clearly known as a trading card, baseball card, non-sports card company, and they wanted to get… that was the Jim Lee Liefeld Image days and comics were the thing, and Topps wanted to start their own imprint of comics. So their first book they signed on was with Mike to adapt Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Dracula, and he did a beautiful job, and then IDW just rereleased that. And Mike asked me to color it and I did, and I’m always on time and I like to think I’m fairly pleasant to work with. So I hit it off with one of the big shots at Topps, this guy named Ira Friedman, and I started consulting with him. Like, “Hey, who should we hire to be our editor in chief?” And he’d ask me all these questions. So, yeah, unfortunately Topps was fairly short lived, as a comic publisher.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, that Dracula really had some, I think, more import than people realized at the time. It has some staying power because it’s great. Mignola, I think he really evolves during that period really quickly, because that’s everything that Hellboy is, it’s right there in that book. I had a question about the rerelease, did you look at the black and white version that came out?
Mark Chiarello: I picked it up at a comic shop. They were going to send me couple copies and I’m really good friends with this guy at IDW, and he said, “Oh, I’ll send you a bunch.” And I’m like, “I got way too many comics. Please don’t send it to me.” Scott had asked me to… because that was actually pre-computer, that was right before everybody was coloring comics on computer. That was color guide, where you would color on Xerox’s, photo copies, and you’d have to code every color. God, it was a pain in the ass. So he asked me, “Hey, we’re going to rerelease this,” and I’m like, “Oh, Jesus. The coloring’s awful on that. It’s so clunky.” He said, “Well, if you want to tweak the colors, I’d send you the file then you could just recolor it or tweak what’s there.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’ll be cool.”
Mark Chiarello: And, again, I was working DC at the time, this is just a year and a half ago, and I was like, “Yeah. Oh, no. I’ll recolor the entire thing, and I won’t charge you. No problem.” And then I started doing it and I was like, “What the fuck did I just get myself into?”
Alex Grand: Yeah, you should charge for that.
Mark Chiarello: Well, you know, unfortunately I had to, it was a tough phone call and I had to say, “Man, Scott, I just can’t do this. I just don’t have the time to do this. I have a full-time job,” and he understood. He was one of the good guys.
Alex Grand: Right, right.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, and that’s why they decided to put it out in black and white, instead?
Mark Chiarello: Well, I think Mike’s the master of black and white. So I know they wanted to release it in black and white and then the color one just came out. So I knew they had always planned to rerelease both versions of it.
Jim Thompson: Oh, I see. Yeah, I think it was weird that that came out in black and white, and From Hell is coming out now in color. And it’s like, do you have any feeling about that in terms of if it’s drawn with a notion that it’s going to be colored, is that different for an artist than if they know it’s going to be released in black and white?
Mark Chiarello: Man, that’s an interesting question. Every artist is different. Again, Mike Mignola is the master of black and white. I can’t think of anybody in the history of comics that comes close to him, and that’s quite a grand statement but people love seeing Mike’s stuff in black and white. Mike, over the years, has given me a few pieces of original art and, man, I loved coloring Mike’s stuff, it was really fun, and Dave Stewart, who colors most of Mike’s stuff now, does an incredible job, one of the great colorists.
Jim Thompson: Oh, we’re going to talk about Dave Stewart when we get to Solo.
Mark Chiarello: Oh, okay. I mean, I don’t know. What do you think? Do you like seeing the black and white stuff?
Jim Thompson: Yeah, I think it really depends on the artist. I’ve looked at the From Hell stuff and it’s being done so carefully and so great. At the same time, I think it’s what you see first sticks in your mind, and it’s hard to go to a different one sometimes.
Mark Chiarello: Yep. Yeah, that’s true. It’s like Blade Runner, everybody cries about the narration in Blade Runner, but that’s the way I first saw it. So that, to me, that’s the way Blade Runner should be.
Jim Thompson: That’s right. Once it imprints it’s very hard to get it out of your head, no matter what. So you also did a Legends of Dark Knight with Mignola, as well, in 1993, at the same time that you did the Houdini book that Alex is going to talk about, but the next, in 1994, that was a huge deal because there you did the one that everybody knows, which is you colored the Hellboy book, Seed of Destruction. Now, how essential were your coloring choices to what has become such a known book? I mean, it’s not like you said to Mignola, “Hey, why don’t we make him red,” right? There was already a notion of what he looked like, or how much did you contribute to all of that?
Mark Chiarello: Well, I’ll tell a corny story. Mike and I were very close pals, but he had moved to Brooklyn, and we lived down the street and we used to go to lunch, and I remember he… because I was home freelancing, and he was home freelancing. So we would meet down the street at the diner all the time, and he took out his sketchbook and he literally said, “Hey, I just came up with a new character. I’ll show you my drawing, I call him Hellboy.” And I looked at him and I said, “Mike, that’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.” And I think I was probably wrong on that, and he would ask me about that all the time, but he asked me to color it and I don’t like working with my friends and I always get in fights with my friends that I do work with, and unfortunately we did end up getting in a big fight a couple years later, but we’ve made up since.
Mark Chiarello: But, yeah, Mike really wanted me to color it and I was sort of on the fence, and he gave me this gorgeous Kevin Nolan original cover from a Batman, I forget which Batman book. He said, “I’m giving you this, but you have to color Hellboy.” And I was like, “Yeah, Kevin Nolan. Shit, okay. You got a deal.” So, had started working on a couple pages and he showed me the character design, and I said, “I think we should make him red.” And Mike looked at me and literally said, “Gee, you fucking think?” So, yeah. Okay, Mike was always going to make it red, but I think I was officially the first person to say that. So, at cocktail parties I like to say, “I’m the guy that made Hellboy red.”
Alex Grand: There you go. That’s pretty cool.
Jim Thompson: That’s funny. All right. So, now-
Mark Chiarello: But Mike, in those early days, we would go through the drawings and Mike would go rifle through the drawings and say, “Okay, on page seven, that’s got to be night time not day time.” And then he’d go through another 10 pages and go, “Oh, make that little thing yellow,” but his notes were incredibly light. So what you saw in those pages was really my color.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome. So, shortly after or close to that time you also worked on Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop, and that was 1993. It was written by Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore. So how did you come to that project?
Mark Chiarello: Somebody introduced my to Chaykin, and he scared the shit out of me right from the get go. He’s a pretty daunting guy. He’s the smartest guy in the room always, but we became friendly and I said to him, “Hey, I want to do this character. I’d love for you to write it. I want to draw it.” There was a character, I forget the name of the Canadian company, I think, the character was called Mister X, and I really loved the character in the first couple issues.
Jim Thompson: You’re talking Mister X, the Dean Motter…
Mark Chiarello: Yeah.
Jim Thompson: From Vortex, that Hernandez has started on? Oh, that’s great. And it’s totally carries over a little bit to Terminal City, when you’re doing those covers, but yeah. I was a huge fan of that book.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that was that time period of Love and Rockets and the Rocketeer, that stuff came out. There was something about the character I loved. It was that [inaudible 00:36:06] and kind of science fiction-y weird dream state, kind of thing, and I went to Howard and I said, “Hey, let’s do this character.” And he’s like, “Yeah, totally. We can do it. I’ve got some great ideas.” But then we just couldn’t get the rights to it, and I tried and I tried and I tried.
Mark Chiarello: So then, plan B was either Howard said to me or I said to Howard, “Let’s make some money instead and do Batman.” So, his writing partner at the time was John Moore, really good writer, and so the three of us did that. Yeah, did the Batman/Houdini. And again, I’m a big history fan. So I said, “Man, I’m a real big magic fan. I’d love to do something with Houdini.” So Howard just put it in his brain.
Alex Grand: That’s awesome. So in illustrating that book, what were your influences on that book and what kind of aesthetic were going for? I loved it. I actually reread it the other day. Tell us a little bit about your visual construction of that book.
Mark Chiarello: Man, I try not to think about that book. My ex-wife and I moved up to Boston. She was going to Harvard for her master’s. So we moved all the way up to Boston from New York, and right at the time where I got the contract to do Batman/Houdini and man, 64 pages, again, you get the script and you’re like holy shit I have to draw this thing. How am I going to possibly do this? You get the script and you kind of freak out. I’m not a comic book artist, I’m an illustrator. And the first page is an establishing shot of the flag in New York at 23rd street. So I’m like, well I can draw that. I can paint that. I know what that should look like.
Mark Chiarello: So I did the first page, fully painted, water colors, and I had been feeling kind of crappy for a couple weeks. I was getting really bad headaches. So I did the one page, but I was on the road to, okay, I guess I could probably pull this off. And my wife at the time said, “You’re getting these headaches. Let’s go to the doctor.” And so, we went to the doctor that afternoon. The doctor ran MRI’s and CAT scans, and sure enough I had a brain tumor.
Alex Grand: Wait, you did have a brain tumor?
Mark Chiarello: I had a brain tumor, yeah. So I, fortunately, was in Boston. So I went to Boston Mass General, which is a great hospital, and they did the operation, blah, blah, blah. I recuperated that was 28 years ago.
Alex Grand: So, it was like a benign glioma type deal?
Mark Chiarello: Exactly, exactly. But it was pretty rough. I mean, they have to enter your skull and all that stuff.
Alex Grand: Yeah, the craniotomy, sure.
Mark Chiarello: Exactly. Yeah, not to get off on a weird tangent, but the point is, so I had started that Batman book and I didn’t get back to it for almost a year because recuperation for that is six, eight months, at the least. But what’s funny is, God I hadn’t thought about this, I remember I finished that first page, and it came out good, and I turned to put it next to me on the table and there was an X-Acto knife next to me, and I jabbed it right in my finger by mistake. Being a klutz, I just went oh! And I was bleeding all over the place, and I took the painting, the original piece of art, and I wiped my finger on the back of it, and there was a big blood stain on the back of it. When I found that page just maybe like three months ago, in my flat files, and I’m like, “Yeah, the blood’s still on the back of that,” and I think it was a symbol for what was to come for the next year.
Alex Grand: Oh, wow. That’s pretty dramatic imagery.
Mark Chiarello: That’s a weird story, but I apologize.
Alex Grand: No, I like it. I mean, it’s interesting. So, you received a lot of notice and accolades for that. So you do describe that there was some struggle as far as the difference between illustration of one image and then sequential story telling of a series of images, but I think a lot of people felt like you really hit it out of the ball park. So was it from notice of your achievement with that, that then you became part of DC staff? Or were you a freelancer for a while? What was that transition, as far as job title over at DC?
Mark Chiarello: I was so unhappy with what I did on that book, the way my stuff came out on that, that I’m like, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not going to be an artist. I’ve got to look for a real job.” Because I was so hard on myself, which a lot of artists are, but I was ridiculous about it. Like, “I’m a laughing stock. I’m a charlatan. People are going to think I’m an awful artist.” And right at that time I got a call from a guy at DC comics named Neal Posner, who unfortunately has passed away since, and he said, “Hey, you’re one of the best colorists. The coloring at DC comics is really in awful shape. We’re just transitioned over to using computers and the separators are terrible. Would you come on and be out color editor?” And I’m like, “Neal, there’s no such thing as color editor in comics.” And he goes, “Yeah, you’d be the first color editor.” And I said, “Yeah. Okay, I’ll do it.”
Mark Chiarello: And I took the job, and stayed at DC for 26 years.
Alex Grand: What year was that? It was ’90s, but what do you think what year closely was that?
Mark Chiarello: Again, I’m terrible with dates, because I’m an artist and math is hard. I remember my first week at DC, Batman/Houdini was on the printing press. I went up to Canada to see it printed. So whenever Batman/Houdini came out was when I first started. It’s ’93 I think.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s right. So, that’s when you became staff and color editor.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was color editor for two years, and then I really hit it off with the team I was working with, and Paul Levitz was running the show. So he kind of made me art director
Alex Grand: And that’s art and design director, right?
Mark Chiarello: Well, I was color editor, then I was art director, then I was art and design director, and then art director, design director, and collected editions editor director at the end there.
Alex Grand: I see. Yeah, that’s an interesting sequence, but you also worked on covers in the ’90s too, and you edited some projects at DC, right, during this time? Like in 1995 you did Vigilante covers and I think a lot of people would say you captured the western genre well and the layouts were great.
Jim Thompson: Those were great. The covers on that are super memorable.
Alex Grand: Yeah.
Mark Chiarello: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Alex Grand: So you did still do some drawing, even though you work focusing on color directing and art directing. So how did you get into those covers? Was it like people just needed a cover and you just filled it in or were you like, “I’d really like to do the covers for that.”? How did that work?
Mark Chiarello: I never once, in all those years, asked for a gig. I never said, “Hey, I hear you’re doing a new Batman. Can I do the cover?” I refused to do that. I felt that would be kind of shitty, but I was full-time at DC, so it was five days a week, and it was a pretty exhausting job. But people would ask me to do artwork all the time. People who, not because they saw me in the hall, but they actually liked my work. So they said, “Hey, Mark, you want to do these covers?” And once in a while I would say yes, but I found it really hard to juggle both.
Alex Grand: Both jobs.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah.
Jim Thompson: So you turned down a lot of stuff? I mean, is there anything where somebody asked you to do a cover that you wished you had done it?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I did a series of covers for this book called Jonny Double that Vertigo put out.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, I love those.
Mark Chiarello: It was Eduardo Risso’s first American comics that he drew, and I think it was four or six covers, and Alex Alonso, who was the editor at Vertigo at the time, really liked them a lot and asked me. He said, “Hey, Eduardo Risso really likes your stuff, too. He’s doing a new book with Brian Azzarello called 100 Bullets, and we’d love for you to do the covers.” And I was like, “Yeah! Awesome! What’s it about?” “Well, they have 100 issues planned.” And I was like, “Whoa. 100 issues and a full-time job?” So I said, “I’d love to do it, but I just can’t pull it off. It’s too much.” And I recommended Dave Johnson for the gig, and Dave, who is like 80 times better and artist than I am, from a business standpoint I made the right decision, but I am kind of jealous that I turned it down because it would’ve been a really fun job to have.
Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s great.
Alex Grand: And there’s other covers, right? Terminal City covers. In both series you had provided covers for both series of that, and the architecture was awesome. Jonny Double covers, you had great camera angle cinematics. So are movies, like cinematography in movies, does that factor in to your layouts of covers?
Mark Chiarello: I would probably say yes. I’m a big movie nut. I think the movies that we watch, the TV shows we watch, they all make such an impression on us, and as an artist I like to tap into that. I’ll watch a Netflix show that’s awful, but the cinematography’s usually really good and you’ll say, “Oh my God, look how beautiful that shot it.” I think most artists are like that. From Frank Miller to Tim Sale to Mike Mignola, we’re all movie nuts.
Alex Grand: Movie nuts, yeah.
Jim Thompson: And I just want to say, it’s not just cinematography, but in looking at that Jonny Double and some of the other things that you do, I see some Saul Bass influence as well.
Mark Chiarello: Oh, I love Saul Bass. Yeah, I’m such a big fan. There was a German artist named Ludwig Hohlwein, who I really love his stuff. He unfortunately worked during the Nazi days, but his imagery was gorgeous and he wasn’t a Nazi, but that really influenced me quite a bit, his work.
Alex Grand: I see.
Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s interesting.
Alex Grand: So, now, turning to Batman. Batman seems to be very linked with your career at DC, so tell us about starting the Batman black and white book in 1996.
Mark Chiarello: I’d be working at DC, and I’d be the art director, and I was overlooking a lot of the art, meeting young artists, and getting new talent, and everything that the job involved was a full-time job, but Paul Levitz or Dan DiDio, every now and then, they’d say, “Hey, we want you to edit something. Why don’t you come up with a special project?” So I pitched this book, I figured I was a really big fan of the old black and white, creepy and eerie, the Warren stuff, which Jim mentioned earlier, the Ditko stuff. I really love anthologies, and I’m dumb enough to think that everybody loves anthology. So I figured, okay, so if you have an anthology and you have the greatest character ever in comics, Batman, then you hire the best artists and writers, it’s got to be a hit. It’s a no brainer.
Mark Chiarello: And I pitched it to Paul, and Paul was like, “Well, we don’t really have success with black and white comics.” And I think the most recent one was a John Byrne, I want to say, [inaudible 00:46:47] black and white.
Jim Thompson: Yep.
Alex Grand: Yeah, there’s four issues of that. Yeah.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, and John who’s an incredible artist and has an incredibly big following, it sold good because John’s reputation carried it along, but it didn’t sell what they wanted it to sell.
Mark Chiarello: So, like a moron, I went and pleaded and cried and told Paul Levitz I would wash his car for a year and stuff, and he finally acquiesced and he let me do it, and it became an incredibly successful series. We eventually started Batman black and white statues through DC Collectibles, and they just did their 100th. I’m pretty proud of that, and all of the great artists and writers I got to work with. Man, that’s one of the highlights of my life, for sure.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s great. And you also edited Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke, and that was Darwyn’s first major work. Is that correct?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, pretty much. I’ll tell a long story really quickly, if I may. In the mornings I’d go have a cup of coffee with a good friend of mine, Scott Peterson, who was working in the Batman office, he and Denny O’Neil worked together. So I’d sit with Scott in the morning, I’d buy him a coffee, and I’d go sit and chat. And I bought him a coffee, and one morning he had in the corner of his office, he had this stack of manila envelopes that was literally five feet tall. Like if you’d looked at it would’ve fallen over, it was so many. I said, “What’s all this crap?” And he said, “Well, those are submissions. It’s my month to be the guy who goes through our submissions.” And he’s like, “But I just can’t bring myself to do it.” He’s like, “Why don’t you take them?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to.”
Mark Chiarello: They were all those manila envelopes, and towards the very bottom was a black envelope, and I said, “Hey, watch this.” And you know that trick where the magician pulls the table cloth off the table and all the plates and glasses stay where they were?
Alex Grand: Right. Oh, you did that with the black envelope?
Mark Chiarello: I did that with the black envelope. I pulled it and all of those submissions, all those envelopes went flying all over his office and Scott got mad at me. He said, “Pick those up,” and I ran out of the office with my black envelope as a joke. And I got back to my office and I actually, I’m not making this story up, it’s verbatim, I swear it happened. So I sat in my office with this black envelope and I opened it up. “Oh, I wonder what this it.” And most submissions you get at Marvel and DC and the big companies, they’re really not that great. They’re always earnestly draw, but there’s not much talent there, and this was this incredible pitch for a Batman story that had pitch illustrations, and the synopsis for the story, and I literally sat there and read it and looked around the office like, how is this possible? This is incredible.
Mark Chiarello: So I looked at it and it had the guys name and phone number, and it was some guy in Canada name Darwyn Cooke. So I picked up the phone and I called this guy Darwyn Cooke, and I got him and he was sort of a bit surprised that someone was calling him from DC, and I said, “I want to publish this thing. I’d have to run it through channels, but I think we’d go for this. Would you want to do it?” And he said, “Oh, shit.” He said, “I’m moving to California in two weeks. I just took a job with Bruce Tim at Warner Brother Animation to work on the Batman cartoon.” He said, “But when I’m done, I would really love to do it.”
Mark Chiarello: So, that’s what happened. He went and worked with the genius Bruce, and then we did Ego right after that, when he got back.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome. So you realized right away how good he was, it sounds like.
Mark Chiarello: Man, you knew it dude. You knew it right away. People love his artwork, and I ended up working with Darwyn on quite a few projects but, to me, I loved his artwork too, but I think he’s even a better writer than an artist. I think he’s one of the great, great, great writers in comic history. I really, really do.
Alex Grand: Oh, yeah.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, I’m going to ask you about New Frontier in a few minutes because it’s one of my favorite superhero books of all time.
Alex Grand: So, let’s see. Now, Batman: Hush, that was in the issue 608 to 619 in 2002, it has its own animated movie now. You introduced Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee together and got it started, isn’t that correct?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, they knew each other because they were both really big shots in the comics industry and they knew each other and… God, it’s a long story. I apologize.
Alex Grand: No, that’s okay.
Jim Thompson: We love long stories.
Mark Chiarello: And by the way, I’m still speeding on coffee. So I know I’ll speed through this story. DC, Warner Brothers, bought Wildstorm. Jim came over, DC and Warner Brothers, and did Jim’s incredible job running stuff, and although the many hats that Jim was wearing and does wear, but being friendly with Paul Levitz, I knew that Paul really wanted Jim to also draw for DC. He wanted him to be in managerial, but he also wanted him as an art director for a lot of stuff, but he also wanted Jim to draw some stuff. Like I said, I’ve always read into this, but I think Paul never wanted to actually ask Jim to do it. Say, “Hey, could you also draw for us, too?” For some reason he just didn’t want to go there. I don’t know why. You can figure out the psychology of that I’m sure.
Mark Chiarello: So, like an idiot, one day I come out to California once in a while to do business, and I was having lunch with Jeff, who I’d work with through Tim Sale. I was having breakfast with Jeff, and we had a great breakfast, we were chatting, and I said, “Man, I got to tell you. I was talking to Jim Lee and he just reveres your work. He thinks you’re the best writer in comics. He said he would love to do something with you, but he’s kind shy about it. He doesn’t want to ask you.” And you sort of saw it on Jeff’s face, “Hm, interesting.” And then, four hours later I was in Jim’s office, when I was in La Jolla, San Diego at Wildstorm, before they moved. I was in Jim’s office talking business, and by the way, what I said to Jeff was that I had never talked to Jim about. I just thought I’d be Machiavellian, and I am Sicilian, so that kind of goes, and I did the same exact thing to Jim. I said to him, “Hey, Jeff Loeb really loves your stuff.” They both fell for it, and my work there was done. I think they had four issues in the can before they even started publishing the book. It was really kind of cool.
Mark Chiarello: I’m real proud of that because at that time, people were really questioning whether comic books periodicals were going to exist because everybody wanted to do graphic novels and special format stuff, and I love comics. I love the periodicals. I hope they’re always around, and I’m really proud that Jim and Jeff’s Hush book really reinvigorated the monthly comic book, to a degree.
Alex Grand: Right. There was a lot of excitement about that story.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, and then a lot of artists and writers said, “Wow, that’s cool. I want to write regular comics, too.”
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s right.
Jim Thompson: All right. So, I’m going to go off script for a couple of minutes and just nerd out on a few things I wanted to ask you, and then get back on track. Can we talk about Alex Toth for a few minutes?
Mark Chiarello: Sure.
Jim Thompson: Because you were actually friends with him, weren’t you?
Mark Chiarello: Very good friends, yeah, for about 15, 16 years.
Jim Thompson: Yeah. See, that’s special because not everybody certainly doesn’t have that duration of friendship with him. Talk about that. When did you guy become friends?
Mark Chiarello: Right after college George Pratt who I mentioned, he knew I was a Toth nut because he was too, and we’d, “Oh, did you ever see this comic? Did you ever see that comic?” George said, “You can write to Toth. He lives in California and he loves corresponding with people. He’s not big on the phone, but if you write him a letter, I bet you he would write you back.” And I was like, “Oh my God, really?”
Mark Chiarello: So I wrote a letter. I wrote this ridiculous fanboy, “Dear Mister Toth, you’re God and I worship… ” I’m sure it was awful, but he wrote back to me on a postcard. He was really notorious for his postcards he would write in really small print on the back, really this very neat print on the back of the postcard, and he wrote, “I really liked your letter. Sure, I’d love to correspond with you. Send me another long letter, kiddo, and we’ll chat about stuff.” And it was a good friendship. I mean, yeah, Alex is really famous for being bipolar and turning on his friends eventually, which happened to me to a degree, but I had a lot of good years in there.
Mark Chiarello: He would do the coolest thing. If he sent you a postcard, if you got a postcard in the mail, which I saved, I have all of them, I have hundreds of them, but he’d write you letters, too, and he’d write it on stationary and what he would do is, he always kept a sketchbook, but like the kind your mom has. Just smaller white paper that you rip a page out and you send it. So had dozens of those that he would just, all day long, he would sit and sketch in and do these drawings. So when he would send me a letter in an envelope, he would take five, 10, 20 of those pages and fold them and put them in with the letter. So I’ve got, Jesus, I’d say 300 of those sketch pages. I put them in a portfolio, and I looked through this portfolio, and I’m just like, how lucky was I that I knew this guy? My artistic hero, I was friends with this guy.
Jim Thompson: Wow. He’s my favorite. I mean, he’s just the most interesting, innovative one and I wish he had a bigger following. Have you ever thought of doing anything with that work? Making it accessible to other people?
Mark Chiarello: I have. A pal down in North Carolina, a guy named John Hitchcock, also corresponded with him, and John did put a book together of all the sketches he had, and I thought about it and one of my very best friends, a guy out here named Ruben Procopio, sweetest guy on the planet, he was really, really, really good friend with Toth because he lived in the same town. So he would go take Toth groceries and they were incredibly close, and when Alex passed away, Alex had… I’m sorry. Back up for a second. I would go visit Alex once a year, after San Diego Con I would drive up to L.A. and then go spend the day with Alex, and it was nine, 10 hours sitting on his couch just talking.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s cool.
Mark Chiarello: Oh my God. You’re sitting with God. It was bizarre, and he was really knowledgeable about every topic under the sun, and I remember one time he had this portfolio by the side of his table. He lived in the Hollywood Hills, this gorgeous house, but anyway. You know those portfolios that are sort of like boxes? They’re rectangular, but there’s the hinges, and you open the top and the top opens up? He had this art portfolio leaning against the coffee table, and the first four or five times I went I kept eyeballing it, and it always stayed in the corner on the table.
Mark Chiarello: And one day I said, “Alex, you know I really want to look in that portfolio. Let me look.” And he laughed, and he said, “Yeah, go ahead.” And he had all this stuff in the portfolio that was never published work. Stories that he had started and drawn maybe four pages of and then given up on or stuff that no one had ever seen, and it was really cool to look through, and when I was done I put it away and I thanked him. But when he passed, Ruben got that portfolio and he still has it to this day, and Ruben and I have always talked about, “Man, we should publish that stuff,” because we’re both still very close friends with Alex’s kids, and I’m sure they would let us do it and the profits would go to them, obviously.
Jim Thompson: Oh, I would love to see that.
Mark Chiarello: Well, I thought it would be really cool and maybe I’ll get around to it someday. I thought it’d be cool to publish that stuff in a nice, slightly oversized book, but then if I were to take one of those sketchbook pages and tip it into the front of each copy, and sell it for more, and again the money would go to the Toth kids. Like a deluxe version of it, that way you’d get this cool book, but you’d also get an original Alex Toth drawing in it.
Jim Thompson: I will start saving now for that.
Mark Chiarello: I’ll send you one for free, how’s that?
Alex Grand: There you go.
Jim Thompson: I would take it. Wow.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I would love to eventually do that. I mean, because what’s going to happen to that stuff? I’m going to look through it every now and then and get a lot of joy from it, and then sell it eventually. I’d rather people have it, you know?
Alex Grand: Yeah.
Jim Thompson: I am so glad I asked you that question. This is so fun for me to listen to you tell this story. That’s just great. A couple other things-
Mark Chiarello: I’m glad you’re a Toth fan. I love when people say Alex because so many people say Jack Kirby.
Alex Grand: Oh, yeah, but Toth wasn’t all tied up in superheroes either.
Jim Thompson: I love that story where Kirby had Toth come over for a barbecue and they sat there and neither one of them knew at all what the other one was talking about, in terms of their methods.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that stories being attributed to me because I did that, I think, it was on the Alex Toth documentary, but I don’t want to tell the same stories over and over again, but man, that story cracks me up.
Jim Thompson: Yeah, I thought it was hilarious.
Mark Chiarello: Can you not picture Jack Kirby and Alex Toth sitting in Kirby’s backyard, at the swimming pool? Can you picture those two titans talking about comic books? Holy shit!
Alex Grand: Yeah, huge.
Jim Thompson: I would like to see a reenactment of that, because it’s such a visual moment and the fun of writing that dialogue. It would just be great.
Mark Chiarello: It really would.
Jim Thompson: So, there’s a few things that came out over DC that I wondered if you had your fingerprints on to some degree, just because I thought they were such visual treat. One was, after 52 the series came out, the release of the covers book, which was so well packaged. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought I would ever buy just that book of covers, but those were magnificent week after week. Did you have any thoughts about that?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was good friends with JG Jones who, when I lived in New Jersey he lived in the next town over. We’d hang out a lot and he was one of those artists that always had his sketchbook with him, like always, and he would show me these little sketches he was doing, I guess it was 52 covers in a row. One a week, for a whole year.
Jim Thompson: It’s amazing!
Mark Chiarello: It’s amazing! Honestly, the amazing thing about that is the quality of each of these covers was so… Oh my God. He killed it. He really nailed it, and to do one a week for a year is just an impossible task. So I called him and we were chatting on the phone and I said, “I’m going to pitch doing a book of collecting all these covers and all your little sketches.” He goes, “Yeah, I’d love to do that.” And then an hour later Dan DiDio walked in my office and said, “Hey, we should do a book collecting all of JG’s covers.” And I was like, “That’s a good idea. We’ll do that.” And then the editor, I apologize, I forget who the editor was, the next day said, “Hey, we should do a book of all JG’s covers.”
Mark Chiarello: So, again, yes it was my idea, but I didn’t take credit for it.
Alex Grand: Awesome. We’ve talked about Darwyn a little bit, and we’re going to talk about him more, but that 2014 the Variant cover month, where he did all of those, that was fantastic. I mean, those characters and DC of the period where I feel in love with it better than anything I can think of. Was that something you had anything to do with?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I asked Darwyn to do those. That was my idea because, I had been away from DC for about six months now, but for the last like five years I ran DC’s Variant cover program and at first it was themes, like selfie months and Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Newman meets the DC Superheroes months, and I was sort of running out of ideas. And I thought, “Well, why don’t we do artist month, where one artist does all 25 variant covers.” And Darwyn was the first guy I asked because I just loved his work, and I agree with you, those images are so iconic. So graphically creative and, again, he drew 25 covers I think maybe in a month and a half.
Jim Thompson: And so many of those will be in my brain forever. I mean, the same way that some of those 52 ones were. They’re just so well conceived and they’re just so solid that they don’t go away. Boy, there’s so many of those in that particular cover run. I mean, those are just fantastic.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, totally agree. Without getting off into Darwyn too much, Darwyn is a really complex guys, a lot like Toth. He had his flaws as a human being, but he could be the sweetest guy you’ve ever met, but he could be the biggest asshole you ever met, too. But, look, we all have our demons, but man I love that guy. I miss him. I think he’s… and you’re probably getting a sense I’m really prone to grand statements like, “Oh, so and so’s the best comic book artist.”, I really feel, honestly, that Darwyn was the best writer/artist of all comics history.
Mark Chiarello: Some people say, “Oh, he was kind of retro.” He wasn’t retro at all, he was epic. He understood iconic imagery and iconic storytelling and he got to the core of these characters. Look, like I said, when I was a kid I loved Marvel. Spider-man’s still my favorite character, maybe a tie with Batman these days, but I was a Marvel nut, and I came over to work for DC and I kind of didn’t understand many of DC’s characters. Like The Flash, he runs fast. Big deal, who cares? Oh, Green Arrow, oh yeah, he shoots an arrow. Big fucking deal. Who cares? But man, working with Darwyn on New Frontier, he showed me, he made me see the power of those characters and why so many fans loved Green Lantern.
Mark Chiarello: Man, as a Marvel fan, give me The Hulk, give me Captain America, give me The Fantastic Four. I just didn’t understand Green Lantern, but man, I totally Green Lantern now because of Darwyn because he understood it.
Jim Thompson: In a single panel, he could make you like Wonder Woman if you had never appreciated that character in your whole life, and he would draw her on that table and suddenly it’s like, “Oh, yeah. She’s badass. I suddenly get Wonder Woman.” Or the panel where Robin is jumping up and down while Batman’s talking to Superman and it’s like, “That’s Dick Grayson.” He had such an incredible instinct about it. It’s just amazing.
Mark Chiarello: Well, he had respect for these characters. Youre absolutely right, he had respect for these characters. He didn’t want to shit on these characters and make Green Lantern an alcoholic.
Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah.
Mark Chiarello: Let’s retrofit the back history of these characters. He always went to the core of the creation of the characters.
Jim Thompson: Right, Flash running to Vegas because of Captain Cold and that’s brilliant.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Oh, and he based that Captain Cold on Grant Morrison, by the way. If you look closely it’s Grant Morrison.
Jim Thompson: No, really? Oh, that’s awesome!
Alex Grand: That is cool.
Mark Chiarello: Yeah, but I loved working with him. Man, I really loved working with that guy. I had called him not that long ago, I guess a year and a half ago, two years ago, whatever it was. I had come up with an idea, one of my kooky ideas for a project and he loved it, years ago. He loved it. He really wanted to do it. He thought it was a brilliant idea, great idea. We were going to do it, then we had this really big fight. We had this really big falling out, again, because Darwyn is Darwyn and I’m perfect. So I’m sure it wasn’t my fault.
Alex Grand: There you go.
Mark Chiarello: But he really wanted to do it and then we had that big fight. So I forgot it for like three years, four years, whatever it was, and then about a year and a half ago we made up. We became friends again and everything was cool, and about a year and a half ago I called him and I said, “Hey, time to do that Batman book we talked about.” And I apologize, I’m getting a little emotional about it, but he said, “I can’t.” And I was kind of like, “What do you mean you can’t? Come on. It’s a great idea.” And I didn’t show it to him on the phone, but I got a little pissed off and like, “Well, why the fuck not? Come on man.” And he’s like, “I just can’t do it. I really want to do it. I can’t do it.” And then the next three days later he called me back and he told me why he couldn’t do it
Alex Grand: Because of medical reasons?
Mark Chiarello: I apologize, I’m getting a little emotional here, but because he knew what was going to happen to him.
Alex Grand: Yeah.
Jim Thompson: Wow. Wow, all right. That’s hard.
Mark Chiarello: Boy, I just brought down the room.
Alex Grand: No, that’s okay. I mean, I like the back story. I think Jim does too.
Jim Thompson: I think everybody knows that loss, and you knew it personally, but comics knew it because he was. For a whole generation, he’s that guy that maybe older people had with Kirby or with Steranko at some point or with different people. Cooke was that guy. He was that level, and you don’t get those very often.
Mark Chiarello: Very rarely. Very rarely. You’ll see artists and writers who were as talented as him, but there was something special. Like look, Adam Hughes, I always say he’s the best draftsman I’ve ever worked with. The guy can draw anything, but you’re right, there’s something that was a throwback to Jack Kirby with Darwyn.
Jim Thompson: Well, on those Hughes covers that he did for Wonder Woman, especially, you look like you were having such a good time with him on those.
Mark Chiarello: They were fun, yeah. They were fun. I was at a convention, I was at Shelton Drum’s great convention in Charlotte, Heroescon some years ago, and I always wanted to work with Adam Hughes because I loved his stuff and, “Oh, there’s Adam over there. I’m going to go talk to him.” And I was like, “Excuse me. We don’t know each other,” but he knew who I was and I said, “I’d love for you to draw some covers for me at DC.” And he kind of like, “That could be fun. I’d like to do that.” He said, “Well, what characters you thinking of?” And I said, “Well, how about Wonder Woman?” And man, you could see, he couldn’t contain his glee that I asked him to do Wonder Woman because that’s what he wanted to ask to do, right? But I’m not dumb. That’s what people want to see. People wanted to see Adam Hughes do beautiful women, beautiful strong heroic women. Nobody does that like Adam.
Jim Thompson: And Wonder Woman had the most incredible, between Bolton to Jones to him, I mean, there was a run of years and years where Wonder Woman covers just had one brilliant cover artist after another doing really long runs on it that was amazing. And his stand up to anybodies, for sure.
Mark Chiarello: You know, you had mentioned the Bolland covers were great and [inaudible 01:10:58] is a great Wonder Woman cover artist, and Nicola Scott. They all pale next to Adam Hughes when it comes to drawing Wonder Woman.
Alex Grand: When I interviewed Steranko, when he was talking about modern artists, he singled out Adam Hughes as someone that he always keeps his eye on. That he really finds his artwork interesting. So it sounds like there’s something special there for sure.
Mark Chiarello: There really is, and when I was working on Wonder Woman I would always send Jim Steranko, who’s a pal, I’d send him tear sheets of Adam’s Wonder Woman stuff. Like, “Check this dude out!” Jim’s a real scholar when it comes to the history of illustration, and he said, “Man, Mark, this guy’s as good as anybody.” And think about that. Who are the great, great, great, great draftsman in comics history? Frank Frazetta, Brian Bolland. Adam’s as good as any of them.
Alex Grand: In the real of illustration especially, right?
Mark Chiarello: Yeah.
Jim: You know, since we’re on this subject, one other thing, when we were talking to Tim Sale and with Chaykin, they both pretty much pronounced Dave Johnson as the best cover artist currently working and has been for a long time. What do you think of that?
Mark: Dave, man, Dave sensibilities and mine are really very similar. We both like really graphic images. Dave’s such a hardcore designer. He could draw incredibly well. I wish I could draw like Dave Johnson can draw, but he just gets imagery. He gets picture making. They’re like posters, you know?
Alex: Yes, that’s right.
Jim: Yeah, that’s right. They are. They work so well on covers. Because I think covers, a lot of times, have become sort of just a … They don’t tell a story. They don’t really bring you in necessarily. His covers always bring you in, whatever he’s doing.
Mark: Yeah, I went on … Again, when I was running the Variant covers, I told Dave all the time, because he’s a pal, he’s a real pro. He’s always on time. But I knew I was going to get back a piece and just go, “Holy, shit, look what this guy did.”
Mark: But I would love the idea … I did that with Frank Cho. And I did with that Josh Middleton. It was astounding.
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Mark: Ryan Sook, Ryan Sook is just crazy. The guy’s just so talented. It was a pleasure to do that job.
Jim: The last thing on covers, with … and this actually relates to you, is that run that you did with Tim Sale of Detective Comics in 2003 to 2004, which I think along with Johnson’s Detective covers were just as good as Batman covers could possibly be, but those are brilliant that Tim did with you. And I’d like to know what the collaboration process was between the two of you.
Mark: I think Timmy was really at the top of his game when he was doing those. He was so … Look comic artists want to draw the great classic characters, the great villains, right? You don’t want to do like …
Mark: Tim would call me, “Okay, so who’s this month?” And I’d say, “Oh, it’s the Joker,” and he’d be cool. He’d be really jazzed by it. It wasn’t oh yeah, Batman’s fighting Banana Man this month, because then you’re like, “Oh, shit, I have to figure out … I don’t want to draw that.”
Mark: But that run had so many great villains in it, that Timmy just keyed off on that stuff, and he was nice enough to let me color them, and they really fun. It was a really fun … It was kind of a triangle. It was the editor to the artist to the colorist. He did quite a few, as I recall.
Jim: Yeah, I think during that run, and you did almost all of them with him. I think you did 17 in total and maybe more.
Mark: Yeah, I really distinctly remember some of them being really fun. Timmy’s such a great … I shouldn’t call him Timmy. It makes him sound like he’s six years old. Tim’s such a great visualist. His stuff is so idiosyncratic. It’s a little like Paul Pope, we’re sort of like, “This guy shouldn’t be drawing comics.”
Mark: It’s not Johnny Somebody. It’s not John Romita, it’s not Main Street Comics. It’s their own vision. Fortunately, Modern Comics allow artists to do that, but I just loved Tim’s view of the world. Again, it’s very influenced by movies, film galore, and poster artists from 30s.
Mark: Often, I would call these guys and, especially Tim and Adam Hughes and Dave Johnson, and I would never really talk about the job. I would never say, “Oh, well what do you think you’ll do on this cover?” I would talk about … We would talk about Norman Rockwell or geez, did you see that show on Netflix? It was really well shot.
Mark: Or talk about famous American illustrators, and then we’d get off the phone and you just had a great conversation, and you were happy to be an artist, a working artist, so they’re just trying to do their best work I think.
Mark: I wasn’t tricking them. I certainly wasn’t tricking them into doing their best work. I just liked talking with these guys about stuff I’m interested in and stuff they’re interested in.
Jim: And then you would get the best work?
Jim: That’s great. I want to get this Solo super quickly, because you’re giving me all these … bringing up hope and different things, it makes me want to talk about it. I just want to quickly ask you about the Guide tocoloring and lettering comics with Todd Kline. What was the origin of that project?
Mark: The publisher, did a series of books with DC, the DC Guide to Creative, the DC Guide to Penciling, the DC Guide to Writing, the DC Guide to Inking, and they were going to … They had heavy hitters doing them.
Mark: Denny O’Neill wrote the one on writing and Klaus Janson did the one on penciling and inking, and they asked me to do the one on coloring. And I was like, “Oh, man that’s going to be a lot of …” I said to myself, “That’s going to be a lot of work. I really don’t want to do that, but I don’t want anybody else to do it.” So accepted it. I think for years it was pretty highly regarded as like the bible of how to color comic books.
Jim: Has coloring changed to a degree, that does it still apply?
Mark: The technical side of coloring has changed, because Photoshop comes out with a new version every year and a half, whatever it is. But the first half of that book is about the aesthetics of color, and all that stuff doesn’t change. It’s how to have good taste. How not to be all over the place with what you’re putting on the page.
Mark: When comics first got into computer coloring, it was really gimmicky right off the bat. You had a lot of lens players everywhere. You had people using way too much color, and different colors, and well I have a million colors available to me, I’m going to us all one million of them. That ain’t what it’s about.
Mark: You see some great colorists like Laura Martin and all these … the historic Trish Mulville], all these great, great colorists, they’re not using all those colors. They’re just using the computer like an art tool. It’s just like a set of oil paints or set of watercolors or good markers. It’s the talent you bring to the table, not the tools that you have at your disposal.
Jim: So going now to New Frontier, because chronologically that’s where we are, 2004, I would have focused on what your contribution was to the book, as an editor. Like did you work whit him in terms of the whole package, the cover? It’s so well designed from the first page to the last page, as is Solo.
Alex: These are not just comics that have a cover that’s not related to the next page and the next. It’s a whole. And that’s so clear in New Frontier, so I want to hear not just what Darwin does, but what did you do to that project?
Mark: Look, I’d love to take credit for the look of New Frontier. I’m a designer as well as an art director and an artist, and if you look at Solo, that’s completely me from the logo to the way it’s designed, everything about that. And Wednesday Comics is completely me. I did the whole thing from a design standpoint, Batman black and white.
Mark: But Darwin, he did everything on that book. I would talk to him literally every day about where the story was going and art, sent pages in, but that’s Darwin’s aesthetic. I’d love to steal some credit, but Darwin just … He did the whole thing from the covers to the inside design to obviously the art to write it. That was all Darwin.
Mark: It goes by to Archie. Archie just had to facilitate these guys, make it easy for them to do their job. Make it easy for them to sit down and write or draw. That’s what I get with Darwin. I just let him-
Jim: So when those pages and the concepts were coming in, was everybody in the DC offices just in awe of it? Because it’s just an amazing piece of work?
Mark: Yeah, I mean Darwin’s a little … His stuff is a little polarizing, because so many people revere it, but you had a few people who thought, well that’s just cartoony, or he’s just doing Bruce Timm. He was influenced by Timm, also influenced by Kirby and Toth, but Darwyne is Darwyne.
Mark: I never liked when people said, “Gee, that’s just too simple. That’s just cartoony.” That’s such a stupid thing to say, especially.. Like when people love to tote stuff, a lot of people will say, “Oh, it’s too simple.” You try to do simple. Hey, it’s easy to draw a shoulder and draw 40 lines for that shoulder, try to do the one right one for that shoulder.
Alex: Right, there you go.
Mark: That’s what’s difficult.
Jim: That’s great to know. And just as even more about Darwin that that’s so much just a coming completely from his head. Let’s move to Solo. Solo, which was done between 2004 and 2006, which you said was one of your babies in terms of design, and everything, was it conceived by you to be a limited series of 12 or did you just see … wanted to see how far it would run?
Mark: I wanted to see how far it would go. Sales were good on it, but they weren’t great on it, but it was more of like a real hardcore fan darling, you know?
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Mark: Some people look back on it with great fondness that … I was just being selfish. I just wanted to work with these artists, and I wanted to see … I remember though when Archie worked, when Archie Goodwin worked for DC, I remember going in his office, “I have this idea. Look, I love super heroes, but I’m getting a little tired of them. Nobody does western comics anymore. Nobody does romance comics anymore. Could we do a book that’s just all … like all romance comics or prison break stories?”
Mark: He’s like, “Well the problem with that is if you do one issue that’s all westerns, then the next issue is prison stories, you get no momentum, because it’s a completely different flavor.” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Mark: And I thought about it, and thought about it, and was like, “Well, maybe if the focus is the artist, then you’re going to walk into a comic shop and see, “Oh, Tim Sale, I like his stuff,” so you’re going to pick it up, and you’d be tricked into reading all the different genres that I asked the guys to do, the guys and gals to do.
Mark: I was just looking at the collection of the Solo stuff the other day, and man, there was some cool stuff in there. I was really lucky. There was some really cool stuff in there.
Jim: Well before we get to the ones that did get made, I want to just ask about the ones that didn’t, in terms of were there artists that you planned on having or that you talked to about it, and it didn’t happen because you ran out of time, or because they couldn’t do it? I know Kaluta said something on their Facebook group about how he so wanted to do that, and then it didn’t happen.
Mark: Yeah, I remember mentioning it to Kaluta. I don’t know that it had ever … I ever actually asked him officially, but I love Mike’s stuff, so I would have been cool. Walt Simonson was going to do one. He wanted to interconnect all the stories.
Mark: And I was like, “Cool, go ahead, great.” I know he was having deadline problems on some other project he was trying to wrap up, so Solo got canceled before he got a chance to do much more than maybe a couple character designs.
Mark: His idea was he wanted each story to be different characters and different times through history. And the connective tissue was a coin that each character had the same coin throughout history. He eventually did it, once Solo was canceled, he did it as a graphic novel called the Judas Coin.
Jim: That was going to be a Solo project?
Mark: That is the initial at Solo, yeah, that he never got around to doing. I forget why he couldn’t do the Solo, but he had to step off, and then like maybe two years later, he pitched it as a graphic novel. I’m glad he did, because it’s a really beautiful piece.
Alex: Yeah, I like that. I’ve read that.
Jim: It seemed like some of the people, who went and eventually did Wednesday Comics would have been … Kelly Baker is the most obvious one to me, but there were people like that that just cried out that they should have been on … gotten to do a Solo issue.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve got to use a lot of those people. You’re right, I used a lot of those people on Wednesday Comics, but Jim Lee started drawing an issue of Solo. I think he did three pages, and he is officially the busiest guy on the planet, so he never proceeded with it.
Mark: I really like Howard Porter’s work, and he showed me his sketch books one time, and they were just like … His comic stuff is great, but his sketch books are just like from another world. I said, “Oh, man, you should do this stuff.” And then it was canceled. And Sienciewicz was going to do one, and George Pratt was going to do one, but the book was canceled.
Jim: Ah, those both would have been great. Well, let’s talk about the ones that actually did get published. Did you start with Tim Sale just because he finished first or was there a strategy to how you were going to do these in order?
Mark: Well, obviously, when you kick off a project you want to get a real popular creator on it. Timmy was very popular at that time. He was just coming off, I guess, the stuff he did with Loeb for us, I have to stop saying us, for DC Comics, Dark Victory.
Mark: So I knew he had a real following, and he’s really an artist’s artist. He really … I got my cake and eat it too, I got to hire an artist I really loved and respected their work, but also somebody who was really popular.
Jim: Right. And you actually colored one of those stories on that first issue, right? Did you do Prom Night?
Mark: Did I do Prom Night? Which one’s Prom Night? I forget which one that is. I know I colored the Film Noire one, the Azzarello one, the almost black and white one.
Jim: Oh, did you do that one?
Mark: Yeah. Which I think is Tim’s best work to date. I think that’s just astounding. I know I colored the last story, which is about his mom and dad, which was monochromatic, like green and tan.
Alex: Yeah, that’s a nice one.
Jim: Isn’t that where he’s going off to the prom? Maybe that’s … because that’s the one I love is that he’s in the driveway. He’s leaving. He’s walking away and his mom … There’s a picture of his mom and dad looking but-
Mark: You know you’re right. I think you’re right, yeah. I know it’s about … They mention … They talk about a French obnoxious song a lot in that story, so that’s-
Jim: Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s Prom Night. It’s my favorite page from that issue is that one, as good as the Noire one is. It’s just that one’s personal to me. I just love it.
Mark: Real nice. That, actually, I shouldn’t say this, but I actually wrote one of them also. I shouldn’t say that though.
Alex: Because it’s not on the official credit you mean?
Mark: Yeah, Chip had, like a year earlier, Chip had done … He was dating a girl, and they went on vacation to the beach, and he drew this three-page story of him and her walking on the beach. It was really beautifully drawn and painted, but it had no dialog at all.
Mark: He sent me scans of the pages, because I love his art and wanted to share it, and I said, “Ah, this is a gorgeous.” And just as a joke, I put dialog in there, like … I made it where they’re having a fight on the beach, and he’s all pissed off because he’s got to go back and draw Spiderman Red, White and Blue or whatever that book was with the deadlines and all that stuff.
Mark: It was just a gag. And then when a year or two later, when he did Solo, I said … No, he said, “Let’s print that artwork. I’ll draw a few more pages to it. I’ll fill it out a little, but I want you to dialog it for real.” So I wrote the dialog that’s in that story.
Mark: Which had nothing to do with the images, really. I just made up this story about a guy who had to kill his girlfriend for them.
Mark: I shouldn’t have said that, because Tim’s going to be real mad at me that I said that.
Jim: So the second issue, you went with somebody that, I think at the time, wouldn’t have necessarily been instinctively another big seller, which was Richard Corben, primarily known for his earlier magazine work. What was your decision to go with him next, and also what did you think of that issue?
Mark: It was an absolutely fascist mercenary decision. I’m a really big Richard Corben fan from back in the days when there was such a thing as Underground Comics, and he would draw these incredibly bizarre, gorgeous comic books. I had asked him to draw a Batman black and white, eight-pager.
Mark: I think it was in the first issue. I think it was. And we became kind of friendly, and I asked him to do this Solo, and one of the great, great artists. I really loved what he ended up doing for that book.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: He wrote all those stories.
Mark: I wrote maybe … He said he wrote about 90% of them. I think there was … Oh, no, Jonna City wrote the Spectre story I think.
Jim: Ah, let’s talk about that for a second, because it’s interesting to me, one, Dave Stewart colored it and it’s … I mean it shows. It’s great, but also wasn’t Corben, at this point, in a real religious phase of his life?
Mark: I don’t know if that’s true. I honestly don’t know. He’s a real interesting guy, but I don’t know that there was … I’m not sure. I’m honestly not sure.
Jim: I had read that, which was interesting, because the Spectre is a tricky character in that context, but I thought his visual of the Specter was really original. I had not seen the all encompassing use of white, the way that it was used in that story, I thought was really fun.
Mark: Yeah Big time really cool.
Jim: The third issue was Paul Pope, one of the best … I think that’s one of the best issues of the whole series for me. I love that. If you don’t fully appreciate Jack Kirby, Paul Pope surely does, because that OMAC recreation is just so much fun.
Mark: Yeah, another guy who just really has a real respect for the history of comics and brings his incredibly unique take to that world. I think I may have colored a couple of those stories, as I recall.
Alex: Oh, cool.
Jim: And the next was Chaykin. What’s your take on Howard?
Mark: I love Howard. Howard’s the greatest. I really liked that last story where he talked about how, as a kid, he was too scared to read horror comic books. I loved the autobiographical nature of that story.
Jim: That’s an aspect I really like about this series, when any of them actually bring that in, and we’ll get to Darwin Cook’s beautiful story in terms of that next, where he does that with World’s Window, which I assume is somewhat autobiographical.
Mark: That book is yeah. Like one of the later issues was Sergio Aragones, and on one of the pages, like maybe page two, he’s talking on the phone to his editor, and he’s making all excuses about why he’s late drawing his issue of Solo, and the editor was me.
Mark: So he actually said, “Oh, yes, Mark, I’ve already drawn half the story [inaudible 00:19:21],” when I got the pages in, and I’m like, “Holy, shit, Sergio’s [inaudible 00:19:25] talking about me, like specifically talking about me and mentioning Mark, mentioning me in the comic book.
Alex: That’s cool.
Jim: Yeah, that’s also one of my favorite issues, because it’s so autobiographical. It’s like half autobiography and half take me back to plop, and it’s just so much fun. I think that issue really works well. The only thing I’d say about the Chaykin one was it’s not just that last story, but the one before that is so EC focus too, because it reads just like one of the Preachies that Wally Wood did.
Jim: So it seems like it was … So that leads me to a question, who decided the order of the stories in that? Was that you or did the artists say here they are and here’s how I want them to be told?
Mark: It was mostly me figuring that out. Some artists would say gee I’d really like it to go in this order, and if I agreed, I certainly would say yeah that sounds cool, but I did it. I had to do something editorial there, editorially on it.
Mark: But I would say hey I think this is a good flow, because you have a western, next to a super hero, next to a romance. I would always plot it out like … I would always do a book map with little thumbnails on each page, so I would … I’d no the flow of how the book went, so you don’t have two really long stories next to each other or two westerns next to each other.
Jim: But it was nice that there were a lot of westerns in this series all together. The next one, issue six, with Jordi Bernet, has that stalking horse story, again, with Dave Stewart, and it’s … One of the things, when I was going through it, re-looking at this was boy those Stewart colored ones just jump out at you like you recognize oh, I bet that’s one of his too, because you just … It’s just there’s something that just pops out of the page with his colors.
Mark: Yeah, and Dave’s one of the few guys I’m real jealous of, because he’s a better colorist than I am, and that’s probably why I stopped doing coloring, because he’s just so good.
Mark: He’s the nicest guy. He’s really laid back and stuff, but he’s man, what a talent. and yeah, Like Mignola, and yeah those Solo stories …
Jim: And then, let’s see, Michael Allred, that issue, it just seemed like he was so happy to be playing in super hero land, and I don’t think it’s … because he’s the first one that that’s all he did in this was … It seemed like it was every story was now I’m going to do Kirby Fourth World.
Jim: And now I’m going to do Teen Titans, and I’m going to do a pinup of Metal Man. He embraced that aspect of it like no one had before him in terms of this series.
Mark: The one made up was okay it’s short stories, you can do whatever genre you want. You can write whatever you want relatively. The only rule is you have to do at least one super hero story, one DC super hero story.
Mark: So you get all these artists who wanted to do different genres, science fiction, and they begrudgingly would do the super hero, but Allred would just want super heroes. Like you said, he did all those characters and did all those super heroes he wanted to do.
Alex: Yeah, it seemed he really liked the silver age of super heroes. It seemed like that’s a big influence on him.
Mark: Yeah, we really shared that, because we were both big 60s fan of the 60s and 70s stuff, and …
Mark: I don’t know you two met Mike and Laura Allred?
Mark: They were truly the nicest, nicest people you’ll ever meet. They’re real decent human beings. They’re just optimistic about life and how lucky they feel they are to be working in the business and drawing their heroes. Man, I can’t say enough about those two people.
Jim: Oh, that’s great. And she’s super talented too. She’s a great colorist.
Mark: Man, yeah.
Jim: What a team, so then Teddy Christianson, and I love this issue an awful lot too, I think the art in this is just fantastic, and it’s got a real theme to it. It’s a beautiful cover. It’s the interiors are great. That love story in that is just really nice. We’re you pleased with that issue?
Mark: Yeah, I’m really glad to hear you say that you liked it because Teddy was such a polarizing artist that he like … We did an issue with Damian Scott and people came into my office and said, “Wow, this … He’s such a modern artist,” and it really took balls to use him on this project.
Mark: “I really love this stuff,” They said. Then the other 50% of the people came in and said, “This isn’t comic. This is crap. What are you publishing?” I would kick them out of my office, because they were wrong, but that’s talented Solo was to use artists who are really liked.
Mark: And knowing that Teddy Christianson’s just an incredible, incredible artist, but some people might not like it, but you can’t … We can’t all be mainstream, you know?
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: No, it was quiet, and it had an art with a capital A feel to it, that I think there’s a whole segment of comic fans, who probably didn’t respond to that. And it’s kind of amazing that he worked at DC, and that some of these guys worked at DC, when they don’t have styles that are traditionally friendly.
Mark: Yeah, and the difficult thing with Solo was one artist pulling all the weight for a single issue, so if you don’t like Tim Sale, you’re not going to buy that issue. But with Batman black and white, I was able to, the very first issue, I asked Jim Lee to do the cover, because he was incredibly popular and a great, great artist.
Mark: But if you look in that issue, there’s a Jose Munone story in there, that most kids had never heard of at that time, because he was a European artist that I really worshiped, so yes I kind of tricked people into buying the book and getting something that was good for them without them knowing it.
Alex: Ah, that’s awesome.
Jim: So there was the Scott Hampton one, and that’s an old friend of yours, that he did, and were you pleased with that issue? He messed up his styles. That’s the one where like you could see a route with most of the artists, like even though they differed the approach to it, but his are so different from story to story in that issue.
Mark: Yeah, he’s such a multi-talented artist. He’s got such a variety of his stuff. He can draw any way he wants, which is such a rarity. Some of those stories in there … my absolutely favorite in the entire series, he did a story about a real EC comics pastiche in there. And there’s a story about a little boy who meets Batman, but it’s really not Batman. It’s a guy.
Jim: Yeah, I love that one.
Mark: Oh, god, it just brings tears to my eyes. I think it’s just beautiful.
Jim: And then we do the Damian Scott one, which I fully appreciate being polarizing, and again, that’s fascinating, because where you have the one story where Brian Stelfreze inks it, and it changes it completely.
Jim: It seems so much more accessible on some level. I like that. And then I turned to the last story, and that double-page spread on the bat is like the coolest thing in the world, so I think it’s a totally …
Jim: It’s a strong issue that ought to be considered. I bet it was probably the most polarizing issue that … well maybe the last one, which we can get to.
Mark: Yeah, it really was. People loved it, and people hated it. And that’s fine. That’s cool.
Jim: And then everybody loved Aragones, right? That issue had the-
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, that was a no-brainer. I just … man-
Jim: Did that sell better?
Mark: Not necessarily, it sold about medium. Obviously, the Tim Sales, and the guys who were real popular at the time, those sold really well.
Jim: Yeah, I would think Sale and Cook would be the ones that we’re probably just easy ones.
Mark: Yeah. The series sold fairly well. It wasn’t a big success, but it was a big, creative success. That’s okay.
Jim: And then Brendan McCarthy is the … probably the most challenging one, like that’s like wow, DC readers probably were not ready for that. Their brains probably exploded.
Mark: Yeah, I don’t know that I was ready for that either. I respect that he’s such a mad genius, and I wanted to publish a genius, but it’s not real accessible, but man there’s some creative stuff there.
Jim: And that’s one where it has a … It goes from page to page. It’s not just like four stories. It has a unity of insanity running throughout the entire thing.
Mark: Yeah, you feel like you took … just took acid and read a comic book.
Jim: Yup, that’s pretty much what it was. It’s like if you didn’t know, just thinking about it, you could look at that issue and say, “Oh, well that killed Solo.” That’s the end of that.
Jim: Anyway, I want to thank you for that series, because it’s such a great treat for people who really love comic art especially, because you’ve got it in a way that you don’t often get it, so-
Mark: Well thank you –
Jim: Thanks for indulging us and talking about that in the detail that … any other thoughts about Solo?
Mark: No, there is that weird wave of nostalgia like, “Oh, that’s why comics were good,” you know by some people. I’m real proud to have been a part of that. I appreciate that you liked it, and that people do remember it really well.
Mark: It was an experiment that was a little … maybe a little induldge-ment on my part, but hey, as long as it sold okay, and people liked it, then that’s good enough for me.
Jim: And the package and everything, when you say that that’s all you, it is one of the most memorable runs in terms of how it’s designed in the visuals of cover to cover and back to back. It’s such a well conceived book, not even talking about the content, but just the thematics of it, visual thematics of it.
Mark: Okay, thank you.
Jim: So Alex, you want to … I’m worn out for a few minutes, talk about Wednesday Comics.
Alex: So Wednesday Comics, that was 2009, and I loved it. I read all 12 of them, and I just love how it’s arranged, like a Sunday comics from the newspapers back when they were early adventure strips, so how did the Wednesday Comics come to be?
Mark: Like many people, I am a fad of the old Sunday comics, the old comic strips in the newspaper. They used to be so big. They were physically so large. And then over the years they got smaller and smaller essentially.
Mark: But as a fan of comics, and comic strips, I really missed those days of … You know I’d go back and collect stuff that was around in the 30s and 40s and I’d love to introduce the Krazy Kat, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, it was obviously before my time, before our time, but it was a different world.
Mark: We forget, because we never knew that this was as popular as movies and television, and then right up through all the adventure strips, like we mentioned Terry and the Pirates, any Star Trek movie, any Star Wars movie and James Bond movie. It was just great. I was very good friends with editor, Joe Cavalieri at DC, and Joey is a real knowledgable guy, he kept saying we should do something with the strip, and I had the same exact idea, so I put it together, and it was really fun. It was a weird experiment. I wondered how it … how people looked at us on it, I liked that. I really liked working with it, and working with the people on it. I worked with some really great names again, but I sort of do wonder how people look back on it.
Alex: Well, I love it. I looked back on it the other day. Was it hard to pitch to DC at the time? Were they like well this sounds a little too avant garde, or was it a full green light from day one?
Mark: Not a full green light. I was just mentioning the other day in an interview about how Paul Levitz was the boss at DC would always give me a hard time. I’d come in with all excited about hey I want to do this new project, and he’d look at me like, “No, we can’t do that. That’s not going to sell. Research has shown that black and white comics don’t sell.” Whatever.
Mark: He’s an incredible intelligent guy, and he probably had reasons, had hard core data to prove to back up what he was saying, but he always would say no to me and I would always get upset and walk out of his office, storm out of his office, and then go pitch it again another two months later. And I think I eventually wore him down on a lot of this stuff.
Alex: I see.
Mark: But yeah, I mean, even after the point where I did a big … I pasted together comic books in the size and shape of Wednesday Comics to show him exactly what it would look like, and I think he could tell from my passion that yeah, okay, let’s go ahead and do this.
Alex: Right that you’d treat it right, yeah.
Mark: he’d say get out of my office.
Alex: Then how did you select the artists and writers?
Mark: Again, just as a fan. I always think the best thing to do as a editor is to come up with projects that you want, that you would want to read, that you would want to put on your book shelf, so working with …
Mark: Sure, of course, I wanted to work with Paul Pope and Neil Gaiman and Eduardo Risso again, a few of them, I asked a few of them who weren’t able to, like I wanted Tim Sale to do that Batman one on the cover, but when he wasn’t supposed to do that. I think he was doing something at Marvel. But I was just as happy to get Eduardo Risso to do it and Azzarello.
Alex: Right. So Jim and I are going to talk about some of the individual ones. So Metamorpho, story by Neil Gaiman, art by Mike Allred, it’s an interesting team of those two talents, I thought. And it’s about Metamorpho, a company, Simon Stagg, to an expedition in Antarctica, so how was it receiving those pages from them, and did you give them ideas on layouts before getting the pages from them, or was that just kind of they created it and sent it to you? How was that? How was that process?
Mark: The artists always worked with the writers, and they designed their pages. They came up with how they would approach the visuals. I never asked any of them to do them a certain way, a specific way. That was all them, and some people drew them, because again, they were really oversized pages.
Mark: Some people drew them with separate panels, and then they Photoshopped all the panels together, because the physical size of an art, a piece of art paper to draw it on would have been enormous, but sure enough, Allred drew them full size, and he showed me the original. They were like posters. They were incredibly big.
Mark: Yeah, so huge too if you see those originals. They’re enormous.
Mark: But that was all, again, Archie Goodwin, hire the best, and let them do what they do. Don’t tell Joe Kubert how to draw Sergeant Rock page, he knows what he’s doing.
Alex: Right, and then Demon Catwoman, the story by Walt Simonson, art by Brian Stelfreze, and Catwoman is trying to steal and artifact from Jason Blood, and it was a Morgan Le Faye plot or a ploy, and then they actually sparked their own little romance between Catwoman and Jason Blood. So none of that’s supposed to be canon, right? These are just basically fun, imaginary tales for this format, right?
Mark: I honestly think all this stuff I did, editorially, Batman black and white, Solo, Wednesday Comics, I think none of that is considered canon really, because it was just fun stuff, you know?
Alex: Right, like artistic statements right?
Jim: And we’re talking DC, does canon even … Is that even in a vocabulary any longer?
Mark: I will not answer that question. I don’t think anybody did anything that contradicted the basic canon, sort of canon of the characters, Superman was Superman, he didn’t … He wasn’t smoking a cigarette on page two, you know?
Alex: Right, sure. So then the Hawkman, I love that, because there’s an Alex Raymond vibe with Hawkman, obviously. And the action and the illustration, it just had such a warrior approach to it, but the story and art was by Kyle Baker, and Katar Hol fights off airplane hijackers.
Alex: There’s an alien invasion. He ends up on Dinosaur Island. Aquaman kind of helps him out at the end. He loses his wings, but what a fun story, because you have the orchestration of the birds and planes and the hijackers and alien invasions and monster islands or dinosaur islands, what was it like seeing those pages? Were some of those pages just more than you expected getting?
Mark: Oh my god, Kyle’s such a mad … another one of these huge mad geniuses, that pages would come in and I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “Oh, I want to do this whole … I want to do the whole story like as 3D graphics, you know? I want it to look real dimensional.”
Mark: I’m like, “But Kyle, can’t you just draw it with a pen? You know? Like you’re old style.” No, I’ve got this great idea. Kyle’s this weird mixture of … He’s sort of a cross between Jack Davis and Will Eisner, you know?
Alex: Right, that’s interesting.
Mark: There’s a real fun nature to his stuff, and man, he goes down as one of the geniuses. He’s like Robert Crumb. He’s just he thinks a different way than normal human beings.
Alex: Yeah, that’s an interesting comparison, so then Sergeant Rocks, story by Adam Kubert, and art by Joe Kubert, which is awesome, because I was a big fan of the Green Beret strip. I read every single on I think, and Sergeant Rock is captured by Nazis and tortured, and he escapes the torture.
Alex: This was obviously towards the end of Joe Kubert’s life, but were you a Joe Kubert fan with his earlier stuff, and how did it feel getting these pages and overseeing pages from him?
Mark: It’s Joe Kubert, yeah, I just … Holy cow, you talk about Kirby and Toth, and Joe Kubert’s right there, any comic’s artist just worth is salt is just the biggest Joe Kubert fan. I met Joe. I got to know him, because we worked together a little bit on that, and a few other projects, but …
Mark: And he ran that school out in New Jersey out in Dover. I’d go visit him to do some business, and stuff, and I’d be like … Look, you’re going to think I’m a moron, but I’d be literally like, “Holy, shit, you’re Joe Kubert. Oh, my god, Joe Kubert, Joe Kubert.”
Mark: And he’d look at me like, “Mark, take it easy. What’s wrong with you?” I just couldn’t help it. It’s Joe Kubert. So yeah, so working with him and Andy on that was really … I was a little nervous, because what if he draws something you don’t like, you’re going to tell Joe Kubert to redraw something? It never happened, but … yeah.
Alex: Yeah, all those pages are great. He was great until the very end, right? He could do … He still kept that skill through all those decades, so Superman, story by John Arcudi, art by Lee Bermejo, it’s kind of an interesting story in that an alien kind of …
Alex: They give him doubts about his connection with earth, but those panels, Superman, even in his argument with Batman, and the story, it just had such a heroic portrayal of Kal-El. What did you feel of the sequence of those pages or quality of that illustration when that was coming your way?
Mark: I’m such a big fan of Lee’s work, Lee Bermejo, I think Arcudi is one of the great writers in comics. I wish he would do more mainstream stuff to play with those characters. Every time he does it’s really great, but and Lee Bermejo, dude, I hate the guy, because he’s this great-looking guy.
Mark: He’s this great artist. He’s really smart. He’s really talented. It’s like the guy’s got everything going for him in life. He’s a good pal, but got I love his work. I like to see him as successful as he is.
Alex: Yeah, that’s awesome, so Batman, story by Brian Azzarello, art by Eduardo Risso, and there’s a murdered man’s estate, and a femme fatale, and it was interesting, because although he catches the dead man’s wife as the person who ended up killing him or being responsible for his death, Batman kisses her at the end right before she dies.
Alex: So you could tell he likes the bad girl, that seems to be an interesting theme with Batman. What did you think with that? How did that hold up as a Batman story?
Mark: I thought it was great. I thought it was a nice plus however to … you’ve got your flagship character on the front cover. Azzarello’s always a great writer, always a great writer, I’m such ] such a big fan of, I haven’t looked at those issues in quite a while. I should re-look.
Mark: I think I remember getting that page in. I may be mis-remembering. I apologize if I am, but it seems to me that when I saw it, he’s kissing her and she dies, but she’s going to say something like she’s going to … I forget, she’s going to spill the beans about something and he keeps kissing her and not allowing her to say what she was going to say? Am I mis-remembering? Like he doesn’t actually kill her.
Alex: Well when I read it it looked like she realized it was Bruce Wayne.
Alex: And then she said, Bruce, question mark, and then he kisses here, and there’s like blood on their faces a little too.
Mark: Yeah. Like I think he likes, the way I read it, like he holds the kiss a little too long and she days, so she can’t say out loud what she’s thinking.
Alex: Oh, that’s funny, because the cops were right there too.
Mark: Exactly, yeah, that’s right.
Alex: All right, Jim, you talk about yours.
Jim: Okay, I’ve just got a couple I want to talk about. The ones that I tend to love the most are the ones that it doesn’t look like a comic book that’s just drawn big, but instead looks like it’s doing something like the old sheet [inaudible 00:41:38], like it looks like a newspaper sheet.
Jim: I thought that Sook just nailed it with his Hal Foster instead of Jack Kirby, Kamandi, that’s one of my favorite out of everything that was done on the Wednesday Comics.
Mark: Oh, yeah, how beautifully illustrated was that?
Jim: I think it almost changed the notion of command … It’s awfully hard to do that when Kirby creates it, but I think that Ryan Sook made such an impression on that character with that that it actually carries over, that’s how people … Some people now have that in their head as Kamandi, which is really something.
Jim: Yeah, it’s just great. That was a standout. The other standout for me was I think that Pope’s Strange Adventures is some of his best work ever, and he’s got a lot of best work, but that’s just … talk about trippy, that’s like a whole different experience from I thought anything else.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely agree. You know I always thought those pages, those pages reminded me of like San Francisco concert poster art.
Jim: Yeah, totally.
Mark: I always wish somebody would have printed those on real nice paper as posters. I bet that would have been real cool.
Jim: Yeah, just the strongest stuff I’m crazy about. Those are the two that I, out of besides some of the things that Alex mentioned, those are the two that really stand out for me, that I could just look at over and over, and seem like something you would see on a comic strip newspaper page rather than anything else. I really like the Dave Bullock, Deadman, I think he just … a couple of those, where he uses the entire page, is just really, really crazy and fun. It looks like he’s just having such a good time doing this, and- That’s what I like on that one.
Mark: Yeah, no, I agree with you. It’s got a real power to his stuff. I really wish that he was doing more comics these days. I thought he was a real force. He was a real force around that time.
Jim: I agree. I loved his work.
Mark: Yeah, he was real good friends with Darwin. They had worked together at one of these animation things. You saw a little bit of Darwin in there. You saw a little bit of Jack Kirby, but Bullock’s stuff is all Bullock. Man, I wish he would come back and do some comics.
Jim: And the other one I would say that I liked because it was really using the concept of that page, was the Flash comics. I tended not to like the main super hero stories as much as some of the fringe stuff, but the … and that was just my taste, but the Flash one, because it broke it up in that Iris West, and just the logo of Iris West and doing those two things on the same page, I followed that with a lot of joy.
Jim: And then halfway through, when they take away Iris, and they put in Gorilla Grodd and suddenly it looks like a Tarzan strip that was exciting to me.
Mark: I thought that was … Who was that? That was Karl and … Karl Kerschl?
Mark: I forget … my memory-
Jim: Brenda Fletcher, or Brendan Fletcher.
Mark: Brendan Fletcher, yeah. I thought that was honestly … I thought they played with the possibility of this format more than any other of those stories in Wednesday Comics.
Jim: Yeah, that’s why I’m including that with as good as Sook and Pope was, I thought they were the ones that really got the concept.
Jim: Yeah, such fun stuff.
Mark: Ah, cool.
Jim: Did you want to do a second series and just … it just wasn’t going to come together?
Mark: It was a lot to put together, because as an editor, I was one of the rare editors who actually … I did all my own production, putting the pages together, and getting it ready for the printer. I had to do all that stuff myself and that’s a lot of work, so I was sort of like wow when I was done, man I was really done.
Mark: But then like two, three years went by, and you tend to forget the pain you’ve been put through, or you put yourself through. You know when I pitched it again, and to Didio, and to Dan Didio, he said, “Yeah, we’d like to do that again, but we want to do it as digital comics, direct to digital.”
Mark: And I was like, “That doesn’t really make sense to me, because the charm of Wednesday Comics is that you held this big piece of paper in your hand, and really the size was the cool thing.” But if it’s digital, you could blow it up. You could blow any picture up big or small, so it’s…
Jim: That doesn’t make any sense at all. That would be an interesting project to do in a Scott McCloud, here’s all the possibilities of doing it digital, but it’s not … It violates the entire premise of what this was.
Mark: I felt so. I thought so, so I kind of backed off, backed off of it.
Mark: I started talking with a few people, like Harlan Ellison, I asked Harlan to … He’s a great science fiction writer. I asked Harlan to write a story for me. And he said, “Man, I have the greatest idea, Walt Simonson was going to draw that. So I started aligning them up, but then it just kind of fell apart.
Jim: Oh, boy. Well, I just wanted to … I’m going to have one last thing to talk about, which was the … before Watchman Series, starting with before Watchman Series, and I just wanted to ask you first, what was your feeling about it, I mean about Watchman and Alan Moore’s wishes? Did you have any trouble getting your head around that, doing that project?
Mark: I’ll tread lightly here, but I disagreed with a lot of … as I respect it, disagree with a lot of … He worked on other creator’s characters, that the companies owned, why can’t we work on the characters you created?
Mark: There was a lot of backlash. It was kind of a funky time. It was people were again very split right down the middle. Azzarello and all these guys were not going to just put anybody on this thing. I was so proud of what Darwin did on Minute Men.
Jim: Did you have input into the approach of those ones that you edited?
Mark: They would tell me what they were thinking of doing, and I’d say, oh, that sounds good or … Like I remember the Amanda Connor one, Silk Spectre the bad guy was supposed to be Frank Sinatra. Like it literally reads Frank Sinatra was supposed to be the bad guy. He was going to look like Sinatra and legal said, “Don’t even think about it.”
Mark: So I think it would have been a slightly better project if it could have been actually Frank Sinatra being a bad guy.
Jim: I want to bring us to the end of DC, and I don’t know, Mark, what you want to say or how you want to say it in relation to that, except that this year, your time with DC ended, and to the incredible irritation to many, many of us. What do you want to say about it?
Mark: Well I honestly was saying that I … Yeah, it was kind of heartwarming to see the response that … from everybody on Facebook, and so many artists and writers and creators and fans and stuff, that it made me feel like I didn’t just waste 26 years of my life working for a company.
Mark: But yeah, without getting into too much, corporate America stepped in. AT&T bought Warner Brothers, and Warner Brothers owned DC Comics, you know maybe they don’t care that much about the creativity of this stuff.
Mark: They had to cut money, and I made a big paycheck, and they thought of me as a dollar amount. It’s just okay whatever. You know, look, business is business, and I think that’s something people forget, comic books are a business, and DC is there to make money.
Mark: Marvel is there to make money, and hopefully you can make some art along the way. Look, I don’t begrudge AT&T for their business decisions. In response I just need to move on anyway. I wanted to get back to doing my own artwork after all these years. I’ve started doing that.
Mark: I’ve got some really cool projects for early next year, that I’m working on now. I’m actually having a good time drawing for the first time in a long time.
Alex: That’s nice.
Jim: It sounded like your job was a real time drain, and exhaustion, such that you didn’t get to be the artist that you obviously are.
Mark: Yeah, but I had, all those years, I had that insecurity about my own art, that I sort of hid behind the job. Look, at the end of the day, it was a great job. Man, I did some fun stuff on that job. It was DC. I loved DC Comics.
Mark: I worked with some great people, Karen Berger and Mike Carlin and all these great, great people in the office. I get to work with Jim Lee every day. That’s pretty cool. I’m not too crazy about one or two other people, but there’s no need to get into that.
Mark: It was a great, great job. I think it’s okay … It’s a good thing to be part of a collective to make … I like to think maybe I made comics a little better from being a behind the scenes guy, but you’re right, I did put my own artwork on the back burner, and maybe it’s time to do some art again.
Jim: Right, there you go, and I think a lot of people are excited about that too, about that aspect of it.
Mark: Yeah, cool.
Jim: So besides comics, this is more of a side thing that we’re mentioning at the end of the interview is you worked on cards for a long time. In the 1990s you did a series of cards on the history of the Negro Leagues for baseball. And then that was collected in a book for Abrams Publishing in 2007.
Jim: You’ve done some Star Wars trading cards, Temple of Doom cards, and you’re able to exercise your illustration muscle on these. Can you tell us a little bit about the card career and your involvement in that?
Mark: Someone, I’m a big baseball nut. It’s really a passion of mine. I did those Negro League cards for Eclipse way back when. I think it was like 1989 I think, and then they collected them as a book. This is Charlie Kochman at Abrams collected them.
Mark: The trading ones are fun, because being a comic book artist, an interior artist, is really difficult. You have to draw six panels on a page. It’s a lot of work, as I’m finding out right now in my new freelance career, but you do a single image, you do a cover, when you do a trading card. You spend a day on it. You’re in. You’re out. You come up with a cool image. And you don’t have to draw Spiderman swimming across a city. You know?
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: So yeah, I always loved doing cards. They were really, really fun. On the baseball topic, I just finished my second baseball book. It’s about the 100 greatest baseball players of all time.
Alex: Oh, wow.
Mark: … illustrated. Yeah, and I’ve been working on it for the last five years in my free time, but I’m doing it at the Kick Starting program for the beginning of next season, the 2020 season.
Alex: How nice.
Mark: I hope you keep an eye out for it.
Jim: Yeah, we’ll make sure it’s mentioned on the Facebook Group page too. That’s exciting.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alex: Thank you so much, Mark Chiarello, for joining Jim and I today on the Comic Book Historian podcast. It was really exciting for us to talk about your involvement in comic’s history, the various key figures in comic history that you worked with, as well as yourself. We really appreciate you joining us today and taking time out of your schedule to do this. Thank you so much.
Jim: Yeah, thanks Mark. I apologize for talking so much myself, but it was just great talking to you about all of this.
Mark: No, really nice for having me you guys did a great job. You made it really pretty easy for me to talk about myself, which is hard.
Jim: Oh, good.
Alex: One last thing, Carmine Infantino, he was an editorial art director, then he was publisher, do you feel like your art position and art directorial position was … Are there any analogies going on there between your involvement with DC and his?
Mark: Maybe in a minor way. I think Carmine was right out of the show Madmen. It was the 60s. And he was a cigar-smoking guy, who would tell people what to do. He was incredibly creative. It was a different world. I liked to think I was …
Mark: Again, I like to hope people maybe think of me in the same sentence as Archie Goodwin, although I know that’s incredibly egotistical to say. If I learn something from Archie then man, I’m happy with that.
Alex: Yeah, maybe that’s right, the Archie Goodwin of the 2000s, I can go with that for sure.
Mark: haha oh, thanks.
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