Comic Book Artist Edited by Jon B. Cooke Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.

Darkseid emits his deadly Omega beams in Walter's art for an Overpowers trading card game set. Courtesy of the artist. ©2000 DC Comics.

Simonson Says

The Man of Two Gods Recalls His 25+ Years in Comics

Conducted by Jon B. Cooke. Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson

From Comic Book Artist #10

Though Walter Simonson had planned to be a paleontologist-that's a person who studies dinosaurs, folks-as a college student in the 1960s, the Marvel comics of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko changed the would-be scientist's mind and led him to pursue a career as a comic book artist. Frankly-and, no doubt, inconsequentially-Walter is my favorite comics personality, friendly, approachable, generous, funny, and smart. The artist-writer, though facing crunching deadlines with his hellish monthly schedule writing, penciling, and inking Orion for DC (never mind coordinating back-up strips for the title), allowed Ye Ed into his home for two four-hour interview sessions (on July 12th and August 17th), suffered my rummaging through his enormous personal art collection, and even took me out to lunch on both occasions. Gracias, Mr. S., and also many thanks to that other cool cat, Walter's missus, Weezie. The artist copyedited this transcript.

COMIC BOOK ARTIST: If you don't mind, I'm going to gloss over "Manhunter" a little bit...
WALTER SIMONSON: No problem. Been there, done that.

CBA: ..but it set your career?
WALTER: It did. You asked earlier about what fan reaction I got. There was no fan reaction, because there were no fans, at least, none that I had talked with then. There was no way to get that kind of feedback. But, what "Manhunter" did was to establish me professionally. Before "Manhunter," I was one more guy doing comics; after "Manhunter," people in the field knew who I was. It'd won a bunch of awards the year that it ran, and after that, I really had no trouble finding work.

CBA: How many chapters were there?
WALTER: Seven.

CBA: As the series progressed, did you start getting feedback? I know it was Archie's decision, but the final issue, you were getting the whole book, with Batman and Manhunter teaming-up...
WALTER: Again, I don't know what kind of feedback Archie was getting, I really don't remember much except from my friends in the business. Maybe there were letters coming in, and I do remember one fan in a Manhunter costume at one of the cons. The last "Manhunter" issue was a full story for two reasons: One is we wanted to do it; it seemed natural that we do a Batman and Manhunter team-up. They were in the same comic, they had different styles, in some ways, Archie had created Manhunter as a counterpoint to Batman, we thought it would make a neat story. The other thing was, from about chapter five on, we knew Archie was leaving DC. He'd been asked to go back to Warren, and decided to accept the offer. We also knew Julie would take over Detective Comics, and do Elongated Man or maybe Hawkman back-up stories. And really, I wouldn't have done "Manhunter" with anybody else writing it. So, we knew we were going to wrap it up from about issue five on. With that in mind, we decided we would tie the series together and complete it. It seemed natural that we'd finish with a longer story, and also it gave us a chance to use Batman and make him part of the series before we left. That's really why that 20-page story came about.

CBA: You said you would do a page in a week, and that was a 20-page story.
WALTER: Well, I was pretty close to my limit on that one. [laughter] I'd gotten faster, but I was pushing my deadlines. But I always do. In fact, during that last chapter, Archie had already left DC, so I was going down to Warren to trade "Manhunter" pages with him.

CBA: You get accolades from doing "Manhunter." Did you start getting work from other companies?
WALTER: I stayed with DC for about four years. I liked working for them. For one thing, back then, the view was that Marvel was an artists' company, and DC was a writers' company, and the reflection of this was that mostly artists got paid better at Marvel, and most writers got paid better at DC.

CBA: With the "Marvel Method," artists also had to write at Marvel.
WALTER: Yes, you had to do more work, but there was an additional degree of creative freedom. However, I presume because Carmine liked my stuff so much, my DC rate was higher than my Marvel rate. And hey, given an choice of equal jobs, if I'm getting more money over here, then that's where I'm working! So, I worked at DC for about four years. I did two short jobs for Seaboard, one of which saw print, one didn't, and that was about '74, '75. They were paying phenomenally well, double rates.

CBA: Did Jeff Rovin or Larry Leiber contact you?
WALTER: No, Archie worked for Seaboard for a while. He was writing for them. The Destructor and some other stuff. (There was a real nice Toth job that came out of there.) I think probably Jeff was the editor at the time, so we did a Samurai job for him. I was getting paid double rate, so it was hard to turn that down! I did two jobs, the Samurai job called "Temple of the Spider," which Archie wrote. It actually came out in the last Seaboard comic to make it into print, Thrilling Adventure Stories #2.

CBA: With the Neal Adams cover?
WALTER: Yes, and under that cover, there was a Russ Heath job, a Toth job, and a Severin job. It wasn't bad company! [laughter]

CBA: You did one of your best jobs for them!
WALTER: I'm not embarrassed by the story I had in there, even in that company. I think it is one of my best and I was still young, too, only two or three years in the business.

CBA: And what's the missing job?
WALTER: Oh, I did a monster job. Seaboard had been doing some kind of a pastiche of Rodan and Godzilla, all the Japanese monsters, and I did the third chapter of a continuing story but the company folded before it ever came out. I drew it, but the artwork disappeared when the company evaporated. I did get full-size stats of it. Jeff took care of that right before he left Atlas.

CBA: And Archie wrote that?
WALTER: No, I think the writer's name was Gabriel Levy. I'm not positive it was Gabe-I've never met him-and I worked from a full script, but that's the name I'm remembering. There were three jobs completed in the series featuring these monsters. Enrico Romero, the guy who's been doing the newspaper strip Modesty Blaise for years did the first one. Howard Nostrand, I believe, did number two, and I did the third one. Pretty goofy. We were doing the same monsters in the same story, and nobody drew the monsters the same, I mean, it was really funny!

CBA: But you really liked that job, right?
WALTER: It was fun, yes, I did like that job a lot. I did some stuff in it that I really enjoyed, with both the storytelling and the drawing. These days, people sue at the drop of a hat, but back then, I drew a version of the monster Gorgo, including the folds in his costume when his arm bent. [laughter] I'm not sure I was that successful, but I tried to draw it like a guy in a rubber suit. [laughs]

CBA: Your First Issue Special with Dr. Fate was memorable, and you went to town on that.
WALTER: Well, I did. That was actually my attempt to out-Ditko Ditko. I wasn't trying to draw like him, but to imitate his inspiration. One of the things I loved about Ditko's "Doctor Strange" was the rather wonderful job he did creating a graphic system of magic. The dialogue was cool, but Steve created a complete visual system of magic based on vectors and circles that rendered the magical aspects of the strip visually coherent. The sorcerers weren't just firing energy blasts but actual vectors that rendered the magic both visually exciting and intimated at the underlying existence of structure to it. Magic in comics is often depicted either verbally-"Oh, by the bristling hair of Flear; in my hand I find a beer!" with some rhyming baloney, or else guys are shooting special effects force blasts at each other. Could just be ray guns. There's no sense, really, of an underlying reality to the magic. That's one of the difficulties with writing magic well in a story; it's easy to do anything you want to do. After all, it's magic! To make it work for me, there needs to be some sense of limits and parameters, otherwise, it's just whatever you want to have happen. What Steve did, I think, was create a structured, system of graphics that answered these objections. Perfect for a visual medium like comics. A magician could say, "By the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak," or whatever, but once he'd said that, you can see the Bands happen, and you can see how they worked.

So, when I was doing Doctor Fate, I was trying to develop an alternative way to visualize structured magic. It grew out of my admiration for what Steve had done, of course, and owed a lot to it, but I was searching for a different visual basis. In the end, I came up with the idea of using the ankh as a symbol for Doctor Fate, the Egyptian symbol for life, which seemed appropriate for the character. And I used typography as my structure the way I'd learned at RISD, where we'd extract a letter from a specific typeface, and then play with it, make it a design element. We'd use it as a building block and make circles and spirals, geometric shapes, anything the form suggested. It was really a kind of play and exploration. And you discover negative space and positive space in ways you haven't seen before and can build on. It must have worked out okay because everybody who's drawn Fate since has used the ankh.

CBA: Did you work Marvel style with writer Marty Pasko on that?
WALTER: I don't remember precisely although Marty probably would. Most of my stuff's been done Marvel style, I prefer that, and I'm guessing Dr. Fate was done that way as well. I do remember that we were right in the middle of doing the story when DC informed us they'd cut back their page count by two pages-I think from 22 to 20-so we had to shorten the story. That was why Kent Nelson's wife, Inza, finds a little piece of pottery shard or whatever it is that's got the bad guy's name on it so quickly to help her husband.

CBA: Was the hope to do a regular series?
WALTER: It wasn't really a consideration. If they'd offered, we would've done it, but I don't remember any rumblings in that direction. The story was designed for an issue of First Issue Special as a solo story. I think we just wanted to do a cool Doctor Fate story. As far as I know, we did the first full-length Doctor Fate story.

CBA: With Metal Men, did you have any affection for the old Kanigher/Andru/Esposito stories?
WALTER: I actually had the first Showcase they were in, among the many other comics I've lost over the years. I bought 'em occasionally, and I liked them. They were pretty goofy, and I enjoyed drawing them in my turn. It was weird because I ended up having three writers in five issues. Steve Gerber wrote the first story as a full script, so I didn't work with Steve personally and he'd gone back to Marvel by then. It was one of the few full scripts I've done. After that, Gerry Conway-who was working at DC-got the nod to do a regular series, so he did two issues, and then I think he went back to Marvel as well. And Marty Pasko wrote the last two issues I did. Actually, all of those guys are good writers, and I enjoyed working with all of them. Each writer, of course, had a different take on the characters, and where he wanted them to go, and I found after three writers in five issues, I was beat, just really exhausted. By the end of the fifth issue, we had a couple of characters from earlier story plots hanging around the book with nowhere to go. Gerry and I had had the idea to take Tina's brain out of her body and put it into a mortal body. We'd introduced a female character so we could bump her off in some brain dead fashion, and then make Tina a real girl for a while. Marty wanted to go somewhere else, which was cool. But we ended up with these extra characters I had to keep on drawing! [laughs] With the changes in writers and plots, by the end of the fifth issue, I felt "Oh, man, I think I'm done!"

CBA: How long did you last on it?
WALTER: It was bi-monthly. I did five issues... almost a year that I was penciling and inking it. That may have been the first full length regular comic book I penciled and inked.

CBA: When did the jump to Marvel kick in?
WALTER: I guess in '77 or thereabouts. I'd done a couple of illustrations for Haunt of Horror, a little Marvel pulp horror magazine, in '73 or so. That was the first stuff I did for Marvel. Then, I'm guessing The Rampaging Hulk was probably the first regular character continuity I did for them.

CBA: Did Doug approach you about the assignment?
WALTER: Doug Moench was the writer but I expect Marvel got hold of me. John Warner was the editor, and he'd been a friend of mine over at DC and Gold Key. I imagine John got in touch to see if I wanted to do it.

CBA: He was a black-&-white editor, right?
WALTER: That's right. They had this black-&-white Hulk book coming up, and Alfredo Alcala was going to ink it. At that time, '77 or thereabouts, I'd already done stuff I hadn't inked, Hercules Unbound for DC, which I did layouts for Wally Wood to ink. I had decided that I really wanted to learn to draw faster. I wanted to make decisions more quickly about storytelling. I needed to do a bigger volume of work for a while, to be able to figure out how to make those decisions more rapidly. So, the Hercules Unbound material was the first work I did that I wasn't inking. I'd been doing comics three or four years by then. I took that gig because Woody was inking it. It was a chance to work with Wally Wood! I was delighted! Layouts? Sure, no problem! But I found that I could concentrate on storytelling problems just doing layouts that other people would finish. I didn't care if it looked like my work or not when it was done. I didn't expect it to just doing layouts. But it forced me to consider storytelling and scale more closely, to learn to storytell faster. It was really a sort of educational period for me. So I took The Rampaging Hulk assignment, I did layouts on Thor for a year with Len Wein writing, and some other oddball jobs here and there.

CBA: Did you get paid full penciling?
WALTER: The layout rate was your pencil rate minus $20, and then the inker would get a finishing rate, his inking rate plus twenty bucks. The company would spend the same amount of money for a finished page, but the division of money was a little different on layouts versus pencils.

CBA: I thought Rampaging Hulk was very nice work.
WALTER: It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, pal!

CBA: [laughs] Yeah, in the scheme of things. It hearkened back to the '62 Metal Master era [Incredible Hulk #6]...
WALTER: It was very silly, and it was a lot of fun. I didn't have any real input in the stories. Doug would turn in these immense plots that we'd have to squeeze down to 40 pages or whatever it was, but they were enjoyable. I only did three issues, but they were double issues, around 40 pages or so. About six months worth of work, probably a little longer, knowing me. It was fun to go back and do the original X-Men, the Metal Master. We invented the Krylorians, really old Marvel monster-era villains. I tried doing a really over-the-top Hulk with those giant beetling brows, and flat head!

CBA: What did you think of Alfredo's inking on it?
WALTER: I thought he did a nice job with it. The only thing I'm really concerned about if somebody else is inking my layouts is that the inker is concentrating as much on his end as I am on mine-I'm doing less work overall on layouts that I'd do in pencils, but I'm not sloughing off, and I want an inker who doesn't either. Alfredo was really excellent. The first and third stories were all ink wash, I think the second was maybe all line or something textural, I don't remember exactly, but he was putting a lot of time and effort into it. It was real interesting, quite different than if I'd done the finishes myself, but that's one of the neat things about these kind of collaborative efforts.

CBA: You haven't done Iron Man, have you?
WALTER: Iron Man I haven't really done. Spider-Man, I haven't really done.

CBA: You did that Iron Man pin-up that harkened back to Gene Colan's work.
WALTER: Oh, yeah, I could do a pretty good Gene Colan Iron Man right now. [laughter] The opportunity never came around, I guess, and I had good luck finding work. I'd be asked to do things, like Mark Gruenwald asking me to do Thor. But when I first read Marvel comics, I had four books that were my core favorites. They were Thor, Spider-Man, "Iron Man" and Fantastic Four. I liked the Hulk okay, but he was never one of my top favorites. I liked Spider-Man too, but I don't know that I wanted to do him. The character felt far enough off from my own interests that I was never sure I could do a really decent Spider-Man. But it's a character I really enjoyed, particularly in the Lee-Ditko stories. I think it's some of Stan's very best work-good stories, good character interactions, all that teenage angst he was doing, all those kids and their soap opera lives. I wouldn't mind doing Iron Man sometime, although I'd explode every damned suit he's had since Gene Colan's work. Blow them all up and go back to Gene's. To me, they all just look like bad versions of Gene's suit!

CBA: Then you did Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
WALTER: Yeah, it was somewhere in there, when the movie came out, '78 or so. Columbia Pictures was just awful about it, so that made it one of my less-great experiences in comic books. I made up for it a year or two later with Alien for Heavy Metal. That was a fabulous experience, the best licensed property I've worked on in comics.


At the top is Walter's splash for his early '70s version of Star Slammers and, at bottom, his 1980s revise for the Marvel graphic novel. © Walter Simonson.

Charlton first published their song lyric magazines starting in 1935, only adding comics to their line-up by the Autumn of 1945 with the release (under the Children Comics Publishing imprint) of the funny animal title Zoo Funnies #101 (the #101 giving an indication of the odd numbering systems Charlton would use up till the mid-'60s with annoying regularity). Between 1945-50, Charlton published few titles (Zoo, Tim McCoy, Merry Comics, Cowboy Western, Pictorial Love Stories), with the work out-sourced to freelance editor and packager Al Fago (brother of Timely/Marvel editor Vince Fago), who jobbed-out the assignments from his Long Island home.

CBA: Was the Star Slammers graphic novel Archie's idea, as he was editor of Epic?
WALTER: At the time, Marvel was doing graphic novels, and they were amenable to using creator-owned material. This was in '81 or '82, pretty early in the mainstream comics creator-owned phase. The Star Slammers were characters I'd created who already had a universe behind them, so I went there to look for a story, found one, and proposed it. I don't remember now if Archie said, "Look, Walt, why don't you do a Star Slammers story?" or if I said, "Hey, you guys are doing graphic novels; how about if I do one?" I do remember that I'm responsible for making the first New Mutants story a graphic novel. The Slammers was supposed to be the fourth graphic novel in the Marvel series (which was numbered back then), and I was running... ahem!... a tad late. So Jim Shooter, the editor-in-chief at Marvel, told Weezie [the series editor] that what would have been the first issue of the regular New Mutants series-a double-sized issue-was going to be published as a graphic novel instead. Thus New Mutants became the fourth Marvel graphic novel, and the Slammers became the fifth.

CBA: Did you have aspirations for Star Slammers to be a regular, on-going comics series?
WALTER: If I had my druthers, I'd rather have seen it come out as a series of graphic novels, like Giraud's Lt. Blueberry. I like that format a lot, I like the fact you've got 48 pages, a larger size to play with, and it only comes out about twice a year. It would've been fun to have had, at this point, 16 or 17 graphic novels of the Slammers behind me, but I was offered Thor when I was working on the first one. Mark Gruenwald knew I was a big Thor fan, as we had talked about Thor earlier a fair amount, and when he offered me the series I jumped at the chance.

CBA: Did you have an eye on promoting creator-owned properties, especially when the royalty system kicked in?
WALTER: It's kind of funny, because I see all these hip guys writing angry columns on the Web these days, being terribly cool, grousing about mainstream comics, and how guys like me are wasting our time doing shared-universe stuff for the mainstream companies. Which is all right; I'm not that cool, but I like playing in a shared universe. I got into comics because of characters like Thor and the New Gods and shared universes. And I've had a chance to share in them. It may not have been the wisest financial decision in the long run, but it's been rewarding in any number of ways. Back when we were still getting royalties, we did fine financially. Nowadays, I look back and think, "Gee, maybe I should've done more creator-owned stuff back then." Although really, I just miss those giant royalty checks! [laughter] But I've loved the shared universe work, and I think I'm good at it, that that's where some of my real strengths lie. I've been able to do all the characters I was really dying to do in comics, and The New Gods are probably the last ones I've always wanted to do, the way I wanted to do Thor. "Manhunter" was a dream job, but who knew that was going to work the way it did when I got the gig? So, I have some stuff I helped create, I have some stuff I've jumped in on as it's been going along, and I've gotten to ride the train for a while, maybe take it someplace different and then get off again. I've enjoyed that immensely. I haven't had a burning desire to do creator-owned comics the way that some of the people I know have. And I don't share what I regard as that tad of condescension I see in some folks regarding this part of the field.

CBA: When you first went to DC, like you said, you'd find in the coffee room, Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Michael Kaluta, just a whole bunch of guys who, by '75-'76, just took off to do their own things... Bernie went off to do Frankenstein, had really high aspirations, trying to do truly magnificent creator-owned stuff. You stayed in the trenches in the Big Two, stayed and worked at it, and you consistently make the top ten lists of creators...
WALTER: You must've seen different lists than I see! [laughs] I don't think I've seen my name in the top ten lists anywhere. Well, not for some time, but that's okay.

CBA: Certainly in the generation from the '70s and on up. Sales of your books have been pretty good, right?
WALTER: You know, compared to the hot young guys at the time, I'm not sure say, X-Factor was ever "hot" in the way books are "hot," and that was probably the best-selling monthly book I've done. There were "hot" books at the time we were outselling, but "hot"is a perceptual definition... it depends a lot on whether or not "they" are talking about you in the fanzines, or maybe nowadays on the Web, or whatever, and I don't know my stuff was ever that way. I think I was hot for about eight seconds when Thor first came out. But we got votes that counted on X-Factor. Readers bought us.

CBA: You were hot with "Manhunter." Certainly there was a buzz.
WALTER: Well, again, "Manhunter" was so early, there wasn't much fandom back then. There was some, certainly, but we didn't get a lot of letters; I think any buzzing we heard was just the crickets in the corners of the room.

Preliminary pencil design of Manhunter by W.S., courtesy of the artist. Art © 2000 W. Simonson. Manhunter © 2000 DC Comics.

CBA: But you went to the cons, right?
WALTER: I went to some conventions, sure. Once I moved to New York I went to the Seuling cons. But I wasn't mobbed. "Manhunter" was eight pages in the back of a bi-monthly book, a modest little strip. It's had a long life. It's good work, and it's work I'm proud of. But "hot"? I was in San Diego this year, for the first time in seven or eight years. Back in the early-'90s, I'd get stopped every few feet or so for autographs. That wasn't true this time around. Of course, the early '90's were a nutty time in comics. But this time, nobody really recognized me, so I was able to walk around easily. Which I liked, because I could go check out dealers, hang out behind booths with friends shooting the breeze. I don't think I was ever a hot artist in the way we think of, say, Frank as hot. Chaykin swept-what?-seven or eight Eagle awards in '83 for American Flagg! The work I've done generally hasn't won any awards, another definition of "hot" perhaps. "Manhunter" is my one award-winning work, and it won an award again this year as a reprint which I thought was very funny. I think the first issue of Thor I did picked up a CBG award to two. That's about it. The stuff I do-as far as I can tell-is well thought-of professionally, and it certainly has its fans out there, but I don't know there's a perception of it as being hot stuff that you have to go out and buy. I don't know, this is really beyond my ken. Mostly, I just try and do the comics.

CBA: I see your impact as a reader, especially "Manhunter" and then "Dr. Fate" and some odd things here and there. You brought a sense of design into super-hero comic books that wasn't often there before. Obviously, there have always been artists with a good sense of design-Alex Toth, of course, is the master-but you brought design into the forefront, happening right then. There seemed a lot of promise with your work. A quick question about Manhunter: Do you feel ambivalent now that probably the most recognized character you co-created was killed off inside of a year after being created? He came and went so quickly.
WALTER: No, not at all. It seemed like an appropriate decision then. And believe me, it was a long year while we were doing him.

Initially drawn as the (ultimately-rejected) cover for First Issue Special #9, Walter decided to paste-on a revised head featuring his cool helmet design. The Book of Fate apparently was a (unpublished?) reprinting of FIS #9. Art © 2000 W. Simonson. Dr. Fate © 2000 DC Comics.

CBA: Did you ever think about doing something creator-owned with Archie?
WALTER: Well, "creator-owned," I don't know. We actually talked a year before he died about doing a new mini-series. Archie had some ideas. He liked characters who weren't heavy hitters with super-powers. In his introduction to the Manhunter book-an introduction he wrote 20 years ago for an early reprinting-he talked about how instead of being a fan of the major characters back when he was a kid, he wanted to be the Green Lama, and second banana characters like that. I thought that was great. He had an idea for a character who was super-powered, but only nominally, like Manhunter. Manhunter had a healing factor, and that was about it. We discussed it a bit, and we actually talked to Mike Carlin about editing it as a miniseries, but we never got it off the ground. We started that last Manhunter story. And then my work on the Michael Moorcock Multiverse kept me busy for a year and by the time that was over, Archie was gone. I got to finish Manhunter finally but the other project? We did talk a little about getting together and working on something again, but it just didn't happen.

CBA: Do you have projects you'd like to get out besides Star Slammers?
WALTER: Well, I've got a bunch of stories floating around inside my head and in my computer, mainly, on other projects, other possible stories, other characters. I'll get to as much of it as I can, as time goes by. Mostly, I pretty much focus on one thing at a time, I don't usually think too far ahead.

CBA: You're now doing a monthly series with Orion!
WALTER: With Orion, I'm already two or three years ahead in my mind on stories, if the book lasts that long. I've got easily three years of stuff I have to do. As with Thor, I think in large stories, or large story sagas that I then break down into one-, two- and three-issue story arcs, occasionally four. I did one four-issue story arc in Thor, the Beta Ray Bill story, and the rest were shorter; this opening story with Orion was four issues. That's really as long as I get. Longer than that, to me, seems too much for a monthly comic. So, I try to break my sagas into shorter units. I have two major stories lined up for Orion currently. One, I'm doing now, and one I'll do after. The one I'm doing now is really a tale of the fall and redemption of Orion. That's probably a year-and-a-half's worth of stories, maybe a tad more by the time I'm done. I don't have it really planned out issues in advance. I know where I'm going, I'm plotted out a few issues ahead, but not more than that. That way, I can let new ideas enter the story arcs if they seem appropriate. I have a specific plan for the here and now and a general plan for the future. I always have a little room for improvisation and new stuff, especially in these back-up stories I'm getting done for Orion.

CBA: You mentioned Mark Gruenwald offered you the Thor monthly assignment?
WALTER: Kind of out of the blue. We had talked earlier about my core favorite Marvels when I was a comics reader. Of those titles, the one I really wanted to do was Thor, because of my interest in mythology. I had told Mark about the Thor "annual" I'd drawn up in the late '60s. So he knew I liked the characters a lot. He wanted to bring something fresh into the book, and I'd done a little writing by that time. I had written not only Battlestar Galactica, but also the adaptation for Raiders of the Lost Ark, my second writing gig.

CBA: Yeah? Just as a writer, or did you draw it?
WALTER: No, John Buscema did layouts, Klaus inked it, and I wrote it. I really did it because Archie gave it to me. I was passing Archie in the hall one day; for some reason, I even remember which hall it was in Marvel. Galactica was coming out, and Archie said some very nice things about it. He liked it, and he said he was supposed to write an adaptation of this upcoming movie, and he was booked for time, and would I be interested in doing the adaptation? "Hey! No problem!" I said, "Sure!" So, I ended up doing the three-issue adaptation, which was really easy. John Buscema basically drew the film script-John's one of the masters of storytelling, it made my job really easy-and it worked out very well. Archie liked that script too.

CBA: Was it full script?
WALTER: No. John had the screenplay, and we'd just tell him, "Okay, draw the first issue up to here, and then draw this up to here," and so on, and he drew it, sent it back to me, and I wrote it.

CBA: You were good friends with one of the greatest comics writers, Archie Goodwin. Did you show him your writing and look for pointers?
WALTER: Well, I learned an awful lot from working with Archie right down the line. I helped a lot with plotting the last few chapters of "Manhunter." How could I not learn from him? I don't think I ever took a script to Archie and asked if he'd read it; that seems too much of an imposition, really. But I believe he edited Raiders. I know he read some of my other work after it came out; we talked about some of it. He didn't really offer any pointers, like, "Gee, if you'd only done this, it'd be better," but we discussed the work. Archie could be very gentle and would guide you in directions and I'm not sure you were even aware you were being guided. Besides Manhunter, we did one Star Wars together, and a few Star Wars chapters for Pizzazz magazine, so there was a little oddball stuff here and there. We did Close Encounters, and then of course, we did Alien, where we had such freedom. Working closely like that, I picked up an awful lot and just knowing Archie was looking over my shoulder, inspired me to try to do better work, to try to learn more about plotting and structuring stories.

CBA: You've had an interesting line-up of artists working on the Orion back-up stories.
WALTER: The choices I'm making are on the basis of personal fiat, I guess. I've got a list of artists I'd love to see do back-ups. If this book runs for three or four years, and has a back-up in every damn issue, I still won't get through the whole list. I want to see artists I like who mostly haven't done the Fourth World stuff before do backups. Of course, I spoke to Mike Mignola, and I'd forgotten Mike did Cosmic Odyssey, which involved a lot of these characters, but you know? Tough! I don't care! [laughter] It was a long time ago! But I've talked to artists who haven't worked much on the Kirby stuff, guys like Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Erik Larsen-these guys were in the first batch of Orions-and it was nifty to see them draw those characters, and give them a different take. If the book lasts long enough, I've got some rather unorthodox guys I'd love to get to do it. But I'd like to let the book run for a bit, to see if it's actually found an audience, and then I can afford to be a little more daring, at least for a mainstream comic. I'd love to see Eddie Campbell do a back-up, with all his work on Bacchus. I've spoken to him about the possibility, and he's geared to do it. I want to get that in there somewhere. [laughter] Some of my thoughts are a little bit wonkier, but these are guys I haven't spoken to yet, so I wouldn't put it on the record as to whom I'm thinking about, but I've got my fingers crossed. The early issues, I'm going for more mainstream guys. But basically, I just think, "Oh, this guy is really good! I'd love to have this guy in this book doing these characters!"

CBA: The back-ups make for fun comics. Was a consideration of yours, "Yes, I can commit to a monthly book, if I assign the back-ups"?
WALTER: Well, I said somewhere, "I'm lazy now; I'd like to do a little less work." [laughter] Of course, like everything else, some people take the cracks you make a little too seriously. But five pages less a month is almost a week's worth of work. Now it turns out I'm writing most of the back-ups, so it's not quite as much less time as I'd expected. They do enable me to showcase other people's Fourth World work, which I like. I don't know if this is going to be a huge commercial success in that regard, but I just think it's a treat to work from guys like Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons, Howard Chaykin and hopefully Mike Mignola. I've talked to Art Adams about doing something as well. Another reason for doing backups is that in a lot of the Fourth World books since Jack, I feel the titles have tried to include all of his material-New Gods, Mister Miracle, Forever People, Jimmy Olsen-into one monthly title. That's more than I can cram into a monthly book. My feeling is, if I try that, I'll dilute the central themes I'm working with. My comic is a version of Jack's New Gods, which to me, was the adventures of Orion and his pal Lightray. I think all of the Fourth World characters are nifty characters, and they all deserve their own books, but I just can't do them all the way Jack did. So, by doing the back-up stories, I'm hoping to suggest just a little of the flavor of those four books as well as imply a larger world.

One of my major influences in writing is The Lord of the Rings, I read it when I was in college, and I've read it a few times since. Something I particularly like about it is the sense that there was a world out beyond the reader's immediate vision; you're sitting in the middle of a large woven carpet, and right where you are, all the skeins came together, and they make a thick, tight weave, but the further away they get from you, the looser the weave becomes until the threads run over the horizon. You can't see over there, but you know if you could only walk over the horizon, you could follow them to other stories. I thought that was a wonderful method of construction, especially in a fantasy world. Of course, it turned out that Tolkien had written a ton of stuff, a whole history of Middle Earth beyond just the struggle for the Ring, but it really informed the work. That's something I've tried to suggest in the comics I've done: to imply a larger world beyond just the hero I'm writing about, or his adventures. Back-ups help.

CBA: On your second run, you had Beta Ray Bill destroying the old Thor logo. Were you also making a statement, "I'm going to do my thing now?"
WALTER: You know, "making a statement" sounds so much heavier than it really was. I mean, at the time, yeah, it was just a way of saying, "Hey! It ain't your father's Thor!" I wasn't really trying to say, "Hey, step aside you old guys; I'm taking over now!" so much as I was attempting to engage the reader's curiosity, "Wow, what's going on here?" Although I was going to do my own thing, certainly I tried doing a Thor that was as true in spirit to Stan and Jack's work as I could manage. However, I'm not Stan and Jack, I don't channel their stuff, but I love the work they did on the character. I don't want to do work that's not true to the spirit of the original material. But in breaking the logo up, I wanted to suggest that we were taking off in new directions, and doing things that hadn't been done before, which was the reason I had somebody else pick up Thor's hammer. These days, hefting Thor's hammer is old news; it's been done a number of times since 1983. But it really hadn't been done before that, and that's one of the main reasons I did it. I've already mentioned that when I was reading Marvels toward the end of the '60s, they mostly didn't feel like they were going new places. And that felt true for me for much of the '70s as well. Then Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne reinvented The X-Men anew from the old characters Jack and Werner Roth and other guys had done. They introduced new characters and new situations. That was at the end of the '70s, and it took off. The title felt new. Same with Frank's Daredevil afterwards. It felt like new possibilities were in the air. Which is what I really wanted to do with Thor; stories that didn't feel like you'd read them a thousand times. That's all. That's what I'm trying to do in comics generally. I don't expect you to read every story I do, and think, "Wow, this is better than sliced bread!" But I really don't want you to think, "Gee, this is the same stuff I've read a million times."

At the time, the Thor logo was the only logo Marvel had left unchanged from the '60s. Thor had the same logo since the beginning, so breaking that logo was symbolic in the sense of heralding in a new beginning. Alex Jay designed the new logo for me. He designed it, and I kind of art directed it (and that's maybe giving me more credit than I deserve). But I did ask Alex to consider old Uncial lettering. I didn't want to go to runes, because Viking runes are essentially straight lines designed for carving into stone. And Thor's got an "o" in the middle of it. But I wanted to use an archaic typeface as the basis for a logo that would have a modern feel. I think Alex did an absolutely great job on it.

CBA: It's still being used.
WALTER: It's come back... they got rid of it for a while, and now it's back again, which cracks me up.

CBA: When you were doing Thor there seemed to be elements of a franchise developing. Obviously it didn't go very far, but you had the Balder miniseries going, Warriors Three, etc. Did you have a desire to expand it?
WALTER: No, not in the sense I felt I could do more work. I like creating worlds that have larger implications and I think that's what you're reacting to in the Thor work I did. I said before I like shared universes. They give you the opportunity to craft stories with wider implications than a short 22 pages a month can generally support. I'll do big stories-Orion and Thor are big guys, they deserve big stories-but I do want there to be a sense that there's more out there beyond the confines of the comic. And once in a while you can make that implied world a bit more real. Makes the whole construction more persuasive.

I did the Balder mini-series because of the way the relationship developed naturally between Balder and Karnilla in Thor. There seemed to be enough of an additional story there that it could be told separately. At the time, Marvel was flexible enough, and the business was good enough that I was able to do it. Balder was threaded through the actual Thor storyline. In other words, you could read Balder by itself, but it was partly designed so you'd read an issue of Thor, then you'd read an issue of Balder, then you could go back to Thor, and so on. Balder was in and out of the actual Thor continuity, a logical expansion of the Thor storyline through other characters. In some ways, that's kind of what I'm doing right now with the back-ups threading in and out of my Orion storylines. Some of them, like the birth of Orion that Frank did, are historical vignettes that illuminate current events a little more clearly. Others, like the Lightray story Dave Gibbons did both reveal some of Lightray's character (he left the old woman to die) and examine the question of Orion's parentage a little further. I'm not really trying to create new franchises but rather to create a larger sense of a world that surrounds the comic story, something that's bigger than just what you read in the 22 pages.

When Archie and I did "Manhunter," he worked up a long list of names for the character, including Paul Kirk's. And we went with the old Kirby name partly because it was the old Kirby name, and partly because there didn't seem to be any compelling reason to use anything else. But at the time, it was not because we were planning to go back and reconnect to the old Kirby character in some fashion. I only knew the old character vaguely myself. We didn't really consider forging links to Jack's character until our third issue. And then we began thinking that connecting the histories would be a interesting way to enlarge our character's world. The development was organic, and that's what all of the best stuff is; you give the work room to breathe as you go along and sometimes you get lucky. I read on the web somewhere where a poster was crediting Jack with creating the Manhunter that Archie and I did, because we tied it back into his character. "Well, it's the same character, they just..." Get a grip! I credit Jack for a lot of stuff, but he didn't create the guy we did in the '70s! But we did go back and tie our guy into that work, and that's one of the reasons I like shared universe stuff, those options are available. Those universes are a large place to play, and if you do it right, there're so many possibilities.

CBA: Do you feel a kinship to Jack Kirby?
WALTER: I love Jack's stuff, and I'm hugely influenced by it, but Jack is this promethean talent in the field, and I'm just doing comics.

CBA: But you're always playing in his playground!
WALTER: Well, I like his playground a lot, I really enjoy it, but I don't have any desire to be Jack Kirby. I'm not channeling Jack Kirby when I do this stuff. And there's a lot of stuff he did that I find it hard to imagine doing myself, like Bullseye, that Western character he did back in the '50s. But of course, I'm very influenced by his work, and I think to some degree, we have parallel interests. There are some old pre-Marvel Kirby stories where he did a Thor variation a couple of times. He obviously had long-time mythological interests, and that's clear from the Fourth World, and his work on Thor and The Eternals. My own interest in mythology predates my knowing Jack's stuff. I was reading mythology back in junior high and high school. I can remember the first time I came across Beowulf in fifth grade. I didn't discover Marvel comics until I was in college, but there're some parallel interests there. What I would like to do, mainly, is use the stuff as a springboard and then go off in my own direction.

CBA: I meant "kinship" in that you guys dig the same things, and while you're not as prolific, or possess the genius of Kirby, but do you feel a connection to him that means something to your life?
WALTER: Oh, it does. Clearly. And I have to say that with the Fourth World stuff, I feel I "get it." I don't know if that's true or not, and I'm not sure if anybody else feels that way, but I just read that stuff, I get it. I understand what he's doing-at least, I think I do-I understand what the underlying thematic material is. I don't go back and try to play out all the themes he explored in the Fourth World. There was such rich material there, and I'm just working on one monthly book. But it resonates with me in a way that makes it really interesting to go back and play with.

Even Fin Fang Foom made it into Walter's Thor run! Here's the artist's pencils for a Foom pin-up in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entry. Fin Fang Foom © 2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.

CBA: You said when you were in fifth grade, you first read Beowulf. Is that the essence of your work in comics? You're a guy who's interested in mythology working in comics? Super-hero comics as a mythology?
WALTER: In some ways. I had two particular interests when I was younger: mythology and science-fiction and both of those inform my work. I'm certainly nowhere near as a big an SF fan now as I was 20 or 30 years ago. In the '60s and the early-'70s, I read a lot of SF, so I'm fairly well-versed in that material. And I had an interest in fantasy starting with the Lord of the Rings, I read a lot of fantasy in the '70s. Classic stuff: Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake. Later work by Michael Moorcock. Besides Tolkien, Ballantine published about 60 or 70 volumes of an Adult Fantasy series, and I read that entire series. So I have a real interest in what Tolkien called secondary world creation, one of the things we do in comics. Because mainstream comics has this large shared universe-even though we all curse continuity under our breaths and sometimes, deservedly so, as far as I'm concerned. I like part of what it bestows-a rich complexity in the material that you can really mine and work. In a way, that helps to create stories worth re-reading because it enlarges them. It depends on the writer of course and the way you use the material, but it's such a fertile field for the imagination, I think it's one of the reasons I've stayed with mainstream comics for a long time.

CBA: A lot of creators-and you've expressed this, too-are essentially old fanboys who say, "I'd really like to do Iron Man," for instance, but isn't there a real world aspect to the conflicts Jack set up in his Fourth World? You say you "get" Kirby. What is it exactly that you "get"?
WALTER: Let's be more precise about this. I "get" the New Gods; I'm not sure I "get" Kirby. [laughter] Michael Moorcock told me once that he thought that one of the things popular fiction did was retell old truths. I'm paraphrasing and hopefully, I'm not misstating Mike's original intent. I thought that was quite perceptive and not necessarily obvious. Jack's Fourth World work seems a particularly good illustration to me of popular fiction retelling old truths. I think Jack took a great deal of "real world" material and subsumed it into his Fourth World fiction. A quick example-in Jack's issues, the Anti-Life Equation, Darkseid's Black Grail, is the outside control of all living thought. Not a bad comic book restatement of the essence of Fascism as a form of social organization where the will of the People is subordinated to the will of the State. A form of tyranny older than Fascism as a name but always remade, always renewed, always a threat. It's that sort of thing I see in the Fourth World. Such evil will always exist. Which is why I think thematically, it's possible to reinvent the material and still be true to what Jack was doing.

But I'm not alone in thinking I "get" the Fourth World. There's been an element of fan reaction to Orion I've found interesting. Most of the reaction has been positive, which pleases me a great deal, but of course, you always react more to the negative stuff. This is the first book I've worked on where I can see some of the readers clearly expressing negative reaction to five issues of Orion based on what I regard as external agendas. These are readers who also think they "get" the Fourth World. There seem to be two general sides to the reaction. There are those who find the New Gods dull/old hat/boring/out-moded (fill in your own pejorative here) so why do them at all (in other words, there's nothing to "get" at this point), and there are those who find my Orion straying too far from what Jack himself did (another way of saying that I don't "get" it). [laughs]

I get e-mail, or see comments in fan-based magazines or websites where people dis the material with "Ah, it's late Kirby after he'd lost it. He was burned out!" etc. I haven't worked on any comics before, I think, where there was an actual contingent of the fan audience that felt that way about the material to start with. There's a website of one writer where some fan was grousing, "How can a grown man [me] even be doing the Newsboy Legion? Rahr rahr rahr!" The post was a tad more profane than that, because the poster was obviously too "cool" but it was funny! The answer is easy: Clearly, I'm not hip enough for this guy to be reading my stuff. He's probably already figured that out. But I haven't worked on material before where I've seen quite that sort of reaction. It's a pretty small segment of the audience, but it's vocal. Maybe that's one of the blessings of the internet. Of course, those readers are just wrong. [laughter]

On the other hand, what other 30-year-old characters do you know where anybody goes back and says, is this what the creator of these characters intended? I regard that is a fabulous tribute to the personal nature of Jack's Fourth World vision, but it does suggest a straight-jacketed approach to the material that I have no intention of taking. Interestingly, I've caught a little flak (very little) for once again trotting out a Darkseid/Orion fight. Once again? In the last 30 years, they've only really fought maybe three times. And never in Jack's work. How many times has Dr. Doom faced off against the FF? Just in the past five years let alone? So here's a reaction to the events in the story, based on a flawed perception of their past, that's not borne out by the actual comics. Somebody else wasn't happy with the fight because he thought it didn't live up to 30 years of waiting for it to happen. I don't think anything could be worth 30 years of waiting! The past is so important to these readers, it acts as a lens through which the current comic book is seen in a way I can't help but feel is unrealistic. And I plan to fiddle around with a lot of Jack's stuff as I go along. Fortunately, most of the readers I hear from seem to be following what I'm doing without difficulty and enjoying it. A lot.

If you ask fans familiar with the original Kirby material who their favorite character in the Fourth World is, one of the most frequent answers is Scott Free, Mister Miracle. I find that really interesting. I liked Scott and his comic book a lot, especially the early issues, with Scott and his duels with Granny Goodness and Doctor Bedlam, etc. At the same time, I find Scott Free one of the least interesting heroes in Jack's Fourth World. Part of the problem is, he's tremendously well adjusted. He's so likable. Here's a guy, the son of Heaven, who lost his birthright, was brought up in Hell, escapes, and he's a really normal, pleasant fellow. Here's Orion, the son of Hell, raised in Heaven, he's really screwed up! [laughter] It's one of the other themes that Jack worked on, nature versus nurture. Scott Free lost his seat in Heaven, and somehow, that didn't seem to bother him! He's the most centered guy in the Fourth World, which makes him very likable, but for me, not very interesting to write.

CBA: No conflict?
WALTER: No conflict. But if Orion lasts long enough, I'm going to work on that. I have a Scott Free story I can't wait to do. I'm not going to say anymore. I always thought Orion was fascinating, because of the tug between his two halves. He embodies the conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips, which is what makes him the fulcrum of all the action. And it makes him complex to me, a character full of writing promise. It's also interesting that there are so many divergent opinions about the original Fourth World material, even among pros. Some like me love it; others can't read it. There're so many characters, so many concepts, it's tremendously rich material. Certainly parts of it have been mined like crazy. For books that didn't last very long to start with, how many subsequent appearances has Darkseid made in the DC Universe? Come on! He's the coolest villain DC's got! So, rather than retire those characters, as some people have suggested, I think their spotty publishing history since they were created just makes them more attractive because there's so much material to start with, and there's so much room to fool around.

Going back to the idea of the Anti-Life Equation as a comic book version of Fascism, it seems clear that Nazi Germany represented a very important element in Jack's vision of evil. When Jack drew bad guys in troop formation, they're goose-stepping. And while I'm not necessarily modeling my vision of evil after Nazis specifically, I'm keeping the theme of evil in mind. An old truth. You could say I'm using it in a story about evil's effect on the individual, in this case, Orion. I'm doing one book a month instead of four bi-monthly titles as Jack was so I'm necessarily running on a somewhat smaller scale than Jack. I'm trying to make the book-for me, anyway-more personal, and more tightly focused on what's happening with this one character. In that sense, I'm not trying to repeat Jack's specific formula for events and characterization; I am trying to capture his broader intentions. Which is, I hope, what will make Orion work without making it seem like reading Jack Kirby redux. Partly I'm working on a tale of corruption, partly on a tale of redemption, partly on a tale of abstractions that become real, and what happens when they do. It's challenging.

Walter penciled and inked this double-page spread for an anticipated Thor storyline featuring a war between the Frost Giants and the gods, but the artist left the series before the story's realization. This piece was featured in a Marvel Age Annual. Thor & Co. © 2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.

CBA: So you're obviously thinking of bigger themes in the book. There's entertainment and there's art. Entertainment might be defined as to provoke a response from an audience, and art is to seek the truth. Do you see a responsibility you have in being in an entertainment medium to reveal?
WALTER: I don't think in big concepts like that. I'm cynical about art because it's so easy to manipulate and bullsh*t about. Art as it's mostly encountered, is one more business. I mean, in New York, art galleries, fine art-it's just like any other business, depending a great deal on stuff that has nothing to do with the actual quality of or thought in the work. Mostly my feeling about whether or not we're doing art-whatever that might mean-is that it's not really a decision that's up to us. This is a decision to be rendered by posterity. So, I put that aside. It's too big a question to handle. If I think about those concepts, I'm going to freeze.

Essentially, what I'm trying to do is: I'm trying to tell stories that have a degree of truth in them. Mostly old truths. Whether it's light entertainment or heavy, I'm trying to tell stories I think will be interesting, wherever that may take me. I don't want to paralyze myself trying to decide if I should be creating Art with a capital "A" this week. I'm just trying to tell stories that I would've enjoyed reading, stories that speak to me. The idea is, hopefully, because they speak to me, they will speak to others. A metaphor I've used in the past a lot is-it's like telling a joke. If I hear a joke, and I don't think it's funny, I'm not going to tell it to you in the hope that you might find it amusing. If I hear a joke and I think it's a riot, I'll pass it on. In that sense, it's the old idea of the Greek philosopher, Protagoras, "man is the measure of all things." I'm the measure of the stories I tell. The idea is that if I can tell stories I feel have some validity, then they may find an audience who will be touched by them because they'll strike a chord or a resonance within the reader. I don't think in terms of the larger issues of Art and Truth and so on, mostly because I'm not convinced you can think about that stuff, and then go out and do it, at least not without a very large B.S. quotient. You have to work on the human scale; Art and Truth get decided on later.

CBA: It's said, "God is in the details." You certainly have facility as a comic book artist who's worked in the field over 25 years. You certainly have the talent to do, I believe, effective comic book stories, and yet you're working in the medium of super-heroes. You said you don't want to go there-into defining what you do as art-but why not?
WALTER: Because I'm not sure what purpose it would serve. I'm too suspicious that such thoughts could easily become self-serving. And I don't want to go around with the back of my hand nailed to my forehead, proclaiming my suffering for my Art. That's probably the problem-solving nature of my RISD education speaking. Or perhaps an objective view after being brought up in a scientist's home. I'd like to be commercial, because I want to have a job next week. I hope a lot of my work is commercial, but I don't worry about it a lot either. If every comic I did folded after three issues, I'd probably sweat more. Of course, comics aren't doing that well as a business right now, compared to what they were doing at one time but I haven't yet begun to evaluate my work on the basis of, "Will this be a commercial job?"

I don't know how to describe it, really, in words. I might say that I work in comics because when I'm done, if I get it right, I find a deep satisfaction in the accomplishment. I probably can't get any closer to what I do than that. When I'm done with the drawing, it rarely achieves what I saw in my mind before I laid the page out. There are two artists, Kirby and Bernie Wrightson, who I've seen draw, and they gave the impression that the drawing was already in their heads, that it was projected through their eyes onto the paper, and then they just traced it out. I don't think it was really like that but it sure looked convincing. I can't do that. When I start off, it's like sculpting, I'm facing a blank sheet of paper and I know there's a drawing in there somewhere, but I have to find it. I send a lot of lines flying out across that page, and I dig the drawing out of the paper, and eventually it emerges. Most of the time, the drawing as I realize it doesn't quite match that Platonic ideal I had in my head before I began. But it'll be close, and the closer I can get, the better I like it. Mostly, what I'm after is the satisfaction of knowing that I've done the best work I can do. I don't have any jobs in my past that I regret doing; I don't have any jobs where I felt I did less than my best work at the time. I've got some jobs I'm not lobbying to see reprinted, especially some early material, but I'm not embarrassed to see them again. I know what I put into them back then.

One of the things about comic books, the problems always come around again. You solve some problem this week, if you don't solve it quite right, a week from now, a month or a year from now, you'll have to solve the same problem again. You get the chance to do it over, and you'll do it better the next time. In the early days, when you're young, your work improves by leaps and bounds very rapidly. I visualize it as a graph with an X/Y axis. The curve of your improvement goes shooting up towards the X axis-perfection-and then begins to flatten out. The closer it gets, the flatter it gets, but you're improving incrementally toward infinity as you get older. Mostly as you get older, you don't make those giant leaps you did in your youth, although some people do. In the beginning of my career, I saw all the drawings I did, the individual panels, as unique. Each one a singular piece of drawing. A woman riding a horse, a guy clocking Batman, the sunset on a jungle. Now that I've been doing this for a long time, I see all the work I've done as one big drawing, I don't see it in pieces any more, even if it's different books. I compose it in pieces, I put the fragments together, but now, in a sense, I have an enlarged vision, where I really see everything as a whole. I love the act of drawing itself, and perhaps my real ambition is to see this one long drawing continue to improve, so that by the time I'm done, the work at the end is going to be a lot better than the work at the beginning.

I don't talk about Art with a capital "A," I don't talk much about art with a small "a" either. Here's one reason why. Bach died in 1750. Nowadays, Bach is top of the pops so to speak, but when he died, he was out of fashion. He had four sons who survived him, all composers, and they were popular. They were doing light, fluffy stuff that sounds pretty good, but it wasn't the kind of work their dad was doing. So, for nearly 100 years, nobody cared about Bach, one of the greatest composers in Western music. Something like a third of his output was lost. I think it was Mendelssohn in the 1800s who rediscovered Bach's compositions and said, "Who is this guy?", began digging out his work, and Bach was re-discovered. But if somebody like Mendelssohn hadn't come along, or if more of his work had been thrown away, one of the greatest composers we've got would remain unappreciated, probably remembered as an old-style, old-fashioned kind of guy. Who knew?

That's sort of my take on where Art is at. I think when we're looking at it in the here and now, there's just too much clutter everywhere all the time, and it's very difficult to sort the stuff out meaningfully. Certainly, there are a zillion critics on the web, and there're a zillion magazines, all screaming at us about what's good and what isn't; eventually a lot of that stuff will settle out. I'm sure there'll be a lot of good stuff that'll disappear; nobody who'll say, "Gee, who is this guy?" But I don't think it's really given to most of us to see that clearly, and a great deal of modern Art, practically speaking, is promotion. I'm not much for promotion. What I'm interested in is doing better comics. I want the comics I do this week to be better than the comics I did last week. Now, in a week's time, it's not going to change much, but I'd like the comics I do now to be better than the comics I did 10 or 20 years ago.

Some of my audience won't follow along. There are a number of fans who think that "Manhunter" was my best work. I have no problem with that. I'm proud of the work and for a certain segment of the audience, that'll always be the best stuff I ever did. I'm pleased that they like it so well. There another segment of the audience who thinks the X-Titans book was the best thing I ever did, some folks who think Thor was the best... I feel that as long as I can keep finding a segment of the audience who feel what I'm doing now is the best thing I've done, then I'm okay. [laughs] If I reach a point where it's always, "Your old stuff was better"-which anybody who's done comics more than five minutes has heard-then maybe I'll be in trouble. Or maybe I'll just be really far ahead of the curve!

CBA: What do you perceive is your best work?
WALTER: I don't. The guy that I am now is not the guy I was 25 years ago and vice versa. So the work I'm doing now is not work I was capable of doing 25 years ago. And the work I did then, I couldn't do now. Not the same way. I did go back last year and do that new "Manhunter" story Archie and I had plotted out. And I revisited the old work and borrowed some of the style of the things I was doing back then, some of the disciplines. I think the new material is better drawn than the old material. But my storytelling's no better. I told stories pretty well at the start, and my gift in comics, if anything, was to be able to put pictures together in a way that told a story. I was learning that when I was doing the earliest Star Slammers, the fan material. Seven chapters, the first couple of chapters are okay, but they're strictly fan work. Yet during those seven issues over two years, you can see the work going from pretty much your basic fan type stuff to being something different, something with a vision behind it that was evolving as it went along.

CBA: I have to confess, with the recent Manhunter book, I was really touched by the new story you did, probably because I really liked the original "Manhunter" series so much, and because of the poignancy that Archie is gone now, and he was very easy to love... as a comics reader, not ever personally knowing him-and I never met him face to face-he was very easy to love, because there was a kindness about him. What was touching was there are no words in the new story. Whose idea was that?
WALTER: It was Weezie's suggestion, and it was not a happy accident. About the life and the work of Archie: One of the qualities Archie had as a writer is that tremendous ease of the reading in his words; there are no bumps. Conversations flow, exposition is all worked in very carefully, and you never felt that you were being handed a clunky block of exposition. Archie had a great gift that artists have-with or without a capital "A"-of creating the illusion apparently effortlessly. It seems so easy that you feel, "Oh, well, I could do that." But of course, you can't. That's a measure of the great craft and skill in Archie's work. There was such economy. The labor that fashioned it so was hidden.

As far as that last "Manhunter" story goes , it's wordless because Archie didn't write a script, it was as simple as that. We were going to do that story Marvel style, which was to say, Archie had the idea for the plot, and we threshed it out in detail in his office one day. And it wasn't all fixed. The last scene, for example, which takes place on the bridge, was still up in the air. We hadn't decided if it would be on a bridge or in a railroad yard. We thought a railroad yard at the edge of Gotham might be a good place for the scene. In the end, I drew the bridge. It seemed a stronger visual border for the city limits of Gotham. But while bits of the plot were still flexible at the time I left his office, we had the main points nailed down. The idea was that I would do layouts-it was going to be an eight-page chapter as most of the chapters in "Manhunter" were-and it would be a prologue to reading the original series in a trade paperback reprint. Well, I was working on the Michael Moorcock Multiverse right then, and that was taking up most of my time, so I got some cover sketches done and gathered some reference material together, but I didn't get the layouts done and Archie died before I did. I just had the plot in a page-and-a-half of notes I'd scribbled, a few doodles, that was about it. And I thought that was going to be the end of it. Then, a couple of months after he died, Weezie and I were talking about the story one day. I had the notes sitting on my drawing board where they'd been for a year, and Weezie wondered if maybe I could do it as a silent story. Although I'd written a lot of comics, I always felt that "Manhunter" was the combination of Archie and me. I wouldn't have written him but I thought a silent story might be possible. So I talked with Denny O'Neil, the editor, and in the end, worked out a 23-page story that covered the plot Archie and I had developed. However, once there were no words, Denny's feeling-and I agreed with him-was that a story without words could no longer work as a prologue. I was sorry to move it, because I wanted to be as true to Archie's intentions as I could, but I felt Denny was right, you wouldn't know who these guys were, and it made a better epilog at that point. So, we moved it to its proper position chronologically.

I had told DC when I began working on it that it would take longer than eight pages to do without words, and they said if I could do it, they would print it. It was very unusual for me not knowing how many pages are going to be in the job. I work to a 22-page comic, or a 10-page back-up, some specific format. So here, it was hard, especially in the beginning. I must've relaid the first eight pages out about eight or nine times, changing stuff, doing this, moving that. I had no sense of pacing, because I wasn't sure what I was working against, and I found that difficult. Eventually, once I got past page eight, it began to pace itself out naturally, I could really see where I was going, and it worked out very well. DC was still game to publish it in that length. Archie, before he had died, had talked to Klaus about coloring it, because Klaus had colored the '83 Baxter reprint, and he did a beautiful job on this last story. I did my own sound effects again, because in the original "Manhunter," I was drawing all my own at that time, and I felt that would harken back to the past visually. I tried to capture whatever I could of the original series, even though I draw somewhat differently now. It was interesting to go back and rethink my proportions and layouts, and still do it as a silent story. It was challenging, and it was a hard story to do, emotionally it was tough. It took me several months to do. I didn't make a lot of money that year! [laughs] Fortunately, my wife had a job, so I could afford to take the time I needed to finish that story.

CBA: Do you miss Archie?
WALTER: Oh, every day. Every day.

CBA: Were you ambitious to take on Thor?
WALTER: I was looking forward to it. As I said, he was my favorite character when I was reading Marvel comics, but I don't know that I really had ambitions about it; I just thought it would be fun to do, and I was glad to have the opportunity. I spoke earlier about doing Thor with Len Wein writing and me doing the layouts, and the advantage was, I'd done all my Kirby stuff at that time, so when I took the book over in 1983, I felt I had a shot at a fresh approach that I'm not sure I would've taken if I hadn't done the book once already. I found I had a lot stories I could tell with that character, and I wrote a lot of notes, ideas I filed in my computer. I saved everything and now I'm finding that a few of the ideas I can actually bend and turn into Orion stories. I believe in recycling.

It's funny. Back with I was doing Thor and for years thereafter, the two stories that got the most mention among fans when I was at conventions were either Beta Ray Bill or turning Thor into a frog. Now, 15 years later, I still hear about Bill once in a while, but the frog story's the one that gets mentioned the most. At the time, I didn't get a lot of negative letters from fans, but I got a lot of ambivalent letters from readers who weren't quite sure if I was making a joke or not. "Was this supposed to be funny? How do we take this story?" I thought that was funny in and of itself. That story was several things. It was a salute to Carl Barks. It was meant to be an interesting story on its own. It furthered my continuing story of Loki's machinations. And, through the rat-frog war of Central Park, it was partly a parody of my own stuff, those grandly operatic Thor stories where the gods fight their foes while the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. I'd had the idea much earlier to do something in that direction. One of the notes in my files was a single line about doing a tip of the hat to Carl Barks. I'm such a huge Carl Barks fan, I didn't have any more idea than that. And then I reached a point in the Thor run where suddenly, I saw that I could do what amounted to a "straight" funny animal story in the context of Thor's struggle with Loki. I thought about changing Thor into a duck to start with, because of Barks of course, but that seemed perhaps a little too absurdist. And upon reflection, I realized that frogs are really tied-in with folk tales. "The Frog Prince" and all that. So off I went. And I mixed in the old New York urban legend of alligators in the sewers and even a little X-Men continuity with the Piper.

I did a lot of work in my run on Thor, such as the "Malekith the Accursed" story, that had some basis in and inspiration from Celtic fairy and folk tales. I read quite a bit when I was doing Thor-not only in Norse mythology, but about the Celtic fairy-faith and a lot of northern European folk stories, out of Britain, Scandinavia, Northern Europe. Great stuff and it was strongly related to the kind of feeling I wanted to give the book.

One of the things I really got from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Marvel comics, and also the early Ditko Strange stories, was that you could do almost anything in a super-hero comic, as long as you kept a straight face. I was not a big fan of the old Batman TV series, partly because my feeling is that it was inviting you to laugh at the material for its stupidity, rather than sharing the joke with you. It's essentially a condescension to the material, inviting the viewer to think, "Well, we're all really much brighter than this, isn't this stupid? How amusing." That might be good for one laugh, but then you're done; you get the joke, so what's the point? Whereas in the super-hero stuff I liked, you can do the most absurd things, and if you keep a straight face, you and the audience can share the joke, but you're also still inside the story. As a storyteller, my interest is in sucking you in on page one, and spitting you out on page 22, and I really try not to do anything that will kick you out of the story somewhere in the middle. That being said, I also don't mind asking the reader to work a little.

For example, I've occasionally done some layouts where the reader has to work some to follow what I'm doing. I did a Doctor Doom/Reed Richards time fight in FF #352 where the reader has to read the comic twice, once in sequence by page number, and once in a sequence jumping backwards and forwards through the comic. It's one of the comics I'm most proud of, actually. The reader has to flip back and forth through the comic, because Doom and Reed were jumping around fighting through time, and I laid the book out in a way that made the reader jump around through the comic in order to follow their fight. Essentially, the page layout created a physical metaphor for their time duel.

CBA contributor and Ye Ed's pal Lancelot Falk has the most exquisite set of sketchbooks you could ever imagine-gorgeous full-color spreads rendered by the greatest names in comics. Sigh. Here's hoping someday TwoMorrows gets rich and we can print them up proper! Courtesy of the artist, here's Walter's "star-slammin'" contribution to Lance's dream books. © Walter Simonson.

CBA: Where did the design of Beta Ray Bill come from?
WALTER: A horse's skull, basically. I knew what they looked like, from my old paleontology days. So, I picked the horse pretty early on. I think it was The Comics Journal who, years ago, made a crack about Frank Miller's work, accusing Frank of being a "symbol-monger." It was not meant as a compliment. However, Weezie and I both thought that it was a fabulous expression. And dead on. "Oh, what I wouldn't give to be a symbol-monger on the order of Frank Miller!" Because one of the things that Frank does better than anybody else is punch all the buttons. Comics is mainly a short form of entertainment in America; we've got 22 pages a month, and that isn't much room, less than a prose short story so you use a lot of symbols to communicate information in a fast, effective way, as a shortcut to meaning. Done well, you can both use the symbols and transcend them. And the idea that Frank would be called on the carpet for this was hysterically funny. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. What a terrible thing to call anybody who's doing comic books! [laughter]

One of the symbols we use in mainstream super-hero comics, of course, is appearance. Good guys are handsome, bad guys are ugly. It's not always true, but it's generally true-the same way you can often tell the good girls and the bad girls by the kinds of clothes they're wearing. So, when I began doing Thor, I wanted to tell stories that didn't feel like they were the stories we read a lot of times. That's generally my aim with stories: start off with the known, and then go somewhere unfamiliar, where you don't know what's going to happen to the characters. It shouldn't feel like Galactus coming back to Earth for the 334th time. Who cares? If he does comes back, it better be for something different, something new.

It occurred to me when I began my run on Thor as a writer that nobody had ever really picked up Thor's hammer. The rule of the hammer is, "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." That's the rule. Now, Stan and Jack forgot that once, had Loki pick up the hammer when he had a little extra Norn enchantment on him, but I ignored that as merely a goof. I'm not a berserko continuity fanatic. Essentially, only Odin and Thor had held the hammer, and I thought that'd be a good place to start a story that was unfamiliar. I didn't want to dig up some old character in the Marvel universe and discover, "Oh, look, gee after all these years-wow!-The Purple Windshield Wiper can lift Thor's hammer! What a surprise!" I thought it would be cooler and more convincing to start with a new guy we'd never seen before, and he'd hold the hammer. Now, one of the things you want to do when you're writing is misdirect your reader; not cheat, but misdirect. Which means you give them all the information, the ground rules, and you still surprise them. In the case of Bill, I wanted to create a character who would pick up the hammer. That means-by the rules-he has to be worthy. So I worked out a background for him where Bill was worthy, self-sacrificing, all that stuff. But I also thought, "I don't want to have this guy pick up the hammer and readers go, 'Oh, he picked up the hammer; big deal.'" So I made him look like a monster, because we tend to think of monsters as being bad guys. In the end, I chose a horse's skull as the basis for his face because horses are such beautiful creatures. It's the skull beneath the skin, the image of the monster lying right beneath beauty and yet, it's the structure of beauty itself. By using that head, I hoped to give a double-meaning to Bill's face, the underlying beauty of the horse, the skeletal framework of the monster. But you see the monster first. Then, I gave him a variation of Thor's costume because comics are a visual medium-and I've seen this endlessly debated since-the idea is when he gets the hammer, he gets the power of Thor. The power of Thor, of course, means you can throw lightning around and beat things up with the hammer, but the visual realization of that is the costume, he gets new threads that are a variation of Thor.

CBA: A symbol!
WALTER: A visual symbol! Me and Frank. [laughter] And there on the cover of my second issue where everybody could read it is the legend of the hammer: "Whosoever holds... etc." In bold letters! But nobody wrote in and said, "Oh, so Bill's really a good guy." They all wrote in and said, "How can this evil guy pick up the hammer?!?!" They were screaming, they were freaking out! In the end, it turned out he really was a pretty good guy, and readers wrote in and said, "Oh, I knew that! Oh, sure, I'm hip, it was obvious." Oh, please! You had no clue! A very few readers got it, but most didn't. It was great! So that's how Bill came about, and that's why he looked like that. His hammer, incidentally, was based on old Norse models.

I invented the name Beta Ray Bill, for which I've been both praised and castigated, because pulp science-fiction was an inspiration. One of the things I love about pulp SF is that guys travel to far distant planets, aliens start talking to them, they flip the switch on their universal translator, and everybody's suddenly comprehensible. "Oh, hello there! How nice to meet you!" Probably speaking with a British accent, "Care for a spot of tea?" So my feeling is that the name "Beta Ray Bill" was the closest the universal translating machine could get to whatever his real name was. I made it alliterative because translating machines have simple joys and so do I. I chose the name Bill because it's a common name; my intent was that though Bill would be very uncommon, even among his own people, he was also a symbol of Everyman in his own race. Originally, I'd thought of calling him Beta Ray Jones, because of Jones' commonality as a name, and my feeling that the translator machine was working that angle. However, by the time I was writing the book, Marvel was publishing Indiana Jones, they had Rick Jones as a fictional character, they had Louise Jones as an editor [laughter]... seemed like there were a lot of Jones's running around, so I decided not to use the name and went with "Bill." And I wanted some slightly SF sense to the name as well, hence "Beta Ray." Beta rays are electrons, fairly weak, as I recall. I would've used gamma rays, but of course, those were already taken in the Marvel universe. In the end, the alliteration cinched it.

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