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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:


MM: I knew you were primarily an artist before you got your writing gig at Marvel, and was introduced to your work through THE INTERMAN. What were you up to before that in terms of comics?

JP: My first paying work was drawing a couple of issues of Wonder Woman. That was the introductory book for a lot of artists actually, because it turned over artists pretty fast. According to the editor at the time I was considered as regular artist before being beaten out by Mike Deodato.

MM: So WONDER WOMAN was kind of the DC equivalent of THE HULK? You know, a franchise book, highly visible and needed to come out every month like clockwork.

JP: I don’t know that it was highly visible, it’s kind of that eternal dilemma for DC where they have to keep putting out WW comics regularly or lose the rights to her. So it served the purpose that House of Mystery used to, trying out new talent.

MM: How was that experience? Were you working pretty closely with an editor, or did they just throw scripts at you and yell “DANCE, MONKEY! DANCE!”

JP: I barely remember. I do remember that I’d overstepped my bounds and inked a splash montage, and had to send copies of my pencils so the inker could do it as was planned. I can be difficult.

Then I landed the job of drawing the book Solitaire for Malibu Comics. I worked for them a lot before Marvel bought the company and shot it in the back pasture. The whole industry shrunk, and I ended up going to California to work on The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, and did live action storyboards after that, on commercials and such.

MM: Post-implosion seems like a good time to have gone and done…something else for awhile. Though I read that for a time, Malibu was actually putting out more books than DC did, which really seems weird today. But then you used to be able to get comics in every 7-11, too…

JP: They were putting out a lot, I don’t know if it was more than DC.

MM: You were on the other side of Los Angeles animating at Sony about the time I was animating over at Netter Digital. How did you find working in animation as opposed to comics? Are editors easier to trick than producers? Dicusss.

JP: I really liked animation because it rewarded all the right things. If you could be inventive, subtle, tell the story very clearly, you were in demand. Things like charisma or telling good stories at the bar or having a particular hot style just didn't weigh in as much as it did in comics. It really made me a stronger artist and put a lot of life into my work- you just don't fuss with secondary things like excessive noodling, you gear everything toward full on drawing that does the job best.

So I guess, yes, editors are easier to trick than producers. Not really so much now, but in the 90's. At the same time, I hated the anonymity of it all- no one ever knew what I did, and I had to adhere to model sheets that I didn't always like. Darwyn Cooke was there at the same time, directing on Men In Black. I think he was probably constantly irked by the models they had to use because I remember him working up a Warner-style new model sheet with profiles and turn arounds that would have made the characters much smoother to animate, but I don't know if the storyboarders were really allowed to use them.

MM: Huh. I always though producers were pretty easy to trick. I used to do my scenes or models and leave in a relatively glaring error for them to home in on. They’d yell “Stupid animator! Fix that thing now!” and chomp on their Snickers bar. Meanwhile, I’d do my thirty second fix and move on. But it did keep them involved.

JP: Well that, of course, is the secret of all entertainment industries. Put in a sacrificial item that you don’t care about anyway, so everyone has a chance to ‘make a call.’ But you have to be careful that this thing you didn’t want in the first place doesn’t actually look attractive to your producer or editor.

MM: How long had you been working on THE INTERMAN? Was it something that you’d planned for a long time, or was it more along the lines of something that just came to you and you just ran with it?

JP: I'd written it in the mid-90's and started on it, had interest from editors at DC and Dark Horse, but nothing ever happened. I kept working on it whenever I had spare time (which occurred more often in the days before I had kids). Many times I put it down because it was taking too long and my short attention span was working against me, but Steve Lieber egged me on to get back to it. And then as soon as I'd start making progress again, I'd get revved up and see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is why I beg people to keep their initial projects short and achievable. But more and more I hear people starting out in comics talking about their "epic" that they've begun. Of course, you never hear of any of these people because these things don't get finished. It's a lot of work just to complete a 22 page story art and all, on your own. I wish people would understand that.

MM: That’s some very good advice about keeping your first project manageable. I kinda wish I’d gotten that when I started out. But then I didn’t naturally gravitate to a short format, either.

But yeah, you can have a roomful of notes and sketches, but unless you’ve got a complete project, you’re not going to get any attention. And even then, there’s no guarantee.

JP: No. The only guarantee is that if you don’t do it, absolutely nothing will ever happen.

MM: Is it easier or harder when it’s your own project and you get to call all the shots? I mean, you don’t have to butt heads over every line of dialogue, but then you get in the trap of overthinking things. At least I do. But you’ve done projects on both sides of that. Quick compare/contrast?

JP: Ideally, I’d like to go back and forth between the two. Sometimes I want everyone to leave me alone to tell a story exactly like I want. But then on other books having all that extra input can really take up some slack and make a bigger “production” out of your story than you could have achieved alone. And it’s easier to appreciate whichever mode you’re in if you juggle creator-owned with work-for-hire.

MM: THE INTERMAN certainly has some superheroic elements in it, but it also feels a lot more like a TV adventure series (and I mean that in the best possible way) than a straight-up superhero book. What were the kinds of influences you drew from when creating the story?

JP: Jonny Quest was probably my prime influence, followed quickly by James Bond movies. Terry and the Pirates, when Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles were on it. I was determined to do at least one book that I wished existed for me to read.

MM: And if you don’t want to read what you’re writing, maybe you’re writing the wrong thing. Really though, THE INTERMAN is one of those books that I don’t have a problem recommending to just about anyone who wants to read comics. It’s entertaining, accessible, fantastic, but still in a recognizable world. Seems like there’d be more room for that sort of thing than there is in the market.

JP: It’s our own failure to distribute it to the right places. Because as you say, you can hand the book to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a comics person, and they enjoy it. Sadly, I don’t have any great insight on that end of the system.

MM: Any news on THE INTERMAN movie front that you can talk about?

JP: There's a director in place, a screenplay, and I'm thinking there'll be some news as we get into summer.

MM: I don’t suppose we’ll ever see another Van Meach story in the near future, will we?

JP: I'm trying! But I worry more about keeping other artists busy instead of getting script to myself. If the movie stuff kicks into high gear, it's a safe bet I'll magically MAKE time to get it done. I wouldn't want to waste that kind of exposure.

MM: Would you ever consider you scripting the second INTERMAN book if you found (another) the right artist? Or is that just not gonna happen?

JP: It would have been a weirder thing to consider a few years ago, but now that I’m much more used to working with other artists, maybe not as much. I imagine that was a quandry for Mignola for a while, but he seems pretty cool with it on Hellboy now. Of course, he uses some of the best people to ever hold a pencil and brush, too!

MM: Is there a short version of how you got to be writing MARVEL ADVENTURES books?

JP: Yes. Editor Mark Paniccia has always had a hunch that I would have something to contribute to comics and periodically checks in on me. He saw my APE COMPANY ten pager on my website and liked it, and it filled the bill of the kinds of stories they wanted for the Adventures books; self-contained stories that didn't depend on the (probably new) reader knowing anything about the books or characters. So I like to remind people that it was a 10 page story I put up for free online, paying peanuts for, that got me into Marvel rather than the graphic novel I paid thousands for to print.

MM: APE COMPANY? It’s all about monkeys, isn’t it. Yes, I know, monkeys aren’t apes: spare me your zoologic pedantry. Such meaningless distinctions are for lesser men, not for Doom.

In all seriousness, it’s good to see that Marvel viewed MARVEL ADVENTURES as a deliberate attempt to create a book for new readers. Interesting further in that you have to look outside the DM for those new readers. There’s an instructive point here. If only I could put my finger on it…

JP: What? Comics can work like a business? Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?

MM: I have to admit that when I first read about the MARVEL ADVENTURES books, I was very much filled with bloggerlike disdain for RETREAD ADVENTURES books. Until I actually read them. And then I found they were a great antidote for a lot of the kind of thing that bothers me about superhero books right now: they’re done in one, they’re on the funny side of things, they’re immediately accessable and even to kids, they respect the underlying characters. How has your experience been with the line?

JP: Well you probably read about the predecessor, MARVEL AGE first, which did retell classic stories in a manga-esque style. It took about a year to make people realize that ADVENTURES was a different thing altogether. What helped me early on was that the editors didn't hammer home that these books were for kids, and they responded most to ideas that I found personally entertaining. Then we started getting concrete proof that adults were liking the books, many initially buying just for their kids or little relatives and then found themselves enjoying it too.

And then the blogosphere started getting behind the line. For me, what began to really shape my current approach to the books was the last MA Fantastic Four I wrote, "Doom, Where's My Car." It was about Johnny Storm making a hotrod out of Dr. Doom's original car, and it was a huge riff on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That felt really self-serving, me just entertaining myself, and then readers responded enthusiastically to it. So in a sense, I went further down the path I was already on "I'm going to amuse myself and hope others have the same sense of humor," and it worked out really well. As you say, even when we make fun of the trappings, we still respect the characters, and I think readers get that. I don't get big laughs out of insult humor, where the characters zing each other constantly. That also leads to everyone having the same voice, which I don't like either. I like to keep everyone fairly sincere and pay attention to their individual personalities, then turn them loose in the most absurd ends of the Marvel Universe.

MM: Right, but it’s absurd in only that it’s completely awesome and not trying so hard to show that it’s all grown up. Me? I got grown up comics already: I know where to find those. But it’s a lot harder to find books that are just, y’know, crazy, fun stories with imagination and a heart that are done in one. Again, it’s like these books are everything that the mainstream is not (with exceptions, of course).

JP: It’s a little sad that we have to distinguish books as being ‘not in continuity’ to get wild and imaginative, but whatever.

MM: Are your scripts fussed over a lot by Standards and Practices type folks? How much do you have to tone down usually? Or is this something that comes as second nature after a few scripts?

JP: They usually go over the first one, the kick-off issue pretty harshly, and then lighten up. But there are rules you have to follow, I still have the Word file somewhere. I had a hard time getting through my head that I couldn't use real guns in the stories early on, and kept writing them in.

I found the guidelines! This is what they had when the line began, and I don't think I ever read it all the way through. We still usually open on a splash page as they originally wanted.

MM: Well, theres’s some good advice. Starting on a splash page in the middle of a fight beats the hell out of two talking heads for five pages when you’re trying to hook someone on a monthly book. I guess that’s one of my big problems with monthly comics now, is that they’re all usually chapters and not stories.

JP: After having to do so many done-in-ones, I’ll definitely say it’s easier to write that way. But I think lots of books warrant being drawn out that way- though not nearly as many as there currently are.

MM: Was there anything that you were surprised that got approved? Did you ever run something just to see if they’d flag it? Or should I not be asking this question.

JP: Umm... yeah, sometimes I put stuff in just for the editors to get a laugh out of, and then am shocked to find it actually end up in print. I don't think I should call attention to any specifics here just in case some veeps read this. There was something like that in the recent issue 24.

MM: How did that Ego, the Living Planet story go over, anyways…?

JP: They loved it, but there was a “black hole” joke taken out of the end, now that you remind me of it. So everything doesn’t get through.

MM: Do you see more room for this sort of book, or is it a tough sell with the current market?

JP: It's only a tough sell in the Direct Market, they do really well in the wider world of Target, Wal-Mart and the chain stores. You'll notice the line keeps growing. I have to admit, I just don't get those shops that only get copies for pull customers. They're excellent entry point books.

MM: I don’t get that attitude either. New readers, reading comics, what’s not to like?

Yeah, that sort of thing is a mystery to me. I know that there’s a lot not to like about the Jim Shooter era at Marvel, but he understood something crucial, that whole “every issue is someone’s first issue” thing. Yes, this led to some really horrible, clunky storytelling (read the first issues of Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL to see how clunky it could get). But that philosophy of monthly comics is what turned me into a Marvel zombie in dawn of the eighties.

JP: I agree with all those statements.

Matt Maxwell

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