interviews

Final Crisis: Revelation Talk with Philip Tan

Final Crisis: Revelation #2 Art by Philip TanPeople are constantly tossing out the title, “Nicest person in comics,” to describe artists, writers, editors, and others, but I think I can say that I’ve found a person who genuinely qualifies for the title: artist Philip Tan, who provides the detailed pencils on the forthcoming Final Crisis: Revelation mini-series.

Philip was nice enough to respond to my questions on his background, his art, and the series, always with an implied emoticon smile on his face. Keep an eye on this guy, folks: he’ll be one of the superstars in the industry before you know it.

Eric Newsom: I noticed that you have an architectural degree, but you instead chose to be part of a really talented group of young Filipino artists working in the comic industry. What is it about comic books that appeal to you?

Philip Tan: Comics and graphic storytelling has always been one thing that I enjoyed from a very young age! Japanese and other Asian comic books were my first intro into this kind of “reading” experience and eventually Western/European comic books came into my life when I got to high school! Growing up with all these kinds of creative products, on top of my huge interest in drawing…it was always at the back of my mind, dreaming about being someone in the industry, from time to time.

Now, my parents had very different plans for me (as most Asian parents would…). They wanted me to be a doctor…I passed school for pre-med but switched on the very first day of school to architecture (almost gave both my parents a heart attack each, but I figured that at least they wouldn’t be as mad as me going into fine arts…). I learned to love architecture afterwards and at certain points in my college life almost gave up the dream of getting into comics to be “realistic,” and be an architect like a lot of my classmates…

But at every stage of my life I kept getting drawn to things about the different comics I read. Visuals, stories, designs… every aspect of this fun medium captured me! I think I just got to a point where I didn’t think I would be happy doing anything else.. and regardless of all kinds of odds… I wanted to do this as a living!

EN: What were some of your favorite titles / artists while growing up? Any that were particularly influential in your path to becoming an artist?

PT: My earliest experiences were all Asian comic books. This is where I probably can go on for five pages but I’ll try to be concise… I usually try to look at many different things: works from Yuzo Takada, Haruhiko Mikimoto, to more popular ones like Otomo, Shirow and Toriyama, all had various levels of influence on me. But Takehiko Inoue’s Slamdunk influenced my childhood/teen years in more ways than any other books out there. Up ’til now, I still pick up everything he does, from Real to Vagabond, and still continue to learn from him. Hong Kong artist Ma-Weng-Sheng’s work also. Until I picked up my first few western comic books…and for a long time I was trying very hard to ape Mark Bagley, Paul Ryan and Jim Valentino… then eventually getting exposed to more influences. I think with the European books, I will say books like Tintin and Asterix/Obelisk came first, way before stuff from Manara, Moebius or Serpieri.

All that being said, I do think I follow many different other artist now that influenced me more.

EN: I noticed the picture of you on your blog with Manapul, Portacio, Anacleto and Yu. Do you share a lot of camaraderie with other Filipino artists of your generation? Do you feel that you have all shared a common experience?

PT: All of us live pretty far away from each other…and we all don’t really hang out a lot aside from conventions…I have a lot of respect for all of them, all very successful and big Filipino artists! Although I would say that we all probably share different experiences when it comes to life and comics…

EN: If I’m not mistaken, Final Crisis: Revelation is the first book you’ve worked on for DC, besides DC Universe #0. When you signed the DC exclusive, were there specific writers or characters or titles that you wanted to work on?

PT: Well, we really should stay away from the details of my exclusivity [laughs]. But to answer what I can, yes Zero is my first DC book (One page of art, and that’s if you don’t count my Wildstorm gig so many years ago, Taleweaver… that was my first ever comic book work). And I do have writers that I dream of working with. I was very lucky to have one dream fulfilled already. I’m a BIG fan of Greg Rucka and can’t believe I get work with him right away on my first DC series.

I’m also a huge fan of Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns… hopefully soon [laughs]. I read alot of Mark Millar and Warren Ellis too, but unless they write for DC, probably not anytime soon…although that would be very cool also.

EN: Have you read any of the previous incarnations of Cris Allen and Montoya? Or the Spectre and the Question when the identities were held by other characters? Any thoughts you’d care to share on those series?

PT: I wasn’t a big fan of the Spectre until I saw Alex Ross’ Kingdom come version…which now I try to study the feel of for my series… And it wasn’t also until recently that I’ve gone though a big dose of Renee and Crispus in the Gotham Central. Great fun stuff!

EN: How does looking back over those series affect your current work with the characters, if at all?

PT: Very much, as it totally helped me to “feel” how those characters behave and act when they were normal human beings…it added another dimension and layer for me to flesh out how my versions of those two look.

EN: I gather that you’ve been working very closely with Greg Rucka on this book. Is this a process that you normally have with writers? Have there been any benefits to this collaboration?

PT: I always try to be in touch with the writers as much as I can. During my last work on Spawn: Godslayer, I would meet up with writer Brian Holguin from time to time just to talk about the next issue. Greg lives in another state so I try to maintain as much email interaction as I can, phone if I have to… but nonetheless, the relationship I am building with Greg certainly gives me more room to play as I get to know more what’s Greg’s goals are. And that can only make the book better in the end.

For example, Greg is very big on research and details, and so am I. So he would sent me stuff on a form of Chinese martial arts called “Ba Gua” and I would do more research on it just to give a couple of scenes the right feel….

EN: Do you do most of your research online? How do you think things like Wikipedia and YouTube have affected the way artists are able to do their research now? For better or worse?

PT: I have tons of reference books at home.. but I will say more than 70% still came from the web! Wiki and the ‘Tube have got to be artist’s best friend nowadays!

EN: I’ve told Greg that one of my hesitations in Montoya becoming the Question is that I worried many artists would struggle to define a character as female without showing her face. Have you developed an approach to this issue?

PT: Question is very tricky to draw.. my goal is to get her to look as sexy and badass as possible and still bring all the necessary emotions across even with the features of her face in costume.

EN: Can you walk us through your process of creating a page? How much pre-drawing, sketching and thumb-nailing do you go through?

PT: Well…like many other comic artists out there, whenever I get a script I spend time absorbing it into my head first. Then I usually try to take notes on all my questions and ask the writer and editors about them, which includes taking notes on what to research or what to design. Then I start doing layouts and get approval before starting. I usually do very little thumbnails unless I keep messing up the goal of the page…and have to keep redoing them until it’s good to go.

Now it might be very hard to go through the stages of how I break down my layouts on panels and pages…since it really is very different from page to page and book to book.

EN: What is the approval process like at DC Comics? How many people see the page before you know it’s good to go?

PT: Hmm…I’m not sure how it’s like for others, but working with Eddie Berganza and Adam Schlagman is awesome! They and Greg will check out the layouts/designs/pencils and let me know if they’re good and that’s it! Eddie and Adam are awesome in getting things to look their best and giving me the most complete reference they can provide, and Greg is just unbelievably cool to work with! Greg explains with very powerful emotions from the characters that he is writing and it immediately gives you an idea where he is coming from and what the goals are.

EN: I notice that you’ve been doing some work with computerized painting lately. Is this a medium you’d have an interest in using with your comics work?

PT: Oh no.. I am very bad at it! [laughs] I was only playing around on those…but I am very interested. I just need time to practice and study them more!

EN: Your penciled pages look very organic and have a wide range of values — they’re spectacular to look at. How do you build enough trust to turn them over to an inker?

PT: Well… I usually go through TONS of discussion and work with the inker on how to best get the right look, since my art is a little different and might be much more difficult to ink. But my inking team of Jonathan Glapion and Jeff Delos Santos are ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL!

Jeff I have worked with for a almost two years and he completely understands what my goals are on the look of my art, and Jonathan, my GAWD…this dude has got MAD skills! Not only did his style gel right away on my art, he brings so much more to it! And back and forth, he and Jeff keep trying to outdo each other on how to handle my art! I LOVE my team! I am very lucky and blessed to have talented peeps like them to work with! And above anything else, both have golden attitudes and ethics towards the collaboration!

EN: Do you approach each project differently than the last? Is there anything about Final Crisis: Revelation that you’re doing differently?

PT: There’s only one thing I am doing different. And I guess it’s just something I finally realized, growing up and learning more as an artist in the industry. Not saying that I didn’t give my best before but…I think now I REALLY feel and believe that I treat whatever book I am working on the last book I will do and give 300% of my effort!

EN: This story features both the Spectre — who is one of the most God-level characters in the DCU — and the Question — who is one of the most street-level. How do you approach these perspectives in the art? Do we see things mostly from the p.o.v. of one character or another?

PT: I really don’t think I give a lot of differences in portraying looks with characters of different background levels. I usually try to understand how the writer approaches the characters and situation and give them my interpretation of the appropriate mood. I’m probably not limiting myself to approach the visuals on any character’s p.o.v. and I try to deliver the story with pacing on how much information is given from the visuals.

And as DC might have already described about the series, the book is really a big part of Spectre’s journey toward accepting his role in the universe and not just about the street level crimes he is acting God’s vengeance upon right now. So we will definitely slowly move towards bigger and grander things for the Spectre while we go through all those, with the Question playing the most important role! Imagine as the Spectre gets more into what he should be dealing with, the bigger the problems become for Renee!

EN: If you can tell us without giving too much away, what’s been your favorite page(s), panel(s), or character(s) to draw so far?

PT: Oh wow…this will be giving things away…lemme see…there’s so much I can barely pick just one…

Villains are fun for me. One of the splashes with Batwoman in it in issue two is my favorite so far…( most painful too in terms of work) But drawing Renee kicking ass with martial arts definitely tops my list…and I thank Greg for that!

EN: At this point, we’ve seen the full cover for the first issue, and what Greg called a “cover element” on his blog. I believe that we’ll be seeing the second issue’s cover this coming week — can you give us any ideas on what we can expect to see on coming covers?

PT: More spoilers? [laughs] Kidding!

I think I try to have a uniting element with each issues’ main and alt covers.. So the first issue will have Spectre against a lightning bolt that’s lighting up A LOT of skulls behind him. Quite a few die… which will also be in the alt cover…and describing any further will really ruin it!

EN: You wrote to me that you feel this is your best work to date. What makes you feel that?

PT: The amount of effort and work I spent on each page…because on every page, Greg would have something challenging for me to do visually…and as I have not drawn anything superhero-related for more than three years, I totally enjoyed every panel of this!

And probably one of the biggest reason why I think this book will KICK ASS…my art team. I CANNOT stress how important and good Jeff, Jonathan and Ian are, to the visuals of the book. They are beyond expectation!

EN: And to close, I’ll ask you the same question I’ve just asked Greg: what would you say to convince folks to pick up this book?

PT: Hmmm. I am not really good with words…but I remember Dan Didio talking at many shows about this being the sleeper hit of the year! I promise to not disappoint! It’s VERY different!

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interviews

Final Crisis: Revelation lightning round with Greg Rucka

Art by Philip TanWriter Greg Rucka. Five questions. Ten minutes. Final Crisis: Revelation lighting round — GO!

EN: How long after Crime Bible does Final Crisis: Revelation take place, and where is Renee at this point?

GR: It’s about five, six months after the end of Crime Bible. Question has separated herself from the Order; she’s learned some things, some of them that worry her a great deal. She’s trying to stop the Order from doing something Very Very Bad. The Order hates her and is hunting her down.

EN: Can you tell us anything about the circumstances under which Cris and Renee meet again?

GR: Sure. Except it’s not Cris meeting Renee. It’s Spectre meeting Question. In fact, Question is trying to stop the Very Very Bad Thing when Spectre shows up. He shows up to judge and kill her. Because she’s the leader of the Order of the Stone. And the Order of the Stone has been doing some very, very, very bad things.

EN: Wow.

GR: Yeah. It’s not a hugs and kisses reunion.

EN: Are there any other familiar faces we’ll be seeing in the mini-series?

GR: One very, very old one. Batwoman appears. Some of the Gotham Central folks, actually. A few others who I am loathe to mention at this point. And we meet someone new, who, uh…well, who may be very old, as well, actually.

Vague enough for you?

EN: How does this mini-series fit in with the story Grant Morrison is telling in Final Crisis?

GR: It’s tangential. You don’t need to read FCR to get FC, or vice versa, per se. It’s a support story — both Question and Spectre play parts in FC; FCR goes some way to explaining how they get where they are for the story, and what they’re doing. But neither story is contingent upon the other, which, frankly, is nice. You can read either and not suffer for having skipped the other.

EN: What would you say to entice folks to pick up the book?

GR:
1) The Spectre hands out wicked vengeance.
2) Philip Tan is AMAZING.
3) Did I mention Philip Tan?
4) I’m having as much fun writing this as I’ve had writing anything for DC. Ever.
5) God is a character.

EN: Sounds like a pretty good argument.

GR: Yeah, you don’t want to not pick up the book God’s in.

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interviews

Steve Lieber reveals technique behind Crime Bible engravings

Steve Lieber:

The faux-engravings were put together with a combination of very old and very new techniques. For the first four, Greg would send me the script and whatever art was completed for the issue, and I’d build a new illustration to match the composition of an important panel, creating an allegory for that issue’s “Lesson.”

The formal style the job required was a particular pleasure for me. I’m a huge admirer of old pen and ink artists like Charles Dana Gibson and Joseph Clement Coll, so slipping into a version of their manner was a lot of fun. And to reinforce the feeling that these were drawn in the 19th century, I built some of the backgrounds out of slices of art sampled from Gustave Dore’s 19th century biblical engravings. It just seemed right that the illustrator of the Crime Bible would steal from a peer. (Some contained Dore, some were all me.)

The next step would be to scan my own pen and ink drawings into Photoshop, lay them over scans of the Dore backgrounds and textures, and zoom way the hell in on the art so that every line looked like a big sailor’s rope. Then I’d rework the crosshatching to make everything fit together, (and in places to make the surface more consistent with an engraver’s technique than that of a pen and ink artist.) It was a lot of work, but it’s for a Rucka story, you know? You just do it.

Steve has kindly given us permission to present clean, pre-“aged” copies of his faux-engravings from the portfolio at his website:

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interviews

Behind the Scenes of the Montoya Journal with Eric Trautmann

Montoya Journal

One of the most interesting parts of the Crime Bible mini-series didn’t even take place in the pages of the comic. Crime Bible author Greg Rucka and his Checkmate co-writer Eric Trautmann conspired to blur the lines of fiction and reality when they created a Renee Montoya journal that somehow found its way into the hands of several comic news sites, reviewers, comics shops, and a pair of copies even arrived at the doorstep of our humble website.

In anticipation of the release of the Crime Bible hardcover, Eric Trautmann kindly let us pull back the curtain a bit to reveal the machinations of the wizard behind it.

How did the idea for the Montoya journal originate, and how did you come on board in helping develop it?

Greg had made mention of how he wanted the Crime Bible to be sort of a Necronomicon of sorts for the DCU; that somehow conflated with a “leave behind” I’d developed in my Microsoft days, when my team pitched the PERFECT DARK property to film studios. We left behind this cool “dossier” which — using in-universe ephemera, like personnel files, doctored photographs, even an actual pistol target “Joanna” had shot — told a story of sorts, setting up the property.

Using the same methodology — using the Journal and various pieces of ephemera to tell a narrative in “snapshot” form — seemed logical for Renee, given her character and skills, and the story being told.

So, I sort of presented the idea to Greg, who readily agreed to my crack-brained schemes, little realizing the full and terrifying scope of it all. Moo hoo ha ha.

At the same time, I’d presented him the idea of doing the “book code” on the frontspieces of each issue, and using the Journal and the inevitable publicity around it, to point fans toward that code seemed … nicely symmetrical. (I also enjoyed sneaking in a reference to the issue of Checkmate we were working on at the time, which was, as far as I’m concerned, as good as signing our names to it.)

There’s a sort of mini-story that the reader can take away from the journal and artifacts about Renee’s globe-trotting investigations. How did this story develop, and how much was it guided by the sorts of objects you wanted to include in the journal package?

Greg really defined the narrative; I had a couple of ideas for the ephemera, but it was largely shaped by the story he was telling. Looking at what he did, it was easy for me to cook up, say, a plane ticket, or a doctored photo of “Renee,” or what have you. In a lot of ways, I fear my process for developing the notebook (and that was all done digitally—the notepaper, the handwriting, the doodles, the bloodstains, all of it) was a sort of arcane magick that really seemed to alarm/puzzle him initially. When artifacts starting spitting off the printer, I got to see him have an “a-ha!” moment.

It’s a weird way of telling stories, I grant you.

Do you have an interest in ephemera? I’ve always enjoyed looking at old cultural artifacts myself, but the thought of those artifacts having somehow come into the real world from a fictional dimension seems even more appealing.

Do I have an interest in ephemera? Does it show?

Yeah, I love cultural artifacts, though I tend to approach them from a graphic design standpoint (which, naturally, informs the creation of material like the Journal).

Can you let us in on how some of these objects were created? The boarding pass and the toe tag seem especially authentic.

It’s kind of like the magician revealing his secrets. It’s much less cool when you know how it’s done. So: if you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

The boarding pass was designed in Adobe Illustrator CS, and then we printed it on Greg’s office inkjet printer on pieces we’d trimmed down from, if I recall correctly, cardstock or pieces of file folders we’d trimmed to fit in the print feed tray. We manually refed the pages, so we could do the “double sided” printing, and then did the “perforation” with a rotary perforation blade that Jen Van Meter literally had lying around.

Pretty much everything in the piece was designed in Photoshop CS and Illustrator CS, manually printed, and cut and assembled by hand.

In addition to the journal, you also worked on making the textures for and typesetting the “pages” from the Crime Bible that opened each chapter. Can you share your process on these pages?

It’s fairly boring and technical, really. They’re all created in, as above, Photoshop and Illustrator. The paper texture starts as a simple gradient, and then I just used a bunch of custom brushes I found, and others I made, to basically paint aging and blood and whatnot onto the image.

It’s then typeset in Illustrator, and I assemble it all with Steve Lieber’s fabulous art.

Some of the funnier bits, though, involve Greg mentioning in an offhand way that it’d be creepy if the “pages” were human skin. So, I actually scanned part of my arm, and used that to develop a “pore” brush; some of the pattern in the background of those pages is my own flesh.

Around each of those pages was a code that eventually revealed a lost book of the Crime Bible. How did you guys go about encoding this cipher?

Oh, it was a massive pain in the butt–my own big idea kicking me in the tail.

I had cooked up the idea of using a fairly traditional book code, one which would be tailored to the text included in the frontspieces. Then I explained how it would work to Greg, who had some difficulty visualizing what I was blathering on about.

So, I borrowed his laptop for a few minutes, whipped up a sample “bible” page to show him what I was talking about, and he grokked it–and apparently was so taken with my really crappy rough version of the bible page he immediately called the series editor, Michael Siglain, and asked him “Hey, how about having Trautmann do the frontspieces?”

Siglain apparently liked ‘em well enough that they tapped me to handle doing the frontspieces—when all I was trying to do was develop the code for ‘em. Heh.

So, Greg then drafted the “hidden” chapter of the Crime Bible, after which I started encoding, word by word, by hand, and realized he’d used words in the hidden verses that didn’t appear in the five frontspieces to the series. So, we had to go back and figure out exactly which words we’d missed, add them to the various bible pages, and re-encode. I’m frankly stunned it worked, because it sort of all had to be done at a single sitting, because of either of us lost our place, it could’ve completely bollixed the whole thing up.

Do you think the viral marketing you’ve been involved with so far, like the Montoya journal and the Gideon-II site, will be more prevalent in the comic industry in the future? What’s the advantage of this sort of advertising?

I have no idea. It’s an awful lot of hands-on work, so it’s not something every creator is going to have access to, and frankly the publishers don’t seem to really care all that much. I’d like to see more of it; I think Warren Ellis’ DOKTOR SLEEPLESS is doing some stuff like this, but it’s all internet based.

The advantage is quite obvious, to me: fan involvement. The folks who invested the time in, for example, hunting down the Journals or decoding the book code are going to be emotionally invested in the universe, and — provided you don’t fail to pay off — they’ll tell all their friends how cool it is. It’s participation in the DCU that plays directly to the kind of universal language of old-school comics—appealing to the same kinds of folks who tracked all of those parenthetical editors’ notes in old comics. To my mind, those are just non-technological hyper-links connecting the continuity, so giving people a tangible, hold-it-in-their-hands avatar of the setting is even more exciting than an editor’s note.

But, hey, I’m biased.

Also? It’s bloody CHEAP, comparatively. If a creator is willing to spend the time and initial cash outlay, it’s a damn sight cheaper than an ad in Wizard, and puts the whole thing at their fingertips, in terms of control. This was just a small team of people who believed in the book, doing it under the radar.

What can we look forward to seeing you work on next?

Nothing I can discuss as of this writing, alas, except a story I co-wrote with Brandon Jerwa for the second volume of Image’s POPGUN anthology series. It’s a supernatural/horror/action piece called “Wide Awake,” illustrated by David Messina.

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interviews

Crime Bible Studies with Greg Rucka

The following interview consists of two parts — a detailed look at the first issue that was supposed to be the first in a series of five, but was not possible due to mine and Greg’s busy schedules; and a retrospective look back at the series after its completion, conducted in mid-June.

Greg was kind enough to give us a glimpse of his writing process, and an explanation of the elements that drove the series….

Art by John Van FleetEric Newsom: So we open the book, and our first taste of the book is an actual represented page of the Crime Bible. How’d you come up with this concept, and what was the thought behind it?

Greg Rucka: It was actually one of the first thoughts I had for the series. Mike Siglain called me up, uh…this would’ve been late May, I think…about the time that Black Adam and Four Horsemen had been given the go-ahead. And he said that DiDio was asking for 52 follow-up minis, pronto, and that he wanted a Crime Bible one (hence the series’ title), and that he figured it should feature the Question.

Now, understand, at this time NONE of us on 52 was in any position to really be taking on any kind of work at all. We were, to a man, fried beyond belief. Just toasted completely. And Siglain knew this. When he called, I kinda let out a groan, and he said, yeah, I know, but the thing is, Grant can’t do it — he was already at work on Final Crisis — and probably wouldn’t do it anyway. And if it’s Q, it really ought to be you. And I groaned again. And he went in for the kill.

You don’t write it, he said, they’ll have to get someone else.

So I told him that okay, yeah, I had a couple ideas, we could work something out. And before we were off the phone, we had the meta-textual idea already fleshed out.

Initially, we wanted the covers to look very much like “book” covers, as well, but from a marketing standpoint, that never got out of the blocks. But one of the first things I said to Mike was, if we’re not calling it “The Question: Fill-In-Subtitle-Here” and instead we’re calling it “The Crime Bible: Fill-In-Subtitle-Here”, then by definition, it needs to be as much about the actual Black Book as it is about the Question, etc. And he agreed. So we knew pretty early on that we were going to show the reader the actual Black Book, and that we wanted to do it in a new way.

I’m very fond of the opening pages, as far as it goes. It took us forever to settle on Lieber for the art (which was stupid of us, because he really should’ve been the first choice), but Trautmann had been working with me on Checkmate, and before that, he’d been, basically, the guy who made story bibles for Microsoft. He’s a master at these kinds of meta creations, and he was over at the house, and in literally, like, 30 minutes with Photoshop, had created the actual page for the bible. And my jaw hit the floor, I was like, okay, we HAVE to do it like that.

EN: From what I’ve seen, you seem to be pretty involved at every point in the production of Crime Bible. Are these sorts of formatting issues a normal concern for you, or is this a special case?

GR: No, I’ve never been this hands-on on a book before. Not even on something like Hikketeia did I get this involved. But the more Mike and I discussed the series, and what we wanted to do with it, the more I kinda realized that I had a vision for it, and I wanted to try to execute it to the best of my meager ability, given that I cannot draw to save my life. And I’ll tell you, right now, there’s a man in Spain who is cursing my name because I’m asking him to rework layouts on issue 5 yet again.

It’s been marginally successful thus far. The Page 1s are coming out almost exactly as I’d hoped. Some of the issues are executing better than others, but at this point, only 2 is completely locked down. 3 should be in by the end of this week, I think.

EN: We established in our second interview session that you were previously a renaissance lit. major, then a religion major — and I thought of this fact when I was reading the text for the opening page. What was the process like in writing this stilted, antiquated — I’ll say it, Biblical language?

GR: Possibly the hardest things in the whole series for me to write, actually. At least at the start. I ended up trying to find as many different versions of various religious texts as I could, just to see how the language worked.

Initially, the idea had been that the Page 1 in each issue would be from a different edition of the Black Book, ie, issue 1 would be from the Prophet’s Edition, issue 2 would be the Sana’a Codex, etc. But for reasons that have yet to become clear to anyone but myself, Siglain, and Trautmann, it became necessary to abandon that and unify the “style.” But I actually wrote versions with misspellings, with stylized 14th century syntax, like that. And I sent them to Siglain, and he came back and said, dude, this stuff is dense enough as it is, do you really want a version where you’re making it even harder to understand?

EN: Those versions will go in the Absolute Edition.

GR: An Absolute Edition might be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but it would be cool, when all’s said and done, to do a version that shows all the stuff that didn’t make the cut. There’s a lot of material existing only on my laptop right now.

EN: I know someone who has a website that would post that stuff if you were interested later. If it didn’t fit in the trade paperback, that is.

GR: Yeah, I think I know the guy you’re talking about. We’ll wait and see. Don’t want to take sales from DC!

EN: In this issue, we see the lesson, even the image, from the First Book of Blood made literal. Are there literal interpretations of everything on the page, either in this issue, or later on?

GR: The parallelism with the imagery is intentional. The rest of the “matching,” i.e., biblical text to story text, is much more allegorical/metaphorical. We don’t see anyone literally having their eye put out by Flay, for instance.

More to the point is the nature of the lesson, and Cain’s admonition to the Caitiff that, I think, is at the heart of the issue. It’s all well and good to practice deceit, but when you let yourself believe the lie, you’re no longer the master of the lesson, but its victim.

EN: Speaking of Flay, we start the story with he and the Order of the Stone. Beating people in burlap sacks. On what looks to be an abandoned cruise ship. A number of questions arise — Why start here, with the villain, for instance?

GR: Again, it goes to how Siglain and I originally conceived the series, that it was as much about the Black Book and the Dark Faith as it was about the Question striving to both understand and thwart them. And I wanted to establish that there was an entirely different element of the Dark Faith than we’d seen before. That’s one of the goals of the series, to establish the actual Religion of Crime as an organized force in the DCU, though one that isn’t always pulling in the same direction. I dug the idea that there were different “sects” in the religion, different manifestations and even interpretations of the worship.

But as for Flay and, in particular, the location, both are crucial to the story later. A lot of what’s said at the beginning of the issue has resonance throughout the series.

EN: Flay is a character of your creation?

GR: Yeah, Flay, the Order of the Stone, the Daughters of Lilith, all of that’s my fault.

EN: I see Flay as a sort of antithesis of Montoya’s other teacher, Richard Dragon — with opposing goals, but a number of similarities as well.

GR: Yeah, I can see that, though it wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. But, like Richard, he is another “master,” though what he’s mastered is entirely antithetical to what Richard would teach.

EN: But in a way, their teaching styles are similar. They both know, dealing with their student, that simply pointing out the lesson and saying, “Here it is,” won’t work. They use non-direct, somewhat obtuse ways to get their point across — Richard’s used a wheelchair. Flay uses, in this issue, a family turning murderous on itself.

GR: Well, pull the sheet back all the way, then. What was the Deceit being taught?

EN: Well, in the end, Flay rebukes Renee’s statement that she should and could have been more in control of what had happened.

GR: He does call her “liar” at the end. And if she actually believes she should have seen it, then she’s failed to master the lesson, if one draws from what Cain tells the Caitiff in the opening text.

But if she’s lying to herself, that’s not really using the lesson as the Dark Faith would teach it, is it?

EN: No, because that would be falling prey to deceit….

GR: Right. So if we’re asking has she mastered the lesson, the question (!?) is where was the deceit she practiced. This one, I hasten to add, is not a clear-case at all. The lessons in issue 2 and 4 are much clearer. The lessons in 1 and 3 are far more oblique.

And one can argue — or I hope one could argue, because it’s very much my hope that people can and will — that in almost every case, Renee hasn’t actually committed the sin in question. Stress on “almost every case.”

EN: That’s what I was thinking, especially…well, I don’t want to give too much away, but I’d agree on that point.

GR: Yeah, well, like I said, it’s all very calculated on my part. As I’ve said before in our previous conversations — or at least, as I think I’ve said before — I’m not a real fan of writing infallible heroes. I think that makes them boring. What I think makes a character heroic is their fallibility and their efforts to overcome it whilst doing whatever noble endeavor they may be pursuing.

This take, incidentally, has gotten me into trouble lately. The latest Kodiak book put a lot of noses out of joint for a similar reason, I think; a lot of folks believe what he does in that novel is ultimately indefensible.

But I kinda like that — I don’t want easy answers for the most part. More to the point, I like my stories messy, and like my gray areas to be vast, with the black and white zones narrow and treacherously easy to step outside of.

EN: Skipping back to the beginning…one of the things that I didn’t notice the first time…the name Stanton T. Carlyle. First, I’m curious as to how you go about naming your characters, and second, what’s the story behind this name?

GR: Uh…this is going to be kinda embarrassing, actually, especially since Doug Wolk had that nice write-up on the issue. I tend to name characters, primarily, for “sound.” Carlyle is based on an academic that I knew second-hand about 10 years ago, when my wife was at the U of O. Carlyle was envisioned very much to be the young, “hip” professor who still “gets” all of his students, and who is devoted to keeping up with pop-culture events, etc.

I wanted a name that sounded preppy, that sounded a little stilted, and that sounded self-important enough to justify writing a book debunking the Dark Faith. So I flapped around and started putting pieces together until I hit something that worked. The fact that there’s a Ditko-ref at all in the name is entirely accidental, but, I suppose, it goes to the whole lit. crit. school of it not mattering what the hell the author’s intent is, it’s the text that matters.

I pick names quite deliberately, attempting to reference something, perhaps, or otherwise to conjure a sense of character. And I like names that aren’t mundane — I’m not a fan of naming characters “Tom” unless I want a name that sounds, for lack of a better phrase, well-used and well-loved.

EN: So the Eric Stanton / Nightmare Alley / Thomas Carlyle all-in-one reference is a complete happy accident? If you were Nathaniel Hawthorne, academics would be fighting about this name in 20-page conference papers for years to come.

GR: Would it make you happier if I said it was entirely intentional?

EN: Nope. Not me. I hate arguing about Nathaniel Hawthorne.

GR: [laughs] Though I have to admit, I wish I’d actually seen Nightmare Alley.

EN: You should! It taught me the importance of knowing the difference between drinking alcohol and wood grain alcohol.

GR: That’s an important lesson to learn early.

EN: But speaking of academics — our chats always have such nice segues — the two villainous characters with the most face time in this issue are a bad-ass martial artist evil monk and a nerdy-looking professor. What’s the impetus behind showing two such disparate members of the Crime Religion?

GR: That disparity was precisely the point. I wanted to establish early on that not every member of the Dark Faith was going to smash someone’s head into a stone book and then serve them to the various under-bosses who came to dinner.

Carlyle is, very much, who he appears to be. Just like Flay is, pretty much, who he appears to be. Both follow the Dark Faith. Both follow it differently, but towards a unified end.

Hopefully, one of the things that’ll come out of the mini-series is the sense that just about anyone in the DCU could be a devotee of the Religion of Crime to some extent or another. That the mugger on the street corner and the accountant in the 38th floor office, they’re both praying to Cain at one point or another.

EN: That answered my next question: Are there only members with useful occupations or talents? We get an idea through these two how very different members could be, but could my mailman be a follower of Crime? My next door neighbor?

GR: Absolutely. I’d toyed with the idea of actually doing a story where the coven-leader was a suburban soccer mom.

The Dark Faith provides different things for different people, but ultimately, its appeal is in allowing a “justified” abandoning of morals. Some people do it all the time, they live it — that’s Flay, that’s the Order, their whole existence is in pursuit of the perfection that is Cain. It’s why they are, for the most part, aesthetics — Cain needed little to commit his sins.

Others turn to it for their own gain, which is entirely appropriate within the construct of the Dark Faith. I want a new car, a new house, a new wife, I’m going to use hook and crook to get it, and the Dark Faith provides the means and opportunity for it. Once I’ve got it, I’m done…until the next time I want something.

EN: Which, I think, still serves to mirror other religions. When do people generally pray? When they want/need something. The difference might be that the Crime Religion pays off with tangible results.

GR: Yes. Again, it’s an attempt to create something that’s very loosely — and I stress that it’s loosely — viable within the DCU. The fundamental problem with a nihilistic religion is that you’d have to be totally off your nut to pursue it.

The Dark Faith isn’t nihilistic, which, I think, was a misconception when it first was introduced. It’s a very materialistic religion — take what you can, be strong enough to keep it, and cheating isn’t just acceptable, it’s expected.

If the Dark Faith has an ulterior motive, it’s in eroding morality.

EN: This first issue is set in London…what was appealing about that locale for this story? Because it seems to me to set a perfect mood for the mini-series, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why.

GR: Well, the most pragmatic reason was to establish that the Religion of Crime was global — we’re in Chittagong on pages 2 and 3, then we jump to London, so we’ve just covered half the world. But it’s also London, city of mystery and intrigue. Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. And it allowed me to show that Question wasn’t based in any one place; she was moving where the questions took her, where she could find the answers.

As far as that goes, and I noticed this on the message board at the site, Question is not a Gotham hero, and she does not, in my opinion, fall under the Bat Group. She stands outside, as Charlie did. As stated, she goes where her questions lead her, and if that’s to Gotham, fine; if that’s to Hub City, fine. If that’s to London, then she’s going to London.

There was one other reason to pick London, as well. It’s a real city, and a city that could be represented realistically, which was another, sub-textual way of trying to reinforce that the Dark Faith was pervasive and global. Starting in Metropolis, for instance, would have pretty much said, “it’s all hokum” from the start.

And yes, it’s a comic book about a woman who puts on a mask that hides her features, I know that. But trying to balance the “realism” with the “fantastic” is a game I play with myself all the time, and here, I thought it was important to try and provide as much verisimilitude as possible.

EN: I think that part of it too has to deal with — you talked about Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd — the element of timelessness that London has as a city that’s both modern and centuries old. And that mirrors that element of timelessness with the Crime Bible.

GR: That certainly helped. There were so many questions about the Religion of Crime going into this, not the least of which being, well, if it’s been around for so long, why hasn’t anyone in the DCU ever mentioned it before?

EN: Especially if my mailman is a member….

GR: You should get a P.O. Box. Might be safer.

There’s a certain nod-and-wink going on here, obviously, because we all know it’s a new concept, it’s something that Grant introduced. So there’s an inherent ret-con involved in the story, trying to establish that, yes, it’s new, but it’s also old, in the way that you can buy a copy of The Necronomicon that’s been published a week ago…but the book’s been around forever.

Which is part of the reason for Carlyle’s speech at the start of the book. How old is it? How can we discern what’s true and what isn’t? The biggest difference with the Black Book and, honestly, just about every other religion extant in our world, is that the Black Book is a living document; it’s being added to constantly. Nobody’s writing new books of the New Testament, or, if they are, the Pope sure isn’t approving them for distribution.

EN: I anticipate the answer to this will hearken back to what you’ve already said, regarding splitting the time between the Crime Bible and the Question, but many have noted what they feel is a minimal presence of Renee in this issue….What I think they’re actually feeling is the change in P.O.V. since the last time we saw her in 52.

GR: Yeah, I cut the narrative for this, for a variety of reasons. First, I don’t think the reader should get to be inside the Question’s head.

I think that was one of the wonderful things about what Denny did, and it served to force the reader to ask their own questions. And, frankly, the first-person narrative in 52 served two purposes: first, it was to establish Renee as a PI, using a traditional PI trope, i.e., “I was sitting in my office one day, when he walked in….”

But second, and more crucially, that first-person narrative of Renee’s was self-indulgent beyond belief. It was representative of her internal struggles, her despair, the frankly miserable (and often-times unlikable) state she was in. Well, guess what? It’s been 18 months or so since then. She’s got her shit together in a way she didn’t back in 52.

As for her presence in the issue, or lack thereof, as said, it’s issue 1. This issue establishes the structure for future issues, and it’ll become clearer what that is as those issues come out. But now that we’ve been introduced to the world and the Dark Faith, we can focus more on the Question, and her place and struggle in that context, as well as Flay’s.

EN: Was Peter Kürten a figure that you were familiar with and had filed away for future use, or did you research him for the series?

GR: I was familiar with Kürten before writing Crime Bible, yeah, from my days post-college when I was obsessively reading everything and anything about serial murders, profiling, and forensics.

And there’d been a twitch in my head or something that reminded me about him and his fascination with scissors. So it all came together. If I’d used the Book of Moriarty, I’d have had to come up with a way to push a character off the Reichenbach Falls, and that’d have meant moving the story to Switzerland, i think. So that wasn’t really a choice, y’know?

EN: So, since you brought it up — is the implication there that these two figures, one real (Kürten) and one fictional (Moriarty), are linked to the Crime Religion too? Or are they like Cain, figureheads for the cause?

GR: I think it’s safe to say that both have had an impact on the Religion of Crime. If the extrapolation is that Kürten’s crimes were Dark Faith inspired or otherwise tied to the religion, then that works in the context of the story.

As for Moriarty, well, he’s a character-by-association, at least, in the DCU, as Holmes has actually appeared in DC comics before. So the mind-bending comes when Carlyle cites Kürten as a “real” person, but consigns Moriarty to fiction in the same breath.

My take on that is that Holmes and his stories in the DCU have become legends; the factual information is too spotty for any one academic to be sure. They treat Holmes like Shakespeare.

EN: Christopher Marlowe was Sherlock Holmes!

GR: And Francis Drake was Zorro!

Uh…maybe not….

EN: So we see Flay following the Carlyle family around, lurking in shadows, and eventually giving Giselle orders at the book’s climax. Are Flay and the Order of the Stone a well-known faction of the Crime Religion?

GR: To some. In the same way that the Daughters of Lilith are known to some. Again, that mugger we were talking about, he probably has no idea of the depth and breadth of the Religion of Crime. Giselle is clearly in-the-know, so that when Flay meets her in the park, she knows who he is and what he represents. Whether Carlyle actually had met a member of the Order prior to issue 1, that’s unknown in the confines of the story.

Like all secret societies, there are “levels” of knowledge, of initiation and acceptance.

EN: That’s similar to how other…nameless secret societies…are run. The normal guy at the bottom of the pyra — nevermind.

GR: Shhh…they’re always watching.

EN: So the bigger question here is perhaps whether or not you have the whole organization mapped out for yourself….

GR: Yeah, I’ve got a big-ass document that’s constantly in revision detailing the Dark Faith, its structure, compiling all the scriptural quotes, etc. There’s even a schism in the church, but we don’t see that in this series.

EN: But only Grant Morrison has an actual copy of the actual Crime Bible….

GR: I think he has two, actually. The one he wrote, and the one that was…given to him.

EN: There was a point when I was reading the script where I was worried — I have a thing about violence against children, and I was glad to see that you had Renee stop Giselle in the nick of time.

GR: You and me both. And it was important that Renee-as-Question not fail “entirely.” The sinner, Carlyle, could die in a dramatic construct, but the innocent, the child, that would’ve been a loss, and I didn’t want her starting out in issue 1 with a tick mark in the loss column, y’know?

Though Siglain and I toyed with it at the start, we rejected it, obviously, and I think for all the right reasons, not the least of them being the one you cite — I’m not a fan of showing violence against children. There’s a place and a kind of story where it’s appropriate, but gratuitous cruelty has been rather liberally applied in comics of late, I think, and I wanted this depravity to be fairly specific in its application.

EN: You get the same result either way, I think — showing the depths of sin to which followers of the Dark Faith will sink — without actually going through with it.

GR: Yeah, and since that was the point, it wasn’t necessary to actually go through with it.

EN: And violence against children is a terrible thing, but having the attacker be the mother takes it a whole step further. Like I said, my guts were twisted when reading.

GR: Yeah, that’s the depravity to the nth degree. And that she’s gleeful at the thought of this “offering.” Ick.

EN: Can we address at all at this point the cause behind Flay’s intense interest in Renee?

GR: I think it’s there in the text, though it becomes clearer in issue 5. I’m not sure I want to give it away. Shard tells us all we need to know for now.

EN: We’ll leave it at that then.

GR: Probably a good place to stop. But I will add…no, actually, I won’t. Let’s see what this next week brings us, shall we? I think we might start seeing some further reactions to the issue. We can talk about it when we hit issue 2.

Alas, our discussion of issue 2 was not to be, as the holidays hit and schedules were packed to the brim with unavoidable conflicts. Thankfully, Greg was willing to sit down with us in early June to discuss the remainder of the series!

Art by John Van FleetEN: The cover of issue #2 probably best illustrates the lesson contained inside — Lust. How do you address this subject as a writer? It seems as though, especially in comics, you would have to walk a fine line with both editorial and the readership.

GR: All of the covers were something Michael and I put a lot of thought into, before passing on the concept to John Van Fleet. We really wanted a pulp feel to each of the covers. I sent Michael something like a good 200 vintage pulp covers, novels, Strange Tales, like that.

For “Lust” there was an obvious sub-genre, the lesbian pulps. The covers to 2, 4, and 5 are actually directly inspired by actual vintage covers of one sort or another (for more on this please see this piece on Crime Bible cover inspiration). For #2, there were certain tropes to be found in the covers to the lesbian pulps — they invariably had one woman, normally “butch”, reaching for a scantily clad “innocent” woman, tempting her. So that’s what we were after, quite clearly.

But the concept of lust was one that I found murderously difficult to convey in 22 pages, especially given what else had to happen in the course of the story. And — and I am well-aware the field-day that people will have with me saying this — I’ve always felt that Renee’s fatal flaw was lust. Or, to explain it more fully…a lot of homosexuals, when they first come out, work to “make up for lost time.”

So…the whole issue, literally and figuratively, was one that we tried to approach with a light touch. In point of fact, Siglain and I held Jesus [Saiz] back so much that when the issue went before DiDio for approval, he actually came back and said it wasn’t racy enough. There was a whole series of color corrections done before the book went to press where a lot of Elicia’s clothes were “edited down.”

Art by Jesus Saiz

I mean, seriously, we’d sent Jesus all this reference, so he wouldn’t end up drawing “trashy lingerie,” and in the end, Elicia shows a lot more skin that we’d planned for at the start. The conflict was in trying convey sexiness and desire without resorting to trashiness and that sort-of standard comic Great Big Female Secondary Sexual Characteristics. But — and I realize I’m all over the map here — I really struggled on the issue, because I really wanted to try and convey that sense of pressure that lust commands, the sense of almost irrepressible need.

The only way I can think to describe it is the teenage first-time feeling, that sense of now dammit now! Even as I talk about it, I’m not sure that’s a clear concept, y’know?

And the length of the issue was a problem, too, because there was really only room enough for three major scenes with Elicia, and that’s not a lot of time to really convey that growing sense of desire. Am I making any sense at all, here?

EN: I think so. But like you said, it’s hard to talk about lust in concrete terms.

GR: Yeah. The key moment was Elicia telling Renee that “you never wanted me.” I’m still not sure the issue works, frankly. I really wanted the reader to understand the sense of desire, the need to surrender to it. If I could’ve added the sound effect of tearing clothes, I’d have done it.

And, of course, after Renee does have sex with Elicia, she’s immediately hit with the follow-up of lust, i.e., regret. She’s practically self-loathing. It was also important to me that all of this be conveyed as a universal thing, not a homosexual one, if that makes sense. I didn’t want anyone reading it and thinking, oh, well, Renee’s queer, of course she has no self-control, of course she regrets it after the fact. I’m talking in circles, I apologize.

EN: Well, I don’t want to get too personal here, but I could definitely identify with what Renee was going through. Not specifically in the brothel setting, I should add, but…yeah, it’s hard to put these things in concrete terms. I think most people will feel the sense of what you’re getting at though.

GR: See, that’s the thing. It’s universal, or practically so — we’ve all felt that primal drive, that moment when your hips start shifting without you meaning them too. That sweaty, fumbly, backseat of car, trembling hands need.

GR: Maybe we should move on to another question.

EN: Right!

GR: Either that or we should offer the reader a cigarette.

EN: I liked seeing the mention of the Barcelona House in this issue. We read about Montoya’s investigations there in the trans-dimensional journal.

GR: Yeah, see, continuity! I was also trying to further establish two things, there: First, that Renee had been chasing these leads for a while, that she knew of at least one other “convent.” And second, that the Dark Faith was global, that there were elements and strongholds to be found everywhere.

EN: Did the process of working on the journal help you flesh out the concepts of the Crime Religion for yourself, as well as the reader?

GR: Not so much, frankly. I’d been steadily building the thing in my head ever since running with the ball Grant had passed to me in 52. I’ve got, literally, hundreds of pages of notes about the religion. I’ve even written a “writer’s bible” that I keep revising.

EN: You should write them out in book/verse form.

GR: Trust me, if I had the time, I probably would. You can read, in the afterward of the hardcover, some notes on the journal, etc. And I talk a bit there about what I was thinking, etc.

EN: So we’re not over the Crime Religion after this series by a longshot it seems?

GR: No, the Dark Faith plays into Final Crisis — Grant uses it, of course — and it factors strongly into Revelation, as well.

EN: That’s great, because I think it’s a concept that could fuel hundreds of quality stories.

GR: Ideally it’ll continue to play in the DCU. I think Grant handed us all a wonderful toy to play with, and it’d be a shame not to use it, y’know? By the same token, though, I’d like it to maintain a sense of internal logic, if that makes sense. That each “book” of the crime bible be consistent, things like that. That the Daughters of Lilith continue being what they are, rather than, say, turning into a bunch of child-murdering cannibals, etc.

Hence the desire to present a writer’s bible.

EN: Though if there are disparate representations later, you could always call those “Reform Dark Faithers.”

GR: Wait until you encounter the Kane Heresy.

EN: Or “Southern Independent Dark Faithers.”

GR: “Give me that ol’ time Crime Religion, it’s good enough for me!”

EN: Ha!

GR: There actually is a schism in the “church,” but that won’t be seen for a while, yet.

EN: We’ll let that tantalizing teaser hang there then.

GR: Thank you.

EN: One of the subtle touches I liked in issue #2 is the fact that Abigail seems to be leading Renee to the men on display first, before Renee’s attention is drawn elsewhere.

GR: Yeah, that’s exactly what she’s doing. The assumption, logically enough, is that Renee’s straight. And Renee goes in willing to pretend that she is, until she sees Elicia.

The idea — and again, it’s hard to convey in a comic without defaulting, I think, to pure iconography/manga style, ie, stars and hearts in her eyes — is that she sees Elicia and is immediately struck by her.

EN: In the script you sent me, Elicia’s name was originally Elena. Would you like to explain the name change / give a shout out to the real Elicia?

GR: Yeah, the name was changed in honor of a woman, named Elicia, who used to work at Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey, WA.

EN: Which is, if I might interject, a fantastic store…though I only saw it at its old location.

GR: Yeah, the new location — you have to see it the next time you’re out here. It was explained to me that she was a BIG Renee Montoya fan. But Elicia For Real is queer, and, I believe, has gone so far as to get a Renee as Question tattoo on an arm. So it was a simple change, made to make a fan smile.

GR: Hell, I used your name on the telegrams in the Montoya Journals. I’ll steal from everywhere, I’m not particular.

EN: It’s not every day that a fictional version of yourself gets to sleep with your favorite comic character.

GR: No, though it’s not really something you can put on a resumé, you know?

EN: So what is it about Elicia (the fictional Elicia) that Renee finds so hearts-shooting-from-the-eyes appealing? Is it just lust, or is there a sort of Robert DeNiro-Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver thing going on here too?

GR: Oh, I think it’s a couple of things. The first was that, initially, Renee was hit hard by her beauty. The idea was that Elicia, to Renee, was heart-breakingly pretty, just achingly so. Then they get along. They like each other. Not that they’re in love, but again, that primal connection, that lust element — they’re near each other, and the more time they spend together, the more they want each other.

That’s the other thing, is that it’s mutual, to a great extent. And then the third catalyst, so to speak, is Renee’s resistance. There’s sex all around, there’s indulgence all around, it’s perfectly permissible in the environment, but Renee keeps refusing. Anyone who’s ever been in that situation, faced with that kind of mutual desire, they know that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it infinitely worse.

EN: Another touch I liked in this issue was the use of the regurgitant pill (and the fact that Saiz actually draws in the vomit stain on the next page). In this series we see Renee using investigation methods that she wouldn’t have been able to do as a member of the Gotham P.D. Is it a matter of developing new techniques, or do you see the skills of the vigilante crimefighter to be the next step up from police work?

GR: Oh, I think a lot of what Renee does is based on “WWCD”, y’know? What would Charlie do to get to the truth? So she enters the situation trying to maintain her cover, but also trying to give herself an out. She went to the brothel planning on getting into a room with one of the hosts/hostesses, and from there taking a look around. And she knew she’d need a good excuse to be left alone.

But she’s certainly evolved from her days on the GCPD. After all, she’s got the freedom the mask gives her, so all bets are kinda off.

EN: There’s an interesting parallel between the woman facing being sacrificed at the end of this book and the brothel being burned at the end. It seems as though Flay is willing to sacrifice everything to bring the Faceless to leadership.

GR: He is. There’re a couple of things to that, of course, though they may not have been clear in the text as much as in the sub-text. The first is that the Order of the Stone and the Daughters of Lilith do not like each other. Flay has the line about daughters “moaning on their backs” or something like that, and Abigail positively acts like she’ll need to fumigate her office after Flay visits. So Flay’s not really concerned with collateral damage to the Daughters.

But there’s also the fact that Flay is a zealot, he’s a true believer, and he’s going to bring Lilith’s prophesy regarding the Faceless to pass. He’s going to make it happen. That, he feels, is his place in the world, why he’s there.

EN: I thought there was a strong sense of Abigail not really being in on the plan.

GR: No, she’s not in on it at all. All she knows is that the head of the Order of the Stone showed up at her convent and said there was this person coming in, and she needed to be handled in this certain way. He didn’t say why. If he had, Abigail probably would’ve monkeyed with Renee more, just to undermine the Order.

There’s another sub-textual element at work, here, too, which didn’t come across in the series at all…which is that the Religion of Crime is without a head at the moment. There’s no High Madame. Mannheim vanished, and when he returned, he was no longer the Prophet. And Whisper A’Daire, the last High Madame, is missing presumed dead.

GR: There’s another project I’ve been working on, and actually, the timing was supposed to be that, in this other thing, you’d know about the High Madame “problem”, and witness the arrival of the new head of the Dark Faith.

But that got pushed WAAAAAAAAAAAAY back, so Crime Bible was kinda left in a vacuum.

Art by John Van FleetEN: Onto issue #3?

GR: Sure!

EN: Cobblepot calls the Crime Religion “Gotham-come-lately.” This adds again to that paradoxical mystique we’ve talked about before — the question of: is it centuries old, or something new? It seems like it would be a hard balancing act to pull off and still have the concept be believable, but I think you do it well in this series.

GR: Yeah, it’s always fun trying to retrofit a new idea into established continuity. Still, I think the idea of this cult lurking below the surface for all these years works, in the DCU certainly.

Cobblepot is uniquely positioned to talk about the religion — the whole “really, what sort of name is that?” riff, for instance.

EN: He’s really grown to be one of my favorites in recent years.

GR: I’ve always loved Cobblepot as a character, frankly; he’s terribly hard to write, I think, and most folks write him off as a joke, but I like him. He is always his own worst enemy, I think.

EN: Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at the script to this issue alongside the original pencils and inks by Matthew Clark. I found it interesting to see how many of the specific details were from your scripts — like when Cobblepot pulls a Broomhandle Mauser, for instance. Clark also brought a lot to these pages too, though. I guess my question here is, how do you approach establishing the visuals of a page, and does that approach differ depending on the artist you’re working with?

GR: Working with Matthew is its own thing, for the record, because he’s one of my best friends, and he lives ten minutes from my house. So when I’m scripting for him, I know he and I will be working pretty closely on the final result.

But when I’m scripting anything, I tend to lay heavy on the details I think are important to character. I can’t draw, so I try, always, to write a script that explains, clearly as possible, what’s happening and why it’s important and what is important about it. Ideally, the result is that the artist can take the script and say, okay, I know what we need to accomplish here, and this idea works, but I’ve got a better way to do this thing, etc.

It’s such a collaborative process that I find myself constantly trying to balance conveying what I feel is vital to the story, while at the same time trying to allow the artist as much freedom as possible to accomplish our goals. So I tend to overscript, as far as that goes; I think that’s partially a fault of being trained, primarily, in prose. But I cut my teeth on the short story, and God is in the Details in the short, so I try to mark specific details when I think they’re needed.

The Mauser, for instance, is entirely character — but could you imagine Cobblepot with a .44 magnum? It wouldn’t work. Of course he’s got an antique, and one in perfect condition.

EN: I could not imagine that. I think the Mauser’s pretty perfect. Also, that he downplays it to Flay when, as you said, we know he has it for a reason.

GR: I like Cobblepot as a gentleman, or as someone trying desperately to be one. Always terribly polite, right until he has you killed, cut up, and melted in acid.

EN: What inspired the names of each edition of the Crime Bible? Sana’a is a city in Yemen? Fitzgerald is…F. Scott (or Zelda?)? In this issue, we’re dealing with the Bastard’s Folio.

GR: The whole idea of naming editions was taken from the Lovecraft mythos, the idea of differing “books of forbidden knowledge.” The Necronomicon (sp?) is always presented as having differing iterations, differing translations. Even real Bible historians denote differing authors, etc. So the naming convention was based on the concept that these different editions were marked in certain ways, each with a story of some sort behind them.

The Sana’a Edition, for instance, is the one that Charlie grabs in 52. The Fitzgerald is named for the translator. I went with Fitzgerald not so much because of F. Scott, much as I admire his work, but because the name had an authority to it, at least to my ear. The Bastard’s Folio is named after the person who printed it. The other named edition, I think, is the High Madame’s Binding, which is the complete pure text, kept in hiding for use by the High Madame alone. It has all the spells, all the prophesies, all the codes.

I don’t know what to add. I mean, I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this stuff. I toyed with the idea of having one of the editions printed in an ink that was a narcotic of some sort, things like that. And, of course, we wanted to set up the idea of the codes, so that readers who wanted to try their hand at it could fiddle with the text pieces at the start of each issue, trying to decode them.

Re: the Sana’a Edition. Where did Charlie grab it? In Yemen.

EN: Aha. I missed that one.

GR: Yeah, that one was pretty literal. There are other named editions out there, but only a handful. The thing that marks them as special, that earns them their “name”, is that they’re “true” texts, as opposed to edited or altered.

EN: This issue is the first of two homecomings we see during the series, with Renee visiting her old Gotham Central stomping grounds, the grave of one former partner, and having an intense stairwell conversation with another. Did you have any feelings of figuratively coming home yourself while writing these scenes?

GR: Huh. Interesting question. Yeah, I think I was very aware — as was Michael — that having Renee back in Gotham was something we needed to address.

Getting to write Central again, even in the most broad terms, was a delight, y’know. And the meeting with Gordon was fun for me, because I’ve always loved the character, and I liked the idea that he was, even after all that had happened, both fond of and paternal towards Renee. Writing Bullock was interesting. I like the character, but I’m not really fond of how he was brought back, ie, with no explanation. So putting him and Renee opposite each other, especially after all that’s happened to them respectively, was a moment that needed to be seen. I’d have let it run longer, but, again, there were space constraints.

I suspect they’ll run into each other again at some point. They’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

EN: Gordon leaves Montoya with an open invitation to re-join the ranks of the GCPD. Do you think she’d ever be able to go back to being a cop, after her experiences over this series and 52 (and the end of Gotham Central (oh, and the forthcoming Final Crisis: Revelation))?

GR: Hell no. Being a cop almost killed her. Despite the toll that chasing the Dark Faith has taken on her (and continues to take), what she tells Kate later in the issue is true — she’s the best she’s been in a long, long time. She’s clean, sober, healthy (relatively — not talking mental health). And on some level she’s content, because she has a purpose and a direction, and that was something that she’d most definitely lost at the end of Central.

There’s another element, too, actually. She can’t be the Question and be a cop; they’re incompatible. To be the Question, she has to follow her curiosity wherever it leads. As a cop, she simply cannot do that.

EN: Speaking of Kate, we see her here carrying a guitar case. We don’t really know too much about her yet, aside from what we’ve seen in a few issues of 52. Someone e-mailed me to see if I’d ask you: is the implication here that she’s a socialite-turned-musician?

GR: She is, in fact, a socialite-turned-musician. She plays a mean guitar.

EN: And this one’s from me: When Kate takes the Crime Bible edition from Cobblepot, there’s a tone of familiarity in the way she speaks to him. Is Kate well-known around Gotham at this point? Or is this just a part of the fact that Cobblepot seems to deal with everyone in Gotham at some time or another?

GR: It was more intended as Batwoman’s manner, rather than a hint at a prior encounter (though I did try to at least acknowledge the Iceberg lounge beat from Countdown, there).

EN: When Renee and Kate fight over the book, I’m reminded that there’s a history of violence between them that we also saw in 52. Is this just a comic book trope — that throwing punches is the way superheroes deal with things — or is this a recurring element of their relationship?

GR: A little of both, I think, though I hesitate to say anything that would imply either was physically abusive to the other. When they were together, after all, neither of them was wearing a mask. But so much of their relationship is defined by passion. But unlike in issue #2, where it’s lust, pure and simple, what’s going on between Kate and Renee is much more complicated.

They bring out each others’ passion, both towards each other, and towards the things around them. The thing I was reaching for — and you can almost see it in the issue, I think — is that they can be very good together. Their chemistry when their in the guy’s apartment, for instance, the banter and the ease, is another element of that.

But Kate’s fighting Renee for a very specific reason, here — she’s honestly trying to convince Renee to alter course, where the course is something that is scaring Kate a lot; she’s afraid for Renee. And I’d add, by the way, that the punches in 52 are thrown for very specific reasons — the first one, when they meet for the first time in so many years, was played both as a P.I. trope, and as a response to a pretty nasty dig by Renee. The Batwoman punch is very purpose-driven — Renee’s about to shoot somebody, and Batwoman don’t cotton to no killing.

EN: In the original script, the pages of the Crime Bible that Renee looks through on the train were blank. What was the impetus behind adding a message from Flay here?

GR: Looking at the final art, both Michael and I were afraid we were being too subtle. I’m still not sure it was the right decision to actually add the message, but it was important to me that the reader understand that Renee had been duped, that Flay was playing her all along. So all the conflict, the fight with Kate, the additional damage done to their relationship there…it was all for nothing.

EN: I think it works, because this is the only issue, if I’m remembering correctly, where Flay doesn’t show up at the end to reinforce the lesson learned. And so there’s still evidence of his hand at play.

GR: Yeah, that’s correct. And the series needed to keep “on point” so to speak.

Art by John Van FleetEN: In the opening pages of issue #4, we see a personification of the “Red Right Hand” that Darkseid’s Bitch once sang about (according to the set list from the journal). Does Flay have any supernatural power over the officer in this scene, or is the madness purely psychological?

GR: Heh. Good catch. It’s entirely psychological. Flay’s power is simply his skill as a killer, and he’s an incredibly proficient one. The idea was, bluntly, that Flay had this man’s life in his hand. Quite literally could and would kill him. And just a capriciously as he slaughtered everyone else in the bar, he lets this man live. And, let’s face it, Hub City is full of people on the brink of madness.

EN: If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be Hub City!

GR: You got it!

EN: I like the presence of Tot in the scene at the lighthouse (an interesting symbol), especially that he and Renee aren’t buddy-buddy. Their relationship seems tenuous, but they’re here together to honor Charlie’s memory in a way.

GR: Very much so. Eventually, I’d like to have the opportunity to follow-up with Tot some more, and allow him his grief in a way that we haven’t been privy to thus far. And he really doesn’t know what to make of Renee, and Renee’s relationship with Charlie. As I’ve said before, there’s the question of whether or not Charlie was actually his son or not. So Tot’s got issues where Renee’s concerned.

EN: Where is this lighthouse that Charlie has left them? Will this be a base of operation for Renee in the future?

GR: That’s the idea. As to where it is, I’m still somewhat undecided, frankly. I was thinking somewhere in the Southern U.S., maybe the Carolinas or Louisiana.

EN: We certainly have a bunch of lighthouses in North Carolina. I can vouch.

GR: Yeah, that’s why I was considering it, frankly. And it puts it reasonably close to established DCU “hubs.” As for the symbolism of a lighthouse…entirely intentional. Of course Charlie would leave them a lighthouse.

EN: Speaking of the DCU, I think you once told me that trying to make the DCU timeline literal was an impossible task, but here you’ve sort of defined the distance between this and the original Question series by saying that Myra was recently elected for her third consecutive term. What were your thoughts behind this little mention?

GR: I wanted her to still be mayor, and time had to have passed. It was pretty much as simple as that. I also liked the idea that, not only had Myra stuck it out, but that she was still fighting the good fight in Hub City, despite everything that had happened in the DCU in the interim.

EN: It was good to see that she’s still there and possibly making progress, especially in light of what it seemed like she was sacrificing at the end of Denny’s series.

GR: That was important to me, to show that all of her sacrifices (and there have been so many), hadn’t been in vain. She’s always been truly heroic to me, especially the way Denny portrayed her, the way he detailed the obstacles she struggled again and again to overcome.

Issue 4 was very much pure homage to Denny and Denys, from the madness aspect to the appearances of Tot, Izzy, and Myra. We even tried to get some of Denys’ style in the art — the beat where Myra learns that Charlie has died was very much lifted from the way he and Denny would script key beats.

EN: That was my next question, actually: while the last issue was a homecoming for both you and Montoya, this issue is something different — you and Renee going to someone else’s home. How did it feel to go to Hub City for the first time?

GR: It’s funny, because I didn’t really think of it that way; I guess I’d been to Hub City a lot in my mind, if that makes sense. I’ve read and reread the Denny/Denys series so many times at this point that I feel I know the city as well as I know Gotham.

For obvious reasons, though, it was crucial that we take Renee into Charlie’s world, both as his epitaph, and as a service to continuity of character and story. She’s carrying his legacy; part of that legacy is Hub City, and all it entails. Of all the issues in the mini, this one has Charlie’s ghost most heavily upon it. I mean, how many times did the Question end up chasing someone on a rooftop?

EN: I just want to say that I liked the little chalkboard easter egg with the names of creators associated with the Question/Renee. Gives a nice bit of history in a book that, as you said, is already dealing with that subject.

GR: Yeah, we had fun with that.

EN: Here again in this issue, the lesson learned is debatable. Flay seems to be the real murderer here. What is it he’s trying to lead Renee to — an understanding of evil, or just inner confusion?

GR: Yeah, this is the weakest of his lessons, I think, and certainly the one she can defend most easily. But one of the things that, I think, a lot of people overlooked was Flay’s threat — and perhaps that was the lesson of murder; Flay creates a killer via murder; Flay forces Renee’s reckoning with the threat of murder.

In the end, though, his goal is straightforward enough — he wants her to face each lesson in turn. Whether she actually submits to it in the moment may be irrelevant; that she understand them and experience them is more to the point.

EN: I hadn’t thought of it that way — that unless she agrees, she’ll be partially responsible for his actions?

GR: That’s the implicit threat. He’ll go on killing and killing unless she agrees to his terms. Though, in 5, he as much admits it was an empty threat. That’s not to say that I think it was empty; if she hadn’t turned up, Flay certainly would’ve gone after every target he could’ve. Probably starting with her parents.

Art by John Van FleetEN: Issue five — we return in this issue to the ship graveyards we first saw in the first issue. Where did you hear about this place? It seems a perfect place to set these final scenes.

GR: This was another Trautmann-ism, actually. When I was working on the second Perfect Dark novel, he’d suggested setting one of the action set-pieces in a similar locale, though it was in India, not Bangladesh.

I did some research, and it’s frankly fucking horrible. The work environ is awful. Children and old men slaving away on these beaches for pennies, doing work that literally kills people every day. Seemed like the perfect place for the Order of the Stone to have their temple.

EN: Is this supposed to be THE Red Rock we’re seeing here on the ship? Or is this a symbolic rock used as part of the ritual?

GR: No, it’s a symbolic rock. Actually, the knife that Flay pulls is supposed to be flint-napped (sp?) from the Red Rock. The rock in the hold is red only due to the blood spilled upon it. In the same way that the rock in the Bethesda “convent” is red for the same reason, rather than because it’s the original red rock.

EN: I was a little sad to see Flay die in the end, not because of the ramifications for Renee, but because I found him interesting as a character. Did you work up any sort of back story for him to explain how he came to be the zealot that he was?

GR: Some, yes, but only as much as I needed to make him work for the purposes of the story. It’s funny you mention it, though, because Michael had much the same comment, and we actually discussed — briefly — whether there was a way to accomplish our ending without killing him. But in the end I couldn’t see a way to do it.

I liked Flay as a pure zealot, as a true believer. Very doctrinal, very directed — a man who saw his purpose and his duty, and whose faith was unwavering. That look of incredulity on his face when Question turns away from him, refuses to kill him…that to me spoke volumes about the character, because that was his only moment of doubt, ever, in the series.

EN: Was the cliffhanger with which Crime Bible ends always the plan?

GR: Yeah, though I have to say, I never saw it as a cliffhanger, per se.

GR: I mean, I knew and recognized that we were ending in a place that practically demanded another story, more answers (ha!)…but in its way, I thought that we had provided a resolution to the initial question of the series. It was a terminus, but as such, it was also a launching point. Yet another example of being too damn subtle for my own good, I’m sure.

And, to be brutally frank, when Siglain and I were working on the series, we didn’t know where or when we’d get to use Question next, so we wanted to load the deck as much as we could, and leave in a place that kind of required another story.

EN: I think the point at which it became a cliffhanger for folks was when you didn’t re-up with DC, and for some reason, everyone assumed that you’d never write another DC comic ever again.

GR: Ah, see…I never thought of that, because my not re-upping had no bearing on whether I was going to do more stories for DC. It was simply an issue of needing to take a break to get some other projects up and running, and to get some fresh air after four years in harness.

When we meet up with Question in FCR, it’s clearly after the end of CB, and things have changed. And there’s a reference in, I think, issue 2, where she mentions obliquely that things haven’t been good. So there’s a story to be told there, as well. It was not, shall we say, Good Times for Renee.

EN: And that story will be Final Crisis: Revelation?

GR: Some of it, yes. The full story will come after, I suspect. We’re discussing what happens after FCR to Question.

GR: Grant has some interesting ideas, actually, so I suspect he and I will have a conversation in San Diego about it this year. And by conversation, I mean that Grant will open his brain and let a half dozen ideas tumble out, and then expect me to understand each of them. If I’m lucky, I’ll get, maybe, one of them.

EN: Any final thoughts on Crime Bible before we get to FC:R? Do you consider the project (the series, the journal, the code, the whole nine yards….) a success?

GR: Well, not from a commercial stand point, no. I think we were hobbled by a horrible title, and a complete and utter lack of promotion, frankly. From an artistic standpoint, and a storytelling one, yes, absolutely. I think it’s one of the most ambitious and complex stories I’ve done for DC, and I think we managed to pull it off.

And I am, still, very proud of it. And I think that, once it’s out in trade, more people will find it, and hopefully, they’ll like what we did.

EN: Well, we’ll be doing our best at the site to encourage folks to buy it!

GR: It’d be nice. The worst thing, frankly, was feeling that we’d busted our humps on this thing, and nobody was reading it. That’s frustrating, plain and simple. Not to sound too petulant, or anything.

EN: I think it will hold up really well — might even work better — in the hardcover, so hopefully you’ll find some new readers for there.

GR: I think reading it as a whole will help, yeah. I don’t know about the hardcover, but the softcover will certainly get a few people to pick it up who didn’t before.

The hardcover edition of Crime Bible came out to the direct market on June 12, and to the general market on June 24. Buy a copy for yourself today!

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interviews

Interview with Bob Layton

Conducted by Eric Newsom in 1998.

This interview was conducted with Bob Layton on the occasion of the publication of the L.A.W., forthcoming in 1999. I’d met Layton and his collaborator Dick Giordano at the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find convention in Charlotte, where they were displaying preview art for the potential series.

What is your opinion on the Moore/Gibbons series, The Watchmen? What would you have thought if Moore had been allowed to go with his original plan of using the Charlton characters?

I think that The Watchmen was one of the best comics that DC has ever published. However, I understand DC’s reluctance to cast the Charlton characters in the series, since the storyline would have altered them so drastically that they couldn’t be re-inserted into the DCU. It’s a shame that they didn’t have the Elseworlds format in place then. In the long run, it didn’t matter. Moore’s characters shocked us and touched our hearts just as effectively without being the Charlton characters.

If, er…When L.A.W. gets its own on-going series, is there any chance that any of the old vanguard might come back and work on backup features with their characters? Ditko, Boyette, P.A.M., McLaughlin, Aparo, and others?

There’s always a chance, Eric. I’d love nothing better that to keep the Charlton franchise alive and introduce the original creators to a new audience. Time …and sales …will tell.

Any plans for (dum dum dummmm) E-Man to make a guest appearance?

DC doesn’t have the rights to any “second generation” Charlton characters (ie: E-Man, Yang, Doomsday +1, etc.), so that’s not likely.

What’s your favorite Question story?

All of them.

Has Denny O’Neil (the writer of most of DC’s Question stories) read any of the L.A.W. yet? If so, what was his reaction?

I don’t know if Denny has read anything beyond the original Elseworld proposal, but he was very supportive in his comments on that document. I have seen Denny a couple of times since, up in the DC offices, and he has been encouraging to both Dickie and myself about the project. Den is a pretty good fellow.

How do you respond to speculators’ pre-judgments that Vic isn’t a team player and won’t fit in with the group?

Wait and see. The greatest misconception about this series has been that it’s a “Team Book”. It is NOT.

They don’t have membership cards, signal rings, secret handshakes or any of that crap. Yet, from day one, many of the on-line fans have pegged the series as “just another team book” without having read a single page of the story. I feel that many people have already made up their minds about the book and that really ticks me off!

I’ve heard rumors that Dick Giordano once saw Mysterious Suspense (the Question one-shot) and noted that there were other unpublished Question stories that Ditko did. Is there any truth to this?

If that’s true, they’re still in the mind of Steve Ditko. When Charlton opened their vaults to me back in the ’70’s for the Charlton Bullseye, I pretty much stripped their archives of any unpublished action hero material. The only thing I found on those two was the unprinted Blue Beetle #6…which I published. However, the Question was not in that issue.

Any plans to give Nora Lace super-powers and have her team up with Vic in a super-duo called the Questionairres?

Golly…why didn’t I think of that?

Bob Layton, in addition to being the co-writer and inker of DC’s upcoming series featuring The Question, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade, Judomaster, Peacemaker and Sarge Steel — The L.A.W. — was the creator of the Charlton Bullseye fanzine/treasure trove. He currently showcases his work for multiple companies on his official website.

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interviews

Interview with Denny O’Neil

Conducted by Eric Newsom in 1998.

I e-mailed Denny via his wonderfully nice wife Marifran (I think I got their e-mail information from the defunct O’Neil Observer website, which has transformed sort of into the Denny O’Neil Message Board) in 1998, asking if he’d be willing to do an interview for my silly little website. I expected to not hear back from him at all, but Denny replied later that evening, saying he’d be glad to.

I whipped up the following batch of questions and sent them off, and got the prompt and thoughtful response that you’ll read below the next day. I’m thinking about, eight years later, sending Denny another set of questions, so maybe you’ll see a second part to this interview!

I’ve heard that you secretly wrote for Charlton Comics under the pseudonym Sergius O’Shaugnessy. Did you get your start at Charlton? Did you ever work alongside Question creator Steve Ditko there?

I didn’t get my start at Charlton. I started with Stan Lee at Marvel, first as an editorial assistant and later as a writer. Worked with Steve there, on his final Dr. Strange run. Then I freelanced for Dick Giordano at Charlton as Sergius O’Shaugnessy, though I don’t recall ever doing anything with Steve under Dick’s aegis there. When Dick went to DC, Steve and I (and Steve Skeates and Pat Boyette ) followed. One of my first DC gigs was Steve’s Creeper character. Later, when I returned to Marvel as an editor, we did an Iron Man together.

Do you have an opinion on Ditko’s Question, as seen in the back-ups of Blue Beetle and in Mysterious Suspense at Charlton?

I didn’t have any powerful opinions on the early Question stuff. Barely noticed it. They seemed (and seem) to be of a piece with a lot of what Steve was doing then–pretty close to his Mr. A, among others. Interesting, well-told, certainly bearing the Ditko stamp, but I had no reason to pay the stories much heed.

What was it that originally drew you to work on the character?

What attracted me to the Question was that after working as an editor at DC for about six months after I’d left Marvel, someone–Dick?–suggested I get back to writing. Two characters were available, Captain Atom and The Question. I’m not comfortable working with demigod heroes–really SUPER guys–which the Captain certainly was. The Question, on the other hand, was very human in scale. To sweeten the gig, I was told I could do pretty much whatever I wanted with the series–in fact, Paul Levitz advised me to push the envelope and not try to be commercial. Finally, I had a luxuriously long time to think about the character, write memos, make suggestions, whatever. Very little deadline pressure, since the book hadn’t been scheduled. And I shared an office with the editor, another luxury. Those were the days…

What led to the decision to go a different route with the character than the foundations that Ditko had laid?

Making the character my own: sigh. I knew, and told everyone, that I couldn’t do Steve’s version. I have great respect for Steve and I admire the tenacity with which he holds to his convictions, but our ideas about what constitutes a hero, while not entirely in opposition, are often at odds. I see a very different world than Steve’s. We agree about little beyond what constitutes good visual narrative. So I symbolically killed the old Question in issue #1–he’s shot, shoved in a freezing river and stops breathing–and resurrected a changed Vic Sage in issue #2. (I am not entirely happy about this. I took huge liberties with someone else’s creation, though at the time it seemed a natural, harmless thing to do. But I’ve been asked why I simply didn’t start fresh with my own character and the only answer I have is that the idea simply didn’t occur to me. Sometimes the lame replies are the true ones…) Then I was given an unprecedented amount of freedom to write the stories I wanted to write, for which I’ll always be grateful.

The series tells a nice round story from issue 1 to issue 36. How much of the story was planned before the first issue was published?

The series evolved, without benefit (or handicap) of any kind of master plan. It certainly changed over the three years of monthly publication, both in terms of writing technique and content. Again, I was allowed to experiment with both what I did and how I did it, and maybe I learned a bit. What we mostly did, I think, was all but abandon the superhero aspects, ending much closer to Will Eisner’s Spirit than Batman. (In this, we paralleled Eisner’s own evolution. The Spirit also got less and less superheroic as time passed–for example, Will got rid of the flying car early on.)

What was the collaborative process like between you and artist Denys Cowan?

We didn’t really “work together.” Mostly, I did my job–the scripts–and the art guys did theirs. As I noted in the previous post, Mike Gold, the editor,and I did a lot of talking before I started writing, and Denys and I spent a long Saturday wandering around Chinatown and Greenwich Village early on. And I think I made a few art suggestions on the first couple of jobs. But mostly, we operated solo. Which is how I usually work.

What were your main influences in writing the Question? Can you tell us definitively what the real-life counterpart to Hub City is?

My life and interests greatly influenced The Question, particularly after the first few issues–much more so than on any other series I’ve ever done. As I said earlier, I was given a wonderful and rare freedom to write what I wished. I’m not at liberty to divulge the model for Hub City.

What was the impetus behind the one-shot The Question Returns?

Alas. I don’t remember why DC decided to do The Question Returns. It may have had something to do with preserving copyrights.

Any chance the Question will pop up in your current book, Azrael?

I’ve discussed using the Question in Azrael with Mike, my editor (and overall boss) and he says okay. But we’d have to come up with just the right plot… Fingers are crossed. We won’t cross toes until/unless things get desperate…

Would you be interested in working on the character again, maybe in a new series?

New series? I’ve love to write one, but that isn’t my decision. (If, for some reason I couldn’t do the job, I hereby nominate Kelley Puckett for the gig.)

Wouldn’t mind seeing Kevin (Smith) take a shot at the character, either. He and I had a long talk about Vic when I first met him a year ago. I like his movies–even Mallrats–and I thought Chasing Amy was a fine snapshot of a corner of my world. And the guy knows and loves comics…

Denny O’Neil retired from comics after a number of years as a writer and editor, though he still occasionally writes for both DC and Marvel. He revisited the Question for the novel Helltown in 2006.

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interviews

“I Was a Teen-Age Comics Artist” with Denys Cowan

Amazing Heroes #163Conducted by Andy Mangels – originally printed in Amazing Heroes #163 – Apr. 89.

Andy Mangels is a USA Today best-selling novelist, an award-winning editor of comic anthologies, writer of several non-fiction books and comic books, and producer-director of DVD Special Features and documentaries.

Unlike the string of ’50s teenage horror pics that this interview’s title is in homage to, the work of Denys Cowan is anything but horrifying to look at–unless he wants it that way, that is. Denys started in the comic business when at an age most comic fans are developing their sense of individual reading tastes (or regressing further into the bandwagon / X-Men mentality), and is now one of the more sought-after artists in the business.

Denys may strike some in this interview as being an “angry young man,” and in the best ways, he fits this label. He is passionate about his beliefs, and is willing to speak out on them, unlike many other professionals. He is equally passionate about his artwork, striving for growth and change in a style which, although non-traditional, is winning him both sales and critical acclaim.

Denys is also an extremely funny and likable guy. Although we missed our interview plans at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, this completely up-to-date interview will fill you in on the life of a “star artist” on the rise. It was a pleasure to talk to Denys, and I look forward to doing so again. Now, on with the show.

AMAZING HEROES: How old are you, Denys?

DENYS COWAN: Twenty-nine.

AH: You’re 29, and you started in comics when you were 15. How does a 15-year-old start in comics?

COWAN: I was going to the High School of Art & Design, and one of the upper classmen was a guy named Armando Gil, who has since worked on The ‘Nam and Savage Sword of Conan. He was two grades ahead of me, and I used to hang around him because, to me, at that time, he was a wonderful artist. I was totally blown away by his work. I guess he took pity on me.

One day he was going up to see Rich Buckler and he asked me if I wanted to come along. [laughs] “Yes!” So I went up and met Rich, and he hired Annando as his assistant. Since I was hanging around, Rich asked if I wanted to help out too. That’s pretty much how I got started. I wasn’t doing full, professional work, but I was working in comics, and it did see print.

AH: You started out doing dinosaurs in the background of Secret Society of Super-Villains?

COWAN: That’s right! Dinosaurs! Giant Dinosaurs! I have no idea what issue, but I remember two stories. One was Captain Comet with the Super-Villains, and he fought the giant dinosaurs. The other was a Green Lantern story with giant gorillas. It was a Gorilla Grodd story.

AH: So you got to draw both giant dinosaurs and gorillas.

COWAN: No, he wouldn’t let me touch the gorillas. In that one, I got to draw buildings.

AH: From there, you eventually went to Continuity Studios?

COWAN: Actually, from there, I worked with Ron Wilson and Arvell Jones when I was 16. Then I entered my Junior year of High School and got an internship at Continuity. I kind of knew those guys because I was hanging around Joe Rubinstein also, who graduated two years before me. It was pretty easy to angle my way into an internship. because I was always hanging around there anyway.

AH: What did you do up at Continuity?

COWAN: [laughs] Oh. geez. I cleaned a lot. Basically. I was able to do backgrounds and stuff. I didn’t get to do a lot of art though. It was mostly photostats and making coffee and generally being a nuisance. Neal Adams, at the time, generally put up with a lot of nonsense. That’s also where I met one of my good friends, Joe Brozowski. Whenever I would mess up on a job, such as if I was coloring something, Joe would follow behind me, cleaning up my mistakes. I think he hated me for a while. He was always having to clean up my messes.

AH: This is when you were 17?

COWAN: Yeah, 16 to 17.

AH: Were they working on Ms. Mystic then? [1976-1977-AH]

COWAN: Yeah. Mike Nasser was.

AH: [laughs]

COWAN: What’s so funny?

AH: Just the fact that 12 years ago they were still working on Ms. Mystic, and the third issue has yet to come out.

COWAN: Mike Nasser had drawn the first book 12 years ago. They had just finished doing the Superman vs. Muhammed Ali book about two months before I started working up there officially. I missed my chance to be on the cover with all the other celebrities. Trevor Von Eeden made it on the cover though.

AH: And you’re jealous to this day?

COWAN: I am. I’m burnt to this day. [both laugh]

AH: What was your first professional work?

COWAN: Let me think here…peel back the layers of a muddled mind. It wasn’t Superman 2020, it was a war story, given to me by Paul Levitz. He gave me this Weird War Story three-pager, which took me about three months to do. I don’t know if it ever even saw print. After that, I did this five-page western story that I got the pages back from last month. I looked at them and gave them all away.

AH: You got the pages back 11 years later?

COWAN: Yeah. They were horrible. But that five-page story took me about five months.

AH: You’ve gotten a little faster.

COWAN: I’ve gotten a lot faster over the years. That was the second thing I did. Then I did a story about football players who kept winning games, but they would only play at night. It turns out that they were all vampires. These are the caliber of stories they gave me to work on.

AH: Eventually through the years, you got a Moon Knight back-up.

COWAN: Oh. you’ve been doing your research. I didn’t do the back-up first. I did the White Tiger back-ups in Spectacular Spider-Man for about four issues, and then I did Firestorm back-ups in the back of Flash for DC. Then, I got a full-length Moon Knight story as a fill-in for Bill Sienkiewicz. Steve Mitchell inked it, and the next month they gave me a Mark Spector back-up story. They were going to give me a whole series of those. I don’t know whatever happened to that. Maybe I killed that idea.

AH: From there, you went to Power Man/Iron Fist?

COWAN: Right to Power Man Iron Fist. This was all for Denny O’Neil. He took me out to lunch one day and asked me if I wanted to do the book. I told him yes, and I did it for about a year. I did 10 issues, and there were two fill-ins. Reliability was not my best virtue then. My top priority was not trying to get books out on time, it was trying to do good work.

AH: Where did you go from there?

COWAN: Black Panther.

AH: The Black Panther mini-series was about Apartheid, which was just starting to get into the papers over here. You did this four-issue mini-series on it, but it didn’t see prim until last year. You did a second story on Apartheid for Teen Titans Spotlight #1 and 2. What were the circumstances? Why would Marvel not publish Black Panther? It has been done for what, about four years?

COWAN: It was actually about five or six years before it saw print. Uhhh… hmmm ….

AH: Was Marvel scared about it?

COWAN: Yeah, I think at the time, Jim Shooter didn’t feel it was strong enough in the right areas. It was weak in some areas and too strong in others. Basically, he said, “It looks like all the white people are killing all the black people.” He didn’t quite see that as appropriate for comic books at the time.

The first issue went to press and was actually going to see print. Shooter pulled it back from the plant and said it just wasn’t good enough. At that point, I had done three issues of it. I was very upset, pissed, mad, angry…I just said “Fuck it. I don’t need this.” I just walked away from it; in fact, I walked away from comics for a while.

Skipping ahead five years, I had done The Question for a year-and-a-half, and the people at Marvel came up to me. By this time, Shooter was history, and Mark Gruenwald–and, I think it was Mike Carlin, although I’m not sure–approached me at a convention and asked me if I would be willing to do the last issue and they would definitely print. I did it. I was willing to make any artistic changes that they wanted, but I didn’t want to make any changes in the content. I ended up adding three pages for the first issue to make the storytelling stronger. I did two new covers, and a poster, and finished the fourth issue. It was printed and sold many, many copies. I was right and Jim Shooter at the time was wrong. I don’t think he thought it wouldn’t sell. I think he just thought the material was inappropriate.

AH: Now you said you were pissed, angry. and about five other words there ….

COWAN: Yes, I was.

AH: Was that largely because of the series, or was it because of the subject matter?

COWAN: Both. I thought that the subject matter was important–is important. I thought that if people and their kids could be made aware of the situation through comics, then I thought it was my job to do that. If he would have asked me to change it to make it better–which I don’t recall him doing–I would have at least listened to what he had to say. But for him to pull the first issue and say “Well, we aren’t doing this,” was, to me, a strong enough statement that I felt that well, here’s my strong statement: “Fuck you.” I really doubt I’d handle things that way now, but at the time, I was a young, angry man.

AH: You are a black artist….

COWAN: Yes.

AH: And acknowledging that seems to be imponant to you both personally and in your work. Do you feel that you were being stereotyped as a black artist in that you mainly got to draw black characters?

COWAN: (laughs) Yeah. I’m glad I didn’t do Black Lightning.

AH: But basically everybody else. Do you feel you were kind of stuck then?

COWAN: “Stuck?” You’re being careful with your questions. I wasn’t stuck, but I was definitely being stereotyped. There were certain comments made about…one person told me “Well, Denys, you can certainly draw, and you do have some familiarity with being black. We think you’d be perfect for this book.” I was so hungry for work at the time that I bought that line.

AH: What book was that?

COWAN: This was Power Man/Iron Fist. The Panther was my own decision. It never would have occurred to me to do Power Man/Iron Fist. I thought that the character of Luke Cage was, at the time, very stereotypical and almost demeaning. You know? [Putting on jivey Eddy Murphy voice] “Well, I ain’t got no super-brain, but I got super-powers. Sheeeit, why not make some money from this.” All that kind of stuff. “Sweet Christmas:’ I just thought it was…

AH: He was the only super-hero at the time who was charging for his services.

COWAN: Right. It struck a wrong chord in me. Hey, I tried to change it. I also wanted more of the humorous stuff taken out and more of the serious plot elements dealt with. My approach to the artwork at the time was pretty straight and pretty serious. Mary Jo Duffy was writing these light-hearted stories. I can’t say that she didn’t have a handle on the characters, but I think she did it as she saw fit. To me, she was missing the mark. That may be a bit strong, but she wasn’t going in the same direction that I thought the book should go in. Denny O’Neil ended up writing four or five issues, and while he was just filling in, it turned out to be almost a regular run.

AH: Did you feel Marvel had any good black characters at the time?

COWAN: Black Panther. That’s about it.

AH: That’s why you worked on him?

COWAN: Yeah. I grew up with the Black Panther. Jack Kirby’s Panther. He.was a strong character. He was his own man. He didn’t go around saying things like “Sweet Christmas.” He had his own culture, and his own kingdom. He was just as smart as any other character in the Marvel Universe. He was a very positive role model, if you can have those in comics. As a kid, you kind of look at those and go “Wow.” Given a choice between being Black Panther or Luke Cage, Hero for Hire….Huh, I think I’ll take the Black Panther.

AH: What did you think of Storm as a….

COWAN: (laughs) I liked her. I really didn’t or couldn’t relate to her at all. She was in the X-Men, she was cool. But she didn’t really do much for me.

AH: She certainly didn’t advance “the black cause” in comics.

COWAN: Well, I wasn’t really looking to advance the black cause in comics, Me personally relating to a character? I didn’t relate to Stonn.

AH: Let me go back to what you just said. You weren’t looking to advance the black cause, but weren’t you looking to bring some equality and realism into it?

COWAN: From my personal standpoint, yes. Let me amend that. At that time, I wasn’t looking to advance the black cause. What I was looking to do was to do stronger books. If I was stuck with Power Man/Iron Fist, I was going to do the best I could artistically; at least to bring it to a point where I could respect it. Hopefully other people would get to respect the character, too.

AH: You said “at that time you weren’t.” Do you feel you are working to advance the cause now?

COWAN: Hmmm. Yes. It’s not a matter of advancing the cause, because in comics, there has always been a fair number of black artists. There certainly hasn’t been an equally proportionate number of black characters … or good black characters. This is an important question.

Let me put it this way. The nature of the comic book medium is that we don’t know what the creators look like. This is good in a way and bad in a way. It’s good in the way that wc don’t have any preconceived notions of what the art is going to look like, based on what the person looks like. It’s good that you have your anonymity that way. Sometimes I think that if you have a visual impression of a person, it can get in the way of what you think about their work.

On the other hand, because we don’t know what the people who do comics look like, we can have preconceived notions. I remember when I was a kid, I assumed everyone in comics was white. The few photos I’d seen were of white people. Jack Kirby, you know, I just assumed he was white; of course, he was. Any interviews I read were with white people. It never occurred to me that black people drew comics. At the time, when I was a kid, there were only one or two that I found out about later. There was Billy Graham and Ron Wilson. That was it. I didn’t even know about them until I got into comics. I had no idea they were black. When I found out, it was like “Really? Oh, this is it. I do have a chance.”

One of the things that’s happened to me that I’m particularly proud of is that when I go to conventions and people meet me, half of them both black and white people, say “I didn’t know you were black.” Some of them even thought I was a girl because of the way my name is spelled. You know, I’m a white girl? [both laugh] When people do see I’m black, especially black people, it’s a thrill for them. I’m fairly well-known by now, and it gives an inspiration to some people. There have been countless times when I’ve met my “brothers,” and they’ve said [jive voice] “Wow, man, I didn’t know you were black. Damn! Shit, I had no idea. That’s so great that one of us made it:’

There’s no denying that feels great. There’s no denying that if me being [in] a position I am in now can inspire other blacks to do the same … you know, if some black kid in Detroit or the Midwest gets inspired to do something that they want to do…that’s what gives me real joy as far as changing things in comics.

AH: Have you ever felt discrimination from within the industry? From other professionals?

COWAN: Oh yeah, sure. Not from the other artists so much, but from people in management and editorial. I’ve been made aware of situations that I didn’t even know existed: people were nice to me, but I found out later on that they would like nothing better than to burn a cross on my lawn. That was kind of shocking.

There was one time, when I was about 17 and was breaking into doing my own stuff in comics. I went up to DC Comics, and the art director at the time looked at my samples and said (Archie Bunker voice) “Hey kid, you’re real good. Real good, but we already got a colored artist working for us.” They were talking about Trevor Von Eeden. I was like “Okay, you already got a colored artist working for you. Yeah, uh fine. Great.” At that time, it didn’t mean a lot to me, because I was just so eager to get into comics. Someone that just threw a fucking racial insult at me and I didn’t realize it. A year later, it dawned on me what this guy had said.

AH: Do you want to tell who it is?

COWAN: No, but not because I will ever work with this person. Chances are, I will never work with this person.

It just didn’t occur to me that he was giving me an insult like that. I went on and remembered what he said, and it eventually dawned on me how fucking prejudiced that was.

There was another incident about three years ago where I did work for a certain title. The editor told another editor that he would never work with a black artist again because we’re all unreliable and shiftless and we never made a deadline. That was it. He was never going to work with another one again. The person who he told this to responded with “Well, there are a lot of white artists that don’t make deadlines. An artist is an artist.” The editor just kind of brushed it off. I guess he had made his point and didn’t want to pursue it anymore. To this person, it was OK to be an irresponsible white artist, but if you were a “colored” artist then he wouldn’t give you another chance.

AH: There’s been a lot of complaints from the women in the comics industry for the last few years that they feel confined. Last year. although few came oUt. the Gays in the industry ar least started complaining from behind the closet door. Do you feel confined in a WASP industry?

COWAN: [laughs] Oooo! No, I don’t feel confined…at least not…no, I don’t feel confined. I’m pretty much free to do what I want to do.

AH: Well, you’ve kind of broken through now.

COWAN: Yeah, now. In the past. I was confined. I was definitely locked into a corner. I was the guy that did Power Man/lron Fist; not just because I was a good artist, but also because I was black. I’ve broken through that now, but it took a lot.

That’s not to say that the industry was so overrun with prejudice that they wouldn’t give anyone a break. There were other black artists at the time who…one of them said to me “We don’t want to be congregating in the halls, you know, ’cause Man will think we’re trying to overrun the place. I kind of want to keep my job.” I thought “Wow, man, this is really fucked up.” I made a conscious decision right then that I was never ever going to creep around like I was [jive voice] “just grateful for the work, Mr. Boss Sir. I won’t step on any toes.” That’s never been my style. Never will be.

AH: Back to your assignments. where we left off, you were now over ar DC. You did some short back-up stories and fill-ins. AI one time you worked with Greg Brooks?

COWAN: Yes. I worked with a murderer. I did a Batman story with Max Alan Collins, and Greg Brooks inked it.

AH: An interesting sidenote there. Denny O’Neil is over at DC now too. and you two landed somehow together on The Question. How did that come about? Since that ‘s the cover feature for this issue, we might as well talk abow it a little.

COWAN: Yeah. I’m drawing the cover for it even as we speak. Well, I had just finished doing the Batman story, and Denny was the editor. We had some problems with that because I was about a week late. Denny, remembering the Power Man/Iron Fist days where he was my editor and writer, had severe problems with my lack of ability to get the job in on time. He had told me a week before I started the Batman story, “Denys, don’t blow this deadline. It’s going to show us that you can do the work on time:’ So, of course, I blew it. I got a big lecture from Denny and pretty much thought “Well. I guess that’s it. I’ve blown my last deadline and I’m never going to … I’ll be stuck doing back-up stories and fill-ins forever.”

At any rate, I had done some Vigilante stories for Mike Gold. He liked my work and wanted to give me something else, but he kind of kept me on ice. I wanted a regular book, and never could really get one, even though I was certainly good enough to do one at this point. Finally, Mike approached me one day and asked me how I felt about doing The Question, because the artist who was originally going to do it, Ernie Colon, was over-committed .

He asked me if I’d be interested in doing it, and I hesitated about half a second and said “Yes.” That’s how I ended up doing The Question. To top it all off, the writer was Denny O’Neil, that same editor who just knew that I couldn’t make a deadline. It was very ironic. I thought “Oh man!”

The Question was a dream assignment, and under the worst possible circumstances for a successful collaboration to come about, we got one.

AH: Speaking of the collaboration, you two seem to work really well together to produce an issue of The Question?

COWAN: (laughs evilly] Denny wrote the first and second issue completely by himself. He has scripted and written all of the issues by himself. I’ve made some suggestions along the way. We sat down and talked a lot about where we were going to go for the first year. There was an issue where a guy was threatening to blow up a school bus. and it was my sugsestion to make it on Martin Luther King Day. Here’s the black activism coming out in me. We made it a story with a guy wanting to blow up a bus of white school kids on Martin Luther King Day. It was supposed to be seen as a form of protest, but it was really to cast blame on a black politician who was running at the time. A white person was the one doing it. Denny, of course, turned it into a much better story than that little plot idea originally held.

We collaborated pretty regularly for the first year, although the second year we got together less frequently, but to greater effect. The second year of the story was another one where we put something in the book of social relevance to me. We did a Klu Klux Klan story in issue #15. Now, it’s at the point where Denny pretty mush just writes it and I draw it. That’s OK, because it seems to be a pretty natural book.

AH: Do you really believe all the Zen philosophy that The Question spouts so much?

COWAN: Ooo Boy! I never paid it any attention. [laughs] No, really I do. I’m a martial artist, so I’m familiar with some of it, although not all of it. As far as believing all of it, I don’t understand all of it, but I’m definitely with the stuff I do understand. Not to say I’m stupid, but a lot of times Denny will surprise me as much as he surprises anyone else; I just get to read it first and run with it afterwards.

AH: You just answered my next question, which was that all the martial arts in The Question have been touted as being highIy realistic….

COWAN: Right. It’s not all because I’m a martial artist myself though. A lot of it has to do with just thinking through the fight scenes. I make sure that the move that follows the move previous to that makes sense. I look at what I would actually do in this fight.

Now, admittedly, because this is comics and entertainment, a lot of the stuff that you actually would do would be very boring on paper. Visually, it wouldn’t look very exciting, so if you’re going to draw it realistically, you have to show it in such a way that it is exciting. That’s where the artist training comes in more than the martial artist training.

AH: With the martial arts and the Zen philosophy present in The Question, don’t you feel that they come into conflict with the roots of the book? That is, The Question is a fairly violent book, and these two teachings espouse different methods of dealing with problems rather than violence.

COWAN: You think that The Question is violent?

AH: Yeah, I do.

COWAN: You do, do you? I’ll show you violence. [Iaughs] Do I think it clashes? No, I don’t think it clashes.

AH: WeII, the way I’ve always understood the martial arts is that you only use it for protection. In this series though, the Question goes out and looks for trouble.

COWAN: No, he looks for the answers. If he happens to find trouble, he’s not going to shy away from it. It doesn’t clash to me, only because I think that the two work in harmony in a way. Violence only accentuates the Zen philosophy and vice-versa.

AH: You’re saying this in hushed tones.

COWAN: Yes, it’s very serious stuff. [both laugh] To answer your question simply, I don’t find a conflict there. I think each of the things enhances the other.

AH: Have you had any problems with the “Mature Readerishness” of the book?

COWAN: No, because it is definitely a mature book. We don’t show a lot of sex, and we don’t use profanity, but we definitely show adult situations. I don’t have a problem with that.

AH: The reviews have all been fairly good for The Question….

COWAN: Yayyy. Yes, we are a critical success, but not a financial one. At this point, I’d like to urge people to buy the book. Buy The Question.

The reviews have been great though. In fact, I was personally up for a Kurtzman Award as Best Penciller for my work on The Question.

AH: Who’d you lose to?

COWAN: Steve Rude, and I couldn’t think of a better person to lose to. He’s phenomenal. I very much enjoy his comic work.

AH: Let’s do some miscellaneous unrelated questions about The Question. Where is Hub City in your mind?

COWAN: I know exactly where it is. It’s not in my mind though. It’s based on a real city, but I’m not going to tell you which one.

AH: Why not?

COWAN: Because I’m sure Denny wouId have done so by now if he wanted it known. It is not New York. I’ve been to this city, but Denny knows it very well.

AH: Is it as bad as you portray it?

COWAN: Yes. Yes. According to Denny, which is good enough for me.

AH: What’s your opinion on Vic Sage’s long hair?

COWAN: My opinion on it? l originated it. They didn’t tell me to do it. I just started putting it in. I like it. When I first started letting his hair grow, we got a lot of mail saying people hated it. Then we started getting more mail saying people really like it. At least it stirred up some kind of controversy. I think it stirred up controversy for all the wrong reasons, but I’ll take what I can get.

I like the long hair, though. I think it’s one of the extremely cool things about the character. He’s a human being, you know? His hair grows longer. He’s not Superman, where his hair stays cut in the same style. In fact, in the latest issues, Vic’s going to be tying it into a pony-tail.

AH: Oh no.

COWAN: You don’t like that, huh?

AH: Well, doesn’t that provide a handle for people to grab him by?

COWAN: He won’t have it when he’s the Question, just when he’s Vic Sage. He lets it flow long when he’s the Question. It’s still a handle for people to grab, but he’s one of the best martial artists in the country, so….

AH: How does he get away with wearing a pony-rail on the nightly news?

COWAN: Because you don’t see it. When’s the last time you looked at a news broadcast and they showed the back of a guy’s head?

AH: Well, if he turns to a monitor behind him….

COWAN: Well, then we’ll show it. How do we get away with showing long hair in a newscast? We still do it. It makes the character unique.

AH: What’s your opinion on the political elements of The Question?

COWAN: To me, those elements aren’t as heavy as other people are making them out to be. That’s because of my closeness to the book. It seems natural to the stories I’m drawing. I didn’t think of it in terms of high drama or anything like that. All I thought of was “How do I make this visually interesting?” You know? People going to vote and lots of talking heads talking about people going to vote.

The politics of it? I think it was a pretty realistic view of how politics really are, just on a smaller scale. They’re pretty venal and nasty. I’m glad I got a chance to skewer politics publicly.

AH: Compare your two inkers, Rick Magyar and Malcolm Jones III. How did you like working with either of them?

COWAN: I enjoyed working with Rick. I think he’s a very talented artist in his own right, and he was certainly a pleasure to work with. I consider him a friend.

Malcolm is a whole different experience for me. Artistically, our styles are a lot closer. He understands a lot of what I do. So far, he’s been the best inker that I’ve had, with the exception of Dick Giordano. The Question that you see now is a lot closer to the way I draw and the way I conceive it than The Question of before.

You preferred Rick Magyar’s inking, right?

AH: Yeah, I did.

COWAN: Well, you’ve never seen the pencils. It takes a lot to get used to the style I work in, if you haven’t seen it completely. Rick had a more traditional style than Malcolm has. Malcolm is a lot more willing to take a lot of chances and go in different directions. It’s very challenging to work with him. It’s also a lot of fun, because of the unique way he can interpret what I do and remain true to it at the same time.

AH: Had you asked me, as an outsider, I would have thought that you would have most preferred Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks.

COWAN: I love Bill’s work. He’s a phenomenal artist, and a pretty close friend of mine. On the covers to The Question, he’s been just excellent. Our collaboration on Doctor Zero was based on the fact that we always wanted to work together and explore what we could do together.

Let me rephrase that earlier statement though. Malcolm is my absolute favorite inker, while Bill Sienkiewicz and Dick Giordano are others of my top favorite inkers. We’ll just leave it like that.

AH: Let’s switch over to Doctor Zero now, since you mentioned that. You went from being an artist who couldn ‘t do one book a momh to an artist who can do one-and-a-half books a month. Has that because you got faster or because you were putting less work into it or….

COWAN: No, I’m definitely putting more work into it. I just got responsible.

AH: You quit partying late and stayed in to do your work?

COWAN: I quit partying at all. I quit all kinds of party stuff. I don’t live a monastic lifestyle, but I’m pretty dedicated to doing good work. I’m conscious of trying to do a good job and of meeting my deadlines. I had to let some things go that were getting in the way of that. For those reasons, I was able to take an increased workload.

Also, as the years have gone by, I’ve gotten faster. When you get faster you find you’ve got enough time to take on another project.

AH: So why did you leave Doctor Zero, if things were going well?

COWAN: Because I was going to start the three-part 142-page Batman story in Detective. That would have been a little bit too much work to handle, so Doctor Zero had to go.

AH: Are you going to return to it?

COWAN: Well, probably not. They’re talking about doing an anthology title set in the Shadow Line Universe, and I may contribute a story or two to that.

AH: What was your experience like working with it? It doesn’t sound like it was a great one.

COWAN: In fact, it was a great one. I like Dan Chichester and Margaret Clark a lot, plus I was given pretty much free reign to do whatever I wanted to on it. The experience was definitely rewarding in that way. They’re very nice people and talented writers. And, I got to work more with Bill, which was definitely a gas.

AH: Currently. you’re doing the Detective Comics 50th Anniversary series….

COWAN: Yes. Yayyy. A black artist is doing it. That’s right.

AH: What did you have to do to get that assignment?

COWAN: As if I had to do something to get it. [laughs] Basically, they were considering three artists: myself, Norm Breyfogle, and someone else. I like Norm’s stuff. He’s really good. For some reason though, they chose me. I think Norm was pretty tied up on the regular book. and this was a big deal special thing. I ended up copping it.

AH: How do you feel about that? The only other person who’s gotten to draw a 50th Anniversary story was John Byme on Superman. You’re doing Batman’s anniversary, and most comic fans find him a more popular character than Superman.

COWAN: I feel great about having done it. Mentally, I’m wiped out. It was 142 pages, and I did have a tight deadline. I feel proud that I was able to be a part of comic history. That was definitely a trip. I try not to linger on that part too long because it would mess me up. “I can’t draw another line because people will be looking at this in 100 years.”

AH: “I’m a part of history…”

COWAN: “…Don’t make any mistakes!” [both laugh]

AH: Or you could get a swelled ego. Like some people we know.

COWAN: Right. I don’t want that kind of thing to happen. I definitely enjoyed it though, and I was very happy for the opponunity.

AH: Is Batman a favorite of yours?

COWAN: Oh yes. I’ve always loved Batman, especially now, because he’s going to enable me to buy a Porsche. [both laugh]

AH: Are you making a good royalty off this?

COWAN: I think that the book is doing quite well. There’s been talk of the first issue selling a quarter of a million copies! That’s at $2.95 cover price! I do get royalties. so that will be very nice. I don’t really want to buy a Porsche though. That was a joke for you people out there. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the money. In fact, I’m, not going to even count on it until I see the checks.

The money isn’t what thrills me. What docs is the fact that I got to do Batman and I got to do him in a very special way and in a special time. If you’re going to do Batman, this is the best time to do it.

AH: Did you like working with Sam Hamm?

COWAN: I loved working with Sam. [jivey voice] “Yo Sam, whassup? How are you?” He’s a great guy and very talented. The story is excellent, and working with him is a joy.

AH: Now you ‘re working with Denny as an editor. Is that more difficult than working wilh Denny as a writer?

COWAN: Working with Denny as a writer has never been difficult. Working with Denny as an editor…is not difficult at all, as a matter of fact. It’s had its moments.

I’ll tell you something about working with Denny though. When I worked with him on Power Man/Iron Fist, he was trying to teach me a lot, and I never quite got everything that he was saying. I learned a lot, but I didn’t get it all. It seems like we’re almost fated to work together, because time and time again we’ve ended up crossing paths. This time, with The Question and this Detective stuff, I learned so much about doing comics, about storytelling, and about a lot of things .

I’ve never had a problem with him at all though. He may have a couple of problems working with me, but I haven’t with him. He’s definitely one of the most talented writers ever in comics, and he’s a good person.

AH: What a stirring testimonial. Speaking of the changing style of your art, over the years it’s developed radically from what it used to be. You’ve risen above the average slyle, unlike most comic artists. How did you develop your current style, or do you feel its been sort of an ongoing gradual process? Did you get the assignment for The Question and say “I’m going to make this a radically new looking series?” Did you do a Bill Sienkiewicz and suddenly go “Boing, I’m different?”

COWAN: Zap, all of the sudden I’m drawing radically! No, actually the first year on The Question was done pretty much straight. if you look back at the issues. They’re pretty standard stuff. The drawing was pretty realistic and the storytelling was pretty basic. It wasn’t wildly innovative at all. I’m not sure if even now I’m really innovative.

There are very few really innovative people in comics, and I couldn’t presume to think of myself as one of them. I would like to be, but I don’t know if I’ve achieved that yet.

The style change came about towards the end of the first year on The Question. I started getting bored with the way I was drawing. I wanted to break out of that feeling of stagnation. I kind of figured it like this: There are artists in comics who draw realistic comics a lot better than I ever could. I just had to find my own way of doing it … a way that was distinctly mine.

I mean, you take someone like Jose Garcia Lopez, who’s a phenomenal draftsman and who has phenomenal storytelling and is a phenomenal all-around artist. I didn’t think there was any way I could do what he did or does. He does it so well. To me, if I wasn’t going to be as good as Garcia Lopez, why was I even trying to draw realistically?

That’s what started the change more than anything else: boredom plus frustration. I had to find my own niche, and I think I’ve succeeded.

AH: How would you classify yourself as an artist?

COWAN: That’s a very broad question.

AH: Answer it however you’d like then.

COWAN: Hmmm. How would I classify myself? Very, very good. [laughs, then whispers] Was that a joke? No, that wasn’t a joke. Or was it?

I wouldn’t know how to answer that question. As wildly innovative? No. As unique? Yes. As superb? I’m working on it. I don’t know if there’s any classification for me. I try to entertain and I put a lot of myself in my work.

To give you an example, you know the way the Question dresses? The different jackets, the different pants and boots, all the way down to the gloves? Well, it’s all part of my wardrobe. I figure [jive voice] “couldn’t find any better model than that.” Yeah. That’s how I ended up doing the “fashion” stuff. Plus, I wanted to do a book with a specific, distinctive style.

AH: What about future projects? You’re working on The Badger Goes Berserk and Clive Barker’s Tapping the Vein?

COWAN: Yes. I’m doing two or three pages each in the Badger series, as well as the cover to the first issue. I did pencils and inks on the cover. I’m inking all of my own covers now, as well as the majority of my work from now on. Not to say I’m not happy with the other inkers; I just don’t think anyone can ink me as well as myself:

AH: Including The Question?

COWAN: No, Malcolm is always going to ink The Question; at least for the duration of our stay on the book. I’m inking all the covers to The Question from now on though.

AH: What are you doing for Tapping the Vein?

COWAN: I’m collaborating with one of my best friends in the whole world, a phenomenally talented illustrator by the name of Michael Davis. He’s a very close friend of mine.

AH: He’s doing Etc. for Pirahna Press and a few issues of Wasteland?

COWAN: Yes, he’s doing Etc. Their launch project! It’s fully painted. He’s collaborating with me on the Clive Barker story called “Midnight Meat Train” from onc of the Books of Blood. I’m having a lot of fun on that. It’s going to be a trip.

AH: You’re going to cut loose and get rid of that gore instinct?

COWAN: The gore instinct?

AH: Well, I figure everyone’s got that once in a while.

COWAN: Yeah, I’ll be making things bloody. I’ll get rid of the gore instinct here. I’ll splatter the whole page with blood. [laughsj I’m definitely going to do .my best on the story, and working with Michael is a lot of fun. We’re both artists in this one together, but we’re both also good friends.

AH: Is he your assistant as well?

COWAN: No, he is not my assistant. My assistant’s name is Andre Coates.

AH: And he mainly does what you did for Rich Buckler, right? The dinosaurs, gorillas, and buildings?

COWAN: He works on the backgrounds, and when we have dinosaurs, I’ll let him do ‘em.

AH: It all comes full circle. Would youu let him touch the gorillas though?

COWAN: Yeaaa–No. I do the gorillas. I do all the figures even if they are gorillas. Andre’s a very talented artist, and he’s going to shake this industry up one day.

AH: Denny’s talked about, and you’ve mentioned a couple of times in here, the end of The Question. Does he finally find the answer?

COWAN: Whooo. Yes, he does. I think what it’s finally going to be is that he gets rid of the reason that he has to be the Question. I guess that means he finds the answers.

AH: How do you mean that? What is his reason to be the Question, and how would that get resolved?

COWAN: It’s his curiosity. I guess he figures out the riddle and figures out that there’s no longer a need to be the Question. How we’re going to come across that I cannot reveal at this time. I can definitely promise it will be interesting though.

AH: You plan to end it at #36?

COWAN: Yes. At least my run on it. I think that Denny’s going to leave it at #36 also. Three years is a nice long stretch of issues. Thirty-six issues. That’s enough. Let someone else do him now. I don’t know if DC plans to turn it over to someone else then or if the book will end.

AH: You will have resolved the plots and subplots?

COWAN: Yes, definitely.

AH: How do you want Vic and Myra to end up at the end?

COWAN: You’re fishing. Happy. Whatever way they can accomplish that, I’m all for. I certainly don’t want to leave Vic and Myra hating each other or any nonsense like that. A lot of that is up to Denny. Whatever he thinks is best, I’ll agree with. I like all the characters, but especially Myra. Aside from Vic, she’s my absolute favorite.

AH: There’s been some talk of a Question Graphic Novel. Will you work on that?

COWAN: Yeah, I will. There’s been talk that if The Question docs get cancelled, or we stop doing it with #36, or both, we might bring it out quarterly in a Prestige Format book. Four giant-sized issues a year, We’d knock ourselves out on it and have a different Question adventure in every one. That’s a novel approach.

AH: What else do we have lined up for the future? In a couple of months you ‘ll be done with The Question and your commitments. What then?

COWAN: Boy, you know, I don’t know. That’s a good question. 0oo, bad pun there. I’ve been offered a number of things from several different companies. I’m considering taking on one of them.

One of the things I’m definitely going to do is a Prestige Format series with a black writer named James Owsley. It’s with a black character and I think it’s going to be pretty radical. It’s a totally new character for DC. It’s almost like a thriller, and it’s going to mix politics with spies and intrigue.

AH: It sounds like this is your political statement book. You’ve got a black writer, black artist, black character…

COWAN: And if anyone inks it, they’ll be a black inker.

AH: So you’re going for a statement with this book?

COWAN: No, but it’s turned out that way and I’m happy for it. Referring back to earlier in the conversation, people aren’t aware of who the creators are and what they look like. I wanted to do something with a black character and a black creative team for two reasons. One, it’s going to garner some kind of media attention which will make people aware of who the different creators are and the contributions they’ve made to comics. Two, I want to prove that black characters do sell. There is an audience for good characters–not just black characters–good characters and good stories. We’re just as capable of producing those as anyone else.

The bottom line, of course, is always sales. If we can pull this off, it will be great for everybody. There’s a lot of black creators in comics now, that people aren’t aware of. People just assume they’re white. There’s a lot of us.

I’m fortunately in the position where I’m the noticed one, which is good because I can point out that there are a lot of us. Hopefully there will be more of us.

AH: Where do you see yourself at 35? Is this going to be your career for life?

COWAN: No, it’s not going to be my career for life. I would like to do other things. By 35, I see myself at the very top of this profession. I want to do good work, and I hope by then I will be producing some of the best work of my life up to that time.

AH: And then what?

COWAN: I think it’s Hollywood for me. I want to get into directing. If not that, just working in the movies. Storyboards and being a part of that whole creative process. I don’t know what will happen though. I used to think comics were cutthroat, but from what I’ve heard, Hollywood is real hard. I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do though.

That’s one of the places I see myself, but I have different dreams. Maybe I’ll be the head of a large art studio. Maybe I’ll be one of those lucky people who get to write and draw exactly what they want and people will print it and everyone will make a lot of money. Being 35, you’re not talking that far ahead in the future. You’re talking five or six years. A lot can happen in six years. I’m going to make a lot happen in six years.

Our thanks to Mr. Mangels for allowing us to run this piece. Please check out his personal site as well as his Wonder Woman Museum, a lovingly crafted Wonder Woman fansite.

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interviews

Interview with Ditko from Marvel Main #4

Marvel Main #4 cover. Pencils by Rick Howell, inks by Mark Howell.

Marvel Main #4 cover. Pencils by Rick Howell, inks by Mike Howell.

Published in Issue #4 of Marvel Main (October 1968), Btoom! Publications. Interviewers: Mike Howell, Richard Howell, and Mark Canterbury.

(Transcript via Ditko-L mailing list. Thanks to Mike Howell for permission to publish here.)

An Interview With The Man of Mystery…
Arranged Through Mark Canterbury

Actually, anything that I, or any fan could say about Steve Ditko would be a gross understatement. I suppose the two things that strike one most about Steve are his originality and his convictions. Rather than have me try to futilely eulogize this great artist,we are now proud to present an interview with the man himself, Mr. Steve Ditko. (NOTE: Because of the possible inquires as to who asked what, each staffer has his name in front of his question(s)).

MIKE: Your last two or three strips (Question, Mr.A, Creeper) have all dealt with reporters and mobsters type crime. Is this a personal crusade of yours?

SD: Reporters have an easier, more natural way of getting involved with all types of crime. They are not restricted with set routines or limited in their scope of activities. I prefer conflicts that are based on reality rather than based on fantasy. When you get wound up with super villains, super fantastic gadgets and super incredible action, everything has to be made so deliberately that it all becomes senseless. It boils down to what you want a story to stand for.

MIKE: During your years at Marvel, you were only depicted once and that time by your own hand (Spider Man Special #1) whereas you were left out of the Bullpen photos (Marvel Tales #1) and the record (MMMS Kit #l). Was this by your own choice?

SD: Yes.

MIKE: In the 1967 Comics Awards Poll conducted by noted fans Mike Robertson and Ted Silly, you usurped such greats as Kirby, Wood, Frazetta,and Williamson. By a substantial margin, too.(16 over the second place Kirby). How do you feel about this & how do you think it happened?

SD: This is the first time I’ve heard of the poll, but I don’t feel anything in particular because it doesn’t affect me in any way. A poll only means that X number of people prefer one to another. It doesn’t make one a better artist. Good art or anything cannot be decided by a poll, popularity or likes and dislikes. A preference is not a standard for what is good or right. Everything has to be measured with a clearly defined, appropriate standard. People’s likes or dislikes or preferences may change but it can’t affect a proper standard that remains unaltered. I don’t know why each person voted the way he did.

MIKE: Did anyone or anything particularly influence your style?

SD: The biggest thing influencing my style would be that I see things in a certain way and that means handling everything so that personal point of view comes across.

MIKE: When did you break into comics and who did you first work for?

SD: In 1953. A very small publishing company. I don’t even remember the company’s name.

MIKE: Out of all the characters that you have created, which is the best extension of your thoughts and beliefs? Why?

SD: The Question (and Mr. A, I can’t seem to separate the two.) Why? They are positive characters, not negative. They stand for something. They know what they stand for and why they must make that stand. They are not just against something. Every criminal in the world is opposed to himself being robbed or murdered, but do these criminals stand for justice. Being against something isn’t enough.

Every person, whether he wants to be or not, is in a continous struggle. It’s not a physical life or death struggle yet it’s a threat to every man’s survival.

No man has to battle or fear the supernatural, it doesn’t exist. No man has to fight or fear creatures from outer space. No man has to battle foreign armies. The country’s armed forces are prepared for that possibility. A man’s battle isn’t against foreign conspiracies, the FBI & CIA are set up and equipped to deal with that threat. The police are equipped to deal with crime. Health problems are battled by the medical profession. Against any of the above dangers no man has to face them alone. But in that one continuous struggle, man has to constantly face the danger alone. No one can face it or fight it for him. It is the strugglee for his mind! It is the struggle against everyone he comes in contact with. It is a struggle to keep his mind from being corrupted and being ruled by irrational premises.

A man is what he stands for–why is it right to stand for it and to protect and defend for all the time? In the struggle, a man can lose only if he gives in, defeated by self destruction, by accepting the wrong as right to act against himself.

Honest men, like dishonest men, are made. The honest refuse to accept wrong as right the dishonest refuse to accept right as right. Each deliberately makes a a choice.

This struggle is not openly recognized. Accepting lies, dishonesty, etc. or practicing evasions etc, are not criminal acts. Nothing but a man’s own mind can protect him from accepting and practicing the irrational, and suffering from it’s corrupting effects, but a man has to choose to do it.

This is the premise that the Question and Mr. A are based on. Evil is powerless. A mind that refuses to accept or defend the truth, by that act, permits lies to exist, to give them respectability and influence, thereby undercutting and eventually destroying everything that is of real value. Destroyed, not by the power of evil, but by the good’s refusal to protect itself against an enemy that could exist only with good’s permission.

A man’s refusal to understand the issue changes nothing. If a man doesn’t know why a thing is right or wrong, he has no defenses. He’s vulnerable. He has no standard by which to measure, accept or reject any proposition. The Question and Mr. A are men who choose to know what is right and act accordingly at all times. Everyone should.

MIKE: Did any particular comic you’ve done cramp your style?

SD: Style is not what you do (type of story) but how you handle it (rendering). I could be cramped by the subject. In doing, say, a World War II story whereas in a science fiction tale, whatever I draw doesn’t have to look like anything that ever existed. The rendering (style) wouldn’t be affected, e or more aspects of e will be emphasized, more or less light and shade, detail,etc.

MIKE: You’re referred to around fandom as Steve Ditko, man of mystery. Can you explain why there is a shroud of mystery surrounding yourself. Was this intentional or did it Just happen?

SD: It just happens because I’m a cartoonist in the comic book business not a performer or personality in show business. When I do a job, it’s not my personality that I’m offering the readers, but my art work. It’s not what I’m like that counts what I did and how well it was done. I produce a product, a comic art story.

Steve Ditko is the brand name.

I make no mystery of what I do, and where I can properly explain why I do what I do (like in this fanzine) I’ll do it. If a person knows the what and why’s, he knows all about the “who” that is Important to know.

MIKE: What strip do you enjoy doing the most?

SD: The Question and Mr. A.

MIKE: Most of us are well acquainted with your fantasy stories, which were exceptionally philosophical and created a lot of empathy with the characters. Did you write them yourself? Did you enjoy doing them?

SD: I wish you had listed some specific ones so that I’d know exactly what to comment on.

MIKE: What strip was the easiest you ever did? The hardest?

SD: No strip is easy for me to do for I draw for a tough critic — me. I have to do what I think is right and that has to be done in a way that excites me so it’s hard settle for something that would be easy to do. I believe in telling a picture story so that (1) The panels have to be clear. I have to show what’s going on. I want to know. (2) They have to be interesting. I don’t believe inn borin myself while I draw. The hardest to draw were the Question AND Mr. A because before I drew a line, I had to make them positive characters. To know what they stood for, why it is right to make that stand. And to act the way they did, to have solid reasons so I could prove their position and actions if I was ever challenged. They had to be a man. A hero in the honest use of the word. Strength not because of “super” powers but strength of acting on proper principles. Not a contrived strength of muscle, but a strength of right knowledge. No innocent people can suffer or be abused or penalized because of what the Question and Mr. A stand for.

I’m not a professional writer so it’s difficult to be properly objective about the writing, and to spot and correct mistakes. It’s easier to write or handle fantasy than to put forth a new stand that has to be clearly defined and constantly followed in everything that is said and done. It demands logical progression in thought and deed deliberately ignored in most comics stories.

Most of the art had to be deliberately underplayed. The panel scenes had to be interesting but not overly dramatic. The major conflict was a clash of right and wrong.

The biggest threat and danger was not physical but the destructive effects of spreading and unchallengingly accepting lies, of minds run by irrationality by choice or default. Over dramatized art would’ve undercut conflict.

MIKE: Who, besides yourself, did in your opinion, the best job of inking your pencils.

SD: I couldn’t say who without listing all the others and listing the why’s & why nots.

RICH: Why did you quit CREEPY and EERIE? Will you ever contribute again?

SD: I don’t know the full story of what went on at Warren, so I can’t comment on it. As for the future, I don’t know that either.

RICH: Art wise, do you prefer the regular comics or the Warren line, where you Can do washes?

SD; I like them both. I even like to do stories in just pen and ink without color or wash. All stories are not suited for wash, but those that have the right element and mood are hard to beat in that medium.

RICH: Did you plot the stories you did for Warren?

SD: No, I worked from a script.

Besides yourself, who do you regard as the 5 best artists in comicdom?

SD: That question is too difficult to answer and be fair. You have to set up & give a standard on how you judge the artist and there are too many factors to be considered and they don’t fit every artist the same way. Artists fall into too many categories. Some are pencillers; some are inkers; some do both. Some artists specialize in the type of story they do (romance, war, super heroes,etc.). Some types demand more or less imagination, or draftsmanship (war fantasy) and the artist has to be judged accordingly. The artist has to be separated from the popularity of the strip, personality, etc. He can only be judged by his artwork and that has to be broken down into story telling, draftmanship, composition, imagination, rendering, etc. Some artists are good in some phases, poor in others. You have to weigh the separate parts with the total effect, then try to separate the art (in black and white as the artist does it) from the effects or appeal of coloring (that the artist does not do and is not responsible for.) So it’s much simpler for anyone to pick his own favorites the ones that give him the most enjoyment and let the serious art critics struggle with the burden of deciding who is the better artist.

RICH: What inspired the new Blue Beetle? Why do you think it didn’t sell?

SD: I was looking over the first Blue Beetle that Charlton press put out & it was terrible. I began thinking how it could have been handled. The ideas I had were good, so I marked them down, made sketches of the costume, gadgets, the bug, etc.. I put them in an idea folder I have and forgot about it. A year or so later, when CP was again planning to do super-heroes, I told Dick Giordano about the BB idea I had. He was interested in trying it, so it came out of the idea file, and into the magazine.

I think it would be more interesting and revealing to ask comic readers why they didn’t buy it.

RICH: Are there any plans to revive BB and the Question and will you do them?

SD: Only Charlton Press can answer that.

MARK: There is a strong similarity between the Question and Mr. A? Is this intentional? Why?

SD: I had been thinking about a type of character that would be different or that would be a step ahead of what was being done ever since the early Spiderman days. The kind I decided on was the Mr A type.

When Blue Beetle got his own magazine, they needed a companion feature for it. I didn’t want to Mr. A, because I didn’t think the Code would let me do the type of stories I wanted to do, so I worked up the Question, using the basic idea of a man who was motivated by basic black & white principles. Where other “heroes” powers are based on some accidental super element, The Question and Mr A’s “power” is deliberately knowing what is right and acting accordingly. But it is one of choice. Of choosing to know what is right and choosing to act on that knowledge in all his thoughts and actions…with everyone he deals with. No conflict or contradiction in his behavior in either identity. He isn’t afraid To know or refuse to act on what is right no matter in what situation he finds himself.

Where other heroes choose to be self-made neurotics, the Question and Mr. A choose to be psychologically and intellectually healthy. It’s a choice everyone has to make.

MARK: Would you give us some personal data? Age, marital status, children, etc.?

SD: It’s like you said…a man of mystery!

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interviews

Conversation with Greg Rucka (pt. 5 of 5)

Crime Bible #1EN: One of the things we didn’t cover in our 52 talk was the subject of the Crime Bible, which was a major story point in the Charlie/Renee storyline. Who concocted the idea for the book?

GR: Crime Bible, like a lot of the high-concept ideas in 52, was all Grant. Yet another one of his brain storms that he just tossed off one day.

And of course, the way he dropped it into conversation, it was as if 1) he’d already told us all about it and we were consequently up to speed with him on it (we weren’t), and 2) it was fully-formed in his head in a way that things come sui generis from his mind. Or at least seemed to.

EN: At what point in the 52 discussions did he spring this on the rest of you?

GR: I think, honestly, it was something that had been brewing in his head re: Batman and what he was planning on doing with Gotham, how he saw the city. Not quite sure. I know it came in early enough that I was able to use it in Week 16.

But it was a very broad idea to me, and one I didn’t fully grasp. The way Grant proposed it, Crime was the extension of Capitalism. But as a spiritual ideal. And I remember blinking at him and saying, wha, huh, how? And he EXPLAINED it to me, but I think I got, maybe, half of it, if that much. Frankly, I don’t think Geoff or Mark got it at all, mostly because they didn’t see it touching on what they were doing to a terrible extent.

But when we got to the idea of Intergang-Religion of Crime/Dark Faith-Kahndaq-Gotham, it was clearly something that I could use. So it ended up being mostly me who carried that torch. Almost all the Crime Bible refs and sequences are mine, with, I think, two exceptions — the Mannheim introduction in Gotham (not sure which week, but I think it’s the Halloween issue), and then again on the reveal of the Four Horsemen, when Chang Tzu quotes the Revelations of the Apokolips. And it’s used during Thanksgiving, too, I think, but I could be mistaken. Those were all Grant.

EN: The actual book itself is surrounded by mystery — Is it an ancient book? Is it contemporary, still being written? Where does it come from? How was the word spread? — What would you say that a new reader, with the first issue of Crime Bible coming out today, needs to know about the book?

GR: I think coming to the mini series, one needn’t know much. The origins are shrouded in mystery, of course, to such an extent it’s actually a point of dialogue in the first issue — that the book combines obvious fiction with speculative fact, that it contains sections that couldn’t have been written before the mid-20th century, etc.

The conceit, ultimately, is that it’s a very, very OLD book, but that it is also a living text — that the Dark Faith has been around since the origins of the DCU, but never seen, never known until recently.

Essentially, all one really needs to know is that the Religion of Crime has adherents and followers hidden in all walks of life, throughout the DCU, and that their lives are devoted to the glory of the “sins of Cain,” to a life of “crime.” The extension of the belief system is that morality forms shackles upon society, and that only by embracing true crime can one ever become truly free, truly the master of one’s own destiny.

Where it comes from, well, that’s a mystery within the DCU, but there’s some clear implication that the original Black Book was sourced from Apokolips.

EN: Bruno Mannheim seemed to have been an important person within the Crime Religion in 52, at least before he got knifed. Can you tell us anything about his role in spreading the word?

GR: Mannheim is, for all intents and purposes, the modern prophet of the religion — he’s responsible for bringing the Dark Faith into “ascendance” during the year of 52. Exactly how this came about is hinted at in 52 — Bruno had a religious experience that was quite clearly transformative, and one that lead to his personally redirecting Intergang to serve the Dark Faith’s goals. In effect, Bruno pulled back the curtain on the religion, revealing it to the DCU Earth.

EN: Does the Religion of Crime have parallels to other faiths? The first thought most people seem to have is that it’s supposed to be the opposite of Judeo-Christian beliefs, but it seems more than that….

GR: Well, yeah. It has parallels to multiple faiths, but most obviously Judeo-Christian beliefs, especially in its veneration of Cain. But those are, by nature, false parallels. The nature of the Dark Faith is that it is, by definition, blasphemous. So its very structure is designed to mock and disparage true faith. After all, its central thesis is to say that all other religions are false, are con-games run on unsuspecting sheep who have surrendered their free will in the name of these patently “false” higher goals.

One tends to skate onto thin ice when one deals with religion in comics, y’know? So we’ve tried very hard to make the Religion of Crime something that has a tangible structure and belief system, something that is menacing as a villain group, but of course, we’re not looking to offend anyone. Or at least, we’re hoping we won’t offend anyone other than those people who were going to be offended anyway.

EN: Where does Renee come in on all of this? What’s her interest now that she’s saved Kate?

GR: Heh. Well…it’s a multi-part answer. There’s the fact that it was the last thing she and Charlie pursued together. And there’s a sense that a lot went unanswered, and she wants to know more, and that’s mostly her own curiosity, but it’s also an homage to Charlie.

Then there’s Kate. Renee loves Kate. That’s a given. They’ve got a long, complicated history that’s only been hinted at thus far, and will, eventually, be revealed. But during 52, it became very clear to Renee that, for whatever reason, the Dark Faith was fixated on Kate/Batwoman. And so a lot of what she started doing in investigating the Black Book and the Dark Faith was an attempt, initially, to find out why Kate matters to these people. And the extension, logically, is that, hey, they tried to kill her once; what’s to keep them from trying again and again until they get it right?

But here’s where we get to those things that may be, perhaps, less obvious in the mini. One of the things that appealed to me about the Religion of Crime, when Grant presented it, was the Lovecraft feel of it. I ate that up, because I love that stuff. And one of the things I love about those stories is that, the moment you open the door into the world, you cannot shut it again. You just can’t. This is why so many of Lovecraft’s protagonists end up either a) insane, b) dead, or c) insane and dead. So the more Renee looks, the more she’s compelled to look, and the more what she sees effects her, and draws her in further.

I love stories like that. From Faust to The Ninth Gate, I’ve always been very attracted to those kinds of narratives, the ones of almost inevitable conflict and corruption that seem to start from fairly innocuous beginnings. I suppose the quick answer, then, is that the more she looks, the more she’s inclined to look. One does not gaze into the Abyss, etc., etc.

And that’s the other thing that I wanted to explore — that this isn’t some little cult of nuts, this is a vast, powerful, terrifying thing that the Question has uncovered, and she’s been trying desperately to understand it, what makes it tick, the why, the how. But the more she looks, the more she realizes that the Religion of Crime knows she’s there.

EN: Where is Renee, in both her investigation, and as a character, when we start the series?

GR: Issue 1 begins in London. She’s been chasing Crime Bible leads for almost a year at that point, in particular, trying to track down the various editions of the Black Book in existence. There are multiple editions of the bible, and each major edition differs from others in various ways, some of them significantly.

For instance, there’s a “Book of Kürten,” which clearly refers to the Dusseldorf murders in the 1930s. Which means that any edition holding that “book” would almost, by definition, have to be written after the fact. (Or else its a prophetic work). But the editions differ in other ways — some contain codes, some contain rituals, perhaps spells, some have hallucinogens mixed into the inks, some have maps. And her quest is, at the start, certainly, one for knowledge, so knowing as much as she can is vital to her.

EN: I should give Renee a call…the Methods of Lit. Research course I took in grad school would come in handy. Though I don’t know that any lit. critics have ever had to check ink for hallucinogens before…!

GR: But the reason she’s come to London is because of a man named Stanton T. Carlysle, who has published a book. And the book is getting a lot of attention. The book is called “A Blasphemous Mythology: The Religion of Crime” where he purports to debunk the religion as a whole.

And of course, she’s read it. And she has some questions for the good Professor Carlysle. Not the least of them being, what’s his connection to the Religion of Crime? After all, they’ve been running dark for millennia, potentially, then they emerged with Mannheim, and then they disappeared again. Now there’s a book. And the thing of it is, as much as the religion has run “dark,” it’s also been an “urban legend” in the DCU. Like talking about the Illuminati or other similar global and timeless conspiracies.

EN: I’m sure he’s just looking for tenure somewhere.

GR: Heh. He’s actually already GOT it.

EN: So how would you classify the series? Is it a detective story? Is it Lovecraftian horror?

GR: Oh, man…I think it’s both, frankly, but one could argue that most of Lovecraft was detective fiction. You just didn’t actually want to solve the case in his stories, you know?

It’s a Question story. It answers some questions, and it raises a lot more.

EN: We’ve seen some sketches from Crime Bible artists on your blog. It looks as though you guys have redesigned the Montoya-Question look somewhat?

GR: Yeah, very much so. She couldn’t wear what Charlie wore in the “traditional” garb, and I was always a fan of how Cowan altered what Charlie wore depending on season and locale. The costume, ultimately, was the mask, to me, and while other elements are certainly cool — ie, the fedora — we wanted to make sure it worked.

The fact is, she looked kinda silly to me wearing Charlie’s clothes. Not to mention, they didn’t fit. As a character, Renee had her own style of dress, and that seemed the logical place to start. So that was the impetus behind it — to give her a look that was uniquely her own, but that would also work for the Question.

EN: How much of a hand did you, as a writer, get to play in the redesign?

GR: Both myself and the editor on the series, Michael Siglain, were very involved in the process. We bandied various ideas back and forth, and then it was Mandrake who sort of took the lead on it at the start.

Ultimately, her look is consistent throughout the five issue, but in each issue, it’s also altered to suit the where and when of the story, what she’s doing, where she’s doing it. She’s in Hub City in winter, for instance, in issue 4 — so the light jacket look isn’t really going to help, there. Issue 5 she’s…somewhere very hot and humid, so she’s in lighter clothing. And yes, she wears the fedora a lot.

EN: Across the Internet, folks are stroking their chins and saying, “Hub City, eh?” Leastwise, they will be when they read the interview.

GR: Yeah, Issue 4 is very much an homage to the O’Neil Question series. It’s very much a Hub City story.

EN: Any other hints you want to share as to locales that Renee will be visiting?

GR: Issue 1 is London. Issue 2 is Bethesda, Maryland. Issue 3 is Gotham. Issue 4 is Hub City. Issue 5 is Bangladesh. Chittagong, Bangladesh. Or more precisely, north of the city. On the beach. And now people are scratching their heads, wondering WTF.

EN: Those hints are terribly vague.

GR: Yeah. It must kill you having to ask questions that you actually know the answers to.

EN: It does! But let me ask one more, the one that everyone has been asking me since they found out that I had access to the scripts, and I’ve been refusing to answer….

GR: Shoot.

EN: Batwoman: What role will she play, and will we learn more about her character?

GR: Kate’s in issue 3. She’s instrumental in issue 3. We get more hints about her life, and we get more hints about her relationship with Renee, and how the two feel about each other. The nutshell of the that relationship is that they are each the other’s great passion. But, like many great passions, that doesn’t actually mean they’re good for each other.

But if people are hoping for the reveal of Kate’s origin, for instance, or if she’s still working as Batwoman, or things like that…nope, not here. For the record, I know the answers to all those questions. I may, in fact, be only one of two or three people who do know those answers. But the mini is about the Question, not about Batwoman.

The “truth” about Batwoman is coming. That’s all I can say about that.

Well, that’s not true. I can say that, I think, readers will get a better sense of Kate from her appearance in issue 3 than they will have anywhere else prior. Remember, it’s been about a year for her since she nearly died, and that’s changed her outlook somewhat, too.

EN: Someone out there this very moment is still on the fence about picking up Crime Bible #1. What would you say to convince them to give it a try?

GR: It’s a damn good comic, and the first page is unlike anything you’ve read in any comic book, possibly ever. And there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Like the whole series.

Honestly, I think this is some of my best work in years. I’m very proud of the mini, and I think people are going to really dig what we’re doing, what we’re adding to the DCU, and how we’re honoring the Question who came before while defining a very cool Question who is now.

But, frankly, I’d toss it back to you, because you are the authority on Q online, as far as I’m concerned. Why should people pick it up?

EN: Hmm…I think you’re right in saying that it’s unlike any book in the super-hero genre we’ve ever seen. You’re dealing with issues of morality and conscience in a way we haven’t seen in a comic before. There are aspects of storytelling and design that are fascinating and new. We see mysteries solved as deeper, more intriguing ones arise. Most importantly, this is the introduction of a new stage in Renee’s life, one in which she embraces her new role as eternally curious vigilante, and it’s a hell of a good start.

Renee’s adventure in Crime Bible strikes me as a little Philip Marlowe, a little Indiana Jones, a little…for some reason, I don’t know why…Young Sherlock Holmes, and a little O’Neil-era Question wrapped up into a story that’s still much bigger than any of those elements.

GR: I like all those comparisons.

Buy Crime Bible #1 today!

Preview pages by Tom Mandrake for Crime Bible #1!

Crime Bible #1 page 11

Page 11

Crime Bible #1 page 12

Page 12

Crime Bible #1 page 17

Page 17

Crime Bible #1 page 18

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