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Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

BAKER'S DOZEN for 12/14/2009
Looking Back to See the Future
Mark Wheatley on IDW’s Mark Wheatley Library (part two of two)

BB: We've talked about this subject, both here and in our past conversations, but I there’s a basic question about it that I’ve never asked you before now.

You’re stated that you’re a huge fan of Pulp, and the sensibilities of Pulp. Why? And what is it about that particular genre that just grabs you and makes you want to work in it?

MW: A good question. I don’t have a prepackaged answer for you.

On the surface of it, you would think I wouldn’t like it, because some of my favorite authors are the ones that are thoughtful, insightful, inventive, creative—contemplative, even. [Laughter] And yet, I’m constantly attracted to the Pulp stories, as well. They’re very direct, visceral, lurid, and very often very repetitious. [More laughter] And not so creative as they are just aggressive and forceful.

So, somewhere in there, I guess there’s a tension I like. And if you’ve read Lone Justice, you'll see that, although it’s a Pulp character and it’s got all the Pulp aggressiveness and luridness, it also has a lot of underpinnings of character and the big questions of Life being answered and things of that sort.

So there’s a direct quality to Pulp that I like as a vehicle to tell a story, but I also like the richness you can bring to a piece when you think about it and try to be creative, as well.

I think my initial attraction to Pulp was because I think you get your best idea of the medium you’re working in when you go back to where it started, and Pulp absolutely is the birthplace for comics. Pulp is not only the birthplace for comics, it’s the birthplace for radio, therefore television and, to a great extent, movies. And, probably, the Internet owes a lot to comics.

I mean, we can really point to the birthplace there, I think, and if you go back and look at Pulp, you start to fully understand the ideas which have become much more baroque today. Modern media have far more added-on ideas, so it’s harder to understand what the original thrust was.

BB: Pulp also has that immediacy you were speaking of earlier, along with the widespread popularity, and a widespread populist audience, as well, back in the day.

MW: Well, yeah, that’s true. The Pulp audience at the time was the mass audience, so there you go. [Laughter]

BB:
You also talked how you and Mike Gold had a real fondness for the newspaper type of serialized comics. Does that go back to your childhood, or is there something about that particular format that really excites you?

MW: Well, I did read the comics in the paper on a regular basis when I was a kid. And, in fact, I've got my Sunday newspaper sections going back to the 60s, because I seem to hang on to everything. [Laughter] And that was part of it. But it wasn't until—it’s funny how life connects up, too—it wasn't until I read the King Features comic book of Flash Gordon that Al Williamson did back in the late 60s, and there was an ad in that book for the Nostalgia Illustrated collection of Alex Raymond s Flash Gordon, that it really took hold.

I was just fascinated by this ad, and I made a big deal to my parents about it. I think it was like a ten dollar book or something. [Laughter] You couldn't hope to get a book like that today for ten dollars, but when you could buy a comic book for twelve cents still, I think, at that point, the idea of a bigger comic book for ten dollars was completely mind-blowing to my parents. [More laughter] I kept asking for this thing, and I ended up getting it for Christmas that year. And when I read that, it just opened up doors.

I suddenly saw that there was, I don’t know, feet to the gods of clay? [General laughter] That there was a mythology not only for the characters, but for the people who had stood on each other s shoulders to create the industry and the medium. And from that point on, I've been looking back as much as I've been looking forward. I’ve been reading the old comics whenever I can get my hands on them, and exploring the classic Golden Age illustrators, and everything. Just to feel like I was fully educated and had all my chambers fully loaded, so I could come out firing, you know? [Laughter]

BB: Finding the future in the past, in a real sense, then.

MW: Yeah, well, we have the misfortune to be born at the tail end of this phenomenon, I think, of print. And if we’re producing print, we have to understand where it came from. At least that's always been my take on it. I’m sure there are people that drop in and do something amazing and don’t know what their antecedents were. But I've always found the magic elixir was knowing where it all came from.

BB: On another subject, you mentioned earlier that you've been working with two guys—Justin, who you've recently been working with at IDW, and Mike Gold, who you've worked with for years—who are good editors. So what are some of the qualities that make them good editors?

MW:
Well, there are editors who can nurture, and I've worked with a few like that. Diana Schutz is one, and Archie Goodwin, certainly, was the poster child for the nurturing editor, and there are others, as well. But what Mike Gold and Justin both have in common…

Of course, Justin is not really a fair comparison because all he’s doing is, not to diminish it, but he’s limited in the sense that he’s dealing with completed work, and he’s just trying to get it into shape for publication.

But he’s a good facilitator. He can take the work, look at it and say, “Well, this looks like it would look best on this kind of paper.” And that’s a decision I normally make by myself, but it was wonderful to have somebody who’s already done the leg work to pull it together, make the choices available for me to choose from, and to make sure that I go out looking my best, because all the typos had been fixed, and did I really want this page to be here, or shouldn't it appear three pages earlier? [Laughter] And it was, like, “Oh, yeah. It was supposed to be there all along!” [More laughter] Little things like that.

And Mike Gold, his greatest ability as an editor working with me…

I know I've seen him do a lot of hands-on editing with other folks, but he and I share a kind of vision. And when we work together, invariably he comes to me at some point early in the development of the project, and he'll choose one thing and he'll comment on it, very briefly, and it ends up completely informing the project.

BB: It’s almost like a domino affect?

MW: Yes. The example I can think of from Breathtaker, which we worked on together, was early on, when I was showing him the script, he asked me the question…

The title character Chase Darrow was a kind of succubus, but people loved her; and when she loved them she would end up sucking the life out of them, eventually, if she was allowed to; and she hated that. So there was that tension there, between love and need, and that sort of thing. And he asked me, “What would happen if she had a dog she loved?” And that enriched the entire story as I wrote it, because I realized it wasn’t just about people; it was about her entire interaction with the world. And it just gave me a much richer understanding of that character, and it was directly responsible for the sequence in the later part of the story, where she ends up having a confrontation with an elk.

And, I don’t know, he’s always able to come up with that one question. [Laughter] Normally, anybody watching the process would think that Mike had very little to do with the book. [More laughter]

He makes a joke a lot of times, because I have a studio and we’re capable of delivering the complete project, that he loves working with me because he can accept it, and then go off and do something else. [Laughter] But the truth is he’s got his hand prints all over it, because he asks these very, very simple, little questions that just make you consider everything.

Anyway, that’s why I like working with Mike.

BB: Well, it’s interesting that you bring up that particular project, because, if memory serves, Breathtaker is now being showcased in a whole new venue.

MW: Yeah, Breathtaker is the darling of museums. [Laughter] It’s amazing. Again, going back to the classic illustrators, one of the best of all time, of course, is Norman Rockwell. And a couple years ago, my wife, Carol, and I were planning a vacation up to New England, largely because we had never been to the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. And a few weeks before we were set to head out, I was contacted by them, asking if they could include Breathtaker material in a new show they were putting together. And, sure enough, it all came to pass.

We ended up having a huge amount of original art in the show. In fact, as my mother said when she came to the show, “That’s Mark s wall!” [General laughter] The show s called Lit Graphic, and it includes Dave Stevens, and Frank Miller, and Harvey Kurtzman, and Peter Kuper, and Lynn Ward, [Will] Eisner I could just go down the list. You think of a first class comic creator and it’s likely their work is included in it.

BB: Gee, I've never heard of any of these guys! [General laughter]

MW: Yeah, right.

BB: Obviously, it’s a crowd you don’t mind being seen among.

MW: No. No, it was quite hoity-toity. And we, of course, got to go to the opening, and it was wonderful. And they actually had us up for a lecture.

So, how did they say this? It was the largest opening they’d ever had for a show. And I think they said it was also the most popular run that they've had. So they're already working on more comics and graphic novel shows to run at the museum.

But, meanwhile, other museums said, “We like that show. We want it!” And now it’s touring the country, and will be for the next three or four years, and be appearing for six months at various different other museums. The next one that opens is in Ohio, at the Toledo Museum of Art. And that’s where it'll be for the next few months. And after that, it goes to West Virginia, Huntington, I think. And then, from there, it goes to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to the James Michener Museum, of all places. And then on to other museums, another one in Massachusetts, closer to Boston, then in New York, Utica, and there’s still other museums signing on.

So stayed tuned, it could be coming to a town near you! [General laughter]

BB: I know I’ve asked you this before, but it has even more resonance considering everything you’ve mentioned above; what about the comics medium keeps you going, and what keeps you coming back for more after all these years?

MW: Well, at heart, Bill, I think I’m a masochist. [General laughter]

I don’t know. There are so many factors to it. For one thing, I know I enjoy telling stories, that’s why we talk so much here, ya know? [Laughter]

Yeah, I tell stories with my music:

http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=807124&content=music


I tell stories with video these days, if you want to check out the links online:

http://www.youtube.com/user/Insightmovies

I tell stories in print because of comics, and I've written text stories, as well. I like to tell stories.

Beyond the stories, the art has a powerful effect on me. You don’t have to be a creator to have this response to line art. I mean, I know that’s why we all collect these comics.

If you look at a comic book one day, and you start thinking, “My God, Al Williamson can draw like crazy, man! Look at that line!” [Laughs] And you find all these artists. “Steve Ditko! Yeah, wow, I can recognize his lines!” [Still more laughter] And you just start looking at the lines.

I’ll tell you, the one thing I’m addicted to these days are all these black and white reprints of all the comics so you can see the lines! [General laughter]

I just really love line art. And I love to paint, too, so I love color. And all of these things are brought together in comics.

I've worked in television. I've written for television, and I've been wooed by many folks in Hollywood over the past decade because of my various titles and things, and have made a lot of good friends in that industry. But, I keep always coming back to the comics, and I think it’s all because of the fact that all the elements come together here. It’s all about the art, and telling the story.

BB: What do you hope your readers get from your work? Is it just about entertainment, or do you hope that they get something else along with that?

MW: I think that what I really want them to get from my work is really strong addiction for my work. [General laughter]

You know, seriously, you’re asking a broader question there. And that is...

I've always seen art as happening in two places. Art happens all for me when I’m creating. It’s a very personal experience. You know that old joke, that old gag, “If you've enjoyed my work half as much as I have, then I've enjoyed it twice as much as you”? There’s a lot of truth to that, because the relationship I have with my work is very intimate, and very fulfilling, and I just follow that sense of fulfillment. That’s how I stay true to my creation. And it’s energizing, and it’s recharging. It’s wonderful.

But, once it’s done, it goes out there. It’s its own thing. It’s its own little entity. And when you encounter what I’ve created, you’re-encountering it in an entirely different way than I did when I created it. It depends on what you bring to bear on it—what your past life experiences and what your expectations are, what your mood was and what you had for lunch. [Laughs]

I mean, you’re informing that work in all those little gaps and areas that I can’t provide—because I’m not standing over your shoulder talking to you about it. You have to inflate the work when you read it. So you’re having an art experience reading it, and those are two very different experiences. [Laughter]

So I can’t really say what I expect you to get from it, except that I hope you enjoy it.

BB: Anything else you d like to add before I let you get back to work?

MW: Two things. Be sure to check out the cover I did for the Captain Action comic book. Should be out soon. And I’m now telling stories on the radio. I have a new, weekly radio show that started on November 21st at 9 PM. The show is called Frequency and is me telling stories and sharing stories from the history of radio. So you’ll be able to hear Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Dimension X, Frontier Gentleman, and even M. J. Butler s Two Minute Danger Theater that I talked about before. In fact—the third episode of Frequency will feature an interview with M. J. Butler on how he produced his radio shows. You can hear the show here: http://www.getthepointradio.com/

And that’s it. Great talking with you, Bill!


And that’s it for now, folks. As always, I urge you to take a little trip down to your local comic shop or book seller to check Mark’s work firsthand. Or, if you’d prefer to avoid the holiday crowds, head on over to http://www.IDWpublishing.com/, the online home of the publisher of Mars, Hammer of the Gods and the rest of the books in The Mark Wheatley Library.

Finally, you can get the skinny on what Mark’s done and is currently up to by visiting http://insightstudiosgroup.com, http://www.comicmix.com/ and the other links Mark mentions above.

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