short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill
DOZEN for 12/14/2009
Looking Back to See the Future
Mark Wheatley on IDWs Mark Wheatley Library (part
two of two)
We've talked about this subject, both here and in our
past conversations, but I theres a basic question
about it that Ive never asked you before now.
Youre stated that youre 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 dont have a prepackaged
answer for you.
On the surface of it, you would think I wouldnt
like it, because some of my favorite authors are the ones
that are thoughtful, insightful, inventive, creativecontemplative,
even. [Laughter] And yet, Im constantly attracted
to the Pulp stories, as well. Theyre very direct,
visceral, lurid, and very often very repetitious. [More
laughter] And not so creative as they are just aggressive
So, somewhere in there, I guess theres a tension
I like. And if youve read Lone Justice, you'll see
that, although its a Pulp character and its
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 theres 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 youre 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, its 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 its harder to understand what the original thrust
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.
Well, yeah, thats 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 untilits funny how
life connects up, tooit 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 dont 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.
Ive 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,
MW: Yeah, well, we have the misfortune to be born
at the tail end of this phenomenon, I think, of print.
And if were producing print, we have to understand
where it came from. At least that's always been my take
on it. Im sure there are people that drop in and
do something amazing and dont 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 guysJustin, who you've
recently been working with at IDW, and Mike Gold, who
you've worked with for yearswho are good editors.
So what are some of the qualities that make them good
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 hes doing is, not to diminish it, but hes
limited in the sense that hes dealing with completed
work, and hes just trying to get it into shape for
But hes 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 thats
a decision I normally make by myself, but it was wonderful
to have somebody whos 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
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: Its 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 wasnt
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 dont know, hes 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 were 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 hes got his hand prints all over it,
because he asks these very, very simple, little questions
that just make you consider everything.
Anyway, thats why I like working with Mike.
BB: Well, its interesting that you bring
up that particular project, because, if memory serves,
Breathtaker is now being showcased in a whole new venue.
Yeah, Breathtaker is the darling of museums. [Laughter]
Its 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, Thats 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 its
likely their work is included in it.
BB: Gee, I've never heard of any of these guys!
MW: Yeah, right.
BB: Obviously, its a crowd you dont
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
theyd 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 its 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 thats 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 theres still other museums signing on.
So stayed tuned, it could be coming to a town near you!
BB: I know Ive asked you this before, but
it has even more resonance considering everything youve
mentioned above; what about the comics medium keeps you
going, and what keeps you coming back for more after all
MW: Well, at heart, Bill, I think Im a masochist.
I dont know. There are so many factors to it. For
one thing, I know I enjoy telling stories, thats
why we talk so much here, ya know? [Laughter]
Yeah, I tell stories with my music:
I tell stories with video these days, if you want to check
out the links online:
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 dont have to be a creator to have this response
to line art. I mean, I know thats why we all collect
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.
Ill tell you, the one thing Im 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
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 its
all because of the fact that all the elements come together
here. Its 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
You know, seriously, youre asking a broader question
there. And that is...
I've always seen art as happening in two places. Art happens
all for me when Im creating. Its 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? Theres 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. Thats how
I stay true to my creation. And its energizing,
and its recharging. Its wonderful.
But, once its done, it goes out there. Its
its own thing. Its its own little entity. And when
you encounter what Ive created, youre-encountering
it in an entirely different way than I did when I created
it. It depends on what you bring to bear on itwhat
your past life experiences and what your expectations
are, what your mood was and what you had for lunch. [Laughs]
I mean, youre informing that work in all those little
gaps and areas that I cant providebecause
Im not standing over your shoulder talking to you
about it. You have to inflate the work when you read it.
So youre having an art experience reading it, and
those are two very different experiences. [Laughter]
So I cant 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 Im 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 youll 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 factthe 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/
thats it. Great talking with you, Bill!
thats 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 Marks work firsthand. Or, if youd 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.
you can get the skinny on what Marks done and is currently
up to by visiting http://insightstudiosgroup.com,
http://www.comicmix.com/ and the other links Mark mentions