Articles: Interview: Walter Simonson (9/22/97)Walt Simonson graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA for illustration. His senior thesis, Star Slammers, landed him a job with DC Comics. He became the regular penciller for Detective Comics starting with issue #437. He eventually began working as writer on Fantastic Four with issue #334 and picking up pencilling duties in #337. He continued to write and draw most of the series until issue #354. He recently completed writing The Avengers Volume 2, repairing much of Rob Liefeld's damage to the book.
SKleefeld: I was hoping you might be willing to answer a few questions for me. As one of the great writer/artists in the comic book industry, I would like to get your input on the Fantastic Four as well as the industry for my web site: 4 Freedoms Plaza. Your run on the FF stands out as one of the (all too brief) highlights of the series.
Walt Simonson: Hi, Sean. Thanks for your e-mail. I'm going to answer some of your questions but I don't think I have the time to cover everything. So bear with me and I'll do what I can as I move through them.
SK: I've read that Star Slammers was your senior degree project that eventually led to your being hired by DC Comics. It obviously impressed them a great deal, but it was Marvel who later published it. How did that happen? And how many changes (if any) did you make from your senior project to the published version?
WS: The original Star Slammers story was my degree project and my portfolio when I came to NYC looking for work in comics in 1972. The graphic novel published by Marvel in 82 or 83 was a completely different story with different characters based on the concepts I'd created 11 or so years earlier. Marvel published it because they were interested at that time in creator owned concepts. The mini-series of five issues done about two years ago now that came out from Malibu/Dark Horse was a new story, again using different characters, but following a consistant time line from the original graphic novel. The work I did while I was in art school was only published as a fanzine/ashcan back in the early 70's and hasn't been printed since.
SK: Any chances of a sequel being published?
WS: I may eventually do more Slammers stories but you never know.
SK: How did you end up working on the Fantastic Four?
WS: I was asked if I wanted to do the FF by Ralph Macchio who was the editor at the time.
SK: John Harkness ended his run by setting up some high expectations for the readers. How did you feel about that? Were you even aware of it?
WS: John Harkness was, as I recall, a pseudonym for Steve Englehart. Since I had a whole different storyline and direction for the book in mind from what had gone before, I felt no pressure coming in after Steve.
SK: When you started working on the book, you had several old plotlines to follow up on. Did you find that frustrating or do you consider that more of a challenge?
WS: I thought I had a pretty good story to tell. The only plotline I had to follow was the cross-over that occurred in the issues right before I began to write the title. After that, I was pretty much on my own. The only restriction I recall was that Tom DeFalco, at that time editor-in-chief, had decreed that the original four members of the FF had to always be in the book.
SK: All of your FF stories were very well received. (I am personally fond of how you "revived" Dr. Doom.) Do you have a favorite story or issue that stands out to you?
WS: I like the time fight between Doom and Reed. I feel that that fight was handled in a way that nobody in comics had done before. And you don't often get to do something in comics that hasn't been done before somehow. I'm proud of the way it came out. So here's my question for you and your readers--in the time fight issue (351?), what significance does the cover have? Hint: there's a specific time clock shown as the bottom as there was during the time fight on the inside.
(Author's Note: In issue #352, the cover is actually part of the time-hopping fight sequence between Richards and Doom throughout the issue. This sequence is to be read according to the the chronometers displayed in each panel, not in the order they are physically presented in the book. The cover depicts Reed's escape from Doom's trap mentioned in a previous issue. To my knowledge, this story-device has not been used elsewhere before or since.)
SK: What were some of the biggest problems you ran into working on the book?
WS: And really, I didn't have any problems on the book while I was doing it.
SK: What makes the Fantastic Four unique to you?
WS: I just thought the FF were great characters, nicely balanced, which made them fun to work on.
SK: How is your Fantastic Four different than Jack Kirby's, John Byrne's or Jim Lee's? How did that opinion affect how you approached the book?
WS: As for the difference in the various approaches, that's more than I can handle here <g>. I didn't worry about anybody else's approach when I took over the book, although I love Stan and Jack's work and if anything, did not want to do any stories that I felt would betray or damage their legacy.
SK: Your first few issues of the Fantastic Four were pencilled by Rich Buckler and Ron Lim. Arthur Adams also pencilled three of your issues. As an artist, did you them give much direction over page and panel layouts?
WS: The work you mention was all done "Marvel" style. I supplied a plot; the artists supplied the pictures afterwards. I didn't do any thumbnails or layouts for any of them.
SK: Do you feel more comfortable working as both writer and penciller? Or is that too much work to sustain for an extended period?
WS: And actually, I like both writing and drawing pretty much equally, depending on who I'm working with, myself or someone else. But it is a lot of work to do it all yourself.
SK: What caused you to leave the Fantastic Four? I've heard rumors of creative disputes with editors; any truth to that?
WS: I never had any problems with my editor and would be happy to work with Ralph again some day. However, after I had done the FF for a while, Marvel's overall editorial direction had begun to change and I felt that the company atmosphere was becoming less conducive to my producing good stories. So I left.
SK: You were recently pulled in to finish writing the Heroes Reborn Avengers. Since Rob Liefeld had left the book rather suddenly, did you have much time to prepare for it?
WS: We had virtually no time to prepare to do the Avengers. When I accepted the job, the book was already late and we all jumped in pretty much feet first.
SK: Liefeld and Jim Lee had much of the Heroes Reborn story arc at least partially planned when you started; how much direction did either of them give you?
WS: There was no direction from either Wildstorm or Extreme. I had (and still have) no idea what Rob and crew had planned for the last five issues of the HR Avengers; there was never any contact between us. The only direction I got from Wildstorm was that issue 12 was going to be a Galactus crossover so I plotted out a storyline for four issues to run from HR Avengers 9 through 11, and left 12 ready for the crossover. Other than that, I was on my own.
SK: Looking back at the series, would you have changed any of your work based on what was going in Iron Man or Captain America?
WS: And since I've still read only a couple of the Captain Americas and none of the Iron Mans, I wouldn't have changed a thing <g>. And frankly, I probably wouldn't have changed a thing anyway.
SK: Marvel has had more than their fair share of financial troubles lately. Did you have any major concerns or reservations taking work (The Avenegrs) from them? Or were you contracted through Wildstorm?
WS: I was contacted about working on the HR Avengers by Mike Heisler at Wildstorm. I got paid through Wildstorm and never worried about Marvel's financial solvency. Or lack thereof.
SK: Do you have any thoughts on how Marvel will (or won't) emerge from their current situation?
WS: I don't really have any interest in Marvel these days and my only concern about their current situation is that they are still such a large part of the marketplace that if they fold, they're liable to destroy the comics industry as we know it. So of course, I hope they make it. <g>
SK: Do you have any projects lined up or in the works? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next year or two?
WS: I'm am presently finishing up a Kanto the Assassin backup feature for
Jack Kirby's Fourth World, running in issues 9 through 12. The first chapter is out now.
SK: Thank you for answering my questions. I think you've provided some great insights into the comic industry in general and your books specifically. I enjoyed Moorcock's original Elric stories. I'll have to look for Multiverse; it sounds like a project you would be well-suited for. Thanks again. I appreciate it.