Ethan Van Sciver: In Brightest Day...
Over the course of the past ten years, Ethan Van Sciver’s career in comics has been on a non-stop rise, working on titles from Impulse, X-Men and most recently the super-selling run on Green Lantern with Geoff Johns. With an eye for detail and a flare for drawing, Ethan’s work is enjoyed by many around the world. SBC took the time to chat with Ethan about his life, career, art and a whole lot more…
Mike Storniolo: For those not in the know, tell us a little bit about Ethan Van Sciver.
Ethan Van Sciver: In case the reader isn't my mom or dad, I'd better fill them in. Good idea.
My full name is Ethan Daniel Van Sciver, I'm almost 31 years old, and I live in Orlando, Florida. I was born in Utah. I grew up in South Jersey. I was sitting in a comfy chair drawing a Cyberfrog strip the day Kurt Cobain died, and it really had an effect on me and my art. I didn't really, but I'll say it did if it'll get me on MTV. I could affect a somber, reverent demeanor and invent some realization I had, expound upon it for a couple of sentences and then spin it into a joke about Color Me Badd. That's worth a spot on VH1, anyhow.
I work fully clothed even though I don't have to, I watch documentaries that make me angry, I stutter when I feign sincerity, and am obsessed by historical tragedies. I also collect autographed photos of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Storniolo: As a child, did you have an interest in comics and drawing, or did that come later on in life? When it occurred, what type of books/artists were you interested in?
Van Sciver: I loved comics as a child, but they were rare. My parents supported my interest in superheroes in different ways. My mom made me a two sided superhero cape that held itself around my neck with velcro. One side was Superman, the other was Batman. And they bought me Superman and Batman Megos.
One time, and I'd love to find this on E-Bay, they gave me this bizarre Superman Water Willy for my birthday. I have to describe it to you. It was a long pole that connected to a hose, and on top there was a Superman head; just his head. So essentially, if you didn't know better, it could have been a Cary Grant water toy. Anyhow, there was a hole in his mouth that water came out of. So Superman basically spit on kids to keep us cool; I loved it. But some jackass kid broke it and made me cry. I wept for the expectorating Superman toy. I still do.
We didn't have a lot of money, and by that, I mean we literally had NO MONEY, so comics were always hard to come by. I remember one time dad was painting one of the Osmond’s houses in Utah and brought me along. I don't remember which Osmond it was, Tito probably. Anyhow, Tito Osmond gave me a dollar to buy a treat, (this was the 70's, mind you.) and I remember considering purchasing a box of Twinkies that had cut-out baseball cards on the back, but decided to buy one of those polybagged three-packs of Superman comics instead. Those were my first comics. And everything was Superman for me, from then on.
Storniolo: Before your start in comics, did you even consider pursuing any other forms of art?
Van Sciver: Yes, indeed. All through high school I did all kinds of strange art jobs for money. I painted murals of Native Americans. I took a much envied job at the Cherry Hill Mall as a caricaturist. I had to wear a tuxedo, but I was 'Goth', so I also wore eye-makeup and a big clunky ankh around my neck, just under my bowtie. Because of that job, I did private parties where I'd basically show up at your Bar Mitzvah like a clown and draw all of your friends. That somehow led to a job where I illustrated about 12 children's books, which somehow led to a job where I designed bootleg Beavis and Butthead neckties for some criminal Pakistani business, which led straight back to me doing airbrushed t-shirts that said "Insane in the Membrane". That's where I learned to draw stunted, large-footed black people holding smoking Uzis, a skill that's served me well ever since. I think I created Cyberfrog out of fear and despair, because he came about shortly thereafter.
Storniolo: What comics do you enjoy reading these days?
Van Sciver: At the moment I'm reading Paul Pope's 100%, the soft cover. I'll read anything I'm asked to, but I actually look forward to anything by Daniel Clowes and Peter Bagge. I'll make the trip to a comic shop to pick up whatever they've done which, fortunately and unfortunately, is rare. And then, you know, the books that my friends have released. I read most of Geoff John's work, although that's getting to be a bit difficult lately. He's very prolific. And I make time to see what Frank Quitely has accomplished whenever he's got something out.
Storniolo: So, you’re given the opportunity to change something about a character; what character, change and why?
Van Sciver: What, just one? Well, I tend to take ownership of the characters I work on, you know, and bend them into being something that I can either fear or respect. Or else I don't work on them. I mean, Superman....what are you going to do with him, except repeat what's good that's come before? I have such reverence for that character, because of childhood attachment, that I'd be nervous to take him on.
So for me, the character most in need of loving care is Plastic Man. If and when I get my mitts on Plastic Man, I will completely sort him out and make him follow what I believe should have been his natural evolution from Jack Cole's starting point. There is nothing cooler than his origin, and there is no better concept than a well known gangster working part time for the FBI as a bizarre superhero. I promise one thing before I die or retire: I will make Plastic Man cool.
Storniolo: Okay, I guess I should talk about your art now; your comic career got its start by writing and illustrating Cyberfrog through Hall of Heroes, and eventually Harris Comics. How’d these experiences help you in the industry later on?
Van Sciver: Even back at Hall of Heroes, I was the picture of confidence. Matt Martin, Trent Kaniuga and I believed with every fiber of our being that we were going to make it big in comics. It was self-confidence that bordered on arrogance. It's funny, I actually had a look at Creed #1 from back in 1995, and Trent and I had apparently decided to do the 8000th tribute to Todd McFarlane's Spiderman #1 cover, this time with Trent's character Creed crouching down in that famous pose. We used to write little nonsensical messages under our signatures, and this one said, "No, Todd, after US." Absolutely infuriating! How dare we! But I think that kind of hard-headedness works as a shield against the unbelievable obstacles that you meet as you work your way up in this business.
There's a lot of discouragement, a lot of competition, and countless petty, envious little people who want you to become completely disillusioned and lose your way. Unless you're a big fan of yourself and believe that you can meet the challenge and swim with the sharks, you might as well quit. Other artists have been rolling their eyes at me for years. What are you going to do? Believe them? I'd rather sneer at them and keep my pencil moving.
My experiences in the small press and independents have taught me to look carefully at portfolios and at early publishing efforts by new talent. Talent and skill are two different things. Skill is learned, talent is inherent. Given some book called "DEMONMASTER" at a convention, it's easy to tell if the artist has that little spark that'll become a fire if somebody just nudges them along and offers them encouragement. You'd hate to think that the next generation of talent would fizzle itself out because they didn't have the self- confidence to fight through the odds. But I think that happens a lot.
Storniolo: DC sets theirs eyes in, and next thing we know you’re landing gigs like Impulse, Flash, Hawkman, etc; how’d the jump from “small- press Cyberfrog” to a rising star at DC feel? Any improvements in your art during that time?
Van Sciver: Well, Cyberfrog finally ended. We had built up a nice toy/entertainment package with Playmates toys and Fox Kids, but it all fell apart. Harris Comics said they'd continue to publish Cyberfrog comics from me, but at a fraction of my page rate. I tried that, and it didn't work. I had to abandon Cyberfrog and try DC, which was terrifying. But it turned out to be great. Paul Kupperberg threw me a bone, a Wonder Girl pin up for Wonder Woman Secret Files, and then a fill in on Impulse. That was an exciting time. Taking over Impulse with editor L.A. Williams and Todd Dezago as writer was an amazing feeling. I'd just gotten married, you know, and here we were with this book that was on the verge of cancellation, but DC was gonna let us have a go at saving it; and for our first issue as a team? They let us have Batman and the Joker, absolutely incredible. And we did save the book for a while.
Storniolo: One of your first high profile jobs was working on New X-Men with Grant Morrison for a few issues. How did that work for your career and build up to things?
Van Sciver: Obviously it did wonders for my career; X-Men and Grant Morrison. It should have been a great situation.
Storniolo: Do you have any interest to work with Marvel again? Any characters of theirs you’d like to take a swing at?
Van Sciver: Do I have ANY interest? Maybe. But there's not the kind of interest that would make me pick up the phone and try to make it happen. No REAL interest. It's like asking if I have any interest in leaving my family to join the circus. Uh, well, maybe in an abstract sort of way, like I might have a fever dream at night where I'm abducted by monstrous circus freaks and it turns out to not be so bad, but in the light of day, no thanks. I love DC comics, and plan to be here for a long, long time.
Storniolo: From taking on project to project, and doing various things, do you still feel your art growing, developing and learning with every book?
Van Sciver: Oh yeah, of course. Little things occur to you every day, like "Wow, if I do it this way, I'll achieve so much more depth in this drawing." Thank god that's still happening for me.
Storniolo: Have you got any plans, or would you like to write again sometime in the future?
Van Sciver: I'm gonna! Watch and see. I'll have to write again, eventually, but I'm still absorbing things at the moment.
Storniolo: Now, onto Green Lantern: Rebirth, a book that shot you even further into one of comics’ hottest names. From the projects inception, we all knew that it would be something special, but did you ever think it would take that well? How was the whole experience like for you?
Van Sciver: No, I never thought it would be this well received. If I ever told anyone that I thought it would have done this well, I would have been patted on the head and given a glass of water. Geoff and I thought it would sell about 70,000 copies, and that we'd probably double Green Lantern readership by the time it was over. That was our goal. And we were giddy about that. Making Green Lantern DC's highest selling regular title? I demand a cookie with that glass of water!
Storniolo: So, I take it that there’s something else you’re working on
now at DC, and after seeing Green Lantern: Rebirth, it has to be something BIG. What can you spill?
Van Sciver: Well, it is big; it’s more Green Lantern. I'm trying to get 6 more issues done before next year, at which time I'll be moving over onto a new project, most likely with superstar writer Greg Rucka. We'll rock the house with one of DC's icons in 2006.
Storniolo: As a whole, where do you see comics and the art form going in the next year, five, ten or even twenty years?
Van Sciver: Oh, I don't know. I hope I'm still around in 20 years to see. This art form, this business, means everything to me. I'd like to leave it better than I found it, and in talking to my friends and peers in this industry I know that attitude is shared.
Storniolo: Wrapping this up, is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Van Sciver: I'd like to add that SBC rules. Bye!
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