Jamal Igle describes his transformation to Jor-El, his true nature as a song and dance man, and the importance of happiness.
Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
As Jamal Igle enjoyed popular success as an animator and eventually a DC Comics exclusive artist on titles like “Firestorm” and “Supergirl,” he constantly imagined other characters and other worlds. As with any storyteller, he pursued some of those ideas while others waited in the periphery. Shortly after finishing out his DC contract in 2012, Igle called up one of those daydreams and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for the first book in his “Molly Danger” series. While continuing to develop the young hero’s ongoing adventures, he pencils stories for a number of publisher’s including Dark Horse Comics’ “Terminator: Enemy of my Enemy.”
CBR News spoke to Jamal Igle about his unique place in the industry, his ambitions as a song-and-dance-man, and the night be became a true Kryptonian.
CBR News: I had some talking points that I’d already wanted to visit, but I figured I’d check out your blog this morning in case there was something I might not’ve considered.
Jamal Igle: OK.
I dug back a bit, and I think the most important thing I learned about you today is that you once dressed up as Marlon Brando’s Jor-El–
–and that it was magnificent.
Tell me about putting that together.
It was actually pretty simple. It’s just something that I had in my head for years that I wanted to do for Halloween. That was from the Halloween before last, so my daughter was three-and-a-half, something like that? We’d gotten her a Supergirl costume the year before and she insisted on wearing it. We were going to make her a pony or a princess or something else, but she said she wanted to be Supergirl again. So I said, “You know what? I can do this.” I’d actually bought some of the pieces beforehand, and I’d just never gotten around to doing it. So, half of it was already there. It’s the simplest thing in the world: a white turtleneck with a black-and-white Superman ‘S’ patch that I bought online for $35, white sweat pants and a cap and gown I also bought online for twenty bucks.
It looked great!
The best thing about it is that I went down to Canal Street, here in New York, and I bought this lucite rod. I’m holding it there in the pictures on the blog. I taped a halogen flashlight to the bottom so that, at night as it started to get darker, it started to glow. By the time the Halloween parade was over, I had this glowing crystal rod.
There’s a bit of a lightsaber effect happening.
Yeah, I really wanted that rod from the court scene. I think that pulled everything together. As we were walking home, there was this one guy camped outside of his house, and he just fell out of his chair. He gave my daughter extra candy. We doled that out throughout the year. He was just out on a lawn chair with a bucket, and I guess the last of his candy.
RELATED: Jamal Igle Wraps DC Exclusive
The last remnants of candy for the last girl of Krypton. I like it.
I love that prologue scene in “Superman: The Movie.” Instant goosebumps.
It’s a great scene. I think a lot of people don’t give Richard Donner and Geoffrey Unsworth the credit they deserve for how innovative that scene was.
It’s Shakespeare. You get a little high melodrama before the romp.
Absolutely. It sets up the conflict incredibly well. You don’t have to draw out Zod’s hatred for Jor-El. It’s all there in a quick, five-minute scene.
I’ll be honest in that I’ve always wanted to put that costume together myself, but I don’t think I could quite pull it off quite as well as you did.
A while back, I signed up online to be an ordained minister to do weddings — or at least to frighten my friends with the notion that I’d want to officiate their weddings — and I carry the card around in my wallet to pass around at parties. But if anyone ever took me up on it, I always thought the Jor-El costume would be the perfect vestment, ya know?. Just Jor-El giving his blessing in a VFW parking lot.
I think that would be cool. I think that would be very, very cool.
I’m going to have you draft a letter and vouch for that because you’re a man of stature. Their names are Erica and Matt.
[Laughs] I will insist that you get to do this.
It strikes me that you’re the kind of guy who, even if you weren’t doing comics for a living, would still be a fan. You would still love this material and this history. And I don’t know that that’s true of everybody.
I think that’s true. But I think that’s true of a lot of disciplines. For some people, the longer they’re in a particular discipline or business, if they started out as a fan, the day-to-day mundane stuff tends to beat it out of you to an extent. That drives a lot of people away. With me, I started as a fan. I continue to be a fan. I support my local retailers, my shop. I don’t have a pull-list, per se, but I’m in the shop every week buying comics, reading comics all the time. I really enjoy a lot of the stuff that’s out there.
Was there ever a point when the day-to-day grind soured you to any of it, when that enthusiasm may have wavered? Even if only temporarily?
Oh, I’ve had my moments. There are things in this business that piss me the hell off. Things that I see as an outside observer or things that I have to deal with as a creator working on certain properties. It can take its toll. I think that, overall, if I weren’t working in comics anymore, I’d still be reading them. I still enjoy them. I still love looking at particular artists and reading particular writers or following particular characters depending on who’s working on them. That stuff energizes me. It keeps me going.
Just on that tip: If you weren’t doing comics, what would you be doing?
And don’t give me a sensible answer.
Give me a quixotic answer.
You know what? If I weren’t doing comics, I would probably take another stab at acting. I do creative services anyways. I would probably try my hand at acting again.
Theater? Movies? TV?
I’d be one of those guys who do a bit of everything. I do consider myself a little bit of a song and dance man, but I’m such a huge fan of film and what can be done on film that I’d be automatically drawn to that. I’d try to bring back the movie musical, or a little more than it has been.
Right on. Bring back the heyday of MGM. Did you do any acting in school?
I did actually. And I did do some semi-professional acting up until as late as my early 20s. Then I said, “Screw this, I’m tired of auditions.”
Favorite role. Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.” That was fun. That was a lot of fun. But even now, there’s stuff I look at and go, that would be fun. There’s a character in “The Book of Mormon.” I forget the name, but it’s a little fat guy with glasses.
Right, he was Olaf in “Frozen.”
Yeah, that guy. That part would be a lot of fun. That would be a fun show to do.
This is lighting striking for a comic industry interview. We’ve got two musical theater nerds coming together in a glorious way.
[Laughs] It’s fun! That would be fun. And there’s other stuff, like Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Speaking my language.
I love, love, love that show. And I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. I hate his stuff with a passion, but I love “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
That one’s the exception to the rule.
I think so. I think so. I think once you see “Starlight Express” it’s just downhill from there.
We could make this production happen. We should get a bunch of comics people on a bus and head out to the desert with some scaffolding. We’ll bring some big hats.
[Laughs] We’ll get Mike Norton to play Caiaphas.
I love this idea. I’m in. We’ll have to wait until next Easter I guess. Where’s the nearest desert though?
Well, I’m in Brooklyn, so the closest desert is probably Coney Island.
We honestly just need an abandoned lot. I mean, I guess “Godspell” would be easier, but I’d rather do “Jesus Christ Superstar” if I had my druthers.
Oh, for sure.
Speaking of upstart productions and passion projects, why is “Molly Danger” an important project, and something that you made such an effort to put out there?
It was something that had been sitting in my head for the better part of a decade. I’ve had hundreds of ideas come and go over the years. That was one of a small handful of ideas that, for whatever reason, just kept with me. I kept trying to figure out how I was going to get this out there. I think it’s a great story. What people have seen in Book One just barely scratches the surface of where I’m going with it. I just think it’s something that needs to be out there. I think it’s something people are enjoying. I get e-mails from readers about how much they like it and their kids like it. They’re buying copies for their school libraries and book clubs. That makes me feel like I accomplished something. It would’ve been very easy for me to do something that was a little more adult, for lack of a better term. Something that pandered more.
Certainly. It speaks to an audience that might not be the demo of the books you’d come to be known for. Your name has cache from that time and experience, and not just in terms of the quality of the work, but the professionalism you bring to a project. Which is more of a question mark on other Kickstarters from names we might not recognize. We can see a lot of talent in sample pages and videos, but professionalism and reliability is often an unknown quantity. So that part was there for you, and that meant some level of crossover. But “Molly” might not be an instant sell for all of your audience, even those who read something like “Supergirl.”
And it’s not just the story and the idea or even the execution. The format is different. I was at the Diamond retailer conference in Vegas a few weeks ago, and retailers were continually asking me if I had plans to do more of a traditional comic-size version in future editions. Which we will do eventually, but I at least want to get Book Two done before I reissue that as a trade or as single issues. That’ll be 96 pages of content at that point. But it’s different enough from what you’d typically see in a comic shop, unless your shop stocks European albums. You rarely ever see a superhero project in that scale. And I don’t necessarily consider Molly as a superhero. I think the story of Molly Danger is about a ten year-old girl who just happens to be a superhero. It’s a coming of age story.
Is it that nuance that kept it from receding to the back burner permanently?
It touches on a lot of things that I find interesting about human behavior, society and the cult of personality; how we raise our celebrities up and isolate them in their own little bubbles. A lot of it is really about addressing things that I had to deal with in my own life. The sense of loneliness after my father left when I was a kid, feeling very alone and very vulnerable. At the time I thought I didn’t have many friends. Apparently I did, but back then it didn’t feel like it. [Laughs]. I think a lot of kids feel that way. You’re growing and changing. People are constantly telling Molly, no you can’t do this. You can’t do that. Without explanation. It brings up a lot of questions. I like exploring those stories, dealing with character pieces. I like exploring the relationship between Austin and Brian in contrast to the relationship Austin has to Molly. Or Molly’s relationship with Commander Holder, and the genesis of that bond.
Now to my James Lipton question cards. When’s the last time you had a religious or revelatory experience with a piece of art, any medium?
[Laughs] You know what, I went and saw a screening of “The Big Sleep,” and I walked out of the theater thinking, “Holy shit, nobody writes like that anymore.” The speed and the humor. That energy. Nobody delivers lines like that anymore. Nobody writes lines like that anymore. Howard Hawks knew what the hell he was going. You’ve got Bogey and Bacall in their prime. I just walked out of there thinking, “Holy shit, that was goooood.”
What’s most important to you right now?
What’s most important to me other than family and — what’s most important to me right now is deadlines! [Laughs]
What’s the overarching thing, other than the day-to-day?
The overarching thing other than the day to day, honestly, is just happiness. You know? Keeping an even keel. No drama or very little drama. I’ve got enough outside drama. I’m very lucky and very blessed that my wife and I are very settled people. We’re homebodies. We enjoy each other’s company. There’s not a lot of yelling and screaming around our house. I’m blessed that I’ve got a little girl who’s happy and healthy and coming into her own every single day. I’m surrounded by good people and good friends, being happy. For the most part. Who I am as a person, what my life is like, once that’s established, once that’s set, you can deal with all of the other crap life throws at you, all the work and the bills and taxes and babysitters and school. Politics. Everything else. As long as I’m satisfied with my life and where I am and where I think things are going, I can compartmentalize everything else and put it aside when I need to. I have this little oasis of calm here that I’m surrounded by.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Jamal Igle’s upcoming projects and follow him on Twitter at @JAMALIGLE.