Marc Silvestri is known for a great many things in comics — his founding of Top Cow Productions, co-founding Image Comics, creating “Cyber Force” and contributing covers and interiors across the spectrum of comics. However, did you know that he also went to Catholic school, or that he didn’t start drawing until the third grade?
The superstar artist dropped by the CBR Speakeasy recently to discuss all that and more, including his long and storied comics career, how it all began and his current big project, a new Top Cow series “Rise of the Magi.”
On being an altar boy: You would think that any chip could be an altar boy, and quite frankly, it’s true. It’s not that difficult. My one job was to bring the bells — when something profound was said, I was supposed to this [Rings Cowbell]. But for church services, every other line is profound. I don’t know how many times the priest would turn back and go [Lunges]. “Come on! That was profound! Did you not hear what I just said?! The booming voice of [God]?”
On how he began drawing: I had always doodled and made messes on walls with pens, not poop. I remember early on in school, I went to a Catholic school, so I have nun issues as well … being called in in Kindergarten and my mother being called in by the teacher because I had done an art piece. I remember it was a sheet of paper, the top half was green, the bottom half was red — it wasn’t Christmas, I painted it with tempura colors. She called me in, telling my mom in front of me that she was worried about me because I had a problem of some sort because I was such a horrible artist. I was the worst artist in class. I was in Kindergarten. But apparently, you’re supposed to be advanced in arts in Kindergarten. That went on for a few years until suddenly, I remember I drew a flower in third grade — still in Catholic school — and because I’m pathetic and can’t win, I drew the flower in class and the teacher came up to me and said, “You’re not supposed to take this home. Who did this flower for you?” I couldn’t win! … Either it was too bad or too good.
On the terrifying nature of breaking into comics: I’m a firm believer in that the day you feel you’re the best you can be, you stop growing and you’re never going to get better, so always be on edge and always feel, “I can do better.” On the other hand, early on in my career — and I’ve said this in other interviews — I wasn’t influenced by comic books early on. Yes, this is going to be sacrilegious and yes, I was an altar boy, but I didn’t read comics when I was a kid. My exposure was at my cousin’s house, he had all these comic books, he was a big comic collector, and he roundabout got me into the business. I would go there and just look at that cool stuff, but what I was attracted to as a kid was guys like Frazetta — fantasy covers. I had brothers and sisters and they read all those paperbacks — “Tarzan,” “Warlord of Mars” and all that stuff. Frazetta did those covers. I wasn’t reading the books — I still can’t read — and I remember the first time that art moved me in any way … I saw this “Tarzan” cover that Frazetta had done, and I thought, “That is so cool.” So, my bar in my head was set at Frazetta, and then it went to guys like Bernie Wrightson … My brother was very into fantasy stuff, so it was all those illustrators rather than comic books. When I got into comics, it was a whole different animal, and yes, I was absolutely terror-stricken. When I got my first job in comics at DC, I literally got a script in the mail and I didn’t even know what size paper we worked on. I had no paper. I had no idea what to do. I had to call the editor, who didn’t want to talk to me anyway, and say, “Hey, I’ve got this script, what do I do?” I didn’t even know where to send it. You have all those things working against you when you’re trying to develop a style.
On being the writer on “Rise of the Magi” rather than the artist: Matt [Hawkins] makes fun of me because when he writes his scripts, they’re very thin, his plots rather. Mine are twice as thick as his. When he prints them out, he goes, “Wow, dude. Your plots are really dense.” I’m going to blame Chris Claremont for that, because I used to get these novels from him for 22-page stories, and they’re like this [Indicates Thickness] thick of paper. So many trees lost their lives. For me, to a certain degree, I think it’s a good thing that I come from an artist’s background because I know how to write for an artist. I’m pretty good at spotting where their strengths are and potential weaknesses. Weaknesses is not the right word, because there isn’t really weaknesses as opposed to making those strengths shine with people that I work with. For me, it’s, “Here’s a story that I want to tell. Rather than having to fix anything in dialogue or captions, let’s tell the story right from the get-go. This is what I want to say, this is what I want in this panel.” So, my pages are broken down by panel and I put a description of what I want in there. Depending on who the artist is, they might change it, but as long as the flavor of what I want to say is there, you can change the angle.
On “Rise of the Magi”: I’ve described it as “Harry Potter” meets “The Usual Suspects” with “The Seven Samurai” thrown in there. Oddly enough, that’s a pretty accurate description. Like I said, I didn’t grow up with comic books — what I did grow up with was sci-fi and fantasy and horror. That was it. Saturday afternoons, I was watching creature features on TV, I was watching anything with sci-fi, I was reading sci-fi — so that’s where I come from. Since Top Cow came about, people who have been following us notice we don’t really do traditional superhero stuff. It’s all based in the supernatural, the fantasy and the science fiction. That’s where we’ve built our universe, which I’m really happy about. “Rise of the Magi” was a really good fit for me, because I love magic and — to a certain degree — I equate science fiction with magic as well. Science is magic to certain cultures throughout history. I’m always fascinated by that. So it’s a great fit — and you make the rules. I’m not writing Spider-Man, I don’t have to write Peter Parker in New York City, I’m writing these characters, I’m writing this character he collides with is April May June, and she hates that. She’s a street kid who hates her hippy parents for naming her that. … It’s great because there’s this world of magic that we get to play in. Where things get really dicey is that a piece of magic the size of a grain of sand that weighs as much as Manhattan island is stolen — impossibly stolen. Asa — my Luke Skywalker — is a kid where magic is specialized, even monetize. His special ability is he can fix flying carpets, but he’s got these dreams and aspirations of adventure. Unfortunately, that’s not for him. But, he gets caught up in this whole situation where a piece of magic has been stolen and unfortunately for us, someone has brought it from their world into ours.