Superman, Batman, Reed Richards, Indiana Jones, James Bond and even Buckaroo Banzai — these and many other pop culture icons were inspired at least in part by Doc Savage. But beyond creations on the printed page, silver screen and more, the Man of Bronze motivated a generation of creators, as well. One of those creators, J.G. Jones, is about to fulfill a fantasy he’s held since he was a young boy growing up in Walker, Louisiana.
But the superstar artist known for his Eisner-nominated work on “Wanted” and “Final Crisis” won’t be drawing the title for DC Comics, he’s writing it beginning with “Doc Savage” #13, which is scheduled to be released April 13.
A self-described fan of the character, Jones will be continue delivering covers for “Doc Savage” for the duration of his six-issue run as writer while Qing Ping Mui (“Warcraft Legends”) will serve as the interior artist.
Jones told CBR News how his collaboration with Ian Sattler, DC Comics’ Director-Editorial, Special Projects & Archival Editions, on a forthcoming original graphic novel led to him writing the series. He also teased about what Doc and the Fabulous Five will be up against in his arc “Raise the Khan,” which best-selling title he’ll soon be providing covers for and also a little about what historical event moved him enough to create the aforementioned OGN, “Dust to Dust.”
CBR News: The solicitation for your first issue writing the character mentions you’re a fan of Doc Savage. What was your introduction to the Man of Bronze?
J.G. Jones: Doc Savage and I go way back. My introduction to Doc was at the drug store in my small Louisiana town. I had an after-school job sweeping the parking lot and taking out the trash for the local pharmacist. It was sort of a company store situation, because he got my earnings right back as I settled in at the spinning comic book rack to make my monthly selections.
One day I spotted a small Bantam paperback with an intriguing cover painting of the Man of Bronze. I picked it up, and brother, I was hooked. My cousin, Rick, was a huge fan of the character as well, and we scoured used book stores to score and read every Doc Savage adventure we could find.
I called my cousin, who lives in Texas now, and told him I was writing “Doc Savage.” Within a week, I received a box in the mail with every single “Doc Savage” Bantam paperback edition. He sent me his childhood collection, which he had held onto for all these years.
While he’s not blessed with superpowers, many consider Doc Savage the first superhero. What is it about Doc Savage that you love and what makes him super?
I think Doc embodies the American ideal of the self made man, creating himself through shear force of will. He is focused and determined. Those are his real superpowers. That and his intellect. The creation of Batman, the detective, drew heavily on Doc Savage, who is always prepared and thinks his way through situations. He is a man of mind as well as a man of action.
How did you land the writing assignment on this project as opposed to the art duties? Was this your pitch or did DC come to you?
Everyone at DC knows I’m a huge Doc Savage fan, and I feel I know that character pretty well. I had made it clear to [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio that no one else was going to do those covers but me.
But to answer your question, I had been working with Ian Sattler on the script for my graphic novel, “Dust To Dust,” for about a year, and I’m just about to begin drawing now, so I was unavailable for art duties on “Doc Savage.” Ian liked my writing a lot, and knew how I felt about the Doc Savage character, so he put one and one together and asked if I wanted to write the title.
That was it. I had a pitch in his hands by the end of the next day.
I don’t believe you’ve done much writing over the past few years. How do you enjoy that side of the creative process? Do you feel you’ve found Doc’s voice?
Well, you’re half right. I have not had any published, but over the past few years I have been writing a lot. I have been writing and rewriting, then editing and breaking down the graphic novel, which DC has just agreed to publish, and it’s been an incredibly satisfying, if sometimes difficult undertaking. I have always written stories and story ideas, but there was always the next art job, then the next, and I never pulled back long enough to focus on my own work until recently.
I’ve been dealing with some health issues since “Final Crisis,” and had to pull back on the long hours until I had my health stabilized. That was actually an opportunity to do more writing and focus on telling stories of my own.
As for Doc’s voice, yeah, I feel I know that character pretty well. He’s not loquacious. That’s where his five aides come in handy. I especially enjoy writing the banter for Monk and Ham, who are constantly dissing and trash talking one another. I think that what a lot of people don’t realize about the artist working on a book is the fact that we live with the characters we are drawing for hours and hours every day. We begin to inhabit them as we translate the script into gestures, facial expressions and actions. We begin to know their nuances as well as the writer does.
There have been occasions where I thought the dialogue did not ring true for a character I was drawing in a book, so I would scribble my own dialogue suggestions in the margins of the art page. More than once, the editor or writer would say, “Hey, this works better.” So we would use my dialogue instead. It’s not that I’m correcting the writer, it’s just that the artist spends more time with the characters than the writer does, because it takes longer to draw a page than to write one.
Anyway, that’s getting off topic. I’m basically just trying to use my knowledge of the character to tell a great Doc Savage story.
While you’re not doing interiors, you are taking care of the covers. What elements of Doc’s look do you enjoy most?
I just love those iconic James Bama covers of Doc Savage. It was not his idea to give Doc that odd widow’s peak helmet for hair, but rather something the editor asked him to do to make the character stand out. It worked. With “First Wave,” and Doc Savage for this series, however, we’ve moved that hairline back so it looks a bit more natural, but is still identifiable. Then there’s the ubiquitous torn shirt. He’s like the Hulk. He always rips up that shirt, but the pants, luckily, are made of stronger fabric. Then there’s the bronze skin, the result of years out in the sun and lots of Coppertone, which I hope will not result in future bouts of melanoma.
I’m not familiar with artist Qing Ping Mui. What can you tell us about his style?
I honestly know very little about him, either. It was editorial’s decision to use him. His stuff was new to me as it is to you. I Googled him on the internet, and the art looks interesting. I’m eager to see what he does with the script.
I know you don’t want to give away too much about the story, but what can you tell us about “Raise The Khan?” Johnny is mentioned in the solicitation for “Doc Savage” #13 and you mentioned Monk and Ham earlier so it sounds like the Fabulous Five will play a role in the story, as well.
To me, you can’t have a Doc Savage story without the Fabulous Five. I wanted to have all five on this story, and Doc will need all five to get through these events. Johnny is sort of the pivot that gets the ball rolling. He’s been nosing around a dig in Alexandria, Egypt, and has found something of interest not only to himself, but to a shadowy, secretive group that parallel’s Doc’s own organization, that are out to retrieve the same object.
That’s just the beginning, though. I introduce a number of new characters with agendas of their own. We wanted to be sure we were playing in the “First Wave” universe created by Brian Azzarello. It’s the Doc Savage that lives in that world and bumps up against the powers, both hidden and open, of the “First Wave” universe.
While it ties into what Brian and [former series co-writer] Ivan Brandon have been building, can fans of the character that haven’t been reading the series, jump right into your story?
Yes, fans can jump on here if they have been delinquent in picking up Ivan’s storyline. My story is mostly self-contained, but does make reference to the events in the previous issues.
If things go well, do you have more plans for Doc, Johnny and the rest of the Fabulous Five beyond this six-issue arc?
I’m setting up some stuff that would be interesting to use in the future, but the final decision is up to my bosses at DC.
You mentioned “Dust To Dust,” but are you working on anything else at DC Comics?
I just took on cover duties for “Batman and Robin,” and I will be working full-time on drawing “Dust To Dust,” which I’m very excited to finally get off the ground. Stay tuned for more on that later. I also have another creator-owned project that I hope to begin writing this spring.
I know it’s early, but can you give us a tease about “Dust to Dust?”
About four years ago, I was flying back from a comic show in Barcelona and I needed something to read on the plane. I was browsing the history section of the bookstore and found a little paperback edition of a book by Timothy Egan titled, “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story Of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl.” The accounts of the dustbowl survivors were compelling, and I thought to myself, “How could this have been any worse?”
Well, before I landed back in the States, I had my answer and the kernel of a story that I just had to write. I called up my friend, Phil Bram, who grew up in Oklahoma, to ask him what he knew or any stories he had heard from old timers growing up, and before we knew it, we were writing this story together.
Both of us have busy lives and other work, so this was sort of a side project we worked on off and on for a couple of years. I brought it to Dan Didio about a year ago, and talked about doing it at DC. I worked on the final version with Ian Sattler editing, and wrapped up the page by page breakdown last August.
We finally put the finishing touches on a deal to have DC publish the book a couple of weeks ago, so now I have to draw this beast. But it’s been a labor of love and I couldn’t be more excited to get started at last.
That’s about all I can share for now but for a final tease, read, Ecclesiastes 9:3. The Bible verse reads:
“This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”