During a lengthy chat with CBR News, in which we cover a wide-range of Wade Wilson-centric topics (read the first portion of the interview, focusing on how Deadpool originated, here), Liefeld revealed just how engaged he’s been in the Merc With a Mouth’s big movie moment, and his pleasure is downright palpable.
As a public pitchman, the writer/artist rivals co-father of the Marvel Universe Stan Lee for sheer enthusiasm, and may actually outmatch Lee for loquaciousness as he expounds on a variety of topics. Below, we discuss Liefeld’s take on the character’s wide-ranging and enduring popularity, his experiences on the film’s set and the immediate career goals ahead of him — including a comic book reunion with his most famous creation.
CBR News: Now that you’ve had time to observe the enduring popularity of Deadpool, what’s your understanding of why he resonated, then and now, with the comic book audience, generation after generation? He’s become an icon.
Rob Liefeld: I did 19 comic conventions in the last year. I broke my record by far, I went to places I had never been — I mapped out a schedule that took me to Wisconsin, to Cleveland, to Raleigh, North Carolina, to Oklahoma City, to Fort Lauderdale, to Honolulu. I went to connect with fans who were not familiar with me and I was not familiar with them, and I would ask them, “What do you like about this? What do you like about Deadpool?” And I would get, “He looks cool.” “He’s a badass ninja.” “He’s so funny.”
When I asked my assistant who worked for me for about five years — he was a young kid who would fill the black areas over here, rule the borders; it makes your pages go faster — I asked him, “What did I say when I brought Deadpool in?” He would say, “He’s Spider-Man with katanas and swords.”
Back in the day, I was trying to keep up with my peer group, which was Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen and Jim Lee. Todd and Erik were doing the Spider-Man books and they would boast how easy Spider-Man was to draw. “Ha, ha — you’re drawing eight kids in a mansion today with hair and eyes and noses!” This is how artists taunt each other, or at least this is how we taunted each other. “I drew a big oval with a couple of big ovals, and that was my splash page: Spider-Man’s head. I’m done before lunch. You have a good day Rob; I know you’re going to be working until midnight drawing all those characters.”
This was the first masked character I’d ever introduced, because at the time, I needed someone that was going to help me on the deadlines. And I kid you not that if you don’t think that this page was faster to draw — “Hey, hey, hey — suddenly I’m only drawing three faces and couple of ovals!” — I’m telling you, Deadpool was much easier on the deadlines. Masked characters are cool. I mean, the guy that I always thought was cooler than Spider-Man was the Prowler. Again, cool facemask. I was just following in those echoes.
If you remember Spider-Man at the time — 1990, 1991 — Spider-Man is married to Mary Jane, they’re having marital problems, she’s out dancing all the time, he’s not getting paid, he thinks she’s leaving him. It had become a depressing book. The Spider-Man I grew up with would hit you, kick you and make fun of you while he did it. So because I didn’t need another Cable — Cable was my dire character — we introduced this smartass who, over time, has had these really formidable comedic writers, whether it is Joe Kelly or Daniel Way or Gerry Duggan.
A lot of kids are coming to Deadpool through video games and the toys who don’t read the comics. So I’ll say to them on the convention trail, “Why do you like Deadpool?” He’s grasping his Bobblehead and thrusts him in my face. And I say, “Who’s your favorite Deadpool?” and he says, “This one! This Deadpool’s my favorite.” And I’m like, “Okay.” I say, “Hey, Mom, what does he like about Deadpool?” She says, “He’s cool.” And here’s the thing: you can’t know what that means. All you do is accept it and go, “I’m glad you like him.”
Literally, I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, he’s Snake Eyes. He’s a ninja.” You never know what you are going to hear, but its generally that he’s a badass and that he’s super funny, and I think that combination has propelled him. I have been known to give myself a compliment now and then, and look, man, he’s a great looking visual! He’s a badass — he’s just a powerful looking visual, and then he disarms you.
When you see the film, it will disarm you so much and kick you so hard, because it is not like anything you have experienced. Timing is everything. It was the Image anniversary the other day, and people were celebrating. “Yeah, 24 years of Image, 24 years of Image. And then somebody very appropriately typed in, “Aren’t you glad it didn’t happen in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instragram, where opinions of what you guys did would have been different?”
I’ll tell you, I have said for over ten years since the emergence of social media that I know two guys for certain — they were very skeptical about joining up with Image, and had it been of this time, they would have weighed public opinion more and they would not have come. As I sit here today, they would not have joined us,. They almost as it was, did not, because they were being advised, “Those guys are crazy. That’s a risk. You are going to fall flat on your face.” Imagine if it was put to a vote: “CBR says, should these guys leave Marvel?” Let me tell you what that poll would look like: “No no no no no no no.” It would not have not have been yes.
Things are of a time. Deadpool, 2016 — it is time. It has been seven months since the last comic book superhero movie, and we have had a decade of really excellent product. The furthest out in edginess that the product has gotten is “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which was so refreshing. Now, take that kind of risk and put an R rating on it. I think people are going to go nuts.
Do you think that, like Spider-Man, the full facemask helps anybody identify with him?
One hundred percent. One hundred percent. Again, the power of Spider-Man’s mask was not lost on me. It is easy to draw, but it is a powerful visual, the big, white eyes — and that’s why I inverted it and made big, black eyes. I was just like, this seems to work, so let’s just transfer that and give him guns and swords.
Again, I was the gear guy. When they started off [making] toys, the head of Marvel at the time, Avi Arad, said, “Rob, I like you. You give good hard work to software.” And I tell you, I sat there in 1995 and the first thing I thought was, “What the hell is this guy saying to me?” So I put it through my translator, and I think he said that I give these guys good gear, and we sell gear — I wasn’t sophisticated with toy terms, but they had great playability. In the comics, they had great playability because they had guns and throwing stars and swords and that’s the kind of stuff I liked. As they rolled out the toys, and Deadpool and Domino and all these characters, they had tons of gear and great playability.
I just think that that also factored into just where people were at the time. We were young, and the generation above us was longer in the tooth. You know, some of my favorite guys had been working for 20 years before we showed up, and there was a gap. We grew up on MTV with these quick, fast edits and these little mini-movies called music videos that I would watch and absorb all the time, and we put that on the page, I think the characters and the storytelling, they reflected that.
But having a full facemask — when I go to these shows and I see three-dozen Deadpools, and every year now in New York I hear them coming down the aisle: “Thank you, Dad! Thank you, Dad! Thank you, Dad!” They come upon me, and you get nervous because you see 30 dudes dressed, and women, and they all rock the costume so well. Every shape and size, dressed like Deadpool. That is an out-of-body experience. You go, “My costume looks really good on all these people.”
If memory serves, he’s my first fully facemasked character with no mouth. And again, you crib from the greats. You go, “Thanks, Spider-Man.”
Speaking of out of body experiences, you got to visit the set of the film. What was something that you saw where you had to go “Somebody pinch me — I can’t believe this is happening in front of me. This is something that I drew.”
Obviously, Ryan in costume is breathtaking. You go, “That’s my dude!” And now he’s a living, breathing version of this character in real life. And look, when they decided they were going to put me in a scene, they went to wardrobe and gave me a flannel shirt. I’m literally dressed as Rob Liefeld — I just don’t have a hoodie.
I’ll be honest, the days I shot, they did not have scarred and mutilated Wade visible. He was behind the mask, but the makeup artist Bill Corso, who also worked on Star “Wars” — I’ll tell you the startling moment. I go up the steps to the trailer, I open the door, and it’s like they chopped Ryan Reynolds’ head off. There’s a mannequin head that they have, and Bill Corso told me, “Oh, no, this is what we do the test on, and we have Ryan look right at this and match this.”
So, Ryan Reynolds’ replica head as disfigured Wade is staring at me, and first thing, because you’re always a kid, I’m like, “Can I steal that? If I threw that under my jacket, could I get on a plane with this?” They’re like, “We don’t take any pictures with it.” And of course my wife walks in, and everyone’s left, I’m all alone, and she goes [imitates taking a camera phone photo], “Oh, that’s cool.” “You aren’t supposed to take pictures. You’ve got to upload those to the Cloud. We don’t want to be banned.” And she’s like, “I’ll hide them.”
So here we are, at this moment in time. It’s a great moment for you! Here’s your character come to life on screen, you get to look back at your legacy with Image Comics. It’s been a great run. Are there creative goals that are still ahead?
Yes, and I’ll tell you — last year, I brought back my characters Bloodstrike and Brigade, and gave them a decidedly harder rating as well, because I consume more mature stuff now. HBO, Netflix, Showtime — I don’t watch network television. The stuff I like is more adult.
I also did a book called “The Covenant.” Because the demand for Biblical thrillers is so high — which is said tongue-in-cheek, because there is no demand for Biblical thrillers — but this is a great story. I came across this passage years ago, and I always felt it should be told, so I did this. It has been raided and stolen before the very first time the enemies of the Arc of the Covenant took it to be used against their rivals. Which is really a precursor to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” what happened with the Philistines and the Israelites. There is a prophet and a young judge who, on his first day on the job, this happens. This must be the worst first day on the job ever. “Hi, Israel. Our totem is gone.” So I did that, and that’s coming out as a trade paperback in April.
I am revisiting my catalogue. Brandon Graham is an absolute sci-fi genius, and he is going into his sixth year producing “Prophet” stories for my label with Image. “Prophet: Earth War” shipped last week, and if people haven’t been paying attention, there are four other volumes of Brandon’s “Prophet” to date, and we’re on the fifth printing of the first volume, with the other three going back to press three times. So that stuff has done really well in trade and is for that “Heavy Metal “sci-fi crowd.
Marvel called me and said, “Rob, we want you to do a prestige Deadpool product for us.” And of course I said, “Why?” because I always say, “Why?” And they said, “The timing couldn’t be better.” And here’s the deal: I sat there and said, “You know what, I did these characters for two years, went and did Image, came back, did covers…” We were rivals then, but Cable’s not my rival — Cable’s my baby. Deadpool’s my baby.
I did the cover to “X-Force” #50, the cover to “X-Force” #100. Marvel has always given me access to these characters: I did “X-Force” as a series again in 2004. I did “Deadpool” again in 2009, 2010 and 2011. My thing is, I think about dying all the time, like, in the worst way. I’m not scared of dying. I tell my kids, “I want you to know, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. If I die, I lived a great life, don’t be sad for me. I had a fantastic life.” But you go, “How many more times am I going to be able to revisit Deadpool?” And you go, “I’m healthy, I can do this.” They are giving me a chance to revisit Deadpool, which is a chance to revisit the entire X-Force, because they are all in there. It’s Deadpool, Cable, Domino, Shatterstar. And they are letting me tell a fresh story that I’ve always wanted to tell.
I always wanted to fill in the gaps and tell the story of someone who followed Wade into the Weapon X program, the Workshop, maybe for all the wrong reasons and came out as different from Deadpool as Deadpool is from Wolverine. This character has haunted Deadpool, but it’s also very funny. At the beginning of the book, Deadpool is running for his life, jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper, going, “When am I going to shake this guy? I can’t shake this guy.” This dude is going to pursue him, but not kill him, because he knows Deadpool can’t be killed. It is a great opportunity to revisit these toys.
I knew when I created all of them that I was only getting a partial share of them, because that’s what the contract read in 1991. And I thought that was a great deal. I thought, “You mean I can be like the X-Men guys and get a piece oh this character?” That’s the deal that was on the table in Marvel 1991, and I was going to be damned if I wasn’t going to do as many as I could. That’s why I have 35 characters, and they all have a little deal attached to them. It has been boon for my entire family, and I always tell people that if I could go back and tell young Rob Liefeld, “Dude, all of this is going to pay off. All those movies you didn’t go see with your friends. All those girls you didn’t date…”
So any time they call up, like in 2006 when they called up and said, “Hey, Rob — we’re going to celebrate ‘Heroes Reborn’ with a ten year anniversary. Do you want to do this with Jeff Loeb?” “Done. I’m in.” Because revisiting these old haunts, it’s like a victory lap. I get to relive another accomplishment and maybe put a twist on it. I really bring it all back to this period of my life — “New Mutants” and “X-Force” made all this possible.