It’s lucky when a writer or artist gets to be part of a defining run on a series or character. Claremont’s first run on the X-Men. Miller’s spectacular run on Daredevil (both building up and tearing down) and redefining of the Dark Knight. John Byrne’s 5-year epic on the Fantastic Four.
Bob Layton’s co-plots, inks and (occasional) pencils on two runs of Iron Man (Vol. 1, #116 – 155) & 215-250) (along with writer/co-plotter David Michelinie) helped to define the character we know today.
Layton started out from working at Charlton with characters he would become attached to and find a way to write and draw them again some twenty years later.
That work would lead him to his first association with the Invincible Iron Man came as a fluke of sorts. In a situation that lays parallel to Joe Quesada’s with Marvel Knights, Layton – in 1978 — was offered (along with collaborator Michelinie) a choice among a string of low-end books, among them The Invincible Iron Man. Layton’s imagination tripped and we saw a reimagining of a mainstay character much in the same way Frank Miller and Chris Claremont did for Daredevil (a low-end title when he took over) and Uncanny X-Men (a previously cancelled title).
Before Layton, we saw people like George Tuska and Don Heck draw armor that looked closer to shiny cloth. It was much like Silvestri drawing technology; it was rough-hewn and far too organic to fit the bill.
Layton’s Iron Man was shiny and, for lack of a better word, sexy. You felt like you were seeing an F-16 drawn to human proportions and flying through the air with ease that only high-propulsion jets could supply. It was the way that a tech-heavy mag should look and feel.
But Layton’s contribution shouldn’t be considered only for its pretty pictures. His plots with Michelinie were inventive and really tapped into the heart of the character. Stark’s trappings suggested something that the magazine never fully realized. Like he was missing a component somewhere along the line.
Their Iron Man filled that gap. Mix one part James Bond, squeeze some Bruce Wayne, two jigs of Aaron Sorkin-esque soap opera and a splash of Popular Mechanics and you have one of the most revered and popular runs in the armored Avenger’s history. Easily a must-read for those in the know.
So Bob Layton is back in the pulp, four-color fold. He returned to Iron Man last year in the Iron Man: Bad Blood mini-series. He’s inking Dan Jurgens Captain America through issue #50. His last issue of the DC’s Elseworlds’ Hollywood Knights just concluded. He recently launched BobLayton.com to promote his work as well as the relaunch of CPL, a fanzine for comics done for and by professionals in the business.
Though tightlipped beyond that, there’s a feeling that it’s certainly not the last we’ll hear from him. Enjoy the interview as we find out what makes for good Iron Man, why a dead dog is worse than marijuana, and how Layton plans to keep himself at the forefront of the comic book industry.
Michael David Thomas
What prompted your “retirement” from comic books in 1996?
A long and arduous legal battle with the CEO of Acclaim and his corporate thugs had left a bad taste in my mouth as far as the comics industry went. That…and one of the worse blizzards in NYC history had convinced me to seek warmer climates. And…to be quite honest, it had been almost a decade since I was a freelancer. I felt…odd…knocking on editorial doors…asking for work after running a company for so long. I suppose it was…my own silly fears…that prompted me to call it quits.
Consequently, what – in particular – prompted you to pull a Jordan and come out of retirement?
The truth…? As long as I can remember, I’ve always done this job…making comics. I kept coming up with ideas for stories and such but had no venue to create them in. It was Dick Giordano, my long-time friend and mentor (and fellow expatriated Floridian), who convinced me to return to my craft.
What got you started in comics?
I learned to read from comics when I was only four years old, after my older sister Sue Ann became bored with reading the same book to me about fifty times. (It was a Showcase issue featuring The Challengers of the Unknown.) Subsequently, I was skipped a grade when I entered the school system and wound up graduating High School at barely 17 years old. After High School, I met Roger Stern (who worked for a local radio station in Indianapolis.) and we began publishing fanzines out of my little apartment.
CPL (an overblown moniker which stands for Contemporary Pictorial Literature) was our main ‘zine. It was an extremely popular fan publication for its day. It eventually led us into a working alliance with Charlton Comics, with Sterno and I producing and publishing the now-famous Charlton Bullseye magazine.
The close association with Charlton (and production wizard, Bill Pearson) led to my meeting Wally Wood and becoming one of his apprentices. Once I went to work for Woody, doors started opening up for me all over the place. While apprenticing with Wood, I stared getting inking work with Charlton, DC and Marvel while continuing to publish my fanzines.
Whew! I sure was a busy boy back in those days.
How did you start working at Charlton? What were you primary duties?
At that time (mid ’70’s) Charlton was struggling to re-establish some sort of footing in the superhero market. Marvel and DC had house fan publications of their own, namely F.O.O.M. and Amazing World of DC Comics. Charlton wanted to establish a fan presence as well and formed an alliance with the Indy CPL/Gang to produce the Charlton Bullseye. They gave us access to unpublished material from their vaults by the likes of Steve Ditko, Jeff Jones and a host of others.
While I was producing Bullseye, I began taking on inking work on their anthology books. But, I never actually worked in the Charlton offices. I DID, however, live about two blocks away from their Derby, CT. offices.
When did you start working for Marvel? What were you primary duties?
That’s a funny story.
I was already getting work at DC at that time (’76). In the meantime, I continuing to do stuff with Woody and would occasionally deliver pages for him when I made a trip into NYC from Connecticut. One day, I was in the Marvel offices… handing in Woody’s pages to the production dept. So, I used the opportunity to show my samples around while I had ‘my foot in the door’. When I passed the Art Director’s office, I heard John Romita on the phone, frantically trying to find someone to ink a desperately late issue of Iron Man. Like an idiot, I stuck my head in his doorway and said I could get the job done in the four or five days that was left on the schedule. It was an utter fabrication… but I REALLY wanted to work for Marvel Comics! Johnny gave me the pages and said, “Show me what you can do, Kiddo.”
Panicking, I ran down Madison Ave. to Continuity Associates, where a lot of my fledgling contemporaries worked for Dick Giordano & Neal Adams. (The gang at that time comprised of Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, Joe Rubinstein, Bob McLeod, Joe Brosowski, Carl Potts and a host of others) To my eternal relief, they all pitched in on the inking and we finished the entire book in less than four days.
(On a side note: Twenty-some years later, I finally met George Tuska and apologized profusely for ruining his lovely pencils on that job.)
Once I turned the job in, I never heard from anyone from Marvel for weeks. I was sure that I had permanently destroyed any chance of ever getting work there again.
Then, about a month after the Tuska job, a package arrives on my doorstep. I open it to find an entire issue of pencils on the Champions. I presumed that it was sent to me in error, so I called the Marvel offices to see where they want me to forward the material.
But, to my utter amazement, Romita tells me that I ‘m the new regular inker on the book.
Bless his Italian heart.
To make a long story a bit longer, I worked there for about a year, then signed an exclusive one-year contract with DC –after they made me ‘an offer I couldn’t refuse’.
How did you originally come to work on Iron Man?
Together, we went to Marvel and interviewed to work as a team there. We were given a choice of lower-end books to work on and I jumped out of my seat when I realized that Iron Man was one of those choices! That was the one book in the entire industry that I wanted to do more than ANY other. Dave was unfamiliar with the character but immediately sensed my unbridled passion for the character. Together, we retooled the series into the way I had always imaged it could be. David’s lack of history with Iron Man mythology proved to be a tremendous asset–translating into a fresh approach to the character.
You’ve had many comebacks with the Man of Iron. What makes you and David Michelinie keep coming back to the title?
I can’t speak for my friend David, but it’s always been the uniqueness of Tony Stark’s character that brings me back. He is the modern analog to the Arthurian Tales, a literary obsession of mine.
What general elements make for a good Iron Man story?
Character…character…and character! The elements that make a good Iron Man story are the conflicts that create change in Tony Stark. Not unlike his armor, Tony is a work in progress, constantly adapting to challenges that life throws at him while trying to control the inner demons that sometimes push him down unexpected roads. Tony has an obsessive/compulsive personality–that is his Kryptonite. The Armor Wars saga was a prime example of that compulsion that drives him to endanger everything he’s built in order to do, what he believes to be, the ‘right thing’.
Also, it seems that you and David really mesh together on the title. Have you considered writing and drawing the title by yourself?
I made a promise to David Michelinie, after our second run, to never do the book without him. (I have to note that Dave never asked that of me–I just felt that it wouldn’t be the same doing it without him) It is my belief that Dave and I mesh on this character like nothing else we’ve done together. Our version of Tony’s personality comes from a combination of characteristics of David and myself. There’s no way I could bring that to the series alone.
Iron Man is the character with whom you are most associated. What kind of benefits have there been with this association? Conversely, what kind of detriment is there to be that associated with a single character/title? Are any of these on the scale that we’ve seen with former X-scribes/artists?
There have been few negatives to being associated with Iron Man…with the possible exception of his legacy occasionally overshadowing my current works. I go to conventions or book signings and our run on Iron Man is all the fans want to talk about, regardless of what I’m involved in creating at the moment. You have to understand…the fans of Iron Man are the most loyal and steadfast bunch I have ever come across in all my years of doing comics. There are numerous websites and messages boards devoted to the character and they’ve (the fans) always included me in their discussions and projects. I feel honored to have their devotion.
On a related note, David Michelinie is a writer with whom you continue a long collaboration. What is it about David that the two of you keep crossing paths? Why is it that the two of you continue to work almost exclusively on Iron Man?
The simplest answer is…we’re best friends–have been for almost thirty years. David was the best man at my wedding and the guy that’s ALWAYS been there for me when the ‘shit hits the fan’.
As far as working on projects other than Iron Man, you’d have to ask the numerous editors who continue to sit on our proposals and never respond. Dave and I have been pitching projects for the last few years with little success. I suppose one could claim that we’re victims of ‘typecasting’, but I don’t want to believe that. I think it is a crime against all comic fans that a writer of David’s caliber isn’t working on a steady basis.
Have you and David talked about doing some creator-owned work in the future since your collaboration is so strong with Iron Man?
Yes. Although I can’t mention specifics at the moment, we have BIG plans for the future in that regard.
There are definite shifts in the Iron Man title when you and Michelinie left (When Denny O’Neill brought back Tony’s alcoholism in the late 150s, post-Armor Wars in the 240s). What are your opinions of the stories that followed your runs?
To be honest, I’ve tried to avoid reading them…only because I know that their take would vary from the one David and I had on the character. It’s unfortunate that much of what we’ve established with the mythology has been ‘thrown out with the bath water.’
Personally speaking, although there HAVE been many good storylines, I feel that no one has really gotten a definitive grasp on the series yet.
Your run on the book pre-dated a lot of the technological push that has seen the Internet become an ingrained part of popular culture since then. Does a perceived public acceptance of technology change the way you approach a technological character like Iron Man? Why or why not?
Absolutely. What was cutting-edge ten years ago is totally obsolete today. Technology is constantly evolving and so should Iron Man. That was my thinking when creating the specialty armors. There’s a huge difference between a stock car and Indy car. Each are designed for specific tasks and THAT was our thinking when approaching the Iron Man armor. It’s unrealistic to presume that one device can adapt to all situations and environments. Making this fictional technology believable is the key to making the premise work.
You’ve said in previous interviews that putting James Rhodes in the armor has been and always will be a mistake. Yet twice he’s donned the armor. Why shouldn’t Rhodey fly in the armor? Were the writers who did this totally off the ball in doing this? Why or why not?
Again…it’s believability. One of the biggest problems with comics in general is that few are couched in the real world these days. Everyone is a mutant or alien or cyborg. The supporting characters exist to ground the reader in a sense of reality. Through their eyes, we witness the fantastic and react in a believable manner. Rhodey was created to ground Tony Stark’s fantastic exploits in some degree of reality. It is a mistake to dilute him by making him no different than the character he’s been created to support.
You’ve said in past articles that you had written proposals for Iron Man when it was announced that the title would be retooled and relaunched in the Heroes Return relaunches. You’ve even mentioned that you put off other offered projects because you were waiting on the acceptance of that proposal? What happened with that proposal?
They’ve been returned to us…at our request. David and I have submitted numerous springboards for Iron Man… both on the regular series and for mini-series. For reasons I still don’t know, they were never read. In all fairness to Bobbie Chase, she was up to her ‘neck in alligators’ at the time and didn’t seem able to find the time to give them a read. Finally, I asked to have them returned for submission at some later date. Included in those proposals, is a third and final chapter of the Iron Man/Dr. Doom/Camelot saga, which I thought would be great fun to do. The first story had been set in the past and the second was in the future. Dave and I had always intended to finish the story by ending it in the present. Who knows–perhaps we’ll get our chance to do it… someday.
Is the new regime more friendly to you today? Is that part of the reason you’re working for Marvel today?
Mostly it’s Bobbie Chase. She’s been a gem to work for and I believe we have a good professional relationship. After Bad Blood, she offered me Captain America and I jumped at the chance to continue our association. Also, Dan Jurgens requested me as inker on Cap when Art Thibert left and he has been extremely supportive of my efforts. So, I feel a certain sense of loyalty to both Bobbie and Dan.
I don’t really have any day-to-day contact with Joe Q. However, it does seem ironic that, years ago, I was the Editor-In-Chief and he was the freelancer during the Valiant days. And now… that role is reversed, which happens a lot in this business. I’m positive that Joe now realizes how tough that job can be. I hope he has a better time of it than I had.
Before Valiant in the early 90s, it seemed like you had a bit of a falling out with Marvel. What happened to precipitate this?
Nothing could be further from the truth. If any hostility came from Marvel, it was long after I left — when Valiant started giving them a run for their money in the marketplace. The only negative I can recall came from my association with Shooter. He was universally disliked there.
Yes and no. For the aspects of the character that had remained intact, it WAS as easy as slipping on an old glove. But in many ways, we had our hands tied by the ‘new direction’ Marvel had chosen for the book. They had removed many of the things that I felt defined Stark (i.e.; Playboy lifestyle, cutting-edge technology manufacturing and his extravagant tastes.) These are some of the things that help to set him apart from other characters in the Marvel Universe. He had become way too politically correct for my tastes and that created several plotting roadblocks.
You seem to have a clear concept of who Tony Stark is despite the changes in time from when you began Iron Man up through now. Describe who Tony Stark is to you. In your mind, are there concrete things that Tony Stark would never do? Is there a line in playing super-hero he would never cross?
Honestly, I believe I’ve already covered most of that in my previous answers.
The only correction I would make is to state that Tony doesn’t play superhero. I believe he uses the Iron Man persona for two reasons; To protect his various business interests globally and to ground himself to the ‘real world’. Keep in mind, as Tony Stark, he lives in an ivory tower… surrounded by people who tell him what they THINK he wants to hear. He has a celebrity status equal to a movie or rock star. This guy does NOT live in the ‘real world’. In many ways, his being Iron Man is like ‘The Prince and the Pauper’. Strangely enough, as Iron Man, he becomes a ‘hands-on’ guy, interacting one-on-one with people and using that anonymous identity to maintain perspective of how he’s(Tony Stark) perceived by the world at large. Again, it fair to say that it’s another aspect of his obsessive/compulsive personality. Iron man is ‘a fix’ that he needs to maintain his stability.
The danger with associating with a character like Iron Man is to feel as if you own them. Frank Miller and Chris Claremont have both expressed this feeling with Elektra and the X-Men respectively. Did you go through this kind of separation anxiety when you left the title or been denied access to it again? Is it impossible to separate good storytelling and feeling ownership of the character you’re writing/drawing? Why or why not?
Keep in mind that I ran a company where I created the lion’s share of the concepts. There, I DID own a piece of them. So… I know the score. There’s a big difference between feeling proprietary and believing actually you own the bloody thing.
Iron Man is intrinsically a tech-heavy magazine. What kind of prep work/research did you do to make sure the things you wrote or drew in made sense, even at this fantastic level?
I’ve always had a head for science and continue to read scientific journals and such. Dave left most of that stuff to me. I’m currently fascinated with certain aspects of quantum physics and would love to apply some of what I read to the current Iron Man. I believe that the next twenty years is going to open up new avenues of scientific exploration that has only been dreamt of in the past. Stark should be on the cutting-edge of that frontier.
I apologize in advance for the Chris Farley-Show-type question: In Iron Man #144, there is a back-up story in which Stark reminisces about his and Rhodey’s first meeting in Vietnam, right after he escaped from the VC camp. In it, Rhodey is smoking an obviously hand-made cigarette made of a “leafy” substance. Tony, clumsy in his never-tested armor, takes it to smoke and breaks it into pieces, upsetting Rhodey because of it rarity. Was this something that you and Michelinie wrote into the script or did Joe Brozowski improvise on this plot point? Also, considering those Comics Code Authority heavy days, was this even mentioned to anyone or did the reference just pass them by?
That was a deliberate attempt to portray Rhodey and Viet Nam in a believable fashion and to add some comic relief to an otherwise grim tale. (Notice how that word ‘believable’ keeps coming into play?) Actually, we got more flak for killing Peanuts the dog (in Iron Man #147) than we ever did for implying the use of cannabis by Jim Rhodes.
Does the Comics Code Authority have any place in today’s marketplace? Is it even relevant in today’s direct market?
We didn’t have it at Valiant and it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference. It’s not for me to say what’s in Marvel’s best interests. They will have to let their collective conscience be their guide.
Why is Justin Hammer such an obviously fantastic villain to Tony Stark’s hero?
Because he’s (here comes that word again) believable. He is the dark counterpart of Tony Stark. Hammer is driven and prideful, but totally without remorse or conscience. And… he looks like Peter Cushing, who was a fantastic villaiu in most of those great ol’ Hammer films (hence…the name.).
A reoccurring problem for writers in comic books is the unwritten 7-year rule (that nothing happens longer than 7 years ago to current characters). Some have linked Tony’s Iron Man to the Gulf War in recent years. What’s your opinion about retrofitting his origin to today’s sensibilities and history?
I don’t have a clear answer to that. I understand the need to keep things contemporary but dislike retrofitting characters because of that. But let’s face it…setting Tony in the Viet Nam era would make him eligible for Medicare about now.
We had NO idea how strongly the comics biz would react at the time. To be quite honest, I don’t remember giving it much thought. We were simply telling another Iron Man story. The only difference was that the villain in that one was Tony Stark himself.
The Hercules mini-series was one of the first (released about the same time as the Wolverine mini). What kind of pushing did it take to have a finite series published at Marvel at that time?
The only problem was convincing the parties involve that poking fun at the Marvel Universe wouldn’t do permanent damage to it as a whole. Otherwise, it was a breeze.
Why Hercules? What was the pull for you to write this character in two mini-series AND a graphic novel?
I loved the big dumb lug. And I felt that he hadn’t found his niche’ in the Marvel Universe, being relegated to supporting roles and such. Also…I felt that the Marvel books took themselves WAY too serious in those days. I wanted to lighten things up a bit.
Have you reconsidered pulling out another story of the future Prince of Power in the far future?
Absolutely. In fact, I had one last story planned as a parody of the “Death of” genre’. It was kind of a fun look at suffering and death. Am I sick… or what?
Simply because there have been so many apocryphal stories told over the years that I felt it would be impossible to address them all.
Is there a twinge to see Acclaim sputter and die as it has in the past few years?
I felt bad for Editor-In-Chief James Perham (who was with me in the original Valiant days). I know he loved those characters and it must have been hard for him. He’s a good fellow.
Shooter said that people that worked at Valiant were on some sort of unofficial blacklist for the major two companies. How hard was it to find work post-Valiant? Did the stain of working with Shooter, a comic book industry pariah still, follow you for long?
If there’s a blacklist, it exists only for Mr. Shooter himself. Most of the other former employees, (myself, Sean Chen, John Ostrander, Rags Morales, Tim Truman, etc.) are still working and going strong. The wall that I kept running into was the false perception in the professional community that I had left Valiant a multi-millionaire and didn’t need the work. What few people are aware of is that I gave back most of the money I made from the sale of the company in order to get out of my employment contract.
What is your assessment of Jim Shooter today? Would you work with him again?
Mr. Shooter was a terrific writer. But somewhere down the line, the work became about HIM and not the stories. I believe that is what led to his inevitable downfall as a player in this business.
I haven’t had contact with him since the day he fired me for not siding with him in an attempt to overthrow his business partners.
And no… I would NEVER work with him again. I’m inclined to take a ‘Susan Hawk” stance towards him.
Mr. Shooter has made a lot of hurtful accusations concerning my involvement (as well as other, hard working, good people) in the Valiant days. I choose not to dignify them with a reply. A select few know that I kept a daily journal of those days and can refute most of what he’s previously stated in vivid detail. However, I would prefer to move forward, rather than dwelling in the past and assigning blame to others.
I’ll let the marketplace judge who is right or wrong.
Do you talk to any of the Valiant staff you worked with today?
You bet! Uncle Don Perlin moved down here to Florida shortly after I did and we continue to keep in close communication. Over the last few years, I’ve spoken with Sean Chen, Bernard Chang, Kevin Van Hook, James Perham, Scott Friedlander (production guru-surpreme), Phyllis Novin (who continues to art assist me on various projects), Mark Moretti, Tim Truman and a host of others. Even former Publisher Steve Massarsky still calls me from time-to-time…just to shoot the shit.
Not all of my former Knobs have been that good about keeping in touch, but I think of all of them often and fondly.
Since Acclaim has dropped the ball with its comics division, any thoughts to buy any of those characters to start them again?
Not really. Unfortunately, I believe the market has such a bad taste left in its mouth from Valiant that it would be almost impossible to surmount that obstacle. What a shame that the company’s entire rich legacy has been consigned to the cut-out bins at the local comic shop.
You came full circle with Charlton when you wrote and inked L.A.W. mini-series. How nostalgic was it to revisit those characters post-Charlton? What kept you from doing the whole project yourself (write/draw)?
It was extremely nostalgic. Quite a kick — but I never intended to do the whole project myself. As I stated earlier it was Dick Giordano who lured me back into doing comics full time. The Charlton Project, as it was known then, was the ‘carrot on the stick’.
Let me ask you a question, how could I possibly do a mini-series about the Charlton characters without Dickie, the man instrumental in their creation and in bringing them to the DC Universe?
On a side note, the new Peacemaker character came from a rejected Charlton proposal that David Michelinie and I pitched to DC a few years before The L.A.W. materialized.
Are there plans to revisit these characters in another mini-series?
Not by us. That’s for sure.
In all fairness to DC and everyone concerned, the entire project was a big mistake from square one.
Originally, I had proposed it as an Elseworld series that explored the time gap that began when their series’ ended at Charlton and the time they first appeared in the DC Universe (about ten years). It’s a shame too, because it was a much better story that the one that appeared in The L.A.W..
However, the powers-that-be convinced Dick and I that it would sell better if we set it in the regular DC Universe. In order to do that, The Charlton Project had to be seriously retooled. Subsequently, it started getting edited by committee, with each editorial department insisting we “Do this” or “Don’t do that”. As a result, the content became diluted to the point that I no longer recognized it as the story I had created.
I don’t blame DC as much as I do myself. I was use to being the one in charge at Valiant. At DC, a creator has to deal with a certain amount of bureaucracy and red tape. Unfortunately, it simply beat the enthusiasm out of me.
We were told, at the beginning of the project, that we were going to get some big promotions for the series but it never materialized. Without any promotion or crossover push, the books didn’t pull in the numbers we had hoped for.
It’s too bad it wound up the way it did. We had big plans for those characters down the road.
What was your initial feeling about DC buying up those Charlton characters and incorporating them into the current DC Universe?
As opposed to them being dead? Take a wild guess. J
There was one character that was seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths but not in L.A.W. What’s the story with Thunderbolt not appearing in this series?
Real simple. DC no longer has the rights to the character. The rights reverted back to it’s creator Pete Morisi.
One of the biggest complaints in comics today is that characters don’t stay dead even when they’ve been killed. Jean Grey’s resurrection is a lightning rod for this kind of argument. What was your involvement in bringing her back?
Minimal. I have to give the credit/blame to John Byrne. In the initial premise that Jackson Guice and I submitted, Jean Grey was not part of the group. Mike Carlin, editor at the time, pulled me aside one day and said “Hey, how would you like to have ALL of the original X-Men back?”
Apparently John Byrne had come up with a way to revive her and, of course, why would I refuse to use her?
In hindsight, should Jean Grey have stayed dead? Why or why not?
Who really stays dead in the Marvel universe? I know for myself, when I ran at Valiant, when a character died– he was dead for good. That should tell you how I feel about that issue.
When the original X-Men were going to come back (with the newly resurrected Jean Grey), you were at the helm of that book, writing and inking it. It quickly was taken off your hands, mid-story arc even. What happened? Is it yet another horror story from the X-Offices?
Did this frighten you off of doing future X-projects?
Yes. Not that anyone asked me to do any others.
Firstly, I totally disagree with you in your assessment of Dan’s pencils.
Jurgens, in my opinion, is one of the best visual storytellers working in the industry today. He’s looked good with a variety of inkers on him, including the likes of Brett Breeding, Art Thibert and Kevin Nolan, to mention but a few. With Dan’s stuff, its just a matter of paying attention to the weight of his line and anticipating his intent in the panel.
What’s your approach to inking someone else’s pencils? Are there pencillers you wouldn’t ink for fear of changing their basic styles? Why or why not?
I know there are some pencillers that I am not compatible with. I would definitely decline to work on them for fear of diluting their creative input.
Personally, my approach to inking is that I am the last man to see that the story is told right. If something is drawn wrong, in my opinion, I feel duty bound to fix it. If the penciller wants someone to simply follow the lines, I am the wrong guy to call on. I prefer to work on breakdowns, where I feel less restricted and I ‘m permitted more artistic input.
How did you get the Captain America job?
Dan recommended me to Bobby, Bobby called and offered me the job. I believed it to be a good career move…it was a high-profile title that would allow me the opportunity to re-establish my name in a market that had all but forgotten that I had ever worked at Marvel.
What kind of interaction do you have with Dan Jurgens?
Dan and I have a friendly working relationship. We communicate every few weeks, either by e-mail or phone, to compare notes or offer helpful suggestions. And occasionally…just to grumble about the biz in general.
Is it strange to be less involved in a book when you’re not writing/plotting it?
Totally. In fact, this is the first time I can recall NOT having input into the storyline on a regular basis. But Captain America is Dan’s baby. He’s doing his own thing and I can respect that.
You’ve said that inking Captain America will continue until #50, when it switches over to the Marvel Knights imprint. Have you been offered to stay on or is that going to be it?
Nope. That’s it.
What’s next on your plate?
Immediately coming up, I have three issues of the Avengers that I am inking over newcomer Manuel Garcia. His stuff needs a little help and I like the challenge. Otherwise I cannot talk about my pending projects until they get final approval. Rest assured that Dan and I will do more projects together–more than likely at DC. I also have some self-publishing projects in the works, which I’ll discuss at a later date.
Any plans to do another Iron Man mini-series with Michelinie?
You’ll have to ask Joe Quesada or Tom Brevoort about that. Lord knows we’re willing, but–no one has asked us to do anything so far.
The Elseworlds Batman: Hollywood Knights story just wrapped up. What has the response been to the books? Is there encouragement to do more? From the fans? You? DC?
In all honesty, I’ve yet to receive a single letter saying good, bad, kiss my ass or otherwise. If there has been any mail, DC has not forwarded it to me. Most of the reviews have been favorable, however.
You’ve mentioned that the site is going to be more than just selling original art, news and general self-promotion. What can we expect from BobLayton.com that we may not see from other Professional Creator sites?
We are going to establish a professional’s fanzine called CPL ON-LINE as part of BobLayton.com. In its original incarnation, CPL was a digest fanzine that celebrated what was good about comics. There isn’t too much of that going around these days.
Also, it will be done by professionals… for professionals. (Although everyone can join in on the fun)
CPL ON-LINE will pretty much cover the same ground as my original fanzine, which was published back in the mid seventies.. It will have a positive approach about the appreciation of the comics medium with articles and interviews by pros of other pros.
What was CPL/Gang Publications and why are you reforming it? Is the site going to be a central hub for CPL?
CPL/Gang Publications produced many memorable ‘zines such as CPL, The Charlton Bullseye, Witzend and Heroes Inc. thru the 1970’s. Alumni from those publications have include such notable professionals as John Byrne, Roger Stern, fantasy painter Don Maitz Batman film executive producer Michael Uslan and Steven Grant to name a few. I’ve re-established my old publishing company in order to create a line of products that will be available over the Internet. In a month or two, we’ll announce the launch of a new website that will serve as it’s central hub.
What made you put the site together now, as opposed to say 3 or 4 years ago?
The comics industry, as it’s set up now, gears itself towards the younger reader. A large number of older fans have expressed to me their concerns about becoming disenfranchised. It’s my hope to create entertainment geared towards that older, more sophisticated reader. And let’s face it–there’s no guarantee that the work will keep coming in from the two major companies. There are artists and writers, much more talented than myself, who are totally out of work. The website projects are a great way to supplement my income.
PROCESS & MISCELLANEOUS
Who are your biggest influences on your drawing and writing today?
As far as my drawing goes, I would have to give credit to a host of creators. Mainly, I would say– Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Dick Giordano and J.R.Jr. Writing is easily contributable to Arthur C. Clarke, Dean Koontz (the earlier stuff), Michelinie, Goodwin and I’d even have to give Shooter credit for teaching me a great deal about scripting. He may have his faults…but he’s always been a very good writer. As a kid, I was a fanatic for Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Which is easier? Writing, drawing or inking? Why?
That depends on what you mean by easier.
Writing is easier on your ass and back than drawing or inking. But at the same time, its probably the most draining of the three. Oddly enough, it is also my favorite of the three. Mostly because, in my opinion, the story is EVERYTHING.
Which do you like better or look forward to? Why?
Again I’d have to say the writing, and here’s why;
In the beginning of my career, I was taught (by the likes of Wally Wood and Dick Giordano) that to be a successful creator, one must be a “slave to the story.” The story IS everything. Great art jobs come and go– but what makes a classic is the kind of story that you carry with you from your childhood right into your adult life. Everyone reading this interview right now can call two or three of those GREAT stories to mind. And I guarantee you that the people that did those memorable sagas had that same basic attitude that I espouse – that of being a slave to the story. Every aspect of the comic book creative process should be in service to the tale being told. That’s the problem with the industry today – too many pretty pictures and not enough memorable words.
Which one have you improved the most since the beginning? What has it been that’s influenced that improvement?
Pencilling. I’ve focused much more of my energy towards learning to draw more from real life than from my life-long absorption of comic illustrations.
At what point did you say to yourself, if I have to draw it, I would like to write/plot it? Are there projects that just scream for you to draw it?
From the beginning, I have always been involved with the content of the story in one form or another. To me, there’s no other way to do it.
Your pencilling and inking typically comes off looking very “shiny” (ala Brett Breeding, George Perez and Phil Jimenez). How do you achieve this? What’s the secret to make armor look like armor?
Basically I treat the armor like it was a ’57 chevy. You draft the parts that don’t move and freehand the parts that do. It’s as simple as that. That and stay away from feathering everything with a brush. Just let the solid blacks connect to hold the form.
Jim Starlin has mentioned that when he got back into mainstream comics back in the late 90s, he felt like he had to pay his dues all over again, taking on jobs that weren’t necessarily his favorite, but got his name out there. Is your reemergence a bit like that? Why or why not?
Absolutely. In fact, the work I am doing at Marvel right now comes from a realization, that I had to present myself to brand new audience. I believe I covered some of my thinking on that earlier.
How do you decide whether you’ll write & draw a project or just write it with another artist? Are you more comfortable writing a project if you can ink it yourself? Is that a stipulation on anything you write?
I make no stipulations when I approach a project, other than what makes the most sense. In the case of Hollywood Knight, Dick was dying to do an entire art job (pencils/inks) all by himself. Occasionally, its an issue of timing. I’m much faster as an inker, so if the deadline is tight, I might decide to relinquish the penciling duty in favor of completing the project in a timely fashion.
You’ve mentioned that you don’t typically pencil for other writers, other than Michelinie. What’s the story behind that self-imposed policy? Is there a specific incident from which that stems?
No, not really. I have pencilled a few things for others recently, like Roger Stern’s script on Iron Man #25.
It’s just that no one has really asked me to draw their story… other than David. I suppose it’s my own fault for insisting on plotting input during my career. As I stated earlier, I believe that the story is everything. I’m sure my insistence has limited the number of writers who wanted to deal with me and my big mouth. Thank God that David is a man of infinite patience.
To be quite honest, I don’t know if I’d have the same creative chemistry with someone else as I have with Dave.
Were there any creators who wrote or drew (or both) Iron Man up to your satisfaction? Who were they and why? If not, what were the shortcomings — in specifics or general — of those stories?
So … you want me to light the fuse on this time bomb?
Hmm… Which creators, whom I really respect and admire, do I want to piss off by answering this question?
The truth of the matter is — there have been a LOT of great Iron Man stories, NOT done by Dave and myself.
There have also been a lot of great Iron Man artists who weren’t John Romita, Jr. or myself.
At the end of the day, I’m truly honored to be counted among them.