As you may have already read, this past Monday marked the 10th anniversary of creation of Comic Book Resources. That 10th anniversary is a shared one, happily, with the acclaimed DC Comics mini-series “Kingdom Come” by Alex Ross and Mark Waid. In short, when “Kingdom Come” #1 came out, I decided I wanted to be part of the excitement. So, I set up a lil’ Kingdom Come fan site, threw up some message boards and a comics community broke out faster than you can say “Shazam.” When the series finished, I was left with a fantastic community that I had no idea what to do with. Then the idea struck me to build a new site to serve that community. That site was CBR.
Today, I present to you a lengthy interview with series creator and artist Alex Ross and together we take a look back on a series that launched Ross to super-stardom and helped inspire the creation of Comic Book Resources. This interview was conducted on May 2nd, 2006.
|“Kingdom Come” #1|
Alex, thanks for talking with me today. Monday, May 8th marked the 10th Anniversary of the publication of “Kingdom Come.” Let’s start out with the most obvious question and the one everyone is probably asking you over and over again these days: it’s been ten years since “Kingdom Come” #1 was released – what do you think of it now?
And of course nobody has asked me this question, just so you know. [laughs]
Nope. It’s not like there’s been any kind of fan fare for the 10th anniversary.
Well, what about the “Absolute Kingdom Come” edition? That’s celebrating the anniversary, isn’t it?
Yeah, which I had to push for! [laughs] It’s not that it was a major thing, it’s just that it wasn’t necessarily on anyone’s schedule until I was saying, “Well, c’mon, it’s the 10th anniversary and you guys do these Absolute things.” I was asking when the Absolute’s were still just Wildstorm product, but when they started to do “Avengers/JLA” and other books, I started asking again.
That format is something I’ve had my eyes on because, obviously, I like the big stuff. I thought, “Well, you know Kingdom Come will sell some copies, so let’s push for that.” Outside of that, there’s really nothing else that is occurring that’s celebrating this wonderful 10th anniversary that I think pretty much nobody is aware of except maybe a few.
Well, you know, the 10th Anniversary has some pretty significant meaning for myself and CBR. “Kingdom Come” pretty much began Comic Book Resources. Prior to the publication of “Kingdom Come” I had put together a comics web page with a collection of comic links and some scans here and there, but I never really did anything with it. Once I started reading about “Kingdom Come,” I was blown away and it inspired me to set-up a Kingdom Come fan site. I updated the site throughout the series with news bits here and there, but the big thing about that Web site was it allowed me to play with some emerging Web tech, specifically message board software. I set-up a message board for each book of the series. Now, this came at a time when comics communities were pretty much non-existent outside of AOL and Compuserve. But by the second issue, the message boards were getting something like 2000 posts a month, which was a pretty significant number considering this was 1996 and the online comics community really hadn’t taken off yet. Once the series ended, I had to do something with that very loyal community I’d built up, so I pulled together those links pages, added a few features and put together a whole bunch of message boards and named it all “Jonah Weiland’s Comic Book Resources.” (I thankfully excised my name from the title about a year later.) So, I guess you could say the release of “Kingdom Come” was a pretty significant moment in my life.
Wow, that’s very cool. It’s somewhat sad for me to say this, but I didn’t have any knowledge of that simply because I only just married into a computer in recent years, so I’ve had very little computer exposure through pretty much the entire ’90s. It’s only been in the last few years I’m aware of certain things on the Internet, but even then I don’t go on any boards, so you could tell me there’s a board talking about any particular project of mine and I wouldn’t know it. Like, if there is such thing as a “Justice” board, I wouldn’t know it. [laughs]
One of the things I found the other day was an old zip disc with the last incarnation of the Kingdom Come Web site from 1997 and I’ve posted it online once again, but only for a short period for those who might care to take a look back in time a bit. That could be kind of fun for you to look at, a moment of history frozen in 1997, but remember it hasn’t been updated in nine years.
|The “Kingdom Come” TPB|
OK, let’s get back to the book itself and discuss some of the themes you explored in the book and how they resonate today. One of those themes was Superman growing rather disheartened over his world choosing to embrace much darker, less upstanding heroes of the day. Flash forward to today and we have characters violating each other’s minds and heroes killing each other. With that in mind, could “Kingdom Come” as it was produced 10 years ago be made today?
Yeah, except now it would seem redundant because all those same things are being explored in a lot of contemporary books. So, it would sort of be like why set it in the future if you can do it today? Yeah, you could write that “Kingdom Come” story now because they seem to be much more flexible or leaning towards that kind of overall “screw with our entire company” type of thing – characters live, characters die – but I think it benefited “Kingdom Come” to be a story out of time so that, in a way, through the trade paperback sales and the way it sinks into people, it’s this moment in history that’s not related to a specific time. You can read it today, you can read it ten years from now and it’ll still be relevant. It’s not connected to one version of a character that’s no longer written.
I guess you could say in many ways “Kingdom Come” was rather prophetic.
It was trying to be. You know, I was really disappointed at the time it was released simply because I wanted it to come out a full year before then. I got a little bit of a late start in ’94 and only got to work on it by the fall of that year. I really wanted that thing out by the end of ’95 because I thought it would still be catching a moment in time of the post-Image explosion where comics were selling like crazy and seemingly thousands of new characters had erupted on the scene from all the new upstart companies. What happened in ’96 was the bubble had burst and it was becoming very clear that the system was falling. So, instead of it being prophetic of the future – which is what I had envisioned back in ’93 when I started to write my first outline for it – it wound up really being more of a commentary upon the state of things as opposed to looking into the future and where things were going to go.
Do you think it worked as well as a commentary given those circumstances?
|A piece of original “Kingdom Come” art by Ross.|
Yeah, yeah. Given the way it’s been received over the years, I can’t say that anything didn’t really work out the way that I would have hoped. There’s my dreams at that particular time, but what I wanted didn’t really matter. “Kingdom Come” came out, basically, the way it needed to.
Now, wasn’t Magog a character created as a response to all those characters that were popping up in the early ’90s?
Yeah. That’s a character that Mark Waid invented that was really just put to me like come up with the most God awful, Rob Liefeld sort of design that you can. What I was stealing from was – really only two key designs of Rob’s – the design of Cable. I hated it. I felt like it looked like they just threw up everything on the character – the scars, the thing going on with his eye, the arm, and what’s with all the guns? But the thing is, when I put those elements together with the helmet of Shatterstar — I think that was his name — well, the ram horns and the gold, suddenly it held together as one of the designs that I felt happiest with in the entire series.
Yeah. I don’t think it ended up looking like a buffoonish character. In a way, that gold rams head affect took it to a new level of almost biblical metaphor that had a nice little touch to it. It’s the kind of thing I should have been striving, but it was much more accidental.
It’s interesting you used the words “biblical metaphor,” as “Kingdom Come” is rife with Christian symbolism. Then of course today, 10 years later, Christian religions have a louder, more pronounced and influential voice than it had 10 years ago. Once again, the book proves prophetic.
Today, there’s a lot more direct discussion of things regarding images and beliefs and faith and all that kind of stuff, whereas back then it really wasn’t a hot topic of conversation. It was just a part of every day culture. Now we can find these types of images and debate all over our country today.
|Sketches on this page are taken directly from Ross’ original production sketch book.|
Another theme you explored in “Kingdom Come” was the idea that the heroes of that world had become so numerous, so plentiful, that they really had nothing better to do than to just battle each other. In some ways this happened with the X-Men books, where it’s just long been mutants fighting mutants, with Stan Lee’s whole “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Situation” thing pretty much having been forgotten. Then today, Marvel’s actually rid themselves of many of their mutants, so maybe these characters who are left can start fighting battles with a purpose. I guess that’s just another way of pointing out how “Kingdom Come” has been prophetic of the comics industry in a number of different ways.
Well, you know, it was really a reaction to all that stuff, particularly the X-Men, which I felt back then was an egregious example of so much of a naval gazing quality of what super hero comics had become, that there was almost no relation to reality. That’s why the projects of “Marvels” to “Kingdom Come” were an intended kind of metaphor from me, speaking out that we needed to connect much more with the real world. The comics of the last eight years, I would say, have really shown a shift towards that and I’ve been really happy with a lot of stuff I read these days because I feel like it does relate to things I care about. But back then, the X-Men was something I just absolutely hated. That only turned around for me when I saw the movies, which disconnected a lot of the clap trap and started to put the X-Men in much more of a situation where it could really be relevant to all of us.
Allright, keeping all that in mind and the fact that “Kingdom Come” has helped inspire a new generation of comics creators, how would you do the book differently today? Or would you do it any differently?
Well, it’s weird, because right now I could argue that the book is being done today, not so much in what I see DC doing, but with what I see Marvel doing in “Civil War.” Really, “Kingdom Come” was meant to be a civil war between two different armies of super humans, particularly super heroes. You know, one team was mostly Batman, the other team mostly Superman. The story evolved in a very different way from that original intention of mine, but when I see what they’re doing with Captain America and Iron Man and “which side” and the whole idea that there’s this one, nuclear, devastating moment that sets off this whirl wind of change where the heroes have to put their own house in order, that’s basically the set-up of “Kingdom Come.”
It’s actually fun for me to watch it being done again in this way because they’re going to be able to give it a lot more time to expand, whereas the kind of work that Mark Waid and I did together was very compressed. There was only so much depth we could give any one of those particular concepts because it’s a four-issue series that’s only about 200 pages. That may sound like a lot, but for actual content there are so many more stories that could be spun out of there.
Let’s talk a little about the work you put into the book. There is judicious use of easter eggs throughout each issue of the series. Now, there have been many books and annotations written about “Kingdom Come,” but do you know if the readers found all of the easter eggs you put in there, or did some slip past them?
Well, they certainly should have by this point simply because between the annotations I did for the Graphitti edition and some of the annotations done in “Comicology,” they should have found all of them.
Funny you should mention “Comicology” as I have that volume sitting right next to me.
Yeah, I mean, Brian Lamken did so much of that already there. I think the only things that were never really recorded for public view were any of the things I stuck in there that we couldn’t legally talk about.
Some Marvel characters I understand?
Sure, but that stuff’s just kinda silly. I mean, I actually drew a couple of people fornicating in one shot. Stuff like that.
[laughs] Really? Where would that be? I’ve got the book right here, gimme a page number! [laughs]
Well, in my description it sounds a lot worse than it really is. I mean, you see a pair of exposed butt cheeks, but that is if you could make them out of the crowd of people. [laughs] I’ll just say it’s towards the middle of the book, but that’s all I’ll hint at.
Maybe we should give people a break here for a second while they go run to their book shelves for their copy of “Kingdom Come.”
[laughs] They’re not going to find any great satisfaction in that.
[laughs] You’re probably right. But we’ll take our thrills where we can get ’em.
You also had a lot of fun creating all these new characters for this book.
Oh yeah, that was the biggest thrill. In the time before I got this project sold to DC, when I was then laboring to pitch it to James Robinson, I was putting down all my thoughts towards every single relevant DC character I could conceive of in their fifty some year history at that point. There was a way of looking at every one of say the Kirby Characters or every character from the Silver Age and they had to be represented in some form, whether it be in a majorly changed form or they mostly stayed the same. It was to justify who stayed the same, who got older and who became a completely brand new character. There was no end of fun in doing that for me. That’s why I ended up doing the same thing for Marvel with the “Earth X” series.
Is there any specific character from the series you wouldn’t mind revisiting one day?
Well, really, the biggest joy was Superman, above all. Doing an intentionally Fleischer-esque version of the character, obviously I’m still working with that same sensibility today in my work, but there’s also something about the old Superman – the Superman with the black S. Those things have a certain resonance that maybe exceeds any other new costume design I could have played around with. I got to really lose myself in the character, a version of Superman who I don’t want to say was compromised as much as injured by the world. Here’s a guy who’s lost most of the things he cared about.
When you crack open the book today, do you enjoy what you see or do you cringe?
It depends on when I catch myself. There’s still stuff I can look at and think I would have loved to have had more time, but often when I go for long spells – sometimes years – of never looking at it, I can surprise myself with the amount of detail I put into it and think, “I obviously didn’t have a lot of other stuff going on at the time,” seeing as how I was able to put that much thought into one series. These days, you get much more distracted when you have the amount of other opportunities with covers and posters and what not where I can do more fully fleshed out illustrations of various characters, but with “Kingdom Come” I was taking the tact of if I never got another chance to work with the DC superheroes, I was going to put everything into this one series.
Little did you know you’d be right back there playing with them again.
Yeah, I like to think I never really left their side. I sort of dedicated myself to super heroes overall after that series. I originally thought it would burn me out on the whole super hero thing. I went on to a non-superhero project after “Kingdom Come” with “Uncle Sam.” I could have had that kind of career like a David Mazucchelli where I did my super hero thing and then I moved on into independents land, maybe even Frank Miller “Sin City” type territory where you invent your own thing, but I grew to love this stuff so much more by the end that I wanted to spend that much more time with it.
Right and you’ve certainly done that through your work with both DC and Marvel over the past 10 years.
I’ve followed your career for the past decade and as skilled as you were with a brush back in 1996, you’re that much better today.
Well, thank you.
Your overall composition has improved, but I think the skill that I’ve noticed you’ve improved most greatly is in your coloring. There seems to be a more refined, even more realistic – if that’s possible – approach to your coloring. How has your artistic process changed in the last 10 years?
Not terrifically much. What’s happened over the last 10 years is I’ve started to do a lot of experimental things where I’d get these fully finished costumes for my models to wear for some of those oversized books I did like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. There was a lot of fun to really study and explore the reality of these costumes. Now, with “Kingdom Come,” yeah I was using models, but I didn’t have the full costumes. I’d throw a t-shirt on a guy and extrapolate the wrinkles as I could. So, I didn’t have the resources going into a project like “Kingdom Come,” although I did go to the extremes of making a little model of my Batman armored figure and I had a number of different things I created as reference sources.
Over the last ten years, though, I’ve had the chance to do greater study to examine what are these things if they were to be truly made real. I’ve also benefited from a number of different things, like there are toys of almost everything now that I can look at for reference or research. I’ve also got life-sized statues of my versions of Superman and Batman that were sculpted for me. These are waxwork pieces that look like real people when you’re standing next to them. So, in a way, the whole study of reality is something I’ve taken to an extreme, that now I can actually work my way backward towards much more of a comic book origin of where I need to go next as a draftsman and what I could do in terms of just drawing from my head. As much as I’ve studied in reality, maybe now I can get away from that a little bit.
I’m sure to this day when you’re at signings and conventions, you still get asked questions about “Kingdom Come.” What are some of the more commonly asked questions you get about the book?
[pauses] Well, thankfully, not so many people ask are you going to do a sequel. I think that’s the whole point of something like that. When you take “Kingdom Come” or the original “Dark Knight,” don’t they loose their entire reason for being if they weren’t the last story? If “Kingdom Come” is followed by, even ten years later, a story taking place in the super heroes world with the same characters getting back into costume and doing new super heroic things again, then doesn’t that nullify the entire legitimacy of any kind of last, great, almost fall of Camelot like tale metaphor you could have had? Anyways, that’s not really answering the question.
What do people ask me? You know, I know there’s something and I’m completely forgetting it right now. I know there’s one of those obvious, over asked questions, but since I’ve been away from conventions for a year, I’m trying my best to forget all about what it’s like to be at them so the next time I go I’ll have missed it, maybe.
There’s no forgetting the convention experience, good or bad. I’ve been to four conventions already this year and have one I have to go to next week …
You have to go?
Well, it’s the E3 Expo – The Entertainment Electronics Expo – and it’s in Los Angeles. I live in Los Angeles, so I have to go.
Oh yeah, but that’s a whole different type of show.
Sure, sure. That actually is a lot of fun because there are a lot of half-naked women, but that’s a totally different story. [laughs]
You know, a lot of merchandising came out of “Kingdom Come.” It included T-Shirts, the Graphitti Designs edition of “Kingdom Come,” action figures, collectable cards – which, by the way, I thought were pretty cool at the time.
Oh yeah, I was very impressed by them. I had very little to do with them, but I liked them.
Yeah, they had that kind of wide-screen format to the cards. They were oversized. It was really nice stuff.
Yeah, that was awesome.
There was even an audio drama. Did you ever listen to that?
Yeahhhhh, I did.
I’m getting the feeling you didn’t think much of it!
I don’t love it. I gotta say that some of the melodrama that I think comes through, no matter how hard they worked on it, it is kind of hard to hear it and not think, “I don’t know how people are going to take this.” It just feels like the scenes had less of the kind of gravity that I would have hoped those scenes would have felt like. There’s a certain kind of silliness that I think can come across.
|“Kingdom Come” – The Audio Drama|
Fair enough. I remember listening to it when it first came out and enjoying it. Upon listening to it again recently, there’s not doubt it’s a bit exaggerated and melo-dramatic, but still a fun little listen. It also had some excellent production quality for an audio drama.
It did. My favorite thing is they took my request, which was whenever Captain Marvel says “Shazam,” they have the reverb on it much like they used on the 1970s television show that I grew up loving so much.
Sure, very cool. Do you have a favorite bit of “Kingdom Come” merchandise?
Hrmmm, wow. [thinking] You know, I’m forgetting so much of it because there was everything from little cloisonné pins with the Sueprman emblem on it. We’ve still got new T-Shirts coming out after all this time. I mean, for God’s sake, what the hell is that? [laughs]
Actually, what will be my favorite bit of merchandise will be finally getting the action figure of my father that I had to fight so hard to be made. [Note: The character of Norman McKay is modeled after Ross’ father.] The fact that it’s happened after all this time, after they pretty much bailed out of doing more “Kingdom Come” figures a couple of years ago and now, here we are in the midst of doing so many more toys and I’ve been able to hold them to a tenuous promise that was made to me of, “Yeah, yeah, sure, we’ll make your Dad’s figures, kid!” [laughs] I was able to hold somebody to the wall on that one. By whatever time this year it ships, my Dad will be immortalized in plastic.
I know how much it meant to you to have your Father star in the series as it is, so to also have an action figure for your Father – something most actors don’t even get the opportunity to have – that’s pretty special.
Yeah, I find the absurdity of it fun. This is a guy who certainly, after the amount of work that was done on the series and the attention he’d get when he accompanied me at conventions – he’s got his fill of being recognized for being some kind of celebrity in the form of comics, but I like to pile it on even further to make my father become this almost legendary figure within the medium.
“Kingdom Come” had something of a follow-up series in “Kingdom” that you weren’t involved with. But I understand you had a sequel of your own planned with lots of material ready to go. Whatever happened to that stuff?
Basically, I named this project “The Kingdom” when they were still talking back in 1996 about it being a Magog series or some God forsaken thing. I thought, if you’re going to follow-up “Kingdom Come,” you should at least do it with a grand vision of all these different characters and events that could relate to a lot of themes explored in “Kingdom Come.” Paul Levitz had the dictate of it had to be set in the present, but it will be about setting up to the world of “Kingdom Come,” should that ever come. That’s when I put together materials that involved like a new Blue Beetle design (not quite like what they’re doing now) and the character of Gog I designed. Even some stuff that Geoff Johns and I are actually planning on finally using in “JSA” over the next couple of years, in fact – we’re going to get to see some of these concepts.
|Ten years later you can still buy a variety of “Kingdom Come” inspired t-shirts.|
I bailed out when there was a dissolution of the working relationship I had had with the editor, Dan Raspler, and Mark Waid at that time. I don’t know if Mark’s ever been honestly forthright with anybody about how he felt at that point in his life with that series, with working towards it. I think he wanted to go off and do other things and I had heard words to that effect, but he never expressed them directly to me. Nor would he express them to who was then going to draw the series, Gene Ha. We had one of the best artists in the art form, ready to go. I was all psyched about new ideas and I had written up countless pages of outline stuff, but after conflict after conflict of just being told by our supposed leader in all this, that being Mark, that he was not interested in the ideas that I or Gene has expressed, we felt like we can’t fire him, so all I could do was quit. The thing is, it wasn’t like the editor was going to step-in and say, well, Mark’s really not into this thing at all. His horse was bent on the fact that Mark being a writer, he can do many different books a month and he can write this as one of those four or five different books he writes in a month. I, obviously, was not going to draw it since I had already moved onto different projects and just betting on me as just the cover artists or creative leader, what have you, it was not enough.
This, in effect, wound up urging me on to try and prove them wrong with that judgment. That’s why the series “Earth X” had come to be because I wanted to show that just my participation on that level had something worthwhile to contribute. There was a value there that they de-valued. I wasn’t told to quit, but basically I knew it would be a continuous battle overall with people who weren’t even as inspired as I was in this material and I couldn’t take it anymore. What they finally did in the end, I don’t think it was terrible by any means, but I think it was tagging on a completely different agenda to the world of “Kingdom Come” by trying to bring back the multi-verse. It was a conflicted project. You had back-stories given to characters that I created or designed that I had absolutely no input over and that was very offensive to me. So, the entire “Kingdom” series is a sore subject, absolutely. My happiest thing, though, is at least the editor … [laughs] … well, I won’t even go into it.
I know where you’re going with this! [laughs]
Yeah, you know where I was going with that. All I’ll say is I have something I owe Dan DiDio for. [laughs]
Oh boy. Uhhmmm, OK, no easy way to segue out of that, but let’s try. [laughs] Now, you don’t own any of the original art from “Kingdom Come” anymore, do you?
|More “Kingdom Come” Trading Cards|
Didn’t you give a significant portion of it away to your models and contributors?
No, not a significant portion. But, certainly a lot of people I worked with back in the day I would give them a key page for their participation. I know of course now never to do that anymore since everybody turns around and flips it for profit.
eBay is everybody’s friend when they get art from you, huh?
Exactly! That was all fun and good then, but if you’re working with me today that ain’t going to happen now. Artwork is a commodity for money’s purpose alone and there’s no such thing as a friend who’s never going to sell.
Sure, sure. How involved were you with the design of the upcoming “Absolute Edition.”
I was pretty involved, but the majority of the interior of the “Absolute Edition” is really just all the work reconfigured from the Graphitti edition that Bob Chapman and I worked so hard on. Tough thing is, given the fact that I’m so preoccupied with new work for DC, I couldn’t give it the amount of time that even a year ago I gave to the collection of all my big books, the “World’s Greatest Super Heroes” Collection. I did layouts for pages in that one and gave them a lot of physical direction, but I just didn’t have that time anymore [for the new edition]. Since, in a way, it’s been done to death with the previous edition as well as so many different printings over the years, I kind of had to let this one go. [laughs] So, in a way, if you never got ahold of the Graphitti edition, you’re going to get, for the most part, the better part of that content here now.
But there is some new material in there, right?
|The Graphitti Designs Collected edition of “Kingdom Come.”|
There’s a little bit of new stuff, some sketches and stuff, but sadly I couldn’t get them to run even as many as Brian Lamken had run in “Comicology.” I try not to over direct them in this one simply because I didn’t have the energy anymore.
And for those reading this interested in picking up a copy of “Comicology,” well, you can’t get it.
No, you can’t.
Really, we’re just talking about some early rough sketches. There’s so much preparatory stuff for “Kingdom Come,” it could have filled volumes and volumes. This has just a wink at some of that stuff. It could have had more, but it’s a pretty damn full package as it is.
Actually, one of my favorite things I wanted in this collection that most people never saw because nobody ordered this damn book – it was one of the finest things done back in the ’90s – was the Mister Mxyzptlk/Bat-Mite special “World’s Funnest” that Evan Dorkin created where he got Frank Miller to go back and do Dark Knight before he went and did “Dark Knight Strikes Again,” adding in Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite obviously. And he got me to come back and do three pages of new “Kingdom Come” as if Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite were there. So, to include those three pages for me was important because I always got pissed that no one saw that series. I thought, “Cmon, this should have been news somewhere.”
The whole thing was screwed up, too, because they had to offer it as Batman & Superman, “World’s Funnest,” and I guess Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s names weren’t even in the title. It’s like they were fearful that nobody orders something unless it has Superman and Batman’s name on top of it. The thing is, they weren’t entirely wrong because the damn thing didn’t sell, anyway.
It’s a shame, too, because it was a fun little book. As you flipped through the pages you’d see artwork from a wide variety of artists like Dave Gibbons, Scott Shaw, Phil Jimenez, Frank Miller, you – so many styles were represented in that books.
It had David Mazzucchelli doing his first mainstream comics work in over a decade! And him doing a version of Kiby’s New Gods! How crazy is it that no one cared? Or that DC didn’t promote the living hell out of that so that everybody knew about it. I don’t think most people knew about this thing at all. Ahhhhh, I could just bitch endlessly.
|The “Comicology Kingdom Come Companion”|
[laughs] Allright, let’s stop you from bitching and close this sucker out for you. We’ve gotta get something in here about your current work at DC, “Justice.” The series really seems to have connected with fans. The first issue was the #1 comic the month it shipped and the individual issues have been selling out and headed back to press. How gratifying has that been and how has the series been coming for you?
Well, it’s a very gratifying creative project, definitely. I obviously love working with Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite as well. These are guys I trust and have the utmost respect for and maybe someday somebody will actually give Jim something else to write beyond the shit I do with him. [laughs] I really have been satisfied with the work. I would hope or expect that it holds up with work I had done previously like “Kingdom Come,” but I know it’s taking me in new directions, too. The amount of time I’m living with these characters in their most classic archetypes is so much more satisfying to me in the long run because it’s connecting with childhood things in such an immediate fashion. Just spending pages on stuff with say the Doom Patrol and I’m getting towards pages with the Marvel Family and the Teen Titans, that’s thrilling. Where else would I find those opportunities?
OK, I lied, I have one more question for you. When you retire from comics say in 30 or 40 years. I don’t know when it’s going to happen – it could happen next week for all I know. [laughs]
I could have a forced retirement for all I know. [laughs] I could make a stupid, smart ass remark in an interview like this and say something mean spirited against the heads of one of the two big companies and then suddenly you won’t see my work on anything anymore. [laughs]
Great, so you’ll be out on a freeway offramp with a sign that says, “Will work for art boards!”
[laughs] Pretty much.
OK, so when that inevitable retirement day comes, are you comfortable with most people – at least up to this point in your career – remembering you best for your work on “Kingdom Come.”
Oh, that’s fine by me. Certainly, I’m very proud of that work and I can still look at it and feel pretty good no matter how much I would like to amend. I can still take great pride in it and that was a very passionate and personal project for me – it obviously relates to my life in so many intimate ways. So, it’s a weird thing to live in the shadow of something you did when you were 25, but you know what, I could be living in the shadow of nothing where nobody cared about a single thing I did, so it ain’t much to complain about.
Wednesday evening, CBR News heard from “Kingdom Come” writer Mark Waid. Unfortunately, Waid regreftully had to decline our interview request due to a demanding writing schedule that includes the weekly “52” comic, but he did want to offer a response to Ross’ comments above about “Kingdom.”
When contacted, Mark Waid said, “Alex misremembers. Certainly, on a creative level, no one was ever happy with ‘Kingdom,’ least of all me, for a variety of reasons — and God knows I can’t defend the bookends (though the one-shots, I’m still proud of). I tried my best to serve a million masters creatively, I failed, and every career has its strikeouts. But as far as how I felt about working with Alex on a follow-up, the reality is — hey, here’s some honest forthrightness for you! — I couldn’t then and can’t to this day wrap my head around the uber-cosmic ideas Alex had for a KC follow-up and felt no emotional connection to the themes and notions he was offering up, so I bowed out without acrimony. Doesn’t mean they were bad ideas; it meant I couldn’t find a sympathetic creative wavelength. I’m overwhelmingly sure — overwhelmingly confident — that I made that crystal clear to Alex at the time with politeness and respect, and it’s puzzling that he doesn’t remember that.
“Also worth noting — at the time it all went down, DC made it extraordinarily clear to Alex that he and Gene were more that welcome to develop those concepts without me if they could find a story — who wouldn’t want to publish as much work of Alex’s as possible? I was eager to see that happen myself, as some of it sounded pretty neat and I love Gene’s work; why that never came to pass, I have no idea.”
Friday morning, Alex Ross wrote CBR News wishing to address Mark Waid’s comments above.
“I apologize for not letting this go, but given the sour impact of the post-‘Kingdom Come’ work experience, I felt I needed to comment on Mark’s version of events. Whereas I can respect Mark’s disinterest in the ideas presented to him by me – and Gene – there was no ‘bowing out’ of helming the project itself that I was made aware of. It was neither hinted at nor made ‘extraordinarily clear’ by DC to me that I had a way of producing any part of my ‘Kingdom’ series without Mr. Waid’s participation as writer. It only ever seemed clear in the editorial direction we were given that we were to wait on Mark. Mark can certainly be ‘overwhelmingly confident’ that he related his creative differences to me; I remember that well enough.
“After our exchange, I did the thing one is often not well-advised to do and went over some heads to turn in my resignation letter for the project to Paul Levitz. In truth, it was a futile gesture to try and stir up the pot a bit to bring attention to our conflict and potentially move someone to try and keep my involvement in the series (and still position myself as more than a hired-gun cover artist). As it went, I received a polite note back but there were no particular offers made to allow me to produce ‘Kingdom’ independent of my “Kingdom Come” collaborators. As soon as I was out of the process, Gene’s creative input became overlooked as he was simply instructed that he was eventually to receive a completed “Kingdom” script. Hearing his distress after many months of waiting, I encouraged him to also liberate himself. If I had thought DC would have been receptive to what we had to offer then, I would have definitely pursued it. The “Kingdom,” though, was a part of the machine, designed to capitalize on a popular creative work, and it was going to get done one way or another. For a project like this, there is a team captain – the editor given to the project, who is never likely to change. The editor made his decision about who was important to the project, and it wasn’t me. The circumstances might be different today, but it seemed quite impossible then for me to exert any claim on the material.
“As one can clearly tell, I haven’t cooled much over the whole thing. I may have originally brought the project to DC that would become “Kingdom Come” and was the first to jump on ideas for its aftermath, but clearly I made the classic mistake of overestimating my irreplaceability.”
Saturday Afternoon, May 13th, Gene Ha contacted CBR News and wish to offer his own response concerning “Kingdom.” His comment is below in it’s entirety:
“I remember stuff much as everyone says. I don’t remember Alex and/or me being offered the chance to continue the series without Mark, but it was a while ago.
It was a difficult time for Mark. During the beginning of the story development Mark was caring for his ill mother. She died a few months in. He really gave her his all, and I suspect her death left him devastated. I remember his attitude as cheerful in public, weary but hopeful. In his response to Alex’s interview, I still see the smiling stoic.
The failuire of the project was hard on me, and my attempts to keep it going nearly burned out my passion for comics. Obviously that time was even harder on Mark, but we’ve all become stronger for it.
Perhaps a year later I called up Alex and told him how jealous I was that he was working with Alan Moore. Alex was painting covers for Alan’s Supreme series. Alex said that was a lazy attitude and told me to go get my own Alan Moore project. A few months later I fulfilled my teenage dream of working with Alan Moore when I got the Top Ten job at Wildstorm. So I owe my renewed passion for comics to Alex, who doesn’t remember the conversation where he gave me a gentle kick in the rump.
Alex and Mark are the two biggest personalities I know in comics. In his intensity and diligence, Alex is uncannily like Bruce Wayne. I don’t know anyone else who can be so creative without tiring. Mark embodies some of the best qualities of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor in one man, a fine thing in a writer. You can’t expect Batman and Superman to collaborate for long outside of the funny pages.