Let me open up to several thousand complete strangers.
I have a brother who is one of the smartest people I know. But you wouldn’t know it for all the trappings that lay around him.
One of my first post-pubescent memories of Chris is him stumbling into our shared bedroom, hair spiked and alternately matted from dried urine, a motorcycle tire track blazoned across his chest like a white-trash badge of honor. The night hadn’t gone well.
He’s was in the Pine Hills Boys Correctional facility located in Miles City, Mont. – the one step below the state penitentiary located in Deer Lodge, Mont. – at the tender age of 15. He went to several drug and alcohol treatment programs since that experience.
He only got his GED in the last 5 years.
He has epilepsy spurred on by a 10-year old head injury that prevents him from working with any kind of regularity and therefore has to live off of permanent disability, which – contrary to conservative flaks and dittoheads – is not a bed of roses.
But Chris reads voraciously and takes it all in. He watches with a keen eye and we have conversations that take me to places I never thought about.
If only he’d do something with those smarts, go back to school and see through his potential.
Potential is a real bitch. Lord knows that it’s killed many a relationship. “I see the man he could be.” For those convulsing in rhythmic spasms, you know what I’m saying.
Here’s the tricky turn. I’m not saying that Rob Liefeld is a drug addicted, epileptic, high school drop-out.
He’s a guy who found a niche in two of the biggest companies in the world when all the indie companies were passing on him. Here was a young kid who – while his style was sloppy in some respects – had a crazy, infectious sensibility to it. You wanted to see what he was going to draw next. It was exciting in a Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer way. This was all in spite of the limited facial expressions and his inability sometimes to draw feet.
It was a guilty pleasure. In the same rack, you were reading how Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli were breaking down and rebuilding Daredevil, but you needed to see what Rob was doing on the New Mutants annual.
DC brought him a new level of stardom with Hawk & Dove. Marvel cut in the afterburners and thrust him into the stratosphere when they gave him New Mutants and subsequently X-Force.
For better or worse, Rob was a force with which to contend. He had people’s ears and eyes.
He shot higher still when, with other upstarts from Marvel, he formed Image Comics and really changed the face of the comic book scene. While the initial splashes were wonderful, all of them experienced significant delays that heaped loads of criticism upon them, Rob chief among them. Here begins the assumption that Rob couldn’t stay focused for very long on anything for very long.
When Larry Marder assumed a managerial role, through Extreme Studios, Rob put out many books in a brief time, although the consistency and quality of those books put into question what Rob was shooting for. Did he want saturation or real quality? It was a toss-up. It seemed like a new Extreme title was coming out every month, but no one was sure when the next regular installment of Youngblood was coming out.
It was frustrating for retailers and fans alike. There was an audience who wanted to see Rob’s stuff, but one can only wait so long without becoming bitter.
Then comes the announcement that Rob and Jim Lee were redoing four Marvel flagship titles on the tail of the Onslaught saga in 1996. Wait, what about the Extreme books? How long was Rob really going to stay on the titles anyway? Confidence had been lost, but the sales showed somebody still cared.
From his own account, Rob left those titles in less than a year under less than gracious circumstances. Fired or resigned is all in the spin.
His fall from grace with Image founders happened soon thereafter and the sides of that story are as many faceted as a diamond’s. Everyone seems to have paperwork on the matter, but the accounts still differ.
He used the opportunity to form another company, Awesome, from which he would relaunch his universe with a hefty boost of help from the Master of Time, Space and all that’s good in comic book literature: Alan Moore.
And, yet, things haven’t seemed to have panned out much better there either. Rob’s initial investor pulled out not long after the initial launch of Awesome (and the subsequent lawsuit from Marvel over Fighting American may not have helped). And the second incarnation of Awesome came to a halt last fall, albeit Rob says this one was intentional at least.
So is Rob the Icarus of comic books? Did he shoot for too much too soon and melt away his wax wings in the process?
As he points out, Rob’s a young guy. He’s packed in a lot of publishing in the time since his teens and he’s not planning on staying out of the game.
People forget that love & hate are sides of the same coin. The ones who hate you the most are the ones that loved you the most in the beginning. Passion will do that and turn on you.
My belief is that those who passionately hate Liefeld the most are the ones that liked him and were disappointed the most when he didn’t come through with his potential.
Keep your eyes peeled in the next few months for new Awesome books to come your way and see if Rob lives up to the potential that all closet Liefeld fans hopes he will.
I know that I will. And maybe regain some faith back in the process.
Michael David Thomas: What was the first paying gig you got for drawing comic books?
Rob Liefeld: I think that it was for Megaton Comics… [which] was a black and white company at the time. I did a story for them featuring their character, Megaton Man. I think that was the first time I got paid. …I just remember I was glad to be drawing the comic. Having a “technically” professional assignment in the comics industry…
The reason that that particular company meant so much to me was because Megaton had been publishing Jackson Guice – when he was “Butch” Guice – and Erik Larsen and Angel Medina – all guys who were breaking into the field at the time. …Megaton, in my eyes, was a good stepping-stone at the time. …The guy, Gary Carlson, who published Megaton, was a really nice guy. Very helpful.
MDT: It was pretty soon after that you did Hawk & Dove…
RL: Yeah, based on the stuff I did for Megaton and a 10-page [story] I did featuring Youngblood is what got me hired. I took those samples to a comic show and I was hired by Mark Gruenwald, who said he wanted me to do some work on Solo Avengers… Avengers Spotlight, I’m not sure what it was called. He gave me some Marvel Universe stuff to do.
In the meantime, I had sent packets everywhere. Got rejections from First, from Comico and Dark horse. I was getting rejected everyday. I… scratched my head. I can’t get hired by these independents… I was really a big fan of the indies, bought them all. But the companies I thought I was least likely to get hired by – Marvel & DC – ended up giving me a shot. I ended up cutting my teeth on a Warlord story and then a Secret origins book before they gave me Hawk & Dove. I think to this day… “Oh, I wish I had to cut my teeth on something with less of a profile.”
MDT: Was the reaction pretty immediate from your work on Hawk & Dove?
Like any young penciller, you see an inker change one eyelash or nostril and you freak out. Carlin and I would get into these little disagreements. I don’t know how he is now, but he at the time, he would always back the seasoned veteran, as I rightly believe he should have than the young punk. And I was certainly in the young punk role.
The reason I’m telling you this was that I thought there was no future given my relationship with Mike and I think DC at the time… I didn’t like the work I was doing and it didn’t seem like it was coming out the way I wanted it to. I was discouraged.
By the third issue of Hawk & Dove, they printed these letters pages. Back in 88… I felt like you could glean a lot from the letters pages back then. I don’t feel the same way today because of the Internet and all the different magazine outlets that are published. The letters pages were where you got the fan reaction. The letters were so positive. I was like, “Wow! I didn’t even think this guy liked me, but he’s printing really positive reactions to my work.” It gave me a second wind to finish the series with a full head of steam.
At the same time, Marvel editors started calling me non-stop. I was offered Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, X-Men. At that point, I felt like, “OK, I’m going to have a career in the business. I kept it quiet, negotiated on the side, told people how long it would be until I was finished with the mini-series, but Bob Harras specifically was enthusiastic and contacted me on a regular basis about doing [work for him.] I think he wanted to get a lot of young artists in the X-office cause he had just taken over that position and hadn’t been in it very long.
I was all too eager to feel like getting a second chance because I had felt like I didn’t have the best relationships with DC. That having been said, from my viewpoint, I feel like I have a great relationship with Mike. I always try to catch 15 minutes at any show for the last 10 years. Always sit down and find out what’s happening at DC. …I don’t think I had given him the proper respect he was due when I was in my young punk status.
MDT: How did you come about getting the art/co-plotting gig on New Mutants/X-Force?
I remember Bob saying, “What? Are you crazy? I’m offering you X-Factor!” I said, “Don’t you have anything else? Something less high-profile?” Like I said, I wasn’t ready to step into those shoes. Two weeks later and said he was gong to be making a change on New Mutants. That artist was going to move onto another project. I said that’d be great. He told me at the time, “You can really drastically redo this book. You can fool with more ideas.” I think I had developed a couple of new characters in one of those annuals. They had given me some characters to design and I think my head was really into MTV at the time. I think I represented the wave of new artists who had grown up on 24-hour videos and how to be in on pop culture 24 hours a day. I think the thing to worry about was that I was a young 20-something kid at the time he offered it to me and he thought it would be a good match.
He said he wanted a teacher character at the time. So that’s when Cable came out. I gave him a bunch of different designs and looks what would became Cable. We argued for the longest time because Bob wanted to call him Commander X or something like that. …I said, no, you couldn’t call him that. He looks like Cable to me.
He gave me a lot of free reign. …I believe that I flourished under Bob because… I respected Bob and I learned my lessons from butting heads with Mike Carlin and …realized that I was in an enviable position being in the X-office.
…I’ve talked to a lot of freelancers from guys like Jerry Ordway and Al Gordon to Todd McFarlane to Ron Lim…. different people like George Perez. [T]he guy who everybody envied was whoever was drawing the actual X-Men comic book at that point in time because the royalties were the big deal. You wanted to do a book that had royalties. … It would come up in every single conversation. If an artist wasn’t doing a book that wasn’t giving royalties, they wanted to get on a book that was.
Everybody in the X-Men office was certainly in terms of money.
[T]hat spoke to my immaturity, but I was lucky to be working in the mutant office, because that’s what I grew up loving and like I said, I felt like I had a chance to carve out my own niche. Bob let me run with it. Louise Simonson and Bob had their own issues. I wasn’t really privy to any of them that ended up with her leaving. There was an idea throughout the years that there was a “me or her” conversation. I assure you that it never even came up. It was Bob saying he was frustrated where he wanted to take the book.
I think if you look at the style of what she had been doing as opposed to what it became, he wanted something more hard hitting and I think she was [writing] a fun book with young mutants going on a bunch of adventures. I think we brought in a darker, more dangerous element. He offered me to write it and I said, “I don’t want to write it. That’s too much of a load of work.” I did want to take over the inking, which was adding another job to the process. He suggested Fabian and then we moved it into X-Force.
MDT: At the point when you and Todd and Jim and Erik were talking about making Image and leaving Marvel, what were the conversations like? What was the point at which all five of you looked at each other and said, let’s do this?
RL: We would see a lot of each other at conventions and enjoying each other’s company.
… I’ll tell you my first actual meeting with Todd McFarlane to me summed him up. I was so enthralled with him cause he looked at it from a very different perspective of the medium. When I met him, I think it was 87 or 88 San Diego show. I already knew Erik Larsen from Megaton and I had gone to a couple of Chicago shows since 1985. …I’d meet the different talent that was attending that show as well and Erik was always doing both. Erik Larsen introduced me to Todd.
At the doorway to the place, Todd is standing there. Erik says, “Todd, this is Rob, Rob, this is Todd.” Todd says, “OK, you’re the second of the ‘L’ boys.” “L” boy stuff, what is he talking about? Lim, Liefeld, Lee. “The “L” boys,” [he said. “I’ve met Ron Lim, I’ve met Rob Liefeld, and I need to meet Jim Lee. He goes, “I’m watching you guys, you’re the new hot stuff. I’m watching what you’re doing and I see the jobs you’re getting.”
The rest of the night, I just clung to this guy. I was getting kind of excited. I was like, I’m just going to hang out with these guys for the rest of the night. We went up to Todd’s room and the restaurant and the parties and I don’t think Todd stopped talking the entire time. He never broke for a sentence. And I was drinking it up.
It was 1.) entertaining and 2.) very informative. He said, “You ‘L’ boys, you’re getting the gigs. But you know while you’re figuring out how to draw the cool pose and the cool hair, I’m drawing extra bricks on the building and extra shingles on the roof because the kids love the detail. I haven’t figured out all that figure work.”
Todd McFarlane was amazing. He just had us all going. He said, that his early call on the three of us was that we were all very talented, but that, his “pick is that Ron Lim’s going the distance.” Ok, Ron Lim and I were friends and I had a great deal of respect for him. He was so fast. He was drawing everything, 3 books a month and maintained a level of quality he was doing.
“The sheer fact that Ronny Lim can pump out 3 books a month like ol’ Johnny Byrne, with the quality he’s keeping it. He can do 3 books a month, that’s 2 more opportunities he has than you and Big Jimmy. If I’m a bettin’ man, I’m betting my money that he’s going the distance.”
I was like, “Wow! I’m on Todd McFarlane’s radar screen.”
“Art Adams, great artist. Can’t draw a monthly book to save his life. I’m like second rate Art Adams, but kids would rather have second rate Art Adams every 30 days than no Art Adams.”
It was like, “Bring it on, dude!” Erik and I just sat there laughing.
That began a great relationship with Todd where I learned a ton.
Todd said, “You need to take over the inking and take over the writing so you can get the royalties. I’m doing as much as I can on the Spider-Man book because it maximizes my earning potential.”
There were other things I didn’t have the time to take him up on. He would read me the mathematical formula for why doing posters for Marvel was the best gig. Because it was one drawing and then he’d lose me. I wasn’t following the money that carefully.
“This Hulk poster and this Spidey poster, I’m making 4 times the money I’m making on the comic.” But he would tell me, you have to do this, you have to do this.
He would tell me, of all the guys, he said, “You’re the craziest.” Todd would get me all pumped up. I would get off the phone with him and then read the riot act to my editor, generally given an ultimatum based on a coaching session I had with Todd. He would freak out and Todd would say, “I just heard from my editor that you just did this crazy thing. You’re nuts!”
I was like, “I believe what you tell me.” And then he called one day and said, there was these two other artists. “Based on you, I’m talking to all the young guys and pumping them up. I just told Javier Saltares the same thing I told you. He made demands and they fired him. You better watch yourself.”
I began to understand my role. I was as entertaining to Todd as he was to me. Based on that friendship, we would talk about different moves we were going to make. I told him from the independent longing I’ve had. I saw that there was an independent marketplace. It was thriving and surviving and it was doing it without any of the mainstream guys. Selling themselves outside of the major companies.
You didn’t see Frank Miller working outside of Marvel and DC until Sin City, which was 91. That broke the floodgates open. Sin City was awesome. It blew my mind. I said something like, “This is completely different than Dark Knight. What if he actually did a Batman-esque character that he owned?” That was something that was haunting me.
…It was important to know when to make the right move at the right time. I think we all shared the idea that Marvel was very threatened by the fact that they wanted to shut it down. They kept saying that they wanted the characters [to sell], but I felt that they wanted the cellophane covers and the gold-embossed logos to start selling their books and that the talent was very interchangeable. I think we settled that score.
MDT: After hearing [your impression of Todd], have you ever done “Todd” for Todd? [WRITER’S NOTE: Any time that Rob Liefeld is saying any verbatim quote by Todd McFarlane, he’s doing a pretty good imitation of him. Watch the Spawn videos and his introduction for a frame of reference.]
RL: I can, but I choke terribly. He talks differently than he did 10 years ago. Todd had a heavy Canadian thing going on back in 96, but it was fading. But when he gets worked up, it’s on full force. Back in my day, I did the best McFarlane. Don’t listen to others. The people who heard me, I did him nails on.
Todd had a very distinctive way of speaking. It’s not only the way that he speaks, but also what he’s saying, the way he strings his sentences together. He should be a talk show host or on the radio in his spare time. He’s extremely entertaining. I’ve never done it in front of him. I would choke.
MDT: You went to Image, did Youngblood and all the titles there. At what point, did things start to turn the other way around?
To give you an idea, Jim Lee wanted to outsell Spawn. Youngblood came out, sold a million. Got my plaque from Malibu Comics congratulating me on selling a million. Todd made sure he sold more than Youngblood. …I believe Spawn naturally was more popular and more anticipated than Youngblood, but also based on the success of Youngblood. Malibu’s initial sales were at 450,000 climbing to 500,000. … Youngblood was in their catalog for four or five months. #1, #2, #3, two months, then nothing and then Spawn #1. And by the time I was soliciting for a March book in December. So before 91 was over, the gears on Youngblood were going.
I had been up to the offices at Malibu. We coordinated what we had wanted to do. I had been talking to Dave Olbrich for a long time. … Erik Larsen and Jim Valentino were already in on it. Todd and Jim [Lee], who were crucial to making Image the amazing force that it became, they were crucial to jumping on board.
Even when Todd was committed, Todd said, we need Jim. We need all of the three big Marvel guys. He was adamant about it. If we weren’t going to get Jim, I was like, “We can do it. “No disrespect to Jim. Jim was a phenomenal talent, but we had already solidified a significant talent base. Todd was, we gotta get Jim.
Early on, Jim wanted to outsell Todd, but that didn’t happen. We had another distributor buying the books who was stocking the Wal-Marts and he was buying more of Todd’s than any of ours. There’s no venom there. It’s very important that it’s communicated casually. That it was obvious that Todd wanted to have the #1 selling book at Image. That was the first race. Who would sell more, Jim or Todd?
Then the second race was who would sell more, Valentino or Silvestri? Shadowhawk outsold Cyber Force. That was the shot heard round the world. Valentino was seen by pretty much everybody as not welcome. They weren’t out to hurt Jim Valentino.
Jim was a dear mentor to me. I stood up and defended him the entire period that… A couple of guys were very strong in their disagreements with why he was in the picture. Todd supported [Jim]. Todd had one drawback when he said, “I’m getting calls about a lot of folks who are asking me, ‘If you’re putting together the best of the best, what’s Valentino doing hanging around?'”
I said, “That’s crap! You’re asking everybody to cross the line.” In Todd’s mind he always spoke of Image as a union. Union? I don’t want a fucking union. He asked people to step over the line. Once they do, you can’t ask them to step back. “Everybody but you.”
Todd was soliciting Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira. I was working on Dale Keown. We all had somebody. Todd was really [pushing] strength in numbers.
Valentino’s Shadowhawk sold. He went out and marketed himself. He said, “I’m not going to be the ugly stepchild.” and Shadowhawk – the first issue – outsold Cyber Force. That created tension.
Shadowhawk outsold Cyber Force by like a hair. It was like 550,000 to 540,000. But the reason I’m telling you this is because it was a hotly debated topic. And Jim Valentino walked around with his head a little higher.
“I didn’t want to be disrespected. I’m just as valid as anybody else. This thing we helped create is not exclusive to just a few guys.” Jim worked just as hard as anybody…
I was always in the sights of a couple of guys. Some vocal, some not so vocal. There were always quarrels.
When we let everybody jump on the Image bandwagon and everybody decided to put out one book every six months like we were. “You guys need to fill the gaps, not emulating us.”
As hypocritical as that sounds, that’s how we felt, especially Todd. He’s like, “What’s with the Tribe [by Larry Stroman]? I put up with you guys slacking, but not from the Tribe and from the Stupids from Hilary Barta. You don’t have enough time to have me tell you every quarrel, but they’re as clear to me today as they were 10 years ago.
MDT: Is that about the time that Larry Marder came in?
RL: Larry came in at that time and helped politicize us. He was everyone’s go-between. He bore the brunt of everyone’s complaints and tried to get everyone to get along.
There [were] meetings where – and I have to admit it, I loved it – Todd stood up and said, “None of you guys are doing as well as I am. I’m hitting my marks, doing it all the time, you guys are screwing up. You know what people are telling me? How come I don’t got Morrison on Youngblood? How I don’t got Morrison on Wildcats?”
He was doing it to stir us up. He really did want Morrison on Youngblood and Wildcats and Cyber Force. All the books.
Todd would think, “I can’t lose ground because then I can’t talk smack to these guys.” I had a different plan. My plan was not Todd’s plan.
I think it was in 94, Jim Lee’s books took off. Gen13 exploded. Everything out of Wildstorm was a license to print money. It was a very exciting time for Jim Lee and you know it inspired out studio. They were doing high quality and they’re doing a lot of tight continuity. It was a challenge to do better.
You have to realize, Marc Silvestri went down as a part of Wildstorm and left like a year later and moved all the way back to L.A. to set up. Half of Wildstorm went with him. The other half stayed. There was a lot of tension over that. There was tension between Jim and Marc, myself and Marc, Marc and Jim [Valentino].
Yeah, Marc Silvestri was very angry that he wasn’t a part of Heroes Reborn. We had the Marvel guys telling us all the time how angry he was. There was no room in that deal. He tried to get around it and become a part of it.
Jim and I – The whole [deal] had been negotiated [by] both Jim and myself. There were two guys running Marvel, Joe King and Joey Calabrese. They cut the deal with Jim Lee and myself.
They told me to my face, “You are the perceived as the weakest link in this deal. You want into Marvel offices, people don’t like this deal and they’ll go after you before they’ll go after Jim Lee.”
Jim was always considered the golden boy; he could do no wrong. He was well liked. An artist without too many quirks, unlike myself and Todd in the past. He was the ideal that you wanted in a comic book superstar. Drew the way that they wanted things drawn and met his deadlines. Quiet and very polite, not big mouths like Todd and me. He was the ideal.
Marc was furious over that. And I felt that that, more than anything than what it did the temper tantrum, was his earlier resignation.
I had heard through my editor, that the penciller Mike Turner was upset that he wasn’t being paid a lot of money on the Witchblade book. Then I met Mike at the Pittsburgh Comicon and my editor said, “Hey, Mike’s interested in doing some work for us. I think we should get him. This would be a big coup.”
I said, “Look, would you be interested in doing an Avengylene three-issue mini-series in a short amount of time?”
He said, “I’m fast enough I can work for you and Top Cow.”
Mike and I set up the deal, set up the page rate through my editor, who was Matt Hawkins. Everybody knew about it. We were really excited because Mike’s great talent could give Avengylene a shot in the arm.
Matt went to call Mike. Marc picked up the phone and screamed at Matt Hawkins. Matt came in pretty shaken, to myself and Eric Stephenson and couple of other guys from around the office, white as a ghost. Tried to laugh it off until he said he had called Mike.
He said, “I called Mike and he said, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and he handed the phone to Marc Silvestri.” He took the phone and told Matt Hawkins, “Don’t you ever do this again. You better respect me. Cut this crap out.” Matt said he was yelling the whole time.
I came into the office the next morning at 9 a.m. and underneath my door was the resignation of Marc from Image comics. He was going to go out and sell Top Cow on his own. He got his butt kicked around by Diamond, saying “We’re not giving you the same deal as Image.” He made an emotional move that hurt him business-wise.
One of the other resentments that specifically tailored to me, was that when I had formed my company Maximum Press – a label that was outside of Image comics – because I had the forward thinking that I wasn’t going to always be at Image comics for the long haul – all this tension I can laugh about now, it was disruptive. I wanted to create a label for myself that wasn’t associated with Image that I owned.
Did I use my position at Image to make sure I had a better deal with Maximum Press? Yes.
Did I get the same terms? No way.
But I got more favorable terms because of the volume that I delivered. Jim Lee and me were the largest suppliers of comic books to Image Comics at the time. We both in 96, were 35% each and then everybody else made the final 30%. Though Todd was the #1 selling book per unit that only paid a few thousand bucks into the system. Our books were paying tons of money. You have to pay per book. We were the lion’s share of the money that was going into Image and driving it. Larry Marder always told me we needed “X” amount of books to keep the offices running.
It all came down to Todd telling me, “Right now, you’re moving Maximum Press into Image.” I had moved a book from Image into Maximum Press. I wanted to get away from Image, give the book a fresh start and move it out of the Image universe and into Maximum Press. It may have been Youngblood or Supreme. I can’t say for sure which one. Todd said, “You’re moving Maximum Press into Image.” I said, “No, I’m not.”
The phone got disconnected. I tried to get back on. It was an Image meeting on phone with everybody. It was four days after San Diego of 96. I have the letter from Todd, telling me a meeting was going to be held to vote me out.
From there, we went through the protocol of making that happen. I’m glad that, in your interview [Part 1, Part 2], that Todd outlined the specifics of the voting procedure. He’s right on the money. Those are the rules.
You won’t find an Image owner I called during this duration to say anything other than, “I’m going to be moving on. I understand. It’s for the best for everybody.” Jim Valentino, Jim Lee. I didn’t get ahold of Todd.
I was told by my attorney to go through the procedure, which was meant to be humiliating from their end. They needed a unanimous vote. I knew Marc Silvestri would be in on the call. They needed him in because they were booting me out.
Once it came down, I resigned. But Todd told my attorney who went to meet with him… “I’m not letting him resign.”
They didn’t go along with anything they didn’t want to happen. It’s like I knew the bullet was coming. I was strong enough to take it. It was like, whatever I have to do to exit myself from this, it was relatively painless.
Well, the money they owed me, then the lawsuit, and the settlement.
I’ve been out of that company longer than I was ever in it. It’s fun to talk about. It was a great time. The other guys will have to tell you their personal animosities. I can only share with you the things that were rankling people the wrong way.
I felt like when I was being told how to run my business, not given the option, being told, you will do this or else. Uh, no. Todd and I had our relationship drastically change by the end.
Todd was furious with me [at a Toy Fair] that I had signed two other deals with a little miniature company that made miniature toys and rubber toys. He pulled me aside and said, “There are other Youngblood action figures. There are 1″ micro-toys and rubber… bendies. You can find the people who are doing the Star Wars bendies who are doing the Youngblood bendies.”
The reason that Todd got the license from me in the first place was cause he believed I had a pick up from Fox – as I did – to have a Youngblood cartoon. Mattel put an offer on the table for me to do Youngblood toys, based on Youngblood being a cartoon on Fox in the 95-96 season. It was going to be a block. Youngblood/ CyberForce. Half-hour each. At the time, they were doing well with superhero cartoons. Marvel, wisely, at the last minute… made a deal with them that all their superhero cartoons would be exclusive with Marvel. Spider-Man and X-Men were your #1 rated cartoons, along with Power Rangers. [Marvel didn’t] want to let other people in. “If we have to compete with them on the newsstand, why should we welcome them to Fox?”
I got the call from Fox saying we just signed an exclusive deal to only do Marvel cartoons. Marc and I had to lick our wounds, because our cartoons weren’t happening. In the process, the Mattel deal caused [Todd to say], I’m going to match it. I signed with him.
He got angry with me and said that my bendy and shrinky dink toys were going to hurt his toys. That’s when I noticed the difference. Todd had become a toy guy. He was into “x” amount of dollars, and now you didn’t have a cartoon and there were three lines of figures. He was flipping out. He said, “We’re not doing a second series. We had the second sculpts, but he pulled the plugs.” I had no animosity. I had the Youngblood toys I wanted out of it.
[That’s] just a [sample] of what would go on over the years. It was a lot of co-mingling, eventually we got a divorce. It seems like everybody’s over it now.
To me, the people who want to take sides, say, “He grabbed me and took me out of my office and gave me this terrible lashing. Threw out on the streets and cars ran me over.” Nothing happened that wasn’t anticipated or facilitated by me. If I wanted to stay in Image, I was told by Larry Marder and Jim Valentino, jump on a plane, got to Todd and solve things with him. That wasn’t an option for me. Life’s moved on.
MDT: Did you come out worse for wear or better for that?
I used that to attract some interest from some investors and set up Awesome Entertainment. To me, right after that, we made some more connections in terms of licenses, movies and television stuff that are still running right now.
There’s a Comics Journal interview with Todd… The Comics Journal came out in the summer of 97… It was his open season on Rob. He said, “Rob is dead in Hollywood.”
I’m sitting there… I’ve got a signed deal with Will Smith, who’s the biggest star in Hollywood [at the time]. Men in Black was red hot that summer. We’re doing The Mark with him. Universal is paying me a million dollars for my screenplay. I just sold a movie about a giant robot called Krash to 20th Century Fox animation.
That summer was a great summer for me in terms of connecting and licensing deals and movie deals. But 4 weeks after he said, “Rob is dead in Hollywood” – which was a really stupid thing to say – I had two of the bigger deals/opportunities…
The reason I respect the entertainment industry as much as I do is that they connect with so many people. You look at the box office on any given weekend, people are going to the movie theaters or watching TV. I think any creator’s ultimate goal is to connect on that level.
I just feel like it was ignorant for Todd to say and was splashed across magazines that I was having more success than being dead would tend to imply.
He should know that the Mark toys might be made by McFarlane Toys and I may be the guy that says “No, we don’t go with McFarlane Toys. Let’s go with Mattel.” Our paths could cross again whether we like it or not.
I think that time that I separated from Image was a great time from me. I got a burden off my back. I got out of a competitive atmosphere.
Awesome was a breath of fresh air. It was a total different approach to the comics that I was publishing than the ones that I had for several months, which was to hire young talent and develop them in the studio.
Awesome said, let’s go for guys [like] Alan Moore. Hire Jeph Loeb. Let’s go out and get Chris Sprouse. Let’s get Jim Starlin, more established veterans. Let’s get Steve Skroce. Brandon Peterson.
I loved all the guys I had worked with at Extreme, but I felt that the industry was changing drastically. I needed to go outside of Image to be able to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with some of the talent they were working with. There was a kind of understanding that if Marc’s relationship is with inker X, you don’t call Inker X. Danny Miki was working for me and doing Spawn on the side. Faxing the pages in secret. Until one of the interns said, “Hey, what are you doing with Spawn?” He told me and I said, “That’s cool.” I wanted Danny to stay with us, but he ended up going full-time with Todd, which at the time was a relief. I had set a high page rate for Danny and I couldn’t afford it anymore. Todd could and now [he could] continue to work at a high level. I mean that in the best possible way. I didn’t resent losing Danny because I was not going to be able to afford him anymore. The economics were changing and my company was changing. It taught me the business of juggling. I don’t have to tell you, my lowest period was 94-95. Maximum Press reinvigorated me creatively. Got me out of superhero mode. I was thinking in more of a science fiction/fantasy mode. It helped me tremendously. The only reason to get away from Image, for reasons I already told you, was to make sure I had a place to land. I believe we all get typecast. When you’re typecast, you want to shake that off and be something else.
That’s another reason for performing Maximum Press. I believe that it set me on a course much more positive for my career. I would never have done it differently. It wasn’t like, “I’m gonna see you in Hell. You dirty bastards. Why’d you throw me out?” Oh my gosh, it was a burden lifted. I remember talking to Gareb Shamus, I said, “Hey, what’s gonna happen?” He said, you’re not protected anymore. People who didn’t come after you because they thought you were Todd McFaralne’s best bud are gonna come after you wholeheartedly. That actually happened.
MDT: Before we went into Awesome comics, I wanted to back up one space and talk bout Heroes Reborn. You’ve fleshed out quite a bit. The one thing that I’ve read a bunch of accounts on is what happened to you leaving that project. Can you talk what led to that?
RL: I’ll cop to what happened with that. I wasn’t forced out of Image. …I said, “Let’s be removed.” And they needed to say, “No, we voted you out.” I remember someone saying, “All the magazine covers saying, ‘Liefeld leaves.’ You won that battle!” It should have said, “Liefeld voted out.” I said, “My God, you guys are taking this far too seriously.”
With Marvel, I put out my own press release, saying I was fired. Fired. The reason I was fired was because they went into bankruptcy. I got that call Dec. 26, 1996 and the call was from Scott Sassa [at Marvel and] said, “Rob, we’ve entered into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy… I assure you it won’t affect your contract.”
I hung up the phone. Had some guests over, looked at my wife and said, “They’re going to completely boot me.” It was one of those, “We’re not going to do anything but you better brace yourself.”
Two weeks later, I got a later in the mail, saying, “Your contract due to bankruptcy has been terminated, but we would like to renegotiate your contract at a renegotiated rate.” They were citing low sales. Because in the comic book contract, anything under 300,000 – on Captain America – they could terminate me; they cited bankruptcy and low sales. I felt that the low sales was so hysterical and put it in the press release as to why I was fired.
It actually sold about 150,000 and the Heroes Reborn books were doing phenomenal. At one point, they said, “What do you think, they’re going to do a million each?” Jim and I said, “No, no, no, no. That’s not going to happen. You need to adjust. This isn’t 1992.”
From where those books were at – which in Captain America’s case was selling 28,000 copies before I relaunched, 45,000 on Fantastic Four – we all launched at over half a million on the first issues. $3.50 cover price. Marvel was making a sweet deal.
Behind the scenes, they wanted to renegotiate. The problem was, I had already made deals with colorists, my letterers, my inkers, my pencillers based on the money I was getting on the contract. The idea that I had to renegotiate with all of them – Marvel offered me 3/4 less than the deal they had offered me.
They said, “We really want you to continue, we just can no longer to pay you [what we did].” I said, “Y’know what, all these other guys are going to walk.” A couple of pencillers said, “We not going to take less than what you told me.”
My pride kicked in and I said, “I like the way these books look, Cap and the Avengers and I’m not going to put these lower echelon guys than what we have working on them because that’s going to make the whole project look like crap.”
Which is what they wanted. …If you recall, when Jim took over [Cap and the Avengers], he put a bunch of scrubs on the books and people rejected them and thought they were lesser quality products. As a result, Heroes Reborn completely soured and there was no desire by the fans to see anything but maybe Jim pencilling to continue. That was politically and financially motivated.
It’s important to see something happening when it’s happening. To recognize it for what it is.
Politically, these were the hottest potato comics in the business. Marvel literally despised them. I went there for a visit when the third issue of Cap and the Avengers were coming out, and I was treated terrible. The CEO and the president [congratulated me], but everybody else was cool and aloof.
One of the guys that was… Jim Krueger. Krueger was a really nice guy. he said, “You gotta understand, a lot of people really resent what’s happening with these books.”
Prior to Christmas, they were offering Jim and I four more books a piece. I was going to get the Defenders, Punisher and Doctor Strange and establish the creative team. Jim was going to get Marvel in Two-in-One, Silver Surfer book. They were going to expand us.
The guys who hired us were fired or left the bulding. Never figured out which. … But these new guys came in, talked a lot of trash about what we were doing. [T]hen they made the move. When they asked me to do it for less money, I said, “No thanks. I’m just going to concentrate on Awesome.”
I had a five-issue story on Cap. I wanted to get it out. Issue 6 was… a stand-alone issue… The fans can actually say they got the max on both of these stories. The Avengers [had] one issue and then Jim had to wrap it up. I was thinking, “I said my piece on Cap, we’ll stop it here and they can take it forward.” If I was in the middle of a story on Captain America, I would have left the fans hanging.
Regardless of what anybody says, I was having a really good time. Those books were fairly well received and I’ve signed umpteen thousand copies of them. Sales figures to this day haven’t been equaled on those books. Since 96, they’re like the best selling books since 1996.
[There were some] in Image that a.) wanted to be a part of it or b.) who viewed us as being traitors because we were damaging the Image brand. To what was good business to some Image owners was bad business to other Image owners. There was a real parting of the ways with Image there. Jim left a year after I did. Jim’s a better man for never wanting to talk about it. Loose lips hoolihan here with me and Todd, who give you the “he-said, she-said” stuff. Bottom line, everything wasn’t so rosy.
MDT: I was in San Diego last year, going by your booth, a lot of activity, a lot of people coming by, a few ashcans, a lot of plans being laid and previews of what’s to come. What happened between last summer and this summer?
RL: I hope you have several tapes.
Awesome last year had one preview book, no ashcans. Just a preview book for Century. It was weird. Last year’s San Diego was a real epiphany for me. I sat there and was in a position to view the Image section… We were in a pretty good section and I was watching different creators. I went by the Marvel booth, went by the DC booth. I’ve always gauged what’s possible in the market place by what’s doing the best.
I think the industry was in a more depressed state than it is this year, due to a lot of rah-rah and a lot of hype. I don’t know if the industry has a whole lot to get excited about right now, but there are elements trying to stir up this positive [attitude]. I looked at different Image books and creators… Books I knew had pretty good… Books that were selling better than Awesome books.
I saw very little interest by the public in all assortment of comic books. …You had the X-Men movie that had come out a week before and Brian Singer had a line of 500 people.
It was this weird realization. I had been hesitant about what I was going to do as a publishing plan, due to the domestic sales of the Awesome books. I’m not going to tell you that they were off the charts. Our foreign deals, which are very real and are what make people in this business …have a level of profitability on the balance sheet. Foreign sales and distribution of our books – our books meaning the industry’s books – can really make the difference. Awesome was doing OK, but not great.
Considering the bumps in the road we had had from when one of our investors had pulled out, we made the choice to go forward, using my own money, which I swore I would never do at that point and try and get a foothold.
I looked around I got depressed. All it was leading to was that things aren’t very good for the comics industry and for the first time, I acknowledged, “I don’t know if there’s hope of us being around. From the conventions – and I’ve done San Diego for the last16 years – and I followed Wizard a few weeks later and I got the same sense. It’s not just the lines, it’s not just the people, it’s just the general interest in publishing.
I saw a lot more people buying in the retail sections. I had friends who were retailers and [they were telling me] about people buying up toys and limited edition statues and spending more money on artwork.
San Diego…I’ve been going since 1982, was a comic book show. Now it’s what I would call a pop culture show.
That’s great for the business, but I decided that there’s a different method that could be taken. There were some different ideas I had for distribution and production of comic books. My level of frustration with distribution and printing of comic books was at an all-time high, with the printers and Diamond specifically.
I think Diamond works very hard to facilitate everyone, but unfortunately, the problem with Diamond is that there’s no competition. People say this all the time, but what incentive would one network have to produce good stuff if it were the only network and all you watched was ABC. No NBC, no CBS, no Fox. Competition breeds better performance. So I’m like one of those broken records.
There were so many people like Larry Marder who told me that comic books will become like poetry… Comics will be a cult kind of establishment. People will gather to read poetry in a reading in a library or a bookstore and in a small group. I said, “That’s not possible.”
All of these things started to cross my mind. I had two books going to press the next week – actually between San Diego and Wizard – and I pulled them. Two of them were brand new launches. One was a book called Century. The other was a book called Warchild. I said, no, no way. I’m not going to put one issue of these out because I want to do it differently.
I thought that plan that I had at the time I could enact it in 3-6 months. It’s going to end up being 14 months from when I decided to go down the path I’m on right now to fruition. It’s finding the right people, the right contacts. It’s about licensing, distribution. All sorts of stuff that people will call me a complete whack about. The stuff that I want to do will make me more despised than ever by my retailers. I’m sure the resistance will be great.
I’m at the point where we don’t need to have comics distributed and printed the way they are currently. I think I got a lot more excited… Like I said, I had an epiphany and said, “Wow, things can be different.”
It comes from a level of dissatisfaction. I see guys who are selling 50-80,00 copies of their books and nobody seems to care. It’s an overall lack of interest.
We all know you can stir a crowd at a convention. You can get chicks to wear bikini tops and hand out posters. You can twist the line to make it look bigger than it is. I’ve seen every trick in the book. Give out free books. All sorts of stuff. It looked to me that nothing was working at last year’s San Diego convention for anybody and ditto at Wizard.
I have some really good retail buddies who do every show in America. [They’ll] tell you interest is down, they’re selling less books for lower prices. There’s this idea that the industry is rebounding.
I don’t buy it yet. It’ll take more than a few spike marks and variant covers and special incentives – all of which I know too well because I employed them – to convince me that it’s turning around. It’s my money that’s invested.
So I decided last July that I can do something more positive with my money than this in a different form of distribution. That is what I have been comfortably spending my time doing. It was a relief. For years, I didn’t think I could take a step away from doing comics. I felt like I had to stay in the race to matter. Then it was like, you get the sense that, “I can take some time off.”
That’s where I’ve been for the last year. I had some commitments for Marvel I had to finish up for Bob Harras. Early last fall when Bob Harras was removed and Quesada was installed, I knew my time was over at that moment or very short. Really stopped doing any work for them. By October, I put all my efforts in to Awesome and its future in publishing. Also in different entertainment properties that we have out there. It takes up my day.
I really feel comfortable stepping away. I was always scared that if I stepped away, I couldn’t come back, but I have a completely different perspective on that.
It’s not that we didn’t have a good reaction and it’s not that we didn’t make money at the show. Everything was good. I remember telling my wife. I think I’m ready to try a different approach to this.
I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade, but what I saw was anything but a celebration of our business. I saw a dramatic lack of interest. It really came over me. It was a chill. You can either sit and rot away or you can say, “Hey, I’m not going down this way, I’m gonna try [something different].”
MDT: How did you come in contact with Alan Moore?
RL: I think the first thing he had done for us was this Violator/Badrock crossover. He was writing Violator for Todd and then we got a crossover with Violator. Figured if the Violator was done by Alan Moore, see if he’s up for stuff.
While he wrote it, he asked Eric Stephenson – who was editor at the time – to send him all of the books that we published. He called back and said he had a lot of ideas for Supreme and would we be interested in having him share them with us? Yes, yes, please. Alan Moore is asking us if he can do a superhero comic for us, do Supreme. Let’s go.
RL: No-brainer in the absolute definition of no-brainer. Yes. Whatever you want.
He attacked that comic book. We knew when the first scripts were coming in that this was going to be something amazing. From there, I called him up and said, “Look, I’m doing this new company – Awesome – and I want to do something big, kind of crossover that will kick off the company. I want to call it Judgment Day.”
He said, “I don’t know if I’m interested. Let think it over and I’ll call you back.”
He was very fascinated by the OJ trial. In Judgment Day, you had Sentinel – a black man – murdering a blond lady and then going to trial over it. It was apparent… Alan is very entertained by America, he gets a big kick out of us much more so than we are by ourselves.
So he said, if that’s what you want… I said, I’ll take it. Truly because it was so different. I WAS thinking big cosmic, world-shattering Judgment Day.
I don’t know if it was he or my editor who thought we could get different people to tell different time periods. But it opened a great door. We hired all sorts of different artists and became one of our highest selling books than anything that we experienced at the time. We felt like we were on good footing with the fans. We were a new entity and still had a lot to prove.
From there, Judgment Day concept, he said, I can redo your whole universe for you. Here’s something for Glory, here’s some for the Allies, Here’s something for the New Men, and here’s something for Youngblood. We bought ’em all. We had every intention of going through all of them.
And we did until the day the investor said, I’m taking all my money back. And that happened unexpectedly, but it was well within his right. He’s was obviously spooked by the market
…There’s not a lot of businesses where you can put $5 million dollars and make that money back within 8 months. The investor said, I’m out and that’s when I decided to get back into it. We would have published all of Alan’s stuff and more. We had a great relationship with Alan based on the going number of titles we were doing with him.
But the one day when we lost that one deal, the door was open for Wildstorm to wisely step in and say, Hey, come on over here and do the same thing you were dong and we’ll give you a piece of it.
That was the story. That’s where Alan went. We still have so much stuff that he wrote for us that we didn’t publish. He was turning out a script a week it seemed. It would be a Glory script, then a Supreme script, then a Youngblood script, and again and again. I think he continued the same pace over a Wildstorm.
I know that he has given us his blessing to go forward. We treat him with the right amount of respect. He’s more invested in ABC now and I would like to think that’s there nothing really that would prevent us from doing it further. He’s been in contact with us in a positive way.
There was a hoax around Christmas that we had licensed all of his stuff to Marvel. It irritated everyone. It irritated Alan, it irritated me. That was proven to be a story that was the equivalent of an April fools day vacation.
I came home from Christmas vacation and I had 100 messages from different people. I had Alan Moore reacting to us selling all of our licenses to Marvel and condemning Marvel at the same time. It was a big rigmarole that got diffused pretty fast, but other than that… the relationship with him remains. I think he felt respected and compensated handsomely.
A script a week is a lot and he can only do so much. If he’s running ABC, he doesn’t have a lot else to do.
MDT: How many scripts do you have left that are unpublished by him?
RL: Let’s see… 4 more Youngbloods, 4 more Glory, 4 more of Warchild (each issue was 48 pages), 3 more Supremes. About15.
The Warchilds are substantially fatter. I’d said, 15 at least. It’s nice material and then we have 3 issues of Kurt Busiek’s Youngblood. We have 2 issues of a title called Celestine.
I feel confident that the stuff I have in the drawer will only appreciate in value in terms of all these guys are more desirable or have more of a voice than they did a few years back. Again, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to take a time out before I send all of this stuff into this insanity, which was the comics industry. You got the printer taking a large chunk. Diamond’s taking their chunk and you’re not getting as much market penetration as you should. Before I put any of it out there, I wanted to rethink the strategy.
MDT: Do you still talk to Jeph Loeb?
RL: All the time.
MDT: He’s more than just a business associate…
RL: One of my closest friends.
MDT: Is he ready to go when you gear back up again?
RL: I don’t want to speak on behalf of Jeph, but I’m going to speak as if Jeph’s right here saying this… “If I’m not having a hand in ‘Little Monsters’ (which is a show that he produces and writes for PBS & Nelvana) and there’s a break from my Marvel and DC work…”
Jeph’s a guy like Alan Moore, he can do “X” amount of work. When the right time comes, I believe that Jeph would be on-board for continuing. He told me, he got the buzz from Awesome.
There’s Jeph Loeb, pre-Awesome and Jeph Loeb, post-Awesome. Jeph Loeb, pre-Awesome, was a screenwriter who was making it with some success at Marvel and DC but wasn’t quite satisfied with the way he was interacting with the comics medium. By that, I mean that he’s smart and very curious and wants to know as much as possible on anything…given the time.
There’s things that you don’t worry yourself with. It’s not necessarily information that you’re not privy to. It’s just, if I answer your question, then I have to answer everybody’s questions about printing and royalties and distribution and all that stuff. Jeph got to know all about the business from Awesome, dealing with the printer and Diamond. He was the guy who was just writing comic books and suddenly he’s doing all sorts of different meetings with printers and retailers and distributors.
He had different hats to wear as a publisher. At the time, he was interacting with the talent. Before he was only interacting with the guys who were drawing or inking only his books. It opened his world up. Some of the people who worked for us at Awesome have moved onto other books. I’m talking about pencillers and inkers and colorists. We still have those relationships.
|(L-R) Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale|
I think Jeph was hungry to do something more than what he’s doing now. He’s now a critically acclaimed writer on his books. He’s got some powerful relationships with some, most notably Tim Sale. I want to get a Loeb/Sale project. And I know that if the window of opportunity is right and – since they’re “A” list creators – if the compensation is right, anything’s possible.
I think Jeph got a taste for it and would definitely [work for me again] if the circumstances were correct… I look forward to making that happen. Those few years were a blast. It was the funnest time in the business. We had a gas.
MDT: What happened to the rights to Coven and Avengylene? I see that they’re being published by Avatar.
RL: I licensed on a non-exclusive basis those characters to Avatar.
MDT: So somebody could pick those up if they wanted?
RL: As long as they call me, sure. We’ve had different offers from different people to do different books. Avatar came with an aggressive plan for both. I figured they’re the ones that want these books. I hear from them daily through email, through the mail that we get.
The guy has the right passion and the right network to do it. The guy has the desire. Most of it’s desire. It’s great. It keeps the properties out there, when otherwise, they wouldn’t be published.
Even if Awesome was running at full steam right now as I envision it, there wouldn’t necessarily be a Coven book.
Part of that plan was to create a vast catalog of characters, a universe. For all sorts of different purposes. Some would be better for cartoons, some for video games, some for television, action figures, movies. During this entire year I’ve been off, new work has been commissioned from different creators.
MDT: Any names you can tell us?
RL: There’s two I’d love to tell you, but I can’t. It’s one of those goofy things. I can’t mention it at the time. But certainly some of those Alan Moore scripts, the Kurt Busiek stuff have been illustrated, continue to be illustrated. Have come up with new projects that continue to be commissioned. New books have been written and drawn.
MDT: When did you give the go-ahead for licensing out the Alan Moore Glory scripts to Avatar? Are these the same ones we were talking about earlier?
RL: Yes, these are the same scripts we spoke of. Avatar has been pursuing this stuff for 2 years and we started negotiations in the winter of this year. They will be the paper publishers of this work, I’ll be offering it in other mediums.
MDT: Were there any changes to Alan’s original scripts or are they being published as written? Did Alan give his blessing for licensing out to Avatar?
RL: Absolutely no changes on the scripts. Yes, Alan is aware and is supportive and has provided new contributions.
MDT: When can we expect to see them on comic shelves?
RL: I believe they will be out in November.
MDT: Who’s doing the art?
RL: Art is by myself and a former assistant of mine, Marat Mychaels.
MDT: What’s up with the project with Will Smith? Where is that at this point?
RL: Y’know what, due to the fact that I’m being sued on that – someone’s trying to take claim for it- I’m not going to reveal with it other than that it’s very active in different format. I wish I could, but that information would probably be used against me and I’m not going to say anymore about it, [other than that] I have a great relationship with Will’s company and Will is continuing forward. That’s where I’ll end that.
MDT: You’ve taken the time off from publishing. Behind the scenes, things are still happening. When are we going to see any of the new books?
RL: Fall. Whether it’s September or October, not sure, but it will be this fall. It was going to be spring, but we missed that window and I didn’t want to be in Summer.
People go on vacation and go to the biggest blockbusters Hollywood makes. I know summer’s supposed to be the time where comics traditionally have found a bigger audience, but I wanted to find a better competitive window to launch our stuff. We pushed it back. It’s better than rushing it out.
That was the way I used to do it. Gotta get it out, gotta get it out. And it’s a completely different a take when you step back and say, “That’s not going to hurt me. I should have done this years ago.” That’s the method I’m using now. So watch for stuff in the fall.
MDT: What books are you going to be rolling out?
RL: So, some I’ve already mentioned. Youngblood: Year One…
MDT: About the Youngblood book… is that the Genesis book, written by Kurt Busiek?
RL: You’re right, we were going to call it Youngblood: Genesis. I keep referring to it as Youngblood: Year One, but it will be called Youngblood: Genesis.
MDT: There were some ruffled feathers with Kurt Busiek about that project when it was solicited and wondered if those had been smoothed over since then?
RL: I don’t speak to Kurt and I don’t have any reason other than catching a couple of messages across message boards.
We paid for the stories and I’m looking at the plots on my desk. Each one is 30 pages long. Detailed. Whether he will script the series or we’ll employ another method he’s been involved in, like the Defenders, where he does mostly plots, that’ll be something we’ll come to.
The 30 pages of the first issues, the artist followed exactly what was [written]. I don’t even have to put word balloons on the pictures. You can tell exactly what’s going on. Kurt’s a great storyteller. He’ll be contacted once again by me, but I want to send him the book completed and ask him where he wants to go from there.
Kurt and I are both in agreement. I commissioned 3 issues from him. Three 30-page comics. I got three 30-page comics that he wrote. I thought they were brilliant at the time. Whether he will write other than what’s already in the plots, is up to him. I would hope that he would want to do it and me obviously me wanting to show him the best possible presentation of what he wrote is part of me holding back and showing him something that he goes, “Wow, this is really cool. I remember how much I liked this.”
When he got this assignment, he had the big jones for it. It was right coming off Marvels and he came to the office several times. We met and there was a lot of discussion. I’m telling you, this is a great story that will [attract] somebody who has never read a comic before. Political intrigue. It’s a great thriller of a movie that happens to have superheroes in it. It’s great stuff.
Obviously, I hope he’s more of a part of it, too. If there’s ruffled feathers, Kurt would have to tell you why.
MDT: You’ve got Youngblood: Genesis. What was the other book?
RL: We’ve got a book called Century. It’s three issues, written by Eric Stephenson, illustrated by Keron Grant, who is drawing Iron Man now. I don’t want to give away too much. It deals with the past, present and future of Youngblood, Prophet and Glory. I think it’s great. I think people will enjoy it.
Also, a Warchild comic. Not the Alan Moore scripts.
There were three issues of the Mark, which will be called the Mark of Power, due to the fact that Dark Horse had a book called the Mark, written by Tom and Mary Bierbaum in 95. Those have been illustrated. Because they predate anything, they’ll be up and running.
There’s a brand-new stand alone Avengylene comic. There’s a new project I’ve been drawing called the Assembled. I don’t want to say anything about it. I’ve been drawing it all year.
There’s a Re-Gex comic I drew early in the year. I may realize it as its own series. We literally have hundreds of pages and that’s just scratching the surface.
MDT: So Alan Moore’s stuff will be published soon as well?
RL: All of the Alan Moore stuff will be published within the year. I know that there was a big deal of interest in that.
There’s 200 new concepts that I’d love to give you. I don’t want to because you run the risk of somebody thinking they’re cool and beating you to the punch.
One of them, I had never heard of it being done. I called one of my buddies and said, “Have I ever done something like this?” And I truly believed, there’s never been anything like this in terms of a character.
I’ve tried to sit down and think, what isn’t out there? We’re coming into Youngblood’s 10-year anniversary. These books changed the comic book world. There’s no reason to think that we haven’t been putting a lot of effort into keeping them fresh.
MDT: The project you’re working on right now, it’s all you on the pencils?
RL: The one I want to pencil. I wouldn’t pencil it if I didn’t want to. I love drawing comics. There’s so much more to take you away form the board than when I was 21 or 23 years old. I’m raising a family. My life is so much different.
I’m spending a lot more time developing these projects. There is that rap that I have too many things spinning at any given time. I’ve heard that my whole life, my whole career in comics. Part of my slowing down has been to focus on different properties and giving them more of my time in developing them.
All the movies, all the properties we have in different stages of development and production, some of which you’ll be reading soon. It’s like in the summer of 97 when I went under and did my business and produced a lot for us.
By the end of the summer, we’ll have some other great success. Two of the other properties have stars attached to them with screenplays that I’m involved in – one of which I rewrote, one I gave brand new…
Due to the Hollywood strike, everything’s slowed down, but now it’s up and running again. July is going to be a very busy month, a lot of meetings.
For the first time, I won’t be attending any comic book convention. I was like, Wow. I could never conceive not attending Chicago or San Diego.
Combination of too busy and completely needing a break. I’m still second guessing my decisions every day. “Are you sure? Are you sure?” It’s the voice in my head. “How can you not go?” It’s ritual, but July’s really busy and part of August, too.
Now, as I’ve matured, I’ve learned the benefit of being quiet.
MDT: Like learning to stand still…
RL: Yeah, not running like a crazy chicken with your head cut off. I tried that when I was younger. I fed off of a studio full of young guys. I would live at the studio 20 hours a day.
Ask my wife. She came to live with me at the studio. She’s a better person for putting up with me, I’m sure. I’m a better person for marrying her. She’s definitely not a better person for putting up with an insane schedule.
The last couple of years, it’s totally changed. Your personal life becomes more prevalent than your business.
I haven’t had anything on the stands in the last year. I’ve never gone a year [without stuff on the stand]. The most was for 8 or 9 months when I technically retired myself. There’s a comfortability in… my phone [not ringing]. I’m a little off the hook. I’ve just been doing my thing and taking care of my business.
When I first started at Image, I unexpectedly got an agent in Hollywood. I like Movies. I’m not impressed by Hollywood. I just like movies, like I love comics.
I was at the Anaheim, Disneyland hotel. 1980, Chris Claremont was at a panel in a small sweaty room with no air conditioning. Had my Claremont, John Byrne book sealed up in the plastic. I was ready to hit Claremont first thing when he got done with the panel.
And he made the announcement that the X-Men had been optioned for a movie and it was probably going to be the Dark Phoenix saga.
I flipped my lid. I told my friends, there’s going to be an X-Men movie. Alright, Dude!
It was 20 years for that movie to find its way to the silver screen. Longer for Spider-Man now.
The bottom line is, it takes a long time for the right stuff to get up on screen. It’s like when [Roger] Corman made the Fantastic Four film and the Captain America films, Marvel purchased them so as to not reach the theaters because of the damage they would have done. We know they would have done damage.
There’s a lot of discussion when a project’s not ready. I had the slot that WildC.A.T.S. got on CBS. They had given Youngblood the pick-up. I had dismissed it because the lady who was running the children’s network had different ideas of what the show should be and decided to tell me about 10 minutes before I signed. It freaked me out and everyone yelled at me, “What do you mean? You can’t do this.”
A year later, I found Fox. Then that didn’t go the way it was supposed to go.
I was criticized by people. “You worked so hard. You spent hundreds of dollars developing your own animation for this and you pulled the plug.” I said, “Yeah, this is going to suck. I’d rather not put this on if it’s going to be terrible.”
But I wanted to tell you is that once I got an agent, he sat me down and said, “Look, you can be George Lucas or you can be Steven Spielberg.” At the time, I said, “They’re both great. They’re two of the greatest directors of all time. What do you mean?” He wasn’t speaking of them as directors. He was speaking of them in the business sense.
He said, “George Lucas uses all of his own money. Works outside the system. Loathes the system. He has to keep Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) open 24 hours a day to do special effects for other people in order to finance all of his dreams.” He has a couple of bombs, some terrible Broadway movie he did, some of the stuff he was citing. But he’s going to end up doing these Star Wars movies to get everything up and running and keep the future he set up. Lucas kicks ass. I still believe it. He’s the most admired guy from a certain standpoint.
Then he said, “Or you can be Steven Spielberg who uses everybody else’s money, who will not invest his own dime on any of his projects. Who makes everyone else foot the bill. He’s never personally putting himself out there in a big way. He’s not leveraging himself.”
I think during my career, I’ve tried to subscribe to both guys at different points in time. They’re not just my idols. They’re everybody’s idols. These guys are complete icons.
But once upon a time, they were punk filmmakers. They wanted to make their name in the world. A lot of the time, I’ve thought that Todd McFarlane is a guy like George Lucas. He will reap the benefits and the risks of being that kind of entrepreneur.
I’m not Spielberg, I’m not Lucas. I haven’t found out who I am yet.
I’m 32 years old. The thing about all of these other Image guys, they’re all above 40 now. OK, maybe Jim Lee’s 39. They were all much older than me when we started at Image. I bring up age because I think it matters.
MDT: Like if you had been 10 years older when Image started, it might be a different scenario…
RL: Oh my gosh, completely different. The reason I brought the Spielberg/Lucas thing up was not to compare myself to either. This is how Hollywood views these two guys who were buddies with completely different approaches. Since then, Spielberg has put some money into Dreamworks, but he’s working with far more investors capital than his own. Lucas owns ILM lock stock and barrel. The reason I cite them is… is that there’s two styles of doing business.
Todd talks about him creating his one thing. I tell you absolutely why Youngblood was followed by Brigade was followed by Supreme was followed by Bloodstrike, was to get as much of my creations and my name and my designs out to the widest possible audience at…but now, I have a vast catalog that features science fiction, supernatural, standard superhero fare and fantasy stuff. I have a giant treasure trove. That has been a benefit to me in the last 10 years.
When all you got is one thing and that one thing grows cold, you have to create something else. I’ve heard Todd’s diatribe about Mickey Mouse till I’m blue in the face. It’s not a new diatribe. He pulls it out all the time. You need to know that I have a lot of respect and love Todd McFarlane. I think what’s he has done is fantastic.
I view him now more as a maker of plastic now than as anything. Makers of plastic are fantastically wealthy, successful people. He’s got a real business and fulfills a need.
What I do is very deliberate. I make missteps like anybody else. I set in motion something that I hope to exploit – in the best possible terms – over many years to come.
Marvel – based on the success of X-Men – has found great interest and success in everything they’re doing. That’s definitely a model.
It’s like the Disney model. There’s a model of how to promote their characters and what part of the movie and the animated character goes into the them parks. And now stage shows. And direct to video. They have a universe they’ve built and a catalog. You have to start somewhere.
From when I started ten years ago to now, I have a catalog. It’s a different style than what Todd has. I’m not going to get into which ones valid than the other. I don’t think you can draw that conclusion.
I’m just saying that it’s not an accident. It’s deliberate. I’ve heard the criticism. I’ve chosen to do my career my way. If it works out at the end of the day, I’ll thank everybody who helped me along the way. It’s not something you can do by yourself. If I fail, I get all the blame. I’ll take all the blame. That’s how that works. But it’s definitely deliberate. When I contacted your editor following the interview, it was a really to point out there was another way to look at this. It’s definitely not, “Hey, Look how successful Rob is….”
Some creators choose to take one road. I’m choosing to take another. It may take me longer. It may bear less fruit overall. But I’m a young guy. I learned a valuable lesson in my 20s.
Image Comics was the best college I could have gone to. I didn’t go to college. I went from high school straight to drawing comic books. Image Comics school of business was extremely valuable and eye-opening to me. It has made me better in everything that I do now. I look at it – as I know it was – as a rule of confidence to step away from the industry for the last year and a half, when all’s said and done. I didn’t have the guts to do it before. I was addicted to the machine and to that system. Stepping outside of it has been the best thing for me.
I don’t mean to give you a similar diatribe than what you’ve been given. That’s just my perspective. I don’t know if the Spielberg/Lucas thing put it in perspective. I’ve always seen Todd approach it differently. Jim Lee approaches it differently. The way we’ll always be united is what we did with Image.
Sorry I’m killing your afternoon.
MDT: That’s OK. The one thing I’ve noticed is – with anybody, not just comic book people – once you have kids, it opens your eyes to things that you didn’t before. You see it a little differently. We’ve talked about how you might have thinned yourself and run at 100 mph all the time. Has having your child overlapped into the way you run your business, in that you’re being more patient, more nurturing in general.
RL: Without a doubt, 100 percent. It starts with the 9-month pregnancy, which is – God bless Him – why he gives us the time to get prepared for the little alien to come visit us. Then from the day one, unless you’re some weird mutant freak, the kid has to change you.
I’ll share it with everybody, people who are about to have kids, it’s about to change your life. It’s changed mine. I was hyper when I got into the comics industry. I got married in 1995 and I had my baby boy in May of 2000. It’s been a great process.
Unless you’re a complete idiot or freak, it would have to change your life and make you re-prioritize. I would say that you get your satisfaction out of different things. You have to slow down.
That’s why I totally agree with your Todd interview, when he says, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t, work or not. It doesn’t matter.
For me, my family has to come first. I would absolutely have to say that it has changed me in the most positive of ways. That said, I wouldn’t go back and do anything different.
The only thing is I might have taken the deal that Acclaim offered me before they gave it to Valiant. That’s maybe one thing I might have done differently. I like how my life has turned out, so I can’t really say that there’s anything I would change, because it’s all kind of made the life that I have had fall together at this point.
Jack Kirby was 44 years old when the Fantastic Four came out. Ridley Scott was 44 years old when he directed his first movie. Most people don’t realize that. That guy who was waiting for his Academy Award this year that didn’t come was 64 plus years old.
There’s a tendency to peg young guys early on. Look at another guy, Joe Madueiera, who was like me, got into comics at 17, 18 years old. Young guy. There’s no way I’d decide where this guy is going to go. Very young, very talented. Who knows what the future holds for him, especially with all the opportunities and the changing technologies.
[WRITER’S NOTE: I don’t like to insert myself more than just the questions in the interview. The most I get is the introduction which is opinionated, to say the least. At this juncture, our interview was – for all intents and purposes – over. Rob had called wanting to respond to some of things that I presented in my Todd McFarlane interview. I wanted to make sure we covered all the bases with that. And Rob wanted to keep talking and I indulged him on this lazy Sunday afternoon. It includes more of me than I would like, but I include it because I feel that it elicited some interesting things from Rob other than just about what Rob was doing. Hope it piques your interest also.]
MDT: Rob, do you feel like we got everything out of the way in this interview?
RL: To be honest, I was kind of hesitant. I like talking to anybody, we didn’t have to do an interview. I didn’t feel like I had to respond to anything in the interview other than what I said…
I took exception to [some things in the interview]… I could have not responded to it. But I get accused of walking away all the time from conflict, where I used to just love it.
In comic books, I always felt like it was always very skewed. I mean this in the most respectful way, but it was skewed in a way that can only relate to me. I guess there were things that I would roll my eyes and look forward, but I also realize that I’ve been gone for a year – at least a year – and I’m not coming back any time soon.
I really am not at liberty to talk about a lot of the stuff until formal announcements are made about things. In some ways, it’s a little premature. I really liked your Todd interview on some level. He really didn’t have anything new to share, but it was the best interview I’ve read with him in a long time. He’s so less hostile.
MDT: I’m not trying to pat my own back, but I felt that way, too. I felt like he was a lot different than I had read in past interviews.
RL: He has so many interesting things to say when he’s not so angry. In those other interviews, I think he was very angry. Now I think he’s mellowed and found his center. That’s definitely how the interview came out.
I never visited [CBR] before, but someone said, check this out. That’s why I went there and looked through there. First to read the interview and second, I think there should be something to be looked at a different way. My interviews never read the way I think I’m talking. Certain interviewers butcher me. I do a lot of “uh…” and lots of weird pauses. I have early onset of Alzheimer’s.
MDT: I really appreciate you doing the interview. I think we went through a lot of stuff that people wonder about and especially about stuff coming up.
RL: Yeah, I mean, I’m still here. We got a small staff working hard. You have another job besides working for CBR?
MDT: I have a regular bread and butter job, 9-5 and doing the CBR stuff is for the love of the medium and a little bit of extra cash.
RL: How long have you been reading comics?
MDT: The first one I remember reading was X-Men #123, if that gives you a time frame.
RL: Mid 80s.
MDT: About 80.
RL: There’s been so many X-Men books, I’m sorry.
MDT: It’s been about 1980, 79-80.
RL: So you cover the industry now, huh? I hate to be the depressed guy about the industry. What are your thoughts about where it’s headed?
MDT: Me? For about the past three years, they’ve been about the most dismal I remember. The easiest way for me to gauge it is when I would walk in a store and am I giddy about what I’m about to buy? And probably about every 4 years, there’s a cycle of that. There’s new blood. Somebody figures out something that needs to be done. I get excited. I think Quesada has figured out some of that. I think we’re on the verge of coming back.
I think we’re on the right direction. It just has to be maintained. The problem is, nobody really maintains it. They get into a bright spot and they just think, well, we don’t have to do this anymore.
RL: I agree with you 100%. The success is mostly coming to Marvel. Certain books they’re making moves on right now. Upper echelon titles. As I understand it, from my friends at Diamond… My friends at Diamond? My retail buddies… I mean the numbers at the top are coming at the expense of the bottom of the line. Retailers get 10 more copies of Spider-Man…
MDT: They’re dropping 10 copies of something else.
RL: Or cutting it from the Defenders or Thunderbolts.
Something we found out at Image was for several years – and I don’t know if the cycle broke – Wildstorm, TMP, Extreme and Top Cow all had pretty much the same amount of money spent on their family books. The retailer had “X” amount of dollars set aside for Wildstorm books. Jim could do 10 or 15 or 20. That number for the retailer didn’t change. Retailers have this way of thinking. It’s only if they’re going to cut their Superman load to buy more Spider-Man. They definitely have patterns that Diamond could show you. That they put so much aside for Marvel and DC, so much for independents.
I think the dollars have grown for Marvel and DC again. Truth be told, everyone’s scared financially. They’re the most stable.
A buddy of mine Quesada hired asked me, who’s going to feel it the most? I said, without a doubt, Image, specifically Top Cow. They were getting some writers and artists who they were paying a sum of money to and they seem to have a very stable and independent level.
But honestly, guys like Jeph Loeb would rather get paid a ton of dollars – the best possible deal for a writer, same amount from each company – on the table from Marvel, DC, and Top Cow. You get to do Batman here, Spider-Man here or the Darkness here. It’s going to come down to Batman or Spider-Man. Not the Darkness. As Quesada has given more lucrative deals to the few people who were on the bid for Top Cow, which would be like Grant Morrison and different artists, they go, “Oh, crap, I can do my favorite comic book guys and get paid the money? I don’t have to do this for the money and this for the love? I can combine it!”
Nobody wants to talk about. It’s not actually such a bad thing. Because somebody found a way to combine it in Quesada. By getting creators who want to do corporate works and compensating them for what they feel they want to be compensated.
The independent market is definitely drying up. Bendis can go do his own thing, like Powers, which is his love, but maybe he’s got three other books he wants to do [on his own]. But he’s getting thrown the crazy money to do Elektra and to do Team Up and Spider-Man and five other titles.
People were financially destitute a year ago. They’re going now, “I can pay my bills and have a little more luxury in my life because I can afford it because Marvel’s really hooking me up.” That’s the most plain way I can put it. Again, a couple of these writers I talk to, that is what it’s based on.
Being a publisher for ten years, watching the cycle and watching what motivates creators. The politically correct thing to say is “love for the characters.” The truth is the bucks. 99.9% of them. The Grant Morrisons and the Mark Millars who are getting the juice off of the top books right now will take that juice… I don’t know you and I’m just gossiping right now. But check back in a year. Did these guys stay or did they take the juice and launch their independent books?
“I’m on this for “X” amount of dollars and an “X” amount of exposure. I’ll do Grant Morrison’s X-Men.” It’ll do greater exposure for guys like Joe Casey. The question will be, can Marvel keep them there and facilitate that at the same time. “You want to do creator-owned stuff? Here we’ll create an Image Comics within Marvel comics.” Or are they going to say, “No, see you later because I need complete ownership. I want the movie deal.” As crappy and as trite as that sounds that’s very prevalent. These guys, everybody wants the largest possible audience. That’s the trade-off.
Sorry I’ve taken up your time. As a guy who covers comic books as a beat, I was just curious.