When writer Bruce Jones was pegged to pen “The Incredible Hulk,” not many people raised an eyebrow or gave it much attention. For long Peter David has been considered the writer for the Hulk and even the excellent work from Paul Jenkins was not able to grab a new set of fans who found post-David work unsatisfying. Moreover, it seemed as though the Hulk was still considered the “jade jobber,” whose only job was to smash things, in the eyes of comic fans and getting people to care about him, as opposed to icons like the X-Men or Spiderman, seemed an incredibly Herculean challenge.
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Then “Incredible Hulk #34” shipped.
Early reviews had singled out the issue as an imaginative and relevant mini-relaunch of sorts for the character, stripping away the baggage and providing readers with a strong psychological tale. One by one, fans bought the issue and were thoroughly impressed to the point that the issue is now virtually unavailable in comic stores. It was even recently reprinted in the “Mighty Marvel Musthaves #2” collection that shipped last week and has caused orders to rise for subsequent “Incredible Hulk” issues. In addition to the work with the Hulk, Jones just recently completed a Spiderman-related story in the “Tangled Web” series and it has also been garnering acclaim, thrusting this somewhat unknown (to many comic fans) writer into the spotlight. Bruce Jones recently took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk about his career and the comic book series that is helping him reach a lot of new fans.
Unbeknownst to most, Jones isn’t a total newcomer to the comic industry and has some experience in the past. “I began writing and drawing comics in the 70’s with some short pieces for DC and Marvel under Archie Goodwin and Roy Thomas,” says Jones of his early writing career. “I lived in Queens in those days and spent some time in a little apartment across the river in New Jersey. It was rough in the beginning because my background was science fiction and mystery and a very traditional style superhero ruled then. The climate was what you might term confining. I moved back to the Midwest to look for advertising work and ended up doing more comics instead– Marvel’s black and white magazines, especially the science fiction books because I loved to draw alien planets and I’d read a lot of sci-fi as a kid. Eventually I was offered ‘Red Sonja’ to write by Roy Thomas, my first regular comic job. I began writing steadily for the Warren books–Creepy and Eerie, etc–when Louise Jones took the helm up there. I still believe black and white comics have tremendous potential, and the oversized magazine format is a great showcase for the art. There’s also more room for lots of text, which I was into at the time. I was lucky to have Rich Corben, Russ Heath, and Berni Wrightson working at the same time. When Louise moved to Marvel she brought me along and I began regular work as writer on ‘Ka-Zar’ and ‘Conan.’ That was fundamentally the end of my art career; I wasn’t fast enough to do both, and I enjoyed the thought process of writing which allows you to get out of the house and walk around while working. At that time the independent comics boom was in its infancy and I got a call from Steve Schanes at Pacific Comics offering me just about carte blanche on my own line of books, and the opportunity to move to sunny California. It was too much to resist. I did ‘Twisted Tales’ ‘Alien Worlds, ‘Somerset Holmes,’ etc. for Pacific. A producer contacted me about making Somerset into a movie and that got me into the writer’s guild and led to film and TV work. I still wrote and drew the occasional comics job for Marvel or Dark Horse, but I began working for HBO and the networks and writing novels for Doubleday and Dutton, etc. about that time and just fell away from comics for awhile. When Axel Alonzo began editing a series of anthology books at DC Vertigo he called and we did several short pieces together. Working with Corben and Wrightson again got me nostalgic for comics. Axel moved over to Marvel and invited me to do some Spider-Man work and to consider taking over the regular writing chores for ‘The Hulk.’ I guess that brings us pretty much up to date.”
With such a diverse writing resumé, it isn’t hard to see why Jones’ style of writing feels so fresh and vibrant: he simply knows how to appeal to readers. While he cites his work outside of comics as particularly influential in the creation of his current writing style, he is quick to explain how he has been affected. “Sure, but to a lesser or greater extent that’s probably true of every writer,” says Jones when asked about the influences from writing outside of comics. “We all bring our individual voices to the table, gleaned from our own distinctive take as we move through life’s passages. I believe writing, like acting, is largely about observing. Looking and listening is really more important than the depth of your vocabulary or how fascicle you are with words.” But the enthusiasm that so strongly permeates his comic writing also stems from positive childhood experiences with comics and a true love for the medium itself.
“When I was a kid there were thousands of comics at the stands and drugstores and everybody was reading them,” explains Jones. “I just naturally gravitated toward the form. I think every medium offers its own kind of challenge, but comics are as uniquely American as jazz. It’s the easiest thing to do badly and maybe the hardest to do right–this strange hybrid of words and pictures–or sometimes no words at all–and a sequential style of story that’s both frustrating in its limitations and exhilarating in its potential. Comics evolved into their own language almost more than any of the other form of communication in my view. You often have to stretch to “get” the best ones, which is as it should be. The problem is, it can alienate new readers, and so you’re always walking this fine line between creative freedom and accessibility. Like movies, it’s collaborative, and some would argue it should be called an art at all, though I would challenge this. Maybe it’s true that the novel or painting have a ‘purer” vision of authorship. But purer doesn’t always mean better.” Jones also cites some of the industry’s most well known creators as his inspirations and major influences. “As a child I loved Joe Kubert’s work on ‘Tor.’ I was a huge Carl Barks fan, who wasn’t? Later I began aping the styles of Frazetta, Williamson and especially Hal Foster. I had this callow notion I could follow in their footsteps. The brevity of youth.”
And as with many writers, Jones finds himself very influenced by the world around him and integrates, no matter how subtly, these aspects of his life into his work. “Everything I see and hear influences my work,” says the candid Jones. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit television has been a major contributor; I’m as much a junkie as anyone else–we all are, why fight it? It’s probably the single most important invention of the twentieth century, certainly the most influential. I was a big fan of ‘thirtysomething’ and I religiously follow ‘Once And Again.’ I’m sure elements of those and other shows leech into my writing. I can’t think of a particular occasion when one TV show, movie or book actually inspired something I did, but in a way, they all do. Writers and artists absorb like everyone else. We only differ in this peculiar ability to screen this stuff, extrapolate on it and communicate it to paper. It’s not the exposure, but the individual way it’s assimilated that’s important.”
As was previously mentioned, Jones is raising a lot of eyes with his work on the “Incredible Hulk” and the writer is quite humble about the amount of success that he has achieved when he is only two issues into his run on the series. Heck, the guy is so humble that he won’t even hype up his work like many people would love to do at a juncture like this. “I don’t know why people ‘should’ look at my take on the Hulk,” says Jones of reasons to read his work and adds, “I only hope they will. Axel [Alonso] and John [Romita Jr] and I–and everyone else involved (its a collaborative medium)–worked hard to be at once faithful to existing readers while bringing our own brand to the legend. We never conceived we’d please everyone and never attempted to, which is why it’s a delight to be greeted with general approval. I can only speak for myself; I take each issue seriously, myself not seriously at all–a cliché, but aren’t we all? If our Hulk’s a fun read maybe it’s because we have fun doing it. Or maybe it’s an ethereal creature.” But arriving at the helm of this series was a result of connections made during his long career in comic books and a call from an old friend.
“As mentioned, Axel and I had worked previously when he was with DC; when he moved to Marvel he contacted me about doing some work, including penning The Hulk. I told him I hadn’t read it in awhile; he said, don’t worry about it, we’re looking for a new approach,” explains Jones of his eventual arrival to the “Incredible Hulk.” “In an industry that tends to pigeonhole and stereotype, Axel took a chance on someone who–for better or worse–was best known as a horror story and crime novelist. I tended to view me as simply a writer– character-driven, perhaps slightly darker than some, but fundamentally a writer, hopefully not a complete stranger to flexibility and challenge. Fortunately Axel seemed to concur.”
While the combination of working in the revitalized creative setting of Marvel with Alonso was an already tempting offer, Jones admits that he does have a fondness for the Hulk that existed before he started writing the character’s series. Fans of Jones’ work on the “Incredible Hulk” will probably not be surprised that his love for the title character has strong psychological overtones. “I was always intrigued by the duality in the Banner-Hulk relationship, something that was an obvious (to me at least) metaphor for the dark beast lurking in all of us,” reveals Jones. “Outlandish as the concept may seem at first blush, there’s something fundamentally human about the premise, more layered I think than even Stan Lee initially conceived. It’s unique in comic annuls. The Clark Kent-Superman cache has a long history of derivative children, many of which work wonderfully in themselves, but Banner shares an organic transition with Hulk that is more Robert Louis Stevenson than Captain Marvel, more Freudian than four color. It appealed to me from the get-go. The fugitive motif we’re currently exploring is really just a natural extension of the same running battle existing between these two disparate entities from the beginning–which is to say they are not, in a basic sense, disparate at all, but a very troubled ‘whole.”
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With this love for the character and his history, Jones decided to integrate his perspective of the Hulk into his overall plan for the series. “The concept is that of a man on the run, both from the law, mysterious background factions, and–perhaps most importantly–himself. It’s a movable feast, a kind of on the job training. And You Are There.” The idea of Bruce Banner, AKA the Hulk, being on the run from himself is intrinsic to the continued popularity and inherent uniqueness of the Hulk himself. “My personal theory is the monster hiding within all of us I mentioned before. Younger readers revel in Banner’s ability to take down the playground bully. Older audiences empathize with the Choices theme inherent in the plots, the responsibility that comes with every encounter on Banner’s path, the price to be paid for situations beyond his control…or are they?”
While Jones is able to see the Hulk as such an engaging psychological character, more often than not we’ll hear comic fans ridiculing the Green Goliath. Some days it even seems that “Hulk Smash!” is all the most fans know about the Hulk or even want to know. “The very fact that he is so easily a candidate for ridicule yet continues to endure is testament to his uniqueness,” explains Jones. “I’m not saying the character always works or always has worked. These are, after all, only two-dimensional drawings, hopelessly at odds with the limitations of the form, at the mercy of the current creative forces in place. I think it’s also true that a thing can become an American icon or band name simply by virtue of its longevity, which has little to do with essential worth. What’s made Hulk last is the same thing that makes all the great characters from all the companies endure– the unique medium in which they’re realized. Properly handled, comics can be a story telling force without peer, a powerful combination of picture, word and sequential arrangement whose impact can be as evocative and moving as that of any art form. They say Orson Welles was influenced by comics and I can believe it. Done well there is poetry to it unmatched in the arts. In the end, individual characters and heroes become secondary to the limitless possibilities of the platform itself. It’s the little engine that could.”
Even Jones’ definition of the Hulk’s alter-ego is a psychologically layered perspective that shows just how much he really understands the title character. “Think of Banner as this moving catalyst, this problem in motion that affects and is affected by all who wind his way,” says Jones of Bruce Banner. “Some arcs will deal with the ways these encounters change Banner directly, others with the repercussion his existence wreaks on others. More often they will entwine and overlap, dodge and weave: a dense macabre of ever changing partners, ever tightening predation. I’d like the journey to be a learning experience as well, both for Banner and reader. Entertainment first and foremost, but I think we can reveal some of the idiosyncrasies of man and beast along the way, without applying sledgehammer tactics.”
Another of the characters that he has brought along for ride is the mysterious new Mr. Blue, whom readers have only seen as the name of someone that Banner contacts regularly. Wanting to keep his identity a surprise, Jones will say only this, “Clearly, revealing very much about Mr. Blue previous to actual printed issues would be counter productive to continuity and a disservice to the reader. Part of the delight of any fiction is the surprise element, so I’m hobbled by what I can say here. It’s obviously inherent to the plot as well as a playful guessing game. I’m giving myself the luxury to temper the answer as the arcs evolve…hey, I like surprises too.”
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But as much as Jones is enjoying his time on “Incredible Hulk,” he also finds that the job keeps challenging him every time that he works on a new issue of the series. “Not letting yourself slip into formula and comfortable padding,” says Jones of the greatest challenge of writing the Hulk. “Staying fresh. Knowing deep in your heart, someone out there is trying to stay a step ahead of you and likely succeeding. That like basketball players, the best writers are constantly practicing, and if you don’t do the same, when you meet them, they’ll win. Keeping all this unreality in your head while simultaneously remaining in the flux of marriage and family rearing. Realizing the best parts of fiction are often found in the mundane aspects of daily life– that it’s all there in front of you, you just have to carve away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Knowing that a writer who writes more than he reads is in trouble. The willingness to make a fool of yourself. Recognizing your limitations while not getting depressed by them. Knowing when to cut bait. Taking the script past that last exhausting draft while remembering this is writing, not brain surgery.” He also slyly adds, “I’ll have to get back to you about the hard part.”
One aspect of Jones’ job that isn’t hard is the creative environment at Marvel Comics. Many well-known and well-respected writers, from Grant Morrison to Neil Gaiman, have continually praised the Joe Quesada/Bill Jemas Marvel regime as being extremely good to their creative staff, a sentiment also expressed by Jones. “Marvel has blessed me with incredible creative latitude,” says Jones of his creative latitude on “The Incredible Hulk.” “Axel’s constant refrain is, ‘don’t limit your thinking–don’t tailor your plots to suit the audience, or your preconceived ideas of who the audience is! Play to your own strengths!’ The point is not that every idea is going to get by, but to give your mind a climate of freedom that allows for little bursts of brilliance, that might otherwise be stillborn.”
While the opportunities to express himself creatively are more than enough to make Jones happy, he also enjoys being part of a company that is a major player in the industry and is in an exciting place. “Working with the current Marvel regime is in all ways a pleasure,” explains the candid Jones. “I honestly think it’s the biggest collection of progressive minds the medium has seen in decades. There’s an excitement in the air up there that’s palpable, reaches all the way here to the Midwest. I’m talking about the distinction between a company that just tries the next goofy thing out of desperation and one that’s genuinely exhilarated by the possibilities of the form. There is so much untilled ground, and the folks at Marvel are willing to take plough in hand and dig deep, see just how good a comic book can be. I’m sure not all of this is altruistic, I’m not naive, but whatever the underpinning drives, I think the results are obvious. In the old days, there was this kind of self-serving hype that rang a bit hallow through the corridors. Today the ringing is within the content, the hype from the other side, the audience. Sometimes it just works. Now is one of those times for Marvel. No one can say how long it will last. So I intend to revel in it.”
One widely reported story is that Axel Alonso promised Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada that he’d make “Incredible Hulk” into a top-20 selling comic book…or lose his job. And while Jones would love to see the series selling that well, he realizes that maintaining the quality of his work comes #1, not cheap theatrics. “Of course every comic company would like to make every book a “top-20″ seller. But that’s not only impossible, it isn’t even practical,” explains Jones. “At some point you start competing with yourself. I think what you’re hearing is the desire to make ‘Incredible Hulk’ worthy of a top 20 spot, which is really the same as saying make it just as good as you possibly can. The public, not the companies, decide which titles sell the most, and, as I said before, this does not always constitute a good comic. Some things blunder their way to the top out of their own weird momentum…only to abruptly be seen for what they are, and immediately plummet. You always strive to be the best, but in the end, this isn’t a horse race, it’s not even a contest. There’s room for everyone. It’s about quality and caring. I’ve always been confident the cream will rise to exactly the level its intended.”
In this journey to make “Incredible Hulk” a high quality read every month, one must wonder what inspires Jones’ specific approach to this series beyond his love for the character. So what does inspire the “Jones-Flavor” of Hulk stories? “Not to be academic, but the same thing that inspires the “flavor” of any other writer I suppose: the virtue of my individuality. Better or worse, there’s only one me. By that logic I can’t help but bring a unique flavor to the book–hopefully not a sour one. But that’s why they make red cars and green cars, right? You just dive into these things and work like a beaver and hope that, once your head pops up, its not in the middle of a deserted pond. Stop me before I mix another metaphor.”
However, there is at least one defining characteristic of Jones’ work thus far: the stories are self-contained within each issue. But while Jones has an overall plan for the series, he also likes to keep his work accessible to new readers and likes to approach storytelling a bit differently. “There has already been what you might call a stand-alone story in the first issue,” says Jones of whether or not he will be creating large soap-opera storylines. “But generally, I don’t like to think in terms of “arcs” at all. I mean, I recognize the editorial necessity of them and nobody respects a yarn with a beginning, middle and end more than me, but I really prefer to think of this as Bruce Banner’s running sojourn, into which individual souls and elements weave themselves. To answer your question in literal terms, we strive for something like a three to five issue arc. There, you made me say it.”
Even before Jones brought his own introspective and relevant writing style to “Incredible Hulk,” one of the major themes has been responsibility, for one’s actions and one’s emotions. Jones has shown Banner to use meditation to control his emotions and even using his transformation into the Hulk as an almost satisfying experience. “I can’t tell all without giving away future story lines, but basically we saw this as an unexplored area rife with possibility,” says Jones of his decision to focus so squarely on the sense of responsibility in Banner. “Is it just possible, for instance, that a guy who’s been living with this terrible genie all these years finds he’s become the prisoner in the bottle instead of the other way around? A result of that fear might be a tangible attempt to control, or at least in some ways bridge the gap between superego and id, Banner and Hulk, angel and demon. Assuming, of course, that it’s Bruce who is the angel…but I’m giving too much away…”
To tease fans even more, Jones has previously mentioned that fundamental facts or pre-conceived certainties about the Hulk will be explored or even redefined within his work in the series. To some, this could seem like fixing something that isn’t broken and a change that other writers might ignore. “We fully anticipate that some, if not many, will think us tampering with something that doesn’t need fixing,” says Jones of the reaction he is sure that some fans will express. “But fixing is a relative term. What was that theory about altering nature even in the passive process of studying it? I think few would argue there is little point in continuing on with a series and not allowing that series to grow. At the same time, whenever something is gained, something else is inevitably lost. I do hope we can go back and–how to put this-‘re-explore’ the gestation of the Banner/Hulk relationship…perhaps even delve deeper into the pre-Hulk Banner, the personality that existed before the ‘accident.’ You may feel free to make what you will of the quote marks around the word ‘accident.'”
When further questioned about his future plans for the Hulk, Jones coyly responds, “My contract does not allow me to do this. My contract’s around here somewhere…where did I put that contract? Honey! Contract?”
In this quest to helping the Hulk grow as both a character and series, Jones is also trying to bring some “realism” to the Hulk’s adventures. While this may seem somewhat impossible when one considers the nature and origins of the Hulk himself, Jones is quick to explain how he can provide “realistic” stories for such an inherently fantastic character. “I think the traditional superhero role is continuing to undergo a metamorphosis,” explains Jones. “Part of the change is an increased emphasis on more reality oriented story telling. We’re taking baby steps right now, feeling our way along. No one wants to kill the revered history and fist-smashing glory of the golden age of superheroes, but neither can a thing remain inert without stagnating. For Hulk, we’ve already introduced some familiar faces from the Marvel oeuvre like Doc Sampson, and others will follow. What the reader may discern is a more grounded approach to our books, a concern with the ‘why,’ the opposite and equal reaction to whatever the initial action presented. The goal is not to dilute the colorful medium of comics, but to broaden the palette. Not everyone will approve–we all have our favorite colors, and we’re not trying to be Gauguin’s here. But we can’t allow ourselves to hang back merely to court convention. Evolution can be painful, but it is undeniably nature’s way. I think you’re going to see less of the cathartic action-for-its-own-sake superhero, and more emphasis on the effect those actions have on those around them. And yes, I envision a comic revolving entirely around characters bereft of super powers altogether. Sooner, perhaps, than one might think.”
For those who enjoy the classic Hulk villains, most of whom are as outrageous as our hero himself in terms of abilities, Jones assures fans that his approach doesn’t necessitate a lack of Hulk’s rogues. “As I said above, we’re not against use of the classic villains. Villains have been the lifeblood of comics for generations. Just don’t expect ours to necessarily act in the classic ways.”
While his approach is forward thinking and seemingly free of the shackles many writers before him felt, Jones admits to being very influenced by some of the earliest Hulk comics too. “I have to admit to a certain affinity for the early Stan Lee stuff, although I suspect this is ladled with a heavy dollop of nostalgia,” admits Jones. “I’ve purposely tried to avoid reading too much of my predecessor’s work, ostensibly because I don’t want to be influenced by it, but inwardly because I’m afraid I won’t measure up.” But even if he were to limit his Lee intake, the Peter David work on “Incredible Hulk” has set the level of quality to which his work will be undoubtedly compared. “Peter is a fine writer. His work on Hulk was terrific. I wouldn’t even attempt to go where he went, even if I thought I could,” admits Jones about the pressure of having such an acclaimed predecessor. “But as I said before, I don’t come at this as a contest. Nothing is ever going to take away from what previous writers did, that’s one of the nice things about the endurable quality of comics; those issues will be around in some form long after we’re gone. I’m not trying to come up to some preconceived level held by another writer, any more than I’m sure others have tried to better Stan Lee. I mentioned the basketball metaphor before, but that’s really more a subconscious response to my own insecurity. We can’t all be Michael Jordan. But that isn’t sad. What’s sad is when we don’t allow ourselves to be us.”
Even if he isn’t trying to go where Peter David went, Jones sure seems to be garnering the same kind of acclaim thus far. As mentioned previously, the work by Jones thus far on “Incredible Hulk” has been almost universally well received, but would this put more pressure on this incredible scribe or even make him more critical of his own efforts? “Both,” concedes Jones. “When I think about it, which I try not to. Axel sends me the reviews and I always read my novel reviews on Amazon, but here’s the trick: try to learn from what critics say about you taken within context, then apply that to your work in a positive way, even if the reviews are withering. There may be a nugget of truth in there you can use for future reference. For that reason critiques are valuable. For that, and little else.”
Even with so much heart and soul being poured into Jones’ work with the Hulk, he readily admits that it is up to the reader to decide if his work is truly different or worth reading. “The individual reader is going to decide that for himself no matter what I say. And if I haven’t said it within the body of the work already, then I’ve failed anyway. I hope it means something different to everyone, but most of all I hope the reader feels he or she hasn’t wasted his time. Insulted, angered, dismayed, manipulated maybe, but not wasted his valuable time. In some parts of the world, sunshine is a thing to be coveted.” However, he does hope is well-received enough to guarantee him a long stay on “Incredible Hulk” saying he’d love to stay, “Until they throw me off. Or until I honestly feel I’ve taken the character as far as I can and its time to give someone else a chance. You usually don’t need a lighting bolt to tell you these things…they come with a kind of wistful resignation.”
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No matter how long Jones stays on the series, he does hope to attract a broad base of fans to “Incredible Hulk” and is loathe to overly generalizing the fans he believes will flock to the series during his tenure. “I’d really like to imagine that women are reading the book as well as men,” reveals Jones. “And I wouldn’t want to impart an age limit because I honestly don’t think there is one. My ideal reader would be a discerning one, of course, someone with imagination and intelligence who actually feels they’ve gained something from the experience of my company. That’s what I shoot for. I’m the last person to ask if I’m succeeding.”
If Jones does succeed in the long-run, it will no doubt be in part to the excellent visuals from John Romita JR, also the artist of “Amazing Spiderman,” who brings strong storytelling skills to the series. In fact, his work is so strong that some describe him as the perfect artist for the Hulk. “Ordinarily that ‘perfect artist,’ stuff ruffles my feathers, but in John’s case it really does describe the situation,” says Jones of his collaborator on “Incredible Hulk”. “What can I say without being maudlin? I happen to personally like his drawing ‘style’ even though it’s poles apart from my own, but that isn’t it. What’s really important about John is his dead-on story-telling ability. Lots of people can draw–lots of people! Telling a story well though, that is a rare thing, and John is simply one of the best. I could not be more fortunate to be in the company of the likes of John and Axel and if you think this isn’t coming from the heart and is just kissing up, well that’s your problem. These guys and maybe a handful of others have the best instincts of any in the business in my estimation, and I’ve been at this a while. You don’t even have to like their stuff, but you damn sure have to admire it. It doesn’t hurt that there seems to be a mutual admiration on the part of all parties, a general respect within the team. Listen, things like this don’t happen often, believe me, and when they come along you’re damn grateful for them. Anyway, I am.”
Even if Jones and Romita JR continue to amaze fans with their Hulk comic book work, they are aware that the upcoming Hulk movie will definitely affect the general public’s perception of and reaction to the Hulk. With Ang Lee, Nick Nolte, Eric Bana and a slew of other big names already attached to the film, Jones is quite optimistic about the movie. “Well, my initial feeling is that Ang Lee is an unqualified genius, so I hope he stays with the project,” says Jones of the upcoming film. “I haven’t been privy to scripts produced thus far, but I’m anxious as anyone to see something come to fruition. I know how I would approach the material but the phone hasn’t rung yet. I do think it important to remember that this is big budget Hollywood filmmaking. It’s fashionable (if naive) to see the majors as these talent-squashing money mongers, clawing at the bottom line. But, if I had millions of dollars riding on something as capricious as the next mall flick, I might be a wee concerned about overages too. Most people have no concept how expensive it is to accomplish even a single hour of union-oriented movie making. It ain’t the old studio days where you could make twenty films a year and risk three or four “exotic” failures. The marketplace now is beyond competitive, it’s outright warfare. The pressure is not merely to succeed (as it should be) but to produce a certified hit. Outsiders tend to view Hollywood as ego-driven, but that isn’t my experience; it’s really more fear-driven. Not a place for the faint of heart. On the other hand, where but America can commerce and art come together at all, much less birth something occasionally noteworthy? That’s what I love about comics; it’s really an oxymoron when you think about it, yet it can work. Sometimes beautifully.”
Outside of his work on “Incredible Hulk,” Jones would love to accomplish some more dream projects in the comic book medium. “My dream is to simply keep working,” says Jones while also adding, “I would like to do a project for the Marvel Max line, because of the greater latitude, but all of it is enjoyable, really.”
He isn’t too worried about getting to do those dream projects either: he believes that the comic book medium has more life in it than most fans are willing to admit. “I’m not as pessimistic as some. I think there will always be comic book readers, just as there will always be sci-fi readers and mystery readers and people who collect stamps. It’s a mindset, a personality type if you will. It follows, of course, that the more comics out there, the bigger the audience, and the greater the chance the next young Will Eisner will come along. But comics won’t die. It may have begun as a kid’s medium, but it’s become very sophisticated, evolved beyond its boundaries, more even than the novel I think. Those that get it won’t easily give it up. What we need to see are the movie studios concentrating more on the esoteric titles instead of just capitalizing on the name value of the recognition books.”
“Superheroes won’t go away, they fill a specific need. They’ll continue to morph with the times but I’m sure they’ll remain in one form or another. I do believe we’ll see more non-superhero comics because, despite the doomsayers, the fact that the readership has actually shifted to an older audience is a good thing for both industry and readers. Kids used to borrow dimes from their parents to buy comics. Now the parents buy the comics, take them home and kids who might not otherwise be interested get exposed to them. Kids are always imitating their elders. Better comics than cigarettes. Also, older readership usually means smarter, more open-minded readers. We experience the world differently through the eyes of adolescence and young adults than as children, and that gives creators a larger canvass on which to play. Also, the fact that more graphic story material is being collected in trade form and making it into traditional marketplaces like bookstores is a positive thing. Book dealers and publishers have been complaining about losing readership longer than comics publishers, it’s and old saw. But the truth is, regardless of video games, TV and other distractions, a certain niche of people will always be readers, it’s just the way they’re wired. We should worry less about big numbers and more about producing quality books for the readers we have, which are more than sufficient and will be greater tomorrow.”
Even with such a depth of understanding regarding the comic book medium, Jones is still apprehensive about trying to predict the next big trend in comic books. “Having done my time in the Hollywood vineyards, the idea of predicting the future of any trend is as beyond me as it is unappealing,” admits Jones. “Predicting public opinion is as elusive as the next fad. You can’t manufacture a phenom like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Pokemon.’ You can imitate them (I’m not wholly against this–some great stuff has come from deliberate aping, just as the fourteenth John Sandford Davenport book may be better than the sixth) but in the end I think you have to please yourself. That should be our first concern. Understand the basics of the genre or medium, but please yourself first. Corny as it sounds, it’s a lot about sincerity. Someone once asked me, during a down period I was enjoying (choke) why I didn’t just grind out one of those stupid romance books. Well, in the first place, they aren’t stupid to the readers who enjoy them, and in the second place–formulaic as they may seem–there’s a sincerity operating there as valid as any genre. People who care about and understand the field write the successful ones. Even if I could learn to understand and care about a romance book, I couldn’t manufacture an affinity for them. Sometimes you have to know when to pass.”
But while Jones doesn’t want to try and predict the next big trend, he has a handle on what changes he feels need to be instituted to not only bring in new readers but also keep the old fans in the fold. “The willingness to experiment,” cites Jones as the most important step necessary for the industry to take. “To continue to appeal to the core, while offering breakout projects not limited to the existing audience. It’s a balancing act. You have to be willing to fail. Otherwise you become inert. And that’s certain death. Besides, I’m not altogether sure “a broader base” is a particularly laudable cause. ‘Broader’ too quickly becomes synonymous with ‘pasteurized’. There’s nothing shameful in being a little bit elitist; iconoclasm and smugness don’t have to be bedfellows. Someone once said: ‘Don’t ever worry about another writer stealing your work–if it’s any good, you’ll have to ram it down people’s throats.’ A bit cynical, but there’s truth there. I’m all for broad base consumerism as long as you don’t entirely wall off quality control. But in my experience, marriages of great success and great art are always ethereal creatures. The film ‘Jaws’ for example: the shark looks bad, the shooting experience was miserable, the film had no big stars, hardly a seasoned director, it wasn’t imitating current trends and the public didn’t give a hoot about ocean movies. But it all came together. Okay, Spielberg and Verna Fields, but you know what I mean. Similar thing with ‘Star Wars’–nearly every studio in town passed, couldn’t give away science fiction, Harrison who? Wonder how many heads rolled over that one? The point is, at the end of the day, the public is going to make up its own mind, which shouldn’t be our job anyway. Our job is, do our best work and let the chips fall. Today’s dud is sometimes tomorrow’s ‘classic.'”
Unfortunately for Jones, his busy schedule keeps him from reading many comics and finding those hidden gems that he would love to find. “I have less and less time to read it seems, which is depressing. When I can, it’s usually novels, though as I age, fiction seems to be giving way to biography and historical books. I think Brian Azzarello is a gifted comics writer. Frank Miller is great, Alan Moore. I like Trina Robbins and Louise Simonson.”
Even with a hectic schedule, Jones isn’t sure what work fans will seem from him next. “I wish I knew,” admits Jones when asked about his future. “I have been walking around in my own head, banging into the furniture, for as long as I can remember– living in my own world (probably too much) and foisting it on the public. What actually gets into print is usually not my decision. Editors and publishes are just people like you and me, with their own slant on the world and their individual tastes. They are the gatekeepers, I just write the stuff. I’ll probably keep doing novels because I love the format, though it is maddeningly time consuming. I’ll always love the graphic story. Now ask me if what I really want to do is direct. I spent a lot of time on Frank Darabont’s ‘Green Mile’ set thanks to his generosity, and a lot of time in producer’s offices while out there. Both experiences were euphoric and tedious. Writers are suppose to be at the low end of the totem pole, but directors get pulled in eight different directions at once, trying to answer all these various needs, solve everybody’s problems and still keep their mind on the spine of the story. I have nothing but respect for the sheer will and tenacity necessary to be a director, though I’m not sure when they sleep. In other words, sure I’d like to direct.”
In closing, Bruce Jones has some parting work for anyone reading this interview. “Spend as much time as possible with beautiful women. And try listening to them once in awhile.”
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