DC Comics' Lone Star: Mark Chiarello Talks 'Solo'

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It's been one busy week for DC Comics and their many fans, with a bevy of announcements that both parties have struggled to stay on top of for the most part. No matter the type of fan, from Vertigo fan to Wildstorm fan to Warren Ellis fan, DC's seen that they'll have something to look forward to in 2003. Not surprisingly, the superhero comics have dominated the news but among them there's a new series that keeps being mentioned but doesn't seem to fit into any category. It isn't a superhero comic, it isn't a fantasy comic and it isn't a sci-fi comic. It's all of them… and more. But for those of you who still don't know what to call it, "Solo" editor Mark Chiarello is here to answer all your questions about what some are calling DC's most ambitious new series in years.

"I'm the Editorial Art Director at DC, so I'm not really an 'editor,' but every now and then I get the itch to put a book together and they actually let me edit it," Chiarello told CBR News. "Usually the projects I put together are things that interest me as an artist, 'Batman: Black & White' being a great example of a project I created and edited, but as an artist would have loved to work on, too. Since I obviously can't hire myself to do the artwork on the books I edit, I hire the best guys in the business. It's great being in the position of working with the kind of talent I really admire, guys like Adam Hughes and Tim Sale and Bruce Timm. Over the years, a lot of these guys have said, 'oh I wish I could draw a western' or 'I wish someone was publishing short science fiction stories'. If there were, they could have a fun time exploring different genres without having to sign on to draw a monthly western or science fiction comic. As the 'artist's advocate' here at DC, I realize that I'm in a position to do something about that. I know that as an artist I've loved doing short stories in different genres and that's what 'Solo' is: short stories in different genres by the top artists in the industry."

The genesis behind "Solo," launching in the third quarter of 2003, is pretty simple, but Chiarello doesn't mind it being that way: when it comes to this dream project, he's glad it isn't just a dream anymore. "It was sort of a dream project where I thought 'wouldn't it be fun if we did this at DC Comics' and I think Paul Levitz likes when I come up with ideas I can follow through on. I pitched it and he thought it sounded great. If someone asked you to list half a dozen dream projects that you've always wanted to do, I'm sure you wouldn't have a hard time coming up with that list. Well, this one's been on my wish list for a long time, I'm so glad it's been given the green light. Now, all I have to do is all the work! … sometimes dreams are just better when they're dreams! (laughs)"

The reason for this being primarily an "artists only" project is simple, laughs Chiarello, who explains, "It's because I'm an artist! Seriously, there's sometimes a reticence to let artists write their own stories because there's a lot of money invested in putting together an eight or 12 issue series. 'Solo' allows artists to tell the stories they've always wanted to tell without a company like DC betting the farm on one creator. And for artists who only want to write a portion of their 'Solo' stories, this is a great opportunity to work with their favorite writers."

Even though the official announcement of "Solo" is only a few days old, the book has been gathering some good buzz since CBR's "Lying in The Gutters" columnist Rich Johnston reported rumors about the series a few months back. With the flurry of positive comments in days past, Chiarello can't help but smile. "That's cool," he says of all the positive feedback, "That's real flattering. Not to present a commercial for DC Comics, because I have worked for Marvel in the past and done work for Dark Horse in addition to most other companies, but I think DC is doing some really exciting stuff, especially the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee 'Batman,' which everyone's real psyched about, but it's real flattering that people already are starting to talk about 'Solo.' I grew up reading superhero comics, and I'm in my 40's and I still love superhero comics, but I always think there's room for a horror story or a crime noir story without having to put some ultra-violent or obscene 'adult' spin on it. There have been anthology books in the recent past but with the caveat that 'this is an adult book and a war story or a science fiction story.' 'Solo' presents intelligent and fun stories for every reader out there."

But "Solo" isn't the first anthology title from a major comic book company and DC's Art Director knows that he has to find a way to make it unique, so it doesn't look like a collection of rejected story pitches or a rehash of a past series. "There's only one answer to that and that's for me to keep the talent on the series as high as possible," admits Chiarello, whose already lined up Mike Allred, Brian Bolland, John Cassaday, Darwyn Cooke, Richard Corben, Dave Gibbons, Scott Hampton, Adam Hughes, J.G. Jones, Kevin Nowlan, Paul Pope, Tim Sale, Bill Sienkiewicz, Walter Simonson, Jill Thompson, Brian Stelfreeze, Bruce Timm, John Van Fleet, and Matt Wagner for "Solo." "When I did the 'Batman: Black & White' series, I was working with guys like Jim Lee and Alex Toth and Katsuhiro Otomo, the A+++ talent, and the guys I've talked to about 'Solo,' Adam Hughes and Richard Corben and Bill Sienkiewicz, these too are the great, greats of our industry. If I can maintain this level of talent coming in to work on 'Solo,' then I have no doubt that we'll continue to have a high level of fans gravitating towards the series. How could they resist?"

Another question on fans' minds has been- why now? Many people have been wondering why DC would launch a series like "Solo" now and Chiarello says that part of it is due to a feeling of "better late than never." He also feels that the shift from a speculator's market to an industry focused on quality has helped make this project a more realistic dream. "It's something that I've wanted to do for quite a while and I'm not getting any younger, so I might as well do it now while I still have a lot of energy. People have said to me, 'what a great idea, I'm surprised no one thought of it years ago.' Well, maybe people did think of it years ago, but the climate at DC is currently very interested in pushing the creative envelope- there's such diversity in comics now and I don't know that a project like this would have been viable years ago."

A name that fans have been hearing more and more is Dan DiDio, one of DC's new executives who's making a big splash and positively impacting a lot of people, including Chiarello. "Well, he's my direct boss and I can't tell you how much I enjoy working with this guy- he's really a forward thinker. He comes from the television world, so he jumped into comics and started asking the logical questions that many of us were asking like, 'why do we do this in this way? Does this make the most sense?' or 'Why don't we do this project? That sounds fun!' So he's really an advocate for a lot of the things I want to do and he's been a big help getting a lot of the projects, like 'Solo,' off the ground."

Maybe it's nostalgia, but some have wondered if perhaps DC should have renamed "Solo" as "Showcase," a nod to their classic DC series that highlighted different DC characters, but Chiarello says there is a reason for the new and quite short title. Mainly because it's not "Showcase." "Because the individual artist is central to each individual issue, I wanted to showcase each artist's name as big as humanly possible on the cover, but you can't call the comic 'The Brian Bolland Comic Book'- you need to attach some kind of title to it. So we figured 'Solo' sort of speaks for itself. You can call it 'Brian Bolland Solo' or 'Adam Hughes Solo' and people will automatically 'get it.' That also keeps the creator's name really large on the cover."

And the name "Solo" has another meaning- each artist only has one issue to tell their stories and Chiarello says there are good reasons for that. "When I did 'Batman: Black & White,' the original series was four issues and there were a finite number of spots I could fill. When the series was over, I realized that there were a lot of people that I didn't have the room to get to. With 'Solo,' I want to keep that in mind and instead of two Paul Pope issues, for example, I'll do one Paul Pope issue and use the other spot for another artist. You probably won't see the same artist twice in 'Solo'- it'll be amazing if I can get forty-eight pages out of these people (laughs)! Since they're all in such high demand, they all need to be chained to their drawing table to get the work out of them!"

With all the focus on providing something "different" and something "fresh," the question must be asked: will there be any superhero stories? "Absolutely," answers Chiarello enthusiastically. "Each forty-eight page issue will have at least one story featuring a DCU character. Heck, Mike Allred wants to do all superhero stories! But in terms of continuity, that's up to the fans. There will certainly be stories that will be in current DCU continuity, but I think comics spend a little too much time worrying about the minutia of continuity. I'm more interested in being true to the characters and less worried about if 'that's not the same belt buckle he wore in issue #37!' Suffice it to say, fans will get a little bit of everything with 'Solo.'"

That bit of "everything" includes the varied list of talent previously mentioned and Chiarello attributes his ability to court such talent to a new fangled invention sent to him from the future called… the telephone. "I called them and they all said… yes," he says melodramatically. "I'm friends with many of these artists and I have good relationships with just about everyone on the list. The secret to getting big, famous artists to work with you is just calling them- they're almost always flattered. It's the scenario of the pretty girl who's never asked to the prom-with a lot of these artists, if you just call them, you'd be surprised at how interested they are at doing something with you."

But if you're a new artist trying to break into the industry, don't look for "Solo" to be your starting ground. When asked if smaller name artists or unknowns could pitch for "Solo," Chiarello replied, "Unfortunately, the answer to that is no. The real job for me with 'Solo' is to keep the talent level incredibly high, to keep fans coming back, and that's gonna be tricky. I'll really need the big name artists like Walter Simonson and Tim Sale to build momentum up, so when I slot in a lesser known European artist, sales won't suffer."

Chiarello says that working on "Solo" is a joy and that ironically, the most challenging and rewarding part of the job comes from the same source. "The hardest part is, because I'm working with such major talent, they're all booked for months and months to come, I want to get them working, but they're not able to start for a while. Nothing's better than when the artwork starts coming into the office, and seeing each new page, it's a great experience. The easiest part is, really, the same thing- working with such major talent. Some of these guys are my heroes! I look at someone like Adam Hughes and I'm astounded at how well this guy can draw and I look at Darwyn Cooke and I'm astounded that he's such a good storyteller!"

Don't expect to see Chiarello's name atop any "Solo" issues. "No. Sure, I had a hard time with 'Batman: Black & White' because I had people continually asking me, 'oh Mark, why don't you draw one too,' but I find it somewhat egregious when an editor gives himself work. That's a line I don't want to cross."

While Chiarello would love to hype the upcoming stories in "Solo," the truth is that he can't: most of the issues aren't finished yet. "We're in the beginning stage with most of the artists' issues," admits Chiarello. "Walt Simonson's started his issue and Frank Miller's writing a story for him, I think Howard Chaykin is also going to write a story for Walt. Richard Corben's work has started to come in too- and, man, the variety of his work from story to story is astounding! For 'Solo,' variety is real important here and not only in the genre of each story but in the artistic style of each story: you'll have fully painted work and then you'll have a black and white story followed by a more traditional line work story, all by the same major talent. This won't affect the price point for the reader either- it'll be the same regular price point, consistent each month."

Before he gets back to editing "Solo" and Darwyn Cooke's upcoming "New Frontier," series, Chiarello has some parting words for fans that are looking forward to "Solo."

"I'm having a hell of a time putting this project together and I think the fans will have a hell of a time reading it!"

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