Getting Feral: Loeb talks "Wolverine"

Jeph Loeb's one of those comic creators who really doesn't need an introduction - his body of work speaks for itself. For the most part he's best known for his comics work at DC Comics on books like "Superman," "Batman," "Supergirl" and "Superman/Batman" with mini-series like "Batman: The Long Halloween" and "Superman For All Seasons" garnering Loeb high praise from both fans and critics.

In August of 2005, Marvel announced Loeb would be leaving DC Comics and had signed an exclusive with Marvel Comics. While at the time only the exclusive was announced without any project announcements, since then Loeb's plans have become much clearer. He'll join Rob Liefed on "Onslaught Reborn" this November. He and Michael Turner will join forces on an "Ultimate Wolverine" mini-series. Loeb will also tackle the Ultimate universe in "Ultimates 3" and "Ultimates 4." Loeb and J. Scott Campbell on a Spider-Man book in 2007. And, naturally, Loeb will join Simone Bianchi on "Wolverine" beginning with issue #50, which brings us to this interview.

CBR News spoke with Loeb between takes while he was on the set of the television show "Heroes" discussing his plans for "Wolverine," on working with artists and his impressions of Bianchi.

Hey Jeph, let's start by talking about the goals you set for yourself when working on a character like Wolverine.

First of all, I want to tell a kick ass story that's both emotional and rewarding for the reader. In this particular case my other goal is to really give my artist Simone Bianchi a showcase. I think it's been a long time since someone put their artistic signature on Wolverine - that's just my opinion and all due respect to other artists, but I think you have to go back to Leinil Yu to find someone who really had an impact on the character. I think once you see what Simone's going to be do, it's nothing short of remarkable. He gets the ferociousness and action of the character, and in many ways the tragedy of the hero, which is one of the things I look for in the same kind of way as I did with Batman - as cool as Batman is, he's only cool because he's incredibly tortured, as is Logan.

Where do you find that compelling angle with Wolverine?

I think you have to do it all. It's not a run and jump and it's not a soap opera, but the great thing about the character is that he's incredibly serious and incredibly powerful and, at the same time, he has a heart of glass.

At this point in your career you can pretty much pick and choose what you want to do, so what attracted you to working on "Wolverine?" Why was this a project you couldn't refuse?

Well, with any project it's first the story and second who's going to draw it. I try to tailor a story towards an artist's strength. I think if I've been successful in any regard, it would be that. I would not tell the same story with Tim Sale that I would with Simone Binachi or with Jim Lee for that matter. When Marvel told me Simone was coming onboard, the story that I had in mind - which will finally reveal the relationship between Sabretooth and Wolverine - I just knew I was going to be able to get away with what I wanted to do, which was some very, very fierce, in your face action between these two guys. In the past I think Simone has been given material that is a little too crowded for his pencil. This is a guy who needs to draw big. He can do incredible, incredible detail, but he needs to do that on a wider canvas and when he does, the results are spectacular. That's what hopefully we've achieved.

I've known Simone for about a year now. We talk via e-mail and I've spoken with him on the phone a number of times, but I only got a chance to meet him this past year in San Diego. It was one of those meetings where were both headed in opposite directions and didn't get a lot of time together, but - at the risk of sounding airy - you immediately get the sense he's got this incredible energy about him that's hard to quantify.

He's the greatest. The only other person that even comes close to him in terms of energy is Liefeld and that's one of the reasons why I'm still friends with Rob.

Look, we work in a very silly business and I mean that in the very best way. This is not hard work. This isn't tarring roofs. Hard work are those guys out working on the 405 Freeway fixing potholes in 120 degree heat. We get to tell stories about guys who have claws that pop out of their hands and roll around on the front yard while Sentinels decide to blast them to pieces! It's just such great stuff and it's a touchstone to your youth. When you read comics, it's because they're fun and Simone brings that almost child like energy to what we're doing and I mean that in all the best ways that you can bring energy. He's certainly not child-like as a person. He just has that enthusiasm that's unbridled and he hasn't been in this business long enough to understand his limitations, so he's more than willing to try anything. At the same time, he's an extraordinary storyteller, so he's not just going to take anything I give to him. His bullshit detector is pretty high. We spend a lot of time talking about what the story is going to be and he's so enthusiastic he makes me just want to reach farther and higher. It's a really good relationship between writer and artist. It's really the best way of working with anyone. It's a playground of love!

It's interesting to me that you're working with Simone and a little bit surprising. Recently, the relationship you've had with your artists collaborators generally goes back more than a couple of years and each artist has years of experience in the industry. Take Tim Sale for instance. You have a very close relationship with him and you're even working with him right now in some capacity on the TV show "Heroes." Then, take Jim Lee, with whom you built a very close relationship. The same thing goes with Michael Turner. But in Simone, you've got a guy who's a relatively new artist - at least in America - and someone you don't have personal history with. At this point in your career I'd imagine you'd prefer to work with established artists, but here you are working with a guy you've never worked with before, let alone you only met the guy for the first time in San Diego this year.

This is a very unique experience. What happened was - and I realize this is going to make me sound like the most pretentious bastard in the world - but when I went to Marvel, part of my agreement was that I would bring my own crews vis-a-vis I had very specific projects in mind. I really wanted to do "The Ultimates" and wanted to do it with Joe Mad and I wanted to work on Spider-Man with J. Scott Campbell. There were things along the way, some of which haven't been announced yet, that are surprises, but part of the reason for me to go to Marvel was to bring the same kind of high-profile projects that I've been very lucky enough to do at DC with some really great talent. Those relationships I think are born out of my willingness as a writer to include the artist as a partner and not as somebody who works for me. I think there's a legitimate group of people who work that way where the script is king, you read your lines and that's the way you're going to work and then there's another kind of writer who partners with his artist and I think, in my opinion, you get better work out of them. It's very difficult to do that and it requires an enormous time commitment between writer and artist and not everybody has the time to be able to do that. I don't write that many comics and the comics that I do write I very much schedule out in terms of when I'm doing what, so if I know that this six issues that is going to happen at this particular time, then I make sure that the other six aren't overlapping into that at the same time so that I can actually spend the time that's needed with my guys.

The nice part about working with artists you've already worked with is you've developed a short hand and I don't have to give quite as much explanation in terms of what I want. If I make a suggestion that comes from a film or TV show or a shot that I've seen or tension or emotion that I want to see in a scene, I know what those references are. Obviously it's the easiest with Tim since we've been working together the longest. With him I could just say in my script, "Close on Batman. Grim." And I know exactly what he's going to draw. But, if I'm working with somebody else, I'll have to say, "I need the shot to be just of his eyes, across his cowl, and it's not quite a squint, it's a little Clint Eastwood, but it's also more anger and less, etc." It becomes all that at once and depending on who I work with it depends on how much I'll need to say. I also have the ability to say with a guy like

Jim Lee on "Hush" - because it was such a huge canvas that we were working - we were able to quote ourselves. "Remember what you did back in issue three where we did that really cool shot where Batman was swooping down on us? Well, take that and reverse it with Batman coming up."

I think the greatest compliment Jim Lee ever gave me was the reason why Jim enjoyed working with me was because he didn't have to think when we worked together. What he means by that is that Jim is a storyteller and he's an artist, but he's also a writer. He's all those things. When you create your own thing - when you're the writer and the artist - you have to lay all everything out and you have to decide what all those shots will be and all that stuff slows you way, way down. Whereas if you have someone who's providing a blue print for you - and by no means do my guys have to follow me to the T - then a lot of the thinking goes out of it and they can focus on the thing they do best - illustrating the book.

The way my mind works is very cinematic - that's the world I came from. I came from movies and television, went into comics and went back into that world and never lost either world. That's why I think guys like Allan Heinberg, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith have found the success that they have because they understand both mediums. Comics have always been to me a cousin of movies and film. If anyone has ever shown you what story boards look like, what the director works from, they're comics. It's sequential story telling at its best. The things you are allowed to do in film and television give you the gift of movement, so comics have to somehow create that same illusion, but they have to do it in a two-dimensional plane.

Now, going back to your question exactly, I don't feel like what I want to do right now is break talent - in other words give them a chance to break out.

That makes sense. It's a lot of hard work and the guarantees aren't as solid as they may be with an established artist.

Right. I've had a lot of success with people like Ed McGuiness, Jeff Matsuda and Ian Churchill, all who did some of their first work with me and I feel very good about being able to do that with those guys, but at this point it's very time consuming and there's some element of risk as well.

Allright, now taking all that into consideration, how did you and Simone end up together?

Well, Joe Quesada literally called me out of the blue with Simone. He knew this Wolverine story that I wanted to do. When I came to Marvel, he and I sat down and I gave him a laundry list of stories that I was interested in doing. He asked me who I wanted to do each story with and when it come to Wolverine it came down to we didn't know who would draw it and when someone got freed up we'd talk about it further. This particular one was a story that, if I was lucky enough, I had Andy Kubert in mind, but Andy left and the story sat off to the side. So, when Joe called and said Simone Bianchi would be coming over to Marvel, we both started talking about that story again.

Now, Simone Bianchi and Andy Kubert are not the same artist, so it required my rethinking the story and I actually think it's a better fit for Simone because I think it will be much more ferocious, which is what the story needs to be. The opportunity arose and Joe wasn't even sure that I knew who he was. The interesting thing was I saw his work on "Shining Knight" and found it very interesting, but Grant's stories can be very complex and the storytelling can be very complex. Sometimes when you do that it's difficult to follow the story telling. I'm sure it's very clear in a lot of people's minds and I'm sure it's clear in Grant's mind, but for me it was difficult to follow. The bones of it I thought were really strong, but I had no idea who Simone was and wasn't' familiar with anything he'd done before.

Fast forward and he's working on this "Green Lantern" fill in story with Geoff Johns. Obviously Geoff and I work together in our studio and he's showing me these pages in black and white and I see the ink wash and the detail and I'm just blown away. He's somewhere between Neal Adams, a

little Frank Frazetta and then there's stuff all his own I've not seen before. I was very excited for Geoff and the thought this guy could be working with him. I've made no secret about this - Simone is much more of a gentleman than I am so he doesn't like talking about it - but when I saw the finished book, it was a great story and I think the guy who colored it did a great job because I saw it on a computer, but the final product is just bad. It printed badly, it's muddy, all of the black did not hold. It's unfortunate because you end up looking at it and say, "This guy is not as interesting as people say he is." It was a little like watching a movie that's out of focus. I think that was part of the reason why Simone started to talk to the people at Marvel because as good as the people are at DC and I have tremendous respect for them, but one of the key difference is Joe Quesada is an artist and as an artist he approaches his job as Editor-In-Chief as someone who wants to put the material in the best light that it can be. That's why Marvel has always been at the forefront of paper and color and really the more risky artists that are in the business. It's just a different way of thinking about the storytelling - it's not the right way or the wrong way, it's just a different way of approaching things. Certainly there are tremendous successes that happen at every comic book company that have nothing to do with paper or color or art, but the stories that I read and those that I respond to have everything to do with that stuff. What Joe was offering in Simone was an opportunity to present what he can do in the best light possible. That was exciting to Simone, the idea of working on Wolverine was exciting to him and the the idea of the two of us working together caused this to become a very big project all of a sudden.

The short answer to your question is … [laughs] that Quesada called and said, "Do you want to do that Wolverine story with Simone? We start on issue #50 and you've got about a year to get ready." I said I'm in! What was unexpected was I really only intended to do this six month story and when I saw the first issue I called Simone and said, "What are you doing next? I don't care what it is, let's do it." So, we've talked about another project, but in addition to that there's very clearly a sequel to what it is we're doing. It became clear from the first issue that there was more than just six parts we could tell.

Thanks, Jeph.

At this point, Loeb had to get back to shooting, but we'll check in with him in the coming months as the series gets closer to publication.

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