IN-DEPTH: Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins may have accidentally found himself working as a comic book creator, but he certainly knows how to make an accident become a successful career. The writer of lengthy runs on Vertigo's "Hellblazer" and Marvel's "Peter Parker: Spider-Man," Jenkins is perhaps best known as the writer who brought Wolverine's "Origin" to superhero fans and lit up the Marvel Knights line with Jae Lee on "Inhumans."

CBR News talked with Jenkins about his entry into comics, what the future may hold, and the projects in-between.

CBR: Was it always your intention to go into comics?

PAUL JENKINS: Actually, most people don't realize this but I studied drama in Great Britain, with an eye on becoming an actor. Having said that, I always did concentrate on creative writing. Rather than acting, I always preferred writing and directing plays, and also spent a lot of time in the film school. Actors tend to sit around a lot and wait - I prefer to make things.

It was never my intention to write comics for a living. I kind of fell into it - literally! I was living in Northampton, MA, and met the guys who created the Ninja Turtles. Actually, I used to work in a restaurant and I met Kevin Eastman's girlfriend, April, first. I got to know a couple of the guys and applied for a job there. At the time I was also trying to make my way as a musician and had broken my leg playing soccer, so I was having a hard time getting around. I think that situation kind of galvanized me to go by Mirage and apply for a job.

Was joining Mirage Studios your break into comics?

Yes, absolutely. We were situated in a tiny little office in Northampton. It was probably twelve feet by twelve feet, I swear. I was the third person they employed - the other two being the office manager and a licensing guy. It was totally crazy, like the Wild West frontier of licensing and publishing. I both loved it and hated it.

What did you do for Mirage?

I was mostly in charge of publishing at first. To say I "edited" the books would be a stretch in the sense that I acted as a typical comics editor but rarely edited for content. After being at Mirage for just a short time, I began to work with licensees, helping them improve the way they exploited the [Ninja Turtles] license. For example, I might work with someone who had the Frisbee license, helping them find art for the products and understand how best to use the characters. It was a pretty weird job but I learned a lot about licensing and took that with me when I went on to Tundra Publishing.

You moved over to Tundra with Kevin Eastman in a similar role for that company. Did you enjoy working with Eastman or are you just a huge Ninja Turtles fan?

Well, I loved Kevin, basically. He had become a good friend by then, and he still is. I completely and utterly believed in what he wanted to do with Tundra - he wanted to provide a publishing company that would exist for the benefit of the comic creators' community. I took a pay cut to go to Tundra. Kevin put a lot of his money into that place. I poured my heart and soul into my time there, where at one point I had four different business cards that described me as Editorial Director, Production Director, Licensing Director and Director of Promotions and Marketing. I think enough has been written about Tundra at this point. Suffice it to say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

One of your early mainstream writing gigs was a run on "Hellblazer" for Vertigo. Was Constantine a character you were a fan of before writing him? After such a long run on the character, was there a particular story you have written for him that you like best?

Here's where we get into territory that has always been a little weird for me - I know this has been misinterpreted a lot, so I sometimes hesitate to say it -- I am not sure I know enough about the history of comics. So while I knew a little bit about Constantine, I kind of came in cold. I love comics, don't get me wrong. And I know an awful lot more about them these days. But frankly, I had probably read just three or four issues of "Hellblazer" when I applied for the gig. I read a few more once they gave me the title. But I have always felt it helped me to write certain titles if I wasn't hogtied by knowing their entire history.

Constantine, of course, is an incredible character. I will always be both amazed that I got the gig and eternally grateful to [Vertigo editors] Karen Berger, Lou Stathis and Axel Alonso that they took the chance on me all those years ago. They absolutely should not have done that because I had never written a comic book before. To this day I have no idea how or why Karen pulled this off. I often feel that I owe her and my dearly departed friend Lou such a huge thank-you for giving me my career. In those days, of course, Axel and I were just punk kids. Now he is a punk Senior Editor [at Marvel]. I remain oblivious to what I do and why.

My favorite issue of "Hellblazer" is probably a two-parter that revolves around Constantine finding an old London house haunted by a soldier's ghost. It was really all about the British wartime spirit, and my Nan and Granddad in particular.

Your move to Marvel had you launching a short-lived "Werewolf by Night." Was that something you had pitched to Marvel or an opportunity Marvel offered you?

Wow. I am not sure. I am pretty sure Mark Paniccia - my current editor on "Son Of Hulk" - first sent me by Marvel with something that tied-in to one of his Malibu series. That never got off the ground, and Marvel in those days was a tough nut to crack. Someone - I have no idea who it was - asked me to write an issue of "Star Trek." Anyone who knows me is now cracking up because I know less about Star Trek than anyone alive. And the best part about my one issue is that someone apparently dropped the pasted-on lettering for one of the pages at some point, thereby helping the issue make even less sense than when I started.

Right after this I got to know [editor] Ralph Macchio a little bit - he and I really hit it off. We have similar ideas about what makes a good story. My memory of "Werewolf By Night" is that Ralph got it going on advice from Mark Paniccia. I probably have that entire story backwards, mind you.

Jae Lee drew your "Inhumans" series for Marvel Knights. What was it like working with line editors Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti during the early days of Marvel Knights? Were you approached to do a series or did you ask to be a part of it?

Jae and I had been talking about a Hellshock/Hellblazer crossover, which was a truly horrendous idea that we could never wrap our heads around. But we had definitely expressed a mutual desire to work together at some point. One day, he called me and told me that Marvel was creating a new imprint. Doing the Inhumans was Jae's idea; not much of a surprise, really, since I had no idea who the Inhumans were. They sent me three short stories, four pages each. That was all I ever had to work from, which, again, I think works to my advantage. The idea of a teleporting dog with a pitchfork on his head is pure genius. The idea of a lady who punches people with her hair is just so awful I can barely bring myself to think about it. But I'd like to think we made it all work.

So I went into the city from my home in Massachusetts and ran over the pitch with Joe and Jimmy. Again, these were the best of days and the worst of days. Marvel was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the time, the editors were continually having to look over their shoulders, and in my opinion they were being given very little direction and contradictory information.

Joe and Jimmy truly believed in the pitch for "Inhumans," even down to the fact that I felt it should be twelve issues and that Black Bolt would be standing around doing nothing for six of them! I think they were meeting a little resistance internally at the time - they were the new guys on the block and had kind of barnstormed in ready to kick arse. This resistance, by the way, came from some of the old guard and not the editors who I seem to remember were quite enthused. At one point I was accosted in the hall at the old building and informed that "Inhumans" would "probably be cancelled after two issues." Good job we made it to at least six since I think that is the minimum for Eisner consideration.

You worked with Jae Lee again on "The Sentry." Is he an artist that you connect with, and would you ask him to work with you again?

Obviously, the Sentry was something very important to me and I have always felt Jae was the perfect artist to bring him to light, given the way the first series came out. I wrote to Jae just this week and we reminisced about those days. I'd always work with him if the project was right.

Although "Sentry" was your creation, Marvel initially marketed the book as a long-lost Stan Lee concept. Were there any reservations on your part in that marketing idea? Or did you think it was a unique way to raise interest in the book?

Well, it was a great idea and the only component that made us all nervous was me! Joe was just great at sitting at conventions and spinning this goofy yarn about this being Stan's lost character. But I used to mess it up all the time. In the end they'd just ask me to sit still and keep quiet while Joe weaved his magic.

Tell us about creating the Sentry.

The background on that was pretty interesting. Originally, I had written a proposal for DC Comics' Hourman character because I was intrigued by the notion of a superhero addicted to his power. At least, that was my pitch to DC and it went nowhere. At Karen Berger's urging I created a character that would stand by itself, which I originally called the Sentinel, then the Sentry. Both DC and Marvel rejected this about six or seven times each! But after Jae and I did so well with "Inhumans," we were approached with the keys to the city, so to speak. I really wanted to do the Sentry, which was met with a rousing chorus of complete indifference. But once I had a chance to really describe the character to Joe, he could kind of see the vision I had for it. Launching a new character is pretty tough, and required a lot of effort and attention. They came up with the crazy marketing plan about it being one of Stan's lost characters. I have personally always loved the way we did that because I got to name the fake artist "Artie Rosen" after Sam Rosen and Artie Simek, two of Marvels early letterers!

Is it exciting to see your character getting recognition through use in the Avengers titles and in major crossovers?

Sure, absolutely. I'm proud of the fact that so many characters don't stick around for long, yet Sentry has managed to become a mainstay. I feel grateful to [writer] Brian [Michael Bendis] for bringing him back and concentrating on him a little bit.

You also wrote a fairly lengthy run on "The Hulk." What is it about the Hulk that you think makes him such a fan-favorite character?

Everyone can see their own potential to fail when they read Hulk stories. In many ways, while he is so strong on the outside, he is frail beneath. We are all like that, trying to keep up appearances while at the same time trying to keep ourselves together. That's what we see with him, I think.

"Peter Parker: Spider-Man" was another title you had a lengthy run on. Were you a big fan of Spider-Man before you started writing him?

Well, I grew up reading Spidey and Daredevil. Spider-Man is a great character that I have a particular affection for because he is the character I most identify with. I'm very optimistic no matter what happens. Again, I got this series started with dear old Ralph, who lasted all of one issue before he handed it off to [editor] Tom Brevoort. Poor Tom! I seem to remember talking with Ralph for about two years prior to my first issue on the topic of Spider-man. I could never work out what to write because the history seemed to convoluted! The funny thing was, that's exactly what I chose to write about in my "Tangled Web" series.

You got to take a crack at most of the bigger Spider-Man villains while writing that book. Do you have a favorite, and what makes them so appealing?

The Goblin works best for me because he and Peter are so alike, and only he has the insight to recognize this. He's a great character because he's so volatile and passionate. Doctor Octopus is just a dick.

"Spectacular Spider-Man" was relaunched with yourself and Humberto Ramos. Do you feel a lot of pressure when working on a title like that, an icon with a new #1?

I have never felt pressure about my writing and I doubt I ever will. It's too much fun to worry about in that way. Humberto and I have always loved working together and I consider him one of my best friends. That "Spectacular" series went kind of sideways, though - too many stories that we didn't plan on doing when we originally proposed the series.

After all the years working on Spider-Man, did you get to say everything you wanted to? Anything you would have done differently?

I feel the answer to that comes in the final issue I got to do with Mark Buckingham. I have not said all I want to say with him yet - far from it - but I feel like I had a few pretty valuable years in there. If I had a chance to do it differently I would have asked for more Marvel stock options instead of payment by check.

You worked on one of the biggest books in the past decade, "Origin." How did you become the man to tell this Wolverine tale?

I think this story is pretty well documented at this point - it came out of Joe [Quesada's] first editorial retreat as Editor-in-Chief. Bill Jemas - the President at the time - came to me during a recess and together we brought the idea to the assembled editors. I think everyone was a bit nervous at first but people gradually warmed up to the idea. The rest is history.

Did you create the story entirely yourself or was there input from other creators and editors?

In fact, both Joe and Bill Jemas had a lot of input to the story. I had originally proposed something vastly different and they were the ones who hit on the quieter concepts of telling the boy's story, as I recall. That's the kind of story that really appeals to me, so I was kind of slapping my own forehead at first thinking to myself "Why didn't I suggest this approach?" The first issue needed a lot of massaging. But after we got going I think I was left to my own devices for a while. Things got complicated again once we saw the press and fan reaction to what we were going to do.

You also wrote "Wolverine: The End." Was that a way for you to tie up some of the loose ends from "Origin?"

Not loose ends, no. In fact, I had a vastly different approach to my "End" story than others did as I perhaps misinterpreted the editorial mandate. I recall this series as being a chance to make a final statement with any given character. Many others naturally told the final story of this or that character (ie. their deaths). I chose to write about the one thing that has always stuck in Logan's heart - namely, his physical abuse at the hands of an unknown assailant. It was a story about accepting as a victim of rape that you may never have the proper revenge on your attacker.

The Darkness is a character you've written both as in comics and video games. Do you find one more challenging to write than the other? Do you prefer one medium over the other?

I wouldn't say I prefer one over the other but I will say that video games are about five hundred times as difficult to create as comics. They are a pig to wrap your head around, but obviously they pay well.

What attracted you to the character of The Darkness?

Jackie Estacado is an orphan who desperately wants a family. His only family is a very dysfunctional one, called the Mafia. So he does whatever he can to keep these idiots together. He's a naïve instrument of destruction in that respect.

You've also worked on a lot of other popular video games like "Legacy of Kain" and "God of War." Is there a great deal of creative freedom writing video games?

There was not when I started but I've proved my worth over the years. These days I get Creative Director credit, though I unfortunately have Creative Director responsibilities. But seriously, it is a lot of fun creating these things, a great responsibility and a great challenge. I am privileged to have worked on some of the best games around and with great publishers and developers. I especially like working with 2K - they are extremely innovative and have similar thoughts about how and why games are good.

You re-teamed with Humberto Ramos on "Revelations" for Dark Horse Comics. Was this Ramos' creation or one you came up with together?

This was originally Humberto's idea. He is a staunch and devout Catholic, whereas I am, uh, a druid, or something. He and I had been chatting about matters of faith and fiction and he brought the initial idea to me. I changed it around a lot, which has become a cool formula for us both. In fact, we are on a new project right now that will be published first in Europe and then [in the U.S.] by Marvel. And just when people assume we'll be doing more with "Revelations," we're actually doing a very odd series using Fairy Tale characters.

Your creator-owned Image book "Sidekick" takes a humorous look at the world of superheroes. Was this an idea you had in your head for a while? Or did it come about from having worked in comics for so long?

I had that idea for a while but could never find the right artist for it until I met Chris Moreno at a convention in Ohio. He and I really hit it off and so I immediately went to work on the first series. We have done seven issues so far, and it is by far the book that I most enjoy doing because I can make myself laugh just thinking about it. I always tell people it is autobiographical. At least, the part about Eddie's bipolar stripper girlfriend. We may get around to a few more because Chris and I both love that series. But at the moment, he and I are thinking about a new series that can loosely be described as "'Casablanca' with video game characters."

"Civil War: Frontline" showed a unique perspective of a large comic event. Was this a difficult series to write? And was it one that you had come up with or did you just take the assignment?

It was originally supposed to be a continuation of the "Pulse" series but that wasn't selling well. So Ramon Bachs and I were charged with creating a newspaper-type series that could highlight the complex events of "Civil War." That kind of thing is in my wheelhouse, I think. The series sold way better than expected and I have often been complimented on how successful it is as a companion to the main series. I think we added a lot. Remember, this was eleven issues of a tie-in so you can imagine how difficult it was to do.

"Penance: Relentless" took Speedball, who often was looked at as sort of a joke character, and made him a much darker and more complex person.

That idea was literally created as Joe Quesada and I walked about six blocks in New York from his home to a pub where we were meeting with a few comic creators. Joe asked me if I felt I could do anything with Speedball. Apparently he had been teasing a few fans for a couple of years, saying he was going to kill Speedball. Naturally, I told him, "yes." Then I asked him who the hell Speedball was.

I pitched the story within about three minutes and he and I hammered it out by the time we got to the pub. Then we got drunk and forgot everything. What you read was the result of our drinking.

With "Civil War: The Return," did you know going in the secret that would come out during "Secret Invasion" about who this Captain Marvel was? And did it make it more difficult or more exciting to write the book?

Captain Marvel was a skrull?

Word is during a recent Marvel summit you pitched an amazing idea. Is there any truth to the rumor? Any hints you could give?

Coming in mid 2010!

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