Mike Zeck On Launching the Original "Secret Wars," Joining The Artist's Edition Family

Due in large part to having had a hand in a number of the most influential Marvel Comics of the 1980s, artist Mike Zeck earned a reputation as one of the great artists of his generation.

Zeck kicked off the decade illustrating "Master of Kung Fu" before transitioning into a three year stint on "Captain America." His profile rose even higher when he was tapped to illustrate the first Marvel Comics mega event -- the 12-issue "Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars," the original story that serves as inspiration for Marvel's massive, currently unfolding "Secret Wars" event. Zeck followed up that blockbuster work with a pair of stories that took the Marvel Universe down a dark road: the first "Punisher" limited series, and the landmark "Kraven's Last Hunt" crossover.

This June, Zeck's beloved work will be presented like never before with the release of IDW Publishing's latest Artist's Edition, "Mike Zeck's Classic Marvel Stories." The book, which presents selected artwork in an unaltered fashion true to the original penciled pages, includes a sample of some of Zeck's most memorable work. In advance of the book's release, Zeck spoke with CBR News about his career and this new oversized collection.

CBR News: Since you have so many memorable Marvel Comics runs, did you get any say over what was included in this Artist's Edition? And what stories are included in the collection?

Mike Zeck: "Secret Wars" #1, "Kraven's Last Hunt" part one, "Punisher" issues #1 and #2 and "Captain America" issues #265 and #266 are the complete interior stories in the Artist's Edition. Of course there will be a large cover gallery as well, including some fold-outs.

Unfortunately we weren't able to just browse through my eighties work and cherry-pick our favorite issues and story runs. All pages need to be available for scanning if an issue is to be included in an Artist's Edition volume and my art has for a long time now been distributed between fans and collectors who have also sold or traded pages in the interim years. That makes it difficult to find complete and still intact stories. We chose what we felt were the best of the complete issues which were available to us and best represented my key projects from the eighties.

Do you like seeing your art presented in this way, as it was originally illustrated?

I've been a fan of the Artist's Edition format from the outset. I love looking at original art and IDW's Artist's Editions are as close as you can get to holding original art in your hands. I don't have my originals any more so I'm going to be very happy to see them again in this format. And of course I'm very thrilled to become a part of the Artist's Edition family.

Do you have a favorite project of all the ones you worked on?

Many favorites for many reasons. "Captain America" because one of my dreams as a fan was to draw that character one day. "Secret Wars" because of its success in bringing new readers to comics. "The Punisher" because of Grant's vision and characterization. The Kraven saga because it will forever be one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written. "Damned" because it was such a personal project for me. I could go on but I think you get the picture.

Because it shares a name with Marvel's current massive crossover, a lot of attention has been placed on the original "Secret Wars" series from 1984. This was a huge crossover with a huge cast of characters. Did you have to change your approach or style for the book?

I hadn't worked on any group titles prior to "Secret Wars" so yeah, I would say there was an added level of difficulty keeping up with that many characters. That and the constant rush to meet deadlines. I suppose the biggest change in approach would be the need to back the camera up much more than I was used to with single character books.

Since crossovers weren't that common thirty years ago, was "Secret Wars" a big deal upon its release? Did it receive a lot of attention and did you like working on the project?

I didn't think much about that at the outset, but when issues started hitting comics outlets, it became evident that it was "a big deal with a lot of attention!" Deadline pressures and other elements made the work less enjoyable than some other projects but [it was] definitely worthwhile in the end. "Secret Wars" totally succeeded in bringing attention to Marvel comics via the series and the toy tie-ins. I always hear from fans at conventions that it was "Secret Wars" that prompted them to start reading comics. Very gratifying.

How did you end up drawing "Kraven's Last Hunt" and did you know at the time that it would be such a big deal?

Marc DeMatteis and I already had a working relationship and friendship stemming from our run on the Captain America title. That could've played a small part? I like to say "sheer luck" though!

After reading the plot for "Kraven's Last Hunt," I was completely aware that I had one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever written in my hands. I certainly felt it deserved to be a big deal! Happily it was and it's very gratifying to see it still in print and still applauded today.

You've worked with writer Steven Grant a few times over the years, most notably on "The Punisher" limited series and "Damned." What do you like about collaborating with him and how do you think your sensibilities overlap?

With Grant, I'm a fan of the writer and the person. When he shared with me his perception of who the Punisher was and his idea for the limited series, I knew that the Punisher had finally been defined -- at least to my tastes -- so I was onboard in an instant. The feeling of knowing a character makes it far more enjoyable to draw the character and that was the gift that Steven gave me with the Punisher.

When our schedules allowed, Grant and I connected on some smaller projects. "Challengers of the Unknown" comes to mind. We are both fans of the crime genre and that is what eventually lead to "Damned." Working on "Damned" with Steven and being able to explore a different style made that one of my favorite projects.

Do you have any favorite inkers you collaborated with who you think really captured your work?

If you look at my body of Marvel work, you'll almost always see John Beatty or Bob McLeod in the inker credits, so they're obviously a couple of favorites. Denis Rodier and Klaus Janson also come to mind. It wasn't so much about who "captured" my work, rather who could retain the strength of my pencils while embellishing and improving them at the same time. Anyone who accomplished that is on my favorites list.

As a lot of readers know, you haven't drawn comics in recent years. Is there anything you still really want to do in comics? Do you have any ambitions or stories you're still interested in doing?

Not really, [there are] no "unfulfilled comics dreams" dancing in my head. After my first 30 years or so in the industry, I felt like I had realized whatever goals or ambitions I may have had. A little more than a decade ago I transitioned from the editorial side of comics to the licensing/merchandising side. Good timing, I think, because the change and new challenges that accompanied that move were invigorating.

"Mike Zeck's Classic Marvel Stories Artist's Edition" is expected in stores on July 1.

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