As a kid, The Phantom was one of my favorite comic strips. So last year, I was enthused when I learned that writer Jeff Parker was collaborating with artist Marc Laming on a miniseries called Kings Watch, starring Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician.
Ahead of the July release of the trade paperback collection, I spoke with Laming about the miniseries, and to briefly discuss how the project has opened the door for future work for him. My thanks to Laming for his time and to series editor Nate Cosby for facilitating the interview.
Tim O'Shea: When the offer to work on Kings Watch came your way, which interested you more: the chance to collaborate with Jeff Parker or the opportunity to work with the collection of characters featured in the miniseries?
Marc Laming: If I recall this correctly, Nate [Cosby] asked me if I would be interested in working on launch title for the King Features characters that Dynamite had just acquired, and mentioned Flash Gordon and The Phantom, and I'm a big fan of both characters to so it was easy to say "yes." It was only then that Nate (being sneaky) let me know that Jeff would be writing the book, and that was a massive bonus to a project I was already excited about, I had loved Jeff's Agents of Atlas books and had hoped I'd get a chance to work with him some day.
Speaking of Parker, what was the most rewarding element for you about collaborating with him?
Jeff made working on the project so much fun and gave me such great stuff to draw. How can you not love these drawing great classic characters fighting impossible odds, huge monsters and running around in spaceships?? Jeff's scripts also really pushed my storytelling and gave me a huge amount of room to experiment with design in book. It was also a true collaboration, as we discussed at length the look and feel of most elements in the book. We were both determined that we did the book right and even when we moved away from some of the source material's origins it felt authentic and worked within the world we were creating for the characters in Kings Watch -- this was a real labor of love.
Your art really seemed to gel with colorist Jordan Boyd. How would you say your art benefited from his coloring?
Jordan was such a great find, he did an amazing job and really brought the whole book to life! Again we collaborated closely throughout the series and I think we both brought our A games. You only have to see the great job Jordan did on the "visions of Mongo" spread from Issue 2 to see why he's now in such demand. It's breathtakingly good stuff!
It's really easy to do good work when you have a great script to work from, a colorist who is kicking ass and a letterer as good as Simon Bowland.
What aspect of the project are you most proud of?
I loved drawing the grizzled Phantom. I could have happily kept drawing him.
I loved how in Issue 3, you revealed some process pages of certain scenes (showing the script, your breakdowns, your uninked pages, then before they were colored). Will material like that be in the TPB, or what kind of extras can we look forward to seeing?
Nate, Jeff and I have put together a huge "making of" section in the TPB that includes character designs, unused cover roughs, layouts and all sorts of other goodies. So if you bought the single issues as the book came out there's still a reason for you to all go out and buy the TPB.
I am hard-pressed to pick out a favorite scene from the miniseries, but I think The Phantom nonchalantly wielding a rocket launcher in Issue 5 ranks pretty high for me. How about for you, do you have a favorite scene?
I really enjoyed the Mongo Beast-Men's invasion of London in Issue 4. That was a ton of fun to draw.
I am really struck by your eye for unique layouts. Can you discuss your layout philosophy?
Thank you! In terms of thought process it's just a case of wanting the pages to read as well as possible and to help the reader's eyes move across the image. Most of my sensibility comes from the hugely talented writers I've had the privilege to work with and in particular Howard Chaykin who I worked with on his American Century series -- almost everything I know about composing a page comes from the things that Howard taught me on that book.
In Doug Zawisza's CBR reviews of Kings Watch #1 and #5, he was clearly impressed with your art, comparing you to Gabriel Hardman and Stephen Sadowski, as well as crediting you for your ability to have many of your panels "filled with detail and nuance." Two questions: Would you say Hardman and Sadowski influence your art style at all? How hard is it to meet deadlines and still fill pages with details and nuance?
Doug was very kind. Gabriel and Stephen are both great! I've never thought of Stephen as an influence but I did love his work on JSA. Gabriel Hardman, on the other hand: I worked with on Exile on the Planet of the Apes and learned an awful lot from him, so many of his sensibilities rubbed off on me until as often as I think "What would Howard do?" I can clearly hear Gabriel prompting me to try something else when I'm working on layouts. I would also hazard a guess that we all have similar artistic influences, especially guys like Gil Kane, Alex Toth, Frank Bellamy, Al Williamson and Frazetta's comic book work.
It's always tough hitting deadlines, comic pages just take a lot of hours to produce!
Am I correct in thinking that your work on Kings Watch caught a lot of editors' attentions? It seems like you are getting fairly busy in 2014. What's on the creative horizon for you?
If that's true it was all down to Jeff and Nate spending the whole time we were working on Kings Watch saying nice things about my work - they were real cheerleaders for my work and I owe them both a huge debt of gratitude for their support.
I'm currently working on some projects for Marvel, including an "Original Sin" tie-in for All-New Invaders. There's plenty of exciting stuff coming up later in the year, but that is as much as I can say.