I've been aware of Tom Scioli's work for a good long time--back to the early phase of his Myth of Opus-8 days. More recently, he and co-creator Joe Casey have been entertaining folks with their run on the creator-owned Gødland (Image). I've been aiming to do an email interview with Scioli since I got him to autograph an Incredibles (BOOM!) cover at HeroesCon 2009--but then the year got away from me. Once I ran into him again last weekend at HeroesCon 2010 I told myself another week could not go by without that interview happening. Fortunately for me, Scioli agreed and even better it was on the heels of his newest project, American Barbarian, starting its online presence on June 8. He also opted to start posting UnMortals: The Myth of 8-Opus online at the same time. We talk about all three projects. But first here's Scioli's description of American Barbarian: "A red-white-and-blue-haired hero must defend a post-post-apocalyptic world from the immortal Two-Tank Omen." That's right, "post-post". Double the post. You bet we talked about that.
Tim O'Shea: The first I saw of American Barbarian was a piece that ran in the HeroesCon program, what kind of feedback did you get from folks at HeroesCon?
Tom Scioli: I've been working on American Barbarian as a little side project for the past two years. I recently started taking it to shows and it's been getting a reaction. People seem very curious and interested in it. It seems to trigger a similar reaction in people, they start to wax nostalgic about He-Man or Thundarr or Conan or Blackstar or whoever their touchstone from that 70's/80's Barbarian period is.
The reaction reminded me of the days just before Gødland. I was at the WizardWorld Philly show, drawing the first appearance of Basil Cronus. People were really interested and curious about the character. One person after another. And in my personal life, too. Friends would ask, "what's the deal with that skull guy?" Basil went on to be the breakout character of Gødland, so it seems to me like a good indicator that I'm on to something.
The American Barbarian HeroesCon piece was something I did specifically for their auction. It's the main thing I've been thinking about lately, so when they asked for something, that's what they got. In the program book it had zip-a-tone, but the original piece is in full red-white-and-blue glory.
O'Shea: American Barbarian is set in a post-post Apocalyptic period--why post post?
Scioli: Well... post-apocalypse is so played. I feel like if the post-apocalyptic world is a region of the human imagination, it hasn't been very well developed. It hasn't been pushed far enough. I think about the Planet of the Apes movies. At the end of the second one, they blow up the world. That seems to be the dead end for the series. A movie either takes place before that, or they go back in time or they reboot the series or whatever. But why would that necessarily be the end of the story. Are you telling me that there's nothing you could come up with that would survive that, or thrive in those conditions? We're not talking about reality, we're talking about the imagination. I know if somebody said to Jack Kirby, we want you to take over this book, last issue we nuked planet earth, good luck, you're telling me he wouldn't've taken the ball and ran with it?
O'Shea: What motivated the decision to start running Myth of 8-Opus online? Any plans to start developing new Myth of 8-Opus material?
Scioli: Having more of an online presence has been on my mind a lot. I hadn't been making much of an effort to do that. My focus has always been "the direct market." But it seems like any move I make on-line is the thing I keep hearing about from people I meet at shows or via e-mail or whatever. 8-Opus is my pet project. I want as many people as possible to see it, like it, become a fan of it. I wasn't thinking of 8-Opus in this regard, but I could see how in the coming years, like it or not, my stuff would be online. But I was busy with this or that, just didn't have the time.
I'd had some very fruitful conversations with people who were making a real go of it with their comics on-line. The things they were describing seemed very much like what I was doing, but I was missing that one essential ingredient, a regular comic, that people could check out a new installment of every day. It just made too much sense. I was ready to start serializing American Barbarian online. But they went a further step. They made a really good case for why there's no reason not to put 8-Opus up there too. It's something I'd never considered, but makes all kinds of sense.
I've been developing new 8-Opus material, which I take with me to conventions, but since I'm unable to put it out in monthly comic form, nobody sees it until a TPB comes out. I'm posting a-page-a-day of 8-Opus until it catches up to the stuff I'm currently drawing, at which point you'll be seeing things you've never seen before.
O'Shea: In running 8-Opus online, did you fight the urge to tweak some of your work from years ago?
Scioli: Not at all. I had that urge years ago, before Gødland came out, to get 8-Opus to where I'd felt my art developed, so I redrew issue one. It ended up being a waste of time. I liked my funky, raw, charming original better than my slick, elegant redo. I learned that lesson.
O'Shea: As a storyteller, how do you think your collaboration with Joe Casey on Gødland has served to benefit your narrative skillset (if at all)--and do you see ways where you might have had an influence on him?
Scioli: Yes and yes. Here's what I learned from Joe:
Telling a story with economy, making each panel, each page really count. Make people care about your characters. That doesn't mean they have to necessarily be likeable, but there should be something there to make people really feel invested in seeing where they go. Don't be afraid to let your audience in on the joke. Be yourself, people want to see what you have to say. I could keep going, but those are the ones that spring to mind.
Joe was a more mature artist when we first got together, so I'd assume I had less of an effect on his work. That said I do see a difference between his pre-Gødland and his post-Gødland work. Whether that's because of lessons learned from me, or just things he learned from the overall Gødland experience, I don't know. I do know it was a one-in-a-lifetime, life-changing collaboration and we've both been changed for the better from it. One thing we seemed to bring out of each other is to just be fearless.
O'Shea: Back in 2008, in an interview with CBR, Casey said: "I never said that the last issue was definitively #36. As we get closer to that climax, Tom and I together will determine how and when we'll wrap it up, and which issue we'll be wrapping it up in." Is it still too early in the wrapping up stage to predict when there'll be a final issue?
Scioli: For a while it looked like we'd need 37 issues, but the number 37 is such an odd number. 36 is much more pleasing. I think it will be #36, but it'll be double-sized.
O'Shea: Once Gødland reaches its logical narrative end, do you envision you and Casey collaborating on another ongoing series?
Scioli: On another creator-owned series? Probably not. I feel like creator-owned work is such a risk, and the rewards of it are mostly in the opportunity to be yourself and do your thing, I couldn't really see myself working with a writer. My creator-owned stuff after Gødland is going to be 100% me, for better or worse. Of course, never say never.
As far as other projects, if a publisher would like to hire me and Joe to bring some of that Gødland Magic to their books, I would not turn down a steady paycheck.
O'Shea: Has Marvel or DC ever tried to get you to work for them--or do you prefer the freedoms afforded you in the indy market?
Scioli: I did some work for Marvel in 2003 before Gødland, and I did some Marvel-licensed art for the cover of a magazine a couple of years ago, but no. And I've never done anything with DC. I would do it if asked, but I'm not interested in chasing it. If they like what I'm doing and want to hire me, that's great. I look at their books, and now more than ever they seem to have a house style, and my work does not look like that house style. So I'm not sure how I would fit into their master plan.