The Other Marvel Boy: A Conversation with J.G. Jones - Part 2

[Interview with JG Jones: Part 2]In the second half of this exclusive and rather extensive chat with J G Jones, Jeff discusses his childhood and the effect that comics - and the death of a particular Marvel character - had upon his impressionable young mind, the names of the various artists who have had a major influence - both apparent and hidden - on his approach to creating his spectacular art, as well as the other reasons - besides the obvious ones - he chose to work on MARVEL BOY. And, just in case that's not enough raw data to absorb, he also reveals why he doesn't commit to an ongoing series, what important lessons he learned from Jim Shooter during his stints drawing for Defiant and Broadway Comics, along with which artists and writers are his favorites, both within and outside the world of comics.

BB: How'd the Shi work come about?

JG: Tony Bedard, who is now an Assistant Editor at DC. We worked briefly together at Broadway Comics. The now defunct Broadway. And he ended up working for Billy Tucci. When FATALE was done, I pretty much quit Broadway that day - which didn't much matter, because they were out of business the next week - and I ran into Tony. And he said, "What are you doing? Come work with me!" And that's pretty much how we ended up [working] with Crusade Comics.

BB: What kind of scripts did you get on the Shi book, and were you a bit more involved in it's development?

JG: That was a full script. I've pretty much worked full script all the way [through my career]. I've never had what they call a Marvel style script. I've never had that, ever. I don't know, I really I prefer full script, for the reasons we talked about earlier. Even if I want to make changes, I know where to go with them.

BB: Yeah, you know the writer's intent, and what they're trying to accomplish that way.

JG: Right. Exactly.

BB: How successful do you think the Shi work was, both at capturing Tom's take, and Billy's original vision of the character?

JG: I went back and looked at the book the other day, and I was pretty pleased. There was some stuff that I liked a lot about it. As far as the Shi character, that book seemed to be a lot different from the initial series, but then Billy seemed to be trying to find a different angle on the character at that time, anyway. I think it fit into that whole re-examination after the close of the first series. Ya know, where he was going to go with it next.

I also did Shi, the series, the first four or five issues of that, which grew out of a plot that Tony Bedard and I worked on together. Tony wrote it, and I did the art. I was also throwing a lot of my own dialogue, sort of in the margins of the pages, and Tony liked it so much he ended up using a lot of my dialogue.

BB: Was that a bit of an unusual working relationship for you, then? Getting to take part in the development of the story and helping to create the dialogue, as well as drawing the book?

JG: Yeah, it was pretty easy goin'. We were all friends, and talked on the phone a lot, and I had a feeling for where everything was goin'. A little more 'loosey-goosey', less formal. Not that Jimmy and Joe are really formal, but you kind of have to stick to a game plan to get things done on time with Marvel.

BB: We've already talked a bit about this, but let's discuss your childhood a bit more in detail. You said that you grew up in Louisiana, and were involved with art at an early age?

JG: Yeah, [I've] pretty much always done art, since I was a little kid. My dad used to show me how to draw things. He was a passable amateur, carved model cars out of blocks of wood that were really nice. So he always had some artistic ability.

You know those 'Paint By Numbers', like paint Binky the Clown kits? Paint the horses, and the dogs. I used to get those, and paint over the paint by numbers stuff. I'd paint my own pictures on top of those little canvases. I'd paint, like, spaceships and things, instead of the dog.

BB: Ah, you were a subversive even back then!

JG: I'm subversive? Thank you, maybe I should work for Vertigo! [General laughter]

BB: What did your dad do for a living, anyway?

JG: For most of my life he drove a truck, for Exxon. And then, later on, Exxon had a school, an internal school, and he went back [to school] and became a machinist, and worked in a machine shop until he retired a few years ago.

BB: Was mom at home, or did she work?

JG: Mom usually worked. She started out working secretarial jobs, and ended up in real estate, eventually. She's still doing that.

BB: She was ahead of her time, then.

JG: She WAS. I think that's why I've never had any issues with women working, or women's equality. I just expected it. That's pretty much the way it was in my house.

BB: Yeah, today it's just seen as almost natural, isn't it? Especially since a family basically needs two full incomes just to make ends meet!

JG: Yeah, it's kinda taken for granted. You have to remember I'm a little older than a lot of the people working in the industry now. I made 38 this April.

BB: Yeah, well I've got a few years on ya, boyo. So we can compare "I'm so old!" notes later ... [General laughter]

What kind of other hobbies did you have as a kid, aside from art?

JG: Built models. Played football. Lusted after little girls. The usual.

We had the only basketball hoop in the neighborhood, so it was our house. Our back yard was the football yard.

BB: All the neighborhood kids came to your place to play the games.

JG: That's right. Tackle, baby!

And, ya know, taking daily beatings from my older brother.

BB: You come from a large family?

JG: No. It was initially three siblings; older brother, younger sister. And when my father remarried, they had a little girl, so I actually have a 14 year old sister. It's cool. She's a great kid.

Our family's so spread out. My dad's got a brother who's 24 years older than him, and my half sister is 24 years younger than I am.

We're virile old men! [General laughter]

BB: Yeah, and it could also have something to do with growing up in that southern heat, too.

JG: Keeps the blood thin!

BB: Did you read many comics when you were a kid?

JG: Oh, yeah. I was a Marvel geek when I was a kid.

BB: When we've talked before, you mentioned that Spider-Man was you favorite character.

JG: Yeah. I always loved the soap opera with Spider-Man. I mean, the death of Gwen Stacey was like a hole in my childhood. "They CAN'T kill Gweeeeeen!"

BB: Yeah, that REALLY was a wrenching experience, wasn't it? It's hard, these days, to explain the impact that had on readers then.

JG: Yeah. Back then, people didn't die in comic books. Didn't happen. So it was a huge deal.

- J.G. Jones

BB: Right. And not just cause she was a lead character, but especially because she was a woman.

JG: That's right.

BB: I mean, there was the death of her father, Captain Stacey, a little earlier.

JG: That was upsetting enough. He was the only one who knew Spider-Man's secret identity, and he was cool with it.

BB: Yeah, he was portrayed as a very cool old guy, who could relate to kids.

JG: Now, everybody's just a rebel!

BB: And they've got BIG GUNS!!

JG: That's right. A big gun, "And I've got claws, bub, and I'll cut you up!" [General laughter]

BB: What other books were you enjoying back then, and why?

JG: I knew all the artists of course. I had my favorites. John Buscema was huge. Of course, I'm really sad about Gil Kane passing, because I never got to meet him and he was a HUGE influence on me. Especially those SPIDER-MAN issues where [John] Romita inked Gil Kane's pencil's. The perfect combination of Romita Sr.'s kinda fluid, smooth [line] and Gil Kane's kinda jaggy energy [evident in his layouts and figures].

BB: It's funny that you mention this, because I was going to ask who your influences were in a moment, and - now that you bring it up - there is a HUGE Gil Kane influence in your art.

JG: Oh, yeah. I think that people who are paying attention can see it. It's pretty clear in the poses I use, and the kind of dynamism I use, as opposed to the way some people draw comics now. Ya know, more manga influenced, a different sort of dynamism in the way the figures twist and ... I'm kind of old school, I think.

BB: Hey, all you've gotta do is add some speed lines.

JG: That's it! Put in some speed lines, and make the eyes dewy! Make them drip. [General laughter]

BB: Who else has had an influence on your style?

JG: I used to copy Frank Frazetta paintings when I was a kid. Let's see, who else ...

Everybody. When I was studying painting in college, I looked at all the old masters, so a lot of figure drawing there.

BB: Was there anyone in particular whose work you found particularly appealing?

JG: Oh, yeah. I like [Diego] Velazquez a lot, and [Michelangelo Merisi da] Caravaggio. That whole Baroque thing.

BB: What about their work really spoke to you?

JG: The way the narrative was conveyed with the figures, and the light and dark. Especially in Velazquez, you could tell so much nuance and tell so much about a character just in those portraits by the way they held their eyes, and turned their head. Or in the composition, the way the figures turned in the light, things like that.

BB: You could SEE the relationships between them, right.

JG: Especially Caravaggio, because they were painting for illiterate people, for the most part. Their patrons certainly were not illiterate, but when people would come in the church they would hear the Bible stories, or whatever, and see them. Pretty much like watching TV, ya know, but [with] just a static esthetic image. Be able to tell the entire story of, I don't know, the death of Matthew, whatever, or Paul being nailed up on the cross. The conversion of Saint Paul just from all the elements in the picture.

BB: Yeah, it's so easy to forget that people literally couldn't afford books until somewhat recently in our history. I mean, you could work ten years, saving all your money, and still not have enough to buy one book.

JG: That's right. Absolutely.

BB: What about authors? I know you've done some writing yourself, who's influenced you - both in past and present, within comics and outside of the genre?

JG: I don't read much other than history, now. I read lots of anthropology, and history. As far as the science fiction stuff, I read all of that: DUNE [by Frank Herbert] and the [J.R.R.] Tolkien stuff LORD OF THE RINGS and the HOBBIT], always loved that. But, also, [Ernest] Hemingway, and A. S. Byatt. Terrific stuff. I read THE PERFECT STORM [by Sebastian Junger] last year. That's a terrific story.

I don't read much fiction anymore. I don't know why. I just find the world itself so fascinating, and the older I get, I feel the less time I have. [Laughter] 'Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn!'

BB: I thought you'd have graduated by now, son!

JG: I tried to! I got bored! [General laughter]

BB: It's amazing, isn't it? You think this stuff is boring when your younger, and then you get a bit older, and then, suddenly, it's all very interesting.

JG: Yeah. A big thing about it with me is growing up, coming out of that kinda rural ...

My dad didn't retire poor; he's solidly middle class, now. But when I was younger, we didn't have two dimes to rub together. And I always kinda felt - if not inferior - like I had started out way behind in the race, and pretty much felt that I was catchin' up, that I was always running to catch up. So, learning was just kinda instilled; and the only way you're gonna catch up is to know things.

And so I ended up workin' in comics, where I know nothing!! [General laughter]

BB: Well, considering that you had a late start in the profession, what exactly lead you into comics?

JG: Well, I started reading [comics] again when I was in Grad school, doing a teaching assistantship up at the University of Albany. My painting students were bringing like Frank Miller and WATCHMEN to class, and showing me this stuff. And I got hooked again. Cause I didn't read [any comics] from the early eighties until the late eighties. And [then] I wandered into that porno shop they call a comic book store. [General laughter]

When I moved to New York city, and got a job working for a local paper, the Brooklyn Paper. That's where I met Batton Lash, [creator of] WOLFF AND BYRD [now known as SUPERNATURAL LAW]. I don't know if you know him?

BB: Oh, yeah.

JG: He was a buddy of mine, and he was doing cartoons for the paper there. And, when he left, I just took over doing the cartoons. Bat and I stayed in touch. And, eventually, I was, like, "Well, hell, doing this comic book thing has got to be more fun!", and it was about the same time I decided I was not going to make a career as a painter. So I just made the jump.

Wrote that RANT book, started drawing it. Drew about half of it, and took it to a comic book convention. Jim Shooter hired me on the spot.

BB: And that was how you made it into Defiant, right?

JG: Yeah, that's how I got into Defiant.

BB: So the RANT book, from Boneyard Press, was your first published work, then?

JG: Actually, no. I didn't finish drawing it at that time. It's the first work I did, but I immediately went to work on DARK DOMINION. And it wasn't until Defiant went defunct that I finished up RANT. And after two issues, and, ya know, basically starving to death, I figured I better go back to work for real.

And that's when Broadway [Comics] got [started] up, and Jim brought me back in to do FATALE.

BB: What was it like working for Shooter?

JG: I know a lot of people have a lot of nasty things to say about him, but I never had that experience, really. He was a hard taskmaster. He wanted it done his way, but it was his company and his story. So I was fine with that.

Even though I didn't get to do a lot of stylistic things that maybe you want to do, and have fun with - we weren't allowed to break panel borders, and things like that - he did teach me a lot about storytelling. How it's all about the story. It's not about doing a book full of pin up shots, which, pretty much a lot of Image comics were then.

So, once I left there, and was able to break out and do more stylistic things, I had a good, solid grounding in telling the story and making sure everything was clear. He always stressed clarity. Clarity, and don't loose the reader. Stuff like that. So I think I learned a lot, working for him.

BB: Did you get to work with him on any of the plotting, or scripts, almost like you were doing with Tony at Crusade?

JG: For Jim, pretty much, he wanted what he wanted. So, they were very detailed scripts. Like, "Coffee cup on the counter, behind the figure."

BB: Almost like Alan Moore's scripts, then, in that respect.

JG: Yeah. REALLY detailed.

- J.G. Jones

BB: Remind me, were you inking yourself then, or was there someone else handling the finishes?

JG: No. Frank McGlaughlin.

BB: What do you look for in an inker, if you can't do it yourself?

JG: If I can't do it myself, I panic. I'm so used to doing it myself now that ...

I don't know. It's hard for me to pencil in a way that translates. I never get inks back that resemble what I had in mind, so we try to keep that issue off the table, if we can. Even a lot of times when I farm out some of the backgrounds, I end up with some of the pages back on my desk, touching those up. I'm a real stickler.

BB: It shows, though. Whenever I see a page of your work, I know immediately that it's your work. Your work is so ... individualistic is the only word that comes to mind right now.

JG: Well, thank you. That's sounds a lot nicer than 'hard headed'. We'll go with that.

BB: Hard-headed?

JG: No, individualistic! [General laughter]

BB: What do you look for in a project? What is it about a book that makes you want to work on it? One of the things about much of your work is the fact that the books often feature strong female leads.

JG: Yeah. One reason I did MARVEL BOY - besides the fact that Grant Morrison said he wanted me, "Huh? OK! Where do I sign? AND I get PAID!?" - I REALLY wanted to do a book that wasn't a 'chick book', cause I'd been doing them for so long. And I didn't want to be just, "That guy who did chick books."

Not that there's something wrong with drawing beautiful, luscious, sumptuous babes in tight - oh so tight! - clothing. But I wanted to branch out into some mayhem.

As far as picking projects, I get bored if I do the same thing forever. I don't know if I could ever do a 12 issue continuity run, or anything like that. I mean, I admire guys like Carlos Pacheco who do just AMAZING work on a monthly book, but I just couldn't do it. I'd get bored to tears, just drawing the same thing every day for twelve months. I like a little variety, the spice of life.

- J.G. Jones

BB: So, what characters and titles would you like to work on someday?

JG: Oooh! Well, I'd have to do some Batman stuff, eventually. Just because I've always loved that character. I got a little taste of Spider-man, with the Paul Jenkins WEB SPINNERS story. I'd always wanted to work with Paul. So far, I'm getting to work with a lot of the people I always enjoyed reading.

I'd love to work with Brian Azzarello. 100 BULLETS, and JOHNNY DOUBLE. I'm just a huge, HUGE fan of his work. [Greg] Rucka is really great, and I love [Brian Michael] Bendis for dialogue.

It's nice to see there's a good crop of writers coming right now, I think. And, also, there's a good crop of artists coming in. I don't know about our readership, we may be losing numbers, but as far as the quality of [comics in general], I think we're in a little Renaissance right now.

BB: Who are some of the other writers you like, and what are the other books, besides 100 BULLETS, that you're reading regularly?

JG: TOP TEN is probably my absolute favorite book right now. I really love that: "NYPD BLUE on crack", it's just great. I like that, I like all the ABC books. I love TOM STRONG. I read all the Doc Savage paperbacks back when I was a kid. I loved all those James Bama covers. It's a great riff on Doc Savage. I think PROMETHEA's good. I never miss 100 BULLETS.

I really like what Jeph Loeb's been doing over at DC. I think he's breathed new life into Superman, a book I NEVER read before. EVER. Instead of 'Big Blue', I used to call him "Big Bore". And I love THE LONG HALLOWEEN, and DARK VICTORY. And Tim Sale's DARK VICTORY stuff is just delicious to look at, ya know.

BB: Yeah, his original art is just ...

JG: I'd like to own one of those, eventually.

BB: Just before we started the tape, we had also been talking about PLANETARY, too.

JG: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I actually hadn't been reading them, and [have] been catching up, lately, getting the back issues and reading both THE AUTHORITY and PLANETARY. And really enjoying them. I like the look of both books a lot, and the writing is just ... he [Warren Ellis] does just a great job. Eventually, maybe I'll get to work with Warren, too.

BB: Yeah, I was going to say that it wouldn't surprise me to hear you'd want to work with that bloke.

JG: We had actually talked about ... I don't know if you'd heard, he'd been talking with Wildstorm about getting his own imprint, an ABC kind of thing, and I had agreed to do a book with him there. But, when that fell through, so did my chance to work with him.

BB: Do you think there's a chance of that project being revived if he does that imprint elsewhere, or on his own?

JG: Well, we'd have to talk about it, and see what I'd committed to. That's the problem, the only problem in this business, ya know? You make a commitment here, and that's a missed opportunity over there. It's hard to pick your way through, and end up in the right place at the right time always. But, yeah, I'd love to work with Warren, eventually.

BB: What kind of suggestions might you have for people trying to break in as an artist, or a writer, today?

JG: Hmm. For artists, I would say go do something else, I've got enough competition. [General laughter]

Learn everything you can. I do portfolio reviews at conventions, sometimes. And you'll always get a couple of guys that come up there and show ya their stuff, and you'll talk for 15 minutes about storytelling, and film, and different ways of advancing the story. And, after you've talked for 15 minutes of, ya know, "You're in service to the writer," they'll look at you with a blank stare and say, "But how do ya think the muscles look?" A lot of kids think they'll be comic book artists cause they draw muscles on guys in tight suits, and that's not storytelling. You've gotta learn that stuff, too, but you really need to learn to draw other things, too, besides guys in tight costumes. Because if the script calls for a telephone, you gotta know how to draw a telephone. Draw everything, not just guys in tights.

BB: Draw from life?

JG: Yeah, draw from life.

As for writers, that's a little tougher. Because that's not really my background. It's something I feel comfortable doing for myself, and I have my own sensibility about what I like to read, and an ear for dialogue, and things like that. But I really don't have any advice for writers. I'm kind of backing into the writing role.

BB: Is that more instinctual, for you?

JG: For me it has to be. I know a lot of writers are, like, "Oh, everybody thinks they're a writer!" And they might be right; maybe I suck. But, for me, it's a lot more instinctual. Even though I do read a lot, and look at a lot of storytelling in film, and stuff like that. So I think I have a good feel for it. And I have to do it, anyway, when I draw.

BB: You've kind of given us you're take on the current state of the art in general with your observation that there are a lot of good books out there ...

JG: Oh, absolutely.

BB: Do you have any thoughts on how we can improve the state of the industry, and ideally further improve the art form, too?

JG: Oh, boy, that's an all night drinking question! [General laughter]

We're losing a lot of interest to other things. The consumer dollars are going off to video games, and ...

I'm not sure how much of it is just intrinsic [to our current culture]. People aren't reading as much, not as interested, and how much is alienation. I mean, it's a hot time for [comic book] properties, right now. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the BOOKS are standing up.

BB: Do you think moving more towards selling a complete story - perhaps away from the monthly magazine format and more towards collections - would help sales and increase readership?

JG: I like collections. I think it's ...

I think that part of the problem, with the big companies especially, they're afraid to let the stories that change a character happen because they want to protect their properties, sometimes. So a lot of the really creative stuff happens on the margins, in the books that they figure nobody cares that much.

BB: Or in the creator owned type of books.

JG: Right. That's why a lot of the real activity's happenin' in the books that people own a piece of, the creator owned stuff. As opposed to running in place with a regular character, an established character.

BB: What's your typical day like? How many hours a day, and how many days a week, do you work?

JG: Up at 7 o'clock. Work as soon as the coffee's ready. And I usually work until about 6:30 or 7 at night. I have really poor night vision, so I like to work when the sun's out, and I have day light, natural light. A lot of guy's work at night in this business, but my eyes just get buggy, and I can't see the page.

I usually work ... I used to work 7 days a week, but now that I have a sweet heart who has other ideas, I try and take some weekend time off. But I usually get some work done on Saturday morning, while cartoons are on. Pick up a little here and there on Sunday afternoon, while listening to the game, something like that.

BB: So what do you do for fun, and to relax.

JG: Well, these days I've become more of a homebody. Go out with the girl [friend/fiancé]. Go to movies. Go to museums. Run around New York. Eat out. When I can occasionally drag the guys out, I like to go throw the football, and stuff like that. And I like to go running, and get out of my own head for a while.

But I don't know what fun is, other than that, anymore.

BB: Well especially with the - by necessity - sedentary lifestyle, you do have to get out and move once in a while, don't you?

JG: Yeah, you go crazy sitting in here all the time, too. There's a running track about half a mile from my house, I try to get down there two times a week, three times a week.

BB: Do you collect anything, and, if you do, what is it about that object that intrigues, or entertains, you?

JG: I'm not much of a collector. Once I read my books, they either get dumped in a box somewhere, or, if I didn't enjoy them, they get pitched out somewhere. I'm not a polybagging guy. [Laughter] I'm not big on collecting things. I've got enough clutter in my life.

BB: Is there a particular question that you've always wanted to answer, but nobody's bothered to ask you?

JG: I can't think of anything very clever.

BB: Well, it doesn't necessarily HAVE to be clever.

JG: I guess the question I would like someone to ask me would be, "How can I make your life easier?" [General laughter] And, if the colorist would ask me that right now, I'd be a happy camper.

BB: Any final thoughts?

JG: "How 'bout them Yankees?" Everybody's writing us off already, and we're doing fine. [More general laughter]

BB: Well Jeff, thank you so much.

JG: It was a pleasure talking to you. I'm just amazed you want to sit there and waste your time listening to me run on at the mouth.

BB: Perhaps it's a sign I need to find myself a real life?

JG: You have too much time on your hands, mister! And too much IN your hands! [Yet more general laughter]

BB: And, on that note, I really will say goodbye!

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