In December of 2006, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Wieringo. Although the interview never saw print, it was one of my more memorable ones, as Mike took my questions and did what he did with everything he worked on: poured his heart into it. So I'm pleased now, with the help of CBR, to bring you my chat with Mike, and I hope you'll join me in remembering one of the greatest storytellers of our times as we look back on his career and on one of his favorite characters, particular, the Amazing Spider-Man.
Wieringo's love for the webslinger went back to childhood. As he explained, "My first exposure to Spider-Man was the comics that my father would buy and bring home. We were stationed in Germany back in the early '70s, and my dad was a big comic book fan --it obviously rubbed off-- and would buy as many comics as he could get his hands on at the Camp PX (Post Exchange). I didn't really read them voraciously over in Germany at the time, but I knew the books he was bringing home and would flip through them. My favorites were the Marvel comics right from the start-- and Spider-Man was foremost among those favorites for me. When we moved back to the States, I started really reading the books my dad had bought, and those Lee/Romita/Kane issues-- like the death of Gwen Stacy and the drug issues-- made a huge impact on me."
Little did Wieringo suspect, as he broke into comics as an adult and made his name at DC Comics on books such as "The Flash," that circumstances would give him the chance to work on the Marvel Comics icon. "I had just left the 'Robin' ongoing title at DC and was frankly unsure as to what I would do from there. I left that book without an assignment waiting for me. I don't to this day really know how-- or whether-- Ralph Macchio got wind of the fact that I was not working on anything at the time, but his call to offer me the 'Sensational' book came not very long after I finished my last issue of 'Robin.' Maybe it was serendipity or maybe I had been yakking to someone about leaving 'Robin' and it got back to Ralph, I'm not sure.
"It was a huge honor to be asked to work on an ongoing Spider-Man title. Spider-Man is one of those characters that I thought I'd never get a crack at, so it was thrilling, exciting and more than a little scary to be actually taking a shot at drawing him. Fortunately, I was paired up with Todd DeZago as the writer, who not only was a great guy to work with, but ended up becoming one of my best friends. We really clicked creatively with how we wanted to handle the character. Our sensibilities for Spider-Man ran almost exactly along the same lines, so it was a fantastic experience for me from start to finish."
It is probably not overstating things to say it was a dream come true for Wieringo to work on his childhood favorite, and with that opportunity came the chance to tackle the supporting cast that Lee and Ditko made famous. "Spider-Man has such a rich pantheon of associated characters that there's almost nothing from his world that I don't enjoy drawing," Wieringo said. "If I had to choose some of the characters from his world, I suppose I'd have to go with the Vulture, the Rhino, the Looter and Sandman among his villains as my favorites to draw. From his supporting cast, J. Jonah Jameson is always a hoot, with his brush haircut and mustache. And the women in his life, Mary Jane and Betty Brant are beautiful-- and beautiful women are always fun to draw."
After "Sensational," Wieringo moved on to other projects such as his creator-owned book "Tellos" with Todd DeZago, but was eventually brought back to Marvel by editor Tom Brevoort for a run on "Fantastic Four" with writer Mark Waid, with whom he'd made a hit with DC Comics' "The Flash" years earlier. After that acclaimed "Fantastic Four" run concluded, plans were made for the launch of a new Spider-Man title, "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man," with Waid and Wieringo as the launch team. Circumstances led Waid to drop out of the project, which presaged some mixed feelings for Wieringo about his run.
"There's an old saying that goes, 'You can't go home again,' and part of me was feeling that when I was first offered 'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.' I felt, though, that after about a decade after first drawing Spider-Man, and the fact that my work had changed and grown over the years, it would be interesting to revisit the character to see how I would handle him after that distance of time. Mark Waid and I had actually done a two-issue guest starring team-up with Spider-Man and the Human Torch during our 'Fantastic Four' run, and I got a little taste of the character again, so it kind of whetted my appetite for more. So when Tom Brevoort offered me 'Friendly,' I jumped at the opportunity to draw Spider-Man again on a regular basis.
"It was fun to work on [Spider-Man] again, from an artistic/visual standpoint-- but I'd be lying if I said that from a story standpoint it was as fulfilling for me. I was expecting a more traditional, old-school version of the character-- and beginning the book in the middle of a crossover ('The Other') and then having his costume changing to the armored version right afterward was a bit frustrating. I didn't stick with it for long, I'm afraid."
Wieringo wasn't just an artist. In every sense, he was a storyteller, someone who always managed to combine his visuals in such a way as to give the reader a clear sense of where the story was going, what the characters were feeling, and an overall sense of emotional intensity that prompted the reader to turn the next page and find out what would happen next. Regarding his approach, Wieringo related, "I have long preferred the plot method of working as opposed to full script. But having worked with full script stories for going on six years now, I've become quite used to it. I was writing and drawing my own stories from very early on in my childhood, so storytelling-- both written as well as visual-- in the comics medium is important to me. Collaboration is important. But the present climate in the comics business is such that collaboration on a story level isn't all that possible, and so I've come to terms with my role. I certainly would, though, love to write a Spider-Man story, either for me or someone else to draw. I've always had aspiration to write as well as draw professionally."
A sought-after creator almost from the start, Wieringo certainly had his choice of projects to work on, yet he managed to squeeze in time to do several covers on books that were somewhat lower-profile, including those set the future world of Spider-Man's daughter Spider-Girl, also known as the Marvel Comics 2 Universe. Explaining his attraction to this world, Wieringo said, "I've always been intrigued by alternate or future-universe versions of classic, storied characters. I loved 'Avengers Forever' and 'Age Of Apocalypse' that explored alternate dimensional versions of the Avengers and X-Men. And I also am quite fond of the MC2 Universe, yeah, particularly 'Spider-Girl.' I love the setup and world that Tom DeFalco has set up for this world set in the not-too-distant future of the Marvel Universe. And anything that features younger characters that might be a great jumping on point for younger readers to introduce them to comics in general and the Marvel characters in specific is a great thing. I think it would be fun to draw some of the MC2 characters for a project, yeah. "
Closing out the interview, Wieringo gave a glimpse of what he had coming up: "I have a 'Spider-Man/Fantastic Four' miniseries written by Jeff Parker coming out. It's a fun story, and it's great to be working with my old studio-mate Jeff. I believe that's a 4-issue mini. After that... I'm not sure. But I'm pretty busy with the 'SM/FF' mini right now!"
In this writer's opinion, the recently completed "Spider-Man/Fantastic Four" series was everything comics should be, and I regret that we will not see what Wieringo had coming next. But this man made everything possible of his 44 years on this Earth, and for that we should be thankful. Goodbye, Mike. We'll miss you.
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