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Gavin's Underground

Steve Lieber & Jeff Parker

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-09-22 -

For many in Utah comic-book circles, being independent isn't just a choice its almost habitual. But the ideal of creating your own miniseries for the area and even the country to pick up is becoming more viable over time and has started to shift Indie into the spotlight. And that trend is catching on with major writers and artists as well.

This Saturday over at Dr. Volt's, the co-creators of the comic Underground come to town for a signing and to promote the new series they have coming. But before they arrive I got a chance to chat with both Steve Lieber and Jeff Parker about their careers and the titles they've worked on, as well as thoughts on the industry itself and the new book.

Steve Lieber

http://www.stevelieber.com/

Gavin: Hey Steve, first off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Steve: I’m an illustrator in Portland, Oregon. I was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and studied comic book art at the Joe Kubert School. I’ve worked on characters and properties like Batman, Superman, Hellboy, and Road To Perdition, but I’m best known as the artist of the graphic novel Whiteout, recently adapted by Warner Brothers as a movie starring Kate Beckinsale. I'm a founding member of Periscope Studio, the largest studio of freelance comics artists in North America.

Gavin: What first got you interested in drawing. And what were some early comics you read early on?

Steve: I remember copying Peanuts strips out of the newspaper when I was really young. I was one of those kids for whom escapist stuff was really important, and it wasn't that big of a leave from wanting to read comics about cool stuff to wanting to draw them my self.

Gavin: What was the big breaking point for your career in comics?

Steve: Definitely Whiteout. I'd been working in comics professionally for six or seven years, but nothing I'd drawn had really clicked with readers. My skills weren't in tune with most of the projects I'd been working on.

Gavin: How was it for you working on the Whiteout series when it first hit?

Steve: It was a dream project. I loved the story, the setting, and the character, and I got to control the look of it. Most comics from big publishers are done in a sort of assembly line, where the art gets handed off from one artist to another to get it done. Not this book. Every mark on the page was mine- my virtues, my quirks, my faults.

Gavin: Offhand, what's your take on the film version that just recently came out?

Steve: Haven't seen it yet. I'm really excited, though!

Gavin: What was it like for you working at DC, specifically with the Detective Comics and Gotham Central series?

Steve: Detective wasn't the right project for me. It was a giant storyline with lots of different artists and writers doing different parts of the same story, and I felt like a fish out of water. Gotham Central was a different- that was a real pleasure. My "voice" as an illustrator was more appropriate for that storyline, and I think the results were a lot better.

Gavin: You also had a hand in Marvel's Civil War: Front Line for the first ten issues. What was that experience like for you working with the majority of the Marvel characters?

Steve: I was off in a mostly unexplored corner of Marvel's Universe, and I had a blast.

Gavin: How does it feel working on stories that have been recognized by the Eisner Awards?

Steve: It felt great, but it's important not to take things like awards too seriously. If you believe them when they say you did good, you have to believe them when they say you didn't. It's more important to work to your own tastes.

Gavin: After everything you've worked on so far, what's been your favorite series to date and why?

Steve: Definitely the current one: Underground. I love Jeff Parker's story. He's a mind-blowingly great writer with the ability to switch from hilarious to horrifying with the turn of a page. No one in comics can tell a story as well as he does.

Gavin: Tell us about Underground.

Steve: Wesley Fisher and Set Ridge are Park Rangers in Marion, Kentucky, a small town without much in the way of jobs or opportunity, but they do have a Stillwater Cave, a huge, magnificently decorated cave that Wes wants to keep pristine. Some folks in town want it opened to the public as a show cave- get some tourists, bring in some money. A conflict in the cave with some local guys that should've stopped at words spirals out of control, and before long, Wes and Seth are running for their lives through the dark. That cave is a dangerous, unforgiving environment, and even a small mistake can easily lead to horrible injury or death. We've put entire whole first issue up for free on our website.

Gavin: How did you and Jeff come together to work on it, and what's the creative process like for you both?

Steve: I knew I wanted to do a realistic crime-thriller set in a cave, and I even wrote and drew a short story as a kind of "pilot episode" , but I just couldn't figure out what made the characters tick. That's where Jeff Parker came in. We share a studio, and I'd been telling him cool stuff about caves for years, lending him books and videos, so when I brought him in he was primed for it.

Gavin: How long will this initial series run and do you have any plans for more afterward?

Steve: It's a five issue story. I've got an idea for something else we can do with one of the characters, but that's not on the schedule fright now.

Gavin: A little industry-wise, what are your thoughts on the state of comics today?

Steve: I don't think there's ever been a better time to be interested in comics. The best work of previous decades is available in affordable reprints or archival editions. There's a flood of fine work from other countries available in English. Cartoonists who want to undertake a big, ambitious project know that there's a market for such things. And the cartoonists who want to do such things are sticking with the medium and getting better. There are more women and girls buying comics and creating comics than there have been in many, many years. And every year there more and more artists are able to support themselves as web-based cartoonists, telling their own stories to intensely loyal audiences.

Gavin: Is there anything you feel could be done to make them bigger or better these days?

Steve: That's for every cartoonist to decide for himself. Or herself.

Gavin: Who are some writers and artists you recommend people check out in comics today?

Steve: I'll buy absolutely anything by Jaime Hernandez, Carla Speed McNeil, or Joe Sacco. Jim Ottaviani's doing nifty work with his books about scientists. Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead is addictive as heck. On the web, I love Erika Moen's DAR (http://darcomic.com) It's alternately filthy and sweet. Also Chris Onstad's Achewood is a dazzling achievement. Read one strip and you'll have no idea what you're looking at. Stick with it long enough to get to know the characters and you'll be addicted for life.

Gavin: Do you have any advice for people trying to break into comics?

Steve: Produce complete stories and publish them as minicomics or put them on the web. Keep doing it and getting better. Build your audience.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Steve: I'm the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Creating A Graphic Novel. There's a revised edition coming out this November.



Jeff Parker

http://www.parkerspace.com/

Gavin: Hey Jeff! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeff: I'm a failed artist. Not entirely, I made a living for quite a while just on drawing- for comics, animation, live action storyboards. But I seem to be much faster and connect better with people by writing. It's all storytelling, which is my overall forte. I can't believe I said "forte."

Gavin: What first got you interested in writing. And what were some early comics you read early on?

Jeff: I loved Dennis The Menace comics. And even though I didn't know the names of the artists, the stories I gravitated to were the ones drawn by Al Wiseman.

Gavin: How did you eventually get involved with Solitaire?

Jeff: I had sent art samples to Malibu, in that case it was a few pages of Fantastic Four that I made up. Hank Kanalz liked them and soon I was drawing steadily for them- until Marvel bought the company and ended it!

Gavin: What was the big breaking point for your career in illustrating?

Jeff: I don't think I ever had one, but if I did it was The Interman, the adventure I wrote and drew in 2003. A problem with me as an artist is that I try to morph my style into whatever the story calls for. That sounds like what you should do, but the reality is that I never displayed a strong style that editors would know what to expect of me. Also I'm not very good at hiding when a script doesn't inspire me. You're supposed to be so pro that you can make even a lame script look like a million dollars. I just can't make the necessary mental separation. So I'm better off writing, where I can determine the foundation of a story right off.

Gavin: You've worked around for most every major company. Which has been your favorite?

Jeff: I've clicked the most with Marvel- they've given me the chance to tell so many different kinds of stories.

Gavin: Over the years which series has been the most rewarding for you to work on?

Jeff: So far it's between Agents Of Atlas at Marvel and Mysterius The Unfathomable at Wildstorm.

Gavin: How did you eventually get involved with Virgin Comics, and what was that time like for you?

Jeff: MacKenzie Cadenhead who had been one of my editors at Marvel, went to work for Virgin and asked me to pitch some things. Then one day she told me that they wanted to develop some notions from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. That was a lot of fun, I got on the phone with Dave and he recounted a lot of his early pre-Eurythmics career and this stage act he would do called Mr. Memory. It was a gag where he couldn't remember anything the crowd said, but somehow out of that came the idea for the book Walk-In. Actually, I remember- he wasn't even talking about his main concept, he referred to the idea of a "walk-in" where an entity from another world takes over your body. Not really possession, more about switching places- and that led to the character Ian, notice I always pick short names, who was having blackouts and strange visions. I love sci-fi like that that doesn't at first look like sci-fi. So it was generally enjoyable, though by the time I followed Andy Diggle on Gamekeeper, Virgin was falling apart. They never had a clear plan for making money and in my opinion, weren't really trying to sell their books. MacKenzie was gone by this point. If you're publishing, you have to plan things so that the books pay for themselves, you can't count on external media rewards.

Gavin: The most recent series you've been working on has been Agents Of Atlas. How did that opportunity come about, and what's it been like working on such an interesting title?

Jeff: Mark Paniccia at Marvel first asked if I could pitch the Secret Avengers from What If #9 because he had a hunch that we could do something cool with it. It took a while, but it got approved and Leonard Kirk came on as the artist. Not many people read that miniseries, but those who did were loud about it- it really stuck with them. The good buzz kept building and finally the set up of Dark Reign gave us a natural entry point for a new series. Carlo Pagulayan and Gabriel Hardman both came on as our main artists and suddenly the book took on all kinds of gravity. I know a lot of artists who have Atlas on their pull list because they have to see what these guys will draw next. I try of course to push the stories into scenarios that appeal to me as an artist so they'll enjoy it. Atlas is an odd balance. On one hand it should feel comfortable and hit your nostalgia buttons, but at the same time it's all about subverting expectations. I want the readers to not feel like they know where things are going. That's established in the first series when instead of defeating the Yellow Claw and his empire, Jimmy Woo decides to take charge of it. From that point you should know that you're getting on a ride without a familiar map.

Gavin: In all of your work, do you prefer being an artist or a writer, and why?

Jeff: I really prefer writing because it works with my patience level better. As an artist I'm so much slower. But I do plan to draw my own stories again. I can't see drawing for another writer, I like starting the ball rolling too much. Of course I say that, but I recently drew a two pager in Uncanny X-Men: First Class that Roger Langridge wrote. But that's different, Roger's a genius.

Gavin: How did you and Steve come together to work on Underground, and what's the creative process like for you both?

Jeff: Lieber had the idea first, and acted like he planned to write it. But the whole time, he kept telling me interesting facts about caves and showing me caving videos and talking nonstop about prusiking and single-rope technique. Then he'd casually mention story ideas he was tossing around, and before too long I'd been lured in.

Gavin: Do you have any plans for more afterward?

Jeff: This is five issues, and along the way I did come up with something following up our main character, but I think Steve is more interested in following one of the supporting characters down a completely different vein- I'm not going to say what it would be, but I really like the Coen Brothers type approach of branching off in that way.

Gavin: A little industry-wise, what are your thoughts on the state of comics today?

Jeff: Really? I think we're on the verge of a paradigm shift, like we were when the Direct Market was created. Except now we're about to move into the wider world of digital. The iPhone style apps are moving fast, and soon we should be in Kindle-style readers, which is a very natural fit for comics. I think this will let us branch back out beyond superhero genre in a major way- essentially getting comics back to where they were fifty years ago.

Gavin: Who are some writers and artists you recommend people check out in comics today?

Jeff: Two of my faves are in my studio, Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. They both do quite a bit of work for Marvel, but together they have a graphic novel coming out from Top Shelf soon that is really going to impress people. I don't think it's announced yet, so I won't name it.

Gavin: Do you have any advice for people trying to break into comics?

Jeff: Do your own comics. You shouldn't set out wanting to tell Spider-Man's stories, you should aspire to create something new and more personal. If you do quality stuff of your own, you'll get work for hire as well, because editors look for talent in other books more than samples. They have to know that you can finish a job and work with others, in addition to being good. My main gripe is that a lot of new creators seem to focus on being able to beat the worst of what they see in print: "Well I can do better than this artist/writer." Don't shoot for the bottom, come out gunning for the top. You want to be so good that your work can NOT be ignored. Would you go into any other field aspiring to being mediocre, like "I could be a passable attorney-afair-to-middling doctor who more or less keeps patients alive- an engineer who can get by?"

Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Jeff: Spider-Man 1602 is coming up. Yes, I totally set that up on purpose, I get irony. And that's been a really neat project for me. I'm working with artist Ramon Rosanas, another world class illustrator. I've been so fortunate to work with such heavy hitters.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Jeff: Just my website.

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 6,2010 at 01:43

another world class illustrator. I've been so fortunate to work with such heavy hitters.

 

 
 
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