Rob Liefeld is the comics’ industry version of hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
Just think about it. Both rose to prominence during the 90s, setting examples that, like it or not, heavily influenced what was classified as popular. Name recognition alone made hits and then, without warning…the pedestal collapsed under its own weight. The industries they once dominated changed direction, finding new paths and new styles that found little reliance on the creations and input of the “old guard,” which is often discarded when rolling with the new. But the strangest thing happened…they wouldn’t die. Despite controversy and criticism, they can still trigger a response within a great majority of their audience which snaps to attention when their names are mentioned. People claim to “hate” them…but they can’t ignore them.
And if that isn’t enough to link the two men…there is that Jennifer Lopez connection…
Welcome Rob Liefeld to Ambidextrous as he stops by to chat about the new Youngblood series written by Mark Millar, an amusing urban legend, how he’s been paying the bills, and being a “controversial” creator.
Brandon Thomas: When your name is mentioned, it’s usually accompanied with the ominous “controversial” prefix attached. What do you think makes Rob Liefeld a “controversial” creator?
Rob Liefeld: I have no clue, although I’ve heard my fair share of theories over the years. I’m sure that being young and cocky and making millions of dollars in the early 90s didn’t help matters. From talking to retailers and fans and peers, I know that I’m strongly associated with all that has plagued the industry over the past decade, variant covers, late shipping, Image style art, big boobs, etc.
Thomas: Your comic output has slowed to a crawl in the last several years. What have you been doing in the interim? Still living off that Image money from the speculator age? How does Rob Liefeld pay the bills?
Liefeld: I haven’t worked much really. As a matter of fact I didn’t do anything for about two years after my father passed away and during my wife’s first pregnancy. Mostly I’ve been enjoying my two boys and my wife and exploring other avenues of interest. I was fortunate to have saved plenty of the Image money and after the birth of my first son, we sold two of our properties and severely downsized in case there was no work in the future. Having children really changes your perspective, because the kids become a large part of every consideration.
Thomas: How’d you convince Mark Millar to write the new Youngblood: Bloodsport series in the face of all that lucrative Marvel work he’s got going?
Liefeld: I asked him and was thrilled that he was interested. We worked out a fair deal and everything has gone smoothly since then.
Thomas: What’s this new Youngblood series about and why revitalize the concept now? What makes this story special and will set it apart from YB series’ of the past and other books on the stands?
Liefeld: The new Youngblood series is really told on two levels. On one level it’s a straightforward superhero story that involves the Youngblood members past and present in a fight for their lives against an ominous foe. On another level it’s a cautionary tale about the downside of fame and celebrity and the media’s obsession with comic book super heroes. Given the recent boom of interest in super heroes following the Spider-Man film and the slump in comic sales since the mid-90s, the series is surprisingly topical.
Mark Millar has of course filled it with his wicked sense of humor, irony and wit. Couple that with his great flair for action and his wild imagination and I think fans will be very satisfied with the end product. I’ve certainly done my best to keep up with him and draw the best story I can.
As far as revitalizing the concept, I don’t view it as that, I’m just visiting with some old characters. Mark has really taken the original concept and brought a much bigger scale to it while grounding it in reality a bit more.
There is a general mis-understanding about this project where people think that this is me putting my hat in the ring trying to run the comic book rat race again. This book is being done, first and foremost for me and is intended first and foremost for my coffee table.
It’s as selfish an endeavor that I’ve ever taken on and it grew out of two things. One, my desire to work with Mark, who is hands down my favorite writer, and one of the best ever in this business and two, to do a really great story with characters that are near and dear to my heart. I love the Youngblood cast and they represent exciting memories and a significant period of time in my life and I really wanted to do something grand with them.
As long as I was doing it, I felt like I should share it with my hard-core fans, who would dig it as much as I would. More than anything, I’m really looking forward to the over-sized hardcover compilation of Bloodsport, a nice coffee table book. There was a period of time when I was going to just print up several copies and sell them at conventions to the hard-core fans but I was convinced, against my better judgment, to subjugate the comic to a system that I think is horribly broken, which is the direct market. The book did better than I expected, which is completely attributed to Mark Millar, but printed comics still give me the willies. A flash edition will be available on-line before the book reaches the stores which is what really excites me right now.
Thomas: From an art standpoint, how much of the series is finished? Are you enjoying being back at the art table?
Liefeld: I just completed the first issue a few weeks back. Mark likes to tweak things and I made some additional changes to keep the book as relevant and topical as possible. I’m currently working on the second issue.
Thomas: This project is being released through a new company called Arcade Comics. What is Arcade, and what makes this venture different from any of the other publishing ventures you’ve attached yourself to?
Liefeld: Arcade Comics is a company that is willing to let me run some projects through their label. I have a production deal with them, which is much less of a hassle for me. I don’t have to deal with printers and distribution at all.
Thomas: So Arcade Comics is an independent entity that runs without your presence?
Liefeld: I have nothing to do with Arcade Comics. I produce my book, they run it through the system and deal with all the hassles.
Thomas: Will we ever see any of the unreleased Awesome Entertainment projects? I’m most curious about Keron Grant’s Century in particular.
Liefeld: Yes, everything that was in the drawer will see print, especially Century.
Thomas: Is this material going to be released through Arcade?
Liefeld: Possibly. The past few years have seen several projects from my catalog surface at other companies like Avatar and Checkerbook. Arcade has Youngblood and Alias for now. Hopefully there will be more projects spread across several publishers, but it’s not like I’m searching for anyone. Arcade treats me well and it’s a nice fit for now.
Thomas: It’s rumored that there’s more projects coming from Arcade by high profile creators. Care to comment?
Liefeld: Not at the moment.
Thomas: Let’s switch gears a little before getting back to comics. You mentioned that you’ve successfully optioned a few properties to movie studios over the years. How’s the movie deal with J Lo coming along? And how did you even pull that off by the way?
Liefeld: The movie you mention is SHRINK! and it’s going great. Two great writers have just signed on to write the project and we expect a first draft after Christmas. They had a great take on the material and are off and writing as we speak. As with any movie project, it’s a lot of stops and starts, but I’m hopeful that this stays on track.
I actually have another Jennifer Lopez project coming up that should be announced real soon. I’m just fortunate that two projects of mine have interested her and her management.
Thomas: Whatever happened to The Mark? Wasn’t Will Smith attached to that for a while?
Liefeld: The Mark is still active and Will Smith is still on board, his company is producing. There was a lawsuit that slowed its progress for a bit, but that was settled several months ago and we’re back on track. If anything, since Spider-Man, the project has picked up steam. I have a few more projects with Will’s company Overbrook that will be made public soon.
Thomas: I heard some strange rumor that following the release of Milligan’s first issue of X-Force, you sent Marvel an autographed copy of the issue with a note that read, “Thanks for fuckin’ up my comic.” Any truth to this, or is this merely one of the industry’s urban legends?
Liefeld: Urban Legend. Never happened. I really enjoyed the first story arc and would have loved to work with Milligan on something but time and politics would no doubt prevent that from happening.
Thomas: Have you followed and/or enjoyed any of the creators that are working on any of the characters you created while at Marvel?
Liefeld: I follow all of the creators with great interest. I’m very excited for all their successes. I don’t follow the characters as much unless there’s a creator that I’m interested in working on them.
Thomas: Any thoughts on the verdict in the Gaiman/McFarlane case?
Liefeld: I like Todd, I like Neil and I’m just sad that it came down to two creators sitting in a courtroom when it could have possibly been settled more amicably. I was actually staying with Todd in his Oregon home when he was working on that issue as well as earlier issues and we discussed all the possibilities of the Spawn world and the idea of putting angels in his book was planned from the get go. Neil did in fact deliver the goods with Angela but I was always under the impression that it was work-for-hire, so the verdict was pretty damaging but it’s in the appeal stages now, so there’s still some ground to cover. We all want to see the Miracleman stuff collected eventually, but I’m not certain that this trial moved that any closer to reality. Bottom line is that whatever agreement the two of them had is between them and it seems from the court transcripts that the agreements shifted and evolved over time. Clearly the jury favored Neil and the fall out is still being assessed.
Thomas: Any possibility that you’ll ever return to Image? You’re not banned from the building are you?
Liefeld: I’m not certain that other than scratching a nostalgia itch, that my returning to Image would serve any purpose. As for being banned from the building, I wouldn’t know, I haven’t been back since we parted ways. My relations with the partners are pretty non-existent, aside from responding to Larsen’s occasional rants, I don’t speak to any of them. However, Todd and I spent a couple of hours off site at the San Diego show and it seemed that some fences were mended, but I can’t see anything coming from it as far as business is concerned. He did send me some hard to find NBA figures recently so he now has my undying devotion.
Thomas: You’ve had a few recent online disagreements with creators like Kurt Busiek and former comrade Dan Fraga. Is it aggravating that the advent of the internet allows fans and retailers from all walks of life to play witness to “differences” that would ordinarily remain private?
Liefeld: Actually, it’s more entertaining than anything else. I’m pretty bored from day to day, so I enjoy on-line sparring when it presents itself. It gives me something to do.
Thomas: At the end of the day, how do you respond to the criticism? Your name is mentioned on Newsarama and it leads to a seven-page debate. People claim to “hate” you, but they can’t stop paying attention when your name comes up. What does it all mean?
Liefeld: I feel strongly that people are entitled to their opinions and should express them in a responsible way. Most people on-line even when heated are pretty responsible. I have no problem with criticism.
Thomas: Cool. Best of luck with the new series and thanks for stopping by, Rob.