Eric Hoffman’s interview with Mark Badger continues!
Eric Hoffman for Comics Bulletin: You did a number of collaborations with writer J.M. DeMatteis, including the “Gargoyle” mini-series, your first published comic and the “Greenberg the Vampire” graphic novel for Marvel, a run on “American Flagg”! for First, and a “Martian Manhunter” mini-series for DC. How did you come to work with J.M. DeMatteis? Had you known him or his work prior to doing work for Marvel?
Mark Badger: I wasn’t real familiar with anything that he had done when I started in the business. I think he was writing “Defenders” maybe, Cap too. He was really old, married, had a kid, he was maybe 28 or 29, (he and I are both in our fifties now) when I got “Gargoyle”. Carl Potts just handed “Gargoyle” to me as my first assignment with this three- or four-page plot for the first issue.
I called him up with questions and we talked. He liked the cops in the opening pages of “Gargoyle” and asked Ann Nocenti to offer me “Greenberg the Vampire” within the first month working on “Gargoyle”. When you work, plot style the artist ends up talking a lot more to the writer, clarifying and suggesting things. DeMatteis was already in upstate New York, I was in Jersey City at this point, so it was a friendship built out of mutual respect and work but not really hanging out.
HOFFMAN: Will you describe the nature of yours and DeMatteis’ collaboration? Did he provide you scripts or was there a more fluid exchange of ideas?
BADGER: Everything was plot style, when you read books on creativity, they talk about the ability to mix and match ideas and throw different elements into the pot and meld it into something new, essentially collaborate, and that’s what we did. There was a bounce to working with him where whatever I threw at him he responded in some way.
Over time it became just a flow back and forth of ideas bouncing around. We just had some neat wavelength that made working together fun.
HOFFMAN: Is there any particular collaboration with DeMatteis of which you are particularly proud?
BADGER: “Martian Manhunter” just because it’s probably the closest step towards what I am as an artist. We just junked the whole warrior/detective metaphor of what a hero is. I realize that making a Martian based on a David Smith (modern abstract expressionist sculptor) is probably a horrifying idea to mainstream comics people. But if you’re a shapeshifter why not be some weird shape, not a weightlifter?
I love Frazetta’s handling of figures and the form but the “barbarian ethos” it’s not a real way to approach the world, so creating a culture that was unlike anything in comics was my challenge. The fact that people can reread it twenty years later, still find it mind blowing and think it’s the most experimental book DC has ever published and that it still holds up and is hated by geeks to this day means I did something right.
HOFFMAN: What precipitated your leaving Marvel? You mention in Fiffé your frustration concerning Shooter’s insistence that backgrounds be covered in white zip-a-tone, for example.
BADGER: First just offered me “American Flagg!” to work on and I thought it would be pretty cool to do something like that. It was more of the case of being offered work then choosing to leave, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have lasted at Marvel.
HOFFMAN: Is it correct that First assigned you “Flagg” after their original plan to have you illustrate “Badger” fell through? Is there any truth to the rumor that your collaboration with “Flagg” author Steven Grant was a difficult one?
BADGER: When I started working with Steven Grant on “American Flagg!” I was given full scripts. I believe that the medium you work in determines how you think and solve problems. Full scripts, as I’ve said, sets up a story based on words. Writers work with words, they don’t think in sequences of images. Images are just as constructed as a sentence.
Putting six panels on a page and building a relationship between them is actually an amazingly complex act. If you think about it it’s more complex than almost any other visual art form just in the amount of imagery on a page. And of course all the writers out there will say they have mastered this craft and know exactly what artists should do.
“Flagg” had been this visual punch to the dominant mode of storytelling was driven by Jim Shooter’s six panels, full figures in action theory at Marvel. Howard [Chaykin] kind of blew that up. And I really wanted to keep that going of being a visually inventive book.
I had already been swiping Howard’s ideas in “Gargoyle”, along with the work of Diego Battaglia. Marvel style actual allows the artist to have freedom in how he tells and arranges the page. Images can become part of the storytelling. As the artist, you’re actually part of the creative team.
But I was a newbie. I just couldn’t figure out how to work from a script. Steven had a relationship with Howard, so they were co-plotting it at some level, it was all their ideas. I was just drawing the scripts. Obviously with a few more years under my belt I might have been able to handle it. But I think there’s a fundamental problem of the writer not understanding the medium. And I certainly just didn’t feel like part of any creative team.
So I said to First, you guys pick between Steven or I. It wasn’t any big political thing.
We just didn’t work out. I suggested Marc just because we had had a really great relationship.
HOFFMAN: It seems you were given a fair amount of independence with “Flagg!” Is this because Chaykin wasn’t involved in the direction of the comic following his departure?
BADGER: My impression from First was that Howard was this god-like man who couldn’t be disturbed. He was moving to California and was more or less done with “Flagg”. Which given the amount of work he had just done is a pretty reasonable feeling. But First always referred to him in almost religious tones, it felt a little weird.
I had met Howard in Dick Giordano’s class at Parsons. He passed out a lot of great information was friendly and critical. He never played the superstar which some artists fall into; it’s just not Howard. But that’s the way they talked about him.
But there was no plan or direction from anyone that I ever saw. I know he was talking with Steven about their plots but I don’t even know what was involved with that. It could have been lunch chatting or hours long drinking sessions – I just wasn’t involved at that point.
So Marc and I co-plotted everything, Marc was writing one-to-two page outlines from our conversations and then I was drawing them. As we went along it just became conversations and I would draw. Marc’s life got complicated with personal issues, so I really felt like I was the only one who was invested in the book.
The people at First, they really had nothing. I mean, I had been doing comics for two minutes, but was a seasoned professional with deep knowledge of the craft compared to them. They hit “cash flow” problems. The editor called up and screamed like a demented capitalist boss a couple of times over business stuff. I didn’t behave like a good company widget according to him. He didn’t seem to understand the difference between contractor and employee.
It often felt like their only reason in existence was to give their one genius true artist, who was greater then all the rest of their artists, blowjobs. The rest of the freelancers weren’t their one true great man so they just shat on us.
HOFFMAN: You describe DeMatteis’s work as the “anti-Chaykin version” of “Flagg!” Was this a conscious choice on DeMatteis’s part or would you say that this just resulted organically as a result of his writing style?
BADGER: I think it’s really just personality more then anything; Chaykin is a hardcore New York Jew Cynic. Marc is a hard core New York Italian/Jew dreamer; I’m just a goy from Cleveland so explaining the difference in the two is beyond me.
HOFFMAN: Was there a struggle in your attempt to make your vision of “Flagg” cohere with Chaykin’s; which is to say, the already established tone and style of the book? Or was it simply, aside from characters and certain themes, this is our “Flagg”. We aren’t going to try to emulate Chaykin?
BADGER: I don’t think I had enough business experience to really understand it.
I poured over the first twenty-five issues like they were the bible. I pulled that thing apart trying to figure out what made it tick with all the art school chops I had. I wanted to produce something that was equal but not slavish, so I was trying to bring value drawing into the work without using crafttint. So I was trying to absorb Chaykin’s craft and technique, I think co-plotting opened that up a lot to experiment and bring things in.
As I kept digging for reference in those pre-internet days, I got this real lesson in the use of swipe. You end up stunned in how much of “Flagg” it is built on reference. Establishing shots from Chicago tourism books. The butt shot of Mandy walking away at is a Crepax swipe. There’s Toth everywhere, from the lettering to much of the drawing; all of Howard’s visual interests play out in the story. It’s unfortunate that when people look at that work they can’t tease apart all the visuals.
The visual play, as much as the sex, smart-ass dialogue, and politics is what makes “Flagg” work for me. So I thought if I brought my visual interests into it it would make people like the book even more. I mean I thought people liked it for the same reasons I did, with all the cool design and playing with the form of comics. I was a dumb kid.
On reflection I probably should have used crafttint, just to say, this is “Flagg”. I suspect for sci-fi craftint is better than hand drawn values, crosshatching, brush drawing. 3-d modeling is probably even better in terms of the world Howard had created. Moebius style sci-fi is obviously something else.
Inking as a traditional craft is one of those weird “comics school” things that I never have understood. So I didn’t really know how to pencil for another inker. Inkers bring this technique based on the tradition of drawing comics and how to approach form based on superhero comics. What the craftint did was allow Howard to draw this sterile mall and provide depth to his usual flat sensibility. So for me to take over inking just let me be in control of the image as a whole.
In comics you’re really creating icons, not drawings. And inking cements the icon as real, part of the history. You have to work within the tradition, not just do a cool drawing. I drove poor Randy Emberlin nuts with requests and influence: here do these lines loose like DeKooning, and then tighten up like Moebius here. I would tape stuff to the back of pages for him, it’s the kind of integration that can only go on in one person’s head I suspect.
My drawing is really based off of all the time I’ve spent in life drawing, not from copying old comics. You see all the artists telling young kids do life drawing don’t copy old comics. What they mean is, just be a little different then what is going on, but don’t actually bring any of yourself to the page that might be outside of our world. Art school teaches you to try and make your own marks on paper; you’re supposed to bring your own hand to touching the paper and be aware of being in the moment.
Comics really is an Academy and if you’re going to make a certain kind of mark on the paper you have to steal it from Baron Storey, Jeff Jones, Toth, or Al Willamson. But if you go look at something and just draw it, not in the conventions based on looking like someone else that’s wrong.
HOFFMAN: How did yours and DeMatteis’ tenure on “Flagg” end?
BADGER: Marc left first; I was going to keep plotting the books. I was spending my free time working with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, supporting the revolution in El Salvador, doing protests, getting arrested, trying to meet girls. This was when there were no girls in comics. So I had something with third world economics, death squads, and I’m sure some hot beautiful community organizers since that was what I was obsessing over. But it felt like throwing good energy down the toilet as First was just difficult to work with. And if I remember Andy Helfer was trying to get me to come over to DC at that point anyways as “Justice League” was taking off and I was meeting Marc in his office after he plotted “Justice League” to talk about “Flagg”, to do “Martian Manhunter”.
HOFFMAN: Tell me about the “all-apology” issue that followed your departure and Chaykin’s return.
BADGER: The issue was pretty funny but the actual apology just felt like they stabbed me in the back. I spent working for them for two years with no support from them. I pretty much poured my heart and soul into this job. I was more or less the editor on the book over my issues with Marc, making sure he was doing his work, communicating with the office and making sure it was all on schedule. The office was just disconnected from the work in every way. But that’s office people for you. They do nothing and then blame the freelancer. Over the years I’ve found that’s almost a truism that freelancers get no credit in an office and all praise is heaped on staff people for their genius even when they don’t do any of the work.
The weird thing is, I was scheduled to draw an actual issue of “Badger” after doing “Flagg” and they didn’t understand why I blew them off at all. The First people were shocked they didn’t think it was insulting at all. I kind of regret not slugging the Editor-in-Chief at a con party for it afterwards.
HOFFMAN: By the early 1990s, your work in comics became less frequent. You wrote and drew “The Masque” stories for Dark Horse, as well as a few of the ubiquitous “Batman” comics that were proliferating at the time, before finally leaving the industry altogether. What brought this about? Was it the usual case of growing frustrated with the medium? The lack of remuneration for time-consuming efforts? Or did the work gradually dry up? You’ve mentioned that editors frequently griped that they liked your work, but didn’t find it commercial, yet, as you mention, the two “Batman” series that you did were commercially successful.
BADGER: After doing “Manhunter” and then “Score” for Piranha Press I had done projects that looked totally different from each other, editors hate artists trying to be creative and do different things so work was drying up pretty fast.
My work didn’t fit into what “comics” were supposed to be it was different. Even the people who like it, think it’s weird. After “Batman: Jazz”, Archie Goodwin was the only one honest enough to tell me I would never work at DC again. It is a fairly depressing time to be thirty and get diagnosed with a pre-existing condition, and be told you’ll never work in this town again. So watching as others have gone through their health and work issues has been sad, it’s kind of nice to have those done with and out of the way.