It’s been several weeks since Part II of the Simonson Interview, friends. I fear I’ve been snowbound with too many projects and too little time. You may have read about the biggest of these undertakings in Peter David’s Blog: I was made story editor of “Starpoint Academy,” the forthcoming Gene Roddenberry film from IDT Entertainment, and I brought Peter in to write the script, making my job as editor considerably easier. Peter’s humor, experience and unique Trek-pathos make him the superb choice and a pleasure to work with. I look forward to bringing you more details as they blossom.
I’m also a hairsbreadth from announcing my next collection of short fiction. The new book will carry a cover by Neal Adams along with illustrations by Alex Toth, Frank Brunner, Dave Cockrum and David Boswell (of Reid Fleming fame). Again, details are forthcoming. In the meantime, please visit the new http://www.CliffordMeth.com.
And now, the long-awaited Part III of Walt Simonson Speaks (And Rarely Takes a Breath!):
Clifford Meth: You and I have had many conversations about science fiction and I recall that you were a huge Cordwainer Smith fan. Was he your favorite writer?
Walter Simonson: Certainly one of them. I don’t read science fiction these days, but I read a lot of it in the 1960s and well into the 1970s. I have to say that of all the science fiction that I read, maybe Zelazny’s Lord of Light may be my favorite book of that period. I liked a lot of Zelazny’s work. I mean Chip Delaney, Zelazny, a lot of that New Wave stuff was coming through?J.G. Ballard. But it really made a big impression, obviously?I can still remember the titles, and a lot of books I’ve read more recently I can’t remember beans about!
Cordwainer Smith I loved. Of course, at the time his novel was only out in like two chunks and in different books and really chewed up. It wasn’t until much later that it was finally put out as a single volume?at the time it was too long for the marketplace, which is certainly not true now? I read Heinlein and I especially enjoyed Heinlein’s Juveniles. The Door Into Summer remains one of my favorite books. There’s a lot of Heinlein I haven’t read because he was very prolific, but I read a lot of the juvenile stuff and a lot of the later stuff, as well.
CM: Did you correspond with any of these writers?
WS: I didn’t. I was a fan and I was part of WIFA when they were bidding for the World Con back in ’74. Actually, I met Harlan Ellison for about a tenth of a second at that. He was very well known at the time as the enfant terrible of science fiction, or whatever the hell he was back then. I really enjoyed his work?I read a ton of his short stories. The first convention I ever went to was WorldCon in St. Louis in 1969. I stayed with a friend and went to the convention and stayed there pretty late at night watching the all-night movie programs. I was so fried by the time that show was over it was ridiculous. Anyway, I was walking down the hallway when Harlan came down in the other direction, and he had three or four people following him like the tail of a comet as he was roaring along at high speed to wherever the hell he was headed. And I knew who he was?I recognized him, and I wanted to go over and tell him how much I enjoyed his stuff and I’m sort of surprised that I did this but I flagged him down and started to say, “Mr. Ellison, I’m a big fan of your work?” And as soon as I got my name out?this was in ’74 and Manhunter was just finishing up about that time?before I could get many words out like “Gee, I love your stuff” Harlan grabbed my hand and gave me a huge handshake and said [imitating Ellison] “Simonson?you’re fucking fantastic, man!” And then he was off down the hallway and that was that. (laughs) That was the first time I met Harlan. The second time was about two years ago and our conversation was just about as long. But having him say that back in ’74 was very flattering. I didn’t write to professionals much?I met a few at conventions and got to shake their hands. I thought that was kind of enough.
CM: What was your first job as an illustrator in comics?
WS: It’s goofier if you do it the other way around, with my first job as an illustrator. My father was a soil scientist during his working career and he wrote a bunch of papers. And when I was in high school, I did two or three drawings that were published as illustrations for his scientific papers. So my first published work?who knows where it is now?are in scientific papers somewhere back in the early 1960s.
Then, because of my science fiction connection, I did a drawing. Jay Haldeman had a story?I think it’s published under the name Jack C. Haldeman II?but Jay did a story for Ted White for either Amazing or Fantastic. And I did a black and white drawing for that. Didn’t get my original back and never got paid for it, but that was my first kind of professional drawing.
The first work I got in comics was when I came to New York in the late summer of ’72 after I’d graduated from art school. I had a portfolio and I was able to get a little work. I ended up doing a short Weird War story for Joe Orlando (Weird War #10). Len Wein had written a little story, just an inventory thing that was sitting in the drawer. It was called “Cyrano’s Army.” Joe pulled it out and gave it to me. It was a World War II, weird story?the nazis get killed by the stone gargoyles on the French cathedral that come to life to destroy evil, or something along those lines. So I penciled, inked, and probably lettered it?I was doing all of that stuff at the time and DC let me do that.
My first actual drawing in a comic was a fan drawing that got printed in Magnus Robot Fighter. I was a big Magnus fan and I did a fan drawing of a robot that they liked.
CM: I became aware of you with Manhunter.
WS: I was very lucky. I got Manhunter very early on. Archie [Goodwin] and I started working on Manhunter in March of ’73. So I only had about six months or so where I was doing little one-off stories?science fiction and sword and sorcery. But Manhunter was the first series I drew.
CM: I loved Manhunter. Almost three decades later, DC released their Manhunter statue, which I found out about late. I wasn’t a big statue collector at the time, but you know what happens?you buy one and now you’re a collector. Anyway, that was one of the first one I saw that I really wanted, but it was a short run and I missed out. A few years later, I became friendly with William Pacquet, the sculptor, and got one.
WS: I provided him with the pencil designs. He did a marvelous job.
CM: “Götterdämmerung” stayed with me forever. I think I was twelve when I read that, but it still stands out as one of my favorites.
WS: It’s funny, but back in those days I was doing all my own display lettering, before I met John Workman, who can do it so much better than I can. But at the time, I used to have letterers just do the lettering inside balloons and inside captions. I would do everything else?the actual lines around the balloons, the panel borders, the captions?I would do all display lettering from titles to sound effects, whatever needed to be done, because I wanted it to have more to do with my hand.
I wanted to use the name Ragnarok for the last issue of Manhunter, but Archie thought it was a little too associated with Thor and Marvel and I understood that. But he said, “If you can’t be pretentious in your last issue, when can you be pretentious?” So we used Götterdämmerung and I had to letter it, which was a drag of a drag. When I finished lettering it, and the word Götterdämmerung, we discovered that I’d misspelled it twice! I left off one of the double-letters. We fixed it by statting. I’m more careful about spelling these days!
CM: Who created Manhunter?
WS: Archie. It was his idea. He was editing Detective and he wanted a backup story behind Batman. The comic was still a 22-page book at the time, and he wanted something that would compliment Batman, who was blue costumed and dark and in the city all the time and didn’t use weapons. Manhunter would be a guy who traveled the world and would look different?maybe use weapons. DC had the name trademarked, though they weren’t using it. I’d been doing most of my work at DC for Archie?oddball SF things?and it was enough to convince him that I could do this new strip. We were pretty good friends by then. We talked about it a lot and he had the first script written. I did a bunch of preliminary designs and I think Archie thought my first costume was a little complex, but then I did a bunch of variations. They were just simpler and not as a good, so we went with the original design. The only difference was originally I’d given him nine throwing stars. Archie wanted to include martial arts in the strip and I came across something that said nine was a mystical number in some of the martial arts cultures. But somewhere along the way I realized that drawing nine throwing stars in every damn panel was going to be a big problem. So we fixed that!
The name “Paul Kirk” was chosen not because we intended to hook with the original Simon/Kirby Manhunter but because there was no reason not to use the name Paul Kirk. I didn’t know much about the old Manhunter stuff?I’d never really seen it. I only saw the old stuff when they began reprinting it in these big 100-page comics. So Archie and I talked about it and we decided that because we were doing such a short form?little 8-page chapters, and bi-monthly?one of the ideas was let’s hook this guy up with the old ’40s Manhunter. It’ll give him a deeper background. A nice resonance.
CM: That series won a pre-Eisner award.
WS: Right. The ACBA was still around?the Academy of Comic Book Arts?and between Archie and I, we won six awards in two years. Archie won Best Writer two years running, the script won Best Short Story two years running, and in the second year it won Best Long Story because we finished up the whole thing with a 20-page story. And the first year Jim Starlin and I tied for Outstanding New Talent. This was 1973-74.
CM: You also won a Comic Buyers Guide Award for Best Cover for Thor #337. Did I miss any?
WS: I won three awards in Spain.
CM: Besides Beta Ray Bill and Manhunter, did you design or redesign any characters?
WS: Hercules for Hercules Unbound. Woody [Wally Wood] inked it but by issue #9 it was clear that the book was going to be cancelled. Cary Bates was writing it at that time, and Cary and I worked out a whole story to round everything up, but we needed more room that one issue would give us. Jeannette [Kahn] who was kind of new at the time, and Joe Orlando and Paul Levitz were the big honchos and we convinced them to give us an extra issue, so we had a big wrap up. Because we were going out with a big finish, I thought it would be kind of cool to have a more elaborate costume, so I also inked the last two issues and redesigned the character?that was my first crack at something like that. For Thor, I designed Kurse and Lorelli. I reconfigured Loki slightly, although mostly I went back and put him in the costume that Jack [Kirby] did in Journey Into Mystery #120 which I really liked. Nobody else seemed to really like it?everybody else gives him these giant horns that stick out from his helmet, but that looks silly to me. You’d put on a helmet like that and fall over on your face. Jack had these little technological metal things that kind of echoed Thor’s wings; they were harder edged and a little creepier, which I thought was a nice touch for Thor’s evil stepbrother, so I went back and did some things with that.
I re-outfitted Helmdel and Odin, too. But I did more with Aesgard. Originally, when Jack was doing it, he had kind of a science-fiction Aesgard with statuary and a lot of towers?very futuristic. I did Thor for a year in 1977-78; I did layouts for Len Wein to write and Tony DeZuniga to ink, and in the layout I did that classic Kirby Aesgard, but by the time I began inking the book in the early 1980s, I’d done that already, and because I was doing so much mythological stuff in the book, I thought it would be fun to give Aesgard more of a Nordic look. At the time, my understanding was there weren’t any buildings from the Viking period that had survived in Scandinavia. But they do have about eleven staid churches from right after the Vikings?from 1100 or whenever. They have these very steep-pitched roofs, obviously so snow can slide off. They look very cool, with little dragon heads in wood on the eaves. So I took Aesgard and redesigned in using some of that imagery.
© 2004, Clifford Meth