“I Thought It Was Worth Doing, and That Was Enough”: The Walter Simonson Interview

ROGERS: This book is coming out hot on the heels of the Omnibus edition—is it fair to say that the Omnibus emphasizes the story and the IDW book emphasizes the art?

SIMONSON: I think that’s exactly what’s going on. My hope for the Omnibus to begin with, when Marvel first proposed it, was that some of the best work I’ve done would be presented in the best possible way, short of doing life-size pages or whatever. Whereas the IDW work, it’s a chance to see what the original work looks like without all the bells and whistles but with all the bumps and bruises and warts the original art actually has.

ROGERS: I was asking about “Mjolnir’s Song” because it’s such a great fight scene. And you’ve got some other fight scenes in the IDW book, some kind of iconic ones: Thor versus Beta Ray Bill, or Thor versus Hela. I’m wondering if emphasizing the artwork helps show up your storytelling, the kind of craft that goes into making fight scenes.

Simonson choreographs a fight scene, from the Artist's Edition.

SIMONSON: You know, I don’t know. I guess you’d probably have to ask people who actually read the book. I hope so. I would certainly like my own brilliance to show through as much as possible in each book [Laughter.] You’d better put an “lol” after that.

The thing about fight scenes for me in superhero books is that if possible, I like the fight scenes to be character-revealing, rather than just have two guys scrapping because it’s Thor and the Hulk, let’s have them fight. I try to structure the story in such a way that the fight in a sense is the external expression of a conflict between two characters, for one reason or another. But then, given that, I’d like to do as good a fight scene as I can. And it may be more powerful in the black and white because the art’s a lot bigger.

The thing about that book, now that I think about it, is that even though it’s not in color, it may be more like the experience you have as a kid when you read a comic. I remember when I was a kid I had a book—a Giant Golden book Deluxe Edition—that was an adaptation of The Iliad and The Odyssey. It was my introduction to Homer. It was a kids’ edition illustrated by a couple named Alice and Martin Provensen, and they based their artwork in that book on Greek vase painting, on Greek art. As a kid, I was really wowed by their work, loved it. It was kind of abstract. And I still love it.

But eventually I left home and didn’t see the book again for a long time. I was back once visiting my folks, and I came across that book, and I remember being astounded at how small it was. It was still probably a foot high—it was not a small book. But, of course, when I was half the size I was as a grown-up, the book seemed much bigger. So I think maybe the artist’s edition, to some extent, will recreate the size of the art for people as they experienced it when they were kids reading that stuff. Which is kind of cool.

ROGERS: If you could pick other works of yours to spotlight in this format, what would they be?

SIMONSON: [Laughs.] I don’t know. If I had a free run and an unlimited budget, it would be fun to do Manhunter like that. It’d be fun to do Orion like that. I really like the work I did in Orion a lot.

ROGERS: Yeah, I was thinking of the fight scene in Orion #5. That is kind of monumental.

SIMONSON: Right. That was fun. It’d be kind of fun to see Alien reproduced that size.

ROGERS: Now, Alien, was that colored directly onto the pages?

A spread from the Alien adaptation. Click for larger view.

SIMONSON: No, the way I did that was—we didn’t really have access to blue line color back in those days, which was where you made a copy of the art in non-repro blue on a piece of art board under a sheet of acetate that had a positive of the drawing on it so that you got your black plate from the acetate and you could then do color work on the paper. I knew about it. Back then, it was a mostly European thing.  But I kind of emulated that by getting Photostats of all the art and then mounting the Photostats on chipboard and coloring the Photostats in watercolor. I had some other people doing most of the work. I was too busy drawing. I did some of the pages in the beginning and then realized there was no chance I’d be able to color the entire thing and get it done before the book was due, so I had the help of three other people, including my wife, who jumped in and became the principal colorist on the book.

But I have all the artwork. The funny thing about that is that the explosion of the Nostromo at the end of the book  wouldn’t have made any sense whatsoever in black and white. I had an idea for that, originally executed in black and white, but when I pasted it down on the chipboard, I realized it just wasn’t going to do the job. In the end I dug out an airbrush and did a whole airbrush explosion, which totally covered over what was originally on the black-and-white page, so the black and white page would make no sense as an explosion. But an Artist’s Edition of that would be neat to see.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer done, except in that case, that artwork is twice-up—that book would be enormous [Laughs.] It’d be fun to see the Metal Men done like that. That was pretty goofy stuff and there were only five issues that I drew. There are several things like that that I think would look really good. I don’t think they’d sell any copies, but they would look pretty cool as facsimile books.