The Walt Simonson Interview
by Mario Di Giacomo
Later this year, Walter Simonson will be begin writing and pencilling Jack Kirby's Orion of the New Gods, as part of his exclusive contract with DC Comics. A short while ago, he graciously consented to submit to an e-mail interview for a New Gods website I ran. [Now under new management at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Stargate/3999 ]
MARIO: A bit of introduction, for those readers unfamiliar with your works. How did you get involved in comics?
WALT: I read comics a lot as a kid, then backed off them for awhile in high school. But when I was in college in the mid-60's, Marvel was producing its finest work with Jack, Stan, Steve, and everybody else and I really got into them. By the end of the 60's, I wasn't so interested in reading Marvel comics anymore as they were starting to repeat stories (Galactus returned for the 43rd time) but DC had picked up steam and I was becoming interested in the problems of actually drawing comics and telling stories. While I was growing up, I had always thought I would eventually become a paleontologist but decided against that direction at the end of college. Besides fossils, my only other abiding interest was drawing, so I naturally headed towards my interest in comics when I decided not to pursue paleo. I went back to school, this time to art school, where I began trying to draw comics and learn storytelling. And I managed to make a career out of it eventually.
MARIO: Have you ever met Jack Kirby?
WALT: I did meet Jack several times. Last time was in New York when he and Roz were here for a convention so I'm guessing that that was the early 90's but I'm not certain. We didn't chat much; I don't know if he actually knew who I was or what I did. But he was a sweet man and it was pleasure to meet him and to be able to tell him how much I admired his work and how influential it had been on my own stuff.
MARIO: During the Byrne run on JK4W, you worked on several backup stories. What attracted you to the material?
WALT: I've always loved the Fourth World stuff Jack did. It remains for me some of his finest work and probably my personal favorite. So when John spoke to me about doing a back up story, I jumped at the chance.
MARIO: Was this the reason you accepted the creator slot on Jack Kirby's Orion of the New Gods?
WALT: Absolutely. The New Gods are about the only mainstream characters I haven't done yet that I really really want to do. And now I have the chance.
MARIO: Your run on Thor, while considered by many, myself included, to be the seminal work on the character, has also drawn some criticism for its retroactive modification of the original Kirby continuity. How would you address concerns that New Gods continuity (baroque as it is) might be similarly revamped?
WALT: I'll start by saying that I don't remember ever doing anything that fouled up the Lee/Kirby continuity on Thor. Or modified its history. And no one's ever come up to me and accused me of doing it, although of course, I've met people who didn't care for my run on the title. I did get rid of Don Blake--hardly a retroactive modification, whatever that may be. It was a current event when it happened. And I suggested a possible origin for Odin that did not match Roy Thomas' much later (than Stan and Jack's) version without ever saying that mine was right and Roy's was wrong. I left that for the reader to think about which is what I almost always try to do. But I certainly tried to be true to what I saw as the spirit of the Lee/Kirby Thors without simply regurgitating their stories. And that's pretty much where I'm headed with ORION.
If you're asking me will I be doing things in ORION that Jack wouldn't have done oh, probably. I'm neither Jack nor a mind reader. But comics is a team sport played over time where the teams change and the times change. I have some stuff in mind for ORION that isn't to be found anywhere in Jack's Fourth World work. I have some new characters I plan to introduce, some new situations I plan to develop. All of it will be as 'true' to the spirit of Jack's work as I can manage. But in the end, what I owe my readers is the best work Walter Simonson is capable of, not warmed over Jack Kirby hash BY Walter Simonson.
The continuity problem for ORION, however, may actually be simpler than it seems from the outside. John has told me that for the purposes of his run on the book, he pretty much considered Jack's original run and the present run the current canon. Since I'm picking up right where John left off, I figure to follow that lead.
What this does for stories like Cosmic Odyssey where some of it seems to be in current DC continuity and some of it doesn't, I don't know. But for me, that's approaching stories from the wrong way round. Continuity isn't the starting point for a story; it's one of the final considerations. I don't mean I throw out continuity on a whim. I don't. I don't think I've EVER deliberately thrown out old continuity although I'm sure I've screwed it up now and again accidently. And I've had some of my continuity discarded by other writers. But the STORY, its characters, its plot, its conflicts--these are the essential building blocks of good comics for me. Continuity is a useful tool in that building but it is not the essence of a good story. Or to paraphrase a P.D.James' character, "Continuity is a good servant but a poor master."
[editor's note: I was thinking of the Thomas retcon when I asked the question] MARIO: Because of the complex issues involved, several stories in the New Gods continuity have been changed or erased (eg the Gerry Conway run, and the DeMatteis Forever People miniseries) Have you or your editor made any decisions about what is considered "canonical" in the new book?
WALT: I think I just covered this in the previous answer.
MARIO: Your immediate predecessor, John Byrne, has caused no small amount of controversy with various perceived changes to the original Kirby material (most noticeably the thought that Scott Free was on Earth for several years before the events of Mister Miracle #1). Are these changes going to be ignored, accepted, or outright eliminated?
WALT: All of the above (very loud gaffaws)! Actually, I mentioned that I don't try to wade in and change existing continuity although if I've probably ignored some in my time. I prefer ignoring to outright changing generally. But I've actually talked with John about this particular story development of his and he suggested some interesting ideas that I may very well incorporate into my overall story if my plots head in that direction. However, since the focus of the book will primarily be Orion, I don't know if it'll be necessary during my run on the title to explore Scott's time on Earth in detail. I've definitely got thoughts in that direction but it is only 12 issues a year. Can't do everything [g].
MARIO: The book's new title implies an increased focus on Orion, as opposed to the other New Gods. Would this be accurate?
WALT: I'm going to have to read faster. I keep being one answer ahead [g]. Actually, focussing on Orion is one of my ideas for following in Jack's footsteps. His NEW GODS title focussed on Orion's adventures for the most part (along with his buddy Lightray, etc.) and I'd like to keep that focus.
MARIO: Most of the original stories took place on Earth. However, Kirby's successors have instead chosen to concentrate on events occurring on New Genesis and Apokolips. Will you be following this trend?
WALT: I'd like to do both. I think it's important to keep New Genesis and Apokolips around because that background makes Orion and the other New Gods unique. It's what makes them different from Superman or Batman or Green Lantern. On the other hand, Earth and ordinary mortals are what give the gods context and scale. So I expect to bounce back and forth from Earth to New Genesis and Apokolips as much as possible without getting dizzy.
MARIO: Without giving too much away, might you provide us with some indication as to how you view some of the major characters in the series?
WALT: Orion--represents the old pagan virtues-- faithfullness, pride, heroism. Along with a tragically divided nature and a berserker's fighting prowess. Lightray or someone once referred to him as chaos personified. He is clearly not, however, chaos unbound in Jack's work but chaos directed. Something various versions of Orion have often overlooked or ignored. Lightray--represents the Christian virtues of pity, charity, mercy. So Orion and Lightray in a sense, together make up a whole or unified individual. And he is the planner that Orion generally isn't. Highfather--like Generalissimo Francisco Franco--still dead (that's an old joke for your older readers) [vbg] Darkseid--a great warrior--a complex and rather wonderful if terrifying mind--completely unscrupulous--his goal is the total subjugation of the free will of the universe. The Source--always mysterious--always unknowable--providing occasional bursts of enlightenment. The Source probably likes anagrams.
Metron--a seeker who would betray his own grandmother for a scrap of knowledge but who may not be as completely unscrupulous as he appears. However, you'd be foolish to bet on that. Mister Miracle--still waters run deep. Big Barda--what you see is what you get. The Forever People--young New Gods for whom the world is yet unstained, a joyful place in spite of Apokolips.
MARIO: Will Orion and Barda's presence in the JLA be addressed? Rumor has it that Orion's membership contributed to Byrne's leaving the series.
WALT: I don't really plan to deal with Orion, Barda, and the JLA. After all, that is what the JLA comic is for. And I personally think John left the series because DC kept sending me his checks. You'll have to ask him [vBg].
MARIO: (I was asked to include this question by a visitor to the site) Why Rob Liefeld? Aren't you concerned with his reliablitiy after the Heroes Reborn Avengers thing?
WALT: Rob's doing a single five page back up to be published sometime during the next year and a half. Even if he screws up, and I don't expect him to, that means that DC will have something over 500 days to get another five page contribution to the book done. I don't really see that there's a problem here. But I am amused by the fact that having Rob's name even remotely associated with the project has generated more posts and e-mail than anything else up to now. Even you yourself note in your question that this isn't your question but someone else's. Rob attracts attention, whether people like dancing around him or not.
MARIO: How long before we see dinosaurs in the book? :-)
WALT: Oh, probably a while yet. If you check back, you'll find that despite my (apparently) well-known enthusiasm for dinosaurs, I've actually done very few dinosaur stories over the years. (Did you know I wrote one for Arthur Adams?) Don't have any plans to do one in ORION but you never know [g].
MARIO: What about Nico? :-) :-)
WALT: That would be telling. [lol]
[editor's note: Nico is a young boy who has had cameo appearances in at least two of Walt's prior books] MARIO: This is just a personal question, and won't be on the site: I've read it several times and I still don't quite understand it. What happened in the last issue of Michael Moorcock's Multiverse?
Oh, c'mon. Put it on the site anyway. It'll confuse 'em!
The Chaos Engineers were able to reverse the Polarities, thereby shrinking the Original Insect (the First Ether) to almost nothing, restoring the Spammer Gain--essentially the Grail Incarnate--to full size, and crystalizing a perfect moment allowing Elric to absorb the Silverskin--the manifestation of the conjoined but unstable Eternal Champions. This permitted Elric to blow the Horn of Roland for the third time, balancing the Great Scales, and changing the Destinies of the Multiverse for all time.
And coincidently sending me to Marrakesh with my buds where the pizza was pretty good after all.
All characters are DC Comics
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