In the early ’90s, I was a freelancer for a magazine about comic books called Wizard. For a couple of years I would regularly get assignments from my editor (Patrick Daniel O’Neill, who had great patience) to interview people. I got to interview Wendy and Richard Pini, whose series Elfquest got me into comics back in 1980. Alan Davis, whose drew Excalibur when it was my gateway into superhero comics. Joe Quesada early in his career, and so on, and so on. They eventually took all of the interviews in-house, and while I wrote some small news articles for a few more years, it eventually dried up. But there was one interview that was quite possibly my favorite one, which never saw print.
In 1993, Wizard published a special all about the X-Men family of comics (Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty), which sold well enough that some other special one-shots were planned. The next one was to be a special all about Image Comics, which in the early ’90s was a relatively new company with a lot of creators who had defected from the larger publishers to write and draw their own titles. I was asked to interview a group of the “second wave” creators; not any of the original founders, but some of the writers/artists who had started comics at the company when the doors had opened up a bit. The special was eventually cancelled, and it was just as well because one of the creators in question was not returning phone calls and I’d been told his presence was a must. (This creator also had some serious problems with getting his comic out the door and I suspect he was afraid to be called out on that.) But for the interviews I did, there was one that still makes me laugh my head off. We’ll call this creator John.
I was a huge fan of John’s comic (we’ll call it Doe), one of the best of the “second wave” of titles at Image. And long before Doe, he’d done a lot of other noteworthy comics; he wasn’t a flash in the pan. So I was pretty psyched to interview him. I’d read all of his series at Image, and even some ancillary material that also existed. Big fan. I’d talked with him briefly to set up a time, and late one evening I called him back up at the appointed hour.
At first I was simply happy with how well the interview was going. He was relaxed and chatty; I’d interviewed people before who were very guarded and gave one-word answers to questions. (On the bright side, those early experiences taught me how to both ask questions that couldn’t be answered so briefly, and also how to draw out additional statements from them when confronted with such.) But as the talk progressed, I noticed that he was… really relaxed. And getting even more chatty. Around the halfway point I started to ask myself, “Is John stoned?”
A few minutes later, I responded to something he said with a reference to the ancillary material that I’d read, and he said, “Wow, you really do like this comic. Do you want to write an issue?” I laughed in response. “No, really,” he said, and I could almost imagine John leaning towards me as if he was in the room. “You should write an issue. I want you to write an issue. It would be amazing.” Well, yes. It would be amazing. I laughed a little nervously and said that I’d love to do so, and the interview continued as his behavior got a little more erratic, but hey, he was still answering questions and giving overall rational responses.
The next day, John called me. This was the first time that had ever happened. “So, Greg…” he slowly said. “Um… what did I say to you last night?”
“Well John,” I said with an unseen smile on my face, “you said I could write an issue of Doe.”
There was an uncomfortable-for-John silence, which I finally broke with a laugh and, “But I won’t hold you to that, of course.”
I could almost hear his shoulders sag in relief. “Oh good,” he finally said. We talked for a few more minutes, I mentioned the high points of the interview, and he seemed pretty pleased with it. He even gave me advice on how to try and get ahold of the incommunicado artist (“Pretend you’re from a record label, he really wants to be a musician!”) and by the time we ended the conversation he seemed really happy.
As I said, the interview never ran because the special was cancelled, and it’s a real shame because I had enough from John alone that it could have been a great solo interview. But today an art book by John that I’d ordered ages ago and forgotten about suddenly showed up in the mail, and I had to start laughing at the memory of it all. Because for a brief 14 hours, I had an offer to write an issue of his comic. And while there was no way to have ever worked that into the interview, it was and still is the most unexpected moment I’ve ever had in all of my years of comics journalism.