illustration (c) Josť Villarrubia 2000 digital

illustration (c) Josť Villarrubia 2000
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Past Glories

Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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This september Marvel kicks off it's Mature line with ALIAS. Meet Jessica Jones, a former costumed super hero who, in fact, stunk at it. With powers unremarkable in comparison to the great icons of Marvel, Jessica never found her niche. But once she hung up her cape, she was surprised at how quickly she fell out of the spandex loop. Sure, she may hang out with some of the Avengers socially, but she's not welcome in Avengers Mansion. And she feels the rejection. She's self-destructive, drinks too much, and has a huge inferiority complex. And now she's a Private Investigator who specializes in cases of the super human variety. Mixing the Marvel Universe with a bit of film noir will be the combo of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos.

When it was announced Michael Gaydos would be the artist on the upcoming ALIAS my mind went directly to one of my fave NEGTIVE BURN pieces - I WON'T FORGET - with story by Paul Jenkins. Do you find that since the announcement attaching you to a major Marvel project that people have been drawn more to your past works?

Not that I know of, but I would certainly be happy if they did. There are quite a few projects that I am pretty proud of including the short story I did with Paul. Others would have to include SCORCHED EARTH, which was my first foray into comics courtesy of Tundra, INFERNO which was published by Caliber and written by Mike Carey (who has done quite well for himself over at Vertigo), and CITIZEN WAYNE which was a short story I did with Bendis for DC.

How did the job on SCORCHED EARTH come about?

SCORCHED EARTH was originally part of my final thesis for my last year at the Cleveland Institute of Art (whose alums also include Brian Bendis and Brian Azzarello). A college friend of mine, Dan Berger (look for his self-published book GUTWALLOW), was also very much into comics and got a job with Mirage Publishing doing some TMNT work. This was about the same time that Kevin Eastman was putting together Tundra. Dan was kind enough to show SCORCHED EARTH to Kevin who really liked it and it went on from there. I had written the original college version, but decided I needed someone to flesh things out. John Gentile who I had known since high school came aboard for his first comics work and did a fine job.

Was Dave McKean much of an influence on your work? Most people are usually drawn to Dave's mixed media pieces but your use of blacks, architecture, fire - my thoughts turn to Dave's ink work on CAGES.

Absolutely, I love the work in CAGES. I had the fortunate opportunity to see the originals come in while I was at Tundra and that was a great treat. His handling of architecture is definitely something that has intrigued and inspired me. Kent Williams, Teddy Kristiansen, and Mike Mignola are a few other contemporary comic artists who I admire and have shaped my work.

What about classic artists? Are there any particular artists or periods you draw inspiration from?

I tend to lean toward the Expressionists for inspiration. Among those strongly influencing me are Schiele, Klimt and Munch. Other artists both classic and contemporary include Degas, Van Gogh, Sargent, Anselm Kiefer and Francis Bacon.

Do you ever use reference models for any of your work?

I do, but not always. I mainly use photo reference for gesture and some facial expressions. The finished work isn't a copy of the reference, but a manipulation using the reference as a guide.

Do you ever change how you'll approach a page when working with colour as opposed to black and white?

Initially no. I start a colour piece as I would a black and white one with line work and strong blacks. Once I have the gesture and contrast down, I go crazy with the paints.

Matt Hollingsworth, whose work is always great, will be joining you on the series as colourist. Do you find yourself being more or less conscientious with your blacks since someone will be taking over the page once you've finished?

Definitely more conscientious. Having mostly done B&W comic work, I was concerned how my work would look coloured. It's really hard for me to see it any other way than B&W, so believe me when I say, I was thrilled when I got word that Matt was coming aboard. He is a tremendous colourist and I am trying to leave him as much room as I can to work his magic. As ALIAS progresses and we get a better feel for what each other is doing, I'm sure the way I approach a page will be a little bit different.

Now ALIAS won't be the usual Marvel title, but it will feature some well known characters - did you have any desire to do superheroes or any of the classic or archetypal characters?

Deep down - yes. Growing up on a steady supply of comics I still have a soft spot for the superheroes. Miller's DAREDEVIL, Byrne's X-MEN, Simonson's THOR were comics I couldn't wait to get my hands on. Once I realized I may get the opportunity to draw some of Marvel's great characters, well I guess it brought out some of that excited fanboy again.

Was ALIAS something you and Bendis had been planning together before the Marvel Mature Line or did Bendis come to you with it after interest began?

It's all Brian's doing. He came to me when they were looking for an artist for the series he was proposing. I have been thanking him since.

An added advantage of this series will be the covers by David Mack. Are there any plans on the two of you perhaps doing a cover collaboration - along the lines of what Joe and David did on DAREDEVIL?

That hasn't really come up, but that would be very interesting and a lot of fun. David's cover for the first issue came out great.

What can you tell us about HEAVENS WAR? Will this be told as a series or [hopefully] as a single OGN?

HEAVEN'S WAR is the baby of writer Micah Harris, who I have had the pleasure to work with on this project. It is approximately 100 pages of fantasy and intrigue. The story follows the writer Charles Williams with his fellow "Inklings", Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as they try to stop the demonic Aleister Crowley from taking over Heaven. Williams confronts many of his inner demons as he questions his own spirituality along the way. This short explanation really doesn't do the story justice as it is ripe with detail and imagination.

Currently there is no publisher for the book, but we hope that will change shortly. It is set up as a three issue series, but I can easily see it as an original graphic novel.

Interesting, do you share any fondness to those writers yourself? Will any other recognizable names show up along the way - the Lovecraftian prophet perhaps?

To Tolkien and somewhat to Lewis, but I didn't have an "inkling" to what Charles Williams had done. Being the main character it was interesting to find out about his background, the work he did and what shaped that work.

I don't think many of the other characters are very recognizable. They are however greatly researched by Micah and their backgrounds are quite astonishing.

Are the images of Heaven based on any particular religious factions beliefs or more of a theological stand point?

Heaven is actually portrayed in a surreal way with religious elements popping up here and there.

I've noticed that you sometimes work in small dimensions but with such fine detail - do you have any preferred tools you use? Crowquil? Micron pens?

I occasionally work with a crowquil, but have been recently using micro-fine roller ball and gel pens. I like the Pentel Permaroller Gold for very fine line work and the Paper-mate Gel-writer for much of the rest. Everything else is done with brushes.

What made you want to get into comics? How much time is spent doing comics and how much time is there spent to your paintings or illustration work?

Basically, I loved comics and I could draw. As my general art tastes changed from commercial to fine art in college, I found my tastes in comics were also changing to the painted and more experimental books. It renewed my interest in comics and made me feel as though there was a place for me there.

Much of my time is spent doing comics at the moment. I do occasional illustration work for White Wolf who have been a great company to work with. Painting, on the other hand, is something that I have vowed to make more time for, be it personal work or illustration. I would love to get the opportunity to do another painted book.

Some of your past works have carried a certain mythos with their content: apparitions, vampires, lycanthropes, the crow... do you ever research any of these characters with such heavy backgrounds before approaching a piece?

Much of the research is done for me in the form of the script or story. I have been lucky to deal with writers who are very detail oriented and provide insight into the background of these characters and mythos. The research I do mainly focuses on finding the appropriate visual elements to make their content real.

Comics journalism, in any form, how important is it?

Very. As in any entertainment field, which comics essentially is, it is important to give insight behind the books and their creators. Interviews and reviews feed our curiosity, which in turn sells books and helps the industry.

How do you feel about coming onto your first Marvel book without having to worry about the code? Are you planning to go all out if need be or do you set any boundaries for yourself?

If they need me to go all out, I'm right there. I think some boundaries are set, not particularly in response to what people expect to see now that the code is gone, but for the sake of telling the best story we can.

Finish these sentences, in this industry we need more... We need more support for the creators and artists who are struggling with just getting their work out there and seen, be it self-publishing or small publishers. A lot of us have come up this way and know others who are still doing it simply because they love comics.
and less... We need less. To be honest I can't think of anything off hand. Right now I am happy with how things are progressing.

What advice would you give to those trying to make it in the Biz today?

It may sound cliche, but I would say persistence. I'm living proof. I have been in the comic industry for ten years and although my first book was with a high profile publisher, it has been a long road to a project like ALIAS. The most creative and most talented don't necessarily wind up with the big break thrown at them, they have to go after it. So, hit the conventions, send samples, do that pin- up for your friend's book, get something out there for people to see. Make yourself visible and available.

Having a friend like Bendis doesn't hurt either.

And of course Plug Time. Any and all parting words to the eager audience that can, in some and anyway lead to cash in your pocket. Where to go for your art, prints, spoken word albums, whatever can eventually lead to money in the hand.

Well first off, buy ALIAS. I think you will enjoy it.

Secondly, for those of you not familiar with my work, please stop my website at Say hi, take a look at what I do and by all means purchase something you like. I should be updating it shortly.


Check out these special advanced preview pages of ALIAS courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Click on the thumbnails to view the larger image.

Jonathan Ellis is Interviews Editor for PopImage.

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