Pi Comics

Interview: Carl Potts
by Jonathan Ellis

Carl Potts was Born in Oakland, CA. He was raised in the Bay Area with time spent in Hawaii and in San Diego. Carl has an AA degree in commercial art from Chabot College in Hayward, CA. but from the most part is self-taught. Carl first broke into the biz in the seventies but is best known for his creation ALIEN LEGION and his time spent as executive editor for Marvel Comics.

How did you break into the biz?

Took my art portfolio around to conventions and sent Xerox submissions into the comics publishers. Ran into several pro artists, particularly Alan Weiss and Jim Starlin, who lived in the Bay Area at the time. They gave me advice, and my first paying job.

What was your first published work?

Starlin and Weiss were drawing a late fill-in issue of "Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter" for DC. Denny O'Neil was the editor. Starlin and Weiss asked me to help them by drawing backgrounds and a few secondary figures for the job. Al Milgrom inked the issue. This was in early '75 I think.

What were the great trials & tribulations you had to face to gain entry to the comics industry?

"That's why, when I began editing at Marvel, I vowed to answer all submissions quickly and with some useful information..."

Waiting, usually in vain, for a response to my mail submissions. When I did get a response, it was usually very late and contained no useful feedback. That's why, when I began editing at Marvel, I vowed to answer all submissions quickly and with some useful information.

I decided to travel to NY to get established it the summer of '75. Bad timing. Atlas Comics had just folded and everyone who had been working there was running to Marvel and DC to get work. I did get a few pin-ups from Marvel thanks to Starlin's efforts on my behalf. Eventually, Neal Adams asked me to join the crew at Continuity Studios. Continuity was gearing up to produce black and white magazines based on several TV series: Six Million Dollar Man, Space 1999 and Emergency. I got involved with storyboard and comp art for ad agencies. I ended up doing ad agency art and finished illustration for several years before joining Marvel's staff.

Why comics?

I've always loved comics, stories and art--visual storytelling in general, no matter what the medium--film, TV, comics, online, whatever.

How did you get into writing and art?

I started on the art first and later began creating stories and characters. I started my professional career as an artist and eventually began writing as well. When I went on staff at Marvel, it left me with little time to draw. I would produce an occasional cover or poster. I wrote and did the layouts for some comics (issues 1,2,3,6 & 7 of PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL and an issue of MAREVL FANFARE).

Going from writer and artist to Executive Editor of Marvel Comics must have been quite a task. How did you adjust and what were your primary concerns as Executive Editor?

I went from freelance artist/writer to editor, overseeing about 5 monthly titles, a bunch of limited series, graphic novels, posters, etc. Mark Gruenwald was the only Executive Editor until around 1989 when I was promoted to Executive Editor, in charge of the Epic Comics imprint. As Exec. Ed., I found, developed and published numerous new titles for Epic and oversaw several editorial teams.

Eventually, the position included overseeing a large part of the Marvel line as well. In the early '90s, Marvel had so many titles that there were three Executive Editors, each overseeing approximately 1/3 of the line. Bob Budiansky was the third Exec. Ed. We all answered to Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco and Publisher Mike Hobson. All three Executive Editors decided not to add our names to the already crowded credits on the Marvel titles. Therefore it wasn't easy for readers to tell which titles were produced by which Executive Editor (if they cared!).

"The higher in the ranks I got, the less creative and more bureaucratic the work became..."

In late '94, Marvel reorganized into a number of different publishing divisions, each with its own Editor-in-Chief. I was EIC for the "General Entertainment" and "Epic" divisions. The higher in the ranks I got, the less creative and more bureaucratic the work became.

How did you get involved with Lightsource studios and what projects have/will you be, working on?

I've known the principles of Lightsource, Frank Cirocco and Gary Winnick for a very long time. Lightsource is involved with a wide range of projects, including Web comics/Flash animations.

You were also involved with VR1 an Internet gaming company. Do you believe that the appeal of video games to children and other potential new readers is drawing them away from comic books?

"The comic book publishers need adopt marketing programs to drive consumer traffic from each of the different media to the others. Adapt or fade away."

There is a lot of competition from electronic games/entertainment for the attention of potential print comic book readers. The comic book publishers need adopt marketing programs to drive consumer traffic from each of the different media to the others. Adapt or fade away.

Alien Legion was one of those titles that stood out at the time because of its originality, freshness and art. What were the original influences for the comic? Where did the ideas spring from?

The original concept was the "foreign legion in space" and all the legionnaires where human. It was inspired by true foreign legion history where the best and the worst of all the world's cultures/races are put into pressure cooker situations. Then I created the humanoid/serpentine design that later became Sarigar and decided that the Legion should include a wide variety of species. This was in the early '70s. By the time I got around to developing the idea further in the early '80s, Star Wars obviously became an influence.

Was the use of aliens to explore political issues meant to provide an objective view in said explorations?

The Alien Legion universe is a giant extrapolation of the American democratic melting pot society where different races and cultures work together for the common good while dealing with the pluses and problems that the nation's diversity creates. In the Legion universe, the differences are even more dramatic since we have wildly different species instead of just different cultures and races. The Legion is a microcosm, the best and the worst, of the diverse universe. Despite all of the problems that a wide and extremely diverse democracy has, it is stronger in the long haul than a homogenous, xenophobic dictatorship (Harkilons). Think of it as the Allies (excepting Stalin's USSR) vs. the Axis in WWII. The totalitarian powers of Germany, Japan and Italy equated racial/cultural diversity with weakness and couldn't believe that strong, "racially pure" fascist states could ever fall to the diverse/weak democracies. It took millions of lives to prove the fascists wrong.

You've been pushing to bring the ALIEN LEGION series to the screen for sometime now, how far along in pre-production/production are you?

I've teamed up with a top screenwriter and producer. We've recently been pitching an Alien Legion film idea to the major studios. Time will tell if we're successful. The main concern is that this would be a BIG (read "expensive") film to make. Studios are reluctant to commit to huge films. It takes a lot of convincing, even with a strong high concept.

Two names you've secured are Bob Gale and John Landis but what are the studios you've been in contact with? Whose shown the most interest? Do you have any talent attached to the project? Location in mind? A dollar amount which you suspect the film may cost?

I can't say much about the film efforts at the moment but Gale and Landis are no longer involved. They were associated with a TV series effort that didn't pan out. I'm currently concentrating on trying to get a feature film cooking. I've teamed with a Sony-based producer and a great screenwriter and I think we've cooked up the perfect feature film story to launch a franchise with.

Will you be involving yourself with any new comic material soon?

I'm not sure. I may get involved more with online "comics-like" entertainment. I still love print comics and would like to be involved with print as well.

Since it seems to be a growing trend to start your own studio, or to go indy, have you thought at all about doing so? Been approached by others?

That's something else I can't talk about at the moment. Stay tuned.

Do you prefer to work with team books or individual based?

Doesn't matter. If the concept and characters are interesting and compelling, I'll get into it.

Favourite characters? Heroes? Villains? Flaming furry demi-gods?
I've always liked the old Ditko-related characters: Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Creeper and The Question. There are also too many others to mention.

Most influential Author?
Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), JRR Tolkien, AVH Hartendorp, Dave Grossman, Stan Lee.

Favourite old school artist? writer?
Old school comics? If so, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

Best Kirby creation?
Most of them.

Most under appreciated creator currently in the biz?
Hmmm. I think most people in the comic audience haven't seen what artist/creator Adam Pollina is really capable of yet. I've seen some of his non-comics art and it's fantastic. He's also a fountain of great story and character ideas.

"He insisted that he was a mutant with incredible powers and didn't take kindly to my skepticism..."

Worst fanboy experience?
I'm not sure if you mean my experience as a fanboy or with a fanboy after I became a professional! For the former: The time Neal Adams verbally tore apart my art when I first showed it to him. Very brutal. For the latter: Having to deal with a borderline psycho at a store appearance. He insisted that he was a mutant with incredible powers and didn't take kindly to my skepticism.

Proudest body of work?
I think a lot of the early PUNISHER WAR JOURNALS were good, especially when taken in context of the late '80s. DR. STRANGE # 63. I like the story for the Last of the Dragons Epic Illustrated series and graphic novel but my art on the project looks very weak to me now. The SHADOWMASTERS limited series.

Advice to those trying to make it in the Biz today?
Know what you're trying to get into. The business is in a sustained slump. Marvel's former owner shattered the distribution system. Many established pros can't get enough work to make a living. If you have the drive and the talent, give it a hard try. However, have a viable back up plan for a career!

What has been your favorite book to work on?
As a creator: PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, SHADOWMASTERS, ALIEN LEGION. I also really enjoyed inking over Kevin Nolan's pencils on MOON KNIGHT.

As an editor: I liked almost everything in the eclectic group of titles I worked on-everything from the PUNISHER to POWER PACK, HULK to AMAZING HIGH ADVENTURE, STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI to MARVELS.

Current titles everyone SHOULD be reading?
I haven't been keeping up enough on current comics to say.

Favourite character(s), title(s) to hopefully some day work on?
Batman. I was supposed to write a Batman arc for Archie Goodwin but I procrastinated and then he was gone.

Let me take moment to say that two of the finest people I ever met were Archie Goodwin and Mark Gruenwald. It's a pity that both passed away far before their time.

Upcoming projects?
With luck, it'll be producing an Alien Legion film.

What's your dream project? if you could work with any companies, characters, writers, artists, no restrictions, no rules, complete creative freedom, crossover as many characters from as many different companies as and if you wanted without any complaints, put together whatever creative teams you wanted, and no one would stop you, what would you do?

Wow…as stated before, I love the Ditko-related characters. I'd love to try and construct a project that utilized as many of them as possible.

I'd really like to create true high format original graphic novels that might appeal to a wide audience. These would be outside of the super hero genre-dramas, historical dramas, action/adventure, etc.

I'd like to create a new line of comics that were designed from the start to be dual-purposed for both print and the Web.

O-kay, boom! You've just been given the chance. What do you do? Which characters do you use? What sort of stories do you lean towards?

I already have a group of properties ready to roll-ones I've come up with and ones that other creators have shown me. Most are action/adventure, Sci Fi or fantasy in nature but many genres are represented and some titles are aimed at a young audience. The titles would be originals-nothing you've seen before (well, for the most part).

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

"Much of 'comics journalism' in the past seemed to be generated by bitter guys who decided to bash what they grew up loving."

Much of "comics journalism" in the past seemed to be generated by bitter guys who decided to bash what they grew up loving. Perhaps they were frustrated comics creators and were jealous of those who created the comics? I'm not sure. Big strides have been taken in the academic/scholarly study of comics.

What of those who, rather then bash the biz, try to make it better and spread the appeal they see in it to others?

I can't really say since I haven't been paying much attention to this subject for the last few years.

So how does a day in the life of 'Carl Potts' work out?

Lots of writing (both fiction and letters/email), tons of calls, lots of frustration in dealing with Hollywood, playing with the kids. Need to fit more fishing in there somewhere.

You've just been given a chance to rework the industry, starting with the major publishers and distribution companies, what do you do, what DO you do?

This is a subject that I've done a lot of thinking about. There are at least three major areas of concern for all publishers: Distribution, competition from other entertainment media, consistent compelling content that appeals to a wide audience. I've created plans of action to address all of these problem areas but have not been a position to implement them. Perhaps someday.

Could you share some of these ideas with us? How would you target new readers? It's been suggested having comics in places like offices, barber shops, etc. might lead wandering eyes to grow interest. Or as was suggested by PopImage in an attempt to support the spirit of giving last Christmas, donating comics, magazines and toys to children's wards of hospitals.

I hope to implement my ideas some time soon so I don't want to spill the beans at this point. I did set up a deal that, if it is finally executed, will expose a comic publisher's properties to many millions of new readers in a very rapid fashion. We're looking for a large sponsor now. Also, think of situations where you have a large "captive audience" and figure out how comics might be introduced into those situations in a way that is beneficial to all of the parties affected.

Finish these sentences;
Right now, in the industry we need more...new distribution channels and consistent quality
and less... titles that "preach to the converted". It's way past time to develop new audiences for the medium in this country instead of trying to hang on to the current one… that's a battle of attrition that will only end with a dead industry.

Now one of my interview games;
Of choice; what is your drink of choice: Guava juice, green tea, Dr. Pepper
Restaurant of choice: Moustache Cafe, Greenblatt's Deli
Movies: Seven Samurai, To Kill a Mockingbird (too many others to get into it!).
Books: The Santo Tomas Story by A.V.H. Hartendorp. To Kill a Mockingbird
Music: Nazz, Kate Bush, Crowded House, Beautiful South, Blessing, Beatles, Fever Tree, the list goes on.
Artists: Illustrators/Fine artists: Dean Cornwell, Andrew Loomis, Robert Fawcett, John Singer Sergeant. Classic comics: Ditko, Kirby. Contemporary comics: Adam Pollina.
Past time: Fishing, aquariums, reading, playing with the bambinos.

Another one of those oh so fun interview games;
Here's how it works, I say the name of a certain creator and you say whatever comes to mind. Here goes
Mike McMahon: Great and unique style
John Romita Sr.: Great with Al Williamson
Steve Ditko: One of the best and most unique comics creators
Frank Cirroco: Good guy I've know since the '70s!
Neil Gaiman: Someone who has helped expand the comics audience.
Warren Ellis: Has some great ideas.
Scott McCloud: Really helped advance critical thinking on the medium of comics. ZOT was good too.
Larry Stroman: Lots of talent that would be great if Larry's quality/concentration were consistent. Wish I could find him. Anyone know where he lives these days?
Jim Lee: One of the more talented guys I helped get started in the business.
Hoang Nguyen: Had potential. Think he went into the computer game industry.
Alan Moore: Fertile mind.
Marie Javins: Always enjoyed working with Marie. She was part of my editorial group for a number of years.
Alan Zelenetz: Very literate. Now teaching at Columbia.
Chuck Dixon: The action master! Great to work with. Full of ideas.
David Mazzucchelli: Very talented.

Before we go, tell us something no one else knows. Something you've never told anyone...

Toby toby nu nu. Buck a kyo. Ma ehian. Sian Ka papa rune. (Phonetic Tagalog).

And now...
Plug time! This is where you plug as many things as you want, comics, websites, movies, your very own hand weaved baskets, novels, anything old, new, current and upcoming, wigs dyed in the most unnaturl colours you've ever seen, where to buy your books, scripts, your collection of crudly shaped alarm clocks, and whatever else. Anything that could somehow lead to buckets of cash, big buckets. Big, tall, thick, wide buckets of money. With large bills. And lots of oversized novelty checks.

From the strange but true department: I was recently granted a patent on a fishing lure design that I created. Look for the "HyperStick" soft stick bait from Creme Lure Co. later this year in your favorite tackle shop or fishing supply catalog.

PopImage and I would like to thank Carl for participating in this interview and recommend you check out his site at The Official Alien Legion Homepage

All characters, titles, images mentioned or shown are copyright and trademark their respective creators.

Jon Ellis is Interviews Editor at PopImage.


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