Evan Dorkin has been flirting with comics’ mainstream for more than a decade and a half now, beginning in the early 90s, when the artist scripted and drew a graphic adaptation of the Bill & Ted sequel, Bogus Journey. The following year, Dorkin began work on the spinoff series, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, taking the helm for 12 of 13 issues.
Since then, Dorkin has done sporadic work for major publishers like Marvel, DC, and Darkhorse, putting his own spin on characters as diverse as The Mask, Superman (both in comics and on screen), The Predator, The Metal Men, and Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth.
Since launching The Cross Hatch, indie creators’ obsessions with superheroes has become something of an obsession unto itself. In this third part of a 7,318-part interview, we talk about men in tights, working with the majors, and generally being excellent to one another.
How has having a kid affected your work? Obviously you’ve got to get out there and work more, for starters.
Yeah, or work more efficiently on what we get. I’m not the most efficient artist. I put a little too much time into some jobs. I draw things that are not essential, and I tend to really sweat scripts. It’s tough. Time is money, and there are guys that can really hack stuff out, but I never really wanted to become one of those. The trouble is that, if you hone stuff, for good or bad, to the best of your abilities, you become someone like Johnny Craig, who is slow. And then you have a guy like Jack Davis, his style and the way his brain worked, he was knocking out EC stories like crazy. Jack Kirby can just stack the pages.
I used to be able to do that, I had a lot of confience, but when I look at that stuff now, I think I put out worse work. Now I don’t have any confidence, but I think I put out better work. Obviously I have enough confidence to do it. I get the stuff done, but people seem to think you’ve fallen off the face of the industry, if your stuff’s not in the direct market shops. People think you’ve died. You could be doing Hollywood movie stuff, or designing operas or the backdrops for plays, but if it’s not sitting on the shelf of some direct market shop—if it hasn’t been handled by Diamond—it doesn’t exist.
Most of the stuff that we’ve been doing has been varied. Nickelodeon, Mad—even though more kids are reading them than read any comics. The thing is, you don’t have the cult of personality. No one reading Mad or Nickelodeon cares about what you’ve done. I don’t really have a problem with that. That was something that I really enjoyed about doing the Bill & Ted book for Marvel in the early 90s—all of the fans of Bill & Ted didn’t care who I was.
They didn’t care who had lettered the book, or what the inks were like. As long as they could have the same story and enjoy it, they were immersed in that, and that’s fine by me. The idea of reading something because you enjoy it, not because you’re a fan of the person, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Kids aren’t going to buy an Evan Dorkin comic. They’re going to buy a Bill & Ted comic, or Sponge Bob, and that’s fine, working anonymous, where the only other people who know you did it are other cartoonists and your editors. But yeah, if you haven’t done a comic for four years, other than your blog, you’re dead. We get no mail from out TV work—no one really knows who we are from that. If they don’t read about it on your blog, they don’t know that you’ve done it.
The Bill & Ted book was the first thing I’d read by you. I “discovered” you later, and it took me years after that to make the connection that it was the same artist.
Yeah. Those kids books got older people who were not getting top assignments and younger creators who were not getting top assignments. The good thing about that was that I was left alone. Marvel was less uptight. They knew that it was a doomed project.
It was a pretty straight adaptation, if I remember correctly.
Well, we did a straight adaptation of the sequel to the movie, and then I stayed on. I was supposed to do the first three or four issues, but I ended up really enjoying it. I ended up doing the whole serious, except for issue eight, because I was behind. I did a monthly book. I was penciling it and writing it, and it was tough, because I wasn’t sure what I was doing.
Around issue seven or nine, or so, I felt pretty good about it, and then I started to run out of ideas. So it was kind of lucky that we got cancelled, I guess, but it was the first time I really got coverage and had a readship, and I was really allowed to do what I wanted to do. I had a few thing cut, because it was a kids’ book, but I had a really good time with it—I was really surprised, because I’m not a Bill & Ted fan. It was just something I could have fun with.
So, why aren’t you scripting a monthly Batman book, or something of that nature?
Because nobody wants me to, and I’m not sure if I want to—but mainly because nobody wants me to. There’s nobody clamoring for an Evan Dorkin superhero book. There just isn’t. I don’t have a track record of superhero success at Marvel. World’s Funnest was not given any coverage by Wizard, which I thought hurt it. A certain kind of fan didn’t pay any attention to it, even though it had Alex Ross and other people’s work in it. And another kind of fan who would want to see Jaime Hernandez or Jim Woodring didn’t pay attention to it, because it was on DC.
I never plan on anything being successful, but I really thought that book was going to do a bit better. I don’t really know how well it did. This was seven years ago, but these days a book comes out and then gets crushed by whatever comes out the next week. So many books get crushed—it’s really amazing how many books come out, between the collections, the trades, the reprints, the omnibuses, the back-in-print, and the new stuff. It’s amazing how much stuff is coming out.
A lot of it’s good, but few books really get to have a long shelf-life. But the superhero stuff, I thought there were some pretty good jokes, and it had a lot of terrific people drawing it. It’s career suicide too, as far as superhero stuff goes, to want to work on all ages stuff. Sarah and I enjoyed working on Superman Adventures. I would have enjoyed doing more on that. We did some work on Supergirl, but it didn’t sell, it’s not promoted, it’s not cool. The fans don’t care about it, even if they’re hoarding the action figures, and buying the DVDs. They want the continuity stuff.
And that’s another thing—I have no affinity for what’s going on in superhero comics, right now. I don’t know what the hell is going on in DC. DC’s a bunch of old farts trying to act cool, or something like that—trying to get hip and murder a bunch of characters or something, and they’re a bunch of 40, 50-year-old men doing this, and they just come off as kind of ridiculous to me. They have to crank everything up to 13, and it’s all fanfiction and costume porn, It’s not what I like. I like comics to be straightforward and tell stories, and cross-overs are important. They’re a big deal, and there’s a sense of wonder.
There isn’t something that they’d want me to do, either. My Metal Men series was cancelled. It was too goofy, apparently. I didn’t know that the Metal Men were Tom Stoppard characters, or whatever the hell they are—Tom Wolfe characters. I didn’t realize that the Metal Men were to be treated like classic literature. I treated it silly. I did some stuff for Marvel, a few years ago. Nobody cared. There’s was a chance that my superhero stuff just absolutely sucked, or wasn’t suited for this generation of comic book readers. I was really crestfallen after the Metal Men was cancelled.
I liked what I was doing. I was out a sum of money—we were about to have a baby, there was a hole in my schedule, and I was scrambling. It was a very, very weird situation—I guess I lucked out, because it took 35 years for a comic of mine to be utterly killed. Not because I’m so good, but because I grew up when people just printed anything. Marvel or DC just said, “do you want to do a book? Just do it. Done.” Small press, “you want to do it? Done.” If that company goes out of business, you save a few pages and have them printed somewhere else. That’s why Milk & Cheese was collected, because two or three companies asked me to do them for anthologies and went out of business before they printed them. I had the pages.
Nowadays, you just put them on the internet, and they get out there. But if you’re doing things for Marvel and DC and they kill it, it’s dead. And that hurt. And I realized that, after I got over it, I never really made my living off of Marvel and DC. I don’t know why I was thinking I ever did—only one year at Marvel. I can replace that money working for magazines, or as lousy as my Marvel and DC books got, I could probably do commissions at home and make that money.
So, I just gave up. I don’t think they miss me, and certainly there’s no one at the buyer’s guide saying, “boy, I’d like to see Evan Dorkin do, I don’t know, Jack of Hearts vs. The Mole Men, or whatever the hell. So, that’s done I guess, until Dan Didio leaves, and someone who like my work gets up there, it’s just not enough.
[As always, to be continued…]