We wrap up our four-parter with the comics legend by discussing his journey from fanzines to Love & Rockets, superhero origins, and rediscovering comics through the eyes of his 12-year-old daughter.
Why connect the two worlds? Why make Maggie a part of the superhero world?
I think because she’s always been. I think I just wanted an outsider turning the tables. Like I said, Maggie was the one from the alien world, instead of the superheroes. And she was playing by their rules. That’s why, in the story, it’s so crazy. They can’t figure out what’s going on. It’s like, this is very strange. Why can’t we read the comics? The comics pages are blank. Well, Maggie could see them, because she wasn’t playing by their set of rules.
Was there a point when you thought you’d be making Batman books?
No. By the time we got, I guess, if you want to call it “professional,” we were all past that. I wanted to when I was a kid, of course. But I didn’t see it ever really happening, because it was too alien from my little small town life. You’ve got to move to New York, you’ve got to use pen and ink, you’ve got to draw on real paper [laughs]. It was so beyond my small town experience.
But you still thought that you could be a professional comic book artist.
I remember hoping—I remember that, when Gilbert and I were doing fanzine work for small publishers, some guy in his bedroom, he would say, “we would like people to send their art,” and things like that. We just wanted to be published. We knew it wasn’t the big time, but it was just kind of fun to be out there, even on a small scale.
Yet, at the same time, we did have stories to tell, and we were hoping that one day they would be published. But we weren’t holding out breath, because we didn’t know how that worked.
There weren’t as many venues for that sort of work back then.
Also, we didn’t know other comic people. It was just our brothers in our world [laughs]. So, it was like, ‘how do we do that? I guess we don’t.’ And as we got older, we stopped wanting to conform to that. We wanted to do that the way we wanted to do that, and that’s how Love & Rockets ended up.
You have kids.
Yeah, she’s 12.
You sort of got to experience the discovery over again, right? Is she a comics fan?
To the point of she like Little Lulu. She’s more into some the graphic novels by women. She likes like, say, Hope Larson and Cecil Castellucci—she did Plain Janes. She’s into that stuff, right now. But I still buy her the Little Lulu reprints, and she likes Nancy. Things like that. And I like to keep her on the kooky side of it, like, “here, you think Little Lulu’s funny, wait until you read Nancy! It’s gonna blow your mind! It’s out of this world!” [laughs].
Does she draw, at all?
She draws for herself. We’ve drawn comics together, where I’ll do a panel and she’ll answer it. We’ll trade off. But not on a large scale. For some reason, I figured it out early that I wasn’t going to step on her imagination, because I remember how free mine was, when I was little, and if anyone tried to step on it, I was lost.
It totally threw me off, like, “oh, you draw little comics. Do you paint store signs?” I would be like, “what the hell does that have to do with comics?” And it would just freak me out. It isn’t the same thing. And I just knew how painful it was for me. And so I just let her go.
Does she ever come out to the shows?
She’s been to San Diego, once or twice. She’s going next year, because she’s going to be 13, and I think that’s perfect for getting lost in all of the stuff that she likes, because she still likes Harry Potter and all of that stuff. She loves Neil Gaiman’s stuff—the books. She’s never sent the Sandman stuff. But she like Coraline and things like that.
And San Diego’s all that world. I just can’t wait until I give her an allowance and just say, “get lost. Have fun.”
Was that drive to rediscover superhero comics at all a side effect of having a kid? Wanting to rediscover what you loved in the first place.
I never thought of that. Hm. No… I think what got me to do the superhero comic was mainly that I kept dropping these hints about a hidden superhero world behind Maggie and Hopey’s world.
Were you doing it on purpose?
I was doing it for fun. And then it started to connect. I started going, “wait—Maggie’s neighbor is supposedly a superhero hiding out under a secret identity.” And Maggie and Hopey spy on her. And so it started turning into something. And things started to connect. And that’s when I thought, ‘well, if I’m going to have these hints, I’m going to bring them altogether and have them make sense.’
It all started with Penny Century, in the very first issue, saying, “I want to be a superhero.” And I thought, well, what better way to introduce this superhero wannabe—this wannabe is just driving the superhero community crazy, and once she gets her powers, that’s it. You guys are in trouble!
So they all have to come together to stop her, because they all know what a threat she is, in the fact that she’s crazy [laughs]. So I thought that would be a fun thing to follow, and to put the superhero world side by side with the real world, until the superhero world took over.
Is it going to continue to exist?
When I feel like it. I kind of burned myself out on this one. I’m really happy that I covered a lot of ground. But you never know in five years.
Did you burn yourself out on fantasy?
Just this particular subject. It’s kind of like the way I handle characters. You’ll see a few issues with one character, and then their story ends. I don’t do them for five years. I’m kind of done with them, but they didn’t necessarily die, so I can use them again later [laughs].
It’s kind of like you spent a weekend with a friend and then you say, “goodbye.” You had this little adventure with them, and then they leave and go off and live their lives and you don’t see them for two years.
It’s like going to a comic convention.
Yeah, it’s kind of like that. That’s the way I treat the characters, so I did that with the superhero thing. Of course, I’ve got a million ideas for each and ever one of the characters, but I only have so much brain time and so much physical time to put things down, so a lot of times they stay on the backburner for five years, ‘til I’m ready.