Wednesday, April 14, 2010

MoCCA Fest 2010: The Art of the Superhero

MoCCA Fest '10: The Art of the Superhero: When Singular Vision Meets Popular Mythology
Panel moderated by Jeff Newelt
April 10, 2010

Graphic NYC has teamed up with our friends Charlito and Mister Phil at Indie Spinner Rack to present this historic panel discussion in both audio and written form.  Click the arrow to listen and/or scroll down to read.

Transcribed by Christopher Irving . Pictures by Seth Kushner

NEWELT: Hi, I’m Jeff Newelt and I am the moderator of this here panel, and also the comics editor of SMITH Magazine, Heeb Magazine, Royal Flush Magazine and The Pekar Project. (Applause)

This panel is called “The Art of the Superhero” and, basically, we’re going to reverse things; many articles read “Comics! They’re not just about superheroes!” But you know what? Sometimes they are about superheroes, and sometimes they're pretty damn good. One man’s moronic is another man’s mythic. Instead of doing a point and click and being slave to a PowerPoint, we've got a non-linear slide-show loop representing the work of these five masters and their influences. It was created by the design shop Dark Igloo, who also did this supervillain mash-up t-shirt I’m wearing.  

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce the panelists– because you’ve probably never heard of these guys or what they’ve done – to my immediate left, we have
Paul Pope. (Applause) Famous in superherodom for Batman Year 100; his indie sci-fi epic THB has been influencing others since the early ‘90s, and his young god / superhero graphic novel Battling Boy is coming out in 2011. 


 Next to him, we have another person you’ve probably never heard of, Frank Miller. (Applause) Renouned for a seminal early run on Daredevil, and Dark Knight Returns & Dark Knight Strikes Again, Sin City, 300, Martha Washington...
—PAUL POPE: And John Carter of Mars #9, I think. (Laughter)
NEWELT: and John Carter of Mars #9. 

Next to Frank, we have Kyle Baker. (Applause) He recently did an Eisner-nominated run on Plastic Man full of hilarious adventure stories, Hawkman in Wednesday Comics, Why I Hate Saturn, and Nat Turner.    

Next to Kyle,
Jaime Hernandez. (Applause) Not primarily known for his superhero work, but it’s a running theme in Love and Rockets. For some reason, some of his ladies wind up with capes and boots on. He’s doing a signing at the Abrams booth after this, at 3:30 for the Art of Jaime Hernandez book that just came out.

On the far left is
Dean Haspiel. (Applause) Dean is a founder of webcomix collective ACT-I-VATE, where he has his own nutzo superhero Billy Dogma, and he’s doing the art for the HBO series Bored to Death, where the Zack Galifiankis character is a cartoonist,loosely based on Dean Haspiel, who of course draws superheros. (Applause)   

Ok here we go. One of the things these five artists have in common is one person:
Jack Kirby.
I'd like each artist to comment on Jack Kirby and his work and why he’s so important in his role as a modern mythologizer. Paul Pope?

POPE: That’s a great question. It’s impossible to think about superheroes without thinking about Kirby. I regret that I never had a chance to meet him myself, but his work casts such a shadow, not only for myself, but also in the way young artists approach the genre of superhero comics. He paved the way and built the house of Marvel. What can I say?

NEWELT: Frank? Kirby and
Steve Ditko are the two guys who influenced the guys up here a ton, so you have anything to say about those two guys?

FRANK MILLER: Anyone else you want to add? Like Richard Nixon? (Laughter)  

I think what Jack Kirby did, among many other things, was he completely energized the superhero. He also, in a more subtle way, showed us that comics weren’t just illustration, but they were cartoons first and foremost. His figures, as time passed, less and less resembled reality and more and more evoked it. His dynamics and his deliberate misproportions, and his sense of absurdity (where if someone were angry, books would fall off the shelves across the room). Through all of that, he let us loose, it was like D.W. Griffith tearing the camera off of the floor.
With Ditko, what I think he did was bring a personal approach on the material that wasn’t designed to be personal. Also, because his drawing was very quirky, and because it was anything but pretty, it flew in the face of the Curt Swan era of DC Comics…also, for a lot of kids like me, he made me look at it and say ‘Hey, I can do that!’ I didn’t have a prayer, but it made me feel that way.

BAKER: If you do a James Bond job, you have to look at all the James Bond products, and deliver James Bond, and not Superman. It’s the same for Casper or whatever. If you’re doing superhero comics, it has to look like Jack Kirby just because, what’s great about Jack, is that everyone has to imitate Jack [when drawing superhero comics]. If you make a rock ‘n’ roll record, you have to sound like Chuck Berry whether you realize it or not; because Chuck Berry started rock ‘n’ roll, it sounds like him. That's my take on Jack Kirby. Dtiko is actually one of my first favorite cartoonists, because I was not a big superhero comic fan as much as I liked scary comics growing up. I used to read all the fake EC books, so it was like Tales of the Unexpected, House of Secrets, and Charlton’s horror comics. Those were my favorite comics, with Steve Ditko and Jim Aparo drawing them.

NEWELT: Jaime, would you like to give a shout out to anyone who drew superhero comics?

HERNANDEZ: There are so many that didn't have names. They all have names now. Of course, there’s Kirby, Ditko, Curt Swan, and Mike Sekowsky. As a kid, they were all cool and they were all different. Of course, when I started to get older, I wanted to be Kirby; he’s the first artist I actually wanted to be. Now that I'm older, I can look at all those unsung superhero artists, like Mike Sekowsky and his Justice League or even his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stuff he did, and people go ‘You like that?’ It’s all cool. All these guys, with Kirby at the top of them, knew how to move me. Kirby not only did the superhero stuff, but there was all the monster stuff before. They’ve been putting out all these Marvel archives and I go ‘Another Kirby one I don’t have, and I don’t have the room for it!’ I open to the pages and go ‘Did he ever repeat himself? Ever?’ He did like, what, twenty comics a month, not including covers? The guy could make it all different every time. It amazes me that he could keep his imagination going, even if he had this workload. It’s very inspirational.

NEWELT: Dean? Billy Dogma is influenced not only by Kirby but by one of our panelists in the middle [indicating Miller]. Talk about that why dontcha.

HASPIEL: I came into Kirby late. I think it was 1976 or 1977. I remember picking up Marvel Two-in-One by Ron Wilson, and Shazam! by C.C. Beck. There was also this comic called Star Wars that was based on a movie about to come out. (Laughter) It was drawn by a guy called Howard Chaykin, and nine years later I would be his assistant on American Flagg!, little did I know....    I knew Jeff was going to ask this question about Jack Kirby, and I have this problem where it’s really not easy to describe. We’re blessed yet cursed as people who are talented and can express ourselves, because we can’t go with the Hallmark card with the kitty cat with the cute face and say ‘I love you.’ I have such a passion and love for Kirby. Late last year, I was asked by Graphic NYC to contribute something to their Kirby Week. I hate to do this, but I have to read this. I printed this out so I can read it here.  

This sums up my feelings, and it’s really important that you hear this: (Laughter)

Despite some of his outlandish yet oft times super prescient concepts (Ego - the Living Planet, The Negative Zone, Mother Box, and “The Source,” anyone?), Jack Kirby knew it was a priority to entertain while delivering emotional truths. He didn’t seem so concerned with the wiring of plausibility but more with the nuts and bolts of what makes us tick. And, with that in mind, Kirby cleaned our clocks with his big ideas and made them attainable for young boys and girls to grasp and mull over. Kirby made people think in ways that could ignite the atoms of genius and melt lesser minds. For a long time, some jaded folks declared, “comics are just for kids.” Maybe so. But, comics keep us young. And, if Jack Kirby makes me stupid, I don’t want to be smart. (Applause)

That sums up my feelings about Jack Kirby. With Steve Ditko, I discovered him even later, his Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and even some of his DC stuff. The way I would describe the difference between Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko was this: Jack Kirby was compromising, and Steve Ditko was uncompromising. That's what I learned from him. The older I get, the more I appreciate that. I think, in a weird way, to talk about what Jeff posited: Frank Miller’s stuff I feel was influenced a lot by Jack, and I came to Jack Kirby’s stuff through Frank Miller, which is now in my work with Billy Dogma and everything else I do. So, I appreciate that. Thanks, Frank.

MILLER: I wanted to add, about Jack Kirby, because it really has to do with what a superhero is and where they came from-- Superheroes were the creation of American Jews. If you look at the real names of the artists and writers – Stanley Leiber, Jacob Kurtzberg, Eli Katz, and so on – what Kirby did, especially in my favorite work of his, the New Gods, was he brought an Old Testament sensibility to the superhero. Drawing it back into ancient text by way of guys in skintight costumes. It clarified, for me, what a superhero is. Everything came from something, and Kirby delved deep into his religious history, in order to deal with superheroes. There’s one name that I’ve got to shout out here, and that’s Wallace Wood. (Applause) Wallace Wood was amazing in that he was as cartoony as the next guy, but he was also able to make everything he ever drew look glamorous. I swear the guy could make a dog turd look glamorous. I study his work constantly, because of the absolute devotion and love he put into it.

POPE: I’ve had a little time to think on this one, listening to everyone. Specifically, about Ditko and Kirby, when we talk about the cartooning, I think it’s important to note that both men are grotesque cartoonists: they way they draw is deliberately grotesque. I think that's very important. Unlike an Alex Raymond, they’re not trying to do the job of a photographer on the page. They were doing the job of the cartoonist on the page. They knew how to how to use a cartoon to evoke a good person, or an evil person, or a funny person.

NEWELT: It seems that a lot of superhero comics, with all the exotic planets and faraway lands, that there are some personal ideas coming out of each of you and that, in a way, I feel that you get to know the inner thoughts and feelings of the superhero creators even more so than some autobiographical creators, because the superhero allows you to express your own philosophy and idea. I know that’s something Ditko brought to comics, and if any of you could touch on expressing your ideas through your characters or working out your ideas through them?

MILLER: Steve Ditko is a good example of someone who was on a quest to find what a hero was. His route was by way of Ayn Rand, obviously, and he developed a very singular version of a superhero (who would shoot someone on sight, for one thing) but also helped solidify a moral code. We see variations of the same struggle between good and evil throughout the superhero comics, because all of this is really about playing with what a hero is. We can go all the way back to Achilles and Odysseus, and raise the question of what a hero is, because Odysseus was not the most moral, or the most faithful to his wife. Then you ask yourself the question “Is the Hulk a hero?” It becomes a knotty big problem that you can spend a lifetime studying, which is exactly what I’m doing.

POPE: Some ideas are very small, like “I’m hungry and I want to eat dinner,” but then you have other thoughts, like about society or about the way people do interact and how people should interact. I think constantly about pop music and about someone like John Lennon. I think the trick has been to say the most personal thing in the most universal way. I think it’s possible to do that through superheroes and through comics as an expressive medium. I think that when you use something like superheroes you’re invited to talk about good and evil and conflict, and things that people would find to fight about. When you look at the world at large, you see Conflict (with a capital “C”), you think “What do I say about this, and how is it relevant?” and "How can I say something relevant about those people?" I think one of the benefits of superheroes is that you can speak about good and evil or about right and wrong.

MILLER: It's very important in any discussion to embrace the silliness of some of this stuff.
Jack Cole created the astonishing character Plastic Man and the idea, over the decades got used by different people. You got an okay character with Mr. Fantastic, and then somehow you wind up with a character with the most insipid name ever: The Elongated Man. There is a mirth and a fun to all of these characters, and that goes all the way back to the Greek Gods and heroes. It’s just as important to remember that these aren’t all upshots of Mount Olympus with heroes staring down at the mortals. The heroes over time have been very human, so we see things more clearly or are perhaps emotionally cleansed through their adventures.

NEWELT: In Dark Knight 2, you have a funny scene.... and Dark Knight 2, as opposed to Dark Knight 1, seemed like it was your way of having a blast with these characters. The first one was dense with info and huge chunks of information, and the second one was you having a ball with superheroes. At one point you have Elongated Man looking a little haggard and asking Batman "How does one get a drink around here?" and Batman says "Teleport".

At this point, I want to ask Kyle, too: humor and superheroes? You were able to juggle humor and adventure in your Plastic Man; [the stories] were able to be simultaneously laugh out loud funny (but not ironic) while also being able to function as superhero comics. How were you able to balance both without making fun of them?

BAKER: Getting back to the last question, the reason I hadn't answered it, regarding relating to personal stuff related to superheroes: Whenever I have something on my own mind, I’ll make up my own character and story, rather than trying to shoe in Batman at the end. You could do that, but Afghanistan would be better.
He's going to do it.

MILLER: No, I'm not.

BAKER: You're not doing it anymore?

MILLER: No, I'm not.  (Laughter)

BAKER: For me, when I'm doing somebody else’s character, nine times out of ten, it’s a matter of getting back to what makes it work in the first place. If I’m doing Bugs Bunny, and most of the new Bugs Bunny cartoons are awful... figure out what they have lost and you’ve got to put them back to that. With Plastic Man, I spent the whole time swiping Jack Cole to get it back to the formula; the original formula was a funny story with villains with a really silly powers. My favorite was a guy named Sleepy Eyes who had these droopy eyes like Robert Mitchum and anybody he would talk to would fall asleep, and he would pick their pockets. (Laughter)

MILLER: And the most important thing about Plastic Man is that he didn't just stretch, he turned into stuff.

BAKER: In the Justice League, he's just standing around talking!

MILLER: He was a
carpet for a story!

JAIME: What kind of carpet?

BAKER: For example, I had one where Plastic Man had to sneak into a theater, so how would Plastic Man do it? Superman would tunnel under or break off the door, while Batman would sneak in with a Bat device or something. The normal thing would to have Plastic Man disguise himself as an actor, but that’s boring. A guy turning into a person isn't interesting. But what else can you do? He could slide under the door, but that’s not funny and not very creative—

MILLER: The Elongated Man could do that!

BAKER: So I had him disguise himself as a piano and walks in with the band, which makes no sense, but it's funny and entertaining. (Laughter)

NEWELT: Jaime, a recent project, a webcomic for MySpace Dark Horse Presents, is Las Primas, they’re superpowered cousins. What made you decide it'd be fun to have them be superheroes?
JAIME: It was really because I had a chance to work in color, and I thought superheroes looked good in color. (Laughter) I can’t remember where the idea came from, but it just looked like a fun opportunity. I only had eight pages, so I didn’t have to make it my life. Color comics are what I grew up with. Love and Rockets was a black and white comic out of economy, because we couldn’t afford color. That’s how it started. I don’t get to work with color that much. This was just an opportunity to have fun and be colorful like the old comics I grew up with; not just the superhero-specific stuff, but also the Archie, the Dennis the Menace, the Little Lulu, and stuff like that. When I was growing up, I had my little superheroes I drew for myself when I was a kid. I remember thinking "Marvel superheroes are in New York, and I’m growing up in a small town of Oxnard. My superheroes are going to be from Oxnard!” I think of a street scene and go “Well, there are no tall buildings in Oxnard. It would look really silly to see my superheroes walking next to a man from Mexico carrying a shopping bag." Well now I say “That’s good for comics!” I went full circle and went “I’ll make it three Mexican cousins, because Mexicans have big families.” They're cousins who [go] like “My cousin’s a superhero!” (laughter) And stuff like that!    It brings a human quality and a different slant to it in that the girls are cousins and happen to all be superheroes, and are all trying to make big, but they’re really small town and don’t have any of the big time like the big guys. Basically, I’m just having a lot of fun.

MILLER: I’ve got to say also, in Jaime’s case, one of the things that struck me most is whenever he would touch on a superhero motif in his work, he would bring such an up-to-date sensibility to the fashion and then show that it works for a superhero. That’s quite inspiring to me, hence the Superchicks.

HERNANDEZ: Women look better in superhero costumes than guys, if you ask me. (Laughter)

NEWELT: The Superchicks from Dark Knight 2, they started a whole fashion trend there.

MILLER: They never
did anything.

NEWELT: Speaking about chicks, let’s go right into sex and superheroes. In preparation for this, I reread the whole run of Frank’s original Daredevil. One thing that struck me was Elektra and her strong sexy presence; while Will Eisner was the first with his femme fatales, Elektra and Daredevil seem to be the first adult [relationship], even though you didn’t see them having sex. All of a sudden, in  a comic, this wasn’t a nerd imitating what he thinks it was like to be in love, but this was an adult passion on the page. How did you deal with these adult feelings in superhero comics that are ostensibly for kids, also?

MILLER: The main limitation on Daredevil and Elektra was the censorship of the time. It was useful, because the passions could be described without showing the act.  First off, Elektra was a dead rip-off of Sand Saref by
Will Eisner. When I first plotted the story, I took the best I could find. She then turned into her own thing. The development of that story was very much the work of a man in his early twenties dealing with his own confusions about women.

NEWELT: Paul, you too, in your comics, you like drawing sexy women, and women that are sexy in a way that is not so much drooling over them, rather its celebrating them.

POPE: I think the little bit of work I’ve done in the superhero end of things, I haven’t put too much sex in. Of course with poster art and other things I do, I think of Vargas and some of the great artists who were working in Playboy or Penthouse, in the pages of a dirty magazine. It was the same as looking at comic books in a way, because you had them and you couldn’t show them to girls. (Laughter)    I think, for me, it’s much more of a Russ Meyer thing where you have a costume and scenario and creating an image.

MILLER: I just want to jump in and say that in Dark Knight 2, when I had the tryst between Superman and Wonder Woman, I was really trying to redress something that always bothered me: whenever they involve superheroes and sex, all of a sudden, they’re in bed and it looks like it could be anybody. I’m sorry, but with Superman and Wonder Woman there would be hell to pay. (Laughter) Aircraft carriers are going to topple, and the entire sequence started with a gag line: “The Earth moved.”

NEWELT: It seems to me that anyone who does a superhero comic or has designed a superhero is a fashion designer. Can you guys talk about any non-comics influence on any superhero work or non-comics work you’ve done?

MILLER: I couldn’t have done a damn hooker without Versace. The hookers in Sin City somehow spend $80,000 a night on clothes. (Laughter) I’ve rightly never been accused as a realist, but for me it really was looking at high fashion. It’s kind of circular in that Versace was inspired so much by Fifth Avenue hookers himself. For me, it’s studying what’s going on in fashion that informs the way I dress my characters. When I’m using the old superheroes, I redesign them.

HASPIEL: Billy Dogma didn’t really start off as a superhero, but he’s kind of a superhero, and kind of an anti-hero. Whenever I design new costumes, it always comes out as Batman and Superman, and it’s all been done. It’s really hard to design a new costume. I look at Paul’s stuff, and he’s ingenious with his designs, because he actually thinks about fashion. With Billy Dogma—I don’t play baseball or football, but what do people like? People do like sports, so when thinking about Billy Dogma, I gave him a jersey and football pants and boots, which I think is kind of like a superhero costume, sometimes in the minimalism of things like piping they had in the original The Prisoner [TV series]. I also gave Jane Legit a Prisoner-type outfit. Throw a cape on and I think it otherwise looks like a DC or Marvel comic.

BAKER: I’ve actually been working with body armor. If you’re going to fight crime, you’re not going to wear a purple leotard.

HASPIEL: Or a football outfit. (Laughter)

BAKER: There’s a logic to sports outfits because there’s movement and they’re built for fighting, and the same thing with SWAT gear. I’d paint it pretty colors. I have a superhero idea that I haven’t done yet. There are two characters: there was this run in the ‘90s where every character was named “Death” or “Kill”, so my villain is badder than Wolverine and Lobo combined. His name is Killdeath. (Laughter) His partner is always saying “We need to wear leotards!” He always showing up wearing these leotards.   

His name is Fierce. (Laughter)

HASPIEL: I’m going to do a comic called Holocaust versus Cancer next. (Laughter)

NEWELT: A love story.

BAKER (to Hernandez): Where do you get your fashion from?

HERNADEZ: Me? You mean my superhero fashion?

NEWELT: Or some design influences.

HERNANDEZ: Just old comics, and once in a while I just say “Okay, she’ll have writing of her name on her arm.” I’m sitting there drawing them, then I’m going “Oh, she doesn’t look like anything so I’ll add stripes.” They have to look good on the page, because I would think, in real life, what would they wear and what would work? But it’s just lines on paper, so I can be free to do whatever looks good. It’s all just dress-up and fun, making them good to look at.

BAKER: One thing I take into account when designing characters is an animation thing: Anything you draw, you’ll have to draw 8,000 times. You might love plaid the first time, but once you get a deadline…I turned down a Spider-Man job and a Fantastic Four job because I don’t ever want to draw spider webs again. The Thing takes longer than any other character.

HASPIEL: The Thing is tough.

MILLER: Let’s get to my central gripe about superhero costumes: Shoes. Why do these people go out in loafers while they‘re running across rooftops? What would you wear? I’d wear something with some tread. At least wear a pair of Converse All-Stars, or Air Jordans. Combat boots are my favorite.

BAKER: I think cleats are good for combat.

MILLER: Cleats are okay. They’re all wearing socks! Superman wears socks! Batman wears socks! (Laughter)

POPE: Probably because feet are heard to draw. (Applause)    Of course, in Year 100, Batman wears combat boots, air trooper boots. This is a guy who jumps out of windows, so he should wear what paratroopers wear. Looking at the comics, when I first started researching Batman and looking at Jim Aparo and everybody who have drawn Batman before, people don’t draw his feet that much. When they do, it’s a strange Play Doh shape that comes out. That’s a big pet peeve.

I do want to say one thing, to mention Jaime’s work. I am a lifelong Love and Rockets fan. I remember reading your stuff, and you’d have an incidental wrestling character walk on who was a friend of Rena’s or something. That was really cool, because I also remember watching the old El Santo films on Saturday at 2:00 Creature Feature Dinner show. I could see these confusing movies with superheroes that didn’t have super powers, but had cool cars and didn’t wear shirts. I decided that if it’s a superhero, then it has to look like a Mexican wrestler. (Laughter)   

HASPIEL: It’s funny that we’re talking about fashion, because in the next Billy Dogma story I’m doing, he’s practically naked. I don’t understand why superheroes even need to wear costumes, so Billy’s like the Silver Surfer but with body hair and a dick. (Laughter)   

BAKER: He has to have a costume because you can’t trademark a naked man.

HASPIEL: You could color him blue, if you want. (Laughter)

NEWELT: Another thing I want to touch on is setting. Jaime touched on that a little before. Frank you set your early Daredevil stories in Hell’s Kitchen. Paul, it seems like your stories take place in an amalgam of Tokyo, Marrakesh and the Lower East Side. If you could touch on the importance of cities and settings in your work.

POPE: For me, simply, I see an urban setting as a microcosm for human activity. When dealing with human problems, I like to go to extremes: I like to see a lone man in the desert, or a ton of people in the middle of some super-busy street, like in the first five minutes of Blade Runner. Again and again, as far as setting goes.

MILLER: It’s the cartoonist’s dirty secret that we draw what we like to draw, and we tend to come up with stories that involve things that we like to draw. When I came up with Sin City, it was vintage cars, buildings, beautiful women, guys with guns. Now I get to do a story about them!   I’m in love with New York City, so whatever name I give it, and however many liberties I take with it, my stories tend to be set here. I find the overall energy and life of this town, including its dangers, to be endless material.

BAKER: I think you’re right about drawing what you want to draw. When I did The Shadow, the Shadow lived in a city of giant Wurlitzer jukeboxes, just because I liked Wurlitzers! (Laughter) I think they’re beautiful! They really are, they’re beautifully designed.

HASPIEL: I’m a native New Yorker and I love New York. When I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan, I felt like I’d moved to the country, because I heard quiet for the first time, and it was very loud. Basically, Trip City where Billy Dogma dwells, is a combination of my love and passion for New York City, but also my love and passion for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. Basically, it’s a town that’s like a four block radius that’s in the middle of the desert. That’s where my setting is.

BAKER: We’re talking about hookers wearing clothes they can’t afford. All of my terrorists drive vintage cars, which blow up! (Laughter) These beautiful ‘60s Chevy's that are blowing up!

MILLER: Do you really want to spend your time looking at and drawing a Mazda?

BAKER: Exactly.

POPE: Cars are kind of like feet: they’re really hard to draw, too. I find it hard to pull off. (Laughter)

BAKER: Am I the only one who knows how to trace? (Laughter)


HASPIEL: (to HERNANDEZ) What do you find hard to draw?

HERNANDEZ: I hate drawing cars. I can’t even look out of my window to copy a car. I have to sit there and make up one because I’m too lazy to look out my window. Another reason is because drawing a human being next to a car is the hardest thing in the world, unless you trace them. It’s not so much hating to draw mechanical things or something, it’s just sizing the people next to it. You have them standing next to a car and you go “How the hell high is that tire?” I swear, that’s why I don’t do it.

MILLER: You’ve got to get out more.

NEWELT: Another thing. Now is the age of mash-ups and the remix. It seems like a lot of superheroes are mash-ups and remixes of superheroes, for example, to bring back Dark Knight 2 (my hidden agenda is to expose Dark Knight 2 for the masterpiece that it is, but that’s beside the point}. Frank, you seem to do a lot of mashing-up in there: the villain seems to be the Joker, but it’s really Robin in a Cosmic Boy costume. Do these mash-up ideas come to you naturally, when you’re taking different things and smushing them together?

MILLER: I wanted to draw Cosmic Boy because I always thought he was pretty fun looking. Mostly, I was just trying to celebrate the wonderful absurdity of the comics I grew up with. The use of the different Legion of the Superheroes costumes was me tipping my hat to the first series I ever read. I wanted to mix and match as much as possible. I was also delighted to have Plastic Man tangle with Elongated Man and have nothing but contempt for him, because he couldn’t turn into a Ferrari.

NEWELT: I’m going to go down the ranks and ask everybody to name a superhero comic that you would tell someone to buy, that you think in general is a piece of art. If you can name one or two to recommend to someone who never read one? What would you have someone pick up?

POPE: I have a fourteen year-old nephew and I send him all the Kirby books and All-Star Superman, and he loves them both. Those are my endorsements.

NEWELT: From any era.

MILLER: I would probably start someone out on the early Fantastic Four and X-Men, the early Kirby stuff, and by all means Spider-Man. If I was starting real early I’d start them with Superboy, which I thought was a remarkable comic, and Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes when Curt Swan drew it (late 50s)

BAKER: I have four kids and so I’m currently giving them their first comics. My eleven year-old is reading Tales from the Crypt, and she’s just picked up Otomo Tezuka’s Buddha. It’s really good, you should read it.

HERNANDEZ: Am I selling this to someone who likes comics or doesn’t read comics?

NEWELT: Either.

HERNANDEZ: I don’t try to sell comics to people who won’t read comics. If they haven’t started by now, they probably won’t, so I leave them alone. Someone who reads comics? They probably already know them.  I tried getting my daughter onto comics, but I’m giving her anything but superheroes, because I can tell she wouldn’t be into it. I give her Little Lulu and Nancy.

MILLER: Sluggo’s kind of tough.

HASPIEL: If I had to pick two right now today and, like Jaime said, hopefully they’re reading comics, somewhat. Because superheroes are on a lower rung now because of memoirs and everything else coming out (and we have a huge inventory of different genres), I think Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman are the perfect twelve issues. Then, for me, for the fun of it because it’s only eight issues: Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps is still ahead of its time. I love that stuff.

NEWELT: I’m going to open it up to questions on the floor. Maybe some of you have questions for these characters up here?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: How do you guys answer the Art Spiegelmans of the world who say that all superheroes are fascists in long underwear?

BAKER: They’re not just fascists. (Laughter) They’re also gay. (Laughter)

HASPIEL: That’s an answer. Next!

MILLER: I think that I can seriously say there are many different types of fiction out there, one of them is the heroic, and Art Spiegelman has no sympathy for the heroic, so I have no sympathy for Art Spiegelman.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m curious on the panelists thoughts on modern superhero comics. What’s right and what’s wrong? Why they’re so wrong and how to make them right?

BAKER: If there’s anything wrong, we’re still making them! (Laughter)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: But none of you guys are doing anything for Marvel or DC.

BAKER: Yes I am! Thanks for buying them! (Laughter)

NEWELT:  They all are.

HASPIEL: Almost all of us do.

POPE: I would like to see more flexibility given from the top editorial rungs of the two big companies to let creators create new things and not just do another Batman or Superman.

MILLER: I’d like to see another fucking Batman or Superman! (Laughter)
Seriously, the thing I’d like to see is the price to go down. Paying four bucks for something that used to cost a dime is getting pretty dicey. We may see the pamphlet replaced with some sort of Internet thing replacing the pamphlet. I think the pamphlet is on a suicide course, because for twenty minutes of pleasure (at tops) for four bucks – boy are there better ways to spend your money.(Laughter)

MEMBER: If superheroes speak to our myth, I was wondering why the last new characters that caught on are forty to fifty years old. Some people claim that The Punisher is the last new hero to enter the market and have any sticking quality.

BAKER: Your target audience, in my case, is too young to help. Right now, there are all those Plastic Man things out there, but they’re all ten year-olds. What happens is that, when a guy reaches Sam Raimi’s age, he says “I want to make a movie of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man.” That’s why he wasn’t doing John Romita’s Spider-Man or Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man, he was doing the one from the sixties. I think that’s the real reason.    Like what my kids are into now, again, they don’t have that much clout. I’m the one still buying the crap. The stuff that’s big now, like Transformers or G.I. Joe, which are things I drew twenty years ago.

POPE: I’d like to re-emphasize that it might be an editorial decision, outside of the creative talent, who are capable of coming up with new concepts and dreams.

HASPIEL: I was gonna say, Marvel and DC have the monies. Every month, since I was twelve years old, I could always pick up a Fantastic Four comic. That’s cool, but the same time, we do have the talent, and we do have the people, they’re here at the show and are online. They may not have the powerhouse marketing, but they’re nifty ideas. What happens is that people lost interest and pimp their own wares. You can take a different route sometimes. I want to do the Frank Miller or Paul Pope model: Do my time, get a Marvel or DC gig on a franchised character, so then the audience checks out what I’m doing on my own, and maybe then I can have a Dean Haspiel Batman. (Laughter)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Question about technology, because I happen to have an iPad, and got it for the Marvel Comics app. I see that as lowering the barriers for entry on the positive side. On the negative side, I understand with Kindle that Amazon doesn’t pay royalties if they sell something on Kindle. What do you think of technology in ways that would help the next generation of you guys?

BAKER: I’ve been very interested in Internet cartoons. What Frank was saying is that if comics are now four bucks, we’re losing the kids. Jim Shooter had something called “The Popsicle Principle”, in the ‘80s he used to remind us that our competition was a popsicle. He’d say “Imagine this kid’s dad gives him a buck or two bucks. He goes in and can either play Space Invaders twice, or buy a comic book or a candy bar… That’s what we were working with, and that’s why you had a huge collection of comic books or baseball cards, because you could get in with a nickel.    Now, with the Internet, you can download a comic book for a dollar or for free, and I think that’s where the new audience is going to come from.

MILLER: I think you’re right, Kyle. The only caveat on that I have is that comic books went through a long, long dead period, where they were only kept alive by Neal Adams and Jim Steranko. It was because they didn’t pay us. They didn’t pay us squat. We were working for slave wages. It is an obstacle to figure out how to pay us to do stuff for your iPad. Before any breakthrough can happen on a creative level, they’re going to have to figure out a way to make it worth my while. It’s the same conundrum.

BAKER: I think you’re going to see the same thing that happened in the ‘80s. When they weren’t paying us, we were doing it just because we enjoyed it. We were just starting out. If I were starting today, I would put it on the web. Now, I need something that can feed four kids, which is why you don’t see my stuff on the web.

HASPIEL: Just a final thought: I think Matter-Eater Lad is a stupider name than Elongated Man. (Laughter)

MILLER: It’s dead heat.

NEWELT: On that note, we’re going to have to end this super-assemblage. (Applause)