The New Gods Library
Interview with Mark Evanier
Conducted by Sean Walsh via email, 17 November 2001
SEAN WALSH: How did you first meet, and start working with, Jack Kirby?
MARK EVANIER: I met Jack in July of 1969. He and his family had recently moved to Southern California and Jack wanted to start making contact with young writers and artists, with an eye towards setting up some sort of studio arrangement that ultimately never happened. To that end, he and Roz attended a local science-fiction convention where they were surrounded by some members of our local comic book club. Our treasurer invited Jack to come and speak at a meeting. Jack said sure and Roz invited them to come down to the house, which was then in Irvine, to visit. I was the president of the club so I was included in that visit...so that's how I met Jack. The next day, I went to work for a company called Marvelmania International, which was doing mail order merchandise of the Marvel heroes and they were working with Jack, so I met him a few more times during that period, as did Steve Sherman, a friend of mine who was also working for Marvelmania. One day, Jack and Roz came into the office, took us to lunch and said, "Jack's going to work for DC and he's going to need a couple of assistants. Would you like to work for him?" As I always say when I recount this tale, it took us a long time to decide to accept. It took around two seconds...and though it turned out that Jack really didn't need any assistants and we never did that much for him, it was a decision neither Steve nor I ever regretted.
SW: Of the artists out there who seem to emulate Kirby - from Ladronn to Steve Rude to many others - which one (a) do you like most of all, and (b) do you think does the finest job of trying to live up to and maintain the legacy of Jack Kirby?
EVANIER: Well, one could say that anyone doing anything original is maintaining the legacy of Jack Kirby and that imitating Kirby is not maintaining the legacy, if you follow me. I have come to be unimpressed with Kirby imitations. Steve Rude, I think, manages to approximate the energy and graphic innovation of Kirby without emulating the way Jack drew hands, the way he drew buildings, etc.. Really, Jack was proudest of being a creator and coming up with new things. That's the legacy I think he would have liked to see others strive to maintain.
SW: Was Kirby's Captain Victory really a continuation of the Fourth World?
EVANIER: Not officially...barely unofficially. Captain Victory was certainly not conceived on those terms but, as Jack got into it, it roughly coincided with a time he was getting asked a lot about how the New Gods might have developed...and I think he found himself revisiting a lot of the same ideas. There are certainly elements there which echo his New Gods sensibilities.
SW: I've seen you refer to the late '80s/early '90s New Gods series as being written by "the other Mark Evanier"? I have to ask: why? They were quite fine New Gods stories...
EVANIER: Well, thanks, but they were really not the stories I wanted to do, or the kind of stories. What happened was that I was brought onto a series that had already been started and I had to step into someone else's storyline and work with an artist who had his own ideas about the comic. His ideas were probably fine but they weren't my ideas and the book was already on the schedule so we were immediately racing deadlines with no time to sit down and reconcile my concepts with his. There are times in this business where you feel truly "in control" of what you're producing and -- good, bad or indifferent -- what gets to the readers is what you intend. There are also times when just getting the book done each month is a challenge and you feel a certain pride, not that it's good but that it got to press on time.
This was the latter. Paris Cullins, who drew the book, was a terrific artist and I liked him a lot. Unfortunately, DC was pulling him off NEW GODS production to do issues of SUPERMAN so every time we started getting close to a human way of collaboration, he'd get yanked behind. We were working "Marvel method," with me dialoguing pages after he'd pencilled them from my plot. Since Paris was (and presumably, still is) a creative guy, he was adding to and embellishing my plots...and that would have been fine, had I been able to dialogue a whole book at a time. Alas, because of the schedule and Paris's tendency to finish pages out of sequence, I was constantly dialoguing page 7 before I had any idea what I'd see on page 6, and all of a sudden, I'd have to dialogue a sequence I genuinely did not understand, because Paris had added something in and was unreachable while he finished more pages.
I don't mean to make excuses -- well, maybe I do -- because I screwed up royally by being too cooperative and not yelling, "Halt! Stop! I can't work like this!" But I never felt anyone was at the steering wheel, even later when we changed artists and I was too punchy to figure out whether I was trying to do an imitation of Jack's NEW GODS, an extension of them, my take on them, etc.. I still can't tell you what my goal was or should have been, or whether any of the issues were any good.
SW: Why did Jim Starlin seem to just up and take off at the beginning of that series, leaving you to conclude the Mantis/Forager II/Bugs storyarc and then take over the series?
EVANIER: Jim started to write the series and then he and DC mutually agreed that he wasn't going to continue. I got a call to say, "We want you to take over. You'll do a new first issue, then we'll print Starlin's issues, and then you'll pick up his plot threads." I really didn't understand his issues. I'm not saying they were bad; just that I didn't know what to do to lead into them and lead out. And because the comic was already scheduled, I had to do #1 instantly and...well, it just resurrects painful memories. I shouldn't have agreed to the project at all. Jack had asked me to do NEW GODS if it were ever offered to me and, you know, if Jack had asked me to shave my head and paint it blue, I would have done so. But I should still have refused to do this particular version under those circumstances.
SW: A personal quirk about your New Gods run: you created several new characters (specifically, Teledar, Madame Nature, Cyborg-87 and Iota)...most of whom were never seen again in your series or any other. Why did these guys (who were very unique looking folks) disappear so quickly?
EVANIER: You know...I don't remember any of those characters at all. I have a terrific memory and I guess I've blocked most of those stories out of my cranium. Paris had a number of ideas for new characters and I suspect most of those originated with him. I could pass a polygraph that those characters were never in any comic I worked on.
SW: The "Yuga Khan saga" seemed to be something major that's never really been followed up on by others; when I first read the story, it seemed that this had the potential of involving other books (a crossover - dirty word these days, but still...), yet it didn't. For those who don't know who Yuga Khan is, who was he? And do you think Yuga Khan has the potential to be an important character in current, or future, New Gods stories?
EVANIER: I don't mean to be evasive but I don't remember who Yuga Khan was, other than that Paris suggested him and we used him somehow. I suspect any character has the potential to be important in any story, depending on how the writer of the moment chooses to deploy him.
SW: The Commander. If I recall correctly, he was the first and only true challenger to Izaya's rule of New Genesis. What was his motivation; and how did you come up with this "menace from within?"
EVANIER: I'm afraid my memory is not that clear on that. I vaguely recall some discussion once with Jack about some ethical principle that led to that tale...but I'd have to reread those stories to be able to tell you, and I'd rather not do that.
SW: Why was your NEW GODS series cancelled? The usual "low sales" reason, I >guess...?
EVANIER: Yeah. That's usually the reason.
SW: Do you think the New Gods are just too smart and sophisticated for comic readers, or is there some other reason for why they never seem to catch on with the masses?EVANIER: No -- and I say this, having not read many of the recent attempts -- I think it's a lot like trying to do THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW without Jackie Gleason. The series was Kirby and if you don't have Kirby, you have to either find a whole new approach to things, which would probably be so far removed from what Jack did that there would be no point in calling it THE NEW GODS. Matter of fact, it would just mislead folks and get things off on the wrong foot, if you called it that and people picked it up expecting some sort of extension of what Jack did.
I think there are some wonderful characters and concepts there but those of us who've handled them have had to answer the musical question, "Am I doing Jack's NEW GODS or am I doing mine?" If you decide on the former, you have the problem of how you -- a person who is not Jack Kirby and can never be -- is going to replicate something that was as organic to its creator as it was. And if you decide to do your own NEW GODS, you have to come up with something that is fully-formed and brilliantly innovative, which is tough enough to do on its own, let alone to create from the pieces of someone else's vision. So I really think it's a near-impossible task, which is not to say that some versions cannot have merit in many ways, or that I might not someday do another story or two in that venue. I just don't think it's a series that can be carried on the way darn near anyone can do a valid Spider-Man or Batman.
SW: Some people think the New Gods should've been "retired" when Kirby first left them...others say their continuing adventures are a good thing. Where do you stand on this, and what are your thoughts on the opposing viewpoint?
EVANIER: Well, I don't think anyone else's stories -- mine, included -- are of a piece with Jack's. I see the whole mythos of Spider-Man as a collective work, handed down from writer to writer, with one guy tying up another's storylines, much like a fictional Round Robin. I see Jack's NEW GODS work as finite and standalone, and anyone else's stories are a separate body of work, just as new WINNIE THE POOH cartoons are not really a matter of someone else taking over the same job A.A. Milne did. I don't see anything wrong with someone else doing a Mr. Miracle story or an Orion story as long as we are clear that those are THEIR stories and THEIR interpretations and not Kirby's.
SW: Of the non-Kirby New Gods tales...which ones have you enjoyed the most?
EVANIER: None of them. I've only read a few and I haven't liked any of the ones I've read. I may be too close to the forest in the sense that almost anything anyone else does with the characters leads to me saying, "Jack would never have had Metron say that" or "Jack would never have had Darkseid do that."
My many thanks to Mark Evanier for his time.
For more information about him, go to his official website!