The New Gods Library
Interview with Walt Simonson
Conducted by Tim O'Shea via email, 3 December 1999
(for Comic Book Electronic Magazine #242)
Tim did a great job in lining up this second interview this week. When he heard we had Walter set to appear locally at THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT in Worcester, MA and that the EMag was running a special trivia contest to celebrate he got Walt to finish up his interview early enough to include it in this special issue of CBEM. Tim wishes to profusely thank Walter for taking the time out of his busy workload to answer these questions.
And we would be remiss if we did not mention that ORION, the new series based on Jack Kirby's New God Characters, will be launching April 2000.
CBEM: Seemingly foolish first question: What will be the official name of the title, I've read several different titles and want to clarify for the record.
WALTER SIMONSON: The title of the book as it stands now is simply ORION. It went through a couple of working titles; hence (I think) the confusion.
CBEM: Given that your back-up story for issues 9 through 13 in JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD was an origin of Kanto the Assassin, can we assume that he may play a more substantial role in the ORION book than the other members of Darkseid's Elite?
SIMONSON: I don't think so. I like Kanto a lot or I wouldn't have done the story for John's issues but I think the various members of Darkseid's Elite will be appearing in stories as they are suggested by the material rather than using them as the starting point for a story themselves. Orion will remain my principal focus. But I do like Kanto and if I can think of a nifty story in which to use him, I certainly will.
CBEM: Orion seems to be an instance where your technology/sci-fi based art layout (like your Avengers and FF days) could be merged with your Asgardian mythological layouts. Am I right? If so, is it more enjoyable or more challenging (or both) to do a book that seemingly draws upon two of your art styles at the same time?
SIMONSON: ORION does appeal to both my SF and mythological interests. All I can say about the art is that I'm finding my way as I go and don't expect the style to settle down for at least a few issues until I see how everything's working out. But I'm having a blast drawing all this stuff! I do expect the layouts to be a little less conservative than THOR but probably not as over-the-top as the layouts for the MICHAEL MOORCOCK MULTIVERSE comic I did for Helix/DC. I don't think my stories will be quite as close to edge as Mike's. But I am fooling around a little with open space surrounding certain panels as a way of enhancing emphasis on what's happening in the panel itself, playing with the negative space on the page.
CBEM: Given the already complicated nature of Kirby's Fourth World, could you imagine or do you even want hypertime playing a factor at any point in Orion? You've already had Kanto go back to 1502 without the assistance of hypertime, so I can't even guess the unlimited potential (or possible plotting failures and complications) if hypertime was utilized on this title.
SIMONSON: Truth to tell, I'm pretty hazy about the concept of hypertime and don't as yet see any need for it in my stories. I tend toward the Occam's Razor approach to continuity and storytelling. Simplest explanations are the best and most desirable. My feeling is that if my stories can't blow readers away on their own terms, hypertime is going to be the least of my problems. Trust me.
CBEM: Again, given Fourth World's complexity, how hard do you think it will be to attract new readership?
SIMONSON: Probably just about as hard as it is for any new comic in the current marketplace to take root. And it's not like the Fourth World material has got 60 years of continuous publication like SUPERMAN!
CBEM: Is it your hope to simplify continuity by jettisoning all of The Fourth World previously published baggage, with the exception of Kirby's 11 issues of NEW GODS in 1971-1972 and John Byrne's more recent 20-issue Fourth World run?
SIMONSON: I wouldn't go that far. I am using John's continuity as a jumping off point but I don't see any reason to go back and try to either explain or actually abandon earlier versions. After all, isn't that what hypertime is supposed to do? I only get 12 issues a year. Not a lot of room. I don't plan to waste any of it solving past conundrums of continuity. That's the fans' job. And honestly, despite all the talk about the importance of continuity, I'd be floored if most the readers who pick up a copy of ORION will have a working knowledge of Gerry Conway's THE RETURN OF THE NEW GODS or even of the more recent Evanier NEW GOD's material. Beyond that, although there have been a number of `guest' appearances by Darkseid and to a lesser degree, Orion, I don't see the point in wasting any space trying to incorporate or justify those appearances in Orion. Let's do some new stories.
CBEM: How will Orion interact with the rest of the DC universe? There has been much said of the perceived impact on Barda and Orion's sudden membership in the JLA. Will you try to keep Fourth World characters sequestered away from the mainstream DC universe? If not, would a guest shot with such folks as your old title of the mid-1970s--The Metal Men--be out of the question?
SIMONSON: I don't have any real control over this and don't really plan to address it. In other words, I'll do Orion in his own book and with any luck, DC will do Orion elsewhere without fouling up my stories. I don't mind Orion appearing elsewhere; it may even be useful as PR. I just don't want to have to match my stories in Orion's own title to somebody else's Orion story elsewhere. But I like DC's characters and it would be fun to use some of them as I go along. I am using Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion in my second issue and I do want to suggest a sense of the existence in Orion of the wider DC universe. I hadn't thought about the Metal Men!
CBEM: Since, in many ways Marvel's Asgard is as much Jack's creation as his Fourth World, in some ways do you ever think your incredible stint on Thor may actually have been a warm-up for Orion? In other words, almost 10 years later, as a storyteller are you able to tackle this universe better because of the plotting skills you honed while on Thor (as well as your myriad other projects in between then and now)? Or am I mistaken and you see no parallels between the two universes?
SIMONSON: Actually, it's been closer to 15 years. I don't know if I would say that working on Thor `honed' my skills for this book as much as mined some of the same mother lode of my personal interests. How's that for a runaway metaphor? Certainly, I hope that all the practice I've had writing in the past, including Thor, will give me a leg up with Orion. And Thor may actually be more of a help than other work because to the thematic similarities with ORION: mythological backgrounds, cosmic stories, gods matched against the scales of mortals, etc.
CBEM: When will we get to meet Mortalla, Darkseid's mistress and his right hand of death, who was previewed in The New Gods Secret Files and Origins? What other new characters will you introduce?
SIMONSON: Mortalla should be showing up about issue 6. I've introduced a new `assistant' to Desaad in ORION 1--Justeen. And the Suicide Jockeys, some extremely dedicated assassins, of sorts. Generally speaking, new characters will come floating in as I need them but I definitely want to introduce new ones as I go.
CBEM: Another Secret Files-related question, in the Orion preview you had Darkseid provide his last will and testament. Do you plan on killing off Orion's "dad" anytime soon?
SIMONSON: That would be telling. See issue 5.
CBEM: Let's go back to 1982 (on a project your wife, Louise [then Jones] Simonson, edited), the X-MEN/NEW TEEN TITANS (Marvel/DC) crossover, Apokolips Now. While Chris Claremont is credited as scripter and you were listed as penciler, you had co-plotting experience going back to MANHUNTER with Archie Goodwin in the early 1970s. How much input did you have on the characterization of Fourth Worlders? If the answer is "no input," how (if it all) would you have handled those characters differently? Is the Darkseid portrayed in this book the Darkseid we will see in Orion?
SIMONSON: Most of my input would have been at the plotting stage of X/TITANS. I may have written border notes suggesting stuff like dialogue but at this point, I really don't remember. I liked Chris' take on the character and thought we did a nice job with him. I don't expect my version to be significantly different although Chris and I don't write alike so whatever differences there are will be the normal differences found between writers even when they share a relatively similar view of the same character.
CBEM: I still crack up at your "tribute" to Gone with the Wind (Orion in the role of Rhett Butler) on the cover of JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD Issue 11. Can we look forward to any other movie or pop culture references in upcoming Orion covers?
SIMONSON: I'm not sure about that yet. The GWTW cover wasn't my idea. For most of the covers I did, Paul Kupperberg or John would suggest a direction and I would run with it. That was true in that case. I was given the concept for the GWTW cover and I executed it. But it worked and I wouldn't put it past me to do something like that down the road. I just won't tell DC's lawyers .
CBEM: Do you find that when you work as both writer and artist that your production time and effort is eased or increased, in comparison to working as a writer with an artist or as an artist with a writer?
SIMONSON: Oh, certainly my production time and effort increases. After all, writing and penciling and inking are all full time jobs. Naturally, I won't be writing as much or penciling as much or inking as much as any one writer or penciller or inker, but it's enough to keep me busy for a month, believe me!
CBEM: Given Orion's complex continuity, who will be editing ORION for DC?
SIMONSON: Joey Cavalieri is the editor for Orion. Paul Kupperberg was the original editor but he's moved out of line editing at DC
CBEM: Will John Workman be lettering the title? What would you describe is the quality to his work that so subtly, yet seemingly substantially compliments (in my opinion) your stories?
SIMONSON: John is lettering Orion. I think at least part of what enables us to work together so well is that his work derives so clearly from graphic elements of both typography and calligraphy, and has a strong sense of structure. My work is quite graphic in nature as well as strongly structured and I think that similarity of approach serves us both well when we work together.
CBEM: In previous interviews you have described Orion's character in pagan terms, while you portray Lightray through Christian attributes ("virtues"). Will Orion have a seemingly more "spiritual" tone to its characters under your helm? Or am I reading too much into your previous descriptions of the characters?
SIMONSON: I wouldn't say you were reading too much into my remarks but you may be reading in a direction I wasn't heading. My reference had more to do with finding ways to establish in my own mind the basic complimentary natures of both Orion and Lightray, what makes them different, how they interact with each other, and how their attributes allow them to be good friends. It was never a question of virtue for Lightray and something else for Orion. Rather, I was referring to the virtues implicit in both the pagan and Christian sets of values. Here're my original notes regarding the two characters: 1. Orion represents the old pagan virtues-- faithfulness, pride, heroism, extraordinary powers, maybe even good luck. 2. Lightray represents the Christian virtues of pity, charity, mercy. So Orion and Lightray in a sense, together make up a whole or unified individual. That's really all there is to it. A couple of notes to suggest directions to myself in terms of understanding the characters I'm doing. I've forgotten where I came across these ideas now but I'm sure I read something about them somewhere and thought they were appropriate.
CBEM: With the obvious exception of Orion, who are your top three New Gods characters?
SIMONSON: Ummmm. Darkseid, Lightray, Desaad, and Metron. So that's four. Sue me!
CBEM: What comics (other than your own, understandably) attract your attention these days?
SIMONSON: I'm interested in whatever Weezie's doing so right now, I'm checking out Galactus and Warlock. And the one comic I always read the second it comes into the house is Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. Highly recommended .
CBEM: While impossible currently, given Marvel's financial situation, but have you ever considered an Orion/Thor crossover?
SIMONSON: I was asked to plot one maybe four or five years ago by DC. I did so but they turned down my story. However, I keep everything on file so I'm hoping that one of these days, I'll be able to persuade them to let me go back and do it. I still like the story a lot.