A CONVERSATION WITH TV AND COMIC BOOK WRITER,
Last time, Javier Grillo-Marxuach sat down with AICN Comics’ own Prof. Challenger to talk about his work on TV’s LOST, a little personal history, the writing process, and Spanish Superman. This time, we go into greater detail about Javier’s current and upcoming comic book projects.
PROF: You mentioned SUPER-SKRULL... When does that come out?
JGM: The miniseries begins in April after the ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE.
PROF: Give me a quick rundown on how you got involved with SUPER-SKRULL. Did you approach Marvel or did you get a call out of the blue or what...?
JGM: Andy Schmidt - Marvel Editor and ANNIHILATION Mastermind - had seen my name on LOST, and read about THE MIDDLEMAN in interviews, plus, Damon had also blazed a trail over at Marvel. So one day I got the call from him and as we got to talking, he suggested that I consider doing this project...
PROF: …cause here's the deal...one of the first comic books I got my hands on when my family moved back to Ft. Hood, here in Texas, was that MARVEL TEAM-UP that had Super-Skrull beating the crap out of Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man. I discovered Super-Skrull BEFORE I discovered the FANTASTIC FOUR!
JGM: ...so you might wind up being my harshest critic!
PROF: I love that guy. Don't muck him up!
JGM: I am digging writing him specifically because he is a villain. Seriously, he is a miserable, hate-filled dude, and that makes him infinitely fun to write!
PROF: So, what was the process? They bring all you writers together for a bull session or what?
JGM: We are all pretty far apart, geographically speaking, so there is a lot of email. Also, the minis are pretty self-standing even as they tell pieces of the broader story of the ANNIHILATION event, so mostly Andy has been my contact to the broader continuity of the event.
PROF: Are the Fantastic Four going to make an appearance?
JGM: I can't tell you that exactly, but let's just say there may be some familiar faces in there! Also, much of the action takes place in the Negative Zone, so you are going to be seeing a lot of new and exciting characters as well.
PROF: Neg-Zone has untapped potential as a storytelling device, in my opinion, but truth is I stay pretty divorced from most current Marvel continuity (continuity makes my head hurt now), so I'm a clean slate for you to fill me in right now on what the overarching ANNIHILATION story is.
JGM: It's a story that involves Marvel's cosmic characters as opposed to their Earth-bound heroes. An extremely aggressive and overpowering enemy mounts a major attack on the galaxy and the first to respond to the invasion are the four characters on whom the minis are based - Nova, Super-Skrull, Ronan and Silver Surfer - so it really is an opportunity to do a huge space opera writ on a massive canvas with a flight of unique and unusual heroes.
PROF: Should be interesting to see how Super-Skrull responds to a threat that places him in the uncomfortable position of “hero.” Who is the artist you're working with?
JGM: Gregory Titus - I had seen his work on an Image book called THE IMAGINARIES and really thought it was something special, so I was thrilled when Andy mentioned him as the guy for the job. His stuff is pretty spectacular - he really is giving it a very cool look.
PROF: A high-profile series like this should bump both of you quickly to the forefront. Daunting feeling to be premiering on a huge "event" book for MARVEL comics?
JGM: What's daunting is that I am a newcomer to the world of Super-Skrull and I get it very clearly that this is a legacy character for whom a lot of people have a very soft spot - and yet, there are a lot of things about Super-Skrull that we just don't know, so I have tried to fill out parts of his back-story in order to give him a rich motivation for his actions and create character-driven reasons for the things he does. I am waiting very eagerly to see how people react to Super-Skrull as a full lead of his own series who has to be given a little bit of a greater emotional space... you know, within the realm of being a major league ass-kicker.
PROF: If you succeed and the fans clamor for an ongoing SUPER-SKRULL series, are you there?
JGM: That would rock. I would also love the idea of expanding the whole Super-Skrull concept... as you know, K'lrt is not the only Super-Skrull out there, and over the years it has been intimated that there may be an entire corps of Super-Skrulls... it'd be cool to follow them, kind of like the Jedi, but they would all be bastards!
PROF: In Paul Dini's introduction to the trade paperback collection of your first MIDDLEMAN mini-series, he mentions that MIDDLEMAN began life as an unproduced script. Was your original script for a movie or a TV-series?
JGM: THE MIDDLEMAN started out as a TV pilot that I wrote between 1997-98 as a spec... it had been on the shelf, but I had never been able to let it go, so when Paul and I began working together, I saw some of the things he was doing in the creator-owned area and thought... "Hmmm..." Ultimately, Paul was kind enough to mentor me through the process - he truly is the godfather of THE MIDDLEMAN.
PROF: The Middleman's Godfather? I smell a NEW MINI-SERIES!!!!!
PROF: Confession time. My 11-yr-old son loves the MIDDLEMAN so much he tried to put together a Middleman costume for Halloween. Got too frustrated because he couldn't find a jacket that looked right.
JGM: That's AWESOME!
Dude, that right there is reason enough to do the whole thing, seriously.
PROF: I know it's not particularly an all-ages book, but it's clever and wacky enough that I think it appeals to a wide range of people out there.
JGM: Well, if I could just hold myself back from having Wendy crack wise about autoerotic asphyxiation...
PROF: You gotta write about what you know. First rule of writing.
JGM: Man, I set that up and you spiked it! IN MY FACE!
PROF: You know what ultimately turned MIDDLEMAN into one of my favorite series last year?
JGM: The tentacled ass monster? The mobster monkeys? The robot receptionist? Do tell!
PROF: MOBSTER MONKEYS! In the grand tradition of The Gorilla Crime Boss of Gotham City! Comics and Apes go together better than chocolate and peanut butter!
JGM: You know, I knew there was a kind of monkey critical mass in comics, but I never realized how far back it went historically - it really does seem to be the medium for the monkey freak in everyone!
PROF: That's what keeps monkeys like me buying the stupid things when we're way too old to be doing it.
Looking at the most recent MIDDLEMAN issue, you may be paving the way for a new fad in comics. I'm talking, of course, about Mexican Wrestlers!
JGM: There is definitely a critical mass for “Lucha Libre” to go mainstream – for me it’s all based on my childhood love of Santo movies - I dunno if you checked those out when you lived in Puerto Rico, but it seems that with Lucha VaVoom here in LA and NACHO LIBRE coming out, it's really coming into the public eye in a big way.
PROF: THE MIDDLEMAN VOL. 2 introduced the world to the traveling Mexican wrestler troupe LOS HUEVOS GIGANTE…and I'm still laughing.
JGM: Yes, for some reason it has become traditional to have a testicle joke in every MIDDLEMAN miniseries. I'm very proud of that (you may remember the Italian restaurant in VOL. 1 was called "i'l coglione grandissimo").
PROF: The visual gags in the written dialogue in Vol. 2 were definitely the highlight – whether it's the Hebrew coming out of Middleman’s mouth or the hilarious English/Spanish translations. Good stuff.
JGM: I love that kind of stuff and get very little opportunity to indulge it in the world of mainstream television. As long as it doesn't overpower the character stuff, it's all good.
PROF: Which reminds me, was that "real" Hebrew or just pretend stuff like the Russian dialogue in STRIPES?
JGM: The museum curator asks Middleman "Are you a product of the Kibbutz system?" and Middleman replies "A man asked me that once and I kicked his genitals into his watch pocket. Now he must check the time whenever he wishes to copulate." Les McClaine (the series’ artist) got the Hebrew translation of that dialogue from a Rabbi... I wish I had been a fly on the wall in that discussion! By the way, my favorite visual gag in the whole issue is Middleman's picture in his Mossad ID. Les McClaine is a genius!
PROF: HILARIOUS! I swear that open-mouth photo had me giggling for 5 minutes!
How did you hook up with Les McClaine as the artist for this book?
JGM: I had seen Les' book HIGHWAY 13 and loved it. I emailed him through his webpage and the rest is history - seriously, we clicked from very early on and he just GOT IT. It has been a spectacularly successful collaboration (creatively, although I am told the trade paperback will make us rich beyond dreams of avarice!).
PROF: Let's hope so. You know, VIPER put together a great trade package there and very affordable at $9.95 cover.
JGM: VIPER is very interested in there being a MIDDLEMAN VOL. 3. We are putting out the second trade in time for the San Diego Comic-Con, and that is going to include the entire LEGENDS OF THE MIDDLEMAN - which was a one-shot we were going to put out late last year, but which we cancelled due to some delays. LEGENDS is pretty cool - it's three stories I wrote about three Middlemen through history, illustrated by Josh Howard, Tom Kurzanski and Ryan Cody - kind of like "the VIPER All-Stars."
PROF: Can't wait for that. VIPER produces some of the best product out there for a smaller press.
JGM: VIPER is awesome, honestly, from the level of just plain being great people to putting out fantastic-looking books; they are everything I would want an Indy company to be about.
PROF: Any other projects you want to use this opportunity to whet our reader's appetites about? MIDDLEMAN specials, world domination, what else?
JGM: It's all about THE MIDDLEMAN and SUPER-SKRULL for me right now - I find that every time I announce stuff prematurely, it always falls through. Better to have the goods and deliver than to over-promise egregiously!
But I will say this - if you pick up THE MIDDLEMAN VOL. 2 trade and like it, there is a very good chance that those historic characters from the LEGENDS supplement will appear in the main book - interacting with Wendy and The Middleman - in the future!
PROF: Unique to a relatively new comic book writer, you already have a very active fan base, evidenced by a glance at your website. One of your recent blog entries even had a surprise response by the “esteemed” Warren Ellis and your “Ask Javi” video entries are hysterical.
JGM: That was pretty cool of Mr. Ellis, I must say – and his website “The Engine” has been pretty invaluable in getting to know and understand the comics world. As far as the fan base goes, I owe that to LOST. One of the cool things about “teh internets” is how it has raised awareness of writers and their contributions to shows, and brought fandom to the behind-the-scenes creative level. It’s something you see a lot of in BUFFY and STAR TREK fandom. Anyway, I started hanging out in “The Fuselage” – a LOST fan community that went up very early during the run of the show – because I thought that talking to fans of the show would be a cool thing, especially the early adopters. The next thing I knew, I got an email from one of the Fuseleers (the man known only as “SPEAKER”) about starting a fan community. Who am I to say no to that? It’s just something that’s fun and – as with a lot of things I do – I got involved because doing the blog and the “Ask Javi” videos and being active in the online fan community is a way to give added value to people who may be interested in what I’m doing.
PROF: Don’t you also use your site to raise money for charity?
JGM: Yep – someone got the idea to sell T-Shirts with my ugly mug on them and if they are really going to do such a crazy thing, and people are going to buy them, we might as well do something positive with the proceeds. We gave a check in the THREE FIGURES (c’mon, they’re shirts with my face on them) to the Children’s Defense Fund at last year’s “Destination: LA” fan party!
PROF: That fondness and appreciation of your fans has been a hallmark of your online presence the last couple of years.
JGM: I was a fan before I became a writer and will probably remain a fan long after the powers-that-be take the toys away from me, so it only makes sense. Seriously, if people actually want to label themselves as “fans” (and of me no less) the least I can do is have some kind of a presence and put something out there in return… as long as I can do that and still have my own life and hang out with the wife on occasion, it’s all OK… not to mention that I get a lot of gratification out of it. It’s not all about selflessness, you know.
PROF: Before we wrap up, can I shoot you 2 or 3 bullet point questions?
PROF: What are your feelings about the current state of the comic book industry?
JGM: Comics are bigger than they have ever been and they are a bigger business than ever – especially since they have become a kind of “farm system” for even broader-reaching media. Maybe that brings about a lot of problems – maybe there’s too much “product” and too much “branding,” too many books that are just glorified movie pitches instead of fully-rendered works of art, and maybe the Comic-Cons are a little less intimate than they used to be…but it also means that companies are out there actively courting the fan dollar – which means more and more options and makes the fans a true force to be reckoned with – and that is an extraordinary thing. That and that alone means – for me – that there hasn’t been a better time to be a comics reader/fan.
PROF: What do you feel is missing from the current mainstream publishers?
JGM: The Funny… I truly wish more people would bring The Funny. And Monkeys.
PROF: How in the world do you pronounce “Javier Grillo-Marxuach”?
JGM: It’s pronounced “HA-VEE-AIR GREE-JOE MARKS-WATCH”
PROF: hurm. Can everyone just call you "Javi" instead?
JGM: Like “Cher” and “Madonna”? I’d like that.
PROF: Well, Javi, AICN Comics loves THE MIDDLEMAN and I expect SUPER-SKRULL to knock our socks off as well. After visiting with you tonight, I think San Diego Comic-Con needs to put you on a panel this year. Thanks for the conversation and for all your great body of work. You write comics so WE don’t have to.
JGM: EXCELSIOR! Oh, wait, that’s someone else’s shtick…