Posted - 02/17/2011 : 08:46:05 AM
Writer for The Spider
Published by: Moonstone
Interviewed by: Richard Vasseur/Jazma VP
Rich: How did you become involved in writing comic books?
Martin: Hah…I’m afraid this is going to be a very long answer. Okay, here goes. My older brothers were big Silver Age comic book readers, so there were always stacks of great comics around our house. When I was in the second grade, I started writing and drawing my own stuff. The first comic book I remember making was a Winnie the Pooh story, all in crayon, during the Christmas holidays.
After high school I got the idea in my head that I wanted to be a professional writer, in the Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson mode. I hammered out dozens and dozens of short stories on my portable typewriter in my little spider haunted basement apartment, while working overnights mopping floors and taking college classes during the day.
After a few years of constantly writing and sending out stories, with no success, I decided to try something different. I’d started contributing fiction to several comics and pulp fanzines, which were a wonderful training ground, and met some very talented artists. One of these was a Canadian named Seppo Makinen. He and I collaborated on a few short stories aimed at the science fiction anthology comics being published at the time, and they became my first published work.
Soon I wanted to try my hand at a longer story, and Seppo was game to give it a shot, too. So I wrote Scarlet in Gaslight in the mid-1980s, a graphic novel featuring Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula.
Once the story was completed, I nervously sent it to Ray Bradbury, at his very kind invitation, and he immediately encouraged me to look for a publisher. In those days before the internet and email, I began the cumbersome and costly process of snail-mailing the first completed issue, which Seppo had fully illustrated and lettered, to every independent comic book publisher I could think of. I knew Marvel and DC wouldn’t even look at it, but that didn’t matter because I wanted to retain ownership of the story. Literally no one was interested. Usually I never even heard back from them. Still, giving up and quitting was a sure way to fail, so I kept at it.
For almost two years, I received back nary a nibble until Malibu Comics finally snatched it up and Scarlet in Gaslight became a sell-out hit, ultimately receiving an Eisner Award nomination, and has had several printings since. Suddenly, I was off on a full-time career as a professional writer. I could hardly believe my luck. It was a classic case of patience and persistence paying off and of being in the right place at the right time.
Rich: Why would you recommend getting into the comics field?
Martin: I wouldn’t! Not unless you want to do it for the sheer love of the medium. It’s got to be for love, because the money may be a long time in coming. The industry doesn’t exist in the way it did back when I was breaking in, which was tough enough, and I wouldn’t know where to begin if I was starting out today. I suppose the best way might be to do free website comic strips. You’ll practice your craft and hopefully begin to grow an audience. Also, it’s still important to visit comic book conventions to show your portfolio to professional editors. Prepare to be tough-skinned, but also listen to what they say. After that, practice and patience are the best advice I can give. It could take years before you get your first paying gig and if you quit, then you never really wanted it.
Rich: What is "The Spider" comic book about?
Martin: The Spider is a masked crime fighter originally published in the pulp magazines of the early 1930s, best known for his method of ultra-violence against doomsday-level catastrophes. He predates Batman by several years and was highly inspirational to Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Of all the classic pulp heroes, I think the Spider is the best suited to comics. I’m extremely fortunate to have the legendary Pablo Marcos as illustrator, and we’ve become close friends as a result. Pablo was born to draw the Spider. The first issue is on sale in a couple weeks, from Moonstone.
Rich: What type of person is the Spider?
Martin: The Spider is probably the most three-dimensional, fully realized personality of the pulps. Richard Wentworth, the Spider’s alter-ego (or…is it the other way around?), is a fascinating character. There are some fans who superficially think of the Spider as merely as a killing machine, but they’re missing a lot, in my opinion. Wentworth is highly intelligent, possessing lightning-fast deductive skills, and is a commanding strategist. He possesses nearly superhuman physical prowess, astonishing endurance, and has a tremendous tolerance to pain. His fearsome reputation as the “Master of Men” is completely deserved, but Wentworth also suffers from a messiah-complex. He believes only he can save the world, and he’s actually quite right. The Spider is wanted by the Law and the criminal Underworld, with most people believing that he is out of control and murderously insane. Privately, Wentworth himself is haunted by that terrifying possibility.
Rich: Who are the Spider's confederates?
Martin: The most prominent of Wentworth’s co-adventurers is the lovely, and lethal, Nita Van Sloan. Unlike nearly all other girlfriends of masked crime-fighters, Nita knows all of the Spider’s darkest secrets, and fights passionately at his side. Without her influence Wentworth is afraid that the monster within him might run amok, without restraint. There aren’t many women who would fall for the Spider and his way of life, but Nita has her own inner darkness, too, which we will witness as the series progresses. She’s actually my favorite character in the cast, and you can expect some very startling developments in the life of Nita Van Sloan.
The others include Ram Singh, a fierce Sikh warrior who is undying in his loyalty to the Spider. Also, we have chauffeur Ronald Jackson, a tough commando who served under Wentworth during WW1. Then there’s Jenkyns the butler, who is literally the original Alfred from the Batman saga, created in the pulps several years before the first appearance of the Dark Knight.
Perhaps the most fascinating of all the supporting players is Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick, who is clearly the original model for Batman’s Commissioner Gordon, but is a much more complex character. His relationship with his friend Wentworth is rather twisted. Kirk is very a perceptive detective, and he’s practically positive that Wentworth and the Spider, wanted by the police for mass murder, are one and the same. He is torn between his duty and his deeper sense of justice and loyalty to his friend, and—in many ways— he remains the Spider’s most dangerous enemy.
Rich: What about Pulp style comics attracts people?
Martin: Well, I can only really answer that in regard to being a reader and fan myself. There is something immediately satisfying and electrifying about the pulps. When I was a kid the first Doc Savage paperback I ever read was the fiftieth novel in the series, and yet I felt quite at home while reading it. The story swiftly introduced all I needed to know and by the time I turned the last page I was hooked and ready for more. It was not in the least bit confusing. Try doing that today with a random issue of Superman or Spider-Man. You read two or three panels and you’re immediately lost, have no idea what’s going on, or who these people are, and then you find out that issue is merely a tiny decompressed percentage of an enormous epic that could cost in the hundreds of dollars to finish collecting and reading. It’s ridiculous.
I think it was Roy Thomas who once very wisely said that each issue is someone’s first comic book. They should all be as welcoming and reader-friendly as the pulps and Silver Age comics used to be. If they were, I suspect the industry would be in much better shape, with lots more devoted readers.
Rich: How did you find working on such classic figures as Dracula and Sherlock Holmes?
Martin: Some of my happiest, most defining times as a writer. Unlike a lot of folks wanting to write for comics, I was never all that keen to work on books like the X-Men or the Justice League. I’ve always wanted to do something different and show the versatility of the medium. Comics could be, and should be, so much more than merely costumed super-heroes.
Choosing Sherlock Holmes and Dracula for Scarlet in Gaslight was my way of attempting to make an early mark in the industry. It worked, too, because at that time, and for quite a number of years afterward, I was one of the only guys doing anything remotely like it. Also it helped that the book was authorized by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which gave it a bit of an edge.
Of course, there was an inevitable stretch where some editors thought I could write only Sherlock Holmes stories and wouldn’t give me a chance at anything else, so I did begin to resent the character for a while. Since those days, I’ve wised up. It opened a lot of doors for me, and still continues to do so today. In many ways, Holmes has been my very best friend, even if I did choose to ignore that fact for a number of years. I know better now. By the way, Pulp 2.0 Press will be publishing a brand new edition of Scarlet in Gaslight later this year, both in print and also an electronic version. It will be its seventh printing to date.
Rich: What did you try to bring out in Dr. Frankenstein's creation character wise?
Martin: I was deeply affected after seeing Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the character when I was about five years old. Somehow I connected with him, and I was never quite the same again. Then, while in my early teens, I first read the novel and it became a life-defining event. I would read the book many more times during the years to come, each time finding rich new layers that I had never dreamed of before.
Ultimately, I was inspired to write my own graphic novel interpretation of Frankenstein, accumulating as a dream-project that was actually conceived when I was still in high school. This is Mary Shelley’s original story, but the language in the dialogue and captions is my own. I’d decided against stressing the popular “technology out of control” theme in favor of focusing on what I felt was the true soul of the story, that of an unwanted child.
I was extremely fortunate in recruiting Patrick Olliffe as illustrator, and his moody black and white vision established an eerie atmosphere with the very first panel. This was perfect casting, one of those very rare occasions when everything worked exactly as I’d envisioned. Pulp 2.0 Press will also be publishing Frankenstein in new editions, both print and electronic format. Of all the hundreds of stories I’ve written, Frankenstein remains my personal favorite.
Rich: Did you enjoy working on Superman and Batman and would you like to do more with them?
Martin: Oh, absolutely. When I first typed the words “The Daily Planet”, I actually got chills. I think almost every writer or artist working in the comic book industry dreams of having their own Superman and Batman stories published. It’s interesting that I don’t remember ever being introduced to Superman or Batman when I was a kid. They seem to have always been near me. As I composed their stories I felt a mythic weight from them that I had only experienced while writing Lee Falk’s Phantom and Sherlock Holmes.
The best part about both of writing these books for me was that they were connected to the stream-lined continuity of the animated series, rather than the jumbled and indecipherable complexity of the regular monthly comics. For example, Clark Kent and Lois Lane aren’t married, and she doesn’t know his secret identity. I got to write the real Man of Steel that I grew up with during the Silver Age, which was tremendously gratifying.
Rich: What do you have planned for your career in the future?
Martin: That’s a good question. It’s time for a bit of a change, I think. Although I've been very lucky throughout my twenty-five year career, getting to write for many famous characters, nothing quite compares to the thrill of creating something that you will own and creatively control yourself. So, I’m branching off with that purpose, hoping my readers will follow me whichever direction I decide to go.
In recent years, especially after writing over twenty children’s books, I’ve become an advocate for All Ages comics and chapter books. My book The Tall Tale of Paul Bunyan won the Moonbeam Gold Award for Best Children’s Graphic Novel of 2010, which was a great surprise, and that helped convince me to focus my concentration more on this path. Part of being a successful author is the need to constantly reinvent yourself, and also to listen to your readers.
Currently, I’m allied with Jay Piscopo, a very prolific, talented artist, and the creator of The Undersea Adventures of Cap’n Eli and Sea Ghost. Jay and I are creating a new All Ages sci-fi mystery/adventure series titled Liberty Unlimited, which I'm ecstatic about. If you’re a fan of Jonny Quest, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys, this series is for you.
My young adult mystery novella The Halloween Legion will be appearing soon, too, from Wild Cat Books, featuring very cool and creepy interior illustrations by artist Danny Kelly. These are characters I first dreamed up when I was a teenager, and they been very patiently waiting all these years to be born. Although the book is another work of fiction, it’s probably the most personal thing I’ve ever done.
Pablo Marcos and I are working together on creating a new adventure hero for older readers, too, and I have future plans for Sherlock Holmes, as well.
Rich: If you could spend a day with any super-hero which one would it be and why?
Martin: E.C. Segar’s Popeye the Sailor—especially if the Jeep was with him! No other comics character can make me laugh quite like Popeye. Everything is so grim and serious these days. I think we need to lighten up. Just looking at Popeye makes me smile.
Rich: What comics as a child did you read and do you read any now?
Martin: I read my brothers’ comics at first, and then started buying my own when I got old enough for an allowance. Silver Age DC’s were the comics I read most. I loved Superman and Batman, but I was especially drawn to the oddball titles like Mystery in Space, The Metal Men, Metamorpho, and my all-time favorite, the original Doom Patrol. Of course, I read Marvel, Gold Key, Charlton, Archie, and Mad magazine, too. When I got to my teens I was reading lots of Warren horror magazines, EC reprints, and Doc Savage and Tarzan novels. Mainstream comics don't interest me much today, mostly because I don’t recognize the characters anymore, and I dislike the current fad of decompressed story-lines where it takes forever for something to actually happen. However, there is some great, very imaginative stuff being produced in the independents, but that’s always been true. I highly recommend anything by Jay Piscopo, Richard Sala, Michael T. Gilbert, Terry Beatty, Tom Floyd, Brent Schoonover, Danny Kelly, Michael Leal, Jessica Hickman, Michael May, Gary Chaloner, and Dean Haspiel, in particular, just to name a few.
Rich: How can someone contact you?
Martin: I’m always on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Martin-Powell-Writer/184319781588362) and there’s also my writer’s blog (http://martinpowell221bcom.blogspot.com/). My Amazon Author’s Page is a good place to view a lot of my books all at once (http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001JRXRSU).
Rich: Any words for those who pick up your comics?
Martin: Share them with your family and friends!