He Ain't No Judas: A Conversation with Walter Simonson
A bombastic ad of Thor #337 featuring a scary-looking alien destroying the Thor comics
logo littered Marvel comics throughout late summer 1983. As a young comics fan, I knew something of the
character. I read the title for a brief period in the 70s and a smattering of the Lee/Kirby issues
from the 60s. But the character had grown stale. Something about this image of a strange creature
that appeared similar to the Thunder God, really struck a chord. I picked up the issue the day it
came out, thus launching a life-long love affair with creator Walter Simonson.
He re-imagined Thor as an epic while staying true to his Nordic and comic book roots. The series
delivered magnificent action, romance, and humor. Simonson expertly mixed elements of science fiction
within his fantastic worlds. His art recalled the finest elements of Kirby's work but in a unique
style. In other words, he restored dignity and more importantly sales to moribund title. Fans had
so much faith in Simonson that when some 25 issues into his nearly 50 issue run, he transformed
Thor into a giant frog for 4 issues, everyone just went with it.
After Simonson left Thor (a dark day for fans of the character), I followed him to
other series such as X Factor, his brief but sensational stint on the Fantastic
Four, Wonder Woman, his versions of Kirby's Fourth World (Jack Kirby's
Fourth World, Orion), Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer, and his own creation
Star Slammers. I scoured the back issue bins to acquire some of his earliest works
like 1st Issue Special (Doctor Fate) #9, Detective Comics (Manhunter
stories) #437–443, and Alien: The Illustrated Story. The closest I ever came to working
with Simonson was when I served as the letters page editor for Michael Moorcock's Multiverse. He
drew one-third of every issue. But we never conversed.
The publication of Simonson's latest graphic novel The Judas Coin, a series of interlocking stories
featuring mostly obscure DC characters centered around the fabled coin, seemed to be an ideal time to
reach out to the man for special Nexus Graphica interview. We discuss his new book, Thor,
writing vs drawing, and other interesting things.
What was the impetus for The Judas Coin?
Back when I was working on Michael Moorcock's Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer,
Mark Chiarello at DC approached me and asked me about contributing to a new comic he was going to be
editing for DC. It was called SOLO. Each issue was going to be written and drawn by a single
writer/artist. The book was to be a 44 page comic of short stories, at least one of which was to
be about a DC character. Otherwise, it was wide open. I was delighted to be asked. I started thinking
about what I might do, and eventually had the idea for an anthology of short stories, threaded together
by one of the coins Judas was paid to betray Christ. I worked out the plots for each of the stories,
but in the end, the Elric book took me longer to do than I'd thought -- no surprise there -- and by the
time I'd completed it, SOLO had run 12 issues and was done. I still liked my idea for the
comic, so I spoke to Dan Didio at DC about the anthology. He liked the idea, and suggested I find an
editor and write up a proposal for a 96-page hardcover. That worked out, but Mark was the guy whose
initial approach sparked the book.
You employed slightly different styles for each chapter of The Judas Coin. What influenced your work for each?
I thought it would be fun and challenging to draw each of the six stories in the book (and in the
introduction as well) in a different style, inspired both by the stories themselves, and by artists
whose work has inspired me over the years.
The Introduction -- the work of illustrator, Victor Ambrus. Beautifully and expressively drawn.
The Golden Gladiator -- the work of John Buscema from the 50s (an adaptation of the
movie, Helen of Troy) and the work of Hal Foster. Classic drawing and conservative
layouts that evokes the past by their very nature.
The Viking Prince -- the work of Philippe Druillet. Huge landscapes, vaguely inimical to all
mankind, a sense of scale unmatched by any other artist I've seen.
Captain Fear -- my own work. I drew a Captain Fear story written by David Michelinie a long time ago.
Bat Lash -- the work of Nick Cardy, the character's co-creator.
Batman/Two Face -- the early James Bond newspaper strip work of Yaroslav Horak. Wonderfully
graphic and a bit icy. Seemed particularly appropriate for Batman, and the newspaper format gave me
the ability to include all the faux print articles on each page, expanding the world of the story just a little.
Manhunter 2070 -- Manga in general, although I looked specifically at the work of
Hiroyuki Utatane (Seraphic Feather), Tatsuya Egawa (Golden Boy -- especially
the early volumes), and Masamune Shirow's work in general. One or two others but those were my principal
guides. I didn't try to break down the pages as most manga is broken down. I had more story than 4 panels
(or so) a page could cover. But I thought manga had a nice future feel to it, and the fairly off-the-wall
layouts seemed to fit the SF nature of the story.
Except for Batman, The Judas Coin plays like a tour of Walter Simonson's favorite
obscure DC characters. Did you have any trouble convincing the powers that be to let you use any of the
characters? Were there some you were unable to use?
Not really. When I wrote the proposal for the graphic novel, I had all the plots completed. (I
generally write scripts for my own work from my thumbnails, so my plots are done separately ahead
of time.) The proposal was accepted without alteration. I needed to clear a bit of Batman/Two Face
stuff with editorial but there were no difficulties with that either. In fact, in the beginning, I had
to consult a couple of friends who know the DC universe much better than I, because I needed a
character from Roman times. They pointed me toward the Golden Gladiator, a character I was unfamiliar
with. The rest of the characters I knew and liked before I began the project. I did go back and
read (or reread) all the original material of the various characters when I was writing the book.
Was The Judas Coin always envisioned as a graphic novel or was it originally supposed to be a mini-series?
It was always envisioned as a single book rather than a mini-series, but because of its origins
as an issue of SOLO, it was going to be about half the length it eventually became. (Apparently,
I was pretty optimistic about how much material I could cram into 44 pages.) With two exceptions, the stories
in The Judas Coin are pretty much realized as I first plotted them. The original Two Face
story plot was pretty much the story as written, but did not include Batman. I added him, almost as
Greek chorus, to give the book a little broader base. Besides, the two of them were fun to write
together. And my original Captain Fear story included material based on some old DC work from my
childhood, something I did for fun. But in the end, I decided it made the story too complicated, and
too insular. So I rewrote that story completely, and I'll save my earlier idea for another time.
You have worked very little on your own creations, why is that?
I started working in the comics industry in the States when most adventure comics, the kind of comics
I wanted to do, were published largely by Marvel and DC Comics out of New York. This was well before
the direct market had begun, and mainstream comics was where it was at. I've had the chance to write
and draw characters I loved -- sometimes with a fair degree of creative freedom -- and I've had the chance
to work with a number of other writers and artists whose work I've admired. That's kept things
interesting, and I've been lucky enough to be able to work on stories I enjoyed telling for a long time.
You've worked as a writer/artist, artist with other writers, and as just a writer for other
artists. Which creative role do you enjoy the most? What challenges do each present?
I like both writing and drawing, for myself or for other creators. The key there is that it's a way
of keeping the work interesting and challenging. Particularly when you're working with another
creator, you're never quite sure how it's going to come out at the end. Like working without a
net. Keeps you on your toes.
As the creator of perhaps the finest and most acclaimed run of Thor, what are your opinions
of Hollywood's interpretation of the character?
I enjoyed the movie a lot. I thought they did a lovely job of casting the various roles. Loved Chris [Hemsworth]
as Thor, Tom [Hiddleston] as Loki, and Jamie [Alexander] as Sif, but really, they were all good. Liked the
story, and laughed to see bits of my work up on the screen here and there.
With Marvel adapting much of their comics to animation, are there plans afoot to adapt any of your Thor storylines?
[Beta Ray] Bill's origin story was shown earlier this year as an episode of the
animated The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. They did a nice job of condensing it all down,
too. But mostly, I just see the work when it's broadcast. I'm not high enough up the food chain to be kept
abreast of media developments. But I have enjoyed the movies and cartoons when I can catch them.
What are you currently working on?
After a six month run penciling the Avengers for Marvel, I've blown off a bit, doing the odd
cover here and there for Marvel and DC and some independents as well. A couple of Rocketeer
stories for IDW, one I wrote for John Paul Leon and one I drew from Weezie's [Louise Simonson] script. I've
got more work in the pipeline but it hasn't been announced yet, so I'll keep quiet about it for now.
Special thanks to Austin Books and Comics.
Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including
The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF,
Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe,
Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible.
Coming in March 2013 from Tachyon, he is editing The Apes of Wrath, a survey of apes in literature
with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert,
Joe R. Lansdale, Pat Murphy, Leigh Kennedy, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, Karen Joy Fowler,
Philip José Farmer, Robert E. Howard and others.
Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.