Jeph Loeb: The Interview
By Matt "Stars" Morrison & Patrick Gerard
Mr. Loeb, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. I imagine that you are very busy with all of the projects going on right now (DAREDEVIL: YELLOW, FANTASTIC FOUR, and SUPERMAN to name three) and we truly appreciate you granting us a brief bit of time. Our questions come to you today from the diverse melting pot of fandom that is the Fanzing staff.
Fanzing: What do you have coming out in the immediate future? Most of our readership is familiar with your recent work with Batman and Superman, but are somewhat less familiar with your past projects and work done for other companies (Vertigo, Marvel, etc.).
Jeph Loeb: Well, that's really two questions at once. Some of my readers only know me from my "Marvel" days when I was writing Cable, X-Force, Wolverine/Gambit (with Tim Sale) and co-created and did the first year of X-Man with Steve Skroce. Over at Vertigo, the only thing I've done is the creator owned THE WITCHING HOUR with Chris "Steampunk" Bachalo -- it's now collected in hardback and it's really one of my favorite things.
That all being said, I've got three responsibilities right now. The first is, of course, Superman, monthly with the remarkable Ed McGuinness on the artwork. Then, I have a six issue Daredevil mini series through Marvel Knights with Tim Sale called Daredevil: Yellow. And lastly, I script over Carlos Pacheco's stunning artwork on the Fantastic Four.
Of course, the next question is who died and made me so lucky?
2. How did you break into comic book writing?
I was working on a movie adaptation of THE FLASH and met Jenette Kahn (Publisher at DC). She had heard about my love of comics (I've been a collector since... well, since there was paper!) and asked if I wanted to write one for DC?! Well, it was like Santa asking if I wanted a ride in his sleigh. I couldn't believe it. And that wound up being (very long story short) The Challengers of the Unknown mini-series. That's how I met Tim Sale, as well.
3. Do you have any special affinity for the Challengers of the Unknown? We know that your biggest and best known work is with Batman and Superman, but if I'm not mistaken your first work for DC was a Challengers mini series.
It was what was offered. It was a very good lesson in breaking in. I wanted to do Superman and Batman, but I was politely laughed at. They wanted me someplace where I couldn't get into any trouble and there hadn't been a Challs book in about 20 years or something. I didn't know them at all. I bought a huge box of Challs and read them all. It was pretty clear that Kirby had respectfully borrowed some of those ideas in the creation of the Fantastic Four (as was his right, GO JACK!) and that part is what truly inspired me. I always have wanted to write the Fantastic Four.
4. Was that your first collaboration with Tim Sale? How did the two of you meet? Do the two of you have anything definite planned for upcoming collaborations?
Yes, it is where we met. Barbara then Randall, now Kesel "introduced" us by showing me his work on a graphic novel called "Thieves World". I was really taken with his style since it wasn't "pretty" and dark comics were very much in vogue then. Since then Tim has grown into one of the "prettiest" illustrators and that's why I think he's done so well -- the ability to change and learn from the times. Remarkable.
We have no immediate plans after DDY, but we will always work together. It's just one of those things.
5. (If you've read it) What did you think of the last series of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, which used a much more "X-Files" like approach? (Ironically enough, this was created for a TV show tie-in that never materialized. Ever have any similar experiences of your own?)
I never really read it. I like Jean Paul Leon's stuff. I think Challs would make a great TV series and someday probably will.
6. Steven Grant wrote the revamped CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN which you had previously worked on. He also revamped X-Man which you created. Have you ever had the chance to work with the guy or is this just one of those eerie coincidences?
I usually get asked why am I always following Frank Miller around... (except now on Superman and F.F.!) No, I've never met Steve nor have I read his stuff. I tend to leave a book behind. It's like ex-wives or ex-girlfriends. Some things are better left as fine memories, not somebody else's problem!
7. Did you and Tim Sale have any trouble convincing DC to do Long Halloween as a 13 part mini-series rather than the usual 12 issues?
It was Tim's agent's idea, Mike Friedrich. Mike has written his share of big hits in comics and he thought this idea would work. He was right and really earned his 10% that day!
8. Which do you find more fun and/or challenging to write; supernatural stories such as Vertigo's "The Witching Hour" or the more mainstream superheroic fair like "Superman"?
It is all different. Like with kids, you learn something different from each. When I stop learning, I leave. I never want to stay too long at the party. Two-three years 24 -36 stories -- that's a lot. That doesn't mean I wouldn't come back someday, but I can tell when it's time to go. Mostly, I stay for the People I work with. McGuinness really recruited me for Superman Year 3 -- he just said we hadn't done enough and he was going to stay and I darn well wasn't go to let Joe Kelly have him! (He should be so lucky!)
9. How did Dark Victory come about? Did the editor call you up and say "Long Halloween is doing really well... can you write us a sequel?" or was the inkling of a second story there before Long Halloween became a hit?
I had always wanted to do a Batman and Robin story. Tim did NOT. He likes Batman as the solitary figure. Certainly, when Archie Goodwin died it seemed very unlikely that we'd ever go back. But, there were certain questions which remained open and I never saw it as a sequel, but rather a continuation of the story. When it was nearly finished, Richard Starkings, the brilliant graphics designer and letterer told me he thought of The Long Halloween as the Prequel to Dark Victory. Mark Chiarello stepped into Archie's role and that made a huge difference in the decision since Mark really got Tim jazzed. The rest was a role of the dice. We had no idea if anyone was going to respond, but the story really resonated. I have no idea why or why not whenever we start something.
10. Is it difficult to write a character with so much history and expectations as Superman? How carefully do you have to watch continuity so as not to contradict previous issues? How does writing an established character compare to a project that is all your own, say relaunching the Challengers of the Unknown?
It is always a, ahem, challenge. I just try and write the best stories I can. I love the characters and would never intentionally do something that would hurt the iconic nature of them. But, times change and heroes do to. That make Superman worth reading. He was the first, the best, and all else comes from him. It's a blast. Eddie Berganza helps make it that way. If Eddie left, I'd be so gone you wouldn't even see the blur.
11. For that matter, some astute readers have noticed that you seem to be building towards something in the Superman books. There are a lot of dangling plot threads that haven't been resolved yet. Is this just a case of having so many fresh ideas that the other plots have been resigned to the back burner or, in fact, have you been planning for some of these plot threads to brew into something much bigger?
Oh, no. We actually have a plan -- for a gang that can't shoot straight! Most of it is building to this summer's big crossover, event, whatever you call it. We just are telling a big cool story called OUR WORLDS AT WAR. At its heart it is a Superman story where we test the moral fabric of our hero. It's not going to be pretty.
12. One of the biggest things drawing attention to your writing recently was the decision to make Lex Luthor President of the United States in all of the DC comics. How did the idea come about to do this? Was there any resistance from the Powers That Be? If so, how hard was it to sell the idea?
I threw it into a subplot in Superman #155. We had been looking for a motive that Luthor had gone into Gotham City during No Man's Land and this seemed to fit the groove. He is always 6 steps ahead of the game which is why he is such a great villain. Eddie read the scene and asked if I was going where he thought I was going and we both laughed. He took it to The Powers That Be and they really dug it -- but only if Luthor won -- because why else tell the story. The rest, as they say, is history.
13. Some have suggested that the Luthor story is going to be used as a subtle way of criticizing politicians in general and the former and/or current President in specific. What's your comment on this? Is the story going to be independent of any real life political struggles? Or are going to have a sudden revelation of Luthor having paid cops in Metropolis to set up barricades on the roads to the Suicide Slum polling places in a few months?
No. Art imitates Life, not the other way around (at least in my brain). What they find out about Luthor though ... that remains to be seen.
And for that matter... Are you now or have you ever been a member of Lex Luthor's Tomorrow Party?
I refuse to answer that question on the grounds I might incriminate myself.
14. When writing Superman, do you come up with a large single plot and then break it down into individual stories? Or do you do it one issue at a time and let the last story determine where the next one will flow? Some writers have been known to develop special outlining techniques for story construction. Is there a "Loeb Formula"?
Gawd, I hope there isn't a formula -- it would get to be formulaic then! I start out thinking of scenes and emotions. Where I want the CHARACTER to be. Some of it is just -- wouldn't it be cool if..." kind of stuff -- real fanboy stuff. For example, before I die I will write this Thing vs. Hulk story because it's just too much fun. But it always stems from character. Then, depending on the artist, the editor and the amount of time I have, that will determine the length of the tale. I don't think I've ever worked on something I thought was too long, but there were times at Marvel that the EDITORIAL STAFF would shorten what I had going and that would just upset the heck out of me. Doesn't happen much anymore. Life is good.
15. What, if any, comics do you read on a monthly basis?
What don't I read? The usual stuff. I usually follow certain creators. Anything by Rucka. Millar's stuff. Frank Quietly. The Kuberts. Most of the Marvel Knights stuff. The Batman books, JLA -- I really like what Geoff Johns is doing with The Flash. Orion cause I dig Walt Simonson. I could go on all afternoon. I tend to read superheroes. There. That says it.
16. Are their any other comic artists whom you'd like to work with someday?
Oh, sure. Frank Quietly. The Kuberts. (sounds like my other list!). Alex Ross. Jim Lee. Bryan Hitch. I'm working with Ron Garney right now for the first time on The JLA Worlds At War Special #1 -- he really rocks the house.
17. What do you use to inspire your writing? Do you listen to any kind of music while writing, read anything before hand, etc?
Movies help a lot. I tend to listen to big band jazz. Sinatra all the time. But, I really work in silence very often. My mind wanders too easily.
18. What do you think your biggest strengths and weaknesses are as a writer?
On the plus side, I try and do two things: (1) Write dialogue that an actor would read as opposed to a comic book character and (2) write to the strengths of an artist -- not impose MY vision on their work. They are my partner, not my builder. It's very much the writer/director relationship.
As far as weaknesses go, if I don't "get" an artist -- forget it. I can't make that work. That's why my fill-ins tend to be flat. They are written for the regular artists and I can't adapt UNLESS it is someone who really jazzes me which DOES happen from time to time. It's why I enjoy working with Tim. No fill ins. We really get each other!
19. Your work, especially lately, has been cited for its blockbuster appeal. What are your favorite action movies of all time (not counting Commando, of course)
Oh, there's T2 and then there's everything else. All action movies fall short of T2. Aliens comes close. Cameron is the man.
20. What is your favorite color?
That blue that is in most of T2. If I could do an entire book in that color -- =sigh= someday. Daredevil: Blue! (You heard it here first! LOL!)
21. Are you working on any screenplays right now? (No specifics needed, just wondering if you are still doing any film work.) Any television work?
Yes. And Yes. For something completely different, I've spent the last year working with Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) and his partner John Carls on my first animated series called 7 Little Monsters. It is on PBS on Saturday mornings at 8:15 am (don't ask). It's a great deal of fun -- but for a much younger audience than comics. But, I've learned SOOO much about animation that other things are happening in that field that I'm VERY excited about.
22. If you could have any one of your comic works made into a movie, with budget as no object, which one would it be and why?
Oh, I'd love to see a Superman For All Seasons -- but I don't think anyone would go! Witching Hour IS a movie and I am writing the script for that as we speak. I'd personally bonk somebody on the nose if I could write the F.F. movie they have going at Fox. So... yeah... everything. How about that?
23. Finally, do you have any advice for a writer wanting to break into the business?
Write. Every day. At least one page. Never stop. Never let anyone tell you that you can't do it. Just do it. Work for anyone. Start low, aim high. Never write down to your audience. Listen to the criticism and try and make your work better -- don't defend it -- just make it work better. Or at least, try. And mostly, HAVE FUN! When it's not fun, pack it in.
Fanzing would like to thank Jeph Loeb for agreeing to do this interview!
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This piece is © 2001 by Matt Morrison and Patrick Gerard.
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