Some of the best and brightest in comics have made their mark in ways that the average fan cannot begin to comprehend. The work that they do receives publicity and fame, yet the writers and artists at times go unnoticed or are forgotten.
Bill Messner-Loebs has been writing and drawing comics since the 1980s and has worked on some amazing runs of characters. From Flash to Wonder Woman to The Maxx, Bill has covered a wide variety of books and genres.
PopCultHQ had a chance to chat with Bill about what it is like to work on dialogue for a major comic, his history and collaborating with Sam Kieth, and what is one of his favorite issues over the course of his career.
PopCultHQ: You’ve done a lot of awesome projects over the years both for the big companies and stuff that is more off the beaten path. How do you approach dialogue for something as esoteric as The Maxx?
Bill Messner-Loebs: The Maxx was an especially odd situation since Sam was in California and I was in Michigan. The way we would work is he would call me and he would tell me over the phone what we were gonna be doing that issue. And invariably I would respond “You just gave me 40 pages of story and we have 20 pages. So why don’t we save some of that story for next time.” And then he would go back and he would do the pencils and usually get it Xeroxed smaller and then he would very quickly run over it in with a magic marker so that it would be dark enough to fax. Then I would take those faxes and he would make notes along the top, and some of them were almost complete dialogue and others were ‘Maxx happy’, ‘Maxx sad’. And then I would take the actual faxes and write them in a script form and email them back to him. At the same time he would have sent the finished inks to the letterer. So everything ended up at the letterer at the same time. Since it was all done in stages, it wasn’t that difficult to figure out how to make Maxx sound.
PopCultHQ: Talking about Sam Kieth, how did you and he first get in contact and also what was it like collaborating with him?
Bill Messner-Loebs: Well, collaboration was fine. By the 3rd issue of my book Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, we were headed off to California to go to the San Diego convention. I had seen that Harvey Kurtzman was going to be doing a chalk talk. What I didn’t realize, was that then San Diego was so big and so sprawling, so they had set it up in several different little hotels. So when I got to the hotel I was supposed to be at, it was like a 3 block line of people waiting to get into this little tiny hotel. So I’m standing there and in front of me are these kids who were also wondering if they could get into see Harvey Kurtzman. So I showed them the book and they were thrilled that I had actually written a book. And it turned out that one of them was Sam Keith. We never did get in. Somebody came up and said “You know we’ve got 2 hours of line here and even if some of them cancel, I don’t think you’re gonna get in here”. So we went off and had a glass of Coke together. And we had just started talking when Bill Willingham, who had also driven in and was trying to break in somewhere, came over and said “Bill, I’ve got to talk to you. I think Marvel is interested in me.” And when I turned around Sam and his friend were gone. So 6 months later when Dave Sim put on Petunia Con, we were there. And Sam came up and he had been practicing using my artwork and he said “I wanted to draw in your style.” So we got to talking and Sam was always “I’m never going to break into the industry.” I was working for Comico at the time and I suggested that they use him as an inker on Mage and they did. I watched as Sam was doing pencils and he actually recommended me as the single writer for all the artist they were using on Johnny Quest. So when I got that job, I then was talking to someone at Piranha Press and they asked to come up with an idea and said “Do you have an artist?” and I said “Maybe I do.” And that was how Sam and I ended up working on Epicurus the Sage together. So we finished up the run on Epicurus, and Sam was doing these brilliant covers for Wolverine, and he got tapped by the second wave of Image. So he had this idea and he wanted me to write for it and I turned him down. Then he asked me again and I turned him down again. Part of it was we were supposed to do one story in Darker Image Comics. And someone had told me that Image had already had its great runs so there really was no point and that anthology books don’t sell. I was also writing 4 or 5 books at the time so I was pretty tired. But the third time he asked me I was able to do it.
PopCultHQ: Final quick question as we wrap up. What is the one issue or storyline you’d say you are most proud of in your career?
Bill Messner-Loebs: Obviously there are a lot of things that I like and in a way I like all of the issues of Journey because I was completely and totally free to do whatever I wanted. But I had been wanting to do a story where a hero was actually being heroic. At the time, we were flying to watch an episode of The Flash TV show being done because the editor and I had been part of a round table discussion for that, and they wanted to show off what they were doing. And when we were flying I thought “You know one thing that they could do is that could be like one single episode would be if somebody dropped out of a plane.” And nobody had ever established whether Wally could actually fly or not. And so he would have do decide whether he was going to do something that Barry was able to do. And that was how I did the issue Nobody Dies. And I’ve always been very proud of that one.
Convention – Motor City Comic Con