Sumner welcomes one of his favorite writer-artists, Matt Wagner, to Hard Agree for a deep dive into Matt’s forty years at the top of the comics industry – from his constantly-evolving signature creations Grendel and Mage, to his love of pulp fiction and his inspired adaptations of The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Zorro & The Spirit to his deconstruction/amplification/expansion of the pulp form’s possibilities with Vertigo’s groundbreaking Sandman Mystery Theatre (mainly illustrated by the great Guy Davis). Along the way, they also discuss Matt’s unique, evocative artwork and his many DC Universe books – including his various Batman projects, The Demon, Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman – Trinity, Madame Xanadu and Doctor Mid-Nite (co-created with upcoming guest John K Snyder III)!
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Matt Wagner – Interview
Andrew Sumner: [00:00:00] When I was in the states on the various tools for those books I’m pretty good mates with Bob Wayne.
We used to work together a lot on that stuff. And he introduced me to, you know, I had a show about 20 years ago. This is for like two minutes and like a new sign. My copy of Sam, my mystery theater number. Oh,
Matt Wagner: right on, you
Andrew Sumner: know, I am. Do you know what may it’s a long time ago and I’m trying to remember I’m trying to remember and I’ve got it.
I’ve got the book and I looked at it before and you’ve signed it. I can’t remember what the share is. I’ve got no idea. It could have been San Diego. It could have been New York. It could have been one of the Midwest shows and I just cannot remember.
Matt Wagner: Oh, well, I see it
Andrew Sumner: again. Hey, it’s nice to see you again, brother.
So, so Kendra, so I, the podcast or the guys at spoiler country, they were going to record you for spoiler contribute and said, we’re going to, we’re going to do for my show, which is called Hardegree. And the [00:01:00] principle of Hardegree is talking to people about their careers and then using that as a conduit to talk about the things about that, that they’re passionate about, that we can all agree on some degree.
Right. And but after say before we start, a Kenrick is absolutely gutted that he can’t talk to you because he’s on a massive Grendel fan. And I’m a huge fan of yours, mate. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve read a massive amount of of the stuff that you’ve written, which we’ll get into I’m of course, a big render major fan, but I think Sam, my mystery theater is like one of my top favorite books of all time, you know, three or four.
So we’ll get into all that. So, first of all, may tell you what, w w where are you coming up?
Matt Wagner: I’m in Portland, Oregon area, I’m in a suburb just south of that. We just had a rotten weekend, you know, we had this giant heat wave here, 115 degrees. We luckily had an escape route. We had a friend that has a beach house that she was out of town.
She’d lent us the beach house. So we had a little bit of escape and even down there on the Oregon coast, which is normally [00:02:00] quite cool and moderate Sunday night, it was still almost 90 degrees at almost nine o’clock at night. So, I mean, it’s all completely broken and now it’s just absolutely gorgeous hairs.
Andrew Sumner: that’s lovely tale. I was very worried for you guys and for my spoiler country colleagues in Seattle, because you guys yeah. You, I mean, you’re on the same parallel as those here in England. Normally you’re not hissing weather like that. And you’ve got far too many trees for it to be north of a hundred degree.
Matt Wagner: yeah, yeah, yeah. The hell of a year we’ve had to because so at the end of last summer we had a, these horrific wildfires. That that burned and burned and burned. And we were, we were in a level, one evacuation zone for a while and the level two zone got almost up to our, our house. We were literally sealed in our house for over a week.
Some days you couldn’t even see across the street, the smoke was so thick. It was just terrible. And then just this winter, we had this like freakish ice storm that came and I live on the edge of a woods and [00:03:00] so everything got coded. Nice. And then the power went out for almost a week and it was 30 degrees outside, 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
And And oh my God, for days and days and days, we just heard branches and whole trees just thundering to the ground all around us. Luckily our house. But a lot of people around us got a lot of damage to their house or their deck or whatever, you know? So yeah, crappy year in the district fandom
Andrew Sumner: and additions.
In addition to political chaos in the Western world. Yeah. You know, cause we, cause that’s, you know, in the U K we’ve got all of the same problems that you guys have had certainly with, COVID been, you know, not brilliantly handled by the government here that the vaccinations has been well handled, but yeah, but that’s the bit they’ve got.
Right. The Biden mill. I mean, you you’ve got a, let’s get the Biden administration now. We’ve got, still got the same far, right?
Yeah. Literally government, not just of my entire life, [00:04:00] but that I can ever think of in the democratic, you know, British era, you know, just unbelievable, you know, mendacious, lazy, stupid
Matt Wagner: incontinence. So we just had one of those tips.
We luckily got through it, but
Andrew Sumner: these are strange apocalyptic times we were living in the Shu.
Matt Wagner: Absolutely. Believe me when I’m doing Grendel. Oh, God, it’s not, you know, I’m just holding the mirror up to the world.
Andrew Sumner: That’s sick. Yeah. I th I think that’s a good point. Welcome to Hardegree I’m Andrew Sumner. And this I’m privileged to have here as my special guest on this show.
The one and only Matt Wagner, a man whose comics I’ve loved for such a, I was embarrassed to realize what a massively long period of time it was when I, when I looked at the timeline, but I’ve been a great admirer of your work for well over three decades, mate. And it’s pleasure to have you
Matt Wagner: thanks very much glad to be here, [00:05:00] you know, in regards to that, you know, I just feel like, I’m very proud of my longevity, you know, as you well know, the comics world is a turbulent scene and a lot of people don’t last, you know, and I’m still doing my own thing.
And and you know, I’m lucky enough to be actually working with my son nowadays, you know, grown up to be a fantastic colorist and. So I feel very blessed to to have made it this far.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. I, I think I, your son, by the way, has been a guest on sport with my colleagues at spoiler country and they, they loved having him on the show.
I didn’t realize it, but okay. Yeah. Yeah. And I think it’s always wonderful when you, when you’re in a situation like you’re in and the other person I can think of is a similar situation too, is they’re great. English artist, Sean Phillips, who now has his son, Jacob do his colors. Oh really? Oh yeah.
Brie baker and Phillips, not quite new our crime books, which I imagine given your interest, you’re at least tangentially aware of that. They’re all colored by Jacob now. So [00:06:00] I’m very close to, to my own two kids who both of whom are adults, male, female, and to get an opportunity to work directly on something creative just must be such an incredible thing.
Matt Wagner: Well, he’s actually working in my, in my studio these days. And what’s really neat about that too, is that very, very luckily our, our musical tastes just completely mesh. He’s got all, he loves all older music and you know, as he was growing up, I was always trying to expose him to the music I liked and, and newer music, you know?
And and now the roles have switched. Now. He DJs for us all day long and he says, dad, I’m going to play this list.
Andrew Sumner: Silly, brilliant. Now, a similar, I touched upon just before we started, when we were, before we were recording. Is that I used to be a music and movie journalist. So you’re touching upon one of the many things that’s very close to my heart, primarily comic books, movies you know, music, which I’ve always found index massively.
Generally, if you get somebody who’s into comic [00:07:00] book culture, then early on was a massive music fan. A lot of like a lot of contemporary music fans are big fans of comics, big fans of movies. So what, what is, what would you say were your biggest influences musically or your great musical loves?
Matt Wagner: Oh, well, you know, I always compare the early days of the indie comic scene, you know, back in the early eighties to the comico days comico and, and the early days of first and eclipse and all that, you know, the initial initial.
The initial rush of that stuff to the punk rock scene. And it had this very much this, a do it yourself, ascetic and breaking away from the mainstream to to kind of, kind of get back to the core of what we really loved about comics to begin with and had gotten kind of lost in the shuffle for both mainstream music and mainstream comics, you know, you know, I’m a giant fan of the Beatles Elvis Costello, the Ramones.
In fact, I just sent my son yesterday it was Debbie Harry’s birthday. My son is like the world’s biggest Blondie fan. [00:08:00] Fantastic. And just yesterday or yesterday was her birthday. And I found a photo, somebody posted online of a famous shot of her and Joey Ramone with their arms around each other.
And I sent it to him and he just said, no worries.
But you know, I have a really wide ranging musical tastes so long as it’s So long as the music’s honest, you know, I feel I feel a real kinship to it. And like I said, he’s he’s now this, you know, he, he has his Spotify lists and I have mine and they they’re pretty damn similar. So
Andrew Sumner: that’s, abusable things here.
I mean, I think the analogy to the. The days of punk rock in the early days of the independent press in comics, really when it bit in the, in the, in the mid eighties, the interesting thing for me about the eighties in that kind of mid post punk new wave era, is that the w the music that came to be sort of ascendant from about, I guess, the mid to late eighties to the early nineties was, was very, very synthesizer driven.
Right. And and I think it’s, when you listen back on that stuff, [00:09:00] now I’ve encountered many change that I loved at the time. And I listed them now. I’m like, oh man, you know, there’s not a single naturally played in the bunch here. It was quite jarring. It’s like sometimes when you, I movie that I love.
But I sometimes struggle with on one level is William freakin still live in Diana lay? I’ve always loved that movie and it’s not a sand shot by one chunk, which is great, but it’s also just about the most perfect expression of an eighties artifact that I could ever think of. And when, when you’re watching the movie, the music gets in the way, because all these massively jarring synthesizer codes are laid over everything.
Matt Wagner: Yep. Yep. Totally. Yeah, it is. But at the same time, it, as you said, it’s so, it’s so plants it in its time and place, you know, it’s like there was never any confusion about when this movie was made. Yeah,
Andrew Sumner: absolutely. It’s taped, it’s totally rooted. It’s totally rooted. [00:10:00] I mean, I, I feel made a very similar period of time, which in a weird way, dates, dates less, extremely strict to fire, which is a semi nonsensical film.
But because it’s got that Jim Steiman soundtrack, which is as overblown as it could possibly be. I mean, there’s the roof and they blow the roof off and there’s the glass roof and they blow that up and they just keep on going. The extremity of that movie has always amused me, but actually as a listening experience, You can just get into it because it’s rocket, it’s overblown, rock and roll.
Matt Wagner: had that soundtrack. I played it to death for, you know, when that, when that movie was fresh, you
Andrew Sumner: know? Oh, right. I know those two far incorporated songs, the ones that the ones that Diane Lane brilliantly mimes too, by the way, you know, they’re fantastic. They’re like almost like pure Jim Steinman and his most extreme form.
Right, exactly. Yeah. So, so, so Matt, you w we’ve touched upon that period of time in the early eighties where you first blazed onto the scene. Okay. [00:11:00] Before,
Matt Wagner: before we, before we go ahead here, let me just, let me just tell you a fun little anecdote that illustrates what I meant there about the punk rock thing.
Because part of it was the slap dash nature of everything, you know, nowadays everything’s. So, you know, when we’re, when we’re producing a new book, especially now that the bookstore market is involved, you know, you have to plan so far in advance, you have to go. What 10 months before the book’s even going to come out, something like that.
But back in those days, it was just like a band would get together and they’d put on a show that weekend and, you know, and so yeah, I always tell people the story of when I was finishing up the very last issue and Joe, I’m sure you’re familiar with his work. At that point. He was a college buddy of mine and he was helping me color that last issue, which was colored in the very archaic fashion blue line coloring.
So we, we had stayed up all night to finish it. And the comico offices, I was living in Philadelphia at the time the clinical offices were outside of Philly. Yeah. And so we had you know, this Friday, this book had to go out to the printer or else it was going to cost us more money. And of course that’s a [00:12:00] big no-no in small time publishing.
And so, oh my God, we stayed up all night. We were just frazzled as shit. And we, we gathered up all the art and we ran to the train and we got on the train and took the train out of town to the Camico offices and Bob who worked at Camico at the time. That’s at the train stop, pick this up. We went to the office.
We pasted on all the page numbers by hand on every single page and we packaged it up and we rushed off to FedEx and we got there three minutes before they closed. And I, and I just thought, you know, boy, that’s punk rock, man. That’s us. We’re doing it right now.
Andrew Sumner: Yes, it really is. I mean, and that’s, what’s beautiful about it, right?
It’s what must must’ve been that it must have been so creatively effervescent for you guys
Matt Wagner: living in this house. Maya was in it. I was in a daze. Well, we got really, really fucked up that night. You know, we got, yeah,
Andrew Sumner: I’ve been disappointed if you [00:13:00] didn’t get yeah. Yup.
Matt Wagner: Yup. But then I was just in a daze for D you know, just a haze for days afterwards.
And I was like, wow, that’s all done. I just finished my first epic storyline, you know? But yeah, again, the, the slap dash nature of everything back then, you know, really. I’ve got to say, I miss it. You know,
Andrew Sumner: I know I get it. I don’t know. Of course at that age, when you’re in those moments, you can handle it as well.
You know, you’ve got it. So, you know, it’s not dragging you down. Like those moments can, you know, kind of in later life where you’ve got a lot of responsibilities, actually, they kind of, you know, walking along the knife blade is, is something that, you know, you get a massive amount of when you’re in your early twenties and you know, you’re trying everything and you’re
Matt Wagner: thrown into the ranch.
And as a result, you, you end up you end up making of some terrific creative decisions, you know, when, when it’s do or die, you know, you can’t, you can’t mess around with this. You got no time to be fussy. You, you have to, you have to decide things and make them work and move ahead side things, make them work, move ahead.
[00:14:00] And that’s always been a thing I like about comics too, is the Oh, it just doesn’t you know, of course there are comics that, you know, I’ve taken years and years and years to produce, but I kind of liked the fact that comics force you to move ahead at a brisk pace. You know, I would compare it to you know, the, the Beatles main period of production.
You know, I always pointed out to people, all those songs, all those songs that were so such an have become such a piece of the fabric of, of artistic life in the 20th century, they produced all those in the space of seven years. And, you know, nowadays a band can have five years between one album and the next, you know, they, and what really worked for them was the record company saying, boys, we need an album by November.
You know, they just like, well, okay, got to do it. They come up with the just fabulously creative stuff, you know,
Andrew Sumner: totally speaking my language here, mate, because I’m actually from mercy side, born and raised. Right. And and of course, you know, the [00:15:00] Beatles alongside Liverpool soccer club are just a huge relief.
Where I grew up. Yeah. And everybody’s got the beetle story of when they met some or not. My dad used to work with my, dad’s got to interest the stories of your music fan. It’s got a load, but these are the two key ones. I think he used to work when he was a young man alongside Jim McCartney. And pause that.
And at a certain point, they’d go for their 11:00 AM kind of coffee break. And my dad would be one of the young guys in this office. And Jim and his mates would be the old guys in this office. And Jim began, oh yeah, my lads, like playing at the cabin, he’s got this group and blah, blah, blah. And this went on for a period of time.
Then one day, Jim just wasn’t there. It’s like, oh, where’s Jim bell. He’s retired. You know, cause it’s in the house on the world, which is like prosper Liverpool. And my dad was old. I’ve talked about this in this podcast before, so I won’t labor this point, but my dad was a Jerry Marsden’s bank manager.
So, you know, Ava, if you’re familiar with them, Jerry and the pacemakers are recorded in a ferry across the mercy. [00:16:00] And you’ll know he was, he was networked into all of that. So, you know, it was, it was, that was an amazing piece of tumbler. Have you ever read that book, a revolution in there? Yeah, you heard of it, right?
I will. When we’re done, I’ll send you a link. So you can see what this book is. It’s a, it’s written by a musicologist. Who’s now passed away. It’s written in the last 10, 15 years. And it basically goes through every day that the Beatles had in the studio on what they were recording. Oh, wow. And it charts the musical growth from, you know, recording, please, please me all the way through to recording Abby road.
And the amazing thing is that period of time you’re talking about it’s actually the real creativities and even the shorter period of time that cause it’s really, the step change is rubber soul, right? And it’s rubber salted. So Abbey road, it’s an amazing piece. I think of cultural history, not just history within the last 50 years, but history of the world, you know, since history has been [00:17:00] recorded that these four guys from a very blue collar city and in the end, England actually grew up within five miles of each other and then had this creative alchemy between them, you know, and, and then went on that incredible growth journey that they did, where they went, they were recording covers to, they would just creating these.
Never even imagined of by anybody else, Sonic soundscapes. It’s just an unbelievable story.
Matt Wagner: Absolutely convinced that they were either aliens or, or travelers for the future, right? Yeah,
Andrew Sumner: probably an alien race. And and, and the the advance guard was like Elvis, who like, she never has, you know, nobody has ever looked like Elvis before or since.
Right. Got to be an alien. And then John Paul, George, and Ringo, it makes complete sense. Yeah. I love it. That’s amazing. So, so mate, in that, in that incredibly creatively, fertile period of time, correct me if I’m wrong. But my memory certainly is that I think your first publisher was that [00:18:00] comico primer Camika prominent, which has literally the first Grandle story in it.
Right. What was your journey? What, what was it that took you to that point? At what point did you know you were going to be an artist and what was your story between zero and when you got the
Matt Wagner: well so just knew I wanted to be an artist. I I grew up reading comics. My mom was an English teacher and always encouraged me to read, read, read unlike a lot of English teachers of her generation.
She didn’t mind that I was reading comics. She thought I’d grow out of them, said I grew into them, you know? But my parents had a school memories book, you know, one of those things where you put your photo and you know, your height and weight and all that stuff, little momentos and stuff from your years in school.
And on the back of all the elementary school years, it said, had a spot said what I want to be when I grow up. And one year I wrote astronauts and I have to assume that’s the year they landed on the moon because every kid wanted to be an astronaut. Every other year I wrote comic book [00:19:00] writer. Just cause I S I, at that point, I assume whoever wrote them, drew them to, you know, so then I, I went to a, I went to a university, a liberal arts university, but then I transferred to an art school and, you know, I had, no, I grew up kind of out in the country.
I had no no firm concept of the actual business of comics in addition to the business of comics was so localized. At that point, there was no FedEx, there was no overnight delivery. You had to live within train distance of the publishers. You know, you had to, you came into the office in person. And so you all had to be around New York.
You came into the office in person, you got your assignment, you went home, you brought it back in person a week or so later, you know, and I was nowhere near that. I had no access to that. But then I I transferred to an art school in Philadelphia. And one day on the elevator, I met some guys that later formed the nexus of comico my first publishing company.
So as you said, I developed Grendel for that for just a spotlight story in Camico primer at the time, what I was trying to do was there weren’t many antiheroes in comics at that day. You know, Marvel [00:20:00] had tried to do occasionally a book called superhero or supervillain team up, but never really sold very well.
But you know, I always point to specifically the work of Michael Moorcock had a big effect on me, the Elric saga, you know, it was the first stories I’d read that were, had this very compelling, but truthfully kind of evil and unlikable, main character. And so I think that had a big effect on my development of hunter rose, you know?
Andrew Sumner: Ma just to interject that. It’s so interesting because I was gonna ask you that because Mike Mortlock is a friend of mine and I, it w when you check out the heart heart degree strand, you’ll see that one of the things that we do is Mike and I have regular sub series within our degree. Cool.
Michael Wilcox multiverse, which is me just talking about his life experiences, where, and you’ll know if you’ve ever spent any time with this with him, his, his life experiences are nuts. He’s just like so many amazing stories. And so it’s just a kind of venue [00:21:00] for him to lay those stories down, check
Matt Wagner: that out because that’d be totally in.
Andrew Sumner: And that I I’ve often wondered about that, that confluence between Elric and, and between Grendel. And to hear you say it, that’s a, I don’t need to ask you that question now. That’s totally fascinating.
Matt Wagner: It was, you know, it was a combination of, of that that narrative, but also just the sheer act of growing up.
You know, of course like any young kid I believed in bureaus and I loved stories of heroes, but then as you get older, you realize that that’s kind of a fantasy that the good guy. Usually don’t win. Yeah. And and so these other sort of tales that had this cynicism to them really started to appeal to me, you know, additionally I was influenced, I had learned about the Italian character.
Diabolic yeah, there’s another called criminal. And they were these, you know, they hunter, the hunter rosary and the Grinnell definitely owes a debt to them. You know, they were these kinds of gentlemen thieves that had their own twisted codes of honor, you know? So, [00:22:00]
Andrew Sumner: So then can I ask at that juncture, Matt actually do, do, what do you think of the movie?
Matt Wagner: Yeah, that’s great. Oh yeah. I love it. And
Andrew Sumner: it’s again, surely up until recent times for, for decades. I think that was the purest expression of of a comic book being placed on screen. Absolutely.
Matt Wagner: Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and just like we were talking about there with the streets of fire, you know, a movie utterly rooted in its time and place, you know, it is, it is definitely the sixties, you know,
Andrew Sumner: a 1000%.
Matt Wagner: Yeah. So, so then the the guys that the guys that started Camika, we were each going to do our own book and we started out and they were all black and white, and this was before the the big black and white boom, you know, so they weren’t selling that well, cause nobody wanted black and white.
They hard to tell that like five years later, everybody would want black and white, you know, so, so I started Grendel and again, the, those titles didn’t seem to go much of anywhere. But then Camico made the decision to move into color publishing and [00:23:00] they won, they had a, a book lined up Evangelian that was written by Chuck Dixon.
And in those days specifically they did something called gang printing, which meant that the printing presses are so wide that you can fit enough paper to print two books at once. So it’s cheaper to do two books at once. So they offered me the chance to develop a color book and that turned out to be made.
Yeah. So I started major and and that’s where my, I really started to start to figure things out. You can see me growing and becoming a better artist, a better writer with every single day. And it was around that time. I had just abandoned Grendel. Look, I know storyline is about that time that I started hearing back from the reader saying, Hey, what about that other book?
You did Grendel, you know, whatever happened with that, you just stopped. So that’s when I re worked Grendel to be the backup feature in age. And that ultimately became the first Grendel graphic novel devil by the deed. So from there everything
Andrew Sumner: just, but at this point, I guess we’re talking around about sort of 85, 85, 86.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Matt Wagner: So as I was wrapping up major comico [00:24:00] approached me and said, look, we’d like to do, Grendel’s a monthly book. And I said, well, it’s going to be kind of hard. I just killed the guy. So, so I struck upon this idea to do this generational sort of approach to the character. Have you have the central.
Character become different characters, you know, different people become Grendel inspired kind of by the the approach of the old Phantom comic strip and leap
Andrew Sumner: ball, because you’ve got a massive pedicures defense. And to me has always been kind of pulp adjacent and you have a massive pedigree in the pulper aesthetic.
Matt Wagner: yeah, yeah. But at the same time, I I wanted to try and change things up. You know, it was a very young stage in my career. And I you know, when I finished MEJ at that point, the industry awards were called the Kirbys not the geysers. And and I got a bunch of Kirby nominations, and I was getting a lot of accolades and a lot of people pat me on the back and such.
You know, I’m grateful in the fact that I was smart enough to be suspicious of that at that [00:25:00] young age, you know? And I realized, ah, well now I can’t have everything figured out yet. This is bullshit. I, I, you know, I’m just starting out. I gotta like stretch my wings and fly, you know? So the only stuff I had ever done was to write and draw for myself.
So I decided, Hey, let me try to write for other artists. I just finished this long, epic two long epics in fact, simultaneously. So let me take a break from that for a little while. Let me step back, let me write for other artists. So that’s when we started the whole thing of having other artists draw Grendel that I would write and the other kind of aesthetic motif.
I brought to the book was that the only way I could see to make an ongoing series interesting for myself and my approach has always been my stories have to be interesting to me before. They’re interesting to my readers. And the only way I could do that was to do it as a continuing series of mini-series have it keep reinventing itself over and over again, have it changed?
I have changed not only in narrative tone and narrative style, but also in visual [00:26:00] tone and visual style. And so the plan from the very beginning was to keep having different people, become Grendel and to keep having new artists come in that would really shake things up and change the style. And yeah, we kept that going for many, many years, you know?
Andrew Sumner: Yeah, absolutely. I see that. And that’s surely one of the secrets of the books, longevity, I think is the fates it’s encoded in what the book is that you can just keep it rolling like that. Yeah, yeah.
Matt Wagner: Very much. I, and you know, I, I I will give some credit to Bernie Miro who was the artist on the third arc of the book.
We were sitting around and we’re probably sitting around getting high one day and he said to me, You know, Hey, could, could Grindle ever. And he was speaking of Grendel as a demonic force, which of course I, in the book, I try to never fully define whether that’s true. It could be that it could be something else.
It could be a change of perceptions. It could be a societal site guys that just refuses to let go. But in the way he was speaking of it, he said, good Grendel ever inhabit a crowd of people instead of just one person. [00:27:00] And I suddenly decided. Let’s have him inhabit the whole world. That’s when I started to move things ahead in the future and have this future scenario where there’s a ton of Grendel’s and the term Grendel is turned on its ear.
It’s no longer the bad guys. It’s the military elite of the world, you know? And so that opened a whole different Vista of, of opportunities for stories and narratives and and visual approaches, you know?
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. And what was it I have to say, mate, that I know where you were talking about the the w what that rolling roster belt is brought to, to the book.
But I think to, to my, you know, I’m somebody who loves comic book art, but he’s not an artist, you know, I’m a journalist, right. But from my perspective, for what I think is always been wonderful about your artwork, is it always felt. Fully formed to me, probably didn’t to you. Cause you know, you’re living with the, in your own tantra in life.
But to me it, you know, I think one of the, one of the elements to your, you know, great longevity is that you’re all, it’s been very [00:28:00] consistent over the years and, and, and is, is I think it’s, you know, the Delt, what you deliver now, still in great shape. But when you go back in time and see even that early stuff you were doing, it felt really fully formed.
Matt Wagner: Yeah. I mean, you know, we were talking about the Beatles there. You could almost view my career like that. Right. You know what I mean? The early stuff the early stuff had a simplicity to it. And I got more sophisticated as I went, you know, and yet it is still the same group of four guys. You know what I mean?
When you listen to early Beatles stuff, it’s obvious it’s them. When you listen to later Beatles stuff, it’s obvious. It’s them. I find that same with my work. As you said there, you know, even the early cruder examples of my work, you still see all the elements that are there in the later more developed examples of my work.
Andrew Sumner: I think that’s a beautiful and spot on analogy. I also, I also think it’s very interesting that you described, so us having some degree of skepticism about the early celebration and recognition of your work, [00:29:00] because outside of the Kirbys correct me if I’m wrong. I think when did the islands’ begin? That was it.
It was around about 88. Maybe just before that I’m very early on, correct me. If I’m wrong, you were nominated for a best rights arise there. Weren’t very early on for Grendel. I’m thinking.
Matt Wagner: All right. So I have, I have a very charming story about that. So I was a presenter at the very, very first Eisenhower awards.
Okay. Of course, pretty small event, you know? Cause it was new. It was at San Diego. I was also nominated for
Andrew Sumner: the hotel at this point. Right.
Matt Wagner: And I was also nominated for one or two things. So, so will gets up and he gives this keynote speech about the event and and oh my God, it was so moving.
And, you know, he just went on and on about his love for this medium and how he feels it’s so untapped and how, when he looks at younger artists, he sees the potential that, that he always hoped would be there when he was trying to develop his art. And and if by just lending his [00:30:00] name to this event, it helped further this art form to become more mature and more ubiquitous and more successful.
You know, he was very honored to be, not a dry eye in the house, man. And I want to all go home and draw comics. And so, so we get through the award ceremony. I didn’t win any of the things. And we do some photos of all the presenters of which they’re, I dunno, there are like a dozen of us at that point with will and, and the administrators of the awards and everything.
So my wife and I go back to our hotel and we get in the elevator and it just so happens to be the same hotel that will, and his wife Anne are staying at and they get on the elevator at the same time. Right. And Will’s just, he’s just flushed with this event, you know, he’s all practically getting and and he recognized, he doesn’t really know me, but he recognizes me from being on stage.
And he says, oh, congratulations. And I had to go I didn’t win anything well, and he leans over and gives me this grandfatherly squeeze on my shoulder. And he goes, [00:31:00] yes, you did. Yeah. I almost broke into tears.
Andrew Sumner: It’s such a brilliant story, man.
Matt Wagner: Yeah, that was, that was truly great. But But then, you know, then from there I’ve just always tried to, you know, I just realized, you know, unlike a lot of my colleagues of my similar age, you know, I, I didn’t start out like Miller and Minola and all those guys, he didn’t start out working for the big two and indie comics, you know, I did it the other way around.
So, you know, I’ve always had this approach when I went and worked on mainstream comics, that it was almost like me doing cover songs of stuff that, you know, really inspired me when I was young. You know, I, I knew that was not going to be the crux of my career. You know, the, the crux of my career was going to be my own stuff.
But I always had fun playing with the the. Big boys toys. You know,
Andrew Sumner: I it’s like, it’s like gay guys gay and, you know, having their own bands [00:32:00] and their own records and then signing up for Ringo, Starr’s all star band and going on tour, they will start bandwidth ringer, and then get me back doing their own stuff again, going back on with ringer.
It it’s that kind of thing. Right. And I, I, I th that’s so interesting. I’d never thought about it from the perspective that you said that you began within these and then took your talents into other areas. But I think that’s one of that stumping your ownership on your work in the way you did really early on, I think psychologically must be a great place to be in given the issues many people have had working for the majors and creating stuff out of the gate with the majors not doing that, I think is must have been a pretty healthy thing.
Matt Wagner: Oh, absolutely. And if you look at all the stuff I’ve done for the majors, It’s always been it’s always been me very significantly working with an editor that trusted me and knew to just leave me alone. Don’t, don’t, don’t try and put a thumbprint on me. It ain’t going to work. And you know, you [00:33:00] had mentioned a mystery theater.
This is a perfect segue into that. So, you know, I had met Karen Berger several times at cons. She had always kind of had an open invitation, you know, bring me, bring me something, you know, let’s, let’s do something together and. So I was also at this time, a big fan of guide Davis’s book baker street.
Andrew Sumner: So good. So good.
Matt Wagner: I don’t really know it, it was an indie book published by caliber comics in the eighties, and it was basically a punk, female Sherlock Holmes. And I just love guy’s approach and this, the way he was able to have this evoke this pulp sense without without losing the real-world humanity of it all.
So I contacted guy and I said Hey man, you know, let’s, I’d love to write something for you. And I’ve, you know, I’ve got this in a DC. I’m pretty sure we could get something rolling, you know? If if you’re into that and he was, so I said, well, I’ll tell you what, go through the DC. Who’s who book [00:34:00] and find some characters you’d like to take a shot at and let’s, let’s see what you got.
Okay. Now the funny thing is every all three or four of the characters you send me were all characters in hats and clothes.
Andrew Sumner: So the Sandman, Wesley Dodds, we know, but who else did he, who else was on his
Matt Wagner: shit list at the time fandom, stranger. And he later ended up doing a piece with What’s is there a character is a character, same anarchy.
That’s a fat man
Andrew Sumner: on a Keith Batman
Matt Wagner: villain. Yeah. And I can’t remember the fourth one. But but he had the Wesley Dodd salmon in there and he had a note that said, well, I know they won’t let us do this one because of gaming Sandman. Yeah. And I said, no, that’s why they will let us do this. Because at that point they hadn’t figured out how to how to branch off Sandman.
You know, of course the special thing about the salmon was Gaiman’s writing and he hadn’t yet established the vast game and verse that ultimately came about. But in that first [00:35:00] issue, he had this one or two panels that connected Morpheus to as being Morpheus as magical imprisonment as being what screwed up Wesley Dodds dreams and drove him out into the streets to try and fight crime.
So I said, well, that’s the perfect that’s the perfect segue that enables us to give a whole new approach to this old tried and true character. And so I decided we really wanted to try and strike this pulp sensibility. So every, every storyline was going to be for issues so that when they later collected them, they’d be the size of a pulp magazine,
Andrew Sumner: is exactly what
Matt Wagner: happened.
Yep. And and I, I really want it, you know, I was a big fan of of crime fiction, but crime fiction tends to be pretty rough and right-wing in many ways, you know, you know, as I was doing research and I learned all about Dashiell Hammett, you know, was a very, very far left politically, you know, you know, people tend to think that progressive politics kind of sprung up in the sixties and boy, it really didn’t.
And so I wanted to, I want it to have a [00:36:00] kind of a progressive approach to this character back in the thirties. And more importantly you know, we, we took elements from the actual golden age stories and one of them was unlike many other characters at the time. Wesley God’s girlfriend, Diane Belmont knew who he was.
No, no other, none of the other characters had a girlfriend who knew who they were So the other thing that really struck me about comics and comic book relationships was they were all, so angst-ridden, you know, they were also, can’t be with you that sort of thing, you know, and we wanted to have a healthy relationship.
We wanted to have a pair of characters that truly loved each other, you know, and if you look at the five or six year run of that, every 12 issues, every year’s worth their relationship went through a significant step, a significant date. So, so I think we, we really achieved that, you know, I wrote the first year by myself and then and then I had some, a new Grendel was on my horizon.
Again, I wouldn’t be able to do all of that myself. So that’s when I I met up with Steve Siegel, Stephen T Siegel, and [00:37:00] to see if we could co-write it together. And that just worked out seamlessly. We were both very leery that that was going to work, but it ended up working very, very well.
Andrew Sumner: Well, my, I, I, as I mentioned before we started, I, I truly.
Some are mystery theater. It is one of my top two or three books of all time. No word of life. I’m not saying this cause I’m talking to it really is. And, and I’ve got my newborn signed by you. Thank you very much. And but I think you have gloriously touched upon a number of the things that I was going to ask you, but I think as somebody who’s a kind of a very left leaning myself, I always recognize that sensibility in the book and within the portrayal of like Wesley Dodds with his classic sort of new deal, social conscience that he has, which was always very powerful to me.
But I think one, one of the, one of the great successes of the book is absolutely Diane and Wesley’s relationship grows and evolves like a real relationship does, and it is one of the few examples of a kind of a seven year arc in comics of a [00:38:00] believable, real world relationship on the page. And I think it’s been, yeah.
Very few times since
Matt Wagner: one of the one of the neat things I liked about that was at one point we did because running concurrently with Sam and mystery theater and equally popular was of course, James, Robinson’s a Seminole run-ons oh
Andrew Sumner: man. I’m so glad you’re saying this because yeah, I love this is what your battle plan is an aspect that I love.
Matt Wagner: So James and I are old friends. In fact I met him when I was in the UK at a convention one time. And of course he wrote the first Grenville tale story arc for me. But so we decided to kind of do a crossover and in Sam and mystery theater, we had the origin of the mist who was the golden age sand.
Man’s a main character main villain. And then he had Diane and Wesley show. In the contemporary setting in his star, man, I really loved about that was they were a, they were still together, you know, and B she had begun, gone on to become a famous Pulitzer prize winning writer. So she was famous and he was still in the [00:39:00] shadows.
Andrew Sumner: I think that was such a lovely confluence between the two of you. And I love star man as well. Starman is also one of my top three books. And I, I think just the way you gave Wesley Dodds, a complete life and Dan Belmont, a complete, like very few people who’ve been able to do that. You know, in the comic book world, I’ve been able to, you know, show somebody who’s arc all the way through beginning, middle, and end.
Matt Wagner: where you’ve got, let we went out there again. The reason is, and I give props here to Karen Berger. She left us alone to try and meddle in things, you know, She acted as a, as a conduit to our creativity, not a not a steer master, you know?
Andrew Sumner: And I think, I think you had some very interesting cover treatments on, on some, a mystery theater, because you’ve, you’ve flipped the way you did the covers, pretty much every four issues of those new arcs.
He took a new design approach. Is that something you worked out with? I guess it must’ve been Richard Bruning [00:40:00] at the time.
Matt Wagner: It was a, it was a pair. It was a photographer named Gavin, Wilson and Richard. So Gavin would do the the raw photography and then turn that over to imagery and turn that over to Richard.
And then Richard would apply a new design sense and yeah, we really tried to mix it up with every with every story arc. You know, that was again, just kind of what I was used to with Grendel. So we tried to apply the same aesthetic there. But here, you know, we’ve been talking about films and such and if you like mystery theater you might even be familiar with this.
What has turned out to be one of my favorite TV series of all time? Have you ever seen or heard of Babylon Berlin
Andrew Sumner: mate? Brilliant. You know, I, I, I that’s, my that’s fantastic. You’ve made that reference.
Matt Wagner: Yeah. I mean, any fan of Sam and mystery theater should be watching Babylon Berlin and arrogant for your, if your viewers don’t know it it’s a German TV series.
It is co-created and mainly directed by Tom Tykwer who did run Lola run and just like salmon mystery theater. All right. It’s set in in Berlin, in the Weimar Republic in the 19, 19 29. And it [00:41:00] embraces so many pulp, motifs and scenarios, and yet it keeps it all firmly rooted in the reality and the emotional reality and historical realities of the day.
And it has two main characters who are just terrifically, heroic and charismatic and likable and and you know, there’s, there’s. Just all sorts of pulp motifs that I just can’t rave enough about it. It’s fantastic.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. I, I think I think I actually, haven’t met you’re the first of the person I’ve met, who is actually watch that show.
So, so I, I, it’s a great thing to be evangelical. So maybe I should mention, I guess, is Paul quinoa is a, it’s a massive interest of mine. And one of the things I do on the side in my day job at Titan is I, I had the, the Mike hammer books that are written by max Helen Collins. So, so, you know, max is, is and you know, ham, ham is not really new or it’s more kind of.
It’s actually more kind of a 1950s cold war, phantasmagoric [00:42:00] fever dreams, you know, they’re not read like normal books. It’s just a stream of high energy emotion, homicidal emotion from hammer, right? He’s not even a detective in the real sense of the word. He just blenders through things, beating the shit out of people and shooting people in the face and whatnot.
But yeah, everything around this topic is, is something that fascinates me. And it’s part of my look what you did, but I think what I love given the fact that your, your pork chops are so obvious is that I think you really transcend the original tails, which, you know, that love. I love them as well, but there’s a psychological complexity and some are mystery theater, which the original Pope writers are just not allowed to get you close
Matt Wagner: to.
Right. Or, or didn’t have the time for it. Yeah. Yeah. There we go. I mean had model week, you know, I mean, that was there, you know,
Andrew Sumner: I mean, w w w what was Gibson doing his test to shadow novels a month? I mean, unbelievably, prolific. Yeah. Th the other thing [00:43:00] I really liked, and I think you were really fortuitous in working with guys who, if I recall in the early days of the book, didn’t, didn’t illustrate every arc.
You had some other artists
Matt Wagner: come in. Very good. That was a hold over from Grendel. We were trying to mix it up and take a different approach with each one. Eventually it became. Oh, yeah, the guys the best, but guys
Andrew Sumner: easily depressed. What I love about guys, Wesley Dodd and Dodds, and in fact has done Beaumont is they are regular unathletic people.
You look normal, and it’s one of the absolute few examples I can think of where he’s pertained as a guy who’s fit and resourceful, but he’s got no muscle tone. He’s. Yeah, exactly. And the fact that he’s a regular guy kind of accentuates how driven he is to go and do what he does and put himself in harm’s way, when it’s put on, he’s probably more of an academic, the way you portray him than anything else.
He sits around and wants to sit and ponder the world rather than really get involved with it. But he can’t help himself. [00:44:00] I think that’s such a fantastic element to the book
Matt Wagner: and another another Thing that we farmed out of the original golden age stories is that bit where when he goes out of Sandman, he tucks this little effigy of himself into bed and says, goodnight, Mr.
Lacey, very first golden age story. And I just thought, holy shit, weird.
And you know, it was like, I gotta use that. That’s really great. You know, I read that, you know, and then eventually I you know, I got to, I got to deal with a lot of other Paul’s stuff. When I did stuff for a dynamite, dynamite had had the license of a whole lot of pulp characters. You know, I originally started working with.
They had done a a reboot of the the lone ranger, which I thought was a real clever kind of approach and really Cassady
Andrew Sumner: version. Yeah. Well, he did the covers. He did.
Matt Wagner: But they, it really kind of made it a young, fresh character, you know, and then I saw they got the rights to Zuora and I’ve always loved Zuora.
So I called the dynamite and I said, Hey, let, let me let me be your John Cassidy on this. Let me do your cover artists [00:45:00] on Zoro. And they came back to me and they said, well, what’d you think about writing it too? So I got to write, you know, a long run of Zorro ultimately culminating in you know, the crossover we did with with Quentin Tarantino, with Zoro and Django Unchained.
Andrew Sumner: that must’ve been a real treat day.
Matt Wagner: That was a fever dream to believe that that was they, they approached me and they said, Hey we’re cause Nick Barrucci who owns dynamite is buddies with Reggie Hudlin. Who was the producer on, on Django, said, we’re thinking about, we’re trying to do a Django Zorro crossover.
Would you be interested in co-writing that with Quentin? And I was like, well, would you be interested? That’s never going to happen. And I totally forgot about it. And about, I don’t know, a month and a half later, they called me and said, we said, Quintin, all your Zaro stuff. He loves it. He wants you to connect to his house next weekend.
And I was like, okay. I kept telling my wife, this is going to fall apart at [00:46:00] any minute. It it all came together. I went down, he, I spent two days with him at his place and we. We watched he has this giant screening room and he loves to watch movies with people when he first starts working with them to kind of get in the same head space.
So we watched movies for two days, and then in between movies, we’d go out to his deck and we just sat there and cobbled together the, the idea for the story, you know? But then then I did the year one of green Hornet. And then I also did the. When they got the rights to the spirit for the 75th anniversary, I did a long run on the spirit called the spirit returns,
Andrew Sumner: which I love that run on the spirit.
And you’re almost going, I would say the two people who’ve done the spirit since Eisner that I’ve really responded to is yourself and Darwin. Those two runs are really, I think you guys really understood the character in a way that other people I can think of. Some of whom made a very expensive movie about the character, just clean [00:47:00] from the first man.
You really don’t understand what this character is, but you guys really nailed it. And most of .
Matt Wagner: Well one one thing I decided with the spirit was to go with a long form story. I was gonna to 12 issues and I decided to make it a 12 issue story because you know, all of I’s stuff was all eight pages.
So he had already, I wasn’t going to get any better with a short form, you know what I mean? So why would I try and do the same thing he had done? So by deciding to make it this long running story and you know, you were talking there about the getting it, right. You know, the fellow who ended up drawing that Dan Scotty was a young artist who I known for a while.
He was a friend of my son’s too. And we had a bunch of people try out and it was all just too mainstream. It was too, you know, too many lines. He looked too heroic, you know, it was just missing that vital fluid cartooniness
Andrew Sumner: goofiness almost.
Matt Wagner: And and Dan really nailed that. So, [00:48:00] we were very happy to get him.
For me, the, the absolute pinnacle of my pulp stuff was when I finally got my hands on the shadow.
Andrew Sumner: Excited. When you, when you got that assignment, I was supremely excited. Yeah.
Matt Wagner: That was the end of my bucket list. So far as characters I wanted to play with, you know,
Andrew Sumner: I, I take it. You must have been. So I’m pleased with how the shadow your one turned out. Because from my perspective, it was a big fan of this stuff.
And somebody gets into conversations with with other, you know, shadow shadow fans. And I decided the Atlantic don’t even have met this guy, but a good mate of mine is a guy called ed Kato. Who’s a, he’s a professor at Ethica college. And he does a lot of Hey, I tell you what it, he’s the guy who owns captain action these days.
That’s one of them and he is a huge shadow fan as well. And we both love your, your shadow, your want. And I think you, you, you tick the box of pleasing just about everybody, which is difficult to do well. That’s
[00:49:00] Matt Wagner: what we, that’s what I had to do. You know, my, my approach was, well, I can’t make it just Gibson’s version cause that’s Gibson’s version.
And, you know, as, as, as hardcore as the pulp enthusiasts are, I had to face the fact that most people know the radio version of data, you know, and and And almost all of my younger readership on that book would know him from the Alec Baldwin book. So I had to kind of take parts of all of those and put them all in a, you know, a distillery and come out with my version of it, you know, my, my private brew.
And so, you know, he’s, he’s generally Gibson’s character, but he’s got, you know, some vestiges of, of clairvoyant powers, you know, he’s not, not like you can whip that stuff around real easy, obviously, you know, additionally, you know, he’s, he’s, he and Margo were a couple, you know, I always maintain that when the old intro, you know, to the radio series, when they would say, you know, the only, you know, and his, his [00:50:00] constant friend and companion is the only voice.
You’re the only one to know. Who’s the voice of the bill. Invisible shadow belongs well, believe me, 1930s characters when they said. She’s his constant friend and companion. They know what that meant, right? Absolutely.
Andrew Sumner: It’s so Turner, when you listen, particularly to the first season of the first summer season and it’s Wells and Agnes Moorehead, they sound like a couple, you know, they sound like a,
Matt Wagner: because those are the Garling all the time.
Andrew Sumner: right. They’re all over that subtext. It’s right there the whole time. Yeah, for sure.
Matt Wagner: And you know, and from the Baldwin movie, I really liked. The fact that after world war one, where he was this you know, enormous flying ACE in this super spy that he became part of the lost generation, he got, he got morally way laid for awhile, you know, and that you know, the, the Tibetan mystics taught him how to harness his [00:51:00] shadow in the cause of justice.
That’s terrific stuff.
Andrew Sumner: I, I think you’re absolutely right. I think it was, it was David Capra came up with that. Right? So, or however you pronounce his name. I think he was a screenwriter of the movie. And it’s the fact that he succumbs to the darkness after the whole kind of Phantom Eagle era of his life. She would do of course, because you’ve got PTSD, you’re stuck in the middle of a bunch of opium fields after having had, you know, been on the frontline, you know, behind the lines in world war II and really dirty jobs, killing people at close.
It all makes complete sense. Yeah, the,
Matt Wagner: the other thing is the other thing I always tried to do, which I really tried to tap into more with the death of Margo lane is of course, you know, the shadows are pretty like Sherlock Holmes is a pretty blank character emotionally. And you know, I certainly didn’t want to make him weepy or, or, you know, or anything like that.
But I tried to tap into some emotion that he has with Margo during that storyline, you know, and how, you know, her loss would absolutely devastate him, you [00:52:00] know, number one, the loss of his lover, but also to, you know, a huge, a huge failure on his part, you know, which turned out to not be the case. But and it was also my chance to like, I’ve always just hated.
She won con like she won cons, always the goddamn villain, you know, come on. So I made it, she won Kahn’s daughter. And then and then dynamite approached me to do. Do the the Grendel shadow crossover. And you know, this let’s backtrack a little bit to when I did the Batman Grendel crossover, you know, that was a huge thing in its day, because that was the first team up between one of DC’s flagship characters and an independently-owned character.
And following both of those, you know, we did one, 100 rows with Grendel prime fuse later. Following both those series, I got approached to do a lot of Grendel crossovers. Believe me, everybody, everybody that had their moment in the sun with an indie character came to me and wanted to do a crossover.
And my thought at the time was like, well, after Batman, where do you go? You know, like, I can’t top that, you know, but the one [00:53:00] character that’s kind of even dear to my heart, the Batman is the shadow. So when that came off, I was like, well, yeah, that’s the one that can do the congenital,
Andrew Sumner: the Ultima archetype.
I, I think that’s, I think that’s beautiful. You, you, you, you touched upon Batman there and I loved Batman granddaughter, but I also have really enjoyed your, your, your depths into Batman over the years. And I was wondering of those mad monk monster man rental factory. What what’s what’s to you is your favorite of your Batman books?
Matt Wagner: Well, so there’s also faces the thing I did for that was, that was the first Batman thing I did. Do you did
Andrew Sumner: Trinity as well? Of course.
Matt Wagner: And I did Trinity. Yeah. I don’t know. They’re all, you know, I liked those. I liked the I like the Batman instrument of Batman and the mad monk they were originally supposed to be one storyline that DC decided to broke.
It broke up into two mini series. Mainly because no, I love that golden age stuff because, and those of course were two golden age storylines that I took in [00:54:00] and kind of rebooted for a contemporary audience. But you know, people, most contemporary writers, I find often tend to lose the heroism in Batman.
They, they, they focus on the angst much. So doing this storyline and it’s kind of early in his career where he still thinks he’s going to win. You know, he still thinks this is going to work. And he’s got a girlfriend, you know, and and he’s looking forward to the day when he can hang it all up and be with her.
And I, you know, again, everything for me is trying to find the human core in all of these outlandish stories and outlandish characters. You know, that even followed through with when my well, my old buddy Bob Shrek moved over to vertigo, you know, he asked me to do a revamp of Madam.
Oh man. I love that
Andrew Sumner: book. I mean, you must’ve done almost 30 issues of that, right, man?
Matt Wagner: Yes, we did. Yeah. A little more than 30. And I, you know, at first I was like, oh God, Bob, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t really have any connection to this character. Let me, let me look around and see, dig up [00:55:00] stuff. And, and she was a pretty vague character at that point, too, you
Andrew Sumner: know?
Yeah. He said really almost been like the like a hormone rod Serling, character viral almost. Yeah,
Matt Wagner: yeah. And yet in, I forget where it was, but they mentioned that she had this kind of ongoing enmity with the Phantom stranger. And boom immediately. That was it for me. I was like, oh, well, if they hate each other, that means at one point they loved each other.
So let me tell that story. And there again, that, that was this mystical character that didn’t have much definition. And all of a sudden I had a human, a human core to work with, you know,
Andrew Sumner: Brilliantly designed characters that had no depth whatsoever. There were ciphers in a way to get to inject all of that.
Yeah. Certainly it’s, it’s a tremendous amount of fun to read for that reason. But as a creator, it’s just sort of feel great. [00:56:00] It strikes me, as we’ve talked through the, these, these planes of your career, like how many times you’ve actually had the opportunity to do that, to flesh out these concepts that because they’re either, they are the date from an era where, you know, comics were less sophisticated and the industry was different or simply because the characters filled a need, they’re essentially a host or the Phantom, some stranger.
My name is Anna dude, but you’ve repeatedly had these opportunities to flesh out these underdeveloped characters that are brilliant archetypes at the same time. Yeah. I, and I enjoy
Matt Wagner: doing it too. One of the neat things about that storyline was of course, you know, we’re all familiar with the contemporary look of the Phantom strange, and you know, that hat, the turtleneck that, that Medallia anywheres and the cloak and And we were going to span like from ancient Britain, from our theory and times to modern day, we’re going to hop through centuries over the course of 12 issues.
And so I sat down to do a quick redesign to provide to my artist any reader who, you know, Bob Shrek insisted on hooking me up with her. And I was like, at that point, [00:57:00] she really looked very, very manga and he only stuff she’d done look nag. And I was like, no, Bob, I don’t know, man. I’m not quite seeing it.
And I was proven completely wrong. She did a fabulous job on that. But I sat down and tried to redesign the Phantom strangers. So you would know immediately who he was, but through the ages. So with like a druidic cloak and the medallion, and then later a, a French tricorn hat and the medallion and a cloak, and then later a top hat for Victorian days, cloak.
And and it just kind of flowed seamlessly. It was like, wow, like, all right, we can tell that that’s the same guy through all these different generations wearing kind of the same getup, but with the different contemporary aesthetic at the time, you know?
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. I th I think that it’s such a peaceful concept to, to other of your DC books I’d like to get into both of which I’m very fond of.
One was essentially almost like a, I kind of, I, it struck me at the time, like, it was almost like a piece of tone establishing, which was when you when you started off the, [00:58:00] the reboot of, of, or not reboot, but the, the regular non Kirby version of the day, Right. She, he did, he did those first four issues, as I recall in my mind, I think that Garth Ennis came on almost straight away after that, but maybe there was, there was a
Matt Wagner: period in between it period afterwards.
So, I will say I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due here, you know, after going had appeared in swamp thing. Yeah. And it was the the rhyming speaking and rhyming motif, which I just thought was brilliant and shit. And and so, the way that happened was I was at a convention in where I have Lanta.
And this is in the days when Commissions were so small that they took all the guests out to dinner at once. Right. And I happen to get seated next to Dick, to your Nana. Yeah. And
Andrew Sumner: the grading did. Wow.
Matt Wagner: And and so we proceeded to get drunk together and he offered, he said, bring me, bring me a concept, you know, bring me a pitch on the character.
And so I brought a pitch for a new bat girl. [00:59:00] And this was in the days when Geraldine Ferraro was a Walter Mondale, his running mate in the United States for vice-president. So I had Barbara Gordon running for vice president and there’s a murderer on the campaign trail and she can’t be back girl herself.
So she gets a new gal to be backer. They already had plans to cripple her in killing joke. So it couldn’t do that. They said, but bring me something else. What do you like? And I said, well, I always like the demon. Great. Bring me the Damon. So, you know, my, my thing was to separate the demon and Jason blood, and then have Jason basically become almost the demons hunter, like trying to trail him.
I never got to go that far and they immediately kind of put them back together in a, oh, what was it? Cosmic Odyssey. Right. So I never got to do much of anything more with it, but,
Andrew Sumner: I mean, I thought it was such a nice concept, I think. Yeah. Him checking on himself and another book you did kind of in that era at DC, that I really loved great artwork by the great John K.
Snyder is that oh yeah. Yep. Yeah.
[01:00:00] Matt Wagner: That was a front project too, because what we wanted to do there was to make him the superhero already so that if you go through and look at that book, you know, once he puts on the costume, everything, he’s not that different. He’s still doing the same shit. He’s still this like, Vigilante doctor, you know, tough thing that, you know, how do you do a vigilante doctor?
You know? So that was a tough, you know, he doesn’t go around punching people, you know? That was a fun thing to come up with. And yeah, John’s artwork on that. It’s just spectacular. That’s a, that was a great series.
Andrew Sumner: It’s a wonderful book and it’s a, it’s it still exists today as that great collected edition.
It’s so lovely. Matt, did you have I meant to ask I, did you have a real affinity for the, for the Riddler? Cause I know you did you read the book, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly certain you did a secret origins for the Riddler as well.
Matt Wagner: I was part of a story that Gaiman roads, Bernie Miro penciled, I inked and
[01:01:00] Andrew Sumner: yeah,
Matt Wagner: I was just the anchor.
I didn’t have a whole lot.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. This is the rusty door
Matt Wagner: memory. I always loved the Riddler due to Frank Gorshin. Cause of course he wasn’t that major of a character till Gorshin. God did them on screen, you know, and really have
Andrew Sumner: shown and in the TV show, he’s the primary villain actually. Yes, he has.
And what he has that Caesar, a morose joke, which I love for many reasons, but what that, that crazy, you know, mustache joker doesn’t have is Goshen is regular. It’s got that homicidal energy you’d normally associate with he’s with the junkies. He’s kind of truly unhinged and dangerous in that show. Yeah,
Matt Wagner: yeah.
Yeah. He’s like, he’s going to bounce off the wall at any second. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Sumner: So as we approach the end of our conversation, mate when it comes to what we’ve been discussing about your comics career, I’d just like to, to leap around and kind of. Yeah. And another aspect of where you began and to just talk [01:02:00] about major briefly which are all strictly as a very personal project for you.
And could you just tell me what the Genesis of major was and, and working?
Matt Wagner: So I had kind of always been a fan or three and fiction. And and when when I got the chance to do this color book for for comico, I decided to do a thing about the return of king Arthur, you know, and I had started a similar, I had started a story about the return of king Arthur previously.
Well, before I would ever. Truly capable of following through with it. I was quite a young artist and it was, it was terrible, you know, it was just absolutely ordinary. You know, it was it was set in a weird apocalyptic world and there were mutants and he fought mutants and, you know, he had he left a little ring mark, talk of the Phantom.
He left a little ring mark or the dragon in their forehead, you know? And then DC announced they were going to do camel at 3000 and I was like, well, there goes that idea. And and you know, besides that Brian Boland guy draws a little bit better than I do.
Andrew Sumner: I [01:03:00] think he’s a genius, but don’t mean he does better than you.
I think that’s a nice self-effacing statement.
Matt Wagner: So, so then it came out and it just did nothing for me because it just seems so obvious, you know, it was just like, oh, they’re all, they’re all nights. They’ve come back to the modern world and they’re wearing armor. And I don’t know anybody that wears armor, you know, carries around an actual sword for fuck’s sake, you know?
And, and and king Arthur is wearing a Superman costume. He was wearing red, yellow, and blue, you know? And and so that got me to thinking, well, maybe there is another approach to this, you know, something that’s more immediate and more personal, you know, and more down to earth, you know? And so one day I was, this is when I was living in Philadelphia.
I was down at the waterfront, just doing some sketches and I happened to draw myself. And I had been self portraits before, but this one had a certain world weariness to it that other portraits I had done to myself didn’t and I drew another character that ended up being kind of the basis of mirth. And and I thought, you [01:04:00] know, if, if I’m going to redo a myth, I have to personalize it.
I have to make it in this world. And like I said, I didn’t know anybody that wore armor. I knew guys that were jeans and t-shirts, you know, and, and ran around through the alleyways and, and, you know, nobody had a sword, but a couple of guys, I knew had baseball bat stuffed under the front of their car seat, you know?
And and so that started the process of that. I didn’t quite realize when I started it, how autobiographical I was truly going to make it, the fact that I was just by happenstance. Working aspects of my life and my emotional reality at the time into the storyline. And of course, you know, the, the three parts of the major trilogy really follow Joseph Campbell’s archetypes for the three stages in the hero’s journey.
When I started major, I had never heard of Campbell and I knew nothing about it. Years later when I read after I’d finished maze, when I read the hero with a thousand faces, which is his big treatise on the subject you know, I read [01:05:00] the first stages of the hero’s journey and it was like a point by point plot breakdown, a page, and, you know, one level, I was like, well, I got that one.
Right. And another level, it struck me as like, wow, this shit really is hardwired into us. You know, this, these archetypes work for a reason and these he’s right, these. Myths follow these pathways because they are echoes of our psychological development as human beings, you know? And so, so I started to get more specific with the second and third parts.
I, I, I followed his breakdown for the second and third stages of the the hero’s journey, but in an effort to still keep that freshness that I had in the first one, not knowing his word for both the second and third series I didn’t write anything down. I didn’t do any breakdowns, no thumbnails. I sat down with blank pages and I started to draw and I let it take me where it would go.
And it’s, I don’t want to make that sound like, I didn’t think about it at [01:06:00] all. I did, you know, I, I knew points I wanted to get to, but I didn’t know where it would take me, you know, Or how I would get there. And in fact, I read years later, I read Stephen King’s memoir on writing, and then he talks about kind of following the same thing.
You know, he doesn’t really, he’s not a copious note taker. He, he comes up with characters, he comes up with concepts and any pushes his characters into that concept and he follows them through the story. And that was very similar to the way I approached maids, you know, and you know, Meijer’s notorious for having taken me, so, so, so very long to complete, but I think that’s one of its strengths in the long run.
You know, originally I intended to go right into age to probably year or two years after finishing majors. And then of course comico had their big bankruptcy scandal and that tied up everything for a while. And I got deflected and other interests and other creative endeavors. And then when I came back to major.
I realized that that break was necessary [01:07:00] because I needed to live more of my life in order to reflect on it and mythologize it, you know? And and also very importantly, I got to the point where in addition to not doing the the layouts or anything, or even writing down anything I tried really hard in between book one and book two and book two and book three to not think about majors at all.
I didn’t, I didn’t want to walk on any stories, story, ideas, or concepts that I would grasp too hard and would end up becoming stale. You know, I tried to, I tried to keep it very fluid and keep pushing major way. Till I couldn’t push it away anymore until all of a sudden I found, I couldn’t think about anything, but, but major that I, you know, now’s time, now’s the right time.
Now it’s time to address this period in my life that I just got through and translate that into Kevin matchstick. And and it worked beautifully, you know, in that regard, you know, specifically I point to the fact that in the third volume, you know, involves my wife and my kids, you [01:08:00] know, avatars of my wife and kids.
And I realized that I needed to let my kids grow up before I could portray them at the younger ages they were, if I was trying to portray them, when they were that age, I would have idealized them too much, you know? I, I needed to kind of see what sort of people they were going to be to see that person reflected in their younger selves and be able to portray it and And so that worked out.
The fact that age took me so long, I think is one of its its greater strengths, you know, in the, in in the long run narratively.
Andrew Sumner: It’s fascinating to hear you tell that story. Very interesting to me because it’s almost the complete opposite of how I thought you’d done it. And I thought you sat down fairly early on in life, had a kind of overarching plan that you sketched out.
And I thought that I thought what had happened is having that overarching plan on some self determining self-actualization level, your life had come to mirror [01:09:00] aspects of it. I, and I thought that’s it. I really want to get into that. But actually what you’ve just said makes a lot more sense. That’s much more plausible.
Matt Wagner: It would have been too. Staged otherwise, you know, again, I had to let life unfold and then the trailer, not the other way around, I mean, I was even coming up with shit until the very end, you know, the, the I had to say I had this this revelation moment on the next to last page. You know, when Kevin and his family, you know, the venture’s all over, they come back to the real world.
His wife, who’s a witch, a magic user has a a familiar, it’s a a purple cat with bat wings. But when they come back to the real world, it looks just like a regular cat. And Kevin daughter says, oh, look at you, Kenny, you look like a regular kitty. Now I’m going to call you Dominic. All right. At one point, when my daughter was young, we had these two cats and we had names for them and she just decided one of them was named domino.
Even though we kept, we couldn’t talk her out of it. We were like, no, that cat’s name is [01:10:00] this Pete domino. And I only realized that as I was penciling that next to last page, I was like, oh shit, she’s going to call that cat. Domino
Andrew Sumner: is fantastic.
Matt Wagner: That’s part of the the freshness and the joy working on it in that fashion. You know, I don’t work on any other project that way, but but for me it just fit, you know,
Andrew Sumner: I, I I’d say it’s a, it’s a, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing to hear. It’s made it more resonant. I think I’m after having this chat with you and we’d go back and reread it from that perspective.
Cause I think, I think that’ll be very interesting, so different from what I thought, but it lovely hearing you describe it. Where did Kevin’s name come?
Matt Wagner: I don’t know.
Andrew Sumner: Do just that cause such an unusual choice here in the UK, we had a don’t you ever heard of British actor called Trevor Eve? Yeah. And his daughter, [01:11:00] Alice Eve is a, is quite well known that she’s in one of the star Trek movies famously and and his daddy’s very well-known TV actor in the UK. And he started in a 1980s private eye show called shoe string.
And the characters name is Eddie shoestring. And so, and of course that’s the name that nobody would ever be called, but the men, the minute that I read Kevin’s name, I thought, man, that’s another one of those. Yeah. I don’t
Matt Wagner: know. I don’t really know where mirth came from other than oh no. I do know where Merck came from.
One of the earlier versions of Merlin’s name is Miriam. Yeah. I’m pronounced, I’m butchering that. Well, sure. I’m sure. But but I just shortened that to mirth. But the creation of ed soul, when I was working at the comico offices, which were in a suburb outside of Philadelphia in the early, early days, one day, one of the guys came in and he said, Hey, there’s a garage up the road here.
And they’ve got an old vintage Edsel. Let’s go take a look at it. So we went up and we took a bunch of photos of it and everything and I that salad. [01:12:00] So, oh,
Andrew Sumner: that’s awesome. I mapped to rockers back into the present day. What are you working on at the moment?
Matt Wagner: A new Grendel series following up on Grendel devil’s Odyssey, which So, you know, once again, always trying to mix things up.
When I finished major, I decided to come back to Greenville and I wanted to do a Grinnell prime story, and I just felt like we, you know, we’d been in that world, the futuristic world with the Grendel’s and all, and the Grinnell con and the Grendel clans and all that for long enough. So I decided to send Grendel prime into outer space, and this was my opportunity to kind of pay homage to a heavy metal magazine.
The early heavy metal magazine had such a huge effect on me when I was 16. And and it, you know, the, that the motif from those early heavy metals of like a lone adventurer in space, the hopping from planet to planet, that’s pretty much been lost in contemporary science fiction. Yeah. So I got a chance to do that and, and kind of do a little riff on Gulliver’s travels at the same time.
And. [01:13:00] And of course publication of the, of the series got interrupted by the pandemic. You know, it was an eight issue series. We got the first has four issues out when the everything closed down. But then just recently a dark horse, put it back into production. And the final issue is getting ready to come out middle of this month.
And and then I’m onto the next series and it the end of Grimm devil’s Odyssey greatly changes the entire Grenville universe. So, so just always more changes now. You never, never, never, I’m never sort of looking for, I’m always itching itching to, to keep moving. You know, I’m like a shark. I got to keep swimming
Andrew Sumner: and in the world of the worlds of great to great poll pocket type.
So is there anybody left of you completely? Have you completely emptied that ticked off that bucket list?
Matt Wagner: I was never much of a doc Savage fan. So, I thought
Andrew Sumner: you might be able to do a good, I take a good stab at the Avenger. That sort of, I was thinking, I thought the Avenger would,
[01:14:00] Matt Wagner: so there there’s aspects of the Avenger that that I kind of like, and there’s some silly stuff that I don’t like.
It’s one of the things that always got me about, you know, doc Savage was the you know, his crew of five guys. It was just like this crew of five guys. And like, none of them do anything as well as he does. So why does it mean these guys? You know, you know, they’re not like the shadows operatives, the shadow was the mastermind of all those operatives.
He sends them, you go do this, you go do that. That’s completely different.
Andrew Sumner: About the spider, have you ever felt any, any harm, you know,
Matt Wagner: the spiders, despite her is just like a more psychotic version of each data, you know, and that’s never really appealed to me. Dynamite offered me the black bat at one point and read a bunch of
Andrew Sumner: those.
Not very interesting though. Our database
Matt Wagner: sure. Arts. Yes, you’re right. That was I said to them guys, these just aren’t very good. I just can’t really get behind it. You know,
Andrew Sumner: Reading the Phantom detective, right. It’s like, man, I just, you know, it’s, it’s your struggle to work your way [01:15:00] through I
Matt Wagner: which I like this better.
Yeah. So I dunno, you know, of course the shadow is just the king of the pulp characters and now, you know, I would definitely do more shadow stuff, you know? You know, I might like to do, if anybody got the license, I might like to do a Nick and Nora Charles story, but at the same time, you know, I kind of did that in salmon mystery theater.
They had echoes of Nick and Nora, for sure. You know, So
Andrew Sumner: Matt, I’ve got something for you, which is like you said, they’re used to work for time Warner, UK, and one of the companies that formed what time, one in UK, which was a long time it’s called IPC, was called the amalgamated press. The amalgamated press used to publish in the in the thirties, just before the advent of the war, the thriller magazine, which used to reprint shadow stories.
But Anglicised yeah. So, so, so basically, yeah. Inspect the Joe Cardona becomes Sergeant Joe carts. Right. And I sat in London or they all sat in London. Yeah. They’re all set Monday, the [01:16:00] references from New York to London and they changed some language, but broadly speaking the same story, but interestingly
I’ll, I’ll send you a bunch of scans of it. You’ll be fascinated. And and also he’s Lamont Cranston, but he isn’t, Cantel art, he’s Lamont Cranston. They give him a whole origin, which is. Told in a standalone tech story of basically he’s a ruined glow. It’s a, it’s a really classic, British hero, adversity type background.
He’s a, he’s a really famous lawyer who is ruined by a bunch of like fraudsters and is made to carry the can for something. And he does time in prison. He escapes and that’s how he makes his way to the other side of the world and, and takes on the Lamont crap though. The Lamont Cranston identity.
Matt Wagner: yeah. That’s completely different. That’s maybe
Andrew Sumner: different. Yeah. They give, they give, they give Burbank first name like Richard or something. No, you dig it. It’s fascinating. I’ll send it to you.
Matt Wagner: Yeah, that sounds great.
[01:17:00] Andrew Sumner: Yeah. So, finally, before, before we go and tax to take me on that whistle stop tour through your career, which has given me so much pleasure over the years what other which other.
Comics created by other parties. Are you particularly fond of.
Matt Wagner: So I wish I had more of a chance to do more with Superman. Although I did just get a chance I have a, this is a perfect segue for a little pitch, a little PR here. I have an eight page story coming up in their current miniseries, Superman, red and blue. So it’s in issue number six. And since those stories did not have to be continuity connected, I was able to make it retro.
And it’s my love letter to the Fleischer cartoons.
Andrew Sumner: Oh my I’ll call waits to see that
Matt Wagner: I was really, really happy the way it turned out. And of course it’s all colored in just red and blue by, by Brennan the sun.
Andrew Sumner: Are you, is it your artwork on that as well? Yeah,
Matt Wagner: yeah, yeah. Yeah. I’m very, very proud of it, in fact.
But you know, I mean my own interest [01:18:00] in Superman, you know, okay. I have this I have this theory. That, that some people dig and some people just don’t want to hear anything about, which is that these pop characters that we love so much, you know, we were talking about being rooted in your time and place.
They work best when they are placed in the era they were created in. That’s why I don’t like modern shadow, you know, I kind of liked chicken’s first run on the shadow
Andrew Sumner: with that first, that first forest.
Matt Wagner: But yet it became obvious how it was just out of place, you know? You know, I always pointed out that the shadow only works in a day, in an age when every man on the street had a hat on.
Yeah. Who’s that bozo in the hat once you were in the, yeah, exactly. We’re in the hat and eventually it only works in a day when cities had shadows. I don’t know. The last time you were. Downtown London or in New York Superman, you know, I know from my parents being in that era, you didn’t get your picture taken all the time. So the fact that this was Superman’s only design work, you know, the fact that he wouldn’t hang around to have his photo taken, he, he was shit [01:19:00] and he’d get out of there. You know, Batman could not work in the days of TMZ and everybody has a phone in there.
Andrew Sumner: there we’d be figured out that Jeff Bezos is doing weird shit with his evenings. You know, he’s like,
Matt Wagner: no, everybody would find that out in seconds. You know, the facial recognition software, you know, all that sort of stuff. And it just doesn’t work for these characters. That’s why, you know, in so many levels, the, the X-Men replaced.
That that’s like guys, because they are characters, they’re superpower characters who want privacy, who want anonymity and can’t have it and are forced into the spotlight against their will, you know, usually with hatred involved, you know, and, and condemnation, you know? So I, I don’t even be interested in doing Superman stuff.
That’s retro, that’s set back in the day, you know, you know, same with Sherlock Holmes, you know, I mean, I like the burn Benedict Cumberbatch stuff. Okay. But to me, it’s all, it’s cool because it’s [01:20:00] referential. It’s like, oh, that’s clever the way they update it. It’s not its own thing. You know what I mean?
It doesn’t Holmes only works in Victorian London, you know? I just, I feel the same way, every kind of pop culture, character, you know? So as far as other ones now, I kind of gone through my bucket list. The shadow is like the last one on my list. I don’t know. I think I’ll just be focusing on my own stuff for awhile.
Now. I got some other ideas for brand new stuff as well. Now that major has done so
Andrew Sumner: well. I, I, I really look forward to seeing what that is. And I think your analysis of the classic archetypal heroes versus the, the situation that the the X-Men are in is absolutely spot on. And that is indeed a big, hard degree for me.
And thank you so much for spending this 90 minutes. Walk me through that. I’ve really enjoyed it. You bet. Thanks very much, man.