Comic Book Historians

Mark Chiarello: Art Director Behind the Curtain Part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

October 01, 2019 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 50
Comic Book Historians
Mark Chiarello: Art Director Behind the Curtain Part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Comic Book Historians
Mark Chiarello: Art Director Behind the Curtain Part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Oct 01, 2019 Season 1 Episode 50
Comic Book Historians

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Mark Chiarello, illustrator, former art director and editor in the comics business. As a painter, he has worked on such projects as the Batman story Batman/Houdini: The Devil's Workshop and Clive Barker's Hellraiser.  As an editor for DC Comics, he co-created the Batman: Black & White mini-series (for which he received Eisner Awards in 1997 and again in 2003) and fan favorite series like Solo and Wednesday Comics.  In this episode we discuss the first half of his career starting at Disney World, then Animation, then Marvel Comics Epic imprint under Archie Goodwin, and his initial works at DC Comics.   Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at

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Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Mark Chiarello, illustrator, former art director and editor in the comics business. As a painter, he has worked on such projects as the Batman story Batman/Houdini: The Devil's Workshop and Clive Barker's Hellraiser.  As an editor for DC Comics, he co-created the Batman: Black & White mini-series (for which he received Eisner Awards in 1997 and again in 2003) and fan favorite series like Solo and Wednesday Comics.  In this episode we discuss the first half of his career starting at Disney World, then Animation, then Marvel Comics Epic imprint under Archie Goodwin, and his initial works at DC Comics.   Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at

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Alex Grand: Welcome again to The Comic Book Historian podcast. I’m Alex Grand with my cohost Jim Thompson. Today, we are speaking to Mark Chiarello, who is a painter, art director, and editor in the comics business. As a painter, he has worked on such projects as Batman story Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.

Alex Grand: As an editor for DC Comics, he co-created Batman Black and White miniseries, for which he received Eisner Awards in 1997 and again in 2003, and fan favorite series like Solo and Wednesday Comics. Mark, thanks for joining us today.

Mark Chiarello: Oh, cool. Thanks for having me.

Alex Grand: Yeah. So, we’re going to have Jim start off with kind of the early parts of your life, so Jim, go ahead.

Jim Thompson: Yeah Mark, that’s what I usually like to do, is to start from birth forward and just get a sense of your relationship with comics as a kid. So, I know you were born on Halloween 1960 in New Jersey. Where in New Jersey?

Mark Chiarello: New Jersey, right in the middle in Freehold, where Bruce Springsteen is from.

Jim Thompson: Okay, and tell me about your upbringing, like your parents, your basic upbringing.

Mark Chiarello: Sure. I mean, it’s probably going to be boring. So we’ll get to comics really fast, but I grew up in suburbia New Jersey in the mid/late 60s and 70s, and like every other kid, my dad worked for Ford Motor Company and my mom was a housewife, a homemaker, and it was just like a normal growing up as a kid. Watched television non-stop, repeats of The Twilight Zone, and The Brady Bunch, and Mary Tyler Moore. Just a regular kid, really.

Mark Chiarello: I always drew in my room all the time. I was a quiet kid and kept to myself a lot, and I spent most of my time just sitting around drawing all day.

Jim Thompson: Were you an early reader?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I really was, and it’s still something that I do non-stop here. I just love to read, always have. I hope I always will, I hope my eyesight doesn’t go. But yeah, I love to read

Jim Thompson: And was it noticeable that you were a better artist than the other kids at some point, and if so, what point was that?

Mark Chiarello: Well, it was and it wasn’t. I’m a shy guy, so I never really showed my drawings to anybody. I’d never speak up in school and say, “Hey, look what I drew.” I’m just not built that way, but I was singled out as the best or one of the two best artists in the whole school, and then I went to college, I went to Pratt Institute, and all of a sudden, everybody else is better than you.

Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah. No. I can’t wait to talk about Pratt, because that’s interesting in terms of going. I think, even your roommates, but first, when did you start actually reading comics?

Mark Chiarello: Well, when I was a kid, obviously in the late 60s, the Batman, Adam West TV show was such an event that you just fell in love with that stuff, you fell in love with that show and that character and that world. But I didn’t realize that, “Oh, wait a minute. You can also buy comic books with these characters.” And it wasn’t until years later a good friend of mine, one of my best friends as a kid, a guy named Mikey Miller, he started collecting Spider-Man comics, and this must be like 1970 or something.

Mark Chiarello: I was like, “Oh my God, these are great.” And yeah, they were. I just fell in love with that world. Like Spider-man, shit, John Romita was drawing it, and Stan stopped and I think Gerry Conway started and then Ross Andru started drawing them.

Jim Thompson: And were you mainly a Marvel reader or did you do both?

Mark Chiarello: Purely Marvel. That’s who I was. Even a good friend of mine from high school, a guy named Frank, he was the big DC guy, and I’m like “Oh, that’s such crap, how could you read that stuff? It’s so antiquated! Oh my God, it’s terrible! Marvel is what you should read.”

Mark Chiarello: I mean think about it. Those early 70s, mid 70s, Barry Windsor Smith was doing Conan and Howard the Duck was real fun and you were coming off all those great years of-

Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah. No, I’m the same age as you and Steve Gerber, John McGregor, the Master of Kung Fu with… it was just such riches that it’s amazing what was being produced during that early 70s period, all over the place.

Alex Grand: The writer-editor age of Marvel.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, yeah. And it showed. Man, it was cool.

Jim Thompson: So at some point when you were going to decide to go to art school, did you have in mind “Hey maybe I’ll end up in comics?”

Mark Chiarello: No, not at all. I was this, again, quiet kid who sat at home and drew all day and you graduated from high school, college rolled around, and I enrolled at a mainstream college in New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and I went for literally two weeks and I was just miserable. I’m like, “I want to be an artist. I don’t want to do this shit. I don’t want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant.” I actually quit the school and I enrolled in Pratt. It was a short layover. And it was like, man! It was like I came home. I hate to use that phrase, but holy shit I was around all these great artists who were into exactly what I was into.

Mark Chiarello: But to answer your question, no, I didn’t expect to be a comic artist. My whole thing was, when I was a kid, there was the publication TV Guide. You’d get it every week, I’m not even sure that they even produce it any more, but you’d get it every week and it would tell you what was going to be on that week, and “Oh my god, they’re going to show Jaws this week!” Or whatever it was, all the TV shows. But these great, famous American illustrators would illustrate the cover of that.

Jim Thompson: Including Jack Davis.

Mark Chiarello: Jack Davis, one of the great, great, greats. Bob Peak, Bernie Fuchs, I love Fuchs. As a kid I would see Time magazine with these artists on the cover, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated used illustrators on it. I was a bit odd in that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to do that stuff. I wanted my mom to be able to walk into the drugstore, the supermarket, and say “Oh, yeah, my son did that painting of Magnum PI on the cover of TV Guide!”

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I used to clip them and put them in scrapbooks. I was a TV Guide nut about the exact same thing.

Mark Chiarello: Do you still have them?

Jim Thompson: No, I do not.

Alex Grand: Your mom probably threw them away, huh?

Jim Thompson: No, she was pretty good. I mean, I still have every comic I ever bought. She was not one of those moms. I don’t know what happened to the scrapbooks, but yeah. I used to take out everything from TV Guide, especially the drawings, and especially-

Mark Chiarello: Are you an artist yourself or you just were a fan?

Jim Thompson: I drew all the time too. I ended up not being an artist. I thought about going to art school but I went to law school. But yeah, I can draw a little bit.

Jim Thompson: Now, were your parents supportive when you switched over to art school?

Mark Chiarello: My parents have always been lovely, they’ve always been supportive of whatever I wanted to do, but they kind of looked at me sideways like, “Well, you’re going to starve. You’re going to be an artist” You know what I mean? Because growing up in the New York area, Italian parents… There was that cliche view of the starving artist with the beard and not making any rent.

Mark Chiarello: But then, right after college, I got a job with Disney down in Florida and it was the first time that they thought, “Well, maybe he is going to make a living” Because again, the American public knew Walt Disney as a successful artist.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, as soon as you had that Disney stamp of approval, everybody relaxed I’m sure.

Jim Thompson: Let’s go to Pratt for a few minutes. I had read that you had, and I’m not clear if you were all together, but you were roommates with Kent Williams, John Van Fleet, and George Pratt? Is that true?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, George lived upstairs, he was on the floor above us, but he was always in our room and we were always in his room. Yeah, but Van Fleet and I were best friends and Kent, the four of us, oh my god, we were inseparable. It was a really incredible year of artists and some incredible, incredible people who I’m all still in touch with.

Alex Grand: What year was this, Mark?

Mark Chiarello: Oh, man, don’t ask years or anything like that.

Alex Grand: Was it 1980 or-

Jim Thompson: Well, Pratt was in in 1980. So at least that was part of it for sure because I looked up that. He was-

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I want to say like ’81, ’82, right in there. ’83 right in those.

Alex Grand: Okay. Early 80s, all right.

Mark Chiarello: But I meant, like I said… and I apologize because I know I’m talking really fast, but I just had a really big cup of coffee. So I apologize.

Jim Thompson: No, that’s good.

Mark Chiarello: But when I was saying about, when I got to college I was among my people, Kent and John and George and a few other guys, we would sit around and we were exactly like each other. We’d talk about, “Oh, the new Raiders of the Lost Ark movie came out, and let’s go see Blade Runner.” And we’d go to the magazine shops and look for Brad Holland illustrations. It was the greatest time. We were all fraternal.

Alex Grand: That sounds great.

Jim Thompson: And isn’t that amazing that you all ended up working in comics at some level or not?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, because we were all comics fans as kids.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, by that point, were any of you reading comics still?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I mean, that was an interesting time because you had the… there’s a phrase for that time of comics, you know Rocketeer and Love and Rockets. What do they call that? Not the independent market but those kind of not Marvel and DC stuff.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t the alternative stuff that is so indie but it was the age of the Hernandez brothers had come on the scene. Dave Sim was doing Cerebus, Chaykin was doing American Flagg!. I mean, all of that stuff was out there and was really incredibly groundbreaking and, yeah, accessible-

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true we loved that stuff. Man, when Rocketeer first came out, the first couple issues that he did, that Dave did, that was just beautiful stuff, but you also had Frank Miller drawing Daredevil out of Marvel and that was the coolest shit, too. You know?

Jim Thompson: Yeah, and then he switches over and does Ronin, and it’s like, look at the production value of that. And you guys must have all been so aware of that it’s no longer on comic paper and looking… there was so much experimentation in terms of design at that point, which I assume you had an interest in that early on because it’s such a feature of your own work.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that just turned us on because we… Well, when I first met Kent, or when I first move in with him, he was drawing a short story for, I’m pretty sure, it was Epic Illustrated which Archie ran, Archie Goodwin, and I was like “Oh my god.”

Mark Chiarello: And look, I’m going to say something, please don’t laugh at me, but you’re going to think I’m ridiculous, but I never realized people wrote and drew comics. Of course, logically, they did and they do, but I didn’t realize that you could get a job doing that, that these were real people. When I had roommate who was actually drawing this stuff, it really opened my eyes, and Kent said to me, “Geez Mark, you’re the biggest comics fan out of all of us. I know this guy at Marvel named Archie Goodwin, you’re really very similar people. [inaudible 00:11:37] the sweetest guy. You should go get a job with him.” So that’s my first foray into the professional-

Alex Grand: That’s how you met Archie, okay.

Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s great! That’s really interesting, and they were doing things that looked like what you might see at school, because I’m thinking of Moonshadow and what Moose was doing. And you guys are looking at stuff like that, right?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Well, as roommates, Kent did a fill-in issue of Moonshadow and George came downstairs and they were both painting it together in Kent’s room. It was astounding, and I got to know Jay and I really love his work. I guess that’s my point, it showed me that, well, people do this, you can do this.

Alex Grand: Right. It’s capable, it’s not just a mythical thing. It’s a real thing.

Mark Chiarello: Exactly. It demystified it for me.

Alex Grand: Right, demystified it.

Jim Thompson: I’m going to take you out of Pratt now, and get you in the real world, and Alex is going to take you from there.

Alex Grand: Okay. So, what did you do at Disney World when you started there in Florida?

Mark Chiarello: Well, I started as an intern. This program, they would take a few people every year, and I moved down there, and I think they took two graphic designers, two animators, and one illustrator, and I was the one illustrator. I was picked out of all the art schools in the country, and I moved down there. “Oh my god, Disney! This is going to be cool.” And it really was cool, but I didn’t like living in Florida. I’m such a tri-state area guy, I’m such a New Yorker, that it was like, “I hate Florida! Jeepers.”

Alex Grand: I hear you felt it was kind of boring, maybe?

Mark Chiarello: Well, it was always hot. One of my nerd things is the Disney Parks: Disneyland and Disney World. So that was fun because I’d go every day after work or after lunch, or whatever, but other than that I missed home. So I didn’t stay there very long at all and I moved back up.

Alex Grand: So, wait, you were just there for maybe a year or something?

Mark Chiarello: Oh, much less. Much less. Just a bunch of months.

Alex Grand: Just some months. Were you doing animation there? You were doing animation, basically.

Mark Chiarello: No. No, I wasn’t in the animation department. I was in the illustration department.

Alex Grand: Illustration, okay.

Mark Chiarello: And we would do brochures for the park or posters for the park.

Alex Grand: Oh, okay. I see. Which is certainly a skill that we’ve seen of yours. Okay, I see what you’re saying. So then, after Disney you went up to New York, and is that when you started working on the 1986 Adventures of Galaxy Rangers TV show?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, it really is. Man, I forgot about that! Yeah, I got a job right away. Most of the animation is done out here in California but there was a show that was being produced in New York called The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. I guess it was on Channel 11 TIX in New York, but it was 65 episodes and I was sort of the art director, but I would also organize everybody else.

Alex Grand: Would you draw stills as well or animate things or was it more like you were overseeing the project?

Mark Chiarello: I was hired as a storyboard artist. So we would get the script and it was a half hour animated show and we would have to storyboard every scene, and I was doing that and it was fun, but then my boss said, “Well, you’re kind of like the adult of all of these 20 storyboard artists. Why don’t you organize the whole thing, the art of all this stuff and get it all together and ship it off to… ” I think it was animated in Japan. So would FedEx it to Japan and make sure all the characters were coded and all that stuff. So my seeming maturity elevated me to art director sort of.

Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s great. So is that when you realized you can be both an artist and manage other artists? Is that where your first taste of that?

Mark Chiarello: I guess it is. I think it is. Over the years I’ve always had a hard time because I embraced being the art director so much at DC, I always had a hard time coming home on the weekend and doing any artwork because I was exhausted from the job. But, yeah. Yeah, I’ve always been torn in my head. Should I be an artist or should I organize artists? Be an art director? I’m never quite sure.

Alex Grand: Right, it’s kind of a hybrid conflict. So then, why did you leave that TV show and how did you get into doing Lost Planet 2 for Eclipse in ’87? Was that your first published comic? Tell us about that transition and doing that comic.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that was after college. So we all moved down the street to , well Pratt is in Brooklyn. So we all moved the next neighborhood over to Park Slope. Van Fleet and I shared an apartment and George Pratt lived around the corner, and George was the nicest guy on the planet. We’d always have other artists hanging out, staying over. One of the guys he became friends with was Scott Hampton, who was from North Carolina, and Scotty’s a cool guy. Scotty is such a brilliant, brilliant artist, and we really hit it off and he said “Hey, my brother Bo is putting together a comic book called Lost Planet for Eclipse. Would you want to… ”

Mark Chiarello: He knew we would talk about American history all the time, I’m a big history nut, and he said, “Hey, there’s a story about Amelia Earhart. Would you want to draw it?” And I was like, “Man, cool, absolutely!” It was like a 10 page story, whatever, and he sent me the script and I was really excited about it and there was that moment where I got the script and I was like, “Holy shit. I have to actually draw this thing now.” That’s frightening because I’m one of those artists that feels that everyone judges me as a human being based on my art. If they don’t like my art then they’re not going to like me.

Alex Grand: Yeah. That’s funny, like you take it personally.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, and to this day I really wish I wasn’t like that but I am. But, yeah. So, I did that story, it came out okay.

Alex Grand: And then what made you go to Marvel? Your friend who knew Archie Goodwin, was it the introduction that then you got into Marvel? How did that work?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was still very close with Kent and all the guys, George and Van Fleet, and Kent said “Hey, I’m still working for Marvel. I’m doing jobs for him here and there. Go see Archie, I think he’s looking for a secretary or an assistant.” So, I met a guy name Carl Pot, he said “I have an opening, do you want an interview?” But I actually didn’t get the job and-

Alex Grand: You did not get the job?

Mark Chiarello: Then I went around the… What’s that?

Alex Grand: You said you did not get the job?

Mark Chiarello: I did not get the job with Carl, but I went literally down the hall and met with Archie and Archie said, “Yeah, I’d love to hire you here. If you’re a friend of Kent’s then absolutely.” We chatted for 10 minutes and I got that job.

Alex Grand: Oh wow.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was Archie’s assistant for maybe a year and a half.

Alex Grand: That’s awesome. So then, that’s around the time when you had some involvement with the Marvel Epic Imprint graphic novel and ’88 Someplace Strange by Nocenti and Bolton, is that correct?


Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that was one of the books. Archie ran Epic Illustrated, and it had just ended at that time when I came on. I think Shooter had just left Marvel, so that’s around the timeframe, and then DeFalco took over. Archie ran Epic, which was a magazine, but then it segued into an imprint, a series of comics, and that was a great time for me to step into this because we started reprinting the Moebius stuff from France with graphic novels, and we did Akira, that was the first time it had been translated into English. But yeah, the John Bolton book was one of them and it was just such a great learning ground.

Alex Grand: So you were editing some of these books, right?

Mark Chiarello: No, I was just Archie’s secretary. I was Archie’s assistant. I’d answer his phone and I would type up scripts that he asked me to. I was just kind of like the all-purpose power tool. I just did whatever Archie needed me to do.

Alex Grand: Oh, I got you. Okay, okay. So he was editing and then you’d assist him in these processes of putting these books out.

Mark Chiarello: Totally, yeah, and that’s where I learned by chops really. I have said it before and I will say it until the day I die, the fact that I was working with this guy, Archie Goodwin, was just the most incredible learning experience to this very day. I mean, I have a great dad, but Archie became my second dad.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome.

Mark Chiarello: Oh, man! I’m sure both of you have mentioned Archie to people or they’ve mentioned Archie to you and-

Alex Grand: Yes, absolutely. Always positive.

Jim Thompson: We get this in almost every interview, that he is the person no one speaks bad of.

Mark Chiarello: It’s so true. It’s absolutely so true. He was just the funniest guy you’ve ever met. He was sort of like, always equate him to the comedian Bob Newhart. He was Bob Newhart.

Alex Grand: That’s awesome. That’s a great analogy

Jim Thompson: I love Bob Newhart, man.

Mark Chiarello: You would’ve loved Archie, and he was a brilliant writer. To this day, I think he’s probably still my favorite writer ever in comics. His stuff was so adult and it was so incredible. And certainly, certainly the best editor ever, ever to work in comics.

Jim Thompson: And he knew how to cater those stories just right for the artists. I mean, what he did at Warren with how he gave Steve Ditko the opportunity to do that run of stories that Ditko did and Toth and all the others. It’s like he understood how to write it for those specific artists. He’s a real talent at that.

Mark Chiarello: You’re absolutely right. He was the king of that stuff.

Alex Grand: Do you feel like he was an influence on you in being malleable to work with various artists on different projects?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I don’t mean to be corny about it but he taught me the basics of what I did all those years at DC. I distinctly remember him saying, “Mark, here’s what you do. You hire the very best guy you can.” And I apologize, I use the term guy to mean men and women, guys and gals.

Alex Grand: Right, sure. The best-

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, “Hire the very best talent you could possibly find, and then get out of their way. Just facilitate them. Make sure the accounting department’s not up their ass or make sure whatever. Let them draw, let them do what you hired them for. Don’t try to tell Bill Sienkiewicz what colors to use.” You know what I mean? That stuck with me, and all those years at DC, I was at there for 26 years, the best thing about all those years was that relationship with those artists, being able to talk to Adam Hughes and Tim Sale, and not tell them what to do, but just get them jazzed to do what they do.

Alex Grand: Right. Yeah, and I think Tim Sale and Howard Chaykin told us that about you, that you’re very creator friendly and you let them create, and I think that’s a mutual respect you have for each other, it sounds like.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, yeah. We’re all into the same stuff, so just have fun with it really.

Alex Grand: Right. So, now, around that time did you do the coloring for the Marvel graphic novel Shadow where Kaluta returned to the character? Did you color that book?

Mark Chiarello: Man, I forgot about that. Yes, I did. You know that old process, Blue Line Coloring? You know that stuff?

Alex Grand: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Mark Chiarello: They printed out the pages on Blue Line, which is this weird… they print the artwork as this light blue line work and then there’s overlay, like a piece of acetate with the line work on top. Really arcane, bizarre process. Mike was really late. Kaluta was supposed to ink that book and it was gorgeous, but then he was really running very late with it so they got Russ Heath, I believe, to ink it, but all the time had been eaten up by those guys.

Mark Chiarello: So, the colorist was supposed to be a guy named John Wellington. He was supposed to color it but he had literally three days to color the entire graphic novel. So, John asked me, he said, “Hey, come sleep over at my place for three days. We’ve got to work non-stop on this thing.” So it was me, Wellington, a guy named Dick Jainschigg, and Steve Busalado, who’s still very active in comics, and the four of us sat there for two, three days and just cranked on it, and I think we did an okay job considering that there was a gun to our heads on it.

Alex Grand: That’s a great book. So, yeah, I would say so.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah.

Alex Grand: So then, yell us about Hellraiser. How did you get into the Clive Barker Hellraiser book? And you did a story with Kent Williams, right?

Mark Chiarello: No, I don’t think I’ve ever actually worked with Kent. The Hellraiser story I did was… Shit, shit, my memory’s gone. Man, I think Jan Strnad wrote it maybe? Yeah, and I painted it. I illustrated it, and I honestly can’t remember how that came about. I used to hang out in the offices a lot because it was fun, you were young, you were in your 20s, and you could play baseball in Central Park-

Jim Thompson: You had done a cover for the issue before it or so, and then you did the one story. At least, that’s what you indicated

Mark Chiarello: But, I mean, I’m sure you’ve been up to the Marvel office, it’s all editorial and legal, and all this stuff, but once in a while you’ll see, “Oh, hey. There’s Mike Miller walking down the hall, and there’s Bill Sienkiwicz.” I mean, it is like that.

Alex Grand: That’s awesome.

Mark Chiarello: So, when an editor sees Bill Sienkiwicz walking down the hall, he’ll say, “Hey Bill, come here. You want to draw this thing for me?” And I think that’s how that Clive Parker story came about.

Alex Grand: Right, right. Like, “Hey, Mark. Help us out. Do you want to do this?” Yeah, and then you did some covers for the Epic line books, and you were coloring some Marvel books and some covers, and you work on some characters like Wolverine, The Punisher, and Moon Knight. That’s correct, right?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I sort of started because until recently, I never had real faith in my talent. So it’s like, oh my god, again, I have to draw this thing? So sort of like, I won’t say chickened out, but I realized that while I’m a really good colorist, I might as well just be a colorist in comics. You can make a lot of money doing that, and it’s a little like coloring in a coloring book when you’re a kid. It’s-

Alex Grand: It’s kind of fun.

Mark Chiarello: Fun and a lot less stress, unless there’s a killer deadline. So yeah, I colored a lot of stuff. I colored some Wolverine stuff that John Buscema drew, and some Punisher stuff, and that’s what sort of segued into me meeting Mike Mignola because he needed a colorist on a project and I was considered one of the better colorists.

Jim Thompson: Was the Bram Stoker Dracula?

Mark Chiarello: No, it was Walt Simonson wrote this Wolverine graphic novel. Something Jungle, like Jungle Tales, Jungle something, like Wolverine in the jungle, and Mignola drew it and Mike asked me to color it, and I did. Again, it was on blue line, so it was kind of painted color, and we really hit it off. We had a lot in common, and we worked together for quite a few years after that.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s how that started that relationship off. And why did you leave Marvel? What year was that? Was that early ’90s, at some point, right? Was it ’91 or so, ’92? When and why did you leave Marvel?

Mark Chiarello: Definitely late ’80s, early ’90s. I think I wanted to be a freelancer. I was asked several times by DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald if I wanted to come on as an editor there, and I didn’t really. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to try my hand at, “Well, okay, can I do this?” And I was young and dumb and having fun being in New York, and like I said, you’d go up to the office and I met my best friend Jack Morelli up there, who was a big Marvel letterer at the time. And we would hang out, and you’re young, you’re really not looking at your career very much, where should it go.

Jim Thompson: Which is good segue to where my next question is, which is where did you go next? Was it you did a few projects with Mignola at that point, besides what you had done with Marvel? You did the Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. That was for Topps, right?

Mark Chiarello: That was Topps, yeah. Topps, clearly known as a trading card, baseball card, non-sports card company, and they wanted to get… that was the Jim Lee Liefeld Image days and comics were the thing, and Topps wanted to start their own imprint of comics. So their first book they signed on was with Mike to adapt Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Dracula, and he did a beautiful job, and then IDW just rereleased that. And Mike asked me to color it and I did, and I’m always on time and I like to think I’m fairly pleasant to work with. So I hit it off with one of the big shots at Topps, this guy named Ira Friedman, and I started consulting with him. Like, “Hey, who should we hire to be our editor in chief?” And he’d ask me all these questions. So, yeah, unfortunately Topps was fairly short lived, as a comic publisher.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, that Dracula really had some, I think, more import than people realized at the time. It has some staying power because it’s great. Mignola, I think he really evolves during that period really quickly, because that’s everything that Hellboy is, it’s right there in that book. I had a question about the rerelease, did you look at the black and white version that came out?

Mark Chiarello: I picked it up at a comic shop. They were going to send me couple copies and I’m really good friends with this guy at IDW, and he said, “Oh, I’ll send you a bunch.” And I’m like, “I got way too many comics. Please don’t send it to me.” Scott had asked me to… because that was actually pre-computer, that was right before everybody was coloring comics on computer. That was color guide, where you would color on Xerox’s, photo copies, and you’d have to code every color. God, it was a pain in the ass. So he asked me, “Hey, we’re going to rerelease this,” and I’m like, “Oh, Jesus. The coloring’s awful on that. It’s so clunky.” He said, “Well, if you want to tweak the colors, I’d send you the file then you could just recolor it or tweak what’s there.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’ll be cool.”

Mark Chiarello: And, again, I was working DC at the time, this is just a year and a half ago, and I was like, “Yeah. Oh, no. I’ll recolor the entire thing, and I won’t charge you. No problem.” And then I started doing it and I was like, “What the fuck did I just get myself into?”

Alex Grand: Yeah, you should charge for that.

Mark Chiarello: Well, you know, unfortunately I had to, it was a tough phone call and I had to say, “Man, Scott, I just can’t do this. I just don’t have the time to do this. I have a full-time job,” and he understood. He was one of the good guys.

Alex Grand: Right, right.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, and that’s why they decided to put it out in black and white, instead?

Mark Chiarello: Well, I think Mike’s the master of black and white. So I know they wanted to release it in black and white and then the color one just came out. So I knew they had always planned to rerelease both versions of it.

Jim Thompson: Oh, I see. Yeah, I think it was weird that that came out in black and white, and From Hell is coming out now in color. And it’s like, do you have any feeling about that in terms of if it’s drawn with a notion that it’s going to be colored, is that different for an artist than if they know it’s going to be released in black and white?

Mark Chiarello: Man, that’s an interesting question. Every artist is different. Again, Mike Mignola is the master of black and white. I can’t think of anybody in the history of comics that comes close to him, and that’s quite a grand statement but people love seeing Mike’s stuff in black and white. Mike, over the years, has given me a few pieces of original art and, man, I loved coloring Mike’s stuff, it was really fun, and Dave Stewart, who colors most of Mike’s stuff now, does an incredible job, one of the great colorists.

Jim Thompson: Oh, we’re going to talk about Dave Stewart when we get to Solo.

Mark Chiarello: Oh, okay. I mean, I don’t know. What do you think? Do you like seeing the black and white stuff?

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I think it really depends on the artist. I’ve looked at the From Hell stuff and it’s being done so carefully and so great. At the same time, I think it’s what you see first sticks in your mind, and it’s hard to go to a different one sometimes.

Mark Chiarello: Yep. Yeah, that’s true. It’s like Blade Runner, everybody cries about the narration in Blade Runner, but that’s the way I first saw it. So that, to me, that’s the way Blade Runner should be.

Jim Thompson: That’s right. Once it imprints it’s very hard to get it out of your head, no matter what. So you also did a Legends of Dark Knight with Mignola, as well, in 1993, at the same time that you did the Houdini book that Alex is going to talk about, but the next, in 1994, that was a huge deal because there you did the one that everybody knows, which is you colored the Hellboy book, Seed of Destruction. Now, how essential were your coloring choices to what has become such a known book? I mean, it’s not like you said to Mignola, “Hey, why don’t we make him red,” right? There was already a notion of what he looked like, or how much did you contribute to all of that?

Mark Chiarello: Well, I’ll tell a corny story. Mike and I were very close pals, but he had moved to Brooklyn, and we lived down the street and we used to go to lunch, and I remember he… because I was home freelancing, and he was home freelancing. So we would meet down the street at the diner all the time, and he took out his sketchbook and he literally said, “Hey, I just came up with a new character. I’ll show you my drawing, I call him Hellboy.” And I looked at him and I said, “Mike, that’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.” And I think I was probably wrong on that, and he would ask me about that all the time, but he asked me to color it and I don’t like working with my friends and I always get in fights with my friends that I do work with, and unfortunately we did end up getting in a big fight a couple years later, but we’ve made up since.

Mark Chiarello: But, yeah, Mike really wanted me to color it and I was sort of on the fence, and he gave me this gorgeous Kevin Nolan original cover from a Batman, I forget which Batman book. He said, “I’m giving you this, but you have to color Hellboy.” And I was like, “Yeah, Kevin Nolan. Shit, okay. You got a deal.” So, had started working on a couple pages and he showed me the character design, and I said, “I think we should make him red.” And Mike looked at me and literally said, “Gee, you fucking think?” So, yeah. Okay, Mike was always going to make it red, but I think I was officially the first person to say that. So, at cocktail parties I like to say, “I’m the guy that made Hellboy red.”

Alex Grand: There you go. That’s pretty cool.

Jim Thompson: That’s funny. All right. So, now-

Mark Chiarello: But Mike, in those early days, we would go through the drawings and Mike would go rifle through the drawings and say, “Okay, on page seven, that’s got to be night time not day time.” And then he’d go through another 10 pages and go, “Oh, make that little thing yellow,” but his notes were incredibly light. So what you saw in those pages was really my color.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome. So, shortly after or close to that time you also worked on Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop, and that was 1993. It was written by Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore. So how did you come to that project?

Mark Chiarello: Somebody introduced my to Chaykin, and he scared the shit out of me right from the get go. He’s a pretty daunting guy. He’s the smartest guy in the room always, but we became friendly and I said to him, “Hey, I want to do this character. I’d love for you to write it. I want to draw it.” There was a character, I forget the name of the Canadian company, I think, the character was called Mister X, and I really loved the character in the first couple issues.

Jim Thompson: You’re talking Mister X, the Dean Motter…

Mark Chiarello: Yeah.

Jim Thompson: From Vortex, that Hernandez has started on? Oh, that’s great. And it’s totally carries over a little bit to Terminal City, when you’re doing those covers, but yeah. I was a huge fan of that book.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that was that time period of Love and Rockets and the Rocketeer, that stuff came out. There was something about the character I loved. It was that [inaudible 00:36:06] and kind of science fiction-y weird dream state, kind of thing, and I went to Howard and I said, “Hey, let’s do this character.” And he’s like, “Yeah, totally. We can do it. I’ve got some great ideas.” But then we just couldn’t get the rights to it, and I tried and I tried and I tried.

Mark Chiarello: So then, plan B was either Howard said to me or I said to Howard, “Let’s make some money instead and do Batman.” So, his writing partner at the time was John Moore, really good writer, and so the three of us did that. Yeah, did the Batman/Houdini. And again, I’m a big history fan. So I said, “Man, I’m a real big magic fan. I’d love to do something with Houdini.” So Howard just put it in his brain.

Alex Grand: That’s awesome. So in illustrating that book, what were your influences on that book and what kind of aesthetic were going for? I loved it. I actually reread it the other day. Tell us a little bit about your visual construction of that book.

Mark Chiarello: Man, I try not to think about that book. My ex-wife and I moved up to Boston. She was going to Harvard for her master’s. So we moved all the way up to Boston from New York, and right at the time where I got the contract to do Batman/Houdini and man, 64 pages, again, you get the script and you’re like holy shit I have to draw this thing. How am I going to possibly do this? You get the script and you kind of freak out. I’m not a comic book artist, I’m an illustrator. And the first page is an establishing shot of the flag in New York at 23rd street. So I’m like, well I can draw that. I can paint that. I know what that should look like.

Mark Chiarello: So I did the first page, fully painted, water colors, and I had been feeling kind of crappy for a couple weeks. I was getting really bad headaches. So I did the one page, but I was on the road to, okay, I guess I could probably pull this off. And my wife at the time said, “You’re getting these headaches. Let’s go to the doctor.” And so, we went to the doctor that afternoon. The doctor ran MRI’s and CAT scans, and sure enough I had a brain tumor.

Alex Grand: Wait, you did have a brain tumor?

Mark Chiarello: I had a brain tumor, yeah. So I, fortunately, was in Boston. So I went to Boston Mass General, which is a great hospital, and they did the operation, blah, blah, blah. I recuperated that was 28 years ago.

Alex Grand: So, it was like a benign glioma type deal?

Mark Chiarello: Exactly, exactly. But it was pretty rough. I mean, they have to enter your skull and all that stuff.

Alex Grand: Yeah, the craniotomy, sure.

Mark Chiarello: Exactly. Yeah, not to get off on a weird tangent, but the point is, so I had started that Batman book and I didn’t get back to it for almost a year because recuperation for that is six, eight months, at the least. But what’s funny is, God I hadn’t thought about this, I remember I finished that first page, and it came out good, and I turned to put it next to me on the table and there was an X-Acto knife next to me, and I jabbed it right in my finger by mistake. Being a klutz, I just went oh! And I was bleeding all over the place, and I took the painting, the original piece of art, and I wiped my finger on the back of it, and there was a big blood stain on the back of it. When I found that page just maybe like three months ago, in my flat files, and I’m like, “Yeah, the blood’s still on the back of that,” and I think it was a symbol for what was to come for the next year.

Alex Grand: Oh, wow. That’s pretty dramatic imagery.

Mark Chiarello: That’s a weird story, but I apologize.

Alex Grand: No, I like it. I mean, it’s interesting. So, you received a lot of notice and accolades for that. So you do describe that there was some struggle as far as the difference between illustration of one image and then sequential story telling of a series of images, but I think a lot of people felt like you really hit it out of the ball park. So was it from notice of your achievement with that, that then you became part of DC staff? Or were you a freelancer for a while? What was that transition, as far as job title over at DC?

Mark Chiarello: I was so unhappy with what I did on that book, the way my stuff came out on that, that I’m like, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not going to be an artist. I’ve got to look for a real job.” Because I was so hard on myself, which a lot of artists are, but I was ridiculous about it. Like, “I’m a laughing stock. I’m a charlatan. People are going to think I’m an awful artist.” And right at that time I got a call from a guy at DC comics named Neal Posner, who unfortunately has passed away since, and he said, “Hey, you’re one of the best colorists. The coloring at DC comics is really in awful shape. We’re just transitioned over to using computers and the separators are terrible. Would you come on and be out color editor?” And I’m like, “Neal, there’s no such thing as color editor in comics.” And he goes, “Yeah, you’d be the first color editor.” And I said, “Yeah. Okay, I’ll do it.”

Mark Chiarello: And I took the job, and stayed at DC for 26 years.

Alex Grand: What year was that? It was ’90s, but what do you think what year closely was that?

Mark Chiarello: Again, I’m terrible with dates, because I’m an artist and math is hard. I remember my first week at DC, Batman/Houdini was on the printing press. I went up to Canada to see it printed. So whenever Batman/Houdini came out was when I first started. It’s ’93 I think.

Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s right. So, that’s when you became staff and color editor.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was color editor for two years, and then I really hit it off with the team I was working with, and Paul Levitz was running the show. So he kind of made me art director

Alex Grand: And that’s art and design director, right?

Mark Chiarello: Well, I was color editor, then I was art director, then I was art and design director, and then art director, design director, and collected editions editor director at the end there.

Alex Grand: I see. Yeah, that’s an interesting sequence, but you also worked on covers in the ’90s too, and you edited some projects at DC, right, during this time? Like in 1995 you did Vigilante covers and I think a lot of people would say you captured the western genre well and the layouts were great.

Jim Thompson: Those were great. The covers on that are super memorable.

Alex Grand: Yeah.

Mark Chiarello: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Alex Grand: So you did still do some drawing, even though you work focusing on color directing and art directing. So how did you get into those covers? Was it like people just needed a cover and you just filled it in or were you like, “I’d really like to do the covers for that.”? How did that work?

Mark Chiarello: I never once, in all those years, asked for a gig. I never said, “Hey, I hear you’re doing a new Batman. Can I do the cover?” I refused to do that. I felt that would be kind of shitty, but I was full-time at DC, so it was five days a week, and it was a pretty exhausting job. But people would ask me to do artwork all the time. People who, not because they saw me in the hall, but they actually liked my work. So they said, “Hey, Mark, you want to do these covers?” And once in a while I would say yes, but I found it really hard to juggle both.


Alex Grand: Both jobs.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah.

Jim Thompson: So you turned down a lot of stuff? I mean, is there anything where somebody asked you to do a cover that you wished you had done it?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I did a series of covers for this book called Jonny Double that Vertigo put out.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I love those.

Mark Chiarello: It was Eduardo Risso’s first American comics that he drew, and I think it was four or six covers, and Alex Alonso, who was the editor at Vertigo at the time, really liked them a lot and asked me. He said, “Hey, Eduardo Risso really likes your stuff, too. He’s doing a new book with Brian Azzarello called 100 Bullets, and we’d love for you to do the covers.” And I was like, “Yeah! Awesome! What’s it about?” “Well, they have 100 issues planned.” And I was like, “Whoa. 100 issues and a full-time job?” So I said, “I’d love to do it, but I just can’t pull it off. It’s too much.” And I recommended Dave Johnson for the gig, and Dave, who is like 80 times better and artist than I am, from a business standpoint I made the right decision, but I am kind of jealous that I turned it down because it would’ve been a really fun job to have.

Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s great.

Alex Grand: And there’s other covers, right? Terminal City covers. In both series you had provided covers for both series of that, and the architecture was awesome. Jonny Double covers, you had great camera angle cinematics. So are movies, like cinematography in movies, does that factor in to your layouts of covers?

Mark Chiarello: I would probably say yes. I’m a big movie nut. I think the movies that we watch, the TV shows we watch, they all make such an impression on us, and as an artist I like to tap into that. I’ll watch a Netflix show that’s awful, but the cinematography’s usually really good and you’ll say, “Oh my God, look how beautiful that shot it.” I think most artists are like that. From Frank Miller to Tim Sale to Mike Mignola, we’re all movie nuts.

Alex Grand: Movie nuts, yeah.

Jim Thompson: And I just want to say, it’s not just cinematography, but in looking at that Jonny Double and some of the other things that you do, I see some Saul Bass influence as well.

Mark Chiarello: Oh, I love Saul Bass. Yeah, I’m such a big fan. There was a German artist named Ludwig Hohlwein, who I really love his stuff. He unfortunately worked during the Nazi days, but his imagery was gorgeous and he wasn’t a Nazi, but that really influenced me quite a bit, his work.

Alex Grand: I see.

Jim Thompson: Oh, that’s interesting.

Alex Grand: So, now, turning to Batman. Batman seems to be very linked with your career at DC, so tell us about starting the Batman black and white book in 1996.

Mark Chiarello: I’d be working at DC, and I’d be the art director, and I was overlooking a lot of the art, meeting young artists, and getting new talent, and everything that the job involved was a full-time job, but Paul Levitz or Dan DiDio, every now and then, they’d say, “Hey, we want you to edit something. Why don’t you come up with a special project?” So I pitched this book, I figured I was a really big fan of the old black and white, creepy and eerie, the Warren stuff, which Jim mentioned earlier, the Ditko stuff. I really love anthologies, and I’m dumb enough to think that everybody loves anthology. So I figured, okay, so if you have an anthology and you have the greatest character ever in comics, Batman, then you hire the best artists and writers, it’s got to be a hit. It’s a no brainer.

Mark Chiarello: And I pitched it to Paul, and Paul was like, “Well, we don’t really have success with black and white comics.” And I think the most recent one was a John Byrne, I want to say, [inaudible 00:46:47] black and white.

Jim Thompson: Yep.

Alex Grand: Yeah, there’s four issues of that. Yeah.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, and John who’s an incredible artist and has an incredibly big following, it sold good because John’s reputation carried it along, but it didn’t sell what they wanted it to sell.

Mark Chiarello: So, like a moron, I went and pleaded and cried and told Paul Levitz I would wash his car for a year and stuff, and he finally acquiesced and he let me do it, and it became an incredibly successful series. We eventually started Batman black and white statues through DC Collectibles, and they just did their 100th. I’m pretty proud of that, and all of the great artists and writers I got to work with. Man, that’s one of the highlights of my life, for sure.

Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s great. And you also edited Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke, and that was Darwyn’s first major work. Is that correct?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, pretty much. I’ll tell a long story really quickly, if I may. In the mornings I’d go have a cup of coffee with a good friend of mine, Scott Peterson, who was working in the Batman office, he and Denny O’Neil worked together. So I’d sit with Scott in the morning, I’d buy him a coffee, and I’d go sit and chat. And I bought him a coffee, and one morning he had in the corner of his office, he had this stack of manila envelopes that was literally five feet tall. Like if you’d looked at it would’ve fallen over, it was so many. I said, “What’s all this crap?” And he said, “Well, those are submissions. It’s my month to be the guy who goes through our submissions.” And he’s like, “But I just can’t bring myself to do it.” He’s like, “Why don’t you take them?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to.”

Mark Chiarello: They were all those manila envelopes, and towards the very bottom was a black envelope, and I said, “Hey, watch this.” And you know that trick where the magician pulls the table cloth off the table and all the plates and glasses stay where they were?

Alex Grand: Right. Oh, you did that with the black envelope?

Mark Chiarello: I did that with the black envelope. I pulled it and all of those submissions, all those envelopes went flying all over his office and Scott got mad at me. He said, “Pick those up,” and I ran out of the office with my black envelope as a joke. And I got back to my office and I actually, I’m not making this story up, it’s verbatim, I swear it happened. So I sat in my office with this black envelope and I opened it up. “Oh, I wonder what this it.” And most submissions you get at Marvel and DC and the big companies, they’re really not that great. They’re always earnestly draw, but there’s not much talent there, and this was this incredible pitch for a Batman story that had pitch illustrations, and the synopsis for the story, and I literally sat there and read it and looked around the office like, how is this possible? This is incredible.

Mark Chiarello: So I looked at it and it had the guys name and phone number, and it was some guy in Canada name Darwyn Cooke. So I picked up the phone and I called this guy Darwyn Cooke, and I got him and he was sort of a bit surprised that someone was calling him from DC, and I said, “I want to publish this thing. I’d have to run it through channels, but I think we’d go for this. Would you want to do it?” And he said, “Oh, shit.” He said, “I’m moving to California in two weeks. I just took a job with Bruce Tim at Warner Brother Animation to work on the Batman cartoon.” He said, “But when I’m done, I would really love to do it.”

Mark Chiarello: So, that’s what happened. He went and worked with the genius Bruce, and then we did Ego right after that, when he got back.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s awesome. So you realized right away how good he was, it sounds like.

Mark Chiarello: Man, you knew it dude. You knew it right away. People love his artwork, and I ended up working with Darwyn on quite a few projects but, to me, I loved his artwork too, but I think he’s even a better writer than an artist. I think he’s one of the great, great, great writers in comic history. I really, really do.

Alex Grand: Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I’m going to ask you about New Frontier in a few minutes because it’s one of my favorite superhero books of all time.

Alex Grand: So, let’s see. Now, Batman: Hush, that was in the issue 608 to 619 in 2002, it has its own animated movie now. You introduced Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee together and got it started, isn’t that correct?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, they knew each other because they were both really big shots in the comics industry and they knew each other and… God, it’s a long story. I apologize.

Alex Grand: No, that’s okay.

Jim Thompson: We love long stories.

Mark Chiarello: And by the way, I’m still speeding on coffee. So I know I’ll speed through this story. DC, Warner Brothers, bought Wildstorm. Jim came over, DC and Warner Brothers, and did Jim’s incredible job running stuff, and although the many hats that Jim was wearing and does wear, but being friendly with Paul Levitz, I knew that Paul really wanted Jim to also draw for DC. He wanted him to be in managerial, but he also wanted him as an art director for a lot of stuff, but he also wanted Jim to draw some stuff. Like I said, I’ve always read into this, but I think Paul never wanted to actually ask Jim to do it. Say, “Hey, could you also draw for us, too?” For some reason he just didn’t want to go there. I don’t know why. You can figure out the psychology of that I’m sure.

Mark Chiarello: So, like an idiot, one day I come out to California once in a while to do business, and I was having lunch with Jeff, who I’d work with through Tim Sale. I was having breakfast with Jeff, and we had a great breakfast, we were chatting, and I said, “Man, I got to tell you. I was talking to Jim Lee and he just reveres your work. He thinks you’re the best writer in comics. He said he would love to do something with you, but he’s kind shy about it. He doesn’t want to ask you.” And you sort of saw it on Jeff’s face, “Hm, interesting.” And then, four hours later I was in Jim’s office, when I was in La Jolla, San Diego at Wildstorm, before they moved. I was in Jim’s office talking business, and by the way, what I said to Jeff was that I had never talked to Jim about. I just thought I’d be Machiavellian, and I am Sicilian, so that kind of goes, and I did the same exact thing to Jim. I said to him, “Hey, Jeff Loeb really loves your stuff.” They both fell for it, and my work there was done. I think they had four issues in the can before they even started publishing the book. It was really kind of cool.

Mark Chiarello: I’m real proud of that because at that time, people were really questioning whether comic books periodicals were going to exist because everybody wanted to do graphic novels and special format stuff, and I love comics. I love the periodicals. I hope they’re always around, and I’m really proud that Jim and Jeff’s Hush book really reinvigorated the monthly comic book, to a degree.

Alex Grand: Right. There was a lot of excitement about that story.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, and then a lot of artists and writers said, “Wow, that’s cool. I want to write regular comics, too.”

Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s right.

Jim Thompson: All right. So, I’m going to go off script for a couple of minutes and just nerd out on a few things I wanted to ask you, and then get back on track. Can we talk about Alex Toth for a few minutes?

Mark Chiarello: Sure.

Jim Thompson: Because you were actually friends with him, weren’t you?

Mark Chiarello: Very good friends, yeah, for about 15, 16 years.

Jim Thompson: Yeah. See, that’s special because not everybody certainly doesn’t have that duration of friendship with him. Talk about that. When did you guy become friends?

Mark Chiarello: Right after college George Pratt who I mentioned, he knew I was a Toth nut because he was too, and we’d, “Oh, did you ever see this comic? Did you ever see that comic?” George said, “You can write to Toth. He lives in California and he loves corresponding with people. He’s not big on the phone, but if you write him a letter, I bet you he would write you back.” And I was like, “Oh my God, really?”

Mark Chiarello: So I wrote a letter. I wrote this ridiculous fanboy, “Dear Mister Toth, you’re God and I worship… ” I’m sure it was awful, but he wrote back to me on a postcard. He was really notorious for his postcards he would write in really small print on the back, really this very neat print on the back of the postcard, and he wrote, “I really liked your letter. Sure, I’d love to correspond with you. Send me another long letter, kiddo, and we’ll chat about stuff.” And it was a good friendship. I mean, yeah, Alex is really famous for being bipolar and turning on his friends eventually, which happened to me to a degree, but I had a lot of good years in there.

Mark Chiarello: He would do the coolest thing. If he sent you a postcard, if you got a postcard in the mail, which I saved, I have all of them, I have hundreds of them, but he’d write you letters, too, and he’d write it on stationary and what he would do is, he always kept a sketchbook, but like the kind your mom has. Just smaller white paper that you rip a page out and you send it. So had dozens of those that he would just, all day long, he would sit and sketch in and do these drawings. So when he would send me a letter in an envelope, he would take five, 10, 20 of those pages and fold them and put them in with the letter. So I’ve got, Jesus, I’d say 300 of those sketch pages. I put them in a portfolio, and I looked through this portfolio, and I’m just like, how lucky was I that I knew this guy? My artistic hero, I was friends with this guy.

Jim Thompson: Wow. He’s my favorite. I mean, he’s just the most interesting, innovative one and I wish he had a bigger following. Have you ever thought of doing anything with that work? Making it accessible to other people?

Mark Chiarello: I have. A pal down in North Carolina, a guy named John Hitchcock, also corresponded with him, and John did put a book together of all the sketches he had, and I thought about it and one of my very best friends, a guy out here named Ruben Procopio, sweetest guy on the planet, he was really, really, really good friend with Toth because he lived in the same town. So he would go take Toth groceries and they were incredibly close, and when Alex passed away, Alex had… I’m sorry. Back up for a second. I would go visit Alex once a year, after San Diego Con I would drive up to L.A. and then go spend the day with Alex, and it was nine, 10 hours sitting on his couch just talking.

Alex Grand: Oh, that’s cool.

Mark Chiarello: Oh my God. You’re sitting with God. It was bizarre, and he was really knowledgeable about every topic under the sun, and I remember one time he had this portfolio by the side of his table. He lived in the Hollywood Hills, this gorgeous house, but anyway. You know those portfolios that are sort of like boxes? They’re rectangular, but there’s the hinges, and you open the top and the top opens up? He had this art portfolio leaning against the coffee table, and the first four or five times I went I kept eyeballing it, and it always stayed in the corner on the table.

Mark Chiarello: And one day I said, “Alex, you know I really want to look in that portfolio. Let me look.” And he laughed, and he said, “Yeah, go ahead.” And he had all this stuff in the portfolio that was never published work. Stories that he had started and drawn maybe four pages of and then given up on or stuff that no one had ever seen, and it was really cool to look through, and when I was done I put it away and I thanked him. But when he passed, Ruben got that portfolio and he still has it to this day, and Ruben and I have always talked about, “Man, we should publish that stuff,” because we’re both still very close friends with Alex’s kids, and I’m sure they would let us do it and the profits would go to them, obviously.

Jim Thompson: Oh, I would love to see that.

Mark Chiarello: Well, I thought it would be really cool and maybe I’ll get around to it someday. I thought it’d be cool to publish that stuff in a nice, slightly oversized book, but then if I were to take one of those sketchbook pages and tip it into the front of each copy, and sell it for more, and again the money would go to the Toth kids. Like a deluxe version of it, that way you’d get this cool book, but you’d also get an original Alex Toth drawing in it.

Jim Thompson: I will start saving now for that.

Mark Chiarello: I’ll send you one for free, how’s that?

Alex Grand: There you go.

Jim Thompson: I would take it. Wow.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I would love to eventually do that. I mean, because what’s going to happen to that stuff? I’m going to look through it every now and then and get a lot of joy from it, and then sell it eventually. I’d rather people have it, you know?

Alex Grand: Yeah.

Jim Thompson: I am so glad I asked you that question. This is so fun for me to listen to you tell this story. That’s just great. A couple other things-

Mark Chiarello: I’m glad you’re a Toth fan. I love when people say Alex because so many people say Jack Kirby.

Alex Grand: Oh, yeah, but Toth wasn’t all tied up in superheroes either.

Jim Thompson: I love that story where Kirby had Toth come over for a barbecue and they sat there and neither one of them knew at all what the other one was talking about, in terms of their methods.

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, that stories being attributed to me because I did that, I think, it was on the Alex Toth documentary, but I don’t want to tell the same stories over and over again, but man, that story cracks me up.

Jim Thompson: Yeah, I thought it was hilarious.

Mark Chiarello: Can you not picture Jack Kirby and Alex Toth sitting in Kirby’s backyard, at the swimming pool? Can you picture those two titans talking about comic books? Holy shit!

Alex Grand: Yeah, huge.

Jim Thompson: I would like to see a reenactment of that, because it’s such a visual moment and the fun of writing that dialogue. It would just be great.

Mark Chiarello: It really would.

Jim Thompson: So, there’s a few things that came out over DC that I wondered if you had your fingerprints on to some degree, just because I thought they were such visual treat. One was, after 52 the series came out, the release of the covers book, which was so well packaged. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought I would ever buy just that book of covers, but those were magnificent week after week. Did you have any thoughts about that?

Mark Chiarello: Yeah, I was good friends with JG Jones who, when I lived in New Jersey he lived in the next town over. We’d hang out a lot and he was one of those artists that always had his sketchbook with him, like always, and he would show me these little sketches he was doing, I guess it was 52 covers in a row. One a week, for a whole year.

Jim Thompson: It’s amazing!

Mark Chiarello: It’s amazing! Honestly, the amazing thing about that is the quality of each of these covers was so… Oh my God. He killed it. He really nailed it, and to do one a week for a year is just an impossible task. So I called him and we were chatting on the phone and I said, “I’m going to pitch doing a book of collecting all these covers and all your little sketches.” He goes, “Yeah, I’d love to do that.” And then an hour later Dan DiDio walked in my office and said, “Hey, we should do a book collecting all of JG’s covers.” And I was like, “That’s a good idea. We’ll do that.” And then the editor, I apologize, I forget who the editor was, the next day said, “Hey, we should do a book of all JG’s covers.”

Mark Chiarello: So, again, yes it was my idea, but I didn’t take credit for it.

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