Simonson broke into comics in the 1970's, and has since
become one of the best writer/artists in the field.
With his distinct, graphic style, Simonson's work
stands out from the crowd.
He has worked on titles for Marvel, DC, Dark
Horse, Malibu, and Top Cow.
Those include Battlestar
vs. Terminator, Fantastic
with his wife Louise Simonson, and his acclaimed run on Thor
in the 1980's; he also drew the covers for John Byrne's
run on New Gods
and Jack Kirby's
Fourth World; afterwards, he
worked with Michael Moorcock on the series Michael
With the late Archie Goodwin, Simonson worked on
stories for DC and the comic adaptation of Alien
for Heavy Metal.
His series Star
Slammers was one of the early creator-owned works.
latest work is the Orion
ongoing comic series.
Already he has packed the first five issues with
action, mystery, and the long-awaited fight between
Darkseid and Orion, father and son.
this interview conducted at Midtown Comics in New York
City on August 16, 2000, Simonson talked about comics,
influences, dinosaurs, and of course, Orion.
On this occasion, Walt was promoting Orion
In spite of signing books, doing sketches, and
conversations, Walt was able to be very forthcoming
about himself and his work, and…his degree in
did you first discover comics?
than I can really remember.
I read comics as a kid; my brother and I had
subscriptions to Walt Disney Comic Book Stories.
I was a big Carl Barks fan--I mean, I was ten
years old and knew Carl Barks' stuff.
So, I read them from when I was pretty young on,
but I do not remember my first comic.
My friends all read comics as well.
We all had them.
had an interest in Paleontology before turning to art.
I was a major in Geology in college.
I did a degree project in vertebrate
Paleontology. I wanted to study dinosaurs but while
working on my thesis, I realized that maybe this was not
what I wanted to do professionally.
I still love dinosaurs and I keep track of all
the discoveries, but I learned that drawing comics is
more fun for me than being out there under the hot sun,
with the black flies all around, whisk-brooming off rock
dust and using dental picks.
So I decided maybe something else would be a
wiser choice for me.
did you study Paleontology?
was at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
I studied Mammalian fossils because that was the
nature of the college collection; I was more interested
Anyway, I decided not to go in that direction.
was Biology and I switched to Art.
I have a degree in Bio, but people ask, "Why
did you change?"
I mean, I like to draw!
I had two interests; dinosaurs and drawing from
In the end, I didn't really develop a new
interest, I just went back to an old one.
that can explain all the dinosaurs that pop up in your
I haven't put that many dinosaurs in my comics;
people know of my interest and they assume a lot more in
my comics than there are.
It's not every comic I have a dinosaur in,
except, of course, for my signature.
have a very distinct style.
Who were your influences?
man, how much tape have you got?
maybe two or three of them?
were the usual American guys who influenced my
generation, guys like Kirby and Ditko; a lot of the
Marvel artists. Gil Kane too.
I knew a lot of those guys' works.
Other big influences would be Jim Holdaway; he
was the artist on the newspaper strip Modesty
No longer living--died young, forty-five, back in
A phenomenal black and white artist, a phenomenal
storyteller; huge influence on my work.
A lot of European artists--Moebius, Mezieres of
France; Palacios from Spain; Toppi from Italy.
A lot of foreign graphic novels were available
over here in the early 1970's about when I got into
I studied many of them, and a lot of those guys
were very influential.
You can say I'm eclectically influenced.
first time you worked as both writer and artist?
the first time was when I worked on Battlestar
Galactica [Marvel's comic series].
worked on that?
I was the artist on about half the run of that book.
Ernie Colan did the first five issues; I took
over for a couple, then got off to do Alien
for Heavy Metal,
the graphic novel.
That took five months.
Then I went back and finished up the run on Battlestar
So, out of the run of twenty-three issues, or
whatever it was, I probably pencilled about half of
Klaus Janson inked them, and I began writing it
with, I think, issue #19.
I did four of the last five issues, and that was
my first writing in comics.
back at Thor now, years later, what are your
feelings about your run on the series?
You did some pretty wild things with the
run on the series?
it was great work. [Laughs]
of your best-known works was Star
Have you tried to bring the series back, and how
did it come about?
my thesis in art school.
After I graduated college with my Geology degree,
I went back to college as in Art as an Illustration
major, at the Rhode Island School of Design.
I did the Star
Slammers as a degree project, really over two years.
It was a fifty-page comic which I wrote,
pencilled, lettered, and inked.
Came out black and white, sort of an ashcan
publication; printed on an offset press in a guy's
basement as a promotion for the Washington Science
Fiction Association for their World Con bid back in '74.
I did a graphic novel in the early 80's, creator
owned through Marvel, and then eventually a five-issue
limited series that began at Malibu and then finished up
at Dark Horse in the early 90's.
So, I go back to it once in a while, when I can
squeeze it in.
I've got more stories to tell, but I haven't been
able to do them yet.
worked with the late Archie Goodwin several times,
and the comic adaptation of Alien.
What do you remember the most about working with
how good he was.
He was tremendously good as a writer; he was a
tremendously good editor, tremendously good cartoonist.
He had all the gifts, which meant that working
with him was just really a pleasure because he
understood everything, and he understood it really well.
As it happened, the two of us became close
I said in the afterward of the Manhunter
book [the Manhunter
collection trade paperback released recently by DC],
that we had a chemistry together.
I've worked with a lot of other really good
writers and artists, but I haven't worked with anybody
that I could fit together better with than I did with
And that's really the best I can say.
loved the Robocop
vs. Terminator mini-series you and Frank Miller
did that come about?
I mean, it was fantastic!
called me up out of the blue, said, "Look, I'm
writing this Robocop/Terminator
series for Dark Horse."
I was just getting off Fantastic
Four at Marvel, my last work at Marvel.
Didn't have anything lined up at the time.
Frank and I--I've known Frank for years; we've
shared studio space in New York for a while back in the
early to mid 80's.
And we always wanted to work together, but never
had the chance.
So when he called me up out of the blue I jumped
That's really how it happened.
of comics based on famous films: Star
You worked on that.
How many issues did you do?
a year and a half--seventeen, eighteen issues, something
I did layouts for it, Tom Palmer did finishes,
and David Micheline was the writer.
I began it right after the second movie [The
Empire Strikes Back] came out.
I worked on it between the second and third
was the best thing about working on Star Wars, and what
was the worst?
working on media properties frequently means a lot of
sweating trying to get likenesses done.
Back then, it was more like just doing comics.
They were a little worried that we might actually
tell a meaningful story about the principal characters
instead of waiting for the next movie, but mostly, it
was just doing a comic of Star
The good thing about it was that we liked the
characters and we had fun; David was an excellent
writer, I enjoyed working with him.
Tom Palmer was a phenomenal inker.
His young son, Tommy, now all grown up, was a
huge Star Wars
Tommy--he was five or six at the time--used to
critique his father's work, and if the Millenium
Falcon was not right, Tom would hear about it.
That was one of the funnier things about working
on Star Wars.
We had an expert available.
is your latest series.
It is set in the universe of the New Gods, but
why is the primary focus Orion himself?
partly because my feeling is that the primary focus is
one of the things I liked about Jack's original New
You go back--not the ones that have come since
Jack, but during Jack's original series--the New
Gods comic was the adventures of Orion and his buddy
DC didn't want to use the name "New
Gods" again, because they just used it when John
Byrne was doing the series and they changed it, and I
think they felt they didn't want to go back to the old
name quite so quickly.
So I suggested, "Well, I'm just going to be
doing my version of Jack's new Gods--the actual New Gods
Let's just call it Orion", and they were
game to do that.
It also indicates to a potential reader who the
book is focused on.
Gives the central character as the title.
taken on character created by Jack Kirby.
When did you first discover the New Gods?
the first issue of Jimmy
Olsen the day it came out.
I bought every one of those comics on the day
they came out, back in the early 70's.
the recent revamp of New
Gods, which both you and John Byrne worked on, what
was the idea behind the background stories done in some
of the issues?
I did one backup story that was four parts.
I liked the character Kanto; he was a very minor
character in Mister
Miracle; as far as I know, he had only two
appearances in Jack's issues.
I thought it would be interesting to give him an
He was a minor enough character that it didn't
really matter much, it wouldn't screw anything up.
I think John was the one who suggested the idea
that Kanto's name could be a ceremonial name for
Darkseid's assassin, as though it were a brand name
rather than the guy's specific name.
So I went from there and worked out an origin.
It came out well.
#3 had on the cover the blurb,
"Town Without Pity".
Is that an in-joke of sorts relating to Sin
it's an older in-joke than that.
"Town Without Pity" was a pop hit back
probably in the 60's by a singer named Gene Pitney.
It was also, I think, the name of a movie of the
presume, although I don't know for certain, that the
song came from the film.
In any case, it's the song title I was using
rather than a reference to Sin
with Frank's job in the issue, I shall claim a
just four issues of Orion…
five, five! Five's
out today! [Laughs]
brought back in Darkseid, the Anti-Life Equation,
Orion's parentage, Tigra's death, the Newsboy Legion…a
lot of other characters and events familiar to long-time
fans of the New Gods.
But new readers can just jump right in and get acquainted
with it right away.
that's my hope anyway.
I tried to write it in a way that it both partook
of all the old stuff so that the long-time readers would
recognize it. But
I've tried to write it so new readers can start fresh
and be introduced to all that stuff as they went along.
I've had a couple of comments from people where
it's "Yeah, but the first couple of issues took a
long time to get started".
However, going back and looking at it, there's
like eight million things in the first two issues!
How much more stuff do you need?
I think what they were really responding to was
wasn't a comic you could zip through in three seconds
without reading it carefully.
There's so much stuff in it; it was pretty dense.
have to go back and read it again and again…
at least read it carefully, because if you're trying to
read it in three seconds, you're not going to get it.
So in that sense, I'm presuming a readership that
actually reads with some deliberation.
In the first couple of issues, I was also trying
to present a lot of stuff that will help set up some
future storylines as well as introduce the basic
think the later issues simplify out a bit, once I got
Issue #5, which came out today, has all of two
word balloons in it.
It's not the chattiest comic I've ever written.
However, a lot of sound effects!
far, you've had Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, and Howard
Chaykin illustrating backup stories for Orion.
Can you tell us who else will be doing backup
Stephenson wrote one that Eric Larson pencilled and Al
Gordon inked; Jeph Loeb wrote one that Rob Liefeld
pencilled, inked by Norm Rapmund.
Who else do we have down the line--John Paul Leon
is doing a story that'll be in issue #11, an eight page
Adams will be in Orion #10.
Mike Mignola's busy right now but will do one
when he can squeeze it in.
Those are the creators that I've actually got
that are in the works.
There are a couple of guys I've called to ask
about doing backups for future issues, but I haven't
gotten them plots yet, so I'm reluctant to name names,
but that's the score so far.
can we expect in later issues of Orion?
minor spoilers…If you haven't read issue #5, you
should stop right now.
issue #5, which is now out, Orion and Darkseid fight,
and it's a big fight.
It's Orion's book, so Orion wins.
Darkseid is dead, the same way characters are
dead in comics all the time; he's toast.
And that means Orion takes over Apokolips as the
new ruler. Of
course, he's going to bring goodness and enlightenment
to Apokolips; that's what good guys do.
But this is Apokolips--it doesn't work like that.
So that's where my stories are going to go.
you do the New Gods, when you do them for a while, you
have to have an Orion/Darkseid conflict.
It's like doing Thor--do
awhile, you have to do a Ragnarok story [In Norse
mythology, the final battle that will end the world].
In the three and a half years I wrote Thor,
I did Ragnarok twice; it's such a great story.
it’s the same sort of thing.
Orion vs. Darkseid is basic.
And I decided to get it out of the way first.
It took me four issues to set up the fight, so
that people who have not read these characters before
would be able to read these four issues and the fight
would make sense, rather than just being a continuation
of some story that's thirty years old.
So I did a four-issue story that set up the
fight, issue #5 is the fight, and now, I can take the
character of Orion places no one has seen him go before.
now, you have to have the story after
happens after the good guy wins.
I'm structuring Orion the way I did Thor
-- which is, say, one long story which is broken
down into short story arcs; one, two, three, four-issue
story arcs. Basically,
this is just the introduction of my long story arc.
It'll probably run about a year and a half-long,
maybe longer if the book keeps going.
And I've got a big story arc after that which
will use some of the elements I'm introducing now.
I've got some long range plans--please buy this
comic and make those dreams come true!!
of sales…right now, how is Orion
doing in the market?
know, I have no clue.
I haven't actually talked to DC about it in
overall sales in comics are so different from what they
were say, in the mid 80's, when I was doing Thor.
And the early 90's, which I don't count as
exactly 'real', was a nutty time.
Sales on individual titles now are far less than
they were back in the early to mid 80's.
So, I don't have any basis for judgement right
now as to what's good or what's bad.
I see books selling 30,000 copies and people are
happy about that. But
I really don't know, I haven't asked them about it.
I probably will one of these days--I'll ask the
tough question. However,
we've been given a go-ahead to start commissioning
back-ups beyond Orion
#12 so I'm really pleased about that.
There's even a possibility of an Orion trade
paperback reprint of some of the early issues but that's
ONLY a possibility at present.
there any other projects you have in mind, or is Orion
just it for now?
right now, Orion
is it. Doing
a monthly comic really fills up all my time.
I have an eight-part Star
Slammers story sitting around that I would love to
do down the road. Maybe
wraps up, that's the next thing I try and work out.
I've got other comics, ideas in the works as
well, mostly creator owned stuff, and I might go hunt
some of that stuff up and see if I can find some place
to publish it. But
who knows? The
eight-part story of the Star
Slammers is kind of a sequel to the five-part series
that Malibu and Dark Horse put out.
It's that same character, Old Rojas, and it tells
Rojas' search for his dead wife.
That's the story I'd like to tell next…
there been any plans to do a follow-up book to The
Art of Walter Simonson?
that I know of. The
Art of Walter Simonson, along with the Manhunter
reprint book, pretty much reprints all of my earlier
works at DC, from 1972 to 1980, plus the new Manhunter
story I did a couple years ago.
I worked at Marvel for seventeen years, from the
mid to late 70's up until about 1990, 1991.
After that, I've kind of bounced around a lot,
worked for Top Cow, a little work for Image, a little
work for Dark Horse, Malibu, DC.
Now I'm at DC, now I work for DC steadily.
But all that's pretty recent, so there's not much
stuff to reprint yet beyond the original book.
At least for the time being, that's probably the
only Art of
Walter Simonson we'll see.
See me again in another fifteen years, and maybe
there will be a new reprint.
And I've got my fingers crossed for Orion.
both you and your wife, Louise Simonson, worked on the X-Men
books several years ago.
You did the X-Men/Teen
Titans crossover in the mid 80's…What's your
opinion of the X-Men
it or not, I only saw the movie a couple of days ago.
I really enjoyed it.
Thought it did a nice job of being true to the
spirit of the comic, and concentrating on a few
characters rather than trying to fit a zillion of 'em
into the story. The
leads for Wolverine and Rogue were spot on and I'm
always willing to watch old pros like Ian McKellan and
Patrick Stewart pretty much do anything.
I also thought the writing did a nice job of
introducing the X-Men to a civilian audience too.
Given Marvel's track record with movies, it's
probably even more stunning that the movie was so nicely
you Walt Simonson for letting us turn your brain to