Just a quick note before I continue with what I now know to be part two of three of this translated Leonardi interview. It is REALLY hard to choose pages to show. Similar to someone like John Romita Jr so much of Leonardi's strength is in his story telling so rather than grabbing splashes, I've tried to reflect what for me is the best of Leonardi. It's also become apparent to me doing this that, to date, His Batgirl run is the best run of comics he's done. The writing's nice, his art is great, Jesse Delperdang's inks are a perfect fit, Jason Wrights colours are gorgeous. Now I'm already starting to debate with myself (but what about Spider-Man 2099?) but I'll leave it there.
DOLMEN: You also did an issue of Fantastic Four 2009
LEONARDI: I think it was an attempt to clarify a little the whole history of the 2099 universe. I think the whole 2099 universe was created against the opinion of a lot of professionals. The problem with stories set in the future is that if they have the smallest success, the reader begins to assume that its the future that awaits their characters and that its something fixed and unchangeable. For example, if Miguel is the son of Peter Parker and there’s an issue of Amazing Spider-Man in which he apparently dies, the fans will know that its not true because he still hasn’t had this son that they know he’s going to have. The reason expressed against stories set in the future is they undermine dramatic possibilities, which is really nonsense, as no-one ever said that this was necessarily the future timeline of what we know as the real Marvel Universe.
DOLMEN: Its funny to think that Tom DeFalco was against stories set in the future because he’d later be the main architect of another future Marvel Universe, Spider-Girl’s, which he’s been with for eight years.
LEONARDI: Well, to me at least, they always said it was Tom himself who was against the 2099 Universe. In any case, whoever moved the strings to finish the series would be someone in the upper levels because those types of decisions are made there.
I believe that the main prejudice against future stories comes from Dark Knight, Frank Miller’s mini series which gives us an old Batman and although in theory it didn’t influence the Batman of the present, many writers began to write stories which appeared to be inspired more by Dark Knight than by what Batman had been until then. I don’t think this is Miller’s fault, rather a lack of imagination of those writers.
DOLMEN: Changing the subject a little, you did a few stories for Marvel Comics Presents. Were they part of your unconcerned attitude for working on a career or was it just what they offered you?
LEONARDI: A little of everything. On the other hand they were stories that looked interesting, remembering that they were eight pages and had to be done relatively quickly as the series was weekly. It was excellent training to learn to draw faster…
DOLMEN: Did you not have some kind of safety net of time just in case one day your sick or something?
LEONARDI: You had a little time in reserve but not too much. It was a very immediate job, much more than your classic monthly book. With a comic book of 22 pages I’m almost paralysed until I get to the most important part of the story and I structure everything from there while the episodic nature of a serial stops you thinking in terms of the climax, which hasn’t necessarily even been written yet. You have to focus on a different kind of urgency.
DOLMEN: In Marvel Comics Presents you drew a Colossus story along with Ann Nocenti which was also inked by P Craig Russell and was one of your best works of that peridod. Would you agree?
LEONARDI: Craig Russell’s inks are magnificent: he’s a genius. He’s one of the few artists in this industry who looks out of the window. When I draw a tree, I try to get them to look like trees. I lived in the East when I drew most of those pages and a big part of the nature that I drew was what I was out my window. There are a lot of artists who have never left New York and the only tree they know how to draw is a Christmas tree.
Ann is a really interesting writer. Almost unique. She never begins a story because of a character or an interesting idea, rather because of a message. She’ll then fit the message to the character and from there, arrive at the point of the story.
In the Colossus story she uses the nature of Colossus as a citizen of the Soviet Union to underline the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of American society and to a certain extent I believe that in the same way she was critical to American society she should also be aware of the problems of Soviet society. Colossus isn’t an idiot and he couldn’t say that he wasn’t aware of Soviet totalitarianism or of the injustices committed in his own country, but in this case I think that what you can see is that the way Ann writes is a bit of a cheat.
I think in Daredevil (another series that we worked together on) she got it; to explore psychological aspects of the character, like in the story which she uses the blindness of the character and his ability to penetrate the psyche of the people around him.
To be sure, when Ann gives importance to combining the message and the character, she has a really good story, but when both aren’t strong, the thing doesn’t end up working.
DOLMEN: Do you think Ann Nocenti’s way of working is compatible with superhero comics, with the current market?
LEONARDI: There are always independent publishers that publish all kinds of material. I think there are a lot of independent publishers and this means you can get to readers no problem. Today they publish more than 500 comics a month and a store has to carefully select which books they’re going to order and if they order a book no-one’s going to buy, they’re stuck with it. This is a problem with a difficult solution, but it means that a few works go almost un-noticed though they’re of high quality.
I believe Ann has pretty much abandoned the world of comics and is the editor of some magazine (High Times, a magazine related to marijuana and drug culture).
DOLMEN: There’s a moment in your career when you start to work for independent publishers like Event Comics, for whom you did Painkiller Jane. What brought you into contact with Quesada and Palmiotti?
LEONARDI: They had a great reputation and they went on the adventure of creating their own characters and they invited me to work with them. Obviously I can’t comment about the character. I think it was a character with a few possibilities…
DOLMEN: The Punisher with tits?
LEONARDI: (laughs)Yeah, they never described it to me like that. More than anything it was an experiment in working for someone that wasn’t Marvel or DC. It was enjoyable, Brian Augustyn is a great guy, married with kids, goes to church on Sunday who now runs a publisher of comics with Christian content. This was the guy who was writing Painkiller Jane so our level of commitment was similar. You’ll put me in an uncomfortable position if you ask about the Vampirella/Painkiller Jane crossover…
DOLMEN: Basically, I don’t want to be unkind but as you already said it, why the hell did you do that comic?
LEONARDI: Because I needed the money! (laughs)
DOLMEN: Another slightly risky question is how come you didn’t get more fixed work at Marvel when Quesada was made Editor in Chief, having worked with Quesada and Palmiotti in their own company?
LEONARDI: Yeah, that’s a question I’d also like to know the answer to. It’s interesting that you’re asking too. I’m not going to answer directly but I’ll tell you a story. Three years ago, I think it was at the Philadelphia comic convention, the night before at the launch party. There was a small private party for invited guests. In this bar there were two groups of people around two different people; Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. Both were sat at two different tables with their backs to each other without speaking or looking at each other. I suppose there are things that happen in all businesses (Rick’s talking about the moment when Palmiotti and Quesada broke up their personal relationship and stopped working together on Marvel Knights. Although there’s a kind of unspoken agreement around the topic, its evident that whoever sat at the wrong table didn’t get work at Marvel).
DOLMEN: Let’s talk a little about Rampaging Hulk. What was it like working with Glen Greenberg?
LEONARDI: He was a really young guy for that at the time, a guy who had been an editor and still had a lot of fan about him. I suppose that they gave him the job as he’d read every comic published and knew the past of the character, but I think more than that a good writer’s necessary.
To understand the creation of The Rampaging Hulk you have to remember that at the time Peter David wrote The Incredible Hulk and as we’ve already said, it’s Peter’s style to make the protagonist the smartest guy in the place. What we had was a character who was not only one of the strongest beings on the planet but who also wasn’t one of the most intelligent. The fans were divided into those who followed Peter in everything he did on the series and those who wanted to return to classic Hulk forever, ‘Hulk Smash’ Hulk. So, Marvel decided to resurrect the old Hulk for the fans who missed him.
DOLMEN: Did it not have anything to do with the interest Marvel had in selling Hollywood a cinematic adaptation and wanting to show them a classic version of the character?
LEONARDI: Could be. Its definitely a good theory and I wouldn’t be the one to say its not the real reason. It would definitely explain why it only lasted six issues when we were planning a much longer run. If their main idea was to show the original idea (a kind of mix of Jeckyll and Hyde with super powers) it would work and to sell Ang Lee the project. Once sold, it wouldn’t make sense to continue with the series.
Dolmen: Another interesting fact about The Rampaging Hulk is that it’s the first time you wrote a story on one of your comics, or at least the first time you’re credited for your part in the story. How did that come about?
Leonardi: Basically what happened is that Terry Kavanagh, the editor, told us that the series was cancelled at number six and that we should try to wrap it as neatly as possible. Greenburg had been let go at issue four and an idea occurred to us for what we thought would be issues six and seven of the series. Later they told us no, the series would only last one issue more and we had to condense the story to one issue. I think it was Terry who suggested the base the story on a Navajo reserve and it just so happened that I’d been reading a lot about the Navajo culture at the time and their ceremonies. So I started to suggest things that could happen in the story (the psychodrama etc) and I think the funny thing is that it worked well as a description of the motivations of the character.
Dolmen: The main problem with Peter David’s Hulk is that while it’s a good comic, it leaves out the basic principal of the Hulk, which is little more than how we handle the violence we have inside us and the different ways to express it…
Leonardi: What a sentence! I think I’m not going to sleep tonight thinking about that (laughs). Seriously, you’ve got a point. This would bring us to talk about the amount of things comics can do for the reader while entertaining. Just the other day in conversation we were talking about the role of the comic book in real life. Its not so much that comics can tell us what would happen if Reed Richards discovered a cure for cancer. Rather the function that comics can assume symbolically to educate the reader or make them aware of a certain problem. This is terrain we should explore, to find something that enriches the reader while entertaining them.
Dolmen: How come you didn’t write anything following that issue?
Leonardi: Well, for the first part, nobody read Rampaging Hulk and I only contributed to the plot. I don’t consider myself a writer, other than bringing story elements occasionally and frequently doing an ‘editing’ job with the text, rewriting scenes to make them more logical. Normally the writer takes a couple of days in front of the word processor to write their story. Wel perhaps I’m not being fair and some take as long as I do in drawing it. If I pick up on errors, inconsistencies or problems with the structure, I correct those kind of things.