Comic books, according Frank Cho, are a visual, energetic and pure act. Comic books for comic book’s sake, sort of. His most famous work, Liberty Meadows, is a testament to that. And his later works, within the Marvel, DC and Image playgrounds, are also a demonstration that you can think comics as a primordial form of art where the only thing that matter is how good you can tell a story using pictures.
We met Frank Cho in Lucca, where he was presenting the new edition of Liberty Meadows. Together we talked about his works, critics, the industry’s state of the art and his love for Wonder Woman.
Liberty Meadows came out of Everything but the Kitchen Sink and University2, your other two comic strips, made when you where much younger.
When I first did University2 I just wanted to be funny and then as you write and draw you go “Oh, I can do this better” so when I left Prince George Community College and went over to Maryland I did changed Everything but the Kitchen Sink to University2. It’s kind like a computer, each generation gets better and better so that’s what happened. I started off with Everything but the Kitchen Sink and that turned in the next generation, U2 and then the third generation was LM so I just kept upgrading, sort of speak.
Liberty Meadows was constantly breaking the fourth wall, you were in the strip talking directly to the audience. What was the idea behind it?
I just don’t like to box myself in certain four panel things. Every now and then you just have to break the box and break the forth wall and then address the audience directly and so that’s what came out of that. Part of the reason was that I was censored constantly and I had to figure out a way around it and at the same time explain why certain things were censored is actually pretty funny itself because of the surreal and the absurdity of the censorship so that’s why I had the idea of the Monkey Boy breaking the forth wall.
Do you read review? Do you even care?
Sometimes, we’re all humans. But in the long run it doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day I’m trying to entertain myself and put out the best stories possible and I’m trying to satisfy myself as a creator.
You are often criticized for drawing women as sexual objects. I can understand the criticism but I find funny that male characters are depicted with perfect bodies as well, just with less covered skin.
It’s just stupid, it’s double standard. You have this perfect specimen of manliness, they’re just manly, they are perfect, they are Apollo. But, guys, we don’t care, they’re superheroes.
Do you think that sites like The Mary Sue have their rights in the argument?
They are pretty narrow minded. I mean the comics field is so vast and wide that there is room for all kinds of comics and the critics just criticizing a certain comic book genre or trend is just absurd. I mean why, that’s just pure censorship, I mean if you don’t like it, don’t read it, don’t buy it and take that energy that criticizing energy and make your own comic, make comics that you want to see. And that’s what I tell people, if you don’t like it, don’t but it, don’t look at it, just make your own comic book. But that’s what critics are, they don’t have the skill set to do their own stuff so they can only criticize other people.
So when you post your sketch covers, with the variation of the same joke, are you trolling them?
I’m having fun. I’m just having fun really. I wasn’t really trolling because I was doing these covers for fun and for money. I mean, people just constantly asking me about it and pay me some really great money for it so why no it’s business to a certain extend but a big extent was that I really enjoy drawing that kind of stuff. And I really don’t care what the Mary Sue says. They’re not a major power
But they are vocal.
They are very vocal. The thing is that the more angry they got the more they made it popular, you know what I’m saying? And so it’s a fascinating thing, it’s like, to me I’m all about freedom, do whatever you want, as long as you’re killing babies or killing anyone, hurting anyone, it’s just a comic strip and you can do whatever you want. But when you have an outside force trying dictate what you can and cannot draw I think that it’s just wrong at every level in a creative business. I can understand their goal to make everything equal but they are going about it in a very wrong way, antagonizing the wrong people, they are antagonizing the allies. I’m a pretty liberal guy and I’m all about equality for everyone but them attacking me is not really helping the situation, you know. It’ like, we’re on the same team, you don’t understand that we’re on the same team and it’s just frustrating and kinda sad that there are people out there who are just so locked in the their narrow black and white vision. Their version of the perfect world is the one where they are oppressing other people.
In Lucca you participated to a panel about comic book covers and you spoke about the Wonder Woman experience. There you mentioned that you were working on a Wonder Woman miniseries. Is that true?
We’re in negotiation.
So you’re not really sure?
It’s almost there, pretty much.
Yeah, I mean, let’s be honest, it’s gonna happen. You know, I have a huge fan base and I have the story already written.
What is it about?
I can’t tell you that, but it’s not gonna be an origin story because I hate origin stories. Every single Wonder Woman book that you pick there’s a goddam origin story where nothing happens. I’m going to treat Wonder Woman as I treat all superheroes, as a superhero. It’s pretty much genderless, she will be fighting bad guys, it’s gonna be action, non-stop action from start to finish. And all these female political agenda I’m not even addressing that. She’s Wonder Woman, where there’s a bad guy she’s gonna fight the bad guy and beat him. That’s all it is. That’s what comic books should be.
I like the way you said you have a huge fan base. When did you realize you had this power?
I learned this when I was on Liberty Meadows. I got some newspapers take me out, take LM out of the newspaper and then my fans wrote in and got back the strip into the newspapers. So I knew early on that I had this incredible strong and very loyal fan base. And Marvel knew that, at Marvel they were aware of that when they recruited me and brought me over and then Shanna the She Devil basically proved to them that I had a huge fan base, a solid fan base that will never go away. And DC knows that too, over the years at Marvel it got bigger and bigger and DC knows that I have this massive fan base that will follow anywhere and enjoy my work.
Nowadays, do you pitch projects to editors or do you stick to their assignments?
It’s both, they recruited me to do the Wonder Woman covers originally and that didn’t work out because of the writer, but they want me back to Wonder Woman as soon as possible, as soon as the writer is gone. So that’s why I’ve already written a Wonder Woman story to go so that as soon as the writer is gone and I’m pretty sure DC and Marvel want me to draw and it makes sense. It really all the projects kind of play to my strengths as an artist, but at this point of my life I want to write and draw my own stuff. So that’s why I pitch the Wonder Woman story to DC and they really liked it and they said “All right it’s not an origin story, it’s actually a fun action story” so that’s why they picked it up right away. Or they will.
Have you ever tried to work just as a writer?
I tried but it didn’t work out. I’m a perfectionist and I have control issues, every story that I write there’s a piece of me in it and it really bugs me if the artist, no matter how great they are, is not right. But sometimes I think about that, but at this point in my career I just want to write and draw my own stuff because I’m tired of working with writers. I have stories of my own and I can actually think visually better than most writers, because when I write I think visually and comic book is a very visual media and there are a lot of great writers out there but they seem to not understand that comic books is a visual action media. I get the script and it’s a bunch of 16 pages of people standing around talking I’m like “This isn’t a comic book”. They should just go back to pursue what they originally wanted to do, which is becoming a TV drama writer, just get out of the business.
But you don’t see yourself just as an artist, either.
I’ve always myself as a writer, too. From the very beginning, so I can write other people characters it’s just that I was never giving the change at Marvel, even if I was originally hired as a writer-artist and I did write and draw Shanna and Savage Wolverine and also partially wrote Totally Awesome Hulk and some of the other stuff which I was never credited. The writers that I was team with had an hard time depicting action they just didn’t understand visually how to tell a story during a big sequence so I actually had to go off script and basically redraw and rethink how the action should be. In Mighty Avengers I did a lot of that, were I basically add a lot of stuff just to make the scene flow better. Same thing with Guardian of the Galaxy.
So did you talk with Bendis?
No. I mean, I tried but after a while I gave up and just did it. It was that 1) It’s really hard to get in touch with Bendis. And 2) I think Bendis is so busy he doesn’t really care and he trusted me to go ahead and do it. Because, you know, I didn’t take away any panel, the rule thumb for most writers is you can add panels if you want to but don’t take away. That’s something that Jeph Loeb always stressed to me. If you see someplace in the script that you can make better go ahead and do it. Because I’m a profession you’re professional and I trust you and you’re better artist than me so. That was his thing, which is my feeling too. Actually working with Jeph Loeb was really good experience.
Now comic books is an writers-driven medium. Are you happy about that?
My belief is that the artists are better writers than writers themselves in a lot of ways. I mean if you look at the comic book the thing is: a good story will never save bad art, but good art can save bad writing. And what’s the difference between a novel and a comic book? The art. So comic book is an art-driven media so the artist is always superior to the writer.
How long does it take you to complete a page?
Takes me two days. One days to pencil, one to ink. That’s on average. Some times shorter, some times longer.
So you’re still afraid of missing a deadline like you said in an old interview?
I’m a perfectionist so it’s like do you want fast or do you want it good. You can’t have both with me and to be honest at the end of the day good art survive. It doesn’t matter if you keep monthly schedule. Look at Brian Bollard in Camelot 3000, people would just see as a “oh my god it’s incredible”. But people don’t realize that he missed every deadline and the book was so late and people don’t even know it now. A year late between issues. But when you see the book people don’t remember that it was late, just that it was a great book. I know that the companies want it fast and… Well, just fast actually. But as an artist you have to stand you ground and says “I’m going to go as fast as possible but I’m not going to sacrifice the quality of the art”. Look at the old guys. Al Milgrom from the 80s he was a solid professional who bang out the art on time never late but no one knows about it because it was fairly average art.
Looking back to Liberty Meadows, what do you see? Have you ever read it again?
Actually, I haven’t read it in a while but I read the last collection book a year ago and I was pretty surprised how good it was. I was actually surprised that I was able to come up with that ideas and was able to execute them because my thinking has changed over the years. It’s been almost 10 years since I put out the last LM in comic book form and I was young and energetic, now I’m older and a little more thoughtful. Back then I was like “oh this is funny I’ll draw it” now “oh this is funny, let me think about that” so I don’t have the same energy so I really don’t know if I can recapture the same magic. As you get older you get more doubts, when you’re younger you just want to get it out.
Will you end the story?
I’m trying to work it out. So, it ended on a cliffhanger and then you have the wedding storyline so between those two there are about a hundred strips that I want to do to connect it to match it organically to the wedding storyline. So I’ve been thinking about for a while now. it will read more like a soap opera than actual like a-gag-a-day strip so that’s what I’m thinking about. I want to finish it in the next two three years and get that done but right now I have a couple of creator owned stuff that I want to get out of the way first. But I have very big plans for Liberty Meadows.