ROB: Very nice to talk to you David! For the best frame of reference, it’s important to remember that I was coming off an incredible burst of creativity that had proven mutually beneficial and ridiculously successful for Marvel and myself. I had done right by Marvel and they had certainly done right by me. X-Force #1 had sold 5 million copies, it remains the 2nd best selling comic book of all time. X-Force was a book populated by characters that were only 16 months old, fresh from my notepad and sketchbook. My book didn’t have Wolverine or Spider-Man, as a matter of fact, it had no household names. Cable, Deadpool, Domino, Shatterstar, Stryfe, these were a product of my brand of character design and creation. I wanted to take that creative burst and run with it, expand it at Image.
Bloodstrike, Supreme, Youngblood, Glory and Prophet were the pillars of my new universe. Bloodstrike was the natural evolution of an X-Force styled, government–commando–strike–force except they were undead, Extreme zombies. Prophet was my mash up of all things Kirby, Rip Van Winkle meets OMAC, Captain America and Silver Star. Glory was my mash-up of greek mythology meets aliens. All these books were an attempt to build on the foundation I’d laid at Marvel. I had complete creative authority and was excited to build my own mythology. I was fortunate to build on what I started at Marvel and each of these books picked up where I left off, each launched at a million sales. I mention sales because it represents the connection I had with retailers and fans, they were squarely in my corner. Marvel and DC books weren’t selling those numbers, they didn’t have that connection. So when you ask where did they come from, I was running with a style and brand of storytelling that had proved very successful for me.
SLATE: What was your original vision for these books? You seemed to populate a universe of characters very, very quickly, at the same time that you were putting together deal for a Youngblood series.
ROB: Again, I was just excited to build my own universe, carry out my vision for my own line of comics. Following Youngblood’s successful launch, Marvel and DC had both announced they were going to do major new events built around “Blood” storylines and characters. Bloodlines was DC’s summer event, and New Blood was Marvel’s summer initiative, I was square in their sights and I felt like I better build my line fast otherwise they’d beat me to the punch. It was flattering as well as a huge motivation to get my line up and running. I had notebooks of characters and concepts, it was all from an organic place, every artist waits for their “moment” where they can do exactly what I did, I ran with it.
Forgive me, I really feel like an old timer recounting all of this stuff, I controlled all of those books at the outset, I wrote most if not all the original arcs and stories in the first few years. Prophet was 100% my storyline, ditto Bloodstrike, Supreme. That’s reflected in the books themselves. The foundation was all part of my original vision, I took pride in ownership. There wasn’t a whole lot of options either, if it had to get done, I had to roll up my sleeves and get it done. I was providing layouts to the younger artists, inking over their work, giving color notes. But its exactly what I had hoped for.
ROB: Well after forty-some odd issues and one shots and mini-series, any and every book can use a jolt of fresh energy and ideas. Alan walked in and did this alternative Superman take which paid respect to what had come before while taking the book in a completely new direction. His concept of “The Supremacy” where old continuity went to rest after it had outlived its usefulness was nothing less than absolute genius. It floored everybody and became the foundation of ideas that Alan would run with for the next decade. His ABC line at Wildstorm was a continuation of what he started on Supreme. I pride myself in knowing when to get out of the way when standing in the presence of greatness.
ROB: The entire process of selecting the books and picking the line ups took about a year. Eric and I talked over which books would be in the Extreme line up, and then we went about exploring creative line ups. Early on we talked with Erik Larsen about Prophet using a “Kamandi” style influence. And by Kamandi style I mean a “Rip Van Winkle in the far flung future” direction. Erik was this close to actually producing his Prophet and then late in the process he approached me with a Supreme outline and it was clear that Supreme was closer to what he wanted to produce. So we had our idea of Prophet in the far future concept but needed a new creative guide. Again, there was no existing material, just a premise. Eric Stephenson approached Brandon at Emerald City that year and he wanted to feel it out. Eric called me, ran teh idea of Brandon by me and I went all in. I had copies of King City and I was excited to see what Brandon would produce. No one, least of all me, wanted a Liefeld imitation, we wanted a fresh vision, as I said, we had agreed on the far flung future aspect which opened up all sorts of new possibilities. It always had a tether to the original Prophet in that the Rip Van Winkle, stranger in a strange land aspect of Prophet that was always part of the book was maintained but expressed with a fresh new vision.
Once Brandon brought Simon on board, I flipped out, I could not believe our good fortune. They sent me the early pages and I flipped, the vision was so realized and so concise, I was floored and eager for much more. You can choose a team and believe in a team, but until that first issue comes together, you are just hoping, there’s no guarantee. These guys had no established run together, it wasn’t a follow up to a successful body of work, we took a chance. When I read the first issue in the fall of 2011, I knew that Prophet would turn everyone on their ear. It was brilliant, it was that genius level of work that Alan Moore was able to create and sustain. I didn’t approve Brandon in order for him to tell “MY” stories, I expected him to tell his stories and he has and he and his team have created a classic, timeless body of work. I cannot wait for the hardcover collection. it will be evergreen.
For Joe Keatinge its an entirely different story. I knew Joe, I knew Joe wanted to pursue a career in comics and Eric said that Joe had some Glory concepts, I was eager to hear them. The rough outline was phenomenal, as exciting as what Brandon had to offer with Prophet, less a complete reboot, more like a dramatic face lift. I was sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans in January 2011, I was there for a convention and I had returned from dinner and watching Saturday Night Live when I receved Eric’s email with Ross Campbell’s work, submitted as part of a package for Glory. He was concerned at my reaction because Ross‘ work was so visceral and less traditionally glamorous for a book with a female lead. Funny enough I had just showed Eric my artist for Avenglyne, a talented fellow named Owen Genei and he shared stylistic similarities with Ross, which convinced Eric I would go for Ross on Glory. He was right, I thought Ross was a breath of fresh air. Here’s the deal on both these creative teams, I could have given them the thumbs down and we’d be experiencing very different comic books than what we have now. I am the yay and the nay on these books. If I don’t like it, it doesn’t fly, period. However, you cannot find a single instance where I have opposed anything on either book. Ditto Supreme and Bloodtsrike. I believe that when you hire a piece of talent, writer or artist, you allow them to see that vision through. That’s what I experienced on New Mutants, a book which was failing and opened the door for me to craft my own mythology. None of my characters on New Mutants and later X-Force were a result of, ” Hey give us this type of so and so…” I was able to run and CREATE! I wrote up pages and drew them featuring a new character named Deadpool, they saw what I had done after I turned it in, there was no conference asking for a masked mercenary. Those conditions are a distant memory at corporate comics nowadays. That’s what you’re seeing on these books, I can see the creators growing wings and flying, both books have become more interesting as a result of a lack of interference, as they wrote and they drew and they realized…”This Liefeld guy is letting us fly”. There are no corporate partners on these books, they are comic book characters in search of interesting stories. I LOVE these books, all of the creative teams did “their” thing on these books. I’m equally excited for a massive hard cover of GLORY, its a sci-fi, fantasy masterpiece with no equal. Joe and Ross have executed a gorgeous vision, without any interference whatsoever. I’m proud to have been the general manager or the producer on these projects. Again, let creative people, especially, young, hungry, horny creative people, let them create!
Plus, I love the approach on all these Extreme books otherwise they wouldn’t make it to the printer.
SLATE: What had you seen from them, how much of a pitch did you need?
ROB: Let’s address this real quick. I want to be very clear that the internet snark has zero affect on me. You should not be affected by it. The reason is that I was there 20 years ago, I’m out there on the convention circuit, I experience the real and tangible enthusiasm for me and my work. You can’t re-write the history books, you can‘t eliminate the impact of my work and my characters. The renewed internet detractors are by and large kids who did not experience New Mutants, X-Force, Youngblood or prophet when it sold half a million copies a month. They saw a website making fun of me and joined in and have no where to go because than they fill up my feeds with ” How do you get work” revealing their ignorance. It‘s entertaining as all hell but it is of no concern to me and shoudn’t affect you an inform your view on my history. Rob Liefeld is to today as Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan are to my kids. They experience it second hand if at all.
SLATE: Do you think Joe and Brandon and Tim are finding something in these characters/themes that the critics missed years ago?
ROB: I believe that they are writing entertainment that is as good if not better than what came before. With Glory, that series original run was very scattershot and for a lack of better term, it was un-inspired. I approved those stories the same as I approved these, these are so much better I can’t even begin to express it.Joe and Ross have created the definitive vision of Glory for me, I like their interpretation the very best. They tapped into a narrative that no one else has tapped into. The ideas and the visuals are outstanding. Glory will still exist after their run ends, and because Glory is contemporary, it will be reflected whenever she appears again. With Prophet, its a different animal because it takes place in the far, far flung future, it is a universe unto itself. There are stories that I did with Stephen Platt and Dan Panosian and later Chuck Dixon which are considered cannon and this run in no way eliminates that. If anything Brandon has been very respectful and honored that cannon while completely creating a new mythology. There was nothing to “miss years ago” as you propose, the books and characters were tremendously popular and beloved, a product of their times, reflective of that era. What these books have done is take them in bold and exciting new directions for a new generation. I was told by fans that preferred the older versions that they would abandon these versions and I’m remarkably fine with that, we can’t be beholden to the past. Gotta keep moving forward, evolving.
SLATE: Are they improving on it?
ROB: I believe so, on both counts, on both books. They look and feel more modern than books I‘m seeing from other publishers. I grew up as an 11 year old that loved and adored the original Battlestar Galactica, I consumed BSG. I found myself equally consumed with Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica which ran on SyFy. It was very different, sexually charged, overtly political, religious, which were themes in the 70’s version but no where near in the fore in the way they were in the Ron Moore SyFy version. These books have improved on their 90’s counterparts in ways I could not have imagined.
SLATE: I’m interested in how you’d put it, because the original “Swamp Thing” books were fun, with great villains, but Alan Moore’s books took all of that and made it rich and horrifying. Does the old stuff benefit when readers pick up the new, very different takes?
ROB: The Prophet and Glory of the 90’s were reflective of the super hero, sci-fi and fantasy components of that era. These are more adult versions, less concerned with the conventions of these times and more experimental. These are not trying to conform in any way, they are taking existing concepts and just as Alan did with Swamp Thing, they are making them more R rated, much more hard core. I can’t tell you how much I love these books and hope to God more folks seek them out because if they aren‘t experiencing these stories, they are missing out on brilliant stories and art.