Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 09/17/2003
Tapping the Power Cosmic
Tom Scioli on The Myth of 8 Opus and the Myth-Making of Jack Kirby
A few years ago while roaming the artist alley area of the fine Pittsburgh Comic Con, I ran across a young guy peddling his self published work. Nothing unusual in that, except that the work in question, The Myth of 8 Opus, had a power and an energy that was barely contained by the pages it was printed upon. And while the artist's primary influence was readily identifiable, what was less apparent to the stray glance was the fact that the creator wasn't just or trying to pay homage to its originator. Rather, he was actually trying to use it and other narrative devices to bootstrap both the story and art into another realm altogether. Very heady stuff, indeed.
Flash forward to this summer, and the newest release from that same creator, now a bit older and wiser and even better able to control and channel that wild energy into a sustained blast of pure epic storytelling. Having conquered the shorter format, Tom Scioli has moved on to work in the longer original graphic novel setting, and used it to the best of his abilities and beyond. The result of that expansion, The Myth of 8 Opus: The Doomed Battalion is not just a longer tale, but a synthesis of words and pictures that's rarely seen in comics, one in which the art effortlessly supports the story while the length gives the visuals plenty of room to breath.
Recently I got a chance to talk with Scioli about how he created 8 Opus and his universe, why and how he chose to emulate this particular mode of storytelling created by Jack "The King" Kirby, and much, much more.
Bill Baker: Who or what is 8 Opus, and why use the term "myth"?
Tom Scioli: 8-Opus is a space-faring demigod, a sailor of the eight seas. He wears a mask with a built-in "magic eightball." It's an electronic oracle. It tells him the future. It helps him see through lies and illusions. It's his choice whether to follow its advice or not.
As far as calling it a "myth", I try to give the comic the "feel" of a myth. These are way-larger-than-life stories with magical creatures and impossible situations. I try to emulate the way the old myths had a bizarre, dream-like logic. I want to do stories that feel mythic, yet not using any particular existing mythology. I'm going for that combination of mysticism and science fiction. It's a genre of comics storytelling that Jack Kirby more-or-less invented.
BB: How'd you create and develop the series?
TS: It started as an animation project I did in college. I had a bunch of leftover concepts from the film, so I figured doing a comic would be a good outlet for these ideas. It was stuff with superheroes and a city full of giant robots. I got together with a bunch of other guys who had their own comic projects they wanted to do. We put together a self-published anthology [Codex Pop, ed.]. It ran for 6 issues. Every couple of issues, I'd get bored with whatever character or premise I was working on and start something new. By issue # 5, 8-Opus showed up in the comic. He ended up being the character I was looking for. I like the sci-fi and fantasy genres. I kept bouncing between the two, but the world of 8-Opus had the scope to allow me to do both types of stories. I submitted my second 8-Opus story to the Xeric foundation. They accepted my grant proposal, and that became issue one of The Myth of 8-Opus.
BB: There's a decided Kirby influence on the look and feel of the book, which you've been quite open about acknowledging. What about that particular style of presentation and narrative appealed to you, and made it the perfect vehicle for realizing your vision?
TS: When I decided to try my hand at comics, this was the only way I wanted to do it, the Kirby way. I think he showed a new way of telling stories in comics. For me, if you're going to do stories about characters bouncing around the galaxy, you've got to study Kirby.
His characters sizzle with energy. Everything else looks flat in comparison. The visuals are what make this kind of space opera story work. Kirby did it better than anybody. It's all about exploration. You want to see weird-looking aliens, cool spaceships and machinery. Kirby had a way of designing this kind of stuff that was just amazing. Everything was so three-dimensional and vivid, yet often defied logic in an M.C. Escher way. This kind of story is totally dependent on exotic design. If the environments aren't cool, and the creatures are hum-drum, it just won't fly. Kirby showed the way to do this kind of material. I'm trying to build on what he did, creating new stories using the approach he established.
I love the way Kirby tells a story, the way each panel plays off of the ones around it. I love the way his figures move. They are built for motion, with all kinds of reflections shimmering across each form. Those squiggles make everything look like it's moving. Everything looks like it's from another world, but has its own inner consistency. I like the way he'll draw a piece of technology, then age it, give it a crusty, calcified look that contrasts with all the gleaming , streamlined shapes. It's like a high tech world from thousands of years in the past. That's what I wanted to do, make a world where you have the contrast between glistening, mechanical forms, and crusty, ancient-looking organic forms.
Kirby invented this whole genre of "cosmic" comics. That cartoony, yet realistic style just works perfectly for it. His characters move with a weight, and a grace that's perfect for handling mythic stories. I wanted to do something that combines classical influences with pop-culture influence. Kirby's style has all of that.
BB: Does all that mean you're simply aping Kirby's style, as some folks have claimed, or are you trying to use and adapt it to your own purposes?
TS: I can't possibly draw on as many different levels as Kirby does. I'm not as well rounded. I learned to emulate the aspects of his style that appeal to me. If anything, I think my work emphasizes the strangeness of Kirby. Kirby's work was never quite this weird. As strange as things would get in his comics, he was always able to ground things in reality. Me, I'm not really that interested in reality.
I like a lot of the stuff about his style that some people dismiss as being "part of his decline". His work, as time went on, consisted more and more of close-ups. It's almost as if the camera were drawing closer and closer as the years passed. I really prefer the later stuff, where the camera is right on top of the characters. It gave everything a shaky-camera feel, like the characters can't be contained in the frame. Gave everything a feeling of motion. That's one of the things I try to use to my advantage. I like the way he handles dialogue. I love it all.
BB: How successful has your process of incorporating those "Kingly" elements been, in your opinion? Have you reached the point you're looking for yet, or is this an ongoing effort?
TS: Kirby's just too great. Every time I think I'm getting close to that ideal, I read a Kirby comic, and realize I'm still worlds away.
BB: How much more of the myth is there left to relate? Is this a finite series, or something you could easily pursue for the rest of your life?
TS: I could go on forever. I've got story ideas for the death of 8-Opus and beyond. I'm trying to develop the larger world of the story, and incorporate a larger cast of characters. I have stories in mind about the early days of the universe and its end days. I have way more story ideas than I could ever have time to draw. I'm just trying to get as much down on paper as possible.
BB: What do you get from doing this work, personally and professionally?
TS: It's a blast. I love seeing it start as a sketch, and see it slowly crystallize into the finished, inked, lettered pages. I think it's so cool to look back on the initial sketches, and then see how they ended up in the finished book. I love the act of drawing, the act of inking. I'm a fan of this kind of stuff. I'd love to see more stuff done in the style of the old Kirby comics. I do the book because it's the kind of comics I enjoy. I read all the mythic epic cosmic stuff Kirby did, the Thor comics, The New Gods, and The Eternals. I read them all, but I wanted more, so I had to make my own.
BB: What do you hope your readers get from it?
TS: I hope they enjoy all the wacky ideas. I hope they get sucked into the world of the story, and have some fun. I like to surprise the reader. That's something Kirby was really good at. There'd always be a bunch of surprises in every issue, things you didn't expect to see, things you might have never seen in a comic before.
BB: Where can people go to learn more about your work, or to grab copies of the all new trade paperback and earlier issues in the series?
TS: Readers can ask their retailer to back order a copy of The Lost Battalion -- the Diamond reorder number is APR031996 -- or they can order it directly from me via the web or traditional mail.
My website is located at: www.geocities.com/sciolit/. My mailing address and ordering info are directly below.
5645 Hobart Street,
#1 Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Trade paperback The Doomed Battalion: $16.95 [Note: all new material!]
Individual Issues of The Myth of 8 Opus:
Issues 1-3:$2.00 each
Issue 4: $3.75
Issue 5: $3.00
Shipping: $1.00 per issue, $3.85 for 4 issues or more.
Shipping is free if the order includes Doomed Battalion trade paperback.
<< 09/10/2003 | 09/17/2003 | 09/24/2003 >>
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