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 10/15/2003
A quick message from Mark Wheatley: "The version of HAMMER OF THE GODS, HAMMER HITS CHINA #3 that is in some comic stores as of October 15th is a badly messed up printed book. It was not intended to reach customers and was released from the printer by accident. A new printing - corrected - will be released in the next few weeks. Mike Oeming and I are very sorry for the problem and we wish we had had some control over this."
Mark Wheatley on Hammer of the Gods
Mark Wheatley's a man who's undergoing an astounding creative renaissance at present.
Previously known as the creator of such ground breaking series as Radical Dreamer and Breathtaker [with his longtime studio mate, Marc Hempel], Wheatley had spent the better part of the past decade or so concentrating on heading up Insight Studio Group's burgeoning publishing empire. However, you can't keep a good artist-writer away from their easel or word processor forever, and Wheatley eventually succumbed to the siren call of his personal muse. In point of fact, he's now returned to the creative side of things with a real vengeance, and we've only begun to see the first wave of new projects from this long-denied Promethean talent.
Aside from the recently released zero issue of his ongoing Frankenstein Mobster series, which was covered in the last installment of Baker's Dozen, the other book that's currently available that bears his personal imprint, Hammer of the Gods, has actually been around for a few years now. Originally the brainchild of yet another ISG creator, Mike Avon Oeming, Hammer not only benefited from Wheatley's script writing and editorial input, but has also evolved into something rarely seen in comics: a true collaboration between two incredibly talented and unique creators.
Bill Baker: How did you get involved with Hammer of the Gods?
Mark Wheatley: I had a nail ... [General laughter] No, no. I see what you mean. You mean Hammer of the Gods!
That started because I took a cruise to Nassau. And on this cruise, along with a bunch of other good friends who all work in the comic book industry, were Mike Oeming and his lovely wife, Melissa. We got very drunk, and got to know each other, and hit it off. We had actually vaguely known each other before that, but that kind of sealed the deal and we've stayed friends.
Then, when I was doing the Titanic Tales book I called Mike because I desperately needed some illustrations, because the guy who was originally going to do these illustrations for the book did not deliver, and was not able to deliver. If you don't know what Titanic Tales was, it was a revival of pulp magazines, and I was coordinating, what was it? eighteen different people were working on this thing. So I'm literally, like three or four days from when Titanic Tales has to go to press, calling Mike out of the blue. I hadn't talked to Mike in a year, and I say, "Mike. Buddy! I don't mean to act like you're the last person I thought of, but I need art! And I need it tomorrow!" [General laughter] And I was shocked to find that he was no longer working in comics and was a night watchman, and was thrilled at the idea that he could do some art.
So in the weeks that followed we got to talking, and one of the things he had been doing while he was working as a night watchman was drawing this Viking comic book that he called Hammer of the Gods. This was a labor of love for Mike. He had the first issue inked, and the second issue inked, and the third issue was penciled and a little bit inked, and the fourth issue was drawn. And he dumped all this stuff in my lap and said, "Can you make sense out of all this?" Because what he had been doing was he had a general idea of where he wanted to go with it, and he certainly knew what he had in mind for his characters. He had a lot of ideas about conflicts, and scenes, and wonderful interplay, but it was almost a "choose your own adventure" novel -- which is where I got started way back when, you know, doing those things. I just took all the different scenes and laid them out, and saw that there were some gaps where we needed to add some scenes, and we ended up adding an entire new issue at the end.
And that's how I got involved with it. Gradually, I've helped Mike get it on track. It's been probably the creative collaboration peak of my career, because he's just so much fun to work with. He is just full of energy and ideas.
You know who Del Close was, from Second City?
BB: Oh yeah.
MW: He just about invented improvisation in comedy, and he came up with a whole set of rules that are designed to keep the creative flow going in a group. And one of the rules about improvisation was to "Accept, and add". Accept what the other person does, and then add to it. And that's really how Mike and I collaborate.
He comes up with an idea, and I say, "How about this?" And he says, "Great! How about this?" I say, "That's great! How about this?" I mean, it's just wonderful. Like two kids playing in a sandbox.
BB: So you're actually building the newer tales together, then?
MW: Yeah, absolutely. After about half way through the first story, I was generating stories, and he was generating stories. We've got more than we'll ever get done at this point, I think, but we are generating them on a regular basis. The problem with all that sort of encouragement, and adding, is that we just pile the stuff up. [General laughter]
BB: How do you actually write the stuff?
MW: That's an interesting question. OK, for example, Hammer Hits China. The third issue hits stores on October 8th. I was talking to Mike about this new comic he was planning on doing at the time -- this is how long ago this was -- which he was calling Bastard Samurai. I had never seen it, because it was just an idea at that point. But he described it to me, vaguely, at a convention. And I don't know, I probably wasn't listening as closely as I should have, or something, or my own imagination took a left turn, but I had the idea that it was a period piece, because he was describing samurai. And I don't know why ... I'm the same guy who read a book about the Bird Family when I was in the fifth grade, and was convinced that I was literally reading about a family of birds when it turned out it was just some people named the Birds. [General laughter] Yeah, I'm just too literal, I guess.
Anyway, I thought it would be really cool if we could do a cross over between Hammer of the Gods and the Bastard Samurai. "Wouldn't it be a great idea to have the Vikings facing off against the samurai?"
So I went back home, and wrote up a little scenario, and sent it to Mike. And he said, "this isn't going to work with Bastard, because Bastard is a contemporary story." And I'm like, "Oh, no, I didn't know that." [Laughter] Well, shortly thereafter I think we were all bitten by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and that influenced us. And so Mike tossed back an idea, and I tossed an idea back at him. Then I wrote up a plot for the three issues, and he drew the first issue from my plot, and gave me his notes on how he'd like the dialogue to go. I followed his notes, except for where I didn't. And then, on the second issue, he veered away from my plot a bit, and I had to make up more because I didn't quite know where he was going. Then, on the third issue, we were so far off track that we came up with a new story. And then, I think his computer crashed and he lost his story, and so he just drew something and sent me some notes about what he had in mind. [General laughter] And I was still trying to incorporate the things we had originally talked about, so I wrote that, and took his notes, and wrote that. Then he made a suggestion, and I touched it up. Then we looked at it, and both of us realized that we had come up with something that was far better than anything we had ever originally planned on doing.
Everything we've ever collaborated on has been just like that. When we get done, we step back and we go, "Oh look, it works!" [General laughter]
BB: "Yeah, and it works really good!"
MW: Yeah. I mean, really good. [Laughter]
I think the thing that holds it together, is that, first and foremost, Mike thinks story visually. And when he draws it out, he naturally, like it's music, he gives it a sense of rhythm. He gives it a sense of counterpoint, and melody. And he gives it the natural pauses, and the quickening of the beat. He gives it all these things, yet in his mind, it's not concrete. It could be one thing, or it could be another. But the pacing is all there, and the facial expressions, and the emotions are all there.
And when I come to it I'm going, "You know, these characters have lived for thousands of years, and they've got this background. And Modi's mother used to spank him." I'm thinking of all this stuff the characters have been through. There's just this rich backstory that I think of in my mind. And so, when I write this little tiny bit that Mike has done, it comes from that history, and it gives the characters the underpinnings that they need.
So you've got it drawn by somebody who's very visually driven, and written by somebody who's very character driven. And, between the two of us, we end up with a decent story.
Mike's very spontaneous. I was always pretty good at being spontaneous when I was hanging out with friends, but I was never very good about spontaneous when I was actually working. But Mike has completely converted me. [Laughter] I think it's part of maturing, too. I'm confident of my abilities to create at this point that ...
And that's the other thing; between us, there's no ego. Neither one of us is insecure in our abilities to create this stuff.
BB: Sounds like it's almost a Zen thing.
MW: Actually, we quote Zen back and forth at each other, yes. [General laughter]
BB: Ah, but have you figured out that "One hand clapping" koan yet?
MW: First, you take your pants down ... [More general laughter]
BB: Exactly. And we should probably leave it right there. [Still more laughter]
MW: Well, you should pull them up, eventually. [And we exit, laughing]
For still more information on the activities of Mark Wheatley as well as his studio mates, Mark Hempel and Mike Oeming, head on over to http://www.InsightStudiosGroup.com. Also grab a copy of the first Hammer of Gods, Hammer of Gods: Mortal Enemy, and don't forget that you can also catch Mark on his "My Favorite Haunts" tour at one of these venues:
Wednesday October 15
1 pm to 4 pm
1116 North Rolling Road
Baltimore, MD 21228
(Exit 15 West off I-695 Baltimore Beltway & Turn Right onto Rolling Road)
Oct 18th though the end of the year
True Believers Comics & Gallery
original art from FM #0 on display - limited signed prints on sale
Contact Laura Marsh (505) 99-2TRUE
435 S. Guadalupe
Santa Fe NM
Thursday, October 30, 2003 through Saturday, November 1, 2003
Maryland Fantastique Film Fest
Chesapeake Arts Center
194 Hammonds Lane
Brooklyn Park, MD 23225
Contact: Susan Svehla at 410-665-1198
4th Annual Midwest Entertainment Industry Conference
Hyatt Regency, Lexington KY
Nov. 29 & 30, 2003
Easton Town Center,
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