Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first installment of ComicBookDaily’s creator profiles and interviews. We recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Chris Giarusso; the creator of the Mini Marvels for Marvel and G-Man for image comics. We talk about all sorts of things, from how he got his start at Marvel to his work at Image. Click below for the audio interview or read below for the transcript. Edits have been made and commentary added to make it more readable and clarify some points. And for you audio listeners, pretend I have a deep German accent to make your listening experience more enjoyable, we’ll do our best to get rid of that annoying static in the background as well. Enjoy!
CBD: Hi there, this is Comic Book Daily, today we have Chris Giarusso as our guest today and we’re going to be doing an interview with him. Hi Chris, how are you doing, today?
Chris: Good, how are you, Dave? (Dave is a news editor for ComicBookDaily and a handsome devil at that)
CBD: Not bad at all. So Chris, you’re probably most well known to comic readers for your work on the Mini-Marvels series; which appeared as a backup feature in a number of comics while you were an intern at Marvel. How did you land that gig?
Chris: The internship?
CBD: Both, actually.
Chris: Well, the internship was just something I applied for while I was in college and that was my basic foot in the door at Marvel. And during that time, I interned for an editor who worked on the What IF? Comic and I used to pitch him a lot of off the wall ideas for the book knowing that they wouldn’t be taken seriously but he knew that I did comic strips for my school newspaper. He suggested one day that I could do a comic strip based on one of my stupid ideas for the What If comic if I could condense it into three panels. That was my first published work, while I was an intern. I did a few more of the What If strips before the book was cancelled and eventually I went back to school and I finished up and I got offered a job in the production department. And I came back to marvel. They offered me another comic strip opportunity in the bullpen bulletin page and I kept doing a lot of the What If? ideas. And I decided I eventually want to do a What If? the peanuts characters or Charlie brown were integrated into the Marvel Universe or if I combined the two of them. And that ended up turning into the Mini Marvels and I just stuck with it.
CBD: Beautiful (I meant to say great, but somehow beautiful came out of my mouth?) I also noticed that you’re paired with a number of writers for the different Mini Marvels strips, how did they jump onto the Mini Marvels Crew, as most of the original Mini Marvels strips were written by yourself.
Chris: yeah, most of the stuff was by me. There was a period where I wasn’t doing any work for them at all, then they called me up and said they wanted to start it up again. And during that time, I found that a lot of the stuff, the ideas I was coming up with weren’t being actually received so well and so out of frustration I just said, “well like it doesn’t sound like any of the stuff I come up with is anything you’re happy with”. My editor kept telling me “oh yeah, we want you because we really like what you do and your voice is perfect for this” but then he was rejecting everything I was submitting. So I said “get somebody else to write it then” so I did something with Sean McKeever and I did some stuff with Mark Sumerak and then shortly after that, my editor stayed saying “I want you to start pitching your own ideas again”. At that point, he started liking more of the stuff I was doing. I did some stuff with Paul Tobin also. And then at a certain point he just said “write it all yourself”, so we were doing that for a while. And then the Audrey Loeb stuff came up because she’s Jeph Loeb’s daughter, who is writing the Hulk stuff and they wanted to give her something to do and so they paired me up with her on the Hulk strips.
CBD: Do you prefer to do the art, or the writing? Because your writing style on the Mini-Marvels is very distinct, so that when you are reading a Mini-Marvels story, we can tell whether or not it’s been written by you.
Chris: Oh, um actually, I’m astonished to hear that. I didn’t think anyone really noticed. Especially because the most compliments I get are on the Audrey Loeb stuff and people don’t even realize Audrey is writing it a lot of the time.
CBD: It’s surprising; a lot of the stories in the digest like the return of Thor and Conspicuous Invasion are some of the best stuff we’ve seen from you.
Chris: Thank you!
CBD: So with the discontinuation of Mini Marvels due to Marvel wanting to promote the Super Hero Squad, some like we said are hanging in the back of the Hulk series, are there any plans for any other Mini Marvels strips to latch onto the back of other titles?
Chris: There’s nothing planned. When we put out the last digest, they gave me the very strong impression that I was done with the Mini Marvels and they specifically cited Super Hero Squad as a reason and I mentioned that in an interview and I was immediately told that I was wrong and that I was making it up?
CBD: That it was because of Super Hero Squad?
Chris: Yeah, well I was initially told that Super Hero Squad was something they wanted to focus on so they didn’t want to do any Mini Marvels stuff anymore. So I repeated that and then my editor told me that I was wrong, but the thing is that it’s information coming from two different people at Marvel.
CBD: So there was some confusion going on then.
Chris: Yeah, it doesn’t sound like they were talking to each other and they don’t all think of me in the same regard. Not everyone likes my work; some people like my work there and some people hate it. Like it’s horrible.
CBD: That’s a pretty strong word.
Chris: Well, they dislike it intensely. Maybe. So it’s been difficult for me to gauge where I stand because I am getting a lot of mixed messages. Since then, I’ve been offered other backup stories, but it was stuff I had to turn down because I was too busy with my mini-series-
Chris: Yeah, with G-Man and I would rather do a complete book than like 4 pages here or 5 pages there. It’s not something I can really depend on for regular work for Marvel, especially when I am being told one thing and told the complete opposite a week later and then being told the opposite again.
CBD: If Marvel offered you the Mini Marvels back, would you go back and do them? As a monthly digest (CBD Fact: I meant to say series not digest!)?
Chris: Yeah, I would certainly consider it. Well a monthly digest [laughs]
CBD: Well, that’s a lot of work but I am sure you could pull it off. (Point and laugh as I scramble to save the sinking ship of a question!)
Chris: Naw, there’s no way I could ever do that. A monthly comic, the mini-series I am doing now is the first time I have ever attempted anything monthly. It’s only for five months, but it’s still the most work I have ever tried to do at once. So it’s taking some acclimating, I certainly couldn’t do 96 pages in a month. (He’s still kicking me while I’m down!)
CBD: So after your stint at Marvel, you began doing G-Man through Image Comics. How did you get started there?
Chris: Well, G-man started as a back up in the savage dragon
CBD: through the comic bits, right?
Chris: Right, right, that started in like 2001…2002 that was shortly after the Mini Marvels was cancelled the first time and so I started the strip there. And when mini marvels was cancelled the second time, I didn’t have anything to do so they offered me the one shot that we put out in 2004. and then I kept doing the backup stuff and more material accumulated and we got successful with the digest, image decided to resolicit the old one shot because they still had a bunch in the warehouse
CBD: When you say G-Man digest, did you mean the Mini Marvels digest?
Chris: No, well there was the mini marvels digest to come out last year, Image looked at that and saw they could probably sell the g-man stuff now that we have a better chance of it.
CBD: Based off of the strength of the Mini marvels sales
Chris: Right, so they resolicted the one shot and it sold out the first week. They got rid of all of their inventory and they realized they could keep selling it so they decided to repack it into a digest format in a way identical to the mini marvels because I had a lot more material accumulated by then for g-man. So that did pretty well and thought it would be a good idea to follow it up with new material and I didn’t see any reason to not to since I didn’t really have anything else to do at the time. I was under the impression that Mini Marvels was a closed door. So we committed to the mini series and so far so good.
CBD: So right now, G-man is being written as a mini-series, do you see yourself working on g-man on and off just doing digest miniseries or an continuous ongoing like Savage dragon.?
Chris: I like the idea of doing the mini series just because it gives me some time to recuperate in-between. I’ve never been working as hard as I am right now and I’m looking forward to finishing that final issue and taking a month or two off before I get ready to start the second mini series. I look at Hellboy as an ideal example of how I want to approach it. Hellboy is always released in a mini series and then here’s the next miniseries and I really like that format.
CBD: Most of your work falls under the all age’s category. Is this a comfortable niche for you or do you see yourself doing other types as well.
Chris: This is always the way I’ve operated, so it’s the most natural comfortable way for me to work. I like a lot of the mainstream more adult, mature stuff which I enjoy as a fan. But I don’t feel that I am strong enough, it doesn’t feel natural to attempt to compete with all that awesome stuff. And I like the idea of doing things that kids can pick up and enjoy too. I enjoy writing for- I never felt like I wasn’t writing for adults it was more of at least this is something a kid can pick up and be able to understand it and be entertained by it.
CBD: what are some of the challenges you face in putting out a comic like G-man in a market with hundreds of titles coming out on a monthly basis?
Chris: It’s just most people don’t know about it. It’s still relatively obscure and the fact that it looks like a kids book kind of makes people predisposed to people passing it up. Even people that know me from Mini Marvels are kind of hesitant to give it a shot because it’s not the Marvel characters and I think people are more likely to put up a Marvel book because it’s the characters they love. They like to see their favourite characters drawn as little kids and don’t necessarily attribute any of the entertainment to me or whoever’s creating it, so they would be just as happy with something like Super Hero Squad. Or if they just gave the Mini Marvels to someone else, I think they would be just as satisfied by something like that.
CBD: Right, but I think when you place your Mini Marvels work side by side Super Hero Squad; you would notice a big distinct difference between the writing.
Chris: Well, I appreciate that you notice something like that and there are a significant number that do notice it but it’s not everybody that notice that. There’s still a lot of people that just pick it up because it’s a Marvel book don’t notice it. There’s a lot of people that think I do Super Hero Squad and they can’t really tell the difference between the art and the writing. They see it and think it looks familiar. So unless they’re 100% into it, it’s like their favourite thing, a lot of people they don’t notice or can’t tell the difference. So when I put out G-Man, it goes out on the shelf a lot of- some people recognize it and they know it’s me and they’ll pick it up and I’m thankful for all those fans. But they’re not all following me over. That’s the biggest challenge right there, just being somewhat obscure.
CBD: For your art and writing style, what kind of influences do you have? Your style is very similar to Fred Hembeck’s stuff.
Chris: Oh absolutely, he was a big influence on me when I was a kid. When I first started reading superhero comics, I was already a fan of newspaper comics; I grew up reading all the newspaper comic strips, especially the Peanuts collection.
CBD: That would explain why your work is always done in a strip form?
Chris: Right, although I am trying to get away from what with the mini series, I would like to do the long form stuff. But yeah, initially my start was comic strips and Charles Schultz was probably my biggest influence and when I started reading comic books and I saw what Fred Hembeck was doing, I thought it was fantastic that he was combining the both of them and bridging that gap. Even back when I was 10 years old I thought “that’s what I want to do, combining the comics with superheroes”. As fate would have it, I got the opportunity to do it.
CBD: So when doing your art, what tools do you use?
Chris: I use a pencil with 2h lead and I ink mostly with brush
CBD: So you’re mainly hands on, not much digital techniques?
Chris: Yeah, I color in Photoshop, but everything else I do on paper.
CBD: what’s some of the stuff you’re reading right now?
Chris: I really like Invincible, Savage dragon, walking dead. A lot of the green lantern stuff.
CBD: Especially the blackest night stuff?
Chris: Yeah, I like that stuff. Green lantern was one of my favourite books as a kid. And I like all this color war stuff (He is referring to the War of Light).
CBD: Can you ever see yourself doing a mini dc kind of thing? I know they’ve got the Tiny Titans going on, but it looks like there’s still more room in the market for children’s reads, just to bring them into it.
Chris: Well, it’s always been something like an obvious thing. I mean, ever since I started doing conventions, people ask me to do Mini Marvel versions of the DC characters. I would like to do it. Once they started their children’s book; with the Tiny Titans, I did pitch some stuff to them. But they weren’t interested in it because they felt they had the base covered. I think what Art’s doing is fantastic so I can’t really argue. I didn’t push it and I don’t feel I have any right to complain that they’re not giving me any opportunity and I have my hands full now anyways.
CBD: Do you have any advice for those that want to break into the comic book industry themselves?
Chris: It’s kind of tricky. But I would say if I were to try and break in right now, I would say the best thing to do is webcomics.
CBD: Give them a little portfolio to work with?
Chris: Yeah, either do that or do a daily strip or a page a week, just do an ongoing thing. Make your own comics. Something you can actually print out and give to people physically at comic conventions. But also have it on a website.
CBD: Well, thanks for all your time today, Chris. To close us off, can you tell us why you love comics?
Chris: [laughs] well I dunno, they’re fun, they’re entertaining I don’t think there’s more to it than that.
CBD: Well that’s all we really need from comics really, well thank you again for your time, Chris.