Last weekend at Wizard World Philadelphia my fellow reporter Nick C. and myself had the pleasure of interviewing one of the comic book industry’s most prolific creative talents, Ethan Van Sciver! Van Sciver is best known for his work on the recent reboots of both Green Lantern and The Flash alongside Geoff Johns, but has also worked on many other big titles such as New X-Men, Superman/Batman and Impulse! I’ve personally been a huge fan of the man’s work for years (not to mention he had a hand in creating Larfleeze, one of my personal favorite characters) and was elated when he agreed to do an interview with us for Comic Booked!
Jordamus Prime-First, I just wanted to start by saying thanks for agreeing to do this interview, I’m personally a huge fan of your work on Green Lantern and the Flash!
Ethan Van Sciver- It’s my pleasure! I’m happy to do it.
JP- What would you say was your main draw to comic books? Have you always been a big fan, or was it something that just sort of happened?
EVS- Oh yeah, Comic Books have always been around but I’ve always been more of a fan of superheroes than of comic books. I think most people are, but I’ve always loved superheroes. When I saw the Superman movie in 1978 I was a little kid and I immediately loved Superman and wanted to be just like him! I had some comic books but I didn’t really read them until John Bryne’s Man Of Steel #1 in 1986, and that was the first comic book I think I really actually read beyond just looking at the pictures. It clicked with me right away, I had to have everything!
I started buying Marvel comics, and I’d see The Thing and I would remember his face from my childhood- you know I saw the cartoon and I’d seen the ads for the comic books and I felt like I needed to know everything about Ben Grimm. I just started buying everything religiously! I bought Marvel Saga, which was a Marvel clip-art book in the 1980‘s, and I mean NOBODY bought that book, because it was just clip-art with text, but I needed to know everything! I was a comic junkie after that.
JP- As an artist, who would you say are your biggest inspirations?
EVS- The ones that really got me to the point where I knew I was going to do this for a living were, in order: John Bryne, John Bogdanove and then Todd McFarlane. When Todd McFarlane came out with Spider-Man, first of all it blew the eyes out of my head, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that you were allowed to draw that way in comics, because it was always this really sort of, you know, really good John Bryne and John Bogdanove house style to comics; and then there was this really sort of dull Ron Frenz type of art that was everywhere, and then Todd McFarlane came out! His stuff was so loud and so over the top, and superheroes filled the entire page with explosions and pumpkin-bombs and all kinds of crazy stuff! I was amazed by that. Then when I grew up a little bit I found Bernie Wrightson and Brian Bolland and those guys are my two biggest inspirations right now.
JP- You’ve dabbled in writing before with your original Cyber-frog series and a few one-shots here and there, but now it was recently announced that you’ll be co-writing the new on-going Firestorm series alongside Gail Simone when the DCU relaunches this fall. How do you feel about writing your first on-going series like this?
EVS- I have to tell you, Gail Simmone is doing the scripting! Here’s how it happened, I’m really more of an idea guy than anything, more than being a comic book artist, and I’m someone who can look at Green Lantern and sort of see a bigger picture, then work with a writer to develop it into something substantial. I created and designed the colored Lantern Corps and the emotional spectrum; it was my idea. So I had an idea for Firestorm, and the problem with creating the Red Lanterns and the Blue Lanterns and the others was that I wasn’t really able to get paid for it in any real way. So now people are walking around wearing t-shits and everything and I don’t get paid! It was just an idea that I had had! So I talked to DC about it and said “You know, there has got to be a way that I can create and develop a property and still be paid for it,” and they said “Well, why don’t you co-plot?”
So I came up with this idea for Firestorm, developed it with Gail Simone, a brand new way to look at Firestorm! I hashed out some of the points with Gail and I’m co-plotting it and Gail is going to write it from there. I’m doing all the covers and some of the design work; basically the same thing as I was doing with Green Lantern, only this time I have a credit. I’m not scared at all, I’ve done it before. Actually taking hold of a book and writing it is something that I hope to do soon, but it’s not happening right now.
Nick C.- If I may, how would you say your background as an artist effects the way you approach writing?
EVS- That’s actually a good question! I believe that artists right now are under-used at DC and Marvel. They do these things called “creator summits,” Marvel and DC both do, where they plan what’s going to happen in the next year. They take all the writers and they take the editors, and they all go up in the mountains somewhere – they don’t tell us where they go, and they plan out what’s going to happen. Then they come back and we artists go “Huh? What’s going on?”
Well that sounds like it makes good sense, but comics are a visual medium and writers really cannot do what we do. I think in terms of images; I think in terms of feeling; I try to think of comics the way that I did when I was a kid. All DC superheroes, and Marvel superheroes too, should be at the very basic root, power fantasies for kids! If you could boil down Green Lantern, which has become this huge thing, to one central theme, it’s “a magic ring comes down from the sky and if you put it on you become a superhero.” Any kid understands that; any kid gets excited about it and you can build it up from there. You just have to have that simple central idea. I like to think about that and go from there.
I think in visuals and ways for fans to really interact with comics. Like with Blackest Night, we introduced all these symbols and these costumes and the idea was that putting on a different ring makes your costume change, and makes you behave differently. So suddenly, we had fans all over the world drawing not even just DC characters, but Marvel characters with these rings. What does Wolverine look like as a Red lantern? What would the Incredible Hulk look like as… wow an Indigo Lantern; can you imagine that? It became really exciting to be able to mix and match. My idea was that if you could just do comics that are interactive and that simple, that a child could understand it and yet fire up the imagination of the fans reading it so that they’re a part of it to. They start thinking about it, and you’ve got a monster hit idea!
These things occur to me all the time, but I don’t see a lot of these happening elsewhere. So I sit here wondering why the hell I’m not invited to these creative summits? And it’s not just me, it’s guys like Shane Davis and other artists that think visually like that with the ability to present that kind of idea or that kind of view to a writer, who will then make it into something like Blackest Night. That has all started to change now though, DC started to realize that and they’re saying that artists are going to become more deeply involved in the creative process at the beginning. I think it’s really cool.
JP- Is it an odd transition to you doing the writing for the story, but knowing someone else will be illustrating it?
EVS- No, actually I like it! At first I was very jealous when I realized that we knew someone else was going to be drawing it; we wanted to put off choosing who that person was for a long time because I was like “Well, I’d still like to draw it…” Then they chose Yildiray Cinar who is awesome! He not only gets what I’m talking about, but when I tell him what I’m looking for he’ll say “I get it, check this out!” and twenty minutes later he’ll have a whole design for me. It’s good, it’s exciting, and it’s just exactly right; and then Gail sees it and it’s like “Oh I get it!” That’s how to do it, that’s how it gets done. While I wish I could draw everything in the world, I can’t draw everything in the world. I really want to just always create so this is a very comfortable situation for me.
JP- While I know DC is keeping generally tight-lipped on a lot of the relaunch series, what can you tell us about the new Firestorm? What can the fans expect from the series?
EVS- What I can tell you is that Ronnie and Jason are both in it now, both of them are Firestorm. They aren’t half of a Firestorm anymore, although they can fuse and can become a ten-foot tall being of nuclear energy that you will be seeing in issue #1. It is the same natural concept that Firestorm has always had to him – two guys burned into one. I always felt that the idea of me being a young man, all excited to be a superhero, but having a stodgy old professor who is a wet blanket that ruins everything, stuck in my head at all times. “Ronnie be careful! Ronnie look out!” as a kid; and you go back to this thing where it needs to appeal to kids, that’s my worst nightmare. That isn’t a power fantasy, to be half a superhero with my dad in my head. That’s horrible! But the idea of you two guys (referring of course to the two of us, Jordan and Nick) being superheroes and being best buddies, to have the ability to, if you were facing a problem that was too big for you, high-five and turn into the equivalent of the Incredible Hulk if he was on fire! That sounds cool, you know?
JP- A lot of people are still on the fence about it at this point, are you personally excited for the DC relaunch this fall?
EVS– I am! And I don’t blame people for being worried about it or for being on the fence about it, because it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Some of it is going to be great. For example, Firestorm! It’s going to be great! But some of them won’t be. There will be fifty-two titles, and a ton of new creative teams, so we’ll see how that evolves. But the idea is to no longer being shackled to the 768 issues before you. Especially to new fans and people that are eventually going to become fans, now is the time! After a whole summer of superhero comic book blockbusters, here is your chance to get in on the ground floor. How could you not be excited about that? It’s great, it’s a great idea.
JP- You know, I didn’t think to ask until now, but have you seen the new Green Lantern movie yet? If you have, what did you think of it?
EVS- I actually haven’t seen it yet! I think it looks awesome though and I really want to see it, but I’ve been tied up all this weekend here at the con! It just came out yesterday but I’m going to go see it as soon as I get home.
JP- Aside from Firestorm and your cover-artwork for the DC relaunch, are there any other projects that you have in the works that you would be able to tell us about?
EVS- Yes and no. I have a project in the works that I’ve been drawing for a long time. Do you want to see it? (Ethan then showed the two of us something that looked quite amazing! Unfortunately, we have been sworn to secrecy as far as what it actually is! What I can tell you though is that it looks great and will be well worth the wait to see!).
JP- What would you say has been your favorite project you’ve worked on to date?
EVS- Boy did I love the Green Lantern run. We were just firing on all cylinders. Sinestro Corps was a lot of fun too! It was just a continuation of Rebirth but wow. It was the first time I can think of as a creative person, that no one was telling us “no“. That’s a big thing, when you have editors and you could be able to offer ideas and be daring about it. You could say things like “Sinestro’s costume should be yellow, not blue,” you know? “Not only that, but Sinestro shouldn’t be smiling and giggling all the time, he should be Adolph Hitler.” And usually they go “What?! What do you mean?” and it’s just “No, he should be Adolph Hitler, he should be yellow, and he should have a whole team, a counter-insurgency, to deal with the Green Lantern Corps. He’s a political force.” and for DC to go “Okay let’s do it,” that is huge! It really paid off. A lot of times when trying to make a big change like that, the answer is “no.” It just stifles you and makes you say “Oh okay, we’ll just stick with the status quo.” It just felt good! That whole run felt great.
JP- Are there any creators that you’d like to collaborate with on a project at some point, but haven‘t yet?
EVS- That I haven’t yet? Probably everybody! Tony Bedard over there (pointing in reference to his fellow con attendee), I mean yeah I’d love to work with Tony! But I’d like to work with everybody. More important than that, I like autonomy. I’m hoping that eventually, after learning from Gail Simone on Firestorm, I’ll be able to write, pencil and ink my own creative force by myself. That way I don’t have to argue with anybody. I won’t have to convince anyone, you know? I’d like to just be Frank Miller or John Bryne or Walt Simonson and just do it all by myself.
Nick C.- On a related note, given all the work you’ve done with Geoff Johns recently, is there anything about that particular creative relationship that sets it apart in your mind?
EVS- Yeah, most definitely. It was the most successful creative partnership I’ve had so far! Geoff and I just got each other, and not even just that, but the thing about working with Geoff is that he’s a “Yes and?” kind of guy. We work in an industry where people like to say no, but with Geoff it’s like you don’t say no! It’s like acting or improv. You say “Yes and…” to continue the creative cycle. You just take ideas. With Geoff you can just call him up and say “You know, I think so-and-so should…” or “I had this vision that…” or “Well what do you think of…” and Geoff will respond with ‘Oh, yes and how about if we do it so…” and then mix in all sorts of great new ideas that he’s had stored in his head. That’s an intelligent way of working with another creative person! It worked really well.
Nick C- Can you tell us what went into designing the different Lantern corps, particularly the symbols?
EVS- It was all so random! The initial one was the Sinestro Corps logo, which I kind of pulled off of the Parallax costume! I just sort of found it in the shape of the suit that Daryll Banks designed. Darryl Banks designed that costume and it was brilliant! Once I had that, the idea was to sort of hint towards the others and then find them where something already existed. I took the Star Sapphire, and that’s the great thing about Green Lantern, there’s so much stuff that’s already there to work with! The yellow energy was always there next to green on the rainbow, and the characters would blend too! Sinestro used to be a Green Lantern but switched to the yellow ring. Guy Gardner wore a yellow ring for a bit. Hal Jordan became Parallax, and the two of them were always sort of blending in a rainbow, which kind of gave me the initial idea for the different colored Lantern Corps. You look at a rainbow and it’s like “Oh there’s also violet over here, isn’t that weird? Then there is blue opposite of yellow and yellow is fear so maybe the opposite of fear is hope?” It sort of just spread out from there.
JP- As a fan of comics, what would you say are your favorite comic series to read? Both currently and overall of all time?
EVS- The Walking Dead, which is what I really look forward to now! I’ve got the big hardcover trades and it’s just awesome! Of all time? Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby]’s Fantastic Four and Jack Cole’s Plastic Man, which is available in DC archive hardcovers. I know that people may think that Cole’s comics are quaint, maybe a little silly, but I wish I could force you guys to pick up Jack Cole’s Plastic Man and just check it out! The man was a lunatic; he didn’t belong in the 1940’s. He was on his own level of creativity, he’d do whatever the hell he wanted to do, and the Plastic Man stories were just convoluted in range of creative brilliance. People that knew him said that he was that kind of a guy. Back in those days you worked in a sweat shop, you know? Turning out comics at $10 a page, and you really had to work fast to put out all these books, and he did. While he was working at Quality Studios, the heat, with all these other guys at this table, they had horseflies the size of your fist flying around. One of the guys who sat behind Jack Cole said he saw him reach up and grab one, put it down and start doing something to it, then let it go. Jack had tied a little flag to its butt that said “Drink Pepsi-Cola!” He was a strange genius, and he ended up killing himself. Nobody really knows why, which kind of adds to the mystique of the guy. But if you really want to know who he is, go back and look at those classic Plastic Man books, and you’ll thank me for it!
You can look forward to Ethan Van Sciver’s latest work in The Fury Of Firestorm this fall! He’ll be pulling double duty as both co-writer and cover artist for the new series when the DC Universe relaunches in September! Thanks for reading and be sure to stay tuned to Comic Booked for more interviews with your favorite industry talents!