Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
And this one’s not just uncanny, it’s eXtra special, because we’re joined by two genuine comic book legends: Louise Simonson (X-Factor, New Mutants, Power Pack) and Walter Simonson (X-Factor, Thor, Fantastic Four)! The Simonsons have been on my X-Men Monday bucket list for sometime, so I was thrilled when they agreed to to discuss their upcoming X-Men Legends two-parter, as well as their classic X-Factor run and more.
As you’ll soon discover, we talked a lot. So what you’re about to read will actually be part one of the first-ever, two-part X-Men Monday interview. That’s a lot of X-Men Monday–so without further ado, here are the Simonsons!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Louise and Walter! Your new X-Factor story, which will begin in X-Men Legends #3, goes on sale April 28. I’d like to go back to the beginning of this project–how did you become involved in this new anthology series?
Louise: [Series editor] Mark Basso called me and said, “Do you want to do an X-Men Legends story?” And I said, “Sure.” That was pretty much it. He asked if I had any place that I could insert a story in the old continuity. And the old continuity was pretty tight on X-Factor. I wasn’t smart like Chris [Claremont]. Chris had all of these dangling plot threads, which was really clever of him, but I didn’t. It took me awhile to actually figure out where to put the story, but I was able to find a place.
AIPT: Previews for the story have said it takes place before X-Factor #43, which was the start of the multi-part “Judgement War” epic. What made you choose this specific period in X-Factor history?
Louise: Well, there’s a bit of a jump between where we see what’s happening with X-Factor and then suddenly, they’re on the ship and they’re being propelled off into space with not a clue what’s going on. And I had a story in mind having to do with Apocalypse, his origin and his involvement in all of this, which I had never told, and it turned out to be a perfect place for it. So I was able to kind of slot it in with modern interventions, because, you know, half of the things you think of have already been done.
AIPT: And Walter, how did you become involved? Was it just a package deal?
Louise: I told Walter what I was going to–am I allowed to say what the lure was for you? Probably not.
Walter: Maybe not. The real lure was Weezie was writing it.
Louise: No, no, no.
Walter: We worked together off and on over the years. Not a lot, but in every conceivable combination–except that I haven’t written anything Weezie has drawn. But other than that, I’ve drawn stuff Weezie edited. I’ve written stuff Weezie edited. We’ve worked together on a project where we both were the writers for other artists. I’ve drawn comics that she wrote–X-Factor from 30 years ago. This is a story she’s telling a few issues after I got off the book, I think #39 was the last issue I did. So it’s a few issues later, but it’s still the cast I knew. So I more or less volunteered to draw it.
Louise: I did say that there would be specific characters in the book. And you said, “Oh, is this like when you said that you wanted to do Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans because we were going to use Darkseid?”
Walter: I walked into Weezie’s office when she and Chris were talking about the Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans book, and it was “mumble, mumble, mumble, Darkseid.” I said, “If you’re doing Darkseid, I’m drawing it.”
Louise: So it was kind of like that, only it wasn’t Darkseid.
Walter: I was the second choice for the X-Men-Teen Titans book because Dave Cockrum had first crack at it because he was the regular artist on Uncanny X-Men. But he couldn’t fit it into the schedule. So she had looked for other artists and I was right there.
Louise: You would have always been my first choice.
Walter: Well, of course. Basically, I just thought it’d be a lot of fun to work with her again, which it turns out it has been.
Louise: A lot of fun.
Walter: I mean, we’ve said elsewhere that we really just have one brain between us and that’s kind of how it works out. If it was just one of us by ourselves, we mostly don’t know what the hell is going on, but together, we can pretty much put one brain together. So on stuff like this, it’s really a treat to be able to go back and work with her again. So that was really the lure for me to be able to do that.
AIPT: Well, speaking of your shared brain, did you two bounce ideas off one another when putting the story together?
Louise: I come up with a story, but Walter kibitz it.
Walter: I kibitz some.
Louise: I was just going to say, you’re really good at snappy patter, so if I need somebody to be more casual or whatever, I can say, “Hey,” and you’ll say, “Hey, blah, blah, blah.” And I’ll say, “OK, that sounds better.”
Walter: I’ll leave comments in the margins.
Louise: yeah, that’s true.
Walter: We’re working with what used to be called “Marvel Style.” Almost nobody does it anymore. But it really means that the writer provides the artist with a plot, the penciler draws–in this case, 20 pages of art, which is what a book is these days, a regular floppy. And then the writer goes back and writes it from the art, because we worked like this for so long. I basically thumbnail the whole book on copy paper. I used to say typewriter paper, but nobody knows what that means anymore. So I use copy paper. I do one page of thumbnails per page of a sheet of copy paper. And then I’ll have all 20 of them worked out. They’ll be pretty loose. I mean, really stick figures and very simple shapes, but it will establish all the storytelling.
The composition is both the panels and the pages. And at this point, Weezie pretty much knows what I’m doing. So she’ll write from the thumbnails. And occasionally, she’ll call me–I’m on the first floor in my studio, she’s upstairs in her office–and she’ll give me a holler and want to know whether what she’s looking at is a slice of pizza or a flying saucer going by.
AIPT: Did either of you need to go back and reread or reference your original X-Factor stories?
Louise: I went back and read it all. I had to figure a place to put the couple of issues into. Walter, you looked at a few things, right? You looked at some of your old stuff and you looked at some of the new stuff.
Walter: I didn’t look at a lot of it. I’ve looked at things for reference because I haven’t drawn Apocalypse in like 30 years.
Louise: And Caliban’s changed a lot.
Walter: Yeah, Caliban. In these two issues, he’s somewhere between the way I drew him, which was fairly slender, and this beefed-up steroid hunk in the later issues. So I’ve kind of tried to be somewhere in the middle of that. He’s probably not as beefed-up as he ought to have been, but that was hard to do given the way I used to draw him.
And also I found he has a costume, which I think in the old days when I was doing him, he didn’t have a costume. So I have a copy of Essential X-Factor volume 4, which has a bunch of Caliban drawings in it showing his costume, which I still found a little difficult to read every so often. So I did a quick master sketch showing the costume so I can keep it fairly consistent. At the end of drawing the issue, I lost my damn sketch. So there are a couple of places where the costume is maybe not quite as consistent as I would like, but I said the heck with it, I’m almost done.
I also tried to keep the work a little in the flavor of the stuff I did 30 years ago. I mean, one of the big differences is that Bob Wiacek isn’t inking the issue. I would love for him to have done it. I was all for getting the band back together. So I’ve tried to ink this a little more cleanly than the stuff I do on say Ragnarok for IDW. I tried to evoke some of that old stuff.
AIPT: What I’ve seen so far looks great. Now, I have an X-Fan question here from Tyler Zinsmeister, who was wondering who your favorite character to write and draw again was.
Louise: Oh, Lordy, let me see. Probably Apocalypse. I love him. He’s my favorite. Archangel was fun. Honestly, it would be hard to pick favorites in this issue.
Walter: I like drawing Archangel, but I mean, I designed him, but I liked the design. I thought it worked out pretty well. He’s been a lot of fun to draw on this as I’ve gone along and gotten more used to the character again. And I always enjoy drawing Apocalypse.
The really funny thing about Apocalypse is that if you go look on the web, frequently, I’m co-credited as the creator of Apocalypse along with Weezie. And in fact, it was Jackson Guice who co-created him. He appeared in a couple of issues that Jackson drew in the old days before I got on with #10. Jackson hadn’t settled on a design. So there are a couple of different looks for him.
There’s one where he’s got a fist up and he’s got shadows across his face and other stuff. But then a couple of shots later, he looks as he looks now. So Jackson hadn’t done very much with him. So when I got my hands on him, I put him on a steroid diet and really beefed him up and made him kind of look the way he looks–well, I don’t know about now. I haven’t looked at an Apocalypse in a long time, but the way I drew him was Jackson’s design beefed up as if Jack Kirby was drawing him, or at least that was my intention.
He’s a great character, but frequently, not well understood in the way he was designed as a character. I mean, not just the visuals, but as a character, as the X-Men: Apocalypse movie proved where they were completely clueless about what the character was about. Although, I’m sure like all movies, they were “just trying to make it better.” Whoever designed him, I’m sorry to say this, I’m sure you were working very hard.
When I was in San Diego many years ago, well before the movie came out–probably 8 or 10 years ago, I was crossing out of the convention center. There were a billion people. There’s one exit out of the convention where you cross the street and it’s just like the subway at rush hour in your worst nightmare. And I cross with a rush of people in the flow. And up ahead of me, I realized in the far side of the street, there was a guy in an Apocalypse costume based on Jackson’s original design. I don’t know if he was just a very tall guy or had lifts in his shoes. He must’ve been 6’6″ easy. And he was in that original costume that Jackson did and he just looked phenomenal. He looked great.
And so I saw the movie. It was very disappointing not to see that design because I could see that you could make it in real life and it would look great. So with all due respect to the costume designers in the film, and I’m sure you worked hard, I’m sorry you decided to go a different direction.
He’s a lot of fun to draw and partly, you know, it’s that he doesn’t do a lot of actual fighting himself, so you don’t have to worry too much. Mostly it’s standing around being cool and it’s fun to try and figure out how to make him stand and make it look cool at the same time.
AIPT: This wasn’t one of my planned questions, but while I have you both here–what’s inside the tubes that are part of Apocalypse’s costume? In a past edition of X-Men Monday, X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White suggested they might be energy conduits.
Walter: Oh, out of his elbows to his back?
Louise: I don’t have a clue. What about you, Walter? Anything he wants to be there, I suspect.
Walter: I think it’s green ichor–thats what it is. But other than that, I haven’t got a clue. They look really cool. You have to be careful drawing them because they can look pretty clumsy. So you have to really get them curved and drawn in a way that makes them look graceful as part of the figure.
AIPT: Now, I love the original X-Men, but many X-Fans can’t help but find them to be less-appealing than the more dynamic all-new, all-different team. As creators charged with telling the O5’s stories, did you set out to do anything special with them to set them apart from Chris’ X-Men team?
Louise: Not really. I tried to make a logical continuity. I mean, the story was complex at that point because Jean used to be dead, but then she wasn’t. And, you know, Scott had been ripped away from Chris’ character, who was Madelyne Pryor. He’d been split off from his X-Men continuity and he had essentially abandoned his wife and child, which is a very un-Scott thing to do because he was always the straight arrow.
So I guess what I was trying to do was a story that made what happened logical and make it so the character was acting as much in-character as was possible, considering that, you know, they were puppets being jerked around by editorial decrees, which happens a lot. I think a lot of times when characters are acting out of character and the readers get annoyed by that, it’s because there is an external force working on them that has nothing to do with the stories themselves or the characters as if they have lives of their own, which in some ways, we all believe they do.
So, I think I had two goals. One was to make sense of what was going on. And then, with Chris, try to get the books back so they were working together, which is how we progressed through “Mutant Massacre,” “Fall of the Mutants” and then “Inferno,” which kind of put the genie back in the bottle and it all began to make sense–we hope. And I also wanted to up their powers because the old X-Men had 1960s powers in a 1980s world. So, you know, we’d want to do stories that made them more powerful. So then it was more reasonable for them to compete in what was then a modern world, but now is the olden times.
AIPT: For a superhero series, your X-Factor run feels very mature. Obviously, Scott and Jean are parenting Nathan Christopher following “Inferno,” but the other leads also have their own personal lives. Hank with Trish Tilby, Bobby with Opal Tanaka and Warren with Charlotte Jones. Was giving each character their own side stories also a focus of yours?
Louise: I guess it was. I didn’t think of it that way. I mean, that’s not the way I approach characters exactly. I don’t think of it as giving them side stories, but I think about what their lives are like and how they interact with the world. And then I showed that, which I guess is a less sophisticated way of saying side stories about their own lives. But yeah, I wanted them to have their own individual existences beyond just being part of the team. I wanted them to have lives that existed in the real world that the rest of us inhabit.
Walter: One of the things I will say is that I haven’t read a lot of superhero comics in a long time. But occasionally, I’ve had to go back–I’ll have an assignment to write or draw something and I’ll go back to read some of the comics featuring those characters. No names will be named, I mean, this is probably 10 years ago or more. I read five or six issues of some comic. I don’t remember what it was anymore now, but it was all superheroes all the time with five issues or whatever with virtually no reference to anything in the real world. And what that meant was the superheroes themselves weren’t particularly special to me.
They’ve changed costumes a lot in the last 30 years, so I still didn’t know who all the characters were. I still didn’t know what all their powers were and I didn’t have any sense or very little sense of their relation to the real world, which to me, that’s kind of what a superhero inhabits. So when they get to inhabiting what’s really just the superhero world, unless you’re in the Bottle City of Kandor, everybody’s a potential Superman or Supergirl. And I don’t find that as interesting.
I always found Peter Parker’s personal life when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were doing it at least as interesting as the bad guys. And I’m not sure it was more interesting, but you know, all the stuff with Flash Thompson and Gwen Stacy. And everybody out there young and under 40’s going, “Who is he talking about?” But they were characters from back then. And Peter, with his soap opera life, school and his aunt–all that stuff was one of the things that kept him grounded in a way that made his work as a superhero way more interesting. He was trying to balance the super identity and all this stuff going on in his real life. It wouldn’t have to be like that in every comic for every character, of course, but having some sort of grounding in real life, to me, made that stuff more interesting.
And that’s one of the things I really liked about Weezie when she was writing X-Factor back in the day with Trish Tilby and the sort of personal life stuff that was in there. I thought that connected the characters to ordinary life and, consequently, to the readers as well, who had ordinary lives and got out of them some by reading these stories. We could still feel the connection.
Louise: It also gives you a chance to put more things at stake. If real lives around you are at stake, or if there are people you love who are not part of the team, you know, it’s another tool.
AIPT: We’ve already talked about Apocalypse, but X-Fan The Amazing Mr. Duck was wondering about his angel of death. What can you share about the origins of that iconic Archangel design?
Louise: Great design, great design. Psychologically, the thing that was most important for Warren was being able to fly, but he was also the golden boy. He was always happy. Nothing ever went wrong for him.
Walter: Unlike Scott, where everything always went wrong.
Louise: Poor Scott. So the way you find out what a character is made of is you take away the things that are most important to them. So poor old Warren, I’m afraid we did that. We ripped off his wings. Well, Cameron Hodge did it. We would never do such a thing. And, you know, we turned him into a different character where he had other stressors in his life that he had to fight his way back to being the person he was, which he’ll never be again–but to to be somebody who was just as good and just different. So that was kind of what we wanted to do with him.
I think we were more successful with him than we were with Iceman, who I don’t think was fundamentally changed. We just upped his power. Maybe we eventually would have done a major story with him if we had stayed on longer.
Walter: And part of it was the powers. I mean, they were ’60s powers in the ’80s world. And some of them, like Cyclops and Jean, you didn’t have to do anything to them. You know, Cyclops could blow away a tank with his ’60s powers. You could destroy an entire mountain like Mount Everest if you really cranked it up in the ’80s and you just had to show it. You didn’t have to actually run them through a Cyclops booster in order to get that to happen. That’s a visual thing. Jean–the same way she had telepathic powers, you could do stuff with that and make them more powerful.
Louise: I mean, Jean had been stressed anyway because they had pulled away her telepathy.
Walter: She’d also been dead. It could be a lot of stuff with Jean.
Louise: Yeah. She had a hard life. Poor Jean.
Walter: Iceman, we ran through some stuff thanks to Loki, where we juiced up his ice powers. But we never had a chance to explore that in a completely thorough way. I would have liked to have done more with that. But you know, you can only do so much in a team book. We gave him the belt as a symbol of suppressing the power. So it wouldn’t run away with him. The Beast, I think we turned him back into the Beast.
Angel was more difficult that way because in the early days, you know, he could fly at 60 miles an hour at about 10,000 feet, which by the 1980s wasn’t a lot. You had to look for villains he could fight and beat. So Weezie came up with the idea of tearing his wings off.
Louise: Because again, it was a logical progression also for the Cameron Hodge character.
Walter: It was. And I will tell you the truth, I have no idea where that design came from. I hate to say that because it’d be interesting to know. I can give you chapter and verse for Beta Ray Bill’s design and name, but I cannot tell you where the Archangel design came from. I don’t remember looking at stuff. I mean, I look at a lot of stuff, especially when I’m trying to design something–I’ll go out and just look at stuff for inspiration. I have no idea. Maybe the piping on Patrick McGoohan’s jacket in The Prisoner from 1967–but I don’t think that was it.
I don’t know, I just did some sketchy designs and that’s the way it came out. I mean, I did the color as well in order to get that kind of odd blue and magenta look, which I thought was kind of striking.
Louise: And the wings looked great. I mean, what you did with those metallic knives came out well.
Walter: They’re clearly very flexible because other artists–Whilce Portacio, in particular, have made multiple things out of it in a way that I never thought of. I have to say Whilce has done a beautiful job with the design on those, but it does make them very flexible. And it also gave him a weapon that he did not have before. That could be quite deadly if you really want it to be, which is flipping out these blades that I guess the wings just regrew–they were some sort of organic metal that would regrow and he fires out these blades and then the wings aren’t any smaller after he’s done.
I will say I was also very happy to draw a Cyclops again. I just always liked Cyke. I think that the editorial decision to yank Cyclops away from his wife and kid–I don’t know that that would have been my choice. Cyke was always such a straight-arrow guy. And up to that degree, not as interesting. But Scott became a way more complex character and in some ways, way more interesting and much more complicated since that happened–than he was before. So it’s given a lot of writers a lot of different directions to go with a character that I don’t think were as available before that happened. So, I still wouldn’t have made that editorial decision myself, but as far as that character goes, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
AIPT: Scott leaving his family is definitely something Cyclops fans and X-Fans still get upset over.
Louise: Yeah. It wasn’t his fault. It’s like, what was that one line in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? “I’m not bad, I’m only drawn that way.”
Walter: Yeah, Jessica Rabbit.
AIPT: While we’re on the topic, I’ve got a fun question from X-Fan, host of the eXcellent Cerebro podcast and Madelyne Pryor’s personal defense attorney Connor Goldsmith. Well, first, Connor pointed out that Maddie was introduced as something of a “Weezie Simonson lookalike.” Care to confirm that?
Louise: I have read that on Wikipedia. I think that’s true. I read on Wikipedia that Maddie’s original hairstyle was based on my hair. Who knows? I have no idea if at the time it was true–it may or may not have been true.
Walter: Who drew Maddie first?
AIPT: It was Paul Smith.
Walter: Oh, Paul Smith. I’ll have to ask Paul someday.
AIPT: All right, on with the question. So Connor asked if you ever feel any remorse about what was done to Maddie. He said it’s in the X-Factor issues of “Inferno” where Maddie is really painted as a malevolent person, whereas Chris in Uncanny X-Men always seemed to have a lot of sympathy for her even after she lost her soul. Was there any hesitation about so thoroughly–and literally–demonizing Scott’s abandoned wife?
Louise: No, no remorse at all. It was like, “Oh, thank God, we can demonize her and now get that out of the way.” [Laughs]
Walter: I mean, I don’t think this is revealing anything Chris hasn’t already said, but she’s really there because Jean Grey was torn away from Chris, as was Cyke to create X-Factor. Chris really created Maddie essentially as a doppelganger so he could do the Jean Grey stories he kind of wanted to do with a Jean Grey lookalike.
Louise: And give Scott a happy life.
Walter: Yes. So she was created kind of as a doppelganger in the beginning. She wouldn’t have existed, I don’t think, if Jean hadn’t been untimely ripped from Chris’s womb.
Walter: So for those who don’t know what that means, look it up. That’s a quote. I don’t know if they teach those plays anymore, but she was really a doppelganger in a sense.
Louise: I mean, the name says Pryor, you know? There was a prior existence. She suddenly appears out of nowhere essentially. Chris had had no intention at the time of turning her into a bad girl character. And you know, she’s a character that we had to do something with. And she was for me, kind of a stepping stone, which is probably why I had less sympathy for her.
I knew she was just a substitute. She was always a fake Jean. When Chris was writing her, she was a fake Jean. I never actually–I’m going to get in so much trouble–but I never…
Walter: be careful.
Louise: She never felt real to me. And I think that what we did with her was the way I always felt about her–that she was never actually a real person. She was kind of a symbol for a person.
Walter: And I will say that “Inferno,” which took Weezie and Chris two years to get to was really just as much Chris as Weezie. They worked really hard to get to the point. It wasn’t like Weezie suddenly said, “I’m going to force you to do this. It’s going to be like this.” It was nothing like that. So it was really a collaborative effort to try and reach a resolution for what was a very difficult problem set up by an editorial decision that wasn’t related to all of the characters.
AIPT: And then Jean got Maddie’s memories. So it’s not like she totally went away.
Louise: I mean, she’s got the Phoenix memories, she’s got the Madelyne memories…
Walter: She’s a complex person.
AIPT: And as we’re at about 5,000 words, that’s where we’re going to end part one of this interview, X-Fans. (I feel like Madelyne Pryor’s always a good, not-at-all controversial note to end on.) I’d like to thank Louise and Walter for taking the time to chat, and I’d like to thank Marvel for these eXclusive preview pages from X-Men Legends #3!
Gorgeous! I can’t wait. And as you X-Fans surely can’t wait either, here’s one more eXclusive to tide you over: John Tyler Christopher’s action figure variant cover to X-Men Legends #4!
Isn’t it about time we got a Marvel Legends figure of Jean in her red-and-yellow X-Factor uniform? You’ve got the parts, Hasbro–make it happen!
In the neXt edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT: Part two of this interview, in which Louise Simonson and Walter Simonson discuss sentient spaceships, their suddenly very popular creations, Nanny and Orphan-Maker, The Twelve and much more!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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