Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
Exactly one year ago, I was putting together X-Men Monday #125, featuring Jonathan Hickman. As it was the former Head of X’s final X-Men Monday interview (for now), I wanted to make sure he received a proper XMM sendoff. So I reached out to his fellow X-creators to see if they had any Hickman memories they wanted to share.
Writer Gerry Duggan was among the creators who responded and shared a black-and-white photo for me to include — the moment Jonathan and Al Ewing came up with the idea for S.W.O.R.D. (with Chip Zdarsky in the middle).
At the time, Gerry was putting together a book of his photography, and I mentioned he had an open invitation to discuss the book when ready here at X-Men Monday. Well, Gerry’s book is in the home stretch and has a name — Timing/Luck — and he needs your help getting it across the finish line. But before you head over to the project’s Kickstarter page, learn a whole lot more about this passion project and why it may be of interest to X-Fans.
And yes, as this is X-Men Monday, of course we talk a bit about Gerry’s X-Men series.
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Gerry! You’ve worked in several parts of the entertainment industry, which we’ll get into, but readers of this interview will mostly know you for your comics work. So, could you start by telling us the origin story for Gerry Duggan: Photographer?
Gerry: It’s funny, I guess it goes back to really messing around with a camera that my father bought off another soldier in Vietnam. He wanted to go on R&R, so he gave him 50 bucks and came back with a Minolta camera that had a 50-millimeter portrait lens on it. We still have family photos that were taken with that camera. It ended up being my first film camera.
I was very lucky and privileged to go to school in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where there was a dark room in middle school. We were making our own t-shirts, photographs, and stickers — that sort of thing. I don’t think that’s common in schools anymore and I wish it were.
A few years ago, I purchased a digital camera after my son was born. I had hundreds of iPhone pictures — like first-gen iPhone pictures. They were just more or less terrible photographs. The camera was not great and the megapixel quality was low. We’re obviously thrilled to have them, but I would trade the dozens of photos on that camera roll for a couple of nice ones from a flat lens.
So the camera became an extension of my hand over the years. I should admit to being a failed comic artist. I just didn’t have the talent and this helps me scratch that itch. I’m privileged enough to be writing the assignments I am and working with the artists I am. I’m lucky enough to be invited to go around to comic conventions around the world. When there, you don’t want to just sit in a hotel room. You want to walk around the city and explore.
So that’s really where it came from. I don’t think I would have taken a stab at a book had the pandemic not forced me to sort of take stock of what I had. It was finally a time to look backwards and I’m actually very grateful for that experience, because I unexpectedly found that there were gaps in my backing up of a lot of the photos because I had a laptop and a desktop, and some of this stuff from my laptop over the years was not being properly backed up. So I spent most of the pandemic looking backwards in time, which was weird… but what was time anyway?
AIPT: Let’s dig into Timing/Luck. I saw on Twitter Brian Michael Bendis may have gently bullied you into this?
Gerry: He definitely is one of the champions of me taking a swing at it. When you are like me and trying to shoot and not be noticeable and not let people know that you’re shooting, I find it’s fun to then later go, “Hey, here are a few pictures from the other night from the meal or from the walk around New York” and have everyone be surprised that I was photographing. I’m not always able to get away with it, but that’s the street photographer in me — always trying to see what I can grab.
Chip is a hard one to get — he’s keenly aware of even my most furtive movements with the camera. Everyone else I could more or less try and kind of surprise, but it’s been a fun experience.
AIPT: What can backers of the project expect when they receive their copy of Timing/Luck?
Gerry: It’s a couple hundred photos. They seemed to fall into three categories. One was sort of behind the scenes in Hollywood, the others were behind the table in comics and sort of more classic street photography. I think the best stuff is at the back of the book. Some of the photographs are candid, some are portraits.
I think the only through line that makes any sense is that it’s my story. So it is a bit of an autobiography about my arrival in Los Angeles and starting as a clerk at Golden Apple Comics. I think I Forrest Gumped my way through some interesting rooms, whether it was award show writing or writing for Hollywood, or writing on shows and being able to sort of grab moments with some of the people that I most admired, to then later doing that same sort of thing in comics.
In the comics ecosystem, we lead solitary lives — everyone’s working at home or working around the world. So when there is an editorial retreat, or a comic convention, or an occasion to get together, it feels special. And that was what was so cool about looking back at the photographs — I was panning for gold. I sort of surprised myself. There were some photos that I remember really fondly that didn’t stand out the way that I thought. And then there were some photos that I had initially discarded and then thought, “Oh, you know what, that’s so good that shouldn’t have my name on it. That’s a real photograph.”
I will say this, I think most people can appreciate that at least I was shooting with a really nice piece of glass. There’s a lens that most of the book is caught with. I have this dedication to shooting in almost near dark in a lot of these situations, too, whether it’s backstage at the Beverly Hilton or in a pub after an editorial retreat. The one thing that the photos do share in common is that I’m quietly snapping away in not total darkness, but relative darkness and those are the ones that I like the most, because they’re the easiest to screw up. You know, I’m not a power hitter. I had to hit a lot of ground balls in order to share some of the home runs with you.
I think if you’re a comics reader that’s a fan of mine, there’s going to be a lot in the book that you would enjoy. And even if I’m not your favorite X-Men writer, chances are I may have photographed your favorite X-Men writer and they’re in the book.
A lot of what we do is not really sorted in the rooms. There’s a sort-of-famous story that is true about the editorial retreats, and that was that Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis didn’t have the idea for Civil War in the room. It was on the way to the room in a cab after a night out. And then, there are really exact precise moments. I did photograph the moment after an editorial retreat wrapped with Al Ewing and Jonathan Hickman — and Chip was in the middle there. We just had Planet-Size X-Men ratified. And then the what if started, and that what if begot S.W.O.R.D. and that begot X-Men Red. So, you know, it’s unusual maybe that there are such precise sort of moments that we steal, or if we do, it’s possibly with phone cameras, and then they’re almost made to feel disposable with social media. When you have something that is a bit more indelible, it feels bigger and that’s why they’re important to me.
AIPT: I think one of the most exciting things about this project is the chance to see those more intimate moments between comics creators. Whether you’re a fan of movies or music, it’s so much easier to find books with behind-the-scenes stories and photographs chronicling the making of iconic films and albums. We don’t have as much of that in comics.
Gerry: Well, thank you. Yeah, I hope people get a kick out of it. All of this stuff is maybe not ancient history, but certainly nothing will be spoiled. But for fans of what we’re doing now in the X-Office, there’s certainly formative moments in the history of Krakoa. I did manage to get a shot of Jonathan and Jordan D. White actually sending out the last issue of House of X during a retreat.
The other influence for Timing/Luck I had really is, maybe an unlikely one, in Jeff Bridges. He’s been photographing his movie collaborations for years and he does something really cool. He makes a book at the end of every gig and then gifts that as a crew gift. He uses a really unusual film camera called a Widelux. I got to see him shoot on the set of Blown Away in Boston. I think it was 1994 — I was an extra watching him use that camera and going, “You know what? I wish I’d brought my camera today.” And eventually you have enough moments like that where you eventually don’t leave the house without the camera.
Photography was just going to be a hobby that was pleasurable and I do hope that Kickstarting a book of it doesn’t then diminish that. I suppose there’s that danger, but at the end of the day, I’ll be honest, I had to wrestle with why I was sharing it. There’s a photographer who I really admire: Vivian Maier. What’s interesting is I think she’s probably one of the most important street photographers of the 20th century. She was using a bunch of different cameras, but she never shared an image as far as I know in her life. She may have here and there, but she unfortunately died and everything was in a storage locker. And then out of the storage locker, somebody bought all of these images and they’re just a striking amount of work.
Now, I’m no Vivian, but I also didn’t want to leave my son with a stack of Kryptonian hard drives to go, “These pictures are your responsibility now, son.” He’s not going to know who Esad Ribić is. He’s not going to know some of the comics creators people might be interested in seeing, because it’s really a view into that part of the world that you don’t see. It’s really not photos from the comic convention floor, right? It’s just photos of walks around cities and enjoying each other’s company or going to a restaurant and trying a new meal and maybe just being tired or talking a story.
AIPT: Beyond comics, you mentioned you’ve been in some “cool rooms.” For those who aren’t aware, can you talk a bit about your Hollywood experiences?
Gerry: Sure. My first love was both comic books and photography, and I would stay up too late reading comics as a kid until David Letterman came on and then go to school tired the next morning, because I was reading or rereading old comics. Watching that show, I thought my career path would have been to come out here and maybe write some late night. And I certainly have done that. I also contributed to many hundreds of hours of live television over the years. That experience is hard to get, especially now. But that was my career path and it just became this sort of funny way to make a living in the early 2000s.
I know I did the VH1 Big in 2003 Awards, because I remember that was the time I’m standing and Beyonce walks into a room already filled with celebrities. People threw their necks out to turn and look at this young woman and go, “Oh, that’s the star that we will all revolve around for the rest of the evening.” You know, everyone from OutKast to Diddy was there and the stories are preposterous. Like one presenter showing up at that show and demanding to also be given an award, so we hastily threw together a new award that someone could present to them. It’s all silly stuff, but it was fun. And it was a good way to get quick on your feet and the whole time I’m writing specs, because I would love to transition into features.
When I came to LA and saw Golden Apple Comics, I had no idea it was there and I walked in and said, “I know a lot about comics. I’m just into town. I need to find a job.” And they referred me to Bill Liebowitz at the back counter and Bill and I talked for a few minutes and he said he’d try me out for two weeks just on a trial basis. That changed my life because I ended up meeting so many friends in there and many who would become collaborators and they would later introduce me to my wife. The kicker to that is also me having walked in there thinking, great, I’ve got a job. I can help. I’m going to be an asset to the store, but I want to save money to get a car so I can do production work — not knowing that Hollywood was just getting going in comics and that everyone was going to walk through that door sooner or later, from writers to directors, to studio executives, to actors who were looking for comics they could read about parts that they were going out for.
So it was again, just a really fun sort of Wild West. People talk about the tech boom — the comic boom was also a lot of fun. Back then, they were still doing movies that felt like proof of concept. And then obviously, once Iron Man hit it was open season.
AIPT: Growing up a comics fan, I remember reading about actors like Nicholas Cage and Samual L. Jackson going to Golden Apple. Did they ever come in when you worked there?
Gerry: I had a lot of cool experiences at that shop. You know, Bill’s no longer with us, but he was a really great advocate for comics and even though there were always a lot of stars in there, I don’t think anybody really got special treatment. And certainly the other customers really let everyone be themselves. But I will say, though, the coolest experience I had in that shop was at a time when Nicholas Cage was still married to Patricia Arquette. One night, right before closing, Patricia Arquette walks in and goes, “You know him, what doesn’t he have?” And I was like, “All right, well, let’s take a walk around. Here’s the new Bottle City of Kandor. I don’t think he’s bought that yet. And if he has just bring it back.” There’s something really neat about being in a comic shop after hours with Alabama Whitman.
And most stores don’t let customers get away with indefinite long boxes, but when you happen to be Samuel L. Jackson, and you might be gone six months shooting a movie, nobody was not going to pull his book. So he had a list then, and anything that looked cool that we thought he should see we just dunked in there by his request. But that was the really cool thing, like these guys didn’t always know that all the customers that they were arguing with were like the showrunner of Seinfeld. When you walked in there, you were just a nerd.
And the guy that I saw every week in there, rain or shine, was John Singleton. And he was awesome too. It was fun to talk comics. And it’s always fun to talk comics. That’s the great thing about comic shops — they really are an oasis of culture. It’s the thing that I think you feel when you talk to people who miss record stores and bookstores. Comic shops have managed to dodge a lot of those bullets.
AIPT: Is Golden Apple how you got to know Jon Hamm? Because he’s a comics guy too, right?
Gerry: You know, it’s weird. Either believe this or not believe it — it certainly doesn’t make me seem like the smartest knife in the drawer. But I knew Jon as a guy from my fantasy football league before I realized that he was also the star of Mad Men.
But we bonded over Bill Sienkiewicz New Mutants. He’s a huge fan and really knows his stuff, especially from back then. But we nerded out over old Chris Claremont X-Men and stuff. And he hasn’t been shy about the past opportunities to maybe put a red diamond on his head. It really, really, really makes me laugh, but what a wonderful choice. The cool thing really is he’d crush it. That’s a part that would require an actor to obviously have this real menace and gravitas, and then he could also switch those gears into being that scummy one that we all love. So, yeah — what an amazing bit of casting that would be if that ever took off.
AIPT: But you made Jon Hamm into an X-Men character, so he’d have to play himself in the Hellfire Gala movie.
Gerry: [Laughs] What universe are we in? I thought it was weird that the studio’s version is 616 because now it makes me question, well what are the comics really?
AIPT: Well that’s cool Jon’s a Claremont and Sienkiewicz fan — he was on that Legion show. It all makes sense.
Gerry: Yep, that’s exactly right.
AIPT: I’m curious, has your photography influenced how you collaborate with artists in any ways? Do you ever provide photo references for artists?
Gerry: I definitely have shared references with artists sometimes that are mine. The truth is we write scripts very differently for different artists and collaborators. And there are times when we try to keep it simple. For Pepe Larraz, we always need to communicate where it is we’re going — but I’m always more interested to see what he would do on his own. So when we were cooking Planet-Size X-Men, I remember going back and forth about what it would be.
I think my only visual prompt for Lactuca, for instance, was perhaps spiral galaxy or cosmos for eyes, and maybe an inky void. Then there were 10 great drawings. We got one with a parasol, we got one where the skull is more visible. So the answer is yes, I hope the better a photographer I can be, the simpler I can keep an image and know how hard it is to construct striking images. I try to get out of the way of my betters. With an artist like Pepe, I just tell my story and then Pepe tells you the story. And then I come back around at the end to do more with less. I try to shorten balloons and boxes and get out of his way.
During pandemic, I also wrote an introduction and I cleaned up a script for a big artist edition hardcover of Planet-Size X-Men that I still hope will see print somewhere.
AIPT: Sounds like your next Kickstarter.
Gerry: I mean, I’d love to become a publisher and do art books.
AIPT: So just to confirm, you didn’t give Pepe photos you took on Mars?
Gerry: [Laughs] You know what’s funny? There were things that I remember giving to Pepe about Mars. We talked a lot about Mars. What was interesting was Jonathan I think had the idea to differentiate it and keep its red sort of color palette. So we knew we weren’t making it lush and green from a very early stage. And the funny thing about that was there’s science that we want to be beholden to. So we talked about what the sunlight actually looks like on a sunny day on Arakko. It’s still is going to look like the sun — we’re not changing the distance of the sun to that planet. So we talked about this dimmer color palette and having a sea that would accommodate the main island of Arakko. And then again, to just get out of Pepe and Marte Gracia’s way. They owned it and crushed it. It’s forever comic.
AIPT: Before we wrap up with a few X-Men questions, what is your current go-to camera?
Gerry: So, that camera I mentioned earlier, the one that I purchased when my son was born, was a Fujifilm X100 — that was the mark one of that very successful line of cameras. That was a flat lens 35, meaning fixed lens. So I can’t swap that lens. When Analog was optioned to be a feature with Lionsgate, I spent a couple of bucks to buy, at that time, it was the first-generation Leica Q. The lens on that is also a fixed lens, slightly wider. It’s a 28-millimeter. And that was really when I thought my street stuff especially took off. It’s got such a nice wide, crisp, fast lens, and really captures images so well in the dark that it’s when a lot of the stuff started to come together.
And that’s what the bulk of the book is. Some of it is the Fuji, but the majority of it is the Leica. I was loving black-and-white photography for so long that I kind of surprised myself. The end of the book is I go to Japan and also photographed Los Angeles during the pandemic. In both cases, the color really stood out to me after shooting in black and white for so long. And the interesting thing about that last third of the book is I landed in Tokyo during a category-five typhoon when the streets were empty. So I got to experience this really cool side of Tokyo that I had never seen before, because it was abandoned.
So Shinjuku — places where you’re used to seeing wall-to-wall crowds — are emptied out. And then when I get back, I photographed a bunch of Los Angeles during the pandemic when it was also emptied out, especially during quarantine. But I didn’t want to end the book on such a downer, so I photographed an LA County vaccination mega pod and the colors there stood out too. So anyway, that was something I discovered along the way — that I had this almost pathological need to take black-and-white photographs. Then discovering, “Oh, you know what? These look really great in color, too.” That was a nice discovery.
AIPT: OK, so let’s say you’re living in the X-Men universe. What are the big (or small) moments you most want to be present for with your camera?
Gerry: That’s a great question. Did you ever see the stuff that Phil Noto was doing a million years ago?
AIPT: You mean the retro, behind-the-scenes, LIFE Magazine stuff? I featured one of those in Phil’s X-Men Monday interview.
Gerry: There was an artist named Bob Peak who was very influential. I hesitate to call him a commercial artist because I think it minimizes him, but at the same time, it’s always good to know who the big commercial artists are because they’re the ones getting paid. Bob Peak was painting TWA ads, full-page LIFE Magazine stuff, and many famous TV Guide covers — so that kind of artist. But that’s the kind of DNA Phil has. And when he sent them to me in, in typical Phil fashion, was sort of dismissive of them and I was like, “Oh no, no, no. This is a book if you wanted it to be.”
He was just turning them out for fun and they were very playful. The other thing that I think is very special about Phil is he’s not just like good, good, but he’s also technically good. There are many of those figures that are slightly out of focus because the focal length is on one character. And so he just crushed the look and the feel of them without being, I think, overly nostalgic.
So it’s a great question. Like sure, who wouldn’t want to be around the mansion? But I need to be honest, so much of the back of my book feels apocalyptic with the category-five typhoon and then a pandemic that made Los Angeles seem like Omega Man. The interesting thing would be to shoot when “Fall of the Mutants” happened or when we got to “Days of Future Past.” Like, what are you shooting then? What are the Sentinels up to then? What does New York feel like then? That would be the exciting place for me.
The truth is you really don’t want to get too close to these characters, right? The people in these comics, like in orbit around any of these heroes or villains, don’t seem to fair too well. When the Watcher shows up, I can assure you, I am showing him my back and I’m moving very far away quickly.
AIPT: [Laughs] OK, so which X-Men character would make a great photographer?
Gerry: You have to figure that Peter would, right? Like, as a visual artist, I think if you can do one thing, it very much translates. You know, it’s even the reason that comic books became the very DNA of Hollywood. They already were basically storyboards — you can rip the pages out and stuff them into the camera. So even though I can’t draw, I know what I would like to draw and sometimes getting that right with a camera feels so good.
I bet you Beast would be an interesting one, probably taking really, really dark photos and stuff that you’re like, “Oh, why are you photographing that? Is that exploitative?” And then I have to believe that Jumbo Carnation would also take some great shots because he’s got that extra set of hands and that’s always going to be helpful.
AIPT: So, just two issues into year 2 of X-Men, I think what stands out to me the most is the incredible power feats. Are you pushing yourself to make sure the X-Men take big swings as often as possible?
Gerry: Well, part of what I think got me the gig was knowing that this X-Men book had to be the superhero book because we had so many other books that were certainly superhero books, but this one had to be a capital “S” superhero book. So when Jonathan, Jordan, and C.B. first came to me and they were talking about transitioning from Jonathan to me, I wrote a big, 30-page document that I basically said, we’re going to need to do some villain work, and we’re going to need to really lean hard into making this the biggest, best superhero book on the stands. I think Jonathan famously said at the end of his tenure, like, “Don’t you think it’s crazy I got away with a book that was called X-Men that didn’t really have them being superheroes in it?” And I would sort of disagree. I think there was a lot of heroics in those issues, but by necessity, he was also doing big, big things that we needed as a line for him to do. And now that that table is set, I get to be the one that really enjoys the fruits of that labor.
But yes, I do try to challenge myself, like X-Men #14 with Iceman and finding a way of going, “Hey, what’s the way that he can save the most amount of people with his power set?” It’s fun to sit here and, especially with the way that the world was burning the last few years, to have an escape. Boy, what a privilege.
AIPT: My absolute favorite moment has been Cyclops convincing Progenitor he can’t be judged by a Celestial. So much swagger.
Gerry: Well, I’m glad. But you know what’s funny is I thought the one that everyone would love was actually at the top of that issue. And I don’t know, maybe it’ll be lost to time because of the last scene in that issue, but it was him shooting off a bunch of black hat Novas and then sort of going, “Yeah, well, you get used to shooting off metal helmets when you grow up in a school training to fight Magneto.” I felt like that’s something for all the Scott fans.
And then, that other piece sort of presented itself later because I knew I was doing two, not three tie-ins. So I wanted to put an exclamation point on “A.X.E.,” which, let me tell you, I think is a phenomenal event. I think what Kieron Gillen has done with Valerio Schiti and Marte, and what everyone’s doing around them, especially with Al and Stefano Caselli with X-Men Red. You know, we had years to prepare for this stuff. So we’re really in Godzilla mode now and, you know, I hope everyone’s having fun because we’re going to keep crushing it.
AIPT: Well, as a Cyclops fan, it was great.
Gerry: Well, good. I’m glad as a fellow Cyclops fan. These are big moments that I’m thrilled to be able to write.
AIPT: Finally, how has it been collaborating with C.F. Villa and Joshua Cassara?
Gerry: Oh, both artists are phenomenal. Again, an embarrassment of riches, a murderers’ row of talent that I’m thrilled to be asked to collaborate with. And I’m glad that they’re happy with the scripts. We’re doing some big, big stuff. C.F. has a really wonderful standalone issue coming up. And Josh is done with his arc that returns the X-Men to the Vault — a story that I was very happy went over well in the room when I pitched it. Jonathan set up a really big story there. And we’re continuing that now. And Josh just killed it. I’m texting Josh all the time and Josh is texting what he’s doing and those are the best messages to get all day.
It’s such a treat to have this other world that we’re building. No matter how ugly or how dark this world gets, to be able to know that we’re doing something akin to being gardeners in the X-Men world, even though it’s never always going great for those characters, because my job is to punish them and hurt them. [Laughs]
Still, what a great joy of my professional life, to be the X-Men writer right now, because that was the book. You know, if I could have one book off the racks at the comic book shop, it was going to be X-Men.
AIPT: I think that’s a great note to end on. Gerry, thanks so much for taking the time to discuss your work across media!
OK, X-Fans, if you want to help make Gerry’s Timing/Luck become a reality, head over to the photo book’s Kickstarter page. As of this X-Men Monday, there are only 16 days to go, so be sure to do so soon!
And after you’re done, of course, pick up X-Men #15 this Wednesday! Here are a few eXclusive preview images courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White, featuring art by Joshua Cassara.
Until next time, X-Fans, stay exceptional!
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!