Sometimes I get to interview my friends, sometimes I get to interview folks whose work I’ve stumbled across recently and enjoyed, and sometimes I get to interview my creative heroes. This week, I’m talking with comics creator Jerry Ordway, who definitely falls into the “heroes” category.
Jerry Ordway has been working professionally in comics since 1980. He had a long run as finisher and then full artist on DC’s ALL-STAR SQUADRON, which is where I first encountered him. He co-created the original INFINITY INC, had a eight-year run on the SUPERMAN family of titles, and a fantastic four year run redefining THE POWER OF SHAZAM. He’s also done work for Marvel Comics.
ANTHONY: Hi, Jerry. Thanks for agreeing to let this long-time fanboy pester you for a while.
JERRY: No problem, happy to chat.
ANTHONY: DC Comics recently announced a black-and-white SHOWCASE reprint edition of the early issues of All-Star Squadron. I couldn’t find a contents listing on Amazon. How much of your work on the series will be seen in this first volume?
JERRY: I assume you’ll see the finishes I did on Buckler, as well as those on Adrian Gonzales in issues 1-14, including the first annual. Maybe they’ll include the Justice League portion of the JLA-JSA crossover. Not sure what the page counts is, on those collections.
ANTHONY: You started out inking Rich Buckler, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at a couple of New York Comic-Cons, but he eventually left the book and you shifted to pencilling duties. Was there any pressure to mimic Rich’s style in the beginning, or did the editors just let you jump right in?
JERRY: Well, since I was doing finishes on All Star Squadron from the beginning, the editor felt that my “veneer” so to speak, was the selling point, especially since I was working over Adrian Gonzales’s work from around issue #6(?) until I started pencilling. In fact, I had been wanting to pencil from the start, but doing the monthly All Star book was something DC didn’t want to mess with, or derail. By the second year, Roy Thomas had me doing so many art changes, I was frustrated. I decided to take up an offer to draw an 8 page Creeper back-up in Flash, and quit the book. But Len Wein, the editor told me I could pencil All Star, instead. Not wanting Adrian to lose work was my concern, and he was apparently happy to shift over to Arak, instead of drawing a dozen costumed heroes in a period backdrop:) So, no pressure to have to follow any style but my own.
ANTHONY: I have to say that I think part of my enduring love for the Golden Age Flash, Green Lantern and Starman over and above their more modern counterparts has to do with your take on them back in the Squadron days. Why do you think Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Ted Knight and even the original Captain Marvel still have such a fan-base 70 or more years after they debuted?
JERRY: Well, I think they are all compelling characters in their own right, of course, but I think in the case of the JSA-ers, that Roy, with some help from me, imbued them with personalities that didn’t exist in earlier incarnations. Roy lived and breathed those characters, and that is what made the JSA characters special in our time frame, via All Star Squad, and also Infinity Inc in the mid 1980’s. That material directly inspired the Goyer and Robinson (later Geoff Johns) material, much as the 1940’s to 1970’s stuff inspired Roy and myself.
ANTHONY: You got to redesign some WW2 characters and create some brand-new characters for All-Star Squadron. Looking back, what was your favorite costume design, and who would you like to have (re)designed given the chance?
JERRY: Again, at Roy’s insistence we gave Tarantula new life, outside of being a Sandman clone. That costume is a favorite of mine. Amazing Man was a new creation, though also a fun design, an attempt to design as if it was 1940 instead of 1980. I was never compelled to redesign any of the classic ones, though. I felt I could make them work in the drawing, if they appeared a bit clunky, as Alan Scott’s 1940’s outfit was. That one had every color in the paintbox, but worked fine if you drew it consistent.
ANTHONY: When you wrote and drew The Power of Shazam!, including painting the series covers, you gave the book a look that seemed to sit squarely between the cartoony look of creator CC Beck and the realistic look Don Newton used in the short Adventure Comics run he did. Was this a conscious decision, or just a function of how your own style had developed at that time?
JERRY: Well, I was a fan of Don Newton’s work overall, from his Charlton days on the Phantom, and I also respected C.C. Beck’s vision. To me, the only way Captain Marvel ever looked correct, was when he was on model with the Beck head design. I’ve always tried to make my heroes different in subtle ways, for storytelling clarity, and with Cap, that was the iconic look, much as Joe Shuster and Jack Burnley’s golden age Superman was the correct model for that hero.
ANTHONY: How has your creative process changed over the years? Do you still use basically the same tools, or have you switched completely to digital? And how do you think digital tools have affected the style of newer artists in the field?
JERRY: I work with paper and pencils, ink and pens. I scan work and do digital touch-ups, but the appeal for me isn’t in inking or drawing digitally. It’s a tactile experience, feeling the pen tip on the paper. Digital is an improvement in many ways, allowing for color separations to be done better, and I’ve seen painted work that looks great digitally, but the training is the same, learning to draw, learning to use color, or black and white.
ANTHONY: You’ve worked extensively for DC, you’ve done some work for Marvel. Is there any character out there you haven’t had a chance to work on that you’d still like to take a crack at?
JERRY: I love drawing Captain America, and also always wanted another shot at the Fantastic Four. I grew up a Marvel reader, so those characters connect me to my childhood, you know? But sometimes, you are better off not working on material that you love to much at the start, because it hampers your vision, in a way. I learned to love Superman, as well as Captain Marvel, and I think I did my best work on them because I could be objective about what worked and what didn’t.
ANTHONY: What are you currently working on?
JERRY: I just finished a 6 page Alfred story for the Bat-books, with a Halloween theme, so I suppose that will go into inventory for next year> Also I have 5 pages in the second issue of the new Thunder Agents series, drawing a 1960’s flashback, which was fun. I have a couple of projects lined up, but can’t spill the beans just yet. The first is a new take on a 1960’s era DC book, which is all I can tease.
ANTHONY: You’ve been auctioning original art on e-bay. Is there any piece of your own work that you would never ever part with?
JERRY: I have a hard time parting with most stuff, which is why I’ve been selling prelims and sketches for the most part. Each drawing represents a day or two of my life, you know?
ANTHONY: Thanks again, Jerry!