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Sam Kieth
Selected interviews.
You know what they say about a guy that draws big feet...
A chronological listing of Sam's comic, card, and film work.

Sam speaks about life, The Maxx, and his plans for the future.

Sam Stories available only on the Web.

by Andrew Steven Harris
(Originally printed in Wizard #20, April 1993; reproduced by Chris Caughey)

When Image Comics first debuted a year ago, many knew it would be a hit among the fans, but few could have predicted the blockbuster extent of its runaway success. Skeptics questioned the caliber of some of the apparently derivative stories, but the broken sales records, and uncommon ability to retain interest despite numerous shipping delays, has left even the cynics admitting the obvious: The artists who defected from Marvel's mutant titles and spider-books have carved for themselves a popular and permanent spot in the comic-book marketplace.

But now that the company has split from Malibu and established a foothold in comicdom all its own, a second wave of creators has signed on to bring their own unique perspectives to the Imageverse. Call it: Image -- The Next Generation.

Perhaps the most unusual of those perspectives comes from Sam Kieth, whose eclectic artwork on the high-profile "Blood Hungry" Wolverine story in Marvel Comics Presents, along with best-selling writer Peter David, brought him to immediate fan acclaim. He went on to become the regular cover artist for MCP, and continued to draw attention with his quirky interpretations of established Marvel characters, such as giving Ghost Rider gigantic booted feet.

Kieth's Image series, The Maxx, looks to have a concept as quirky as his artwork. Like Kieth's Wolverine series, The Maxx will debut in eight-page installments in an anthology series, but it will quickly move on to its own full-fledged title shortly thereafter.

"Everybody kept saying 'you'll never get it off the ground in eight pages.' Everybody said 'you're going to have to do your own book,'" Kieth says. "So now here's my chance. Now I get to draw really big feet."

Kieth prefers to stay closed-mouth about most of the details of the story, but what he has let on about it creates the impression that it will be the most unusual Image series to date. The book, he says, will mix a "grim-and-gritty" look with the weirdness of a dream world reminiscent of the Australian aborigine "dreamtime."

"It's two worlds," Kieth says. "One story is set in the modern world, and he's involved in these unsavory things. He's this seedy bum sort of character who sleeps in garbage bins, but he sees things in terms of this dreamworld. He's this gritty regular guy who keeps having these hallucinations, slipping into another world. There's also this woman, a social worker who's trying to help him out. She's trying to convince him that the modern world is real, but he's coming to this realization that this other world is the real world and the real world is a dream."

Neat, but is this series concept too offbeat for the kids that make up the bulk of Image fans?

"I think as long as two people physically hurt each other there's enormous possibility for acceptance among kids," Kieth says, laughing. "Maxx is going to be like an antihero, but kind of strange. Wolverine is a straight antihero and Lobo is completely over the top. Maxx is kind of in between the two.

"And after issue one there's also going to be a lot more opportunity for action. We have a crossover with Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon in issue #3, and we have this great villian that the kids will like. His name is Mr. Gone, and he looks cool. He started out as having a Kelley Jones cape and ended up having a Todd McFarlane cape. He has this cape that billows out and looks more and more like origami paper and wraps people up and kills them. The cape travels along the floor and creeps up along the wall or whatever happens to be nearby.

"The cape can also increase the gravitational pull of objects that are between it and the person Mr. Gone is fighting, so that they fly across the room at the person. The person at the other end could get attacked by anything in the room. Like, if Mr. Gone were fighting The Maxx in a room filled with cream pies..."

It seems that Kieth just can't resist lapsing into such humor and weirdness, but he does reassue that The Maxx won't be a comedy book.

"Odd things may happen but Maxx will always remain a grim and gritty character. This is not going to be a silly book at all, at most it will be sardonic. My art deviates from the norm, so my stories will as well. But if something silly happens, it's because I'm making fun of the idea of that being cute. Make no mistake, I promise there's going to be a lot of action--just hang in there after #1."

Maxx debuts as a four-part story in the new Darker Image anthology series, and then moves on to his own three-issue miniseries. That builds to the climax of his origin in a special issue #1/2 published in conjunction with Wizard, along with a trading card series from Image that releases clues about The Maxx's peculiar secrets.

Exactly what secrets those are Kieth declines to publicly say, but he does say that it will give readers a chance "to decide if you really hate it or like it" before the regular ongoing Maxx series starts in June. Once that occurs, Kieth says, readers can expect to see the series on time every month.

"My goal is to make The Maxx the OTHER Image book that comes out on time besides Spawn," he says. "I don't even want to be a week late. I hate being late, and I scream bloody murder if I'm late, down to the day."

Kieth has a few other goals for the Maxx--among them, crossovers with heroes from other companies.

"I would love to see a Maxx/Wolverine. I'd really like to do a Batman/Maxx. But especially a Maxx/Lobo--here's a situation in which neither guy is playing with reality."

DC has already announced crossover plans with Image, leaving open the possibility of Kieth seeing his plans come to fruition.

But perhaps top among Kieth's goals is to get his sea legs in working as a plotter on the book, with scripter and prior collaborator William Messner-Loebs.

"I've never plotted before--that's what's going to be interesting. I've broken down stories in typical Marvel method (in which the artist lays out the full comic book from a two- or three-page plot), so I don't feel that coming up with the sequence of events is that different. I just have to try to convey to Bill the characterizations and as many motivations as possible. My part will be what goes on, and his part will be to have them say the things gracefully and not awkwardly, which would be what would happen if I tried to script it. We worked first together on Epicurus the Sage and if we could have half the characterizations as in Epicurus it's going to be good."

But if Sam Kieth has taken his project down the solo character route, artist Larry Stroman has gone the opposite direction and created what might be called the ultimate team book--more than 200 characters are expected to appear in his upcoming Tribe. Like Kieth and many of his Image cohorts, Stroman also came to fan attention working on one of Marvel's mutant books, in this case the X-Factor revival that recently debuted the popular new team lineup.

Stroman, by coincidence, also began his mutant work in collaboration with writer Peter David, but on Tribe, Stroman will be handling the story plotting chores himself.

"We sat around for weeks and weeks and talked about all of the different kinds of things we wanted to do," Stroman says, describing his collaboration with scripter and co-plotter Todd Johnson. "Most we scrapped and some we kept, and we put what we thought were the best ideas together. That's what became Tribe, and that's why the series has so much stuff--it's a complication, a lot of which came out completely by accident as we talked it out."

Stroman describes Tribe as a fast-paced action series set in New York City, a story of power and control starting out with seven core members and eventually expanding to more than 200 as the series grows over the years.

"It's not your traditional team," Stroman says. "Various members are recruited by team leader Blindspot, and the alliance is only one of convenience. Each team member has his own agenda, and once resolved the roster will change."

Blindspot serves as the leader for a mixed group of seven characters that become entangled in a story of international technological espionage brought on by a transcontinental conspiracy knows as "Europan."

"The main villain is Lord Deus Devirelle, known as Providence, an ageless energy creature who a millenium ago was worshipped as one of the Earth's many pagan high fathers," Stroman explains. "After the end of the pantheon era, Deus later emerged in Europe when industry was still in its infancy. He built a powerful conglomerate and at present they have merged with a cutting-edge Japanese company, forming the dominating juggernaut Europan. Europan is now a powerful international corporation that seeks worldwide influence by cornering the market on breakthrough technologies and research.

"Europan also employs a variety of super-mercenaries to do their dirty work," Stroman says, "and Europan's origins will be revealed in a plot that will rock the Image universe."

Battling Europan will be the seven members of Stroman's initial Tribe team, all under the command of Blindspot. Blindspot, AKA Murdock Ellison, is a scientific genius who stumbles across the ultimate goal of Europan while experimenting with his own stealth technology, thus setting the events of the series in motion.

The initial roster of characters is an interesting mix: Elias Banneckaer, a brilliant but down-and-out engineer, who created state-of-the-art battle armor, only to find the designs stolen after improper patents were filed. Shift, formerly the middleweight boxer Franklin Sadler, acquired super-speed in a failed steroid research experiment. Alexander Collins, alias The Front, owns the Hype dance club and commands mastery over illusions. Metallurgist Matthew Desmond is Steel Pulse, who can transform his body into living metal.

Fashion model Nicholena Johnson, when not stirring up the streets of New York City as Fly Girl, plays an interesting role in the Image universe--along with partner Angela Slate, Nicholena owns Rumblewear, the fashion cooperative responsible for making the superhero outfits worn by characters in most of the other Image comics. Then there's Sebastian Todd, who goes by the name Short Order, and who not only owns the gourmet restaurant Pups, a popular hot spot, but also has the power to split into 50 smaller versions of himself (and thus bring the potential Tribe membership count to 250). And finally, Stroman says, there is a subsequent character only known as "Rosalyn," whose powers remain a mystery but who will eventually prove to be the most powerful member of the team.

Stroman's hoping that the mix and depth of the characters will let him provide new takes on several tried-and-true themes.

"I wanted to take guys who had all the powers of traditional superheroes and make them into completely different characters," Stroman says. "I wanted them to be familiar but also totally new."

To that end, Stroman will be pencilling and inking the book, and even coloring a few pages, in addition to co-plotter duties. Johnson will co-plot and provide the script. Tribe starts off as a miniseries and then moves directly into a regular ongoing series.

But if Kieth has gone the solo route, and Stroman has developed a team book, new Image creators Al Gordon and Jerry Ordway have managed the tricky task of doing both at once. Wildstar focuses on a fugitive from the future and the strike force team sent to hunt him down, but the story is set in an intergalactic war that leaves open the question about who are the good guys and who are the bad.

"Wildstar is a very powerful character, like this super soldier from the future," says Ordway. "The concept is that he's this character caught in a time loop, and he keeps replaying this moment in time over and over again and needs to break this loop. He also travels back in time 30 years, to our time, to stop a war that's about to begin. Other guys from the other side follow him back to try to prevent him from stopping the war. Wildstar is definitely the hero of the piece, but remember, this is a war--who the good guys are and who the bad guys are depends on what town you're living in."

Further clouding the issue of who is good and who is bad are the strange alien symbiotes that have attached to each of the characters. It's the symbiotes that give the characters their enhanced powers, but there's a drawback to them as well: The alien creatures have a sentience of their own, and the independence of each person depends on his ability to resist the symbiote's influence.

"The symbiotes seem pretty rough, pretty violent, and that's what drives a lot of these characters," Ordway says. "Wildstar's, on the other hand, isn't evil, and that's what pits him against the other guys. Everybody's got a different amount of willpower/drive, and we thought that would be a good hook to determine what type of person each character is. The symbiotes are not all in the same place--one guy has one living in an eye socket where he lost an eye; Wildstar's is attached over his heart.

"There's also a lot of mysteries along the way, such as a relationship in the past between Wildstar and one of the guys in the group that's after him, and that also plays off the idea of who is the bad guy and who is the good guy."

It's that team of hunter characters that might eventually spin off into their own book. Ordway says, since in issue #3 a truly astounding event happens: Wildstar dies, killed off three-quarters of the way into his debut miniseries.

Not a good sign, Ordway admits, for a man who just wrote a chapter in the death of the seminal superhero, Superman. But, he says, unlike the Man of Steel, Wildstar stays dead and doesn't come back, despite having another whole issue left in the miniseries.

"But wait till you see what happens in that issue!" he says.

Before all that happens, however, Ordway will chart Wildstar's violent final days, providing the pencils, along with the story co-plotted with inker Gordon. Gordon is the originator of the series, and will continue to have Ordway work with him on the title as they plan out an ongoing book after the end of the four-issue miniseries.

"We both have totally opposite ideas, and some of the best stuff is produced by polarized creators, when both sides are challenging the other side to do better stuff." Ordway says, "It's rewarding, but it's also very tiring. You can have that between a solo creator and an editor as well, but in some way you always need to be challenged. The problem in doing an Image book is that there's no editor to work as a sounding board, so Al and I both have been taking on the tasks that an editor would perform."

Ordway, perhaps the first well-known artist to be recruited by Image who doesn't come from the Marvel clique, is also having a good time in working on a project that doesn't involve someone wearing a big red "S." Ordway has either written or drawn Superman continuously since 1986, and now that he's retiring from the character with the landmark Adventures of Superman #500, he's looking forward to doing a different kind of story.

"It's violent, but it's also funny, kind of like Nightmare on Elm Street-kind of stuff, a little bit of Aliens-style horror," he says. "It's great to be doing stuff that's the exact opposite of a Superman book, like drawing an alien being ripped off a guy's's fun to imagine what would that look like after it's been living on his face all these years. It's been a lot of fun for me doing gross-out stuff!"

Wildstar will cross over into the rest of the Image Universe, Ordway says, including an already-planned appearance by Savage Dragon and possible stories involving PITT and Supreme, both of whom are also involved in intergalactic wars, and thus naturally lending themselves to inter-relation.

But such plans are only small potatoes compared to the crossovers Image has planned for the rest of the year, according to Image founder Rob Liefeld.

Liefeld's Youngblood and Mark Silvestri's Cyberforce will both play a role in Deathmate, the upcoming Image/Valiant crossover series slated for later this year; Youngblood's Prophet and Cyberforce's Ripclaw both play key roles in the epic storyline. In addition, Liefeld says, a story running through both Brigade and the new title Bloodstrike will unleash the story of Project: Born Again on the Imageverse, a controversial storyline whose shock waves might end up in the pages of Spawn and other titles.

After that, Liefeld says, Prophet spins off into his own title, while the Youngblood miniseries grows into two separate ongoing series, one for the home team and one for the away team.

"There's a new president in the White House, a new administration and a new agenda." Liefeld says. "It's a Democratic administration after 12 years of Republicans, and they come in and retool Youngblood. We'll unveil the new Youngblood teams in the fall, with new additions made and some characters handed their walking papers."

Youngblood will also spin off into Youngblood: Strike File [more next issue], a four-issue miniseries drawn by new fan-favorite Jae Lee, which focuses on individual characters from the Youngblood team.

"Youngblood is like an Avengers book, with the characters coming together," Liefeld says, "but in the (original) Avengers you had a bunch of characters that already had their own solo books previously. Because Youngblood is these characters together as a team, we couldn't go into all of them in depth. We don't want to go too fast, we don't want to spin off every character, but we want to focus on some of them individually."

Liefeld will also be releasing Brigade as an ongoing series, and that book will link up with Bloodstrike, a title about a kind of Internal Affairs department for superheroes, in the Blood Brothers storyline running through the first two issues of each book.

"In every police department there's an Internal Affairs division, but there's nobody in the Image universe that does that for superheroes." Liefeld says. "The Internal Affairs people are very low-profile, and that's what this will be like--when a new hero arrives on the scene, such as Shadowhawk, Bloodstrike would be called in to take care of him or take him out."

Youngblood will also tie into those two new books, with the story from Youngblood #0 leading into Brigade #0 and then Bloodstrike #0.

All this, Liefeld says, serves to complete the setup of a master-plan storyline that was started back in Youngblood #1, and which many people won't realize has been surreptitiously developing all the while until they suddenly see it finally break loose in Youngblood: Strike File.

"Everybody's been taking potshots at the Youngblood miniseries, and they don't know what the crap is up," Liefeld says. "This stuff has been being set up from the beginning. We've been dropping clues all along the way, and all people have been seeing are the whams, bamms, and kabooms, but when we've slowed the story down we've done it for a reason. We're trying to show people there's so much more in these books, and once the things get going, people should go back and see all the things that were going on that they missed. A lot of the Image Universe has been woven together, but people just don't realize it yet."

Liefeld's other book, Supreme, also has dramatic plans in store for the title character, similar to the titanic clash between Superman and Doomsday late last year.

"A guy named Khrome comes looking for him, and if you thought Doomsday was a bad guy, you should see this one. The difference is that our superhero's not a wimp, he's not going to die at the end of this story. Supreme's not a sissy."

All this seems a bit more ambitious than the Image schedule could be able to handle, but Liefeld swears that the shipping delays that have plagued the company are a thing of the past.

"Beginning in March these books will not ship late," he says. "I'll be cutting back on the artwork I do from 32 to 20 pages, and then each issue will have 12 pages of backup story, so that will let me catch up on things. But we're looking to get a solid six-week deadline on all the books, and when we say that we're not kidding."

That should please the fans, and help insure that the new wave of titles turn from Image into reality.

The Maxxis ™ and © Sam Kieth.
Dwellers of the Outback created and maintained by Chris Caughey.
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