Jock Talks ‘Savage Wolverine’, Creative Freedom and the Future [Interview]
Best known by his pseudonym Jock, Mark Simpson is one of the most interesting artists in mainstream comics right now. Brought up in the 2000 AD school of British comics and breaking into the American market with The Losers graphic novel series at Vertigo, Jock set a new standard for himself with work on 2011's Batman: The Black Mirror, where his bold and contemporary graphic style contributed to what many fans and critics agree was the most significant Dark Knight adventure in years, not to mention one of the coolest Joker illustrations of all time.
Like many comics illustrators of his skill and increasing popularity, Jock has availed himself of the comics scene's resuscitating fascination with strong artistic visions and is releasing this week Savage Wolverine #9, the first chapter of a three-part arc he both wrote and drew. It's a major career move for Jock but only the latest auteur artist spotlight for Savage Wolverine (following delightfully eccentric work by Frank Cho and Joe Madureira), which in this crucial way is one of Marvel's most important titles.
ComicsAlliance spoke with Jock about his unorthodox take on the mutant also known as Logan, who the cartoonist drops into a vicious otherworldly realm in a story that owes more to tripped out European sci-fi than the X-Men classics of Marvel's past.
ComicsAlliance: As we've pointed out before on CA, Savage Wolverine is a really unusual book in the Marvel line. It's a book whose purpose seems to be to spotlight artists and give them a great degree of creative freedom -- write your own stories, divorced from strict continuity and events, and with a major star character to bring attention to the work.
Jock: That's absolutely what was appealing about it -- having freedom to tell a story about one of Marvel's best characters, but totally free from constraints. It was too good to pass up. I always favor a story with a beginning, middle and end, rather than the continuing soap opera style, so a title like this was a great opportunity for me.
CA: This specific story is quite shocking in its way, putting Wolverine on another world. It's not the sort of thing one associates with Wolverine, but then again the preceding Frank Cho arc spoke very specifically to his artistic interests -- the "jungle adventure" aesthetic. Your story is very moody and perhaps a more European kind of sci-fi that's more about tone and environment than some wild hook or technology. Something more out of 2000 AD than X-Men.
Jock: It's funny, I actually didn't want it to be too grim -- I like writing that has levity too -- but tonally it seemed to suit the story. And you're absolutely right, this has more of a European feel than maybe regular mainstream US comics… there's definitely some of my own 2000 AD influence in there, but also things like Moebius' work and Heavy Metal… the wandering loner on an alien landscape. At least I used those kind of ideas as a starting ground to let my imagination springboard from.
The initial idea to set it in the far future appealed after chatting through ideas with friends. The idea that Logan wouldn't be able to evolve in a world that changed and evolved around him; that was pretty interesting. But the story isn't really about that. We do see people from Earth, and they have changed, but again I just used those concepts to springboard from. It started life as something like I Am Legend meets Assault on Precinct 13. I wanted to tell a small story in a large landscape. But that's moved and changed since those initial ideas, too.
Visually, I'm working with Lee Loughridge on colors. I love Lee's stuff -- we worked together on The Losers -- but I wanted to add more texture to the pages, so Lee sends me his colors and I work into them and change them as I go. I find the whole storytelling process has been pretty organic, so it's great to have the pages right up until they need to be sent in, in case I need to change anything or add little subtleties here and there.
CA: What do you think it is about Wolverine that allows for throwing him into one idiosyncratic artist's vision after another? What other characters could lend themselves to this?
Jock: There are a few characters like Wolverine that can handle light and shade -- Batman is an obvious one but there are others. Maybe these guys have attributes that remain constant, so the story around them can vary and be tonally different? I don't know... In the UK Judge Dredd is similar in that you can tell any kind of story around him, but the Judge is the same. He can be the bad guy, the good guy, the guy that tears it up, or the guy that you want by your side when things get tough. Logan strikes me as similar -- in fact, one of the story problems I immediately encountered was that Logan shouldn't change. I realized he doesn't really have that much of an arc, so that encouraged me to push his surroundings and what he encounters, so we see a side of him we may not have seen before.
CA: You've only two writing credits that I'm aware of. Has writing your own comics been an ambition or was this more of a case of availing yourself of this specific opportunity?
Jock: It's something I've often thought about. A lot of my favorite creators are writer/artists. Comics-wise, it's obviously a purer vision. But it was always something that I thought I'd do "in the future," but when [editor] Jeanine Schaefer at Marvel offered me the chance I grabbed it. I guess the future is now!
CA: Your work is very visible lately. The Losers. Batman: The Black Mirror. Loads of covers. You do some illustration and film concept work as well. I guess I'm asking if you're proceeding along some kind of plan or just taking things as they come? Where would you like to be in the future?
Jock: I'm totally just taking things as they come! I don't think you can plan too hard doing this job. I feel like I've been very lucky with the film work and things aside from comics, but when chances have come along I've grabbed them. But I also feel very lucky to have worked with so many great writers.
As to the future, right now I'm focused on seeing how Savage Wolverine goes. If people are into it, I'd definitely be open to more projects down the line.