Grant Miehm Interview
by Will Allred (12/10/2003)
Grant Miehm's name first came to my attention when he penciled a couple of issues of Quasar. He later worked on the Starblast series, as well. Grant has been working in the comics field for well over a decade now and consented to an interview here at the Quantum Zone.
Allred: Let's begin at the beginning. How did you get your start in the comics industry?
Miehm: By knocking on doors, campaigning, driving people nuts until they gave me work. More or less the same way most everyone gets their first jobs. It was up to me after that, obviously, to prove my level of skill and reliability, so editors would consider me for additional, ongoing assignments.
Allred: Obviously, hard work is integral to your art, but what else do you count among your influences?
Miehm: I'm influenced as an artist by everything in life generally, as much as by people who's work I admire. Most anything will get me thinking and subsequent to that, thinking about transferring what I see or feel into creative/artistic terms. If I see a great shot in a movie, I almost always think: 'How would I draw that in a comic? What use of the panels would convey that same message?' Watching birds fly or dogs running after a ball not only gets me thinking about motion, for example, but what those things are really all about visually and how to convey them most effectively.
As far as artists, I like to look to established sources or individuals that are, in my view, schooled. People who I feel have a good grasp of technique and have developed their skills. Whether they're 'known' or 'famous' is totally unimportant. Sources that have some basis in a real understanding of the fundamentals of drawing. Fan favorites if they're skilled, fine, but anyone who's popular and doesn't, in my opinion, have the chops is of zero interest to me. I'd like to say too, that if I cite anyone as an influence, that doesn't mean I feel I'm anywhere near their level, just that I learn a great deal from studying their work and try in some small way to emulate the good things I see in it:
Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, John Buscema, Jack Cole, George Bridgman, Andrew Loomis, Steve Rude, Garcia Lopez, Alex Toth, Mitch O'Connell, Bill Wray, Tom Thompson, Ken Danby, Chris Van Allsburg, Denton Lund - there are a couple of zillion others, and some of them, as well as some of the guys listed here, aren't comic artists.
I try to find the value in everyone's work, no matter what my first impression may be. Some people have said they see various influences in the stuff I do and, regardless of what I think of the work of the people they name, I take it all as a compliment. And too, there's no telling what I may have picked up from whom, yes?
Allred: Here's a quick chronological overview of your career courtesy of the Grand Comic-Book Database (http://www.comics.org/)...
Codename: Spitfire #11
Captain Thunder and Blue Bolt #5
Secret Origins #26
Secret Origins #27
Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #3
Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #4
Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe Update '88 #2
Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #6
Dark Horse Presents #24
Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #7
Green Arrow Annual #2
Secret Origins Annual #3
Suicide Squad #25
Suicide Squad #26
Secret Origins #41
Suicide Squad #32
Secret Origins #45
Flash Special #1
Who's Who in the DC Universe #1
Avengers West Coast Annual #5
Who's Who in the DC Universe #5
Who's Who in the DC Universe #6
Impact Christmas Special #1
Marvel Comics Presents #77
Justice Society of America #2
Sgt. Rock Special #12
Sgt. Rock Special #13
Legend of the Shield #1
Legend of the Shield #2
Justice Society of America #7
Legend of the Shield #3
Legend of the Shield #4
Legend of the Shield #5
Legend of the Shield #6
Legend of the Shield #7
Legend of the Shield #8
Robin III: Cry of the Huntress #6
Looking back over this list, how has your art evolved over your career?
Miehm: Good question, and I think, one that's almost impossible for me to answer. However---
I think I've always tried hard to improve; that's about the most accurate thing I can say. As much as I often see my work when it comes out and think, "Lord! Look at that! I've got to get better at that!" I think I've overcome a lot of obstacles, both personal and technically-speaking. That sort of perspective on your own work is impossible to have while your doing it, though. It's really gratifying, as odd as it sounds, to know that I can barely look at the early stuff, because I feel positive that the contemporary work has moved very far away from the beginner's lack of expertise.
Allred: How do you approach a given story or page?
Miehm: The story's about the whole thing or the whole point, based on the way I feel I want to create atmosphere through both drawing and design. Once I establish in my head how I'm going to approach things, I try my level best to keep it consistent. I try to think in those terms while executing, too: draw first and make it clear, then use whatever design tools I feel are necessary to augment the storytelling: panel layout, spotting of blacks, rendering and so forth. The only forbidden factors are those which will take away from the impact I'm trying to create or make the story unclear. Using a device just to create a cool-looking page, if it sacrifices clarity, is wrong in my opinion.
Having said all of that, however, it might be useful to outline how I begin:
I cannibalize the script by dividing it into it's individual pages. At the top of each I write with a red marker: ' M I =', meaning: most important. Then, in as few words as possible, I'll write a sentence that sums up what I feel is the most important action or element on that page. I do this while keeping a blunt pencil handy as well, so I can rapidly sketch an almost unreadable thumbnail in the page's margin directly after reading it: My very first impression or what I call my 'flash thought' of how that page should be laid out. It's important to say too, that this same thumbnail is so bloody rough that no one but me would be able to decipher it. Fortunately, at this stage, no one has to.
When done, I will then read the red-line, short sentence I've written at the top of every page. If those sentences make sense as a story by themselves, then I know 3 things: ( 1 ) It's a well-written story ( 2 ) I've understood what was written, or at least, have a good take on it ( 3 ) My grasp of the pacing and my interpretation of what has been written will most likely get the story across to most anyone reading it, with emphasis and rhythm that will hopefully make it interesting. From there, I start the next day by doing a more finished set of thumbnail sketches in direct scale to the finished page, blow those up to 100%, pencil, ink and then so on. It all starts with this process for me.
Allred: Being that this is the Quantum Zone, I guess it's time to talk about Quasar.
Miehm: A great, and I think, underrated character. The youth of the character, coupled with the fact that I found him personally visually interesting -- that's what I found most appealing in drawing him -- coupled with a good mix insofar as the character's conception/continuity of what had gone before and how that was going to be developed into an even more fascinating story. All of these things are what made Quasar a fun assignment to work on.
Allred: What was it like working with Mark Gruenwald?
Miehm: I can't say enough good things about Mark. I have to pay him my highest compliment and say that I've met many creators who claim to love comics, but Mark is one of only a handful of people with whom I have had the privilege of working, who truly did. Everything he ever said to me, every suggestion he ever offered was geared in that direction: love of comics and wanting them to be all he thought they could be. I know that may sound like I'm laying it on thick, but it's 100% true. Working with Mark was exciting, inspiring, relaxing and fun.
I greatly regret not being able to actually speak with him more. Mind you, Mark was in no way distant or unavailable. In fact, he was exactly the opposite: totally open and approachable. If I didn't have more than a few conversations with him, it was because of his heavy workload as an editor, in addition to his scripting chores, and I understood that completely. He made it clear, too, that he enjoyed my work, and I consider that one of the highest compliments I've ever received.
Allred: What projects are you currently working on, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Miehm: Right now, I'm concentrating largely on advertising work and digital art. I've gotten deeply into that over the last few years and would never be without the computer again. I've always enjoyed doing full-color illustration work and programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and Painter have opened up an entirely new and exciting direction for me to pursue.
The type of comics I do now are those that relate to educational or promotional fields in merchandising and marketing. I still love "regular" Marvel/DC comics, but this is the direction I'm moving in now, and I'm comfortable with it, at least for the time being. I do get various offers through the course of a year to do any number of projects, but my involvement, or lack of it, is simply based on the vibe I get - whether I think it's going to be successful or not, and whether or not I can end up doing the whole thing: pencil, ink, color, lettering - the works. And too, regardless of the level of finish in the writing, if I'm not doing that myself, I like to be given a reasonably freehand to interpret. I much prefer working from a plot, of the type that Mark G. used to write, rather than a full script.
So, that's what I look for in assignments these days. I do have a couple of things on the go as far as projects that I hope will see the light of day in comics, but like anyone, I have to wait and see how those will work themselves out.
Allred: Do you have a favorite character or characters?
Miehm: Plastic Man, Metal Men, Scarlet Witch, Goliath, Captain America, Iron Man, Dr. Doom, The Inhumans, Conan, Green Lantern, OMAC, Mr. Miracle, New Gods, Metamorpho, Goodwin and Simonson's Manhunter and, ummm-------Oh, yeah!----Quasar! Ha! - Can't forget 'The Kid' himself, can we folks?
Allred: Good answer. You pulled that one out in the end. How would you describe your dream project?
Miehm: I'd love to do a graphic novel that provides the opportunity to use all my skills: pencil, ink, letter, color, design the logo and any promotional material, a painted cover - all that. I suppose the kind of thing that's over the top and as versatile and as unusual as I can make it. Hence, my affection for characters like Plastic Man and the Metal Men...characters who are fantastic and "out there" in their conception and with whom you could do wild things, yet still make it work as an entertaining story.
I'd still like to do an ongoing series, but one that I could sink my teeth into and make a statement with. And too, I'm still governed by the fact that I have to be commercial in my thinking. That's important. As much as I might have my dream ideas about characters like Superman or Wonder Woman or whomever, I have to make sure that it would be appealing to an audience and something that an editor would think would sell. It's not just all me.