The Manley Art of Mike
by Will Allred (05/01/1998)
Quasar, without a doubt, has to be my favorite hero, bar none. And, if you don't know who he is, go and check out his Character Database Entry. If that's not enough for you, there's more info to be had at Avengers Assemble (http://www.avengersassemble.us), a great Avengers web site, or check out the Quantum Zone (http://www.quantumzone.org/), a decent fan web site, for even more information.
Anyway, I occasionally go back and re-read the series and am continually amazed at the artistic talent that Marvel managed to line up for it. To be perfectly honest, it never was a chart topper. However, we readers were treated to Paul Ryan, Greg Capullo, Steve Lightle, John Heebink, Andy Smith, and, you guessed it, Mike Manley over the course of its 60-issue run. This was some of his earliest work for either of the big two, and you could see him put everything he had into it. He would later move on to lesser characters like Batman, but Quasar is what makes him stand out in my mind. He's put the Dark Knight behind him and is now self-publishing his own characters with his company, Action Planet Comics (http://www.actionplanet.com/). Mike took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his career, Action Planet Comics, and, of course, Quasar.
Allred: Before we jump into comics and your career, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Manley: I'm single, and available (Ladies?). I hail from the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan, where I lived until I was 13, then my family moved to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. That's where I found my first comic shop and decided that I wanted to draw comics for a living.
Allred: That was quick! Now that we know all about you, let's get into your comic career. What are some of your past credits? For instance, what was your first work?
Manley: My first work was Robotech Defenders for DC, and I've worked on Darkhawk, Batman, Shazam, Quasar, Alpha Flight, and the list goes on.... I've also done several trading cards for both Marvel and DC.
Allred: Funny you should mention Quasar. I think all our reader are quite aware of my feelings about the greatest character in existence. You worked with writer and Marvel's #2 man at the time, Mark Gruenwald, on quite a few issues. What was it like working with him?
Manley: I think sometimes the fact that Mark was the number 2 guy was the reason the book got the okay. It certainly wasn't "hot". Artistically it was interesting sometimes, but this was also a growing period for me. It was the first superhero series I had worked on. I didn't really have any affinity or interest in Quasar or the concept. He was a character that was not enough of a Superman, although Mark certainly structured Quasar's secret identity ala Clark Kent. He wasn't enough like Captain Marvel for my tastes, either.
I didn't like his dorky costume too much, and I would have liked to have had him be more like Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics' Kree Mar-Vell) so I could do all those great alien adventures and concepts. Looking back now, it pains me to see where I dropped the ball on that stuff artistically. Stylistically I was struggling. I didn't get to ink it at first so that bothered me a lot as well. On the other hand, I did enjoy the fact that Mark brought in the Eternals, because anytime you get to draw a Kirby character it's cool!
Mark was always a great guy to work with because he'd give you feedback and say what he liked and didn't like. That really helps when your working and struggling as an artist. Also, his plots were tight but left room for you to play with the layouts. Mark was one of the first editors I saw when I made my first trip out east from Michigan to try and get work at Marvel. He was very helpful and sat down in his office and went over my samples page by page pointing out many areas that I'd flubbed or that were off, and generally was very friendly, nice and encouraging. I mentioned that to him when we were working on the book and of course he didn't recall it.
Allred: While Quasar wasn't a huge seller, you've worked on a few titles that would qualify. The biggest of these probably being the franchise for DC, Batman. What's it like working on the Dark Knight?
Manley: Career wise it was good. It's "the Book" every artist wants to draw. Artistically however, it was immensely frustrating. I got to draw "the Book," and maybe live and achieve one of my dreams, to work on the book one of my teenage art heroes Neal Adams drew. I got to draw Batman! But, I didn't get to draw Batman. I got to draw the Azreal Batman, the "Fake" Batman. I didn't get to draw the Real Batman until the end of my run. I also got to draw Batgirl which was cool. The only issue that I really liked was Batman #0 because it was like a real Batman comic, with the Joker and Robin and Batgirl. I didn't have any input into the stories which was also frustrating for me. I kept saying we should do cool stories like the Batman Adventures comics, or like the show. They consistently have the best stories and the best art for the most part. But in hindsight, that was the time to be on the book because it was at the peak of the comic biz. The book sold very well, which helped me fund my own imprint Action Planet.
Allred: Could you give us a bit of Action Planet's history as well as the scoop on what you're currently doing?
Manley: In 1995 I decide that I had to start doing my own ideas. I had tried once before to do something with the Wally Wood character Animan, but I just didn't have the funds. In fact, right before I got Batman, I was in the idea stage on Action Planet. So, I sat down and started sketching and thinking about the kind of books I liked. I really loved the Warren books, Creepy, Eerie, etc. Especially the great stories that Archie Goodwin did. The concept of an anthology with different stories and art styles greatly appealed to me. I also love Kirby comics and the monster books he did at Marvel as well as the Hanna-Barberra cartoons from the 60's, so I decided to do Action Planet as an anthology and got all my best buddies to do their own ideas as well. I came up with Monsterman, which covers many of the elements I like to draw. And the motto which was "FUN!"
APC was an education about the business of the comics industry and how it works. And what an education it was! It was hard work and not profitable, but certainly the most fun I've ever had in comics since I started.
At the same time I had bought a computer set-up and spent a good deal of time learning the Mac. I come from a commercial art background, starting back when I was in high school. I worked in advertising and commercial art until I moved out east to work in comics. So at the time, I was revving up Action Planet and buying the computer, the Internet was just starting to break. I immediately thought "this is the future" like everyone else, so I got a web site up with the help of my friend Charley Parker who does the web comic Argon Zark. At first it was just to get something up to promote the books to anyone who was surfing by. But, as the comic market turned from "sugar to shit," I could see that the time of the indie black & white $3.00 comic was coming to an end. But the Internet was growing, growing, growing. Everywhere you go, every time you turn on the TV it's "www dot this" or that.
The potential for me to reach a world-wide and more diverse audience is vastly superior to print comics. There's something like 20-30 million people on the web, and 4000 sites a day going up. Bill Gates is spending more money than God to make sure everyone is wired in. The PC and TV will soon be one. I get letters from all over the world, from readers of G.I.R.L Patrol. The comics business with it's distribution limits can't compare, so I thought since the comic market is by all estimates dying off, why not change the medium from print to electrons. Anyone anywhere in the world can, with a modem and computer, see my comics. I can also do them in color which just isn't possible for me to do in print. The color you get is also vastly superior in vibrancy etc. You get millions of colors! Then there's the whole other multimedia end: animation, music, etc. To make a long story short, I started G.I.R.L. Patrol as an on-line weekly comic in the last week of 1997. The response has been great and the audience grows with every month. I am the happiest with GP artistically since I can now do the strip in color as well. I have plans to bring Monsterman on-line as well, and may end up doing the comics on the web first then in print later as collections.
Allred: As long as they make it to paper. There's just something about holding a comic, cheap paper and all, in your hands . . . the smell . . . aahhhh. Uh...where were we? Oh yeah, you're writing and drawing these. Do you like writing your own stories better than working with a writer?
Manley: You bet! I now have the freedom to let my mind and imagination go. I can do whatever I want, no matter what the subject.
Allred: So is this your dream project?
Manley: In a way, but I really want to do my own cartoon series with one of my ideas like G.I.R.L. Patrol or Monsterman; to see them move, and talk, and have some cool toys! I'd like to have my own Space Ghost or Batman or. . .dare I say it. . . Frankenstein Jr! He was my favorite when I was 4 or 5 years old.
Allred: Tell us more about the Action Planet web site, which is at http://www.actionplanet.com/, and the creators you're working with there?
Manley: Well right now, I'll continue with the G.I.R.L. Patrol strip and sometime in the summer or fall bring on Monsterman. The other creators like Ande Parks and John Heebink are in the thinking or planning stages on their on-line versions of Uncle Slam and Wrathbone and Bitchula. I hope they do get the on-line bug. I'd love to see them do it. I also have a theme song for G.I.R.L. Patrol that will be on soon, if not by the time this gets published. I also plan on having more animation on the site and may even take the next phase of GP into a Flash Animation web cartoon like the George Liquor cartoon that Spumco does. I just bought the program and I'm learning it now. I'm looking at my web site as my broadcast network in a way. It's my TV station, my Fox.
Allred: Quick! Who's your favorite character?
Manley: I love anything by Kirby, especially the Fantastic Four. I also like the Challengers of the Unknown and Thor. I guess my favorite character would have to be the Thing. I love a cool monster guy; you get the whole tragic hero biz.
Allred: One last thing before we go, do you have any other projects that are out now or are coming out in the near future?
Manley: I have a 4-issue Marvel Universe story for Marvel that will be out this summer. But, between my work at Warner Brothers on the Batman/Superman show and the Action Planet web site, my schedule is pretty full.