Chris Claremont & Ed Piskor Reflect on the Grand Design of the X-Men Legacy

Comics Features Chris Claremont, Ed Piskor
Chris Claremont & Ed Piskor Reflect on the Grand Design of the X-Men Legacy

Is it possible to count the number of X-Men comics that Chris Claremont has written? Spread across a spectrum of team and solo titles from the mid ‘70s to as recently as 2015—The X-Men, The Uncanny X-Men, X-Men: The End, X-Treme X-Men, The New Mutants, Wolverine, Nightcrawler—the narrative architect sculpted the foundation for the coolest superhero team in comics and beyond. While we’re still counting (and positing upward 350), there is one fact that can’t be disputed: Ed Piskor has read all of them.

Ed Piskor and Chris Claremont

Piskor isn’t a talent commonly associated with mainstream capes; his obsessively researched cartooning resulted in the hacker portrait Wizzywig in 2012 before he began Hip Hop Family Tree, an ambitious comic documentary that diagrammed the growth of beats and rhymes through the East Coast underground to global ubiquity. In Grand Design, Piskor is embarking on an equally daunting task: streamlining decades of X-Men lore into two handsome tomes, the first of which releases today. The project features the same nostalgic, aged-paper palette that Piskor employed in Family Tree, mimicking the joy of riffing through basement long-boxes to discover cosmic soap operas and super-powered bildungsromans. That aesthetic marries a clear and studied devotion to the source material—from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first tales of outcast teens uniting to Claremont’s sprawling dramas, Piskor leaves no plot beat neglected.

To celebrate the X-Legacy—which should receive increased attention from both Marvel Comics and its cinematic translations now that Marvel parent company Disney bought back the film rights from Fox—Piskor chatted with Claremont about the winding roots of his creations, his approach to character and why innovative artists are so important.
Ed Piskor: I was thinking about how this conversation is a bookend in a way. I met you in January in France, and got to interview you at the Angouleme Comics Festival, which was fun. Here we are a year later. Creatively, what has kept you busy? Is there anything you can talk about?

Chris Claremont: Not really. A lot of things are in process. The difference between working in an environment such as Marvel and everywhere else, is that comics is an ongoing exercise in instant gratification. If one has a series, if one has a reputation, if one has a position, it’s simply a matter of getting the work out every month, every issue. Usually in a couple of months, bingo, it’s in the bookstores. You’re not producing work on spec, which means that you’re hitting deadline all the time. Whereas for virtually every other form of publishing, until you walk into a regular gig, like a book series or a TV series, you’re producing in hope. Bluntly, for most writers, novels take much longer. Mickey Spillane, for one, Nora Roberts for another, can produce a novel, apparently, instantly, which is breathtakingly cool, but ferociously intimidating for everyone else who are simple mortals.

Piskor: You say simple mortals, but let me ask about when you were hot and heavy producing comics. You’d do at least three a month for a long stretch there.

Claremont: Well, comics are easy, novels are hard. The thing is, the advantage in one respect for comics, especially if one’s a writer and not a writer/artist per se, you’re sketching out the story, you’re laying the structure for the penciller, who then brings it to visual life. So in effect, it’s conceptual shorthand as well as presentational shorthand. You have a three, a four, a six, or in a George Perez-sense, a 23-panel, page, representing a sequence of events. Whereas if one’s writing a novel, those moments, those events, those sequences have to be described. One has to figure out not only what is actually happening, but how best to present it in a way that’s exciting to read, and also makes sense.

X-Men #94, the first full writing credit X-Men comic by Chris Claremont. Cover Art by Dave Cockrum.

Piskor: When we were in France, I spent a lot of time in Paris, and I went to the Shoah Memorial. I saw some of your scripts were framed on display—it was for a Dave Cockrum issue. And if I recall correctly, it wasn’t the traditional Marvel method. You laid everything out, panel by panel.

Claremont: It varies depending on artist and circumstance. When Frank Miller and I were doing the Wolverine miniseries, the first issue I plotted of the series turned out to be a 23-page plot for a 22-page story. And I was telling him everything: character, description, place, sequence of events, how the character feels, emotional relationships, physical relationships. By the time we got to the fourth issue, the plot was a 20-minute phone call, where Frank and I bounced back the sequence of events, what I wanted to see happen, the way he wanted to tell the story, what would be cool in terms of the fight scene and the end. Then I typed it up so we both had a reference point, but it turned out to be two-thirds of a page. Everything varies depending on the facility and the ability of the other creative person. The kind of story I’d tell with Frank is different from the story I’d tell with Walter Simonson, is different from the way I’d tell it with Dave, is different from the way I’d tell it with John Byrne, is different from the way I’d tell it with Paul Smith. It’s an adaptive circumstance.

It’s something that relates to the old Marvel philosophy that people would be teamed on a book for a significant amount of time. In John Byrne’s case, it was three years. In Dave Cockrum’s case, over the course of his two terms on the X-Men, it turned out to be three years. John Romita Jr. was the same. When you’re talking about that length of time, you get to know what the artist likes doing, doesn’t like doing. What intrigues them, what is fun, what is enticing. The best exemplar of that would be the year’s worth of issues that Bill Sienkiewicz did on The New Mutants. That team-up was only going to be a one story-arc run with the Demon Bear, and we had so much fun that we kept it up. It became what was most interesting and challenging for us to do. We did a slumber party issue, which introduced Warlock, we ended up doing a three- or four-part arc, much of which was spent wandering around inside David Haller’s head, dealing with the demons in his own psyche—it’ll be really fascinating if they get around to that in the TV series, Legion. Whereas working on a series where your artists perhaps aren’t as close-by or in sync requires a lot more attention to detail; a lot more words on the page.

One artist working with me was complaining to Walter Simonson about it: “He writes so much, I don’t know what to do!” And Walter said, “If you just look at each page that he’s writing, and just break it down into what’s actually happening, there are usually only about five images. The rest of it’s all character description, dialogue.” I hope he said laughingly, “It’s as much for Claremont’s benefit as the artist’s. He wants to put the ideas down on paper so that when the time comes two months later and he scripts it overnight, he has an idea of what he wanted to say originally.”

X-Men: Grand Design Cover Art by Ed Piskor

Piskor: How would that work? Would you get the pencils FedEx’ed and then you would just have one day to put the dialogue together?

Claremont: It depends how late the book was. Ideally, if one were launching a title in September…Salvador [Larroca] and I on X-Treme X-Men was a classic case in point. We started the book at the start of the year in ’02 or ’03. My agreement with Marvel was that I do two books a month, but they had no second book for me, so Salva can pencil two books a month, so I just kept sending him plots, and he kept drawing the book. By the time we got to April, we had a half dozen issues in the drawer, and at this point Bill Jemas’ head exploded. We would have gotten to the end of the summer with a full year’s complement of stories finished, without the first issue having hit the stands, yet. He felt that was a little excessive. My counterpoint was that it’s Salva, it’s me, it’s the X-Men: it’s going to sell. What’s the problem? His attitude was, You’re asking me to invest a five-or-six figure sum in an untried series. If it doesn’t succeed, what do we do with the pages? At which point, Claremont with his usual pat, says, “Not my problem.” At which point, Bill made it my problem.

That’s the ideal. The irony is that Igor Kordey was just as fast and if we’d gotten a chance to do what we wanted to do, we could have gotten 12 issues of a revised Excalibur that never was. It would have been interesting, but that would have probably been a 12-issue series. It would have been an interesting choice whether people would have embraced it. I had the concept, we wrote the first two plots, and within three weeks, Igor had turned in 23 pages of layouts. At which point, Marvel ended their relationship with him, which for me as a creator, was heartbreaking, because we were onto something new and different. Igor coming through Sarajevo in the ‘90s knew what he was drawing. I had a first-person, unimpeachable source in terms of how to present Genosha in the aftermath of the Sentinel attack. It would have been a totally different visual presentation—a much more European visual presentation then American audiences were used to seeing.

Piskor: Certainly at Marvel.

Claremont: The thing I liked about his work on X-Treme X-Men was that even though the characters were recognizable, it was a different visual. For me as an audience, I found them surprisingly refreshing. This doesn’t look like anything anyone else is doing, but none of the characters were pretty, but they all had a fierce excitement and visual reality. They were fun. In the global, American comic omniverse: Marvel, DC, Image…you run down the whole list, it was a pleasant and intriguing change.

Piskor: That’s always the thing I’m looking for in mainstream comics. Quite frankly, that’s what attracted me to X-Men. If there was a house style, the best of the crop would be on X-Men. I was a boy in the ‘80s, and I came up through the Silvestri era and Jim Lee. They were vastly more exciting to look at then the rank-and-file John Buscema wannabes, who handled the art chores on almost all of the other books. And with these different artists who you worked with over time, there are storytelling changes beyond the visuals. These artists brought different things to the table. You had to do some improvisational jazz.

Claremont: It’s adaptation.

X-Treme X-Men #44 Interior Art by Igor Kordey

Piskor: That’s a good word for it. I want to go back to something that you mentioned earlier about your ideal situation of working for an artist for quite a while. I think it’s worth noting that “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past” come at the tail-end of building this synergy over years between you, John and Terry. I’m working on this X-Men project now [Grand Design]. When I was eight or nine, Classic X-Men #44 was on the spinner rack, and that reprinted the “Elegy” story, which to me, is one of the most important X-Men stories that I ran across. It happens right between the death of Phoenix and “Days of Future Past,” and you basically wrap up the entire series in a bun. And in a pre-internet world, for a kid who has zero disposable income, I basically had to starve at school and not eat lunch so that I had money to buy comic books at the end of the week. That “Elegy” story was an amazing CliffsNotes for the X-Men’s entire history. Jumping into your comics in the ‘80s, there was already this clear history, but what fascinated me about the regular series was that there was this stuff that would build over time. I would like to talk about “Elegy” a little bit. You have such a clear memory about so many of these stories.

Claremont: I guarantee you, other people would disagree with you vehemently.

Piskor: Sure, that’s how it goes. Can you recall the impetus? Was that a Jim Shooter thing? How did that come about?

Claremont: The impetus for “Elegy” was simple. The conclusion to “Dark Phoenix” was so last-minute, out-of-left-field, and John had already drawn the splash page for what would have been #138, which was the poster shot of Scott standing over Jean as she rests her hand in a pond on the mansion. Jean is alive, Jean is back to being his girlfriend, the world is alright again. That, and the story that went with it, got tossed out the window. Where were we going with this? So we had two things to do. One was to buy me some time to come up with a sense of structure and ideas in concert with our brand-new editor, Louise Simonson. And two, if the death of a character as important to the canon as Jean is to mean anything, then we have to take a moment and step back: what would happen if someone in one’s family, as paramount and important as Jean was to the X-Men, were to pass? Case in point, there’s a memorial service in Los Angeles, I believe Saturday, to Len Wein. Those of us who worked with him, even if we can’t be there in the flesh, well I hope we’ll be there in spirit to remember him and memorialize him. If that applies to real life, should it not also apply to the X-Men’s lives? Let’s do a moment to remind everybody who she is, why she is, why this moment is important and then, like the characters, wonder where we’re going to go from here. And, at the same time, give Scott the opportunity to do something that rarely happens in comics, which is grieve.

X-Men #138 Cover Art by John Byrne

The other advantage was, it would be a lot easier to draw. It gave John the chance to do something that I hope he enjoyed, which was touch base with all the seminal moments and characters and events of the X-Men’s history. The paradox being, of course, that as of that particular moment, it was a fairly limited history. The original series was only 60 issues, and New X-Men had only been around for maybe 40 issues going on 50. A lot of the visual moments were suggesting that there was more backstory then we’d have the privilege of seeing. But, at the same time, that can also be viewed as what happens in reality. Not every moment of passing is convenient.

Piskor: Novels work this way, too. There isn’t a requirement from editorial to make things palatable to the youngest of readers. You can leave some things up for interpretation.

Claremont: Or one could basically say, But I thought Ned Stark would be around for book after book of Game of Thrones. Surprise, not everybody gets out alive.

Piskor: That particular issue left such an impression on me, and a while ago before I started this project, [former Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Axel [Alonso] called my bluff. I put a tweet out there and said Marvel should let me make whatever X-Men comic I feel like making. He got in touch pretty immediately, and asked, “What would you want to do?” I immediately thought about “Elegy,” because if this is the only Marvel thing that I ever do, I want to draw it all. I love the X-Men, it’s my favorite comic, it’s kind of the only thing that I know, and only up to a point. When you were done, I was done. I was thinking about “Elegy”…

Claremont: If only I’d have sent Axel that tweet. [Laughs] That would have made life a lot more productive the last five years.

Piskor: It’s funny how that stuff works.

Claremont: [Laughs] My laughter’s probably a little different from yours.

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X-Men: Grand Design #1 Interior Art by Ed Piskor

Piskor: I’m sure. You have way more history than me. But ultimately, you took all this work from Stan and Roy Thomas and put it into a single narrative. As a fan who read and reread your work and in later years read that older stuff, it’s something I’ve internalized for a really long time and having a shot to play around with your toys is a real blast. I know you were a trained actor before you got into the comics game. We’ve had several conversations and I’ve been meaning to ask you this every single time. I’d imagine there’s a lot of value in being a trained actor and thinking about motivations when you’re busy writing.

Claremont: I like to think that it’s useful in structuring out scenes between different characters. It’s useful in trying to imagine the different voices, the different personalities, the different presentations. It can be disconcerting or amusing or infuriating to be the person on the other side of my office door when I’m playing through scenes to myself. My wife or whoever’s outside is wondering how schizophrenic I’m getting as I bounce fictional moments back and forth.

Piskor: Do you develop your characters on the page as you’re writing the story, or do you come up with elaborate notes for the characters that you plan on tackling in a particular narrative?

Claremont: Yes. Yes to both.

Piskor: I see these two schools, and there are people who are dogmatic about one or two, but for my own taste I kept thinking it seems to have a mixture of both.

Claremont: This relates to the differentiation between the traditional, full-script presentation of creating a story, versus Stan [Lee]’s Marvel method. The irony of the last couple of years, is apparently that under Joe Quesada and Axel Alonso, Marvel has been evolving more and more toward the concept of full script, simply for the facility of making assignments. Plot format works most effectively when one knows one’s going to have a creative team together for a number of issues. If I take over, for example, Avengers, with John Buscema, as Roy did many times, and I know that I’m going to be with him for a year, then I can structure things out and sketch them and send them to him, especially knowing that John is such a phenomenal storyteller. The same with Stan and Jack Kirby. I know Stan’s attitude was: I’m running the company, I’m writing 15 books, I have an artist who loves nothing more than telling stories, therefore the plotting session can be so: Jack, got an idea? Yeah. OK, what is it? Yeah. OK. Or, I have an idea, Jack, draw this. OK. And there you have it. And then Stan looks at it, calls out those elements that he needed to focus on with dialogue or ignore, and off they went.

Working with Bill Sienkiewicz, the joy of plotting with him, A. is not knowing what he’s going to draw, which I think half the time applied to him as well, but suddenly something comes in from the sidelines that one never expected. Whew, this looks interesting. What do you think? Yeah, I think this looks interesting too. Let’s play with it. Dave Cockrum and I used to do that all the time. Suddenly, something would come in out of left field, and it would be oooooh, this is cool. Whereas other artists want slightly more firm and substantial ground under their feet.

Piskor: The storytelling component, while you need to have some ability with it, is to get it in the door nowadays. I’m out there in the wild at these cons, and I meet a lot of people. A lot of the artists are comfortable with this world of the full script. I sense that they just want to keep the pencils moving.

Claremont: From Marvel’s standpoint, there is less and less dependability these days that the same team will remain constant over an arc of story. Apparently, Todd Nauck and I doing a year’s worth of Nightcrawler, having the same team together for 12 issues, is unusual now. I don’t know. To me, I find it, as a reader and as a writer, somewhat self-defeating, because it usually takes most artists a couple, if not four or five issues, to get to know the characters—especially when you’re talking about a group book. You have not simply different genders, but ideally different personalities. If when we’re going back and looking at, say, The New Mutants, where everything was fairly cut and dry in terms of differentiation. Bear in mind this was all happening in the ‘70s. There is no internet, there is no table TV. There’s a 13-year-old girl, Rahne, from what’s perceived to be the boonies. She has less awareness of the dread and possibilities of the modern world then one would expect today. By the same token, the other 13-year-old is Roberto. He’s the son of a Brazilian billionaire. He’s totally first world, even though he’s from Rio, but he’s mixed race, in a country where mixed race means something, and not good. So his perception of life is totally different, and yet simpatico with Rahne’s feeling outcast, because she’s a shapeshifter. And then we have Dani, who’s totally American, and yet as a Native American, has a sense of being disenfranchised, a sense of being an outcast, a sense of being even more of being a loser in that sense than Bobby, being black. Then you have Sam. Well, he’s white. He’s tall. He’s handsome, but he’s poor and he’s from Appalachia. Then Xi’an. It’s 1979, she’s a Vietnamese refugee. They are all, in the most primal sense, outcasts. Even the one who’s the most first-world of them, which is Sunspot.

The New Mutants #19 Cover Art by Bill Sienkiewicz

You take all those tropes, and you play with them. Their body language should be different, the way they relate to each other should be different. The whole point of The New Mutants was that the oldest of them, Sam, and maybe Dani Moonstar…they’re 15. Rahne is 13. They are kids still. The whole point of being kids is half, if not two thirds of the time, they’re making mistakes. They’re screwing up. They win regardless, because they’re heroes, but much of their stories, much of their lives are defined by the discovery of life that all adolescents seem to go through: you learn things by tripping over them, by putting your foot in your mouth, by running into trouble. This is not how the X-Men handle things, because they’re all, except for Kitty, grown-ups. The New Mutants need Charlie as a teacher, and later, in the aborted evolution of the arc, Magneto.

The challenge for Kitty in all this is that, by rights, she should be part of the New Mutants. By the time they came along, she’d been part of the X-Men for so long that she’d been part of saving the universe twice with them. Being a 13-year-old with chops, she didn’t want to hang out with the little kids, and especially wear the stupid uniform. She’d earned a costume, dammit.

Piskor: Classic splash page—Paul Smith. Professor X is a jerk!

Claremont: Yes! Exactly. [Laughs] But that whole story, and especially the way she and Illyana relate to each other, relating to the story, I tried to make as much as possible, swiping from the 13- and 14-year-olds I knew, as true to life as I could get away with. It was a great advantage having one’s editor’s daughter be that age, and her best friend. At least for a couple of issues, they provided perfect material. It’s disconcerting to realize that’s now a quarter-century ago, if not more.

The point is that, what I find so depressing for me as a reader these days, is how completely the companies seem to embrace the idea that all we’re telling are the adventures of costumes, not of people. That to such a sad extent, again speaking as much as audience as creator, there seems to have been a stepping-aside of the idea of dealing with these people as real people, not as icons, tropes, whatever. That way, you miss A, the opportunity for lots of cool stories, and B, for enticing more readers.

Piskor: That’s always the thing that I appreciate most about our conversations that we’ve had over the course of this past year. Certainly, anybody can YouTube search your name and find hours of your history with this.

Claremont: Getting paid by the word.

Piskor: [Laughs] Sure. But what I really adore and what I find most inspiring is that you regard these characters that you created not as words on a page or lines on paper—you call them by their given name. These are almost real people to you in a sense, and in the way that you talk about them with such a reverence.

Claremont: Well I expect you’d hear a similar approach and a similar awareness and a similar passion and empathy from J.K. Rowling talking about Harry Potter and the students of Hogwarts, or of George Martin and the Stark family, if not everybody else in Game of Thrones. We are not creating icons. I was not creating icons when I wrote the The X-Men and the The New Mutants. I was creating people. What attracted me to Marvel, far more than DC, was the fact that Stan dealt with the Fantastic Four as people. Maybe not written the way I would write them, maybe not the way I see the people, but they were people. They did superhero stuff, but at base, it wasn’t Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, Thing and the Human Torch. It was Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny. And that, to me, was the paradigm. These are not superheroes; these are kids. And the X-Men are maybe a little older kids than the New Mutants. Excalibur are a more British group of nutcases than the X-Men, but they are all people. They all have desires, ambitions, fears—pick any emotion you like that have nothing to do with putting on a skin-tight suit and fighting supervillains. That’s the job. But there’s a life outside, or enmeshed within the job.

That was the whole core of the idea behind Scott and Madelyne going off after their marriage with their child and living happily ever after. It was not to divorce Scott from a life of being a superhero. He would obviously be coming back when needed to do that. But, it was to hold out the paradigm that there’s a reason we go through our adventures, our lives, as X-Men. To provide the opportunity for, better or worse, what’s perceived as a happy ending. A normal existence. Finding the person one loves, building a family, a future that they could embrace that embodies what we are all theoretically fighting for. That was why my argument, when X-Factor was created, was to resurrect Jean and recreate the original paradigm. It might be satisfying to fans. It might be satisfying even to corporate. But in terms of the characters: it is A, you’re saying to the audience those of you who mourned the death of Jean, we were lying. Tough luck. But more importantly, wouldn’t it be a much more interesting paradigm if you brought in someone else who would fulfill Jean’s shoes? In my case, I pitched her sister, but then had Scott and Madelyne and the baby come back into the X-universe, Scott takes over the team, but it becomes I’m doing something that is necessary. How can I balance that and my home life? My responsibilities to my wife and my son, verses my responsibility to the job and to the greater human reality. Obviously, my argument was not the winning argument in this case. As a result, we ended up with a lot of cool stories, beyond that. For me, as a reader, and as a creator, it broke my heart in terms of what it did to Scott.

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X-Men: Grand Design #1 Interior Art by Ed Piskor

Piskor: It was very jarring, even as a little boy reading this stuff, because it was very abrupt when he left his wife, Madelyne and child to go with this newly resurrected Jean. I just chalked it up to maybe I’ll understand it when I’m older. And I have to say that I’m older, and it’s still a very abrupt and probably the least heroic thing that he could do. Where I’m at right now in the series is a little bit after the introduction of Caliban. And all that I’m thinking about is, how am I going to finesse removing Scott from Madelyne in a way that we can still empathize with the character? That was a dick move on his part, and there are many examples of this, where it’s very clear that there were editorial mandates that you had to meander around, or just try to make work. It would create a disconnect for a certain amount of time, until the reader understood this is the world we live in. I’m reading an issue of X-Men and they’re fighting the Brood, and when they come home, there’s a bunch of kids living in their house. Not only that, but there would be those little editorial boxes with the asterix that tells the reader to refer to a particular issue. The asterix box was pointing us to The New Mutants #5. At the time, I’d never heard of that comic. I just went to the grocery store—I’m not sure if it was a direct market book or something.

Claremont: No, there wasn’t any yet.

Piskor: Right. So it was like, who are these people? You grow to accept and understand, and that’s what you had to do with the Madelyne Pryor thing as readers.

Claremont: But the thing also was the way we structured books in those days, when the X-Men come back, and they burst in on the mansion to catch Charlie to discover all these kids watching TV, it’s as much a surprise to them as it is to the kids. In effect, the readers—if you’d never read The New Mutants before—you are in there with the X-Men as you learn who these kids are, you get to learn who they are.

Piskor: That’s the beauty of your entire span on X-Men. Any comic is somebody’s first comic, and there is a sense of wonder that you get if you just jump in, but you did do such an amazing job of jumping on top of that, issue after issue, to the point where it was cool. It would take a couple issues sometimes, but the reader could immediately fall in and start caring about the characters in a more significant way than the rank and files that were your, quote unquote, competition at the time.

Claremont: But that’s basic tradecraft. The first rule is you have to create a reality that makes the reader want to come back and see what happens next. The way I tried to do it, I’d create characters that the reader could instantly recognize, and hopefully bond with, and put them through situations that keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Hopefully, everyone is interesting enough, and the situation is interesting enough, that you come back next issue. The point, I guess, in those days, was take nothing for granted.

I find the idea of the recap page to be something of a waste. It’s the page nobody ever reads and it’s even worse because it doesn’t tell you who anybody really is. But it creates a reality where once you look at the story itself, I still have no idea who anybody is. It’s always a chapter of a trade paperback in construction. It never, ever reaches out to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept, unfamiliar with the characters, unfamiliar with the reality and introduces it to them. It assumes you know what’s going on. If one looks at any traditional, mainstream TV series…case in point: NCIS. Number one series on TV, it’s been that for 15 years and doesn’t look like it’s losing ground. The one thing you know in that and Law and Order and in virtually any mainstream series is, within the first five minutes, you know who the characters are—not simply their name, but their job. You know what the challenge is, what the objective is. You are given the basic notes that allow you to relax and watch the show. You can then explore the realities of the relationship in the way they interact, but you know who they are and what their job is. That almost never gets done anymore in comics. I can’t tell you the number of times I picked up a casual issue of a series and flipped through it and given up after three pages, just because I don’t know what the hell’s going on. I don’t know who these people are, they’re making dialogue references that mean nothing. And the visual tropes are utterly boring. [Piskor laughs] No, it’s not funny. It isn’t funny.

Piskor: No, I agree. I laugh to keep from crying, because I abhor bad comics because every comic is somebody’s first comic. If somebody comes across some boring, shitty comic, then they don’t continue reading, then that’s literally taking food out of my mouth.

Avengers Annual #10 Interior Art by Michael Golden

Claremont: If you go back and look at Dave’s issues of X-Men, the characters in a group are always doing something. Michael Golden, in our Avengers annual: cop walks into a room and Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, is drinking a cup of coffee, but where is she drinking a cup of coffee? She is sitting on her heels, halfway up a wall. The first panel you see her, you instantly know, aside from the skin-tight costume, that she’s not like anybody else. And what does she do to have the conversation? She reaches her legs down and stands on her feet. But your first image of her tells you instantly, this is what she does. And it’s different from us. That’s how you need to look at this. What do these characters do that make them unique? How can we present that to the reader in interesting, different and enticing ways. And if you don’t do that, then what’s the point?

No one buys things out of habit. It not only makes it more fun to read, it makes it more fun to draw. If you can excite the interest and the enthusiasm of the artist, who knows what interesting ideas will come of it? Again, Bill and I just sitting down and bouncing ideas back and forth. Me flipping through John Bolton’s sketch files, and saying, “Wow, let’s use this as an image.” And we suddenly have a great foundation for a story. What’s the point of locking yourself into a specific limitation, when you’re dealing with creative minds? If I can hook up with someone like Igor Kordey, who brought a unique vision, an exciting vision, a different vision…why not give it a shot and see if we can strike an equivalent chord in the readership? Who knows, suddenly you may be off on another hit series—or not, but at least take the shot.

Piskor: I think that’s a great closing statement. Chris, every time I talk to you I consider myself to forever be a student of this medium. And every time we talk, you always provide me with a lot of material that I need to digest and think about and reinterpret into my own work. I am forever grateful that, and I mean that sincerely.

Claremont: You’re welcome.

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