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Swashbucklers #2
An Interview With Marshall Rogers
Researched and Conducted by Gerald J. Brown

The best news I received last year was that DC had made plans to use two of the Time Warp scripts I had sold to Jack C. Harris in the first issue of their revival of Mystery In Space, then being planned as a limited series.

The second best news I received last year was that my stories would be carried in the same issue as a Marshall Rogers strip.

Sales were assured.

For, as anyone who has picked up a comic book in the last 3-5 years will tell you, Mr. Rogers is a stylistic genius of the graphic narrative, a wonderfully gifted artist and designer, one of that select handful of "popular" artists that have suddenly burst upon the comics scene from God-knows-where, to establish themselves a faithful following with a mere handful of brilliant graphic works. Mr. Rogers has been praised by critics of the medium for his highly individual design approach to his scripts, which has made comic books carrying his work sought-after items by collectors.

Most notable of his work were ten or so issues of Detective Comics, beginning in No. 468 and ending with No. 479, chronicling the adventures of The Batman, then written by Steve Englehart, in a series of stories many regard as the high water mark of the series. Rogers and Terry Austin collaborated on a revival of Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle series, Nos. 19-23, similarly stylistically innovative. He also handled a backup series in Kamandi titled "Tales of Canterbury", a short strip sans wording for Mike Friedrich's Imagine, first issue, and Eclipse Enterprise's Detectives, Inc. with Don McGregor.

Rogers, a former Kent State student of architecture, began working for the professional comics companies in 1977 at the age of 27. He has distinguished himself both through his books and as chairman of the ad hoc committee for the comics artists guild. Conscientious, opinionated, hard-working, always with a discerning eye towards means and methods of expanding the parameters of his medium, the artistic skill of Marshall Rogers continues to grow, and thanks to him, so have comics.

Swashbucklers: You first tried to break into comics in 1972, at the age of 22. You didn't actually get work until 1977, when you started working out of Marvel's British office. Is that correct?

Marshall Rogers: Right so far.

Swashbucklers: Do you feel that the professional comics companies have become more receptive to the work of aspiring new artists and writers, or do they appear to be closed shops?

Rogers: I would say that the companies, at this point, are looking for new talent. However, whether they want new and aspiring young artists, or someone who can carry on the tradition of comics as they're doing them today, is debatable. I would say that it would be easier for someone looking for work in the comic book companies today to have a portfolio drawn in the--quote, unquote, Marvel Manner, to approach Marvel, and work exactly as you see it on the pages of DC comics for a DC portfolio. The companies are not particularly looking for imagination, it seems.

Swashbucklers: That pretty well covers the next question, which was going to be: if you were in the position of counseling these aspirants, what advice would you give them that would allow them a competitive edge.

Rogers: There is really no inside information. Knocking on doors, having their portfolio critiqued, and listening to what's being said is what I can recommend. If their work is not acceptable at that time, work to fix those points and try to understand. The best information I can give, at this point, for anyone who would be an illustrator of any time, is to understand the underlying knowledge of drawing: the way the body's put together, the forms, the pose and the shapes. That knowledge is more important than any type of finished rendering style that you can puck up by looking at a comic book.

Swashbucklers: You learned your basic design elements through the study of architecture. Did you develop your knowledge of anatomy through emulation and self-study, or was it under someone's tutelage?

Rogers: It was under no one person's tutelage, in particular. I talked with Neal Adams many times and picked up some pointers from him here and there. I looked at Jack Kirby's work for a long time in the beginning, whose work I think had the flavor that I wanted to have my figures assume; the flavor of the pose. Neal got me realizing more along anatomical lines, that the body needs to be put together one muscle strung to another as it's done properly. Looking at both Chaykin and Simonson I picked up some pointers, and where I got the actual knowledge of working muscles from art books, one in particular George Bridgeman's "Complete Guide to Drawing From Life." That, coupled with one night of anatomy class helped me to understand how muscles were put together.

Swashbucklers: Did you take that course at the same college that you studied architecture.

Rogers: No. One art course I did take, I sort of scoffed off as unimportant. I shouldn't have, I realize that in retrospect. The night-time anatomy course came around 1973 or so, after I had started to talk with comic book companies, and people kept saying that I didn't understand anatomy. So I figured it was about time to understand what they were saying I didn't understand.

Swashbucklers: What college did you attend?

Rogers: Kent State in Ohio.

Swashbucklers: You traveled an awful lot in the course of your career. You were initially in New York, and then you moved to Colorado.

Rogers: No, I didn't move, the family moved. I stayed in New York at the time that the family moved. This was the summer that I quit college. So I came to New York to be with them for about another month and to say goodbye, and went out to rent a place of my own. Actually, it was a friend of mine's and his family. I needed to work. That was the summer of 1971.

Swashbucklers: Your particular artistic style isn't derivative, although you have mentioned a number of people who have served as influences. Walt Simonson and Jack Kirby are foremost among them. By what process does a comics artist eventually come to evolve what comes to be known as "his" particular style?

Rogers: For me, what happened was that I was doing Detective, the Batman story, and Mister Miracle. Just the work load demanded that I stop thinking in terms of anybody else. In other words, how would Neal Adams approach this figure, how would Walt Simonson approach this layout? What would this guy do, what would that guy do? I had to just start putting down the thoughts that I started to get. I couldn't try to think of someone else, or what I had seen before. I just had to start saying, "This is what the writer is asking for. How can I design that? What way would it best work to suit my own style of storytelling?" Having started working closely with Steve Englehart on the Englehart Miracle and Detective, Steve laid out a full storyline. I just had to compose and design the pages so that they worked visually. And he gave me enough elements to play designs off, so I started to just pace the story as I saw it visually.

Swashbucklers: Is it the writer's responsibility to provide you with dramatic opportunities that can be creatively translated visually? One of your strengths is your ability to draw upon the natural dramatic opportunities of the story, emphasizing them in stylistic terms that are most effective to the medium.

Rogers: Let me answer that along lines that I've been realizing myself over the past couple of months. I've been relating myself more to a movie director of late: one who sees a property that has already been written by a writer, and then I approach it and try to determine how I can best present it visually. That's where I find I can extend myself to the fullest, rather than trying to write a story and get all the elements in. I find the challenge of taking what a writer has presented, and then presenting it visually, is one of the major things I enjoy working in comic books; the same as if I were in films. It's taking a property and then saying, "how can I present this visually with similar types of emotions, or how can I visually pull emotions from the audience for what the writer wants to correspond to; what the writer is saying?"

Swashbucklers: Then the comic book artist plays the role of motion picture director in terms of a particular style of presentations; determining which dramatic moments should be emphasized, and how.

Rogers: That's just one job that a comics artist can assume, yes. And that's what I try to do when I approach a job.

Swashbucklers: Do you have any aspirations toward working in film or cinematic design?

Rogers: After having worked in comics for these past three years, now I find that very often when I am setting up a sequence of panels, I am thinking in motion. And lately the restriction of just the still picture of the comic book has been getting under my skin a bit. I would rather be able to pull off a movement in toto; have a scene move completely. The comics, such as they are, are still restrictive to many things I would like to be doing, actually.

Swashbucklers: Have you ever had aspirations to work in an animation studio?

Rogers: To be very honest, not really, because you have to start at the bottom, and that's really not been a desire of mine. I would rather move into a position too quickly, to be realistic, to work in an animation studio. I do want to work in animation, but I would prefer to direct it rather than actually produce it. So I don't know exactly how I'm going to approach the field of motion, because at this point I am not willing to stop and start all over at the bottom in the motion industry. So I don't know how that break is going to be transcended. But it is in the back of my mind.

Swashbucklers: A friend of mine told me you were interested in doing a movie adaptation for the comics. Just out of curiosity, which movie would you be interested in doing a graphic adaptation to?

Rogers: I would rather not do a movie adaptation. Movie adaptations don't really strike my fancy. All the movement has already been done, and all the comics can do is show spot illustrations of that already complete motion. What I would be interested in doing is taking a novel and transposing it into a graphic medium.

Swashbucklers: You mentioned something about having read the Will Eisner interview. He expressed that he was interested in doing something in those terms.

Rogers: That was one of the things I keyed on from the Will Eisner interview. There have been a number of novels I have read and during the course of reading them, have wished that I could have an opportunity to transpose them to the visual medium, because of the images I got and because of the thoughts that were provoked because of the reading.

Swashbucklers: What novel would you like to adapt?

Rogers: There are a few things of late that I have read that I read because of the potential (for visual adaptation). For the first time I just read the original Brahm Stoker version of Dracula, and I have never seen the actual, original version done in any medium. Just the finale of Dracula is extremely visual and very dramatic. It could be done excellently, and I would love to have a shot at that. Also, a couple of years ago, I read a series of novels by Roger Zelazny, dealing with an environment called Amber, which was at the center of everything.

Swashbucklers: The real world.

Rogers: Yes. Nine Princes in Amber and the other corresponding novels that go along with it. That scenario I enjoy very much. It's very comic-book oriented without having your comic book superhero influence. You still have flashily dressed characters running in and out with very fanciful vehicles for moving about in an all-encompassing war with family feuds, struggles, and backstabbing; all sorts of nice comics material that could be transmitted well to the medium. Also, I'd love to have a shot at something along those lines in a movie or animated version.

Swashbucklers: How would you handle the surrealistic sequences where the characters move through the shadows from world to world?

Rogers: That especially needs motion, as opposed to the static format of the comics. Exactly how it would be pulled off, I haven't really thought about other than a reverse image of the rider on the horse. The surrounding foliage and the backgrounds are changing. But I've never gone any further into the depth of exactly how I would approach it, because it hasn't been there for me to think about.

Swashbucklers: Have you ever read Moorcock's Dancers At the End of Time?

Rogers: No, that is something I have not read, along with many other things I have not read. My reading isn't that voracious, I really don't have much time to read.

Swashbucklers: The only reason I mention it is that, like the Amber books, the imagery used in the series has a very surreal quality to it. Moorcock's futuristic universe is an ever-changing, ever-shifting place, subject to the whims and fancies of its inhabitants.

Rogers: Visuals are what I'm about. Whenever there is a visual obstacle in my way, that is what one of the great pleasures is: finding the device to put it across. Conversely, I think there's no need for great impact visuals either. Over the summer I read The World According to Garp, and the author of that had a way of connecting one scene to another verbally. I saw visual transitions from scene to scene that were completely removed from what the author was writing. But I came across a thing, visual emotion, in which the words were being done so that there was a visual keyover and a verbal keyover, creating the same effect in two different styles.

Swashbucklers: Would such a thing lend itself to comics adaptation?

Rogers: I don't know how well it would lend to a comics adaptation, per se. Comics have more of a flavor for fantasy and for situations further removed from reality. That's where comics excel because they don't have the rigidity of the camera. There are none of the restrictions of real life. Comics can go beyond that. Garp is firmly entrenched in the context of reality. It would probably be more easily translated into a graphic novel.

Swashbucklers: Do you think there is a trend underway to reinstate the substance into the commercial comic magazine, either in terms of art or story? For instance, Marvel has brought Al Williamson to "The Empire", and Michael Fleischer is out in the field gauging the popularity of artists, styles of writing and characters in terms of the collectors' market. I believe this was done to determine selection of artists and writers for an album series; which ones are most in demand. This is the first time, to my memory, that the commercial comics companies have deigned to appeal directly to the collector.

Rogers: I don't want to try to read the signs too early or too quickly, but I would certainly like to think this is true. The (Don) McGregor job (?) was an attempt to lean toward that destination. Obviously comics can carry a greater storyline than they do. The question has always been: will the market be there to buy it? And at this point I am about to become involved in a project that will be geared toward this potential market, because I have a feeling it is there and it is ready. And they're paying a little more money for a little better product. With those considerations in mind, I am about to get involved in something that we will try to use to tap into that market.

Swashbucklers: Could you tell us something about that project?

Rogers: No. Talk at this point would be premature. This is still in the talking stages between myself and other artists, and some people who may actually be interested in breaking into the field. So I really don't want to elaborate at this point, because it really could just be talk in the winds. In a few months, things may be a little more firm, and it could be something to be talked about. At this point, I don't want to. If things start to roll, we're definitely not going to keep the project a secret. Having people know about it and wanting to buy it will be the key to its success.

Swashbucklers: Newcoming artists and writers will be involved in the project?

Rogers: No, I don't believe I actually said that. I realize where you could have picked up the inference, but it's not going to be particularly new talent as compared to talent that's been around, wishing to get out there with a little bit more gutsy project...I really don't like that word. A project with something more to it, something more than the mainstream market. I find that many people I talk with are not particularly satisfied with today's product that is coming out on the stands, in the four-color format. I can hear a reading audience out there, not particularly old, say between 20 and 30, who grew up on comic books as a legitimate entertainment form, and with the joy of reading a good package. There's not enough reading material out there for them at this point. There are some good packages coming up that would make sitting down and reading a comic book enjoyable. It does give them a book of entertainment, but I don't think there's particularly a lot out there.

Swashbucklers: It's difficult to find anything substantial in terms of story, unless you go to the alternate press, fan publishing, things like the books that Byron Press is doing. Heavy Metal has a good package and has done some interesting things, but storywise it's hit or miss, really.

Rogers: I enjoyed the format of Heavy Metal quite a bit. I don't go to Heavy Metal for stories, per se, as much as I do for a form of entertainment along a different line. Not an American kind. I don't feel that they're making any attempt to be (conventional). But as an alternate form of entertainment I enjoy it quite a bit. I still think there could be another product out there that would be between the overground comic books and Heavy Metal; something that would have as good an art format as Heavy Metal, but with a little bit more of an American Storyline. Possibly something that is serialized and drawn out over a number of months, but when put together would be a complete and finished product.

Swashbucklers: Everyone had high hopes for Marvel's Epic when that first arrived. Most of the people I spoke to seemed to agree with what the Comics Journal had seemed to say about it, and that was that the writing was quite substandard. They were hoping that Marvel could capitalize on what seemed to be a deficiency in Heavy Metal. Perhaps it's too early to tell, though.

Rogers: Yes, I would say that it is too early to tell. Trying to derive everything out of Epic (through only its first issue) is foolish. Everything needs time to expand. Had either Spider-Man or Fantastic Four started out today rather than back in the '60s, I don't think they would have made it because it seems that no one is willing to allow a product enough time to develop. Spider-Man and Fantastic Four and all the beginning Marvel books were essential to the company. The company was counting on these, so they put a lot into them and allowed them the time to develop into what they've become. That has always been the theory when you try to bring across a new idea.

Swashbucklers: There seems to be a parallel between a comics company giving a particular new book three or four issues to establish itself and the method with which network television establishes its properties. In both cases, there really isn't enough time allowed for an audience to develop around the property.

Rogers: This is what I was trying to get across in the Comics Journal interview. The syndrome of the megabuck: that the property has to be an immediate success, and that money seems to be the only criterion by business standards these days. Whether it has potential, or whether it has some ability to get up there never seems to make much difference. The final, bottom line is: is it in the black or is it in the red? Of course that's important. You can't keep pumping money into a losing project. But at the same time you do have to allow the time for the package to develop. You can't expect to push it out there immediately and have mass approval and mass acceptance. I think that's just trying too hard.

Swashbucklers: Give it time to develop popularity and for the audience to become familiar with the characters.

Rogers: Right. And give the creators time to become familiar with the characters. Even in their own minds it takes time to get those characters across. We hear feedback, and we always hope to try to get a finger on what people are looking for; how they react to the product.

Swashbucklers: How do creators respond to reader feedback? Fan mail does not seem to have the ability to sway a company in any particular direction. Just how responsive are they? And is there a morale advantage for you in favorable feedback?

Rogers: It's nice to know that what you're doing is appreciated, but I personally would prefer a critique as compared to just homage. You know, the thank-you thing: "you're work is great, thank you, thank you, thank you." That doesn't do as much for me as to know where the areas are that one person specifically liked or what one person specifically didn't like. Not that it's going to make any change in how I approach a comic book, but you need feedback, and to understand what people do understand and don't understand about the work. If I try to pull off a panel sequence that is too complicated, and it does bog down the storyline, I would prefer to hear that to someone saying your work's nice, thank you. Of course, if that's what they feel, if they do enjoy the work, then that's nice to hear. But false praise and a lot of homage isn't helpful.

Swashbucklers: A minute ago we were discussing parallels between comics and television. Do you particularly see alternative publishing; fan publishing as an alternative to commercial comics in the same sense that public TV and cable TV would be an alternative to network television? Putting it another way, do you feel that the endeavors of small, independent publishers may eventually find themselves in a position where they can viably compete with the commercial comics publishers for the same audience?

Rogers: If the viable alternate publishing company does happen, and if they start to produce comics material for readers, say, above the level of what comics publishers are producing today, then what we may see is the commercial comics companies no longer trying to meet the demands of the older reading audience, and really going back to the ten-year-old format; producing comics for ten-year-olds. That could be one possible way that this could work out. I don't know.

Swashbucklers: I think it was Gil Kane who said that the ideal arrangement would be to have a particular line of books that would strike a perfect meter between the fringe adult group and the younger group at the same time. Do you think that's possible, though?

Rogers: Yes, I do feel it's possible. Number one, the kids today are a lot brighter, more alert then they were back when I was ten years old. The culture has elevated them. Yes, a product could be produced where children of all ages could relate to it, because that's basically, still, what comics are all about. You can escape and have a bit of solitary entertainment, and whether you need to be a child for that or not is questionable, but you can remove yourself from the context of reality with a piece of comic book material, and indulge in a different world, just like you can do in a movie or a good television show.

Swashbucklers: Could you tell us a little bit about how you came to be affiliated with the Guild and what your particular role as head of the Guild involved?

Rogers: I was working at Continuity, which is a studio owned by Neal Adams. I was renting space in the back. And I had started to work for the comic book companies, and I was signing a piece of paper before I did every job for DC, when I began working for Marvel there was a little note on the back of my check, and in essence, what the not on the back of the check and the piece of paper I had to sign for DC was saying, was that all the work I was doing for them was commissioned expressly by them, and that they were to own all rights to the work once I had turned it over to them. And for this I would then be paid. Neal Adams started to explain to me what I was doing in signing this check at Marvel and these papers at DC. And in essence, what I was doing was turning over my creator's rights to the company. Now, I did not create the Batman, obviously. What I did create was six books of Batman made a character. I could never make any claim on the character itself, but the work that I did was my work. The companies don't see it that way, and the work becomes their work. And each time it gets published overseas, or in an American reprint, they compete with themselves for the money. For foreign publication the company absorbs it all. For an American publication they do get a minimal American reprint right. But I don't feel the amount of money they do give is very equitable. The companies take a larger share for themselves and dole out a pittance to the contributing artist. And by artist, I refer to the creator in general; the writer, the penciller, etc.

Swashbucklers: Two things that you mentioned come directly to mind: the paperback edition containing several of your Batman stories, and the set-type text job Denny O'Neil did. They used your illustration as a back cover.

Rogers: Bingo! And that had actually happened after the Guild had started to talk about it. Back to the "whys" and "wherefore" of the Guild. After I started to realize what was happening to me, I realized I was not securing any future for myself. The only future in comic books is to keep working day by day, because there are no royalty benefits and no social security benefits given by the companies. The companies are just not concerned about our future, and they don't make any moves to help the artists build a future security. I have looked around and seen a number of older guys in the business who had families and a lot of responsibilities, who died basically poor, and left their families with very little. And some of these guys had created legends within the field. And I just could not see, realizing what was happening, working under those conditions happily. I was pissed. I was mad. And I started talking with a friend of mine, and we started talking about an organization, whether it should be a guild or a union, etc. etc. Finally I mentioned it to Neal, who had been talking about a Guild for a number of months. Neal was real hot to jump on the idea. In talking in and around Continuity, and people who came into Continuity, it was obvious that some interest, at least in these people, was there. So we decided we would try to form a Guild once again. And the wheels were set into motion. At one time during that period, a vote was taken, and I ended up with the job as head of the ad hoc committee, so that's basically the "whys" and the "wherefores."

Swashbucklers: What kind of duties did you perform as chairman of the ad hoc committee?

Rogers: As chairman of the ad hoc committee I had to oversee the ad hoc committee team. Now, the committee is where the formation of the Guild which inhabits the Guild as an entity. We are incorporated within the state of New York, where it's necessary to be recognized by the companies. Now what is necessary is to have a drive for membership and then a full membership election of actual board members. It's time for the ad hoc committee to step aside and let the elected board take over. Unfortunately, time, once again, is the greatest enemy. We have just not got the time together to get this voted and this membership drive underway, really.

Swashbucklers: When is this coming up?

Rogers: I can't say, really, when this time might be allotted. It's a time that will happen once again. The '80s have been extremely hectic, at least for me, and I know for the other people as well who are still involved in the ad hoc committee. There have been very many people who have left the ad hoc committee, and a few people who have joined. Exactly where we are at this point I don't particularly know. I've tried to find time, period.

Swashbucklers: Do you have anything in conclusion that you would like to add?

Rogers: I've been a at point where I'm trying to readjust myself. I've just turned 30, and there does seem to be extenuating circumstances that go along with that age. In the process, I've been doing a lot of talking lately, and I've just been talked out.

Swashbucklers: I'm looking forward to 30. Mine comes up in December.

Rogers: It's a very interesting age.

Swashbucklers: Thank you, Mr. Rogers.