Comics Journal #100
Marshall Rogers
Conducted by Lee Wochner

Marshall Rogers has been keeping a low profile. While you might have thought that Rogers (last interviewed in Journal #54) had been working outside the industry, he contends that he's been giving us the full fruits of his labor, most notably in Eclipse's Cap'n Quick and a Foozle. However, with the cancellation of Cap'n Quick, Rogers was searching around the industry for something that strikes his fancy, and the first thing that came along was the coloring for his soon-to-be-reprinted Batman stories. Rogers, long known for his unique style of draftsmanship, talks in this interview about the role of the artist in an increasingly computerized society.

This interview was conducted by Lee Wochner, transcribed by Mark Thompson, and was edited by Tom Heintjes.

Lee Wochner: First off, what have you been doing for the past few years?

Marshall Rogers: Well, I've been working for Eclipse over the past couple of years, specifically on two new characters called Cap'n Quick and the Foozle.

Wochner: That one in particular I'm familiar with, but outside the comics field?

Rogers: Well, not much outside the comics field. For the amount of work that the public has seen, you wouldn't believe the amount of time that I've put into the project. Developing a new character, I found, really took up a lot of time. And, I wasn't only developing new characters, I was working on new ways to execute the comic books. I was involved with Eclipse in trying to work out the bugs in the coloring system on this new printing format. That took time, finding different separators, and finding ways to actually execute the color on the stat paper, which is what a gray line involves. It's about like painting on a piece of paper made from a stat machine. So, there were just new areas to explore, to try and find the best means to work in this new process. That, and creating and developing the characters and developing a system to work within, has entailed the last couple of years, really. There's been an odd job here and there. I know that a year and a half ago I did a special project through DC Comics for Parker Bros. games. I executed the game board, which was some buildings, for a game called Super-Powers, the Justice League Conquers the World, or something like that, I don't really remember the title.

Wochner: The role-playing game?

Rogers: It wasn't the role-playing game, it was a board game for kids from six to 12 years old, approximately.

Wochner: So more or less, over the past few years, one strip has been your job.

Rogers: Dominated a lot of my time, yes.

Wochner: So the one strip's been supporting you?

Rogers: Well, to a degree. There've been some lean times, but that's basically it.

Wochner: Well, that leads up to my next question. How have economic conditions changed for American comic artists, over the past five years? Would you have been able to do that five years ago?

Rogers: There is, you know, a better state of affairs right now, because of money that's being paid on royalty of books that (sic) on sale today. The economics are definitely better than they were five years ago. Unfortunately, Quick and the Foozle didn't capture the attention of the market. As a matter of fact, after three issues, Eclipse is going to stop publishing Quick and the Foozle. So I guess I was able to survive, but it wasn't economically feasible.

Wochner: But for general comics work, has the money increased dramatically since 1980?

Rogers: Well, it has increased approximately proportionately, maybe a little bit less. But I've got a very limited point of view for this, because I have been working only for Eclipse, and we were both working on a more restricted budget. We didn't have as much money to go around. So I don't really know how it affects the rest of the industry. The economics has gone up proportionately with the page rates, as far as I know.

Wochner: In your last interview, you recognized a syndrome wherein the popular fan creators were abandoning comics. Recently they've returned. People like Steve Englehart, Don McGregor, Barry Windsor-Smith, Steve Gerber, and so on. Have conditions changed enough to warrant your return to the mainstream?

Rogers: I don't know if "to the mainstream," per se, would be the proper terminology, but I am going to be doing some more work for either DC or Marvel. It looks like DC. There have been a couple, we've talked about a couple of future projects. We're talking right now, DC and Harlan Ellison are trying to negotiate a contract for me to work on a graphic novel for DC on a Harlan Ellison project. A story called "Demon with a Glass Hand."

Wochner: From The Outer Limits.

Rogers: That's right, and if the contract's going to be pulled together, I will adapt that as a graphic novel. I've also talked with DC about doing a Plastic Man mini-series. That'd be probably a four-issue book. And right now, I'm involved with DC in coloring the reprint of the Batman work I'd done for them in 1977-78. The beginning of the summer will be the beginning of DC releasing the Batman stories that I had worked on with Steve Englehart and with Len Wein, in a reprint package.

Wochner: Why are you coloring them?

Rogers: I feel that the coloring should have a different approach for Batman in particular than what a lot of mainstream comic books do these days. It will be a better printing process, it will be a wider range of colors. With this book, there will be an extra 70 percent color screen, which doubles the number of colors to choose from, in the limits of comic-book coloring. With that better process, I want to see an all-around better package, so I volunteered to color it.

Wochner: You're not getting any extra pay for this?

Rogers: Oh, sure! I said I would be the one to color it. I ran across Dick Giordano at a San Diego convention, I think, where we first talked about it. And he told me that they would be reprinting the Batman stuff, and I said, "Oh, yeah, really? I would like to color it." And he said, "Terrific, you've got a deal." And I'm being paid the page rate for the coloring and then I'll be paid reprint money for this book. And that is a change in the economic system, the comic-book industry from four years ago.

Wochner: Is it possible to make a living off one good book?

Rogers: Yeah. I know a number of people in the industry are doing it. There have been some very good deals struck by individuals. And a couple of individuals are also just turning out good material that's very popular on the market today, and sells a lot, and they get a royalty after X amount of books have been sold by the company. That wasn't heard of in 1978, and in 1980 it was just being talked about.

Wochner: What are your plans for your future over the next five or 10 years? Where do you see yourself going?

Rogers: Gee, that's a good question. It'll be easier to answer five years from now, to tell you where I've been rather than projecting where I'm going to be going. At this particular point, I'm really quite open. I was disappointed that I couldn't continue Quick and the Foozle, and so I'm now sort of gathering my forces together and seeing what is available. I have no idea what will happen over the next five years.

Wochner: Have you thought of trying to take it someplace else?

Rogers: The thought has crossed my mind, but I don't know if the two characters are really what the comic-book readers want today. I may have to try another avenue for these characters.

Wochner: What do you think the average comics reader wants?

Rogers: I'm going to get myself in a lot of trouble answering this one, but the way I perceive the industry today -- and my view is very limited, or is conditional on the specialty shops -- but in the specialty shops, it seems young mutant teams and adolescent problems are the key sellers in books today.

Wochner: Are you willing to adapt yourself to that market? You know, give Cap'n Quick some pimples and maybe a girlfriend with lesbian leanings?

Rogers: No, I certainly wouldn't want to do that to Cap'n Quick. Cap'n Quick and the Foozle has got a totally different direction as far as I'm concerned. I developed the characters so I could create fantasy worlds that would spark the imagination. I find that I'm not that interested in characterization as strongly as I am in character motivation and situations that they find themselves in. It becomes simpler for me to do a fantasy world, rather than trying to totally put myself into reality. And I have got more freedom and I can just play more at the drawing board if I can play with fantasy worlds. That was why I wanted to work with Quick and the Foozle.

Wochner: I was being semi-facetious, but do you think you can adapt your outlook to fit this market niche of adolescents and mutants? Whatever you identify the market as, do you think you can shift yourself?

Rogers: I'll tell you, I could adapt myself to that, but there are plenty of people that are doing the job just perfectly. I still want to see a wider range of comic book subject material. I would prefer not to do a Batman story, or a detective story, or even a Western, as compared to what's being done perfectly by the contributors that are working in it today. I wouldn't want to compete with what's established already, particularly. I'm not interested in that.

Wochner: And yet, Batman's been around for over 45 years; isn't that established already?

Rogers: Oh, yes, it's certainly established, but when I think of the Batman, I think of him as a singular character, and not within any teams. I prefer Batman stories that don't really deal with the Batman and his problems, as compared to the Batman having to confront the Joker, or to confront some mystery, or to confront some whodunit. Those are the type of Batman stories that I prefer to do, if I was going to do a Batman story. I wouldn't particularly want to do a Batman and The Outsiders. That's not really where my interest lies.

Wochner: So if the market becomes totally dominated by teen mutants and Outsiders-type books, what does Marshall Rogers do?

Rogers: Well, I wouldn't even try to answer that question, because I don't think that that could happen, particularly. Nothing is ever absolute, is basically my feeling, and I don't think the industry could go absolutely teen mutants and still be around. I think there are still readers looking for other things. Also, there are so many readers that read a number of different things that I don't think they would be buying all the books if they're all teen mutants books.

Wochner: If such a crunch comes, that there's little market for the type of work that you'd like to produce, where would you go?

Rogers: [pause] I have no idea, to be honest. I can do any number of things, but I don't know particularly what direction I would be going in. Animation has always interested me, and far more so than illustration. Rather than having to do one spot illustration, I prefer to deal in movement. If you really want to pin me in a corner, to answer the question, I guess I would turn to animation and try to find something to do there.

Wochner: A few years ago, you said the fun had died in American comics. Has the fun begun to return lately?

Rogers: I think that there is more enthusiasm from different contributors that you do see off the pages, than the state of affairs that was predominant when I made that statement. I think that there is a turnaround. I do feel that the general attitude of the industry is picking up, in general.

Wochner: Why the turnaround?

Rogers: Because there was just a general change in the way that the companies perceived the artists and the writers, etcetera. They do now pay a better reprint rate. It's now a very reasonable rate per page per reprint as compared to the pittance that was really just a token payment, rather than any realistic payment. There is now a royalty system, so when someone sells over X -- I don't know what the exact numbers are in the different companies -- but when someone sells over X amount of books, they see an immediate reward for the effort they've put into it. So now it means they can spend more time doing the work, and knowing that there will be some compensation in a little while, if what they're doing is popular, and if they do it well. I still believe that there is a recognition of quality. I don't know what the quality is, and what the audience particularly looks for, but books are selling well over the royalty margins and people are getting royalties for it.

Wochner: Could it have been pressure from the independents that spurred these changes?

Rogers: I think that is one slice of the pie that changed around the industry. I don't think you could point to any one incident as the solitary reasons why there have been changes. I think it was a number of different factors that contributed to the industry getting better.

Wochner: But in a way, isn't it possible to say the fans finally had an impact on the market, in that they started a lot of these independent publishers, they supported them, and they put pressure on the industry?

Rogers: I don't know if I'm qualified to really decide that. I think that had there not been the independents and the support of them, that there would have been very little change. But there were other factors that I mentioned that influenced the change also. It's no one thing. But absolutely, the independents are one of the reasons for the change.

Wochner: Now that more freelance markets have opened up, especially in the direct-sales market, do you think the aesthetic quality of comics will increase?

Rogers: I hope so. I think that it's still going to take a number of years for the change to work its way into the system, but we're seeing a higher degree of quality. DC is looking for a better system of printing their books, and this is why they're checking the Flexographic printing. And you can see a conscientious effort, because in the beginning, the Flexographic books were quite garish, and weren't of the best quality. But, over the last year, they have made a conscientious effort to get the book looking better, and up to a quality standard, and I think they're succeeding. There are slightly different packages that are coming out. Like I said, this Batman reprint is going to have an extra degree of color in it. It's not going to have an obvious immediate impact, but just the general quality of the book will be a little bit better, because of the wider range of colors to choose from.

Wochner: Do you think they'll get increased readership because of increased quality?

Rogers: I don't think they're going to lose any readership because of the increased quality. But I think there's still a problem of getting the general public to look at comic books these days. I know that when I have passed around issues of, say, Scorpio Rose to friends that have never seen comic books before, the first thing that they notice was the weight of the book, the quality of the paper, the quality of the printing, and the quality of the color. But to get them to look at it, one person can't go around, handing out issues to generate interest. Before there's any great boom in comic books, there have to be avenues to get the general public really interested in comic books.

Wochner: Where do you think the future of comic books lies?

Rogers: Gee, I have no idea. The future of comic books lies with the future of entertainment, and what happens within that broad general field will have some type of ramification on the comic books. Exactly what it's going to be, I wouldn't even hazard a guess.

Wochner: In the years since 1980, when you did Detectives, Inc. with Don McGregor, the graphic novel's become a lot more commonplace. Do you think you started a trend?

Rogers: I think I was in the first wave of American artists that got themselves involved in it. I don't think that we were at the beginning. I would like to see a broader number of graphic novels coming out, and accepted by the public. Personally, I find that more interesting, because after working for a limited amount of time, there would be a total change of character, story. That would keep my interest a lot more readily, rather than having to work on the same character on a monthly basis and having to keep doing that year after year. One of my problems in working on "mainstream" comics, is meeting a monthly deadline. That becomes quite a drain on me. I can do it, but it expends a lot of myself, as compared to working on a project and then stopping and starting a new project. I sort of get refreshed between the changes, whereas with working on a monthly schedule year in and year out, I don't get as much time to sit back and relax.

Wochner: I spoke with Harvey Kurtzman a while ago, and he said that he thought he was a better inventor than a person who stuck with something. Do you think that applies to yourself, too?

Rogers: Gee, I simply hadn't thought of it in those terms and I don't know. I wouldn't particularly think of myself as that. I would like to stick with Quick and the Foozle for a while, because there are a lot of ideas that in the back of my mind that I'd like to execute and bring to fruition. I wouldn't consider myself in that same category as Harvey mentioned. I like coming up with idea, but I like to bring them to fruition also.

Wochner: Have you seen Shatter, the computerized comic yet?

Rogers: Yes, I have.

Wochner: How do you feel about that?

Rogers: I don't know. I had mixed feelings when I first saw it. It's a first attempt at something. It's quite bold, and it's quite innovative, I feel. But like any new system, it needs kinks to be worked out of it. I also question the durability of it -- how long it will last as compared to its first impact on the market. Only time will tell.

Wochner: Does the idea of a computer taking the artist's place scare you?

Rogers: No, not really, because you still need the artist to generate the initial concept. The computer is doing the labor. You can still see a personal input from [Michael Saenz]. And if another artist were to start a computer-generated comic, I think you'd see a different approach. But it becomes storytelling and composition that a computer can't particularly do. It needs to be programmed, and then it'll execute it for you. If it became the new wave of the future, it would just require me to learn a new skill. As I learned how to draw, I would learn how to punch a keyboard. But I don't think that I'd lose any work because of it.

Wochner: Actually, it's done on a miniature drawing pad with a stylus, and then you punch a color box for different colors. Could you see yourself moving into that? For example, there are some writers who can't write except by longhand, on legal pads.

Rogers: Yeah, I would imagine I can, because what I am really doing is just sort of waiting for computer-generated graphics to become economically feasible to move into animation. I think computer-generated graphics is going to be the answer to animation. Once that gets the bugs ironed out of it, and we've seen some years of pioneers spending a lot of time and money developing the system, it will be ready for the general public's use. Maybe not for the general public's use, but on a more reasonable scale, so that you can generate a two-hour movie, and it won't cost millions of dollars to do because of time spent on the computer. So, I don't think I would have a lot of problems making the transition. The tools that an artist uses to bring across his concepts are only the tools. The artist still has concepts, and I don't think that the machine can ever take that away from us.