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THE FIRST DECADE

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SIMMONS COMICS GROUP C

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Before co-founding IDW, Ted ran Todd McFarlane’s

comic-book line, which included a KISS comic book

and a newsstand-distributed KISS magazine. Many

years later, after IDW Publishing was well established, Gene Simmons contacted Ted to see if he’d be interested in working with him on some new ideas.

So, Ted and Chris took a trip to Gene’s house in Los

Angeles and from that meeting, IDW launched the Simmons Comics Group. All three titles in the line were created by Gene and assigned to editors, writers, and artists by IDW. Gene Simmons House of Horrors, a horror anthology, featuring Gene himself as the host, ran for four issues and includes short stories written by Gene’s son, Nick Simmons. Gene Simmons Zipper, the story of an alien who escapes to Earth, was written by Tom Waltz and illustrated by Casey Maloney. Gene Simmons Dominatrix, described by Gene as “T&A meets the CIA,” was written by Sean Taylor and featured art by Flavio Hoffe and Esteve Polls.

Chris and Gene discuss all of these titles, as well as Gene’s long interest in comics. • • • • CR: Thanks for your time today, Gene. I wanted to discuss the gestation of the Simmons Comics Group line with you. It started back when Ted and I originally drove up to your house to discuss collecting the KISS comics and you mentioned that you had these other ideas for some comics that you’d ________________________________________________________ Cover art from Gene Simmons House of Horrors, initial sketch by Todd McFarlane, digital ink and paint by Greg Capullo.

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SIMMONS COMICS GROUP C

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A

P

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19 R

Before co-founding IDW, Ted ran Todd McFarlane’s

comic-book line, which included a KISS comic book

and a newsstand-distributed KISS magazine. Many

years later, after IDW Publishing was well established, Gene Simmons contacted Ted to see if he’d be interested in working with him on some new ideas.

So, Ted and Chris took a trip to Gene’s house in Los

Angeles and from that meeting, IDW launched the Simmons Comics Group. All three titles in the line were created by Gene and assigned to editors, writers, and artists by IDW. Gene Simmons House of Horrors, a horror anthology, featuring Gene himself as the host, ran for four issues and includes short stories written by Gene’s son, Nick Simmons. Gene Simmons Zipper, the story of an alien who escapes to Earth, was written by Tom Waltz and illustrated by Casey Maloney. Gene Simmons Dominatrix, described by Gene as “T&A meets the CIA,” was written by Sean Taylor and featured art by Flavio Hoffe and Esteve Polls.

Chris and Gene discuss all of these titles, as well as Gene’s long interest in comics. • • • • CR: Thanks for your time today, Gene. I wanted to discuss the gestation of the Simmons Comics Group line with you. It started back when Ted and I originally drove up to your house to discuss collecting the KISS comics and you mentioned that you had these other ideas for some comics that you’d ________________________________________________________ Cover art from Gene Simmons House of Horrors, initial sketch by Todd McFarlane, digital ink and paint by Greg Capullo.

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been wanting to do. I was curious, had you been looking to do these for a while? GS: You know, I’ve always had, like any fanboy, these sort of ideas. There must be thousands and thousands of characters and origins and storylines that are out there that will never see the light of day and some of them are very good. I remember when I used to get Alter Ego, Roy Thomas’s old fanzine. I used to get all the fanzines—Rocket’s Blast, Comic Collector, and then Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector—and this is stuff most fans today have never heard of but there was an active fanzine, fan magazine scene, way back when. CR: You worked on one yourself, didn’t you? GS: Right, I did a few of them. And we published our own line of comic books. There was Starlight, Starbright— sort of the Cain and Abel of superheroes—one good, one bad but they’re twins. I don’t remember all the rest of them but they were full comic books. The fanzines in the ’60s were full of fresh superheroes and had stories written and drawn by fans that I’ve never seen. And I thought, “Gee, you don’t have to live in Mt. Olympus and be a God to actually create life.” It was an epiphany. And I saw there were comic books like The Eye and stuff that predated The Question, that looked similar. And even Steve Ditko and some of the professionals had characters that they debuted in the fanzines that never saw the light of day on the newsstands. And I always dreamed, “Why can’t I create my own stories and ideas?” When I was about 14 years old, the first one I created was Omar the Cliff Dweller. And this was kind of a cross between Turok: Son of Stone—the original Indian duo who run across dinosaurs that Dell and __________________________________ Opposite Page: Gene Simmons House of Horrors, art by Jeffrey Zornow. This Page: Gene Simmons Zipper, art by Casey Maloney 252

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been wanting to do. I was curious, had you been looking to do these for a while? GS: You know, I’ve always had, like any fanboy, these sort of ideas. There must be thousands and thousands of characters and origins and storylines that are out there that will never see the light of day and some of them are very good. I remember when I used to get Alter Ego, Roy Thomas’s old fanzine. I used to get all the fanzines—Rocket’s Blast, Comic Collector, and then Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector—and this is stuff most fans today have never heard of but there was an active fanzine, fan magazine scene, way back when. CR: You worked on one yourself, didn’t you? GS: Right, I did a few of them. And we published our own line of comic books. There was Starlight, Starbright— sort of the Cain and Abel of superheroes—one good, one bad but they’re twins. I don’t remember all the rest of them but they were full comic books. The fanzines in the ’60s were full of fresh superheroes and had stories written and drawn by fans that I’ve never seen. And I thought, “Gee, you don’t have to live in Mt. Olympus and be a God to actually create life.” It was an epiphany. And I saw there were comic books like The Eye and stuff that predated The Question, that looked similar. And even Steve Ditko and some of the professionals had characters that they debuted in the fanzines that never saw the light of day on the newsstands. And I always dreamed, “Why can’t I create my own stories and ideas?” When I was about 14 years old, the first one I created was Omar the Cliff Dweller. And this was kind of a cross between Turok: Son of Stone—the original Indian duo who run across dinosaurs that Dell and __________________________________ Opposite Page: Gene Simmons House of Horrors, art by Jeffrey Zornow. This Page: Gene Simmons Zipper, art by Casey Maloney 252

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Gold Key published—and Joe Kubert’s Tor. I’ve always been fascinated by dinosaurs and the idea of adding primitive people and one of them is a shaman with magical powers. They’re all in the primitive world and it’s more about survival. Omar the Cliff Dweller was like that. Then there was the Astro Nuts, which were like the “Three Stooges in Space.” It was a Harvey Kurtzmanlike take on these space guys who always landed on alien planets. It basically stopped there. I used to go to the comic-book conventions when they first started and the science-fiction conventions like Lunacon. I would listen to Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison and all the greats and the thing that struck me was, “Wait a minute, they’re real live human beings.” We forget that sometimes. At one point they were little kids and they had dreams. The difference between Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and myself, besides the talent and all that, is they actually did something about it. They actually went out there and created those amazing characters. Before IDW, I had gotten my feet wet with the KISS 254

__________________________ Gene Simmons Zipper, art by Casey Maloney.

comics that were published by Marvel and Todd McFarlane. I had input on all those books. I created Christine Sixteen and Mr. Speed—who was like a Kid Flash character… a skater who was very fast. CR: Was Christine Sixteen, the character, created before the song? Did that pre-date KISS? GS: No, it came after the song. Christine Sixteen was the sixteenth android and the fifteen others were bad, but they all look like her. So, then I started to put together new versions, or pastiches, of stuff we’ve heard or seen. A Stranger In a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein’s book, was always one of my favorites. In certain ways, that persona exists in the Silver Surfer, this sense of “What fools these mortals be.” An alien curious about the human condition. I thought that’s what I felt like when I first came to America because I was born in Israel. When I first came to America, I was just fascinated by everything—it all felt alien. Someone said to me, “You want to eat a hot dog?” I thought, “Huh? What do you mean a hot dog?” If you really listen to the

language and the nuances of it—all the stuff we take for granted—it can be very bizarre. “Hey, Chris, break a leg.” “What? You want me to break my leg?” The language and the things we take for granted— a part of our communication process—are very bizarre for an outsider or an alien. I’ve always felt like that and so that’s where Zipper came from. Zipper came to me fully developed. Everything was there—the Ether, the Nether Ether and the Etherians and this other world with a Borg-like consciousness where everybody was connected. A place where everybody knew what everybody else was thinking and the idea of an individual was alien and unknown to them and one day one of them wakes up and starts referring to himself as “One.” That was Tom’s contribution—referring to yourself as “one” instead of “I.” It’s not quite an individual but it’s also not the plural “we” and Tom got it right away. I created Zipper, the Nether Ether and this idea that he was being chased by the rest of them because he dared to utter the word “one” and he didn’t want to give in to

doing what everybody else was doing just because you’re supposed to do it. I think we all feel that way in a certain way. So, Zipper comes into our reality and I came up with the idea of his outfit being a pressurized suit that he has to wear in our existence—the same way we’ve got to wear a pressurized suit when we go deep sea diving. Zipper is sort of a jelly-like substance and he can morph and look like us. Tom really took it to the next level and introduced this street kid, this AfricanAmerican kid who talked jive. We tossed around this idea, but it was really Tom who took a page out of Airplane. If you ever saw that movie, two hip black guys are talking and the stewardess has no clue what they’re saying. Another passenger says, “I speak jive” and when they start talking she translates it. So in Zipper, this African-American street kid is talking like, “What you say? Where you is? Where you at?” And, of course, Zipper can’t understand at all what he’s talking about and the street kid looks at Zipper as a kind of a bizarre kid, __________________________ Simmons Comics Group logo.

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Gold Key published—and Joe Kubert’s Tor. I’ve always been fascinated by dinosaurs and the idea of adding primitive people and one of them is a shaman with magical powers. They’re all in the primitive world and it’s more about survival. Omar the Cliff Dweller was like that. Then there was the Astro Nuts, which were like the “Three Stooges in Space.” It was a Harvey Kurtzmanlike take on these space guys who always landed on alien planets. It basically stopped there. I used to go to the comic-book conventions when they first started and the science-fiction conventions like Lunacon. I would listen to Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison and all the greats and the thing that struck me was, “Wait a minute, they’re real live human beings.” We forget that sometimes. At one point they were little kids and they had dreams. The difference between Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and myself, besides the talent and all that, is they actually did something about it. They actually went out there and created those amazing characters. Before IDW, I had gotten my feet wet with the KISS 254

__________________________ Gene Simmons Zipper, art by Casey Maloney.

comics that were published by Marvel and Todd McFarlane. I had input on all those books. I created Christine Sixteen and Mr. Speed—who was like a Kid Flash character… a skater who was very fast. CR: Was Christine Sixteen, the character, created before the song? Did that pre-date KISS? GS: No, it came after the song. Christine Sixteen was the sixteenth android and the fifteen others were bad, but they all look like her. So, then I started to put together new versions, or pastiches, of stuff we’ve heard or seen. A Stranger In a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein’s book, was always one of my favorites. In certain ways, that persona exists in the Silver Surfer, this sense of “What fools these mortals be.” An alien curious about the human condition. I thought that’s what I felt like when I first came to America because I was born in Israel. When I first came to America, I was just fascinated by everything—it all felt alien. Someone said to me, “You want to eat a hot dog?” I thought, “Huh? What do you mean a hot dog?” If you really listen to the

language and the nuances of it—all the stuff we take for granted—it can be very bizarre. “Hey, Chris, break a leg.” “What? You want me to break my leg?” The language and the things we take for granted— a part of our communication process—are very bizarre for an outsider or an alien. I’ve always felt like that and so that’s where Zipper came from. Zipper came to me fully developed. Everything was there—the Ether, the Nether Ether and the Etherians and this other world with a Borg-like consciousness where everybody was connected. A place where everybody knew what everybody else was thinking and the idea of an individual was alien and unknown to them and one day one of them wakes up and starts referring to himself as “One.” That was Tom’s contribution—referring to yourself as “one” instead of “I.” It’s not quite an individual but it’s also not the plural “we” and Tom got it right away. I created Zipper, the Nether Ether and this idea that he was being chased by the rest of them because he dared to utter the word “one” and he didn’t want to give in to

doing what everybody else was doing just because you’re supposed to do it. I think we all feel that way in a certain way. So, Zipper comes into our reality and I came up with the idea of his outfit being a pressurized suit that he has to wear in our existence—the same way we’ve got to wear a pressurized suit when we go deep sea diving. Zipper is sort of a jelly-like substance and he can morph and look like us. Tom really took it to the next level and introduced this street kid, this AfricanAmerican kid who talked jive. We tossed around this idea, but it was really Tom who took a page out of Airplane. If you ever saw that movie, two hip black guys are talking and the stewardess has no clue what they’re saying. Another passenger says, “I speak jive” and when they start talking she translates it. So in Zipper, this African-American street kid is talking like, “What you say? Where you is? Where you at?” And, of course, Zipper can’t understand at all what he’s talking about and the street kid looks at Zipper as a kind of a bizarre kid, __________________________ Simmons Comics Group logo.

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but he thinks he’s kind of cool. He’s so white bread, he’s almost inhuman, an un-human. That’s funny, I wonder if there was ever a character called The Unhuman. CR: That doesn’t ring a bell. You could feel your influences in Zipper—like you mentioned, Heinlein and Silver Surfer. House of Horrors was your take on Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt. I know with that series you didn’t want to go gratuitous with the horror, which a lot of people seem to fall back on now. Dominatrix is the one I’m most curious about. Is there more to it than just the idea of a sexy woman, a dominatrix, fighting crime? GS: Originally I wanted to do a dominatrix book, a sort of flesh and fantasy kind of book, based on a real-life dominatrix who I knew… no, not in that way. She had a sense of humor and had kind of a potty mouth, but she actually wasn’t all that sexual. It was just a job to her and I’m always curious about those kinds of things. So, I did a name search and found out, presto, the word Dominatrix wasn’t trademarked, so now I own it. I love the sound of Dominatrix, especially because women don’t usually have a lot of physical power except in sex, of course, and Dominatrix seems to be THE superheroine of all superheroines. She’s using her sexuality, that’s what she does. We use muscles and might, women use sexuality. I created this sort of Manchurian Candidate world where the quiet, big super-corporate guys are looking at the status quo and they’re not liking it because they see the United States government as a business. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, they can’t stand the idea that something doesn’t _______________________________ Opposite Page and This Page: Gene Simmons Dominatrix, art by Alex Garner.

make money and so they want to take it over. This isn’t for political reasons, it’s simply an unfriendly takeover, if you will, of the government. And, of course, it turns out the company is a segment of our government that doesn’t want to say it exists because it has to fight outside the law, and neither side wants to alarm the people that there’s this war going on because they both want to stay under the radar. So, there’s this secret war going on and both sides take pills and they become superhuman. In real life, we fed


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but he thinks he’s kind of cool. He’s so white bread, he’s almost inhuman, an un-human. That’s funny, I wonder if there was ever a character called The Unhuman. CR: That doesn’t ring a bell. You could feel your influences in Zipper—like you mentioned, Heinlein and Silver Surfer. House of Horrors was your take on Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt. I know with that series you didn’t want to go gratuitous with the horror, which a lot of people seem to fall back on now. Dominatrix is the one I’m most curious about. Is there more to it than just the idea of a sexy woman, a dominatrix, fighting crime? GS: Originally I wanted to do a dominatrix book, a sort of flesh and fantasy kind of book, based on a real-life dominatrix who I knew… no, not in that way. She had a sense of humor and had kind of a potty mouth, but she actually wasn’t all that sexual. It was just a job to her and I’m always curious about those kinds of things. So, I did a name search and found out, presto, the word Dominatrix wasn’t trademarked, so now I own it. I love the sound of Dominatrix, especially because women don’t usually have a lot of physical power except in sex, of course, and Dominatrix seems to be THE superheroine of all superheroines. She’s using her sexuality, that’s what she does. We use muscles and might, women use sexuality. I created this sort of Manchurian Candidate world where the quiet, big super-corporate guys are looking at the status quo and they’re not liking it because they see the United States government as a business. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, they can’t stand the idea that something doesn’t _______________________________ Opposite Page and This Page: Gene Simmons Dominatrix, art by Alex Garner.

make money and so they want to take it over. This isn’t for political reasons, it’s simply an unfriendly takeover, if you will, of the government. And, of course, it turns out the company is a segment of our government that doesn’t want to say it exists because it has to fight outside the law, and neither side wants to alarm the people that there’s this war going on because they both want to stay under the radar. So, there’s this secret war going on and both sides take pills and they become superhuman. In real life, we fed


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our Vietnam soldiers pills that made them stay awake for days. So, all I did was take that idea and turn it into a story. In the real world, right now, if you get hit by a truck, they give you a pill and you don’t feel pain and you’re a happy guy. You can increase your muscles with pills. You can increase your virility with pills. You can do just about anything now. So, this is just one step forward, where these pills make you much, much stronger. Bullets can still kill these guys, but one bullet won’t get it done. It’s like a rhino coming at you. You can shoot at it, but one bullet’s not going to take it down. And, so, thrust into this secret war is Dominatrix, who’s just trying to make a buck and punish you because you’ve been bad all year. She becomes a reluctant heroine—she’s on the run and both sides are trying to get her because they don’t want this thing to spread. On the surface, Dominatrix looks like just another flesh book, but if you take away the “T&A,” you’ve actually got Three Days of the Condor against a Manchurian Candidate kind of background.

problems picking up girls the way Peter Parker does. They don’t have physical ailments like Thor’s secret identity. Our characters have new kinds of problems. They’re both “fish out of the water,” who are thrust into the deep end of the pool. That’s what appeals to me and against that backdrop, lots of stories can be told. CR: I think we got off to a nice start with what we’ve done so far. I hope it was pretty close to the way you envisioned this when you originally came up with it. GS: Chris, the entire process has been a joy. Especially Zipper and the covers of Dominatrix, which really captured how I saw her. It’s one thing sitting around daydreaming, and it’s another holding a comic book in your hand. There was one other moment when I couldn’t believe it was happening to me and that’s when, in the 70s, Marvel decided to put out the KISS comic books and I, Gene Simmons, actually got to fight Doctor Doom. CR: Drawn by John Buscema if I remember correctly.

CR: When you pitched these ideas to us, what impressed me about it was that this wasn’t just a vanity thing of you slapping your name on a catchy title. It was you really putting thought into the ideas and really wanting to tell a good story. I’ve always been impressed with how you understand comics in a way that a lot of people at your level who want to do comics just don’t get. That’s just not something you can fake and that’s what really came through in talking to you—your actual love of the art form.

GS: That’s right. It was originally going to be Jack Kirby, but that was the moment when Kirby left Marvel to go to DC. Here I am a guy who as a 13year-old kid was writing letters to Flo Steinberg, the secretary at Marvel, and who got an actual postcard from Stan Lee saying, “You’re creative, great things will happen to you.” So, to have a Marvel comic book that featured me fighting Doctor Doom was another great moment.

GS: We connected. When we first started talking there was a shared love of the art form and then neither you nor I nor Tom wanted to do another Superman—an invulnerable alien who lands on the planet and you can’t kill them. When you take a look at Dominatrix and Zipper as characters, they’re both flawed, but not in a Marvel kind of way because their self-esteem is intact. They don’t have pimples or have

CR: I’ve got to say, having done this now for half of IDW’s 10-year history, it’s been great with you and it’s really been nice having you as a part of our first decade. I hope we’re having this conversation in another 10 years.

______________________________________________________ Opposite Page: Gene Simmons Zipper, art by Casey Maloney.

____________________________________________ Nick Simmons’ Skullduggery, art by Nick Simmons.

GS: I hope so, too.

IDW

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our Vietnam soldiers pills that made them stay awake for days. So, all I did was take that idea and turn it into a story. In the real world, right now, if you get hit by a truck, they give you a pill and you don’t feel pain and you’re a happy guy. You can increase your muscles with pills. You can increase your virility with pills. You can do just about anything now. So, this is just one step forward, where these pills make you much, much stronger. Bullets can still kill these guys, but one bullet won’t get it done. It’s like a rhino coming at you. You can shoot at it, but one bullet’s not going to take it down. And, so, thrust into this secret war is Dominatrix, who’s just trying to make a buck and punish you because you’ve been bad all year. She becomes a reluctant heroine—she’s on the run and both sides are trying to get her because they don’t want this thing to spread. On the surface, Dominatrix looks like just another flesh book, but if you take away the “T&A,” you’ve actually got Three Days of the Condor against a Manchurian Candidate kind of background.

problems picking up girls the way Peter Parker does. They don’t have physical ailments like Thor’s secret identity. Our characters have new kinds of problems. They’re both “fish out of the water,” who are thrust into the deep end of the pool. That’s what appeals to me and against that backdrop, lots of stories can be told. CR: I think we got off to a nice start with what we’ve done so far. I hope it was pretty close to the way you envisioned this when you originally came up with it. GS: Chris, the entire process has been a joy. Especially Zipper and the covers of Dominatrix, which really captured how I saw her. It’s one thing sitting around daydreaming, and it’s another holding a comic book in your hand. There was one other moment when I couldn’t believe it was happening to me and that’s when, in the 70s, Marvel decided to put out the KISS comic books and I, Gene Simmons, actually got to fight Doctor Doom. CR: Drawn by John Buscema if I remember correctly.

CR: When you pitched these ideas to us, what impressed me about it was that this wasn’t just a vanity thing of you slapping your name on a catchy title. It was you really putting thought into the ideas and really wanting to tell a good story. I’ve always been impressed with how you understand comics in a way that a lot of people at your level who want to do comics just don’t get. That’s just not something you can fake and that’s what really came through in talking to you—your actual love of the art form.

GS: That’s right. It was originally going to be Jack Kirby, but that was the moment when Kirby left Marvel to go to DC. Here I am a guy who as a 13year-old kid was writing letters to Flo Steinberg, the secretary at Marvel, and who got an actual postcard from Stan Lee saying, “You’re creative, great things will happen to you.” So, to have a Marvel comic book that featured me fighting Doctor Doom was another great moment.

GS: We connected. When we first started talking there was a shared love of the art form and then neither you nor I nor Tom wanted to do another Superman—an invulnerable alien who lands on the planet and you can’t kill them. When you take a look at Dominatrix and Zipper as characters, they’re both flawed, but not in a Marvel kind of way because their self-esteem is intact. They don’t have pimples or have

CR: I’ve got to say, having done this now for half of IDW’s 10-year history, it’s been great with you and it’s really been nice having you as a part of our first decade. I hope we’re having this conversation in another 10 years.

______________________________________________________ Opposite Page: Gene Simmons Zipper, art by Casey Maloney.

____________________________________________ Nick Simmons’ Skullduggery, art by Nick Simmons.

GS: I hope so, too.

IDW

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IDW: The First Decade Chapter 19