M O D E R N
M A S T E R S
V O L U M E
F O U R T E E N :
By Eric Nolen-Weathington
Modern Masters Volume Fourteen:
Table of Contents Introduction by Brandon Peterson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Part One: Tales of a Fifth Grade Comic Book Artist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Interlude: Under the Influence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Part Two: Taking Shelter in Liberty Meadows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Part Three: You Never Forget Your First Love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Part Four: Storytelling and the Creative Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Art Gallery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Tales of a Fifth Grade Comic Book Artist
MODERN MASTERS: Do you remember anything about your childhood in Korea? You moved when you were about six years old, right?
school, so you had to get used to a new kind of school system, new people, not to mention the language barrier. Did you have any problems making the transition?
FRANK CHO: Right. I was born near Seoul, South Korea. When I was six, we immigrated to the United States.
FRANK: It was pretty tough. I remember I had to go to “English As a Second Language” class, up until fourth grade, I believe. That was pretty tough.... It was comic books that helped me learn the English language, because of the pictures and words.
MM: Do you remember anything about Korea? FRANK: A little bit. I remember kindergarten. I remember just little stuff, nothing concrete.
MM: So when did you start becoming interested in art? FRANK: Pretty much, as far back as I can remember. My dad is artistic. I inherited my artistic talent from him. I started drawing at an early age and didn’t stop. As I got older, it just increased in intensity. I guess my first real awareness of my passion for art, oddly, came right around the time we left for the United States; it was around the same time Norman Rockwell died, and his art was all over the place. I remember seeing some of his paintings and I was just amazed that those were paintings and not photographs, and feelings it invoked from a single image. So I think that was my first real awareness of art, of the power of art. And from then on, it just snowballed.
MM: Have you ever had any kind of interest in going back and exploring your heritage? FRANK: Not really. My parents get on my case about it, but I’ve been in this country for almost 30 years now, and I still haven’t seen a lot of the major landmarks. So I’d like to explore the United States before I go to Korea. I still haven’t gone to Disneyworld or the Grand Canyon—the big stuff. MM: So what was Beltsville, Maryland like for you as a sixyear-old moving from Korea?
MM: Did it take you a while to make friends, since you weren’t able to communicate as well? Plus it appears you moved around a bit early on. Do you think that added to your interest in art, because it’s such an isolated pastime?
FRANK: Actually, we first moved in with my mother’s sister, my aunt and her husband, in Philly. We lived there for a few months, and then we moved to Prince George’s County in Maryland—Landover, Maryland. It’s right next to Largo, Maryland. And from there we moved to Beltsville.
FRANK: No. I’m a pretty social and friendly guy. I didn’t have any trouble making friends. I drew a lot. Language wasn’t really too much of a barrier. Many of the kids I grew up with were very patient and friendly, and helped me overcome the language barrier. I was extremely lucky to have friends who were very patient with me.
MM: Did you have any trouble integrating? I mean, you’d already started 6
MM: You said your father was artistic. Did he draw much while you were growing up? Did he tell you, “This is the brush that you use,” and that kind of thing? FRANK: Not really. My dad had taken many art classes in his youth and was a standout art student, but he never became a professional artist. MM: It was more of a hobby for him? FRANK: Well, even as a hobby, he didn’t really draw much. My first memory of my father doing something artistic was right before we left for the United States. I guess he got suckered into building a model boat for one of his friends or co-workers. It was this historic Korean warship that was shaped like a turtle with a dragon’s head at the bow. I remember him carving this boat from a block of wood. It was about two feet long. It was pretty impressive. I’m pretty sure that, looking at it with adult eyes, it wasn’t as intricate as my childhood memory remembers it being, but as a child, I remember just being blown away by it. I remember my dad shaping the pencils into miniature cannons and carving the powerful and fearsome dragon’s head— all the little details that he put in. My dad was a great artist.... When we came to the United States, we were pretty poor. We didn’t know anyone. No money or free time. We didn’t really do any traveling. My dad had two jobs. He was a janitor at night for Greyhound, and he was a carpenter during the day, and my mom worked at a shoe factory. So the only times that I saw my dad using his artistic ability was when I had a science fair or science project to do and he would help me. I would screw up, and my dad would help me build or fix something. I remember a couple of times he actually drew the poster that I was supposed to hand in, and I was just amazed at the posters that he drew. It was pretty impressive. MM: You said you used comics to help you learn English. What were the comics you were reading as a kid when you first started reading them? FRANK: I remember my dad bringing comics home from his work when he worked as the janitor at the Greyhound station. He would bring home these old comics that people just left at the station. But it wasn’t until fifth grade that I became really interested in comics, because all my friends started collecting comics at the time. So it was about ’83 that I really started collecting comics, when I really became aware of comics. My friends and I only collected Marvel titles: Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men, Spider-Man. I think Walt Simonson’s Thor started up around 7
Previous Page and Above: Sketches from high school. Left: Preliminary sketch for a Conan illustration. Conan ™ and ©2007 Conan Properties International, LLC.
Below and Next Page: Pencil drawings from Frank’s high school art class—though the drawing of the girl below was probably done in Frank’s spare time in between class assignments. Artwork ©2007 Frank Cho.
that time. A lot of Conan. Oddly enough, I didn’t care for Daredevil or The Hulk. I read pretty much everything that Marvel was putting out. I never read DC comics, I don’t know why. Well, I can tell you why: DC comics were boring as hell. [laughter] MM: Were you looking at the credits right away to see who your favorite artists were, or was it just about the characters? FRANK: I think I noticed the artists right away. The artists that I really liked growing up were the artists that really made a huge impact on me, John Buscema and Don Newton. Don Newton’s Detective Comics #509 blew my mind away. I came across some old Batman comics at my local library, and I remember flipping through that issue and being just stunned at the
artistry of Don Newton, with his clean, classic figure work, and inked beautifully by Dan Adkins. I tried to hunt down more of Newton’s Batman comics, but unfortunately it was right around the time that he passed away. So I guess his work kind of rekindled my love affair with classical drawing. And then, around that same time, I discovered John Buscema’s How to Draw the Marvel Way. As I remember, it was around fourth, fifth grade. That was the big turning point of my life. And then I discovered Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson shortly afterward. MM: What did you see in them? FRANK: It was probably sixth grade when I discovered Williamson and Frazetta. I saw their work in an old Creepy reprint. I think it was one of those small pocket-book sized.... MM: Oh, yeah, the digest-sized Best of Creepy book. FRANK: Yeah, it was a Frazetta cover of Wolfman fighting Dracula. Inside there was one of those few Frazetta comic stories that he did for Warren. It also had an Al Williamson story, “Sand Doom.” When I saw that Williamson and Frazetta work, it was a revelation. I was stunned, just rooted to the spot. And then I came across the Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta Ballantine book at the local library, and the rest is history. From fifth grade through middle school, I was discovering one artist after another, absorbing everything I could about those artists. I started to refine my taste in high school. MM: Did you see the Williamson Star Wars newspaper strips at all during that time? Did Star Wars have any kind of impact on you at all? FRANK: No, I missed Star Wars because I came to the United States— MM: Oh, yeah, you came over right after the first movie was released. FRANK: Star Wars was what, ’76, ’77? So I missed the whole Star Wars revolution. And none of my buddies were crazy about Star Wars. My first Star Wars movie was Empire Strikes Back, and I didn’t see that at the theaters, I saw it on videotape, which I thought
©2007 respective owner.
Under the Influence
Norman Rockwell I connected with Norman Rockwell’s art early on. My earliest memory of art in any form was Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Not only was he a flawless painter but he was a brilliant storyteller. Each of his paintings told a story, which is an incredible feat. He may be the greatest American illustrator of the 20th century. Norman Rockwell is still a constant source of inspiration for me.
Taking Shelter in Liberty Meadows
MM: What kind of input did the syndicate have on the development of Liberty Meadows?
Post-it notes on my art with little arrows pointing to Brandy’s breasts and butt saying “reduce breasts, reduce butt.” [laughter] So I would go back and white out Brandy’s figure and try to change her from a D cup to B cup.
FRANK: Some, but not too much. The main thing that I changed was turning Frank the Duck, the duck boy, into a human character. Liberty Meadows was an animal sanctuary, and I wanted to make Frank into an animal doctor. The rest of the characters were the same as they were in University2, the college strip. The big change that the syndicate made me do was turning Leslie the Laughing Lima Bean into Leslie the Bullfrog, which was funny as hell. I said, “Why do you want me to change Leslie?” I thought a talking vegetable was so strange that it was funny. But they said it didn’t make sense. They said a talking vegetable doesn’t make sense, but a talking frog does.
MM: That didn’t last terribly long, though. FRANK: As time went by, I gradually made Brandy’s boobs and her butt bigger. I did it under the radar and my editors didn’t really notice it. By year five, Brandy had more curves than the beltway. MM: Were you able to use those strips that you had sent in as the first part of the continuity for the strip? At what point, from the time you signed the contract, did you actually start running in the papers? FRANK: They gave me a year. Actually, I requested a year before they launched, because, again, my dream was to be a comic book artist. Normally the syndicates only give you maybe six months lead time to stockpile your strips before the launch. But I requested a little over a year because I wanted to break into the comic book market and scratch my comic book itch. I tried out for the Dark Horse Tarzan. I was and still am a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. Brandy ™ and Frank Cho. My good friend, Al Gross, wanted to break into comics, too and he had a contact at Dark Horse. So he and I joined together and submitted Burroughs related stuff to Dark Horse. Al got accepted, but Dark Horse turned me down. So I said,
MM: Well, he is on an animal sanctuary, so I guess I can see their point, to an extent. FRANK: I had a setup for Leslie. Brandy was gardening and she had some new fertilizer, and then while she was gardening, one of the vegetables started talking to her. That was my setup for Leslie, but they didn’t like that. They said, “You’ve got to turn it into a talking animal.” I go, “What’s the difference between a talking vegetable and a talking animal?” We fought over that, and I gave in. “You guys know what you’re talking about, so I’ll change it,” so I did. And then they’d keep telling me to tone Brandy down. When I sent them the first five weeks of the strip, they sent most of the strips back with little 21
“Eh, I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” In hindsight, I agree with Dark Horse, because I wasn’t quite ready to do an actual full comic book. MM: Was it Tom Yeates that did that? FRANK: No, it was.... What was his name, Shenk? Chris Shenk, I think, was his name. This was 1997, around that time period. So my whole comic book dream bubble had burst, and I just said, “I’ll just start concentrating on the comic strip.” MM: So you didn’t send a portfolio to Marvel or DC? FRANK: No, I didn’t send anything to Marvel or DC, because I just didn’t have the same passion for superheroes. I still liked them, but I liked Tarzan better. And also, Al and I kind of teamed up, and he had a way into the Dark Horse office, whereas neither of us knew anyone at Marvel or DC. So I gave up my comic book dream and went back to Liberty Meadows full time. Actually, I’m kind of going ahead of myself. When I was in college, I joined Insight Studios Group, which was headed by Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, and Al Gross. MM: What year did you join Insight? FRANK: That would be about ’94. Around that time period. Wheatley, Hempel, and Al Gross were at Insight Studios. I met them through the Small Press Expo and the local Edgar Rice Burroughs Fan Club, the National Panthans. At Insight Studios, that’s where I put together the University2 collection book. Which, again, I didn’t know I was a cult hit on campus, so when I put together the University2 collection book and sold it to the University of Maryland book store, they bought 500 copies, which I thought was insane. I’d thought, “Maybe I’ll sell 50 copies.” They ordered 500 and said, “Would you like to do a signing?” And I said, “Sure.” I remember coming onto campus, and there was a huge line. They said about 600 people showed up. It was a huge line coming out of the bookstore. And my first thought was, “Hmm, they must be having some sort of a sale.” I kept walking and walking, and then the store manager waved me over to the table and I said, “What’s going on?” They said, “These people are here for you.” It was like, wow. I was floored, and the store bought a couple hundred more copies. That was a great experience. 22
MM: Wheatley and Hempel were fairly well established at that point. Did you get a lot of stories from them? Were you quizzing them to see what they thought of...? FRANK: Yeah, I was like a little kid bugging them. Hempel was never around. Marc Hempel is like a hermit. He would only come in at night, when everyone was gone, to check his mail and do his computer stuff. It was mostly Mark Wheatley and me at Insight Studios. The only reason I joined Insight Studios was because it was only a quarter mile from my girlfriend’s house, and I would go see my girlfriend almost every day and end up stopping by Insight Studios, so that’s how I became a member. My girlfriend later became my wife. Mark Wheatley educated me on the whole comic book business, which I’m thankful for. It was really interesting to get the whole history of the comic book business through the eyes of an independent artist/writer. Hear him recount all the pitfalls and all the stuff to watch out for. Just the general hell he has experienced as an unsuccessful comic creator. Wheatley would tell me horror story after horror story about what he went through, and that I should expect the same or worse. So I braced myself for failures. But it didn’t happen to me. As I mentioned before, I’ve been extremely lucky in my career. I was relatively successful in most of my ventures. When he was helping put together the University2 book, he was saying that an independent, black-&-white humor book would fail. And me being stubborn, I said, “It’s going to work out. I think it’s funny.” And Wheatley would say, “Just brace yourself for when
it’s a failure and you’ve lost the thousands of dollars that you invested in it.” And it turned out to be a big hit, and it went through seven or eight printings. For that year-and-a-half period, I actually lived off the money made by University2. MM: What kind of distribution did you have? Were you getting it into bookstores and that kind of thing?
Previous Page: Page 1 of Frank’s Tarzan try-out samples for Dark Horse, and a 1998 illustration of Tarzan’s girl, Jane. Below: Page 2 of Frank’s Tarzan try-out. Jane, Tarzan ™ and ©2007 ERB, Inc.
original ending ended with Marc DeRail getting mauled by a bear. But parodying the Misery movie elevated the whole storyline to something a lot more sophisticated and funnier. MM: Then you ended it with the Twilight Zone the Movie ending. FRANK: Yeah, exactly, the Twilight Zone ending. MM: You also had a little cameo with Fearless Richard Stacey, the cross between Fearless Fosdick and Dick Tracy. FRANK: Right, right. Actually, it was Fearless Fosdick from Li’l Abner that I was parodying, so it was a parody of a parody. MM: Exactly. [laughter] I guess that was your love for Al Capp showing. FRANK: Oh, yeah. I mean, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner was a huge influence on me. When I was going through my Frazetta period, I discovered Al Capp, because Frazetta drew for Al Capp for nine or eleven years. He drew Li’l Abner women hot. They looked great—the body caricatures and facial expressions, great stuff. MM: In ’97, you started formatting the strips into the comics. What led to that decision to producing comics, and what kind of difficulties did you have as far as getting them reprinted? FRANK: It was because my syndicate was having trouble getting Liberty Meadows collected into a book, and a lot of fans wanted some sort of collection book. So the decision was made to collect my Liberty Meadows strips in a comic book, collect 48 strips at a time. That way the fans would get some sort of a collection book in a timely fashion, and also it wouldn’t kill the big, thick collection book down the road. It was one of those things that I really didn’t plan on. I was just trying to use the comic book to buy time for the collection book. Instead, the comic book became more popular and profitable than the syndicate collection books. Each issue increased in circulation. The Liberty Meadows comic book suddenly put me on the comic book map.
Previous Page: Cow entered the strip as part of the Marc DeRail storyline and became an instant hit. Above: Panel featuring the first appearance of Fearless Detective Richard Stacey. Left: Cover art for the second printing of Liberty Meadows: Eden, the first collection book of Liberty Meadows strips. Liberty Meadows ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho.
MM: [laughs] Too nice for some of your cruder jokes?
old Warren magazines, Creepy or Eerie, where Al did this strip about this hack cartoonist whose name was Baldo Smudge. So I basically took that as a nod to Al Williamson. Not that many people got that reference.
FRANK: Yeah, it can be too much for her sensibilities. She’ll get mad at me. “You wrote that? That’s disgusting!” And, of course, I show it to my buddies and they think it’s hilarious. So if it pisses off my wife, then I know it’s good. [laughter]
MM: Let’s get back to the storylines. The Evil Brandy storyline, where did that idea come from? Was that one of your key points that you had laid out early on?
just put it out. One thing I won’t do anymore is show the strips to my wife, because she’s a lady....
MM: How do you keep coming up with all the Dean in the bar jokes? Because there are so many one-liners. Did you have people writing in telling you their cheesy pickup lines? FRANK: When I was in college I had a dorm mate, Dean Markos, who is a great guy. He’s a pharmacist now, Dr. Dean Markos. It’s kind of scary. He was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, and he would tell me all these one-liners. He was like Henny Youngman. And that kind of got the ball rolling. So I used the real Dean to build upon the cartoon Dean. Over time, you get to know the characters voices and personalities and know who and what the each characters would say. Dean was the easiest since he was based on a real person. MM: Baldo Smudge, what is that a reference to? FRANK: Baldo Smudge. [laughs] I’m a big fan of Al Williamson. I’ve considered him one of my art heroes and a good friend. There’s a story in those 38
dent in my writing abilities. Also, my art style was evolving, too, at the same clip. Looking at my old stuff, the artwork is just horrendous. It’s only until about halfway through the third year that I realized that my artwork was becoming very distinct. MM: Yeah, exactly. You started using a lot of thin line in your approach, and there was a little more subtlety in the details. FRANK: Yeah, exactly. I became very confident with the inked line, how the characters looked. I really enjoyed the last yearand-a-half, two years of the newspaper strip, because everything came together. Some of my favorite storylines are from the last two years of my syndicated career. Frank and the snowstorm, the return of the cow, Frank going out with Jen, Brandy reveals her feelings for Frank, and Jen’s revenge. One after another, everything just clicked. MM: Sunday, December 30 of 2001 was the last appearance of the newspaper strip. FRANK: Was it 2001? Yeah.
that had never been done before? [laughter] I was only in about 20 newspapers at that point, and a lot of the newspaper readers didn’t know that I was doing the Liberty Meadows comic book. So one of the big reasons that I left with cliffhanger was to advertise my comic book and bring my newspaper audience over. “The strip isn’t dead. You can still follow it in the comic book.” That was the big reason for the Previous Page: Highlights from the infamous “Jen seduces Frank” sequence. Above: Will she or won’t she? Readers of the daily newspaper were left wondering unless they found a comic shop and a copy of the Liberty Meadows Wedding Special. Left: A happy Brandy runs from the altar. Illustration from the Liberty Meadows Wedding Special.
MM: Why did you decide to end with the cliffhanger in the last comic strip and conclude the story in the comic book? FRANK: Um... it was something
Liberty Meadows and all related characters ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho.
You Never Forget Your First Love
MM: From what I can tell, your first comics job outside of your Liberty Meadows stuff was a pin-up for Batman: No Man’s Land. Is that the first thing you remember doing, or is there something else? This is back in 1999, I think. Oh, no, actually, you did a Cavewoman story first, right?
and it was about an alien that could transfer its mind and take over bodies. Kind of like Deadman. It was a light, comedy adventure written by Al Gross and Mark Wheatley. I was doing that when I was finishing up nursing school. MM: Was that an ongoing feature, or was that just a one-shot thing? I know Penthouse Comix usually had several four- or fivepage stories.
FRANK: Yeah, I handled Cavewoman stuff first. I met Bud Root in North Carolina. I think there was a small convention called Dream Con or something like that, and Bud and I were guests. We hit it off right away. This was in ’97, I think. And I started doing a bunch of pin-ups and short stories for Bud just for fun. I think my first real, professional job in comics was for DC. I think I did a Wonder Woman pin-up.
FRANK: I think it was a 12-chapter story. I did the first two chapters and was working on the third one when we got orders to stop it. And thank God it was never published. They canceled Penthouse Comix an issue or two before our debut, so the story never saw print.
MM: That was for the JSA Secret Files book.
MM: After being in that comic strip mindset for so long, did you have any problems adjusting to the format? Just in terms of pacing and that kind of thing?
FRANK: Yeah. Is that the first one? I’m not sure. MM: They came out around the same time, so it could have been either one—the Batman pin-up or the Wonder Woman pin-up.
FRANK: A little bit. It was very exciting, because I had always felt trapped in that four-panel comic strip grid, and suddenly I got these big, open pages to do whatever I wanted. So it was a little bit overwhelming, but it wasn’t too bad of a transition.
FRANK: Well, if you really want to get technical, my first professional comics job was for Penthouse Comix. That was around 1995, I think. It was called “The Body,” 44
MM: Did you pencil and ink that story? FRANK: Yeah, I penciled and inked it, and Mark Wheatley colored it MM: Did Penthouse pay you? FRANK: Penthouse paid Mark, and Mark paid me. Mark got the lion’s share since he created it. MM: Gotcha. They paid quite a bit more than the average comic company. FRANK: Yeah, I think they easily paid double the average comic rate at that time. Maybe triple the rate, something like that. MM: So you were kind of spoiled right off the bat. FRANK: Yeah, being a college kid, it was pretty exciting. I wasn’t rich, but I did okay for a college kid. MM: After you those first two DC pinups, you started doing covers and pin-ups for a lot of different people. Were you just doing them for people you knew, or for anybody who asked? You did something for Wolff & Byrd, Jingle Belle, and things like that. FRANK: Well, pretty much anyone who asked. And half the jobs I didn’t charge for because I knew the people well and considered them my friends. Like Bud Root, I didn’t charge him for any of the covers or pin-ups. Wolff & Byrd, the same deal. Yeah, DC was pretty good about it. They paid me promptly. However, I was surprised that DC never hired me for a story. MM: You did the three pages of World’s Funnest. FRANK: That was through Evan Dorkin. Evan Dorkin personally invited me. I honestly don’t think DC knew who I was. And it was only after Marvel put me under an exclusive contract that DC actually showed any interest, aside from the couple of pin-ups and covers that I did prior to Marvel. And I got those DC jobs from people who knew me. Usually it was the writers who personally asked for me—I don’t think DC editors really knew who I was.
MM: How was that World’s Funnest job? I mean, you only did three pages, but it looked pretty fun. And you got to draw Phantom Lady. I’m sure that’s why Evan thought of you. FRANK: Yeah, Evan said, “You’re going to love Phantom Lady.” MM: Did you know who the Freedom Fighters were at that time? FRANK: Yeah, I knew. I did a lot of reading when I was a kid, so I knew all the characters. But it’s just one of those things that you never thought of drawing: the 45
Previous Page: Cavewoman pin-up. Above: Page from Cavewoman. Cavewoman ™ and ©2007 Budd Root.
Spider-Man look like John Romita Sr.’s as much as possible. John Romita Sr. defined Spider-Man for me and gave Spider-Man that classic SpiderMan look. I was trying my best to make it look like Romita’s, and not to disappoint him. You have to understand John Romita Sr. was one of the architects who visually defined the Marvel universe. Now, Steve Ditko, on the other hand, I hated his art growing up, and I still hate his art. No, I take that back. I don’t hate Ditko’s work. I just don’t understand his art and its appeal. I can’t see what people see in his stuff. I just see ugly people, clunky drawing and uneven inking. The only thing he kind of succeeded at with his drawing, I guess, is Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Both were quirky and somewhat weird characters and Ditko’s ugly and distorted style matched well. My friends and I used to have arguments about different artists, and most of them kind of side with me, saying, “We understand Kirby. Kirby is the man.” But Steve Ditko is just—we can’t quite place him. He’s just an odd, odd bird. But some of these hardcore art collectors, they just rave about Steve Ditko. As a comic fan, I can’t see it, and, as an artist, I still can’t see it. I guess it’s just nostalgia and history that the art collectors see. MM: Well, I’ve heard you say that SpiderMan is one of your favorite characters, so was this something special for you to do, to be working on Spider-Man, finally? FRANK: Yeah. It was a great honor to work on Spider-Man because Spider-Man was one of the first super-hero comics that I started collecting when I was a kid. Just reading and dreaming about Spider-Man, and then growing up to draw Spider-Man. It was a kick in the pants. It was an awesome experience. MM: And you followed that up by doing the three covers for Amazing Spider-Man, as well. FRANK: Right, right. And then I went to do Spider-Man with Mark Millar. MM: Marvel Knights Spider-Man came a little bit later actually. In the mean time you did a little section of The Many Worlds of Tesla Strong. FRANK: Oh, that’s right. 49
MM: That was a great group of artists in that book. Did you feel any intimidation knowing who was in the book? FRANK: Not really. Many of my friends were drawing that book. So I was just happy to be included in the company. MM: Did that just get you even more excited to work on it? FRANK: It did. Originally I was supposed to do the mermaid chapter, but I didn’t want to draw people swimming and asked for a different story. Scott Dunbier was the editor, right? MM: Yes. FRANK: They had various stories they were trying to match the artists with, and there was a jungle story. I said, “Well, let me do that one. I’m more comfortable around jungle stuff.” MM: Yeah, I would have thought they would have picked you for that to begin with. FRANK: That’s what I thought, too. And so I got to draw Jungle Tesla. The mermaid story went to Adam Hughes who did a brilliant job on it. MM: Did you have any visual input as far as, say, the spider priestess? Did you make her up whole cloth, or was there some direction given as to what they wanted? FRANK: They pretty much left it wide open, so I just made up the spider priestess costume as I drew her. I had her wear a big ol’ bone necklace to cover her...
Right: Buildings, buildings, buildings! Marvel Knights Spider-Man #8, page 26. Below: Cover art for Shanna the She-Devil #4. Next Page: And the cover art for Shanna the She-Devil #5. Shanna the She-Devil, Venom ™ and ©2007 Marvel Characters, Inc.
FRANK: I was happy to get back on Shanna. It’s like, I love to visit New York City, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I love Spider-Man, but I don’t want to draw Spider-Man for a prolonged period. Too many buildings, cityscape, and cars.... MM: And Spider-Man has the ultimate urban setting. FRANK: He’s swinging around buildings, everything that I hate to draw. Plus, I had already started working on Shanna the SheDevil. I took a break to do the two issues of Spider-Man. It was actually kind of freaky how everything got started. Well, let me tell you how I met Axel Alonso. Scott Sava, who does Dreamland Chronicles—he’s the computer animator guy— did a Spider-Man story, I forget what that was called, with digital illustration. It was through him that I met Axel. Axel was trying to get hold of me, and Scott got us together. It turned out Axel Alonso was a big fan of mine—he loved all the sexy illustrations—and he got me an exclusive contract with Marvel. I remember meeting him and Joe Quesada at the Pittsburgh Con. I think it was 2002, around that time. They took me out to eat at Hooters of all places. Axel wanted me to restart Shanna and said, “I want you to revamp her, recreate her.” And that’s how I came on board Marvel. Axel’s one of the best editors I’ve had the pleasure of working with because he’s so laid back with me. He gave me just the right amount of encouragement, and if I was straying, he would kind of nudge me back gently onto the path. Yeah, he’s a good guy. Shanna was originally an 8-issue mini-series, which got cut down to seven when it was all said and done. I did the first five issues of Shanna as a MAX book, which was Marvel’s mature audience, rated-R book line. And then the whole Bill Jemas expulsion happened. I think I was one of the last Jemasapproved projects to come on board. When Jemas got fired—this is just my gut feeling— they were trying to get rid of or undo everything Jemas approved. So they decided to change Shanna from a MAX book to a Marvel Knights book. That’s where the rating change happened. Overnight, Shanna went from rated-R to rated-PG. Axel fought 54
Above: A nice Sterankoesque two-page spread from New Avengers #14. Next Page Left: Ms. Marvel sporting one of the best costumes in comics. Next Page Right: Not only does Frank get his best buddy Mike McSwiggin’s name on the page from Marvel Knights Spider-Man #8, but he has Truman run out into the action. Not to worry though, Spidey saves him on the next page. Madame Hydra, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Tigra, Venom, Wolverine ™ and ©2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. Truman ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho.
FRANK: No, I don’t recall. Spider-Woman is a visually fun character to draw, but beyond that I don’t have any nostalgic fondness for that character like Brian Bendis does. I did a big Spider-Woman pin-up for Wizard magazine, and Brian saw that and absolutely loved it. That’s how I got the New Avengers fill-in gig. He just wanted to see me draw Spider-Woman in my zaftig style. MM: Besides that big two-page spread, she wasn’t really in costume all that much. There isn’t a whole lot of action going on, there. FRANK: Right. I mean, there was some action on the operating table. Don’t forget the boob implants. [laughter] MM: You also snuck in a cameo of Jen in the office of the Daily Bugle. FRANK: Yeah. In every issue I draw, I try to sneak in a Liberty Meadows character, or 62
my best friend’s name, Mike McSwiggin. It’s kind of like Al Hirschfeld and Nina, he put the his niece’s name “Nina” in all of his illustrations. So that’s what I’m trying to do. My buddy Mike gets a big thrill out of it. MM: The next issue has a little more action with Ms. Marvel. I think the current Ms. Marvel costume is one of the best costumes in comics. What do you think of the costume? FRANK: I think it’s a beautiful costume. Is it Dave Cockrum’s design? MM: I think he came up with the original concept, but it’s been tweaked a bit over the years. FRANK: I think it’s one of the most iconic costumes in the Marvel Universe. If Marvel plays their cards right, I think Ms. Marvel can become the female icon character for
them. I was discussing this with somebody recently, saying that there were no iconic female characters at Marvel. DC has Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Power Girl, but there aren’t any standout female characters in the Marvel Universe. The closest they have is Phoenix and Storm. I think Ms. Marvel has the potential to be the big standout iconic female character for Marvel. I’m having a great time drawing her in Mighty Avengers because of her bold, graphic costume. It’s such a striking costume, with the big lightning bolt on her chest. And, oh, my, does she have a chest. [laughter] DC has Power Girl, so I’m gonna make Ms. Marvel Marvel’s Power Girl.
about three months off just to work on creator-owned projects, like Liberty Meadows. I was doing the Liberty Meadows animated show pitch. I wrote the first full pilot script and put the bible together, drew all the character models, and wrote the synopses for the next 15 episodes. I also worked on Zombie King and other quick projects. Don’t forget I have two young children at home so if they get sick, I don’t work that day. But Marvel gave me plenty of time. It’s completely my fault that the book is late.
MM: How far in advance did you start working on Mighty Avengers before it actually started publication? Did they give you enough time to get a couple of issues ahead?
FRANK: Yeah, a little bit. This is a good analogy of how things came about on Mighty Avengers: Brian poured the foundation and built the framework for the house, and I’m just helping him put up the drywall and maybe helping him move some stuff around, like moving a window to a different place. Brian pretty much had everything all outlined when I came on board. I’m just going in and helping him plug in the holes. Brian had a list of Avengers that he wanted on the Mighty Avengers team, and he asked me which characters I wanted to draw. I pretty much wanted to draw all the classic characters like Yellowjacket, the Vision, the blue ape Beast, etc. But
MM: Did you have any input at all as to who made the team?
FRANK: Oh, they gave me plenty of time. It’s just that I keep getting sidetracked by other projects. Mighty Avengers launched in March of 2007, and I got my first script back in May of 2006. I took
Storytelling and the Creative Process
MM: Do you have a regular routine you try to stick to? I’m sure it isn’t exactly the same from day to day, but do you have a certain order you like to do things?
home. Then shortly after that I go pick up Samantha from daycare. I keep them occupied until dinner time, around 6:00. My wife comes home and we have dinner, play with the kids, put them to bed. and then I spend some time with my wife. Around 9:30 I go back to work—my second shift. This is when I really work, because the phone’s not ringing. This is when I do the bulk of my drawing—I’m a night-owl. I draw from 9:30 ’til three in the morning. Then I go to sleep and start the whole routine over again.
FRANK: It’s pretty much a seven-days-a-week job. It drives my wife crazy, because I really don’t get any break at all. Going to a convention is my “break,” so to speak. MM: And that’s a working vacation. FRANK: Yeah, exactly. It’s pretty non-stop. I get up around 7:30 with the kids and help them get ready for school and day care—fix their breakfast and get them dressed. I drop Emily off at the bus stop and make sure she gets on the bus. After that I drive my other daughter, Samantha, to daycare. By the time I get home, it’s around 9:00, I start my first shift of work.
MM: Do you change your tools depending on the job, or are there a set number of things you use no matter what type of job you’re working on? FRANK: I use the same things no matter what I’m doing. My paper of choice is Stratford Bristol board, vellum surface, 300 series. It has a slight tooth which I like. I use a regular mechanical pencil—a 0.7mm Pentel P207. MM: Do you like a softer lead or a harder lead?
MM: Do you do warmup sketches?
FRANK: I use whatever lead is in the mechanical pencil. [laughter] The lead that I use is the Pentel 0.7 refill leads, medium HB hardness. For inking, I use Micron Pigma pens, three sizes: 01, 05, and 08. I use the 08 for everything, and use 01 and 05 for details. To fill in large black areas, I use #2 watercolor brush with Speedball Super Black India ink.
FRANK: I just jump into it. I know that Mike Wieringo used to do a lot of warm-up drawings, but I could never do that. I just jump into it, and if I make a mistake, I just erase it. [laughter] I’m not really a morning person, so I don’t do a lot of drawing in the morning. I try to, but I usually end up just reading a script and doing a lot of writing. Maybe block out figures, make calls, and stuff like that. From 1:00 to 2:00, I grab something to eat and then usually end up taking a nap. Around 3:00, I walk down to the bus stop and wait for Emily to get
MM: So you don’t do any feathering with the brush? FRANK: No, no, I just don’t have the patience. 69
Below: Layout sketch for an oil painting. Right and Next Page: Preliminary sketch and final line art for Shanna the She-Devil #1. Napoleon Duck ©2007 Frank Cho. Shanna the She-Devil ™ and ©2007 Marvel Characters, Inc.
Nor do I have the talent or skills like Mark Schultz, who can create all kinds of ink lines with his brush. I just use my Micron Pigma pens to mimic the brush lines. I press down hard on my pen to create fat lines and ease the pressure to create thin lines. I’ve been doing it so long that most people think I use a brush. The only real time I use a brush is when I’m oil painting, which I do just for fun. I’ve got tons of oil paintings at home. Oil painting is relaxing for me. MM: When do you find the time to paint? FRANK: I don’t. [laughter] I try to make time once a month to do a couple hours of oil painting. I can’t wait until my Marvel commitment is over so
I can take some time off and concentrate on my oil paintings. MM: What kind of subjects do you paint? Do you do still life, or fantasy...? FRANK: Everything. I usually work on three oil paintings at once. I have three oil paintings set up on the easels in my studio right now. If I get tired of one, I’ll just move on to the next one. Right now I’m working on a giant King Kong oil painting. It’s like 4' x 5'. That one I’m really excited about. I’m also working on a Napoleon duck—a mad duck—as a wedding gift for my friend, Marc Nathan. And I’m also working on a painting of the Grand Canyon. All three are about 4' x 5'. I found out I can’t paint small. [laughter] I just like the physical process of slapping paint on the canvas. It’s very relaxing. MM: When did you start painting? Did you just pick it up one day? FRANK: I just picked it up. Being a self-taught artist, I’m very conscious of my lack of formal training. So I try to 70
Right and Below: Frank’s layout of the money shot for page 9 of Mighty Avengers #3 and the finished page in its entirety. Next Page: Preliminary sketches for Amazing Spider-Man cover work. Hank Pym, Mary Jane Parker, Spider-Man, Tigra ™ and ©2007 Marvel Characters, Inc.
FRANK: I do all the action sequences first. [laughs] MM: Do you thumbnail the story all the way through, or do you even bother doing that? FRANK: I don’t thumbnail, I go straight to the Bristol board. I block out the figures right on the final sheet. I guess that’s my thumbnails, so to speak. On each page I look for the money shot and make sure that shot is the biggest panel of the page. Once I figure out which panel will be the money shot, I build the other panels around that. It’s pretty straightforward. MM: You start with the action sequences and save the talking heads for later. So you’re jumping around from page to page, not working in sequential order. FRANK: Right, I’m all over the page and all over the story. I’m just now finishing up issue #6, and I’m drawing page 9 and 10, jumping around constantly. MM: Will you do any inking between penciling, or do you save inking until the end? FRANK: No, I ink as I pencil. MM: You do kind of loose pencils and then you do most of the drawing with the ink? 74
MM: Do you actively look for illustration work, or is it just one of those things where you take it as it comes? FRANK: I’ve been lucky. They usually come to me. Lately, I just make the project I want to work on happen. I actually have a couple of jobs lined up—they’re just waiting for me. One is with Christopher Golden. He recently did the book, Baltimore. MM: Right, with Mignola illustrations. FRANK: Chris and I are doing an actionmystery novel set in the Victoria era. I’ll be illustrating it in a Franklin Booth style, like Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein. I’m really excited about working on it, but I’ve got to finish some comic book work first. I also have a Burroughs type project a friend and I have been talking about, but it’s way too early to make any announcement. Some days I’m really excited about doing comic book work, some days I’m really excited about doing comic strip work, and then there are other days when I’m really excited about doing illustration work. I often end up juggling all three at once. MM: When you’re writing for comic strips, you’re pulling stuff from everywhere. Do you keep a notebook with ideas for gags, or do you just take it a week at a time? How do you work? FRANK: I used to keep a notebook, but that quickly fell apart. What ended up happening is I would scribble on scrap pieces of paper and on the backs of envelopes, and completely neglect my notebooks. So I gave up on keeping a notebook. If you look at my desk, you’d see piles of post-it notes with little sketches and phrases and stuff like that. My desk is a mess, bunch of scrap pieces of paper everywhere. When I was doing Liberty Meadows for the newspaper, I would write and draw one week at a time. It was pretty stressful. I made sure to try to get two really funny ideas for that week, and then try to build a story around them to support those two strips. For each individual strip, I would write the punchline on the final panel and try to figure out the set-up for that punchline. So I wrote everything in reverse. And,
of course, the actual execution of your idea on paper is another whole set of trouble. There’s still further evolution, because you still have to figure out the physical pacing and timing. That’s always fun. If something is off, you can kind of sense it right away. When I was doing Liberty Meadows for the newspaper syndication, I would kill myself every week. First part of the week, I would watch TV, read books, and just wander around trying to get an idea and a story for the week. Then, the last two days I would crank out seven strips—three-anda-half strips a day. There were several times where I ended up doing all seven strips in a little over a day, and you can tell. During that five-year period, I would try to spend two days writing and do five days of drawing, but that never worked out. It was always five days of writing and two days of drawing. 77
Previous Page: Illustration for Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd. Above: Preliminary sketch and finished inks of a panel for a Liberty Meadows Sunday strip. In the preliminary sketch, Frank draws Jen’s entire body to ensure proper placement of her knees in the final drawing.
Jimgrim illustration ©2007 Frank Cho. Liberty Meadows ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho.
Above: Preliminary sketches for the Liberty Meadows pool party storyline. Next Page: Another “money shot” layout along with its finished art for Mighty Avengers #4, page 16. Liberty Meadows and all related characters ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho. Lindy Reynolds, Ultron ™ and ©2007 Marvel Characters, Inc.
MM: When you actually sit down at the drawing table and you’ve got the gags more or less worked out, is there a lot of trial and error trying to work the timing and the visuals out?
three strips at a time, and work on those simultaneously. Sometimes I would just concentrate on one strip at a time. A week with a lot of physical gags, I would do two or three at a time.
FRANK: In the beginning, yes, lots of trial and error on separate papers. But as things progressed and I got into a routine, I would work out the dialogue, the panel breakdowns, the timing, the character placements, everything on the actual board or on the margins of the board. Lots of erasing and white-outs. You should see some of my Liberty Meadows originals; they look like they went through World War III.
MM: Was that to make sure you weren’t repeating yourself?
MM: Would you draw them in consecutive order, or would you go back and forth between them? FRANK: I would loosely thumbnail two or 78
FRANK: Yes, and just to make sure there’s a certain flow. MM: Does your approach to writing change when you’re writing for comics as opposed to newspaper strips? FRANK: It really doesn’t change much. I have to kind of switch gears around a bit. Instead of four panels, I have to think of the overall 22-page story for a comic book. Once I have the story in mind—this is when I’m writing and drawing my own
Liberty Meadows ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho
Art Gallery 85
Below: Cover layout for Liberty Meadows, Vol. 2: Creature Comforts. Right and Next Page: Layout and line art for the cover of Liberty Meadows, Vol. 4: Cold, Cold Heart. Page 90: Cover art for Liberty Meadows: Cover Girl, a collection of cover art in its various stages from the Liberty Meadows comics and books. Page 91: Cover art for Marvel’s Trouble #1 (the Second Chances edition). Page 92: Phantom Lady convention sketch and an usual commission piece showing the first meeting of Phantom Lady and Casper the Friendly Ghost! Page 93: Cover art for Amazing Spider-Man #48.
Liberty Meadows and all related characters ™ and ©2007 Frank Cho. Mary Parker, May Parker, Spider-Man ™ and ©2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. Phantom Lady ™ and ©2007 DC Comics. Casper the Friendly Ghost ™ and ©2007 Harvey Entertainment, Inc.
Dejah Thoris ™ and ©2007 ERB, Inc.
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Artwork ©2007 Frank Cho.
Monkeys! Dinosaurs! Beautiful women! These are the things Frank Cho loves to draw... especially beautiful women! Luckily for his fans, he excels at it. In 1997, the writer and artist introduced Liberty Meadows to the world, which quickly gathered a dedicated following. The winner of many prestigious awards - including The National Cartoonist Society Award and the Charles Schulz Award - Frank Cho ranks as one of Marvel Comics' top current artists, and his work on Liberty Meadows, Shanna the She-Devil, Spider-Man, and The Mighty Avengers, among others, is simply irresistible. Now, learn about the man behind the monkey in Modern Masters Vol. 14: Frank Cho, as Eric Nolen-Weathington takes an extensive look into Cho’s career and creative process. The 120-page book features a career-spanning interview with tons of art, including many rare and unpublished pieces, a large gallery, and an 8-page color section on this true Modern Master: Frank Cho! 104
(120-page trade paperback with COLOR) $15.95 (Digital Edition) $5.95 http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=95_70&products_id=572