Progsheet - A Few Words With...Walter Simonson

Interview by John A. Wilcox

Writer/Artist/Creator Walter Simonson has brought his talents to everything from Thor to Orion to the Metal Men and all points in between. You already knew that. In the here and now, Simonson is focusing his talents on a new series for IDW called Ragnarok. Progsheet talked with him to get the inside dope on this breathtaking new project. Fill your tankard and listen in...

PS: What set the wheels in motion that led to Ragnarok?

WS: Some 16 or 17 years ago, Scott Dunbier, an old friend and at that time, the editor-in-chief at Wildstorm Comics when it was still an independent company, asked me if I would be interested in creating a comics series of my own based on the Norse myths. I said sure, but I still had some work I was committed to. Somehow, it took about 15 years to finish my commitments. I talked to Scott off and on about possibilities, but it wasn�t until maybe three years ago that I was more or less struck by lightning about the story possibilities of a new series. It was based on the Norse myths but took it in a rather different direction from any of the work I�d seen anyone else do or done myself. I talked with Scott about it. By then, he was at IDW and they were game to publish the creator-owned series I was developing. And that�s how Ragnarok came to be.

PS: Was there ever a thought to self publish, or did you approach other companies in the early stages?

WS: I never really thought about self-publishing. That�s more work of a kind that I�d rather not do if I can avoid it. I really like mostly writing and drawing. Since I�ve managed to skate on the self-publishing part of the deal, I think I�ve found a place that seems to incorporate the best of self-publishing and mainstream publishing, without actually being a self-publisher. I can do the work I love doing, creating stories that delight me, but let somebody else handle the heavy lifting of promotion and paperwork. ;-)

PS: Who is working on the project with you?

WS: Laura Martin is coloring the title and John Workman is lettering it. I couldn�t be more delighted. And IDW has let me get the art lettered on the boards, an approach I am most comfortable with. I feel that approach produces the best looking pages, at least for my own work.

PS: What aspects of the Norse legends are you bringing in to the book? There's quite a bit of territory there.

WS: I haven�t set any limits about that. If I feel there�s something I can incorporate into my story, either in the smaller arcs or in the overall scheme of things, I will absolutely be on it. There�s so much material out there, and much of it so fragmentary, that the myths are both inspirational as guidance and yet open enough to allow for a lot of maneuvering room. So I�m game to go as many ways as I can.

PS: Tell me a bit about the main cast of the book & what is driving them.

WS: Obviously, Thor is the main character. As in the mythology, he�s a pretty open character so I think as he learns more and more about what happened while he was �away�, his motivations will be pretty transparent. And deadly for many.
At the moment, I have Father and Daughter Black Elves running as character beneath the surface story lines. I have plans for them to emerge above ground, as it were, in a few issues, in the next story arc. They�ll be joined by one other significant character whom we saw very briefly in the first issue of the book, and about whom we will learn a great deal more in time . And honestly, I kind of like the Troll from Ragnarok 4. I hadn�t originally planned for him to become a significant character. In the first draft of my plot for issue 4, he was pretty much your standard bad guy troll. But that draft was also pretty dull (just ask Weezie), so I went back and rewrote it, pretty much stem to stern. And the Troll became a significant character. I�m hoping to revisit him down the line although I couldn�t say just when. And I�m also looking forward to seeing the squirrel, Ratatosk, again too. Otherwise, I expect new characters to appear as I write, and I imagine some of them will be good for future storylines.

PS: Do you perceive this as an open-ended book, or do you have a finite amount of issues in mind?

WS: I see the title as running for some time, but I do have a long-range goal in mind. The closest analog I can think of, offhand, would be something like Lone Wolf And Cub from Japan. But I don�t expect this project to run as many pages as that story did.

PS: What sparked the initial story arc?

WS: A drawing. Several years ago, I did a couple of drawings of my own version of Thor, really just for fun. A friend of mine, Jerry Ma, put one of the images on a tee shirt that was pretty cool. I didn�t have a story for that version of Thor at the time. I just had the drawing. But, maybe a year later, I had an inspiration, and jotted down some notes about that Thor. It wasn�t really a story, just a kind of vignette that I thought was pretty cool. I had no idea what it meant, and I didn't have any context for it, just the vignette. Then, maybe another six months or a year later, I was driving somewhere close to home when suddenly, completely out of the blue, I had a whole series of thoughts about the vignette and what sort of world it would take to make the vignette meaningful. That was really the idea for the post-Ragnarok landscape of the comic. I had so many ideas, I had to turn around, head for home, and write everything down before I forgot any of it. The vignette became the first issue of the title, and the direction of the book and the world the stories inhabit developed out of the ideas I had in the car.
I�ve added a ton of stuff to those initial ideas since then, including what could easily be dozens of separate story arcs. We�ll just have to see how that works out. Very well, I hope.
But if I were to boil it all down into one sentence, it would be about how as long as Thor is alive, Ragnarok continues!

PS: What about Thor as a character intrigues you most?

WS: Thor always seemed like the most accessible of the gods of the North to me. He had a special interest in Midgard and mortals and was often their protector in the myths. That connection makes him a little more sympathetic, I think. And he�s got a cool hammer that�s hard to lose, and enough power to shake the earth when necessary. And lightning and thunder have such a nice dramatic air about them.

PS: What are you able to do with your Thor that Marvel superhero Thor might never do?

WS: LOL. Pretty much everything, starting with being able to talk minus a lower jaw. His edges are rougher, and I think while he has compassion, he can be crueler than the usual run of superhero. In the end, I hope to create a character derived more from the myths than from, say, the superhero universe.

PS: While you have unlimited potential for stories, what are you focusing on for the next few issues without giving away salient plot points?

WS: The next story arc will focus on Regn and Drifa, the Black Elves who were introduced in the first story arc. It will explore their relationship with Thor, who was responsible for their wife/mother�s death. And it will reveal a good bit more about the Lord of the Dead we saw briefly in the first issue of Ragnarok, and about his interactions with both the living and the dead.

PS: What were your initial thoughts in terms of design approach for the series? It's definable as you, but stylistically a bit around a different corner.

WS: I�m not trying to make the comic an accurate depiction of a genuine Viking world, but I am using a lot of Viking reference as the design basis for my starting points when I�m drawing. There�s some medieval-based design work as well. So perhaps I�m starting in a different place for inspiration that I did in some of my other work. For one thing, I don�t have to draw New York City. I still have some thoughts about large scale apocalyptic visions and such, and I�m still interested in conveying a sense of energy through my drawings. So the work will be related to the drawing I�ve done before, but maybe a little more metal. ;-)

PS: What are your choice of pencils / pens / brushes / ink for this project?

WS: I generally use Pentel automatic drafting pencils, .9 mm lead. Occasionally, I�ll use smaller leads for finer details.
I still ink mainly with a Hunt 102 crow quill. Been using them since before I became a professional. I use a Rafael 8404 sable brush, generally a No. 2, sometimes a No. 3. And I use Pelikan drawing ink, an India ink I�ve also been using for years.

PS: Are you working 1.5 times up, or twice up?

WS: I have worked twice up on some things in the past, but for this project, I�m back to my old habits at 1.5 times up. That�s roughly 10� x 15� for the live art area.

PS: When I think of elves I think of cheery wee cookie making folks & frolicking lil people. You obviously are not. Tell me a bit about the mind set & motivations of these Black Elves.

WS: In northern Europe and the British Isles, fairies have a lot of incarnations, but among the more serious approaches to them is the idea that regards them as dangerous, often capricious. They are sometimes referred to as the People of Peace because you want to be cautious about not offending them because they could be rather unforgiving. Norse mythology talks of the Light and Dark or Black Elves. It�s possible that the Black Elves are actually dwarves, but that�s the beauty of fragmentary sources. You can often go wherever you wish. In my case, I thought I�d use the name Black Elves for a race of human sized, rather deadly individuals. And I wanted to partake of the dangerous side of the Fair Folk in my stories. The small family I�ve introduced in my story has been making a living as assassins, with an eye toward eventual retirement and peace. It�s always so hard to get there, isn�t it? So we�ll see how it all works out for them.

PS: You mentioned energy. What sort of energy are you tapping into that finds a voice in Ragnarok?

WS: Well, starting with a Thunder God gives me a leg up in that direction from the start. And if you�re going to follow the story of a power protagonist, you�re going to need plenty of power foes for him to combat. And then the energy just sort of works itself out naturally.

PS: To a buyer with no clue what to expect from Ragnarok, pique their interest in a sentence!

WS: The gods are dead, the Great Enemies rule the Dusk Lands, Thor, who was missing at the time of the final battle, has finally come home, and now, there will be Hel to pay.

PS: Since Progsheet covers tons of music, please tell me 6 albums you never get tired of listening to.

WS: Here�s 7. Could have been more. Think of it as a baker�s half dozen.
By artist in alphabetical order:
Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny � Missouri Sky
Bo Hansson � Music Inspired By The Lord Of The Rings
Van Morrison � Hard Nose The Highway
Poco � From The Inside
Tom Rush � The Circle Game
Al Stewart � Modern Times
Joy Lynn White � Wild Love


Artwork and portrait by kind permission of Walter Simonson
Ragnarok & all images thereof are copyright & tm Walter Simonson

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