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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Jim Rugg's DC In The 80s Shoot Interview about Lobo.

In recent weeks, Jim Rugg - Eisner award winning co-creator of the critically acclaimed Street Angel comic and co-host of YouTube channel Cartoonist Kayfabe -  has had Lobo on his mind. On a panel at Heroes Con, Rugg - in response to an audience member’s question about dream projects - expressed his desire to do a Lobo vs. Shazam! story, citing the characters’ disparate tones as a recipe for conflict and excitement. 

In part, it’s because of Cartoonist Kayfabe longest-running project has been to dissect Wizard magazine, issue by issue and page by page, in an effort to document the era of comics that preceded the one we’re in now, in which comics are big business and what was once known as geek culture is part and parcel of the pop culture mainstream. In the process of this unpacking, Rugg, who also counts visual storytelling, illustration, and design work in his professional toolkit, has showcased his scholarly knowledge of comics history and his practical knowledge of comic book production and design along with co-host Ed Piskor (Hip-Hop Family Tree, X-Men: Grand Design). Interspersed with the Wizard coverage, Piskor and Rugg have conducted how-to’s, deep dives, and insightful interviews with creators and industry figures both obscure and well-known. The duo’s well of knowledge runs deep and their enthusiasm is infectious.

Given the nature of the now defunct magazine’s contents, Piskor and Rugg’s Wizard coverage has, thus far, amounted to a blow-by-blow chronicle of the speculator boom and bust of the comics industry in the 90s. This week’s episode of Cartoonist Kayfabe featured a close look at Wizard issue 31, which featured an interview with Simon Bisley, a creator closely associated with some of the best-known Lobo stories from the 90s. In the interview that follows, conducted by email with contributor Ian Thomas, Rugg talks about what worked and what didn’t work for him, regarding Lobo in the 90s.

IAN THOMAS: When I reached out about this, you mentioned that Lobo: the Last Czarnian was something of a revelation when you discovered it. What was it that grabbed you?

JIM RUGG: I bought issue one at a newsstand. This was before I had access to a comic shop and before the internet. There was a store that sold magazines, newspapers, and lottery tickets in my town. In the back, they had two spinner racks of comics. I would count down the days between new comic book day. I never knew exactly what was coming out, but I would end up buying between four and six comics, usually, with money I had from a paper route and from cutting lawns. I used to cut grass, then go straight to this little store, sweaty and dirty, but with my meager money in hand. 

One week, Lobo issue one was on the rack. It was only 99 cents. Most comics were a dollar or a dollar fifty. This one was priced like it was on sale. A dollar is an easy price to try, plus it was a number one - a good starting point. I had never heard of Lobo and something about that cover made me give it a chance. 

IT: What were your reactions to the book as a whole? Given your recent commentary on your Cartoonist Kayfabe channel, what was your reaction to artist Simon Bisley’s contribution to the book, specifically?

JR: The covers were painted by Simon Bisley and the interiors were pen and ink over Keith Giffen layouts. I note the cover/interior relationship because a lot of comics, especially DC/Vertigo of that era would have different cover artists. This always pissed me off. Because if I loved the covers, I was disappointed when the interior was different. And if I didn't like the covers, I might not even look inside the book. Also seemed like a weird move. 

My immediate reaction was “WTF?!” It didn't look like what I was used to seeing. I was so new to comics, this is even before Wizard magazine, so I was seeing a very narrow slice of comics and Simon Bisley's Lobo was radically different than what I was familiar with. I bought it and read it immediately. Reading just ratcheted up the weirdness. The unusual art and the strange story combined for a very memorable experience. Shocking - not because of the violence per se, but the overall tone of the book was unlike any comic I had encountered up to that point. It was disturbing but also funny. Unique and weird and looked amazing. It represents what I like in a comic book and nailing story/art is very rare.  

When I read it - it blew my mind. Simon Bisley's art was a revelation. This was 1990. I was reading Mark Bagley's New Warriors, Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man, Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants, Jim Lee’s Uncanny X-Men. This was an era of dark, violent superheroes but I had never seen anything that looked like Lobo or read like Lobo. I wanted more. It was so different and wild. It felt like anything could happen. Lobo was a maniac. I liked the Punisher and Wolverine but Lobo was a whole other level of madness. 

IT: Simon Bisley’s work is certainly distinctive and nothing like any of those artists. His proportions remind me of Sam Kieth, but the heavy inks remind of Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira in Ghost Rider. Could you have likened it to anyone at the time? How about now, with the benefits of years of experience?

JR: There are a lot of Bisley imitators - like Chris Halls (aka Chris Cunningham) and Alex Horley. In interviews, Bisley has poked fun at Glenn Fabry's similarities. Some of the inking reminds me of Sienkiewicz - specifically some of the scratchy pen lines. Sam Kieth and Mark Texeira are both good comparisons. Different, but some similar qualities. Jae Lee is another artist I would describe as similar, but also not that close. There's a certain attitude that I see in these guys' art. It's scratchy/rough line, heavy shadows and texture

I would have loved if Dale Keown's Pitt veered in this direction, rather than the Top Cow /Wildstorm smoother hatching direction it took. It's not super close, but I sense a kinship with the violence and anarchy of Tim Vigil's Faust. Maybe a touch of Richard Corben with the muscles and violence and colorful character designs, too. 

IT: You frequently mention Tim Vigil as an influence and his signature creation Faust as a prime example of what you refer to as “Outlaw” comics, which, by my understanding are comics from the 80s black and white boom that exhibit excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, characterized by the artists’ stylistic obsessiveness and/or their limitations - production or otherwise - in realizing their visions. Does this sound right?  Can you draw any lines between the Lobo stuff and the outlaw stuff that you've been into? They're both violent, but Lobo's violence feels less illicit and less transgressive. Reading it now, it seems like the stuff of a certain kind of Facebook dad.

JR: I would call the original Lobo series Outlaw. Same with Hard Boiled (Frank Miller and Geof Darrow). The content is part of that but the drawing itself is equally a part of it. Simon Bisley's art is saturated with violence and the threat of violence - hooks, knives, chains, fights, blood, teeth, seedy bars...I call it Outlaw. The biggest argument against Outlaw status is DC's logo on the cover. But Lobo is hardly typical of a DC Comic. 

That Facebook dad comment is hard for me to parse. I've been rereading Wizard magazine and the editorial staff seem to disdain Lobo. I know several people that are a generation older than me and they HATE Lobo. Despite his political incorrectness, I can't imagine Lobo being embraced by MAGA. I don't know where I'd put Lobo. A lot of the Lobo comics over the year have rounded him into more of a DCU type of character and that's disappointing. But those original Lobo comics...they might be even more weird now than the day they were published. That's kinda cool. I think most Facebook dads would hate the Last Czarnian if they read it!

IT: Would these comics fly today? From DC, I would say no.

JR: I doubt DC would publish something like the early 90s Lobo. The humor of that book was built around bad taste, black comedy, and irony. Those things tend to attract controversy and backlash on social media. I don't think DC wants that. 

IT: Can you speak a little to your favorite Lobo stories from the 90s?

JR: Lobo: the Last Czarnian (Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and Simon Bisley) is a favorite. The creative team seems to hit the ground in stride with this first series. It looks great. The story gives us some insight on Lobo. The humor's there from the beginning. Great stuff. 

Lobo’s Paramilitary Christmas Special (Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and Simon Bisley) is awesome. One shot. Lobo vs. Santa. What more could you ask for? Genius. 

I like Martin Emond's Lobo, so Lobo in the Chair (Alan Grant and Martin Emond) is nice but my favorite is Lobocop (Alan Grant and Martin Emond)! Absurd. Completely absurd.

Batman/Lobo (Alan Grant, Simon Bisley, and Nathan Eyring) is pretty good.

Lobo: Infanticide (Keith Giffen and Alan Grant) is good. Keith Giffen's art looks cool. The first issue is like a bridge in style between Simon Bisley and Giffen's Trencher-line look. It's a very interesting series.

IT: The Keith Giffen/Alan Grant iterations of Lobo strike me as distinctly of the 90s. In many ways, Lobo is written like Wolverine, a grumpy, principled loner. But his principles are entirely self-serving and because of that one difference Lobo stories become humor stories. There are other elements that keep it light - the colors, the pacing, the fourth-wall-breaking meta flourishes - but, despite the violence, these stories ultimately feel out of step with the grim seriousness that ruled the day. Lobo stories remind me of Bugs Bunny cartoons in that they feel both very smart and very stupid. What resonated about these stories for you?

JR: You nailed it. There was humor in these books. Wolverine, Frank Castle, Bruce Wayne...these guys aren't funny at all. Lobo was funny. Parts of it were parody, parts of it were satire. I agree with you about the color, too. It uses a lot of bright, secondary colors - purples, greens, magentas. Simon Bisley working over Keith Giffen's layouts paces the art really well and Bisley is able to shine with the details he includes in the backgrounds. Bugs Bunny is a great comparison. If you revisit the old Looney Toons, it's remarkable how violent, edgy, and funny those cartoons are. They are chaotic and that chaos adds so much energy and life to the characters and stories. It's right in line with the early Lobo comics. Smart and stupid. Violent and funny. Surprising and irreverent. They pack a lot into a comic book - a lot more than the average Marvel or DC Comic that I was reading at the time. 

IT: Lobo stories all felt very deliberately self contained, unburdened by continuity and  mostly untethered from the wider DC U,  do you agree? I also think much of what works comes from the chemistry between artist and writer.

JR: I completely agree with both of these statements. That lack of DCU continuity allowed Lobo to be free and succeed or fail on its own weird merit. It felt different. I think the ongoing series hedges much closer to the DCU continuity and it lacks the verve of the best Lobo comics. It feels like the edges have been rounded and its not dangerous or scary or special. 

The art chemistry is worth considering. I'd be curious how it comes about because so many different artists work on those Lobo minis and specials but for the most part, I find the choices at least interesting. Were the writers hand-picking these people? Was it all the editorial vision? I don't know the answer to that, but I think it the artists are well-suited to Lobo and atypical for most DCU titles at that time. 

IT: Is Simon Bisley's take on Lobo your definitive Lobo?

JR: Yes. Absolutely. DC did a great job with the Lobo artists they published. I like a lot of the artists and I think many of them fit Lobo well - Martin Emond, Denys Cowan, Jim Balent, Christian Alamy, Kevin O'Neill, Alex Horley, Carlos Ezquerra, Keith Giffen. But Bisley defined the main man's look and no one's surpassed that version yet. It's wild, intense, over-the-top, and a little bit scary. It's hard to top Bisley in those categories. 

IT: Do the Lobo stories from his big run in the 90s hit you as uniquely British in any way?

JR: I must admit that British comics are a bit of a blind spot for me. I've read some stuff from 2000 AD to Deadline and a little bit of the more alternative stuff like Eddie Campbell, Dave McKean, and Paul Grist, but I don't have a strong sense of what defines "British" comics. Maybe they are aimed at a slightly older audience than Marvel/DC comics of the 80s and 90s. With that opinion, I think the humor is more sophisticated than a lot of the Marvel/DC stuff of that era. Lobo strikes me as having that kind of humor. It's almost punk in that it's designed to scare/offend our parents. 

IT: Lobo was released intermittently - a special here, a limited series there - rather than as an ongoing. I alway felt that made them more accessible to new readers by implying some level of standalone story unburdened of continuity. Your Street Angel stories have been released intermittently over the years. Can you talk about how much that method of releasing your stuff has served and/or hindered your development of the character?

JR: I never thought about it compared to Lobo! What an influence! 

The reason I make Street Angel standalone is because I know it can be hard to find indie comics. If someone hears Street Angel is good and they want to try it, I want them to pick up any Street Angel book and get a full story. So if the cover says, Street Angel, it's a complete adventure. I don't think it's hindered my development of the character. If you read more Street Angel, I think the character will become more clear. Although she is a mysterious character - so maybe that kind of format has served her mysterious nature well.

IT: Cartoonist Kayfabe just passed the 10,000 subscriber mark? What have been some highlights of the channel’s life so far?

JR: In the Comics Journal episode, Evan Dorkin stated that he has more respect for Sting the wrestler than the singer. 

Interviewing Tim Vigil was great. He’s an artist whose work I’ve admired and there aren’t a lot of Vigil interviews out there. Doing it on video was great to see and hear him talk about his comics and art. 
The Kayfabe community has been incredible. When we have questions about artists, books, or other comics-related stuff - the Kayfabers always have answers. 

The creative community around Cartoonist Kayfabe has been awesome too. We hear from a lot of people that they’re making comics while listening to the show. Or they’ve started making comics because of the show. People send us the comics they make or they come up at conventions and that’s been a real positive thing to experience.

IT: What’s next for you? What projects are on the horizon?

JR: Street Angel: Deadliest Girl Alive hits shops on October 30 from Image Comics. It collects all of the Image Comics Street Angel stories + a couple that haven’t been published before. Street Angel is a homeless ninja kid on a skateboard. It’s 240 pages for 20 bucks! I’m excited to get that into people’s hands. I’m very proud of these comics. They’re fun, dynamic, and unlike anything else I’m aware of. This book is the perfect book for new readers - young or old! Ninjas and skateboards! 

The PLAIN Janes comes out in January 2020, which will be here before we know it. It’s a 500 page epic, over a decade in the making! Jane moves to the suburbs and starts a guerilla art gang to liven things up. Of course that turns her quiet town upside down. It’s a Young Adult graphic novel written by Cecil “Batgirl” Castellucci. I think it will appeal to artists of all types as we follow Jane’s efforts to connect with the world through her art. The book features 3 different chapters, each printed with a different ink color. I like to think of it like my shoujo manga. 

After that...well, it’s too early to talk about the other things I’m working on. The best thing for people to do is follow me. 

Cartoonist Kayfabe is my YouTube channel with Ed Piskor. We post several videos a week, including updates on what we’re making and doing. 

You can follow me for more comics and art at: 


Ian Thomas is a freelance writer residing in Pittsburgh, PA. His published work is collected at

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