Traversing the Cosmos with Tom Scioli
Tom Scioli is known across the comic community for his highly stylized art style. His art is infused with a strong Kirby influence but has grown into something uniquely his own. With his work traversing a multitude of subjects, such as cosmic adventure (GODLAND) & post apocalypse tale (AMERICAN BARBARIAN).
He recently wrapped up his retelling of the FF in FATNTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN, which is a must for all Marvel fans. coming in July is his Kirby bio, JACK KIRBY: THE EPIC LIFE OF THE KING OF COMICS. Luckily I was able to catch a brief interlude in between his busy schedule to talk a little bit about his work. Without further ado, here's a look into the world of Tom Scioli!
RYAN: First off, thank you for doing this today. My first introduction to your work was actually FATNTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN, which I'll talk more about later. But what was your first experience with comics growing up?
TOM: You know, it's hard to say exactly. I remember this Star Wars trade paperback from the early 80s or possibly the late 70s. It was called Marvel Graphic Novel: Star Wars Volume 2. It had Han Solo shooting Chewbacca in the back, on this really nice, painted cover. It had some really great stories in it, stories written by Archie Goodwin. It was his era of the Star Wars comic combined with some comics that he had written that only appeared in the UK version of the Star Wars comic. That might have been my first comic. It was either that or maybe a random issue of the Star Wars comic. Possibly the comics that came with the He-Man action figures, those were pretty early. I was just a little kid. That's why I'm not sure exactly which came first.
RYAN: Obviously you're a huge Kirby fan. But who were some other creators that you gravitated towards as you got older?
TOM: I liked John Romita and John Buscema. I liked John Byrne. I like more illustrative kinds of creators, who have a really nice style. I'm not even sure how aware I was of their names at the time, but just looking at my collection that I had, when I was a kid, it's a lot of those guys. Around sixth or seventh grade, that's when Frank Miller got on my radar. That's when Jack Kirby got on my radar.
But prior to that it was Curt Swan. I was really into Superman comics. There's that book called Superman: From the 30's to the 70's. It was one of the few comics that you could get at the library at the time. I checked that out of the library a bunch of times. So it's Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Siegel and Shuster, I was really into that.
RYAN: And when did you decide you wanted to work in comics professionally?
TOM: It was always in the back of my mind, because from an early age, I could draw. It was, “okay, what kind of jobs can you get if you can draw?” Comic books were one of the few out there at the time. It was kind of in the back of my mind, but I got more serious about it in college.
RYAN: Going back to Kirby, what made you decide to emulate his style while also putting your own spin on it in your art?
TOM: Well, I was in a formative period. I was just starting out, as an artist, and I wasn't satisfied with my natural style. My natural style didn't look the way I wanted my comics to look. I thought, “okay, how do I want my comics to look”. I wanted my comics to look like Jack Kirby comics.
So I started to gravitate towards him and just really studied his work. It kind of started off almost like a project, to see if I could learn how to draw like Kirby. His way of drawing was so different from my own natural style of drawing. So I just worked at it and then it kind of stuck. The Kirby. Influence, once you take in an influence like that it tends to stick around.
RYAN: What's your favorite work of Kirby's?
TOM: I like the New Gods, that's my favorite. That whole, Fourth World thing, that's my favorite of his work. Particularly Issue 7 of NEW GODS and then issue 9 of MISTER MIRACLE, those are my two favorites. Those were really cosmic stuff. Earth just gets mentioned in the last couple panels of the MISTER MIRACLE issue and then Earth for all we know doesn't even exist yet in the NEW GODS issue. They were just these wholy invented universes ,with millions of years of history, all in 24 to 26 pages. I couldn't believe it, it was kind of jaw dropping. The art style, the story telling, the world building, you know, it's pretty staggering.
Those two works seem to be generally regarded as Kirby's best works. There's also NEW GODS issue 6, which is also considered in that cannon of Kirby's best works. But I didn't know that at the time, I just knew that my mind was blown reading those comics.
RYAN: Yeah Kirby man! It's amazing how much came out of that man's brain. The sheer magnitude of what he was able to create over his long career, it blows my mind,
TOM: Yeah, when I was working on the Jack Kirby biography, it was almost overwhelming. Because I'm telling the story of his life in chronological order and it's like, “then he created this, then he created this, then he created this”. It just keeps coming and coming and you just can't even believe. Just sitting down and basically cataloging all that stuff.
I was exhausted just from talking about it and he actually did it.
RYAN: Insane. Speaking of that project. I know it's supposed to come out soon, I'm not sure if that's changing. But can you talk a little bit about the Kirby project?
TOM: Yeah, it's called JACK KIRBY: THE EPIC LIFE OF THE KING OF COMICS and it's coming out in July from Speed Press. I think either July 14th or July 17th.
I know the whole comics world is in sort of a state of chaos at the moment, but it's still scheduled to come out on schedule.It's been at the printers and it's all set to go.
It's basically me telling the story of Jack Kirby's life and I'm telling it in comics form. It's a graphic novel, a big fat hardcover comic book that gives you the whole story of Jack Kirby's life and then his sort of legacy.
RYAN: That's awesome. Yeah, I can't wait to read it. You've done a combination of work for hire, like FATNTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN, stuff with Young Animal and creator-owned works. What do you find rewarding about each one specifically?
TOM: The answer is easy for creator-owned works, because you get to just do whatever you want. However, you want to do it and the sky's the limit and there's no expectations. There's nobody else out there to tell you, “oh that's not my version of this or that” because you're the one telling the story You have absolute authority.
For the work-for-hire stuff, the upside is that these are characters and worlds, where from the moment I start working on it, I already have a ton of affection for them. I already have a ton of ideas about who they are and what they should be doing because I've had a lifetime to let them sort of simmer in my brain. If you're talking about the Transformers and GI Joe, these are things that I saw when I was a little kid. So they're kind “in there”. Or Fantastic Four or even the GoBots.
I have a lot of affection for the GoBots. They were the first transforming toy I'd ever seen and they kind of blew my mind. Looking at them and seeing those toys for the first time, I have a lot of affection for them. This predates the cartoon or anything, just sort of seeing those toys for themselves as what they are. Then the cartoon came around and it was disappointing, it wasn't what I thought it was. That kind of gave my work a little more urgency too. I thought “okay, here's this thing that made a big impression on me as a kid and I didn't like the story that they told about it. So I'm going to tell my story, the sort of story I would have liked to have read back then.”
RYAN: Are there any other franchises that you'd like to get your hands on?
TOM: Oh, yeah, there's a ton of things. I'm such a fan of so many different things. There's a never-ending list. I mean, I'm going to have to stop at some point because the responsible thing is to do your own creator owned stuff. To own your work completely and just have control over it and benefit from it.
But yeah, there's so many things, you know so many properties I'd want to work on. It's almost anything you name. Star Wars would be top of the list, just being a huge fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember. I feel like I could do a cool He-Man comic. Anything Kirby touched would be amazing to work on. Even video games. I'd love to do a Zelda comic or a Super Mario Brothers comic or a Mega Man comic.
There's just all these things that I have strong feelings about and already have stories in mind for them. You kind of already, naturally, tell stories whether you're aware of it or not. You kind of have a story, for pretty much like all of these characters.
RYAN: Going back to FATNTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN which like I said earlier was amazing. How did that project come about? Did they seek you out or was it vice versa?
TOM: Yeah, they sought me out. X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN was still coming out around the time they approached me. They said, “we're looking to do more Grand Designs, more things along this line and we're thinking of Fantastic Four. We were thinking specifically of you. Is this something you'd be interested in?” And so of course, yes, absolutely. Then they asked me for a short pitch. They said they weren't a hundred percent sure if they were going to do one or not, but that they wanted to know how I felt about it. Just kind of, have it ready to go if they decide to do it.
So I sent them my pitch. Then, I was just so excited about the idea of working on it, that I just started working on it already, just on my own. Thinking, “what would I do if I did a Fantastic Four comic? What would it be?” I drew some pages and I started by reading the whole thing, start to finish. Then I didn't hear anything for a while. They said they were still considering it, but I kind of reached a point where I was like, “Well, I really want to work on this but I got to do something, I can't wait forever.”
So I ended up signing up to do GoBots. Then around the time I was winding down working on GoBots, they contacted me again and said, “Okay. It's a go we can do it now”.
That's pretty much how it happened.
RYAN: I just have to ask this how the hell did you fit that many pan that many panels on a single page?
TOM: SUPERPOWERS was kind of practice for that because SUPERPOWERS was a backup script. I had three pages per issue to tell a story and so I was like,” okay the only way I'm going to tell a story of any substance is I'm just going to have to pack it with a ton of panels. So that's what I did and it and it was really good practice. I kind of saw the limits of how far you can push it and realized, you can actually push it pretty far.
The way printing technology is nowadays, you can get a lot of information into a page and still have it be legible. When Fantastic Four came around, I didn't initially think of doing it that way. I was thinking, “okay it's Fantastic Four, so I'll do a 4x4 grid, like Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Okay the number four, 4x4 panels”. I started to do that and sort of realized, “This isn't going to be enough. I have to cover a lot of ground”. The comic is only 80 pages total. It's 80 Pages and I had to tell the whole story of the Fantastic Four.
It was just a matter of survival, to do it as the 25 panel grid and a 5x5 grid. I couldn't really see any other way. There's so much you have to communicate and I didn't want to leave anything out, there's a lot there.
RYAN: Yeah, you definitely got a lot of information in those two issues for sure. I just read the first 2 Celestial Editions of GODLAND, which were awesome by the way. For newer Scioli fans, what other projects should people check out?
TOM: I'd say AMERICAN BARBARIAN. It was a graphic novel that I did for AdHouse books and then was later reissued by IDW. I'm really proud of it. It's a standalone graphic novel that’s this substantial little story, that's the whole thing from start to finish. That would be my top recommendation,just in terms of accessibility.
Yeah, the GODLAND stuff. For TRANSFORMERS vs GI JOE, there's a quintessential addition, it's the whole thing all in one volume. Of course, GoBots.
I've been really fortunate that everything I've worked on has been issued in these all-in-one volumes, something you can just sort of sit down and get the whole story.
RYAN: Last but not least. What can we look out for our next that you're currently working on if you can talk about any other upcoming projects?
TOM: Yeah there's the Jack Kirby graphic novel. Lately, I've been posting original comics on my social media and I've been posting them on Instagram (@tom_scioli) and then at my Twitter (@tomscioli). I've been posting every week, multiple pages of whatever is on my mind at that moment. It's all different stories, always something different. The idea is that maybe my next creator-owned thing will sort of grow out of that. I’m just sort of playing with ideas. This is what I tend to do when I'm between big projects.
I just experiment on the internet and do a bunch of crazy stuff that I wouldn't necessarily do in print, when the stakes are higher. But then, weirdly, it sometimes ends up being my next print work or it informs my next work. I develop techniques that I end up using in the next work. AMERICAN BARBARIAN was like that. It was a webcomic that I was just sort of playing around with and then it became this big work of mine.