Late Friday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, IDW Publishing announced two new projects from the legendary pen of Walt Simonson: the all-new, creator-owned "Ragnarök" and an Artist's Edition of his classic sci-fi series "Star Slammers" which will collect every story, cover and promo Simonson ever created featuring the space-faring mercenaries.
Simonson famously wrote, and often drew, Marvel Comics' "Thor" for several years in the '80s, a run which many consider to be the definitive take on the character to this day. "Ragnarök" finds Simonson returning to the Norse god, albeit a feature a brand-new version of the public domain character, set in the distant past and interacting interacting with other characters from the Norse pantheon.
Simonson spoke with CBR News about "Ragnarök" and "Star Slammers: Artist's Edition," relating the 'light bulb moment' that inspired his latest foray into Norse mythology, how "Star Slammers" helped him graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design and much more.
CBR News: Let's get right to it: What is "Ragnarök" about?
Walt Simonson: 15 years ago when Wildstorm was still an independent part of Image, Scott Dunbier [IDW Publishing special projects editor] talked to me about doing a "Walter Simonson's Tales of the Norse Myths" or something like that. Basically a creator-owned book based on the Norse myths. We talked about it, but I had other stuff to do and it never happened. Fast forward to four or five years ago and my good friend and former student Jerry Ma is putting out a line of t-shirts with his own designs and a few drawings of mine, Larry Hama and Geoff Darrow's. In fooling around with those drawings I did a drawing of my own version of Thor that eventually got turned into a shirt. That's kinda where the matter stood.
Another year or two went by and I began thinking about that drawing. Somewhere along the way I had an idea for an introductory story for this new version of Thor I had drawn, unrelated to anything else I've ever done anywhere. The story itself had more questions than answers; it was really just an introductory thing introducing the character but not explaining much about him or his background or even the world in which he lived. Most of that was left up in the air because I really had no idea what to do. I thought the introduction was pretty cool, so I wrote some notes and let it sit around for a while. It wasn't really an effort to create what would turn out to be "Ragnarök" quite yet.
One day a couple years back, when Borders still existed, I was driving to Borders to check out some books and literally when I was on the way, about a mile from home, the story just popped up into my mind. It isn't always a conscious decision to come up with the story, sometimes these things just happen when you don't expect them to. So a light bulb went off in my head and it was really only the second time that that's ever happened. I suddenly had a basic idea for what the world was like for this new version of Thor and how it fit with this introductory plot I had written. All of a sudden I had answers for all those questions I had left unanswered. Essentially it gave me a direction for the world in which this story would live.
I've learned the hard way that if you have an idea for a story you should write them down when you have them. At least I should! Too many times I've had a fabulous idea but thought, "Well I'm on my way to get a pair of shorts, so I'll just do that and when I come back I'll write up the idea." Two hours later I get home and can't remember it! I'll think, it had paperclips, pizza and then -- that's it. The idea has escaped forever. So I turned around from Borders, went straight home and wrote for about an hour on the computer. Louise wasn't home at the time so it was a very quiet house and I just cranked stuff out.
After that hour I had an outline of the world for the story and a direction for what future stories would be about. I talked to Scott [Dunbier] about it a couple years ago and, since that time, Scott decided he wanted to publish it as a creator-owned book and I've been writing a lot since then, although not as much drawing. A little bit but not a ton. If people want to check it out, I've got a group page on Facebook called "The Official Walter Simonson Page" and I pretty much run that page as a mirror of my own personal Facebook page. I put up a lot of pictures, all the galleries from old work to current stuff, about 22 galleries in all. There's a gallery called "Legends of the North" and if you go there you can see about a dozen drawings that are lead-up drawings for "Ragnarök"
I have so many notes now that the toughest part is going to be collating them into a timeline. I have certain stories that will be better suited to the beginning and others that I'm not sure where they fit. So I have a lot to do! [Laughs]
Will "Ragnarök" be an ongoing series?
We don't know yet. I can think of several possibilities for how this will work. If I was younger and more energetic I could see it being a monthly comic, but honestly I don't know if I can do what I want to do and do it month after month after month for several years. I've done monthly comics but for this one I'm hoping to write, draw, and ink it or however it's going to be. I've got some question on how I want to approach the actual drawing. I need to have some talks with Scott Dunbier about that. I'm going to be doing some preliminary finishes to really see how it's going to look. There's some of that stuff in the gallery I mentioned on Facebook, stuff I drew for Jerry when he was doing the shirts. I think those are mostly pencil. He liked them so he actually made a small portfolio of them a few years ago for San Diego.
I want "Ragnarök" to have a wild quality to it, like the wild gods of the north. It's not going to be an accurate representation of Viking life in the year 1000. It'll springboard off that but then with some fantasy thrown in there, too. We'll see where it goes from there.
Is your main character like Thor or is he actually Thor?
It is Thor. But under circumstances that, as far as I know, has never been done before with the Norse gods. I'm not trying to do the myths as they are. I wouldn't mind doing a comic one day that was a straight re-telling of the myths, that would be neat, but for this I want to use the myths as a springboard and then tell stories of my own. The comic I'll be doing is based on the Norse myths but is not a re-telling of those stories.
How much similarity is there between the characterization you used for Marvel's Thor and the characterization you'll be employing for "Ragnarök's" Thor?
For one thing it's Marvel Comics, so it better be separate! [Laughs]
"Ragnarök's" Thor will be more a wild god of the north. The situation in which he finds himself in "Ragnarök" is quite different from the space the Marvel comic inhabits. It's a different world and a different time. My Thor is almost a raging god, so it's quite different from the Marvel character in vastly different circumstances.
Did you have an interest in the Norse myths growing up?
Yeah, I was a big Norse myth fan long before I discovered the Marvel comic. I discovered the Marvel comic between my freshman and sophomore years of college in about '65. I was delighted to find it because I knew the Norse myths already. When I was growing up, my dad had a nice library of books at home. He had a pair of books from 1892 or something, and one of them was the Greek and Roman myths and one of them was the Norse myths. It was a pretty thorough re-telling of the myths. The illustrations were these really beautiful grey tone drawings.
In fourth or fifth grade, I stumbled across a re-telling of the story of Beowulf in one of the class books. I remember a few of the illustrations and I was really taken by the fact that the gods didn't always survive, that they had a lifespan. They fought evil but they also did evil things themselves like the Greek gods. They were complex and they were interesting. I was really interested in that stuff before I discovered the Marvel comic. I've liked that stuff since I was old enough to read it.
My grandparents on my father's side came from Norway, too, but I don't know if that had much influence. Maybe it did, but I didn't walk around thinking I was a little Norwegian or anything. When you're a kid that wasn't so important, and I certainly didn't think of myself as a Viking. I would have made an awful Viking! [Laughs]
IDW also announced a reissue of your classic "Star Slammers" stories, both as an Artist's Edition and in regular collected editions. How did that project wind up at IDW after so many years of laying dormant?
Oh, that's all Scott [Dunbier.] Scott's an old friend, I've known him before he was an editor, when he was an art dealer a million years ago. We've been friends for a really long time. The Artist's Edition, that facsimile approach to artwork, is something he's wanted to do for a long time. He started with "Dave Steven's The Rocketeer" and that did well. Luckily, he's at a company willing to pursue doing that kind of stuff.
They did "Rocketeer" and that did ok so they did a volume of my "Thor" work, too. Since then the Artist's Editions have really taken off. They've done a number of them now and they'll be doing a lot more of them. Titan Comics recently re-released my "Alien" graphic novel in a similar format so it must be have been successful!
Scott's been talking about doing the "Slammers" for a while and we finally were able to work it out. I don't know the release date but I presume it'll be sometime next year. We're just getting started now, so it'll be a while before it comes out. Pretty much all the "Star Slammers" stuff I've got will come out in that book: the graphic novel, the limited series, a short story and a bunch of random advertising drawings I did for promotional stuff.
Will it be re-colored or have added material at all?
I think it'll all be re-colored, but no new drawings. I don't want to go back and revise any of the drawings. I think that the stuff you do should stand on its own. I prefer books to come out like that, I don't have any plans to put new stuff in or add anything to it. I might do some new "Slammers" stories down the road somewhere, though. I would like to do that, but at the moment, I've got my plate full.
For people who haven't checked it out before, what is "Star Slammers" about?
It's pretty simple really. For me, the "Slammers" began as a science-fiction pulp project when I was a member of the Washington Science-Fiction Association in Washington DC back in '69 or '70. It really began before I was in comics professionally. Ultimately, I did a degree project in art school that became the "Slammers." The original "Slammers" was a 50-page comic that I wrote, penciled, lettered and inked. It was my senior thesis at the Rhode Island School of Design and it became my portfolio when I came to New York looking for work in '72. The basic deal is that there's a planet of guys, they're really tough and they discovered they could make a living by hiring themselves out as mercenaries to take names and kick ass. I've done two projects with them, besides the art school project. I did a graphic novel for Marvel's Epic line back in '82 which was a partial origin story. I say partial because you see them as they are turning into what they will become later on, this planet full of mercenaries. I also did a mini-series about 14 years later with Malibu, which Dark Horse ended up finishing. There was also a story about a Star Slammer named Rojas who was a pretty tough guy that was the only Star Slammer who ever got captured alive and he has to figure out some way to quit being the only Star Slammer ever captured alive. There was also a black and white short story that came out in "Dark Horse Presents." I had an idea for an eight-part mini-series, too, but that hasn't happened yet.
What are the chances of any new "Star Slammers" material debuting any time soon?
I don't know, that kinda depends on how "Ragnarök" does! [Laughs]
If "Ragnarök" does well, I'd like to work on that for a while. All I can really say is I'll keep working as hard as I can and I'll get out what I can get out.
Look for "Star Slammers: Artist's Edition" and "Ragnarök" by Walt Simonson in 2014 from IDW Publishing.