I have no idea when or where I first met Ande Parks. Presumably, it was at one convention or another. But that's how it often goes in comics. I have no recollection of how I initially met some of my best friends in the world.
Ande's what we call a "dual threat" in comics. He works both the art and writing sides of the street. Admittedly, that's pretty annoying to those of us who barely have one discipline under control.
Ande has inked characters across the spectrum from Daredevil to Superman, but he's probably best known for his inks over Phil Hester on the acclaimed "Green Arrow" runs written by Kevin Smith and then Brad Meltzer. He's currently inking DC/Vertigo's "Slash & Burn" over Max Dunbar.
As a writer, his credits include "Ciudad," "Union Station," "Capote in Kansas," "The Lone Ranger" and Dynamite's current "Seduction of the Innocent." Oni's "Ciudad," about a mercenary hired to rescue a drug lord's kidnapped daughter, was co-written with Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Captain America: Civil War," and the upcoming "Avengers: Infinity War" films. A "Ciudad" film is currently set up at Sony.
Full disclosure: Ande's also in a fantasy football league with me and other comics pros including Dan Jurgens, Phil Hester, Pete Krause and others. We're all pretty sure Ande made a pact with the devil for fantasy football success, but that's another story. This story is about where Ande currently calls home, which is not his usual Kansas. He and his family have decamped to Lincolnshire, England, to Harlaxton Manor, which looks like a glorious combination of Hogwarts, Wayne Manor and Downton Abbey. The location looked so spectacular in Ande's Twitter feed that I wanted to find out more.
Ron Marz: Career first. You're one of those dual threats that most of us mere single threats hate. Do you feel like working "both sides of the street," so to speak, gives you better insight into the entire creative process?
Ande Parks: I hope that working for so long as an artist gives me an edge as a writer of comics, at least when it comes to know what will work when it comes time for the artist to visualize what I've provided them. I never put anything in a script that I can't see in my head first. That doesn't mean that the artist should or will draw it the way I saw it, but I like to know that it's possible to put my scribblings on the page.
That's the same way I approach a page, even though I can't draw at all. I have to see the page in my head, and know that it works visually, before I hand it over to the artist. Then the artist is free to interpret the page however he or she sees it.
I need that advantage because, as a writer, I feel I'm working at a deficit on other fronts. For one, I am not a writer for whom big ideas come easily. I have to thrive on character moments much more than on mind-blowing concepts. So many of my writer friends are seemingly able to come up with amazing pitches on whatever character is tossed at them at a moment's notice. I know it's never as easy for the creator in question as it is for the jealous observer, but the fact remains: my work has to work on a more grounded level.
Of course, comics often work best when they are full of big ideas. I have to play to my own strengths, so my best work is on projects that don't "glow in the dark." Things like "Capote in Kansas," "The Lone Ranger," etc. Real-world themes that, I hope, work on the strength of the characters within.
One of the chestnuts that gets repeated when people ask for advice about working in comics is "Marry well." You obviously did. Your wife teaches at a university?
I really did nail that part of the gig, and thank God for it. My wife has an Ivy League Phd. She teaches German language at Baker University, where we live in Baldwin City, Kansas.
I guess I shouldn't say I'm lucky, because I did put some serious thought into choosing the person I wanted to spend my life with. It seems as if so many people don't do that, but I was certainly lucky that I was just barely charming enough for that person to feel the same. It's been an enormous gift as I've maneuvered through a career as a freelancer for the past couple of decades. As a professor, my wife doesn't make a fortune, but she makes enough to take the edge off. If I have lean times, we always know that we can scrape by on her salary. She also provides the health insurance, which is less crucial than it used to be thanks to the efforts of our President.
So now you, your wife, your son and you daughter are at Harlaxton College in England. I'm already jealous. How did a nice Midwestern boy like you wind up there?
Baker University has a partnership with The University of Indiana at Evansville, which owns and operates Harlaxton College as a study abroad institution for American students. Baker sends 10 or so students to Harlaxton each semester, and they always send a faculty member along as well, to teach and to offer support to those students.
Oh, and not to rub it in too much, but my wife found out about an opportunity months ago, and was able to get tickets. Five days after we arrived, the entire family was able to make the trip to London to see David Tennant in a spectacular production of "Richard II."
Yeah, that's rubbing it in. The whole thing sounds glorious. Have you ever done anything like this before? And how long will you be there total?
We had submitted applications to go to Harlaxton several times, and had been approved. The glitch was that we have children, and there are a limited number of housing options for families. With our daughter being a junior in high school, our time was running out, but we finally got approved for this semester.
It is a fantastic opportunity for all of us. It was not painless, though. Because our kids are in public schools here in England, the visa process was expensive and somewhat tortuous. Thankfully, my wife, as the Brainiac of the family, handled most of that. And, of course, it's challenging to move four people across an ocean for a period of months. Added to that, we have a little, pain-in-the-ass dog who needed to be accounted for. Thankfully, the man who is teaching my wife's course at her home university needed a place to stay and loves dogs, so that worked out perfectly. We'll be here for one semester at Harlaxton, plus some time for travel after the semester ends. All in all, it's about four and a half months.
From the pictures you've tweeted, the place looks like it's half Hogwarts, half Downton Abbey. Is that a pretty accurate description?
Harlaxton Manor is indeed a remarkable place. I've heard it called one of the most astounding manors in all of England, and I believe it. Basically, it was built by this guy named Gregory Gregory. Yes, you heard me. Gregory had some money, but in the form of an income not as a vast fortune in cash and/or land. So, he had to build the manor over a period of years. The main part of it was finished in the 1830s. Very little is known of Gregory Gregory, but there is one quote that survives where he says that his home is a reflection of his travels around Europe. He roamed through the U.K. and France and elsewhere, absorbing what he liked and then returning home to torment his architects -- he went through a couple -- with his ideas.
As a result, his manor is grand and eclectic. One room is pure English Victorian, and another might be all French glitz. Gregory was buried without so much as a headstone but, as one of the history professors here put it, why have a headstone when you've already left behind this incredible manor that bears your name, literally.
It's an amazing place in which to live. You can spend hours just strolling around and letting the majesty of the place soak in. We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity. And, of course, we have the opportunity to absorb British culture and lifestyle. We are surrounded by American students, but the staff here are all English, as is much of the faculty. And, we travel to local towns and villages quite a bit.
Tell me about the class you're teaching, The Art of the Graphic Novel. Is it for visiting American students as well as English students?
I like to tease my wife that she conned me into teaching a class over here, so that she'd only have to teach two instead of three. In truth, though, I have often thought about teaching. So, when the opportunity arose, she asked and I said, "Sure." At the time, I was tinkering with a prose novel I was writing on spec, and didn't have a ton of work lined up, so the timing seemed good. Of course, by the time we got to England, I was booked pretty solid, inking "Slash & Burn" for DC/Vertigo. Thus, I'm pretty damn busy over here. So it goes. Insert "Whaaah!" sound effect here.
So, I put together this class, which focuses on appreciating comics as a unique and valuable art form, with a hands-on emphasis. We're going to read some of the cornerstone works of the medium -- McCloud's "Understanding Comics," "A Contract with God," "Maus," "The Dark Knight Returns," "Persepolis" -- and then, at the end of the semester, each student will make a bit of comics. The point is to show off "our" art form, and also to demystify it. Fingers crossed on both fronts.
The students are all American, here as part of the study abroad program. It's a small group. I have four students, plus a non-student who is sitting in, the husband of another of the visiting faculty.
Have you taught before? How did you prepare for the class?
I have not taught before, but I have done a lot of seminars and talks about comics, and about my own graphic novels. I try not to turn down a chance to go to a library or university to spread the gospel of comics.
As for preparation, I had to figure out which texts I wanted to use, and then put together a syllabus. It was all new to me, so it took some time. There were several existing examples of university classes on comics, but none did exactly what I wanted to do, so I just had to wing it. Of course, I'm also winging it to some extent every day as I do the actual teaching. I think it's going pretty well. The students seem engaged, and they got a lot out of our first text, McCloud. Next week we move into [Will] Eisner. I gave my first quiz today, but I haven't graded them yet. I'm hoping they did well.
The unfortunate thing about teaching this class is that I'm doing all the prep, but may never have an opportunity to teach it again. A career teacher has to do this setup one time, and then they can spend years seeing how their approach works and refining. Again... "Whaaah!"
Is the setting inspiring to you in terms of comics work?
Hmm... I'm not sure. Being here means it's harder to work in some respects, because there's always the temptation to go exploring. I've also found, just a few weeks in, that the setting is conducive to quality work time, if I make a point of setting my ass in the chair and getting down to it. So far, I've only had class prep and inking to do. I think, as far as inspiration, the setting will come more into play when I do some writing. Once I get a bit more inking done, I'll find out.
Last thing. I feel like I need to point out that your Royals beat my Mets in the World Series, so you were already on a winning streak. But more importantly... how are you going to watch Royals games in the U.K.?
That was a glorious thing, wasn't it? It was really special for my son and I. I've been suffering with the team for thirty years. He just got into it last year, so he's known nothing but winning. We've really enjoyed watching the team, and I got to take him to the five-hour marathon that was Game One of the World Series. Ever since the heartbreaking end of the previous season, the team had talked about getting back there and proving that they deserved their success. To see them fulfill that promise was so rewarding, for us and for the entire city.
Watching the games... I don't know. There's a way to watch the NFL over here, but it's complicated. You have to have an Apple TV box or a Roku or similar. I really wish my Sirius satellite radio worked over here, but no such luck.
Of course, there's also the matter of timing. A game starting at 7 p.m. in Kansas City would start at 1 a.m. here. So, until we get home in May, we may just be watchers of the box scores. Cue the final "Whaaah!"
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" for Dynamite, "Skylanders" for IDW, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics on Madefire, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.