Exclusive Interview

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By JENNIFER M. CONTINO     September 26, 2006

Civil War Front Line Treatment
© Marvel
I first met Paul Jenkins several years ago when he was getting ready to begin his run on Top Cow's Witchblade. We hung out, talked comic books, and I learned how he had a penchant to root for the underdog. Since then, we've kept in touch, and I've followed his comic career from one project to the next. He never seemed to do the same thing twice and took great pride in providing something different and unexpected with most of his comic book works. Now he's not just working on comics, but in film, the video game industry and on family ties with his wife and young son, Jack.

CINESCAPE recently got a chance to talk with Jenkins about his work on Marvel's Civil War Front Line and Desperado's Sidekick, his thoughts on the role of a writer, and how he constantly gets knocked down, but up again!

CINESCAPE: They say a good writer is always on his game and observing everything to make mental notes for use later. Do you think that's a good description of a writer, and are you someone always looking at what's happening with consideration for what you might do later?

Yeah that's pretty much my description of a writer. Of course it's all subjective and people have different descriptions of that themselves. I actually was asked the definition of a writer when I was interviewed for a documentary and my answer was along those lines. Basically a writer is someone who is a really good observer, who is really good at observing and writing down descriptions of what they see.

I think anyone who is a writer is always working. Even if you go down to the pub for a beer, you are still working. When you're outside staining the deck, you're working. You are learning from just about every experience you have.

CINESCAPE: I agree. How do you take all those parts and put them together?

My writing process is something really difficult to explain to someone who isn't a writer. I constantly have pieces of paper with scribbles on them of a line I want to use or some part of something else. When I'm driving, I'll ask my wife to pull out a piece of paper and write down something that comes to my mind that really fits what I'm doing in a particular story. I don't know where that idea just came from or why it popped into my head at that moment.

The process of typing it out is different for different people. I get my notes - I'm very prepared and do a lot of research for any subject and get all my material in order. Then I put on my headphones and the world is closed. I'm lucky that dialogue just seems to come to me.

CINESCAPE: Do you think a writer is also like a detective, because each story requires you to come up with something plausible, how to implement it and then execution of said material ...? Most of that, one would think, involves deductive reasoning.

Yeah, but I don't know if detective is quite accurate, because a detective makes a picture from the pieces. So, it's somewhat accurate, because you get various pieces, you put them together, and, in the end, you fit everything and come up with something larger and more than the sum of its parts.

But I would say the analogy - and this isn't even as exact either - is more like a builder.

For a detective, much of this stuff has already happened and you find a truth that sits where there once was a lie. A writer is the opposite. A writer is creating an untruth or fantasy or a good lie.

I recently saw in a film a line that I thought was fantastic. "A detective uncovers lies to get to the truth, but a writer creates lies to expose the truth."

CINESCAPE: That's a really great quote.

Maybe it came from my imagination, unless CINESCAPE readers can tell me if they've heard of it too from some film or something else?

CINESCAPE: I'm sure someone will let you know if they have. So, you know one of the things I like about your work the most is that you don't seem to get pigeonholed too much into any one story type or genre. Is it important for you to have this variety in your projects and constantly be going for something a little off course?

Damn right.

Take a look at my career and it's really funny to look back on. When I did Hellblazer, I was an unknown completely. I go from there to do some work at Marvel Comics and the assumption is that I can't go from doing the horror of Vertigo to the superhero stuff of Marvel. But I did and I was started on Werewolf By Night, something along their horror vein. Then I went to Inhumans and was doing these super characters. Next, I'm given Spider-Man and they say, "He can't do that! He just does those clever superheroes." But then we do well with Spidey and the Hulk and so on and so forth.

It's really funny, because now I'm doing humor with Sidekick. I really love that and most of the people who've read it so far find it laugh out loud funny. But there's also this general area of confusion now with people scratching their heads and going, "when did he get to be funny?".

I never want to be pigeonholed. The moment someone says I can't do that, I'm going to do it!

CINESCAPE: We first met in person when you were beginning your work on the Witchblade. That was certainly different from what had been done up to that point in time with Sara Pezzini.

Witchblade is a perfect example of that! At the time, I took Witchblade, it had only pretty much been a girl in a silver suit with very large breasts. I don't mean to be critical of the people who did the character before me - because I made a point of never being critical with other comic creators; but I mean that the approach to the character was here is a pretty girl with a silver suit who flies ... there wasn't much to it.

My approach to Witchblade - and I asked Top Cow about fifty times "do you really want me to write Witchblade?" and they said, "yes" - was that she was a pretty girl who was also a detective, but had this third thing, this Witchblade, which made her life even more difficult. As an attractive detective in the New York Police Department, she had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts. She was this analytical guru, but still had trouble being taken seriously. Plus add in the Witchblade and she has even more problematic stuff to deal with.

All I was doing was taking something and using it differently - the way I felt it should and could have been used the best in the comic book. I must have been doing something right, because that's the television series was done as well.

CINESCAPE: You do seem to have worked on a lot of stuff. Is there anything you wouldn't do?

I feel like there is nothing I can't attempt. I'd love to have a go at a Barbie comic book.

CINESCAPE: They don't really publish Barbie anymore, but how about Archie? Would you tackle Riverdale?

Why not! Just to see if I could do it well and see if I were a good enough writer, who could get the premise and fun ideas of Archie down, and do a comic that was worthwhile. I'd like to see if I could fit in their style and not go against the grain of what makes Archie Comics work.

Civil War Front Line #9

CINESCAPE: So we've touched briefly upon the past and your possible future work with Archie. Let's get down to the present. What made you want to be a part of the Marvel event, Civil War? You've worked on some pretty high-profile assignments before, and never seemed to shy away from them, but this storyline has gotten a lot of attention outside the traditional comic realm. Was that a factor in your interest?

I think so. It's difficult to say really. At the time, you really don't know how high profile it's going to be. In hindsight, we see it really is high profile and we're doing great.

In fact, Marvel was super excited at the sales from the first few issues of Civil War Front Line. They called me a few times to tell me how happy they were with the job and attention the series was getting. I think the first few issues printings are selling along the same lines as the Wolverine: Origin. Civil War is huge.

The comic book market seems to be climbing out at the moment and getting a little bigger - after ten years of being in a rut.

So, yes, I think the high profile has a small amount of bearing.

CINESCAPE: What else has a bearing?

The real question for me is, is this something I can do and have a say in? My answer for Civil War: Front Line was "absolutely."

I have an affinity for military history and conflicts. What's going on in the world right now really interests me. It's easier to take on when you like it and feel you can do a good job with it. There are really funny aspects to it, like the Speedball story.

Civil War Front Line #6 PG 1

CINESCAPE: That seems to be a popular point of discussion among Civil War fans. How much of his history did you know?

It has become quite popular! But being the typical person who didn't know very much about comics or these characters, I didn't know a lot about Speedball.

That hasn't stopped me before though. I knew nothing about the Inhumans, for instance. I didn't know the characters at all and it was Jae Lee's idea to do that story. But we won awards for it, so my not knowing much about the characters seemed to work.

So when Joe [Quesada] asked me to do a radical reworking of Speedball, I was like, "of course, yes!" - partially due to the fact that I had never read anything with him in it. But I get the gist of him now from reading some of those previous appearances in comic books that I've had the chance to get. However, he's going through a lot and is barely recognizable in Civil War Front Line. It will be even worse by the time Civil War Front Line ends - if I don't kill Speedball by then. You know nice guys finish last and Speedball is definitely getting shafted at the moment. This is just the beginning of what he'll have to face.

CINESCAPE: I like Speedball and I'm sure the New Warrior fans will all beat their keyboards in collective rage at reading the dire fate you have planned for him.

Well, there's not like there's that many New Warriors fans now, because the New Warriors are all dead - except one of them. [laughs]

Seriously, though, I just dialogued one of the upcoming issues coming out soon [Civil War Front Line # 7, due in stores October] and I think it's the best Speedball issue yet. This issue has a profound effect on the character and I think readers are really going to like what happens.

Civil War Front Line #6 PG 2

CINESCAPE: Speaking of coming out soon, how did the delays in the Civil War monthly affect your Civil War Frontlines - aside from the release date of your issues being pushed back. Was it at all frustrating to have to make your fans wait to see what happens next or did it mess with your momentum?

Yeah it was frustrating.

But it was just as frustrating for me as for [Civil War writer] Mark [Millar] and [artist] Steve [McNiven]. They are very frustrated and wish they could have delivered it quicker. Having said "it's frustrating," I try to point out to anyone who is frustrated, how hard it is to do this job sometimes. I understand why Steve slipped a little bit. It's not easy to get these books really well done and do them all on time.

I think of comic creators like short order cooks. The waiters come in and say, "we want this, customers are hungry and waiting, hurry, hurry, hurry!" And we deliver. It's always done that way - it's the nature of the business.

But Marvel, for instance, would look at Civil War and say, "we need to create a massive crossover that fits in this way." They pose that to everyone involved and then Mark ended up writing the main title in this crossover. He hoped to deliver on time, but, due to delays, we just did the Editorial Conference Retreat in February and the publisher wanted the first book to be ready by June. It's the demands of the business.

I do want to state that this delay did not come about because of Mark's Crohns illness. When I fractured my neck, I didn't know if I was going to be able to get through the next year. Every time I walked I was so dizzy that I couldn't stand. Then, a few years ago, I had a Staph infection after a knee surgery that almost cost me my leg. To be that drastically ill does not and should not and cannot prevent an issue of Spider-Man (or any other comic book) from being printed every month. Heck, it's been printed [mostly] on time for 45 years, no one person should be able to stop that. It's very difficult what we do something and life has a way of intruding, but that's not what delayed Civil War.

CINESCAPE: You've gone through a lot in terms of injuries.

You can relate to that.

Civil War Front Line #6 PG 3

CINESCAPE: Yeah, but I'm curious how you manage to bounce back and remain so ... optimistic when all of this crud has happened.

I was supposed to have surgery in May to really fix up the meniscus in my knee - I'm supposed to have a few more surgeries. But there was a tornado that hit our house and it smashed up the place. So, I'm having that surgery this winter. I bounce back because I'm a stubborn buff.

I like my job. I'm happy. I'm very much the kind of c'est la vie type. I injured my knee. I worked through it and kept going. It didn't affect me that badly. My wife Melinda and I had a little baby this year. Jack's like six months old now and we went through some difficult times just to actually have him. But to have him and look after him every day and see him - he looks exactly like a little me - and he's so happy. It really makes you think.

I don't look at my life and think of the bad things I've dealt with. Other people think I'm so bloody unlucky, but the morning we had to climb out of our basement from the rubble of the tornado, I looked around and my wife was fine, I was fine, our three week old baby was fine - heck, even the rat was ok; so it was time to rebuild. We couldn't change the fact that the tornado smashed up our place, so we just had to look ahead.

I like the American phrase that when "Life gives you lemon, make lemonade!" I like that phrase. It's optimistic. It suits me. When we got smashed we had to get all kinds of stuff replaced: new carpets, new roof, and lots of other things. But we turned that into lemonade by, when we listed it for sale on the market, spotlighting the fact that there was "brand new carpets" and "a brand new roof" and probably ended up selling it for more money, because of the new editions than we would have made before.

A lot of people ask me who my favorite comic book character is and I always say "Spider-Man," because he is very much like me. His personality and philosophy is a lot like mine. I think he makes "lemonade" as well.

CINESCAPE: Something that isn't sour is your work on the five-part Sidekick series from Desperado Publishing. How'd you come up with this story?

Sidekick is pretty simple: it's sort of a rib tickler. I get a funny feeling when I'm talking about it, because anyone who has seen it or read a part of it laughs out loud. It's terribly silly and kind of like Benny Hill - only with superheroes.

There's a bunch of silly costume changes with the hero always getting caught with one of his sidekicks in an awkward situation. One of his sidekicks is a girl, so he's caught between her taking off a bra or something .... It's just some silly slapstick.

What this is really about has to deal with my life as a bachelor. For a long time I lived in this "swinging bachelor pad" with my good friend, Darren. All we did was play video games and ping pong and basically dropped out. We were logs, we ate really badly and did nothing. Sidekick is really about that. The best friend Darren in the book is my buddy, Darren.

No matter what happens to Eddie - he could walk in beat up, with an axe in his head, and Darren will just look up from his video game, say "that sucks" and continue playing. So many people read it and identify with Sidekick. Almost everyone has a Darren in their life. This is my favorite book to do right now.

CINESCAPE: What else are you working on?

We just had the trade of Revelations come out. It looks really cool, and I know in reviews people say they really like it.

The other stuff I'm working on is the Mythos series for Marvel. This is very satisfying to create. It's fully painted with the Marvel Origins, but with a twist. Basically we've taken the origin done [originally] by Stan Lee and mix it with the film version or television version to create a cross between the original comic version that not so many people might be interested in - if not a comic book reader - and a version anyone who has seen their "live" appearances can understand. We've done the Hulk and X-Men so far. It's been really well received.

CINESCAPE: Speaking of the film or television versions, what did you think of the Ang Lee Hulk and the three X-Men films and other Marvel movies?

I thought the X-Men were great and excellent. It makes me feel they did the right thing by trying to make these characters people. They also got great actors: Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman to bring the characters to life. The fact that they went the route of trying to make these film truly films about the people and not just events was fantastic.

I liked the Hulk film better than most people. I appreciated the fact that he was doing something interesting with the property.

I think the first half of the Spider-Man film was great, but the moment the Green Goblin showed up, it became atrocious. I also think the second film was atrocious. I thought why make a bad comic book out of the film?

It started off with a kid you could believe was becoming a Spider-Man and all that seemed natural. He got bitten and, now look at him, he's going through so much. Then Green Goblin shows up and he's like some ridiculous six-year-old version of what a villain should be. It seemed like they were catering to the lowest common denominator, but it did well, so who could blame them?

Some of the others I didn't go for that much.

It's funny that on the heels of the success of the Spider-Man film, Marvel wanted me to use organic web-shooters for Spider-Man, because they thought the public would expect that if any picked up a Spider-Man comic. I thought it was funny, because I'm the least likely writer to give a shit about stuff like that meshing.

CINESCAPE: Any closing words?

I'm in an interesting world right now. I have an equal amount of my career divided by video games and films. We're shooting some short films in October and I'm gearing up to sell a screenplay in the next couple of weeks. All kinds of interesting stuff is happening. I will say that no matter what happens, I like comic books, I like telling stories that way and will always want to do it. I'm lucky because I get to do what I want to do.

There's a revised release schedule for the Civil War Front Line by Paul Jenkins and artist Ramon Bachs that can be viewed here. The first few issues of the five-part Sidekick story from Jenkins and artist Chris Moreno are available now as well. You can learn more about them here.

Jennifer M. Contino is a lifelong comic book fan who writes about the medium daily at THE PULSE.


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pieman9999 9/26/2006 6:31:51 AM
In the first paragraph: "We hung out, talked comic books, and I learned how he had a PERCHANCE to root for the underdog." The word should be penchant. Is anyone at Cinescape reading this stuff?


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