By Sean T. Collins
Emmy, Eisner, Harvey, Reuben—Jay Stephens racks up prestigious awards and nominations for his cartoons and comics like Wolverine racks up a bodycount. But when it comes to the House of Ideas, the creator of The Secret Saturdays and Tutenstein’s taste is less heroic and more hellish—simply put, he loves Marvel’s most monstrous characters. We talked to Stephens about the offbeat pair he’s working with in STRANGE TALES, how he bounces back and forth between animation and comics and his affinity for all things frightening.
Marvel.com: What characters are you taking on?
Jay Stephens: It was a tough choice, but I settled on the Beast and Morbius, the Living Vampire, two of my favorites.
Marvel.com: That’s kind of an odd couple, huh? I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen them in a story together...
Jay Stephens: All the more reason to have them punch each other in the face. It’s not called STRANGE TALES for nothing.
Marvel.com: What is it about those two that appeals to you?
Jay Stephens: Well I’m a total sucker for the Marvel “Monster Heroes” to begin with. Back when I started collecting comic books in around 1976, all the cool Marvel comics dealt with horror, demonology and the macabre. TOMB OF DRACULA was huge, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan and Man-Thing were on the loose, and even the “normal” super hero comics were all creeped up. Morbius was in, like, every other issue of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and my fave book as a kid, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE—I very nearly did a Thing story, FYI—had Ben Grimm hanging out with all of the aforementioned freaks. In fact, my most beloved Marvel comic was TWO-IN-ONE #18, where the Thing teamed up with a supernatural weirdo called the Scarecrow to defeat a demon cult.
A page from Jay Stephens' STRANGE TALES #3 story
But the real reason I boiled it down to Doctors Henry McCoy and Michael Morbius is that I saw story potential in it. There’s no use doing a Scarecrow story if I can’t think of a good one, right?
Marvel.com: True enough. So what’s the scoop on the storyline?
Jay Stephens: I thought it would be neat to give the talkative genius Hank McCoy someone equally intelligent to banter with. Two scientists who specialize in genetic mutation who both just happen to be transformed into horrible monsters. It seemed like a good set-up. The classic Stan Lee comic calls for unrealistic chatter while two dudes beat the crap out of each other. Why fix what ain’t broken?
Marvel.com: What’s the secret to writing good super hero banter?
Jay Stephens: From my years of “research,” I would have to say that the banter ought to reflect the battle and its combatants without literally describing what’s going on. For example, the good guy is usually witty and upbeat, talking trash, while the bad guy dwells on his motivations and how hard he will pound the good guy and all he holds dear. It’s a science, really. Lee-ology, if you will.
Marvel.com: What do you bring to the table as a writer and artist that’s different from the norm?
Jay Stephens: I draw with my eyes closed and my hands behind my back. Also? I’m illegal in seven States. Honestly, I think anyone writing, drawingand coloring their own story is going to bring in a more personal level of work. Also, I’m considered a relative expert on monsters, so there.
Marvel.com: What horror/monster stuff influences you? Besides the old Marvel monster/horror books, I mean.
Jay Stephens: I am a huge monster fan. From Hammer Films to Melvin Monster to Japanese yokai to cryptozoology, I am a total geek for creatures, beasts, fiends and horrors. Check out my blog http://monsterama.blogspot.com/ if you dare to doubt my devotion to the creeping occult.
Marvel.com: What’s the first Marvel comic you remember reading? Is it still your favorite?
Jay Stephens: PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #7, featuring, who else, Morbius, was probably the first. But the Lee/Kirby run on FANTASTIC FOUR is the best, ever, in my humble opinion.
Marvel.com: Are you following any current Marvel titles?
Jay Stephens: I don't read all that many monthly comic books these days, but I did dig THE AGE OF THE SENTRY and the two-issue Waid/Martin stint on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, #578 & 579. I do pick up a trade now and then, but mostly older reprints. ESSENTIALS and Romita Sr. stuff and the like.
A page from Jay Stephens' STRANGE TALES #3 story
Marvel.com: Any other Marvel heroes or villains you’d like to tackle someday?
Jay Stephens: Ahhh…Alpha Flight! I do know a thing or two about Canada. And Sasquatches. Or Legion of Monsters circa MARVEL PREMIERE #28. Oh, yes please!
Marvel.com: Now you’ve got me envisioning a battle between the two teams. Talk about divided loyalties for poor Sasquatch!
Jay Stephens: Ha! You’re on to me.
Marvel.com: What do you recommend fans check out if they’re hungry for more of your work?
Jay Stephens: You could go to your nearest book seller and pick up one of my drawing books, Monsters!, Heroes!, and Robots! I think they turned out pretty well.
Marvel.com: What else are you working on these days?
Jay Stephens: I'm pretty neck-deep in animation these days, working on "The Secret Saturdays" and pursuing new animated projects. Been drawing some Saturdays covers for Cartoon Network Action Pack. And I've got a daily comic strip coming out with King Features Syndicate in the spring of 2010, written by my pal Bob Weber Jr. of Slylock Fox fame. So, no sleep for me.
Marvel.com: That reminds me: How hard it is to cross back and forth between comics and animation? Do you feel they both work with the same basic cartooning skill set, or is it really two different worlds? And ultimately, which do you prefer?
Jay Stephens: I think it really depends on what cartooning skills we’re talking about. Some of my friends are stellar artists, far better than I am, but can’t come up with stories of their own. And I know terrific writers who can’t draw to save their lives. Some, like me, kind of straddle the gap. As a storyteller who both writes and draws, I find the leap to animation quite natural. The big difference in the two is between working in collaboration with a large group of talented artists and writers under the care and guidance of a huge, big-budget TV network, or hunching over a drawing board left pretty much to your own devices. Both extremes definitely have their charms. I basically go where the untold stories are.
Check out Jay Stephens' Morbius story in STRANGE TALES #3, on sale November 4!
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