Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: John Leavitt

The mastermind behind a burlesque empire joins forces with artist Molly Crabapple for a whole new spin on She-Hulk.

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By Sean T. Collins

A page from John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple's contribution to STRANGE TALES #1
Writing and drawing comics and sketching beautiful women—nice work if you can get it, right? Meet John Leavitt, a man who's living the dream. The long-time collaborator of illustrator and comics creator Molly Crabapple, Leavitt teamed up with his artistic partner to create Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, a unique life-drawing class that uses burlesque performers as models.

True to burlesque's roots in a superficially simpler time, Leavitt and Crabapple are taking She-Hulk back to the Victorian Era in their contribution to STRANGE TALES. Leavitt told Marvel.com about the origin of this unusual take on Shulkie and why readers everywhere might want to sign up for an anti-art class or two.

 

Marvel.com: You and Molly Crabapple are doing a She-Hulk strip. How did that come about?

John Leavitt: Well, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure how we were asked to do it. I'm pretty sure that someone contacted Molly, and then she called me and I went, "I don't know anything about super heroes! Talk to your nerd friends, give me some ideas!" [Laughs] But the concept sounded really cool: alternative artists doing classic super heroes. So we put together a list of ideas, one of them got in and we started to tweak it. It was only a four-page strip, so it wasn't that hard, but we had a lot of fun with the concept. I was reading a lot of Victorian feminist literature at the time, and that's where the idea came from: "Wait, why don't we just put She-Hulk in the Victorian era!"

Marvel.com: Victorian feminist literature and Marvel Comics aren't things you'd normally associate with each other. What made you put them together?

A page from John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple's contribution to STRANGE TALES #1
John Leavitt: It's because we were desperate for ideas. All our obvious ideas were already shot down. [Laughs] So we started really stretching, and I was thinking, "Well Molly's artwork is Victorian—that's what she does best. What female characters could we use?" And, because I was reading [early feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman's classic short story] "The Yellow Wallpaper" at the time, I thought "Wait, She-Hulk! She'd be great! Wouldn't it be awful if you're trying to marry off your daughter and she keeps turning green?"

Marvel.com: What do you think you two bring to the table that will make your average Marvel fan sit up and take notice?

John Leavitt: Well, it's an interesting interpretation of a classic character, though I'm sure everyone says that. Mostly, it's a style that's rarely seen in comics, let alone Marvel comics. It's a very distinctive visual style. You don't really find in a lot of super hero stories—which is funny, because I think people flying is hilarious.

Marvel.com: Do you have much of a Marvel background?

John Leavitt: I knew the big teams, because I was once 12, too. I did follow some of the bigger novels, too. But I did ask some of my friends that have been collecting comics forever, "Who's hot right now? What characters are still alive?" [Laughs] [I like] any of the John Byrne She-Hulk stories where she breaks the fouth wall and does meta-jokes about being a comics character. That was my jumping-off point for making a jokey She-Hulk story, and I love 'em to death.

Marvel.com: Are there any other Marvel characters that you want to tackle some day?

Doctor Strange
John Leavitt: Well, I really wanted to do Doctor Strange, because I wanted him trying to sell his Sanctum Sanctorum in the Village.

Marvel.com: That's some primo real estate these days!

John Leavitt: Exactly! Especially since it's bigger on the inside! We were gonna do that until we realized it's almost impossible to write for Doctor Strange without sounding like you're writing for Doctor Orpheus from The Venture Bros.

Marvel.com: Molly has mentioned that in working on this project, she got bit by the comics bug, and you guys have since worked on a lot more sequential stuff now. I was wondering if you could tell me more about that.

John Leavitt: Well, I was always interested in comics, it's where I got my start. But I got into cartooning, illustration, design, and I didn't really have time to go back into comics. And people kept asking Molly to produce comic work, but she would say "Well, I don't have any idea how to do any of this," because she had never done any sequential art at all. So we sort of teamed up, and I said, "I'll show you how to do it, but you do all the hard work." She realized it wasn't really as hard as it looked, and I realized I enjoy writing more than drawing. After that, we started getting more requests for more sequential stuff, so we did a strip on Act-i-vate, the comics collective. It's called Backstage—a comic romp through the 19th Century filled with murders and people being set on fire.

Marvel.com: Well, people getting set on fire always makes for a boffo comic.

John Leavitt: And on stage, too. That's one way to end an act! Then we did Scarlett Takes Manhattan, a graphic novella about a Gilded Age showgirl who rises to the top via trickery and cunning stunts. It's available now from Fugu Press. I'm working on another story with Molly and my own projects, possibly an anthology.

Marvel.com: What else do you recommend that people who enjoy your She-Hulk story check out if they want to see more of your work?

John Leavitt: Well, I'd definitely recommend that they check out my website, jleavitt.com. I do some panel cartoons, I think they're pretty good. But if you have more of a comics background and you want to see more sequential art and super heroes, then go to Act-i-vate.com, I'd say. We're included in their free comics, in a collection with people like Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, Jason Little...all doing free comics, for your pleasure, for you to read every day. And, of course, visit DrSketchy.com. There's bound to be one near you at this point. You can go to your very own cabaret life-drawing class. We did a Marvel theme week once, where we had the X-Men on stage. We had a Mystique who actually came head to toe in latex. And there's videos and photos of that session on DrSketchy.com, and it's great. [Laughs]

 

Read Leavitt's story in STRANGE TALES #1, on sale September 2.

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