Tuesday Q&A

Tuesday Q&A: John Layman & Lee Garbett

The Identity Wars writer talks plot while his new Marvel artist shares some sketches

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By Jim Beard

It’s a dimension where dreams come true and heroes find their hearts’ desires—but at what price?

Identity Wars, a three-part Annual event, kicks off April 6 with an upside-down story of a certain web-headed wonder in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #38. Then, this May and June, the saga continues in DEADPOOL ANNUAL and INCREDIBLE HULK ANNUAL.

Who’s responsible for tossing Spidey and his amazing pals into this crazy universe? Why, none other than writer John Layman and artist Lee Garbett, both of whom report that they’re having the ride of their lives with Identity Wars. We checked in with both creators for a few questions on life, love and alternate Earths!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #38 pencil art by Lee Garbett

Marvel.com: John, everybody loves a story where a character's not their usual self or thrown into a topsy-turvy reality; why do you think such tales are popular? What's their appeal?

John Layman: It’s funny, because I’ve done a decent amount of stuff for Marvel, but not a ton, and the biggest and most popular things I [have] done are topsy-turvy reality stories. I was involved in House of M, writing the Fantastic Four [limited series] of that event, and MARVEL ZOMBIES/ARMY OF DARKNESS. As a writer, and a reader, it’s fun to see characters you know so well thrust into new situations, and even new realities, to see them react in new ways. Most “conventional continuity” stories are on some level about who the character is. Often alternate reality stories help define a character by showing different versions and circumstances, and exploring who they are not. At least, these Identity Wars Annuals attempt to.

Marvel.com: As a writer who obviously loves this kind of a story, how do you approach it in terms of construction?

John Layman: Well, initially we looked at the story as an “opposite version” of the characters. But each is opposite in a different way. [In the new universe] Spider Man, instead of constantly balancing super heroing with real life problems has a charmed, almost idealized life as the world’s most popular and powerful hero, and a secret identity which is also apparently trouble free—the operative word being “apparently.” Deadpool in the alternative world is super sane, which allows him to be a criminal mastermind. And Bruce Banner has tried to cure himself of The Hulk using sorcery, not science, which created the Infernal, not Incredible, Hulk.

And once those characters were determined, the challenge was to figure how the universe became the way it did. I wracked my brain like crazy on that one, and the solution, of course, turned out to be shocking simple.

Marvel.com: How will The Hulk and Deadpool, neither of them traditional heroes, each react to the skewed universe? How do they cope?

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #38 pencil art by Lee Garbett

John Layman: Well, the great fun to the Deadpool story is pitting cold, calculating, ruthless sanity against Deadpool’s trademark goofy madness. Both Hulk and Bruce Banner face versions of them that are opposite and unfamiliar, and in each of their Annuals, the characters end up switching places, albeit in a different way for each particular Annual. It was a crazy juggling act to put together, but loads of fun.

Marvel.com: What's the single coolest thing about writing each of these legends, Spider-Man, Hulk and Deadpool?

John Layman: The coolest thing was just the mere fact I was writing them. I have to admit: I went into this more than a bit intimidated. When I was growing up, Annuals were a really big deal, and just to write one featuring such an iconic character was pretty staggering to me. When I was approached about writing all three Annuals, I was sorta in disbelief, like, “Me? Really? Are you sure?” There was a lot of nervousness at first, prior to the actually sitting down and writing and then it just got comfortable and fun.

Marvel.com: What are the common threads that run between the Identity Wars Annuals? What might we walk away here with when the dust clears?

John Layman: The tone of each Annual is very different, and I tried to make each story really suit its respective character. The Spidey story has a lot of heart, the Deadpool story is bonkers chaos, and the Hulk Annual is very visceral punch-‘em-n-smash-‘em brutal action. Yes, this is a three-part story, but I tried to also make each story relatively self-contained, so even if you just picked up one, you’d still get some bang for your buck, and a cool adventure featuring the title character, the works on its own—at least on some level—as well as being part of a bigger whole.

Marvel.com: Lee, what kind of Marvel books did you like growing up? And how did you get your start in comic books?

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #38 pencil art by Lee Garbett

Lee Garbett: I actually grew up in a Marvel household. My brother and sister used to have this big suitcase full of their old comic collection, about 90% Marvel comics,

that I wasn't allowed to go anywhere near. Of course, the minute they went out I was straight in there. I'd open up that lid and pow! Romita's Spidey, Buscema and Sinnott's Fantastic Four and Avengers, and Steranko's Cap! It was the most amazing, exciting thing I'd ever seen and I was hooked from then on. Problem was I was too young to know I shouldn't draw all over them. Sorry guys.

I first attempted getting into comics in 2006, which resulted in an indie book called Dark Mists. After three issues of that I moved over to 2000AD and then on to WildStorm and DC.

Marvel.com: How did you come to Marvel as a professional artist, and what was your first reaction when you learned you'd gotten a real Marvel gig?

Lee Garbett: I'd had some brief contact over the past couple of years with CB Cebulski and Steve Wacker and they knew I was very keen to get something going with Marvel whenever the chance arose. Steve offered me some Spider-Man stuff that Rob Williams was writing and I jumped at the chance. Rob's a friend and everyone knows how much I love Spidey so it was a no-brainer. Then came the Identity Wars Annuals and the chance to draw more of the Marvel's characters I love so much. I couldn't believe it. I was overjoyed.

Marvel.com: What's your philosophy on drawing for comics and how has also being a graphic designer played into your comic art?

Lee Garbett: I don't know that I have a philosophy as such, other than “work hard and try to make the next page better than the last one.” I'm still relatively new so I'm learning my trade as I go. Love the job and try and get that on the page—oh and make sure you hit those deadlines. Most important.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #38 pencil art by Lee Garbett

I spent a lot of time in graphics trying to strip away detail to leave the iconic image behind. That's still my natural instinct but I'm trying to mesh that with adding more detail in other areas. I've not had a run of covers yet so I'm really looking forward to introducing some more of the graphic design side to those. I was also a concept artist in the games industry for years and love any chance to redesign costumes or create new characters.

Marvel.com: How do you approach the artist-writer relationship, such as in the case with you and John Layman on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL?

Lee Garbett: I knew of John's body of work, of course, and we spoke via e-mail after we were put together, but we'd never met or talked prior to this project. Sometimes though you just click with a writer’s sensibilities and I felt that happened here with John's script. I got where he was coming from straight away and it was like we were both fans of the same stuff; I “got” the nods to characters and scenes in the book. That's the nicest feeling because you don't have to worry about getting across what the writer's intending. You know you're both pushing in the same direction. It was one of the easiest scripts I worked on in that respect, though it called for some crazy scenes. John seemed happy with the pages too so I'm already looking forward to working with him again soon.

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