By Sean T. Collins
Among other cartoonists working the alternative-comedy comics circuit, Tony Millionaire is a legend. Various factors contribute to this reputation, from screamingly funny messageboard posts to the kinds of real-life escapades cult-classic comedy smashes are made of. But tops on the list is simply his prowess as an artist.
From his long-running weekly gag strip Maakies, featuring the violent, booze-soaked maritime misadventures of main characters Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby the monkey, to his all-ages romp Sock Monkey, a sort of alternate-universe Maakies about the comical capers of Victorian Era toys, to his Eisner Award-winning saga of a sea-faring homunculus Billy Hazelnuts, Millionaire is a master of exquisitely detailed, hilariously staged shenanigans. And his take on Iron Man for STRANGE TALES #2 is set to be as goofy and gorgeous as anything else he’s done. We spoke with Millionaire to find out what he has in store for the Armored Avenger.
Tony Millionaire: Just as you called, I was reading an old collection of THOR.
A page from Tony Millionaire's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Marvel.com: That's appropriate.
Tony Millionaire: Well, I was looking over your questions, and I thought "I don't really read comics anymore, except for stuff that people send me." All I can really rely on for my Marvel expertise is my memories—which is better anyway. It's funny: "I say thee nay"? I didn't realize that was such a popular phrase.
Marvel.com: It was very hip back then.
Tony Millionaire: Yeah. A friend of mine used to say "I SAY THEE NAY, RAMPAGER!" and put his hand up. I'd go, "What the **** is that?" "Thor, stupid." "Oh yeah, okay, I remember that." [Laughs]
Marvel.com: So if you don't get a lot of Marvel exposure anymore, I'm wondering what this experience was like for you.
Tony Millionaire: Great! It was great. I mean, I read a lot when I was 13, in the '60s. When they asked me to pick a character from Marvel, I thought, "Well, there's already been a thousand Spider-Man comics, so I don't wanna do that one." Spider-Man's okay, but when he started out, he was a little too "groovy" for me. I always thought they were trying to relate to me with him, because I was a teenager.
When I was a kid, I loved Silver Surfer because he was cool. It was spacey. But I loved Iron Man because his costume was so cool. The color was so simple, so basic—the gold or yellow or orange. He was a guy who put on armor and he was super. It made so much sense! You could imagine that he could actually do that. He didn't just come from some super-planet. So I decided to do Iron Man. Of course everyone said "Oh, Tony Millionaire, Iron Man, that's great! He's a drunk! Drinky Crow!" [Laughs] I never even knew about him being a drunk until last year. There are no alcohol references at all in the story.
Marvel.com: Zigging when people expect you to zag.
Tony Millionaire: Exactly.
Marvel.com: What's the gist of your story?
Tony Millionaire: First, I wanted him to fight some super villains. So right away I thought, "Okay, one of the guys is gonna be named Bologna-Head, just because it's stupid." Then I thought ,"The other one is Liverwurst-Face." So he's fighting Bologna-Head and Liverwurst-Face. Then I thought of the words "Iron Man"—in German it would be "Eisen Man"—and then I thought of Eisenhower. I lived in Germany for five years, so I was like, "Eisenhower's name means he's a blacksmith, an iron worker—'eisen hower.'" "Eisen" means iron, "hower" means to hit, like with a sledgehammer. So that's a guy who's an ironworker, a blacksmith. Then I started reading some Tony Stark stories—I bought some old collections of IRON MAN to do the story—and I realized that Tony was the military-industrial complex. Then I saw the movie, and I went, "Wait a minute, this [is] exactly what Eisenhower was warning about. He is the military-industrial complex! Okay, good, he'll fight against Eisenhower, and Eisenhower will be warning the world against the military-industrial complex." [Laughs] So that's the perfect villain for him to fight against. I have them do a bunch of fighting, and it turned out to be pretty funny. It's a play on words.
Marvel.com: It's interesting to hear the thought process that leads one to select President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an enemy for Iron Man to fight.
Tony Millionaire: Yeah. It all comes down to just doing research. If you're hungry enough for an idea, all you have to do is start reading about a subject. I was lucky enough to know something about Eisenhower, because he's perfect. A lot of times you'll try to come up with some material for some project you're working on, and you just go to the bookstore, read a book for a couple of days, and you get a good idea. That's what I did.
Marvel.com: Did you have to shift gears creatively to go from working on your own characters to working on a Marvel character like Iron Man?
Tony Millionaire: Yeah, I did, but it was a lot of fun. With my comic strip, Maakies, I really try to go all over the place with it. Maakies is really a very experimental kind of strip, in that nobody has ever told me "No, don't do that." I can do anything I want. When I decided to do Iron Man, I thought, "Well, great, I'll just look at all the old '60s artists—not just Jack Kirby, but all the other guys who drew this book—and just copy their style." If I copy it, but don't try to copy it exactly, it's gonna look like my drawings. I was just having fun.
Marvel.com: Was the thought process similar?
A page from Tony Millionaire's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Tony Millionaire: Writing a story is writing a story. I know a lot of people start drawing a comic not knowing how it's gonna end up, but I never do that. I write the whole story down. So it's basically the same thing as writing a Sock Monkey story, really. You think of a story, get it down, and then I don't put all of the dialogue in—I put in basic key frames and key points of dialogue—and then I start drawing it. Then, if I accidentally draw a fist too big, I can have him say, "My fist is gigantic!" and turn it into a big joke. [Laughs]
Marvel.com: That saves you money on white-out, I guess.
Tony Millionaire: Yeah, exactly. Perfect cover for mistakes. [Laughs]
Marvel.com: What's some stuff of yours you'd recommend to people who see your Iron Man story and want to see more from you?
Tony Millionaire: There's three basic comics that I've worked on. One is my weekly strip, Maakies, which is available at Maakies.com if it's not in your local weekly newspaper. The other one is Sock Monkey. I've been doing that for 12 years now. I do a lot of experimenting with that, too—I do some children's Sock Monkeys and some stuff that's not really for kids. It's not dirty, but it's got high-falutin' $20 million words. The other one is Billy Hazelnuts, which is straight adventure. All of those you can find in libraries, comic book stores and regular bookstores.
Marvel.com: Are you still concentrating on those titles, or do you have anything else in the pipeline?
Tony Millionaire: I'm still concentrating on those right now, but when Iron Man thing came along, I thought, "Oh, good, I can take a break and do eight pages of Iron Man." Anytime someone has an anthology or something, unless I'm really busy, I usually do it. I like to screw around with lots of different styles. Right now I'm in the middle of Billy Hazelnuts 2. I'm trying to finish it up. It's about a year late.
Marvel.com: Are there any other Marvel characters you'd like to try your hand at at some point?
Tony Millionaire: Marvel characters? Yeah! The next one I'll do is Thor! I gotta have him say "I say thee nay!" And figure out what's going on with that hammer. [Laughs]
Check out Tony Millionaire's Iron Man story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale now! To find a comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook or visit www.comicshoplocator.com. Not a subscriber to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited yet? Join now! Download SPIDER-WOMAN Motion Comics now on iTunes! Download episodes of "X-Men: Evolution", "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes" and "The Super Hero Squad Show" now on iTunes!
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Check out Tony Millionaire's Iron Man story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale now!
To find a comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook or visit www.comicshoplocator.com.
Not a subscriber to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited yet? Join now!
Download SPIDER-WOMAN Motion Comics now on iTunes!
Download episodes of "X-Men: Evolution", "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes" and "The Super Hero Squad Show" now on iTunes!