Comic Book Biography: TOM DERNICK

tom-derenickTom Derenick’s run on JLA starts in two weeks on October 12th with issue #120, the first part of “World Without a Justice League” written by Bob Harras. In between thos issues, he’s also got an issue of Superman that he’s filling in on. But so goes the career of Derenick – a litlte of this, a little of that, resulting ultimately, in a lot of everything.

Btween penciling sessions, Derenick was able to fit in a few questions with First Comics News.

First Comics News: I first noticed your work on the Ferret from Malibu, was that your first regular job?

Tom Derenick: Actually, my first assignment was for Cry for Dawn Productions on a book called Subtle Violents I drew a 14 page story titled Ahryssia for Joe Linsner and Joe Monks back in 1990 I believe, although I think it was published in ’91. In ’91 I was hired by Malibu Comics to draw a six issue Protectors miniseries. Then I drew the Ferret one shot. It was publish right around the time of Protectors #1 though which is probably the reason you saw it first.

1st: How did you get that job?

TD: Chris Ulm, the Editor-In-Chief of Malibu at the time was actively looking for new talent and I was lucky enough to have Beau Smith from Eclipse comics pass my samples along to him. He saw some potential there I guess and gave me a call to see if I’d like to do a tryout page for the Protectors. I did, and after passing it around to the other guys at Malibu as well as R.A. Jones, the writer of the series, I was hired.

1st: You were at Malibu for quite some time working on various Protectors related comics, were you at all familiar with the golden age Centaur Comics, before starting on the Protectors?

Tom: They sent me some photocopies of some of the books but other than that I wasn’t really aware that they even existed until they filled me in on them.

Even so, I’ll always have a place in my heart for those characters. It was my first superhero gig in comics, I’ve been a superhero geek since I was a kid watching the old 60’sSpider-Man cartoon in reruns after school so getting a chance to draw superheroes was a thrill even if I didn’t know who they were at the time.

Also, it introduced me to R.A. who has been a close friend ever since.

1st: After that you moved to DC to work on a few issues of Star Trek. Are you a trekker/trekkee?

Tom: Actually I was bouncing between DC and Marvel for a few years doing fill ins on Nightthrasher, Venom, Star Trek and Marvel Team-up. Star Trek was the first thing I did that was known by the general public though, which was kinda cool. You could go up to just about anyone on the street and say, “I draw the Star Trek comic.” And they knew what you were talking about.

As far as being a fan, I was a casual fan. I enjoyed the show when I saw it and I went to see all the movies up to “Insurrection” when I just sort of lost interest. I was never really a fanatic about the franchise. It was just something fun to watch.

1st: Is it harder to work on a comic like that where it a licensed property and the characters aren’t as open to interpretation and paramount has to approve everything?

Tom: It really depends on the property. Sometimes, like in the case of Star Trek, it’s overwhelmingly restrictive because everyone and his mother have to approve every panel so you end up redrawing things over and over again until the actors and producers are happy. It can be very tedious in a case like that. I did half an issue of a comic adapting Pam Anderson’s VIP television series once and it was the same thing but then Smallville, years later, was never any major problem and was fun most of the time.

1st: Did everything go smoothly or did you have to redraw scenes?

Tom: Never entire scenes, but a head here and a head there. Usually it would be complaints about the likenesses.

1st: After Star Trek, you left DC for Marvel, was this intentional or is that just the way things worked out?

Tom: Just the way it worked out. Star Trek was really just sort of them trying me out for the series at the time and I had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the editor on the book, which is rare for me, I get along pretty well with most of the people I work with so it was really frustrating but it mostly centered around the actors not being happy with the likenesses. So it just sort of ended after one storyline.

We were in a time period back then when there were just far too many artists looking for work and not enough work to go around so when Star Trek fell apart I just went looking and found the occasional assignment to get me by.

1st: At Marvel you got to draw Spider-Man and the X-Men, did you feel like you had finally made it as a comic artist?

Tom: Yeah, that was a pretty cool time for me. The colorist Tom Smith helped put me in touch with Mike Marts back when he was taking over some of the X-books. Mike a really cool guy and used me as much as he could.

Then I started helping out Mark Powers occasionally on the core X-titles as well as Cable as well. So I was kept quite busy on some of the top books of the time for a couple of years there.

Yeah, I really started to feel more like a pro then. Which is kind of strange because I’d been in the business for almost ten years by this point. I guess it came down to being trusted with the big franchises for the first time even if it was just as a regular fill in artist.

1st: You did a lot of X-Men related single issues and fill ins, did you want a regular series or did you prefer the freedom of working on a variety of projects?

Tom: The goal was always to land an ongoing but there’s a lot of competition for ongoing titles and it really comes down to being either really popular with fans or being at the right place at the right time. I worked pretty steady most of the time though so I never really had a reason to complain.

The big advantage of ongoing though is that you don’t have to search every month or two for the next assignment which really appeals to me so hopefully one day you’ll see me locked down on something.

1st: You had worked with Robert Weinberg on Cable a few times, how did that collaboration lead to the Nightside miniseries?

Tom: You know, I really don’t remember the specifics for some reason. I think we were corresponding while I helped out on Cable a couple of times and we sort of decided we wanted to do something else together. Bob was pitching Nightside and Mark Powers was aware of this shaded pencil style I was becoming known for on the internet so they had me work up character designs for the proposal and I think I took it on myself to do an elaborate pinup in my shaded pencils. Mark asked me to mix in some Photoshop techniques I was playing with and the pinup kind of grabbed a lot of attention at Marvel. Then we decided to do the interiors in that shaded style as well. It was a fun book and gave me a chance to stretch myself a little.

1st: You also did a Captain America/Wolverine mini-series, how did that come about?

Tom: I had noticed that Marvel at the time was trying all sorts of new things so I called my friend R.A. and asked him if he’d like to pitch to Marvel. Years back I read Uncanny X-men #268 and I loved the chemistry between Wolvie and Cap and figured what did we have to lose. So we pitched a two part WWII story involving them again with some shaded pencil preview art like Nightside. Marvel came back to us when I pitched it on a trip to the offices and said they’d prefer something modern day and four issues in length. On the bus trip home I came up with the basic premise and when I talked to R.A. on the phone we fleshed it out together. Marvel approved the plot and we were off and running.

1st: What was it like working with R.A. Jones again

Tom: Excellent. We’d done other things besides the Protectors like a Scimidar miniseries for CFD Productions and a oneshot for Silverline called Cybertrash and the Dog but working together for Marvel with one of you friends is a kick.

1st: After that you went back to DC and started working on Superman related projects, why did you leave after finishing two mini-series at Marvel?

Tom: It was getting a little trickier finding work. I only knew a couple of editors reasonably well and one ended up leaving the company. In the meantime I started becoming friendly with Chuck Austen and we wanted to try and find something to work together on. He had been starting to do some work for DC on the Superman books with Eddie Berganza and asked Eddie if I could pencil one of the issues and that got the ball rolling.

1st: When you worked on Robin, you worked with Bill Willingham. Is it easier working with a writer who is also an artist?

Tom: Only in that they tend to have a slightly better feel for what will comfortably fit on a page. Some writers that aren’t also artists have this sense as well but it does seem more common with the writer/artist. Other than that, there really isn’t much of a difference.

1st: While at DC you started working on Smallville. This was a TV show but it was also a DC property and you said it was easier then Star Trek. How so?

Tom: The production company was very involved. Everyone wanted the comic to fit cohesively with the television series. The writers for the most part worked in some capacity on the show itself so we were more able the sync up. Everything flowed more smoothly than other licensed properties I’ve worked on. The scripts came in late though because we were dealing with last minute changes on the show but Adam Dekraker, the inker, and I are reasonably fast so it wasn’t a huge problem most of the time. I don’t think the book ever released late, at least no more than a week or two.

1st: Did you run into situations where the actors or their agents had to approve the look of the characters?

Tom: See now, on Smallville this never became a problem. What we did with them was before an artist was approved for the book you had to do character sheets of the show’s characters. The actors would either approve or reject you right there so there weren’t any redraws in the pencil stage. I’m not sure the actors even saw the interior art until after the books were published. Plus I was told by people involved with the show that the actors were very happy with what I was doing when they did see it so that made any inconveniences well worth it.

1st: Now you are just beginning a run on JLA. How did you get involved with this project?

Tom: I had just finished a two issue arc of Birds of Prey and had fallen into what I like to refer to as the winter lull. When you work mainly on fill ins there seems to be a stretch right after Christmas where there isn’t much work available so if you haven’t lined something up before then it could be a couple of months before you find anything new. I don’t know that this is the case with everyone but this has been my experience over the years. It’s not a big deal if you plan for it but you basically have a lot of free time on your hands. So anyway I decided to use this time to reinvent my style, I basically just went back to my original influences, John Bryne, Alan Davis, Adam Hughes, etc. etc. and found I was much more satisfied with the finished pencils. They look slicker than what I was doing in the past.

So I had this new look I was proud of and start emailing my samples week after week to the editors just basically asking them to check them out and Mike Carlin emailed me back to tell me how much he liked what I was doing. Another sample set later and after he locked down the writer he offered me a six issue arc on JLA. Well obviously I was floored and didn’t even have to think twice.

I think it was only like a month later and I had the first script.

1st: It must be a thrill to work on a title with this much history?

Tom: HELLO! Superhero geek here, remember. This is getting to play with the royal family of superheroes. Batman alone is enough to get me to bang my head on the ceiling from jumping up and down. Yeah, it’s a blast.

1st: Bob Harris had been an Editor-In-Chief when you worked at Marvel, how is it working with him as the writer?

Tom: Bob’s kicking butt on this. I’ve been really enjoying Breach and what can I say, the guy knows how to write. He was the EIC the first time I work for Marvel so I didn’t have any direct contact with him. He’s also a really cool guy, don’t tell him I said that though, we don’t want him to get a big head. Just kidding Bob.

1st: What is the story about?

Well by now you know the JLA is having some serious problems, but some members aren’t so willing to let it die without a fight. A threat emerges and there’s this little, oh I don’t know, I guess you’d call it a CRISIS getting in the way. Batman locks his keys in the Batmobile, Flash slips on a banana peel, Black Canary gets a run in her stocking, dogs and cats living together, you know, stuff like that. Let just say you won’t believe it until you see it.

1st: Er, yeah. With the second stringers trying to form a new team do you get to draw the big guns at some point in the story?

Tom: Some of them are still there, I’m not saying who or what they’re up to because Dan D would come to my house and break all my pencils but yeah I get to draw a lot of characters including first stringers.

1st: There are a lot of heroes running around in this arc, is it fun or is it challenging to draw that many different characters in the same series?

Tom: The only time it gets a little crazy is when you’re drawing battle scenes because you have to choreograph so many things but otherwise it’s a blast. I’ve been drawing Superteams most of my career, Protectors, X-men, Outsiders. It’s just something you get used to.

1st: You are well known for drawing female characters, it must be fun getting a crack at Supergirl?

Tom: Definitely. The best part is the reactions I’ve been getting from people who have seen my versions of some of these characters. Some of the best comments have been onSupergirl, Batman, Green Arrow, and Red Tornado. It’s all been very flattering.

1st: With the Omac appearance you are guaranteed a larger audience just from the Infinite Crisis tie in as well as reader following the Identity Crisis aftermath. Does this put more pressure on you?

Tom: The story doesn’t put added pressure on my so much as the title does. Mike and DC are trusting me with the art chores on the JLA for six issues. The JLA has had some of the best artists in the industry working on it over the years and to top it off I’m following Chris Batista’s amazing run. So yes, there’s a lot of added pressure but I’m determined to prove that I’m worthy of drawing these characters. In the end it’s up to the readers to decide whether I was or wasn’t and I’m hoping they’ll respond as well to what I’ve done as DC has. Fingers crossed.

1st: What’s next after JLA?

Tom: I’m filling in on Superman #224 which comes out in the middle of my JLA arc and after that I can’t go in to details but it’s JLA and JSA related and it’s going to be a lot of fun

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