Mark G. Heike is celebrating 40 years at AC Comics and has been in an editorial role for 30 of those years. Mark was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and let us know all about his comic book journey.
First Comics News: When did you first discover comics?
Mark G. Heike: VERY early, long before I started school. I had an uncle, Uncle Wally; my mother’s step-brother. He was a BIG comic book reader, and I was fascinated by the colorful, sequential pictures. Wally was a grown man; almost forty, I think, but he loved his comics. An adult reading comic books in the early ’60’s was not a common thing in the world of that day. Wally was great. When he was done reading his weekly batch of comics, he’d pass them onto me. By studying word balloons that went with the continuity, I picked up the rudiments of reading. I seemed to have a big leg-up on that count compared to the other kids when I started first grade. Sadly, Wally ( who was what passed for “overweight” in those days- now, he’d be barely considered “husky”) died of a heart attack while he was still very young, and I was six.
Mark: The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, Metamorpho, The Martian Manhunter; Iron Man, Giant Man and The Wasp, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four and The Hulk, I’d have to say.
1st: Your father, was he supportive of your comic book art?
Mark: My father was an electrical maintainence man with a large manufacturing firm that made heavy machinery; cement-mixers, large dump trucks and construction equipment. He certainly always supported my comic book READING. My Mom was more dubious( “Shouldn’t he be studying?” ). Dad was a reader of comics and pulps himself in what would’ve been the Golden Age. He also got me interested in classic horror and SF movies, which he loved. He passed away just before my senior year of high school, so he never saw any of my published work. I was drawing at that time, but there wasn’t much of a clue that it could (or would) ever be a career for me. At that time I was more obsessed with sports- playing schoolyard basketball and sandlot baseball. I think he’d’ve gotten a kick out of me doing comics, though he’d’ve said “You’re not making enough MONEY doing it.” And he’d be right.
Mark: The “school of hard knocks?” I’m 100% self-taught. In my formative years, I’d thought I’d go on to art school, but after spending a day at the Milwaukee School Of The Arts ( at the time, THE place to study art in the town where I grew up) I was convinced that was NOT the place for me. I was completely absorbed with the idea of gaining proficiency and technical skill, and not much interested in “self-expression”. That’s NOT the sort of attitude they like in art school.
Mark: In early 1978, I had a pen-and-ink illustration in an amateur literary ‘zine called “Verse”. The lone figure in it was swiped straight out of Burne Hogarth’s “Dynamic Anatony” book. Got paid $5.00 for it, too!
1st: You did editorial cartoons for the Milwaukee Express. How big a paper is the Milwaukee Express?
Mark: The Milwaukee Express was an attempt at a weekly “culture and entertainment” tabloid. A guy I played basketball with knew the publisher and recommended me. They went belly-up before they ever used any of my cartoons. I don’t think they liked ’em much. I also tried (what was supposed to be) a humorous one-panel strip about an anthropomorphic chicken named Philbert. It was awful. Just ask my wife. She’s SEEN them. Thankfully, NO ONE ELSE has!
1st: What was Brust-Heike Design Associates?
Mark: It was an architectural and interior design firm started by my brother and a colleague of his in the late-1970’s. The Brusts were a multi-generational family of midwestern architects. David Brust brought a reputation and prestige to the new firm, and my brother Tom brought the design skill ( he won a number of awards while working for other firms, and was the lead architect on a lot of high-profile projects in Wisconsin. The Experimental Aircraft Association Museum in Oshkosh, where they have the huge fly-in and EAA airshow every summer is one of his designs.) and all the hard work.
Mark: You didn’t see the published pages until 1982, but I started on my first Paragon job in May of 1980. I ordered some books from Bill from an ad in the Buyer’s Guide (Anybody out there remember that weekly paper?)
1st: I used to write for them.
Mark: I included some drawings and a fan letter with my check, and Bill sent back a script and layouts for an 8-page story he wanted me to draw based on that- and the rest, as they say, is history!
Mark: In 1979, I saw a story in Cat Yronwode’s column in the CBG (see above) relating how artist Dan Reed (another associate of Bill Black’s, as it turned out) had gone up to Derby, Connecticut and convinced the Charlton editorial brainstrust to “allow” him to do some free stories and art for them, and (more importantly) that in light of this, Charlton was going to open things up to OTHER aspiring creators who didn’t mind working for free! With an opportunity like that (ha!), I couldn’t resist. I decided I would try to create and send Charlton one story EVERY MONTH until they accepted something for publication.
Since I knew I wasn’t polished (let alone skilled) enough to pull this off on my own, I enlisted the aid of a couple of other (much better) aspiring artists (at the time) who were top-flight inkers : Doug Hazlewood and Bill Anderson. I would write and pencil, they would ink (and in Bill’s case, letter; too). Doug had to beg off after one story, as he had a full-time job, outside interests AND was getting married. Bill Anderson and I did maybe five or six stories, and were somewhat of an art team for awhile.
As it turned out, Charlton actually took that VERY FIRST story Doug and I did, although it took ’em six or seven months to get around to TELLING me that. Anderson and I had done quite a backlog by then. They also accepted a story he and I did (Bill A. actually scripted that one.), and those two stories made up 2/3 of Charlton Bullseye #8- another book that didn’t get published until 1982, as I recall. I got some decent critiquing and editorial input during the project from Charlton Assistant Editor Bill Pearson on our submissions, and Mike Zeck, a former Charlton alumnus who was helping Pearson out in guiding all us “wannbees”.
1st: You worked on a handful of issue of Nexus at First Comics, how did you get the job at First?
Mark: Mike Baron called me up out of the blue some time in 1983 or ’84. He was from Wisconsin, too; and he was looking to line up artists for a number of projects he thought he had cooking at that time. I felt I had my hands full trying to do a decent job on my early AC Comics assignments and though I was kinda flattered by him asking, I begged off on working with him at that time, which I probably shouldn’t have. I was just not confident enough in my abilities at that point to take on more work. A couple of years later, when I was looking to do more comic book assignments nights and weekends (while working at Brust/Heike during the day) I called Mike and he hooked me up with First Comics editor Rick Oliver. We hit it off okay, and Rick gave me a couple of short Nexus back-up stories to pencil in 1987, I think. They came out alright; I got Doug Hazlewood (by then a happily married family man, fed up with HIS day job and looking to get more seriously involved in comics on a full-time basis) to ink them, and it was a pleasant experience all the way around.
Comes the summer of 1989, and I’M then looking to get more fully immersed in comics work again, with the idea of moving on from MY day-job. I went to the 1989 ChicagoCon, actively looking for work, and who do I immediately run into but Mike Baron. He’s pretty excited, because he says he’s trying to line up new/fill-in artists to give co-creator Steve Rude a break on his Nexus schedule. I was a reader (and fan) of Nexus at that time, but I didn’t particularly think it was the kind of book I’D be suited to draw. But- I was looking for assignments, it WAS a fairly high-profile independent book, and I’d had a good experience working for First Comics before, so I wasn’t about to say “no”. Later in the afternoon, Mike introduces me to some guy and says “Meet the NEW Nexus penciler- Mark Heike!!” I came to understand the weird look on the guy’s face when Mike explained it was the Nexus editor, Bob Garcia!! Garcia and I never hit it off too well, and I always figured part of it was that Mike kinda rammed ME down his throat as a “new artist” without ever asking him or even showing Garcia any samples of my work.
Mark: Mike is a…unique character, but a really good guy and fun to work with. By the time he was writing Nexus, he’d already had a successful career as an investigative journalist, had investments in other things and didn’t NEED income from writing comics, he just loved it. All those things led to an attitude that sometimes rubbed some people the wrong way, but I never had anything but good experiences in dealing with him.
1st: I heard he drew the scripts out on folded computer paper, is that true?
Mark: The only ones I ever got were on regular 8 1/2″ X 11″ standard typing paper. In addition to dialogue and (somewhat sparse) scene descriptions, he DID like to do thumbnail roughs of all his pages-he was a frustrated artist- but he did encourage me to ignore his visuals and come up with something better wherever I could.
1st: You worked on the X-Men with Chris Claremont, this must have been one of the most coveted jobs in comics at the time. How did you break in at Marvel?
Mark: The only time I ever MET Chris Claremont in person was at the 1979 Chicago Comic Con. Another aspiring artist friend and I were walking through what was that show’s version of an “artist’s alley”, and because the venue was overcrowded, they had things broken up in weird ways. One of which was, Claremont and artist Ernie Chan were in a tiny room together, off of a hallway. I don’t think 99% of the con-goers even KNEW that room was part of the show. We wandered into that room, and hung out and talked to Ernie (who had COOL sketches, but didn’t talk much) and Chris for maybe an hour. This was really pre-X-men; I only knew of Claremont at that time as the guy who wrote “Power Man and Iron Fist”. He was just a bearded doofus in a white t-shirt- as was I , come to think of it. Who knew what he’d amount to? All that was forgotten ( on my end, so I’m CERTAIN Chris had no memory of it, either) by early 1990. At that point, I had just left my “day job”, and was sharing studio space in Milwaukee with inker Al Vey and the late Bill Jaaska. That year, the talented Mr. Jaaska was one of the two pencilers drawing the Uncanny X-Men book during the period that Marvel published it twice a month. Like many comic book creators, Bill J. had a high opinion of his own work- and why not? He WAS a very good artist. He DIDN’T think much of Mr. Claremont’s plots, though; and was certain HE knew better how the stories should go. So he had a certain tactic on how he handled drawing the X-Men at that time. He wouldn’t even START penciling the book until two weeks AFTER the deadline, and then make all the story changes he felt should be made. His theory was that the book would be SO late by then that Marvel wouldn’t (really COULDN’T) demand changes (back to the original plot) or have someone ELSE redraw it- they’d have to have it inked (as-is) at breakneck speed, and Claremont would simply HAVE to dialogue whatever Bill drew. He DID get away with it for a few months. The way it would go is, Marvel would Fed Ex Jaaska the script, he’d call ’em to say he got it- then NOT come into the studio for the next three weeks. Once the deadline had come and gone, he’d come back in, spend 4-5 straight days there (never leaving the office or sleeping, as far as I could tell) and draw the whole twenty-page story in that time, and Fed Ex the penciled pages back. During the three weeks Jaaska was NOT working on the script, then-X-Men editor Bob Harras would call the studio, hoping for a progress report on the issue. I was usually the only one there during the midday when Harras would call. In those days, over the phone, Bob Harras sounded AMAZINGLY like…Sylvester Stallone. All I could do was say “No, Bob; Bill’s not here. ‘Next time I see him, I’ll tell him you called.”
After a couple of months of this, I Xeroxed some penciling samples, put the studio address on the package as the return address, and put a note in with my samples to Bob Harras that said: “You know everytime you call Jumpstart Studios looking for Bill Jaaska to see how he’s coming on the latest X-Men? I’M the guy who’s always there to answer!!” THAT got Harras’ attention, and he immediately called and offered me a penciling job on an X-Men annual story that was horribly late- an eleven-page Wolverine solo story plotted by Claremont. The only trouble was, It’d have to be turned in within FIVE DAYS!! Again, I was not ABOUT to say “no”, so I gulped and said “Send me the script.” I was NOT much for drawing under pressure in those days ( I eventually got comfortable with it years later), so the stress of getting it done pretty much overshadowed the excitement of it being an X-Men job. I got it in on time- which is what they MOST wanted. My penciling on it wasn’t very good, and it was a real challenge working from the Claremont plot. The 11-page story was roughed into 2 & 3/4 pages of typed plot wherin Chris indicated about four different possible ways to draw every major scene. Instead of deciding on a point of view and carrying it through the whole story, I tried to just fit in as much of every idea he threw out that I could.
It was NOT a good “baptism” into drawing comics via “the Marvel method”. But it got me a credit in an X-book. It also got me another penciling job on another mutant annual story (a Sunspot solo tale) that year, but that one was never published. Much of it was supposed to be set at Radio City Music Hall in New York, but I didn’t bother to reference the actual location (no internet in those days!) and staged everything to show as little of the setting as possible. I don’t think they liked my approach on that count, and didn’t send me any more penciling jobs after that.
Mark: I never had any contact or communication with Claremont while doing that story, or after it. As I said, it wasn’t even a WEEK that passed between the time Harras offered it to me and when they had the penciled pages back in hand at the New York offices. Once it was over, it sort of felt like a dream.” Did THAT just HAPPEN?” Really, in those days, THAT was often the way a “new guy” broke in. There’d be some job that was so late (or so awful) that no experienced artist would touch it, so it would end up in the hands of a rookie. If you could impress as a first-timer under extreme duress, it could lead to more jobs. A sort of a “baptism by fire”.
1st: You worked on both Star Trek and Star Wars. With a licensed project like that, is there an approval process for the character likenesses?
Mark: There was a licensor approval stage for the likenesses on Star Trek, but I wasn’t a part of it. I was never asked to change or revise anything after inking. If anything WAS changed between my inks and publication, they must’ve had someone else do it. But to my eye, I never noticed a SINGLE revision on any of the published STs I inked, not that I spent too much time checking. I had decent photoreference for the Enterprise crew, and I did a LOT of revising on the pencils (in terms of likenesses) BEFORE I inked them at the request of Editor Margaret Clark, but she never asked to see them before the ink stage, she just trusted me to improve them, I guess. Most of that sort of thing was irrelevant on the Dark Horse Star Wars stories I inked, as there were no movie characters IN any of the Tales Of The Jedi miniseries I worked on. The last couple of things I did on the Star Wars ongoing book (around 2000) had Jabba The Hut, Sand people and a few Jedi from the later movies, but no changes were asked of me on those, either.
We had far more stringent approval processes when my wife and I worked on Garfield for Boom Studios in the 2010’s. Steph does the cartoony stuff better than I do, and actually did 99.9% of ALL the Garfield stuff we did, even though my name was on them in the credits. After the first few pages of the first one we did, I never touched another Garfield– outside of inking a page pencilled by George Lane. It was all Steph.
Mark: Outer Limits!! That series (the original) I was a BIG fan of. I guess I’m probably more familiar with ‘Trek, since it was in reruns constantly during my youth. I of course saw it on TV in first- run, but gave up on it halfway through the second season. My wife is the classic Star Wars fan. I walked out of Star Wars in 1977 around where the big skeleton is in the sand due to a fight in the theater and never watched the movie all the way through until sometime in the post-2000s.
1st: After the Image Comics launch, Malibu follows with the Ultraverse, you worked on Mantra and Night Man, how did you like working for Malibu?
Mark: Malibu paid EXTRA if you turned the pages in early(!!), so we ALWAYS turned in the pages ASAP. Mostly, I LIKED working for Malibu, but they DID complain on one story because Mantra needed to wear a new costume that they didn’t TELL me about before I DREW the whole issue . “Do you want to REDRAW all the Mantra figures with the new costume?”, they asked. “No”, I said. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
1st: The entire time you freelanced elsewhere, you continued to work on AC Comics and maintain a day job. How did you balance everything?
Mark: Balance it? I just slept a lot less. Did the work when it needed to be done, and didn’t think much about it. Once I got into a routine of working 19-hour days, I just got used to it. I decided that if I wanted to work full-time on comic books, I should enjoy doing it virtually every waking hour. I decided to ignore the conventional wisdom that “No one can work a PACE like THAT and survive”. I assumed that if I ever got SO much work I couldn’t handle it, I’d just keel over and drop from exhaustion. I never did. I guess I never exceeded my limitations. I started that when I was single, of course. Once I got married, I WONDERED how I could possibly keep it up. I needn’t have, since the woman I married turned out to be a BIGGER comic book nut ( and creative DYNAMO ) than I am. We got married on a Saturday, drove nine hours to Orlando on Sunday; on Monday we worked ten hours in the AC offices, then stayed up ’till 4:00 AM inking Xena, Warrior Princess for Dark Horse. That was our “honeymoon”. Steph and I have worked ’round the clock together both for AC and on freelance stuff for two decades now, and we both still love it. ‘Can’t wait to get up each morning and get back TO it again. On most comic-related disciplines, we overlap. On those we DON’T, if one of us can’t do something, usually the other can. It works out pretty damn good. We did enjoy all of the freelance work we’ve done, too. ‘Haven’t HAD too many freelance assignments in recent years, but we’d certainly be up for more. Anybody out there NEED any comic book art done? We can work at very reasonable rates…
Mark: The idea of creating a structure, A BUILDING that would go up where previously NOTHING had stood before can be awesome, I can see why that field can appeal to some people. It just DIDN’T to me. My heart wasn’t in it. MY role there, by the way, was strictly non-technical, non-creative. I have no education or background in architecture or engineering. My job was strictly in administrative support. At the time I worked there (the late 1980’s) the company was LITERALLY the BIGGEST architectural firm in the state of Wisconsin, so the logistics of support for that many designers was considerable. It was a good job; I took it seriously, and gave it my all, but in the end it was just A JOB.
After four years, I asked about the possibility of any sort of advancement, but there WAS none without an architectural degree. I had no interest in putting in the time and effort required to get one. I decided to redouble my efforts in the comic book field, and informed my brother that once I could line up enough art jobs, I would be leaving his company. It took almost a year; I trained a replacement, and in October of 1989, I left. Never really regretted it. I was single then, with no responsibilities beyond myself. If I hadn’t taken another serious shot at comics books THEN, I might never have had another opportunity. That was just about the time the comic market was really starting to pick up again. I don’t know if ANY period in comic book history (before or since) has been BETTER for artists than that 1989-93 window. If you had even a rough idea of what end of a pencil (or pen) to use, there was likely a company that would pay you at least SOMETHING to do comic book art for them.
1st: You had been with AC Comics for 10 years when you moved to Florida to become the Assistant Editor, how did that position come about?
Mark: When I told AC publisher Bill Black ( in the late summer of 1989) that I was planning to quit the “day job” and jump full-time back into comics. I was just hoping he’d have more freelance art jobs for me to do. To my surprise, Bill said “Y’know, I’d like to EXPAND AC Comics but I don’t know of anyone I can count on to put the kind of time and effort necessary into helping me do it. Would YOU like the job as Assistant Editor at AC Comics?” That sounded GREAT to me. I’d always loved all the artwork I did on the AC books, Bill and I were great friends AND I liked the idea of A REGULAR PAYCHECK instead of having to count 100% on an endless string of freelance gigs to support myself. It sounded like a dream job. Bill wanted me to “test-drive” the experience of working in the office every day, so I came down and did so for a week in February of 1990, found out it would work out fine, and relocated from Wisconsin to sunny FLA. Eleven weeks later.
Mark: Being a pessimist by nature, I was CERTAIN it wouldn’t work, and told my family I’d probably be home in about six weeks. My Mom needled me about THAT line for years. I approached it as a sort of an adventure. I wasn’t expecting much. Who knew it would last?
1st: At its peak, AC Comics had about 25 employees. How big was the office when you moved to Florida?
Mark: Really! That’s interesting. Where are you getting your information?!
1st: It was in one of the trade magazines at the time, it included the freelancers as well as the staff.
Mark: When I moved down, Bill was working out of a converted garage-office. There was Bill, his wife Rebekah, and me. Later, in larger quarters, we added a receptionist/order expediter/color editor and (for a time) still later, an office art and editorial intern (who was Chris Allen, now penciling stuff for Marvel. Chris is another great artist, and very special human being.), and still later, my wife Stephanie as an associate editor. I don’t believe any comic publisher in history has ever turned out as much volume in as high a quality as WE have with such a tiny in-house staff.
1st: In May of 2014 you became the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of AC Comics, was this something that had been in the works for a long time, or did Bill Black step down suddenly?
Mark: Actually, Bill was talking about this for years. He wanted to spend more time with his family and get back to movie making. He’d had a long stretch of having to do EVERY unpleasant, uncreative, dirty job necessary to keep the company running, AND deal with the constant deadlines and stress. He was pretty well fed up with the day-to-day grind by the early 2000’s. He asked me THEN “Would you like to take over running the company?” At first I said no. It felt WRONG. I mean, it was HIS, he created it ALL, he should ALWAYS run it, I felt. I wasn’t really sure I could DO it, either. Over time, he talked about it more. “How?”, I would say. “How can we make it work if YOU’RE not doing everything YOU DO”, I’d say. Steph and I would talk about it, even though I thought it would never happen. She was pretty well involved in EVERY phase of the operation on an “as needed” basis in those years, and she assured me she was ready, willing and able to take on a LOT more work on a regular basis to make the company keep going. (and BOY, has she EVER!!) Eventually, we just figured out a formula and an approach for everything- which was pretty much : whatever I couldn’t do, Steph would. By Spring of 2014, we all decided “It’s NOW or NEVER”, and took the plunge.
Mark: In terms of the creative end, writing and drawing the stories, I edit HIM about as much as HE ever edited ME- which is almost NOT AT ALL. I’d’ve probably become much better if he’d given me more criticism, and told me “NO” more times than he did. If he asked me to change or redo something TEN TIMES in the last forty years, that’s more than I can remember. Plus, everything HE’S working with are HIS CREATIONS. If HE doesn’t know the best possible way to use them, who does? As far as I’m concerned, everything Bill does with AC characters is SOLID, 100% 24-CARAT GOLD.
Bill does pretty much what he wants, except the sort of things that used to drive us crazy. Bill would change the size of the book, add or subtract pages, change the logo, change the price, change the characters costumes, change the names of the books–lots of things that had absolutely nothing to do with the creative or editorial material–we’re keeping all of that consistent!
1st: FemForce is one of the longest-running independent comic book series in the world and the longest-running female heroine super team of all time. Do you think FemForce gets the respect it deserves?
Mark: The knee-jerk reaction to that question is “no”. Doesn’t EVERYONE feel that way? If you’d asked Stan Lee that in regards to Marvel, a year or two ago, wouldn’t he have probably said “no”, as well? I dunno. When I was younger, I guess it bothered me more. I was more “Hey, look-look here- look at all this COOL STUFF we’re doing at AC.” Now, I don’t care that much. At this point, I’ve got QUITE a body of work to look back on; literally thousands of pages of comics. I’m proud of the work I’ve done on it.
If it satisfies me and Steph; if Bill is happy with it, and we have enough readers who like it to keep us scraping along, who needs respect? Maybe I’d appreciate a bit more of it from my peers, the people who KNOW what it takes to do this stuff. I remember running into Jerry Ordway at a Chicago ComicCom in 1999.( Jerry is another Milwaukee guy. In the early ’80’s, he, Pat Broderick and Mike Machlan opened a studio in Milwaukee, about 15 minutes from where I lived. He called me out of the blue, introduced himself and invited me up to the studio to meet everybody. They were kind of looking for an assistant to work there and help out on the various comic book jobs they were doing at the time. Foolishly, I turned it down. But I got to be friends with them, and would go up there to hang out for an afternoon every few months, and came to the parties they’d throw there. Jerry is a really good guy- and a fantastic artist. If there is ONE guy working in comics today I wish I could draw like, it’d be Jerry Ordway. And I could’ve LEARNED HOW TO- but passed on it. Jerry moved to the New York area a few years before I left Milwaukee, and I’ve only seen him at comic book shows maybe 3-4 times over the last… Good Lord, is it 35 YEARS!?) Anyway, after catching up on old times, Jerry said to me: ” So, you LIKE being a sort of a UTILITY INFIELDER there at AC Comics, doing a LITTLE BIT of EVERYTHING?” And I thought- “Really? is THAT how you see what I do there?” Or Bob McLeod. Bill ran into McLeod at an Orlando convention around 2001 or 2002. He looked at Bill and actually asked him “So, what do you DO these days, Bill?” Bill happened to be wearing a sport jacket and dress slacks that day (Which is pretty DRESSED UP for Bill; a man for who the term “casual dress” may have been coined. I think maybe Bill was supposed to be on a panel that day, or appearing on-camera in a scene he planned to film at the show for one of his movies.), so Bill decides to put Bob on a little bit, and tells McLeod “I’m a MORTICIAN now.” Bill was flabbergasted that McLeod took him seriously. He kept the gag up for awhile, and they parted without McLeod ever catching on. Or, here’s another incident- with Erik Larsen. We (Steph and I ) used to go up annually to the Chicago ComicCon throughout the early 2000’s. It was a good excuse every summer to go to Milwaukee to visit my family, then drive to the show for a day and do some business. At one point, another “annual event” at the show for us every year was to go out to dinner after the show on Saturday night with a small group of friends- Andrew Pepoy, Maggie Thompson, Erik Larsen, and sometimes another industry friend or two. Lots of laughs, lots of comics talk, lots of fun. One year, after we had been doing this at least 3-4 years running, Erik looks at me and says. “Do YOU still…DO ANYTHING in comics?” And THIS was from three guys who STARTED with AC Comics. THIS we got from our FRIENDS!!
Mark: We’ve all gotten better at doing things right.. that’s the Reader’s Digest answer- and it’s true. Beyond that, I feel like we’ve developed the characters, our main cast of Ms. Victory, She-Cat, Nightveil, Synn, Stardust and Tara. When the book started- without any real thought or plan that it would last for any length of time, I think we all looked at it strictly from the visual standpoint- hot chicks in tight, skimpy costumes -THAT’LL SELL IT. In the earliest days, it probably did. But even though we all came to this as artists first, we’re all WAY TOO INTO stories, as well. We couldn’t keep it up unless we created characters and told stories that interested US, so that’s the way the book went. I now feel it’s a lot more character and story driven and the fan mail we get- it’s ALL about the stories, that’s what the readers seem to buy it for now.
Mark: Glamorous, empowered super-women charting their own course through fantastic adventures told in a traditional comic book style. ( and virtually EVERY ISSUE adheres to the Bechdel test, without us even TRYING to do so!!)
1st: What has made FemForce such an enduring fixture in the comic market?
Mark: I would say a combination of the dedication and skill of the creators, and the consistency and depth of the characters.
Mark: The jury is still out, as they say. We’re hanging in pretty well, but it remains to be seen how the whole COVID-19 industry shut-down will affect things.
1st: Is Superbabes just another version of FemForce or will you also focus on individual characters?
Mark: The most accurate response to that is “yes, and yes.” Currently, Bill is back working on the Femforce ongoing title with Eric Coile doing pencils and Stephanie and I are doing Superbabes. As always, we’ll have some new talents showing up as well!
Mark: 21st Centurions is my wife Stephanie’s book. She writes draws, colors and letters it. It’s about a team of teen/twenty-something superheroes. People love it when they see it, but we can’t get a break promoting it. 21st Centurions #2 was the last book we shipped to Diamond before the COVID-19 hit. Gotta love the timing. The first two were re-edited versions of issues Steph self-published under here Centurion Premiere imprint a few years ago, but the third issue (out in three months, if Diamond gets back up to speed in time) will be an all-new, never-before-seen continuation from there. It’s pretty cool. In some ways, it has similarities to Femforce (well, since it’s produced by some of the people who DO FF, how could it NOT), but in others it’s VERY different. Steph being considerably younger than the rest of us, she came of age affected by very different cultural sensibilities. If Femforce is more traditional and Golden/Silver Age-ish, I think 21st Centurions is more Bronze/Modern Age.
Mark: Well, we look at what’s available (both in terms of rights, and physical copies to work from), what other companies have (or haven’t) reprinted, and what we think may be interesting. We tend to put stronger single-theme ideas into Golden Age Greats Spotlight, and use more of an anthology approach in Men of Mystery, although sometimes those “anthologies” are themed- by original publisher (like Quality Comics, Nedor/Standard, Fiction House or Fox), or even gender, like our “Women of Mystery” MOM issues.
Mark: No. Virtually every strip is a different, unique situation. Some stories are not under copyright or trademark protection, some rights deals were negotiated with the ORIGINAL PUBLISHERS back in the 1980’s when some of those industry giants were still alive, and in some cases (like NYOKA) the characters were purchased outright from previous creators or owners. The term “public domain” is bandied about quite a bit, on the Internet and elsewhere; often in conjunction with the modifier “presumed”. That word “presumed” can leave an individual in a VERY volatile position. In dealing with the Patent And Trademark Office in the early ’90’s, they explained to me that “in the public domain” is a legal status that can only accurately be conferred in a court of law. Because of that, I don’t like to use that term. Don’t want to get anyone into any sort of trouble. It would really be better if a LOT of people (who don’t really know what they are TALKING about) would follow that policy. The important fact to impart is this: the black-and-white versions of the vintage stories we present ALL have enough changes from the color, printed versions we start with to qualify for a copyright of their own, so ALL of our reprint versions (unless otherwise noted) are proprietary to AC Comics.
Mark: Well, we have this magic wand, and we point it at a ragged, ratty old Golden Age comic book, and–you don’t REALLY think that, after spending FOUR DECADES developing a process that leaves us with a result BETTER than anyone who tries this, a process completely proprietary to AC, that we’re going to explain that all, and give it away? Not gonna DO it.
1st: Is there anything else going on at AC Comics that we should know about?
Mark: Our online website at www.accomics.com has stayed open keeping fans informed with official AC Comics news and selling back issues all through the Coronavirus crisis. We want to thank fans for their support. We don’t sell new books on the site until they’ve gone through comic shops and we’ve filled our distributor reorders. This leads to a lot of our newer color comics being out of stock on the webstore. We encourage everyone to order AC Comics books at their local comic shops once they open back up.
Well, there are also the live-action MOVIES that Bill makes featuring AC Comics characters, but THAT is probably an interview that you should do with Bill himself. Thanks, Rik; for the opportunity to share some “inside” stories about AC Comics and my professional life.
Thank you for 40 years of service to the FemForce fans, I have enjoyed your work over the years, I’ve been following your work since Bill Black’s Fun Comics #4.