By Jarrod Jones. AfterShock Comics has ushered in a new era for creator-owned publishing, and its success is largely due to the chutzpah and good nature of its Chief Creative Officer Joe Pruett, and its Editor-in-Chief, Mike Marts. With top-notch comics featuring incredible talent — like American Monster with Juan Doe and Brian Azzarello, Replica with Andy Clarke and Paul Jenkins, and inSEXts with Ariela Kristantina and Marguerite Bennett — AfterShock has proven in its first year that it is a force to be reckoned with.
Mike Marts sat down with me on a fine Saturday afternoon in Chicago to discuss his day-to-day life with AfterShock, why David Fincher ought to direct Star Wars, and the hardest day of work he ever had.
1. Describe an average day in the life for Mr. Mike Marts.
An average day for me as Editor-in-Chief of AfterShock Comics: after waking up, getting myself something to eat, I’ll almost immediately sit down and look at all the emails that came in overnight. Chances are I’ll have already looked at them before I went to bed. [Laughs] It’s kinda like, plowing through the emails, assessing what’s happening for the day, figure out what my calls are gonna be… what tasks I have. It can range from assembling the next month’s worth of covers, or trying to recruit new top talent, or some kinda financial decision for one of the books… checking in on deadlines for all the creators, writers, artists.
I usually pop out for a long walk and a coffee around 11, and that’s usually when Joe Pruett and I do our one-on-one for the day. We talk everyday. We assess what needs we have, what things we haven’t accomplished yet, certain tasks we have to follow up on — and that runs from everything to talent to books to design to dimensions to whatever. Depending on the day of the week, I have a weekly creative call, a weekly digital call, and a weekly business call with the rest of the members of the AfterShock team. And if it’s a Friday, we’re usually getting comics to the printer. Last minute assembling, and talking with the designer — getting books out to the printer and then to comiXology. So Friday afternoons are usually a bit of a rush.
So you’re a busy guy.
I’m a busy guy. [Laughs] I’ve learned to bend space and time on Friday afternoons, it’s true. [Laughs]
2. Variant covers — yes or no?
Yeah. Having worked at Marvel, where we had 50+ covers for The Death of Wolverine #1 — for me, that was a bit too much. I mean, they certainly helped sell the book, and it was a lot of fun working with the different artists, but I feel sometimes there’s too much done in the variant cover market. I think with #1 issues, it’s special to offer something extra, and with AfterShock we’ve had high-end artists like Dave Johnson, Cully Hamner, John Cassaday, and Darwyn Cooke — all these guys doing these great variant covers for us. That’s something special. That’s something extra to offer, but we try not to go overboard.
Just like our entire line, we try to keep things tight, make sure that whoever wants something from us is able to get it with whatever money they have in their pocket.
That Darwyn Cooke variant [for ‘Super Zero’] was very inspired, and perhaps rather easy to do?
That was great. And actually, that was our first variant cover to come in. Darwyn got that one in to us first, and it kinda set the tone for the rest of our variant cover program and the kind of quality artwork we expect to come in.
3. Creator you’d love to see come to AfterShock?
Um… [pauses] Wow, that’s great. Y’know, I’ve worked with Grant Morrison so much in my career, and he’s one of those guys who really makes an editor’s life easy. When you get a script from him, and it’s brilliant from Page One to Page Twenty…
You sit back and enjoy the ride.
Yeah. And every project he does is so unique and so different… I would love to have him come in and do something for us. I think his approach to story and approach to character is unparalleled. Having him on the AfterShock team would be a real gift.
Then you would have come full circle. You would have scored a Vertigo bingo at that point.
4. Your favorite movie, please.
The Empire Strikes Back, hands down. I think it’s the best movie ever made. And not just because I’m a Star Wars fan and it’s the best of the bunch, but because it’s a perfect movie from start to finish. It’s a perfect sequel, and it’s a perfect tee-up for the conclusion of the trilogy.
5. Who was the most effective Robin for Gotham City: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, or Damian Wayne?
Tim Drake. Of all the Robins — not equally, but I do love them all — Tim Drake’s heart was always in the right place. Not only with his duties with Batman, or his loyalties with Bruce Wayne and Batman, but for all of Gotham City. The others took steps here and there, and sometimes they went astray, but I think that Tim’s focus and Tim’s heart were always there. I think he meant the most and still means the most to Gotham City.
6. Mike Marts is trapped under deadline. What does he do to relax?
[Chuckles] Usually putting on music helps me, whether it’s a random shuffle on iTunes, or if it’s a Pandora station music is always gonna relax me. Beyond that, I’ve really come to admire the theraputic feeling of a good walk.
Yeah. Yup. [Laughs]
7. Describe the hardest day of work you ever had.
One of the tough spots an editor can get in is that if he or she is a company person — whether you’re working for Marvel, DC, or AfterShock — you’re getting paid by this company, and the interests of the company should be first and foremost in every action that you do. At the same time, you’re the advocate for the creators, and you’re fighting for them. You’re helping their vision become reality on the printed page. Most of the time that works well and duties can synchronize, but on occasion the needs of the creator will be put up against the needs of the company. As the editor, you’re stuck in the middle.
The trick is not to get stuck but figuring out good solutions, where both the creator and the company can compromise and end up happy.
It takes diplomacy.
It does. It takes patience, it takes diplomacy. I know that my toughest day on the job involved working with a creator who is near and dear to me, whose vision I really had faith in and believed in. But it was butting up against a core principle of the company. That was a very difficult battle to emerge from unscathed. There were some bruised egos and hurt feelings on both sides, but in the end we were able to get through it. I’m gonna protect the names of those involved —
I would almost insist upon it.
— but yeah. That was the toughest day.
8. Favorite album of all time.
“Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails. Though Trent Reznor never called it a “concept album”, I think you end up experiencing every single emotion that a human can feel in that album. From pain to rage to happiness to triumph to sexuality — there is everything in that album. It’s a beautiful musical piece from start to finish. I could listen to that any day of the week.
9. Who is your favorite X-Man?
It’s changed throughout the years. As a kid it was Nightcrawler. When I was a teenager it was probably Wolverine. [Laughs] In my adult life, when I started working on the books, it had to be Scott Summers. Cyclops has been there for the ride longer than anyone, and seeing all his highs and lows — the things he’s had to endure to this day — he still believes what he’s doing is the right thing, and still fights for Xavier’s dream to become a reality… he’s had, y’know, a tough life.
10. Following that: It was a surreal thing to watch Scott pair up with the likes of Emma Frost and Erik Lensherr, forming his own school and the like — did you like that bit?
I did! The thing with those characters is they’re all so great and so varied and also unique — and that’s part of the fun of the X-Men, to see what kind of unique situations can arise from these great characters. Watching Scott pair up with Emma, twenty years ago you’d say “there’s no way that would ever happen!” And yet you get so much story mileage out of things like that.
11. Best comic-to-movie adaptation?
Does The Dark Knight count?
I mean, it’s not a literal adaptation, but to me, that’s the best comic movie to me. Hands down. The first Avengers movie was really good, the second Captain America movie was really good, the first couple of X-Men movies were really good, but… The Dark Knight? You can’t touch it.
12. In that case, what is the WORST comic-to-movie adaptation?
That first Punisher movie was really terrible.
That Dolph Lundgren one?
Okay, the second Punisher movie. [Laughs] The first Marvel Punisher movie, with Travolta and Thomas Jane was kind of a real disappointment.
I went back to the Marvel Knights Ennis/Dillon run after that movie, the one that [‘Punisher’] cribbed liberally from, and I didn’t understand — “where did THAT come from?” I didn’t get it.
Yeah. There are probably a few others that I haven’t seen.
You didn’t see ‘War Zone’, did you?
Yeah. That’s one.
13. What comic do you hope NEVER sees a film adaptation?
[Pauses] Well, I really wish From Hell had never been made into a film. But it already has, so I can’t really say that. But there’s something about Alan Moore stories… I’d have to go with The Killing Joke. It’s such a good story — it would be a short movie, I think.
14. Do you watch ‘Doctor Who’?
I’ve only watched a few episodes. I wanted to get on board. I’m a purist; I wanted to get started at the very beginning, so I started with the Chris Eccleston ones. I dug it a little bit, but I couldn’t really get into it. After that, a good friend of mine, she made me watch a few of the David Tennant ones, and I thought those were dynamite — the ones that I saw. But I’m not a hardcore fan. Maybe when I’ve got more time on my hands.
15. Who would you like to see direct a new Star Wars film?
Yeah, David Fincher. I really do. He could do the type of film that would be similar to the vibe of Empire Strikes Back, where Irvin Kirshner came in and added some really dark elements to it. But the characters, the humor, they continued to shine through. I think Fincher could do something like that, and do it really well.
I think Fincher could make a stunning-looking Star Wars film. His aesthetic, where he — he’s worked with Trent Reznor to great effect, and his whole filmography is daunting, to say the least.
I could see him doing an Empire. But a ‘New Hope’ or a ‘Force Awakens’?
No. I think it requires a certain type of accessibility, a certain type of director. J.J. Abrams is a great ground-floor filmmaker — he’s made some of the best pilots in TV history — he knows how to grasp on to the core concepts of Star Wars or Star Trek. So for The Force Awakens, I think J.J. Abrams was the perfect choice. But I think that Fincher would do something cool. Maybe a Boba Fett film.
A Boba Fett film?
You’ve been rattling this around in your brain for a while?
Oh, it’d be great. [Laughs]
16. Could there ever be hope for a cohesive, lived-in, creator-owned comic book universe?
I think it’s tricky. I don’t know that it would be an easy thing to do. And a lot of it comes down to the logistics of… when you have a creator-owned project, there are a lot of deals in place that are specific to every single creator. So when you have a lot of those unique deals going into a shared pot — it could potentially get messy. Even with the best intentions, the best plan from the get-go, y’know, three, five years from that those same people may not be in those same positions, either in the company or even on a creative level. Those kind of good intentions could dissipate, in my mind. Me, personally, I don’t see it happening.
17. Rye, bourbon, or scotch?
[Laughs] Scotch. Whiskey is something that I’ve been introduced to in the last few years, by the same person who introduced me to Doctor Who. Uh… not at the same time [Laughs]
So I got a taste for whiskey, and I got my first real bottle of scotch; it was a gift from Marc Andreyko.
Yes! Yeah, it was. Oh, it was very good stuff. So, of those three, scotch would be my choice.
18. I’ve been spit-balling this idea around in my head that I may or may not pitch to Marvel some day: ‘Howard the Duck’ for 2019, written by Vince Gilligan (and Chip Zdarsky, of course), starring Bob Odenkirk. Good idea, or GREAT idea?
[Laughs] Oh, you’ve got my money already. [Laughs] Yeah, I’m on board.
19. Favorite Vertigo title, ever.
Y’know… the easy pick would be Preacher, but I would have never gotten to Preacher if it wasn’t for Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s run on Hellblazer. And, y’know, Hellblazer was a book that was around before Vertigo got started — I think it was issue #61 or #63 when Vertigo started. Garth and Steve had a really long run, and it was something about the way they wrote, drew, and breathed life into John Constantine… he was my favorite comic character for three or four years. The storylines and the characters during that run… it’s hard to measure up to that.
20. Flight, invulnerability, or heat vision?
I want to say ‘flight’, but it would probably be invulnerability. Nothing could stop me.
21. Last question. If Mike Marts ever went on to be or do anything else, what would it be?
I love what I do. I don’t see myself really doing anything different. I love creating comics, I love creating story, I enjoy working with talent. And I think the only other area where I could bring those three things together would be in a TV writer’s room. That would be fun. I don’t know if it would be something I could do full time or long-term, but it would be similar enough to my current duties that I think that would be fun.