Walter Simonson’s interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on June 6, 2019
Walter Simonson is one of those comic book greats that don’t get enough credit in the business and that is a shame. He is not only one of the most influential artists in the medium, but he is also a very talented and capable writer whose runs in characters and franchises like Thor, X-Factor and even his underrated work on Orion should be regarded with the highest of respect.
I had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Simonson and we discussed the most important points of his career and what it means to him to work in an industry that he loves and he’s so passionate about.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Walter. Glad to have you here. I wanted to start with a very broad question: What makes an artist, according to you?
I don’t have a fast answer for that question. But I will say that it has something to do with being able to communicate with people in some form, whether it’s writing or drawing or painting or music or dance or whatever and investing the work with meaning that brings your audience a degree of shared enlightenment. (I might have a different answer tomorrow! J )
And what made the comic medium so appealing to you?
I love telling stories; I love drawing pictures. I can work in comics and get paid for doing both. 😉
You started to become a more known artist with your work with Archie Goodwin in Manhunter. How was it to work with Archie and how did he influence you in your career?
Working with Archie was an education. I don’t think there’s been a better writer/artist/editor in the comics business in my experience. I learned a lot about both writing and visual storytelling from Archie, lessons that have stayed with me for my entire career.
You’re obviously more known for your work on Thor, and you have often mentioned that he was one of your favorite comic book characters even before working with him. What was so appealing about the character?
I loved stories about mythology when I was a child and first discovered them. I read tales from Norse mythology, but also stories from Greek and Roman mythology, whatever I could find really. The Norse myths were my favorites, maybe because they have such a fatalistic ending. Or maybe because I have family in Norway and Sweden. But when I discovered Marvel Comics Thor in the old Journey into Mystery title, I was completely enchanted. I didn’t care that the comic did not entirely match up with myths. I just thought it was so cool that there was a comic book about Thor, based on Norse mythology.
Your run injected new life into the character and his world. How did you approach the book and the character to revitalize it for the 80s?
I was heavily influenced by elements of Stan and jack’s run on Journey into Mystery/Thor. They did a lovey job of intermixing fantasy and SF elements in their stories, as well as continually introducing new characters and new situations almost every issue. I didn’t want to copy what they had done in the book, but I did want to emulate it, and that’s what I tried to do. One of the best lessons I got from their work (and not just on Thor but all through Marvel’s comics) was that you can do anything as long as you keep a straight face. By that, I mean that you never break faith with your readers.
X-Factor was another big book in your career and you did it with your wife, Louise. Does it have an impact to work with your significant other on the way you do things in comics?
I don’t know exactly. When we work together, Weezie and I are pretty much on the same page all the time. It’s a little like having half a brain each and when we work together, we get to have one complete brain between us. It’s always a treat. J
Another thing that is often mentioned is that the quality of the first X-Factor issues was a bit uneven and both Louise and you improved the book as a whole. What was your creative goal while working with X-Factor?
It was the same as it always is working in comics. You want to tell a good story, well drawn. It’s really not more complicated than that.
I often say that your work with Orion is often overlooked and it’s easily some of the best that you have done throughout your career. How was it to work with that character?
It was great. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World work is some of my favorite Kirby work, and it was a real pleasure for me to be able to play in that particular sandbox with Jack’s characters and concepts. As with Thor earlier, I tried to emulate what Jack had done without trying to copy it. I wanted to use the characters and concepts Jack had created, but try to tell stories with them that didn’t feel as though they’d been told before.
One interesting part of your career was your work with Michael Moorcock’s Elric character. What is the difference between working with a comic book character like Thor or Orion and one that is mostly down on Literature like Elric?
It wasn’t so different. I was working with stories and scripts Mike had written. He had worked in comics in the UK very early in his career when he was still a teenager, I believe. He understood what was needed for comics writing and gave me all kinds of fabulous things to draw. I was already familiar with the character. I had read the original Elric stories when they were published by Lancer Books in the U.S. back in the mid-1960s. Loved them then, so working with Mike on the character was a blast. He gave me some pretty complicated visual ideas and I gave him some pretty complicated visualizations. J
And as a final question: looking back on your career, of what are you most proud of?
Still being able to get work after all this time. J
Thank you once again for doing this, Walter. It was a pleasure.
Mine as well. Thanks.