I interviewed writer/artist Jeff Parker in April of 2004 for my Buffy Post Mortem project as he was the illustrator for a Jane Espenson penned story from the Tales Of The Vampires mini-series that was running at that time. I was a big fan of Jeff’s since I had read and enjoyed his Interman original graphic novel and had the pleasure of interviewing him after the release of that book for Silver Bullet Comicbooks. He was a collaborative subject and one of the nicest guys I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with as a comics jouorno.
Although a skilled draftsman, Jeff is much better known as a writer these days having done amazing work on several books for Marvel and DC including Agents of Atlas, Thunderbolts, and Future Quest. He has a great writer’s voice but I’ve always loved and appreciated his artwork and do miss seeing it from time to time. His work on “Dust Bowl” was exceptional and I was very happy to spotlight it, and Jeff, on the website at the time.
And for the record, I am also still waiing for that Interman sequel but I don’t think it’s a going concern anymore.
When Jeff Parker got the call to contribute artwork to Dark Horse’s Tales of the Vampires mini-series, he was a relative newcomer to the Slayerverse, not to mention horror books. Up until recently Parker was known primarily for the work he’d done on his self-published action/adventure album, The Interman, which owed more to the works of Doug Wildey (Jonny Quest) and Robert Ludlum (The Bourne Identity) than anything you’d see in the dark corners of Buffy’s world. Jeff was hand-picked by editor Scott Allie and fan-favourite writer Jane Espenson to depict the desolate, Depression era world of “Dust Bowl”.
Still, I couldn’t have thought of an artist more suited to the task. Jeff brought a wonderful look and tone to the story and it comes as no surprise that he was hand-picked for the job by editor Scott Allie and writer Jane Espenson. With each page he literally brings the period to life through his use of muted tones combined with his sketchy but solid linework. You get thirsty just looking at them (for water, that is, not blood).
I had the opportunity to talk to Jeff about his experiences on the project, working with Jane Espenson and what’s next for his own character, The Interman.
MIKE JOZIC: So, give me the scoop on how you got roped into doing the artwork for a Jane Espenson vampire story?
JEFF PARKER: Editor Scott Allie kept mentioning in a vague way that he had something that I should draw, and then finally told me about the story- when he got good and ready! In working with the Buffy/Angel writers he’s very sensitive to how they want to see their stories done, and he gave Jane the link to my website so she could poke around and get a sense of my work. Once Jane gave me the thumbs up, I got crackin’.
JOZIC: And what would you say your experience working on Tales of the Vampires was like overall?
PARKER: This is just really going to be me talking about Scott Allie, but I have to say that was the most back-and-forth experience I’ve ever had with an editor. He really wanted that story to be special, and we deliberated over roughs, pencils, everything. I didn’t mind at all, in fact it’s really nice to see an editor so concerned with storytelling and quality.
JOZIC: Were you working within certain set parameters on the story as far as your artwork was concerned – as in they wanted a certain look – or were you given free rein to interpret Jane’s words into pictures?
PARKER: The script called for a painterly kind of feel – an all warm palette, and Jane specifically pointed to the kind of work in my sketchbook section as what she thought would work best. And then I still had a lot of room to assert myself artistically. I wanted to try stuff I hadn’t done, like scan in textured papers to incorporate with the coloring and get that real dusty, earthy feel. It really helped me push myself and expand what I do.
JOZIC: Lately you’ve become so associated with your Interman graphic novel that I wondered if you were trying to do something that looked and read very differently from the action/adventure style of that story?
PARKER: Really, I just always try to draw to suit the mood and feel of a story. This was the first horror story I’ve been asked to do, so it was finally a chance to “direct” that kind of story. While big sharp blacks tend to suit action/adventure stories, this one I felt called for more moody atmosphere. So you’ll see that I used a lot of ink wash to model forms here. The sparse landscape also was perfect for more open, Kubrick-style compositions.
JOZIC: Could you define Kubrick-style compositions? You’re obviously talking about Stanley Kubrick, but what was it about his compositions in particular you incorporated into your work?
PARKER: Kubrick uses space well and eliminates extraneous detail. Often subjects will be centered, and the result is very iconic imagery. That’s why you find so many good stills from Kubrick films, pictures that really burn into your head.
JOZIC: Were you a fan of the show and/or Jane’s work prior to “Dust Bowl”?
PARKER: It’s funny, for years I didn’t watch Buffy even though all my friends, even non-comics people, loved it. I just thought I’d missed too much continuity to jump in. And then the last few months of working on Interman were so packed with me preparing and coloring files, making art changes, I needed to decompress in a major way. FX had just started rerunning all the previous seasons of the show, so my big break time became the block when they showed two episodes back to back. Buffy became very important to my sanity! Later I realized Jane had written many of my favorite episodes.
JOZIC: Did you get any feedback from Jane at the time for your work on “Dust Bowl”?
PARKER: Not directly, but I hear she was very happy with it. The only change she ever asked for was to make the vampiric mother look more sympathetic in the scene in the kitchen when she changes the son. I had a really cool vampire face that I had to tone down!
It’s comics, I’m sure I’ll have to draw a vampire woman again at some point, then I can use that face.
JOZIC: Has it been an interesting experience for you doing a Buffy story from the vampire’s viewpoint?
PARKER: Yes, especially thanks to the way Jane wrote it. Most writers would have given you hackneyed stuff like, “I am now animal, I live for the hunt… must have blood, blah-blah-blahh…” She really put serious thought into the creation of a vampire, and how that could have realistically played out in the Midwest Dust Bowl period. Which is more horrifying because you can put yourself in the shoes of the main character easily.
JOZIC: The pages are so evocative of that Depression period. Did you do a lot of research for the story or was it pretty straightforward stuff?
PARKER: Oh yeah, I always research whenever there’s a real world setting – I enjoy it. That’s what makes a story convincing.
JOZIC: Was it kind of a bonus that you didn’t have to wrestle with doing likenesses, or do you wish you had the opportunity to illustrate one or more of the characters from the series?
PARKER: It’s nice, but I wouldn’t have minded doing some likenesses. One nice thing about the Buffy cast is that they are all over the Internet. I could find any angle I’d ever need on any of them!
JOZIC: Are you hoping to do more Buffy work in the future or was this pretty much a one-shot gig for you?
PARKER: I hadn’t planned on it, but to get back to your previous question, I’d enjoy doing something based around Giles. If they ever decided to do a Ripper comic, I could get into that.
JOZIC: No kidding. Let’s hope Scott Allie is reading this and knock on wood.
I noticed that you did your own colouring on “Dust Bowl”. Was that a nice change for you, creatively?
PARKER: Yes, and it seems to have set a precedent. Lately I’m coloring everything I’ve drawn, which as a control freak, I appreciate.
I’m exaggerating about the control thing.
You are going to let me edit this interview aren’t you…?
JOZIC: Are there any upcoming projects leading up to Interman‘s sequel?
PARKER: I’ve illustrated a really neat Batman short, but I have no idea when that prints [It hit store shelves April 6th – ed.]. I’m also writing/drawing/coloring a big story for Dark Horse’s The Escapist anthology. I’m very proud of this one so far, I can’t wait to see what readers think of it. And later this year there will be an Interman Zero, which features the main three characters in their own short stories. Tomm Coker and Steve Lieber are helping me with art duties on that, bless ’em. And odd covers/pinups here and there. Also look on the Spiderman 2 DVD for a Spidey by me.
JOZIC: To what extent are Tomm and Steve helping you with the art on Interman Zero?
PARKER: I’m writing 3 stories and drawing the one about Van Meach myself. Tomm is doing the story about May, and Steve is working on the one with Outcault. For Tomm this will be a place to show how he can do adventure, outside and in broad daylight, which isn’t the kind of story he’s usually given. Steve will be showing us how one of the main characters became the hired killer we know and love today.
JOZIC: What format will Zero take – a standard comic book one-shot, mini or another album?
PARKER: It’ll be a 32 page one shot. The next volume will take a while, so I wanted to have something that could come out sooner, and introduce the world to readers who may not want to buy a whole graphic novel without a test run. And readers at comic shows kept asking if those characters might come back in their own stories.
JOZIC: And how about the Interman movie? Has there been any forward momentum on that front?
PARKER: There’s all kinds of wackiness related to that, but I can’t talk about it. Sorry!