Marc Silvestri: I Hope My Best Is Still Ahead
Interview conducted by Spiros Evangelos Armenis
Edited by Dimitris Sakaridis
Without a doubt, Marc Silvestri is one of the most successful creators in mainstream American comics. For the last twenty years, he's had a steady presence in every "fan-favorite pencillers" list and is surely one of the select few artists who can dramatically increase the sales of any title by power of name alone.
He was one of the founding fathers of Image Comics and in a very short time he managed to create his own company/studio, Top Cow, which functioned as a "school", giving birth to such mainstays as Michael Turner, David Finch and Michael Choi. Today, Top Cow is considered one of the strongest "small publishers" and Marc has to keep a balance between the various roles of the businessman, the editor, the mentor for blossoming creators and, of course, the artist (when time allows). And that's on a daily basis!
In the interview that follows, he doesn't hesitate to speak about everyone and everything, giving a very thorough overview of his career so far, while trying to interpret the various shifts and bumps the comics industry and artform took in the last two decades.
Marc Silvestri: I fell into comics, literally, because it seemed like an easy gig. Draw all day, work from home, get paid... What could be easier than that? Boy, was I wrong! Seriously, even though I wasn't a big comic fan growing up, I loved to draw. It was my cousin Fred who was into comics, along with my brother, that prodded me into trying out.
Once I figured out you had to actually be smart to be a doctor or architect, comics became my sudden destiny!
SEA: Do you have any formal training, like going to an art school?
Marc Silvestri: I don't have any formal training mostly because my real interest in art as a career developed late, but I do recommend it. That said, comic work is a very specific art form and requires a unique skill set you won't find in any art school. That's why having a studio environment like Top Cow is so valuable. It's not just about drawing pretty pictures, it's about telling compelling stories.
SEA: Are you satisfied with your work so far? Do you believe you have a successful career?
Marc Silvestri: An artist of any kind should never be truly satisfied with the work. If you are, you'll cease challenging yourself and both you and the work will suffer. I can look at a piece I've done and feel I did the best I could and feel good about it and hope others get something from It, but I'm always striving to get better in some way.
Yes, I've been very fortunate that my career has been successful and I'll always be thankful.
SEA: What do you think are the highlights of your career?
Marc Silvestri: Top Cow as a company -and the things we've accomplished- has been the biggest. TV shows, Anime, video games, toys, developing new talent, all these things that I've been able to have fun with would not have been possible without Top Cow and the amazing and dedicated people who have been part of it! Building something like Top Cow has been an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. Artistically, I feel THE NEW X-MEN I did with Grant Morrison was my best comic work, so that was a highlight as well. Being able to work with some of the most talented creators in the business is an ongoing highlight that I hope will continue throughout my career.
SEA: What was your first professional comics work and how did you get the gig?
Marc Silvestri: Doing anthology books for DC Comics. I was hired through a new talent search, worked there for a year and then moved over to Marvel.
SEA: Let's talk about your early days at Marvel. You first made an impression on the public as an artist for UNCANNY X-MEN, with Chris Claremont as a writer. What was your working experience like in those days? Was Chris a good collaborator? Did you have any word at all, as far as the plot went?
Marc Silvestri: It was a great experience, but also very intimidating. Back in the 80's, UNCANNY X-MEN was the Holy Grail of comics and Chris was THE writer to work with. I wanted to do the best for him and the fans. I think it wound up tightening me up a little. I didn't really start to cut loose till later. I didn't do much contributing till I started Top Cow, but collaborating quickly became a favorite part of the process.
SEA: The "Inferno" storyline in UNCANNY X-MEN was for many fans the artistic highlight of your career. There are many people (and some of them work for COMICDOM, I might add) who strongly and passionately believe that "Mark Silvestri's best work was in his final issues on UNCANNY". Do you think your artwork has changed much through the years?
Marc Silvestri: I feel my work, although identifiable as "mine" throughout the years, has evolved and become stronger. I hope my best is still ahead. When I feel it's not, it may be time to move on to other things.
SEA: What made you leave Marvel Comics? We all know, sort of, the background of "the creation of Image", but the details are a little blurry. Who had the idea in the first place? How many secret meetings did you have, before finally deciding to resign?
Marc Silvestri: I believe it was Todd (McFarlane) and Rob Liefeld who got the ball rolling. Rob was already dipping his toe in the independent arena when we all formed what became image. There weren't a lot of secret meetings, as it all happened pretty fast. Todd sat down with me in New York, while I was visiting Marvel, and I think I said "yes" before he even said five words! Kind of a "You had me at hello" moment.
At that time I was pretty burnt out from the daily grind of comics and was looking for something to re-energize me. The timing couldn't have been better. I was ready for something new and big. At the time it didn't get much newer and bigger than Image.
SEA: How did Marvel react to your decision at first? Did you get any death threats or anything?
Marc Silvestri: I was very respectful of Marvel and the editors I was working with. I was under contract and followed the simple rules of getting out and fulfilled my contractual obligations. Because of that I was still finishing WOLVERINE when everyone else was well into their Image stuff. I had some catching up to do! Also, Marvel probably felt pretty confident we were going to fail and would be crawling back in 6 months, anyway. To the credit of the editors I worked with -specifically Bob Harras- I was never made to feel like I wouldn't be welcomed back.
SEA: What were the "qualifications" someone needed to have, in order to be invited to what at the time seemed like a pretty exclusive club?
Marc Silvestri: Just the desire to take a risk. Risk will always lead somewhere. It may lead to something great or something disastrous, but it will always lead to something and that something will create change. People have a tendency to fear change. Unfortunately, they often realize too late that change should be embraced.
We were surprised, actually, how difficult it was to get more people on board. I think a lot of creators were afraid of reprisals that never came. Plus, I'm sure some thought that with us out of the way, there were new openings at some of Marvel's bigger books! There are probably a few people that didn't take us up on the offer back then that are pissed we're still around!
SEA: Did you really believe that Image could beat the "Big Two"?
Marc Silvestri: When the numbers started coming in, we knew we were gonna scare them, but I don't think any of us thought we would overtake their market share. I remember having several conversations with Jim Lee about when we thought the market bubble would burst. So we were aware that the numbers we enjoyed at the beginning weren't going to last. Plus, it was just a matter of time before the big two would need to make some changes. A lot of people who didn't join Image benefited from the fact we existed. We never even got a "thank you" card!
SEA: What did it feel like, when the first Image books hit the shelves?
Marc Silvestri: When the numbers for YOUNGBLOOD came in, we were all pretty happy. When the numbers for SPAWN came in, we were ecstatic. We felt we made something happen. We felt like rock stars.
SEA: When did you finally become certain that Image Comics was "here to stay"?
Marc Silvestri: About a month ago! That's a joke... sort of.
SEA: Did you find your new job in an editorial office hard to adjust to?
Marc Silvestri: Everything was an adjustment. From the outside, I'm sure it looked like a big party, but there was a lot of learning to be done. The new freedoms were great, but with it came new responsibilities that, as a comic artist, I never knew I would face.
SEA: Let's talk about Top Cow. What's the company's ultimate goal?
Marc Silvestri: The ultimate goal has never changed. From day one, I've wanted to build a place where the main purpose was to create things that people enjoyed. People don't need comics and toys and video games to survive, but it makes life more pleasurable. If Top Cow can contribute to that, we've done our job.
SEA: How do you choose what to publish? How can you tell if a book will be commercially successful?
Marc Silvestri: We've had our biggest success by doing things the "Big Two" can't or don't need to do. We'll always be a niche company, so we try to give the readers something a little different like WITCHBLADE, THE DARKNESS or WANTED. Things the other companies don't tap into.
As far as commercially successful books, you need to look at what is NOT in the market and see if it's needed. If it is needed (sometimes, something isn't there simply because no one wants it) then you put together the best team you can and hope the fans respond. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We need to be more careful now than we did when publishers could throw anything out there and people would buy it.
SEA: Are you only interested in publishing action/superhero comic books? How probable would it be for Top Cow to publish a good humor or western comic, for example?
Marc Silvestri: We publish FRESHMEN, which is a humor book and does well, but traditionally, humor and westerns don't work well in our industry. It's a fairly narrow field we have to play in.
SEA: As you probably already know, you have inspired and influenced many of today's famous-star artists. How does that make you feel?
Marc Silvestri: It's one of the things I'm most proud of, especially after this many years in the business. I've enjoyed my time with all of them. I like to feel that I've learned as much from them as they have from me.
SEA: I believe that the finest example of what we're talking about is Michael Turner, who left his first big impression with WITCHBLADE. What's your current relationship with Michael?
Marc Silvestri: We're fine, we say hello whenever we see each other. I wish him great success.
SEA: I think you know the question that comes next. What's your side of the story behind FATHOM's (and Michael's) departure from Image/Top Cow? I know you don't usually talk much about this, but people are really curious about what exactly happened?
Marc Silvestri: It's in the past and I'll only say that I don't begrudge Mike starting his own thing. I just disagreed with the way he went about it. But we worked through it and we respect each other's position. Mike is a great talent and as I said earlier, I wish him nothing but success.
SEA: Do you see Aspen as a threat to Top Cow?
Marc Silvestri: I don't believe anyone entering the comic arena today would be a threat to us or Dark Horse and certainly not to the "Big Two". Top Cow has 15 years of history and content to pull from and we've been able to parlay that into other media (just ask Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse how important that is!). I believe the window for starting an independent publishing company that could have an impact closed ten years ago. Today's market just won't allow it. To make any kind of impact you'd have to spend much more money than you could ever make back.
SEA: In the last couple of years, we have seen a strong comeback for variant covers and limited editions. In fact, it comes close to the levels of the early to mid-90's period. Do you believe that it might last longer this time? Is the market able to support such a large number of specials and variant editions?
Marc Silvestri: I think it brings a sense of value and collectability that is intrinsic to this business. I don't know if, years from now, a limited edition sketch cover of Spider-Man #600 will have any value, but as long as it's fun for the fan/collector, it has value today. And that's good.
SEA: On a related subject, many people feel strange about the frequent appearances of exclusives and variants for older issues of WITCHBLADE or THE DARKNESS. This is actually one of my own objections, as well. What's the logic behind this? Don't you think that the average WITCHBLADE variants collector, for example, has a limited budget?
Marc Silvestri: For the fans that like to have special editions of things (think DVD releases) I think it gives the feeling of having something special. Especially since those print numbers are so low. For us it helps keep interest in the title and is a way to make an old story available to a new reader, while at the same time, serving the fans that do want that special edition their friend doesn't have!
SEA: Who do you feel is the average Top Cow reader? Age, gender, race, social class, sexual preference, anything! Do you feel your average reader is different than the average comics reader, in general?
Marc Silvestri: Not really different from the "Big Two". Just readers that want a little spice thrown into their Super Hero stew. You can ingest just so much X-Men, you know!
SEA: Do you regret any choices you made? Is there anything you didn't do because you were... bored or scared or whatever and now you find yourself saying "I wish I had done that"?
Marc Silvestri: There are always regrets and the feeling of missed opportunities but we've been fortunate that the good choices have far outweighed the bad. For me, personally, I've probably been most guilty of biting off more than I could chew!
SEA: How did you fell when Marvel approached you again to work on NEW X-MEN with Grant Morrison? Was it something you expected to happen, or did it come absolutely out of the blue?
Marc Silvestri: Marvel and DC are always in orbit, so for us, as a company, if the project makes sense, we'll do it. For me, personally, there are a lot of writers out there I want to work with that will only be available to me if I do work for the company they are exclusive to. Grant was a perfect example of that. Plus, there are characters that interest me that we don't publish.
SEA: Can you tell us your influences and give some advice for blossoming comic-artists, ready to begin their career? I recently saw the COUNTDOWN TO WEDNESDAY DVD and I got the impression that you were a very down-to-earth and extremely methodical creator.
Marc Silvestri: I have a pretty wide range of influences that are sometimes not immediately apparent in my work. Guys like John Buscema, Walt Simonson, Jim Lee and Mike Mignola are there near the front. Others like Alex Toth, Frank Frazetta, J.C. Leyendeker, Norman Rockwell and Bernie Wrightson are a little more of a surprise to people.
If you're a blossoming artist, find who speaks to you artistically. You can be a fan of someone's work but if you don't understand how they see what they see, it's just going to frustrate you. Use your influences to create your own artistic voice; don't just copy what other people do. Take what you can from favorites and make it your own. The most important thing is to feed yourself artistically and do what makes you happy. If you don't, it'll show in the work.
Surround yourself with people who share your passion. This can be a lonely business, if everyone around you can't relate to the ups and downs of being a creative person. This is a huge advantage with the studio environment. And for goodness sake, don't worry if every page you do isn't a work of art that will astound future generations! Some pages will be great but the vast majority will not. Chill out. You gotta move on!
SEA: What was the most surreal convention experience you ever had?
Marc Silvestri: They all are, but in an amazing and good way! I'm always thankful to be part of the culture of comics! It's a great way to make a living and a life!
SEA: What do you aim for when you design a cover? And furthermore, what do you think are the elements that make a cover stand out on the racks?
Marc Silvestri: The image must be striking in order to stand out from the crowd (not "garish" striking but striking on an emotional level). It must be pleasing from a composition standpoint (think Frazetta) and it must be true to the tone of the book.
SEA: Would you ever work for a small publisher, even for a slightly smaller paycheck, if they came to you with a very interesting project or concept?
Marc Silvestri: We already are a small publisher! I'd try to make it work at Top Cow or one of our publishing friends first, but if was a writer I REALLY wanted to work with, I'd look at it.
SEA: What are your future plans, both for Top Cow as a company and for you, personally, as a creator?
Marc Silvestri: To get better. Always!
SEA: Thank you again for this opportunity.
Marc Silvestri: Thank you.
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