Panel to Panel Classics #4

Damn, It’s Danzig!

an interview with John Rovnak

2010 was a busy year for Glenn Danzig. He was celebrating his twentieth year as a solo artist and in honor of that tremendous feat he was to release a new album, Deth Red Sabaoth. But 2010 also meant a celebration of another sort. Glenn returned to his long dormant Verotik Publishing to release, Danzig: Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand, a collection of never-before published lyrics illustrated by longtime collaborator, Simon Bisley. So while almost every interviewer out there was asking Glenn about his new album, coupled with a barrage of questions he’s heard year after year concerning rumored Misfits reunions, his relationship with Satan, and his various appearances in YouTube videos; we felt compelled to focus less on Danzig the musician, and more on Danzig the comics fan and publisher.

Glenn knows comics. He’s known them all of his life. And his love and admiration for the medium, and all it has to offer, is apparent. He also feels a lot of frustration with the current state of comics. But instead of sitting back and watching from afar, he’s thrown himself into the, sometimes difficult, industry ready to shake things up and put comics into the marketplace that he wants there.

This interview was conducted over the phone on September 28, 2010.

artwork © Mark Mazstal & Bill Anderson
artwork © Mark Mazstal & Bill Anderson

John Rovnak: At what point did comics enter your life? What are you earliest comic book memories?

Glenn Danzig: When I was a little kid, 4 or 5 years old, my uncle owned a paper mill, and I remember a lot of comics. We’d go down there once and a while; he’d get lots of comics in there and he’d just bring them home to his kids and we’d get whatever they didn’t want.

Rovnak: So where these comics whose covers were covers stripped?

Danzig: No, no they didn’t strip the covers. Nope. People would bring them to the mill, and the covers weren’t stripped.

Rovnak: Were comics an accepted or encouraged interest in your home growing up, or were they a forbidden pleasure for you?

Danzig: No, nobody looked down on comics.

Rovnak: What titles were you reading at the time? Were there any titles that had a profound impact on you?

Danzig: I liked anything that had dinosaurs and monsters! [Laughs] And then later on, the superhero stuff. Even to this day, I still like the more oddball stuff… I was exposed to DC stuff, and then I started to actually buy comics here and there. I liked the Doom Patrol and stuff like that. And then, I remember when Marvel stuff started hitting the used rack, especially Spider-Man. The Steve Ditko stuff just looked so weird and creepy. It definitely changed everything.

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Rovnak: Did you make the jump, at an early age, from the mainstream stuff to the undergrounds?

Danzig: Yeah, so really what happened was that I’m getting comics that were second hand or used. There were lots of used places that sold used comics, whether it was a local flea market or wherever. And then eventually I started seeing the undergrounds, and I started saying, “Wow!” Then I remember when a lot of the artists jumped ship from DC and Marvel, and started doing more underground and, a bit more, art oriented stuff. You know, guys like Kaluta, Barry Smith and Wrightson and those guys. And I always liked the other underground stuff by guys like (Greg) Irons and Rick Griffin and those guys. And then it all went from there…

Rovnak: So it was just a natural evolution then?

Danzig: Yeah, I mean eventually one of the reasons I started Verotik was because I hated the comics that DC and Marvel were putting out. I just thought that they were terrible. There was a period there where it was kinda cool, and then they just destroyed it really. It just got more and more childish. Now I’m reading more European comics. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the fumettis from Italy in the 70’s, but they make our company look like, “Bambi Stubbed his Toe” or something. [Laughs] And of course the Japanese mangas covers the gamut of all kinds of genres, you know? A lot of that stuff’s pretty extreme… So you know what I’m saying is, it’s time for the American comics market to grow up… So that’s kinda what I did. Guys like Tim Vigil, and a bunch of other guys like Howard Chaykin, were trying to take it further than what the mainstream companies would let them. I think we took it a step further, and we did it all in color. In 1993 I started thinking about putting it together, and then in ’94 our first books came out.

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Rovnak: Looking back, had a career in music not happened for you, do you think you may have pursued one in comics?

Danzig: No. You know, I always played around with being an artist some, but I think I just never thought I was as good as some of these other guys doing it. But then, of course, I saw some terrible artists. I think if I’m going to do something then I gotta be like really really good at it. People like Simon (Bisley) are much better at it than I am. [Laughs] I’ll do like little roughs for him, you know, lay out a page or something… or a cover… or do little sketches for him or Joe Chiodo. As far as being the actual artist, I’m going to leave that to the pros.

Rovnak: Are comics to you a disposable medium, or is there a bit of fanboy in you that has to make sure your comics are stored properly, bagged and boarded, etc?

Danzig: I’ve never seen comics as a disposable medium, I think it’s an art form and I treat it as an art form. I know some of the companies may treat it like a disposable medium, but we do the comics here like they’re art. And that’s how some of the people I really like do it. They treat it the same way, like an art form and it should be respected. It should be taken seriously, I think. But of course, if you’re doing crappy, dorky little kids comics, then it is a disposable medium, but that’s not what we do at Verotik.

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Rovnak: Have comics been a constant your life, or did your interest stop and start again over the years?

Danzig: Actually, I funded my record label when I was a kid selling back issues of comics. Like Golden and Silver age stuff that I’d bought for 50 cents or a dollar apiece, were going for crazy money. So that’s how I put out records, but they’ve always been there.

Rovnak: Are there any comic creators, characters or titles you follow religiously?

Danzig: I used to follow (Alan Moore’s) Promethea, but it’s done. There’s not really much else lately that I’m reading on a regular basis. I mean once in a while I get to a comics shop… I actually just did a couple of in-stores, in Phoenix and then L.A., for the lyric book we put out that Biz did the illustrations for, and I managed to grab a couple of comics, but not much… I like the Shadowpact thing that DC did for a while, but then it kinda lost focus. You know where they brought back all those dark, esoteric characters… But then it kinda lost focus… I would love to revamp some characters for either DC or Marvel, but I’m sure the ideas I have aren’t what they’re looking for. [Laughs] Make them relevant, these are great characters that they’re not doing shit with, and they could actually be relevant. But that’s what I think…

Rovnak: In the past 15 years or so, one of the biggest shifts in comics has been the format; going from being just periodical pamphlets to full graphic novels and trade paperback collections. Which format do you prefer? Do you like the long form, or do you still prefer a monthly cliffhanger?

Danzig: I prefer the monthly thing. It’s tough for me to sit down and do a thick trade paperback read. I just don’t have the time, and also I don’t know that I’m digging that. You know what I mean? Some of it’s okay… I remember when (Frank) Miller’s Dark Knight came out, that was cool, because it wasn’t a big thick read. It had four different volumes, and you didn’t have to sit there and read it for days. You know, boom, in an evening you could read a chapter.

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Rovnak: Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of musicians make the crossover into comics. But the majority of them have been projects where they, themselves, are portrayed as the comic character (KISS, Alice Cooper, etc); others have chosen to be portrayed as the narrator (in almost a “Crypt Keeper” role) to help propel the story. Did you ever consider doing comics that way, or was writing and publishing your own brand of comics always the plan?

Danzig: No [laughs] no [laughs] no [laughs] no no. No, that’s not my thing. Uh-uh. I’m not trying to diss anybody, they should do what they want to do. If they feel like doing that, that’s great, it’s just I never wanted to do that.

artwork © Simon Bisley
artwork © Simon Bisley

Rovnak: Musicians and rock stars doing comics; do you think it’s a natural fit, or does it fail miserably most of the time?

Danzig: Well, I don’t know what other people do… and to be honest, I’m more focused on what I do, so if they wanna do it, then fine, I don’t care… It’s not easy, and you gotta love comics to be doin’ it, because we all know, “there ain’t no money in it.” [Laughs] So, that’s how I view it. We cut back our printing schedule, and now we just put out comics when we feel like we have something to say. It started to get kind of like what I hated with DC and Marvel, or even Image, where we were just hiring artists because we had to put out a Satanika comic every two months. And you know your artist would bail on his deadlines, you couldn’t get a hold of them, whatever, you know the typical stories you’ll hear from lots of publishers. Then you’re using somebody you don’t to have to use. It just became exactly the kind of thing I didn’t like, just doing a story to do a story with an artist who didn’t really get it. So we put the brakes on it, and we now just publish whenever we have the time to do it, and we have something to say or something I want to say.

artwork © Simon Bisley
artwork © Simon Bisley

Rovnak: With that being said, what’s in the future for Verotik?

Danzig: Well we were supposed to have a Jaguar God book come out this late Fall, but Biz has gotten behind on it, of course. But it’ll be worth it, so we’re gonna reschedule it for the new year. And it’s a different format for us, basically it will be comic size, it won’t be the big 9 x 12 format, but it’s gonna be like a storybook, no comic balloons, but with an illustration or two on each page by Biz. The story and text will flow around it, so it’ll almost look like an old Edgar Rice Burroughs or a Robert E. Howard thing, like he did with Frazetta or Krenkel, but it’ll have Biz illustrations. It’ll be cool!

Rovnak: Color or black & white?

Danzig: It’s either gonna be a two-tone, sepia-tone thing, or it’s gonna be in color. We’re not sure yet, we’ll play around with it and figure it out. Either way, if we do the sepia-tone, when we go to the printer they’re gonna charge you for color, so we’ll just say color.

Rovnak: If music wasn’t your first priority, would you devote all your energy into comics, or as you said earlier, since there’s no real money to be made, would it always be a side project for you?

Danzig: I don’t know. It’s not so much the money; it’s just that like I said earlier, if I have something to say then I’ll say it. That’s how I am with my music. When I have a record I feel like I want to do, that’s when I do a record. I don’t just do a record, just because someone tells me I have to do a record now. I don’t do that. Whenever I feel it, or whenever it’s done, that’s when it gets put out.

Rovnak: To date, what is your proudest Verotik moment?

Danzig: It’s always cool when you have the number one trade paperback, or your book cracks the top 20. I remember when there was still Diamond and Capital, the Venus Domina book that had the Dave Stevens cover. That book came in a number one for Capital. That was pretty cool, because it was a mature book. Things like that are cool, especially since we’re just a small company going up against… whatever, you know. We get no play at Diamond whatsoever, in their mag. So it’s still pretty wild that we’re still here, and so many other companies that they gave tons of play to are gone. [Laughs] That’s also a proud moment.

artwork © Simon Bisley
artwork © Simon Bisley

Rovnak: Comics have a long history of struggling to be taken seriously and fighting for notoriety and acceptance. Many people nowadays would say that with all the huge Hollywood blockbusters based on comics, and comics having cracked the book market, that comics now have achieved in a lot of ways what’s it’s been fighting for. I disagree. I see comics becoming more of a “gateway drug” for Hollywood; a vehicle that exists solely to sell concepts to film producers, and the original comic gets pushed aside. What are your thoughts about this?

Danzig: I know that there are comics that are only put together to attract a movie or TV or video game deal. Obviously that’s the wrong reason to do a comic. But from a businessperson’s standpoint, it’s the right reason. A lot of these companies, at the end of the day, are businesses. So somebody like Paramount or 20th Century Fox, they don’t care about comics, they care about making money. If that studio doesn’t make money, everybody is out on the street and everybody is fired. The doors shut… They have a bottom line that they have to think about, so I can’t fault them for that. But on the same token, that’s not what Verotik does. It is what it is, man. You choose your bed, and then you gotta lie in it. If nobody takes you seriously, then it’s your own fault. Nobody else’s…

Rovnak: What have you got going on these days as far as your comics moving into other mediums, like film or animation?

Danzig: A while ago this adult film company did Grub Girl, one of Ed Lee’s characters. They did it as a sort of porn with special effects and other crazy stuff. A lot of Ed’s stuff can only be x-rated… And a movie studio did one of his Verotika stories called Headers, a live action kind of Texas Chain Saw, kind of thing. I think it just came out like a year ago. And we are talking right now with this director that really wants to do Satanika. He’s delivered his first copy of the script, and we’ll see where that’s going. There’s a trailer for a Verotika series, as a pitch to networks, we’re about to start showing to the cable networks. We’ll see…

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Rovnak: Are there any comics turned to film projects you’ve either really enjoyed or really hated?

Danzig: I pretty much hate all the Marvel stuff. [laughs] They’re pretty awful.

Rovnak: What about Watchmen or, another Zack Snyder film, 300? Any of that stuff grab your interest?

Danzig: The thing that bothered me with 300 was all the CG backgrounds. I would have preferred it having some real backgrounds, instead of the CG. That’s something that bugged me.

Rovnak: Okay, I’m going to throw out some names and I want you to just tell me what comes to mind for you. Marvel Comics.

Danzig: Who cares? [Laughs]

Rovnak: Wolverine.

Danzig: Who cares?

Rovnak: DC Comics.

Danzig: [long pause] The little engine that just can’t. [Laughs]

Rovnak: Jack Kirby.

Danzig: The king, man. The best.

Rovnak: The Comics Code Authority.

Danzig: Does anyone even care? [Laughs] Passé. Whatever… irrelevant.

Rovnak: Frank Frazetta.

Danzig: The master.

Rovnak: Vaughn Bodé.

Danzig: Died way too young, a tragic loss.

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Rovnak: And last but not least, Simon Bisley.

Danzig: [laughs hysterically] Probably one of the greatest artists of all time, but a big pain in my ass. But he’s also one of my best friends.

Interview © John Rovnak

…but most of all, I’d like to thank the Lord of Darkness.

Artwork © Mark Masztal

Late last year I interviewed Glenn Danzig.  Yes, THE Glenn Danzig.  THE punk rock legend.  THE metal god.  THE comic publisher.  And the latter is exactly what we talked about.  We talked about comics.  His comics, and other people’s comics.

I’ll admit, he was a bit intimidating at first.  But once we got rolling, he really seemed to enjoy talking about words and pictures, and really seemed to be in his comfort zone.  He has lots of opinions, and he’s not afraid to share them, and that’s exactly why it was so much fun to talk with him.

After the interview was completed, I’d posted on the Panel to Panel facebook page that I was looking for a Danzig fan who could draw, because I needed an image to go alongside the interview.  Well I received a couple of responses, but among those responses was one which would end up making a much bigger impact on P2P than I could have ever initially imagined.  A gentleman by the name of Mark Masztal responded, and mentioned that he would love to come up with an image.  Now I knew Mark by way of mutual friends, and I was familiar with his small-press work in the mid 1990’s, and I’d even met him back in ’95 when he’d attended the Alternative Comics Expo (ACE) which was part of the Spirits of Independence Tour stop, which I’d helped organize.  So all that said, I told him what it was I was looking for, and waited patiently for the results.  Well the result was the image you see above, at the beginning of this post, and I was blown away!!

Now why was Mark’s response more important than I’d ever imagined?  Well, after he and inker Bill Anderson completed the Danzig image, Mark kindly offered his services in the way of lay out and design for P2P.  Now this all happened right as I was realizing that any plans I’d already had for a designer were disappearing quickly.  So I told Mark that I would love a little help, and any contribution would be appreciated.  Well that little turned into a lot, and his contribution to the look and feel to Panel to Panel has been astronomical!  Without Mark, there would be no Panel to Panel, and in the end I guess I have Glenn Danzig to thank for that.  Just another example of “everything happens for a reason”; which is quickly becoming Panel to Panel‘s mantra.

So enjoy a sneak preview of my conversation with Glenn.  And enjoy the sneak preview of Mark Masztal’s fabulous image for the article.  (If you think this is cool, wait until you see the inked and colored version!)

John Rovnak: Comics have a long history of struggling to be taken seriously and fighting for notoriety and acceptance.  Many people nowadays would say that with all the huge Hollywood blockbusters based on comics, and comics having cracked the book market, that comics now have achieved in a lot of ways what’s it’s been fighting for.  I disagree. I see comics becoming more of a “gateway drug” to Hollywood; a vehicle that exists solely to sell concepts to film producers, and the original comic gets pushed aside. What are your thoughts about this?

Glenn Danzig: I know that there are comics that are only put together to attract a movie or TV or video game deal.  Obviously that’s the wrong reason to do a comic.  But from a businessperson’s standpoint, it’s the right reason.  A lot of these companies, at the end of the day, are businesses.  So somebody like Paramount or 20th Century Fox, they don’t care about comics, they care about making money.  If that studio doesn’t make money, everybody is out on the street and everybody is fired.  The doors shut…  They have a bottom line that they have to think about, so I can’t fault them for that.  But on the same token, that’s not what Verotik does.  It is what it is, man.  You choose your bed, and then you gotta lie in it.  If nobody takes you seriously, then it’s your own fault.  Nobody else’s…