MR: (laughs) And City of Fire?
GD: So all of this time I’m in France, he’s in Tahiti. I would do these drawings, and they would mail them to him in Tahiti. He would work on them there, and then he moved to LA and worked on them there. So, most of them were inked and colored in Los Angeles. That was the first thing I had printed over there, and then I had this thing called Comics and Stories.
MR: Comics and Stories, where you drew all the fake covers, and some people at the time were actually out looking for those books.
GD: They were not happy.
MR: (laughs) You should talk a little bit about the idea behind that.
GD: I thought it was funny, because I used to get these Tintin books, and on the back they would list all these different books that were available. I liked the idea of building up a mythology that the characters had been around forever, so I came up with all these covers plus titles. Some of the titles I picked were from a weekly magazine you could buy in Paris called Pariscope. It would say what was at the ballet, what was at the opera, what was at the movies. I found these great titles and I would use some of them. In the United States, porno movies would have names like Lust in the Suburbs or . . .
MR: Housewives in Heat?
GD: Yeah, sometimes not even that. In France it was like, Double Penetration. And there were all these . . . There was no romance at all. I was like, holy jeepers, look at some of these porno titles in the back of the magazine. I thought it was funny. But anyway . . .
MR: I think this was the same time your first character, Bourbon Thret, appeared?
GD: Which is the Shaolin Cowboy.
MR: Okay, but back then he was Bourbon Thret.
GD: Yeah, yeah.
MR: It wasn’t long after that that we had our first meeting. San Diego, and we just had this little table . . .
GD: Yeah, I remember where it was, clear at the back, and I remember exactly where . . . an end table.
MR: In the corner.
GD: Yup. And across from you was Jim Silke.
MR: That’s right.
GD: And Dave [Stevens]. Yeah, I remember.
MR: And there was some tall guy, you, standing next to our table just sort of looking at us. I finally said, “Can I help you?” You said you had some art to show and I probably wouldn’t like it because it probably was not very good. A sort of passive-aggressive approach, because I could have said, “You’re right, it’s probably not,” and you would’ve never talked to me ever again.
GD: Well, I wouldn’t have bothered you.
MR: (laughs) And of course you blew my mind. I looked at the art and said, “How come you’re not the most famous guy in comics?” Do you remember that?
GD: I don’t, actually.
MR: Yeah, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.
GD: I remember showing it to Archie Goodwin, I think, at the same convention. He said, “You know, I think it’s great, but I wouldn’t know what to do with it.” And I said, “You print it.” Yours was the only company that was thinking outside the box, because if you weren’t drawing in this certain Marvel or DC style, they just didn’t know what to do with you.
MR: Well, I had to have you. It was like finding the million-dollar copy of Action Comics #1, and I had to buy it before somebody else got it. That’s how I felt. I had to get you doing something for Dark Horse. You were busy, so do you remember what I did?
GD: No, I don’t.
MR: I asked you to start sending me any of your drawings and I will put them into our new anthology, Cheval Noir.
GD: Oh, yeah, and actually most of those drawings were from a thing that never got printed. Well, the first thing you gave me . . . You were doing Godzilla and . . .
MR: Right. You did a pinup.
GD: I had a drawing. “Oh, I don’t have to do any work.”
MR: (laughs) I wanted to keep you at Dark Horse. You said you were working on a strip and you would tell me when the time was right to discuss it.
GD: Well, and I never finished it. I mean, I was going to finish Bourbon Thret in France, but the company went bankrupt, which is another reason I left France. That was an amazing company, because they had Moebius, Manara, a guy called Frécon, I mean, just about everybody was there. And they still went bankrupt because the guy running it . . .
MR: Well, creators aren’t always . . .
GD: It wasn’t him; it was one of the editors. What happened was there’s a fire at the office, and the guy didn’t have the thing insured. So they lost everything.
MR: Well, I started to say that creators may not always be the best publishers, but I’ll also say publishers may not always be the best businessmen. They come and they . . .
GD: One thing that cracked me up about you was that you had some restaurants, and I wondered why anybody would want to throw that away. Comics at that point were, you know, just such a crapshoot. You took an enormous risk because you weren’t trying to do a line of superheroes. You were just doing good comics, which at that time was unheard of.
MR: Well, I was just trying to do the comics that I would like to read. In those days the company was so small that I could just sort of pick and choose who and what I wanted to publish, so . . .
GD: I remember walking through that convention. Alan Moore was there and I didn’t know who he was. He looked like the sphinx ’cause he had that big hair and the beard; he looked like this regal figure. You could walk right up to him, not like now. You probably can’t get close to anybody . . . of his stature today. I remember walking by and hearing Julie Schwartz talking to a big guy at DC and they were saying, “I remember when we canceled Green Lantern because it only sold 103,000 . . .” (laughs) It wasn’t enough.
MR: Yeah, well, we can say the same thing. I remember when Marvel used to cancel books that were under a hundred thousand.
GD: Now you get a hundred thousand copies and it’s a headline.
MR: Yup, that’s right. So you were doing spot illos for Cheval Noir at Dark Horse, plus whatever other . . .
GD: And I did that one story, which was another repurposing of something in Dark Horse Presents.
MR: You told me that you were working on a project with Frank Miller. I had never met Frank at that time, and you asked if I would be interested in seeing it. I asked you if you were crazy, because of course I wanted to see it. You said you’d call me to set a specific time, you didn’t know when, after the project was ready to show. I got that call from you and we flew down to LA and . . .
GD: Because Frank had wanted to leave and he had these two projects . . .
MR: He wanted to leave Marvel, right?
GD: Well, he wanted to own them.
MR: Yeah, and the book we’re talking about is Hard Boiled.
GD: Yeah. He asked, and I said I think we should do it with Dark Horse.
MR: So tell me, how did you meet Frank?
GD: Well, I spoke at Moebius’s funeral and I hit on this: If I have a career in comics, it’s because of him [Moebius]. Everything I’ve done came from him. He was in LA and I was still living in Paris. The Dark Knight hadn’t come out yet, but I knew that Frank was living in LA at this point. I was back in LA for the summer, staying at a friend’s house. I just liked to get out of Paris every once in awhile. I went over to see Moebius and he said, “You know, Frank Miller is coming over. Do you want to come over?” I said yeah, because I’d never met him. So I go over to Moebius’s place and—this is classic Moebius—I show up, and Moebius isn’t there. So it was just, like, Frank and me. (laughs)
MR: Was Frank comfortable with that?
GD: I didn’t tell him what I did. I was just a guy who knew Moebius. We talked and we got along, I don’t remember about what. I just told him what a big fan I was. When Dark Knight came out, it was so fantastic, I sent him copies of City of Fire. He called me up one evening while I was in France and he was like, “I didn’t realize it was you who drew that!” I was really flattered. Then when I moved back to LA, we would get together, and one day he said, “Do you ever draw other people’s stories?” I told him no, but he asked if I would do one that he wrote. He asked what I would want to do, and I said, something that’s got lots of action and violence! (laughs) That’s how Hard Boiled came out. We had tried to do a couple projects, things we talked about doing after Hard Boiled, and one of them actually came to fruition, but I didn’t do it. He said to me, “You know, I don’t think this is for you. You’ve never done work for hire and I don’t want to be the guy that takes you there,” which was very generous on his part.
MR: So you remembered you called me and said I had to come down to . . .
GD: This place called Cocola in LA, this really hip place.
MR: We went down there and it was by the railroad tracks and there was nobody else in the restaurant. Randy pulled a Godzilla toy out of his pocket and was sort of fiddling with it when Frank came and sat down. He saw Randy with the Godzilla toy, and I think that almost ended it right there.
GD: Oh, no, I mean, he just basically said, “Do you trust these guys?” And I said, “Yeah.” I remember it was a really funny place. Frank always really wanted to go there, and so we did. It was a real hip find of a place, and it wasn’t that far from where he lived at the time. Downtown, because he had a loft there, and it was in the early nineties, when cell phones looked like walkie-talkies. People would come in with a briefcase, and you’d see everybody come in and set down their briefcases and pull out those walkie-talkies and make a point of “Look, I’ve got a cell phone.” Literally, they were huge. They would set these things up on their tables. Funny.
MR: I remember Frank pulled out a pad and a paper and started to ask me a question and I said, “Before you do that, look at this.” We had done projections of every possible format and publishing approach, with every sales level and every possible expense on it. I handed him those sheets and he looked at them for a minute, didn’t say anything, and then asked to meet at the same place and same time the next day. He put his paper back in his pocket and left. We met the next day, and he said, “We have a deal.” I heard later that he called Dave Gibbons and said, “We’ve just been handed the keys to the kingdom.” Creators didn’t get that kind of information back then.
GD: I remember he and I talked about the deal you had offered, and it was like an incredible deal, and I remember him saying he thought it was too good a deal.
MR: He was concerned that it had to be fair to us.
GD: It has to be fair. And I agreed with him because if we took too much, not in your case, people kind of resent it. Everybody should be making something.
MR: Yeah. It’s a partnership. Other creators came to us later, including some at a company that became pretty successful, about bringing their books to Dark Horse. They said they wanted to be at Dark Horse but they wanted a 90/10 deal in their favor. I said, “I can’t do a deal that is better than Frank’s.” I had offered a similar deal to him and he turned it down . . . in favor of a better deal for us. How could I possibly ignore that when making deals with other creators?
GD: But it was better than the 90/10. I remember what it was. You would have been doing it just for the sake of doing it.
MR: At that point, it was so important to us.
GD: I think you would agree that it would be beneficial just to have Frank there, but at the same time it just was not fair. I mean, Frank is an incredibly fair guy.
MR: Well, in the end, you did the book with us. Frank’s Give Me Liberty followed. We had had critical success before, and the licensed books sold well, but when those books came out and creators saw that you and Frank had chosen Dark Horse, it literally created a stampede of top creators coming over to our company. It gave us credibility. Those books were really key in Dark Horse’s long-term success.
GD: Well, I think people had been afraid . . . “Yeah, they do this and they do that, but in the end, will we get our paychecks.” You know, companies were coming and going.
MR: You and Frank got some pretty good paychecks from us. And that led to the next project we did together. The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot.
MR: Talk a little bit about where that came from.
GD: My first great love at Marvel was probably Iron Man, so I kind of wanted to do an Iron Man-ish kind of comic.
MR: There was Japanese influence, though.
GD: Well, the main influence was . . . I hope I don’t get sued; I shouldn’t say that . . .
MR: You had other influences that were Japanese.
GD: A lot of people think it’s Gigantor, but it wasn’t. There was Rusty, who was basically . . .
MR: Yeah, he’s based on some other characters.
GD: Yeah. And it was done as a joke, because he wasn’t supposed to be around. He was going to get . . .
MR: Wiped out.
GD: But they were going to fight each other at the very beginning. I said to Frank, I think the idea of Americans going into Japanese airspace and fighting these monsters . . . They’re not going to like it. What if we have him fight their version of a superhero? And he said yeah. I sketched him, and he liked it so much he said, let’s make him his buddy. That’s how Rusty came to be. He was never going to be around beyond the first one, where he was going to get destroyed. But Frank wanted to have him destroyed in every [story]. Because the Japanese felt such a sense of debt, because the Big Guy had saved Tokyo from this giant monster, they would keep rebuilding him and sending him back. So you would never get rid of him.
MR: It wasn’t long after that—and this is a little-known fact—but we almost got another character with comic book heritage set up as a film at Universal, and you were going to do designs on that. I chased you, and that was the Green Hornet. Do you remember?
GD: Yeah, I do.
MR: Sam Raimi was going to direct, and we had George Clooney to play the Hornet. The whole project was put together, but fell apart because Clooney got a call from Spielberg and went on to a different film.
GD: Well, yeah. I never thought I was actually going to do that much on Green Hornet.
MR: We wanted you to do the design work on it.
GD: Yeah . . . but the whole Matrix thing kind of fell into my lap, and I had worked on The Matrix during the time you started talking to me about The Green Hornet.
MR: I think it was literally right after.
GD: I started on The Matrix in ’97. And then when I finished up with it, I never thought it was going to get made.
MR: But you never think any of those movies are going to get made. You never know.
GD: I would have given it a better chance than this unknown science fiction film. They were just so tenacious. They were offered everything. At one point Arnold wanted them to direct The Last Man on Earth. I remember reading the script, and it was really pretty neat. They said, “Make this movie, make this Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and if it’s a success, we’ll let you do your little science fiction film.” And they were like, “Hmmmm, no.” I thought it was pretty funny that they could say no to Arnold. But then they managed to get the star commitment from Keanu, and that’s what got it greenlit, Keanu coming aboard. They got it made. And the rest is history.
MR: The rest is history, as they say. It was during this time you were living in LA and . . .
GD: I was still living in France at this point.
MR: Was it? Wasn’t this about the time you had your dream car and you and Frank went on your wild ride?
GD: That was during The Big Guy. That was way before.
MR: Tell us about that.
GD: I don’t want to talk about that.
MR: (laughs) No?
GD: No, no.
MR: After Matrix, then, where did you transition?
GD: Well, I was working on Shaolin Cowboy.
MR: And you were doing other work in between, though. You traveled to Japan regularly.
GD: Yeah, that was just for fun. I went to Japan because I liked going to Tokyo. I’d stopped working at Dark Horse.
MR: Yeah, those dark years. (laughs)
GD: But I lived in Japan for a year. I had written and was codirecting an animated version of The Shaolin Cowboy. Those were truly dark years. (laughs)
MR: Tough times.
GD: Yeah, you know, I’ve never shown it to you, but it would have been a hell of a thing. The thing is, it’s so odd and unique. In Japan they would shake their heads over it because they like archetypes, which really surprised me. I mean, if you look at their movies in the sixties . . . Zatoichi was this blind samurai.
MR: I know . . .
GD: Blind and kind of heavy, and that’s a little bit of where the inspiration for the Shaolin Cowboy comes from. He wasn’t your typical good-looking hero . . . They used to do movies like that. But in their animation it’s amazing. If you’re handsome, you’re a hero; if you’re ugly, you’re a villain. I remember sitting there with them [the producers] and them saying, “You know, he’s not very good looking.” And I said, “No, that’s what makes him interesting. Because he can do stuff you don’t expect him to do.” And they had a hard time wrapping their head around it. That was Maruyama. I remember sitting there having these discussions . . .
MR: Maruyama couldn’t get it?
GD: He couldn’t, but he finally kind of did. I guess it was because of the Wachowskis, and he was kind of swayed by my enthusiasm. He said, “Okay, we’ll do it.” And they had the money. I love Maruyama.
MR: You know, I love him, too.
GD: Madhouse, in my mind, kind of got the bad end of the stick with this deal.
MR: Maruyama always seems to land on his feet, though.
GD: Yeah, but they put their money into this movie, and the Americans didn’t put up their end, and they were left holding the bag on a movie that was, like, 50 percent finished that they can’t do anything with.
MR: Too bad.
GD: Yeah, on a personal level, it’s a weird thing to put in so much time and effort. I kept thinking that as hard as it was—and trust me, it was hard, because they did not like the idea of me being there—it was hard for them. And yet I kept thinking that in the end, at least I’d get this movie out of it.
MR: Well, maybe there are possibilities in the future.
GD: Yeah, I know . . .
MR: I’d like to see those Big Guy and Rusty episodes out. I think people would buy them. I said it before, I’m really proud of those. I think they came out with a lot of heart.
GD: Yeah, I think so too.
MR: So, Geof. What are you working on now?
GD: Right now? Actually, right now I’m working on this Wachowski project.
MR: That’s not what I’m talking about. You know what I’m talking about.
GD: I’m working on The Shaolin Cowboy.
MR: And we just released . . .
GD: Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine.
MR: And I’ll tell you, we were feeling a little worried, and all of a sudden the sales took off. I mean it. Good reorders and great reviews, and it looks like it’s going to be a steady seller for us, and so we’ve talked about a second one, right?
GD: Yeah. I’d like to do another one. I don’t know if Andrew wants to do another one, but I’d like to do one.
MR: The Magazine was your attempt to re-create the pulps. I think you did a pretty great job.
GD: I thought it would be neat to try and do a pulp magazine, and, I don’t know, I like novels and I like the old pulps they called hero pulps. It’s easier to do little spot illustrations than comic books. You can draw the fun stuff. You don’t have to draw the tedious stuff that comes in between. That was always my problem with—and I’m not going to mention names—certain artists that everything they did in between was crap, because the only thing they were interested in were the money shots, and that’s what makes comics so hard . . . Making the stuff in between interesting. And it is interesting once you get into it, but in the beginning you just want to draw the guy coming through the glass plate and hitting the guy in the jaw.
MR: Well, you’re the first artist, at least in the comic book industry, that when the guy comes through the glass, draws every single granule of glass.
GD: I was supposed to ink this cover that Frank had done for some collection of The Punisher and Daredevil. He didn’t have time and he gave me this rough that he had. I remember when I gave it back to him, he goes, “Wow, you really kind of made it your own.” (laughs) I had changed things. I thought, I guess I wasn’t supposed to do that.
MR: Well, a strong inker-illustrator is always going to overpower the pencils . . .
GD: Yeah, I didn’t know. As it was, I thought Marvel was so mad at the time, I didn’t sign it, but Frank signed our names, and they put something over my name. (laughs) So I got no credit for it.
MR: Put Kevin Nowlan on anyone’s pencils, it’s going to look like Kevin Nowlan.
GD: I always thought in the old days that guy was John Severin, no matter who you put him on . . . except for Jack Kirby. Gosh, John Severin just made everybody look good.
MR: I love John Severin’s work. His Two-Fisted Tales covers are some of the best ever.
GD: He could draw anything. Beautiful compositions. He could do anything. I liked the fact that he was in the saddle right up until the end.
MR: Like Will Eisner and Jerry Robinson.
GD: And Moebius . . .
MR: And Moebius. These guys . . . we’re losing them. It’s just so sad. It’s great that we had a chance to know them, having grown up looking at their work . . . So now you’re moving past the pulp and you’re working on the comics. We are so excited.
GD: It’s all drawn. It’s a hundred and how many pages . . . I’ve got . . . I’ve drawn a hundred and twenty-some pages.
MR: So when are you going to show your publisher?
GD: Well, I don’t know . . . Who wants to see them? You’ve always said you were going to bring me out there, but you never did.
MR: Oh, I’ll bring you out tomorrow! I’ll send you your ticket right now. (laughs)
GD: (laughs) I wish.