Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Writer David Gallaher has been at the forefront of digital comics. For years he worked on the fringes of American comics, only to become an overnight success of sorts by winning the inaugural Zuda Comics competition with High Moon (with collaborator Steve Ellis), and then being hand-picked to launch the app from digital comics distributor comiXology with an ongoing series, Box 13. Both titles have seen multiple volumes online and opened the door for Gallaher to come full circle back to print comics with the first volumes of each in print and new work commissioned by Marvel.
Gallaher occupies a unique role as a creator whose popularity is based primarily on his online comics output, with his print work coming to catch up. The writer has a long history with the online work, going back to interning at Marvel’s interactive department in the late 1990s and being a advertising copywriter for several years. While his comics come out on the bleeding edge of comics formats, his instincts owe more to comics’ pulpy roots.
Chris Arrant: Let’s do an easy one, first – what are you working on today?
David Gallaher: This morning, I’m laying out the rest of Box 13: The Pandora Process, which is being illustrated by Steve Ellis and is being published digitally by comiXology. Steve and I also have another project we’re working on that we’re really excited about. It’s got what I refer to as the “new project smell.” Like High Moon, it plays to our pulp roots – and I think it’ll be equally as vast.
And at some point this week, we’ll start our preparation for the New York Comic Con and discuss what’s next for High Moon.
Arrant: Although you’ve been doing comics for several years, it was your online work like High Moon at Zuda and Box 13 at comiXology that really put you on the map. What do you think of how the Internet changed your career like that?
Gallaher: What do I think? Well, I think it’s kinda great, honestly. I mean, technically, I started my professional career in digital comics with Marvel Interactive in ’99, so I think going back to those roots was really a huge part of why I am where I am today. You are right – I did have several years of traditional print comics under my belt – and while I don’t want to say that I struggled in that market, I did find it a difficult place to attract the sort of audience I was interested in reaching. So, I looked for different places to experiment a bit – places like Zuda and comiXology – and so far those have been great avenues for my work. Moving forward, I hope to develop more projects that move in that direction.
Arrant: Over at Marvel you’ve done two stories, both focused on the Russian superhero team the Winter Guard. Why are you drawn to them so much? Is it the characters, or their country?
Gallaher: Actually, it’s the creator. While he didn’t technically create the Winter Guard, the team was directly inspired by the work Bill Mantlo did with the Soviet Super-Soldiers in the ’80s. I have always been a big fan of his work – and wanted to create a project that played around with some obscure characters while raising awareness of Bill’s current condition, which I talk about a little on my website. Beyond that, though, it was a great opportunity to move these characters out of the faded shadow of Communism and into a bold, more heroic future. I’m enthralled by Russia and by the incredible array of Russian characters in the Marvel Universe – Kraven, Rhino, Chameleon, Black Widow, Omega Red – and I wanted to shine a light on that side of the world. And it was a blast! I got to use the Agents of Atlas, I had Ursa Major punch an undead dinosaur in the face, and I brought back the Dire Wraiths – that to me was a lot of fun. But, at the end of the day, the book was really for Bill Mantlo and everything he inspired in me.
I also owe a big thanks to Jeph Loeb, who brought these characters out of obscurity.
Gallaher: If you had asked me that question five years ago, I certainly wouldn’t have said that I expected to be writing comics full-time. In April of 2005, my body was breaking down at a severe pace – where I was having eight to nine seizures a week – and where literally every day, I was wondering if it’d be my last. So, five years ago, I certainly didn’t think I’d be where I am today.
With that in mind, I have no idea where I’ll be in five years. The key for me is to keep moving forward. I want to keep my creative team employed telling the kind of stories that we want to tell with as much creative freedom as possible. Basically, the goal is to keep writing comics and new projects until I can’t write anymore.
Arrant: For years, you worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency. How did your work there affect your writing?
Gallaher: Some of my favorite writers worked as advertising copywriters – Terry Gilliam, for instance. And, having spent the years working in that field myself I can tell you firsthand that it fundamentally changed the way I felt about writing. No longer was I writing when I “felt inspired” — now I was obligated to write every day for 50 hours a week, whether it was excellent or excrement. It gave me the discipline I needed to go further with my career. Of course, I also learned something else critically important and that’s “simplicity sells” – and that’s the one lesson I try to keep in mind when I’m writing any project.
Arrant: Prior to all that you interned at Marvel in the late ’90s. What was it like then?
Gallaher: Interning at Marvel was an amazing experience. I could spend hours talking about how that experience shaped me as a comics creator. I met amazing people, did some work I’m still very proud of, and I learned firsthand how awesome comics could be. Conversely, I also learned how wretched the industry could be, too. At the time, Marvel was undergoing some dramatic changes, doing their best to crawl out of the hole that their bankruptcy left them in. There was a great deal of confusion about what role Interactive should play in Marvel’s development. I saw friends get let go, fired, and whole departments get restructured. It was a challenging time, but, as I said, I learned a lot. It was a tremendous experience that opened a lot of doors for me and my career.
Arrant: What’s the big comic you want to do next?
Gallaher: When you say BIG comic, what do you mean? I mean, I certainly want to do more Winter Guard comics – and maybe one day a neo-noir Dan Garrett Blue Beetle series, but in terms of Batman, Wolverine, or Superman? I’m not sure. I don’t really think that way. I mean, I love those characters — but they seemed pretty locked up for a while. In the meantime, I’m going to keep developing new content, exploring new formats, finding new models of collaboration, working with innovative publishers, and pushing new ideas forward. If nothing else — it will certainly be an adventure.