Cliff Interviewed for Crib Death Group at MySpace 6/5/06
Interview by James Boyer
You recently released a collection of new short stories called METHo.d. What can we expect from these new stories?
The new collection continues the misadventures of Hank Magitz, an antihero caught in the vortex of a perpetual midlife crisis. Hank has a strong attraction to the dark sideóa healthy appetite for whores and alcohol and violence, and heís a magnet for desperate characters. You knowóyour typical middle-age guy. So what can people expect from these stories? A reassurance that theyíre not alone in their lives of quiet desperation.
Comics legend Jim Steranko did the cover art and design for METHo.d. and there are interior illustrations by well-known comics illustrators like Steve Lieber, Michael Netzer, Al Milgrom, Wm. Messner-Loebs, and Jordan Raskin. What is it like to work with some of the most prominent names in the comic industry?
These artists are all very different from one another, just like professional baseball players or accomplished actors differ from each other. And Iíve known some folks longer than others, so I canít generalize. Of course, having a professional association with Jim Steranko is meaningful. Heís a tough character to know at any level, let alone to work with, but Iíve admired Jim's art since I was a lad, so seeing him on my cover is a huge thrill.
Aside from short fiction, you have also been very busy doing script-work. Could you tell us what projects you are currently working on?
I can only talk about ďThe FuturiansĒ at the moment. My script is a loose adaptation of Dave Cockrumís original graphic novel. As many people know, Cockrum co-created Marvelís X-Men. ďThe FuturiansĒ was his first project after leaving the X-Men, so thereís a lot of early X-Men look-and-feel to his project. Iíve taken that base and updated the entire project with a romantic tragedy and a somewhat deeper science-fiction spin than the original story had, but other than that itís still the mutant high-adventure-in-outer-space thing that Cockrum originally envisioned. The project has been a lot of fun. I wrote the script for IDT Entertainment, but the company was recently purchased by Liberty Media, so with anticipated organizational changes, I suspect it will be some time before we'll know whatís going to happen with ďThe Futurians.Ē But thatís Hollywood.
Who are some of your favorite artists/writers in the comic industry today?
I donít read comics with the enthusiasm or regularity I did as a boy. There was a time that I didnít miss a single issue. I read everything Marvel published from 1966 through 1979 and most of DC's books from the 80s. Today, I pick up a random book here and there when someone tells me thereís something special thatís worth a look, but I donít have any favorite current artists. My favorites are from a bygone era: Gene Colan, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo. As for comics writers, well, weíve certainly come a long way from the Stan Lee and Roy Thomas scripts I grew up on. Iím a great fan of Wm. Messner-Loebs, Peter David, Neil Gaiman, but Iím also pals with these guys so itís hard to achieve verisimilitude when Iím reading them. The exception is Alan Moore. I do know Alanónot as well as I know the othersóbut knowing him doesnít diminish my awe of him. His genius fills the building.
Are there any that you would absolutely swoon over the chance to work with?
Well, in light of what I just said, Alan Moore. But I canít imagine what I'd bring to the party. I suppose I could sharpen his pencils.
When did you decide to incorporate the comics world into your short fiction work?
It just seemed natural. Iíd been hanging around comics artists most of my life, so asking certain people to illustrate a particular story just made sense.
You have worked for many magazines and conducted countless interviews. What are some of your most memorable interview experiences?
Howard Stern comes to mind. He gave me his only 1989 interview. It had reached a point where Howard no longer trusted the press, and for good reason, so he'd completely stopped talking to reporters. But I wanted to interview him for Billboard and I contacted his agent, Don Buchwald, and sent my clips. I was very flattered when I got a call from Don saying that Howard had read me and liked me and agreed to the interview.
Another memorable one was Frank Zappa. I was assigned a story on Frank by Fast Lane magazine, a menís magazine that went out of business within months of its debut. Zappaís people gave me a 30-minute time slot and I called Frank at the designated time, but Frank and I got on so well that we ended up talking for hours.
My favorite interview was Kurt Vonnegut. Kurt remains one of my three or four favorite authors. I had sent him my book Crawling From the Wreckage when it first appeared and much to my surprise, he wrote back to me with some startling criticism. He particularly liked the story ďKnee JerkĒ but was disturbed that I had left out certain elements of the story that he felt were obvious and purposeful omissions, and I suppose he was right. This letter of his began a brief correspondence, which in turn led to my interviewing Kurt for Barnes & Nobleís internet launch. This was about a decade ago. There were several photos taken of us that afternoon that you can see at my website.
If you had the chance to interview anybody, who would it be?
Pete Townshend and Bob Dylan come to mind. I assume you mean people who are still living. And by interview, I assume you mean spend time with, because quite frankly thatís the only good reason to interview anyone, unless youíre being paid for the occasion. Interviews require research and transcription time, in addition to the actual interview, and youíre often tasked with writing a lead to the Q&A or writing a full-bodied story. All of that is only worthwhile if you're being paid well, or if the interviewee is worth spending time with. Iíve interviewed certain peopleóIan Anderson comes to mindóon multiple occasions just because I enjoy their company and their conversion. But most celebrities arenít worth spending time with. Iíve interviewed numerous movie stars and TV stars for the L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire or any of the entertainment publications I worked for, but if I hadnít been paid, I wouldnít have bothered. Vincent Price was an exception. On the other hand, I do enjoy the company of musicians and writers. I interviewed Pete Seeger about a dozen years ago and would very much like to have interviewed Woody Guthrie. But I would just as soon ridden a boxcar with him.
You are working on One Small Voice which will be a collection of all your older stories that were not collected in god's 15 minutes. When should we expect this to come out and what should we expect in the way of art and introduction?
Neal Adams did a beautiful painted cover for One Small Voice and I believe Chris Claremont is writing the introduction. I canít really say when the book will be complete because Aardwolf Publishing is doing the book and thatís a small imprint. The guy who does the production for Aardwolf is very talented but equally flakey. Iím sure he wouldnít be pleased to hear me say that. But the book will look quite nice. Thereís contributions, both new and old, from artists like Gene Colan, Frank Brunner and the late Alex Toth. Thereís also some small chance that my full, unpublished interview with Frank Zappa will find its way into that book. Maybe.