Mondays With Marts: September 19th, 2005 (Frank Tieri)

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Mike Marts -- Hey, folks—big apologies for being absent the past two weeks. But I’m making up for it by treating you to an interview with the kindest, most gentle man in all of comics—FRANK TIERI. Aw, who am I kidding--? This guy’s a beast! He’s the most ill-tempered, foul-mouthed person I can think of in the entire industry! And that’s why he’s one of my better friends in the entire industry. ;-)

Frank, give is the five-sentence bio of yourself. What do readers not know about you that they should?

Frank Tieri -- Born and raised in Brooklyn New York to an Italian father and a Canadian mother (some combination, huh?). Wrestled in High School until I got thrown off the team for basically not showing up and being a smart ass punk when I did (yeah, I was a pretty stupid kid back then—but who isn’t in High School?), played football until I tore all the ligaments in my ankle and thus eliminating my going-nowhere-anyway football career, and even once trained for the Golden Gloves (but never entered—too many family members and loved ones broke my balls, fearing I’d get myself killed. They were probably right). Went to St John’s University where I majored in Graphic design and minored in English—funny how I now put my minor to better use than my major, but hey, such is life. Interned at Marvel while at St John’s, worked a lot of little piss-boy jobs up there until I eventually got hired as the head writer and editor for Left that job when people like you were dumb enough to think I could actually write comics for a living. (Suckers!) Got married to a fantastic wife and mother who I have two great kids with, they mean the world to me. And took six sentences for this bio when I was only asked for five (technically seven, if you include this last wise ass comment).

Mike Marts -- Next time follow the rules, Frank. Five sentences mean five sentences. So, anyway…how did you get your break in the industry?

Frank Tieri -- The internship really helped. People ask me all the time how’s the best way to break in. Well, if you’re eligible and can get one , I can’t stress enough how internships go a long way to get you started. Yeah, you’re basically lower in stature than toilet splatter while you’re there, not to mention you eventually develop a very intimate and unhealthy relationship with the photocopier, but you also get the invaluable knowledge of the inner workings of a comics company and the people involved. And maybe even more important than all that, they get to know YOU. Because it’s just one of those harsh truths of reality, folks—I don’t care if you’re trying to break in as an artist, writer, editor or janitor, the guy they know definitely has a leg up over the guy they don’t.

Now, as for when I did finally get my break as a writer, a lot of people think I was an overnight success once they woke up one day and said “who the flying #$%^ is Frank Tieri and why am I seeing his name in the credits of IRON MAN and WOLVERINE?”, but you know as well as I do most “overnight successes” are years in the making, and I was no different. Year after year, pitch after pitch, restraining order upon restraining order, until people like Bobbie Chase, Mark Powers, Joe Quesada and eventually guys like yourself and Axel Alonso, saw enough in me to believe I could actually pull this thing off. And I’m forever grateful for it because I can’t think of a cooler job.

Mike Marts -- Or a cooler editor to work with, right? And speaking of people you’ve had the chance to work with, you’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some great artists in the biz—Sean Chen, Mark Texeira, John Paul Leon…who would be your dream artist to work with? And while we’re on the subject, what’s your dream project?

Frank Tieri -- I have to say, I really have been pretty blessed with the artists I’ve had for the most part—because believe me, I saw what a difference it made when I wasn’t. To me, and I hate to admit this as a writer, but when push comes to shove I think that the art is more important to a successful comic book than the writing. Obviously, you’d like to have both be good, but I firmly believe bad art can absolutely destroy a good story where good art can cover for a story that ain’t so hot. Comics are a visual medium first and foremost.

With all that said, I don’t think I necessarily have a “dream artist” — I think as long as the guy is good, professional and a good fit for the book I’m on, I’m cool with it. And if he can put asses in the seats, all the better.

My dream project would be to revisit what I see as some unfinished business left over on WOLVERINE — stories that I never had a chance to get to before I left the title. If you remember, when I was doing the book, ORIGIN was the big Wolverine thing going. But what you might not have known, though, was Marvel didn’t allow me to do anything involving Wolvie’s past while ORIGIN was going on, for fear whatever I was doing might interfere with it. (If you recall, my ORIGIN tie in, Originquest, got yanked right before we were all set to do it—now you know why.) So stories I had in mind involving Wolvie’s past—how and why the original Weapon X Program came about, how Wolvie and Sabretooth actually met (also had some fairly nasty plans for Sabretooth’s origin), what went on when Logan hit Japan and even how DOG fit into all of this—to this point are as yet untold. But hey, who knows what tomorrow brings…

Mike Marts -- Well, we know what today brings—perhaps the most intense competition between Marvel and DC that the industry has ever seen. So—Marvel or DC? (Obviously Marvel, but why?)

Frank Tieri -- Yeah, even though DC’s doing some great stuff these days and I’d love to eventually sink my teeth into some of their characters (I’d give my left nut to get a hold of BATMAN’S rogue’s gallery, for instance), I’d have to safely say I’m a Marvel guy. What can I do, I grew up on that stuff—Claremont’s X-MEN, Miller’s DAREDEVIL, Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR, Simonson’s THOR, etc. That stuff all seemed more interesting to me than what DC was doing at the time—too many overly-heroic, square-jawed characters that I just couldn’t relate to. I need—as a reader and now as a writer—for my characters to have flaws. And back then DC wasn’t giving you that, MARVEL was.

To be honest, it’s one of the main reasons you see most of my work coming out of Marvel—I just know the characters better. I read them as a kid, I worked on them when I interned and when I was on staff—bottom line is, you just tend to come up with more ideas for subject matter you’re familiar with.

Mike Marts -- You seem to have grown a reputation as being the “tough guy” of the industry—how’d that come about?

Frank Tieri -- It’s probably mostly because I look and sound like a reject from the set of the “Sopranos”. The funny thing is, it’s a reputation that has both helped and hurt me. Helps because I’ve established a niche for myself, and a lot of writers would kill for that in this business. Tough guy characters, villains, sometimes even “funny” characters…my name is always in the mix. Now, where it hurts is that’s usually the only characters I’m ever asked to do. Frank Tieri writing CAPTAIN AMERICA? Not very likely. Frank Tieri on SUPERMAN? I’ll believe it when I see it. Frank Tieri takes on ARCHIE? I don’t think anybody wants to see that. (Reggie shanks Arch in the schoolyard with a rusty screwdriver, Betty and Veronica go lesbo, Mister Weatherbee gets caught touching himself in the cheerleader’s locker room…come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all!)

Mike Marts -- Favorite movie, book, fictional character, sports team?

Frank Tieri --

Movie—The Godfather. Yeah, I know, pretty stereotypical…but what the Hell, I like the movie. One of the few movies if I find it on the tube, I can’t help but stop and watch it.

Book—Of Mice and Men. Even though you know full well how it ends, you almost can’t help but wish for a different outcome when you re-read it. Teaches you how tragic stories often stay with you more than the happy ones do.

Fictional character—Sean Ryan. I doubt even he believes someone like him can really exist.

Sports team—I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I’m the world’s biggest YANKEES fan—which I insist is a lot harder than people make it out to be. Don’t worry, I’m certainly not asking for any sympathy over here—with 26 world championships how can I?— I’m just pointing out it’s not that easy sometimes being a fan of a team where their season is considered a failure if you don’t win the World Series. We’ve lost two World Series since 2000 and I got my balls broken each time…from fans of teams who haven’t even made the playoffs in YEARS, no less. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, rat bastard MET fans. Give me a call when you guys finish .500, why don’t ya?)

Mike Marts -- You have an upcoming project in the X-Office—any hints you can give the readers without giving too much away?

Frank Tieri -- You tell me—YOU’RE the one making me keep my big yap shut! Let’s see… what I think I can get away with is this:

The project involves two main characters you’d expect me to be involved with (See “tough guy” question above).

You’ve already seen a hint for the project dropped somewhere (though I’m not saying where or when…or how).

We haven’t seen one of the main characters in quite a while even though he/she/it is one of the most popular characters of the 90’s.

Part of the story takes place in the past, part of it in the present.

It will deal with some of the after-effects of HOUSE OF M.

It will have important ramifications and concepts that will be picked up in the regular X-MEN books.

And…I’m writing it, so it’ll be awesome.

Mike Marts -- Who would you say your major influences are?

Frank Tieri -- You know, I hope most people don’t answer this question with just comic book people because Lord knows there’s a whole lot more to be influenced from than just that. Books, movies, TV, music…and most importantly and obviously, life in general. Stories you’ve heard, stories that may even have happened to you. Your family, your friends, your friends of friends, the screwball from across the street with the lazy eye you try to avoid eye contact with. All these things play into the tales you tell, the characters you create—sometimes, without you even realizing you’re doing it. In the end, all you can do is try and be yourself and that’s what I try to do, for good or for bad.

Mike Marts -- Favorite X-Man. Why?

Frank Tieri -- Like everyone doesn’t already know. As for why, well, I guess he was the first comic character that I was ever introduced to that was like the way he was. He didn’t take no crap from nobody even when he knew there were times he probably should have. He’d never give up, whatever the odds, no matter what. He’d threaten his friends’ lives one minute then defend them with his the next. He was a psychotic killing machine and yet he just so happened to live by the code of a samurai. He was Canadian, he had a mysterious past, he smoked cigars and he had these claws that could cut you up into pulled pork in the blink of an eye.

Christ, they sure don’t make characters like that anymore, do they?

Mike Marts -- Favorite X-Man/Men besides Wolverine. Why?

Frank Tieri -- I always liked the Beast and Colossus.

The Beast I first came across in the pages of AVENGERS, so that’s the version of the character I’m most fond of—the fun-loving, wise-cracking, woman-crazy, getting-bombed-in-the-Avengers-basement-with-Wonder-Man-on-Iron-Man’s-secret-stash Beast. And the ape man Beast. I can’t stress that enough…APE man. You want Beauty and the Beast? Rent the @#$in’ DVD. I want my Beast’s swinging from trees and peeling bananas with his feet!

Colossus, at first, because I always gravitated to the “big guy” characters. (I was always partial to the THING, too, in case you were wondering.) But eventually I came to like him because he was this big gentle goof of a guy—he sort of acted as the ying to Wolvie’s yang and I always thought that sort of worked for the team dynamic. I also liked that every few years or so, he was capable of snapping, and snapping hard. (You didn’t want to be around when the big Ruskie snapped, let me tell you.) It somehow made him more realistic—that even the most gentle of souls was capable of going completely nutso when pushed too far.

Mike Marts -- Kind of like you, Frank? Kidding! Hey, big thanks for the great interview! And for those of you wanting to read Frank’s stories, check out HERCULES and WEAPON X: DAYS OF FUTURE NOW!