Q&A: High Heaven's Greg Scott

Art: Greg Scott. Colors: Andy Troy. From HIGH HEAVEN #2
Sep 10, 2018 - 06:00 PM
By 
Hart Seely

Greg Scott has been drawing comic books since that amazing moment many years ago whenwellyou need to hear it from him. Scott has illustrated more than 100 titles, and his artwork brings to life HIGH HEAVEN, our send-up on religion, written by Tom Peyer. Scott spoke with AHOY Comics publisher Hart Seely, who overcame severe technical difficulties.

ucks. This sucks! Hello? Hello?

Hart!

This recorder is driving me nuts. Hello?

Hey, Omarosa!

Can you hear me?

Yeah, I gotcha. Fine.

I hate this contraption. I HATE IT!

I’m in the same boat. No person over fifty can operate technology with ease. 

OK, then, let’s do this. My first question… well, what the f--k is going on in this world?

I don’t know about the world, but in my country, we’ve elected a narcissistic man-baby who is gaslighting the entire nation. The only good thing that’s coming out of this is that we’re all learning about narcissistic abuse. That’s the bright side.

Are we doomed?

No. We are not doomed. We’ll course-correct… It’s that saying, “May you live in interesting times.” This is an amazing point in history.

How do you deal with everything?

I’m a complete news junkie. I sit here, listening to the news, and I try not to rage too much. Actually, I’m not all that angry. At this point, it’s more of a fascination for me. It’s, how did we get here? To me, it’s incredible. 

Yesterday, a group of evangelical leaders signed a Bible and called Trump a great leader. I mean, Stormy Daniels! How does that happen?

Jeez, hypocrisy and religion… that’s new?

Which brings me to HIGH HEAVEN. Do you believe in heaven and hell?

No. I’m an atheist.

Well, is there a chance we’ll both end up in hellwith Peyer, of coursefor doing HIGH HEAVEN?

No. In fact, I’m really proud of it. It’s one of the funnest projects I’ve ever done. I wake up every morning and can’t wait to get to it. But one thing about Peyer: He is not nice to his creations, that’s for sure.

Nobody accuses Peyer of making love to his characters.

No, but it’s a fantastic story, and it’s fun, and it has a lot of twists and turns. You never know where it’s going.

When reading drafts, whenever I thought I’d figured the plot, he juked me. The bastard. So, this is the latest in your career?

You know, I still have trouble using the word “career.” But I get up every morning and draw comic books. I’m still amazed that I’m lucky enough to do that.

How did you break into comics?

I was a bicycle messenger in Manhattan. I had a sketch book that I drew in, and I met some people who pointed me in the right direction, gave me the how-to’s of story-telling. I read a joke in the letters column of a Marvel comic – it went something like, “You can’t find the editors here at 10 o’clock, because they’re on Park Avenue on their smoke break.” So, I rolled up on 387 Park Avenue South as a bike messenger, and I yelled, “WHO WORKS AT MARVEL?” About six hands went up, and I handed each a sample packet of my work. That was on a Thursday. The following Monday, I got a call saying, “Hey, wanna draw a comic book?” I’ve never looked back.

You know the craziest part of that story? You were a bicycle messenger! It’s a wonder you’re alive.

I absolutely loved it. It was like being a cowboy in Manhattan. You could make good money, too. But it was the 1990s, and FAX machines were coming in, along with electronic signatures, and the bike messenger industry was dying. In one fell swoop, BAM, the industry just disappeared.

You just laid your work on these guys, and they hired you?

Yeah. I guess it was pretty ballsy. They liked that I just rolled up like that and handed them out. So I did that a while, and I went to work at Neal Adams Continuity Studios for almost two years.

How did that change you?

I’m still in therapy.

What do you mean?

It was a great learning experience. Let’s put it that way. But it was not a working environment where you could keep your sanity.

Why do you say that?

Well, Neal is very… Neal. He’s a stern taskmaster. He’s not always easy to work for. But it was an amazing learning experience.

He taught you things?

Absolutely! You’d pick it up by osmosis, just being around him and seeing how it’s done. I mean, the guy is a machine. He can draw anything. It’s just amazing to watch him. 

Peyer told me to ask you about Alex Toth

One day, Neal was throwing out a file of all these Alex Toth comics that he had cut out and stapled together, and he said, “Hey, you want this?” and I said, “Yeah! Who is it?” He said, “Alex Toth. He’s a pain in the ass, but a fucking genius.” And it just rocked my world. The simplicity, the interplay of light and dark, the way he was so fearless about placing shadows… If this was a church, I would be a disciple in it. He had an amazing effect on me. 

What’s your typical day like?

I get up around eight or nine. I make my coffee, and then, almost every morning, I watch a movie. Eventually, I’ll sit and draw. But to tell you the truth, it’s a mystery to me how things get done. I’ll putter around and draw a panel, and then it’s, “Okay, do the script!” I’ll draw David (the HIGH HEAVEN lead character) and somehow, it all comes together. I mean, I have no system. When people ask me, “How can I get into comics?” I don’t know what to tell them. Once, this guy got mad because I told his son to learn to play guitar. That was my advice about getting into comics.

That’s interesting advice.

What would I say? “Become a bike messenger and hand out packages?”

You still tool around New York on the bike?

All the time.

That how you stay active?

I do CrossFit, five days a week. That keeps me active. But I have no focused, monk-like secret to work. I’m amazed whenever a page is done, because I’m so easily distracted. Fortunately, I don’t have cable TV in my house, because then I’d be like a magpie with shiny objects.

What did you watch today?

Taboo with Tom Hardy. It’s a BBC mini-series, so I’ll watch a couple episodes every day.

I’m so behind on movies. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I just recently watched The Avengers: Infinity War.

Oh, wow.

Yeah, I have a thing about superhero movies. There’s something about CGI treatments of old comic books that bothers me. Plus, the movies are so dark and troubling.

I think the success of the Marvel movies vs. DC is that Marvel embraced what is best and most fun about its characters. They didn’t shy away from them. With DC, you almost get the feeling that they are embarrassed about the source material. There’s a tendency to make everything darker. You know, a Christopher Nolan treatment was not necessarily what you wanted for Superman.

Watching Infinity War, I got the feeling that some studios take themselves too seriously.

That’s a big, dark movie, and it’s a real gambit – killing off their characters. Of course, we know they’ll come back.

I did think it brilliant to have the Guardians of the Galaxy in the movie. That brought humor. 

That was a home run. But with DC’s Superman, you have Pa Kent telling young Clark, “Maybe you shouldn’t have saved those kids on the bus…” No! NO! Pa Kent is not supposed to say that. Come on.

Yeah, and Thanos brooding over killing half the universe.

The thing about pop culture is that you have to choose your distractions. For example, video games: I know NOTHING about them. People can talk video games, and it’s a blank to me. I just don’t play them. I don’t have the time. I wish I were more up on music. But movies… that’s my place.

Okay, a question I always ask: If you were a personal assistant to a superhero, who would be the biggest asshole to work for?

Batman. I mean, there’s gotta be some guy who fills the tires on the Batmobile, or who cleans the Bat Cave. I can’t believe they get much positive reinforcement.

The guy who cleans the Batcave deserves a raise. But all we ever see is Alfred, an old man. What’s the deal there?

There has to be a huge support staff.

If you think about it, Alfred must run a work force of 50 to 100 people.

Actually, that’s another great thing about comics. We don’t care who cleans the Batcave or fixes the Batmobile. It’s just done.

Okay, second question: Of all the supervillains, who’d be the nicest to work for?

Probably Lex Luthor. He’d be very Trumpian.

He runs a corporation.

You could avoid him when you need to. You could then flatter him, pump him up, and get a promotion.

You know, if Elon Musk shaved his head, he could be a supervillain.

I don’t have a take on Elon. He’s a hard guy to figure out. Is he altruistic? Is he just an egotist? But he has delivered – look at SpaceX! He has delivered on his projects.

I liked his warnings about artificial intelligence, which he says is mankind literally “summoning the demon.” I think he’s prodded people to think about what they’re doing. Not sure it’ll make any difference

Yeah, it’s like global warning. We’re probably already over the tipping point.

Global warming. Right now, it’s 90 degrees in Syracuse.

Ninety-seven in New York City.

Streets must be like a brick oven.

Outside, it’s like walking around in a hobo’s mouth. 

You have air conditioning?

Yeah, but even with it on, the pages I’m drawing are like toilet paper. It’s weird.

On a day like this, would you ride your bike around?

No, not in this heat.

In Syracuse, nobody complains about hot weather, because we don’t have to plow it. But this summer has been crazy.

We’ve had days this year in New York City that have just been beautiful, balmy, breezy, wonderful. Two weeks straight. The dog days we usually get, it hasn’t been that bad.

You a New York City native?

I am from California, but it was like, when I was six years old, I read The New Yorker and always knew I was going to end up here.

In in the nineties, I was published in The New Yorker a few times. I was so proud, thinking it would change my life. I always thought that being in The New Yorker, I’d have it made. But nothing changed.

Isn’t that the way in life? You think something will change everything. If I can just get with that girl, if I can move into that apartment, if I can get that job – but you know what? I’m still me. I still have the same concerns, the same fears.

Well, that day in the park when you yelled, “WHO’S FROM MARVEL?” your life sure changed.

I was always – I won’t say “confident,” but I was pretty ballsy. You know, in 2010, a friend of mine was making a documentary, and he said, “Hey, want to go to Afghanistan?” and I said, “Let’s go!” So we went to Afghanistan for 62 days to visit children’s orphanages. 

Wow. How did you do that?

It was incredibly easy. You apply to the State Department. They do a background check. They say okay. You get a passport - I still have mine; it has an Afghanistan Tourist stamp in it. We went to South Carolina, caught a T-130 to Ramsden Air Base in Germany and, from there, flew to Kabul.

Wow! Were you scared?

Hell, yeah! It was like getting on a rocket ship and going to another planet. Anything you bitch about in America, you have no idea how people live over there.

You went to orphanages?

My friend was doing a documentary for C-Span, so we went around to different orphanages and – (long sigh) – it was really, really, absolutely depressing. This one place we went to had been a chicken farm. They had these huge industrial Quonset huts. They had one side for boys, one side for girls. Not all the kids had pants. They had this huge pit where they used to scrape all the chicken poop into, back when chickens were in hanging cages. That’s where the kids went to the bathroom. They slept on bare mattresses.

How do you get over an experience like that?

Well, you just realize that this is not your world. I became really, really grateful for what I have, and where I live.

Wow. 

There was this one incident, where we were embedded with these Marines, and we were walking to this town, where the engineers would dig a well. It would take about four days, but they would have fresh water for the village. These guys, they were amazing; they went from village to village, digging wells, so for the first time, people wouldn’t have to cart their water for miles.

So, we were walking, and there was this open concrete sewer pipe, above-ground. The road dipped, and the pipe had cracked, so the sewer water was mixing into the drinking water for the town down below. I asked the interpreter, why doesn’t somebody fix this? And he said, that’s their town. That’s not my town. In America, we have the sense that we are all Americans, and that’s our identity. But they had no national identity. It’s all tribal: You’re not my people, so I don’t care about you. You can drink the shit water. You’re down there. 

You hear of American politics descending into tribalism. That’s a pretty grim picture.

Once you are embedded into tribalism, you cannot see the other person’s position any more. You can’t reason. My problem with Trump supporters is that you cannot reason with somebody whose position is held out of emotion. You can show them the reason that things are not what they think, you can show them objective fact, and they will hold fast to their beliefs, because it’s a position of emotion.

Well, I wonder, are we the same?

Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. (Laughs) Because we’re convinced we’re right.

I think we’re going to live long enough to be held accountable by history for our policies.

Yeah. You know how you’re supposed to leave things better than you found them? The biggest shame, I think, is that America does not invest in its own citizens. I mean, health care—it’s an investment in our citizens. Infrastructure. These things—it’s just maddening to me that we don’t do that.

Jeez, we gotta close this on an upbeat note. What gives you hope?

Well, I know that compassion and empathy are still everyone’s first impulses. There’s this myth that New Yorkers are cold-hearted, that they’ll step right over you. That is absolutely not what I have encountered. If someone is hurt, everyone rushes to their aid. If someone is in trouble, everyone jumps in. Empathy and compassion – they are still our first impulses. And that will always give me hope.

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