Jamal Igle launched his career at age 17 as an intern at DC Comics. In fact, he’d been already planning it for six years. Over the last three decades, from his breakout creation Molly Danger to his artistry on Supergirl and Firestorm, Igle has done everything. A past winner of the Inkpot Award for Achievement in Comic Art, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. He took time out from drawing THE WRONG EARTH to talk with AHOY.
Q. On a regular day, when do you start?
It depends. My days usually start early. After waking up around five, I work out, take my daughter to her school bus, and then walk the dog. My brain usually kicks in around 9 or 10.
On the days I work out - I’ll run four-and-a-half miles, or go to the gym for an hour - there’s this pastry shop near my house called Four and Twenty Blackbirds, so I’ll grab a muffin. And every day, I have this giant Mason jar full of iced coffee. It’s about 32 ounces. That’s how I start, no matter what.
Q. Do you work at home?
I do. I’ve had office situations, but I’ve worked at home mostly in my career.
Q. So, you can wear sweatpants!
No, NO! My wife got me out of that.
Q. While drawing, do you listen to music?
No, I listen to political radio, podcasts.
Q. You a big fan of Rush Limbaugh?
Oh, yeah, absolutely! I’m a ditto-head. (Editor’s Note: He is being sarcastic. He is not a ditto-head.) Mega-dittos!
Q. Mega-dittos to you! Everybody knows of writer’s block. Is there such a thing as artist’s block?
Yeah, it happens. For me, if I’m not working on something that’s waiting to be published, I have a hard time getting motivated. If there’s no deadline attached, no delivery date, it’s hard to get going. A lot of that may be because I’ve been working since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Q. Well, you wanted to do this at age 14, right?
Actually, I wanted to do it when I was, like, 11. I knew I wanted to do something with comics. I wasn’t sure what.
Q. What pulled you in?
Superman was the character that first got me interested. But in junior high, it was Alien Legion. Carl Potts and Larry Stroman had me thinking, “This is awesome!” I had been reading Superman, Justice League, X-Men, Spider-Man… but I’d never seen Strike Force. In high school, you had the Turtles, Nexus and Rocketeer and Badger – all this new stuff.
I come from a spoiled generation, because we had Dark Knight and Killing Joke and Watchmen and Destroy!!
Q. You grew up in the ‘70s, New York City. What was that like?
Well, it’s big. (Laughs.) You know, it’s funny; my wife is from France, and I’ll show her old ‘70s movies, like The Taking of Pelham 123, or try to explain the garbage strike, the Subway Slasher, the Guardian Angels, all that. Growing up in France, she didn’t believe these things actually happened. She thought they were made up by Hollywood.
My mom, my sister and I lived in Brooklyn. Before she went to nursing school, my mom worked at Nathan’s in Times Square, so occasionally, we’d go there. So I remember the old Times Square.
After the Disney Store came in, after they started cleaning up Times Square, I had an out-of-body experience. I went there, and it was not the same, but still there was an underbelly to it. No matter how much they tried to clean it up, the drug dealers were still there, the pimps were still there - just kind of low-key. You’d see the drag queens, the girls walking, and you knew where you could go to find them. They just weren’t in Times Square anymore.
Q. There was an exploding musical scene – disco, funk, punk, salsa, hip-hop, rap - in New York,
Yeah. My mom was 17 when she had me. She was a young wife and a young mother. Because of that, I still know the words to almost every disco song that was ever written. They played in our house all the time.
Q. Do you look back on those days fondly?
I don’t know if “fondly” is the word. Part of it is that there was this uniqueness that has now been lost. My wife and I talk about this all the time. She’s been here for 20 years now, and every little mom and pop store that used to be around us has changed hands or been replaced by a bank or chain store.
Q. That’s progress, right? For the better?
If you can’t afford it, I don’t think it’s for the better.
Q. Do you ever go back to places where you grew up?
In fact, the apartment where we spent the most time is on the other side of the park from where I now live. I go there every once in a while, because my childhood babysitter still lives in the neighborhood. She and her family own a brownstone. We’re good friends with her son and daughter.
Q. Most people don’t get the opportunity to keep such roots.
True. And a lot of people never get the opportunity to leave their home towns. I’ve been blessed to have so many opportunities to travel.
Q. You’re a big city guy, right? Do you feel antsy out in the country?
Actually, we spend a lot of time in Ithaca. We have really good friends in Ithaca and Groton, so we get up there often. We have talked about moving there.
Q. I happen to know Groton. You better be on the top of your game if you’re moving to Groton. It’s not Dryden.
Yeah. One year, we went for Christmas. We rented a minivan without four-wheel drive. We had to be plowed out.
Q. A question I always ask illustrators: How is your neck and back?
Better. But that’s because about four years ago, I lost a hundred pounds, after I started working out almost daily. At one point, I couldn’t walk four blocks without needing to stop. On my daughter’s birthday, I said, “That’s it, I’ve got to change.” It took about a year and a half. It was not just the neck and back, but my blood pressure – a lot of health stuff, coming together. But as you say, the neck and back - they are serious things. When I was working at DC, cranking out pages, I would barely look up from my work. I didn’t eat properly, worked until 4 in the morning. My health took a beating.
Q. I don’t think people realize how strenuous drawing can be, when you do it for a living.
For me, working out still sucks. I mean, it sucks the big dinky! But it’s something I need to do.
Q. If you run four miles per day, that’s damn good.
Actually, it was crazy for a while, because I got runner’s envy. I saw the New York Marathon and thought, I want to do that! I had this goal: I’d get in shape to run the marathon – so I did six miles a day, six days a week. Then the knees and hips started hurting, and it was, okay, I better pull back.
Q. That’s serious running.
Yeah, a little overboard. Now, I run two or three days a week and supplement it with weights. I’m going to be 46. It’s too much, running 36 miles a week.
Q. What’s the toughest facial expression to draw: Fear, hate, love, envy?
I’d say confusion, trying to draw a character who is confused about something. When you’re drawing expressions, there must still be a certain recognizability and a certain beauty to the character. You know, when we contort our faces, the features change. It’s that confused look – the questioning - there’s a subtly to it that you can see in life. I’m not sure I have mastered yet.
Q. I would disagree. I think your work is incredible. But by drawing so many expressions, do you feel heightens your sensibilities to other people’s reactions?
Well, here’s the thing. I’ve always considered myself to be a student of the world, and that includes people. In my relationships with people, I try to be open, and not just be sympathetic but empathetic. I believe empathy can go a lot further than sympathy. But it can take an emotional toll on you. I’ve had relationships where someone takes advantage of the fact that I’m willing to listen to them and be a sounding board. I’m a pretty emotional guy, too, along with being very, very opinionated.
Q. Artists are known to wear emotions on their sleeves, right?
That’s absolutely true. I don’t think I’ve ever met an artist who wasn’t at least a little bit of a drama queen – myself included.
Q. Who is the toughest character in all of comics to draw?
Toughest? You know, I’ve never actually thought about that. The reason I say that I because I like being challenged. I love it when my collaborators try to come up with something that’s impossible to draw. I work my ass off to not just do what they asked, but to top it.
In terms of characters, I don’t know there’s anybody particularly difficult to draw. Certain characters, I guess, I have a hard time getting inside their skin. When you spend a lot of time on a particular character, you must infuse a part of yourself into them, along with your belief of who they are. So, a character like, say, Wolverine - I can’t really get into that head space. And characters like the Punisher – well, actually, I would love to do a Punisher story, just to see if I could.
Q. In THE WRONG EARTH, you must draw the same character, sort of, in two entirely different worlds. Did you know that when Tom Peyer conceived that book, we figured we’d need two artists, one to draw each world? You came along and did them both.
That’s the challenge. That’s why I’ve loved doing the book. It’s allowed me to work out both characters, because I love that kitschy, sixties, Batman, Green Hornet, Mod Squad esthetic, and I also wanted to do the darker, Bryan Hitch-Mark Millar feel. The thing about Dragonfly and Dragonflyman (the main characters) is that they are the same person, but emotionally you must switch back and forth.
I see Dragonfly as being really tired. I don’t want to give away the plot, but he’s been fighting Number 1 on Earth Omega forever, and he’s just tired and looking for the most efficient ways to do things. Then you’ve got Dragonflyman and Stinger, who are having fun! When they punch people, little stars fly out. You figure everything will always work out in the end. Dragonflyman will pull something out of his wrist, and good things will happen.
Q. THE WRONG EARTH is about alternate universes. You think there’s one where Hillary won the election?
Oh God, I hope so. You know what? I wish there was, because in it, all we’d be talking about would be, Why isn’t Bill spending more time at the White House?, or Why is Hillary wearing pants suits? We wouldn’t be leaving the U.N. Human Rights Council. We wouldn’t be detaining refugee children in chicken coops. We wouldn’t be starting trade wars with our allies.
(At this point, his daughter interrupts to ask what they should make for dinner. They settle on Cheese Sloppy Joes, but the recipe will require them to go to the store later.)
Q. Enjoy every minute. They grow up fast.
I am. I am. She just turned 10.
Q, Okay, you’ve got to go to the store. Let’s wind down. Who is the comics hero you’d hate if you knew them personally.
Hmm. I’d say Charles Xavier, Professor X. He comes off like such a dull fuck.
Q. I think I’d hate working for him.
You couldn’t trust him. You couldn’t even think bad thoughts about the boss. If he tells you to do something you don’t want to do, you can’t even think, “You fuckin’ ass.” He might catch a thought, as he’s passing by the door, and you’d end up in H.R., having to explain yourself.
Q. Mental sexual harassment!
Plus, he’s got sort of a creepy history. Back when he was in love with Jean Grey, it was weird. He’s a #metoo complaint waiting to happen.
Q. Who’s the one villain you would enjoy working for?
Victor Von Doom.
Q. Think he treats employees right?
Absolutely. He’s not going to renege on a contract. You might not like the working conditions, but if you accept that you’re just a peon, everything will be fine.
Q. His people live simple lives.
They consider him a benevolent monarch. They don’t know about his schemes to take over the world and kill Reed Richards. And they don’t need to know.
Q. What’s the one romance in comics you never wanted to see?
Rogue and Gambit. Basically, I hate Gambit. This is just me. Gambit looks like a guy who smells like Brut, stale cigarettes and Old Bay seasoning. He’s the guy who crashes on your couch, eats all the food from the fridge, never pays for groceries, always conveniently forgets his wallet.
Q. And somehow, he gets Rogue. That stinks.
Exactly! I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THAT HAPPENS!