Bob Layton talks Iron Man, Valiant and MegaCon Orlando
Bob Layton is a renown comic book creator, popular for his work on “Iron Man” and the Valiant Universe. Layton is a scheduled guest at this weekend’s MegaCon in Orlando and I was able to ask Bob a few questions to prime fans for that event.
BRANDON JONES: Bob, thanks for your time, I really appreciate it. Let me start by looking back and acknowledging what many fans may not realize (besides the “Demon in a Bottle” story) – you how an amazing run on “Iron Man”. How do look back on two separate stints, approximately five years on Shellhead?
BOB LAYTON: I’m grateful that David Michelinie and I had the opportunity to reshape the initial Stan Lee concept into something that endures to this day. That is something more gratifying than any creator can usually hope for in their career.
I worked as co-plotter with writer David Michelinie and as the finished artist (inker) over a variety of pencil artists during our stint on the book. I also pencilled several dozen issues myself. David and I did issue #116-153 during our first run on the series.
We came back a few years later to take up the series once more, starting with issue #215–#254. Counting annuals, special projects and the like featuring Iron Man, we lasted for 97 issues—one of the longest creative stints on a single character in Marvel history. That doesn’t include the specials we’ve done in the last decade. (Iron Man: Bad Blood, Iron Man: Legacy of Doom, Iron Man: the End and Iron Man Forever, which should be released in 2012. David and I also co-wrote a few Season 2 episodes of Nicktoon’s “Iron Man Armored Adventures” )
There really haven’t been negatives to being associated with Iron Man…with the possible exception of that legacy having a tendency to overshadow any of my current work. I remember going to conventions (as the E.I.C of Valiant Comics) to promote the company– but all the fans wanted to talk about, regardless of what I was involved in creating at the moment, was Iron Man.
At the time, I found that somewhat frustrating, but these days, I’ve come to embrace that legacy. No one loves that character more than me. I’m the biggest Iron Man fan I know.
I think it’s the uniqueness of Tony Stark’s character that David Michelinie and I created that links me to him and the fans. Obviously, we must have done something right. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have such a loyal and vocal fan base.
Q: How was Tony Stark and Iron Man different for your time in the late 1970′s and then your return about a decade later?
LAYTON: In 1978, with my writing partner David Michelinie, we totally re-imagined Iron Man, ultimately transforming it from a low-end book into one of Marvel’s all-time best sellers. When we took over the series in 1979, the book was near cancellation numbers, under 90 thousand copies. By the time Michelinie and I left our first run on Iron Man, the title was selling at half-a-million units per month. After that long run, the two of us split for a time to pursue solo careers. (I went on to write and draw the two Hercules mini-series and David moved on to write the Avengers and the Amazing Spider-Man.)
Then, years later, after the title began to tank again, we were asked to come back to Iron Man to revitalized it once more, first with the revolutionary Silver Centurion armor design and then, with the highly-successful story arc—“Armor Wars”. When we returned, it was obvious that the previous creative teams had strayed away from the groundwork we had laid with our first run. So, David and I concocted the Armor Wars saga as a vehicle to put things right. I guess it worked!
Q: So heading into MegaCon, a room full of frenzied comic book fans, how do fans approach you about the Valiant Universe?
LAYTON: Valiant fans generally fall into two categories: One group believes that Jim Shooter created everything and all the other creatives were merely his hired flunkies…and the ones who believe the truth that Valiant was the total creative effort of Jim, Steve Massarsky, Jon Hartz, Barry Windsor-Smith, me and a host of other talented contributors.
These days, I steer away from discussing Valiant altogether. There’s been too much revisionist history and general bullshit for my tastes. After three, failed re-launches, there’s not much more to add. Without the rights to the original Gold Key characters (Magnus, Solar and Turok), the Valiant comics library is one of the biggest “White Elephants” in intellectual property history. So… I’ve moved on.
Q: Just to be comic book geek for a moment, let me say that I actually kept and enjoy my box of Valiant comics and your “Doctor Mirage” was my favorite. How do you look back on these issues? Bob, tell me I didn’t just step into a mudpie by telling you I love a comic you hate…
LAYTON: NO! I love Dr. Mirage!
“The Second Life of Dr. Mirage” was specifically created by me at Valiant as an attempt to attract more women to comics and quickly became one of my all-time favorite career projects. Unfortunately, it never succeeded in bringing in significantly more female readers. I guess the industry wasn’t ready for a romantic/comedy series.
Q: In researching more about Future Comics, which is an amazing story which we should possibly get together and write up separately sometime, there was this quote:
…there continues to be interest from Hollywood in producing feature film versions the Future Comics characters. Those talks are ongoing. In fact, I’m heading back out to there next week to meet with three major studios.
Hopefully, our labor of love may yet live on in an entirely different venue.
Only time will tell.
And chance we will see this materialize? Will we someday down the road, finally have a “genius” from Hollywood venture down this road and make a “Freemind” film?
LAYTON: A few years ago, I moved out here to Hollywood to work as executive producer on a big screen adaptation of the Future Comics comic property, Freemind (with Heyday Productions). We had an A-list director and screenwriter attached to the project. Unfortunately, as it happens out here in Hollywood, we also had a number of parasitic co-producers who had attached themselves to the film as it progressed.
However…what happened after that is an old story. Two of the co-producers started in-fighting and the director and writer dropped out because of the disharmony. Then, James Cameron releases “Avatar”, which borrowed heavily from the basic premise of Freemind. Eventually, the whole project just went up in smoke.
On the positive side, the Freemind fiasco provided me with opportunities that I’ve been able to parlay into working projects. Since my name is most associated with the Iron Man character, the hit 2008 film opened a lot of doors for me as a creator here in Hollywood.
That being said, I’m currently working with British writer/producer Andy Briggs on a film adaptation of Deathmask and the entire Future Comics library is currently being reissued on I-Pad in a digital format for a new generation to enjoy.
Bob, thanks again for your time and I look forward to seeing you face-to-face in a couple of days at MegaCon.