Interview With Gregory Wright
How did you get your start in comics and how did it lead you to working as editor on the Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. miniseries?
Funny enough…one of my very best friends, D.G. Chichester and I went to NYU Film School together. He had gotten an assistant editor’s job in the Epic Division of Marvel Comics after a successful stint as a paid intern during college. When we graduated he got me a job in the Epic department as an editorial assistant working with Archie Goodwin, Jo Duffy, Margaret Clark and himself. From there I became an assistant editor for Mark Gruenwald. He was editing the Nick Fury VS. S.H.I.E.L.D. series when I got there. It was the first thing I pulled out of the drawer and REALLY loved it. Because of my intense interest, Mark decided to let me co-edit the rest of the project. When I became a an editor, the series was given to me to edit.
Were you a fan of Nick Fury from before?
Nick Fury has always been my favorite Marvel character, so YEAH, I was a huge fan of the character.
|Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. was the first major attention paid to Nick Fury in some considerable time. The prestige format, a memorable marketing campaign; S.H.I.E.L.D. ID cards in local comic shop, the beautiful covers, and a blockbuster story that really updated Fury for a new generation of fans. What was the history of getting that miniseries launched?
At the time we were all excited about the Dark Knight comic at DC and the format it was printed in. We called it Dark Knight format…anyway I felt that Marvel needed to utilize the format and suggested we reformat the series which was prepared for standard comic format and make a bunch of the pages into BLEED pages and have it colored in a more high end manner. Mark was impressed that I knew how to do all this. I had learned all about these better formats working at Epic. So Mark suggested I take a more lead role with the rest of the series. I asked Bob Harras what he thought about changing the format, because he’d have to rewrite a few things to make it fit into the format and he was happy to comply. So off we went turning a regular comic into a prestige format comic.
Then I thought…what if we could get the creator MOST responsible for making Nick Fury awesome to paint the covers for the mini-series? So after everyone told me it would be impossible, I called up Jim Steranko and begged. Surprisingly he said YES!
He designed the logo and sent me sketches of what he wanted to do for all six covers. Covers that would all have the same layout, but would have differing elements and color schemes. I was a little concerned, because I wanted 6 very different covers, but when Jim Steranko has ideas, who was I to argue? So he did the first cover…much later than I could really afford…it was amazing, and worth the wait. However when I told him how quickly I would need the rest of the covers he was unable to do the others…so…I had to think fast and get five other artists on board FAST to do those covers. I also had to do sketches for some of the covers because I needed them right away. Luckily, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Bright, Kevin Nowlan, Joe Jusko and Tom Palmer were all pals and willing to do the covers in the time frame I had!
It was a great team. I really loved Bob’s work on the series. It was before he was the X-Men editor, so it was before he was under intense pressure to generate huge sales, so he could dedicate a lot of time to the series. Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder were one of my favorite art teams and just a joy to work with. I pretty much used Kim on any project I had. He and I really were in sync when it came to the visual look of any book we did together. Bernie was someone Paul knew and wanted to work with. I preferred to have my creative teams wanting to work together, so I hired her based on Paul’s suggestion. Janice I worked with on many books. Poor Janice almost always wound up lettering the books with the most dialogue. She never, ever complained or was late. She’s still one of the most dependable pros you’ll ever find.
|The second SHIELD title followed soon after, on which you served as editor for the first 14 issues. Was it always the plan to launch a new series on the heels of Vs SHIELD or was it a decision made based on strong sales from the mini?
There was a plan, as long as the mini series sold. The thing about the follow-up series was that things did not go as planned. First, Paul Neary bowed out of the project when he was asked to ink Alan Davis on EXCALIBER. Although he’s said in interviews that he wasn’t sold on the direction we were taking the series…I don’t know the real truth there, because he never said anything to me about that and I’m not sure he ever read the first plot. Either way, Paul’s a great guy, great artist and honestly, inking Excaliber was definitely a better gig to take for his career. So I hired Bob Hall to draw the series. He drew one issue and then quit because he had an opportunity to do more theater. Along with drawing comics, Bob was also a theater director, writer and actor…So…I had to find someone ELSE, again.
Ralph Macchio told me he was replacing Keith Pollard on FANTASTIC FOUR and thought he’d be great for SHIELD. I loved Keith’s work and had a good time working with him previously, so I called him up and offered him the job. Keith had not been told he was being replaced on Fantastic Four yet, so my mentioning that I heard he was available came as quite a shock. There was much yelling at Ralph over that little oversight. LOL
The vibe for the early issues of the second SHIELD series was more Mission Impossible, with Fury leading a small team, in keeping with the lessons learned from the first SHIELD where it all became too big for one man to manage. Later issues returned SHIELD to a larger agency and lost that IMF flavor. Which style do you think works best for the character?
I was never 100% on board with the “Mission Impossible” scenario at the time. I really wanted to have it start that way and rebuild…letting the readers get the sense that Fury always had more secrets than anyone knew. Now, today, when I watch AGENTS OF SHIELD…I see exactly how the smaller version could have worked and kick myself for not buying into it at the time. I think both styles can work great for Nick Fury as long as everyone is on board with the idea.
What are your memories of working with the creative team on SHIELD (V2), writers Bob Harras and D.G. Chichester, artists like Keith Pollard, etc.
Bob was great, but once he became the X-Men editor I felt like his attention was never on the title the same way as before. Having the responsibility of the X-Men titles has a tendency to take away all your attention. D.G.Chichester and I always thought alike, being friends and all so he was the easiest one to work with. I felt like when I left staff and he was writing the book that he and Jackson Guice really put the book into high gear. Keith Pollard was a terrific artist, although I’m not sure he was exactly what SHIELD needed. I always wanted the book to have a more design-oriented look…very technical, crazy angles…kinda reminiscent of Steranko, but not a copy. Keith is a more classic, and organic artist. Loved his work…but felt maybe he wasn’t so happy drawing this type of book.
One of the elements that boosts success for a Fury title is an interesting supporting cast (the Howling Commandos, the Strange Tales cast of Clay, Val, and Woo). The miniseries and second SHIELD title featured some fan favorites including "Network" Nina, Alexander Goodwin Pierce , and Kate Neville. What are your thoughts on that collection of characters and how they were developed.
Outside of Pierce, why do you think none of them caught on with writers in other titles, like Dum Dum Dugan and Clay Quartermain did?
I always enjoyed the new characters Bob Harras created and like that he was slowly allowing them to develop and change as their adventures progressed. SHIELD was one of those titles that other creators didn’t seem to read. They would use the characters from SHIELD however they liked without ever bothering to get them right. Other writers wouldn’t even really use the team that was in place, they’d just make up their own random characters. D.G. Chichester had started to reinvent HYDRA and Baron Von Strucker and other writers would totally ignore what he was doing and use them the way they were depicted in the past. This totally nullified the effort he went to to give more weight to any of the new characters. He and I created our own little mini universe where we used the characters the way he was writing them in all our titles. I guess the characters never caught on because the book never really caught on the way the X-Men or Spider-Man or the Punisher did at that time.A pair of characters with interesting potential during the early issues you oversaw as editor were Red and Lump. As writer, you reintroduced them in issue #42. Can you clear up what you know would have been the direction for those characters from the early issues? What would have been your plans for them if the series had continued?
I have no idea what Bob was planning. I think he changed his mind a couple times. I hadn’t decided what exactly I was going to do with them. I knew I needed them for the story I was telling at the moment, but beyond that I wasn’t sure. Red was an interesting character to play with, psychologically, but because the series was cancelled before I could really explore her as a character, she wound up getting very little to do.
One of the highlights of your run on the title was the emphasis on Von Strucker. Thoughts on the character? What makes him a great foil for Fury?
D.G. had started to reinvent Hydra and Von Strucker when he was on the title and I really liked what he was doing. Von Strucker was a personification of evil, the sort of world dominating lunatic that SHIELD was built to keep at bay. Fury was a WWII vet…anything connected to Nazis was something he was naturally going to react strongly to.
Issue #45, Baron Von Strucker kills a Lt. Scodell for his "initiative" in planting the Super Agents within SHIELD. Having a bit of fun there?
Many of us like to have a bit of fun at the expense of each other. I really hated those super agents and the direction Scott took the book, especially since he took over after my friend D.G. was taken off the book. So, yeah I took a potshot. Scott, of course, noticed it and brought it up to me. He found it funny, if not somewhat infantile. During that era you’ll find several good pokes at my expense in other books. Most of us have a sense of humor about that stuff, and it doesn’t mean much.
The Von Strucker Gambit, the Hydra-centered crossover that ran through the 1991 annuals of Daredevil, Punisher, and Captain America, can you talk about your involvement in that and how it came about?
That was part of D.G. and I creating our own little universe. D.G. had recently taken over DAREDEVIL but had graciously declined to write the annuals so I could continue to write them. Marvel had been doing these silly crossover events in the annuals and Daredevil, Punisher and Captain America were tossed into this one. Ralph hired D.G. to do the Captain America annual, me to do the Daredevil annual and convinced Don Daley to let us do the Punisher Annual together. As both D.G. and I were big Nick Fury fans and that book was in dire need of attention, we had decided to do a crossover that included Nick Fury and Hydra. I think we were tasked with creating some new characters as well. One of the characters I created in this crossover was CRIPPLER. He was a sado-masochostic mercenary who I eventually had join Silver Sable’s Wild Pack when I was writing that title. This crossover was part of our attempt to re-invent Hydra and Baron Von Strucker in the more mainstream Marvel Universe.
Why did SHIELD never get an annual?
SHIELD never got an annual because Marvel never had any faith that it would sell.
|Your stories as writer swept out the Super Agents (turning them into Hydra spies), the recent female cast (Kate Neville and Nina met some gruesome deaths), and returned characters killed during the Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. miniseries. Had the series continued, what would have been your ideal S.H.I.E.L.D. cast?
The problem was that I had a much longer storyline planned and we got cancelled before I could do most of the stuff I wanted to do with the characters and had to wrap it all up quickly. Initially the characters I eliminated were supposed to have been revealed more slowly as traitors, the characters who died were supposed to help build up a need for revenge…everything wound up moving so fast and I really never rethought the story well enough to make the best decision about who was going to be around for the long haul. Whenever you are forced to finish up a story arc faster than planned, it means lots of compromises. And those rarely make for great stories. I definitely hated the super agents, so they had to go.
I wanted to reboot with the classic characters as supporting characters and create a new group of agents more suited to current sensibilities. I would have kept Dum Dum, Val and Pierce around though.
The series seemed to come to a hasty end with issue #47. But the flurry of guest-stars in issues leading up to the finale gave the impression of a title still on the hunt for more readers. What were the factors that lead to the cancellation? What were the pressures like on wrapping up the series and work on the final issue?
Marvel had decided that they wanted every book to be a HOMERUN. But the company itself did virtually nothing to help any book sell better. They devised a number of issues that books had to sell, in order to continue being published. S.H.I.E.L.D. fell below that number before I got on the book. I was told that if I could get the numbers above that number., the book would go on. When I took over the book the numbers started to go steadily up, probably because I utilized guest stars that I felt would drive the numbers up temporarily, and hoped that folks would be interested in what we doing enough to stick around.
So after I had thought up a year's worth of stories and written four of my issues Tom DeFalco came to me and said “I’ve got great news. The sales of the book is going up. I’ve also got bad news. We’re cancelling it anyway.” So I had to very hastily rethink a years worth of story and wrap things up as quickly as possible. I had hoped that maybe the sales figures would go up a little faster and we might get a stay of execution but it wasn’t to be. It was very depressing to have to end the series that way and it was nothing like I had planned.
Memories of working with your creative team as a writer?
When they gave me the book to write, they asked me to find a penciller. I had a tough time finding anyone who wanted to take on the book at that point because it had been such a mess for so long. I had called Mike Manley and begged him to do the book as a favor, but he was booked solid. He led me to one of his buddies, John Heebink, who was a huge S.H.I.E.L.D. fan. He sent me John’s work, and number. John and I hit it off and I knew we’d work well together. I sent the art off to editor Mike Rockwitz and asked him to take a look. Mike liked the work and hired John. John was a ton of fun to work with and worked so hard to help bring the book back to life. He went on to draw Quasar after S.H.I.E.L.D.. I really didn’t have much contact with anyone else during that run but I knew everybody from working on staff. Great group of folks.
Perhaps the most infamous lost tale of Nick Fury is the never finished, Rules of the Game. The project has remained high on Fury fans' wish lists due to its creative team (your story/ art by Jim Lee). What's the full story? After all these years, is there any chance for something official to come out?
I doubt if it will ever see the light of day.
The project came about when Don Daley was ordered to commission more Punisher special projects. He asked Carl Potts, myself and Jim Lee to co-plot a project. Carl didn’t think a three person team would work plotting a story. (He’s right) Jim suggested that he and Carl would do one project, and that he and I would do another project. (Jim and I had been talking about doing a project involving Nick Fury already) Don liked the idea, and Tom Defalco liked that he was going to get two Jim Lee projects.
Jim and I plotted out the story in a rough form and discovered it was never going to fit into a 48 page special. I pitched the story to Tom DeFalco and asked if we might be able to stretch into graphic novel length. He decided the story was strong enough, (and you know had Jim Lee art), so it was to be a hardcover graphic novel. Great! I went to work writing a more detailed page by page plot. Jim gave me feedback and I changed a few things and he then drew the entire thing out in rough form, talking with me as he discovered scenes that weren’t working or thinking up new scenes. Then I started scripting it as he started inking up the pages and turning them into amazing pages of art.
He was staying in NY temporarily which meant he was in the office frequently. He was also offered all kind of things to do that were fun, like posters and covers and fill in issues of things that he could try our experimental drawings with. And of course the X-Men came calling. Next thing you know, Jim is the X-Men artist and has very little time to work on Rules of the Game. And then…he starts up IMAGE…and then…becomes part of DC.
So the project just got pushed back and back and back. We talked about finishing it up a few times, but I really didn’t want to do it without Jim. We came up with the story together and it’s our project. Any other artist just wouldn’t be the same.
Captain America: Winter Soldier borrowed from the Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. mini and although I enjoyed the film, as a fan I was bothered that one of Fury's best stories was handed over to another character (and Pierce turned into a Hydra agent no less). Further, on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Phil Coulson is essentially a surrogate for Fury and the small team dynamic resembles that of the early S.H.I.E.L.D. (V2) days.
Do you think we will ever see Nick Fury get his fair shot at his own solo stories either on film or tv?
I would hope they give the current film version a chance to have his own movie sometime. I love Samuel L . Jackson…but he’s not Nick Fury. And the filmmakers have used Jackson’s charisma and undeniable baddassness to create this version of Nick Fury without giving him much of a character. Samuel L. Jackson deserves better and I’d love to see them write this character with a backstory he can sink his teeth into. But I really would prefer to see a decent version of the classic Fury from the Howling Commandos, from the Steranko era…That’s the Nick Fury I love. I doubt we’ll ever get it.
Have you followed subsequent Nick Fury comics like Secret Warriors?
I’ve read some of the more recent stuff like Original Sin, which I enjoyed.There has been allot of Nick Fury material reprinted recently, with your material from S.H.I.E.L.D. (V.2) due soon. Is Marvel adequately compensating the original creators with the reprints? How about for material that gets translated into film and TV?
We get paid based on the number of copies the reprints sell and sometimes a flat rate, so yeah buying the trades puts some money in our pockets. Not much, but some. If Marvel were to use a character that I created and signed a creator agreement for I would get paid some money for it whether it was in print or in a movie or on television…supposedly. But ultimately they OWN whatever we do and any storyline can be used without compensating us.
Material that Dwayne McDuffie and I worked on during our run on Deathlok has been utilized somewhat in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We got a special thanks credit, which was really cool, but no cash.
What projects are you working on now?
Mostly independent stuff, I recently colored Joe Frankenstein, a project created by Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon that was a ton of fun.
And I wrote THE SQUEEG, a hero who gets his powers seemingly from a magic squeegee, based on a screenplay by David Lieto.
A big thanks to Gregory Wright for taking time to do this interview!