CBR TV @ SDCC: Kevin O’Neill on Fighting the Comics Code & Working with Alan Moore
Acclaimed comic book artist Kevin O’Neil visited the CBR Yacht during a rare U.S. appearance at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The artist spoke with Jonah Weiland about his work on books like “Marshal Law” and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” why his style tends to get him in trouble and his lengthy collaboration with Alan Moore. They also discuss the state of the world versus the satire presented in “Marshal Law,” why the Comics Code Authority seems to have it in for him and whether ending up at Top Shelf with “League” was the best thing that could have happened for him and Moore.
On the time the Comic Code Authority rejected his “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” story because they didn’t like the art: I actually love that, because it was originally a two-part story with tigers that Alan Moore had written for me. It was gonna be in a regular “Green Lantern” book and Andy Helfer, the editor, rang me up and said, “There’s a problem with the Code.” My first thought was, “Well, what have I got to change?” and he said, “Nothing. They just don’t like the style. There’s nothing you can change.” I thought that was ridiculous. So I rang Alan and he was green with envy. I thought it was pretty funny. I thought the Code was a funny idea even when I was a kid, I thought that was strange. And I’d heard all these stories about it’s just little old ladies in a room reviewing pages and stamping the back. I thought it was mental, isn’t it. It’s a really regressive way of producing comics.
They held onto the story for some months and then put it out in the annual without the Code sticker, because I think at the time it was beginning to be dismantled. The next time I went to New York, the very, very great Archie Goodwin, I met him, and I said, “Archie, have you got a copy of the Comics Code? I’ve always wanted to see one.” And he went off, he didn’t have one, no one had one. He found one in the closet somewhere and there’s a phone number on it. And I said, “Do you mind if I, can I ring them up? I’d like to visit them.” I rang up the Comics Code in New York and I said who I was, English artist visiting, “I really want to see what you do at the Comics Code.” And they said, “There’s nothing to see here! There’s nothing to see here!” and just put the phone down. [Laughs] I never got to see them. I’d love to know — I’ve never seen photos of it. I’ve no idea how they work. I mean, people told me they send the artwork up there, it was stamped on the back, and it came back. But no one had been over there, as far as I’m aware to see who these people were, or if anyone’s doing anything. Is it completely random? You know, were they actually just hiring someone to stamp the back? It’s just totally bizarre.
On the satire of “Marshal Law” becoming the reality of today: I find it bizarre that when I started watching “The Simpsons” it was obviously an exaggerated version of America. But coming here this time, I’m looking around this thinking, “This is like ‘The Simpsons’ in some respects.” The stores and the slogans and everything — it is weird. When we did “Marshal Law” we thought we were pushing it right to the edge. It was reprinted last year and looking back on some of them we take it right over the edge. There’s been a shift in comics to go much darker. Some comics are more violent anyway and certainly television there was a violence — certainly cable stuff is way beyond anything we ever did. It doesn’t really bother me. I still think we — I think the book holds up. I think there’s some stuff that’s over the top 20 years later, which is good, I think. I don’t really see a lot of mainstream comics these days. I seem to buy an awful lot of reprints of old stuff.
On his lengthy collaboration with writer Alan Moore and the many ups and downs they’ve experienced while working on “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”: I was meant to work with Alan many years earlier. We were gonna do a “Bizarro World” series with Julie Schwartz back in the day. We were both really hyped because we’re both huge fans of Bizarro World, and then John Byrne got “Superman” and all of that stuff got swept away. So that was nixed, and there was some creator-owned stuff we were gonna do, a supernatural series — we almost did “The Spectre.” There’s all these nearlys, buts, possibles, maybes, and completely out of the blue I was having a conversation with Alan and he’d already told somebody he was thinking of me for this “League” book and he ran the outline down to me and I still remember thinking, “That is such a great idea. It would be such a cool book to draw. And it just suddenly happened very quickly.
But then, along with that, was Wildstorm being sold to DC and suddenly, “Oh no,” it’s all falling to bits. Got over that, Alan, he didn’t want to drop anyone in, he didn’t want any artist to lose work, so somewhat grudgingly he went along with it switching to partly DC. DC sort of stepped away, left us to Wildstorm. But as time went on, there was a little bit more interference which kind of always rubs him up the wrong way. He doesn’t want any interference at all, you know. [Laughs] But I can remember when we were coming to the end of the first series, when we had the big ending with Moriarty and Fu Manchu’s forces and the airship, I did think that I’d ever do another book [like that] — this is as good as it gets.
All my happy stories end with the happy days and then the low days. [Laughs] There was problems on “The Black Dossier,” problems of copyright issues, stuff like that. Stuff that you can do in Europe that you can’t do in America, so we had all that aggravation, that was the final straw for Alan. He said he couldn’t work this way anymore, and then we switched to Top Shelf — Knockabout, I should say, because there’s a British arm on this side — and that’s been a lot of fun. We’re just left to our own devices and we get on with it. We’re just in the early stages of talking about a fourth volume of “League,” and that’s some way off but we’re just finishing the third and final “Nemo” book, which is set in the ’70s.