Walter Simonson is one of the few comic book creators from the 1970’s who is still turning out high quality work.
His current comics are actually some of the best work of his career!
Forces of Geek sat down with Walter (and his wife Louise later in the conversation) to talk about his current book, Ragnarok.
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FOG!: Walter, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. So the first question is about your current book Ragnarok, how did you come to work on this book? What was the impetus of this? What made you want to create this book?
Walter Simonson: Well, a couple of things. One is that I have been a fan of the Norse myths since I was a kid. And this was long before the Marvel Comics involving Thor even existed. My parents had a book in the house on the Norse Myths that I read and loved. It was a book that adults would read. It was all prose and it was poetic…anyway, I loved it. I loved all of the blood and death and destruction inside (laughter). I was a kid, what do I know? So I liked that.
And then I discovered the Marvel Thor when I was in college. Loved that. I just loved it all for a long time.
So then about 17 or 18 years ago…maybe even longer…one of my good friends, Scott Dunbier…at the time he was an editor at Wildstorm, he’s now an editor at IDW. And he at the time got a hold of me and asked ”Would you like to do your own book about the Norse Myths? Your own creation? And at that time I said “Sure!” But nothing happened.
And then 15 years later I got a hold of him again. And I said “I hadn’t forgotten about that. I’ve been busy.” But I put together some ideas some of which I had already. I put together a proposal. And they accepted it. I’ve since been doing it on a very irregular basis. I’m going to be more regular this year. Or try to be. I don’t know how I am going to able to manage that. (laughter)
In four and a half years, I’ve put out two story arcs of 6 issues each. The third story arc is about to come out. It did come out here at the convention. The first arc was called “Last God Standing.” The second was called “Lord of the Dead.” The new one is called “The Breaking of Helheim.” So I’ve gone back to the Norse Myths. Again, it’s not the traditional myths. The traditional myths you can buy at any bookstore. You can read it with Neil Gaiman’s new book, or even the book I read as a kid. You can find a lot of that stuff. What I’m doing is a story where Thor was not present for the final battle. That means that the Midgard Serpent was not killed. That means that the bad guys won.
And several hundred years later Thor who has been imprisoned this whole time comes back and breaks out and doesn’t know what’s happened. He does find out very quickly and picks up Mjonir his hammer and goes out into the Dustwinds to find out what’s happened to the Nine Worlds. They have all collapsed into one big realm. And he goes out to find the bad guys to deal with them. As long as he’s alive, it’s still Ragnarok. (He takes out a cellphone and shows what the main character looks like) I usually wear a shirt with him on it but I haven’t today. But this is what he looks like. See? He has no lower jaw! (laughter) I can’t really explain why he has no lower jaw! I may have to figure it out eventually. I haven’t had to do so yet. Mike Mignola had a good idea for it. I have a good idea for it. We will see how it goes. I hadn’t really planned to keep him jawless this whole time. But he looks really cool like that!
That’s great. So my next question would be, where does this new six issue story take the reader this time?
WS: Well, it takes you to hell. (laughter) Now I’m calling it Helheim because well, it’s usually hell in the myths. But the ruler of hell is also called Hell which is Loki’s daughter. To call them both “Hell” is a little confusing. So there are a few references calling it “Helheim” with Hel meaning “Home.” And it also relates to Jotunheimr which is the Home of the Giants.
So with this, “The Breaking of Helheim,” Thor sees the worlds have collapsed into one giant land. That means the realm of the dead exists besides the other nine worlds. And that means that the dead, who are called Draugar, well, the dead have been coming up out of Helheim and into the Dustwinds and they are causing a lot of trouble. And Thor has decided after the first few series of stories to find Helheim and enter it, and stop the dead from coming out of the realm.
And he wants to find what happened to Hell (Loki’s daughter). In the myths she isn’t mentioned until Ragnarok gets started. And that is okay. Myths and poetry aren’t the same as comic books. There are a lot of openings in the Norse myths for me to exploit for stories. And so I am going to send Thor into Helheim to find Hell herself and to stop the dead from coming out of the Dustwinds.
It sounds absolutely fantastic. So how many stories do you have planned after this one for this book? Or maybe I should ask, how many more arcs do you have planned?
WS: I don’t have a specific number. Probably more than IDW wants to publish.(laughter) I just kind of have to see how that goes. They may say “Walt, we love you but we can’t do this anymore. If I was doing this in monthly comics like I did 25 years ago when I could work faster, I’d say that this about a five year project. Now I just hope to be alive to finish it.(laughter) We will just have to see how this works. I will say that the fourth story arc that I’d like to do is Thor going to Jotunheimr itself to go up against the Giants. I’ve been working that out but I have a long way to go to get that plot finished.
Is there anything else that you’ll be doing in between working on this? Or is this your main focus right now?
WS: I think this is going to be my main focus right now. I took some time off between the second and third arcs. I did a forty page or so story for DC for the Kamandi Challenge. It was a lot of fun to do.
I have done a bunch of variant covers. Some for Marvel. Some for DC. Some for other companies. I’ve cut back on those. I don’t plan on doing any other stories for the time being. If I were twelve people, there are a million stories that I’d like to do. I love Tom King’s work. I’d love to do a Tom King story. And there are many other writers I haven’t worked with. I really just want to get more Ragnarok done. It’s a pleasure to do. I may sneak a cover in here or there, but as far as stories go? I’d like to just be doing Ragnarok for the time being.
So we are here at San Diego Comic Con and I have to ask, do you remember your first San Diego Comic Con and what do you remember from it?
WS: It was 1980 and I don’t remember much from it. The Con was running for a decade by that point. I came by myself and I don’t think Weezie came with me. What I remember most from 1980, and I’ll have to ask Wendy and Richard Pini about this to confirm, but there were a billion elves everywhere. (laughter) All over the convention. That was the year of Elfquest. And there were a billion cosplay elves everywhere. It was great actually! But they weren’t at this convention center until the early 1990’s. This was at the Coronado I believe. The place we were at was on it’s last legs. There was a hole in the ceiling and it was leaking. It didn’t get on us so we were okay. But back then it was mostly comics. I mostly go then and now to see a lot of my friends.
Back then it was little easier to see them because there weren’t so many people. It was an enjoyable experience. I have not come every year. I would mostly come out on my own. And it did get pretty expensive to come out here. The thing is, I don’t go to conventions to make any money. I have some people who lug around their books and god bless them. I’m not going to schlep books and artbooks and posters and sketchbooks because I don’t care. I come out to sign stuff for fans, I come out to see my friends, and I raise money for Hero Initiative.
And this time, IDW brought me out. So here I am.
Louise Simonson: It’s worth it just to escape the heatwave at home right now (there is a heatwave at the time of this interview).
WS: That’s right.
Yeah, I’m from Rhode Island, they’re feeling it too.
WS: Rhode Island. I went to RISD. You’re getting it too there huh?
WS: Our house is air/semi-air conditioned, so our hopefully our dog is in that section of the house.
So, Weezie, a question for you, do you help Walter on any of this? Are you the first one to see Ragnarok?
LS: I mean, I read them. And mostly, it’s great, And I give him a “Oh, yes that’s good honey.” But every once in a while, I may notice some small thing and I mention it and he goes “Grzumble Grumble Grumble Grumble.”
WS: (laughter) I do! “Rarghhh!”
LS: Well, most times you say, “Oh yeah, you’re right, and you go change it.”
WS: Mostly it’s “Oh yeah, you’re right. (pause) Damn it.” (laughter) And then I make the change. But really I am living with one of the world’s best editors of comics. And I’m incredibly lucky. Even though I get crabby when I have to change stuff. Because you want people to say “hey this is the greatest thing since sliced bread” and that’s the end of it. Weezie does not do that.
LS: I do say that. Mostly. Because mostly it is! If It ain’t broke don’t fix it. (laughter)
My last question is pretty simple: Any chance that we might get another Star Slammers series?
WS: Oh, I hope so. I hope to live a long time. After I finished the last one in what? The early 2000’s? I actually do have another story with Old Rojas from the five issue miniseries. And it’s sort of a sequel.
I would like to go back and do that. And that would maybe be eight issues. I do have some plots written and I do have some character sketches drawn. I kind of hate the idea of stopping Ragnarok though to take a year or two off to do it.
LS: You could do it for somebody else to draw.
WS: I could. But I don’t work with assistants too well (laughter). But I could. I could find a good artist and maybe that would work, but I really do enjoy doing it all myself. It’s kind of hard to give up.
That’s totally understandable. Well, thank you for talking to us today and taking the time. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
WS: Thank you to everyone who has bought and read Ragnarok.
And for the rest? Ragnarok. Go find it.
Ragnarok: The Breaking of Helheim #1
is currently available in comic stores and via digital