The past few weeks I've had the joy of talking with my old buddy Mike Ploog—we're discussing the possibility of working together on a new project—and it's been a delight reconnecting with him. A few years back I wrote an introduction to a Modern Masters edition that focused on Mike's extraordinary body of work and I'd like to share it with you here—in celebration of one of the most amazing artists, and wonderful guys, it's ever been my pleasure to work with. Enjoy!
I thought he’d be taller.
I’d been working with Mike Ploog for a couple of years—communicating through phone calls and emails—but I didn’t actually meet him face-to-face until the spring of 2006. We were in New York City to meet with the folks at Hyperion Books For Children, publishers of the Abadazad books, and then we were heading to Washington, D.C. for the official launch of the series at Book Expo America.
We made a plan to meet outside a restaurant in Union Square. I’d seen photos of Mike—bushy white beard, mischievous twinkle in the eyes—so I didn’t think I’d have a problem recognizing him; but when I arrived at the Union Square Cafe, I couldn’t find him. Oh, sure, there was this man standing there who kind of looked like Mike—but he was so much smaller. Understand: it’s not that Mike’s short—he’s not—it’s that the Ploog I’d imagined in my head was about thirty feet tall. Talking on the phone, listening to that booming laugh, hearing those amazing stories of Mike’s boyhood adventures in Minnesota and Burbank (think Huck Finn in the l950’s), in the Marines (where he was part of—no kidding!—the Marine Corps rodeo team), in Hollywood (where he worked with everyone from Terry Gilliam to Roman Polanski), and in the comic book business (this is a guy who started his career working with Will Eisner), I’d imagined a kind of Paul Bunyan character: a towering giant striding through the Manhattan streets.
The truth is Mike is a kind of Paul Bunyan—but instead of an axe he’s got a giant pencil slung over his shoulder; and he uses it to create astonishing worlds of imagination. Mike is one of the greatest fantasy artists on the planet: There may be some artists out there who are as good, but—take my word for it—there’s nobody better.
I've been a Ploog fan since his Marvel Comics work of the 1970's—especially his extraordinary run on Man-Thing with the great Steve Gerber. I always responded to the flow of Mike’s art, the almost palpable texture, the impeccable storytelling and—most important—the heartfelt humanity. But being a fan and working well with someone aren't always synonymous. I'm happy to say that, from Day One, Mike and I have had a wonderful creative interplay, both professionally and personally. (I think what really cemented our friendship was the fact that we both still believe in Santa Claus. And, no, I’m not kidding.) Watching him bring both Abadazad and The Stardust Kid to visual life has been one of the great joys of my career in comics. Time after time I’d get new pages from Mike and be stunned by what a brilliant job he’d done. Hell, I was absolutely giddy. “This looks just like Mike Ploog!” I’d say to him—and he would laugh that remarkable laugh.
I don’t think he realized that I was paying him the highest compliment possible.
©copyright 2012 J.M. DeMatteis