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
I've always enjoyed Mike's work and would love to see you working together again. Somebody needs to do a podcast with Mike so everyone can appreciate his voice and laughter. I've only read print interviews with him but he seems a great storyteller.ReplyDelete
He's a FANTASTIC storyteller, Joseph: the kind of guy who can sit and tell you stories for hours and keep you entertained.Delete
You got me with "a giant pencil slung over his shoulder"!ReplyDelete
Mike Ploog is indeed a great storyteller with an unmistakable style. Very nice tribute you wrote for him, JM.
I'd be happy to see the two of you together again.
I'd be happy, too, Javier. We're batting ideas around trying to find something that will excite us both. If it happens, I'll be sure to let folks know here at Creation Point and in the Twitterverse.Delete
I'm not familiar with his MAN-THING work, but I loved ABADAZAD.ReplyDelete
Actually, I do recall seeing a page from his MAN-THING run in a Marvel coffee table book, and it's stuck with me. The image of a clown contemplating suicide in a swamp. And if I remember a page from a book I've never read, he did something right!
That clown story is a Gerber-Ploog classic, David. You should track it down and read it. In fact Gerber's entire run on Man-Thing, with and without Ploog, is sensational.ReplyDelete
Will do! I've been on a horror/suspense kick of late, reading DC's ANIMAL MAN and SWAMP THING.ReplyDelete
Gerber's run on MT has all that...and so much more. He was kicking down every barrier in sight in those days. Wonderful stuff!Delete
Major fan of Ploog's "Terror on The Planet of The Apes" which was my first introduction to his work and now being re-issued by Boom!Studios. A couple of the installments are printed direct from his pencils and are a joy to behold. Can't wait to see what further brewings you two cook up together!ReplyDelete
Mike's APES work was fantastic, Thomas. But, then, just about everything he does is fantastic.ReplyDelete
We're still batting ideas around and may have just stumbled across one that's perfect for us. Time will tell!
This is offtopic, JMD, but with Spidey's 50th anniversary and ASM 700 on the horizon, any chance you'll be doing a story to celebrate? I hope Marvel does something BIG that makes full use of every writer and artist who's contributed to the character in a meaningful way.ReplyDelete
Actually, David, I had no idea this was a big anniversary year for Spider-Man (that's how out of the loop I am). I've heard nothing from Marvel re: me doing any Spidey stories as part of the celbration, so, for now at least, the answer is no.ReplyDelete
Well, I sent the Spider-Man office an email letting them know who I'd like to see involved in the celebration. This might be a shock, but your name was on my list.ReplyDelete
It just wouldn't be the same without you!
Thanks, David! You're a prince!ReplyDelete
Looks like SPIDER-MAN: IDENTITY CRISIS is getting a new TPB:ReplyDelete
Marvel seems to be reprinting its 90s catalogue at a pretty impressive rate.
I remember enjoying the era that followed the Clone Saga quite a bit. Lots of fun ideas in circulation. I've never re-read this arc, but I liked it at the time.
The more they reprint, David, the more royalties I get, so I've certainly got no complaints! : )ReplyDelete
If memory serves, I left the Spider-Man books during the IC storyline. Not a comment on the story...I was just done. For that moment, at least: I always found with Spidey that, after a breather, I was ready to come back again.
It looks to me as though EVERYONE, readers and creators alike, were fatigued by the end of the Clone Saga. It was like being on a roller coaster ride just a tad too long. Which is why I found the post Clone Saga work refreshing. Everyone generally got to do their own thing again with the separate titles, even when an arc crossed over.ReplyDelete
I like that you take the time to recharge with Spider-Man, and every time you're returned to his world I've been excited and impressed. I thought "Echoes," the new Kaine story in WOS 1, and the second Ben Reilly backup (with the Latin title I forget) were some of your best work.
I just read Yost's SCARLET SPIDER 1 last night, and I loved it. There's definitely a LOST YEARS vibe, which comes as no surprise since both Yost and Wacker make abundant references to it in the letters column.
I've heard very good things about SCARLET SPIDER, David. And I was very gratified to read (via Twitter) that Yost has used both LOST YEARS and REDEMPTION as touchstones for his approach to writing the book.ReplyDelete
Now if we can just get Ben back!
Amen to that! I encourage anyone who's interested in Ben's return to fire off a friendly email to firstname.lastname@example.orgReplyDelete
In a perfect world: THE SCARLET SPIDER by Yost/Stegman, and a Ben Reilly book with DeMatteis/Romita Jr.
Sounds good to me, David!ReplyDelete
Great news--"GOING SANE" has gone digital. BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT 65-68 are up at the comixology site. No more digging around for those back issues or the TPB--just carry it around like Captain Kirk would. Worth having in every format!ReplyDelete
Thanks for the info, David! Nice to know it's out there and hopefully finding a new audience!ReplyDelete
Now if we can just convince Paul Dini that this should be his next big DC Animated project! And get Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their roles!ReplyDelete
I've already discussed the possibility of doing "Going Sane" as an animated feature with some Warner animation folks, David. We'll see if anything comes of it!ReplyDelete
This makes me happy. :)ReplyDelete
It must happen!
It would be great, wouldn't it?Delete