Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Marc Hempel Interview:
Of Mice & Madness

Conducted by
Anthony Servante

The Marc Hempel


The Gregory & friend

"Gregory" is locked in a cell all day, arms in a straitjacket. His best friends are Herman, an arrogant sewer rat who occasionally dies to resurrect shortly thereafter and Wendell, an extremely cheese-addicted mouse. 

Gregory looks at the world around him with the innocent naivety of a toddler. What is it like to live like this? More fun than you can imagine - especially if you're one of the "outside" who has to deal with the stress and bustle of the treadmill called life day after day. 

Gregory by Marc Hempel (draftsman Sandman: DIE GÜTIGEN) is one of the few comics in which the method has madness. How many stories can you tell about a boy in a madhouse cell who can not even talk properly? 

Hempel provides countless variations of happy lunacy in which rats and cockroaches are welcome guests, but only disturb caregivers and therapists. Black humor with deep black heart. [From Amazon].

Marc Hempel: 

I'm a freelance writer, illustrator, and cartoonist, best known for my work on The Sandman with Neil Gaiman; Mars, Blood of the Innocent, and Breathtaker with Mark Wheatley; my humor titles Gregory and Tug & Buster; and full color cartoons in MAD Magazine and Nickelodeon Magazine. In 2007, I created the art for a 21-page Escapist story that was finally published in the new trade paperback Michael Chabon's The Escapist: Pulse-Pounding Thrills (Dark Horse Books). In my spare time, I drum in a cover band that plays vintage rock & roll.

Contact and Goodies at these links:

Gregory on a rare walk

The Interview:

Anthony: B
efore Gregory, what were you up to?

Marc:  Well, I grew up in the Chicago area, and began writing, drawing, and painting at the age of two, and continued on this creative path through high school, where I won some awards. I later graduated from Northern Illinois University (with a BFA in painting) and moved to Baltimore, Maryland to join Mark Wheatley at Insight Studios, where I endeavored to earn a paycheck from my passion. After getting some attention with comic strips for newsstand magazines like Questar, Epic Illustrated, and Heavy Metal in the early 1980s, I found myself collaborating with Mr. Wheatley—mostly happily and successfully—on the comics series Mars and Blood of the Innocent. Then, circa 1986, Mark and I were asked to be the regular art team for Comico's Jonny Quest comic book.

Jonny Quest

Anthony: How did that lead to Gregory?

Marc:  Mark and I were both fans of the animated Jonny Quest TV show, which was airing in prime time in the sixties, so it was initially a great honor and pleasure to be working on the comics series. For me, however, the novelty wore off quickly, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated on a creative level. I wanted to do my own stuff again, and in a big way! My own indoor-life-by-choice-of-livelihood inspired the original version of "It's Spring!," which appeared in Honk! magazine (Fantagraphics, 1986) and featured a taller, ganglier version of the character that was soon to become Gregory. Several months of development led to a book proposal and the eventual sale of the property to DC's then-new Piranha Press imprint in 1988.

Anthony: Can you give new readers some basics before they jump into the Gregory universe? Unless you prefer readers jump in feet first.

Marc:  Basically, just jump—in whatever manner feels right! And the "universe" is essentially just a cell in a psychiatric hospital, so it's nothing terribly daunting. That said, the basics (for the sake of this interview): Gregory is a patient in said hospital, a little kid with a big head who wears a straitjacket, has an acerbic rat friend named Herman Vermin, and speaks mainly in vowels. He runs around screaming in a manically mirthful manner whenever it amuses him. Gregory's cell is truly his universe, and most of the time—e.g., when doctors and therapists aren't trying to "cure" him—he's quite happy there. The stories (of varying length) are sometimes poignant, usually humorous. Stupid puns abound. There are four books, as originally published. Alas, the full size, original editions are now out of print!

Anthony: Can we view Gregory as a satire or is it best not to overthink the comic?

 A satire, certainly. A sociological, psychological satire of sorts. That said, the series is probably more enjoyable if one doesn't take it too seriously. A lot of silliness ensues. And, annoyingly, alliteration.

Anthony: As I'm currently working on a series on trauma, would you recommend Gregory as therapy to get your mind off your problems? 

Marc:  Well, working on Gregory took my mind off my own problems, so I'd think there would be some benefit for readers as well! For what it's worth, I'd also recommend petting cats and listening to Django Reinhardt.

Sandman artwork by Hempel
Very therapeutic

Anthony: What comics and comic artists, old and new, feed your unique imagination?

Marc:  Among those who have inspired or influenced me at one time or another: Winsor McCay, Cliff Sterrett, Lionel Feininger, George Herriman, Roy Crane, Elzie Segar, Milton Caniff, Crockett Johnson, Walt Kelly, and Charles Shulz from newspaper comics ... Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder from MAD ... Frazetta and others from Warren magazines ... many New Yorker cartoonists and cover artists ... Hergé ... Will Eisner, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, and Bernie Wrightson from comic books ... Jim Woodring, Lorenzo Mattotti, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, and José Muñoz from more recent years. Alas, I don't keep up with current comics.

Anthony: Any suggestions for artist novices looking to break into comics?

Marc:  Use a crowbar. Seriously, though, I have nothing pertinent to offer, as the industry has changed so much in thirty years. Some creative advice, as that's more my forte: Learn the ins and outs of drawing at a good art school, focus on effective visual storytelling (as opposed to rendering pretty pictures), and make expression of character and emotion a priority. Importantly: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." ―Oscar Wilde

Marc at work. 

Anthony: I couldn't help but notice that Gregory is in black and white. Is that your choice?

Marc:  Yes, it was. I love black and white—my two favorite colors! Stark and expressive. Color, in this case, would have added another level of visual complexity that offered little or no utility in terms of serving the story. It certainly wouldn't have made the jokes funnier. I also wanted to create a feeling of drab dreariness for Gregory's world, so any colors would have been muted tones, anyway. That said, I did intend for portions of "Out" in Gregory III to be printed in full color (to contrast with the grays), but DC nixed this because of added cost. The story does appear as intended in a lovely German hardcover collection.

Anthony:  What's the future hold for Gregory and you?

Marc:  At this point, an animated TV show would be nice!


A special thanks to Marc Hempel for taking the time to meet the Servante of Darkness readers. I've been a big fan for years. And years. Now it's your turn. You're in for quite the journey!

The Gregory Treasury Volumes 1 & 2 
by Marc Hempel are available here on Amazon.

For all other comic artwork (Jonny Quest, The Sandman, Gregory the Third, and more) 

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