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.
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Anthony: Before Gregory, what were you up to?
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?
Marc: 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?
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
Anthony: I couldn't help but notice that Gregory is in black and white. Is that your choice?
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)