|P. CRAIG RUSSELL
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DF Interview: P. Craig Russell talks Killraven, Don McGregor, Dan Adkins and LGTB
By Byron Brewer
Comic book illustrator and writer P. Craig Russell is one of the true legends of the industry, his beautiful lines elevating any script on which he may choose to work. A multiple Harvey and Eisner award winner, Russell first gained fans’ attention with his well-remembered run on Marvel Comics’ War of the Worlds/Killraven comic in the early 1970s.
Dynamic Forces sat down with this living icon of comics and tried to gain a little knowledge about his life, times and marvelous works.
Dynamic Forces: Craig, how did you first get interested in art?
P. Craig Russell: My interest in art is something that just grew on me. Like any other little kid, I was encouraged to draw pictures in kindergarten and grade school. I took to it more than most. I do remember a time in third grade when the class was drawing one little girl sitting in front of the class and at some point I noticed a small group of kids were looking over my shoulder and admiring mine. I felt it was something I could get used to.
DF: What led to the decision to get into comic books professionally? Were you a fan?
P. Craig Russell: Always a fan of comic books from the [Donald] Duck comics and Casper to The Archies and then on to the Marvels in 1963 onward. My decision to attempt to break in professionally came when I met Marvel inker Dan Adkins and he offered to train me in his studio.
DF: I was and still am a great fan of the late Dan Adkins. His work on Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner and other books in the late 1960s and '70s was just beautiful, especially when compared to the time. I remember a Namor book he did as a fill-in during Bill Everett's last run called "Atlantis, Mon Amour." It has beautiful sketches of Easter Island. What was it like to be his assistant and what do you think he contributed to your later career?
P. Craig Russell: When I met Dan he was working on “Atlantis, Mon Amour,” had about 7 or 8 penciled pages. Absolutely beautiful stuff. I was never really his assistant but a member, along with Val Myerick and later Paul Gulacy, of an Ohio studio he was trying to develop that would provide material to Marvel Comics. Val did assist Dan in completing pencils on the Sub-Mariner story. Dan fostered an attitude in me of being willing to draw and re-draw until I got it right. I had never had a teacher tell me it wasn’t up to par and to start over. He did.
DF: I think I discovered you with everyone else on Don McGregor's phenomenal War of the Worlds run. Tell us about working on that particular strip with the writer and what it meant to you as a storyteller
P. Craig Russell: Don McGregor was the writer and creative collaborator I’d been looking for. His passion to produce a book to the best of his abilities matched my own. He was an absolute joy to work with. He was so enthusiastic and supportive that he made me want to impress him even further on the next issue. He had that knack with all his creative partners. Working with Don on Killraven secured my secure, albeit small, little corner at Marvel Comics.
DF: Do you ever have an urge to get back with Mr. McGregor to take another run at Killraven?
P. Craig Russell: I did hope to complete the War of the Worlds saga with Don and I had actually begun penciling the opening pages when it became clear that the originally projected 64 page novella was up to 200 pages and counting. That was okay but Marvel would only commit to running it in 8-page chapters with no guarantee of a collection. In 2015 hindsight, I can see that by now it would have been collected as virtually everything is nowadays. But even so, the artificial restriction of a ‘cliffhanger’ ending every eight pages put me off and so the project withered and died.
DF: If you don't mind my asking, what led to your decision to later withdraw from mainstream comics for a while?
P. Craig Russell: It was never a conscious decision to withdraw, I simply follow the opportunities to write and draw the kind of stories I was most interested in. When a mainstream publisher offered a script as good as, for example, Sandman #50, I was more than happy to work mainstream.
DF: You have won multiple Harvey and Eisner awards. But what over the years has been your favorite project or properties to work on? If you want to name something outside comics, do, but tell us something inside comics as well.
P. Craig Russell: Adapting the complete fairy tales of Oscar Wilde (eight down, one to go) has been one of the happiest projects of my career. Also, using the operas of Mozart, Wagner, Strauss, etc. as raw material gave me a chance to explore subject matter not often approached by others in my field. And all the projects I’ve done with Neil Gaiman have given me contemporary stories of the highest quality to illustrate and/or adapt.
DF: Craig, if memory serves, you were THE first mainstream comic book talent to come out as being openly gay. What do you think of the current state of the LGTB movement and the historical decision recently made by the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage?
P. Craig Russell: I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on the “current state” of the LGTB movement, but I am very pleased by the Supreme Court decision.
DF: So what is coming next from the talented pen and pencil of P. Craig Russell? Do you ever see yourself doing mainstream superhero/science fiction comics again?
P. Craig Russell: I am currently at work on adapting Lois Lowry’s The Giver as a 178-page graphic novel followed by a 64-page book for Dark Horse of two Neil Gaiman stories. And of course there’s the final Oscar Wilde fairy tale, The Fisherman and his Soul. Mainstream/Independent/Alternative is all the same to me. It’s whichever company offers the most interesting project or accepts the project I approach them with.
Dynamic Forces would like to extremely thank P. Craig Russell for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer our questions.
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