DB: Letís start right back at the beginning Ė how did you break into comics?
MN: I started at the age of 4 or 5 when I first started seeing Batman comics. I saw a couple of Batman comics translated into Arabic, I was in Lebanon, and these comics were black and white with colour covers. Something just grabbed me right away with the first Batman book that I saw and I started copying pictures from there. Now from that time that was it, the bug was there and I couldnít get comics out of my mind. I kept on drawing and when I came to America in 1967 at the age of 11 years old. I felt it was a much wider world than the little bit we were getting in Lebanon. Thatís when I started buying Marvel and DC. I canít say I was really identifying the artists yet, or styles, I really wasnít even looking at the names. It wasnít in my mind at that time. The fact that I wanted to draw comics was in my mind. Eventually when Nealís (Adams) covers started coming out for DC and this whole new drawing style was sweeping DC comics, I just became attached to it in a way that is very hard to describe. It just seemed all of a sudden, thatís exactly how I would do it. Or thatís exactly the way I think it should have been. There was some form of identification with it that was beyond regular artwork. It was an identification with whatís behind it, the kind of spirit that was behind it. The thought process that leads to drawing like that. What happens to an artist to make the breakthrough from what comics were at the time, and what he brought to them. I identified with that a lot. I identified with the presentation, the presence of the artist, Neal Adams, in the comic book industry. It was the first time that I was seeing where an artist was becoming an independent entity. It wasnít so much his style, but he had something to say. What happened over the next three years was that I met Greg Theakson at High School. He was an artist and publisher at Pure Images. He was doing some books at the time, the Bernie Wrightson Treasury, and he also did a Neal Adams Treasury later on, but at the time I met him he was very involved in the world of comics. He was a good friend of Sterankoís. He knew Neal well and visited Continuity all the time. When he saw my infatuation with Nealís work. Maybe the quality of the work and the spirit of it, and the ability to pick up and feel what Neal was doing moved him. Without any question of if you have your own style or not, it was just being able to do that and something moved him to help me a lot and push me into the industry. So he took it upon himself to talk about me to Neal all the time and brought me drawings signed from Neal to me, and so on. In 1975 he hosted the Triple Fan Fest Convention in Detroit and he invited Neal, and he asked me to be in charge of Neal. And this was like the big day; I was going to finally meet Neal Adams. And the day came and I was in charge of looking after everything that Neal needed, which gave me a great opportunity to get to know him. I was very quiet and withdrawn and I didnít have to say anything for him to realise how much he had been a driving force in my life. So it was a great convention and at the end of it, Neal, after looking at my work, said, ďIf you ever come by Continuity weíll see if thereís something we can get for you to doĒ.
A few months later a couple of other Detroit artists, Arvell Jones and Keith Pollard, called me up and said they were heading out to New York, and did I want to come along and see if I could get a script from DC or Marvel, or go to Continuity and if so, then Iíd be welcome to stay with them for a while. So I took that ride out there in November 1975 and arrived at Continuity. Neal was very warm. He said, ďI really donít have anything that you can do here now but hereís a few phone numbers. Call up some people at DC and Marvel and see if you can get an appointment and present your workĒ. I had an eight-page sample story with a couple of other singular drawings. So I made some calls. The first call I made was to Jack Harris at DC who said, ďSure, come on byĒ. Right away I stopped making calls and I went to see him that day. And I came back with a script for Kamandi; the Tales Of The Great Disaster. It was a very lucky thing. I think at the time I may not have understood the extent of what a break it was because there were a lot of people at Continuity who were trying to break in for years.
DB: What was Continuity like at that stage?
MN: I arrived at Continuity at the beginning, right after Neal had received the letter from Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, weeping their plight to the comic book community. I was there when Neal was saying, ďWell, we should we do something about itĒ. Thatís the era that I entered Continuity. The first few months were mayhem. There was a lot of noise around that issue. That was also the first few months that I was just beginning to realise how little I knew about drawing comics, and what a long learning curve I had. Neal was busy with Siegel and Schuster, so it was kind of like; everybody gets to settle into their own place at Continuity. Like I said, I was a very withdrawn 19-year-old kid when I arrived in New York. What I can tell you is that I really was not that aware that I should be navigating a career in comics, that was not what was going on. What was going on was that I was basically rolling with the punches as they were coming. Neal says, ďHereís the numberĒ, I call the number; it works. I go, they say this, and I start doing it. I never went to DC and said ďYou know what, Iíd like to do Wonder Woman for a yearĒ. Never ever asked, never knew that I should or could. It was never in Ďthe codeí at the time, because there was so much to learn about the drawing and the storytelling and the whole craft. So there was very little time to concern myself with things like that. I just said, ďWhatever comes alongĒ, if they keep giving me things then Iíd do them. I did Legion, I did Green Arrow/Black Canary, I did Kobra, Martian Manhunter/SupergirlÖ it was one thing after another, a piece from here, a piece from there and that was fine with me. That being said, Continuity was the perfect environment for this because Neal was actually the benevolent father of the young creators in the industry at the time. Thereís no other way to put it. He was guidance, his place was open to everybody and everybody felt comfortable visiting him. Everybody felt this was a place; a centre, and you donít turn in your work at DC or Marvel without dropping by Continuity. It was a very closely-knit family of comic book creators. They all lived in New York at the time, there was no way for anyone to live in California and do comics. Steve Leihola tried to launch his career that way and it took him a long time. Imagine, these are the people, a community of people, and what theyíve got on their minds is how Supermanís cape behaved in the wind and how the X-Men are ever going to try and fix getting hit and get a little compassion from the authorities. This is what they were thinking about. They talked about this very seriously and itís really deep inside of me. Thereís something about these comic book stories that was really an intrinsic part of all of these creators beings. There isnít any other community like it anywhere else. You canít liken it to anything else that exists today, and back then, being such a tight knit family, I would say that Continuity facilitated the major energy for keeping that family very tight knit and was certainly the hub of the comic book industry at the time. It was a warm place, it was a happy place, and it was a magical time. For me, it was a very quick rise to a relatively high stature in the industry in a very short time; while still being a kid that wasnít really sure of what I was doing learning to draw and trying to get better and better. That would amply describe that period.
DB: I have in front of me the two Batman stories you did in the late 70s. Your artwork at the time was very reminiscent of Neal Adams.
MN: Yes. Of course. Itís obvious that I was aware of it. But first of all letís clarify what is it about it thatís reminiscent of Neal Adams. There have been other artists that basically have worked by mimicking Nealís look. In many places theyíre really basically repeating certain poses, gestures and shots, repeating verbatim from the original, and you could recognise them.
DB: They were swiping Neal in other words.
MN: Right. Mike Grell wasnít like that. Mike Grell was drawing it himself but his stuff was also reminiscent of Nealís in a different way than mine. I wasnít repeating things as I saw them. I might have been ghosting certain ideas but I was drawing them, and my execution, and my composition was a little bit different. Also, there was a lot of life in the pages at the time. A lot of energy, big things on the page depending on what books youíre looking at. Now during that period there was more of that than there was in other books. Also, people would react to it in many ways, in the way they reacted later to the Image books; a lot of nice big pictures, dramatic, but with weak story telling. None the less I was learning to draw so it looked like Neal. I would say that about half of the people in the industry would look upon that disfavourably, like ĎI canít wait until he learns how to develop a styleí, and I was never looking at that aspect of it. It was fine that I looked like Neal. Here I was learning from him and I was still only in my second year in the business at the time that this stuff was coming out. Neal was like a mentor, a teacher, and he was also like a father. Specifically, in this relationship, there was that kind of feeling of the student, the son, and there was a very strong bond between us. He encouraged me and he realised what it was that I was getting into by becoming a prominent artist, and it just seemed like he understood that I was really looking at it that way. I was just living my life and drawing and I wasnít really behaving as if I understood the position I was getting myself into. Iíd say by the summer of 1977, I was starting to go through that awakening age that others might have gone through at ages 16 or 17. Iíd already figured out that Iím supposed to be creating something in life and itís not just that we have a power to act, we have a mind, we should think and use it and build a life and a name, or choose a course or a path in life and go for it. So all of this stuff was starting to come up in my life around late Ď77 and it came to a peak in November of Ď77, exactly two years after I landed in New York. At that point I made a decision to step out of comics for a while and go find out what it is that I would want to say with my work, if I had an opportunity create my own work. If there is such a big audience, then is there anything Iíd want to say to all these people who like your work a lot. Is there anything you have to offer beyond drawing somebody elseís stories about the same superheroes always duking it out with some super villain. So I left comics at that point. I left New York, very suddenly and abruptly. I had a couple of good jobs on the board and I turned them back. I hitchhiked to California and spent some time on the beaches and in the mountains to clear my head a little bit, then came back to New York with the beginning of an idea, a thought, of what Iíd do or say with a comic book. That was the beginning of the next phase of my career and life.
DB: As you said, you rose to the top so very quickly and then you appeared to drop off the face of the Earth entirely. What happened?
MN: First of all, on that first trip I stopped by at Steve Leiholaís place and there I produced a story that was drawn in Star*Reach volume 12, the New And Old Testaments. Word of that got back to Neal right away and everybody realised that something had happened to Mike and he was getting involved in something religious. I came back to Continuity and I was feeling very quiet at the beginning and didnít want to do any comic books at the time. †Neal was kind of a little bewildered, you know, ďWhy donít you do something, if youíve got a message or something then put it into drawings, tell a storyĒ, and I wasnít seeing it that way. There was a very heavy learning curve that I had to go through since that time and until today, in order to put all the thoughts, ideas, and the voices inside, into some kind of perspective that could be presented. It just wasnít the time. There was a lot to learn in life. Basically what happened were three or four years of being in the studio. At the time I made it very uncomfortable for people to even look at me. I was kind of refusing to participate in what was going on in the studio anymore and I was going off and building something else while demanding that I do it from Continuity. Neal, for the longest time, it took a few years, tolerated, even supported or tried to direct it in such a way that I could express it in the industry. I wasnít seeing it that way. I did some comic book like stories. Those are the ones you see on my web site today. They were done in the three or four years that followed where I basically disappeared, or began to disappear. But there was no outlet for those; nobody would touch those with a ten-foot pole at the time because it was very different. It was looked upon as a kind of craziness or something, like ĎMikeís gone off the deep endí and so on. I stayed on that course because I realised that was part of what I needed to go through in order to come to some revolution within myself at least, of what this is Iíve embarked on, trying to accomplish within comics. By 1981, it just became clear that I needed to come to Israel. Israel being the source of possibly what was driving a very important part or element of this journey. I headed out here and passed through Lebanon to visit my father and remained there for the rest of the year. I got stuck there during the war, couldnít get out and in the end, after the dust settled in í83, I kind of escaped from Lebanon in a cab down to the border and got by and came into Israel. I settled down here and basically settled into what I was feeling that youíve got a lot to learn about this thing that you want to bring about in this sort of place. And Iíve been here ever since, except for a three-year period between 1990 and 1993 when I went back to New York with my wife and children and worked in comics. I started working with Neal at Continuity, but we were starting to have disputes over certain things and the whole relationship ended unfortunately, as you know with lawsuits. I came back to Israel and basically put it all behind me and started working in the visual media industry. Over the last three or four years Iíve been gravitating back to the feeling that the time is becoming right and ripe to try to put it all together, the whole life experience, to put it all together and come back to the comic industry with some kind of summation and perhaps a direction. It may be that comic book artists and writers pitching in together can do a lot more for themselves, the environment, for the country and the world, than they can alone. The times are such that the comic industry is not in very good shape, and a lot of the people from my time, and even the decade after that, arenít getting work in the industry anymore. A lot of very good people have just been left behind and it seems like not a bad time to try to inspire all of these people to take a little bit of a command of the situation and then together try to put forth some kind of an idea or a plan, from the comic book world that would be of some interest to the rest of the world. And not just entertainment for entertainmentís sake, but this has really been the course that the top names in the industry have taken, from Will Eisner to Neal, Frank Miller, Alan Moore. These guys have a concern for the world and there are tons of them in the industry. It seems like everybody is working on their own; everybodyís message is as strong as that one message can be. But it still needs a unified voice. Not meaning that everybody agrees on everything, but at least unified in the spirit of how things should be going. I think that maybe it is time for the notion of such a thing to happen in America. Letís call it the Comic Book Creators Party, a union of comic book creators who declare that theyíre going to form a party and spend the next four years putting out books that form a platform for the 2008 Presidential Election with possibly, say, Neal Adams as the candidate for President. Now I understand how wild and wacky that is, but anyone who reads the Neal Adams web site can see that heís very politically minded and heís the kind of guy whoís been in charge of big things before and wouldnít baulk at such an opportunity if it fell into his lap. Why not see if we canít do anything to bring it all about? If Schwarzenegger can do it with his popularity, and so can Reagan, then comic book artists, who are very popular people, can obtain a lot more popularity if they take a step like this, because the media will be all over a story in the beginning and thatíll give it the momentum. Itís a very juicy thing, a very juicy story. All we have to do is basically role-play it, and take a good serious look at whatís going on in the country and the world and offer at least a look at it from a such a way that the knots are. Thatís probably what is not clear to anyone now. Yeah there are some knots in the way things are going, there are some problems, and weíre not identifying the problems really. Weíre identifying the symptoms all the time. It takes a little bit of a special spirit to be able to look at the actual problem and not the symptom. The problem is inherited, and itís behavioural. Itís behavioural within people. Itís the behaviour of the top ten corporate providers of the world. The top ten richest, most powerful men in the world. There seems to be a notion that capitalism basically allows them to enslave humanity. It seems that weíve become a mercantile monster that is eating itself from the feet up. What used to be the poor classes are now the middle classes, and itís becoming harder for people. Itís never been this difficult for them, and itís been a downward trend over time. It seems that whatís waiting for us ahead is a little gloomy if it continues going on this way. So maybe itís time to start talking about it and seeing if we canít effect a change in the way decisions being made and the way things are done. There is no problem with delivering the whole human race into a situation where people have what they need and live a certain life of dignity. There certainly is enough here for everybody. I would think that these top ten corporations, if they knew, if theyíd realise that they could get a lot more out of humanity if theyíd give humanity itís freedom to think, and to work and to act as every person as a free mind, as opposed to enslaving their minds through their cultural employment, through creating a world that is a reality, so to speak, that is really just a very virtual reality. Itís not etched in stone. None of what civilisation considers being reality is reality. There are a lot of other levels to this world that civilisation doesnít take into account. There is this attempt to convince everybody, thatís all there is to life. Youíve got to work, and be part of this machine and thatís how weíll fix everything. Well the machine doesnít seem to be really working to fix everything; it seems to be bringing everything down more and more. I think that comic book artists are some of the people who understand this most within all the other mediums, and they have a very free voice. And they have a very bold voice. And theyíve been dissecting and analysing good and evil all their lives. Good guys save the world, save the world, save the world, save the world. Hereís the real world that needs saving! Hereís the real world that needs saving, so what am I gonna do? Keep drawing Batman playing with aliens, or Superman playing with aliens? Weíre gonna address the real world that needs saving. Weíre the ones who are doing superheroes here.
DB: Your views sound rational and certainly you sound sincere, so how do you respond to people when they say youíre off your tree and that youíre just plain nuts?
MN: What I say to them is this: you guys really donít know how off the tree I really am. You have no idea. You have no idea where this is going. You have no idea. I look and I feel a lot of people are off their tree in the world, and the fact that they think theyíre not. Or maybe they think they are, but theyíre not seen that way. Thereís a bit of public perception. But that can change. Public perception is very fickle. Some of the greatest contributors throughout history have been people who have been considered Ďoff the treeí so Iíve passed the barrier where I need societies stamp of sanity in order to continue doing this. Iíll continue doing what Iím doing and I see that for every person who says youíre Ďoff the treeí thereís a lot of people going ĎwowÖí so itís fine. A lot of the people who say Iím Ďoff the treeí really are the guys who are helping get the message across. Theyíre talking about it and it has moved them to that kind of a reaction so they are spreading the message. So when they sit and say this, in a group of five people, three of the people who are sitting there will hear, just like the other two guys whoíll ridicule and say Ďheís off his treeí, theyíll think Ďwow, this guyí. So itís fine.
DB: Iíve got in front of me a print out of the Son Of Neal article, which I find very condescending. Youíre out there trying to get your message across, youíre out there doing your artwork and yet when you surface youíre instantly shot down.
MN: I remind everybody to read carefully how everything was placed on the site. I spoke about myself, and also what people said about me. I was being very careful not to make any prophesise claims. Everything was hinted at and people could come to their own conclusions. At the time, when I used that phrase which was only used once, thatís what was said in the comic book industry. Again, it wasnít me that said it. It wasnít me that said it first. Now Iíve come to accept that whole period, and Iíve presented it on my site in such a way. What I can tell you is this: itís not important what I think. Thereís nothing embarrassing about the results of what is being said about me. I have every intention of backing up the thrust of what was said on the web site through appearances at comic book conventions starting very soon. Weíre going to publish a book of the web site, which has about fifty pages of artwork that people arenít really looking at because you donít look at art on the Internet, especially if thereís a lot of text to read, which there is. When I publish the whole web site with the artwork itíll be a very special book. Weíre going to put it out there and see if people are interested in this and see what they think of it. Itís building a mythology and letís just say for now, this is just comic books. Weíre presenting perhaps a role playing game, but nobody has made any claims. Weíve presented everything that was in the periphery of this story as it developed and fermented for the last 25 years. People can make their own conclusions. It talks about science and it mentions names and the threat of messiah-hood is certainly straight through it all the time. But nothing really concrete can be attributed, or is being said specifically, about myself. I want to keep it that way. I want to keep it at the level of a comic book mythology, and perhaps go through a period with the comic book industry exploring a role-playing game. People want to say this and that about you, well people have a lot of frustrations and anger and speak. Sometimes they say things that can hurt a lot of people and itís not easy to stand up for a persons right not to be seen as something that he isnít until itís proven, especially something that has a negative connotation. On the other hand, I say all the power to them. Let them say what they want to say; they canít hurt anybody, they canít hurt me. Not anymore than what God would give them to hurt me with. So let them say it and at the end they help my cause because they spread the message and the good and righteous people of the world will be able to discern whose bringing forth more to our message here, the guys who are scoffing or the guys who are speaking apparently very sincerely about these things. Iím willing to let those slings and arrows keep coming and Iíll absorb them lovingly and weíll look for a day when everyone will put down their bows and arrows and be able to sit down together and at least enter an agreement that weíll all be the best that we are and we donít need these labels of Ďyou did thisí, and Ďyou did thatí, and Ďyouíre crazyí. Weíre all people here and when the time comes weíll all be judged, certainly not by the standards that people are judging these things today. And weíre basically talking about people who donít really understand the story from the inside. Theyíre not close to it, so theyíre talking from rumour and gossip, and third or fourth generation. Somebody printed it and somebody said something about it, so we allow for that. We understand it and we donít get upset, we donít let it eat us. We keep on moving ahead knowing that basically everything is coming along just fine and everyone who has anything to say about us, in the end only contributes to our cause.
DB: So itís all in the perceptionÖ
DB: Youíve never said that you were the Messiah; everyone else is saying you are.
DB: In your career it appears that you canít take a right step. In the early days you were dismissed as a Neal Adams clone, and then when you returned to comics in the early 1990s you had the likes of Frank Miller attacking you for what he saw as you stealing from him. Now youíve got people attacking you because they think that you consider yourself to be the Messiah. What can you do?
MN: Youíre bringing up the elements that make for one side of a coin. The coin has another side. Next to all of the people who were saying ďHeís a Neal Adams cloneĒ, there were a lot of people in the industry who understood and saw that there was some ability there, some independent ability, and it was something to be looked at. It wasnít dismissed as being a Neal Adams clone. Not everybody was saying it. But if you hear only that, then thatís all youíll hear. I heard the other side of it as well. The same thing with the Huntress stuff. A lot of people loved it, and it was legitimate for a lot of other people to work in another artistís style and be influenced by them so I always went to the extreme. If I was going to do homage to Sin City, then I did it. And it was clear it was homage to Sin City, and when I worked in Nealís style then it was also clear. Youíll see that I have other work, for instance things on the site, like the job for Star*Reach. Itís not so much a Neal Adams clone anymore, that stuff is a little more independent, that has a little more of an independent style. There are still some illusions and so on, granted, but it was still done very close to a time back then.
Iím not sure what my work would look like today, although Iím starting to get back to drawing on paper again. Iíve been drawing on a computer for a long time working on multimedia, but Iím sure thereís still going to be a visible influence of Nealís work on mine all the way through, but I think that I have some ways of expressing myself which are also mine. Iím not sure how relevant that is. Everybody else is influencing everybody. Frank Miller didnít bring anything new with Sin City that wasnít there before in the industry. It was there in South American comics. And everybody is bringing in influences from everywhere. Itís not the issue, what your drawing style is like; itís really nothing to do with it. The point is, even if youíre an artist, do you have anything to say or not? Do you have anything to contribute? Not just in a drawing style, but from your mind, from your heart, from your soul, from your thoughts, from your personality. From your deepest innermost self that a lot of people donít get to Ė do you have something there to give to the industry? Thatís whatís more important. The drawing style is really a vehicle and you can manipulate it and I have in many different directions. I came from the Neal Adams school and I think itíll always have a strong influence on me, but Iíve learnt to divorce myself from it completely at times depending on the situation. Maybe the next job I do I would certainly be exploring that completely independent approach to things. I donít regret anything thatís happened and I certainly welcome all the voices, the ones that are on this side of the coin, and the ones on the other. They both have to have their own interpretations. Neal had his critics. There are people who donít like his work and will go other places. A lot of artists in the industry are looked upon as being too much like this guy, or too much like that one. The ones who really produce and build a name for themselves are the people whoíve broken through their initial barriers of looking for themselves. I guess I was never in the industry long enough to find myself, to develop an identity, but I have been in so many fields, illustration, animation, Iíve been in the visual media industry since and itís mainly what Iíve done. I have a lot of experience in production and printing and understanding how the processes work and even 3D animation. Iím in this world and Iíve gained a lot of skills and crafts and there may be a time coming soon where we can put it all together into something new and vibrant too within the framework of everything weíre doing.
DB: Talking about developing a style, I noticed that in the second Batman story that you did all those years ago in 1978, actually has an art style that looks somewhat like a combination between Neal Adams and Don Newton leaning more towards Newton than Adams. It seems to me that perhaps if youíd not dropped out of comics then your own style would have developed along those lines.
MN: I agree. Alas it wasnít to be though, as my life took a different turn. Iím not out there in the industry to prove that Iím an individual with a drawing style, thatís the least of my concerns. Once I realised that, then I became a little bit free to start thinking about what it is that Iím doing. Iíll keep the importance of that thing in its place. Iíve contributed everything that I could in the time that I was in the industry. It hurts that Iíve gone through a period of distance from it, but perhaps these twenty years of being away have possibly given me something that I can give back to comics today, in drawing style, and in content, and spirit, and thrust, that might have some kind of a positive effect in the industry, might come from this sojourn and this distance of this twenty years of being away, which forbade me from developing this style. Thereís a story being developed and we can all be a little bit patient and see how itís going to play out. Because thereís still a lot to play out. Time will tell and itíll be clear to everybody who is sincere in their work, who took their work seriously and tried to give the most that they had and the artist who contributed their guts and heart and soul, so that comics could rise to their rightful place in our culture.
DB: Youíve worked on comics while youíve been in Israel though. One that surprised me was Casper Visits Israel. How did that come about?
MN: Steve Harvey, one of the sons of the two brothers who established Harvey Comics, moved to Israel around that time, in Ď87. I had met him at the time I was doing my Israeli comic Uri-On. He was just very excited that I was here, he didnít know anything personally about me before then, but once he realised that I came from the comic book industry, he was very excited and inspired to see if he could produce some books from here, and he did. One of them was the Casper book. It was mainly for the Israeli market, although it had text in both English and Hebrew. I donít know if that book is available still. I havenít been in touch with him since, although heís still in Israel. It was a chance meeting where he felt that he was happy to see some comic book activity at the time. It was a temporary thing. It was a few years of comic book activity. Then it died out and since then there have been a few little local beginnings here in Israel but nothings really caught on yet. There are a few good comic book artists here today, especially with some of the people coming from Russia who are very, very good illustrators and artists. Maybe something is coming up here again.
DB: You came back into comics in the early 90s and found yourself back on Batman. How did that come about?
MN: I first worked at Continuity for about a year. Since I had landed in New York I was already seeing some of the old people that I used to work for. Denny OíNeil and Archie Goodwin, so I went and visited them on a semi-regular basis and they knew I was in town and working at Continuity. At one point I told some of them I was leaving Continuity and I might be interested in doing something at DC. There was a project that Neal was supposed to do, the Batman: Poison Tomorrow. Neal was supposed to do it but there was a disagreement over the script and they were left with a script that Denny wrote, a Denny OíNeal Adams comeback, and that was around the time I left Continuity and they offered it to me. It was a sixty-page book and it took a few months to finish. From there they offered me Detective and I did another sixty page Legends Of The Dark Knight Annual and that gravitated to Detective and so on. What was happening in that period was the unfortunate situation between Neal and I, the beginning of litigation, and I wasnít able to produce much work. I asked to get off the book and asked for something that had a little more breathing space and they offered me the Huntress mini-series.
DB: You left again after that that. How much of that was down to the litigation between yourself and Neal?
MN: It consumed me. It was everything. It consumed me completely. I can tell you that in retrospect I wasnít myself throughout that whole period. It was a very difficult time. Itís not in my nature to raise that kind of a sword, so to speak, but without getting into the circumstance that led to all of that, I can only say that it was a very large mistake on my behalf. It came from a misunderstanding of the situation and it should have never have been done. The lawsuit should never have been filed. There was nothing to file a lawsuit about. It was a big mistake.
DB: Have you spoken to Neal since?
MN: No. I send him emails every once in a while but I havenít heard from him yet. I understand that he might not be willing to put it behind him yet. I know him and Iím sure he knows me and Iím sure that a time will come when Neal will understand Iím sincere about this and that I regret that whole segment of our relationship. Perhaps it may come to a point where he can put it behind us and we can try to put our heads together a little bit and try and do something beyond the daily toil we do to produce the work we need to do for making a living, and do something we can give through the comic book industry to the whole world. I think that Neal has a lot of the same feelings about the situation and how everything is progressing and the need for people to see this, and whoever has the ability to do something to change the course of things, to go ahead and make a move. Thatís the basis for a very important, common look at the world, and a very good partnership and friendship and one that we should both, he and I, do the best we can to preserve it. Itís difficult for him now and I can understand that and I donít blame him. It was difficult for me. I know I hurt him greatly and I felt that he hurt me greatly at the time, and time will do its thing. We can look ahead for a time when things like this can be healed. Thatís what I aspire for. Iím not like most of the other people. Most of the people, especially from my era, donít have any work in the industry anymore. They canít get it. They should start thinking of putting some ideas down because there may be an opportunity where they may be able to put together some kind of an independent publishing entity that is by the creators, for the creators. It seems to me that itís almost imperative that the comic book artists should start to band together to start to do that. All of the ones who donít have a place in the industry should get together and create our own place. We donít need DC or Marvel; we have a lot more to give to the world that apparently DC and Marvel are willing to give. They havenít been willing to listen to us, although history has shown that all of the advances that the comic book industry has gone through have all come from the creators. Marvel did not create Spider-man. Comic book creators created him. DC did not create Superman. Jerry Siegel created Superman. Creators really have the upper hand; they just donít know it yet. They can take advantage of the changes in our culture since the early Ď70s, the change in the industry. They can see that maybe America is ripe to look at these people differently today. I can liken it to a lot of people who went to enjoy the Spider-man movie, people who in the Ď60s and Ď70s scoffed at comics and ridiculed them. What changed? Iíll tell you what changed. Itís taken a long time; itís no longer the bastard medium. It seems that a lot of people have seen what an impact and what an intrinsic part of our culture itís become. And when a movie like Spider-man comes out, people start realising Ďthese stories, this was good stuffí. They had a good message, they were clean. Thereís something very nice and clean and a message of goodwill came through it that is not really coming through a lot of the other medium and cultures that we have today. So I think thatís a very good and positive change that the comic book industry will capitalise on. Once it becomes aware what a grander place it can obtain if it were to take a look at itself a little more seriously and try to put in a little more content that the world needs to hear, and just not put the smoke screens in everyoneís eyes.
DB: Going right back to the beginning, what other artistic influences did you have when you started out?
MN: Iíve come to learn to like everything. I like South Park. I like the drawing style on it. Iíve learnt to like the statement behind it. Thereís so much good work in the industry. I was influenced a lot by encyclopaedias in Lebanon, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I looked at a lot of statues of artwork, drawings, paintings; I copied those. So the first influences were really the Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, that kind of stuff. I started to link that up early along side the comics. After coming to the States and becoming entrenched in the comics industry, I started discovering things. Of course Kirby overwhelmed me. Steranko, I realised at the time that I started seeing his work, was a newcomer. All these guys, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bernie Wrightson, they were a very important part of the material that I absorbed. I liked Gil Kaneís stuff. In the community in Detroit at the time comic book fans were few. Of course they had their heroes like Neal and Jack Kirby, and other artists I considered a little bit low key like Dick Dillon and Mike Sekowsky. These people were artists who were always relegated to (heavens forbid that I should say this) the hack category and perhaps I accepted things that way. Thatís the way it is, these guys were doing just as much as the other guys. Look at Kirby. Look at Adams. Look at Steranko. But I came to appreciate how solid those guys work was, considering the amount of material they were putting out. Their stuff was very good. A lot of artists cannot do what they could do. They cannot tell a story, they cannot draw as wholly or as disciplined perhaps. These guys, their stuff looked good. It wasnít blazing saddles, but their comics looked good and I learnt to appreciate that a lot more after I left the industry. I was not yet aware of Williamson to a big degree, or Frazetta, or the artists who worked in the era before the Ď60s and Ď70s. I became exposed to that when I came to New York, when I started at Continuity. Just like another level of the history of comics and all of the greats who waded through it and all together theyíve all had some form of impact on my work.
DB: Have you ever dabbled in the fine arts?
DB: Have you ever considered it?
MN: Yeah, a lot. Iíve struggled with it. My mother, since the day I was 14 or 15, asked me to do a painting for the house, a painting she could hang in the living room. Iíve never done that. I canít bring myself to do a painting for someone to hang in his or her room. Itís such an energy-taking thing and all the energy that I have for drawing is taken on doing it professionally and nothing is left. I donít have that thing where I can play with it just to enjoy it. Iíve done pieces of art that have been very expressive, very individually expressive, without being chained to any kind of demand or guidance from anybody else. Things that have come from me that have a very free approach. I donít know that I would call it art in the way that you mean and I would rather leave it at that. Basically we call ourselves artists and there are a lot of different kinds of art. Comics are an art form. They may not be an art form in the drawing style. They might be an art form in the whole storytelling, visual style. Thatís the art form and so in that essence we call ourselves artists because thatís what weíre creating, an entity thatís not just drawing. Weíre creating continuity, weíre creating things that are printed on pages with ink that go to the printer and have ads in them and each part is a little separate monster in itself and thatís the art form, and thatís why weíre artists and I accept that. Some say youíre more a commercial artist, youíre a graphic storyteller or whatever. Whatever people want to say is fine. Lately Iíve been thinking I make comic books, thatís enough.