MIGHTY Q&A: DC’s Mark Chiarello — One of the Most Popular Guys in Comics

I’m not kidding when I write that headline. It seems that every other person I interview heaps praise on DC’s art director and editing guru.

Most recently, it was one of my favorite artists, Dave Bullock. Dave made a reference to Mark helping him launch his career and all it did was remind me that Chiarello was someone I really wanted to get to. And the dude agreed to submit to the scorching trial that is the MIGHTY Q&A!

Cover to Overstreet Price Guide #40, virgin art.

Cover to Overstreet Price Guide #40, virgin art.

Dan Greenfield: What’s your Secret Origin?

Mark Chiarello: I was born in New Jersey, where all REAL superheroes are from!

Same here! Now, for the uninitiated, describe your job.

I’m the Art and Design Director at DC Entertainment. I also edit stuff from time to time. I tend to complain a lot, but it really IS the greatest job in comics.

Limited edition Star Wars print by Chiarello

Limited edition Star Wars print by Chiarello

In all seriousness, your name comes up all the time when I talk to writers and artists. They invariably refer to you as one of the best people in comics they’ve worked with. What’s the key to being a good comic-book editor?

It helps if you’re actually an artist or writer yourself. If you can ‘talk the talk and walk the walk,’ writers and artists tend to respect you and appreciate your comments. I kinda learned that in the ’80s when I worked at Marvel. My boss was the awesome Archie Goodwin, who led by example. Archie told me, “Hire the best people you can and then make it your job to make it possible for them to do their best work.”

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Speaking of, you’ve had a hand in some major projects over the years. In your heart of hearts, which one do you point to and say to yourself, “Yeah, that’s it right there. That’s the project that brought out the best in me.” Why?

Hmmmmm, tough question. I loved working closely with Adam Hughes on all of those Wonder Woman and Catwoman covers he did. I’m very proud of having created Batman Black & White, Solo, Wednesday Comics, and having been the guy that got Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb together for Batman: Hush … all of those projects have their genesis in simply telling great stories through the mixture of great writing and great art. To me, that’s what comics should be about.

That having been said, I think I’m most proud of Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier, which to me, is as pure a comic-reading experience as any comic that’s ever been published.

(Oh, and I’m very proud of having been the original colorist on Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Yes, I am indeed the guy who made Hellboy red!)

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Who were some of your own influences growing up and as you got into the field? Did you ever meet any of them? What’s the best story that you can tell?

I was an enormous Marvel fan growing up, so getting to work there in the ’80s was pretty damn cool. I’ve been astoundingly lucky to have worked with nearly all of those early heroes: John Romita Sr., Steranko, Gene Colan, John Buscema.

When I started working at DC, I was really only intimidated by one guy, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. He’s a GOD to any artist who knows anything. The funny thing is, Jose is the sweetest, kindest man, yet every time I see him, I get all nervous. I think he’s getting tired of me saying “DUDE, YOU’RE JOSE LUIS GARCIA-LOPEZ!!!”

Django Unchained cover by Chiarello

Django Unchained cover by Chiarello

Since so many people sing your praises, sing some praises of your own: Name five of the absolute best people you’ve worked with in the business, or who brought out the best in you.

I just started typing a list and couldn’t stop at five. When I got up to 40 people, I realized that nobody wants to read a shopping list of all of my friends in the business! I will, however give a shout-out to my best friend in the world (and best comic book letterer in the world), Jack Morelli!

Name three characters you’ve never had a chance to work on that you’ve always wanted to. Pitch us a story about one.

Although I’ve already painted a Batman project (Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Workshop), I’d love to take another crack at him. He’s the greatest superhero of them all, and SO much fun to draw.

Oh, and I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this, but I’m still an enormous Spider-Man fan.  Someday…

Oh, and I’d love to write and draw the ultimate Star Trek story. I’m talking ORIGINAL Trek, with Shatner, Nimoy, DeForest Kelley. Death to all pretenders to the throne!!!  Long Live Scotty!

Congressman John Lewis with Chiarello's book about the Negro Leagues

Congressman John Lewis with Chiarello’s book about the Negro Leagues

Shifting gears to your work on the Negro Leagues. I assume you’ve been to the museum in Kansas City. Pretty great, isn’t it? I’ve been a number of times myself. Do you have any Negro Leagues memorabilia?

Yup, I’ve been to that museum about five times. Of course, it’s not a complete trip unless you go across the street to Arthur Bryant’s for the best barbecue in Kansas.

I’ve got a small collection of Negro League autographs, including ones from Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell.

Zarda, man. Zarda.

Zarda, man. Zarda.

That’s impressive. Zarda’s my favorite barbecue spot, though. Or maybe Oklahoma Joe’s. 

Back to comics, what’s the first comic you ever bought? Do you still have it?

Spider-Man #141 from 1975. I’ve been hooked ever since the day I read that.

And of course I still have it! What a silly question!

I had this one, too!

I had this one, too!

What’s the most sentimental comics-related item that you own?

When Archie passed away, about 10 years ago, it just crushed me. A few days later, Paul Levitz very quietly handed me an envelope and said he wanted me to have it. It contained an original typewritten script of Archie’s from the early ’70s. It was for a short war story that Alex Toth drew. Archie would always do little thumbnail sketches in the margins, to suggest panel layouts for his artists, so you can see his doodles on the typewritten pages.

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Author: Dan Greenfield

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