Mike Maihack on Spider-Man: Quantum Quest | Interview
In last June’s Spider-Man: Animals Assemble, cartoonist and Cleopatra in Space creator Mike Maihack introduced his version of Marvel’s Friendly Neighborhood superhero in an all-ages adventure that found Spidey kinda sorta teaming up with the Avengers…or, at least, pet-sitting for the Avengers while they fought his super-villain, Kraven the Hunter.
Now Spidey and Maihack are back for a sequel, Spider-Man: Quantum Quest, this time teaming the hero with the Fantastic Four, plus plenty of other Marvel heroes, ranging from Moon Knight and Shang-Chi to Devil Dinosaur and Jeff the Land Shark.
It seems that Namor’s kingdom of Atlantis has gone missing, and the search to find it takes Spider-Man and friends to the weird and mysterious “Quantum” realm, where other heroes continually “blip” in and out of place in front of Spidey’s very wide eyes.
Spidey is able to eventually round up everybody to face the villain responsible for the mess thanks to an assist from a mysterious silver surfboard, and at the end of the book our hero finds himself further away from home than ever before…in outer space.
It turns out Quantum Quest is actually the second in what will ultimately be a trilogy of “Mighty Marvel Team-Up” books from Maihack and Abrams’ Amulet imprint, each installment featuring Spider-Man and a super-team…and lots of guest-stars.
We spoke with Maihack about the making of his new Spider-Man comics, what it’s like playing in Marvel’s sandbox, and what to expect in the future.
Can you give us a little background into how this project came about? Was the plan always to do a series of graphic novels?
Originally I was just going to do one book. I think Abrams had just gotten a license to do some Marvel graphic novels and my agent contacted me that some folks over there thought I might be a good fit to take on Spider-Man.
I wasn’t sure I agreed with that assessment—haha—so I actually had to go draw a few sketches of him just for myself to see if it’d be a project I thought I could take on. It only took me a couple hours to realize I loved drawing Spidey.
We then all had a brainstorming session of what I thought would make a fun story and that ended being the beginnings of Animals Assemble. I had such a good time making that first book that it was very easy agreeing to take on more.
As a creator, how different is it working on someone else’s characters, like Spider-Man and the various Marvel heroes, versus working on your own characters?
I suppose one of the nice things is not having to do much character designing. If anything, I was simplifying costumes just to make them a little less cumbersome to draw. You don’t really have to worry about establishing much motivation or backstory either. Heck, I told everything I felt readers needed to know about Spider-Man—at least my interpretation of him—on the first page.
The trick to writing any character, whether you create them or not, is knowing deep down who they are: What gives them joy, what sets them off, what their favorite foods are, what would be their first move in a galaxy-saving dance-off… Stuff like that.
For my own character like Cleo, it was a starvation for adventure. For a more established character like Spidey, it was about tapping into his friendly and neighborly disposition toward everything. Those are both things I could completely connect with. After that, I find it pretty intuitive to know how each character is going to react when you confront them with other characters or toss them into a giant mess of a situation. No matter where they come from, I discover ways of making them my own.
From following your art online, I know you’re a huge fan of DC’s Batgirl and Supergirl. Have you always been a Marvel fan as well? Did you grow up reading about the characters, or did you come around to them later in life?
Oh, I very much grew up a Marvel Zombie. One of my first big Marvel introductions was the Infinity Gauntlet and it’s still one of my favorite stories ever. Reading about heroes with conflicting personalities teaming up in space to defeat an all-powerful cosmic madman is totally my jam. From there I devoured just about every corner of the Marvel universe for the next two or three decades.
My long boxes probably have more X-Men and Spider-Man issues than any other comics. Other than a few exceptions, I rarely picked up a DC book until much later in my teens. For that universe, I was much more into stand-alone stories or their animated counterparts. That honestly hasn’t changed much.
The first installment of the series featured a team-up with the Avengers, as rather broadly defined. This time the Fantastic Four are credited on the cover, and yet there are quite a few other Marvel heroes in the proceedings. Did you have any sort of constraints about what characters you could or couldn’t use, or was the Marvel Universe wide open to you? How do you choose who to use, and where?
It was fairly wide open! Granted, having younger readers being the target readership, I’m pretty sure using characters like The Punisher—or even Deadpool—would have been a tough pitch. Thankfully I don’t really gravitate to those characters anyways.
I did look at this sandbox opportunity though to include characters I really wanted to draw such as Kate Bishop and Ms. Marvel. Thankfully they both had a pet connection to work for Animals Assemble. I’m a huge She-Hulk fan and there’s a sequence in Quantum Quest that only works if she’s a part of it. So that worked out in my favor too.
For every hero who shows up, even for a blip, they had to propel Spidey further along his adventure. I think maybe I just got really lucky I got to use everyone I wanted while simultaneously benefiting the interactions I placed them in.
Given all the heroes who appear–and in this issue, disappear–throughout the comics, what makes Spider-Man the ideal hero to star in the comics, and be the sort of point-of-view character for readers?
One of my favorite things about Spider-Man is that he is Marvel’s every-person. I told my editor at the very beginning that I never wanted to show Spidey without his mask. I wanted to make sure every reader could see themselves in him. So when Spidey is surprised or elated or distraught, they are surprised or elated or distraught right along with him.
He’s not perfect. He messes up a lot. He gets jumpy in stressful situations and loves pizza. He’s honestly the most relatable character in the Marvel universe. The fun part is getting to show how hard he works solving the problems he often creates for himself.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process that went into designing your Spider-Man? Was there a lot of trial and error involved, or was it simply a matter of applying your style to the new character? He’s always struck me as a harder character to draw, given the full-face mask, for example.
That’s a great question because I think I had only drawn Spider-Man maybe three or four times before the series was offered to me. Yet somehow, when I went off to draw some practice sketches, he just landed on the page very quickly. And almost exactly how he appears in the books too.
I’ve always loved a physics-defying, wide-eyed emoting Spidey mask and fortunately that look worked perfectly for how I decided to write him. I just made sure not to get too hung up on how precise the webbing on his costume was. It was much more important that he was flipping around doing fun things. That a character’s personality shines bright has always been a more important focus to me than getting every little cosmetic detail right.
There’s a bit of an interactive element in the book as we get deep into the quantum realm, and the pages get flipped around. Was that fun to plan out?
It was so fun! I’m grateful I was allowed the creative freedom to do it. For a number of years I drew a webcomic called Cow & Buffalo where I did a lot of wacky, fourth-wall breaking stuff like that. So laying it out was pretty natural. The tricky thing was that I actually had those pages laid out normally before a little family dinner conversation made me rethink the sequence. So I had to go back and rework those panels. But I think the extra time was worth it. I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, but so far it sounds like a favorite section of the book.
There’s a pigeon named Mark who gets an awful lot of panel time, mainly, I would guess, because Spider-Man needs someone to talk to in the earlier section of the book. Do you think Spidey needs a sidekick?
I don’t think he needs a sidekick, but it’s a great deal more enjoyable to give him one. Especially one who only talks in “cooing” sounds.
Mark came about because, like you said, I needed another character so Spidey wasn’t just talking to himself the entire time. Pigeons are in NYC, they can fly next to him when he’s web-slinging and they also like junk food. So he was a good fit.
Now when I go to schools and talk about the books, kids care more about Mark than they do about Spidey! Haha.
Were you writing with an ideal audience member in mind, tightly focusing on a particular age-group, or do you work with a sort of all-ages audience in mind? I only ask because I’m a superhero fan in my late-40s and enjoyed the heck out of it, although it’s clear that it’s geared towards younger readers.
Well, first off, that’s very kind. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it! As someone in their mid-40s, the first audience member I was trying to entertain was myself. If I didn’t enjoy making these books, readers wouldn’t have enjoyed them either. That disservice would have totally shown through.
The second audience I had in mind were my two boys, currently aged eight and twelve. Admittedly, they probably think a lot like me so third in mind I guess was simply everyone else in the world, regardless of age. I wanted parents and teachers to enjoy the books along with young readers. Maybe even enjoy them together. Comic making is such an incredible amount of work that it only makes sense, if you’re going to spend that much time on something, to make sure as many people as possible can enjoy it.
What can you tell us about your next Spider-Man graphic novel? According to the cliffhanger, it is apparently set in space and should involve The Silver Surfer at some point…?
Yup! The next book, Cosmic Chaos, will be Spidey in space and the Surfer does indeed show up. Pretty early on too. After that, it’s a good ol’ classic Guardians of the Galaxy team-up with the now new-classic Guardians of the Galaxy team that most folks are more familiar with now.
I can’t express how much fun it was to write Rocket. I mentioned earlier, one of my all-time favorite Marvel stories is the Infinity Gauntlet and there are some nods to that. There’s larger-than-life cosmic characters. There’s reality-bending powers. There’s waffles. At its core though, it’s still about being friendly and neighborly, even when that neighborhood is really, really far away.
Are there plans for more Spider-Man graphic novels after the next one, or is it a trilogy?
I’m sure there will be more books after this one, whether I’m attached to them or not. At least I hope there is! For my part, I ended my run with what I feel has some closure but opens the door up to new neighborly adventures.
I’m currently back to work on some exciting, creator-owned comic stuff. Then after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll find myself chatting with pigeons in the Marvel Universe again. I certainly wouldn’t mind. I loved making these books.
Filed under: Interviews
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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