This is the first part of a two part interview with Bob Layton. In the second part, Bob discusses the "dream project" that never was approved by Marvel, his latest project (Shambler) and the future of comics.
Bob Layton has written, drawn, and edited comics for most of the major comic book publishers during his 35 years in the business. Bob's storied career in comics began when he and Roger Stern began publishing the comic fanzine CPL. Layton then apprenticed under comics legend, Wally Wood and had several roles at Charlton, Marvel and DC early in his career. Bob is probably best known in the mainstream comic world for his extensive run on began publishing the comic fanzine CPL. Layton then apprenticed under comics legend, Wally Wood and had several roles at Marvel's Iron Man. Bob also was instrumental in the success of the Valiant universe during the 1990s where he served as a writer, artist and eventually editor-in-chief. In 2000 Bob co-founded Future Comics and most recently served as a creative director on the Iron Man 2 feature film.
You advised Jon Favreau and company on the Iron Man franchise, could you explain your involvement in the films?
I've been on the set of Iron Man 2 and got ample opportunity to exchange ideas with Favreau and Downey. While I was there, Jon, Robert and I discussed the relationship between Tony and Rhodey and how the conflict in this installment would affect their relationship. They both were very concerned about staying true to the spirit of the relationship that David Michelinie and I created with those two pivotal characters.
I also spoke at length with screenwriter Justin Theroux and Sam Rockwell about the changes in the Justin Hammer character. Again, I understand their decision to alter him, for the sake of the story they wanted to tell.
I've only been involved peripherally with the Iron Man movie franchise so far, other than my comics work being interpreted in the two films.
As far as I can tell-- I think I've become Marvel Studios' unofficial mascot!
I'd love to have a larger role conceptually with the next film. Downey expressed to me on the set that he'd like to address certain aspects of the Demon in a Bottle storyline in Iron Man 3, but whether that happens, or not, remains to be seen.
What is it like to see a character you helped create, Jim Rhodes, having such a high profile as War Machine in one of Hollywood�s biggest movies?
I'd be a lot more excited if I got money for it!! (LOL!)
Keep in mind that David Michelinie and I created the Jim Rhodes character-- but not War Machine. We had no idea that Jim Rhodes would be such a mainstay in the history of Iron Man when we introduced him back in Iron Man #118. Jim evolved from a small supporting role into a much large player in our storylines.
Remember there weren't a lot of strong African American characters in the Marvel Universe at that time and David and I wanted to give Tony a foil with a dissimilar background from his own. Through Jim's eyes, we witness the fantastic and see him react in a believable manner. Rhodey was created by David and me to ground Tony Stark's fantastic exploits in some degree of reality.
Generally, I like the War Machine concept, but putting Jim Rhodes in the War Machine armor dilutes his primary role by making him almost no different than the character he was created to support!
Which of your works of yours are you most proud?
Obviously, David and I were able to reshape the initial Stan Lee concept of Iron Man into something whose legacy endures to this day. That is something more gratifying than any creator can usually hope for in their career. There really haven't been negatives to being associated with Iron Man, with the possible exception of that legacy having a tendency to overshadow any of my current work. I remember going to conventions (as the editor in chief of Valiant Comics) to promote the company-- but all the fans wanted to talk about, regardless of what I was involved in creating at the moment, was Iron Man. At the time, I found that somewhat frustrating, but these days, I've come to embrace that legacy.
No one loves that character more than me. I'm the biggest Iron Man fan I know.
I think it's the uniqueness of Tony Stark's character that David Michelinie and I created that links me to him and the myriad of fans.
I feel very fortunate and privileged to have such a loyal and vocal fan base over the decades.
Is there anything you�ve done which fans hold in high regard that might not be your own personal favorite?
Not a big fan of the Silver Centurion Iron Man armor. I mean, it looks cool and all. But, my objection to it was for purely philosophical reasons. My basic Iron Man philosophy, over the decades that I've been associated with the character, is that the armor technology should continue to evolve and streamline. The one thing that Marvel has done over the last two decades that drives me nuts is that they keep making the Iron Man armor more bulky and loaded with clunky crap. I felt the Silver Centurion armor flew in the face of my own philosophy.
My fans know that I've preached and preached about continually streamlining the armor. I would use examples like; "Look at the technology you use to listen to music NOW compared to a decade ago."
Ten years ago, your music player was a Walkman that was about the size of a friggin' Frizbee!
What comics do you read today?
To be perfectly honest, I haven't kept up with the current comic books. So, it would be hard to venture an opinion. As I tell people at conventions and such: "I'm a seller,not a buyer." I don't have a comic collection or stuff like that. Creating comics is a business to me.
David and I have been fortunate enough to reach a point in our careers that we can do a new IM series for Marvel and they'll permit David and me to do "our version" of the character and avoid current continuity. I think the hard-core fans of the Michelinie/Layton runs want to see our Tony Stark and company when we create a new storyline.
I DID recently pick up the trade paperback collecting Jim Steranko's Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD! Brilliant stuff that changed the way all of us in the biz tell stories with pictures.
Come back on Tuesday, May 11 for the rest of our interview with Bob Layton.
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