BY ACE MACDONALD

Rob Liefeld has had many ups and downs in the comics industry. An original Image founder, he created characters such as Supreme and Badrock before joining with Jim Lee for the "Heroes Reborn" relaunch at Marvel. After a few issues, he was removed, however, and shortly thereafter he left Image as well. Rob has kept busy with Hollywood projects, his family, his Awesome Comics line, and now Arcade Comics. At this year's San Diego he announced that Arcade was to publish a comic based on the hit TV spy show ALIAS, with series creator (and Superman film scripter) JJ Abrams writing the book, and Liefeld and Andy Park on the art. Rob is definitely still bucking the trends, as his comment on the state of the industry will show.

THE PULSE: How on earth did Arcade end up publishing ALIAS: AGENT BRISTOW? I understand you and JJ Abrams were friends, correct?

LIEFELD: It's funny how the ALIAS thing came about. I met with J.J. concerning SHRINK! the movie I'm producing with Sony and Jennifer Lopez. We share the same agent and he recommended that we get together and see if J.J. could contribute in any way to SHRINK! During our meeting, we hit it off and talked about comics and ALIAS extensively, (it's our favorite show in the Liefeld house) and he talked about how much he wanted to do an ALIAS comic project. I told him that the comics industry was pretty difficult at the moment, and directed him and everyone else at ABC to various web sites that posted comic circulation just to prepare them for the reality of our business. I just wanted him to realize the disparity between the 15 million viewers of his show and the decreased comic readership. He was undaunted, which was a relief and continued to pursue the idea that he would write the comic.

I was really attracted to the notion that he would write the comic, because that doesn't happen too often, that the author of the series would write the comic as well. It's not like George Lucas pens any Star Wars comics, so that was a huge draw, the element that could really set the book apart from some of the others out there. J.J is an exceptional talent as the fans of ALIAS are well aware of and his first couple of scripts are fantastic. He's using the comic to enhance and expand the show, developing some character traits and motivations that have not made it on to the show, specifically, Sydney Bristow.

THE PULSE: How does he approach writing comics?

LIEFELD: Well, he writes them like episodes of the show. The same format and style of a TV script. So far it hasn't tripped up any artists that have worked from them. As I mentioned before, he's really using the comic to expand the show and tell stories with bigger budgets and in some cases darker storylines than on the show. He's a great storyteller.

THE PULSE: Did you have any trepidation about going into licensed comics again? Have you had any problems working with the network?

LIEFELD: I did have serious trepidations but J.J promised to run interference for me and has done just that. My fear was working with a big corporate monster that clearly sees the show as one of it's most important assets and that there would be a ridiculous amount of red tape to get through. But so far it's been very smooth. The network is very excited and enthusiastic about the comic.

THE PULSE: How many issues are you publishing?

LIEFELD: As many as we can. As many as J.J.'s time allows.

THE PULSE: What's the story about?

LIEFELD: Gotta read the comic!

THE PULSE: What's your participation in the book?

LIEFELD: Right now I'm tracking and producing it. My contract calls for me to illustrate some issues but other than short stories, my schedule won't allow for that until next year, so we've really been fortunate to get guys like Andy Park to jump in and do some issues.

THE PULSE: This is a bit more controversial, but I notice that you are doing many variant covers for ALIAS: AGENT BRISTOW. Do you feel like this is just continuing the bad practices of the past that led to the speculator bust?

LIEFELD: No I don't think it's a continuation of bad business practices. Variant covers never left the business, if anything they are part of the larger publishing institution now. Everything from TV Guide to Entertainment Weekly to Maxim offer variant covers which give the consumer a choice of which edition they would like to purchase. It's an option for fans, if you don't like them, don't buy them.

THE PULSE: So…what ever happened to YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT?

LIEFELD shocked bviously BLOODSPORT is late and I'm completely to blame. I choked, froze up, got stage fright, whatever description fits. I keep re-drawing entire sequences, panels, pages, I wasn't prepared for how intimidated I would be working with Mark Millar. Ultimately, it's terribly unprofessional of me and a great example of why I can no longer do regular work. Mark has a great roster of artists that he works with and I didn't want to be seen as the weakest link, although, inevitably, I am and will be. It's shipping at year's end and hopefully the fans who were looking forward to it will be pleased with the end product.

THE PULSE: What is your ultimate goal as a publisher?

LIEFELD: To put out comics that people enjoy. Work with talent I admire.

THE PULSE: Are you at all surprised that female action stars are so hot right now?

LIEFELD: Not at all. I'd much rather see a kick ass woman than a kick ass man any day of the week. I think most of the world feels the same. I'll take Jennifer Garner, Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez over Vin Diesel and The Rock any day of the week. It just wouldn't seem right to have Vin Diesel dancing around in his Spidey briefs, ala, Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels. Yuck.

THE PULSE: How did Andy Park get attached to the project, and what makes him the best artist for the series?

LIEFELD: He's an old friend and studio mate and he had an opening in his schedule. He's a great story teller and draws fab babes, even ones without back breaking chests like TOMB RAIDER. Sydney is much more sleek but twice as appealing,

THE PULSE: So what have YOU got cooking in Hollywood?

LIEFELD: Well. SHRINK! is being written as we speak. Sony hired two outstanding writers named Requa and Ficarra who wrote CATS AND DOGS and Terry Swigoff's (who did CRUMB and GHOST WORLD) new film, BAD SANTA starring Billy Bob Thornton as the most twisted department store Santa you could ever imagine. They're also writing a draft of Ridley Scott's next film while completing SHRINK! We had a great meeting with Jennifer Lopez, who's also producing the movie, a few weeks back and she had great suggestions and insight. Anyone who thinks she's not incredibly intelligent savvy and driven are making a big mistake. She blew everyone away with some really great material for her character and the writers implemented it immediately. We should have a finished draft by January and evaluate it from there. The SHRINK! comics on the web will soon be returning on Jennifer's web site, so I've been working on several new strips as well as talking to some other writers and artists about contributing strips as well.

I have a movie called GALAXY GIRL with Mutual Films (TOMB RAIDER, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) over at Paramount that's being written right now. It's an action comedy that I describe as sort of THE PRINCESS DIARIES meets MEN IN BLACK meets LEGALLY BLONDE. I have high hopes for this one as well.

There's a new project that's being auctioned to studios right now based on an upcoming web-comic I'm completing and it has really fantastic talent attached all around. It has an A-list director, star and screenwriter and it's taken up the past seven months of my life so I'm really excited to see it finally being sold to a studio. We've already lined up a foreign distribution partner so I'm pretty psyched. As you can tell, I really want to get a movie made; it's my personal Holy Grail. There's also a BADROCK cartoon which looks like it is going to at least get a pilot and THE MARK with Will Smith is back on the up swing now that all legal entanglements are behind me. I'm really busy, working with great people in comics and film.


THE PULSE: After a long time out of the spotlight, you are back in the publishing game. How does it feel?


LIEFELD: Scary. I love comics as a fan. Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about them, but publishing is hard work and very difficult. The system as we know it now is terribly broken, as the numbers for the past two months readily attest. I know that in the current state of the industry, what I'm saying is very un-Politically Correct, but it's the reality of the business right now. Things aren't getting better, as a matter of fact, outside the top fifteen, it's only getting worse as the average comic's sales continue to plummet. I used to be addicted to the industry in a really toxic way, but having stepped away for a few years, I see it much clearer. Of course I hope for the best, especially for everyone, retailers and freelancers who are working so hard to turn things around. The drought is certainly not due to a lack of good product.

THE PULSE: So you don't believe the "comics are on the upswing" idea?

LIEFELD: I strongly disagree. Matt Hawkins, who worked together with me for several years as Promotions Director and later on Editor, sat down around 1995 and showed me the trend of what he referred to as "Spike books" on the charts. These books were generally new number one comics, usually mini-series created to capitalize on the moment, or special events such as DEATH OF SUPERMAN and SPAWN/ BATMAN or the sudden explosion of Marvel/DC cross-overs. We certainly did our fair share of Spike books, before and after Matt, and they helped push valuable cash flow into the company. I see an industry built on this practice now. THE TRUTH, ORIGIN, SPIDEY/BLACK CAT, The Death of Superman re-visited, a gazillion 80's spin-offs. There's nothing wrong with them, especially when they're done right, it's just that they're the only things that seem to be working and pushing dollars into the publishers and retailers. Certainly the Spider-Man family and the majority of X-books are stable but most everything else continues to slide. But if a new Batman mini-series keeps paying for The Legion to come out monthly, then I'm all for it.

THE PULSE: You spend a lot of time in Hollywood, what's your impression of the comics/movie connection? Do you think it will last?

LIEFELD: Yes, it will for two big reasons. One, technology has provided us with the means to bring super powers to the big screen. Making dinosaurs and giant tidal waves and asteroids can only hold your attention for so long, and super powers provide untold opportunities for dazzling FX. Kids love stuff that looks cool and when Johnny Storm flames on or when Badrock morphs into stone or when Plastic Man stretches across screen, it will look amazing. There was one great hour in SPIDER-MAN and one lame one, but it didn't matter because he LOOKED COOL. My 2 year old freaks out seeing him swing across screen, and so do I. The Hulk is certain to blow people away. He's ten freaking feet tall and massive. X-2 and Hulk will confirm Hollywood's love affair with comics.

Second, and equally important is that producers and studio executives are taking the material seriously, treating the characters with the serious approach that was missing from the Batman films. Now they see that you can produce something that doesn't resemble the 60's Batman show and find tremendous success. The X-MEN film reflected many aspects of the great Claremont-Byrne run and it worked great. The best part of the Spider-Man film, the first hour, felt like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's pages come to life. There is growing respect for the creator's input as well, which is a great service to these films and television shows. I mean you've got Jeph Loeb of MAN FOR ALL SEASONS on SMALLVILLE fer cryin' out loud. His episode was outstanding. His presence helps preserve the sanctity of the characters and I see this practice increasing on a daily basis.

THE PULSE: A big question: how has your life changed in the 10 years since you helped start Image Comics?

LIEFELD: Oh boy, big question. First off I have a family now, which as any family man or woman knows, drastically changes your outlook on life. Secondly, I'm much more relaxed, I don't feel like I have to win anything in the industry. I don't have to follow trends and meet sales quotas. I'm just doing comic work out of a deep-seated desire and love for the medium, which is great. And now I buy toys for my two little boys instead of myself.

The first issue of ALIAS:AGENT BRISTOW #0 is on sale in December.