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VF / NM Industry Interview: Carl Potts

First issue of the second Alien legion series, from 1987. Cover by Larry Stroman and Frank Cirroco.

First issue of the second Alien Legion series, from 1987. Cover by Larry Stroman and Frank Cirocco.

Carl Potts is most known to comic fans for Alien Legion, as well as his creative and editorial work on dozens of prominent Marvel and Epic titles during the ’80s and ’90s. We interviewed him about working in the industry (focusing on the Copper Age of Comics), and the future of Alien Legion

Carl: I began freelancing for Marvel in the summer of ’75, mostly doing splash pages and pin-ups for the British reprint department. I joined the Marvel editorial staff in early ’83, replacing Al Milgrom who was leaving to go freelance. I was promoted to Exec. Editor in ’89. I was one of the five Editors-in-Chief during the period of Sept. ’94 to Jan. ’96 when editorial was divided into six groups. I left in 1996 and became Creative Director at an online gaming company in Boulder, CO.

VF / NM: Was there a real energy at Marvel during the “Copper Age” era of ’84 – ’91…that it was a real growth time of the industry, with both major comic companies (and some independents) really raising the bar?

Carl: I imagine that everyone who has ever worked at Marvel feels that their period at the company was special, including those who are there now. That said, the ‘80s to early ‘90s was indeed extra special for a number of reasons.

Except for the latter part of the Shooter period, the corporate culture, and the culture in the editorial department in particular, was very positive. We worked in a fun but productive environment. Most of us grew up as comics fans, loved our work and tried to turn out great comics. With rare exceptions, most of those on the editorial staff got along well with each other and many of us socialized after hours. There were some exceptional personalities during that time including Mark Gruenwald and Archie Goodwin.

Before the company was sold to Ron Perelman, Marvel’s executive ranks included many intelligent and good people including Jim Galton and Mike Hobson. Because they were not writers, artists or editors, most fans didn’t know these people existed — but they were the people who ran the company and made it possible for the editors and freelancers to do their thing.

During that ‘80s to mid ‘90s period, the comics market consistently grew, ignoring the ups and downs of the rest of the economy. New genres, concepts and formats were being tried. New companies sprang up, further diversifying the field.

The package design aesthetics of comics, graphic novels and collections began to evolve in the early ‘80s, getting more sophisticated. In the early ‘90s, digital production techniques slowly began to appear.

VF / NM: Can you talk a little about working with Mike Mignola in the mid-’80s…Rocket Raccoon, Alpha Flight, etc.?

Carl: Mike and I were both from the East Bay area (near Oakland, CA). Vincent Perez was my “anatomy for artists” teacher at UC Berkeley. Several years after I took Vincent’s class, he taught Mike at the Calif. College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. A few years before I joined Marvel’s editorial staff, I ran into Vincent at a convention in San Francisco and he introduced me to Mike.

Soon after we met, Mike moved to NY and broke into comics as an inker.

1985's Rocket Raccoon, Mike Mignola's first series assignment as a penciller.

1985's Rocket Raccoon, Mike Mignola's first series assignment as a penciller.

When I became an editor, Mike had just penciled his first story, a Sub-Mariner job for Marvel Fanfare. We renewed our acquaintance and I assigned him his first series as a penciller, Rocket Raccoon. Writer Bill Mantlo was a fan of Mike’s drawing and originally suggested Mike for the job. Unfortunately, the manufacturing department picked Rocket Raccoon to be the first book printed with the “Flexography” process. All of Mike’s beautiful stark black areas were turned to washed out greys while the colors were garish. I felt very bad for Mike. After that, I assigned Mike to the Hulk, Alpha Flight and other projects where he continued to hone his skills.

When I took over the Epic imprint, one of the first projects I put together was a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series that Howard Chaykin wrote (adapting Fritz Lieber’s stories) and Mike penciled. Al Williamson did the inks. It was a beautiful project, a real labor of love that was finally collected a few years ago by Dark Horse.

Mike was always a pleasure to work with. He was sometimes lacking (needlessly) in self confidence about his artistic skills.

(Interview continues, just click below!)

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