Smash Pages Q&A: Mark Schultz

The creator of ‘Xenozoic Tales’ talks about the Kickstarter project for three new books, which include an Al Williamson book and more.

Mark Schultz has had a long career as a writer and artist. People might know him for writing the long-running comic strip Prince Valiant, which he’s been writing since 2004. He’s written graphic novel The Stuff of Life and comics ranging from Superman to Aliens vs. Predator to The Spirit. As a writer and artist, he made the acclaimed series Xenozoic Tales, wrote the heavily illustrated novella Storms at Sea and has had a long career as an illustrator.

Today Flesk Publications launched a Kickstarter for three new books: a new Carbon, the most recent in a series of art books by Schultz; a new edition of Xenozoic; and a book about Al Williamson. Schultz was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work and the Kickstarter campaign.

Mark, what is this Kickstarter and what are the three books coming out?

We’re trying something different. One is a new Carbon, a collection of my sketches, my process work and commissions that wouldn’t be seen otherwise, along with some published work. One is a new edition of my Xenozoic stories in a different format. The third is an Al Williamson book that’s an overview of his career. John and I discussed doing this with Cori, Al’s widow, because there are some similarities between Al and my work. 

What’s in the new Carbon? What are you excited for us to see?

One thing we keep hearing from people is that they love to see process work. There are several pieces  where we go through my thumbnails, my first attempt at a more complete piece, until I finally arrive at something that’s going to work. I have a War of the Worlds piece so I have this Victorian army scene with Martian tripods that I’m having fun with. It’s nice to be able to do the literary pieces and I’m having fun with it. We’re dipping back into the archives. A number of people have requested that I reprint earlier work, obscure and it’s been two or three generations since I started in the business, so we’ll be reprinting some of my earlier work.

What is the process of assembling a book like this? Are you thinking of it as a random cross section of your recent work?

It’s largely based on what my production has been. It’s usually two years between books so interestingly though it seems that there’s some thematic element that comes out. I’m not sure if I’m imposing that  in retrospect. It’s not conscious while I’m doing it. This volume four has a good percentage of pieces that are space adventures. There’s the War of the Worlds piece that I mentioned, Burroughs Martian related, Wally Wood girls in spacecrafts … so when it comes to doing a cover for this, that’s enough of a theme and any kind of spot illustrations for the title pages or end papers, I’ll go in that direction, too, to reinforce the theme. I don’t know how many people pick that up consciously but it helps to give a direction to the book that make it different form the last one.

I think with most sketchbooks and art books, there is a thread or narrative which runs through it that is never stated – and that most don’t pick up on.

I think you’re right. I’m not really concerned that most readers pick it up. I don’t think most artists are. It’s a subliminal thing. On some level it creates a unifying element that does make it hopefully a more enjoyable or satisfying read.

It’s interesting to see the books because you’re not very prolific, as you’ve said, and it’s interesting to see what you’re working on, where your mind is and the small ways your art has changed.

One reason I haven’t been more prolific is that I’m working on a new Xenozoic graphic novel. The first Xenozoic book in 20 years! It’ll take probably another year before I’m done with it. A lot of time and energy has been going towards that.

What is the new edition of Xenozoic?

It’s a smaller format. Not as small as a manga, but it’s a backpack friendly book. I think it’s an attempt to reach out to a younger readership. The book has stayed in print pretty much continuously, but we’re always hoping to bring on board newer readers and these more compact formats seem to be a popular size these days. I did a new pulpy cover.

John always makes gorgeous books.

He did quality work. That’s why I like working with John. That’s my feeling of how publishing will keep going. The package is going to have to be special. Books in general will go digital, but people still seem to want a nice package, a nice presentation that goes beyond just delivering the contents, but doing a handsome artifact. 

Tell me about the Williamson book.

John and I have been visiting Cori Williamson, Al’s widow, and her family. Her son Victor oversees Al’s estate. Al kept an awful lot of stuff going back to his childhood. Even when Al was still alive, we were starting to scan in and photograph his work that hasn’t been seen, as well as work that’s well known. John wants to do a series of books on Al. This first one is a more generalized overview of Al’s career. There will be a lot of new stuff for people who are aware of who Al is. John has photographed a lot of incidental stuff. John has access to all the process work Al did, including the extensive photography he did of himself and friends and family posing. I think it’s going to be nice overview of his career and a look into Al’s process and the work he did. John wanted to have a more complete and thorough look at Al’s career with this volume.

So the Williamson book is like the other books John has published, which are more comprehensive and offer some context to the artist and their career?

I find Al’s career fascinating because he pretty much knew what he wanted to do at age 12 or 13 and he covered a lot of ground, working with a lot of different people, a lot of different formats, through doing the strips and then becoming an inker in his later years. It’s a really varied career. In my mind it will put in context a guy like Al, who loved the form, but was subject to the realities of a commercial form and he had to adapt. Because he was good, he always got work. I know it got tight at times in the late fifties, but he was always able to find ways to keep working. 

He had an amazing career and it’s hard to sum up. The Star Wars and X-9 strips have been collected and Fantagraphics has been publishing the EC collections and I think there’s more of an audience and a greater awareness of his work today versus, say, ten years ago.

I hope so. I’m very curious to find out what the response will be. I hope there will be younger readers who weren’t around when he was drawing the Star Wars work who will realize how what he did connects with what they’re doing today. It’s going to be very interesting.

Since I have you here, let me ask you about Prince Valiant. How are you and Thomas Yeates doing?

Great. I really have no complaints. Just like Gary and I, Tom and I respect and revere the strip. We’re not going to do anything revolutionary or try to turn it into something it’s not, so King Features leaves us alone. On rare occasions they’ll ask if we want to change something or ask about something that might be considered a little risqué to a Sunday morning strip reader, but we’re on the same wavelength. We haven’t heard anything negative from King. We’re not losing tons of readers. We’re having fun putting in things that relate to our current political climate. Foster and the Murphys did the same thing. It’s fun to see that some people get bent out of shape and sometimes they read things into it that just aren’t there. You can point to any of the great comic strips of the past always had a political element and some commentary on events. We’re having fun with it.

I know that Gary and Tom don’t work at the same size Foster did, but I’m sure they have to work at a large size. I’d love to see a collection of their work just to see the strips at a larger size. 

Yeah, they have to. Maybe it will take another generation, but I think eventually it will happen. I hope so.

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