Illness Was Catalyst of J.G. JONES Burgeoning Writing Career
For Eisner Award-winning artist J.G. Jones, the desire to write isn't new. He just couldn't find the time to write.
Diagnosed with a rare blood disease called polycythemia vera, Jones has been sidelined from drawing comics since 2009, when he had to back away from the DC mini-series Final Crisis. Before he began getting treatment for the disease, the grueling schedule required to draw comic interiors was just too much, so he started writing instead.
The new priority on writing is paying off. In April, Jones will take over the Doc Savage ongoing series, beginning with issue #13, for a six-issue story arc titled "Raise the Khan." And although he'll continue to provide covers for the series, interiors for the story arc will be drawn by Qing Ping Mui.
Jones also just co-wrote a script with Phil Bram for the upcoming original graphic novel Dust to Dust, a murder mystery set in the Dust Bowl. Now that the project has gotten the green light from DC Comics, Jones will begin illustrating the book's 190 pages.
Jones is notoriously humble about his art — and reluctant to promote himself — but the chance to write is something for which he has a palpable excitement.
And he isn't the first well-known artist recently given a change to write for DC. Other artists-turned-DC-writers include Tony Daniel on Batman, J.H. Williams III on Batwoman, and David Finch on Batman: The Dark Knight.
Newsarama talked with Jones to find out more about how he made the switch from art to pen.
Newsarama: How did you end up writing for DC, and what led to you writing Doc Savage in particular?
J.G. Jones: Well, there's a reason I begged on the covers of Doc Savage way back when Dan [DiDio] first proposed picking up the property. I guess it's been like three or four years ago when I told him I was going to be the Doc Savage cover artist when that happened, because of my childhood love of the character. I collected all the Bantam editions, with those great James Bama covers on them. My cousin and I, between us, had an entire collection, from when we were kids, trading them back and forth. So I have a long-standing love of the character.
Nrama: How did that translate to "I'm going to write the character?"
Jones: I think everybody over at DC was very well aware of my love for Doc Savage, and I was probably too happy to share my opinion.
I was finishing up the script for a graphic novel I'd been working on for awhile. Ian Sattler was editing, and he said, 'This is really great stuff. Would you be interested in writing Doc Savage? We're looking for a new writer.' At first I said, 'You're drinking, right?' But then I called him back later the same day and said, 'Yeah, you know what? I have an idea.'
I wrote it up and pitched it the next day, and away we went to the races.
Nrama: Have you wanted to write for a while now?
Jones: You know, I've always written. In fact, the first thing that got me work in the comic book industry was a story I wrote with a friend and was drawing myself. It did get published by Boneyard Press, the first couple issues, before I got too busy with paying work at Defiant. So that didn't really happen.
But I've always written along the way. I have another graphic novel that WildStorm was going to publish a couple years ago, but again, I got busy with projects for DC, and that kind of went by the wayside. Having a mortgage to pay will do that, sometimes.
I finally got tired of pushing my writing aside for the next paycheck and the next paycheck.
Nrama: So you're finally making it a priority?
Jones: Absolutely. Yeah.
Nrama: Why now?
Jones: Well, one reason I've been doing more writing is that I've spent the last few years trying to get my health back in order. I haven't really felt well enough to draw a book full time, but it actually gave me the opportunity to write, instead of sitting and drawing 12 hours a day.
Nrama: Was it your health that sidelined you from drawing interiors? I know you had to back away from Final Crisis toward the end, and we haven't really seen you doing interiors since.
Jones: Yeah, I definitely had to slow down. I was undiagnosed when I was working on Final Crisis, but was really not feeling well, was chronically tired, and couldn't focus or concentrate. I finally went to the doctor, and, after a bunch of tests, got a diagnosis of polycythemia vera, a blood disease where the bone marrow makes too many red cells and platelets, which, in turn, can cause many other complications.
I've been getting treatment for that, and now I'm feeling much better. Now I'm pacing myself and slowly adding more and more work.
So yeah, I had a few things going on the last couple years. I moved to Philadelphia, set up a new studio, and I'm getting married to a wonderful woman that I met there.
But pulling back on the art helped me prioritize the writing.
Nrama: Is it a struggle to go from art to the pen?
Jones: Not really. I really get to exercise a different part of my head. Instead of the drawing board, I sit down at the kitchen table in the morning and write. Sometimes I forget to eat lunch, and I'll write all the way through into the evening. I try to get it all down before I forget anything.
Drawing is using a totally different set of muscles. It's similar to doing covers and then doing interiors, in that it lets you see the project with a different set of eyes.
But mostly, it's fun to just purely create.
Nrama: You mean as opposed to "somebody else came up with the idea and then you create it visually?"
Nrama: Why wouldn't you want to write and draw for Doc Savage? Was that a little too much?
Jones: Drawing Doc myself would have been ideal, and I would have relished it. But my graphic novel finally got the green light, and I'm going to begin drawing that, as soon as all my Doc scripts are done. I've spent three years on that project so far, and I didn't want to derail it for six more months. It's 190 pages of artwork, so I'm going to be busy for a while.
Nrama: Is there anything you can tell your fans about the graphic novel?
Jones: It's called Dust to Dust. It's set in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s in Oklahoma. A series of murders is terrorizing a small, secluded town, and the murderer is using the massive dust storms to cover his trail.
I wrote it with a friend of mine, Phil Bram. Phil is from Oklahoma, so he brought the local flavor the story needed.
Nrama: I know this project is pretty close to your heart, because it came out of your love for history.
Jones: Yeah, it's been re-written more than once. Ian was great with the edits, helping to tighten the script and trim it down to a manageable size for a graphic novel. I'm really looking forward to beginning the art.
Nrama: Let's talk about the story you're telling in Doc Savage. Is it the type of story we'd expect in the First Wave universe?
Jones: Yeah, we're playing in the First Wave world, but I still wanted to bring the feel of those old pulp stories along and just give it some high-paced action. A fast-moving story, but still with some of those darker elements that Brian [Azzarello] introduced into the First Wave world.
Nrama: You introducing some new characters?
Jones: Yeah! I'm introducing a whole slew of new characters, actually, complete with back-stories.
Nrama: I thought you might.
Jones: How could I resist?
Nrama: Did you design them?
Jones: Well, I write fairly detailed scripts, as if I were drawing it, so they're heavy on description of what the characters are going to be like. But being me, I couldn't resist sketching designs for a couple of characters myself.
I've created a parallel to Doc's own organization and group of five friends. And he's going to have to deal with them. And I used all of my love of history and science, stuff that interests me.
Nrama: Have you enjoyed getting to write any of the supporting cast in particular?
Jones: I think Monk and Ham were the most fun to write, because they have that high school boy rivalry, with their constant competition and jibing.
Doc is more an icon in a lot of ways. He doesn't have much to say. He's always either thinking or doing. So you sort of need those other characters to drive the story along. That's where you get much of the information, because you are not going to get many answers from Doc.
Nrama: Does that make it tough to write?
Jones: Just the opposite. Doc's not Spider-Man, with a constant, running monologue, so you have to come at him from the side, and find other ways of giving the readers the information they will need to advance the story.
Nrama: How long are you writing Doc Savage?
Jones: Six issues, to start. Then we'll see what happens, I guess.
Nrama: Would you be interested in staying on?
Jones: Sure! Why not? Like I said, I have a real love of this character, and Doc was such a blast to write. It's like a childhood dream come true.