Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s comic series Lazarus is about life; not just about the life of the main protagonist Forever and her seemingly inability to die, but about the lives of everyone in the near-future world she lives in – be it the 1% or everyone else. In the recently launched arc “Lift,” the two long-time collaborators have broken open the doors to the world outside the millionaire compounds of the ruling families of Lazarus and showed how the rest of society – the Waste as they’re not-so-kindly called by the ruling class in the book – live. In the recently launched arc “Lift,” Lazarus has shown Forever digging into her own past while also putting names and faces to the men, women and children of the Waste.
For artist Michael Lark, Lazarus has been an experience that is a long time coming. After breaking into comics in 1990 at Caliber Comics like many other of today’s top comic creators, he’s spent the past two decades working almost exclusively on work-for-hire for companies like Marvel and DC – leaving little time for creator-owned, personal work. The work he’s done in those arenas are few and far between, but still stand tall – Terminal City with Dean Motter and Scene of the Crime with Ed Brubaker. But now, Lark is back and committing all his efforts on creating his own characters and his own world, alongside Rucka, in Lazarus.
Newsarama: Michael, my first question is an easy one - what are you working on today?
Michael Lark: Answering questions for this interview! [laughs]
Today I am drawing a pretty complicated Lazarus page in which the title character, Forever Carlyle, is visiting an inner-city area that is being torn down for reconstruction. I did the layouts on it two days ago, and spent yesterday researching and designing near-future construction equipment as well as tech for the on-site architects to be using - computer monitors, some large-format, free-standing, portable touch-screen displays, and a table to display a holographic architectural model. Today I actually get to start drawing.
I'm finding I have to do a lot of this with Lazarus. Terminal City had a lot of this kind of design work, but ever since then I pretty much just look up reference for anything I needed to draw. Someone has a gun? Look up the gun, find reference, and draw it. In Lazarus, if someone has a gun, I have to design a Michael Lark Lazarus gun. And since we are trying to be somewhat "realistic" in what we think the near future will look like, I have to look up design trends for modern weapons and concept designs for possible future weapons and adapt them and extrapolate from them to make something that is my own. It can be very labor-intensive and time-consuming. But I love doing it!
Nrama: Those designs for guns and construction equipment -- sounds like great extras. Any chance we'll see that in the backmatter of Lazarus down the road?
Lark: I expect you will. We intend to do a nice hardcover once the second trade comes out this spring/summer. That one will have all the extra goodies!
Nrama: The new issue of Lazarus, #6, comes out on February 5. You’ve had a bit of a gap between the past two issues due to some medical issues and even a flooded house I hear, but what can you tell us about this new arc, “Lift,” which just started?
Lark: This arc is going introduces the reader to a lot more of the Lazarus world. As I mentioned above, we will be venturing into the inner city where the Waste lives. We will be meeting a family of Waste from a rural area. Lazarus #5 showed some interaction with some other families. We introduced Forever's personal "strike team", the Dagger Squad, as she investigates her brother Jonah's disappearance. And, my favorite part so far, we saw some scenes of how Forever was trained as a young girl.
Nrama: And drawing the young Forever -- how'd you go about figuring out what Forever would look like as a kid, and balancing her childlike features while still being a tough cookie like she is now?
Lark: Forever's tough-cookie-ness is mostly in her eyes and in her posture. Those things are easy to translate. Balancing and contrasting that with her as a child has been fun, and not nearly as challenging as I'd feared. There are some panels in #6, especially, where we get to remind people that, hey, this is a little girl. She is a little girl like any other little girl, to a point. It's actually pretty heartbreaking, seeing her that way and knowing what she will become. I always say that Greg isn't very kind to his characters (HA!), and little Forever is no exception. Far from it.
Nrama: That last issue is the biggest look yet at the world-building you and Greg have done with Lazarus. But give me the ground’s eye view – what’s it like to be a member of the lower class – the Waste – in Lazarus?
Lark: You know, reading the news, it's becoming more and more clear to me that, in terms of financial inequality, Lazarus is not very far off from the America we are living in today. I saw something the other day that says only 85 people control over half of the world's wealth (and it kind of surprises me that the rest of us aren't more royally pissed off about that). So, to answer your question - just look around. Go to any low-income urban area. The Waste are already among us, and more and more of us are going to be joining them as those 85 people consolidate their wealth.
Nrama: Working with you and Greg on this is colorist Santi Arcas - how did you and Santi connect to do this series together, and given this is creator-owned does your collaboration with your colorist, in this case Santi, become more than what it would be if it were work-for-hire?
Lark: When I do work-for-hire, I really don't concern myself with anything but my own part of the process. I spot balloons (more on that in a minute), and make suggestions for lighting to the colorist, but that's it. With Lazarus I take a bit more of a hands-on approach. I often have a pretty good idea of the types of palettes I want for each scene, and I had a strong vision of the overall approach to color on the book. I try to communicate all of that to Santi without stepping on his toes too much.
Greg had worked with Santi in the past, and recommended him. As I said, I had a vision for the color of the book that was much more European, and I also wanted a rendering style that fit with my fairly loose, rough inks. Santi fit the bill perfectly. And he's totally knocked the ball out of the park in every regard. In issue #4, much of the storytelling was dependent on the color, and he did an outstanding job on it. I doubt it would have worked without him.
Nrama: This is your first creator-owned work since Scene of the Crime with Ed Brubaker back in 1999. What pulled the trigger to tell you now's the time to do it again?
Lark: There were a lot of factors. I've always preferred to do creator-owned work- which could be the subject of an entire interview in and of itself. I suppose that I could have done more work like that with Vertigo or Icon, but the way the contracts are structured there it just wasn't worth the time and effort to create something from the ground up. I never found the right project with the right collaborator.
Greg and I had been trying to pitch an idea for something else for a few years, but we kept coming up against a brick wall. We couldn't find the right combination of publisher and contract to make it a reality. About a year and a half ago, he mentioned that he had the bare bones of the idea for Lazarus, which immediately intrigued me. At about the same time, some of our friends in the industry began telling us about how happy they were at Image.
I was coming up to the end of my exclusive contract with Marvel, so we contacted Image Comics’ publishet, Eric Stephenson, and told him about Lazarus. And, to our delight, he immediately expressed an interest. We were very pleased with the offer he made to us, with the way Image seemed to be doing business and working with creators, and we jumped at the chance.
So, to answer your question, it was really just a matter of everything falling into place all at the right/same time. Like it does.
Nrama: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't letter your work too often. Last thing I could find was your story in JSA: All Stars #7 years ago. But looking at your work here in Lazarus, it looks amazing. Can you tell us about picking up and doing your own lettering, and how you draw things knowing you'll be the one coming back and placing those balloons?
Lark: I have, since probably Gotham Central (maybe earlier), done computer lettering as part of my page layouts. I wanted to make sure there was enough room for the balloons on the page - I had done a poor job of that in a lot of earlier work. But Marvel and DC would never let me use it for the final lettering (except in the one instance you mentioned above). My hand lettering is horrible, and there were people like Willie Schubert and Bill Oakley who are real craftsmen, so it was understandable early on in my career. But once computer lettering became the norm, it was kind of frustrating to me that I would do all this work and then Marvel and DC would pay someone else to just do the same work over again for publishing - they never let me letter my own work. It seemed kind of silly that I could have given them publishable lettering, but they insisted on paying someone else to do it. So, it was a no-brainer for me to do the lettering on Lazarus. I was already doing it, anyway.
Nrama: So you’re being more hands-on with your colorist, and you’re showing the world the lettering you’ve been doing on your comics for over a decade; you really seem to be pushing for fuller control of the art. In your linework too, I notice changes -- can you talk about adapting your style here for Lazarus?
Lark: I think the only real change is that I'm inking again. I haven't done that in a while, due to the time constraints of working on monthlies at Marvel and DC. It took me a while to get used to drawing with a brush instead of a pencil, but I'm starting to get comfortable with it again.
I've never felt much like I was in control of my style. I just draw the way I draw. Any changes in style that you might see are just a result of how I happen to be seeing and drawing at that moment. Greg sends me a script and I do my best to visualize it, and what ends up on paper is my best attempt to take the little movie that plays in my head and translate it into drawings. Aside from the design work I talked about above, I feel like I'm just doing what I've always been doing.