The 1990s were a heady time for comics, and Rob Liefeld was at the center of it all. From New Mutants to X-Force and co-founding Image Comics, Liefeld became one of the key faces of comics at the time – with a little help from Levis and Spike Lee. Riding on the wave of his success, Liefeld expanded his scope to an entire line of comics called Extreme Studios. Over the course of eight years, a few name changes and a split from Image to become its own company, Liefeld’s comics became a signature part of the psyche of any comic fan in the 90s. In recent years we’ve seen characters return here and there with new stories and Liefeld himself return to Image, but beginning this January Image is once again going Extreme.Bloodstrike #26 Announced at New York Comic Con earlier this year, the revival of Extreme Studios was a labor of love for Liefeld as well as Image publisher Eric Stephenson, who worked side-by-side with Liefeld in the 90s. Together, they enlisted an eclectic talent pool ranging from indie artist Ross Campbell to Black Swan screenwriter John McLaughlin to bring Extreme back to life, and previews have shown they’re not adverse to taking chances. Bringing back Youngblood, Prophet, Glory, Supreme and Bloodstrike is no easy task, but beginning in January readers well get to judge for themselves.
Newsarama had a long and ranging conversation with Liefeld and Stephenson about the books in the new line, as well as talking about other unpublished scripts by Alan Moore, Image United and even Liefeld’s appreciation of Moebius.
Newsarama: It has been a long time coming, but Extreme is returning in just two months. How’d the idea for this revival and reunion come about?
Eric Stephenson: I know it's something I've personally wanted to see for a while now. I worked with Rob for over six years and have a great deal of affection for these characters. I think they have a lot of potential, and after talking to both Rob and Robert Kirkman about them off and on over the period of a couple years, I began seriously thinking about how we could bring them back. Rob and I started hashing things out last year, with an eye toward really taking our time and making sure we got the right people involved with the right books. We figured it wasn't worth doing if we weren't going to do it right.
Rob Liefeld: I've been wanting to do a smart launch of the Extreme Universe for quite awhile but the time and talent was not available. Eric and I had been discussing this opportunity for the past several years and the talent pool widened and exciting talent came together for this line of books. As you know, I do many appearances all over the country at conventions and stores and believe me when I tell you that fans are constantly asking me about when and where I will bring Prophet, Supreme, Glory and Bloodstrike back. It has been a constant barrage of requests from the huge fan base that these characters enjoy. We've assembled some really good teams and it will be great to see the fan reactions to these titles.
Nrama: There seems to be a real groundswell of passion in comics fans for the comics of the 90s as of late, one I’m particularly reminded of with the new indie comic coming out titled Rub The Blood. Although derided by some, can you talk about going back and reclaiming those titles and characters and bringing them back to modern audiences and not doing it in a retro manner?
Stephenson: You know, it's funny – that cover blurb, "rub the blood," was actually the continuation of our marketing for Bloodstrike #1. The ads originally said "Feel the blood!" and then Rob came up with the idea for the thermal-ink cover to the issue, where readers could rub the image and cause the blood to "disappear," and "Rub the blood!" just seemed like the best way to describe that. Some people point to that as a crowning example of '90s excess, but really, it was just good marketing.
I've read a little about the Rub the Blood comic and it's a cool idea. It's interesting to see how writers and artists who were first reading comics when some of these things came out have been reference it in different ways. I know not all of that material is fondly remembered by everyone, but there are fans of '90s comics. One of them created a comic book called The Walking Dead. Obviously, there were highs and lows where that stuff is concerned, but I think one can say that about almost anything, at any time.
That said, I don't think it even crossed our minds to do a "retro" take on these books. That's certainly not how my mind works, and it's not something I would have ever pitched to Rob. For me, the whole appeal was to take these characters Rob created and figure out how best to move them forward.Youngblood #71 Liefeld: You mention "derided by some," again, in all my travels, I don't hear it. Ever. The 90's was a great period for the fans that were collecting at that time. Comics sold at an all-time high and reached the largest audience in our modern age and the energy in our business was fantastic. Any bad feelings from fans of that era were a result of the poor delivery of the product we sold them. Every publisher ran into late shipping, which Image contributed to, but the desire for those characters, ideas and stories were off the charts. The concepts, ideas and designs of that era, my era are ridiculously relevant right now. Have you seen Cable, Deadpool, X-Force lately? All 90's creations from my drawing board, all ridiculously popular, riding high in comics, on toy shelves, and game consoles.
The "Rub the Blood" campaign was a result of me trying to make as interactive a comic book cover as possible in an era of ridiculous cover enhancements. The blood splatter on the cover of a book called Bloodstrike seemed like a great use of modern printing technology. Again, people bring me those books all the time, and they yell out the slogan as I sign it. Those were great times. As to the Rub the Blood tribute comic, I mean you have guys as accomplished and talented as Street Angel’s Jim Rugg contributing to the project. I'm stunned, floored and flattered but not surprised. Robert Kirkman is one of many accomplished "Image Zombies" as he identifies himself. Kirkman has told me many times that he bought only X-Men comics and Image comics as a kid, his love for all the Image titles is well chronicled. Geoff Johns gave me a Youngblood story that he wrote as a teenager, he showed me Youngblood drawings that he did as a teen. This summer Scott Snyder shook my hand and told me what a huge Youngblood fan he was... I was so excited because it was so heartfelt. Image touched all of these creators as well as legions of fans who love that era and everything that it contained.
It's always been my desire to continue to pursue modern takes on these characters, the entire line reflects that. Some series such as Prophet are an extreme, forgive me, vision of the character's original conceit but it's absolutely brilliant. The base concepts are the same, everyone is wearing different clothes. Brandon Graham is writing as compelling a tale as you will find in today's comics.
Nrama: Speaking of Brandon’s take on Prophet, what made these pitches ones you’d finally take a chance on and bring back the line with?
Stephenson: Well, they were good. I had a general sense of where I wanted to go with this stuff and I discussed that with Rob before approaching people about the individual titles. If Rob wasn't comfortable with something, he let me know, but we were pretty much in agreement on most of this stuff. Really, it was more about finding the right people, than just sifting through pitches.Prophet Liefeld: Eric and I worked every day at Extreme for 6 years and he knows my tastes and how broad they run so it was easy to gage everything right from our initial brainstorming sessions. Prophet in the future, Glory as more hybrid, restoring the original focus of Youngblood, etc... From there It was easy to approve or veto, but there was never an instance of veto. Brandon Graham! Approved! John McLaughlin! Approved!! And boy do I hope we share John's outline for Youngblood---I flipped as I read it....Ross Campbell drawing Glory? Approved!! It's been that easy and so far everyone has fulfilled their potential!
Nrama: One of the surprising things coming out of the revival is just how different in some cases they are from your original versions, specifically Prophet. Can you talk about greenlighting this knowing it was so different from what you set out with originally?
Stephenson: Again, we went into it wanting it to be different. I had some general thoughts on the character and after talking to Brandon at the Emerald City Comicon back in March, it seemed like he and I were on the same wavelength. Brandon gave us a brief overview of what he wanted to do with the book and it pushed things even further, and we were really, really pleased with that. He suggested Simon Roy as the artist, and it just took on a life of its own from there. We've kind of stood back and let them do their thing.
Liefeld: We had discussed a far-flung apocalyptic styled Prophet that reflected sci-fi staples like Planet of the Apes, Omega Man and Kamandi, that was the vision we were shooting for all along. Again, let me say that the Prophet creative team has exceeded all expectations. I'd read this book from any publisher under any title, it's so good. I am a life long Moebius geek, the European approach is perfect, the art is beautiful and the storytelling is fantastic. Had we pursued a Stephen Platt knock off it would have ended up disappointing everyone. This was the right direction.
Nrama: Speaking of Moebius, both Prophet and Glory have a European art vibe to them even though the creators are all North American. Rob, can you tell us about your thoughts on the European art style? I remember once in an interview saying you yourself went through a “Moebius” phase and I always wondered about that.
Liefeld: As I stated earlier, I love all of Moebius’ work. He's one of the premiere illustrators of our medium. Simon's work stands on it's own but reflects a Moebius vibe that is subtle but effective. Glory is a mash up as it looks like beautiful manga mashed up with euro-style artists such as Moebius as well as guys like Geof Darrow. I told Ross that I call it Euro-manga and its bloody and violent which reflects the story Keatinge is telling. I love it.
Nrama: The book you’re most directly involved with is Youngblood, with you stepping in to assist artist Jon Malin at times. Rob, can you tell us how you’re involved specifically with the books, Youngblood in particular?
Liefeld: I'm very invested in Youngblood at all stages. I read John's outline and loved it, it's daring, off-beat and feels like the right direction at the right time. I supplied layouts for the first issue and am very hands on with Jon Malin's work which is the perfect fit for this title. I'm currently working on the colors with our colorist as well. I ask for plenty of changes, big and small on the art, and John is happy so everything is coming together nicely. Youngblood is strongly associated with me and my look which I carried over from X-Force and when the book strays from that, as we did recently, it doesn't benefit the book. The fans are very specific, as they have been with the X-titles which when successful, reflect a specific look.Supreme #63 Interior Nrama: For the Supreme relaunch, you’re taking advantage of script Alan Moore wrote for the character that was never turned into a comic to become issue #63. Can you tell us how it’s working for Erik Larsen to take those to fruition and then move forward with his own?
Stephenson: Erik is four issues in at this point, and what he's doing with Supreme after tying up the loose ends of Alan's story is pretty different from anything Alan would have done. I think it would be insulting to both Alan and to Erik to ask for him to try to write the story in an Alan Moore-esque style or whatever. I mean, that would be insulting to any writer. As with everything else, there was a direction we wanted Erik to take things, but we didn't want to do that without tying things off first.
Liefeld: I always had a specific direction that I wanted to go in post-Alan Moore, I even hinted at it with my Suprema one-shot several years back that found the Supreme variations from the Supremacy released and confronting Suprema. I had never communicated this with Erik Larsen but when we talked Supreme, he had similar ideas and added an even better twist that I had never considered. It's such a terrific take on Supreme, fans will freak out. Erik is doing such a great job, I've seen 3 issues and it's the best Supreme I've seen. It's great, it was literally a no-brainer to give Erik the keys to the cars, there is so much conceptually that Alan presented with the concept of the Supremacy that can be challenged and twisted in great new directions and that's what Erik is doing.
Nrama: We’ve talked about the unique and unexpected talent you have on-board for the Extreme revival, and that reminds me of a number of superstars that did early work at Extreme like Stephen Platt, Chris Sprouse, Ed McGuinness, Mike Deodato, Jeff Matsuda, Pat Lee, Randy Queen and Keron Grant. Can you tell us your views on the guys you helped get their foot in the door, and how you see the role of picking the right talent then and now is?
Liefeld: I've always had a fortunate knack for grabbing young talent and giving them a break. Every single talent that you mentioned did signature work for Extreme. Platt is synonymous with Prophet and vice versa, Chris Sprouse did an award winning run on Supreme, Jeff Matsuda sold more New Men than any X-Men related work he did...these guys were key talents that helped build the Extreme legacy and why do many fans have great, fond memories of our books. Eric Stephenson has quite a track record of his own as Image publisher and he has selected many fine gems over tha last few years. Image has had big hits the past year with Luther Strode, Last of the Greats, Nonplayer, Morning Glories, Skullkickers, so he has a great nose for commercial talent and projects. Together we have culled a really strong line up of talent for these Extreme books.
Stephenson: You're also leaving out some of the incredibly talented inkers Extreme ushered into comics -- Danny Miki, Norm Rapmund, Jonathan Sibal -- and colorists like Christian Lichtner and Aron Lusen of Liquid! Charlie Adlard did some a lot of work for Extreme, too, both as an inker and a penciler, alongside his X-Files work at Topps. Todd Nauck started off at Extreme. Rob had a pretty good eye for talent, and I've always thought it was really admirable that instead of just sitting back and counting his dough back when he was at his peak, he did everything he could to share his success and help other artists follow their dreams.
: While I’m no Extreme scholar, I’ve read that there’s more unused Alan Moore stories in your possession than just Supreme; proposals for Prophet and a new series entitled War Child, and more issues of Glory and Youngblood. Do you have plans to revisit any of that?
Stephenson: Well, I think you may be over-calculating how many of those scripts actually exist. Alan wrote a total of eight Youngblood scripts, three of which have been illustrated, to date. There are two scripts for War Child and there were two for Glory. There are pitches for Prophet, New Men and a new series called The Allies, but not all of those pitches necessarily represent what or where we want those characters to be now.
Alan was compensated for the all the scripts he wrote, so if makes sense to use some of that material, then we'll do so. It's certainly an intriguing possibility, but as with all of this, it would depend on putting the right teams in place.
Liefeld: Eric hit it all right on the head.Supreme #63 Interior Nrama: Jumping to a title that presaged the Extreme revival, let’s talk about the current Avengelyne series. How does it fit into the Extreme imprint since though it came out before the announcement?
Liefeld: Mark Poulton and Owen Gieni have done a great job of building back and developing the Avengelyne series and they have already used several Extreme staples as Bloodwulf, Priest and the Coven. They have pretty free reign with the supernatural arm of Extreme. When the time is right we will figure out if there can be another Glory/Avengelyne crossover.
Nrama: One of the interesting parts of this relaunch is that you’re resuming the original numbering of the titles and jumping at the opportunity for a new #1 like most other relaunches do. Why’d you go this route?
Stephenson: Look at it this way: There have been lots of Youngblood #1s. There has never been a Youngblood #71. Obviously, DC has enjoyed a great deal of success of the past few months as a result of their New 52 initiative, but I think part of what made that special is that a lot of those titles weren't part of the never-ending relaunch cycle. There was only one Action Comics #1 prior to September, not half a dozen. We'd rather these comics succeed on their merits, not on some renumbering scheme.
Liefeld: Again, I can't add anything to what Eric has laid out on this. #1's only last a month....then you have to make sure you can deliver on #4, 5, 6 and so on...
Nrama: With you keeping the pre-existing numbering, does it mean you’re bringing with it the continuity set up in those previous issues?
Stephenson: Everything that happened before happened. In the case of Supreme, it's a direct continuation of the story.
Liefeld: That's right. Don't count out loose ends or plot lines from the past rearing their heads at some point.
Nrama: Speaking of past issues, do you have any plans to collect the large library of books you’ve published from your original Extreme/Maximum/Awesome days in this line?
Stephenson: Much, if not all, of that material will be made available digitally, and we'll collect in print form when it makes sense.
Liefeld: Let's see how the digital initiative for these back issues work out. There are some stories that are more deserving of getting collected but that also requires more energy and effort and right now we are focused on the new titles and directions for this catalogue.
Nrama: Is there any news on a resumption of the final Image United issues since Youngblood is a part of that crossover?
Liefeld: We've never stopped working on it. There is a constant flow of pages. For certain the shipping has been less than ideal and it's a shame but it is what it is. We are completing Image United and the final hardcover collection will stand as one of the greatest achievements of our careers. It's never ever been attempted and I guarantee it never will be again.
Stephenson: We're working on wrapping that up for next year. The fourth issue is all but finished, and we could have that within a month or so, no problem, but based on the feedback we've received from the retail community, it makes more sense to get the remaining three issues finished and put them out together – once a month, bam, bam, bam.
Nrama: Rob, since you rejoined the Image fold in 2007, you’ve done a number of projects including the previous Youngblood and Image United. Bringing in your entire Extreme line seems like the next big step, so how would you say your relationship has changed from when Extreme broke away from Image and now coming back full circle?
Liefeld: Best it's been in maybe the entire 20 years. The fierce competition with the partners is gone. We are older and much more mature, it's an entirely different time. Perceptions are different, many of the owners I've spoken too mention how our infighting really hampered all of our product way back when. We could really be our own worst enemies in the boom times. The unity is something that is very beneficial for all of us.
Nrama: This is speculative, but I have to ask: has there been any talk about you returning to the fold 100% and becoming a partner again at Image?
Liefeld: Never. It's not anything I or I imagine the partners even consider as a possibility or as a reality. The company is fine as it is and I enjoy working with them in this capacity.