COMIC BOOK YETI: Mark, it is a distinct honor and pleasure to have you join Comic Book Yeti today for a conversation over your latest Groo the Wanderer release, Gods Against Groo.
I’ve gone through your Youtube channel and I’ll try to avoid revisiting territory you’ve already covered. So let’s talk about Gods Against Groo, which is brand new and builds upon the previous two volumes, Fray of the Gods and Play of the Gods - Sergio mentioned in your Q&A videos, it isn’t meant to be read in omnibus form, or the repetition of form will lead to the accusation that, “it’s only one joke” - can you speak to what sets this new story apart from what longtime readers may recognize, and perhaps how it builds upon stories from the past adventures of Groo?
MARK EVANIER: Pretty much every issue of Groo builds on stories from the past adventures of Groo. Comic book readers may not be used to that because most comics, when they’ve gone through as many issues as we have, have had three dozen writers and as many artists so there’s limited continuity. Groo for all its decades, has just been Sergio and me so we’re always taking our stupid barbarian in specific directions. We know where he’s going even if he doesn’t. Some people also don’t get that when we say the comic has “only one joke,” we mean that in the same sense that all super-hero comic books have only one plot.
CBY: That's true - the level of continuity you've delivered as a creative team is rivaled by perhaps the Hernandez Bros. with Love and Rockets, and few others. Shifting focus from story to style, with Sergio's continual inclusion of sight gags, and Mark, with your expository writing/editorial style, I’m curious as to what your collaborative process looks like as far as balancing the visual and the verbal, and how you determine the course and focus of the stories as they’re taking shape. You mentioned the ephemeral role of outside editors in your Q&As, so how do you determine together what makes it to the page - what gets extra verbal reinforcement, and what visual elements are given space to stand alone?
ME: Balance is easily achieved because it’s Sergio. If I wasn’t working with a master of visual humor and visual storytelling, it would be a lot more complicated. But my job is to stay out of his way and I don’t think we have to worry about the verbal getting in the way of the visual or vice-versa. I operate on the assumption that everyone reading the comic will pay close attention to Sergio’s visuals. I’ve even had people tell me they read the comic with a magnifying glass close by. The pictures tell the story and the captions and word balloons convey the information that can’t be as easily conveyed in pictures.
CBY: As I read Fray of the Gods, Play of the Gods, and Gods Against Groo, I couldn’t help but think of the manner in which, over his canon, Neil Gaiman has often referenced the pantheon of gods deriving power from the scope of worship devoted to them. The power inversion is hilarious, in that these immortal figures are cast as hapless bystanders forced to witness the action below and the chaos Groo sows. With the gods bearing witness to the actions of humans influencing their fate, can you please provide some insight into what other material may have provided inspiration for this latest narrative arc?
ME: Stories that Sergio has read or heard all his life. I can’t give you any book titles except things like the Bible or any religion’s central scriptures. It’s an old riddle that gets asked in every time and culture, did God create Man or did Man create God? We don’t attempt to answer it in Groo. We just work both sides of the street.
CBY: It certainly works to fantastic comedic effect. Groo serves as a leveling force, terrifying all who recognize him upon his arrival on the scene, but he generally leaves a situation more equitable than when he arrives - if you could introduce him to the real world, in what scenario(s) would you like to see him work his specific brand of equalizing chaos?
ME: I don’t know about “equitable,” unless you mean he leaves most villages equally destroyed. We have no interest in seeing him in what you or I might call “the real world” but I think he’d be interesting in any context where there’s injustice or evil intent. And there sure is a lot of that around these days.
CBY: Now, I’ve been digging around a bit for an answer before I ask, and apologize if I’ve missed a reference to it in my admittedly cursory research, but what’s the inspiration between Groo’s long-running fascination with cheese dip? More importantly, since finding cheese dip is a recurring character motivation, if pressed under threat of Groo’s endless capacity for mayhem, can you provide a recipe for the greatest cheese dip in the world? (Or two recipes, if you disagree on the particulars of what makes cheese dip great) Since you provided a shoutout to Don Rosa’s homegrown chili peppers, if you know what he’s growing, hopefully we can all find a suitable substitute for his own garden varietal!
ME: Neither Sergio nor I have the slightest interest in Cheese Dip, just as we don’t eat Groo’s other favorite meal, which is Putrid Pelts in Dung Water. Cheese Dip was just a joke that popped up in one early story. As I recall, I needed to say that Groo had a longing for some certain food and it had to sound unlikely and silly. It couldn’t be something like a Big Mac or a pepperoni pizza because that’s not appropriate for his era. But cheese is one of the oldest foods in the world and I figured if they have cheese, they probably dip some other kind of food in it. So I went with Cheese Dip, little realizing we were starting a running joke.
CBY: Groo has been wandering forty years now - what considerations do you both make around keeping things fresh, for the sake of your own creative process and for the audience? How do you find a balance between trodding upon worn territory and playing with tropes you’ve developed over the years to include new twists, heightening the stakes of the story, and providing callbacks to earlier work?
ME: It’s not as complex as you make it out to be. Usually, Sergio has the idea for a story, though sometimes, it’s me. One of us tells the other an idea and if that other guy doesn’t say “We did that before,” we usually proceed with it unless one of us comes up with an even better idea.
CBY: I noticed the phrase He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named pops up as a term for Groo, which paralleled the nom de guerre used for Voldemort in the world of Harry Potter. This made me think of the games of cross-franchise face-offs I recall speculating over with friends in schoolyard bouts of arguing over whose is stronger, Superman or the Hulk, or whether the Flash is faster than Sonic the Hedgehog, etc. On the entirely hypothetical power scale of comic characters, which characters would you say Groo weighs in between, regarding both strength and (lack of) intelligence? And from the perspective of narrative potential, which character (intellectual property rights notwithstanding) would provide the most interesting opportunity for a crossover with Groo the Wanderer beyond the Conan and Tarzan titles developed?
ME: I have no idea who’s stronger than who in comics. I guess the answer is that it’s up to whoever’s writing the comic at the moment. If I were writing for Marvel right now, I could have Spider-Man’s Aunt May, even if she’s still dead, beat the tar out of The Hulk. This is not the kind of thing that ever interested Sergio or me. Groo exists in his own little universe and does not relate in any way to any character in any other universe. That’s the reason we probably won’t do any more crossovers. The opportunities to do stories with Conan and Tarzan were hard to resist but melding separate realities is hard work and there’s nothing else out there that’s that irresistible.
CBY: You both made mention of the long-running prospect of an animated adaptation. I was taken with the way action is depicted on the page - violence is ample, but always cartoonish and gore-free, as characters clatter through the air like bowling pins, lumped, bruised, and beaten. Reactions are exaggerated and emotions are telegraphed very clearly - so if taken into a moving medium, what sort of animated work might you cite as an inspiration or aesthetic reference for the desired pacing and stylistic treatment to help fill in the space between the key frames Sergio provides through the comic panels?
ME: I don’t think there’s any existing animation that captures Sergio’s style. That would be part of the challenge. Basically, if we what we do winds up looking like anything that’s ever been done in animation, it probably doesn’t look like Sergio art.
CBY: Historical source material is laid bare in parody, such as Queen Isaisa (evoking Isabella of Castille) of Iberza (a single letter off Iberia) sending Captain Ahax (another letter off Melville’s Ahab) off to Mexahupan (a loose analogue to Mexico/Yucatan cultures) in a send-up of the conquistador campaigns across Mesoamerica. Groo Tube has examined the atlas/maps you’ve created over the years in Groo the Wanderer, but how contiguous and fixed is the world in which the stories take place? Sergio mentions an interest in shipbuilding, and the maps in the books suggest a corresponding interest in wayfinding and cartography. Have you considered a large-form map of the whole world of Groo? (An opportunity for the subject of that jigsaw puzzle requested in your earlier Q&A videos, perhaps?)
ME: All that has been discussed. I don’t think most folks understand how much research and thought Sergio puts into Groo’s environment. We’ve received letters from experts on old ships who recognize how authentic and functional a ship drawn by Sergio usually is. I think the world of Groo is pretty fixed, at least in Sergio’s mind.
CBY: As always, Comic Book Yeti likes to provide an opportunity for creators to make mention of other media (be it comics, films, albums, books, etc.) which have been providing you with inspiration and entertainment of late. What has caught your attention lately that you would advise our readers to check out at the earliest opportunity?
ME: I guess I should seize this chance to mention that I’m co-editor of a series of books that reprint in full, what I consider the best newspaper comic strip ever done. It’s Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips by Walt Kelly. Sergio loves it too. Thanks for asking.
CBY: Thank you for joining Comic Book Yeti today. Your time and insight is a treat for all of us, and if you have links or material you’d like to share around Gods Against Groo and other publications you’d like our readers to know about, please feel free to include links below.