Interview With Roger Ash: Modern Masters – Mike Ploog

Modern Masters Mike Ploog cover

This week, TwoMorrows released their latest Modern Masters volume — the 19th in the series — covering Mike Ploog. Old friend Roger Ash wrote it, so I asked him a few questions about his work and the book.

Please tell us a little about the book and your contributions.

Well, like the other Modern Masters volumes, it features a career-spanning interview with a comic artist. In this case, it’s Mike Ploog. The book was edited and designed by the creator of the series, Eric Nolen-Weathington. It’s got an introduction by J.M. DeMatteis, who worked with Mike on Abadazad and The Stardust Kid. And, of course, it’s published by TwoMorrows.

My main contribution was the interview itself. Before I even started writing questions, I did a ton of research. I read everything Mike had worked on that I could find. I had some of the comics myself, found some books at the local comic store or on eBay, and borrowed some from my pal, KC Carlson. I read a number of online interviews with Mike as well as magazine articles about his work. I also watched some of the movies he worked on.

Modern Masters Mike Ploog cover

The research stage took around three months. After that, I set up a first interview with Mike and we went from there. Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I transcribed the interview myself. I’ve been conducting interviews for around 14 years now, so you’d think I’d be pretty good at transcribing, but it still takes me a long time. The interview covers Mike’s early years in rural Minnesota to his move to L.A.; his time in the Marines to working with Will Eisner; his time at Marvel to his career in film to his recent return to comics with such books as Abadazad and The Spirit.

What was your goal with this volume of Modern Masters? Do you think you met it?

I never really thought about having a goal for the book, but when you put it that way, I did. I’ve been a fan of Mike’s work since I first saw it in an issue of Man-Thing I bought as a back issue when I was growing up. Later, seeing books like his Classic Illustrated version of Tom Sawyer and his adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus only made me appreciate his work more.

However, there isn’t that much information out there about him. If you Google someone like John Byrne, Tim Sale, or Jeff Smith, almost any “name” artist, you’ll find a number of interviews with them. With Mike, that’s not the case. Don’t get me wrong, he does do interviews, it’s just that he hasn’t done as many as some creators. He also spent most of the 80s and 90s working in film, and aside from lists of films he’s been involved with, there’s very little information about his film work. He’s worked on films such as The Dark Crystal, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Little Shop of Horrors. He even worked on a Michael Jackson video!

My goal with this volume was to bring what I felt was some much warranted, and long overdue, attention to Mike and his work. I think I accomplished that. Hopefully, people will like what they see and read and want to go out and read some of the books he’s done over the years. How successful I was with that, only time will tell.

Stardust Kid by Mike Ploog

Stardust Kid by Mike Ploog

How was the subject selected?

Eric Nolen-Weathington and I were discussing doing another Modern Masters book together after we finished the Walter Simonson volume. He asked me if there was anyone I’d like to interview. I sent him a list of four or five names, one of them being Mike Ploog. He said he had been thinking about doing a volume on Mike, so we decided to pursue that. Eric spoke with Mike at the San Diego convention in, I believe, 2007, and Mike agreed to the interview. It was that simple.

For those who aren’t familiar with the name, why would they want to read about Mike Ploog?

Mike is probably best known for being the original artist on Marvel’s Werewolf by Night and Ghost Rider. He was kind of their “go to” guy for monster comics and he did some memorable work on Man-Thing, Monster of Frankenstein, and Planet of the Apes. If you like Marvel comics from the 70s, he has some great stories about his time there.

Mike has spent a number of years working in TV and film. He’s been involved with such projects as Superman II and Shrek. He has some wonderful behind-the-scenes stories about this part of his career that I think movie fans will really enjoy. As a Muppet fan, I was fascinated listening to him talk about working with Frank Oz.

A lot of Mike’s comic work has been in the horror and fantasy genre. I think the closest he came to a superhero comic was Ghost Rider. If you’re interested in more than just superhero comics, I think you’ll find something of interest here.

Finally, there’s the art itself. There are some amazing examples of Mike’s work in the book. There’s a color 2-page spread that is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. If you’re a fan of comic art, or art in general, I think you’ll love looking through this book.

In the interview, what did you find out that you didn’t know before?

Upcoming Perhapanauts cover by Mike Ploog

Upcoming Perhapanauts cover by Mike Ploog

A lot. I think almost everything he said when we were talking about his film work was new to me. Something that really sticks in my mind, though, was his time working at PS Magazine. I think many comic fans have heard of that, but they may not know much more about it than Will Eisner created it. That pretty much described me going in. It’s a magazine for the military that helps explain maintenance of machinery and weapons in a way that people can understand. A lot of that was done in comic form. Mike tells some absolutely fascinating stories about working with Eisner and his other co-workers on PS. For me, it was really interesting learning about this part of comics history.

I want to add that Mike is a great storyteller, in both the art and yarn-spinning sense of the word, but it’s the latter of these that I want to mention. Interviewing Mike felt a lot like sitting down with an old friend, opening a couple beers, and shooting the breeze. I quickly learned that what made things memorable for him was the people he worked with. And he has some great stories to tell about them.

How did you start writing for TwoMorrows?

One day, I was talking with a friend, Wayne Markley, and mentioned a book that I thought someone should write. His response was, “Why don’t you write it?” I’ve been conducting interviews for Westfield Comics since 1994, but I’d never thought seriously about writing a book. Sure, it had crossed my mind, but more as a fantasy than a reality. Once Wayne said that, it burrowed into my brain and I started thinking, “Yeah! Why don’t I write it? I have plenty of experience conducting interviews. I could do this.”

I contacted John Morrow and pitched him the idea, and he was all for it. Unfortunately, that project ended up falling through due to circumstances beyond our control, but it planted the seed. I asked about working on Modern Masters, and John put me in touch with Eric. I pitched an idea or two to him and that eventually lead to interviewing Walter Simonson. Since then, I’ve also contributed articles to Back Issue, including the most recent issue, number 31, which is a Steve Gerber tribute.

Who would you most like to cover for a future Modern Masters?

That’s a tricky question because there are so many people I’d like to interview for the series. How about a top five instead? My top five at the moment, and in no particular order, would be Jim Starlin, Matt Wagner, Bill Sienkiewicz, Colleen Doran, and Rick Veitch. I don’t know if any of these will happen, but they’re all people whose work I admire and has had an impact on me. If you ask me tomorrow, that list may change.