My love for the 1986 Aquaman mini-series by Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton knows no bounds, so it was of course a huge thrill to get to talk to Craig for a phone interview. So let's get to it!
Aquaman Shrine: What comics did you read growing up?
Craig Hamilton: Oh, that's easy--anything that Mike Grell drew. I loved Mike Grell when I was a kid. And I recognized Neal Adams, but I was more into the funkier stuff that Mike Nasser was doing. I loved the "studio guys"--Kaluta, Barry Smith, Wrightson. All of the really great innovative stuff that was happening in the 70s, you know, as a kid I was lapping up. I bought the first issue of Micronauts, I had an issue of Detective Comics that Michael Golden did. Michael Golden changed everything when he showed up on the scene.
When I got into the studio guys, particularly Mike Kaluta, who pretty early on--I met him when I was nineteen--we were friends by the time I was twenty-one, and he really took me under his wing and gave me a lot of guidance. He's my guru. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, and I was just breaking in, doing Aquaman, I went on the convention circuit. And these people like Mike Kaluta and Klaus Janson--who was an integral part of me getting the Aquaman job. I met Klaus at a convention when I was eighteen or nineteen, setting my sights on breaking in, he was very friendly and nice to me.
They were looking for an artist[for Aquaman] when I met Klaus, he saw my work and said you'd be perfect for it. He promised to help me through it, and of course I had Joe Orlando, who was the colorist, who was helping me with my storytelling and was feeding me all this great Kubert to study. Which is great because its very simple and very basic, yet its got everything there--pure visual storytelling, which I needed, because I wanted to go off on a tangent and be more illustrative and all that, and if you're doing comics you need to be a storyteller.
AMS: How long did it take you to do Aquaman? When I first saw the book, I thought, "how long did it take this guy to do a page?" It was so intricate...
CH: It took eight or nine months to do all four issues. Hot on the heels of that first series, they wanted me to come back and do a second one, and two months in, I only had like four or five pages drawn. I was exhausted, I was empty. Great pages--the drawing was so much better, the storytelling was so much better--but I just couldn't pull it out, and they canned it.
AMS: I was so surprised that hey got Curt Swan to replace you on the next mini-series, since to anyone buying the book for your work was going to get whiplash from the major change in art style. And I thought, this might be something that helped kill this.
CH: Something very sharp and innovative to something very tried-and-traditional. But I'm part of the blame for that for not being able to follow through with a second series. But I was wiped out.
AMS: I know a lot of fans--like myself--tend to be very old-fashioned, but when I saw that new costume I thought, this thing's just gorgeous, and if that's what he's gonna look like from now on, fine. It seemed like the mini-series you and Neal were doing was taking the character, kind of rethinking him a little bit, we're not going to reinvent the wheel here, but, rethink it a little, make it look new, and kind propel him into the future. I remember hearing it sold very well, too.
CH: I think one of things that we did that was funny was take his biggest character flaw, or trait--which was his temper--and, you know, tempered it. And now he's back to being a hothead, so who knows how that fits into the current continuity, but they keep the other characters around, like Nuada, and some of the Atlantis mythology.
AMS: Did you design that costume?
CH: Neal Pozner did. Neal designed it, but I pride myself on being the only person who could draw it. That was one of my strong skills, and I think that's why Neal wanted me. I had very classical training, and I was taking life drawing classes at thirteen. That Aquaman costume is all tied around anatomy. Every point on it goes to a different reference point on the body, and you have to be able to draw the body moving in a natural way to naturally draw that costume.
I was influenced by Heavy Metal and some of the underground comics, and I absolutely loved the weirdness of them, and I thought how cool it would be if I could into mainstream comics and bring some of that weirdness with me. That mini-series starts out very normal looking but by issue four its got that astral battle and it starts looking off the hook. And that costume, even though it makes sense, is a little weird.
AMS: Its certainly a very atypical superhero uniform. Did you have a lot of interaction with Neal?
CH: Yeah; he had three issues written, it was a greenlight proposal at DC, as soon as he found an artist. We met socially at Klaus Janson's house, because he and Klaus were friends. He saw my portfolio and said come into the office, and there I got to meet Dick Giordano, which was just a thrill beyond measure. When I broke in I was so blessed to have people like Joe Orlando and Dick Giordano looking over my shoulder, teaching me as I worked.
AMS: Did you have any real familarity with Aquaman before you got the gig?
CH: I had two "flavors" of Underoos--Batman and Aquaman. I was already a fan. The "D" listers always appealed to me more than the "A" listers. The last round of game card illustrations I did--I did Vartox and The Outsiders. I mean how D List can you get? But I love 'em though.
AMS: What's some of the stuff you're working on now?
CH: I've talked with Don McGregor about doing another series of Detectives, Inc. You know, you asked me earlier about my influences--you can't think of 70s comics without thinking of Marshall Rogers. He's one of my top three influences--I pretty much have everything he ever drew. He was my first autograph. Even though I had met Klaus Janson, I never thought to ask him for an autograph. The first autograph I ever got was from Marshall Rogers.
I've been talking to Mike Mignola about doing a Hellboy gig, but he is so slammed right now and I'm not sure that's going to happen for a couple of years, so I'm going to go ahead and jump on Detectives, Inc. So I'm just thrilled--it's going to be my homage to Marshall Rogers.
AMS: When you mentioned Mike Mignola, it made think about how it seems that he has extraordinary amount of control over Hellboy. And one of the things I've heard over and over again about your Aquaman editor, Dick Giordano, was how he was very hands off[as an editor]. I talked to Steve Skeates, about when he wrote Aquaman, and he talked about how Giordano was very "Ok, I hired you guys to do this book, because you know what you're doing, go do it." And I get that feel from your mini-series, too. It seems to have a very specific point of view, from an artistic and writing point of view.
CH: Yeah, he was very helpful, and he helped do what we wanted to do. It's not like he was imposing anything of himself on there.
AMS: I still go on and on about the mini-series, and say it's still the finest Aquaman story of the last twenty years.
CH: You know issue three, that has the origin flashback? Yeah, Neal and I were most proud of how we did that. His origin should have this magical fairy tale quality to it--I think we nailed it. It has a very fairy tale quality to it, then it gets very humble and earth-bound, and I absolutely loved drawing those pages.
AMS: There's a moment in that I've always remembered, where you talk abut how Arthur's father never really loved his second son [Orm] as much as he loved Aquaman, because he had all these powers, and the second son had the sin of being ordinary. And you drew this panel of the mother, Aquaman's stepmother, looking down, with her hands folded, I think, and it spoke so much to the feelings of the characters. And I've always thought it was a shame that wasn't explored more, because, a lot of kids can relate to that--coming from broken homes, mixed familes...
CH: Yeah, she had that quality, of being married to a man who's in love with the sea. He could never look at her, he was always carving mermaids.
AMS: I can't believe that series has never been collected.
CH: It's one of their proposals, but they've just never gotten around to greenlighting it. I don't know if we need to do a petition, or what. Maybe once you finish "Craig Hamilton Week" you could follow up and barrage DC with letters if you want to see it collected.
I think there's a relatability, you know, with the kid market? In the summertime, going to a pool--you're Aquaman. You think about that character every time you go swimming, and he has that subliminal appeal. And I think that's one of the things we tapped into with the mini-series.
AMS: Is there anything in mainsteam comics that you still want to do, or do you feel like you've done everything that you wanted to do?
CH: Oh no, I've got a laundry list of characters they haven't let me play with yet. I'm working on a Dr.Strange commission piece that's Ditko-meets-Dali. I love Dr.Strange.
AMS: That's funny, because Marshall Rogers drew him, too. You would do a kickass Dr.Strange.
CH: Yeah, yeah, and Frank Brunner, who I've gotten to know in the past three years. That's another great thing about working in comics--to grow up admiring Frank Brunner's Dr.Strange, and then one day get to meet him. I did an art show with him once, and I'm like, "Hey, I'm showing with Frank Brunner, here!"
Later on, when Mike Kaluta was doing some covers for Aquaman, he called me a couple of times to pick my brain. And see, that's one of the great things about comics--the cycle of inspiration is two-fold. Someone who inspired you and it turns out and you've inspired them, and they take it in a whole other direction. And I don't know any other art form other than jazz music where that happens, because its such a collaborative process.
Craig was a true southern gentleman, giving me way more of his time than I could have asked for. Thanks so much Craig!