Greg Smallwood has become synonymous with Marc Spector — aka the Fist of Khonshu — aka Moon Knight in recent years. He, along with writer Brian Wood, took over for Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey in 2014 and then Greg stayed on when Jeff Lemire took over writing duties. All-in-all, Greg has spent the better part of three years emerging as one of Marvel’s most promising talents. We’ve had the privilege of knowing Greg from the very start of his career, which began in 2013 with Dream Thief by Dark Horse. For some reason Greg listened to our show and reached out to us, and we became fans of his work immediately. Now that Greg’s brilliance is no longer a well-kept secret, I sat down for a chat with him to catch up on life, the universe, and everything.
Greg, thanks for joining me for a chat. Let’s give our audience a sense of your roots. Were you always a comic book fan? What books captivated you when you first became a reader?
No problem, Jason! As to comics, I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. My dad collected comics so he put a lot of comics in front me at an early age — The Rocketeer, Xenozoic Tales — but my first memories of reading comics were the mini-comics that were packaged with the DC Superpowers action figures in the 80s. I was fairly obsessed with those as a young child.
Your dad has great taste, kudos to him.
We first became aware of your work on Dream Thief back in 2013; which was an inventive series and showcased your storytelling. Was that, in fact, your first work in comics? And how did you land that job?
It was indeed my first work in comics. My collaborator on the book, Jai Nitz, had noticed my work on a flyer that was posted at one of the local comic shops here in Kansas back in 2009. I had an entry in the Zuda Comics competition and I was soliciting votes for my comic. Jai spotted my art and immediately sent me an e-mail asking if I was interested in working on a pitch with him. It was much easier to follow the work of the local KC creators back then so I had read everything Jai had written at that point and knew we’d be a great match. I said yes and he sent me a one-page written pitch for Dream Thief. Together, we assembled a 5-page pitch and sent it off to various publishers only to find that no one was interested in the book. For the next year, Jai and I got to know each other more and around 2011, we went back to the drawing board and put together a second pitch for Dream Thief, this time moving away from the globe-trotting adventure tone of the first pitch to more of a supernatural crime drama. It became much more reflective of our personal sensibilities and I think our friendship had a lot to do with that. We sent the pitch out to everyone but Dark Horse and Vertigo and every publisher turned us down. We saw Dark Horse and Vertigo as long shots so we didn’t have much hope when we finally mailed off the pitch to them. Much to our surprise, Dark Horse responded almost immediately and a deal was put together pretty soon after.
No matter how many creators we get to know, it’s fascinating that no two origins stories are the same. Perseverance is crucial, but so is the subjective nature of an editor’s eye. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying how happy I am Dark Horse saw the potential.
Most readers probably know you from Moon Knight, but many might be surprised to learn you’ve been drawing The Fist of Khonshu since 2014! Walk us through how you landed the Marvel gig and what it’s been like concentrating on one character in an era where most artists hop from series to series.
While Jai and I were working on Dream Thief, Marvel editor Nick Lowe made a guest appearance at our local show, Planet Comicon. We showed Nick the book and about a year later, he hired us to do an issue of A+X. While I was finishing the art on that issue, Nick let me know that he was looking for a Marvel book for me to draw. When issue 2 of Warren Ellis‘s Moon Knight was on stands, I got a call from Nick asking me if I was interested in taking over on issue 7. Although following Declan Shalvey and the hype surrounding the first arc was a bit intimidating, I was thrilled to take on my first Marvel ongoing. I never imagined that I would be working on Moon Knight for as long as I have, though! I’ve definitely grown attached to the character and it feels like my style developed over the last two years to fit the book so it’s difficult to imagine another Marvel hero being a more perfect fit for me and my sensibilities. If it was up to me, I’d stick with Moon Knight indefinitely.
Although you’ve stayed on Moon Knight, you’ve collaborated with two different writers: Brian Wood and Jeff Lemire. How would you compare and contrast each of their approaches?
Brian is definitely more grounded than Jeff. While Jeff loves the supernatural aspects of the character, Brian shied away from that and used the character to explore more real-world themes. With the first run, I felt like I was drawing a sharp political thriller with a supernatural bent. With this second run, reality takes a backseat and Marc Spector’s fractured psyche is in the forefront, fully realized visually for the reader. The two approaches couldn’t be more different and I think it really illustrates the potential genre-bending that is possible with superhero characters.
I couldn’t agree more. Let’s roll back a bit and talk about your time before Dream Thief. Did you study illustration formally or are you self-taught?
I’m self-taught. Most art teachers tried to discourage my interest in cartooning so I stopped taking art courses. Experience became my teacher.
That’s astounding. How much drawing did you do and when did the process start?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and I don’t think I ever really considered anything else for a job. The summer after I graduated, I took a trip to Wizard World Chicago to show my portfolio around to editors. I could tell from the responses I got that it was going to take a lot more time to break in. I kept at it for a couple of more years before I became discouraged and spent the remainder of my twenties goofing off and working minimum wage jobs. It wasn’t until I got laid off from a job in 2007 that I decided it was time to get serious about making comics. I knew that I didn’t want to go through the hassle of portfolio reviews again so I decided it would be best to simply make my own comics and get noticed that way. I began teaching myself how to color, ink, and letter my own work and that led to me entering the Zuda Comics competition.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez would probably be the biggest influence on my work. I love the way he draws everything – faces, figures, clothes, cars, buildings, everything – and he’s a master storyteller to boot. Alex Toth and Chris Samnee pulled me away from the hyper detail work that often slowed me down. Minimalism is now a big part of my work thanks to them. Richard Corben, Mike Allred, Mark Schultz, Dave Stevens, and Jason Latour all had a big impact on my work, as well.
I love how eclectic your influences are, and also that your style is distinct, as a result.
The first time we met, in Chicago, you were kind enough to give each of us an awesome commission, but you work digitally for the most part, right?
Yeah, I started using Photoshop to color my work, gradually shifted to digital inking, and then finally moved my entire workflow over to my computer.
While I understand the flexibility and speed that digital tools provide, do you ever consider the lost income from not having traditional pages to sell to art collectors?
Absolutely. I actually produced a few pages traditionally last year while I was experiencing some computer problems and it was nice to see the interest they generated from art collectors. I love looking at original art and it does gnaw at me a little bit that I don’t have that with my own work. Knowing I’ll never have an Artist’s Edition bugs me the most. The loss of income from original art isn’t as big of a factor because my output is significantly increased by my digital workflow. There’s no way I’d have the time to ink my work if I was working traditionally.
Are you still available for commissions from time to time? If so, how can interested fans make requests?
I still tackle commissions. For fans interested, I recommend shooting me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org and letting me know that you’d like to sign up for my newsletter. I keep folks updated on commission list availability, upcoming projects and behind the scenes process with my newsletter.
You’re exclusive with Marvel, and I realize you can’t tell us what you’re working on next until it’s official. But do you know what’s up next? Or are you committed to Moon Knight for the foreseeable future?
I actually have no idea what’s up next. I’m supposed to get a call soon, though. I’d love to stay on Moon Knight but I think Marvel has other plans for me.
You’ve drawn a creator-owned book and a well-known Marvel hero, but you’re still in the very early innings of your career. What characters would you love to take a stab at before it’s all over?
I’ve been pushing for a Midnight Sons revamp but I’m not sure how interested Marvel is. If done right, I think that book could be a huge hit and I’d be happy as a clam if I got to do draw that line-up of characters!
Respect! We all need a bit more Jennifer Kale in our lives.
Where can fans stay in touch with you and your work?
I just re-joined Twitter after a long hiatus but I’m most active on Instagram. My handle on both is SavageSmallwood.
What conventions are you planning on attending this year?
The only one on my schedule this year is Planet Comicon here in Kansas City.
Bah! You need to get out to some more shows and meet the fans. Either that, or the 11 O’clock Comics crew needs to make its long-awaited debut in Kansas City. Alright my friend, congratulations on the well-earned success. It’s been a pleasure watching your career unfold and I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us on your next project — whatever it turns out to be.
Thanks Jason, this was fun. I’ll talk to you soon.