An interview with Sam Kieth - Oct 2000
If you had've asked me who I would most
like to interview, towards the top of the list on any day would be Sam
Kieth. His comic, The Maxx, was one of those right time, right place events
that could so easily have been missed. I'd only been into comics for a
couple of months when this upstart company, Image Comics started on the
scene. Here was a whole bunch of talented artists, tired of the studio
game, going off to set up an artists utopia. One day I spied issue one
of the Maxx, an unusual cover and severe title graphic made me buy it,
but it was the style of the art and the humour of the text that drew me
in. Over the coming years, the Maxx developed. It's letters page, Maxx
Traxx became this community of people, not obsessed with comics but trying
to understand life, people and emotions.
If you got the Maxx, you'll know
what I mean. If you didn't, find someone with a few issues and spend a
day or two to discover for yourself what exactly it was all about. It's
one of those rare works, one that strikes you from so many different angles
in incredibly different ways.
Thanks for your consent on this Sam.
I'd like to ask you a few questions about The Maxx, current projects,
a bit of your history and a couple of general ones. I'm curious as to
how you got started with Image comics?
I was working at marvel, doing covers and hoping
who ever was drawing wolverine would have a heart attack and I'd get the
gig, but no luck. I got to know Jim Lee from marvel, and when he left,
he called me and that's how that started. Most of the Image guys came
from Marvel or DC.
As part of the second wave of talent,
you and The Maxx were the only project that really lasted. Why do you
think this was the case?
Luck. And stupidity. < grin > I was stupid enough
to keep going and drawing it, I suppose. Larson's is still going though,
but I see what you mean. The "second wave" of Image was like me, Dale
Keown, Larry Stroman and maybe Jay Lee. Who else. Don Simpson? Man, does
anybody under 25 even remember who these guys are anymore? It's been,
what, 5 years? The truth is, I have no Idea how or why Maxx lasted 26
Do you get any satisfaction knowing
that your issue of the Incredible Hulk is really, really hard to find?
Well, I have trouble finding my remote control,
but that doesn't make it valuable! < laughter > Sorry, bad joke. < ahem
> Well, Kelly Jones is ONE of the reasons that issue looks good to be
bluntly honest. I took the credit, but HE did a lot of it too. It's hard
to find? really?
The Maxx seemed to have it's own
special community, which came through in Maxx Traxx. What kind of outlet
was the Maxx for people?
Disenfranchised. Lonely. Imaginative. Dreamers.
Outsiders. The girl who slits her wrists or the guy who hates himself
cause he wears glasses and was too fat, or skinny, you name it. Kids who
were too smart to be nerds, but didn't fit (or want to fit) in with the
hip & trendy kids. All these people just came to me and created their
OWN community. Maxx Traxx (the letters page) was just the place where
they gathered, that's all. People don't even have letters pages now. Too
expensive, sadly. I mock myself, and the book, but the fans were the only
real part of it, and talking to them was a truly humbling experience.
What kind of an outlet was it for
It was a creative dumping ground, and everything grew from my sketch books.
Drawings of that purple guy came from sketches that were over five years
old. I miss having a monthly place to dump Ideas, but I was all taped
out creatively when I quit Maxx, so that was that. Plus I was starting
to ramble a lot and not finish the story arch. Blessed relief I quit,
"Legs" was the last comic by you
that I've been able to source. What are you up to now?
Well, I've dropped off the face of the earth, which was pretty much my
plan after Maxx. My fifteen minutes are gone, and now I'm just screwing
around. I've been fooling around with film. I've made several live action
shorts and directed a low budget movie for Roger Corman, which was a story
in it's self. But I have no Illusions about being some movie guy. I'm
quite lucky to have made what I have in Comics & Animation really.
Would you ever consider working for
either of the machines (marvel/dc) again?
Sure. I never left them in a snit. I didn't do the Maxx as a statement
against marvel or DC, I just wanted to do a book. And, at its peak, Image
was a machine. Some of the larger guys, like Todd, Jim, Mark, they are
machines. They might not like to think of themselves that way, but with
that much money involved, It just happens. You have to fight NOT to. Eric
opted out, so did I. Dale did. Allen more is a good example of doing BOTH.
He works at big houses, and works on his own personal stuff too. So does
You have a fairly impressive cover
gallery in your CV. I'm wondering how you got involved with the Knightfall/Batman
Through Kelly, I guess. We did some Batman covers
together, but I kept crapping out on him, and they're some of the worst
I've ever done. Not all, but some! I'm talking about my part too, not
his! I just wasn't able to draw Batman like I wanted, and kept freezing
up, which sucked. I guess my work with Kelly went from the highs (hulk
& a few bat covers) to the lows of some pretty piss poor bat covers I'll
NEVER live down!
Do you now, or did you ever have
much to do with the Image founders?
Nope. They held their own meetings and, as long as I produced (that's
the magic little egg EVERYONE expects in this business) then they just
left folks like me pretty much alone.
MTV Oddities cartoon version of The
Maxx was really faithful to the look of the book. What sort of input did
you get with that programme?
Total. Too much. If we would hadn't followed my random plots a little
LESS, maybe the sucker would still be on the air! (smile) It was a small
company that produced the cartoons for MTV. No one was fucking with us,
or the people who were gave us complete control. Something like this will
NEVER happen again in my career, either in comics, animation, OR movies.
It was a once in a lifetime thing, and I still am stunned by it.
Were you happy with the end product?
Yeah, warts and all.
In a completely different tangent,
is the internet still in its childhood or going through its teen years?
I'd say people are still in their childhood in digesting the net. I think
the net's already in collage. Remember the industrial revolution. It wasn't
the technology that took time, it was people's fears and patience with
it. It took 2 generations to catch up. What my generations scratches their
heads about, the next takes for granted. It's like the Matrix movie was
what Easy Rider was in the sixties. If you're under 30, you get it. If
not, you'll probably just scratch your head a lot! (unless you're a weirdo,
What was the last book you didn't
finish and why?
"How to fix your toilet", and I'm serious. It just couldn't hold my interest.
And finally... hypothetically you're
offered, with complete artistic control, Superman or Spiderman. Which
would you do?
I can't choose the hulk? shit. (pout)
Thanks once again Sam. If it's ok,
I'd like to use a couple of images from The Maxx, FOM and Legs to go with
Sure, and I'd like to post this to the mailing list, a group of maxx heads
that all hang out together. Is that cool with you?
All images used in this article are owned
by Sam Kieth.