Jonathan Ross Spares Some of his Valuable Time to talk about Comics.
Jonathan Ross, the famous mega comics fan and Television and Radio host spared some of his valuable time during his busy filming schedule to answer a handful of questions about his relationship with comic books and his experiences writing his own comics!
Paul: Jonathan you are famous for being a rather passionate comic fan, but could I ask please where it all began? What were the very first comics you recall reading? How old might you have been and where were they from?
Jonathan: The first comics I read were British weeklies, like The Beano and The Dandy. Then later Buster and Whizzer and Chips. But the first comics I really loved were American books, specifically Marvel. There were a couple of ‘junk’ shops on my High Street in Leytonstone East London that used to sell second hand comics. They had a pile of them with 3d scrawled on the cover or first page. I bought Fantastic Four, Daredevil and possibly some X Men. I still have the original copy of Fantastic Four number 3 I bought from there, minus its cover and beat up as hell. But precious to me. I got hooked and spent every penny I had on comics. For a while Marvel were not distributed here so it was tough. But I was actively buying them as a teen throughout the seventies, and those bronze age Marvels are a gas.
Paul: Do you have an opinion on the state of the comic industry in the UK. Obviously 2000AD is a constant, but have you tried reading newer titles like The '77 or Shift?
Jonathan: I bought 77 and enjoyed it. But I was never really that into 2000ad. I liked it but it came out when I was a bit older and more into music etc. So, I don’t have the same nostalgic connection to it that I do Marvel and DC.
Paul: Some years ago, I believe you part owned a comic shop with Paul Gambaccini from Radio One called Top Ten Comics in Soho in London. Could you say anything about that adventure please?
Jonathan: Paul and I embarked on this venture solely because of our love of comics. But it was a rather fraught experience. The country went into recession and imports from the USA cost more and more. Marvel also released a ton of extra books. We lost a lot of money and finally gave up. Retail is hard!
Paul: I’m interested in the BBC documentary you filmed with Neil Gaiman “In Search of Steve Ditko.” I found it quite moving and you were clearly motivated to see the project through. Could you say anything about the man himself?
Jonathan: Neil is a guest on the documentary, but really, I filmed it myself for the BBC. He happened to be in NYC meeting with DC regarding a future Sandman project that never happened. So, we interviewed him there and then because I was intending to film outside of Steve’s office, I invited him along. It was indeed a passion project for me. I am glad I made it and glad it found an appreciative audience.
Jonathan: I think I started the project with the cliched view of Steve that he was an oddball and a recluse, albeit an amazingly talented one! But over the years and having chatted to him a couple of times after the doc came out, my respect and I think understanding of him increased. Although the word gets bandied about too generously, I would consider him to be a true genius. He is unique and uncompromising and so wonderfully gifted. That plus his dedication and hard work is why he became one of the greatest individual talents in comics.
Paul: I am guessing you have been to many, many comic conventions and had the opportunity to talk to a great number of famous creators. I wonder are you still starstruck when you meet famous writers and artists? Would I be correct in saying you were fortunate enough to meet Stan Lee?
Jonathan: I met Stan once when I interviewed him for the Ditko show. I had been asked to participate in a show about him years ago but declined as I was uneasy about the credit he received that was rarely, in my opinion, fairly shared with the artists he worked with. I treasure my meetings with Don McGregor, Darwyn Cooke, Berni Wrightson, Len Wein, and the brief chats I had with Mike Ploog and Gene Colan. Overall, my fave Convention hook up has to be the magnificent Jim Steranko.
Paul: Given your experiences interviewing so many big names in the film industry, and the many writing credits that your talented wife has gained over the years, have you ever visited any movie sets of the various superhero movies fans have enjoyed over the last two decades?
Jonathan: I have visited a few movie sets over the years but am not really a fan of doing that. Everyone there has a job to do and its quite stressful for them and I don’t like to feel like I’m getting in the way. Also, it can spoil the movie for you a bit. I was on set for several of the key moments for the Kingsman film and Kicks and quite a few Bond movies. When you watch the movie, the reality of your memory clashes with what’s onscreen and takes you out of the moment. So, although I still occasionally do visit sets when friends in the business invite me, it is not something I am especially keen on.
Paul: You ventured into writing you own comics for a time. Your Series America’s Got Powers with Bryan Hitch was very well received. How did the series come about and are you likely to write more comics in the future?
Jonathan: I have had three series published. Turf, with Tommy Lee Edwards, AGP with Bryan Hitch and Revenge with Ian Churchill. I wrote another series that I started to work on with Tommy Lee, The Golden Age, but I felt unable to continue working with him. I bought the art he had completed for it, so have the whole first issue here. But whether or not I will return to that or different projects I don’t know. I enjoyed the experiences, and it is fun being a tiny footnote in the world of comics. But time and life is precious and I have other things I need or want to do first.
Paul: As a comic fan you are quite famous. I wonder though what would you describe as the "Crown Jewel" of your collection that you are proudest of?
Jonathan: I am lousy at picking favourites. That’s why I try to avoid taking part in lists or shows that feature them - its why I've always turned down going on Desert Island Discs even though it is nice to be asked. Yet some of my original art brings me great pleasure. To hold original pages by Kirby, Ditko, Steranko, Billy Graham, Rich Buckler, Gene Colan, Barry Smith, Michael Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, Frank Frazetta, John Romita, Möbius and many other of the greats I grew up adoring is a constant thrill.
Paul: I have one simple and silly final question if I may. If you could have one superhero power what might it be?
Jonathan: In the real world I think being super smart like Tony Stark or Reed Richards or Brainiac would be useful. In the world of comics, I’ll take anything that’s going apart from Archery. Never really understood the appeal of Hawkeye of the Green Arrow. Once you’re quivers empty then you might as well go home.
Paul: Thank you for your time, Jonathon. It is appreciated.