Another great interview Seb!
World War II stories, sketches of beautiful women, and a man and his mother at a comic convention; what could be more American? That’s how Billy Tucci, creator of SHI, artist on Marvel’s HEROES FOR HIRE, and writer/artist for DC’s SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION, rolls. It’s always great to talk to Billy, as he is so happy to just talk shop, life, and anything else with fans. A highly energetic and entertaining man, Billy has made 4 of my more recent con experiences memorable. This time, at last month’s FX CON, I was finally smart enough to RECORD the conversation..well, part of it, talking to Billy is so much fun, you just can’t capture it all!
Anyway, we talked about Sgt. Rock, WWII, Jonah Hex, Shi, and the burden of drawing hot women. Join us, won’t you?
SEBASTIAN PICCIONE: Ok, We’ll start with SGT. ROCK. For this story, you’ve been writing and drawing. Did you pitch this on your own, or is this something that DC you asked you about?
BILLY TUCCI: I pitched it on my own. And, it was amidst much raised eyebrows, because I’m known for drawing, you know, women in comic books. But, basically, I gave them the pitch and they really seemed to have liked it a lot. So, they went for it, and again, in the midst of some resistance, I think we’ve prevailed. I think that we’ve changed a lot minds. I think a lot of people were surprised; they didn’t realize the passion I had for the project. I LOVE Sgt. Rock, as a kid, that’s the comics I bought, you know, maybe Batman and Sgt. Rock…and the Our Army at War comics, and things like that. That’s what I liked, I liked the war stuff.
SEB: You’ve definitely proven that there is still room in mainstream comics for more than just Superheroes in tights, or sci-fi, and gotten the war comics back on the agenda.
BILLY: Oh, yeah! You could even see that, because now you have Marvel bringing back Nick Fury for a new series, and that’s REALLY encouraging. I think it’s cool that it’s helped inspire Marvel to bring back their war books. It’s nice, people are talking about it, so, apparently they see it. We’ve got a great team with Mike Marts, he’s my editor, we all want to treat it with such great respect, because I am walking in the shoes of greatness. Again, that’s why there was some resistance, because it was like, ‘who the hell is this guy, to do a character that Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher made so famous. But, I think they see how much I appreciate it, and that’s why I made a departure from Joe’s work and went with the hyper-realism. I wanted everything to be exactly right, every nut, every bolt, every weapon…even the uniform is exactly the uniform that the particular units who are fighting in the book were wearing. I interviewed dozens of veterans of the campaign, I visited the actual battle sights. It’s really been a labor of love and a dream project for me. I’m going to be really sad when it’s over to be honest with you..
SEB: Now, you didn’t just do research on this, you actually spoke to vets and you joined up with one of the WWII Reenactment crews and you relived some of the war, to an extent.
BILLY: Oh, yeah! Sure, I went to a giant reenactment in Pennsylvania, this past year. I was a war correspondent. So there’s a two day battle, where you have 2,000 World War Two reenactors, with tanks, and artillery, and all this stuff; and for Friday I was a German Correspondent, dressed up like a German soldier, armed with my camera. For the American one, I was an American one, dressed as a GI Correspondent. And it was just great. These guys, they KNOW a lot. These reenactors, really each and every one of them is a historian themselves, and I learned so much from them as well.
SEB: And in a real example of art imitating life, You went and joined the reenactment groups and were a war correspondent, and then within the books, you are the war Correspondent, Kilroy.
BILLY: Yes, and then I became Kilroy, the war correspondent in the book, yeah, I gotta, I mean who else but me, c’mon! [laughs]
SEB: And exactly how long did it take you to decide that your war correspondent caricature should be named Kilroy?
BILLY: It’s in a way to let people know of the Kilroy character, who Kilroy was, but people do often ask me, are you THE Kilroy? And I’m like, No, the other one.
SEB: But, either way, Kilroy WAS here! [Laughs]
BILLY: Yup, yup. And that’s how he signs his artwork!
SEB: As you’ve said, you went your own way with the hyper-realism, and Made Rock your own, but you still nailed him so well, that you easily pick him off a page full of soldiers and say, “that’s Sgt. Rock.” So, how much time did you spend studying Sgt. Rock and the rest of Easy Company?
BILLY: I’m a Sgt. Rock fanatic, so I have LOTS of the old Our Army at War books, and Sgt. Rock when the title changed over to him. I also became friends with Joe Kubert…well, I don’t know if he would say that I was HIS friend, but HE’S my friend! [laughs]
But then again, somebody was saying that it’s hard to tell some of the characters, because they ARE in uniform. I wanted to make this hyper-realistic, so they WOULD be in uniform, they wouldn’t be wearing some the eccentricities that were famous in the Joe Kubert books. It’s also I don’t have the luxury of making..if you look at some these comic book artists, they draw Batman to have the same face as Superman, and you can just tell the difference from their costumes, so I don’t have the luxury of that. And you also want to make them all individuals as well. A few people have griped that it’s hard to tell who’s who, but for the most part people have agreed that they can tell who’s who. But that was also the point of uniform of the American Soldier was to make them all look the same. The German’s are a lot easier, because, especially as the war wnet on, their costumes varied greatly.
SEB: The story itself, this isn’t just a comic that takes place during World War II, this is an actual historical event, just with Sgt. Rock inserted into it.
BILLY: Yeah, I was putting Sgt Rock, into history, I mean, for legal reasons and also for editorial decisions, you have to change some things, which you do, but for the most part it’s all based on actual events that took place in October, 1944 in Eastern France near the German border, and it’s basically the Battle of the Lost Battalion, where 275 men were cut off by 7,000 German troops and held out in one of the greatest last stands in history, until they were relieved by the Japanese-American Soldiers in the 442 Regimental Combat team. I mean, you talk about just valor on all parts, it’s just extraordinary what these guys went through.
SEB: It’s almost the WWII equivalent to the Spartan, Leonidas, and his 300.
BILLY: Yeah, it’s very much like that. There was no retreat, no surrender; and wouldn’t you knoiw it, once they were relieved they were fine, they could have held out indefinitely. All they had to do was be resupplied. So, they were resupplied, but by the air, from the 405th Fighter Squadron. There’s another interesting story that only 8 planes out of the entire 9th Air Force, which is all the Air Force in Europe at the time --you had the 8th Air Force in England, but on the continent it’s the 9th – but, every plane was grounded except for 8 volunteer pilots who flew in this horrible snow, rain, and freezing wind to drop supplies to the Lost Battalion in P-47 Thunderbolts.
SEB: Now, this is a 6 issue series, number 5 is out, and 6 hits in June, but you were talking earlier about the chance that another mini or an ongoing could be after this?
BILLY: Oh, God, I hope so. My dream is to pitch them, and we’ll see if they’ll go for it, to do a monthly Sgt. Rock, in a similar vein to the JONAH HEX books.
SEB: Speaking of JONAH HEX, I saw you at MEGACON, and in one of the DC Panels a fan had suggested that you work with Jimmy [Palmiotti] on an issue of Jonah Hex, and Jimmy seemed all for it, has any more come out of that, or is that still just something to work out?
BILLY: Oh, no, that’s pretty much a done deal. I just have to finish the Sgt. Rock book, and then I’ll probably just jump right on that. I’ll also be writing some other things for DC. You heard one of my pitches that I don’t want to tell anybody yet, but..
SEB: It’s our secret…
BILLY: Yeah, [laughs] well, they seem to like it, so hopefully, you know? But, my priority is to finish this last issue of Rock, because I’m really pouring myself out on every page. Again, this is a true labor of love for me, so I want to do the best I can for them, because they’ve given me a chance to do my dream book.
SEB: And you were saying that this was such a departure from what everybody expects from you, and even that secret pitch that you were just talking about is yet another complete reversal [laughs]from where you were just going, so are there a whole bunch of other sides that you want to get out there now?
BILLY: Definitely, because it’s weird how people judge you and how they think that if you’ve achieved some form of success for drawing women they don’t think that you can draw men. I mean, look at someone like Michael Golden who’s famous for drawing the most beautiful women or Adam Hughes, and they’ve both done some great men drawings. Not that I’m putting myself in the same league as Adam Hughes or Michael Golden, =. I’m just saying that people should remember that there’s no reason why you can’t do both.
SEB: And speaking of drawing women, one of the things that helped start it all was your creation, SHI. What’s going on with SHI?
BILLY: I have to start my new SHI series, which I’m hoping to have the first issue out for the SAN DIEGO COMIC CON. We have a film deal with Mimi Gitlin, who’s our producer, Kevin Bernhardt and I are writing the second draft of the script. I’ll be working on that when I’m done with Rock. It’s really cool. A lot of it stays the same with the comic, but then there are some really cool new elements, as if I had created SHI today, as opposed to 15 years ago.
SEB: So, not so much a reboot or reimagining, as it is just tweaking it to work into a more modern setting, rather than reinventing the 1990s?
BILLY: Yeah, you know just to sort of change some aspects to it. But, it’s good! I think it’s pretty cool.
SEB: Alright, that’s definitely a lot to look forward to, and I know you’ve got like 28 commissions to finish, most of which are to draw women [laughs] ‘cause even as you’re fighting to get out of the stereotype of guy-who-draws-women, you’re still him.
BILLY: [laughs] Yeah, but you know, after a year of drawing almost nothing but men, and military men, it’s nice to get back out and draw a chick, if you will.
SEB: It’s like the artist equivalent of I just finished my tour with all these guys, now I’d like to see some women?
BILLY: Yeah, yeah! [laughs]
SEB: Well, thanks for talking to me, and I look forward to seeing all of it.
BILLY: Mr. P., as always, great seeing ya! Thank you.
SEB: Billy, Thank you!
ISSUE 6, the finale to SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION is due to hit the stands June 24th.
Last edited by SebastianPiccione; Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 02:46 PM.
"Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"
great interview! billy tucci is an awesome dude. i've been lucky enough to run into him at pretty much every con i've ever attended. he's hands down one of the nicest and most energetic individuals you'll meet at a con. super cool guy.
Josh, you're absolutely right. He's a panic to hang with at cons, because he's like a kid in a candy store.
Before the interview, I'm sitting with him at his booth, he's got a crowd of people around him, and we're all talking about this and that. In mid sentence, Billy JUMPS up out his seat, hands waving in the air and shouts at the top of his lungs "ROCKETEER!!"
It turns out, 2 rows over, a guy in a homemade (but really rather cool) Rocketeer costume is walking around, and Billy just loved it.
"Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"
Rocketeer was the BOMB! plus Jenn Connely was a hottie back in the day.