Skottie Young has achieved what few modern comic book artists have: He is known as both an incredible artist and writer simultaneously, in both mainstream and indie comics. While most creators choose one side of the comic book world or the other, Young goes right down the middle of the street in a tank driven by a little girl with a battle ax.
Young has applied his wit to Deadpool, Rocket and Groot, and his Eisner Award-winning adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. He’s also known for his “baby-style” variants, which he’s applied to almost every character in the Marvel Universe. Young stays pretty busy. He’s done over 300 baby variants and has three creator-owned series he’s working on for Image Comics, including his long-running I Hate Fairyland, as well as the upcoming Middlewest and Bully Wars.
On the last day of San Diego Comic-Con, SYFY WIRE spoke to Young about his origin story, his favorite character to draw and write, and how he gets it all done.
Why did you get into comics and who were some of your favorite artists?
Skottie Young: I started reading Mad Magazine and the Sunday comic strips when I was in elementary school. I was a paperboy, so I had the papers every morning and when I would get done with my paper route, I'd read the comics.
Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, and Garfield and all those great strips of that time. I found Mad Magazine at my local grocery store, which is a kind of comics, as well. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was just filled with all this art. I really like all the humor in there. So that really started my love of pictures and words put together. Later I realized what I was looking at was comic books.
And then in junior high, Image Comics launched, which was awesome because when I had discovered comics I didn't understand how they worked number wise because I’d pick up one that was like, issue #128. And I'm thinking, “Well where do I get the rest?" or "How do I read the story?”
And what were some of your favorite Image Comics at the time?
Spawn was a really big favorite of mine. Todd McFarlane was a really big influence back then. Sam Kieth’s The Maxx was so cool; it was weird and esoteric and I didn't understand it, but I loved it. That was a big one. Youngblood, too.
What brought you into drawing your first comic? And what was it?
The very first comic that I drew was at Marvel and it was Iceman #3. That came about from me being friends with C.B. Cebulski, who now is the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. At the time, we were both just guys coming up, trying to find our way into this business, and he happened to be out one night with some editors at Marvel and one of them asked him if he knew anybody that could do a fill-in issue. Somebody wasn’t able to finish an issue or something like that, and he suggested me. So it was like, right place, right person, right time.
Absolutely. And then when they called me, they were like, "Can you do this?" I'm like, "Oh, of course." Fake it till you make it. That was my life's motto.
So how did you get from Iceman to Deadpool?
That's a huge road. I've been doing this for about 17 years, but the first half of [my career] was pretty much me just being an artist but always wanting to write because I always thought I would write and draw comics. I got my first job as an artist and then years into it I realized all I’d done is really focus on the art — which is good [because] I got better and better. But then I started getting that itch to do something new and have a new challenge and tell stories.
So, an editor called me one day and asked me to draw a Marvel monster story and I told him I would if I could write it. It was a short story, like a 14-pager. He agreed and so I did this monster Frankenstein story. They were like, “Oh, wow. It's pretty good!”
Then over the years, Nick Lowe and different editors would come to me and let me write other short stories. Then Nick gave me my first mini-series, which was a Magneto mini-series around 2011, 2012. So slowly but surely, I just took on more writing, understanding the craft a little more and enjoying it.
Then I got a chance to adapt The Wizard of Oz into graphic novels with Eric Shanower.
You won An Eisner for those, right?
Yeah. So when we were wrapping that up, they asked me what I'd like to do next and I said, "Whatever it is, I want to write and draw it, I want to do everything." So the next project was Rocket Raccoon & Groot. Weirdly enough, though, I asked for Deadpool first, because Deadpool fit my personality at the time, but it just wasn't in the cards. We'd just relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy too. This is long before the movie came out, about two years.
I was just like, "Hey, Rocket's kind of a humor character and, you know, since I can't do Deadpool, maybe I can do Rocket Raccoon & Groot." And we did. And that ended up selling really well and being received really well. So that was the thing that made [Marvel] say, “Okay, this is all working. Both the writing and the art." So, over the course of the next couple of years, I wrote that and a couple more series. Then, when it was time for Gerry Duggan to leave Deadpool and they were looking for someone to relaunch the new one, my phone rang and they asked if I was still interested in writing Deadpool. And I was so in!
So, Marvel sort of raised you. You really cut your teeth there and were able to grow.
Absolutely. I've learned so much about this business from just my years there and the editors and the relationships that I've had there. Marvel's given me something that's really important to me, which is my platform to go and create my own creator-owned comics. Marvel has provided me with this platform to share my work and build a fan base and a readership.
So when it was time to create a very, very angry little girl, you were ready.
Yes! Then I got to go over to Image Comics, create books, and learn a whole other part of the business, you know? Marvel has really brought me up and now I'm kind of out in the world flying around, seeing what's what.
Let's talk about Gertrude and Fairyland for a minute. For the people who do not know, explain the premise.
I Hate Fairyland was a story about a little girl who wants to go off to Wonderland, if you will. Just like Dorothy or Alice or Sarah in The Labyrinth, or any of these stories where we've watched a kid go off into a magical world. They have fun and learn a lesson and get scared and come home and have grown up or come of age. Well, she's whisked away to one as well called Fairyland, but can't seem to solve the puzzles to get back home and finds herself stuck there for 30 years. So she's a grownup woman in an 8-year-old's body who's been eating sugar her whole life.
The most amazing premise ever.
She just wants to go the f**k home. It's really just a story about how the grass is always greener and sometimes when it looks like we have everything we want, that doesn't mean that it's all great, right? She lives in this world that's amazing and filled with everything and anything you want, but sometimes you actually need moderation and you need a balance. So there's an undercurrent there that I play around with, but mostly it's about her chopping things up with an ax and fake cussing.
The fake cussing is my favorite part. How did you come up with that?
It was really just a way for me to figure out how to lean into that vulgarity, but I still wanted this book to be appealing to a broad audience.
It’s pretty violent for kids.
I mean it's a little hyper-cartoony violent, but you still can be like, "Well, they're not saying real words." My conceit for [the fake cussing], which I never actually say in the book but is just in my head, is that there's some wizard or shaman somewhere [in Fairyland] repeating a spell over and over and over all day and it filters any curse words. [And] he hates his job."
Tell us about Middlewest. How did that come about?
Middlewest is a story that I started cooking up a couple of years ago when I had drawn a little drawing of a kid looking into a cornfield and his own voice was coming out of the cornfield. That was kinda the first image that I realized it's time for me to tell a story set in a Midwest-like setting.
I've lived in the Midwest most of my life. I think it's really an interesting, weird place filled with huge, vast spaces of nothing. And then these little small towns here and there that people don't leave. So there's a lot of history and a lot of hidden pain and hidden dirt. Then it was just a matter of kind of honing that in and seeing what that story was.
What I ended up coming out with is a story of Abel, a boy who has a troubled relationship with his father. The relationship takes a turn and a lot of the father's anger manifests itself into a literal tornado monster. Abel has to then figure out how to reconcile that but is also fearful that maybe he has some of that monster in him, as well.
He goes on a journey through the Midwest. He leaves his small town for the first time, running away from this thing, and has to find a way to survive, keep himself from changing, and stay away from this thing.
Of all of the characters, Deadpool, Gertrude, Spidey, Abel, even your newer ones, who's your favorite character to draw and your favorite character to write?
Oh, man. I'm just going to say Gert at the moment. I'm currently loving her.
I'm writing two new Image books, Bully Wars and Middlewest, but they're so fresh and new to me that I'm still figuring out the voices for everybody. It's so fun when you're still cultivating; you're molding that clay into a new character and working it out.
And you’re fake cussing all over the house.
100 percent. People think I'm crazy up in that room. So I'm going to say Gert because I can draw her with my eyes closed now. I can write her like she's just talking on her own. I'm not even working. So I'd say for now it'd be that, but I could easily say that in a year, it'll be Rufus from Bully Wars or even Bobby from Middlewest, who is a really cool character, a young girl mechanic that works at a carnival. I'm really enjoying writing her. She's a kick-***, hardcore girl.
I'm sensing a theme here.
I clearly like writing them.