It wasn’t until towards the end of the interview that Rob Liefeld apologized to me about being distracted. His child was sick, you see, so he’d been wrapped up in that all day. Considering the detailed answers he’d given about Deadpool and his controversial time at Marvel Comics, it was hard to spot just where he’d been distracted.
Liefeld has been both the king of comics and the butt of jokes during his long career, but he’s at a high point this week: Deadpool, his most popular and enduring character, is finally hitting movie screens. He spoke a bit about the origins of the Merc with a Mouth and the wild ride the movie went through to get made.
Deadpool was introduced in the first issue where you had almost complete creative control, New Mutants #98. How’d that come together?
I was told that I could do what I want, because if it didn’t work, they’d shut the lights off. I felt I knew what had been missing from the book: It was silly. It stuck out like a sore thumb. The disparity between X-Men and New Mutants was about 200,000 books. My first issue got a bump because it was a debut, and the success of Cable completely changed the direction. The book became serious. And they rewarded me by giving the book. There’s a pressure that comes with, “Oh my gosh, I got everything I ever wanted.” I get to dictate everything, and I get to do it from my table!
You didn’t have to work from New York?
Myself and Jim Lee, we had fax machines, and it took a year to convince Marvel to get fax machines! We would sit there and watch that paper scroll out, and it was magic! We made our books with snail mail and FedEx.
That sounds agonizing for an artist.
I’ll tell you a secret, there’s an artistic function of Deadpool. I didn’t have to draw all the hairstyles, the stubble, the facial features, I didn’t have to line it all up. I was jealous of Spider-Man and his big oval eyes. My assistant remembers I ran in and said, “I got my own Spider-Man! With guns and swords!”
You were working pretty much constantly back then, creating a huge number of characters.
[Laughs.] Young Rob Liefeld had no life. I stopped seeing all my friends. “I can’t go to the movies, I got to get these pages out.” I was a very motivated young man, trying to create my career opportunities, and I felt that creating characters was the way to advance. I didn’t have any in my corner, so I had to create my own. It’s the biggest kick that they’ve had longevity.
It’s strange to see Deadpool in his first issue. He’s restrained compared to the wackiness that came later.
By the time Deadpool arrived in #98, we had drawn eyeballs. I had to push this rocket higher into the stratosphere. The impetus behind it, I spent a year building up Cable as a badass, he’d turned these kids into commandos, and I needed a character to come in to take them all out. I needed Deadpool to walk in to kick all their asses. And it was all part of a bigger plan! [Laughs.]
What was the reaction at the time?
Back in the day, I didn’t get the fan mail. Marvel sent me a box the size of a washing machine, and I’m like, “What is this?!” and it’s full of Deadpool mail. That’s why he’s all over X-Force, he’s a starring member of the cast. The mail on Deadpool was enormous. We had to get him involved in the book more. We were planning to become X-Force, we had earned the X. I could have done something else, Wolverine and Spider-Man were available to me. The Spider-Man office were trying to take back the number one spot after two decades at number two. But then I’m just the Spider-Man guy!
The Spider-Man of 1991 was having marriage problems, and he was sad and grim and gritty. So, I said, “I miss the smart-ass, I’ll do this black and red costume, and give him swords and guns!” I saw an opportunity to do my own thing and make my own toys.
I remember seeing those toys in the comic book shops!
Back then, I would put something in front of Marvel, and they would clear it right away. After X-Force came out, and sold a gazillion copies, Marvel came back and said, “Our second line of X-Men toys is all your characters!” I said, “Hold on, we’re jumping 20 years! I’m a toymaker!” That was the best news I’ve ever gotten! “My stuff is now in plastic!” Toys have a weird effect on us. Todd [McFarlane] pretty much quit entirely to make toys! [Laughs.]
The thing, with Deadpool, X-Force #1 is the second best-selling comic of all-time, we had five covers, and we sold five million. That’s a record that still stands, not even Star Wars could break it. “So, we need Deadpool trading cards and toys!” There was a base laid at that point, they were the number one comics in the country. If you were buying comics, you were buying my work. The reason that X-Force opens with Deadpool is because of the fans. And it’s great to see that Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds are experiencing the fans’ demand for Deadpool.
You’ve been pretty tightly involved in the movie, which is rare for creators. How’d that come together?
Tim Miller is always so ridiculously nice to me. He called me the day he got the gig, and he’s always been generous. I drove up to Blur Studios, I saw the conceptual painting, based on the script. Tim Miller was just the right guy, right time, right place. In Blur Studios, there’s a giant wall dedicated to a bookshelf, all comic books. Tim was a comic book guy. I knew he was the guy.
It seems like an unusually tight-knit group.
I need to give the screenwriters a shout-out, because there was only ever one Deadpool script. The script was written in 2009. There’s a love story in the movie I never nailed that they pulled off in the movie. Ryan Reynolds, Summer 2009, was the hottest. His career had blown up. So, he told them he wanted to do Deadpool. Ryan was protecting it from day one. I liked Iron Man as a kid. But when I saw the movie, I was like, “Hello, Iron Man! This is the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” Ryan is the same. He’ll be the definition of Deadpool from this point.
That’s funny because there’s that notorious version of Deadpool from X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
[Heavy sigh.] Ryan’s portrayal was great, and then they did that weirdo version of him. Right after that movie came out, immediately I got a call from the Donners, “We want to get Deadpool right. Come talk to us.” All I did that day, it was two hours, was steering them in the right direction.
It sounds like it paid off. The reaction has been huge to the movie. Everyone who’s seen it loves it.
It doesn’t get better than Stan Lee grabbing you by the shoulders and saying, “It’s a game changer! This movie is a game changer!” Tim Miller didn’t believe it, Stan Lee dropped the favor bomb on him like BOOM! This movie, if they didn’t do it better than I did, they did it the best.
Deadpool is in theaters today.