Tony Wolf interview by Anthony Andujar Jr 11/17/22
Q1. How did you get your start in comics? And how did that correlate to your work as an actor and cartoonist at the New York Times?
TW: I wanted to start by saying thanks for taking the time to do this interview, fellow Anthony! (I’ve always gone by ‘Tony,’ but my birth name is indeed Anthony.)
I often say “I was drawing when I was old enough to hold a pencil.” My only sibling, my older brother Ken, is a talented illustrator and I probably started drawing to emulate what my he was doing (he’s 4 years older than me). I really loved drawing and was constantly doing my own comics and cartoons from a very young age. Ken was less into drawing cartoony stuff and he’s not nearly as nerdy as I am, ha. As a kid, I did a silly ripoff on the kaiju Gamera as a semi-ongoing comic called “Beware The Turtle!”, tried writing & drawing my own Twilight Zone comics, and did a superhero series in elementary school called (ridiculously) “Super Pickle.”
In junior high school, I started writing and drawing a more traditional attempt at a superhero comics series, which ended up being 150 pages from 7th grade to first year of college. I was often enlisted to draw posters for the high school plays (I’m also an actor) and things like that. For most of my teens, I wanted to be a professional comics artist for Marvel or DC. I devoured interviews with writers & artists about how they made comics in magazines like Amazing Heroes and The Comics Journal. Eventually, though, the acting bug “got” me just as much as the drawing bug got me – and I started to enjoy the social collaboration of acting moreso than the work of sitting alone, drawing for hours.
Throughout most of my 20s and 30s, I didn’t draw very much, because I was so focused on acting. In fact, I tried to keep it quiet that I drew – because I worried at the time that someone might say I was ‘a jack of many trades, master of none, as the old saying goes. (I’ve since learned to discard such fears.) But eventually, I got nudged by friends to draw more (Dean Haspiel in particular was also very encouraging to me about my art), and once I turned 40 and had a few lean years of acting, I resolved to give drawing & comics a new push.
After creating my autobio series “Greenpoint of View,” I was very active on Twitter in its earlier years and that led to getting to know a whole bunch of new people in the comics world, including a writer for The New York Times. That journalist became a good friend over time and eventually showed my comics work to people at the newspaper. That led to the first of what became 4 pieces for the Food section of the NYT which I researched, wrote, and illustrated. This all started because I had an idea about doing a comic about the history of my favorite weird ice cream, an Italian bonbon type dessert called the Tartufo. So I was very lucky and thankful to pitch ideas to the NYT after the first piece was accepted, and did 3 more pieces. I have pitched more ideas since, but so far haven’t made a sale. What I’ve tried to do is recommend other writer/artists to the editors there who I think might be able to sell some pitches, and one creator I’ve recommended – Rachelle Meyer, based in Amsterdam [link https://www.instagram.com/r_a_meyer/ ]- has sold 2 stories in just 1 year to the NYT Food section that she researched, wrote, and illustrated! I’m glad to try to ‘pay it forward,’ as far as connecting people and recommending people when I can.
Q2. As an illustrator, what do you often practice when crafting comics? What are the challenges that you often face when illustrating?
TW: So many of the great artists have reminded us that we have to keep pushing ourselves, keep challenging ourselves, and not fall into a rut of doing the same kind of stuff. I also try to give myself little visual puzzles to solve, to keep myself engaged and having fun. Sometimes that can mean working to find a more interesting or creative camera angle for my layouts, sometimes it means trying more weird or unique page designs. A lot of times it also means drawing things that I think are fun to draw; whatever I’m in the mood for. (I often remind myself, sometimes out loud while drawing: “This is supposed to be FUN, remember?” when things get challenging.)
Just like with acting, little kids ‘play pretend’ with full commitment and really enjoy it. When I drew as a little kid, I was always just making it up and having fun; wasn’t concerned with perfectionism and such. The tricky thing is, as an adult you want to hold yourself to a high standard and push yourself for greater quality, but also not be so picky that you paralyze yourself with obsessive drive. And of course, we still need to finish pages, finish stories, even if we know there are imperfections present. The only way to grow as artists is to keep doing panels, pages, stories – finish one and move on to the next. Otherwise, the story itself will never get completed. We have to be engaged and find the joy in it, and then the work hopefully is more pure and more inspired as a result. The paradox with the arts is that if we write or draw for ourselves, hopefully, that passion and dedication will come through to whoever reads it or looks at the work. Writers say this all the time: “I write the book I’d want to read as a reader.” Comics creators say this all the time too: Make the comic you would buy if you saw it on the shelves. Yet we also can’t become complacent or too self-congratulatory either. So it’s a tightrope balancing act.
Because I write & draw mostly my own stories, I definitely have written to my drawing strengths – and that means of course, that I have not written much about things I think I’m not very good at drawing. Like cars, for example. However, every once in a while I like to draw a story written by someone else if their material resonates with me, and that forces me to think differently about how I approach the pages and gives me a new, fun set of artistic challenges to execute other than the ones I might normally give myself.
I love listening to music while I draw. That really helps me a lot. I go through whatever music I’m in the mood for, for hours on end. And I almost always do my own hand-lettering on each story, which is labor-intensive but I enjoy it ultimately. Eventually, I’ll have to create a custom font based on my lettering – – someday. I was just listening to an interview with Andy Warhol where he and the BBC interviewer commented that “Painting/art is a really good excuse to listen to a lot of music.” I really liked that thought.
Q3. You’re very active in the comics circuit, especially in the indie comics scene. How did you and Eli Schwab come in contact with one another? And how did it lead to your publication of your latest autobiography comics project, Tales From The Wolf?
TW: As you know, since you’re a fellow creator… the arts are a really fun world where, at any moment, as we do our stuff, we’re usually keeping our eye on various creators and entrepreneurs, checking out & enjoying the work people are putting out there. I’ve known Eli’s friend Ben Granoff for a long time (I used to go to an informal drink & draw with Ben sporadically in NYC), and I’ve been a fan of what Eli was doing with his fan projects focused around Image Comics and his WIZERD #1 book. Later, I found out that Eli was the one who initiated the Cartoonist Kayfabe Ringside Seats Facebook group, which has been so consistently fun and entertaining, and brought me into contact with so many great indie artists & comics creators. I loved WIZERD #1 so much that I asked if I could contribute something to the 2nd issue. Also, I contributed a few pages to the fan project/parody Weapon Ecch published by William Hoffknecht of 100% Comics, and Eli was involved in that as well. WIZERD #2 was another success (I still love reading and re-reading my copy!). I checked out the Grendel podcast that Eli was doing with Ben Granoff, “The Devil In Detail” [link here for their 100th episode featuring Matt Wagner himself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFRpKllaqtk&t=826s ].
But I didn’t really imagine that Eli and I would unite for something like this collection until a mutual friend, Adam Lemnah (creator of Relic Hunter, who I also got to know through the Cartoonist Kayfabe Ringside Seats FB group) talked my work up to Eli, and Eli later suggested working together and publishing the collection. So, thanks again, Adam!
Q4. When working on Tales From The Wolf, what inspired you to cobble this anthology of autobio stories together?
TW: I’ve always wanted to do a paperback of all my stuff, once I had enough stories that would make it practical and worthwhile. And I always figured “Tales From The Wolf” would make a fun title, and the EC Comics homage cover format immediately came to mind, with the three little circle windows on the side and such. Since it’s a short story collection, the technical full title is “Tales From The Wolf: Greenpoint of View and Other Stories.” Eventually, it seemed like I had enough pages & stories that could fill up a paperback. My goal was to have a collected volume on my shelf that would have pretty much every comic I’d ever done, and I thought it’d be fun to include short stories I had drawn long ago, like the Jenny Everywhere short written by my friend Alex Hernandez back around 1999. That story debuted as an online comic on the Barbelith message boards long ago (Barbelith was a comics & pop culture site that originally began as a discussion of Grant Morrison’s series The Invisibles).
The other thing I envisioned was that the final 1/4 or 1/3 of the book would be a ‘Backmatter’ collection of one-off illustrations for various projects, homage covers, and even some childhood art. I always love when comics paperbacks do stuff like that; and also when they have some ‘behind the scenes’ process work shown, like pencil-only versions of pages. As I looked over all my work, it turns out that I’d drawn quite a few single illustrations that weren’t part of any comics stories. For example, I drew a piece colored by Gryphon for the official documentary about Neil Gaiman, “Dream Dangerously,” created by Patrick Meaney & Jordan Rennert – Patrick and Jordan accompanied Neil on one of his global book signing tours for the doc.
I was hoping I’d end up with around 150 pages total for the collected book, and to my surprise, all my stories & backmatter (plus short text introductions for each section) added up to over 220 pages! The paperback also includes a few short stories written by other writers, including Dimitrios Fragiskatos (co-owner of 2 local stories, Anyone Comics in Brooklyn & Everyone Comics in Queens) and Doug Latino.
Q5. How long did it take for you to produce those stories, and what made you decide that all of these stories that focus on different moments of your life are suitable for the collection?
TW: I wrote and drew the first “Greenpoint of View’ story in 2014, and have continued making comics steadily since then. I’m a bit slow with my drawing, and I still work a ‘day job’ at an office, plus whatever acting work I get… so on average I finished about 2-3 stories per year, plus a bunch of one-off illustrations each year. Basically, my idea for the book was to present the stories mostly in order that they were created – so we have the 4 Greenpoint stories, 2 stories / essays-in-comics-form about being a comics geek (True Tales of Comics: 1-800-Dead-Robin & Guardian’s End), the 4 New York Times Food History comics, then various anthology short stories, then a new series of non-Greenpoint autobio stories, some political essay comics & protest art I did during the Trump presidency, and then the Backmatter.
Q6. We’re there any other stories that you were originally going to include but didn’t make it to the cutting room floor?
TW: There are very few other stories that weren’t included – one of which was so brand-new (done for Jonathan Baylis’ So Buttons #12) that it wouldn’t be suitable for it to be in this paperback while also hot off the press from Jonathan’s line. Other pieces not included: a few pitch sequences made for friends years ago & some very short webcomics. There were a few things I could have included in the back matter, including one short comic done at end of high school about my excitement to go see the first Tim Burton Batman movie (Batman 89)… but I felt like “We don’t have to include *everything* in the backmatter.” I wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like too much stuff from my teens/childhood/sketchbook etc. I’ve done storyboards for a few films over the years, but the backmatter didn’t feel like the place for storyboard art. And there are a few other one-off illustrations and homage covers I didn’t include – but again, you can’t just put *all* your stuff in there. It has to be curated a bit, I think.
So I’m really happy to say that everything in there is stuff I wanted to be in there. Eli Schwab (of Cosmic Lion Productions) was a joy to team up with on this.
Q7. In Light of Kevin Conroy’s passing, it felt different looking back on your short story about watching Batman: The Animated Series, in particular, the episode “Over The Edge”. That series was full of mature stories that hadn’t been seen prior nor since its release. We’re there other episodes that spoke to you and did they have a specific impact on you as a writer, illustrator, actor, and person?
TW: Kevin Conroy… what a tremendous loss. I absolutely loved The Batman Animated Series and have watched all the behind-the-scenes featurettes in the DVDs for that series, plus the Superman Animated Series and Justice League / JLU. Kevin Conroy was a master of subtlety and nuance. I love how during his audition for the role, he pointed out to Bruce Timm: ‘Well, what you’re essentially doing here is Hamlet. A brooding, dark character focused on questions of vengeance and grieving the loss of a parent.’ I had never really thought to connect Bruce Wayne with Hamlet – and neither had Bruce Timm at the time! What a terrific, fresh perspective Kevin brought. I got to interview iconic voice-over director Andrea Romano years ago, at a red-carpet event when I was a geek/pop culture podcast host. Sadly, I didn’t get to meet Kevin.
There are so many episodes of the Batman Animated Series that were so powerful and innovative; the Jonah Hex episode (“Showdown”) stands out for me, for its unique story structure and approach. I wonder if it might have in some way been inspired by the Denny O’Neill-written Daredevil issue with a ‘team-up’ through the decades between Daredevil and The Two-Gun Kid (or maybe I did actually hear the producers say that in the DVD commentary?). The way they handled Dick Grayon’s origin as Robin in the 2-parter “Robin’s Reckoning” was superb. And of course Paul Dini’s perfect handling (and rebooting of) Mr. Freeze in “Heart of Ice,” which won an Emmy. I also especially love that first Batman / Superman team-up in the “World’s Finest” 3-parter which was part of the Superman Animated Series; I think the writing in that is especially brilliant.
You know, I hadn’t even connected my “Over The Edge” story with the recent passing of Kevin Conroy. Sometimes as a creator, you need others to point out very obvious things that you hadn’t thought of, ha.
Q8. Although you’ve illustrated your own work, you’ve collaborated with Sir Gryphon as your colorist on some stories and strips. What’s the collaborative process like working with another artist?
TW: Gryphon (they/them) has always been excellent to work with! They colored most of the stories in Tales From The Wolf, as well as the cover of the paperback itself. Gryphon also published the first printed minicomics versions of “Greenpoint of View” and “True Tales of Comics: 1-800-Dead-Robin” back in 2014-15 and designed the covers for each. The standard way we’ve worked is: after I’ve written the story and completed the black & white art and lettering, I pass the pages on to Gryphon along with coloring notes and any coloring references needed. They then do a draft of the colors. I give notes on that draft, and Gryphon does another draft. We continue to go through drafts, tweaking it until I feel the page is a lock, and then it’s on to the next page!
Sometimes I’ve needed lettering corrections as well, so they do those via Photoshop (moving around letters or creating new words based on my existing hand-lettering). Gryphon has definitely come up with some cool ideas that enhanced the coloring of various panels. They also came up with a really terrific layout to fit my 4th New York Times food comic onto one broadsheet newsprint page. We present that story in the paperback in its original comic book page layout.
Q9. Do you have a favorite or pivotal story from Tales Of The Wolf? Which story speaks to you the most? And what did you learn from working on that project that informed your skills for following projects to come?
TW: All the stories taught me something, and in particular, I am always striving to be mindful of the need for what I call ‘visual variety’ in my comics. I still feel like I have a way to go in that department, so it’s fun to always push myself to improve. Meaning, changing up camera angles, panel compositions, and ways to communicate ideas visually. It’s very much like the pacing of tone & style in music. The 4 New York Times comics were really invigorating experiments in telling a story, and I seem to have developed a style which often amounts to “half-autobio / half facts & history”, so the reader can come away feeling like they’ve learned a few hopefully-cool facts and bits of new information. The story about depression and anxiety, “My Descent,” was extremely cathartic to complete. If you read that story, I don’t really tell many specific details or anecdotes about my years spent battling severe clinical depression… I focused more on the feelings and internal struggle. I’d read a lot of ‘scene by scene, moment by moment’ autobio stories about depression and I felt that my choice would be instead to give a kind of ‘feeling overview.’ I jokingly called it, in my head, a kind of “comics PowerPoint presentation” about those feelings and those struggles, although of course it has nothing to do with PowerPoint nor is it visually told that way.
The story about Moira Smith, the only female NYPD officer to give her life in service helping & saving others on 9/11, was a departure for me in that it’s told as a series of illustrated images, and not really stylistically the way we typically think of “comics.” Once I found out about her and began to research her life, I felt really driven to do a comic about her. Her story was so powerful and intense that I felt it might diminish it somehow to tell it as a series of more traditional comic panels, and I thought it would have more gravity as a series of single images with accompanying text – almost like a picture book. I envisioned working with a female colorist for that story and – magically, as if answered by the heavens – weeks later I met an insanely skilled & talented watercolor painter selling her work at a store in Hoboken, NJ: Morgan McCue. [link: http://morganmccueartist.com/about ] I really wanted to bring her work to a new audience, and I thought she would be the perfect person to team up with. She delivered the goods 1,000% with this, and this was her first time coloring someone else’s line art. She was just so great; definitely, one to watch.
As for a favorite story, it’s hard for a parent to choose between his children. I honestly still am pleasantly surprised that The New York Times, of all venues, green-lighted my story about how much I love the McRib. That one is a personal victory that I still am stunned at because it seemed so outlandish to me and so unlikely that they’d approve the pitch. Another story that had a lot of meaning was the story about the Greenpoint pizzamaker, Carmine Notaro, whose family gave me a lot of wonderful details about Carmine that hadn’t been featured in the few other news articles about him. Doing stories about these people like Carmine and Moira Smith, and knowing that their families were thrilled that a total stranger chose to spend months working on putting the spotlight on their family members – that’s a great feeling.
Q10. Are there any projects that readers should keep an eye out for? And where can they find your work to stay up to date?
TW: I’ve currently got 3 stories in rotation that I’m working on – one is a memoir short story written by New York Times journalist George Gustines, about how being a comics fan positively impacted his life. I’m really excited about this story. We don’t have a venue for it yet, but we are going to complete the story and then shop it around, see about finding a good home for it. Another piece is a light-hearted autobio story about playing with Star Wars figures as a kid. A lot of times I have these odd memories where I think, “Well, at the very least, I’ve never ever seen a comics story done about this topic. So, here goes! At least it’ll be unique.” Haha. I also have another light-hearted autobio story in mind, about the early days of phone answering services for actors.
I’m doing a pin-up for a friend’s series – Adam Lemnah’s Relic Hunter, which will be collected by Cosmic Lion Productions. It’s been a while since I’ve done a pin-up/one-off illustration for a friend’s series, and I always love doing those. I’m also committed to do a short comics piece as part of Ben Granoff’s Sopranos fan project. I’ve still got several other “Greenpoint of View” stories planned, as well as at least 2 more “Tony’s True Tales of Comics” stories in mind. I’ve got another new story I’ve pitched around a bit, about a New York City landmark that I personally find completely fascinating, and have already done a lot of research and prep on it, but haven’t had time to draw more on it just yet.
I’ve committed to drawing a new black-and-white story in early 2023 for writer Doug Latino for more of his “Wait… It Gets Worse” autobio series, which he co-produces with Eisner winner Gideon Kendall. I had a blast drawing his short story “Blue, If You See It,” which is included in Tales From The Wolf.
Thankfully, I’ve got lots of ideas – just need more free time to execute all of ’em! I’m on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tonywolfness and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/tonywolfness/, with a Facebook page at Tony Wolf, Actor & Artist https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100064201744153
My website is http://www.tonywolfactor.com/ and my IMDB page is https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1061869/. I’m still auditioning for a number of exciting acting opportunities; maybe you’ll see me on your TV screens too in 2023! Thanks again, Anthony.
Tales From The Wolf can be purchased exclusively through the Cosmic Lion website, here:
$20 for the book, pre-order: https://cosmiclionproductions.com/comix-shop-1/ols/products/tales-from-the-wolf-pre-order
$30 signed & sketched version (You choose what you want drawn!), pre-order: https://cosmiclionproductions.com/comix-shop-1/ols/products/tales-from-the-wolf-signed-and-sketched
The paperback is expected to ship in mid-to-late December 2022.