Mario Gully (Ant) InterviewA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Egg Embry
I read about Mario Gully’s ANT on the internet just prior to issue one’s debut. The Hollywood nutshell version of the comic is an updated SHAZAM! meets Spider-Man. That explanation is a little simple, so let me add that ANT revolves around elementary school student Hanna Washington, a girl from a very broken home. Her classmates think she is a freak, her parents have big, big problems and her only escape is a diary she keeps. Within her journal’s pages she records the soon-to-come true exploits of her adult self… as a superheroine named ANT. This is a series about a young girl who is trapped in her own power fantasy of being this fire ant-red superheroine. The premise sounded good, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Unfortunately, my store sold out of it before I could get there, leaving me to order issue one directly from Arcana Studios. For three dollars US, what I got was GREAT! A 32-page comic (all story, no ads), a Photostat/poster of Mario Gully’s cover as well as J. Scott Campbell’s variant, and an incredible superhero chronicle that made me wish issue two was out at that point! I liked the tale enough to write a review of it (my review of ANT #1) and when issue two did come out, I loved it also (my review of ANT #2).
Recently, due to a variety of circumstances, Mario and I got in touch with each other after he read my reviews of his work and held an ANT pin-up contest. Taking that opportunity, I asked him if he’d be interested in doing this interview. Mario’s response was, “Just shoot the questions to me and I'LL KNOCK THEM DOWN.”
EGG EMBRY: First off Mario, tell us who you are? How did you discover comics?
MARIO GULLY: I’m Mario Gully, the creator and artist of ANT from Arcana Studio. I discovered comics at an early age. I remember riding a bike to our local comic shop to check out all the cool stuff. I got hooked on [Marvel’s] Secret Wars [vol. 1] and have been a big fan of comics ever since.
EGG: Ok, now give us the cold pitch for your Arcana Studios series, ANT. What type of comic book is ANT and what sets it apart from the other books on shelf?
MARIO: The “one-liner pitch” is: ANT is a story about a child who wants to be a hero when she grows up and writes about her fantastic tales in her journal. The deeper truth about ANT is it’s a story about the unlimited potential of the human being. A story about the most unlikely hero I have ever heard about. It is also a story about overcoming adversity in all its forms. I think ANT is successful and stands apart because the story is original. Plain and simple. It’s really hard to read something that hasn’t been done to death now a days. Also, people can relate to this story because it’s based upon the struggles and disappointments we all face in life. This book really connects with people, I think.
EGG: What possessed you to make all thirty-two pages of ANT #1 story and art with no ads? I mean, that’s a lot of extra work!
MARIO: Well, issue one originally had like 35 pages of art. Because me and a former partner was going to self publish the book when the idea came about. After I signed with Arcana, Sean proofread the issue and cut it down a bit so we wouldn’t have to mark up the cover price for the retailers and fans. When ANT came out it was one of the lowest priced 32 full color comics from an independent comic company on the shelf. I was happy about that.
EGG: How did ANT end up at Arcana Studios? I mean, you just signed a five year exclusive with them, so obviously they’re a good fit! What makes Arcana Studios THE place for you and your series?
MARIO: When I had finished five color pages of ANT and the “pitch packet”, I sent it to every publisher I found an address for. I was turned down by everyone. That was a really hard road for me. I kept trying though and eventually a very small independent new company that isn’t around anymore was interested in the book. They had ANT on there website listed with about five or six other books this company planned to publish. One day I got an e-mail from Sean O’Reilly, Editor-in-Chief of Arcana Studios. The e-mail basically said, “I hope you haven’t signed a contract with these guys. Whatever they have for you, we can beat it.” I was reluctant to jump to Arcana because I was a wounded animal from about fourteen months of rejections from publishers. I came over and the rest they say is history.
EGG: That’s impressive! What other companies have you worked for?
MARIO: I haven’t officially worked for any other publishers. I hung out with Image Comics for a while and did a lot of free pin-ups to get my feet wet.
EGG: Ok, we’ve knocked out the introductory questions. Now, let’s get into why I want to do this interview.
From your comic, as well as our handful of e-mails and conversations, it’s clear family is very important to you. Your wife, Tina, assists with the book and even posts on Arcana’s Message Board, you’ve said your daughter is one of your most critical fans, you’ve even commented how close you feel to Arcana Studios’ chief, Sean Patrick. Is it easy or hard for you to work with family?
MARIO: It’s hard sometimes. Being close to people and you simply take them for granted some days because they have always been there. I rarely impress my wife with my art. That's the hard part. But she is now ANT's co-writer and script assistant, so I get great support from home. But being at home vs. a studio or a pit somewhere, you really have to be disciplined. You have to have a lot of self-control. And I’m very new to this comic biz so I have a lot to learn. But on the flipside, I think it is a strength also. I think Arcana has a lot of heart and drive because we are close. We have that “mom-and-pop shop” feel that comic fans are attracted to. That “family” attitude extends out to the retailers and fans. We are not money or corporate driven. We do this just because we love it. And we are just like the people that read our stuff. That is another thing I feel good about.
EGG: Now, with this close-knit relationship in mind, why is the life of ANT’s main character, elementary school student Hanna Washington, such a wreck? Hanna is the least popular girl in school, picked on by almost every kid. Her parent’s are split apart. Mother, Betty, is a stripper. Hanna lives with her father, “Big Daddy” Danny, who is accused of (and intermittently arrested for) murdering her mother’s current boyfriend’s father (who was also “Big Daddy” Danny’s boss). As a result, Hanna is a pretty introverted kid who is only happy when she is absorbed in her diary writing about her adult self, ANT. Mario, you’re a family man, why make Hanna’s life such hell? What are you trying to express with that?
MARIO: That was my life. I was the little pimpled faced boy at school. I was the one that came home to my toys and comics to escape the pain of my reality. Don’t get me wrong, my life wasn’t as bad as Hanna’s is, but the heart of the book is who I am. Hanna dreams about the unreachable goal. Simply put, she just wants to matter in this life. Deep down inside of us all, I believe we all want to be important and live an impossible life. That’s me in a nutshell. The drive to better one’s life is the underlining basis of this book. Hanna’s life is a train wreck. And just imagine if she actually reaches her goal, if she actually becomes ANT. She will be "the greatest hero this world has ever known" because no character out there has started from nothin’ like Hanna. She's from the dirt. That's a saying we have on the streets. The lowest common denominator of life. And if she reaches her goal, she will have gotten her fuel from her desire to fix her life. That’s where I get my strength from. I used to read about the picket fences and the millionaires in comics. I couldn’t relate to that stuff. Hell, some of the stuff I did running from the cops and jumping fences was more exciting than some of that stuff. I guess Bruce Lee said it best, in the long run I’m trying to “honestly express myself”. That’s all.
EGG: As you’ve mentioned in your editorial, The Last Word in ANT #2 and in previous interviews, the story for ANT grew out of mistakes that you’ve made in your life. What exactly brought on the genesis of this character and story?
MARIO: Well you know about the ant coming into the jail and all that.
[INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: For those who are not familiar with the physical catalyst for ANT, Mario laid it out on July 25th, 2003 for Benjamin Ong Pang Kean at www.Newsarama.com (click this link to read Benjamin’s article). That interview really turned my head and helped get me into ANT in the first place.
The short form is Mario was in jail and spotted an ant crawling on the windowsill. His first thought related to how free that lone insect is. How free to just leave. And that ant came to symbolize Mario’s desire to escape his hardships. And as inspiration is apt to be born from the simplest things, Mario’s story for ANT grew out of that one moment.]
It’s kinda funny how the journal and Hanna and all that came about. Originally the ANT story was totally different. But when I wanted to pitch this idea I knew I had to update it. I just wanted to do something I didn’t see before. ANT is a combination of all the things that I like to draw: kids, bugs, dirty alleyways, full-figured women and a combination of my life experiences thus far on this planet. It’s one thing to draw a story, it’s another thing to draw material from your soul.
EGG: These next two are some rough, very personal questions, Mario, but they are things that I’ve not seen answered before and I have to admit I’m curious. So, what exactly did you go to jail for?
MARIO: In 1996 I attempted to rob what I thought was a tourist. I hit this poor guy with a stun gun a few times... I later realized he was a senior citizen. He could have had a heart attack or something. Man, I’m such a loser.
EGG: And this is crass, but what was prison like?
MARIO: I didn’t make it to prison. I did the maximum time in county jail. 52 weeks. Jail was good for me. By no means would I wish jail upon a person to get some focus in life, but it honestly made me a better person. I spent most of my time reading, drawing and studying to mold myself into the person I wanted to become. That is something that is really hard to do with little to no help. I was in S.L.D. (Slow Learning Disability) classes when I was in high school. I wanted to stop feeling helpless. I got my G.E.D. in jail with one of the highest scores in the building. Then I really knew that if we applied ourselves we can create our own universe sort of speak.
EGG: Right now, if the reader looks in-between the lines on ANT, they will see the story is an abstract version of your life at that time – a person who cannot escape the world they are in. In the future, do you plan on incorporating some more autobiographical version of your life into ANT? Will there ever be a character that you can point to and say, “This is Mario and this is my life!”
MARIO: Well since ANT is already a big chunk of who I am and what I’m about, it’s hard to say how or what I will do to incorporate a particular instance or one of those memories that I have that basically says “this happened to me”. But having said that, I do want to put pen to paper about some things I learned in life that I think are important or at least worthwhile for people to be aware of. They might get a chuckle.
EGG: Now, onto the art side of the book.
How long have you been drawing? It has been commented that your art resembles Greg (Spawn) Capullo’s. Do you feel that comparison is fair? And what artistic influences do you see within your own work?
MARIO: I’ve always been able to draw something. They tell me I started at the age of four. My daughter’s four and she can draw so they might be right. I know my stuff looks like Capullo’s. He’s a major influence in my art. I’m not as a great artist as Greg is, but I’m honored to be compared to him. They could compare my stuff to chicken scratch or something, so it’s always good to be compared to a very good artist on any level I think. I think my art is headed in the right direction, I haven’t heard too much negative comments yet. You can see Capullo, J. Scott Campbell in my female anatomy and a little of Jim Lee mixed in here and there.
EGG: Next, I’d personally like to thank you! You recently held a pin-up contest at Arcana’s Message Board in which my girlfriend, artist Jessi Nelson, won first prize, getting her ANT pin-up printed in ANT #3. So, what possessed you to hold a contest and give your fan’s a chance to see their work printed in ANT?
MARIO: My first pin-up was in a comic book and me and my wife raced to the comic shop to see it. Tina cried when she seen it. It also came out on my birthday and it’s something I will never forget. I wanted to do that for somebody else. Give them that feeling.
EGG: Now, can you discuss why Jessi’s pin-up got upgraded from a pin-up in the back of an issue to a San Diego Con Variant Cover?
MARIO: Well, somebody came on the message board and said that I pick Jessi the winner to impress you because you gave ANT a good review on www.SilverBulletComicBooks.com. The contest had some really good entries and he felt that I was 1) using the artists and the contest for a ploy and 2) that Jessi didn’t earn it. He said why don’t I put her art on the cover of the book if I was so confident in it. He said I wouldn’t because I know that it wouldn’t sell. I think Jessi’s work was good so I wanted to prove to him and everyone else it was not only good enough to win the contest but to be on a cover. So that’s what I did. Needless to say that there are already orders for Jessi’s ANT cover for people and www.ComicXposure.com. You gotta luv that.
EGG: Looking at this contest and your art critique thread on Arcana’s Message Board, it seems you place a LOT of importance on interacting with your fans. Knowing that you have deadlines (writing, penciling, inking is not a light load), plus I’m sure your family likes to see you from time-to-time, why do it? Why go to all this trouble? And is it worth all the hassle?
MARIO: The truth is it’s not a hassle when you have a good schedule. I’m not saying that I’m there yet, but I have really good days and some really bad ones when I need to be playing with my kids. But I love what I do. It may not last forever so I try to milk the experience. Sometimes that involves sleepless nights. Just like tonight. [INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: Mario sent me his answers at three or four in the morning!] If I can help somebody reach there goal in comics or reply to a fan, it’s great. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
EGG: How has the comic been received? Is it selling as well as you’d hoped?
MARIO: ANT is doing very well. Better than expected or predicted. ANT issue 1 tripled in value in under three months! If it will stop tomorrow, I will still be happy. If you look at all the comic books in Previews and realize how many books are out there, it is overwhelming. But the way ANT sells off the racks from comic shops is awesome. I was always satisfied to sell just one copy. But after doing cons and book signings, let’s just say that I could do a lot worst. ANT isn’t the number one book in the nation, but then again it outsells many independents. I can live with that.
EGG: Finally, how many issues do you have in mind for ANT? What’s coming up for future issues and what other projects do you have in mind?
MARIO: My plan is to draw ANT as long as folks buy the thang. I really love it. It took me nines years to print this book. I would say that I can at least draw ANT for nine years, right? ANT is signed up with Arcana for five years! I plan to fulfill that contract and then some. I’m doing a run on Kade in addition to ANT, I’m happy to announce. I’m flexing different muscles, but this story is just so good. I can’t talk about future projects yet, but there are some things that are brewing at Arcana. Keep an eye out.
EGG: Any parting thoughts?
MARIO: “Your thoughts of yesterday is who you are today”- Bruce Lee
EGG: Mario, thank you for participating!
MARIO: My pleasure. Peace out, dawg.
For more information about Mario Gully and ANT, click www.ArcanaStudio.com.
For more information about Egg Embry, click www.KamenComic.com.