Mario Gully (Ant) Interview
By Egg Embry
I read about Mario Gullyís ANT on the internet just prior to issue oneís 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 journalís pages she records the soon-to-come true exploits of her adult selfÖ 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 Iíd 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 Gullyís cover as well as J. Scott Campbellís 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 heíd be interested in doing this interview. Marioís response was, ďJust shoot the questions to me and I'LL KNOCK THEM DOWN.Ē
EGG EMBRY: First off Mario, tell us who you are? How did you discover comics?
MARIO GULLY: Iím 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 [Marvelís] 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 ďone-liner pitchĒ 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 itís 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. Itís really hard to read something that hasnít been done to death now a days. Also, people can relate to this story because itís 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, thatís 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 wouldnít 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 theyíre 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 ďpitch packetĒ, 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 isnít 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 OíReilly, Editor-in-Chief of Arcana Studios. The e-mail basically said, ďI hope you havenít signed a contract with these guys. Whatever they have for you, we can beat it.Ē 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: Thatís impressive! What other companies have you worked for?
MARIO: I havenít 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, weíve knocked out the introductory questions. Now, letís get into why I want to do this interview.
From your comic, as well as our handful of e-mails and conversations, itís clear family is very important to you. Your wife, Tina, assists with the book and even posts on Arcanaís Message Board, youíve said your daughter is one of your most critical fans, youíve even commented how close you feel to Arcana Studiosí chief, Sean Patrick. Is it easy or hard for you to work with family?
MARIO: Itís 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 Iím 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 ďmom-and-pop shopĒ feel that comic fans are attracted to. That ďfamilyĒ 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 ANTís 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 parentís are split apart. Mother, Betty, is a stripper. Hanna lives with her father, ďBig DaddyĒ Danny, who is accused of (and intermittently arrested for) murdering her motherís current boyfriendís father (who was also ďBig DaddyĒ Dannyís 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, youíre a family man, why make Hannaís 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. Donít get me wrong, my life wasnít as bad as Hannaís 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. Thatís me in a nutshell. The drive to better oneís life is the underlining basis of this book. Hannaís 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 nothiní 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. Thatís where I get my strength from. I used to read about the picket fences and the millionaires in comics. I couldnít 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 Iím trying to ďhonestly express myselfĒ. Thatís all.
EGG: As youíve mentioned in your editorial, The Last Word in ANT #2 and in previous interviews, the story for ANT grew out of mistakes that youíve 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.
[INTERVIEWERíS 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 Benjaminís 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 Marioís desire to escape his hardships. And as inspiration is apt to be born from the simplest things, Marioís story for ANT grew out of that one moment.]
Itís 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 didnít 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. Itís one thing to draw a story, itís another thing to draw material from your soul.
EGG: These next two are some rough, very personal questions, Mario, but they are things that Iíve not seen answered before and I have to admit Iím 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, Iím such a loser.
EGG: And this is crass, but what was prison like?
MARIO: I didnít 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 Ė 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, ďThis is Mario and this is my life!Ē
MARIO: Well since ANT is already a big chunk of who I am and what Iím about, itís 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 ďthis happened to meĒ. 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) Capulloís. Do you feel that comparison is fair? And what artistic influences do you see within your own work?
MARIO: Iíve always been able to draw something. They tell me I started at the age of four. My daughterís four and she can draw so they might be right. I know my stuff looks like Capulloís. Heís a major influence in my art. Iím not as a great artist as Greg is, but Iím honored to be compared to him. They could compare my stuff to chicken scratch or something, so itís 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 havenít 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, Iíd personally like to thank you! You recently held a pin-up contest at Arcanaís 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 fanís 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 itís something I will never forget. I wanted to do that for somebody else. Give them that feeling.
EGG: Now, can you discuss why Jessiís 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 didnít earn it. He said why donít I put her art on the cover of the book if I was so confident in it. He said I wouldnít because I know that it wouldnít sell. I think Jessiís 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 thatís what I did. Needless to say that there are already orders for Jessiís ANT cover for people and www.ComicXposure.com. You gotta luv that.
EGG: Looking at this contest and your art critique thread on Arcanaís 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 Iím 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 itís not a hassle when you have a good schedule. Iím not saying that Iím 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. [INTERVIEWERíS 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, itís great. Itís more blessed to give than to receive.
EGG: How has the comic been received? Is it selling as well as youíd 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, letís just say that I could do a lot worst. ANT isnít 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? Whatís 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. Iím doing a run on Kade in addition to ANT, Iím happy to announce. Iím flexing different muscles, but this story is just so good. I canít talk about future projects yet, but there are some things that are brewing at Arcana. Keep an eye out.
EGG: Any parting thoughts?
MARIO: ďYour thoughts of yesterday is who you are todayĒ- 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.
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