AsiaPop Comicon 2016: Mike Zeck reflects on the Punisher, Cap & Spidey
by rick olivares
For American comic book illustrator Mike Zeck, attending the AsiaPop Comicon 2016 in Manila was another chance to come back to the country.
Even when he was one of the hottest and most in demand comic book artists back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Zeck would routinely visit Asia and the Philippines in particular. “I always wanted to see the world and in Asia, I chose to go to the Philippines first because people spoke English here and it wouldn’t be difficult to get around. Cebu was the first place I went to outside Manila.”
Now back for the umpteenth time, this will be the first time that Zeck will be attending a major comic book convention in the Philippines. “I’ve always been aware that the Philippines was a hotbed of talent. We’ve seen that with Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, and many others through the years then you have Whilce Portacio who opened the door for many other Filipinos to draw American comic books. This gives me that opportunity to interact with the Filipino fan base that is one of the most passionate in the world.”
Zeck has been removed from mainstream comic book illustration for over a decade now as he has transitioned into product and toy design that is still related to the genre. Yet in spite of not being actively busy in today’s four-colored fanfare, the 66-year old native of Pennsylvania is known for illustrating some of the most memorable stories in the whole of comicdom.
In the 1980s, he scored what is the equivalent of a film director’s three consecutive blockbuster and critically acclaimed movies when he drew Secret Wars, Punisher: Circle of Blood, and Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt in succession.
“I’ve only got one word to describe that — lucky," beamed Zeck during the AsiaPop Comicon press conference held at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay City last Wednesday, August 24. "There’s no way I can ever plan to make three successful comic book stories in a row. And all three are still in print today, 35 years later, and that is extremely gratifying.”
"Secret Wars (published May 1984-April 1985) was the first ever comic book limited series that was a massive crossover event. I think I earned that because of my work on Captain America,” reflected Zeck. “For the Punisher, timing was an incredible thing. (Writer) Steven Grant was showing Marvel that story that he had in mind but they didn’t think that the Punisher was a character that would sell and that he couldn’t support his own title. Eventually, they reluctantly agreed and the rest is history. As for ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’, Marc DeMatteis was trying to get this story punished. It was first done for a Wonder Man story that was rejected. He took it to DC for a Batman proposal and it too was rejected. When he brought it back to Marvel, Marc re-wrote it for Spider-Man and Kraevn the Hunter and now it was approved. I think it took about eight years for that story to see the light of day but it took a life of its own and was published at the right time. The fact that it is considered one of the greatest Spider-Man stories is a blessing for me.”
Zeck points to "Kraven’s Last Hunt” as his favorite work for its depth and tone as a psychological thriller. In that story, Kraven, long a foil for Spider-Man, finally defeats his nemesis and takes his place hoping to prove that he is his superior. When accomplishing that goal, Kraven commits suicide. “I think that story contributed to the Spider-Man mythos. When you think about the character, he’s had a lot of ground-breaking stories — from the death of a major character (Gwen Stacy) to the use of drugs in a comic book (Harry Osborne who later became the Green Goblin). ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ isn’t simply a story about suicide and how it affects people but also the relationships between people. When I received the plot, I knew it was going to be one of the best Spider-Man stories. The questions for me were, can i do this justice and, will the fans see what i saw in this story?"
Even if he doesn’t draw comics anymore, Zeck still enjoys the genre especially their success in film. “When I was drawing Captain America, it was an incredible fun time for me. (The late) Mark Gruenwald was my editor and John Beatty was inking. All three of us were Captain America fans growing up. We all got together and as professionals, to be in that office and putting out the comic was really fun. I did three years of that comic and stayed on doing covers. The film versions — I love them. They nailed the essence of Cap perfectly. I wish Mark Gruenwald were still alive to see them."
“For me, I have been in a lot of comics conventions in my life. And it sure is nice to be doing one here in the Philippines,” summed up Zeck. “And I sure can’t wait to meet the Filipino fans.”
AsiaPop Comicon 2016 will be held from August 26-28 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.