The theatre lights dim and the audience take their seats. Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 fades into silence as the curtains rise, revealing a small set on the stage: Two leather club chairs facing each other at an angle, a small table between them. A rug. A few potted plants. Seated at the club chairs are the interviewer, Elizabeth Fazzio, and the interviewee, Tony Donley.
EF: Thank you for joining us this evening, Mr. Donley. I do hope the claret is to your liking?
TD: I love it, it’s just the perfect shade. I mean, hold it up the light. Just gorgeous.
EF: Excellent, excellent. Now, before we hurtle headlong into Albert Einstein: Time Mason, let’s indulge the audience with a bit about your background. Would you mind telling us about how you have arrived at this point in your career? How and what you studied, and with whom? Your greatest (or possibly not-so-great) influences overall?
TD: Oh, for sure. I’ve been just enamored with comic books since my buddy Paul introduced them to me right around the fourth or fifth grade. Frank Miller‘s Daredevil run was some of the first stuff I remember loving. I’m sure I didn’t understand why, but it does really sit with you. So then I collected all the way through high school. In secret of course—nerds were not cool back then. After high school I moved to New York and studied illustration and cartooning at the School of Visual Arts. It was pretty amazing to go from small-town Canada straight to the big city. At SVA I was lucky enough to have Joe Orlando, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colon, Klaus Janson and Walt Simonson as some of my professors. Those guys are easily the best in the business so hopefully I squeezed ounce or two of information out of them.
EF: In addition to the myriad tips-of-the-hat to popular culture throughout the book, who or what are your biggest influences for AE:TM specifically?
TD: The main goal of the book was for it to be a really fun classic adventure story. If we need a “who”, the biggest influences were probably Indiana Jones and The Rocketeer, but the classic adventures of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, etc. are just as important to the feel of the book.
EF: What is your most important artist’s tool—something you couldn’t work without? Where can we see it in AE:TM?
TD: Well, I guess this kind of sounds stupid, but it’s definitely the pencil. The most fun part of the book is laying out in the thumbnail stage, where you get to figure out the pacing, storytelling, acting, etc. so I just sit down with the big sketchpad and do lots of layouts of each page trying to figure out what feels the best. Some examples of those are included as bonus material at the end of each issue.
EF: There is nothing stupid about pencils—pencils are Serious Business! Also, in my humble opinion, the bonus material included in each issue of AE:TM is one of the best parts of the book, and everyone should be sure not to skip it! Moving on, where did the idea for Albert Einstein: Time Mason come from? Why Einstein?
TD: I had been looking forward to doing a creator-owned project for a while, and this was the one I came to that not only was I wildly interested to tackle, but it was also a book that I would buy if I saw it on the shelves. I had been watching a lot of the Discovery Channel, and there were obviously many segments on different shows about Einstein, so I was learning a lot while not even thinking about doing a comic book about him. Then, after one of the segments explaining how Einstein found time relative, it just clicked with me: if anyone was going to figure out time travel, it was obviously Albert Einstein. The idea just made sense to me. It made so much sense that I assumed there was already a comic book about it, but I did a little research and it turned out that really wasn’t the case.
EF: And, of course, you’ve had a partner in this journey—how did you and Marcus Perry form your working relationship?
TD: Marcus and I formed a friendship while he was taking one of his award winning short films around the con circuit a few years ago. He was the only writer I went to with my AE:TM plans, and I couldn’t be luckier that he came on board.
EF: Tell us what it looks like when you and Marcus are working on AE:TM collaboratively.
TD: We work in what’s called “Marvel Style”. We chat about where we want the story to go, and then Marcus writes up a synopsis of the issue and I get to work drawing. Once that soul crushing, heart wrenching task is done, Marcus comes in and writes the dialogue over the pages. Then I letter the pages and Marcus makes endless fun of me for my multiple spelling errors.
EF: Well, that’s what are friends are for, after all. What does it look like when you are working on AE:TM alone?
TD: That’s where the soul crushing, heart wrenching part comes in. Drawing comics is extremely hard work. Hard and long. I’m not the fastest of guys, but I can basically do a page and a day. That ‘day’ can be anywhere from 8 to 16 hours working on a single page. Some pages are just harder than others.
EF: What are the best and worst things about drawing this book?
TD: Funnily enough, that’s the same answer. One of the reasons I gravitated to this being my first creator-owned book was that in almost every issue I got to draw new and exciting locations. I think the Indiana Jones and Star Wars series’ worked so well because we got to see so much of the worlds they were in; globetrotting or universe-hopping all over. That being said, it’s crazy hard and with almost every issue I have to design new worlds, characters, costumes, backgrounds, and tech. It can be a bit of a beast.
EF: Initially there was a Kickstarter to help fund AE:TM—were you always planning to take the book to a comics publisher for broader circulation after the Kickstarter campaign ended?
TD: Truthfully, we really didn’t know what was going to happen—I certainly didn’t expect all the excitement over the Kickstarter launch. People really gravitated to the idea. The Kickstarter ended up being quite a lot of work, so bringing on Action Lab as our publisher took a lot of that work off of our shoulders and we could just focus on the content.
EF: Now, on a slightly more personal note, could you please impart to us the best piece of advice you’ve been given in comics? In art? In life?
TD: I was watching Walt Simonson work one day and he was inking a particularly tiny face. He gave it a little extra look (probably not completely satisfied with it) and said, “Well, it’s close enough to rock ‘n’ roll,” and that is actually a really great lesson, especially when working on comics. You just don’t have the time to make everything absolutely perfect, and honestly, the audience/reader probably isn’t going to notice all the things the artist thinks are a mistake.
EF: Independent of AE:TM, what is your dream project?
TD: Daredevil or The Rocketeer—it’s a pretty close tie.
EF: And the most important question of all: What superpower would you have, and why?
TD: I could really get into teleporting. I’d bounce around all over the place.
EF: An excellent choice. So what’s next for Al?
TD: Issue #5 is the end of our first arc. We finish with the reveal of our main villain and give you just enough information to leave you clamoring for more adventure. The collection of those first five issues with a bunch of bonus material will be out in April, but that is in no way the end of Albert’s adventures. Issue #6 opens up right in the middle of a giant Kung Fu battle between Albert and—
EF: Thank you, Mr. Donley, thank you, but I’m going to have to stop you there—we have to be out of here in half an hour so that the local senior center can set up for their Octogenarian Broadway Enthusiasts Society production of RENT. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention this evening, and please remember that issues #1-5 and the trade paperback of Albert Einstein: Time Mason can be purchased at your local comic shop!