Alex Saviuk is known to Spider-Man fans everywhere for his impressive seven and a half year run on Web of Spider-Man and his pencils and inking on The Amazing Spider-Man Sunday newspaper comic strip from 1997 to 2019. Saviuk took some time to speak with us at Terrificon at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut to revisit all of his favorite moments working on Spider-Man projects through the years, his favorite comic book characters, and his earliest memories of collecting.
How did you first get assigned to work on Web of Spider-Man?
Alex Saviuk: I got to Marvel in 1986, just starting to do fill in work, after I was at DC for 9 years. I was primarily working on Superman. And then when the Superman books were changing guard with writers and artists, I went to Marvel because I knew John Romita Sr. personally, and he said, “Yeah come on over. We could use fill ins anytime.” So I went there and my first book was Iron Man #211. Then I did various covers, I worked on a series called Defenders of the Earth with Phantom, Flash Gordon, and Mandrake, and also Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos. When I was working on my last Defenders of the Earth story, I got a call from my buddy at the time, Howard Mackie, who said, “Jim Salicrup, the editor of Spider-Man, needs somebody to fill in on Amazing-Spider-Man.” John Romita Jr. was doing something else, for whatever reasons. So I finished up my Defenders book and I called up Jim and said, “If you ever need somebody, I’m your guy.” So I went up there and I filled in on Amazing 292, 296, 297, and then I started filling in on Web of Spider-Man… #35 and 36. In #36, I got to co-design Tombstone with Gerry Conway. Then I did a fill in on #39 just to give the regular guy time to work on #38. And when I finished #39, they said, “Hey, we’ve got another fill in for you!” I said, “Yeah, what number?” They said, “#38.” I said, “38? What happened to the other guy?” They told me, “He’s still finishing 37!” I said, “Ok, when do you need 38?” They said, “How soon can you do it? Two weeks? Really? Take three!” So I did that. And when I finished that, they had another so-called fill in. That was gonna be a four part series by Peter David called “The Cult of Love.” So I figured it was a fill in.
By the time the fourth book came out and I was reading the letter column, where people were praising our art team of myself and Keith Williams, they said, “Oh yeah, well Alex and Keith are the regular guys!” I called up Jim and said, “Really? I’ve got to find out in the letter column that I’m the regular guy?” And he goes, “Well, after all these issues I figured you knew.” I said, “I can’t figure nothing.” You know, I don’t take anything for granted. So, I say that my run on Web began with #35 because I only skipped one issue in between there, and I went pretty much to 116. So that was about seven and a half years.
What are some of your favorite moments from Web of Spider-Man? Do any story arcs really stand out to you looking back?
Saviuk: I’d say right off the bat, that four issue series I did with Peter David were really a lot of fun. And even though Spider-Man didn’t really appear in it that much until the last part, the character and the character development in that was so well done that I had a really good time working on that. Down the line, with issue 47 and 48, I got to draw the Hobgoblin and create the Demogoblin. That was cool. And in issue #50, which was a double-sized anniversary book, I had 40 pages to deal with, and I got to draw Silver Sable and Sandman and The Prowler, and Rocket Racer, and this obscure character called Will o’ the Wisp. It was a Ross Andru designed character from years ago.
All the issues were fun, but in #59 they did the cosmic Spider-Man. And then in 67 I got to draw the Green Goblin for the first time in a long time. At the end of that story Tombstone was appearing, and then I finally got to draw Tombstone in an actual full length story in #68. And then we blew him up at the end. But as you know, in comics, you can’t keep a good villain down! So he did come back again.
The most memorable thing that happened to me after that was when I teamed up with Howard Mackie. In #84-89 we did “The Name of the Rose” miniseries, which was a lot of fun. To this day, both of us lament the fact that Marvel still has not put out a trade paperback collecting all of those six issues. So, whoever’s listening, please, help us out here!
And then we got to issue 90, which was a thirtieth anniversary issue. It was again written by Howard Mackie, which was 40 pages of pure enjoyment! It’s just a big fantasy thing with Mysterio creating all of these situations. I got to draw Venom Galactus, which I had to design. That was a lot of fun. All of the Goblins appeared in it, and that was great. And then after that we introduced Terry Kavanagh as the writer. Issue #101, 102, and 103 were a part of the “Maximum Carnage” series. I was already living in Florida at that time. We had a two or three day pow wow in a hotel, just trying to iron all of the plot points out. My main contribution to that was in Issue 101, Dagger gets destroyed. I said, “She doesn’t really have to be destroyed because she’s really made up of energy and energy cannot be destroyed.” So even though she dissipates, she comes back at the end and reconfigures and there she was. So they included that, which was kind of neat. Then we had another cosmic journey with #104, 105, and 106. I got to draw a lot of cameos, a lot of different superheroes in those stories.
I stuck around until around 116. There were some fun issues in there. I drew Gambit and Black Cat. The Lizard had a couple of issues in there, which was fun. I created a character called Sandstorm in Issue 108. That was kind of neat, but I’ve never seen him ever since. And then I ended up with this three part series in 114, 115, and 116 featuring this character called Facade, which looked like some kind of a giant robot with a guy in it. To this day, nobody knows who was in that costume. I call people up now and they go, “Wow, Facade! Gee, I can’t remember who we decided was gonna be in there!” And I say, “Well, that’s the big mystery.” So, that’s Web of Spider-Man in a nutshell!
As an artist, what would you say is the biggest difference for you when you’re doing a comic book like Web of Spider-Man versus The Amazing Spider-Man comic strips? How is your approach different? What was similar?
Saviuk: First of all, when I was doing comics, I was working the Marvel way, which was you don’t get a full script. You get a plot from the writer. Writers have different styles of writing plots. Gerry Conway, for example, would write a synopsis of every page. So then it was up to me to break down how many panels I’d need to tell that story. Writers like Howard Mackie would give you Page One, and then pages Two through Four would be one big synopsis. And then it would be up to me to break those three pages down into however many panels that I’d need. So that was also fun. When it came to the newspaper strip, it almost felt like going back to DC. At DC Comics, we always worked from full scripts. Stan Lee— which surprised me— was giving me a full script. But I don’t know even in 1997 when I took on the newspaper strip, if he was actually writing it at that time or if he was editing it. In the first three years that I worked on the strip, in the middle of 1998, Jim Salicrup was ghostwriting it and Stan was doing editing. And then in 2000, Roy Thomas came on, and he was writing it until the end with Stan doing editing. So, I always got full scripts.
I had the freedom in a regular comic book of doing vertical panels, making panels larger to accommodate a particular action or moment. Whereas in a newspaper strip, you’ve got six panels all pretty much configured to the same size for each panel. You’ve got six panels to tell your story for that particular week, and then the following week you got to keep moving it along. So the restrictive part is, let’s say I was doing a Web of Spider-Man story and one of the panels called for him to scale a building, I would use a vertical panel to get that scale. People on the bottom would be looking up, he’s climbing at the top. If I had to do that in the newspaper strip, I still did, but I had to do it in a horizontal fashion… almost trying to view it as a director in a movie where we have a horizontal screen. The only thing I’m lacking there is the benefit of motion. Because we could start at the bottom and keep panning up, and Spider-Man is walking and climbing. Instead, I have to do that in one panel. So if it’s from the ground up, he’s gonna be small. If the camera is up in the air and he’s coming at me, then I can draw the bigger figure and we see the rest of the building in perspective. All things which were done in the comics also.
Tombstone is very prominent to this day, and he’s crossed over into video games and animated features. What are your memories of creating Tombstone with Gerry Conway?
Saviuk: Gerry gave me a short couple of sentences outlining what he envisioned the character to look like. Tall, about six foot six or seven, and a buzz cut like Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the day when he was doing Commando. Also, his teeth were all filed so they were sharp. As an albino, he’s got all white skin, white hair. And I was the one that kind of threw in the fact that he had the short, upturned nose to almost look like a death mask. I did at the time give him a ring to wear, which would be specific to him. I might have drawn it in one panel in Web 36 because he only showed up in three panels there, and then I think Sal Buscema drew it in maybe one or two issues but then somehow the ring got lost. It was a little aside for me where I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna throw something else in there for this particular character.” But that’s pretty much all that I remember, because he was just a regular enforcer guy. He had no powers other just being a big bruiser.
Speaking of characters, we are here at Terrificon. At conventions, fans are always asking for sketches of characters. To this day, do you have a favorite character who you’re excited to draw anytime you’re asked to do it?
Saviuk: Yeah, Hawkman! I drew Hawkman for a little bit in World’s Finest for DC. When I was a kid I fell in love with that Brave and the Bold series that Joe Kubert started. And it was that helmet that got me. There had been other helmets with wings, but that helmet was just completely unique… especially the way Joe drew it. A lot of guys have drawn Hawkman, but a lot of guys don’t get the helmet right. For me, that was it. I’m not saying I didn’t like drawing Batman. My first superhero gig was Green Lantern, which thrilled me to no end because I was a huge fan. But to this day if someone says, “Draw me anything you want.” I’ll say, “Hey, would you like Hawkman?” If they’re in agreement with it, bam, I’ll draw them Hawkman.
At Marvel, I’d have to say I love Doctor Strange. I’ve always loved that costume. I loved Steve Ditko and the character to the point that— and you might say, “Oh no!” because I say, “Oh no!” to this day— I remember being at a wedding in New York City when I was ten years old. I was with my parents and I was bored to tears, and I said to my mom, “I know that there’s a store on the corner that sells comics. Can I go get a comic?” She said, “Sure” and she gave me 25 cents, which means I could have bought two. But I didn’t want to take advantage, so I said, “Okay, I’m only going to buy one and give her the change.” Now, I go into the store and Amazing Spider-Man #1 was there, and Strange Tales #110 was there with The Human Torch, but it introduced Doctor Strange! And somehow, even though Steve Ditko drew both Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, I was just enamored by the look of this character so much that I bought Strange Tales #110 instead of buying Amazing Spider-Man #1! I did get it later on. But that’s another story.
Now you’ve got to tell us that story!
Saviuk: Across the street from my church was another store that sold back issue comics. If kids brought in their old comics, they would give them two cents and then sell them for a nickel. So now, I got Amazing Spider-Man #1 there for five cents after church one Sunday! And it’s probably in the same shape as it was when I got it. If I got it graded, maybe it would be a 4.0, but it’s still worth thousands. I did also get Brave and the Bold #34 there with Hawkman, and Fantastic Four #3 and 4 with Miracle Man and Sub-Mariner. I still have those books. That’s a 20 cent investment right there! After church, I always had an extra quarter in my pocket. You never knew what was gonna be there.