Last week I began my in-depth look at the history of Zenith and its attached legal dispute. As before I shall add my disclaimer: that this in no way speculates on who is right and who is wrong, and that it seeks only to bring you the facts, histories and quotes at my disposal – focusing primarily on what information is already in the public domain – in order to better allow all readers to form their own opinions and judgments.
When news of a limited edition version of the long-long comic ZENITH broke last week, speculation centered on Grant Morrison, who, according to accumulated comic book lore, believes he owns the character. With ownership in doubt, Rebellion has declined to reprint the book for many years, making it one of the great “lost” comics. Rebellion seems to be testing the waters with a very limited and direct sales reprint of the book that only 1000 people will be able to preorder. It seemed to be a test case to see how far the legal objections from Morrison would go.
One player was missing in the equation: the OTHER Zenith creator, artist Steve Yeowell, who drew the books. (Brendan McCarthy designed the character.) Yeowell was made available for interviews in the original embargoed press release, a pretty strong indicator he, at least, wasn’t planning immediate legal action. However not one outlet was able to get Yeowell to comment when the news broke.
That silence has ended. Last week we emailed a bunch of fairly direct questions to the artist about the ownership and history of Zenith. As you can see, he’s answered many of them politically, but he’s at least somewhat on board.
The Beat: Can you talk about how you came to be involved in Zenith originally?
Yeowell: Grant and I had worked together previously on Zoids at Marvel UK. He, Brendan McCarthy and Steve Macmanus (then editor at 2000AD—and whom I’d drawn a “Future Shock” for), had been putting Zenith together. Brendan was unable to commit to drawing the series and so I was offered it.
The Beat: What was the response at the time? What was it you liked about working on it?
Yeowell: The response was overwhelmingly positive. I loved the character, the setting and the back story and I also loved the structure of that first series in particular, which steadily built the tension over successive episodes to a satisfying conclusion. It was a great piece of tight plotting—perhaps all the more effective for being in that five page episodic format.
The Beat: Zenith was seen as a modern, Gen X take on the superhero. Was that your take on him as well?
Yeowell: Pretty much—though when I redesigned his costume for the second series, I based his leather jacket on that worn by George Michael in the “Faith” video, so I’m not sure how Gen X you could consider him…
The Beat: Have you been involved in attempts to reprint it over the years?
Yeowell: Apart from contributing cover paintings to the original Titan collected editions and the “Best of 2000 AD” publications, no.
The Beat: It’s my understanding—through the rumor mill of comics—that one reason it wasn’t reprinted is because you and Grant Morrison believed that you owned it. Can you talk at all about the contractual circumstances of Zenith’s creation?
Yeowell: They were the same as applied to other characters at IPC at that time.
The Beat: Why is the book finally being reprinted—although in a very limited edition? How much did you cooperate with Rebellion on this edition?
Yeowell: I received a phone call from Mike Molcher of Rebellion in early May informing me that they had plans to reprint it.
The Beat: Do you look forward to a more affordable and widely distributed edition? Do you think people will want more Zenith?
Yeowell: Of course—although as it was always the plan that Zenith’s story would be complete in four phases, more is unlikely.
The Beat: Have you and Grant communicated at all about this reprint?
Yeowell: Grant and I haven’t spoken for a while now—purely through that process of drift that can occur once people stop working together.
The Beat: On a happier note, what are you working on now that you’d like the world to know about?
Yeowell: “DeMarco: PI” for The Megazine, written by Mike Carroll.
So there you go, not too much more to go on but let the detectives begin on “to other characters at IPC at that time.”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.