Interview: Todd Dezago (Writer, Tellos)

Laurel and Hardy. George and Gracie. Astaire and Rogers. Dezago and Weiringo. 


Okay, maybe we got a little carried away. But in the world of comic books today no two names are more associated with teamwork, high quality, and swashbuckling adventure than Todd Dezago and Mike Weiringo. They first teamed up on Marvel’s Sensational Spider-man series, bringing Mike’s energetic artwork together with Todd’s fast-paced, light-hearted storytelling skills. A couple of years ago, when Marvel’s controversial and ill-received “Clone Saga” led to a reshuffling of the Spider-verse, there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that Sensational Spider-man was canceled. The good news was that it freed up Todd and Mike to work on a project they’d been kicking around for a while. So, they moved over to Toy Box Productions (one of the Image Comics affiliates) and made their dream come true.

Tellos. It’s Tolkien-meets-Oz-meets-1970s cartoons. A young boy named Jarek, accompanied by a mysterious man-tiger named Koj, is on the run from Malesur’s henchmen, including Frog Warriors and Shadowjumpers (who can go anywhere by sliding from shadow to shadow). Along the way, Jarek and Koj encounter the beautiful lady-pirate Serra, laid-back dragons, giants, and almost every other sort of creature you can imagine.

Tellos has been a huge success over the last few months, and it’s just hitting its stride. We spoke to Todd Dezago about the origins of Tellos, and what we can expect to see in the near future.

Q: Both you and Mike have said many times that Tellos is a project that both of you wanted to work on. What specifically attracted you to this project? And how is it different from what you’ve worked on before?

Todd Dezago: From the beginning of our stint together on Sensational Spider-man, Mike and I had discussed how dark and “real” comics had gotten and realized that we both yearned for the light-hearted and more fantasy-oriented comics of our youth. We made several passes at fantasy with our Spidey stories and when Marvel decided to relaunch the Spider-books, we proposed several new projects (some using/reviving some of their characters and some creating new ones) but Marvel just wasn’t interested. After being jerked around a bit, we decided that we would do one of the many projects that we had dreamed of all those times when we were just riffin’ on the phone! Thus came Tellos! A place where we could tell our story, our way, taking chances and making our own mistakes! The freedom has been incredible and the whole thing has been loads of FUN!!

Q: Tellos seems to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources, from Tolkien to the old Sinbad movies. What turned you on as kids? What movies, books or TV shows captured your imaginations?

TD: Both of us LOVE fantasy! Books, movies, comics, cartoons, fairy tales, and children’s books! And Tellos is meant to be an homage to all of that, at one time or another. As a kid, I devoured the Oz books and then got into Tolkien, Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King! I grew up glued to the TV, so everything there… and, of course, lots and lots of comic books! I was more of a DC kid than Marvel, but I read them ALL!

Q: You are credited as writer, and Mike as artist. Does Mike, for example, have any input at all into the storyline? And do you provide critique of his artwork? Or do you pretty much let one another do what he does best?

TD: Yes. To all of that. Mike and I are really great friends as well as partners, and we’ve developed a style of working that I call the “Yeah, and…” method. We never say no to one another, we never shoot down an idea, everything is accepted and built upon, and I find that we’re always saying, “Yeah, and…” as we go! The way we frame out the story is like cooking a big pot of ideas; we both throw in the kinds of things that we’d like to have in the story, sometimes these are just vague ideas, cool visuals, or more detailed story points. We mix this up and then I go and come up with an outline that starts to mold all of these ideas into an actual story. Mike gives me some feedback and then I move on to actually writing the plot where I work to surprise Mike with a story he already knows, trying to present it in the most exciting and surprising way! He draws up what I’ve thrown at him and then the characters tell me what they want to say… it’s all a lot of Fun!

Q: The artwork for Tellos is, without a doubt, some of the most lavish being produced in comicdom today. Many of the scenes are jam-packed with background images: ingenious machines, strange creatures. Are these intentional teasers? Can we expect to see more detail about what all that cool stuff is?

TD: Oh, yes! Some of it is necessary stuff needed for the story (like the Airboats and the plentitude of ropes that hang from them), some is whimsical stuff that Mike’s incredible imagination threw in (in many cases, to inspire me), and some is intentionally planted in there for future reference! In Tellos, you never know what might come back to haunt our characters!

Q: Tellos has its fair share of humor. Do you really think comics in general nowadays take themselves way to seriously?

TD: Yup.

Q: What comics (if any) are you guys reading now? Whose work do you admire?

TD: I always read all of the Batman books every month. I need to take that trip to Gotham. I also read HellboySin CityJLATop TenTom StrongPlanetaryHellblazerFlinchStrange AdventuresCerebusLiberty Meadows, and lots of Independent and small press comics!

Q: You’ve said there are plans for some action figures in the near future? When can we expect to see them?

TD: Hopefully sometime in the Fall [2000]. Although they are still in the “prototype” stages, the first launch will include Koj, Jarek, Serra, and, tentatively, a FrogSoldier! They are being sculpted by the very talented Sam Greenwall for Palisades and Dynamic Forces (who did the Crimson action figures for Humberto) and promise to look they just leapt of off Mike’s Drawing Table! If successful, a second wave would include Hawke, Rikk, Malesur, and Thomestharustra.

Q: Any thoughts of adapting Tellos as an animated series? Or is that way too far into the future to consider at this point?

TD: Mike and I are dreamers, so we’ve dreamt of everything…Yes! An animated show would be wonderful (done by the right people, of course…)! I would need to do the voices of Hawke and Rikk though… I hope they’d be okay with that. 🙂

Q: Going back to your work with the Spider-man titles, there was a great deal of controversy over the “Clone Saga,” and most of the folks involved say they thought it was a debacle. What went wrong?

TD: The Marketing guys at Marvel is what went wrong. Somehow, they started dictating to Editorial what would make great comics and, for reasons I’ll never understand, the Editor listened to them. As we’ve all seen over the past few years, the Marketing guys at Marvel can’t even do their jobs right. How did they suddenly become experts on story structure and development?

Q: Thanks for talking with us, and good luck!

TD: Thanks for the opportunity! It was great chatting with ya!

[Originally posted in May 2000 at]

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