Sit down with Deadpool's proud father, Rob Liefeld
In the early 1990s, the comic book industry was rapidly evolving. At Marvel, new talent was being brought aboard some of the company’s less popular titles, including the “X-Men” spinoff series “New Mutants.” A young penciler named Rob Liefeld joined the book at issue No. 86, and a year later he made comic book history when he took creative control of the title at issue No. 98, which included the first appearance of the wisecracking “merc with a mouth,” Deadpool.
“When I got on, [New Mutants] was selling 115,000 copies,” Liefeld tells Moviebill. “They were considering canceling it. I brought Cable and 13 or 14 of the new characters with me in the first issue — Stryfe, a bunch of bad guys. Over the course of 10 months, our sales went from 115,000 to 500,000 copies. We didn’t have any gimmicks; we didn’t have a bunch of trading cards, covers, scratch-and-sniff or whatever. It was just a comic book.”
Featuring dialogue from writer Fabien Nicieza (Deadpool’s official co-parent), “New Mutants” No. 98 was a massive hit and began a storyline that would close out the book with issue 100 and pave the way for a new title, “X-Force.”
“I introduced Deadpool, and within 10 days Marvel told me, ‘We know you have a plan to have Deadpool come back in issue six of ‘X-Force,’ but we need you to bring him back sooner than that. The mail on this character is off the charts. It’s the most mail we’ve received for a new character in 15 years,’” Liefeld recalls. “One day a delivery guy knocked on my office door and I thought I was getting a new refrigerator from Marvel; I thought they had given me some sort of bonus. It was actually the size of a washing machine, but it was all the mail.”
“X-Force” No. 1 launched in 1991 and fans were already clamoring for more Deadpool, not to mention other Liefeld creations like the time-traveling Cable and the luck-powered X-Forcer, Domino.
“I compare Deadpool to Boba Fett,” Liefeld laughs. “When I was a kid, they announced there was this new bounty hunter character with Jabba. Send in six proofs of purchase from your existing Star Wars toys to qualify to get mailed a toy Boba Fett. I didn’t know anything about the guy other than his name, but I thought he looked like a badass.”
Like Boba Fett, Deadpool soon had an action figure, which was part of an entire line of “X-Force” toys. That was only the beginning of a Deadpool merchandising tsunami that even today may not have reached its peak.
“I have behind me right now in this room 45 action figures, statues and busts of Deadpool,” Liefeld continues. “In my office there are three shelves, and in the other room I know there are 10 more and they’re all different. They’re not repeaters. So let’s say 55 to 60 action figures. He’s been in three or four video games, and Marvel is now hitting the 300 [issue] mark on his own title. I was in Dallas at a convention and I was hearing, ‘Are you excited for Deadpool? He’s popular now!’ Uh, no. He has always been popular. He’s just now a worldwide phenomenon due to Mr. Ryan Reynolds’ ridiculous portrayal of him. And I mean ridiculous in the best possible way. He is Deadpool. He gave the character a voice that connected with an audience that doesn’t even interact with comic books.”
The 2016 “Deadpool” movie not only broke box office records but also proved that audiences were eager for R-rated superhero fare. (Liefeld himself makes an appearance when Wade Wilson enters Sister Margaret’s School for Wayward Girls.) Without the success of “Deadpool,” 20th Century Fox may very well have never moved forward with last year’s “Logan.” Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine brought in more than $600 million at the international box office and earned an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay.
“Fans go up to my sons who come to my shows and they go, ‘What’s it like being brothers with Deadpool?’” he laughs. “They ask some funny questions and my kids are great. They handle it great and laugh about it. The truth is, I have a patronage over these characters that I take really seriously, and if I think I’m going to fold it in or I start doing bad depictions of them, I’ll stop.”
Liefeld returned to Marvel last year for an original Deadpool graphic novel, “Bad Blood.” Now he’s hard at work on a followup book, tentatively titled “Badder Blood,” which will also bring Cable into the action.
“I’m competitive,” Liefeld admits. “I want to be the guy that gives you the Cable you like the most, the Deadpool you like the most, and now I’ve got data that backs that up 27 years later. I don’t think I’m Jack Kirby, but I’m trying to draw that ownership. These are my kids. When I draw the characters that I introduced, that came out of my head, there’s a proud sense of ownership.”