Interview With Justin F. Gabrie
(December 2009)

The editor of the latest What If title, Daredevil vs. Elektra, talks about the long journey to get this tale published. The one-shot is written by Karl Bollers with art by Rafael Kayanan and was released December 16, 2009.

Kuljit Mithra: From what I've researched, you've been involved with all the recent What If? projects. In this case, for this DD one-shot, was the subject (DD as part of the Hand) already in place before the current story running through the main title?

Justin Gabrie: Yes. I've mentioned in the past that this is a story 17 years in the making. It was 1992 when a young Karl Bollers (who was trying to break in as a writer) and myself -- going by the name Freddy Mendez before I changed it for familial reasons -- (when I was doing some freelance coloring but wanted to pencil) discussed the kernel of the idea over lunch. There was a monthly What If book at the time and we were infatuated with the Frank Miller mythos and really wanted to play in that world, so we pitched it as writer and artist to the editors on the series at that time with attached costume sketches and a splash of the climax. Though the story showed promise in their eyes, we were two unknown commodities. It was important to them that we establish ourselves a little bit more so both Karl and I started trying to get work on back-ups and short stories on Marvel Comics Presents (MCP).

After getting one of the lead features on Ghost Rider/Cage (MCP 131-136), we came back to the What If pitch only to find the title had changed Editorial offices. The new office were not as impressed with the pitch and so it never happened. As we had become Assistant Editors during that time, we concentrated on our careers and never revisited the story. Fast forward to 2008 and I'm trying to narrow down which Classic What If tale to do when it struck me that it should be the DD Vs. Elektra from years past. I contacted Mr. Bollers (now an established writer with X-51, Muties and Emma Frost under his belt), to finish something he started. He was up for it. As editor, I couldn't draw it and the sketches were in a storage facility in California so we turned to Rafael Kayanan who is also a martial artist and a film fight choreographer (check him out in "The Hunted" special features) to bring this to light. We were off to the races until, in mere happenstance, it was decided during a Editorial story conference, the same week I had an approved final script, that DD should lead the Hand. Though the circumstances would be completely different in each story as well as the outcome, my book would come out a good 6 months before the actual event and would soften the shock in the regular book. It was decided to push ours back a year. I think in the end, it was the best compromise we could've made. We scrambled and put What If? Secret Wars in its place and had Karl write it since we were taking this other project away. I'm glad it did. What If? Secret Wars is one of the strongest What Ifs around, a project that never would've happened if it wasn't for this situation, though What If? Daredevil Vs. Elektra does give it a run for its money.

Mithra: Considering what you've mentioned about it being 17 years in the making, I'm curious to know just how much had to be changed from the initial pitch? Was the basic plot the same?

Gabrie: Basic plot was the same, but our three act approach was new as the original was a linear story. Also some of the specific sequences were modified to incorporate new continuity added to the Daredevil mythos over the years - like Echo - and new ideas filtered through like the creation of the New Chaste. Having said that, I'm glad we didn't get approved way back when because honestly, we weren't mature enough to make that story sing. I think it was way more sophisticated than what we would've done 17 years ago. Experience is a wonderful thing.

Mithra: With yourself and Karl Bollers being such Miller/Janson DD fans, I'm wondering what was it about their run that made you a fan, and do you think it's still the high point of DD, considering the caliber of work that has come on the title since?

Gabrie: Yes and yes. Prior to Miller's run, the book was always under Spidey's shadow (though there were many creators who did fine stories - Gene Colan's run comes to mind). Miller took a super hero fighting street crime to a crime book with super hero elements thrown into the mix. All the creators that have had meaningful runs after Miller have incorporated that logic into their storytelling. Miller was to DD comics what Orson Welles was to modern cinema with Citizen Kane. That may sound extreme but if you understand the context of which I mean it, then it'll best illustrate my POV on the subject.

Mithra: As editor, do you come up with the general idea and ask writers to pitch, or do the writers pitch a story idea and you determine what you think will be something to go ahead with? What impressed you most about Karl Bollers' story?

Gabrie: When I assistant edited on the Punisher books in 1994 & 1995 and edited Sonic The Hedgehog and TMNT in the late 90's at Archie, it was always a mixed bag. Sometimes, the writers would come up with the idea and pitch it for a greenlight. Other times, as editor, we'd want the direction of the book to go a certain way and then hire the writer that can give it that specific tone & voice to the story. With What If?, we are going with recent, yet pivotal, Marvel storyarcs & events. Once the events are selected and approved internally, I find writers who may have a take based on the specific moments in time we can create a What If question off of and see what they come up with. As for Karl's story, see above. though I should mention that I had this story vetted through Ralph Macchio who assistant edited on DD during Miller's first run but also edited Born Again. Once he gave it his thumbs up, I knew we were headed in the right direction.

Mithra: One thing I really liked about the issue was all the various nods to past DD events and characters. I also liked how Rafael Kayanan's artwork reminded me of a style that could have been used when Miller and Janson were on the book, with halftones etc... and you had Janson work on the cover. So, was this something you wanted to do, make it like a throwback from the early 80's?

Gabrie: Totally. When I took over editing some of the What Ifs in 2007, I went through great pains to have each maintain the same cover treatment of the series or event we were What If?'ing -- such as the wraparound half banner of Civil War for What If? Civil War -- so it could be like a genuine spin-off of the series. We went for a unified look in 2008 because of the back-up story that continued across all five one-shots, but went back to it this year. As such, if What If? Daredevil Vs. Elektra was supposed to look like a spin-off of DD 168, it needed to look it. Having Janson find the time to work on it made this especially gratifying. Dean White then came back with not one, but two, gorgeous cover treatments. What more could you ask for?

Mithra: At the back of the book you have another group of pages which poke fun at the main story. Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose to have these strips in there and some info on the people involved with that?

Gabrie: Back in the early 80s, the classic What If #34 came out. It was a humor issue like no other, strips and one panel gags asking the most absurd What If questions possible. It was a hit. But as they say, "it can be replicated but never duplicated". They tried to recreate this humorous offering with new one-shots called "What The--?!" over the years, but it never felt like the original. My attempt was not so much recreate it but make a homage to it. I chose one team I worked with during my Sonic years with a feature called "Off-Panel" -- a parody of myself interacting with Sonic & his world and vice versa-- by Mad Magazine writer Michael Gallagher and Spy Vs. Spy artist Dave Manak, then let them loose on Marvel's sandbox. As you can see their take on humor is... one of a kind. ^_^

Catch you on the flip side!

(c) Kuljit Mithra 2009
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear

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