|Born||Michael G. Ploog
The Monster of Frankenstein
Werewolf by Night
In comics, Ploog is best known for his work on Marvel Comics' 1970s Man-Thing and The Monster of Frankenstein series, and as the initial artist on the features Ghost Rider and Werewolf by Night. His style at the time was heavily influenced by the art of Will Eisner, under whom he apprenticed.
Early life and career
Mike Ploog, one of a family of three brothers and a sister, was raised first on a Minnesota farm. He began drawing while a young child whose imagination was fired by such old-time radio dramas as Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and Gunsmoke, and such thriller anthologies as Inner Sanctum Mysteries and Tales of Horror. After his parents divorced and sold the farm when Ploog was about 10 or 11 years old, his mother took the children to live with her in Burbank, California. Ploog entered the U.S. Marine Corps, leaving in 1968, after 10 years. Toward the end of his hitch, he began working on the Corps' Leatherneck Magazine, doing bits of writing, photography and art.
The following season he was promoted to layout work. "Layout," Ploog recalled in a 1998 interview, "is what happens between storyboarding and actual animation; you're literally composing the scenes. You're more or less designing the background, putting the characters into it so they'll look like they're actually walking on the surface". At Hanna-Barbera the following season, he worked on layouts for the animated series Motormouse and Autocat and Wacky Races, as well as "the first Scooby-Doo pilot; nothing spectacular, though. It was okay; it was a salary, y'know? ... I had very few aspirations, because I didn't know where anything I was doing was going to take me".
A Hanna-Barbera colleague passed along a flyer he had gotten from writer-artist Will Eisner seeking an assistant on the military instructional publication PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly. Ploog was familiar with it from his Marine Corps days, and knew well the art, though not the artist's name. "I'd been copying his work for years", Ploog said, "because I was doing visual aids and training aids for the military for a long time".
Eisner in 1978 recalled that, "Mike came in working for me in 1967. I was looking for someone who could work on the PS magazine ... and Mike sent me his material, or somebody sent it to me, I don't remember which, and I found myself in California, talking Mike into coming to work for us.... We had a very happy relationship for maybe two or three years, four years."
Ploog moved to New York City and remained with Eisner for just over two years. As Ploog recalled:
Will had worked PS Magazine since about 1952, and [the owners] decided, 'We've got to put it out to somebody else.' You know, it's like he's got this dynasty going. So they said, 'Well, Will, you've got to do something. You've got to either back out of it altogether or find some way of doing this.' So Will came up with the idea: I picked up the contract, and Will became the shadow partner, and I moved across the street from Will's office into another office that he had. I don't know whether he had been leasing it, but we subleased it from Will, and we took over the book. Then it just got to be too much, because it's not that profitable without a partner, but if you've got a partner, then it becomes totally non-profitable.
Marvel Comics and Ghost Rider
Eventually, at the suggestion of Eisner letterer Ben Oda and artist Wally Wood, Ploog broke into comics at Warren Publishing, doing stories for the company's black-and-white horror-comics magazines. A Western sample he showed Marvel got him a callback to draw Werewolf by Night, which premiered in Marvel Spotlight #2 (Feb. 1972). After three issues, the series spun off onto its own book. Ploog then helped launched the initial, Johnny Blaze version of the supernatural motorcyclist Ghost Rider, in Marvel Spotlight #5 (Aug. 1972), and drew the next three adventures.
The specifics of the character's creation are disputed. Roy Thomas, a Marvel writer and the editor-in-chief at the time, recalls,
I had made up a character as a villain in Daredevil — a very lackluster character — called Stunt-Master ... a motorcyclist. Anyway, when Gary Friedrich started writing Daredevil, he said, 'Instead of Stunt-Master, I'd like to make the villain a really weird motorcycle-riding character called Ghost Rider'. He didn't describe him. I said, 'Yeah, Gary, there's only one thing wrong with it', and he kind of looked at me weird, because we were old friends from Missouri, and I said, 'That's too good an idea to be just a villain in Daredevil. He should start out right away in his own book'. When Gary wasn't there the day we were going to design it, Mike Ploog, who was going to be the artist, and I designed the character. I had this idea for the skull-head, something like Elvis' 1968 Special jumpsuit, and so forth, and Ploog put the fire on the head, just because he thought it looked nice. Gary liked it, so they went off and did it.
Friedrich has responded that,
Well, there's some disagreement between Roy, Mike and I over that. I threatened on more than one occasion that if Marvel gets in a position where they are gonna make a movie or make a lot of money off of it, I'm gonna sue them, and I probably will. ... It was my idea. It was always my idea from the first time we talked about it, it turned out to be a guy with a flaming skull and rode a motorcycle. Ploog seems to think the flaming skull was his idea. But, to tell you the truth, it was my idea.
Ploog recalled, in a 2008 interview:
Now, there's been all kinds of dialog about who was the creator of Ghost Rider. Gary Friedrich was the writer on it. ... The flaming skull: That was the big area of dispute. Who thought of the flaming skull? To be honest with you I can't remember. What else were you going to do with him? You couldn't put a helmet on him, so it had to be a flaming skull. As far as his costume went, it was part of the old [Western] Ghost Rider's costume, with the Western panel front. The stripes down the arms and the legs were there merely so I could make the character['s costume] as black as I possibly could and sill keep track of his body. It was the easiest way to design him.
Ploog and writer Gary Friedrich collaborated on the first six issues of Marvel's The Monster of Frankenstein (Jan.-Oct. 1973), the initial four of which contained a more faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel than has mostly appeared elsewhere; comics historian Don Markstein said, "It was faithful to the story even to the point of leaving the monster trapped in the ice at the end — so of course, the fifth issue began with him being rescued." In a 1989 interview, Ploog said, "I really enjoyed doing Frankenstein because I related to that naive monster wandering around a world he had no knowledge of — an outsider seeing everything through the eyes of a child." The following year, Ploog teamed with writer Steve Gerber on Man-Thing #5-11 (May-Nov. 1974), penciling a critically acclaimed series of stories involving a dead clown, psychic paralysis in the face of modern society, and other topics far removed from the usual fare of comics of the time, with Ploog's cute-but-creepy art style setting off Gerber's trademark intellectual surrealism.
Ploog's other regular titles at Marvel were Planet of the Apes, Kull the Destroyer and the series Werewolf by Night. Ploog also drew the Don McGregor story "The Reality Manipulators" in the black-and-white comics magazine Marvel Preview #8 (Fall 1976), and the Doug Moench feature "Weirdworld" in the color comic Marvel Premiere #38 (Oct. 1977), among other items.
He left Marvel following what he describes as "a disagreement with Jim Shooter. I had moved to a farm in Minnesota, and agreed to do a hand-colored 'Weirdworld' story. Marvel backed out of the deal after I had started. I can't remember the details, but it doesn't matter. I think I was ready to move on." Marvel and I were both changing. I finished off a black-and-white Kull book that was my last comic for many years." Richard Marschall, editor of what was to be a 60-page "Weirdworld" by Ploog and writer Moench for one of the Marvel Super Special series of one-shots, said at the time that Ploog had been given four months to complete the art, and when it became evident the deadline would not be met, arranged to publish the story in two 30-page installments, giving Ploog two more months. Ploog sent Marvel photocopies of the first 31 pages, and was paid for them. During this time, Marvel had given work-for-hire contracts to its freelancers, many of whom, including Ploog, Frank Brunner, Jack Kirby, Don McGregor, Roger Slifer, and Roger Stern, refused to sign, resulting in cessation of work for Marvel. Ploog "took himself off the project," said Marschall, and retained his original artwork. Moench's script was eventually published as a 106-page story illustrated by penciler John Buscema, inker Rudy Nebres, and airbrush colorist Peter Ledger as the three-part "Warriors of the Shadow Realm" in Marvel Super Special #11-13 (Spring - Fall 1979).
Marginalia includes some work for Heavy Metal magazine in 1981, and three "Luke Malone, Manhunter" backup features in the Atlas/Seaboard title Police Action #1-3 (Feb., April, June 1975), the first of which he also scripted.
Ploog returned to the movie industry. By his account, he has worked in post-production on the movie Ghostbusters ("All that stuff you saw on cereal boxes are my paintings") and with film director Ralph Bakshi on the animated features Wizards, The Lord of the Rings, and Hey Good Lookin'. He was production designer on Michael Jackson: Moonwalker (1988), and has storyboarded or done other design work on films including John Carpenter's The Thing, Superman II, Little Shop of Horrors and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and, he says, several Jim Henson Company projects, such as the films Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and the TV series The Storyteller.
With old colleague Steve Gerber, Ploog drew the Malibu Comics one-shot Sludge: Red X-Mas (Dec. 1994), but otherwise remained away from comics for another decade before teaming with veteran writer J.M. DeMatteis on the CrossGen fantasy Abadazad (May 2004).
- Mike Ploog interview, in Modern Masters Volume Nineteen: Mike Ploog (TwoMorrows Publishing, 2008), p. 6. ISBN 978-1-60549-007-6
- Werewolf by Night at Don Markstein's Toonopedia: "Ploog, who had previously worked in animation, was unknown in comics when 'Werewolf' started, but quickly made a name for himself in that medium. His artwork was strongly influenced by Will Eisner...." WebCitation archive (January 10, 2011).
- Ploog, Modern Masters Volume Nineteen: Mike Ploog, p. 6
- Ploog, Modern Masters, p. 7
- Ploog, Modern Masters, pp. 7-8
- Ploog, Modern Masters, p. 11
- Mike Ploog at the Lambiek Comiclopedia. Note: Source erroneously gives Ploog's birthplace as the nearby St. Thomas, Minnesota.
- Mike Ploog interview, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998. WebCitation archive.
- "Mike Ploog" (267). (interview), The Comics Journal. April–May 2005. Archived from the original on April 29, 2008. Additional WebCitation archive, December 26, 2010.
- "Will Eisner Interview", The Comics Journal #46 (May 1979), p. 37. Interview conducted Oct. 13 and 17, 1978
- Roy Thomas interview, Comic Book Artist #13, May 2001. WebCitation archive.
- Gary Friedrich interview, Comic Book Artist #13 (May 2001), p. 84
- Ploog, Modern Masters, pp. 24-25
- Monster of Frankenstein at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived October 25, 2011.
- "Ploog & Kirby Quit Marvel over Contract Dispute". The Comics Journal (44). January 1979. p. 11.
- Marvel Comics Super Special #11, #12, and #13 at the Grand Comics Database
- Ploog, Modern Masters, pp. 36, 40-42
- Ploog, Modern Masters, p. 54
- Ploog, Modern Masters, pp. 43, 45
- Ploog, Modern Masters, pp. 44-45
- Ploog, Modern Masters, p. 47
- Ploog, Modern Masters, p. 49
- Mike Ploog entry at Gatherer: Magic Card Database. WebCitation archive.
- Mike Ploog at the Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators
- Mike Ploog at the Grand Comics Database
- Mike Ploog at the Comic Book DB
- J.M. DeMatteis: Fantasy Life, Comics Bulletin, January 14, 2004
- Dematteis & Ploog Together Again by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean, Newsarama, December 3, 2004
- Mike Ploog interview, page 1 and page 2, Alter Ego #62 (Oct. 2006), reprinted at Newsarama, October 7, 2006
- "Mike Ploog" (274). (Online excerpts) The Comics Journal. February 2006. Archived from the original on May 5, 2006.</ref>