Josh Bayer talks All Time Comics, Fan­ta­graph­ics’ su­per­hero uni­verse.

Josh Bayer tells Stephen Jewell about cre­at­ing Fan­ta­graph­ics’ first su­per­hero uni­verse with All Time Comics

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

As the home of Peter Bagge’s Hate and Joe Sacco’s Pales­tine, Fan­ta­graph­ics Books is not a name you would nor­mally as­so­ciate with su­per­heroes. But while the likes of Daniel Clowes and Jaime and Gil­bert Her­nan­dez have played around with the genre’s lurid span­dex-clad trap­pings in Eight­ball and Love And Rock­ets re­spec­tively, the Seat­tle-based pub­lisher is now plung­ing head­long into the fan­tas­ti­cal world of caped cru­saders and masked avengers with All Time Comics, a new line of ti­tles headed up by broth­ers Josh and Sam Bayer.

“It’s not so much a ques­tion of why would we come to­gether as [the fact that] I’m very com­fort­able with how Fan­ta­graph­ics does busi­ness and what they show­case,” says Josh Bayer. “As for them, I think they would recog­nise that the comics are good, no mat­ter what they’re about. That’s the bot­tom line. They wouldn’t pub­lish them if they weren’t in­ter­est­ing and didn’t have some­thing to say about the di­rec­tion in which comics are evolv­ing. And the fact is that a lot of younger al­ter­na­tive car­toon­ists are now em­brac­ing their roots as fans of sci-fi, su­per­heroes and other genre ad­ven­ture comics.”

Pre­vi­ously known for his self-pub­lished un­der­ground an­tholo­gies Sus­pect De­vice and The Black Hood, Josh is tak­ing charge of the comics. His brother Sam – a film­maker who helmed 2010’s A Night­mare On Elm Street re­make along with nu­mer­ous mu­sic videos in­clud­ing Nir­vana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – is ex­plor­ing op­tions in other medi­ums.

“Sam came to me with the char­ac­ters, and some were more de­vel­oped than oth­ers,” says Josh. “He has some stuff he wants to do with them in this medium, and I’m as in­ter­ested as any­one in what shape the char­ac­ters will take. They might be at a dif­fer­ent stage or take place in a dif­fer­ent era, such as with the short film Sam re­cently did, which starred LeMon­ica Gar­rett as Crime De­stroyer, Mon­ica Schae­fer as Bull­whip and Steve Jones from the Sex

Pis­tols as the gui­tar-wield­ing vil­lain. There’s also a lot of cross­over, as Sam worked on the comic book lo­gos with his de­signer Robert Hales, and it was Sam’s idea to do vin­tage ads in the comics. We dis­cussed dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions for the ads and put our heads to­gether and asked ‘How do we get the feel­ing of the best of the old time vin­tage ads?’ It was an im­por­tant point to give the books more tex­ture.”

Look­ing back

When it came to cre­at­ing All Time Comics’ lurid, four-colour-style world, both Josh and Sam drew on their child­hood love of clas­sic Marvel and DC fare. “I’ve al­ways en­joyed all sorts of comics, but I es­pe­cially love su­per­heroes and crime comics be­cause I grew up with them,” Josh ex­plains. “I will take any op­por­tu­nity where I have the free­dom to do comics, es­pe­cially if I get to work with a tal­ent pool that I’m ex­cited about. Alan Moore started out do­ing six page sci-fi sto­ries for 2000 AD, so you learn these things and then you grad­u­ate up the ranks.”

The nos­tal­gic tone of All Time Comics is in fact rem­i­nis­cent of the Amer­ica’s Best Comics im­print that the Northamp­ton mage started at Wild­storm in 1999 be­fore its move to DC, and the 1963 lim­ited se­ries that he, Steve Bis­sette and Rick Veitch re­leased through Im­age Comics in 1993. “Those Alan Moore comics are def­i­nitely a guid­ing in­spi­ra­tion for All Time Comics, as well as some of Marvel’s New Uni­verse line,” Josh says. “Alan Moore is some­one who can breathe new life into seem­ingly mori­bund con­cepts, and that’s like a magic trick. Of course, Alan Moore lit­er­ally iden­ti­fies him­self as a ma­gi­cian. I’m less for­mal about magic, but I see the magic of comics and the con­nec­tion be­tween myth and a greater appreciation of life. So, yeah, those books are deeply em­bed­ded in my thoughts as ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful su­per­hero comics.”

Hav­ing launched with Crime De­stroyer in March, with Bull­whip set for re­lease in April and At­las and Blind Jus­tice to fol­low in May and June, All Time Comics’ main pro­tag­o­nists ap­pear to have been mod­elled on iconic char­ac­ters like Su­per­man, Bat­man and Won­der Woman. “All of those things are in there, and there’s also some ele­ments of old Golden Age comics, such as where an or­phaned city kid dis­cov­ers a vast cav­ern in the sub­way,” Josh ex­plains. “It could also be like a Sil­ver Age story where a Norse prince comes across a miss­ing weapon in the mid­dle of nowhere, or a pilot dis­cov­ers an in­jured alien. All of those tra­di­tional ele­ments are in there, as well as the trope of an in­vul­ner­a­ble char­ac­ter hav­ing a se­cret weak­ness.”

With his tragic ori­gin story more closely re­sem­bling that of Frank Cas­tle than Bruce Wayne, Crime De­stroyer brings to mind the Pu­n­isher as much as Bat­man. “Crime De­stroyer could have a bit of Pu­n­isher and Bat­man in him, and he’s a bit of a Grind­house archetype, as Sam’s re­ally into that movie,” ex­plains Josh, who also cites 1970s ex­ploita­tion movies like Rolling Thun­der and Johnny Fire­cloud as sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ences. “All of those things were in­spi­ra­tional in writ­ing Crime De­stroyer, who is a war vet who comes home to find that his family has been mur­dered, so he de­clares war on crime. So, sure, there are those ele­ments float­ing around, al­though in those old movies the he­roes never blew up things with death rays or fought mu­tated crime lords while driv­ing a Trans Am with ma­chine guns on the hood.”

Mean­while, Bull­whip has some sly fun with Won­der Woman’s no­to­ri­ous BDSM over­tones. “She has things about her that might re­mind peo­ple of Hun­tress, Hell­cat, Black Widow, Ms. Marvel or Cat­woman in that she wears a black leather out­fit and rides a mo­tor­cy­cle,” says Josh. “But those things are just step­ping stones, as she’s re­ally her own thing.” What with Bull­whip fac­ing the chau­vin­is­tic men­ace of the Misog­y­nist and Crime De­stroyer em­pha­sis­ing his African-Amer­i­can roots, both se­ries re­flect the tur­bu­lent, chang­ing so­cial cli­mate of the 1970s. “We wanted to mir­ror the kinds of char­ac­ters that were in comics dur­ing the pe­riod that we’re look­ing back on,” Josh re­flects. “At the time, black char­ac­ters were just start­ing to get their own books from the Big Two, and there was also an uptick in new fe­male hero­ines, so both of those things were break­throughs in the early ’70s. As for the Misog­y­nist, that was a no-brainer, and so were the Nazi and Ku Klux Klan vil­lains that the char­ac­ters fight.”

Out­siders

While Crime De­stroyer, Bull­whip and At­las are based around DC’s fa­mous trin­ity, Blind Jus­tice harks back to more ob­scure out­siders like Rag­man, the Creeper and D-Man,

alias De­mo­li­tion Man, a sup­port­ing char­ac­ter in The Thing and Cap­tain Amer­ica in the 1980s. “Apart from D-Man, those char­ac­ters haven’t al­ways been writ­ten the way I’d like to see them,” says Josh. “They’re all dam­aged, men­tally diver­gent he­roes. The Creeper was em­ployed, but the other char­ac­ters live in the grey zone be­tween poverty and home­less­ness. So the fan­tasy that you can re­main re­silient and strong while opt­ing out of the Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem is the big­gest power fan­tasy in any of those comics.”

With Blind Jus­tice based at the Op­tic City Cen­ter for Cra­nial Trauma Vic­tims, Josh also drew on the sad plight of Bill Mantlo. Best known for writ­ing Rom and Mi­cro­nauts in ad­di­tion to co-cre­at­ing Rocket Rac­coon, Mantlo was left se­ri­ously brain dam­aged af­ter be­ing the vic­tim of a hit-and-run ac­ci­dent in 1992 and now re­quires in­sti­tu­tional care, which def­i­nitely doesn’t come cheap in the US.

“It’s cer­tainly im­por­tant to me,” says Josh. “That these guys like Bill Mantlo worked on char­ac­ters for years and re­ceived no se­cu­rity is ridicu­lous. Imag­ine work­ing in a comics store for six months and hav­ing noth­ing left at the

We’re mir­ror­ing the kinds of char­ac­ters in comics dur­ing the pe­riod we’re look­ing back on

end of the day, no fi­nan­cial rec­om­pense for some­thing that you breathed life into and fleshed out. Now imag­ine that you worked for eight years, like Mantlo did on Rom, pro­vid­ing plots and de­tails and build­ing the char­ac­ter and their backstory, but you’re at the mercy of an in­dus­try that con­sid­ered him dis­pos­able, which is in­sane. The tra­di­tion of car­toon­ists and writ­ers not get­ting stronger worker’s-rights laws to pro­tect them goes back decades to the way the medium was writ­ten off as dis­pos­able and even de­struc­tive. What hap­pened to Mantlo has an ex­tra layer of shock­ing tragedy to it be­cause it was so mean­ing­less. It’s like the end of David Maz­zuc­chelli’s graphic novel As­te­rios Polyp, where the char­ac­ter gets hit by the me­teor on the last page. It’s like a sad joke that life writes into its script some­times.”

Along­side younger artists like Ben Marra, Noah Van Sciver and Rick Buck­ler, Josh was de­ter­mined to in­volve some in­dus­try veter­ans in All Time Comics. In what would turn out to be his last ever work, the late Herb Trimpe was brought on board to pen­cil Crime De­stroyer #1, while Al Mil­grom is ink­ing sev­eral ti­tles. “I’d al­ready crossed paths and done comics events with Noah Van Sciver and Ben Marra, while I found Rick Buck­ler – who is the son of [ Deathlok co-cre­ator] Rich Buck­ler – on Face­book,” says Josh. “For the older artists, I reached out to ex­hibitors and col­lec­tors, and just looked on web­sites for their con­tact info. I re­ally wanted to make a good im­pres­sion on Herb Trimpe and Al Mil­grom, so I just wrote re­ally elab­o­rately pro­fes­sional, de­tailed scripts with no messy filler.”

All Time Comics is be­ing pro­moted as a shared uni­verse, so ex­pect plenty of syn­ergy be­tween the ti­tles, with At­las guest-star­ring in Crime De­stroyer #1 for starters. How­ever, Josh in­sists that there won’t be any con­vo­luted con­ti­nu­ity or any Se­cret Wars

style crossovers for at least a few years. “We’re pretty far off from that,” he laughs. “But that’s an is­sue that you get with com­pa­nies that have been around for 70 years. We have a stripped-down line of books, so the amount of con­fu­sion we could cre­ate by hav­ing the char­ac­ters band to­gether would be pretty min­i­mal. But peo­ple should know – and my team keeps ask­ing me to re­mind au­di­ences – that these are def­i­nitely not books with in­ter­de­pen­dent nar­ra­tives. All of the comics in this se­ries are in­de­pen­dent, stand-alone sto­ries, so you can buy all of them, just a few or even just one with­out com­ing across any nar­ra­tive holes.”

Crime De­stroyer #1 boasts script by Josh Bayer and art by Herb Trimpe and Ben Marra.

Crime De­stroyer – or should we say “crim­i­nal killer” – in ac­tion. Vari­ant cover by Johnny Ryan.

Bull­whip #1 pen­cils by Ben Marra, inks by in­dus­try vet­eran Al Mil­grom.

This ain’t re­ally your daddy’s 1970s, kid...

Vam­pires from the fu­ture at a rock con­cert, yeah!

Crime De­stroyer #1 cover by Jim Rugg.

Cover art by Das Pas­toras, ver­i­fy­ing how Bull­whip picks up that BDSM vibe...

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