For nearly twenty years, Frank “Madman” Einstein has been battling Dr. Monstadt, fighting and friending Mutant Street Beatniks and dating his dashing and beautiful girlfriend, Joe Lombard. On April 6, the trippy vigilante returns in Image Comics’ “Madman All-New Giant-Size Super-Ginchy Special!”
Created by writer and artist Mike Allred, the special comes as a welcome break for fans starved for “Madman” ever since the ongoing monthly went on hiatus and Allred turned to work on “iZombie,” the Vertigo series penned by “Superman” writer, Chris Roberson.
Similar to 2003’s “King-Size Super Groovy Special” published by Oni Press/AAA Pop, April’s 64-page behemoth features art and stories by Allred and a host of big name artists. The Oregon-based creator spoke with CBR about the special, the existential questions that keep Frank Einstein up at night and plans for the “Madman 20th Anniversary Monster” collection.
CBR News: The “Madman All-New Giant-Size Super-Ginchy Special!” comes out next month. What can you tell us about the it?
Mike Allred: Madman and Snap City and all the surrounding characters are the mainstay for me — it’s where my home is, as far as comic books go. I’ve divided my career into two parts: one is collaborations where I really feel I can grow and progress as a storyteller and artist by working with somebody else. I’ve been blessed to work with some of the most amazing writers in the business. Right now, I think Chris Roberson, the guy I co-created “iZombie” with for Vertigo, is great. I would steer people to him now and watch him explode, because he’s really amazingly talented, he has a fresh eye and ear. I’ve been very fortunate. Every time I’ve done one of these collaborative projects, I’ve learned so much from working with those scripts, trying to figure out what was in their heads, trying to interpret what they wanted me to do with the art.
Then I go back to the other half of my career, my own little world where I know what the images are in my head, so I know if I’m successful in putting them on paper. And I take what I learn with these collaborations and progress with my own personal stuff. Every time I get to go back to the “Madman” world, it’s like a party. When I’m doing a regular series elsewhere, like my day job on “iZombie,” to do something with Madman it has to be big. I want it to be a nice, big burst, because it’ll probably be several more months before I can carve out another one. I want to make it as special as possible. And that’s what “The Madman Giant-Size Super-Ginchy Special” is. It’s 64 pages of all-new material; the main story is by me and then it has three back-up stories by Emi Lenox, Matt Kindt and Tonci Zonjic, so you get all of these flavors.
Early on with “Madman,” I wanted to see what my favorite artist friends would do with it. The first pin-up that was done by another artist was by Richard Sala, and it couldn’t have been more different from my style, in this beautiful watercolor painting. We had done this contest with a Madman print. I drew Frank “Madman” Einstein in the center of a time warp. We were going to different shows at the time and seeing a bunch of different artists and I would ask everybody to draw an object in this time warp. It was amazing — even with just an object you could tell who the artist was. So we did this big print and gave prizes to people who guessed what artist did what object — right on the print, there’d be a list of all the artists and you’d have to line them up with the object.
So right from the beginning of “Madman,” there was this big invitation to other artists to come play in our backyard and do their interpretations of my characters. It’s one of those pinch-me moments when I look back and see all the people who have been a part of this world. Everybody from Jack Kirby and Dave Stevens to my best friends in the field now, people like Darwyn Cooke and Paul Pope. It’s a party — that’s what it is! It’s always a thrill to open it up and have a new “Madman” project. I hope that’s what people get when they get these specials, because beyond the three back-up stories, there’s a whole bunch of new pin-ups by more artists. You really get knocked down by how many variations you see of these characters, and nobody is more excited about seeing what’s done than I am.
Are you planning on doing more collaborative specials, or will “Madman” be returning as an ongoing monthly comic?
I’m having way too much fun on “iZombie” right now too think about doing any other monthly series, so I’ll be making the Madman specials very special. By the end of the year will be the biggest “Madman” project ever. Next year is Madman’s 20th anniversary, if you can believe it — it blows my brain to think of how much time has passed! [Laughs] But we are going to celebrate big time. I don’t know if you saw the “Wednesday Comics” hardcover collection, but it’s an 11×17 hardcover collection of these “Sunday Funnies style” strips that a bunch of us did for DC Comics. I had drawn Metamorpho, written by Neil Gaiman. That made me excited about the idea of doing something similar with my own characters. So to celebrate the 20th anniversary, I got more than 20 different cartoonists doing Madman strips. It’s phenomenal. We have all three Hernandez brothers, Matt Wagner, Joe Quinones, Frank Quitely, Peter Bagge, Dave Cooper, Eric Powell, Darwyn Cooke, Jay Stephens, Jeff Smith, Kyle Baker, Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Mike Oeming, Phillip Bond, Peter Milligan, Bernie Mireault, Dean Haspiel, Erik Larsen, David Mack, Pat McEown, Steve Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen and Al Columbia. The main story will be from me and Jamie Rich, who’s been my editor longer than anybody, wrote this framing device which is being laid out by Valentino and I’ll be finishing up. Adam McGovern wrote this brilliant essay about creator-owned characters from the last 20 years and their influences that Michel Fiffe and myself drew a multi-character illustration for, and then there will be almost 200 pin-ups from all the greatest artists in comics that I’ve collected. It will all come together in an enormous 11×17 package.
That’s a lot of big names — how did you go about getting all these high-profile creators on board such an ambitious project?
We see each other all the time! My best friends in the world are my peers and the people I spend real quality time with. If we all know we’re going to be at a show at the same time, we make sure we have some extra days to spend time together. If you have similar tastes, you are drawn to each other.
It’s also an incredibly generous industry; at least that’s been my experience from the beginning. For example, I was a TV reporter in Europe and as a hobby I did comic book stuff. I sent some work out and Slave Labor Graphics was going to be my first publisher. Well, they’re out of San Jose, and Matt Wagner was living in San Jose and had seen some of the stuff I was doing. Out of the blue, completely unsolicited, he sent me a postcard encouraging me and telling me he liked what he saw. When we moved back to the states to Oregon, soon after, Matt Wagner moved to Oregon, too, and we met up and again formed one of those great friendships that has lasted all this time. And it’s all based off his original generosity and encouragement.
I try to be that way, too, where if I see somebody that has great potential, to encourage them and nurture them. There’s just a lot of goodwill and enthusiasm for each other’s work. We’re very much a subculture. But those who are in the subculture celebrate it. The fans, the artists, the writers, we realize how fragile and dear it is and we would be foolish not to celebrate good work when we see it and encourage its growth and progress. It goes back to one of the earlier things we were talking about: comic books are where my heart is. It’s exciting; it’s the one art form where you can tell a story in words and pictures that can be told by as little as one person. No other medium offers that. It’s a unique, amazing art form and I for one am stunned that it’s not an art form common in every household. What has more amazing personal diversity and quality? So while we remain this cultish subculture, I am going to do all I can to enjoy it and do all I can to promote it and encourage people to explore it.
Going along with collaborations, CBR actually spoke with Chris about “iZombie,” recently —
I promise you, it’s going to get even better. It completely spins off into orbit in issue #13! I am reinvigorated with it — you’ll be in love with it!
To your mind, are creator-owned projects like “iZombie” and “Madman” more appealing than something like your work with the Wonder Woman promotion with the M•A•C cosmetic line or more traditional comics?
Absolutely. No contest. I think one of the most obvious weaknesses with the comics industry is this idea that the greatest characters ever created in the medium are the ones that were created, what, sixty, seventy years ago? Where else do you see that? I think that’s one of the big faults of the industry. I can understand it, especially with the big two companies that own these iconic characters, of course it makes great financial success to hire people to keep them at the top of the hierarchy. As far as helping the industry grow and reach more people, you’ve got to change the perception that the industry is only about Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. You’ve got to show that the industry utilizes every genre beyond superheroes, which I obviously have great affection for. I’m not under the delusion anything I create will be as big and iconic as Spider-Man. But it’s a medium where someone, anyone, can create something special and unique and hopefully bring more people to the art form.
One of our best buds is Craig Thompson and he wrote and drew a book called “Blankets.” This is a classic example of one of the most personal, intimate stories you’ll ever read being hugely successful. I know its had at least ten printings. It’s this massive graphic novel and you see it in virtually every bookstore. It’s the kind of example you can point at that’s as far from a commercial superhero book as you can get, and yet it’s monstrously successful, the kind of stuff I would hope the bigger companies are inspired by to expand their line. That’s why I love Vertigo, where DC has said, here’s one area of our company where we’re going to let creators retain the rights of ownership and we’re going to let them run wild and support and promote their work. You see Marvel do that with their Icon line.
I’m hoping we can show them that their faith in us was worth it. When we do our creator-owned work, speaking for Chris and myself, we’re giving it everything we have. It would be my dream for the Vertigo line at DC to be their most successful books. In the case of “Sandman” and “Fables” and “Y: the Last Man,” they’ve had these examples of great breakout hits. I think that’s where you are going to get the most sincere and special work. If I have the opportunity to choose between something that came deep from inside me, I’m always going to treasure that over something somebody else created years and years ago.
On the other side, I’m obviously a big fan of these legendary characters and have taken the opportunity to play with them. It’s great fun, something I’ll do out of nostalgia and celebration of it. But I believe you can also have it both ways. On “X-Force” and “X-Statix,” Peter Milligan and I were given the opportunity to create our own Marvel mutants and rub shoulders with the established legendary Marvel characters. So we just ran with it and had a blast.
It’s interesting you brought up the intimacy in “Blankets,” as Frank Einstein has experienced many intimate moments in “Madman,” within the context of the greater science fiction/superhero world. Are you deliberately juxtaposing the intimate and the superheroic?
Absolutely. For me, it’s all about being subversive. My first work in comics were just regular folks in extraordinary, often esoteric, situations. The second I took my favorite character, Frank Einstein, and put him in a costume, my career took off! [Laughs] I learned an obvious lesson that with this medium, the most obviously successful books are the costumed adventure characters. Having a sincere affection for those characters, it was a real easy thing for me to throw a costume on one of my characters and go with that. With that success, I can have this electric fun pop-art look, yet at the same time it allows me to speak from my heart and have this character ask the big questions that I ask in my regular life. What is life? Why are we here? When did time begin? What happened before there was time? What created time and elements and form? For me, the Madman title is apt because these questions can drive you mad! In this life, we won’t have the answer to those questions, but when you ask those questions, it forces you to appreciate existence. The fact that we do exist, that we can share our existence with other beings — that’s what’s so beautiful about life. These things can be discussed under the silly surface of a costumed adventurer comic book.
Madman circles around between the sublime and the horror of life. We see horrible things every day. Hopefully we see beautiful things every day. And we can hope that every human being, even the worst, has some good in them. If we always try to pull that good out of us, then tomorrow is going to be better than today.
That’s who Frank Einstein has become for me, this vehicle that can go on trippy, fun, crazy adventures, but also drink in the existential aspects of what’s happening to him and how it all connects with everything else in the universe. I hope people can enjoy this book on the fun adventure level, but if they also, when they close the book, just for a moment think about something they never thought about before, that’s very gratifying to me.
Continuing along those lines, a big theme, at least in earlier “Madman,” is divinity, questions about the nature of God. You have specific references to the Nephites and Mormonism. To what extent do your religious beliefs color “Madman?”
I’ve read how “Superman” and “The Spirit” reflect their creator’s Jewish influences. Well, I was raised Mormon very actively until my parents spilt up when I was about eleven years old. It’s like anybody: if you were raised Jewish or Catholic or Buddhist, Muslim, whatever, that is going to be a part of you. For me, for most of my life after the divorce, I kept it at arms length. I wasn’t interested, or even rejected it. Then, at one point I realized I have to see what this is, I have to be as open minded in studying this as any other belief. I want to know why people believe what they believe. So I looked at my own ancestry, got the journal of my great-great-grandfather, who was one of the pioneers that lead people across the plains, starting in New York and eventually settling in Salt Lake City with Brigham Young. This is a guy who had three wives and everything people might have heard about pioneer Mormons! [Laughs] I’m not going to deny my Mormon roots, but at the same time, what you learn from doing this is that there are things we all have in common. What I like to look at is what we have in common instead of repeating the biggest mistake in all human history and fighting about God, which is the greatest oxymoron in human history. We celebrate and worship these entities of love and creation and then kill each other over our disagreements about them. That is about as insane as it gets!
Moving on to some of your other influences, music is a big part of your life and is often referenced in your comics very directly. Are there bands you feel influenced you artistically?
For sure. First and foremost, the British Invasion. When I was a kid, I had an older cousin who was sent to our house to live. I was just a little kid and she was a teenager, so that was my first exposure to rock ‘n roll and record albums. A lot of her collection was British Invasion stuff — the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks — and when I hit school, there was a continuation of that with the glam rock stuff. That’s the base level of the music I’m most passionate about, from progressive to poppy stuff. The music I really love is the music that puts images in your head and takes you on a trip and gives you a natural high. I mentioned Arcade Fire, I see them as a direct descendant of those influences, along with acts like the Dandy Warhols, MGMT, Brian Jonestown Massacre — they all have that spirit.
Before music, I always dug monsters and sci-fi movies. The two acts that got me to buy records were Alice Cooper and David Bowie because I saw them as the horror film and science fiction film of rock ‘n roll. Listening to Alice Cooper is like watching a monster movie, and when you listen to Bowie, you are literally hearing about Martians and beings from other planets. As a kid, that stuff lit up my brain. I could bore you to tears and go on for hours! [Laughs] But there’s always something to be excited about. I have my favorite old bands like Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople and Queen who opened for Mott the Hoople on Broadway.
Do you have specific bands you jam out to while you draw, or do you prefer a quiet environment?
I think I would go insane with a quiet environment! I find I work best and prefer to overwhelm my brain with outside stimuli. There’s always music or a movie on. I’ve got my drawing board set up so I can glance up at the ol’ TV screen.
Would you ever want to go back and delve more into your earlier mythology storylines, such as the evolved Professor Boiffard?
Yeah, that kind of happens organically. With my story in the April “Giant-Size” special, I bring back a character called the Cadaver, which I abandoned when I was doing “Madman Atomic Comics.” I’ll find there are little moments that are ripe for more exploration. It’s an open book to me, its all very natural, especially when I was doing a monthly series. I would have an outline of story elements and ideas, things that would influence a plot. When you are drawing your own stuff you find you keep outlining and writing notes and that just gets longer and longer because its faster and easier to write down a story idea than to draw it. So its unlikely I’ll ever be able to illustrate every idea I’ve ever had, but I’ve found that as I work my way down the outline, other ideas will push them out of the way and take precedent. It’s a very flowing, organic thing.
Will we ever get the full Frank/Zane back-story, or are the little bits we’ve gotten of his past all we’re going to see?
It’s possible, but right now that’s a very low priority for me. I feel we know enough — there’s a mystery to his previous life, which I like the way it is right now. I’ve shown that he had a very passionate love for a woman named Janene. I made it clear he had struggles with the idea of good and bad, which is something I find interesting. Someone we perceive as evil probably justifies their actions or may even see themself as heroic.
In Franks’ case, working in black-ops in his former life, there were even fuzzier lines between good and evil. This is Frank’s main conflict with who he was before, because as a trained agent, he was trained to kill and he’s not convinced that he always did what was right. This is just another tricky, trippy way to ask ourselves, “I’ve done things in my past that I’m not proud of — so am I a better person by recognizing that and I won’t do those things today? Or is there still restitution and I have to pay for the things that I did?” That’s what Zane Townsend represents for me and Frank. Who I was and who I want to be?
Right out of the box in the first issue, Frank Einstein did some horrible things and hurt some people very badly. One of the things people ask me about a lot is the graphic violence in the book. But since he has the ability to make people think they saw or experienced things they really didn’t, did what we see really happen?
So the short answer is, I don’t have any plans on giving more details on who he was before as Zane Townsend. I think there’s just enough there right now. But at the same time I have notes and ideas that I think at some point will be important to reveal, which will help explain things he does in the present and decisions he makes and reflections he has. But until those are specifically confronting me as a storyteller, it remains a low priority.
Is there any further news on the “Madman” movie front?
Nothing I can talk about! [Laughs] One of the biggest movie stars on the planet recently contacted us, and it’s all I can do not to tell everybody that this person wants to play Madman! Laura [Allred] and I were just jumping up and down like little kids, daydreaming about the possibilities! Forget whether he wants to play Madman or not, the fact that he’s aware of it and likes it is really thrilling. Those moments are fun. But nothing has given me more pleasure and confidence with a potential movie than having one of the world’s most exciting and independent filmmakers protecting it under his wing.
I trust Robert Rodriguez completely. I think he’s amazing and I have never had a moment’s regret being with him. I can honestly see where every delay, if this movie gets made, has benefited us in every possible way. If we had made the movie way back when, we wouldn’t have had the knowledge, resources or ability to do the things with the film we’re talking about now. Every delay has been a blessing, as far as I’m concerned. Right now, we’re in a re-set mode. I will say this: This huge movie star, it’s so recent I don’t know what, if anything, will happen of that. That could be something big and take it to a whole other level, or it could just be another moment — and I’ve had several — where you try not to let yourself get carried away with it. We were talking earlier about creator control. Robert doesn’t have to answer to anybody. I feel as if I’m under this powerful umbrella while I’m with him, and who knows? He may let it go at some point and my gratitude will not wane, he’s done so much for me. But as long as it is under his umbrella, I’m spoiled with this sense of security that if it gets made, it’ll get made in the best way possible.
Returning to the comics, to wrap things up, do you have an ultimate end point in mind for Frank and company, or do you hope to keep writing and drawing “Madman” indefinitely?
I actually did have this epic ending planned where he would evolve into this entity and then Mike Mignola was telling me about his plans for “Hellboy,” and I was like, oh wait, that sounds like what I was going to do! [Laughs] So I just threw that out and from that moment on I thought I should just let it play out like life, as intimately as possible. The main story I wrote for the special coming out in April is called “If I Should Live to See The Day I Die.” That kind of sums up my plans for Frank Einstein — we’ll see what happens. We don’t know. But if we live to see it, so be it.
Also, it’s a ridiculous joke in comic books where you can kill off characters and keep bringing them back ,and Frank was dead and brought back from page one! [Laughs] So there’s nothing preventing me from doing that over and over again! I just like letting him surprise me, seeing where he’ll take me, and that’s where I’ve left any major epic plans.
“Madman All-New Giant-Size Super-Ginchy Special” hits stores April 6