This February, long-time “Batman” writer Chuck Dixon re-teams with his Bane co-creator Graham Nolan for “Joe Frankenstein.” The 4-issue series, released through by IDW Publishing, is a re-invention of the classic horror story starring teenager Joe Pratt, who discovers that he’s actually a descendent of the original mad scientist when Frankenstein’s monster shows up on his doorstep.
Though “Joe Frankenstein” grew out of Dixon and Nolan’s love for the classic Universal monsters, the writer cautioned CBR News not to expect Joe Werewolf or Joe Mummy to show up next. And in addition to explaining just how expansive his and Nolan’s new universe is, and what went into the creation of this new take on the Monster, he also sets the record straight about his relationship with Marvel and DC, revealing why he feels he’s “no longer welcome” at the Big Two — and the surprising reason why he’s more than happy with that.
CBR News: Chuck, the Frankenstein mythology has been mined quite a few times. What separates “Joe Frankenstein” from the pack?
Chuck Dixon: Joe Pratt is an average guy just out of high school with no real plans for his life until Frankenstein’s monster arrives and informs Joe that he’s the heir to the Frankenstein legacy by blood. Not only that, but a whole army of supernatural bad guys is out for that blood.
It’s a four-issue limited series with each issue at an extended length. Each issue is 27 pages of story and art. The story is certainly complete in and of itself, but it’s wide open for sequels.
Can you tell us about the other main monster — the Bride?
She’s everyone’s idea of the ex-wife from hell. Her motive is immortality. She’s a slave to her own vanity and will kill anyone and anything that gets in the way of her staying alive and attractive. Her motto? Live forever and leave a good-looking corpse.
You’ve told me before you’re a big fan of the Universal monsters, and we see vampires in the first issue. How long until Joe Werewolf or Joe Mummy show up?
Ha! That’s not the way this story plays out. We’ll be exploring a world of classic horrors, except we’re turning a lot of the tropes on their head without losing the flavor of the originals.
You wrote this on your site about “Joe Frankenstein” — “If you love classic monster movies and comics and remember the smell of Testor’s glue while putting together your Aurora model kits (and even if you don’t!) then this is the place for you!” For the younger comics fan, what does Testor’s glue smell like? And which Aurora model kits were your favorites?
Testor’s glue had a sharp petroleum smell. If you worked too much with it in an enclosed space, you got a little goofy. Especially when combined with open bottles of enamel paint. There were kids at school who sniffed it to get high. They all wound up riding the short bus to school.
I had shelves of the Aurora kits. My favorite was the Wolfman, mostly because he’s my favorite of the Universal monsters, bar none. I like him so much, I wanted to wear a black shirt and light tie like Lon Chaney, Jr. wore in the Abbot and Costello movie. I also like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I bought a special metallic green paint for him, so he always looked wet!
You’re working with long-time collaborator Graham Nolan on this one. How does your creative process differ when creating characters you own, as opposed to a corporate character like Bane?
It starts with one guy having a crazy idea. This one has been Graham’s baby for a while. I was a kid when the old Universal monster movies went through their first revival. I used to go to bed early on Saturdays, and my parents would wake me up for Chiller Theater. So, I like them. But Graham loves them. That affection was infectious and informs the project. He presented the basic concept to me a while back. We batted it around a while. Then, one of his talented daughters came up with a shift in emphasis; to make the protagonist younger. That appealed to me, as it allowed us to naturally introduce humor into the story (something Graham and I do well) as well as giving us a Luke Skywalker through whose eyes we explore this new universe of science and horror.
From there, it’s back and forth and back and forth until it’s hard to remember who came up with what. There’s no ego between Graham and I, and we’ll give up the driver’s seat to one another if the other guy has the better idea. We’ve been working that way since we did “Skywolf” back-ups for the old “Airboy” comic. Graham’s driving this one. Next time it’s my turn, ’cause I have a project I’ve been saving for him.
What’s this project you’ve been saving for Graham?
It’s a 1930s pulp epic with a twist no one’s done before. And, no, I’m not going to tell you the twist.
You and Graham seem like very close friends. What else do you guys have in common? Any wild stories?
I’m not a terribly wild guy. I think Graham likes to go deer hunting in a loincloth and has been known to challenge bikers to trivia contests.
You’ve created characters for major companies, like Bane, that became classics, were embraced by fans and have remained consistently popular. Having demonstrated that you clearly know how to write great, fun, new characters, what does it feel like to have to work so hard to get attention for a creator-owned character? Does it ever get frustrating, trying to convince people to take a chance on your new work when you know they already love your past work?
Like Al Capone said, you can get further with a kind word and a gun then with a kind word alone. Sure, I’m gonna sell better if I’m scripting “Batman” or “Nightwing.” A chimpanzee will outsell me in that scenario — and has. In the flurry of comics that come out every month, it’s tough to break through the noise. Even tougher when you run up against the main stumbling block to building sales for a new title; undercapitalized retailers who have a limited budget. They’ll spend the bulk of their overhead on Marvel and DC’s hottest titles and sample of smatter of other titles of they have cash left over. That means a lot of titles either never make it to the racks, or the four or five copies most retailers order are gone the first day and never re-ordered.
Yeah, it’s frustrating. But as I’m no longer welcome at the Big Two this is the best course open to me. And I like owning what I create. Most of what I do now is creator-owned, including my series of “Bad Times” prose novels.
When you say you’re “no longer welcome,” does this mean you’re done writing for Marvel and DC? Considering your success with creator-owned work recently and a TV deal in place for “Winterworld,” would you even have any desire to return?
It’s more like they’re done with me. I’m not part of the clique, and I never was. They’ve made it official by putting me on their s*** list forever. I’m fine with that. There’s plenty of work beyond their lights. I just finished my eleventh novel. I’m doing comics work for gaming companies and foreign publishers. And, rather than helping them build their universes, I’m creating worlds of my own.
Are there any corporate-owned characters or stories you regret never getting to write?
Any corporate characters I’d like to write? Not any more. I’m done with all that.
It’s a bit off-topic, but I’m always obsessed with some new hobby (right now it’s disc golf) and I love hearing what other people are excited about. What sorts of non-comics hobbies are keeping you busy these days, in those rare moments when you’re not writing?
You mean Frisbee golf? I went to a couple of big meets in the ’70s. I met Stork Roddick and even wrote and drew some one-page comic stories for “Discworld.”
These days, I’ve returned to my other childhood passion other than comic books. I paint armies of toy soldiers. I don’t war game or anything like that. I just like painting toy soldiers from obscure periods. I’m into the Russian Civil War right now.
What is it that fascinates you about the Russian Civil War? Has it inspired any stories?
One of my earliest stories was about the Russian Civil War, a story for the re-launched “Savage Tales” with amazing art by John Severin.
It’s a story of ‘what ifs.’ What if the White Army had defeated the Bolsheviks? It also has an epic international cast. Most European nations had troops in the fight. American troops were there. Japan was a major presence. It was, for all intents and purposes World War 1.5. Being Russia, there was a throwback quality to it; cavalry charges and battles in the worst kind of weather.
“Joe Frankenstein” #1, by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan, is out this February from IDW Publishing.