Here is this year’s Fred Van Lente chat, where I asked Fred reader-submitted questions!
Brian Cronin Welcome to the happiest chat of the year, the Fred Van Lente Day Chat!
Frev Van Lente: Huzzah!
BC: Here is the first question!
BC: Michael M. asks, “Is Action Presidents still on track for publication early next year? ”
FVL: Yes. The first installment is “George Washington” (shockingly) and while it will first appear in the GRAPHIC TEXTBOOK produced by the Reading with Pictures non-profit, for you non-schoolchildren, though, we will probably offer it as a 99¢ single digitally on Comixology. We’ll collect ’em all in a manga-style book once we have enough material.
BC: George Washington should be the Wolverine of Action Presidents. Just work him into every issue to boost sales.
FVL: I’m reading and enjoying Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel THE SALON right now. Picasso is the Wolverine of early 20th century painters.
BC: Ha! Noah Van Sciver’s The Hypo (about Abraham Lincoln’s early, depressive years) is quite good. Lincoln is the Spider-Man of U.S. Presidents.
FVL: That’s a fair comparison.
FVL: I’ll probably end up with a sizable presidents graphic novel collection, just as I did with philosophers.
BC: Sounds great.
BC: Jack S. asks, “When you approach creating a character or writing a licensed IP do you think to yourself (for example) ‘Gee the Hulk sure does sound a lot like Freud’s concept of the id’ and keep that in mind while you write the character as their core voice/concept?
FVL: HULK: SEASON ONE was an interesting case because back when PAD was doing the SHE-HULK ongoing they asked me to take it over. Since nobody doing Hulk had any interest in the Bruce Banner (superego) / Hulk (id) conflict, and since Jennifer Walters, a basically happy, well-adjusted person, always struggled for sales, I was going to split Jen from She Hulk and give them a more traditional antagonistic relationship. Her book ended up getting cancelled before I could swoop in and rescue it (sorry Jen) but I ended up using all that stuff I came up for Jen with Bruce Banner instead, so it worked out in the end.
BC: Interesting. Did you ever read the Savage She-Hulk?
FVL: I read a few of the early issues of SAVAGE SHE-HULK, yeah, I know that was the original status quo. I’m not sure I knew that before I started developing my own series, though. I just knew her really from Byrne’s series and FF run.
BC: They really didn’t explore it much, though.
BC: That was an odd series. One of those “This character has to have a good book, soooooo…Go!” Sort of like early Spider-Woman.
FVL: Spider-Woman, man that original series was a mess. What I love (using the word loosely) about it was that the writer and the artist clearly had completely different ideas about the stories. Wolfman was constantly writing crazy dialogue that made Carmine Infantino’s pencils steer more toward the story he wanted to tell. Nuts!
BC: Ha! Totally
BC: I have featured those early Spider-Woman comics in more than a couple Abandoned an’ Forsaked as they were changing stuff constantly as they made it up as they went along.
FVL: I still didn’t see why they just didn’t keep the original origin that she was a spider the High Evolutionary turned into a lady. BADASS.
BC: I guess it freaks people out a bit. Although they’ve used it enough other times since. Like Ostrander and the White Tiger.
FVL: One day I’ll do my CHARLOTTE’S WEB/SPIDER-WOMAN mashup. Frog-Man will be the pig.
FVL: But going back to Jack’s question, philosophy is in everything I do. It really changed my life, doing AP. It’s hard to avoid. I’m trying to think of some good philosophy examples…Well, I did an Objectivist villain in WEB OF SPIDER-MAN, The Extremist … some of his lines were directly from Rand’s VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS.
BC: Right, that was a blast. It took the ol’ “half Spider-Man/half Peter Parker” mask idea to a whole other level.
BC: Speaking of AP, reader Pedro B. asked, “Ryan Dunlavey is supposed to do variant covers for the new GI Joe series. May we expect a short story or, with luck, even a complete issue penciled by him?”
FVL: In a sense. He’s doing the covers in the COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS style — ie the History of GI Joe, starting in 1960s to the present. They’re lots of fun! And there’s four of them, so it’s sort of a 4pp addendum to CBHoc on a very specific topic.
BC: Now that the CBHoC has been collected, have you received any annoying complaints from anyone about any facts in the book?
FVL: Fortunately no! I hope not. I nearly killed myself fact-checking that thing… Kurt Busiek very kindly pointed out some name misspellings when he read the advance PDF before he gave a very kind back-cover blurb.
FVL: The only real complaint the book has gotten is that it doesn’t mention a lot of female cartoonists. I actually started to do a CBHoC story that was just women cartoonists, but it just came across as weirdly condescending to me — “All the ladies are over here.” The book was structured as a narrative about the development of the medium and the industry, so a lot of people got left out. Lots of men, as well as lots of women.
BC: Yeah, it’s a tough row to hoe when you’re working in such general terms and the medium is SO vast.
FVL: Really, the book solely focuses on Outcault, Simon & Kirby, Disney, Fleischer, Siegel & Shuster, Eisner, Crumb, Spiegelman, Moore, Tezuka, Herge… It’s a select bunch! Very few women, but very few Gentiles, too. [RIMSHOT]
FVL: It’s a bit of a shame, too, as I helped Trina Robbins mount her great “She Draws Comics” exhibit at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art here in New York so I’m pretty knowledgable on the topic of women cartoonists in history.
BC: I was just going to mention Robbins. Isn’t she amazing?
FVL: Yeah, Trina is a trip. It’s a shame she says she doesn’t draw anymore. She said she just got criticized too much and decided to focus on writing and research.
BC: While it is a shame that Robbins is not drawing anymore, her research work is excellent. I’ve read all of her books about women in comics and they are truly required reading for students of comic history.
FVL: Hear, hear.
BC: It is great when readers write in to tell me that CBHoC is being taught in their school. In fact, one reader specifically mentioned to me that his professor talked about how impressed he was with your and Ryan’s ability to sum up so much depth in so little space (in both CBHoC and Action Philosophers).
FVL: Yup, I’ve had a few of those myself — I’m already spoken at a bunch of colleges, with plans to do more. Skype is a wonderful thing.
FVL: IDW has been great as a publisher. They asked us to do a sequel, even, but we’ve moved on to bigger and better things. That thing being AMERICA
BC: Reader Ben. G. has a question about Archer and Armstrong, “Obviously conspiracy culture is pretty big influence on Archer & Armstrong. With the understanding that most conspiracies are best dealt with with a grain of salt, where did your interest in this subject come from? Is there a particular writer or book that piqued your interest or influenced A&A, and what lines of thinking should we potentially avoid if we’re interested in exploring this topic?”
FVL: That’s a great question. I’ve always loved history, and mysterious history, and writing historical fiction with mysteries, so that means conspiracies are a natural topic. To paraphrase some nameless government spokesperson in a newspaper article I read in the 1990s, I don’t personally believe in conspiracy theory. I believe in Stupidity Theory.
FVL: Stupidity Theory holds that all the things that seem mysterious or suspicious or too coincidental in history and life are that way not because there’s some sinister secret behind it, but because it made sense to that person, and only that person, when he did it, and won’t make sense to anyone else, ever. Probably not even to that person, if he had to do it over again.
FVL: A favorite example of this was the declassified JFK assassination files. Something like half the material were newspaper clippings stamped “TOP SECRET.” Think about that for a second.
FVL: But, still, as a larff, I do like contemplating various conspiracies. And, for that matter, making them up. The One Percent, for example, was a synthesis of Masonry and devil-worship.
The Spirituali were an actual group Michelangelo belonged to. I kind of gave them a bad rap — they were trying to reform the excesses of the Church within (as opposed from without like Martin Luther), so they were kind of good guys. But they had a cool name so I stole it. (The ninja nuns were in the original BWS series. But they were cross-dressing men, so I changed that).The Nazi Lamas are an extrapolation of an old World War Two conspiracy theory. The SS really did send expeditions to Tibet to try and find evidence of white people’s migration from Atlantis (yes, really) across India to northern Europe. (SPOILER ALERT: THEY DID NOT FIND THIS)
BC: As you introduce the Eternal Warrior in your next issue of Archer and Armstrong, can you speak to how detailed the Valiant Universe is? For instance, when the original Universe was introduced, it was clearly and carefully directed by Jim Shooter and guys like Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton. Is there there any sort of similar direction with the current Valiant Universe?
FVL: We had a Valiant Universe summit in early September, the writers of the four titles met with the executives. It was fun, and a lot of commonalities came out of it, but we’re trying to keep all the titles pretty separate. They stand on their own two feet, so to speak. Which I think is a much more organic way to grow a universe, the way Marvel and DC arose, a bunch of creators just making stuff up as they went along. The Eternal Warrior and Archer & Armstrong were two titles that originally premiered at the same time as part of the UNITY crossover, and the first few issues are wrapped up with that event, it makes it hard for them to be “evergreen” as books.
BC: In this case, though, when the Eternal Warrior shows up, it is just because you wanted to feature him?
FVL: I had asked for him, yeah. I always wanted Armstrong’s two immortal brothers to be part of the book. Ivar we’ve already met (SPOILERS!!) and introducing Gilad right after seemed like a good idea.
FVL: Gilad is kind of like Highlander meets Jason Bourne. He’s a lot of fun.
BC: I liked your twist on the “Timewalker” concept. Also, your re-working of the Geomancers is clever.
FVL: Yeah, the Geomancers are a concept that took me a while to wrap my brain around. In the original version it’s not really clear what they’re supposed to be.
BC: Yeah, I don’t think they really mapped the Geomancers out. That was definitely one of your typical 1990s thing where writer X has to try to fit together opaque clues left by writers A, B, C, D, E, etc.
FVL: I won’t say too much about the Geomancers here, but the new Geo is a woman who’s a major spokeswoman for the oil and gas lobby. She spends her days claiming global warming is a hoax on CNN, stuff like that. Then…..her life takes a different turn, shall we say?
BC: I’ve seen you make the “the old Gilad was like Bond and the new Gilad is like Bourne” comparison before. I never saw Gilad as being Bond-like. He was always a pretty rough guy, I thought.
FVL: Well, Gilad worked for MI-6 in the original series (which was kind of the go-to profession in Valiant for some reason).
BC: Fair enough.
FVL: This new version is much more like the Punisher. Or the Terminator, for that matter. Brutal, relentless, takes no shit.
FVL: One of things we are retaining from the original series is the constant flashbacks to Gilad’s various battles in history.
BC: Yeah, those were great, like the classic Barry Windsor-Smith “Three Musketeers” riff with the three immortal brothers.
FVL: We’re going to China, Persia, Sicily … and North Carolina. Everyone’s favorite. Oh, and England. And probably to Dallas. A certain book depository.
FVL: The bad guys in the second arc are the most fearsome faction of the Sect we’ve seen so far, The Null. They invented and worship the number Zero. Their motto is “Nothing is Forever.” Archimedes and Alan Turing met bad ends because of them. They’ve influenced history from the beginning, trying to subtract what they see as a wholly corrupt reality. They’re going to reduce everything to nothingness, gradually at first — then all at once.
BC: For everyone who misses Incredible Hercules, Archer and Armstrong is that book’s spiritual heir, so go buy it, people!
BC: Can you speak a bit about your Avengers Iniiative work? How does writing for video games compare to comic work? What are the similarities and what are the differences?
FVL: There’s not a whole lot of similarities. In comics I’m half-ish the star along with the artist (okay, sometimes less than half) and in games, the gameplay is the star — as it should be. To me a video game writer should be like a ninja, you should never know he’s there — and if you do know, that’s kind of bad. I play a hell of a lot more video games than I read super hero comics, so it’s kind of awesome to be working in the medium for the first time, and deal with these characters in this context.
BC: Is the writing more technical then?
FVL: It’s much more similar to writing screenplays — you’re writing direction for the programmers to animate and lines for the voice actors to say. Wideload, the studio who does Avengers Initiative, has been terrific to work with. The response to the game has been really great so far. It’s unique in that it’s being released episodically.
Hulk’s bit came out first, and the next chapter is Captain America, which should be out very soon. What’s nice is you only need to buy the game once, and you get all the other three chapters automatically. Thor and Iron Man will be following next year.
BC: Oh cool.
FVL: It’s like $6 at the App Store, I hope people check it out
BC: Okay, on to your newest comic project, G.I. Joe! For unfamiliar readers, Fred will be relaunching G.I. Joe with artist Steve Kurth. G.I. Joe has now been outed to the public, so in order to keep in business, G.I. Joe has to embrace their public nature and essentially become military superheroes, complete with costumes.
BC: So with that in mind, Reader Tyler M. asks, “Which member of the G.I. Joe team adapts the worst to their new status quo?”
FVL: All of them. (laughs) Duke probably hates it this most, because as the field commander he has to sell it to the rest of the team. Hashtag, their embedded blogger… well, I won’t say that. I’ll let you find that out for yourself. The Internet can wound as well as heal, people. By the end of the first arc, “HOMEFRONT,” the Joes figure out how to use their new public status to their advantage, though. It should be pretty cool.
BC: Will Hashtag come in handy when Zartan has sex with Scarlet disguised as Snake Eyes, leading to the internet exploding with anger?
BC: Reader Jonathan D. asks, “How close will the new series follow the Dixon series’ continuity? Can you pick it up without knowing anything about the Dixon issues?”
FVL: While the new series flows directly out of Chuck’s series, you absolutely do not need to be familiar with it to follow this new book. In fact, you don’t need to have ever read anything GI JOE before to pick this up. It’s in-continuity, but very much a fresh start. For everyone. Joes as well as readers.
BC: Reader Jack S. wanted to know whether there would be any in-jokes for fans of the original TV series (he was mostly concerned about that alternate reality episode “Worlds Without End”).
bFVL: Ohhhh yyyyeeeeeeeeessssssssss. The fans have been great (and by “great” I mean “relentless”) in making suggestions and one is very much making it in and it makes me happy. Look for it in the food court of a mall … is that too obvious?
FVL: And I would be remiss to not pimp the exclusive Dynamic Forces cover by me and Steve Kurth’s IRON MAN LEGACY collaborator Juan Doe….I just saw this for the first time today and I’m pretty excited.
BC: During his original run, Larry Hama smartly used his series to make a commentary on the current state of America at the time (he continues this approach to this day in his great current series). I imagine you’ll be doing much of the same with your series, right?
FVL: Yeah. Other than the whole “they’re out in public” now thing, one adjustment I wanted to make to the series is that it takes place almost entirely in the United States. Cobra is offering itself as a viable alternative to the US government, and they are starting to convert whole cities to their side. So we’re talking out-and-out urban warfare between GI Joe and Cobra on US soil. The first arc is very “Black Hawk Down.” I am pretty damn excited.
BC: Finally, Pedro B. asks, “Besides GI Joe, what is the 80s franchise you would most like to write?”
FVL: Geez, that’s a tough one … I grew up in the 80s, so that’s like my wheelhouse…You know, I guess an Indiana Jones series would be a lot of fun. Or maybe Dynamite can get the rights to “Tales of the Golden Monkey.”
FVL: Tales of the Golden Monkey fans anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
FVL: CAPTAIN EO: BACK FROM THE DEAD
FVL: IN 4D!
BC: Indiana Jones translates really well to comics. Byrne, Archie Goodwin and David Michelinie did some strong work with the character.
FVL: We should go get the ELEMENTALS franchise back from that maniac, bring it back.
FVL: I’m embarrassed to admit, having been friends with Howard Chaykin for a couple years, that I had never read AMERICAN FLAGG until this year. What great stuff! Talk about ahead of its time.
BC: Totally! It was one of the more accurate 1980s depiction of the future
FVL: Now I want to find E*MAN, SCOUT, all that stuff… 80s Indy Power Trip!
BC: Okay, Fred that should about do it! Thanks for lending us your time! Happy Fred Van Lente Day!