In director Tony Scott’s “Crimson Tide,” Denzel Washington’s character Lt. Commander Ron Hunter famously broke up a fight between two sailors arguing about which artist drew a better Silver Surfer: Jack Kirby or Moebius.
Incoming “Silver Surfer” artist Mike Allred sides with Washington. It’s Kirby, who co-created the character in 1966 with Stan Lee, and it’s not even close, though Allred also admires the work of the lauded French artist, as well as John Buscema, penciller of the character’s first solo series, which debuted in 1968. And years from now, there is little doubt that a young artist will list Allred’s upcoming run with Dan Slott as an inspiration of theirs. The Eisner Award nominated creator’s style suits Silver Surfer so perfectly that it’s like Galactus himself imbued him with the Power Cosmic.
With the first issue of “Silver Surfer” arriving in March as part of the All-New Marvel Now initiative, CBR News connected with Allred to discuss his passion for Norrin Radd of the planet Zenn-La. Though the Surfer’s origin tells the story of a young astronomer that saved his homeworld from the planet devourer Galactus by agreeing to serve as his herald, the new ongoing series by Allred and Slott will feature the character unleashed and untethered from Earth, exploring the cosmos on his surfboard like Mike Hynson and Robert August in “The Endless Summer.”
Allred also shared his thoughts on allowing the character to let loose for the first time in his 48-year history, how hanging loose with his brother-in-law surfing may actually hinder his artistic process and why Silver Surfer’s reflective personality presents an excitingly fresh canvas for him and his wife Laura Allred, the series’ colorist, to explore.
CBR News: Silver Surfer and Mike Allred feels like a match made in the heavens. If the teaser art and cover reveals are any indication, the character is a perfect fit for you and your style. Are you a fan of the character or were you surprised to draw this assignment?
Mike Allred: I’ve always loved the Silver Surfer. We weren’t allowed to take comic books to school, but I got around that. [Laughs] I had the 25-cent, first issue of Silver Surfer’s first solo book that John Buscema illustrated. I cut him out and pasted it on my school notebook so that I could get around it and take the Silver Surfer to school with me. I had no idea what it was worth. It was just my pure affection for the character.
I have this very child-like side to me, which can get me into trouble, and also this very existential side that causes me a lot of pain and mental anguish. And the Silver Surfer is like that side of the coin for me. He’s a very tragic figure, and Dan [Slott] and I, we both agreed that it’s time to bring a sense of joy to what he’s capable of and what he’s able to witness with his abilities. We immediately synced up about what our goals would be for a new “Silver Surfer” series. It’s going to be a blast. It’s not going to be goofy, silly Silver Surfer. It’s going to be deep, but rich with life and light and fun. It’s going to be fun.
In the Denzel Washington/Gene Hackman movie “Crimson Tide,” there is a classic scene where Denzel breaks up a fight between two sailors that are arguing about, which artist draws the real Silver Surfer: Jack Kirby or Moebius. Who do you think draws the real Silver Surfer?
Silver Surfer is a character that is so great in its simplicity. It’s hard to make a bad Silver Surfer if you stick to the iconic version of the character. He’s so cool that he’s almost unbreakable. I’m a huge fan of Moebius. He’s one of my biggest influences. But let’s be real. He only did two issues and essentially one story. When it comes down to it, nobody has come close to what Jack Kirby has done with the character. It came so pure and so powerfully from him. It’s no question that it’s Kirby.
The John Buscema series was also really cool. I like how it fleshed out [the Surfer]. Ironically, it’s very different than what Jack Kirby would have done with the character. Usually, I am all about what the original creators would want or what their intentions were but I like how it played out. The whole back story of Norrin Radd and him sacrificing for his world and being enslaved to Galactus, I liked that, so I have a lot of affection for that series. But for me, Jack Kirby is the be all and end all when it comes to comics.
The high concept of Silver Surfer alone must be intoxicating as a creator, because if you are doing a street level character, you are pretty well tied to back alleys and rooftops, but Norrin Radd’s boundaries appear limitless.
We’re going to have some special guests from familiar places, but we are also going to go to new places. We’ll be showing places that Silver Surfer has never even seen before. You’ll see a place called the Impericon in the first issues, which is one of the biggest challenges that a writer has ever thrown at me. It took Dan 15 seconds to write out this particular descriptive sentence, and it took me several days to draw it. [Laughs] I hope it was worth it. Tom Breevort actually tweeted the double-page spread that featured it.
Yes, I did see the Impericon — totally rad.
Yeah, I love the challenge of doing something that people are going to get excited about and talk about and generate some really nice buzz. But at the same time, we’re doing a book that is supposed to come out every month. [Laughs] When you go through a script, an artist has to decide, “How much can I do here?” But most important is the story.
If I had the time, I would make every panel look like the Impericon, but that would actually bog down the story. There are certain rhythms on a page. You want people to feel certain things. It’s very much like music. The number of panels, the size of the panels, what’s being said in the panels, how many figures are in the panels, the movement that’s in the panel — illustrating a comic book is almost exactly like music. You don’t want every single instrument being dumped at you constantly. That’s when it becomes metal machine music. You want to have all of these nice ebbs and flows. You want to build up to crescendos and then BAM! It hits you with emotional impact. That’s what you’re going for when you are telling a story. And when you are in a really great collaboration, it just starts to flow and feel natural.
I’ve been really fortunate in my collaborations with Peter Milligan or Neil Gaimain or Chris Roberson or Matt Fraction and now Dan Slott. I’ve just been crazy lucky with all of the people that I have worked with. With Dan, it’s dangerous how similar we are in our approach and to this need to tell these big, fun, cosmic, emotional tales. It’s thrilling. Again, I can’t tell you how lucky I feel. “Silver Surfer” is just alive with emotion.
You’ve mentioned the simplicity of the Silver Surfer, but have you found a new way to explore the character like you did with Ant Man in “FF,” with the helmet and antennae redesign?
With his surf board, it easy to understood how to move it in a certain direction, but when you are illustrating it, you don’t want to limit yourself. This is somebody that can change directions instantly. He’s not dependent on the direction that the waves are taking him. Also, the board is a pal. It’s his friend and is a life form in and of itself. The challenge, really, is not limiting the movement. He can go upside, he can go backwards. It’s very liberating to know that I don’t have to be limited by what I know about surfing. You could almost say that a surfer is more limited than someone that hasn’t surfed because you might keep going back to realistic movement of what you can and can’t do on a surfboard. I try to stay away from that as much as possible.
But the one thing about knowing about surfing and understanding it, you know what looks cool when someone is riding a surfboard. You know the cool moves. It’s taking that and throwing the rules out — amping it up big time.
Finally, one of the great things about working with superheroes is all of the wonderful colors that you get to explore. Laura is again coloring this series. Is the Silver Surfer’s all-silver body limiting?
We play a lot with the idea that the Silver Surfer is reflective. There is actually a moment — and several moments in the future — where we take advantage of that. We’re not limited by it. I work with the best colorist in the business, in my humble opinion. It’s always great to finish something off and hand it off to her and see what she does with it. It’s always exciting.
“Silver Surfer” #1, by Dan Slott and featuring art by Mike and Laura Allred, debuts in March.