The Tick proved able to bring the laughs in a big way on Saturday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, with snappy banter, surprise guests and more kept fans entertained while “The Tick” art director Bob Polio guided the audience on a tour through the mighty hero’s twenty-five year history.
Joining Polio were “Tick” mastermind Ben Edlund and “Tick: Karma Tornado” writer and artist Chris McCulloch, better known as Jackson Publick and his work on “The Venture Bros.” The comprehensive slideshow began with the very first drawing of the Tick, looking much more menacing and — surprisingly — furrier than his familiar blue appearance.
“I played a [role-playing] game called Marvel Superheroes and I started getting interested in superhero deconstruction, just for fun, and then out came this,” revealed Edlund, gesturing towards the initial Tick drawing. “Because in Massachusetts, there are a lot of ticks.” The original Tick design bears a strong resemblance to his namesake.
“[The Tick] started as a way of making fun of my older brother,” said Edlund, referencing an early strip depicting the Tick falling on a cartoon version of his brother’s face. “I only had certain advantages over him, mostly propaganda and media.” These early drawings were posted in New England Comics and persuaded future “Tick” publisher George Suarez to publish the sketches as a full-fledged comic book.
This surprised Edlund, who began to publish early Tick items — like a “Marvel Handbook”-style stats page — in newsletter form. As the Tick began to take shape, Ben’s father Richard designed a logo for the hero — one that’s still used to this day. Polio then showed the audience a picture of Edlund’s father, dressed all in red with a large hand apparatus, seemingly designed for up-close-and-personal raking.
“Things like that make routine sense to my dad,” said Edlund. “He is a mythological figure who lives in the bogs. He’s a case, man… I don’t know what the thing is with this rake.”
With the logo in place and his own comic book universe slowly expanding, the time came for the Tick to leap into color — and brown just wasn’t going to cut it.
“Before we made the publication, we had the artwork in the office,” said Polio. “I looked at the cover and I said, ‘What color is the character?’ ‘Brown.’ I said, ‘What?'”
“Ticks are brown,” interjected Edlund.
“I said, ‘Look — Superman blue, Batman blue, Thor blue,'” listed Polio. “They are true blue.” Edlund acquiesced, and thus the Tick gained his iconic hue.
Then, while showing off the cover to “The Tick” #6, the debut of the Red Scare, the panel received its first surprise guest: Polio’s wife via his cell phone. The audience erupted in laughter, prompting Polio to lead everyone in a rousing, “Hi, Carol!”
The slideshow then advanced, showing off the many reprints and collected editions released in the comic’s early days as availability grew well past the North East. These collections were called “omnibuses,” a term that a few other publishers have started throwing around in recent years.
A slide depicting a collection of memorabilia offered to Tick fans in the book’s early days was shown. The set consisted of a decoder ring and a ruler that you could scale a fish with, as well as an autographed portrait of the Tick. All of this success came at a young age for Edlund, who was just 21 when “The Tick” started picking up traction in 1990.
“I was very fortunate the way this started out,” said Edlund. “[New England Comics] was only a few towns away and I had been cultivating pitches. I’ve been very lucky because it’s all been very local. I don’t like to commute.”
The cover for the never-produced “Tick” #13 was shown, which led Edlund to comment on whether that comic would ever be made.
“It’s obviously been a long time since issue #13 [was supposed to come out],” said Edlund. “I mean, at this point I see an issue thirteen as being a very odd kind of retrospective. The last time I thought about it, I pictured it in the future, actually, with the Tick having disappeared and Arthur being retired, and they have to get back together. That’s something I have weird fever dreams about.”
But just because “Tick” #13 never came out doesn’t mean that the hero disappeared from comics. Enter: Chris McCulloch’s “Tick: Karma Tornado.”
“Ben was trying to come up with a title for this [comic],” said Polio. “He was scribbling a lot of things down and the title was ‘Tick’s Slaves of Fate.'”
“I remember us discussing these,” said McCulloch. “I remember us all liking the title [‘Karma Tornado’] because we were like, ‘yeah, that’s weird.'” The new comic came just as the character transitioned to television.
“As ‘The Tick’ kind of moved forward through time, he was following in the footsteps of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and started to move toward television,” explained Edlund.
The writer/artist got the job writing “Karma Tornado” thanks to his independent work, “Cement Shooz.” Edlund had met McCulloch at a convention in New York City, following letters Edlund had sent to the writer politely critiquing his jokes.
The cartoon series became successful and introduced a wider audience to the wild world of the Tick. At this time, the panel’s next surprise guest was summoned from the crowd — Townsend Coleman, voice of the Tick.
Coleman approached the mic and unleashed the Tick on the crowd.
“Greetings citizens. It is I, the Tick! I am mighty! Spoon!”
The audience exploded into applause and laughter at hearing the now 25 year-old hero come alive once more.
As the panel neared its end, a young woman dressed as the Tick asked the panel if the Tick would ever take on another medium and become the big blue bug of Broadway.
“We’ve spoken about ‘Tick’ musicals in the past,” answered Edlund. “It seems like an ideal place to go. The Tick is a heat-seeking missile for absurdity and that would be about as absurd as it gets.”
Let’s hope the Tick starts singing and dancing before he turns fifty.