Arthur Suydam, the legendary artist of "Marvel Zombies" homage covers, brings two of his most enduring characters to Radical Publishing with the "Cholly and Flytrap: Center City" collection, shipping in May.
Having appeared primarily in anthology series such as "Heavy Metal" and Marvel UK's "Epic" over the course of twenty-some years, the grotesque duo of Cholly and Flytrap regularly find themselves in horrifying yet hilarious situations, reveling both in the fantastic and the absurd. Suydam describes the "Center City" story, originally published as a miniseries by Image in 2004, as finding our heroes forgotten soldier Cholly and his heavyweight odd couple appendage Flytrap "caught between two warring crime factions of the Siamese twins Hobbs Brothers and paraplegic millionaire Ameil Luvitz, in a film noir tale set in the backdrop of the Center City outpost."
CBR News caught up with Suydam to discuss the collection, the history (and future) of Cholly and Flytrap, and his process as an artist, writer, and musician.
CBR: Cholly and Flytrap have appeared in an assortment of short stories in comics through the years. What can you tell us about your original idea for them, and what was their first adventure?
Arthur Suydam: Originally, I was called on to design a character to be featured on the "Heavy Metal" movie poster. This was for the first film. I believe it was between Moebius and myself, and the powers-that-be decided to go with me for the concept designs. In midtown New York, "Heavy Metal" publisher Len Mogel was running the show, and they came to the meeting with suggestions on the kind of things they were looking for. It pretty much came down to that they wanted a male character wearing a traditional military hat. I decided to switch that out and go with an armadillo shell attire with lots of pockets and flight goggles added for a sense of mystery... riding a giant bat.
When working on an image, traditionally I write a back-story for the characters and scenario, focusing on a full history for each cast figure. Weeks later, I returned with a series of concept design samples of watercolor and oil-painted Cholly pages, including Cholly riding a bat. Things were quiet until the movie release, where I saw that my design had morphed into a sexy girl, semi-naked on a pterodactyl. [laughs]
In the years that followed, I continued to work on my character and to develop a strip from the concept samples I had developed, adding the big man of few words, sidekick Flytrap, and a D.O.D. (Dead On Delivery) concept for the ongoing series.
My boss at DC Comics, Joe Orlando, had provided me a program with specific instructions on how he wanted me to utilize my interior comic work to develop my interior skills and storytelling, a program that I have utilized for decades, long after his passing. I am a student first and writing and drawing comic series interiors have always been both a development ground for me as well as a form of school.
The goal with the new, more progressive publishers cropping up in the industry was to help create fresh avenues for creators to express themselves. "Mainstream" at the time was too restrictive and adolescent-directed, and did not present the best environment in which to grow for writers and artists. Some of us moved, bouncing around to work on TV, film and comics, and then there was the new distraction of artist portfolios--very enticing, but a business that has now, unfortunately, become defunct. Comic talent was pulled in multiple directions, distracting us from working on interiors. I was writing and illustrating independent comics and working as a studio vocalist and guitarist, boxing, and was fairly active in various sports leagues and more.
As comic creators, there was a group of us who were all competing with one another. The Americans vs. the Europeans vs. our fellow small group of Americans. Moebius split off to work on "Alien," Bernie [Wrightson] to "Frankenstein," and I was writing and developing intellectual film properties for an online movie company while moonlighting on my "Cholly & Flytrap" scripts. I would get three-quarters of the way through a miniseries, and then a new emergency project would spring up, pushing the list to the back-burner so on and so forth.
What led you to bring "Cholly & Flytrap" to Radical?
I've always been attracted to companies and projects that are talent-friendly. In mainstream comics management there exists a situation whereby management unfortunately does not understand talent. I met [Radical President and Publisher] Barry Levine some years ago while previewing some of my screenplays in L.A. for film. Barry got a sneak-peek at some of the creator-owned projects I was working on and we hit it off pretty well. At Radical there is an appreciation for in-house talent that is refreshing.
Most recently, you've become very much associated with "Marvel Zombies" for your homage cover art. What appeals to you about reinterpreting Marvel's classic covers? Or, for the other side of it, what appeals to you about painting zombies?
It was always my intention to work for Marvel on their mainstream characters and books from day one. I was just waiting for comics to grow up. I had been waiting all those years. After the revolution of the 1980s opened up the doors, creatively speaking, mainstream publishers became a more attractive place to draw. I grew up on all that stuff and I know all those stories by heart, as well as if I wrote them myself. Many of those comics were my handpicked favorites of all time I was redoing.
As far as zombies go, as a sculptor, I did a fair amount of work with cadavers, working with corpses in the evenings at the local medical universities after the med students were gone for the day. I guess you'd say it's a hobby of mine.
Do you have plans for more "Cholly & Flytrap" series, or for other interior art/writing?
Actually, I am working on four projects concurrently. There is a collection of miniseries stories I've been working on for decades, a Hulk/Thor miniseries, a "Marvel Zombies" miniseries of my own, some film related properties...and yes, there are big plans for the adventures of "Cholly & Flytrap" to continue.
Prior to bringing "Cholly & Flytrap" to Radical, you had also done covers for their titles "Hercules," "City of Dust," and "Shrapnel." What led to you doing the first cover, "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" #5?
In mainstream comics, there are a great deal of similar entities, superheroes in colorful tights flying and swinging about, with fewer opportunities to work on more traditional, classical works. Modern day graphic novels are like feet. Each project needs a shoe that fits. Old-school illustrators were intensely trained to be masters of all media, styles, and genres. The requirements for comic illustration can be somewhat less demanding, making the process of matching the appropriate artist with the right project a bit more challenging and labor-intensive for management, and the need to find the right talent for the right job more acute.
Barry is an experienced photographer himself with decades of experience. Things go smoothly when there is capable management in place that will, at the end of the day, be reflected in the final product and in returns. Romanticism, anatomy, and traditional painting are areas of specialty that are on my list, making many of these projects a good fit for me. Projects like "Hercules" and "Aladdin" are right up my alley.
Of those creators who both write and illustrate, we've heard a number of different stories about how they approach a project. How does the process work for you? Do you start by drawing the characters, or do you have everything written beforehand?
In a way, I suppose my approach to discipline in the arts stems in part from training for competitive sports. Early on, I was considering shooting for a profession in soccer or tennis. Then I migrated into boxing and Thai fighting. While time-consuming, these distractions helped with the development of organization and discipline necessary in the arts.
For me, writing is the practice of writing and then rewriting. For scripts, I generally get a story idea that I'm all hopped-up to begin and work out a plot outline, first with brief scene orders, refining all the way.
Regarding my work habits-- in a nutshell, I try to draw from the unpredictables, the anomalies, and inner workings of the characters and situations around me - life -- and then try to pick out and communicate the ironies in "bedtime stories for adults." That's how I write. I am just the filter. In my experience, nothing rings like the truth. I strive to seek out culture that is timeless.
I have my own invention, a secret checklist of what I call "The Ten Commandments of a Great Film." This is a checklist I have worked out for myself over the years mostly from observing and analyzing common components in the industry's most creatively and commercially successful films and scripts. I have isolated certain commonalities compiling them into a concise "to do" list for each script and project I work on. The checklist comprises common elements from the Pixar, Spielberg and Lucas films, and from TV entities like "Seinfeld." My blueprint is one of organized creative design for fresh, lasting stories. The checklist functions as a guideline through all stages of the process, up to the last day of work. When finished I translate the screenplay into a publishing format.
It's a kind of reverse process to what most studios do when translating a J.K Rowling "Harry Potter" novel into a screenplay. I start by writing the screenplay first, and then translate it to the publishing format.
With illustration, I generally do not read scripts, and prefer a brief outline of key scenes to work out my own back-story for each illustration, independent from the script as the goal is a singular selling visual. I go to work establishing an overall geometric design that looks good and is inviting from a distance. I use geometric shapes in a rectangle that will be inviting, something that will hopefully will draw the viewer in and get them to want to see more-"S" shapes, diagonals, "A" frames and so on.
I work out a mental list of the steps I would like the viewer to go follow when they look at one of my pictures, a subliminal, directional map. I want them to start here, follow the eyeline to there, get stuck here, pause- and hopefully participate. If a viewer can simply glance and walk away without participating, then I have failed.
Finally, outside of comics, you are quite an accomplished musician. What can you tell us about touring with Bruce Springsteen? Do you find that the creative processes of painting and making music complement each other?
Bruce is a good natured guy and a serious talent, which may not be a great revelation to some, what I would call a "happy baby." While my band (the Gotham Playboys) toured with Bruce, I was busy working on "Marvel Zombies." American music has always been an important part of my life all along. One of my early breaks in the music industry came when I was hired as the music director for The Comets after Bill Haley's unfortunate passing.
There have never been enough hours in the day.