Happy Fred Van Lente Day, everyone!
Yesterday, we had a chat with Fred Van Lente. Here is a transcript of that chat!
Brian Cronin: Welcome, everyone to the Fred Van Lente Day chat extravaganza!
Fred Van Lente: Greetings, Ryan Dunlavey, as our special guest and audience member.
Brian Cronin: Yes, welcome, Ryan!
Ryan Dunlavey: Hey guys, I will try and keep up, I'm inking a page I have to get done today!
Fred Van Lente: Would that happen to be for the Comic Book History of Comics, Ryan?
Ryan Dunlavey: Nope.
Fred Van Lente: Oh, that's tomorrow's page then, huh?
Ryan Dunlavey: But I have to do that, too.
Brian Cronin: Fred, why don't you tell us all about this cool upcoming project, Action Presidents, that I believe we've been discussing in FVLDay chats for 16 years now!
Fred Van Lente: It has indeed been a long-ass time. Basically, we somehow got it into our heads, once ACTION PHILOSOPHERS was ending around 2008 or so, that we could do two on-going non-fiction series at the same time.
Ryan Dunlavey: HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA
Fred Van Lente: Do you remember that? We were young, ambitious and stupid.
Ryan Dunlavey: I was so dumb
Sparky Mularkey:: The best way to be.
Ryan Dunlavey: I tried drawing Action Prez with my left hand but it didn't work out.
Sparky Mularkey:: Hahaha!
Fred Van Lente: Ultimately, however, we decided to stick to one, and that ended up being COMIC BOOK COMICS, a/k/a THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS. But we never forgot about ACTION PRESIDENTS. I wrote a couple scripts in the short story style, the same way we did ACTION PHILOSOPHERS.
Ryan Dunlavey: I found the John Adams script last month- I'd even drawn layouts!
Fred Van Lente: And we going to do all the presidents, it was going to be just like ActPhilo, really, with themed issues.
G.W.: Like War Presidents or... something?
Fred Van Lente: The first issue was going to be 32pp and be "The Awesome Encores" I think? "The Accidentals?" It was the four presidents who became president after the guy before them was assassinated.
Brian Cronin: That's definitely a fascinating mixture
Fred Van Lente: If you guys can name all four I'll be impressed.
G.W.: Johnson & Johnson
Fred Van Lente: Right. Andrew & Lyndon B
Brian Cronin: TR was one of the more famous ones.
Sparky Mularkey:: Uh, yeah! Those are all what i was gonna guess, too. Totally.
Fred Van Lente: One is kind of a synonym for "Useless President," but is kind of a fascianting story in his own right. I'll give you a hint: He has two first names!
Brian Cronin: And Arthur is the least famous of the bunch, but my wife and I watched Sondheim's Assassins recently, so I have an unfair advantage.
Fred Van Lente: Ha! Yeah, Chester Arthur, who defied Roscoe P Conkling for Civil Service Reform. These are why I got into history comics you guys, to tell these pulse-pounding tales and make Ryan draw them. But at some point we got it into our heads to skip the whole floppy-comics angle and do them as OGNs instead. By the time we wrapped up COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS I had hooked up with super-agent Jason Yarn and he sold the series to HarperCollins in ... I wanna say 2014? And we've been working on it ever since.
G.W.: I would like to keep seeing history comics out of you guys. Action Caesars!
Fred Van Lente: Octavian rules! Nero droolz!
Emy: Hey Fred, any plans to make Marvel Zombies a TV show?
Fred Van Lente: The problem with that, Emy, is that the rights to all those characters are tied up between two or three (if you count Netflix) different entities. In fact, when I took over MZ from Robert Kirkman, They specifically wouldn't let me use any "big movie" characters in case little Timmy saw Spider-Man eating Aunt May's face or whatever and Mom sent an angry letter. So that's why I focused so much on the Machine Mans and Morbiuses and Howard the Ducks of the world. Who I like anyway. They're like Marvel's Chester Arthur! (Chester A. Arthur if you're nasty)
Emy: Makes sense! Thanks, Fred!
G.W.: Also way out of his hands, but I hope if one of the shows ever did a Marvel Zombies ep they'd ask one of the comics writers to work on it.
Ryan Dunlavey: The TV version of Marvel Zombies would just be one of the Agents of SHIELD catching TB.
Foxrun: Are you a Dune fan?
Fred Van Lente: David Lynch's DUNE is a secret fave movie of mine, it is equal parts lovely insanity and dull as dirt exposition. But I've never read any of the books.
G.W.: The dirt ISN'T dull, that's why the book is literally dedicated to dry land ecologists.
Fred Van Lente: Nice burn, GW
G.W.: It's not a burn, that's the dedication. Herbert was a weird dude.
Brian Cronin: When can non-special people like myself get a hold of the first Action Presidents OGN?
Fred Van Lente: First of all, let us all hang our heads that we cannot all be as special as Brian.
Ryan Dunlavey: Action Presidents 1 AND 2 will be available everywhere February 6, 2018
Fred Van Lente: But you can get the first TWO Action President hardback OGNs on the same day
Brian Cronin: Oooooooooooh. Fancy.
Fred Van Lente: Vol 1: George Washington
Vol 2: Abraham Lincoln
Sparky Mularkey:: I'm adding those to my list, for sure.
Fred Van Lente: With TR and JFK following later when Ryan draws them. I mean, later in the year. ::suppressed laughter::
Ryan Dunlavey: I think Roosevelt will be on sale August/September.
Sparky Mularkey:: So, G-Wash is first because he's the most famous Prez, right?
G.W.: Well, it IS an origin story issue...
Fred Van Lente: We actually did a "Proof of Concept" shorter version of George Washington for an anthology of educational comics from the great non-profit Reading with Pictures. You can still get that on Comixology, although the HC is much different.
Sparky Mularkey:: Is there gonna be an Action Presidential Pets?
Fred Van Lente: Sparky, we actually do have a lot of fun presidential pet facts in the books.
Brian Cronin: Acton Presidents Vol.1 is also narrated by a turkey!
Fred Van Lente: Yes! Noah the His-Turkey.
Fred Van Lente: (These books, I should add, are aimed at 4-6th graders, although I believe they are truly ALL-Ages.) Noah is partially inspired by Tad Lincoln's pet turkey. He walked the White House grounds freely. Lincoln was also the first president to pardon a turkey. (Teddy) Roosevelt's kids had a million pets, as did Teddy himself growing up. And Caroline Kennedy received a dog from Nikita Khruschev (whose name escapes me). The FBI wouldn't let her have it until they checked its collar for bugs (seriously).
Brian Cronin: Ha! Pushinka, I believe, was the name of the dog.
Fred Van Lente: She was a daughter of Laika, first dog in space!
Brian Cronin: How do you write for a 4th grader? Aim for 7th grade? They tend to want to read books NOT meant for them, ya know? Or are you aiming for the 4th graders parents?
Sparky Mularkey:: I imagine writing for kids is a challenge. You certainly don't want to underestimate them.
Fred Van Lente: Brian, mostly writing for kids who are younger is just toning down the vocabulary. You can't talk down to them, but you can't totally lose them with complex topics, either.
G.W.: Not that I think it'll stop you two, but do you anticipate any pushback from readers of certain sensibilities if you do something with American presidents in the vein of, oh, that time you had Karl Marx throwing an incendiary grenade at capitalists? Are you being a little cautious over that?
Fred Van Lente: The presidents do have a lot of intense stuff going on just on their own without us embellishing. Washington was a slave owner ... TR was a bit war-happy, at least before he became prez ... And of course there was JFK's womanizing, and his initial reluctance to get involved in civil rights (though he changed his mind about that) ... he pretty much started the Vietnam War, even though his apologists like to dump that all on LBJ, he really was just continuing what his predecessor started. The challenge isn't to moralize or harp on a particular political outlook, but to lay out the facts as we best understand them (with jokes). And let people -- kids being, you know, little people --decide for themselves.
Sparky Mularkey:: Kids are little PEOPLE?! I mean, OK. Sounds made up, but OK.
Fred Van Lente: Ryan, can you verify?
Ryan Dunlavey: Yes, my children are actual people.
Fred Van Lente: But you're their father
Ryan Dunlavey: AS FAR AS I KNOW
G.W.: I saw one of his kids at NYCC sitting near him, seemed either real or highly lifelike.
Fred Van Lente: I demand a blood sample a la JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING
Brian Cronin: You're returning soon to the world of Archer and Armstrong, where you delivered two excellent series (A&A and Ivar). Can you tell us a little something about the upcoming Armstrong And The Vault Of Secrets?
Fred Van Lente: Absolutely. Basically I had come up with this idea a while back that Armstrong, being an immortal alcoholic, would collect a bottle of wine for every year of his life, which adds up to like 10,000 bottles. He keeps his wine collection in a sealed vault beneath the bar where he bounces in Manhattan, which he bought for $24 worth of wampum and 17th century porn. The vault is designed by his brother Ivar, the super-genius Timewalker, so it only opens for one hour once a year (to discourage Armstrong from drinking all the bottles in one sitting, which is a real danger) And Armstrong invites a bunch of his buddies -- Archer, his girlfriend Faith, Quantum, Woody, Punk Mambo -- to have a private wine tasting. Ivar is also along, reluctantly, for the ride.
Sparky Mularkey:: Sounds like a party!
Fred Van Lente: And a bunch of crazy villains catch wind of this and they decide to crash the party and steal the wine.
Brian Cronin: Very cool.
G.W.: Welp, that's a good pitch, I'm sold (Or, I mean, I will be if I get Immortal Brothers: The Green Knight for Christmas so I'm not behind).
Fred Van Lente: Oh, and intercut between all of this is the story of Noah. I mean, the real story of Noah. The reason all religions despise Armstrong is that he was actually alive and a witness to all the things in their holy books and what total bullshit they all are. And Noah AS I AM SURE AS GOOD BIBLE READERS YOU KNOW the first thing he did after the Flood was...
...plant a vineyard. So that's the earliest bottle in Armstrong's collection. And we tell how he got it. Oh, and why Noah is a dick. But that's all I'm telling! No more!
Brian Cronin: Any future plans for War Mother?
Fred Van Lente: Not that I am aware of? But the last issue of the current mini just came out so it's a bit early to tell
Fred Van Lente: I am back to co-writing WEAPON X with my non-Ryan Dunlavey heterosexual life partner, Greg Pak. We have a lot of fun stuff planned there. Particularly if you like Sabretooth
Brian Cronin: Are you co-writing it the way you guys did Herc, where you trade off arcs?
Fred Van Lente: Not yet? I mean, it might come to that eventually but we are actually doing it the way we did the early Herc issues, with him doing one half and me doing the other.
Brian Cronin: Gotcha. I should have promoted this as a Weapon X chat, so we could have had 30 questions in a row of "Is Obscure Marvel Character X going to be in Weapon X?" "Is Obscure Marvel Character Y going to be in Weapon X?" etc.
Fred Van Lente: You know, that was every time I did those "X-Position Q&As" on CBR.
Fred Van Lente: There was always the one guy who wanted to know when we were bringing back Mimic. His avatar, was, of course, Mimic. A guy who was killed off IN HIS FIRST APPEARANCE and has never been seen since.
Sparky Mularkey:: That's love.
Sparky Mularkey:: Is obscure yet fabulous Marvel character the Taskmaster going to be in the background of a big fight in Weapon X? To harness his power.
Fred Van Lente: No plans for Taskmaster, Sparky, sorry.
G.W.: I would ask about Delpyne Gorgon, personally.
Fred Van Lente: No plans for Delphyne, whom I adore, but we will be seeing some more Olympus Group in WEAPON X -- they fly around in an Olympus Group ship they got from Amadeus Cho, after all!
Brian Cronin: Is there anything you can say about the future of Weapon X?
Fred Van Lente: We are in the middle of planning the next big WEAPON X arc, which will take us to some big anniversary/event crossover thingee that I don't understand what it is yet. After that I'm not sure?
But I enjoy working on the book and readers seem to be digging it, which is cool.
Brian Cronin: Comic book anniversaries are always hilarious. "Celebrate the 47th anniversary of Giant-Size X-Men #1!"
Fred Van Lente: Let's just say some big X-Villains are going to making their return to take on the team, some people I have never written before, and doing my best to make them memorable.
Brian Cronin: Oh, is it Obscure Marvel Villain Q? Or is it Obscure Marvel Villain R?
Fred Van Lente: No, these are the opposite of obscure actually. Not the X-Chester X Arthur. More Woodrow Wilson level.
Brian Cronin: If he was a comic book character, Garfield would have probably had a healing factor, so Arthur never would have become President.
Fred Van Lente: He could have fucking used one.
Brian Cronin: Which is the president where they probably could have saved him had people not dismissed the use of the then newly created metal detector? Was it Garfield?
G.W.: I thought that was McKinley. No wait that WAS Garfield.
Fred Van Lente: McKinley got it right in the gut and died almost immediately. Garfield's doctors went rooting around in him for the bullet and basically killed him in their futile attempts to find it.
G.W.: That Mimic Guy is gonna be disappointed again that he won't be featured as one of the big X-villains....
Fred Van Lente: I believe I was so sick of answering the same Mimic question that I finally told him: "ALL X-characters are Mimic, he's been walking around impersonating them this whole time, since he faked his death"
G.W.: You did some Assassin's Creed comics, I don't suppose you have plans to do more, but have you followed the franchise any further? You had some nice things to say about it in an interview I read and I'm a total mark for it, so I wanna know.
Fred Van Lente: You know, I haven't. I really liked the games and it was fun doing that one story. I handed the book off to the artist, Dennis Calero, who did a great job writing and drawing the second arc.
Brian Cronin: Quirk Books was nice enough to tweet about this chat, so we should give back and have you tell us a little bit about your first...what do you call graphic novels without art? ...No-vels? Am I writing that right?
Fred Van Lente: I know, crazy concept, right? Yeah, my first prose novel, TEN DEAD COMEDIANS, came out this past summer. It's about a bunch of stand-ups trapped on a tropical island who start getting mysteriously knocked off, one by one.
It's a mystery, it's a comedy, it's a satire of the industry. It denounced Louis CK's perversions before that was got popular, dammit
Sparky Mularkey:: Trend-setter.
Fred Van Lente: Also: It makes a great Christmas gift!
Fred Van Lente: And we are right now finishing up the first proof of my next novel, THE CON ARTIST
Brian Cronin: Ooooh
Fred Van Lente: It is a murder thriller set in the comic book industry. At San Diego Comic Con, in fact. So, perhaps RELEVANT TO YOUR INTERESTS.
Brian Cronin: How pun-derful of you.
Fred Van Lente: What's cool is that the hero of the book is a comics penciller and the book is set up to be like his sketchbook, so there will be illustrations in the novel that are like his personal sketches of the action and they contain clues too to help solve the mystery.
Sparky Mularkey:: Wow, that's really cool!
Brian Cronin: Who did the art for the book?
Fred Van Lente: The drawings will be by a particularly talented frequent collaborator of mine. He just signed the contract last week, so I don't think I can say? BUT IT'S NOT RYAN. Oh heck, I don't think Quirk will care. It's the awesome Tom Fowler.
Brian Cronin: Very cool. Fowler is, indeed, awesome
G.W.: I liked him in Hulk: Season One.. Good Monicas.
G.W.: You've got Word templates for comics scripts on your site, does this mean you're now going to have to hand out novel templates? Or at least recommend a way to use Scrivener for the purpose, since there are a few?
Fred Van Lente: I adore Scrivener and sings its praises whenever I can. I just use the straight up Novel template that comes with the program. Scrivener 3.0 just launched ... last week, I think? It's pretty damn awesome.
Brian Cronin: Speaking of non-comic book projects by Fred that still, for some completely unexpected reason, tie into comics, tell us about the TV pilot that you and your talented wife, Crystal Skillman, wrote that has been getting a lot of positive attention recently.
Fred Van Lente: Yeah, it's called PAPER HEROES. And it's a fictionalized account of the birth of the comic book industry in the 1930s. So, it's like a MAD MEN for comics. And we did the pilot and it's getting some heat which is very nice.
We did the play KING KIRBY together and this is the obvious inspiration for that, of course. We are finding a lot of resistance on the part of networks against spending the money on a period show, alas.
Brian Cronin: A fictionalized account of the birth of the comic book industry? Oh, so you mean the official account of the birth of the comic book industry?
Fred Van Lente: Ha!
Brian Cronin: "Bob Montana? He had nothing to do with creating Archie somehow!" "Bill Finger? What did HE ever do?"
Fred Van Lente: Well, MORE fictionalized! We start with the shutting down of Fleischer Studios, the mob is heavily involved ... our main character is something of Jack Kirby/Will Eisner merged.
And we have characters based on Tarpe Mills, who created Miss Fury ...
Brian Cronin: Very cool
Sparky Mularkey:: It sounds wild.
Fred Van Lente: And the Chinese-American creator of The Green Turtle, Chu F. Hing. So that's been an interesting journey.
Fred Van Lente: And Crystal finally got her first comics credit a couple months ago-- We wrote an "Adventure Time" story for Boom's anthology. And we're developing some other stuff as well, which is awesome.
Ryan Dunlavey: Crystal LOVES comics and is a fantastic writer, I'm surprised it's taken her this long to do something!
Brian Cronin: You beat me to, "Speaking of Crystal, plug something of hers."
Fred Van Lente: She has a big thing coming up, but that I don't think I can talk about! Hasn't been formally announced yet...In theater, that is, not comics -- playwriting is her primary racket.
G.W.: Do you have any current comic recommendations you'd like to share? (Other than your various own books, of course.)
Fred Van Lente: Um... geez... That is a good question. This is not exactly a sympathetic whine, but I read so much for work I forget "Oh yeah I can read for fun, too." Currently I'm reading BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens. I think that guy has a promising future. And BOY ON THE BRIDGE by Mike Carey?
It's the sequel to GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, which I enjoyed very much.
Steve: I know I have just been lurking here, but I am excited about the new Armstrong series. I just told my brother your pitch and he is just as pumped. He also enjoyed that signing you did for me at NYCC 17.
Fred Van Lente: Thank you, Steve, that is awesome to hear! Thank your brother for me too!
G.W.: Yeah, thanks for being at NYCC and actually being at your table at the scheduled times.
Fred Van Lente: I am quite anal when it comes to scheduling (and many other things).
Ryan Dunlavey: Hey, Fred, tell them what we're doing for the second Comic Book History of Comics series
Fred Van Lente: Oh yeah! The new series is coming out from IDW on December 20th.
And our variant covers are the WORLD History of Comics. #1 is India, #2 is Kenya... with more to come. And new Herstory of Comics features in each issue too.
Ryan Dunlavey: I'm drawing the Kenya one RIGHT NOW. Like, this very second
Brian Cronin: While chatting with his left hand!
Ryan Dunlavey: That is actually 100% accurate
Fred Van Lente: Wait, you just said you weren't you lying liar
Ryan Dunlavey: I said I probably couldn't get it done by Thursday.
Steve: I also am waiting for Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery to come in the mail from Amazon. I still have that Coaster that you had given me.My question is does writing humor come naturally to you? And what tips can you give a person to writing humor?
Fred Van Lente: Steve, it sounds corny, but the cornerstone of humor is truth. It's an honest observation told in an unexpected way. That's what I try to do, anyway.
Fred Van Lente: And the truth is... this has been awesome! Thank you all so much for coming out!