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Get Smart: Sumerak and Eliopoulos talk “Franklin Richards”

by  in Comic News Comment
Get Smart: Sumerak and Eliopoulos talk “Franklin Richards”

You think that you got into trouble as a kid? That you were unpredictable? Well, I’ve got news for you: Franklin Richards is a much bigger handful than you could’ve dreamed of being. And in February, Marvel Comics is bringing back the smallest member of the Fantastic Four family in “Fantastic Four Presents: Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius-Everyone Loves Franklin,” in order to entertain fans and possibly win the award for longest title of a comic book one-shot. CBR News caught up with series creators Marc Sumerak and Chris Eliopoulos (with whom CBR News spoke with earlier this year) and learned about the creative genesis of the series.

With the announcement of this new Frankin book so soon after the first “Son Of A Genius,” there’s been some discussion as to whether this book was always planned, or if it was the fan response that brought it back. “A little bit of both, really,” explained Sumerak. “Everyone involved in the project at Marvel showed a lot of support for ‘Franklin Richards: Son Of a Genius’ from the beginning. So while we might not have had the official word that we were going to do more stories until after the one-shot’s sales came in, it was clear that Marvel liked what we were doing and wanted to see more if the readers did! Luckily, you all did…and here we are!”

“Yeah, I’m the pessimist of the bunch,” added Eliopoulos. “I figured, we’d do the one shot and that would be that. But like Marc said, the support of Marvel and the readers made it possible to do more. I began work on a self-published title that I had to shelve for a bit when I was told we were going to do more, so it may have been in the minds of many, but it was a surprise to me.”

The original “Franklin” one-shot saw lots of mild trouble for our young hero, but this new one shot ups the ante, bringing Franklin face to face with larger, uh, “opportunities” to be a kid, as Sumerak revealed. “Oh, man! If you thought he got in over his head in the last batch of stories, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’ve got time travel, insane robots, invisibility rays, Fantasticars! The wackiness gets kicked up a notch as Franklin digs even deeper into the forbidden toy chest that is Reed Richards’ lab! But none of his dad’s gadgets can protect Franklin from the worst enemy of all — a little girl in love!”

As Eliopoulos was quick to add, it’s not just trouble for one character, “And not only Franklin, but H.E.R.B.I.E. as well. Because it wouldn’t be trouble unless Franklin needed his trusty robot nanny to bail him out!”

Many fans have said that the “Franklin” stories are among the most fun on the comic book stands and it would seem that, according to Sumerak, that the creative process is equally as fun. “It’s been pretty much the same process from the beginning. Chris and I come up with a long list of completely insane ideas that would make poor H.E.R.B.I.E. blow a diode. Our editors whittle the list down to their favorites, and we go from there!”

For Eliopoulos, the real world inspires him, but not in the “grim n gritty” way that it inspires others. “The ideas come from everywhere. A lot of the time I just look at what my kids get into and take it up a notch or twelve. In fact an idea or two came from things my kids did or said. As for the process, it isn’t like anything I’ve done before. Like Marc said, we come up with a long list and the editors pick which ideas they like. I then go back and plot out the story loosely and hand it over to Marc who then tightens it up, adds some stuff, connects things and basically beefs it up. He then passes it back to me and I may tweak a line or two here and there which Marc then looks over and makes sure it’s good to go and we’re off. Sometime during the process, we’ll build on the basic premise and make it more insane, so nothing is too crazy.”

“And since the new one-shot is coming out in February, we had one added little bit of inspiration — Valentine’s Day!” adds Sumerak. “So look for a little love to take center stage in one of the exclusive stories in this collection!”

The “Son Of a Genius” one-shot collected many short stories and “Everybody Loves Franklin” does the same, but it does make one wonder if there could ever be a multi-part Franklin story or an ongoing series. “Sure, WE would love to do an ongoing ‘Franklin’ book…but that is not really up to us” admits Sumerak. “It’s up to the readers to show they want it (by going out and ordering copies of February’s new one-shot for starters) and then for Marvel to approve it. But if they ever asked us to do more, I’m sure we wouldn’t complain!

“As for multi-part stories, it’s not something we’ve needed to do as of yet. We’ve just been trying to keep them short, simple and fun for now. The nice thing about the self-contained shorts is that Marvel can slot them in almost anywhere at anytime (as witnessed in November when “Weather or Not” ran in the back of several mainstream Marvel titles). Though I’ve gotta say, it might be fun to expand beyond our usual 5-page format somewhere down the road if we ever get the chance!”

For Eliopoulos, he sees things similarly, saying that fans are the biggest factor in the decision process. “An ongoing title would be great, but like Marc said, it would come from reader demand. If enough people buy the new one-shot it’ll make easier for Marvel to consider. As for a multi-part storyline-when I approached Marvel with the idea for Franklin, I mentioned that there were a few things that it should be to get children engaged. First, it had to be fast moving. Second, it had to have no more than 6 panels a page, and third, it needed to be short, self-contained stories. Initially, we thought of one-issue stories, but I’ve come to love these short bursts of story.”

When CBR ran it’s first preview of “Son Of a Genius,” just a few months ago, some fans on the CBR Forums commented that the book was perhaps “too” similar to the classic “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strip…but neither Sumerak nor Eliopoulos take that a bad way, as the former explained. “I can see how some people might draw that comparison. After all, Calvin and Franklin are both characters with lots of energy and attitude that often find themselves on amazing adventures. But the big difference is that Franklin has a lot more than just his imagination to get him into (and out of) trouble. He actually has all the amazing inventions of the Marvel Universe at his fingertips — and the danger he almost always finds himself in is VERY real!

“Being fond of the original “Calvin and Hobbes” strips, I usually take the comparison as a compliment. It only really bothers me when people dismiss ‘Franklin’ as a “Calvin & Hobbes rip-off” without even reading it.”

“I always hear that my cartooning style is similar to Watterson’s and that the premise of a little boy doing crazy things is similar to C & H, but it’s not a “rip-off”,” explained Eliopoulos. “When I pitched it, I pitched it as “Home Alone” meets the Marvel Universe. Calvin was the farthest thing from my mind. I just thought of these cool gadgets at his fingertips and the idea of having your own robot really brought out the Star Wars geek in me who loves R2-D2. Not to mention the fact that Franklin has been a Marvel mainstay for over 40 years and H.E.R.B.I.E. Has been around since the 80’s, it’s just these stories are a more irreverent take on their adventures. In the end though, I’d rather be compared to Calvin and Hobbes than, say, Ziggy. You know? [laughs]”

Since “Franklin” isn’t a full time gig, both creators have a lot of new projects coming out, and you’ll see more of Sumerak at Marvel, as of now. “Besides putting the finishing touches on February’s amazingly-long-titled ‘Frankln’ one-shot (‘Fantastic Four Presents: Franklin Richards: Son Of a Genius – Everybody Loves Franklin”), I’m also writing the ‘X-Men & Power-Pack’ limited series and working as a consulting editor on the new ‘Sentinel’ limited series. Beyond that I’ve got a few other yet-to-be-announced projects in the works… but nothing I can talk about quite yet!”

And Eliopoulos is keeping his portfolio pretty diverse, from work at Marvel to work on a tie-in to one of the biggest movie trilogies of all time. “What aren’t I doing? Me and my company are lettering a bunch of titles for Marvel and a few other companies. I’m writing another year’s work of strips for Marvel to go into Sports Illustrated every week. I’m writing and drawing cartoons for the Complete Idiots line of books. I’m drawing up sketch cards for the Topps’ Lord of the Rings trading cards sets. I’m getting back to Sherman’s Room, my self-published book that got interrupted by Franklin and I hope to have that done soon, baring any more Franklin needs! 🙂 And I’m trying to see my kids once in a while since they tell me all I do is work. As for Franklin, we should have more back-up features, one-shots and other appearances throughout the year, so keep a look out!”

And now you can discuss this story on CBR’s Marvel Universe Forum.

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