Talking Comics with Tim | Roger Stern

Late last week, Panels for Primates editor Troy Wilson (who I interviewed at my pop culture blog in 2010) gave me a heads-up that this Wednesday's installment of the "charity anthology for the Primate Rescue Center, featuring an eclectic mix of primate stories by both well-known and up-and-coming creators" was going to be written by industry veteran Roger Stern with art by Canadian animator Caleb Hystad. With the installment fast approaching, I begged Stern for a brief email interview about his new story. Normally, if I had more time, I would love to do an in-depth, career-spanning interview, but time was of the essence. Rest assured, Stern is open to the idea of doing a longer interview down the road, so that will happen eventually, but for now, here we go. My thanks to Stern for his time and to Wilson for the tip. [Update: Stern and Hystad's story is now online. Enjoy.]

Tim O'Shea: Your story is titled: "All Monkeys are Primates, But Not All Primates are Monkeys!". First off, how did you become involved in the Panels for Primates project. How did you arrive upon telling this particular tale?

Roger Stern: It all started when I received an email from Troy Wilson (the author of Perfect Man), asking if I would contribute a four-page strip to an anthology of monkey comics -- with all of the proceeds going to a worthy animal-related charity.

The idea really tickled me. The more I thought about it, the more ideas came to mind. And that eventually led to the creation of Morty Monkey, the star of our little four-pager. In fact, the hard part was restricting myself to four pages. I could probably have written a whole book about Morty.

O'Shea: Did editor Troy Wilson team you with artist Caleb Hystad?

Stern: Yes, Troy was the uniting force in this project. I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of Caleb before Troy brought us together. He's a monstrously talented artist, and quite an accomplished animator. Caleb's done just about everything from designing characters for Nintendo games to directing the award-winning Raven Tales series. Plus, he draws wonderfully wacky monkeys.

O'Shea: As a longtime writer for Marvel, DC and many shared universe companies, how liberating is it to be able to construct a story that does not get bogged down in continuity?

Stern: Well, I've never had that much trouble in dealing with continuity ... in fact, I've always found it to be kind of fun. That said, it's also great fun to be able to just make things up out of whole cloth. I get to exercise different parts of my brain.

O'Shea: Does this mark the first time you've written primates in comics--I was thinking maybe not, given that both Marvel and DC have their fair share of primates.

Stern: Actually, the majority of characters I've written have been primates. I mean I've written about a few aliens in my time. Technically, Superman wouldn't be a primate ... at least not a terrestrial one.

But Spider-Man is a primate. So is Captain America. So am I. So are you.

Wait, do you mean non-human primates? Let's see ... I wrote a few scenes of Brainiac 5's monkey Koko in the old Legionnaires series. And in ACTION COMICS, I once channeled one of my favorite Harvey Kurtzman features from MAD, when writing dialog for a chimp in a Superman suit: "Vootie!"

O'Shea: Is this the first time you've written a webcomic?

Stern: Gee, I guess it is. I hadn't even thought about that. The writing itself wasn't any different from writing for print media.

O'Shea: Have you considered doing more webcomics or collaborating on other projects with ACT-I-VATE?

Stern: Given the right project, sure. Why not? Certainly, I would never say never.

O'Shea: Anything about "All Monkeys are Primates..." you'd like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?

Stern: I hope the strip makes people laugh, and that people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

But mostly, I'd like your readers to know that Caleb's and my story is part of the larger Panels for Primates charity anthology. PfP has been running on the Internet since last October. There's a new Panels for Primates strip every week at ACT-I-VATE -- and it's all for the benefit of the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Kentucky.

As with other series running on ACT-I-VATE, the Panels for Primates archive can be viewed absolutely free. But we encourage readers to swing on over to http://www.primaterescue.org/ and make a donation. Troy tells me that Panels for Primates will finish its online run on June 1st -- with a bang! I have no idea what he means by that. [Laughs] But if I've learned anything over the last few years, it's that you should never underestimate Troy Wilson.

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