THE COMMENTARY TRACK: "Spider-Man Family" #6

Welcome back for the second installment of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This is the new regular feature at CBR in which we invite creators to stop by and talk about their most recent releases, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It'll be just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.

This week's issue of Marvel Comics' Spider-Man Family includes an interesting selection of stories. There's a manga feature adapted by Marc Sumerak, a Ka-Zar team-up written by True Story Swear To God's Tom Beland, and the issue also reprints Marvel Team-Up #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #180, both with art by the legendary Ross Andru.

The lead story for the issue, though, is a new 22-page outing by writer/artist/letterer Chris Eliopoulos, best known these days for his Franklin Richards quarterly series. But it's not Franklin who stars in this story. No, that would be too pedestrian. Instead, Walter Simonson's infamous Frog Thor has returned.

Frog Thor.

Yeah, soak that one in for a minute.

Chris Eliopoulos drops in on The Commentary Track this week to discuss how the book came to be, what its influences were, and how he put this story together.

As always, Thar Be SPOILERS Here! You've been warned....


Chris Eliopoulos: Nate Cosby, the editor on the book, did the intro. Nate is a huge fan of Frog Thor, or Throg as Walt [Simonson] calls him, and after the story I did for Spider-Man Family #4, he thought I was ready to do a full 22-pager. It was interesting. He sent me an e-mail saying, Spider-Man, Frog-Thor, 22 pages. Go. I thought he'd lost it and called and he told me what he wanted. And I actually knew who Frog-Thor was--not by reading the comic, but from dinner one night at the New York Comic-Con this past year.

Erik Larsen, me, you and [CBR Executive Producer] Jonah Weiland were having dinner at this barbeque joint and Erik started telling us the original Walt story. I think we were all fascinated. So, when I got the e-mail from Nate, I was amazed at the way fate works.

I started working out the story in my head since Nate set down some ground rules. It had to be out of continuity, he wanted Peter in high school, and I needed to figure out a way to bring Thor and Spidey together. I told Nate the story as it was coming together in my head, and he seemed to like it because he moved it up on the schedule. So much so, that when I finished November's Franklin Richards, I had a total of two and a half weeks to write and draw this story. And this being my first real full-length comic story, it was a bit of a stress -- on Nate more than me. I had to do the work, he had to worry that I could actually do it, do it well, and get it done that quickly. Which I did.

Along the way, I sent a note to Walt, the original author, to see if it was okay with him that I was doing this. I've known Walt a number of years and he may be the nicest guy in the business. He graciously wished me luck and all he asked for was a copy when I was done. Having his blessing gave me the confidence to do this when otherwise I'd be scared out of my mind.


CBR: Is there really a James J. Verde Memorial Park in Flushing, Queens?

James J. Verde was my father-in-law. He passed away a year-and-a-half ago. He was my biggest champion and was a wonderful person, so I had to have him somewhere in this story.

The Franklin Richards stories are fairly straightforward, and told in a grid style - three tiers, two panels (or so) per tier. Is drawing in a more open and varying layout style a challenge for you? Or is it like being unleashed on the page, finally getting to use the whole of the page to create a story?

This was very liberating. We try to cram so much story into five pages in Franklin that getting the chance to get 22 pages to tell a story opened me up. I was able to not have to cram everything into small panels and be more traditional in the storytelling. Since this was my first story in the mainstream, I figured I'd stick to the rules and once I learn them all, in the future, learn when to break them.


Was writing Thor dialogue difficult for you? How did you wrap your mind around it?

Actually, surprisingly, it wasn't hard at all. In my head I was doing that mock old time Shakespearian dialogue. Loki was the bad guy twirling his mustache with the damsel tied to the train tracks.

I even think I got most of the thous right.


Your version of Spider-Man has the solid black in the costume. Is that for simplicity of cartooning's sake? The last artist I can remember using that regularly was Erik Larsen during his run on Amazing Spider-Man. Heck, that panel layout reminds me of Larsen's work at the time.

To get going on this book, I bought a trade of Walt's Thor, Ditko Spideys and Erik's Spider-Man run. I liked the way Erik did Spidey with the all-black -- which also helped with my trying to fudge comic book anatomy without really trying.

I've learned a lot of my storytelling from Erik. He is so steeped in comics history and practical knowledge about the craft, I don't think I could help but absorb some of that. When it came time to do my first Spidey story, he's the guy I tried to emulate. As Robert Kirkman and I have said to each other, we're both trying to do comics that Erik would do.


Peter Parker almost cuts open Thor. You sicko.

The idea for the dissection seemed to work for me to solve the problem of getting Thor and Peter together and still have him in school. I think it was when I told Nate about this part of the story that he decided to bump up this story to issue #6. I remember dissecting a frog in high school and hating it. This was my chance to save one poor frog. Plus, it reminded me a little of E.T., when Elliot sets all the frogs free. Fun scene. Plus it added a little danger to the meeting.


Peter's teacher here is obviously modeled on the late Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald. Can you talk about him a little? Did you ever letter for him?

When I came up into Marvel, Mark was already the assistant editor-in-chief or whatever his title was. He was an all-around fun guy who I didn't get to know that well. I think my lack of comics knowledge made me intimidated of him, but he was pure comics to me. He's the John Lasseter of Marvel for me. He knew it all and could do it all and it was his life working in comics. I think a lot of people have forgotten how important he was to my generation of comics professionals, so I try to have him be in the comics I do. That way, he'll still be in comics.

Was the classic Chuck Jones cartoon One Froggy Evening an influence at all on this story? Was it tempting to put Thor in a top hat and have him start dancing around, a la Michigan J. Frog?

I tried to really restrain myself from going too far. It was still Thor there. Nate showed me a drawing that Kyle Baker did of Frog Thor and it was Michigan with a Thor costume -- it was really cool. But in the case of this page, I seem to always want to find the humorous side and Nate liked it, so I kept it in. Plus, how else would he save himself? The kid was throwing a deadly cotton ball into the jar.


The coloring on this page, from Brad Anderson, helps to carry the story. Are the effects on this page the result of notes from you? Or did Anderson go all out on his own to add detail making it look like Thor is pushing against the glass?

Pretty much Brad. Brad is doing the coloring on Franklin and it was a natural fit to have him do this book. Nate forgot to tell him he was doing this book and when I sent him the first eight pages directly, he didn't know what it was and had to call Nate. But Brad does great work and I really limit him to flat, moderate colors on Franklin, so all I told him to do was go nuts and make me look better than I really am. And he did.


How many Dooms did you intentionally throw into this story as a nod to John Workman's lettering style?

Again, this was me doing an Erik Larsen-style book. Plus, how can you look back at those Simonson Thors and not throw in giant sound effects all over the place? That should be a rule for anyone that works on Thor -- big sound effects all around.


Charlie Brown can't kick the football; Peter Parker can't kiss the girl. You're a cruel cruel writer, Mr. Eliopoulos. Yet, it's a classic story structure for Spider-Man.

Well, reading Spidey all these years, that's what he seems to me. He'll never win. He saves the day but gets none of the credit. He's all of us who try hard and fail at times but continue to try. I think that's what makes Spidey so different from other superheroes--at the end of the day Superman gets a parade, Spidey has to take out the garbage.

Thanks to author Chris Eliopoulos for taking part in this week's THE COMMENTARY TRACK. Keep an eye out for his lettering work across the Marvel Universe, and for more quarterly installments of Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius.

If you have any suggested titles or creators you'd like to see a commentary track from, drop us a line. If you're a creator with a book due out soon that you'd like to stop by to talk about in detail,let us know. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!


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