Trautmann Revives "Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist"

A good character just can't stay down and no one has proven that rule more than classic pulp hero Flash Gordon. A celebrity in his own right, the science fiction legend has graced stories in books, radio, television, movies and comics -- and this November, Dynamite Entertainment is bringing him back for another run.

Written by Eric Trautmann with stories and designs by Alex Ross and interior pencils by Daniel Lindro, "Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist" follows Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov to the planet Mongo and pits them against the dreaded emperor Ming, the All-Seeing Ruler of Mongo -- and in the true tradition of Flash Gordon pulp, there's plenty of danger, threats and adventure in store.

Trautmann took the time to speak with CBR News about the upcoming series, his take on Flash Gordon and his companions, love of the original Alex Raymond comic strip, enjoyment of the pulp genre and the challenges of breathing new life into a classic hero.

CBR News: Eric, tell us about "Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist." What's your plan for this iconic character and how will you be bringing him to the modern age of comics?

Eric Trautmann:My plan is to do my level best to tell the kinds of stories that made Flash Gordon great in the first place. There's a lot of density to Alex Raymond's strips -- maximum bang-for-the-buck -- and that's something I'm trying to do, as well: packing in as much "stuff" as I can.

It isn't so much trying to "modernize" the material (though obviously, modern techniques will be used to tell these stories) as it is an attempt to recapture that sense of scope and wonder.

Obviously, this character has gone through it all -- he's been in books, radio, television, movies and even a few comic appearances. How does your comic draw from that rich tradition and at the same time present something new that fans of the character can appreciate?

When in doubt, we're pulling as much from Alex Raymond's material as we can, but there's also nods to other interpretations as we go. Klytus, from the 1980 movie, is too good to pass up, for example, and we've included him (albeit a version that should be familiar but isn't exactly what you'd expect). There are some visual nods to stuff like the Filmation "Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure Of All" animated movie as well as Easter Eggs for longtime fans (and because everyone involved on the creative end has material we have affection for and want to pay homage to).

Flash Gordon isn't the only character that's in this new series. Readers will get to re-meet Dale Arden, Dr. Hans Zarkov and Ming, the All-Seeing Ruler of Mongo. What was it like for you to help re-imagine these characters for this series and what can readers expect from them during your run?

It was thrilling. I'm a huge fan of science fiction comics, and Flash Gordon and company are all such iconic figures. In terms of what to expect from them, expect, in the words of Douglas Adams, "Adventure, excitement and really wild things." I'm a big fan of old films like the "Thin Man" series and "His Girl Friday," so some of that lightning-quick dialogue and undercurrent of good humor has informed the writing a bit.

And Ming the Merciless is just way too much fun to write. Vain, cruel, ostentatious: the granddaddy of the supervillain.

You mentioned in the press release that this is a rare chance for you to write pulp material -- what excites you about the pulp tradition and how do you feel those values continue to be relevant even in the modern age?

I'm not sure exactly what it is that attracts me to the pulp material, though I suspect there's always a kind of free-wheeling, anything-goes quality to it. In some of the other material I've done, the tone is too dark to get away with captions like "Flash Gordon. Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player."

There's an innocence to a lot of pulp material -- particularly the hero pulps -- which I find refreshing. Modern audiences don't seem to have a lot of patience to unironic heroism, whereas I enjoy that kind of material. (The success of the new Captain America film gives me some hope that maybe audiences are more willing to embrace that kind of material.)

And the naive part of me hopes that the values that I respond to in pulp material -- heroism, bravery, a "can-do" attitude -- will always be relevant.

You also mentioned your excitement in working with Alex Raymond's toys. How long have you been a fan of his work?

Probably since before I was aware of who he was. I always adored the Flash Gordon character.

What's your favorite "Flash Gordon" storyline from his original work?

It's hard to pick a favorite, though there are several moments that always stand out -- a half-naked Flash Gordon skiing on Frigia with Queen Fria, the first appearance of Ming.

My earliest exposure in comic form was actually the Whitman/Gold Key comics, many of which I still own, and the Al Williamson adaptation of the 1980 film, which cemented my fondness for the character (and for Mr. Williamson's work).

You've had a lot of experience in comics so far, everything from "Action Comics" to "Vampirella." How did your experience working on some of these other books, especially with heroes like Superman, help prepare you for your work on "Flash Gordon?"

Beyond the obvious stuff -- how to construct a script, how to write for a visual medium, and so on -- probably the few pages of Superman I wrote (in "Checkmate," oddly enough, not in "Action Comics"; my co-writing on that book coincided with Superman's absence from the title) were the most like the Flash Gordon material.  Flash Gordon and Superman seem to stem from the same basic archetype (the upright, morally-centered, optimistic hero) despite radical differences in abilities and presentation.

You've been working closely with Alex Ross for this project -- could you take us through your collaborative process together? How does an idea turn into a script for the printed page?

Alex is definitely the vision-holder for the project. He has a crystal-clear vision of the kinds of stories we should be telling, what material we should be referencing, and how that material should look on the page. He's got this incredible, encyclopedic knowledge of the character, the strip, the whole history of Flash Gordon.

Essentially, the process started with Alex indicating over a few e-mails and extended phone calls what exactly he was looking for. From there, I wrote out detailed, issue-by-issue outlines (to which Alex added his feedback, new ideas, alternate approaches and so forth), and then I went right to full-script.

At the same time, Alex has been turning out designs, model sheets, page breakdowns and other visual material, and invited my own feedback (which generally amounts to "WOW. THAT LOOKS AMAZING!").

As collaborations go, this one is more like a conversation, an extended, idea-rich conversation. I find that, for my part, I'm kind of pushing to impress Alex, and hopefully succeeding.

Similarly, what's your collaborative process like with series artist Daniel Lindro?

Pretty effortless. Sadly, the "romance" of comics creation is not always close to reality. I'm not in regular, direct contact with Daniel, and (though I could be mistaken) I suspect there's a bit of a language barrier. Alex -- who, among other things, is also de facto "art director" of the project -- probably interacts with Daniel more. 

My part of the collaboration is to turn in a clear, well thought out script, and to marvel at the very detailed, dynamic pages Daniel responds with.

Wrapping up, what do you find most challenging not only about working in the Flash Gordon universe, but about writing pulp fiction as a genre?

The tendency in modern comics (and I'm as guilty of this as anyone) is to decompress the story, to pace things to fit in a trade paperback. Trying to maintain that headlong, breakneck pace without loading the page with dozens of panels, to capture that pulpy "feel" without sacrificing narrative clarity is probably the hardest part. In a perfect universe, I wish these were 32 page issues, not 22, because I could pack that much more in, if that makes sense.  

"Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist" debuts in November.

Kingdom Come Superman Has Returned... to Help the Justice League

More in Comics