Hey folks, Harry here, and happy as can be to be presenting this wonderful interview with Mike Allred about MADMAN (both the comics and the movie) as well as Allred's many other endeavors. Now before we get into this one, let me just say that this film will be Robert Rodriguez's film AFTER the one he is casting right now (no, no cast has been chosen thus far... for either movie). Which means by this time next year here in Austin, Rodriguez will be shooting MADMAN.... Personally I can't wait to be living in SNAP CITY Austin style. But anyways... enough of me, on to the show you are here for!
LET THE MADNESS CONTINUE!!!
By Christopher Irving
I had the opportunity to talk with Mike Allred, the cartoonist behind MADMAN and RED ROCKET 7, as well as Kevin Smith’s BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC (with Smith writing), among other things. After a long hiatus, in which the seven-issue multi-media project RED ROCKET 7 was completed, Allred is finally back on MADMAN COMICS.
CHRISTOPHER IRVING: I was wondering that, since MADMAN is back after a hiatus, how do you feel the quality of MADMAN has changed since the earlier stuff?
MIKE ALLRED: I personally think it’s the best work I’ve ever done. I’m just thrilled with what I’m doing now. In the past, when I’d finish a book and it would go out, I would feel that it was the best I was capable of. Then when it gets published, all I can see are mistakes and missed opportunities. That’s happening less and less now, since I’m far more satisfied with my current work than anything I’ve ever done.
CI: "The Exit of Dr. Boiffard" is going on right now in MADMAN. You’d originally mentioned, when you started MADMAN with Dark Horse, about going about 104 issues ala Lee and Kirby’s FANTASTIC FOUR. How soon do you see yourself wrapping up Frank Einstein story?
MA: That was a joke that got blown up out of proportion. I’m a huge Jack Kirby fan. Probably my favorite [book] he ever did was THE FANTASTIC FOUR. I had heard that he did 104 issues and, when you consider that, is probably the greatest chunk of quality and consistency that any comic book artist has ever done. There’s the lofty goal! I thought it was funny to presume that as a joking boast. Also consider that, when he was doing those wonderful issues, he was also doing CAPTAIN AMERICA, TALES OF SUSPENSE and THOR...all of the stuff that he was doing at the same time was just phenomenal.
He continues to be one of my greatest inspirations, as well as Alex Toth and Jack Cole, and EC Comics’ Johnny Craig and Bernie Kriegstein. Look at the work that those guys did: it was so innovative and timeless, and powerful. I’m constantly recharging my batteries looking over that stuff. What has happened over the past few years is that I’ve had opportunities to do other things. Rather than pull me away from my love for comics, it has actually quadrupuled it. I’ve just come back with this great appreciation and lust for the art form. There is nothing that offers the independence that we’ve had with comic books; with Laura coloring, we’re virtually self-contained. Just having that realization and epiphany, there’s this renewed vigor for it. Certain things have happened that have freed me up to be even more prolific with the comic book work.
To answer your question about Frank Einstein’s story, I see four or five story arcs wrapping it up into one complete story... and then we’ll reach the climax of MADMAN COMICS.
CI: The most recent issue guest-starred Steve Rude’s characters The Moth and The Silencer. What led to that?
MA: It’s funny, if you look at the cover painting that Steve and I did together, it’s dated 1994, which kind of explains this incredible detour that I’ve gone on. We planned that for fun. Steve had these characters that he had ideas for and put out in this card set. I thought they were great and had this classic early Marvel look to it (which was my favorite era when it came to costumed characters). I said "What are you going to do with those?"
He said "Oh, nothing," he never considered himself a writer.
I said "Do you mind if I use them?" and he said "That would be great."
We set out to do it, and the cover, together. It was set to be MADMAN COMICS #6 that that story was originally planned.
This will hopefully explain how far along I planned ahead. At that time, I was invited to Legend. MADMAN COMICS #1 was at press when I was invited. With that, I was mapping out my script to issue #6. Being invited to Legend, this was the time convention season started, so I was seeing a lot of the guys. Geoff and Frank were planning BIG GUY AND RUSTY THE BOY ROBOT, which I just loved. Geoff wanted to do an adventure where all the Legend characters (or the more superhero-like characters) have this big adventure on the moon. We were talking about interacting with each other, and Mike Mignola and I already talked about doing HELLBOY, so he appeared in issue #5. The plan was that BIG GUY was going to make his comic book debut in MADMAN COMICS #6. That storyline was where I introduced the Tri-Eye agency, which is a huge part of my story. It veered me off into the renegade robot storyline. It took a long time to get back to the Dr. Boiffard storyline, where I was going to integrate The Silencer and The Moth. Finally, after all this time, I got back to it. I think it is one of my favorites: I like the way that issue looks, and have got some good feedback on it. Alex Ross really loved it. I’m just having such a great time right now, I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m loving doing comics again.
CI: That’s really all that matters.
MA: I’ve never stopped having fun, but I can look at certain issues and tell which ones I had more fun with. But now, there’s an intensity. I realize that it’s better to do a monthly book. I was thinking that I was doing a service to the readers by doing more book and doing a bi-monthly schedule when, what it took me a while to realize would make me happier and the readers happier, was to have it come out more often. Nobody counts the pages! (Laughter) The best example of that is MADMAN ADVENTURES #3, which is 48 pages long, and people don’t know if it’s 48 or 24 since it’s a stapled comic book and there are no page numbers in it. Nobody’s counting it and going "Wow, what a bargain," or "This guy really puts his shoulder to the wheel!"
Now, I’m gearing up for a monthly output. What that allows me to do is continue with the MADMAN epic, and let me do another series at the same time, which I do see doing 100 issues, and that is a spin-off of MADMAN called THE ATOMICS. Their first introduction will be a one-page ad in MADMAN COMICS #14, and there’s a pin-up in issue #15. One of the main characters will be introduced in MADMAN COMICS #16. They are the Mutant Street Beatniks who have been in contact with alien spore in MADMAN COMICS #1. What’s great about it is that they hate Frank Einstein, and he hates them, and has had really bad run-ins. The first arc with them is just them developing a relationship with Frank, and how they build their characters through their association with one another. It’s just fun designing all of these characters, some who have obvious inspirations and some, I think, are somewhat original.
CI: The Street Beatniks are definitely very different from your cookie-cutter "waiting to mug somebody in a dark alley" baddie. You just have some beatniks that hit some bad java.
MA: I think that the worst enemy of any creator is when they censor themselves, or try to play to an audience, or think too much about who it’s going to reach and if it will be successful. What finally freed me, because of all of this Hollywood stuff and movie stuff has been such a distraction, is finally in place. If it doesn’t work out, so what? It’s been such a distraction that it’s not worth it. If it does, I’ve been optimistic about the MADMAN film since it’s in a better playground, and I don’t worry about it anymore. That’s one more thing that my mind doesn’t struggle with.
In the past, I have looked at a page and thought "People are going to think I’m insane, I can’t write this," or "This character is too goofy." What really clicked was "I just have to do it for myself, and worry about it later." I take great care with the story, but it’s pretty much stream-of-consciousness, and then I’ll go back and polish it or tailor it to my own tastes to where I’m happy and I’m satisfied with it. I think, ultimately, that’s how my stamp will be on it, it will be unique, and won’t have some cookie-cutter assembly-line feeling which the big company comics generally do.
CI: I just heard that Robert Rodriguez is up to directing the movie.
MA: He’ll be doing everything!
CI: Since Robert is technically making this movie, how does that sit with you? I know that’s got to be exciting, but I knew you’d really wanted to direct it.
MA: Yeah, ultimately, I want it to be a film I would like. When you see a concept get altered so horribly, it’s a BATMAN film. When somebody like Joel Schumacher, who doesn’t even have a clue what is great about BATMAN...I could go on and on. Here is a person who is handed the reins to a great creation and botches it. I think George Clooney potentially could have been a good Batman.
I got into it neck-deep with Universal Pictures. I got lucky and met a guy named Dean Lorey; I wrote the screenplay that I was happy with and was told that it was "flawed." I couldn’t figure out why, and they introduced me to him. He did rewrites on HAPPY GILMORE, among other things. He’s very well known and respected as a rewrite artist. At least he knew the material; where everyone else claimed to be a fan and couldn’t tell me the first thing about my work, he could. From there, it went downhill. All of the meetings I went to, the time I spent going down there, and all of the lunches I had left next to no progression at all. I was in a black hole. In the meantime, they throw option money so you think you are progressing. But you’re not doing what you’re best at. Part of the problem was that I wanted to take my shot at directing to where I knew I did my best. At least I had my say in it: if it was lousy I could say "At least I tried," rather than taking the money, walking away and letting them make something that I was embarrassed of. In that process, going into turnaround and meeting a few potential directors, I realized my being involved was slowing things down.
With the money I made, I made a couple of films myself to get the feel for it, feel some independence and have some outlet to be responsible for myself and gain some responsibility. In that quest, I came across Robert Rodriguez’s book REBEL WITHOUT A CREW, where he explains exactly how he made a film for $7,000. I figured I’d use $10,000 of my option money and see what I can come up with, and did ASTROESQUE. Soon after that, I actually met him, and they were making wish lists to try to talk me out of directing it myself. We made these dream lists, so of course I’m listing people like Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Eventually, I hooked up with Robert Rodriguez who was like this icon to me, this mentor or spiritual leader (laughter) all about the freedom of independence and what he carved out for himself. We really hit it off, he said himself that we were brothers and were cut from the same cloth. He passed on it, because he didn’t want to get in with the studio calling the shots. Our friendship progressed from there, so it was the best thing that ever happened for me.
As we kept in touch over the next couple of years, I had thrown up my hands and said "Forget this, nobody’s going to do anything with this movie." Soon, I was called and told that the rights were reverting back to me, because I hadn’t gotten active in turnaround and looked for other avenues. All of a sudden they were coming back and I flat out owned the rights again. I just casually mentioned this to Robert.
He said "Wait, they’re entirely yours, you’ll have the full rights to them again?"
"Hang onto them for me."
Then he explained that he wanted to do it, but with complete freedom. He respected the way I felt about it. From there, he flew me to Austin, where he lives, and we hung out and worked out an outline. He said "What if I option this from you directly, so that my production company will produce it and develop it, and I’ll get financing so that we’ll completely do it the way we’ll both be happy?"
He’s in development with another film first. In the meantime, he’s optioned MADMAN from me. On every film he’s done, he’s directed, produced, or co-produced and done the steady-cam work and edited it himself. There was some talk of my co-writing the screenplay with him, but I’m satisfied with the outline that I gave him. He’s free to write it himself. I have every confidence that he will do a MADMAN film that I will jump out of my skin with joy about. I don’t have to worry anymore.
If something happens to where the film isn’t made by him: fine, I can let it go now. I’ve got this renewed passion for comics. The biggest joy that I can imagine in the work is to, every month, go down to the comic book store, and there is another comic book that I did that I can hold in my hands. Every month has a new product, with that feeling of a tangible product ("Wow, another month went by, and here’s another thing I did!").
In the past year, I figured out how my schedule works. When I worked exclusively on comic books, I averaged thirty pages a month. In realizing that, it became clear to me that I can easily do a monthly schedule of 22 pages a month, with a new cover. It feels like a cathartic realization. I’ve been working towards that. All of my concentration has been towards organization and reorganization and just clearing away any clutter that would keep me away from having this goal of producing on a monthly basis. So far, it’s working out and with a target of January, it actually looks like I might be able to release the next four issue MADMAN monthly, as well as the first four issues of THE ATOMICS monthly.
CI: Are you drawing THE ATOMICS, as well?
MA: Yup, story, pencils and inks. And of course Laura is coloring it. It’s spelled ATOMICS, but Alex Ross is trying to talk me into making it ATOMIX. (Laughter). The first ad that’s coming out in MADMAN will have the first spelling, and the one after that has the female It Girl having sprayed a big "X" over the "CS". [THE ATOMICS] actually sit down and have a conversation about what they’re going to call themselves, and they get real serious about it. The fun in it is that there is a real diverse mixture of personalities, and some are more selfish than others. It’s such a joy. I’m having so much fun playing with these characters, and designing the stuff. I love doing the covers, and I get the opportunity of a new cover every month. It’s really thrilling.
CI: You’d mentioned on www.vision-tone.com. proposing a BATMAN one-shot to DC?
MA: Yes, BATMAN A-GO-GO, I’d already submitted and had the storyline approved. It’s just going to have to take a back seat right now. My top priority is MADMAN’S world. That includes finishing his story and building THE ATOMICS. For me, THE ATOMICS has everything in it. In fact, the first four issues guest star MADMAN, so it’s my having my cake and eating it, too.
CI: Another project that recently came about is the BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC comic book. I know that you’d done the art for CHASING AMY. Was this a given thing that you and Kevin Smith were going to do, or did it just come up one day?
MA: It’s another example of too many irons in the fire, and too many things going on. [To explain] my relationship with him and Scott Mosier (I must include Scott Mosier, he’s Kevin’s producer, right-hand man, co-conspirator and creative partner. Scott’s like the shadow behind Kevin. He’s in all of the films, playing different characters; I think he played five characters in CLERKS), I consider them both very good friends. I know Scott better than Kevin, I’ve had more contact with him, but met them both in San Diego years ago, before MALLRATS came out. We recognized each other, and mutually admired each other in the crowded hallways of San Diego. They asked me if I would do an opening credits piece for MALLRATS, which I was happy to do. I guess they liked it enough that they asked me to do all of the BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC art that the two characters [in CHASING AMY] did. So I did, and that was a lot of fun. They hooked it up so that I could make an appearance in CHASING AMY, giving the first line in the whole film as myself, at the opening convention. I had a great time getting to know them. Keep in mind that this is the first time I met Ben Affleck and didn’t even know who he was. He was the creep in MALLRATS and the creep in DAZED AND CONFUSED. My first discussion with Ben was that "It must be nice being the romantic lead in a movie after playing all these jerks." (Laughter) CHASING AMY was really Ben’s springboard into leading man status. None of us knew that. Maybe Kevin and Scott did. I guess most people thought maybe Jason Lee was going to break out more then he did in MALLRATS. Still, it was great fun to watch all of this stuff happen, and this was their return to independence after they lost some of it on MALLRATS. There was a group effort feeling about CHASING AMY. Then they also got me invited to the Pittsburgh Convention so that I could make a cameo in DOGMA, and then invited me to Sundance, and set me up in the Miramax condominium, so there’s this huge appreciation with these guys. Whenever I could do anything, I did my best to fit it in. When the idea for BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC came up, it was a "I can’t say no" situation. I did that, and it was great fun (not really my cup of tea!) to do. I did it really quickly, too. I learned how to cut the fat and be more productive. That’s one of the best examples. I’m real happy with how that story looks, and it took me just under two weeks to do the whole thing. It’s been really instructive to figure how to still be happy with the quality of my work, yet still efficient. That’s been my association with the "View Askew Crew," as I call them.
CI: Back when MADMAN started to really pick up, you’d mentioned that you would have liked to do a MADMAN / DAREDEVIL crossover but, at the time, that ugly armor came out.
MA: At the time, he was the only character [Marvel] hadn’t mucked around with.
CI: Since you have this association with Kevin Smith, and he’s now writing DAREDEVIL. Would you ever consider a MADMAN/ DAREDEVIL crossover?
MA: I’d very much consider it, sure. I’m very firm in nothing else interfering. I can handle two things at the same time without suffering too much. Until I finish what I see as Frank Einstein story, I’m not going to have too much time to do anything else. ATOMICS is becoming my top priority. If it fails miserably, that’ll be a different story, but I’m hoping to make it my flagship.
CI: Your FANTASTIC FOUR, so to speak...
MA: This time around, yeah, but there are a lot of elements in MADMAN COMICS that are inspired by the FANTASTIC FOUR. If Joe was The Invisible Girl, Mott was The Thing, Astroman could be The Human Torch, Dr. Flem kind of fits the Mr. Fantastic role, and Madman I always saw as Spider-Man visiting the Fantastic Four. It’s the mixture of personalities. They were my FANTASTIC FOUR. THE ATOMICS is like MADMAN times ten and ups the ante. The fun in it is in balancing. Every character will dominate a particular storyline, and the other characters will be like satellites that can rotate back into the main story, so that it can constantly keep it coming. The way I prefer to write, doesn’t work well with long breaks. For example, MADMAN COMICS #11 was where the big pause happened was the worst cliff-hanger to leave people. It’s kind of cruel, and I realize that and understand that. For anyone who has stuck around, I can’t express how much I appreciate their loyalty. I hope to pay back that loyalty by being as productive as possible. Comic books really are the #1 priority with me right now. As long as the industry and audience is there, I’m going to repay the patience of everybody who stood by me as I learned and grew with these different things. I also want to remind everyone that, although MADMAN COMICS has been a break, in the meantime, we did the team-up with NEXUS, and MADMAN JAM and, most successfully, SUPERMAN/ MADMAN which is actually in MADMAN continuity. SUPERMAN/ MADMAN #1 takes place immediately after MADMAN COMICS #11, so it could have been called MADMAN COMICS #12, 13 and 14, featuring SUPERMAN. MADMAN COMICS #12 immediately follows SUPERMAN/ MADMAN HULLABALLOO. Because of their mixture of molecules, Frank still has some [of Superman’s power]. I’ve managed to come away from this world-wide icon and steal some of his thunder! (Laughter) That will explain why, in #12, Frank gets upset and punches the wall and breaks through the stone. I’ve pirated some of Superman’s mojo! You don’t get more subversive than that! It’s well-meaning and fun, and I’m not going to put Frank Einstein in a SUPERMAN costume.
CI: What about EYES TO HEAVEN with Shane Hawks?
MA: That’s the second no-budget film that we did. Because of my relationship with the View Askew guys, I usurped their cinematographer Dave Klein, who shot CLERKS, MALLRATS, and CHASING AMY. I got to know him on the shoots, and at Sundance, and I told him that I was going to do this movie that Shane Hawks had come up with. Shane was my right hand man on ASTROESQUE. He was my Scott Mosier, as Scott is to Kevin. I couldn’t have done it without Shane’s help and support. So, to repay him, I agreed to finance his indy film. So I produced [EYES TO HEAVEN], financed it, and played the main badguy in it, which was a lot of fun to do. In telling Dave about this, he pretty much begged to shoot it. I told him we were shooting in black and white, would be real high-concept, and super-cheap! He’d have to sleep in the guest room, and I couldn’t pay anything. We were going to do this cheaper than ASTROESQUE, but with a higher learning curve. Dave was excited about that and came out here. I think it’s beautiful. Dave did a gorgeous job on it. It’s just a freaky, freaky movie, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD meets ERASERHEAD.
CI: And you have a comic book coming out of it?
MA: It is a prequel called THE FEEDERS, and introduces these characters that flicker in and out of reality and are inter-dimensional, soul-sucking fiends. There is a CARNIVAL OF SOULS feeling to it, too.
CI: I’ve heard THE FEEDERS as being unlike anything you’ve ever done. Would you agree with that?
MA: The only thing it could be remotely compared to, in its darkness and gloominess, would be the CITIZEN NOCTURNE storyline which I did right out of the gate in my first comic series, GRAPHIQUE MUSIQUE. I consider myself a very optimistic "glass-is-half-full" person, but like to go into darkness knowing that there will be light at the end of it. When you first meet Shane Hawks, you’re convinced he’s the ultimate Eagle Scout: he’s extremely clean-cut, has big white, pearly teeth, and looks like he helps little old ladies across the street. When, in fact, he’s a very sick, sick man! When you see EYES TO HEAVEN and read THE FEEDERS, you’ll know that. It’s really disturbing stuff, and has actually been very painful for me to be associated with. It’s an odd dichotomy, but that is what collaborations are for: you bring something that normally wouldn’t be there to a party. It’s not like anything I’ve done: very gloomy, very disturbing, very horrible, even depressing, erotic at times. Although I like to sprinkle my work with eroticism, but in a nice all ages type of way! A little perk of the butt when Joe stands; I always thought it was sexier when you don’t see everything...or scarier.
CI: What do you have planned for the future, aside from MADMAN and THE ATOMICS?
MA: I definitely want to get to BATMAN A-GO-GO, and doing MADMAN/ DAREDEVIL with Kevin would be great fun, but that hasn’t been discussed except as of right now! Where I enjoy myself the most and get the greatest sense of accomplishment is playing in my own yard. Anything aside from MADMAN or THE ATOMICS in the near future will most likely be new comic book creations. The music I only do for my own fun and selfishness, and may release a few CDs independently, but it is very much a low priority as far as recording. It is really all about comics! My interests and activities will completely revolve around comics in the near future. If the audience goes away, and the industry collapses, I’ll have to find something else to do! (Laughter)
Again, I consider myself a very optimistic person, with the exception of playing in Shane Hawks’ sewer! The marketing for EYES TO HEAVEN is just how sick Shane Hawks is! It’s horrible, and he’s really graphic, just horribly horrible. The warning in the PREVIEWS will say explicit violence and brief nudity. With THE FEEDERS, I’m guilty of maybe censoring it a bit. Like I said, I think it’s scarier and sexier if you don’t see everything, but he wanted everything graphically laid out. It has been really hard and painful for me to do this, and may be part of the reason I’m enjoying what I’m doing now so much.
Most of my favorite comics are done by people who do everything --writing and drawing. I don’t know if it takes that long to do, and they keep their expenses low and can afford to put out a book two or three times a year. I don’t know, but it feels too few and far-between to get a new Dan Clowes book, or Charles Burns or Hernandez Brothers. I wonder if they labor on their book everyday, or work on it on weekends. With Chester Brown, his work is coming out so rarely. It’s unfortunate, because these artists are the cream of the crop because, the more the work would come out, the stronger the industry would be since the work would more often be supported by fans. I’ve made a science of what my work habits are and what it takes for me to get x-amount of work done, and what takes me away from that. I have now created a 9 to 5 five-day-a-week schedule where I can easily do the work I need to do, have fun, not burn out, have the weekends off and have a vacation every year.
We’re virtually doing everything on the book, too. In fact, probably with the next issue, we’ll be doing all of the Quark layout work with the letter column. We’ve been designing our own ads. Cary Grazzini, our AMAZING book designer, has been a big help and really nice in not feeling threatened that I’m essentially taking those tasks away from him. I really like the hands-on feeling of doing everything on the book. With issue #16, which I’m finishing now, we’re actually sending to Dark Horse complete on disk. The whole thing is done: they won’t be scanning it or anything, any proofs or misspellings can be made on disk. We’re having so much fun doing it.
Christopher Irving is a freelance writer in Virginia. An archive of his work (including a previous Mike Allred interview) can be found on RichmondComix.com.