Q&A with Mike Allred

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It’s not every day that we get to see writer/illustrator Mike Allred chime in on all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.

 

MULTIVERSE:  Next year marks the 20th anniversary of RED ROCKET 7.  How did that timeless tale blossom from an idea to a proper story?

Mike Allred:  It was the most ambitious project I’d ever undertaken.  And it all started with a very detailed and vivid dream.  I woke up electrified and inspired to take the elements of my dream and make a low/no-budget feature, Astroesque, an album with my band, The Gear, and a 7-issue comic book series that pulled everything together.  The Red Rocket 7 series carried the load of the story of the seventh clone of an alien who crashed on earth.  Each of the seven clones has an amplified ability, or specialty of the original alien.  Red Rocket 7 has musical enhancements. We follow him as he witnesses, and often influences the history of Rock n Roll.

MULTIVERSE:  David Bowie’s appearances in that tale are a treat.  Have you given any thought to a RR7 sequel or prequel?

Mike Allred: I’ve thought of other projects and stories that would integrate music, but not a specific sequel to RR7.

Once there was the tiniest chance of doing an actual Ziggy Stardust comic book or graphic novel.  Oni Publisher, Joe Nozemack, was trying to put something together with David Bowie’s manager.  Obviously, it never happened.  But for years Bowie toyed with various ideas of doing specific theatrical and cinematic projects with his classic music.  This is largely why he didn’t want his music in the Velvet Goldmine movie, since he had plans for it.  Ultimately, LAZURUS benefitted from this, using his music, and it tied to his Man Who Fell To Earth character, Thomas Newton.

MULTIVERSE:  What do you suppose it is, about indie comics, that people seem to enjoy so much?

Mike Allred: I think you identify with an artist’s creations in the purest way when they are creatively untethered.  And what’s more appealing than knowing an artist completely owns and controls their own work?

MULTIVERSE:  Which are your five all-time favorite indie comics?

Mike Allred:  Ook!  That’s tough!  To boil that list down I’d have to go with the ones that inspired me the most to make my own.

1 –  LOVE & ROCKETS by Los Bros. Hernandez.  Right off the top, with an honorable mention for Mister X, which my friends Charlie Custis and Steven T. Seagle turned me on to.  When Steve saw how much I loved Los Bros on Mister X, he opined me at Love & Rockets and it completely opened my eyes to breaking rules and making your own path.

2 –  THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE by Moebius.  Moebius and Barry Windsor-Smith (on Conan) inspired me to draw my own comics like no one since Jack Kirby.  But finding a piece of The Airtight Garage in Heavy Metal Magazine (which Moebius helped create) sent me on a wild goose chase to get everything Moebius ever did which continues to this day.

3 –  EIGHTBALL by Daniel Clowes.  I’m starting to see a pattern emerge here.  These are all ground-breaking complete unique talents who march to their own drum beat.  And Dan Clowes has a deep well of skills. His stories are diverse with a recognizable style no matter what medium, paint or ink, he’s using.  Even his lettering is beyond compare, able to create a new hand-lettered logo for each issue and story.  Brilliant!

4 –  YUMMY FUR by Chester Brown.  This title blew my mind!  One of the most disgusting things I’ll admit to loving.  Purely addictive stream-of-consciousness storytelling.  Impossible to predict what would happen next as you turn each page, and it all makes sense in some twisted demented wonderful way.  And I simply love his drawing style too.  It’s so pure.

5 –  NEXUS by Steve Rude and Mike Baron.  I’m gonna “do a 180” here with an indie that looks as commercial as anything you could ever hope for.  The writing is stellar, with tales that could be traced back to classic sci fi but went well above and beyond anything you could expect in a comic book.  Looking back, it’s shocking how great and original this series was for its time and even now with anything new Mike and Steve do with it.  Steve may be the best all around artist comics have ever seen.  There’s nothing he can’t draw with complete confidence, and his painting skills are unmatched by anyone with the possible exception of Alex Ross.  To make such a prolific high quality series as Nexus, and with painted covers most of the time, deserves more praise than it’s ever received.

MULTIVERSE:  Your fondness for music shines brightly in RR7.  If you were going away for a secluded weekend at a cabin in the woods, and you knew in advance that there was a nice turntable there (with really nice speakers too,) which five vinyl albums would you bring along with you for the weekend?

Mike Allred:  There’s no definitive list,  it would change on a daily basis depending on my mood before leaving for this mythical cabin.  Having said that, the albums I would take with me today would be ones I hadn’t heard in a while or were relatively new to me:

1-The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

2-Pink Floyd: Animals

3-The Monkees: Good Times

4-The Dandy Warhols: Distortland

5-David Bowie: Blackstar

MULTIVERSE:  David Bowie’s appearances in RR7 are a real treat.  We take it you’ve seen David Bowie’s last music video?  Wasn’t that something?

Mike Allred:  Very moving.  Powerful, beautiful, and hauntingly brilliant.

MULTIVERSE:  How might you explain the craft of being an illustrator to an attentive class of 6th grade students at a public school today?

Mike Allred:  I’ve actually done that a few times.  I would make sure I had a gigantic drawing pad, and show them how to measure out and draw a head.  From there how you measure out the scale of a figure.  Then the fun of observing and capturing objects and scenery on paper.  After that, I’d explain how practicing those skills would allow you to tell a story with pictures.

Sometimes just showing a child the basics can inspire a passion for drawing.

MULTIVERSE:  Of the current crop of indie comics, which three are you most curious to read, and why?

Mike Allred:  Andrew MacLean’s Head Lopper is a great adventure tale with his completely unique drawing style.  And I just this week stumbled across Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram’s House of Penance when it jumped out at me at the comic shop.  Such a unique and stunning book!  In the back was a super cool preview for Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer.  The editor, Daniel Chabon, and I have been talking a bit lately so I told him the preview left me excited for the series.  Next thing I knew, Jeff Lemire had him send me pdfs of the first two issues which blew me away!  I could easily have listed any number of books.  Image, for instance, is unstoppable.  And the latest batch of new releases Shelly Bond curated at Vertigo are terrific.  But those three I mentioned would be the most recent faves that snuck onto my radar.

MULTIVERSE:  Head Lopper, House Of Penance, and Black Hammer all sound extraordinary.  Tell our readers a little more about those three tales, in your own words?

Mike Allred:   Not me, no way, no sir.  Hunt ’em down, check ’em out, and find out for yourself.  I’m always afraid that when I try to describe someone else’s comics, that I’m doing a disservice.

MULTIVERSE:  MADMAN AND THE ATOMICS isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon yet. Should it be?

Mike Allred:   Yes!  It should be!

MULTIVERSE:  Agreed!  Which celeb should be the voice of Frank Einstein for that?  And, what about the voices of It Girl and Mr. Gum?

Mike Allred:  Kyle MacLachlan was our top choice when Madman was first optioned in 1995, so I’ll stick with him for the cartoon.  Since I was just watching The Americans I’ll throw in Kerri Russell for It Girl, and since I’m about to watch his new Netflix special, let’s go with Patton Oswalt for Mr. Gum.

MULTIVERSE:  What’s still on your bucket list, as an illustrator?  And, as a writer?

Mike Allred:   I have a new Madman 25th anniversary special which I’m working on for next year, and then an all-new creation which I’ve been developing called X-RAY ROBOT!  I’m super pumped about it.  This is actually the first time I’ve mentioned it to anyone other than close friends and family since it’s nearing the top of my “to do” pile.  That’s everything I’m working on as a writer.

Then there’s my collaborative stuff with my big bro, Lee (a one-shot I’m doing with him is almost all drawn, but I can’t say anything about it yet), and Surfer with Dan Slott.  And just now wrapping up ART OPS, which I created with Shaun Simon.

Illustrating all that stuff, but X-RAY ROBOT is my top bucket list item as a writer and artist.

There are tons of characters from the Marvel and DC universes I still want to get my hands on.  Silver Surfer has been a great vehicle for me to play at Marvel.  I love working with Dan so much too!  There’s a childlike bliss that comes with making those comics.

MULTIVERSE:  X-RAY ROBOT sounds like a blast.  Can you tell us a little more about that tale?

Mike Allred:   This always scares me a little, having my ideas swiped before I can get them out.  Beyond letting the title hang out there for speculation, I can, I will reveal this: it’s super heavy sci fi adventure.  Deep concepts played out in my favorite comic book playground.

MULTIVERSE:  What thrills you the most about ART OPS with Shaun Simon?

Mike Allred:   World building.  I love to create a complicated ever expanding world that somehow stays tethered to its original concept, and Art Ops does that.  I love the wildly different characters and setting them loose in the infinite world of art.

MULTIVERSE:  Five dinner guests.  Which five living writers and/or illustrators (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?

Mike Allred:   Mario, Gilbert, and Jaime Hernandez would immediately knock off three.  Love and Rockets inspired me to start making my own comics more than any other entity whose creators are still walking the earth.  Matt Wagner was the first established creator who ever reached out to me.  He’s also a great cook and conversationalist.  And he’s proven himself to be “dinner party gold” countless times.  And I’ve been thinking about Ed Brubaker a lot recently.  He’s one of the first folks we met in the biz, starting out around the same time, and we have great affection for him, but haven’t connected with him in years.  It’d be great fun catching up and touching base again.

MULTIVERSE:  Matt Wagner’s Grendel tales have certainly captured the imagination of many a reader.  Do you have a favorite of his Grendel tales?  If so, which one, and why?

Mike Allred:  Beyond Matt’s super cool Art Deco masterpiece, Devil By the Deed, Bernie Mireault’s The Devil Inside run really had a huge impact on me, introducing me to his very eclectic and unique art.  It may be the one I revisit the most.  Loved the layers in the storytelling. So many great collaborations one after the other: The Pander Brothers, Tim Sale, Patrick McEown…on and on.

MULTIVERSE:  Studies have shown that writers often read when they aren’t writing, so we were just wondering…  What did you recently read? What are you reading now? What are you planning to read next?

Mike Allred:  I’ll assume you’re talking about high-falootin’ novels and the like. I’m not going to pretend I’m reading anything other than comics these days. We’re in a book club with Matt Wagner, Jamie S. Rich, Joelle Jones, Chris Roberson, Craig Thompson, Shannon Wheeler, Bob Schreck, Professor Ben Saunders, and others, but haven’t met to pick a new book in well over a year. In fact, half the gang has moved away.  I think Stephen King’s 11/22/63 was the last thing we read, and they made a (television) mini-series since.  That’s how swamped everyone has been.  If I’m being completely honest, Entertainment Weekly is as close as I’ve gotten to reading any books this whole year, when I read the book reviews.

All my time has been devoted to making comics lately. Never busier, and never more alive with the process.

I will say I am eager to read some classic sic fi.  I’d love to read Frank Herbert’s Dune series again.  Some Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asmiov, Ray Bradbury.  And to really impress you with my high pedigree of taste in prose, I’ll confess that I found two old Partridge Family paper backs that look to be part of a series of thrillers.  I was hypnotized with curiosity. I HAD TO HAVE THEM!  The Partridge Family #5 “Terror By Night” and the other is The Partridge Family #9 “the Fat and Skinny Murder Mystery”.  The only mystery here is, with that title, why haven’t I dove in and read it yet?!  They are always there in my study just daring me to read them.  Death Bed reading I’m sure.

MULTIVERSE:  Zounds!  The Partridge Family #5 “Terror By Night”!?  And, The Partridge Family #9 “the Fat and Skinny Murder Mystery”!?

Mike Allred:   Well, I haven’t read ’em yet, and probably never will.  I just love the idea of it, that some time in the 70s, someone thought it was a great idea to exploit the success of a teeny bopper TV show by licensing murder mystery novels for kids.

I think it’s a lot like a super-cool and exciting-looking exploitation movie poster that is way better than the crummy movie it’s advertising.  It’s often best to just imagine the movie based on the poster, and never see the actual flick.

But still, those Partridge books may call to me, like sirens to a sailor, and pull me in someday. If so, hopefully I’ll live to tell the tale.

MULTIVERSE:  What is the wildest thing you ever saw happen at a comic convention?

Mike Allred:  Wildest?  Well, a nude woman cosplaying ” The Mother of Dragons”, wearing nuttin’ but a toy baby dragon on her shoulder would be a contender.  What was especially wild about it was that no one freaked out.  It was completely “normal”.

MULTIVERSE:  Normalcy sure ain’t what it used to be.  Long live the Khaleesi.  Okay, so, you’re on a ship at sea.  It’s a dark and stormy night.  The captain is nowhere to be found.  What do you do?

Mike Allred:   Learn the controls as quickly as possible!  Everyone get on your life vests!  Get on the radio!  MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  Then settle in and read those Partridge Family thrillers which I’m sure I’ll have packed for the trip.

 

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RED ROCKET 7 is intended for readers of all ages.  It can be found at book shops, comic shops, and public libraries everywhere.  Please read responsibly. 

RR7