It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing Mike Maihack chime in on all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: Three volumes of CLEOPATRA IN SPACE in as many years is a healthy momentum. What’s in store for Cleo fans next?
MM: Three more volumes in as many years! Well, maybe four years. I’m not sure I can keep up at this pace. Book 4 is still scheduled for next spring 2017 though. I’m on the back third of drawing it right now and, I know I say this with every book, but I think it’s the best one yet. I work hard to make sure each book is better than the last. Otherwise what’s the point? In this one Cleo visits a tempestuous ice planet and her relationship with Antony is explored some more. There’s also a new villain who is a much more powerful foe than Cleo is prepared for.
Q: Tell us more about this tempestuous ice planet?
MM: It’s, well…stormy, and not very inviting to technology. Nothing that is electronic works on it. And its weather can be somewhat lethal. I thought it’d be interesting if Cleo not only had to contend with a physical being, but also an adversary she couldn’t kick, punch or zap—even though she still tries to do all those things. The planet also happens to be the resting place for something called The Golden Lion, which, conveniently, is also the title of the book.
Q: That’s certainly what we call convenient. How did these tales come into being? Where did much of your inspiration originate from?
MM: Mostly science fiction films and shows. Throughout the series there are nods and homages to Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rogers, Duck Dodgers, Buffy, the X-Men—stuff like that. Really, in the end, Cleopatra in Space is just about me wanting to work on all of those things.
I suppose the actual Cleopatra VII influenced the books a bit too. Just a little.
Q: You just scored major bonus points with us, for mentioning DUCK DODGERS. Chuck Jones was a national treasure, wasn’t he?
MM: Yeah, he’s the backbone for the next Nick Cage movie, I believe. Ben Gates finds a treasure map on the back of a cell for Duck Amuck.
Q: Hilarity ensues. What can you tell us about Khensu the space cat, that most folks might not know?
MM: Hmm. He wasn’t always the stuffy, strict professor type we all know and love(?). His younger self and Cleo actually have a lot more in common then she probably realizes. Part of the reasons he’s so hard on her I suspect. He also doesn’t care for tuna, which is really weird. You know, for a cat.
Q: Well, if not tuna, what is Khensu’s preferred dish?
MM: Hokkel meat, which we don’t have here on Earth, but tastes a lot like chicken.
Q: That sounds tasty. Hey, have you read any good indie comics lately? If so, which ones? And what did you enjoy about them?
MM: I mostly read graphic novels these days and a few comic collections. The most recent one I finished up was Tony Cliff’s latest Delilah Dirk adventure, The King’s Shilling. By far the best graphic novel I’ve read this year. Tony knows how to tell a story with precisely the right balance of intrigue, character development, and humor. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most adept cartoonists out there right now too.
I’ve also been reading Chris Schweizer’s Creeps books to my son before bed and enjoying those a bunch. I’d love to see them as a live action series. They’ve got a great Goonies mixed with Twilight Zone vibe that I haven’t seen done as fun as Chris is doing it. His dialogue is fantastic. Really taps into how the middle-grade age group thinks and talks.
Q: The character of Delilah Dirk has been described as a “globetrotting troublemaker.” How would you describe her?
MM: That actually seems about right. Maybe add: “with fantastic hair.”
Q: How are Cow and Buffalo doing these days? What have they been up to?
MM: Well, when I left them in, what was it? 2009? Seven years ago. Jeez. Well, They were heading up in to space. So I guess that’s where they’ve been. Just floating around. Cow is probably doing something optimistically dumb. Buffalo is probably grumbling about their current situation of floating around in space.
Q: Ahh, good old Cow. Hey, what hasn’t happened in indie comics yet, that you would love to see happen?
MM: I’m not sure. I don’t follow the industry as well as I used to, due to most of my time spent on my own work and being a dad. But I actually think each year comics get better and better. Better role models for kids of all genders, more diversity, more stuff reflective of this spinning mesh of gas and rock we are all clinging on to (thanks gravity!)—so, yeah. More of that. As much as I hear people gripe, I think we are heading in the right direction, especially if you compare the content with how it was ten years ago. There’s so much stuff out there that both challenges us intellectually and/or is just plain fun. It really is the best time to be reading comics. We just need to convince the rest of America about that.
Q: It sure seems like sci-fi is becoming more popular than ever. There’s certainly enough of it to go around in today’s graphic lit. What advice would you give to aspiring writers of sci-fi who are hoping to attract a younger audience?
MM: It’s not always the case, but the age of your central protagonist will kind of dictate what your target audience will be. As readers, even if we don’t mean to, we tend to put some of ourselves in the characters we like. So if you want a younger audience, have someone in your story that the audience can relate to on some level. Incorporating a dinosaur or two couldn’t hurt either.
Q: Speaking of dinosaurs, what is your favorite book or film that involves dinosaurs?
MM: The original animated Transformers movie, because Grimlock king.
Q: All hail Grimlock king. Hey, what is your workspace like? Using words to “paint a picture” for us, take us on a brief guided tour of the area/room in which your illustration magic happens?
MM: I’m fortunate to have a whole room in our rental house that’s just for me. It allows me to close the door not only for distractions, but close the door when I’m done working so that doesn’t distract me either.
Inside said room I’ve got a desk with an iMac on it. Next to that is a Cintiq sitting on top of my old drawing desk. Behind all that is a whole lot of books and movies. Toys and boxes and boxes of toys surround the room. And kittens. And mittens. And a comb and a bowl full of mush. And a quiet old lady whispering “hush.”
Q: If you were going on a cruise tomorrow, and you could bring five books with you, which five books would you bring along for the trip?
MM: Space Dumplins, Mighty Jack, Ready Player One, Ms Marvel vol. 5, and Saga vol. 6 since those are the next five books in my reading queue.
Q: SPACE DUMPLINS looks so good. What is it about that particular tale that really ensnares you in its tractor beam?
MM: Besides the incredible colors and draftsmanship? It looks like a tale that weaves the themes of family, friendship, and loyalty into a grand space adventure filled with quirky aliens, awesome spaceships, and sharp commentary on our environmentally challenged world. At least that’s what it says on the back of the book. And I love all those things.
Q: Five dinner guests. Which five living illustrators (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?
MM: I was once at a dinner thing with Craig Thompson who brought up sex, religion, and politics all within the span of a half an hour. So he’s in. I know I just mentioned Schweizer but man, that dude sure is an entertaining fellow. Or maybe his mustache is confusing me with Ernest Hemingway. Oh! Can he be invited? I know he’s not an illustrator—or alive—but how great would that be? Can I have an exception to raise the dead? How about Will Eisner and Walt Disney? Oh the stories they could share! Or would they just moan and grumble like zombies since I raised them from the dead? I’m not sure how all this works. What number am I at?
Q: Sure, you can invite Ernest Hemingway! That would indeed be great. What a storyteller he was. What’s your favorite of his written works?
MM: Oh, I haven’t read anything of his since high school. I was thinking more of Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Hemingway in Midnight in Paris. Actually strike Hemingway from my list. Let’s invite Corey Stoll instead, but as Ernest Hemingway.
Q: Corey Stoll it is, as Ernest Hemingway. What is it about his MIDNIGHT IN PARIS tale that really floats your boat?
MM: It was true and real. The performance was good too. You know, besides the mustache.
Q: What is your music of choice whilst illustrating? Or do you prefer peace & quiet, the sounds of nature, that sort of thing?
MM: I almost always listen to music while I work. The genre kinda depends on what I’m working on at the time, but I love pretty much everything. Lately, it’s been a lot of current pop and country. EDM is great too for keeping me focused. Movie scores, blues, soul, rock, good ol’ dependable 90’s alternative, whatever new thing is coming out Friday. I’m into it all. There are times when I shut it all down and listen to the birds or rain outside, and that’s sometimes nice, but it’s not very often.
Q: [Role play] You’re on a space ship. You have enough remaining fuel to return safely to Earth, or to adventurously visit Saturn (exploring its moons and its rings,) but not enough fuel to visit both Earth and Saturn. What do you do?
MM: Return to Earth, obviously. I mean, Saturn is cool and all, but not sure an up close view of dust particles is worth dying for.
Q: [Role play continues] During your return to Earth, you see Corey Stoll in a neighboring spacecraft, and he’s dressed like Ernest Hemingway. What do you do?
MM: Like the man who is brave and true looking death squarely in the face, like some rhino-hunters he may know or Belmonte, who is truly brave… we fly off on an adventure. After all, you’ll never write well with a fear of dying.