It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing writer Chuck Dixon chime in on BAD TIMES and all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: It’s been said that your sci-fi BAD TIMES books are “one part Army Rangers, one part time travel, and a whole lot of action.” What more can you tell us about BAD TIMES, without giving too much away?
CD: I call Bad Times my “toy soldier” books. It all started with “what if a bunch of combat vets from the present faced armies of the past with modern weapons?” It grew from there to the extended cast of characters and continuing plotlines the series has. I built it all on that basic premise of “what if?”
So this team of former US Army Rangers travels back in time on missions of mercy or in search of treasure and, lately, to get their butts out of trouble they got themselves in. Their journeys have attracted the attention of some very dangerous people in the present and the future that need to stay constantly ahead of.
Q: What can you tell us about one of the antagonist characters from the future, without giving too much away?
CD: The Tauber Tube is financed by Sir Neal Harnesh, a multi-billionaire, who is interested in time travel as a way of influencing the present and past in ways that benefit him. He’s not happy with the Rangers commandeering his property for themselves.
Q: Where did the Tauber name originate from?
CD: A good friend of mine, Matt Tauber, provided the name. He’s a good guy and a true self-made comic book scholar. I knew he’d be amused by it. I even had Morris Tauber grow a beard when Matt did. And the alliteration works right?
Q: Right on. Matt must have been tickled pink by that. We love seeing writers apply that level of thought to their literary creations. What was your inspiration for the Tauber Tube itself, by the way?
CD: I needed a practical device that would allow for time travel that I could basically come up with the BS “science” to make it sound plausible. I liked the idea of the travelers walking into a mist and emerging in the past in the other side. The real challenge was the logistics of where to place such a device that was in a location where the team was stepping out into the past’s version of Times Square every time or manifesting in the wall of a mountain range. So the desert and open ocean locales turned out to be the best for my purposes. For now.
Q: If the Tauber Tube were a real thing, and if you could use it yourself, where (and when) would you go, and what would you do?
CD: I have no interest in visiting any era without modern medicine (especially dentistry). And I’m not sure I want to dispel my romantic notions of the past by visiting the real thing. I suspect it would be a downer.
Q: Have you given any thought to having BAD TIMES also be a tabletop role-playing game someday?
CD: I know my youngest son would be in favor of that. I love seeing figurines of characters I created.
Q: What is your youngest son into?
CD: He’s big into gaming and is a huge Groo fan.
Q: Groo! Sergio Aragones is a genius. MAD magazine sure gave us some wonderful storytellers over the years, didn’t they?
CD: It’s an amazing run. I was lucky enough to catch up to Sergio when I was in San Diego a couple of years back. He signed a pile of comics for my son. And it’s not exactly breaking news to anyone who’s met him but he’s just the most charming and generous guy.
Q: What is it that makes Jimbo the fascinating protagonist character that he is?
CD: I think he’s grown so much as a character. He’s the deepest guy in the team and the only one who actually enjoys these forays into history. He’s also the one who’s paid the most in terms of bodily injury. Jimmy Smalls is the soul and conscience of the group. Though Bat Jaffe is emerging to take some of that role on in the latest book.
Q: When the BAD TIMES books inevitably become blockbuster live-action full-length feature films, which actors do you think would really deliver a spot-on portrayal of your characters Jimmy Smalls and Bat Jaffe?
CD: I don’t usually play the casting game. But I love to see a real Pima Indian play Jimmy.
Q: Which of the current crop of indie comics are you most curious to read?
CD: I don’t read a lot of current comics. There’s too many great reprints out now.
Q: Fair enough. Perhaps the better question is, which books are you most looking forward to reading this summer?
CD: I’m reading A Night In The Pech Valley by Grant McGarry. It’s a memoir of an Army Ranger in Afghanistan. Pretty obvious why I’m reading that. Also on the stack is East of the Sun by Benson Bobrick, a history of Siberia.
Q: What do you suppose brick-and-mortar comic book shops could do more of, to remain relevant in these digital times?
CD: There’s not much they can do without the help of the major publishers. It falls to DC and Marvel and Archie to bring in entry level readers. No one, or VERY few people, experiences comics for the first time in a comics shop. And today there are far fewer venues for comics than there were in the past. I feel that the comic book readership lost a generation when they retreated from common newsstand distribution. That’s reflected in overall sales. The entire business needs the bigger companies to step up and get their product out in front of a larger readership again. That builds the numbers needed to create the more avid segment of the readership that your LCS needs to survive.
Q: We certainly see your point, and it is a good one. Larger publishing houses could argue that the old business model no longer works, hence no more newsstand distribution. How do you suppose the larger publishing houses could step it up, as you said?
CD: First they need to experiment with format. Perhaps a chunkier, magazine format, comic with more pages. At a $7-$9 price point it would be welcome at more outlets. And I don’t see the reason why superheroes can’t compete as digest-sized comics in pockets at supermarket and discount store checkouts. Try SOMEthing.
Q: Five dinner guests. Which five living writers (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?
CD: Like most writers, I don’t enjoy the company of other writers. They won’t admit that but I will. So the list of writers I could tolerate is easy to whittle down to a list of ten that I can pick five from the list at random.
Mike Baron, John Francis Moore, Erik Burnham, Scott Peterson and I’d bring Beau Smith and stick him with the check.
Q: Beau Smith gets stuck with the check? Ha! Not afraid of Beau sending Wynonna Earp to hunt you down afterwards?
CD: Beau likes to get revenge hands-on. I’d need to watch my back.
Q: What hasn’t happened yet, in graphic lit, that you would love to see happen next?
CD: On a personal note I’d like to see more historical comics both of an educational type and pure adventure comics. The medium is so perfect for presenting material like that. I know from my own work that the medium is an excellent way of teaching even the most difficult topic in an entertaining way. I wrote two volumes of comics about the American Civil War and an adaptation of Amity Schlaes’ The Forgotten Man; a history of the Great Depression. There’s been more of these recently. I read an awesome graphic novel called War Dog about military K-9 units and another about the fall of Nanking to the Japanese in WWII.
Q: What are your big plans for the summertime?
CD: More writing. I live in Florida and have a pool so it’s like I’m already on vacation all the time anyway.
Q: What’s still on your bucket list, as a writer?
CD: A serious western. I have one in mind. I need to work out some plot elements.