in Italian, in September 2001 (it was conducted in August via email): 15 years ago but it still remains a good reading and an interview I am really proud of.
Comics, music & movies for a Renaissance man
an interview with MIKE ALLRED
by smoky man
(special thanks to Mike Avon Oeming)
Michael Dalton Allred is one of the most innovative and valued comics creators. His first professional work dates back to 1989 on the Dead Air volume. In 1990 Frank Einstein - Madman's alter ego - gets his first appearance on the pages of Creatures of the Id (Caliber).
With his "pop art" drawing style - magnified by fabulous colors of his wife Laura - and stories full of sense of wonder, Allred has conquered fans and critics and got Madman a comics classic.
His recognizable sign has enlightened popular comics icons such as Sandman (Sandman #54 -The Golden Boy), Spiderman (Untold Tales of Spiderman '96) and Superman (Superman/Madman - Hullabaloo).
Actually he is working on the new surprising incarnation of Marvel's X-Force (from #116, with scripts by Peter Milligan). In the near future we'll see more Madman and Atomics.
But there is more than comics in Mike Allred's artistic life. He is a skilled musician with his rock band The Gear and has shot a couple of low budget movies and collaborated with director Kevin Smith.
More info about Mike Allred and his works at www.aaapop.com.
smoky man: Let's start with some classic ones. When did you start doing comics? I know you had worked as a TV journalist in Europe, is it true?
Mike Allred: Yup. I was a TV reporter for AFRTS [American Forces Radio & Television Service] via the Air Force. We were headquartered in Ramstein, Germany but sent all over Europe to cover human interest stories for Americans living in Europe while CNN covered most of the hard news. My first assignment there was covering an air show disaster where two Italian jets collided midair and then barreled through the crowd.
Which are your comics influences? And what did those artists or books teach you?
Just about everything becomes an influence at some point but my strongest intentional ones would be Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, The Hernadez Bros., Bruno Premiani, Ives Challand, Will Eisner, and Harvey Kurtzman (and EC COMICS).
When did you create Madman? Where did you get the original idea from? I know his first name was The Spook.
I had created Frank Einstein in the pages of Grafik Muzik and then in 1992, in a desperate act for commercial success decided to put a costume on him. I liked the name The Spook for it's homage to The Spirit but we soon found someone had filed an intent to use copyright. I was reading [J.D. Salinger's] Catcher in the rye at the time and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield uses the word "madman" descriptively throughout. I thought it was the perfect name and VOILA!
Madman is one of the most unique and recognizable comics characters. His real name - Frank Einstein - is a blast and a perfect "pop" example: a fusion between Frank Sinatra and Albert Einstein, plus the obvious recall to Mary Shelley's classic monster. What does pop culture mean to you and in which way does it get into your storytelling?
It means almost EVERYTHING to me. Outside of the obviousness of human existence and spirituality my life has been deluged with pop culture from toys to monster magazines--from music to movies. From there it simply spills into my creative juices quite naturally.
In Madman you mix super fun adventure stories full of robots, mad scientists, time travels, aliens and a lot more, with philosophical reflections about the universe, God, love and the sense of life. Is it possible to conciliate entertainment and a little bit of brain?
I think so. I try.
Looking at your art, it is a natural thing to relate it to Roy Lichtenstein's works and to Pop Art in general. It is a strange and exciting short circuit. Comics and Art.
In a Madman miniseries you inserted a guest appearance of extraordinary painter Escher. Which are your influences in the Art field?
Again. Just about everything I'm exposed to but Magritte and Warhol would have to go near the top of the list.
Can comics be Art?
When you work on Madman do you first write a plot, a detailed script or just start doing thumbnails and putting your ideas directly on paper? How long does it take you to do a page?
I work from an ever expanding outline that becomes a complete script as I nail down each issue. I then do thumbnails, the page layout, the lettering, pencils then ink it. I think I average about two complete pages a day when I get the drawing and inking.
Your wife Laura is one of the best colorist in the comics biz. Does she get any input for your stories? Is she completely free in coloring or do you suggest her something about the colors palette?
She generally does it on her own. I have trouble telling some colors apart, but she has an amazing color sense. Sometimes I have specific ideas for the color or on the rare occasion ask her to change something. But she's the best and works best when left to her own whims.
A curiosity, in Madman: The Oddity Odyssey I loved the gray touch that magnified the b-movie atmosphere … surely the pop art colors of Laura are great and an essential Madman's element … but, is there any possibility to see another story like that?
It's possible. The main reason that was done that way is because it was cheaper. That or B/W. When the original MADMAN was a hit we were allowed to go full color.
After Madman you expanded his and your universe creating The Atomics - Madman and the super street beatniks - and your own publishing house, AAA Pop. Can you introduce us the Atomics?
I simply wanted to have more colorful characters in Frank's world, so like before a simply put costumes on my mutant beatniks.
Now that you are working on "marvelous" stuff, can we expect other Atomics books in the future?
The plan was to end the ATOMICS with issue #16 and switch to a MADMAN monthly. With the X-FORCE opportunity we've had to compress the ATOMICS finale into issue 15 and postpone the MADMAN series indefinitely.
Some years ago - if I remember right it was in 1997 - you wrote an article for Fan magazine where you said: "We, fans of comic books, are the pop culture elite. And we MUST stop working so hard to keep the rest of the world from joining us. […] Movies, music, magazines, collectibles, television and books, all seems to be of great interest to fans of pop culture. […] I'm telling you, we are the pop culture elite. Yes, an entire subculture completely out of touch with reality".
And again, "You have to believe that if [a comics] is good, if it's really good, it will sell. Our industry will curl up and die if we don't promote, support and encourage charge, diversity and most important, quality."
Today which is your vision of the fandom, of comics quality and comics market?
Do you fell that comics-based films such as Xmen and the upcoming Ghost World, Spiderman and From Hell give comics a new visibility in the public audience and can attract new readers?
The reality is, they have little or no effect in bringing new readers to comics. But they do bring awareness--if nothing else they tell the world that comics--the art form--still exists. That general awareness is more likely to attract the curious even more than a GOOD comic book movie. But still, if the curious aren't directed towards the good stuff... bye bye.
In the same article, you also said: "I'm not anti-superhero, I'm anti-crappy comics! […] Why do we keep dragging around the dead corpse of the superhero genre". And now you are doing X-Force. Ah, sure it is a complete new X-Force, but it's the same book created by Rob Liefeld. Gosh, Mike Allred and Peter "Shade" Milligan playing with the title created by Rob Liefeld. Unbelievable! What has happened? With Joe Quesada as the Boss, is it a real New Marvel? What is the most exciting thing in being a "master of mutant puppets"?
Again, I don't care about genre as much as I do overall quality. The book could be about insurance salesmen if it could be interesting and artful. Simple facts: the industry continues to be supported by the superhero books. Probably always will be. And costumes make for colorful characters, even if only on the surface. When I wrote that I was optimistic about more genres finding success in the industry. Hasn't happened yet. The Atomics offered an experiment to see if superheroes also sold better as an independent. They do. While I'm proud of the Red Rocket 7 project, it wasn't commercially successful. We barely broke event. Too expensive--Too weird.
With X-FORCE I've been able to fulfill a childhood dream by creating and co-creating my own X-Men. With Joe Q., the rebirth of the fabled (if not fictional) Marvel bullpen. With the creative freedom and support--and mutual admiration of other creators it's been sheer pure creative joy (Peter Milligans scripts are GENIUS. ). There's a new excitement and optimism. Will that result in progressive comics? I don't know. But can't hurt.
Do you think Alan Moore told a horrible truth when he said that it's impossible in USA market to do more than superhero stuff in order to reach the mass audience? That you have to present your character as a superhero, even if it is only a spandex and cape matter, and then you can overlay something more - as in his Promethea book - but at the first impact, you have to do a superhero.
I think that's cold hard fact. Look at the sales charts over the past 20 years (or 60 for that matter). In the top 100, with the exception of licensed properties like Buffy or Star Wars it's almost exclusively superheroes (and aren't Buffy and Star Wars superheroes too?).
About X-Force, Vince Brusio wrote on Previews: "This is one comics reader who always preferred alternative reading to mainstream titles. But with the release of X-Force, I've become a recent convert." Can X-Force be the lost link between mainstream and alternative comics? Ah, I love what you and Peter are doing on the X-book!
Thanks! I've always felt that division was ridiculous. We (comic book fans) have more in common through our love of the art form than people who aren't exposed to it at all. That I enjoy EIGHTBALL as much as NEW X-MEN or vice versa shouldn't be a shock to anyone who loves good comics. I feel the same way about movies. I see almost everything. I love great movies. I loathe lousy ones. A great action movie is better than a crummy art film and a great art film is better than a crummy action film.
Which X-Force character do you prefer drawing? And why?
Edie. Because she's PERTY. VERY PERTY. PERTY! PERTY! PERTY!
Let play a game. I list some names of comic writers you worked with as penciler. Which is their best quality?
Brian Michael Bendis
HIS SHINY HEAD.
Mike Allred (!)
Which comics artist would you like to work with?
The ones I am working with.
Which comics books do you currently read?
Most of them.
You briefly played with two major comics icons: Spiderman and Superman. What do you like in them?
I remember a Batman project similar to Superman/Madman: Hullabaloo! If a remember well it was named Batman a go-go. When will we see this one? Can you tell us something about the story?
DC hasn't pursued it. And I haven't had the time to shove it at them lately. I'd like to get to it someday for sure. Until then--SHHH.
You wrote Crash Metro (with art by Martin Ontiveros, published by Oni Press), the first thing you have done for somebody else to draw. What was like to see your vision put on paper by somebody else than you? Will you repeat that experience?
Loved it! And would love to do it again.
In these years the comics market all over the world has been hit by the "manga invasion". What do you think of mangas? Do you like them? Do they show a new way of storytelling that comics creator has to learn and assimilate? There are a lot of successful American manga artist such as Madureira, Adam Warren …
I like some of it. LOVE the visual language. Adam Warren is a TERRIFIC artist.
Plus, you are inking the new Catwoman series (art by Darwyn Cooke, story by Ed Brubaker). In "Chasing Amy" a fan said that an inker is only a "retracer". What do you think about? Which is your approch in inking some other pencils? Do you like it?
Inking is the icing on the cake and color is the candles. I loved the project and thrilled to work with Ed, Darwyn and my old lettere Sean Konot. So far it's great fun.
It's sure Mike Allred loves music. When did you get the idea to do Red Rocket 7? It was an astounding way to tell the story of contemporary pop music. And it was great to see your portraits of all those musicians, from Led Zeppelin to Devo, from Beatles to Bjork!
Thanks! It all came together in a rush of inspiration to the detriment of MADMAN and Dark Horse. I was obsessed with it and was crippled to anything else until it was out of my system.
Is Red Rocket 7 the work you are proud the most, your dream project?
To be honest, at the moment, X-FORCE is what I'm most proud of. But it's always what's in front of me at the time. That and FUTURE MADMAN stuff is what I'm most excited about. I guess I'd have to say MADMAN is what I'm most MOST proud of.
At the same time Red Rocket 7 was out, you released a music CD, The Gear: Son of Red Rocket 7, where Mr. Red Allrod (!) sang and played the guitars. Your music is a little bit low fi with a psychedelic touch and a flavour of seventies rock. I like it! What kind of music do you prefer?
Low fi psychedelic seventies rock.
Can you list Mike Allred's Top Ten songs?
Today? [it's 08-11-2001]
1- Moonage daydream - David Bowie
2- Street Fighting Man - The Rolling Stones
3- In My Life - The Beatles
4- Auf Weidersehen - Cheap Trick
5- Lady Grinning Soul - David Bowie
6- Jigsaw Puzzle - The Rolling Stones
7- Just Try - Dandy Warhols
8- Red Eyes and Tears - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
9- Super-Sonic - Brian Jonestown Massacre
10- She's a Lady - Tom Jones
Tomorrow would be a completely different list.
When a new CD? When a tour?
New CD within the next couple of years maybe. A tour? Never. I rarely leave my house anymore. I'm happy to stay here in the Citadel. [This is what Mike and Laura call their house in Eugene, Oregon. A citadel is like a fortress].
HOLLYWOOD, I AM ARRIVING!
There was rumor about an upcoming Madman movie involving director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Spy Kids). Can you reveal us more? Who would you like to play the Madman role? Which is the cast of your dreams?
Still moving forward. A SPY KIDS sequel is in the way for now. Look for a cameo from our daughter, Kelby.
My cast preferences change as often as my favorite songs.
Did you read Bendis' Fortune and Glory about his experience with Hollywood? In your opinion does it show the truth?
You also directed some low budget independent movies. I remember a title, Astroesque. A great title, man. What was it about? What kind of movies do you like?
It was about the Spiritual end of the world. With a little action thrown in.
Like I said before, I like all GOOD movies.
Someone thinks that comics are very similar to movies, but I think they are more similar to literature, to telling a story with a visual approach. Which is your opinion about?
There I have to disagree. I was attracted to doing them as the poor man's film medium. You can tell a great comic book story with only pictures. It wouldn't be a comic book without the pictures. The same could be said about film.
If you have to choose: comics, movie or music?
Now that I've done all three I made my choice and it was an easy choice to make. I plan to do more with movie's and music, but they are a distant second to comics.
[Interview published on Ultrazine.org in September 2001; it was conducted in August via email]