Eisner Award nominee Roger Langridge sits down with the Outhouse to chat about his latest comic Thor, The Mighty Avenger. Featuring a never before seen reverse-haiku by Langridge and an answer to the immortal question: Who's the better doctor: Doctor Who or Doctor Seuss.
Roger Langridge is the Eisner and Harvey Award nominated writer and penciller of the Muppet Show and Thor, the Mighty Avenger. We were able to reach him at stately Langridge Manor somewhere on the misty isles of Great Britain. Mr. Langridge was kind enough to take some time to talk about his mysterious origins, his exciting work and his upcoming projects.
The Outhouse: How did you first enter the comics business?
Roger Langridge: I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, where there is no comic industry as such, but I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. I did any work I could in New Zealand just for the practice and the exposure, including some mini-comics with my brother Andrew, which we'd sell to the local comic store or give to friends. Eventually I sent a bunch of these to various American publishers in 1988, one of whom, Fantagraphics, offered to publish us. That was my foot in the door - Art d'Ecco #1, January 1990. Though, in terms of professionally-published work, I'd been doing strips and covers for the local student newspaper in Auckland before that.
OH: Could you tell us a little about Fred the Clown, your first Eisner Award nominated web-comic?
Langridge: Fred the Clown is probably the first thing I did where I really felt I'd found my voice as a cartoonist. Fred, the title character, is a smelly idiot with a romantic soul. He's really kind of a blank slate; the strip was a chance for me to throw any style, any genre, any formalistic whimsy that might cross my mind into a strip and see what happened, held together by this single character throughout all of them. After five years I felt I'd milked it dry, at least for the time being. I started doing it at a time when my career consisted entirely of illustration work, which I really hated; it was wonderful to have one thing a week that was mine, all mine.
OH: How did the opportunity to write The Muppet Show come about?
Langridge: I kind of fell into that one without thinking about it. I'd been doing some freelance illustration work for the late, lamented Disney Adventures digest magazine, and they'd been running some Mickey Mouse strips by an artist called Glenn McCoy which were drawn in a totally off-model, underground-y kind of style. These were proving to be very popular, so they were casting around for other Disney properties who might benefit from the same sort of treatment, and some bright fellow had the idea of pairing me up with the Muppets. I only did a few pages before the magazine was cancelled, but a year or two later the Boom! deal fell together on the strength of those pages.
OH: Using the variety show format as a way to present a number of different unique comedy strips is an inspired idea. How did you decide to keep the variety show style format from the original Muppet Show?
Langridge: I don't really know how else you would do it! That came from the Disney Adventures run, I suppose; the idea there was to just do a page or two per issue, so the individual sketches seemed like a natural way to go about it. It's also partly to do with my low boredom threshhold! I like to change things every few pages.
OH: What sort of challenges have you had working with the Muppet franchise? Are there limitations to what you can do, or do you get full creative control?
Langridge: No, everything's checked by a team of Disney suits at every stage - plots, script, art. Most issues involve several changes before they're happy, which can sometimes be very challenging if it's something on which the whole story hinges! There have been a few compromises along the way. But I'm always pleasantly surprised that I manage to get through as much as I do.
OH: Working as both the writer and the penciller during the early issues of The Muppet Show must have been challenging. How did you manage to maintain such a high quality on both the writing and the art?
Langridge: Long hours, my friend - long, looong hours! My working day starts at 5:30am; I write for a couple of hours, then get the kids dressed and breakfasted and off to school, then draw for the rest of the day, usually knocking off around 11pm. And thank you for complimenting the quality, because I know how many corners I have to cut to get things done on time! I generally don't draw anything the hard way if I can think of an easy way.
OH: Do you plan on penciling any more issues of The Muppet Show?
Langridge: Oh, yeah - Amy Mebberson is just doing the Family Reunion story arc; I'm back on board from issue #8 for a good long stretch. (And it's not just pencils - I'm the inker as well!)
OH: How does it feel to have two of your works nominated for Eisner Awards?
Langridge: Enormously flattering! When Fred the Clown got nominated, I literally fell off my chair. My wife was downstairs and heard the thump. With the Muppets, I'm aware that it's partly people's love for Jim Henson that put the book on their radar, so it's not quite the same as something that's all mine, but I'm thrilled nevertheless.
OH: Tell us a little bit about your newest title, Thor, The Mighty Avenger?
Langridge: It's a fresh take on the character - I think Marvel calls it a "re-imagining"; it's the kind of book you can jump straight into, even if you've never read another Marvel comic. I'm aiming for a fun adventure book with a strong human story in the center of it, and a series of self-contained stories that add up to a larger "arc" by the end of the first year. Kind of like a modern TV series, if I had to compare it to anything. I'm really enjoying using a different set of writing muscles from the ones I normally use.
OH: Is this your first time working with one of the major two comic book publishers?
Langridge: No, I've been knocking around Marvel and DC for over a decade. Just odd things here and there, mostly (DC's Big Book series, a couple of Legends of the Dark Knight issues, the Bizarro alt-cartoonist projects, Fin Fang Four), though I worked on a monthly series called Gross Point for DC in the 1990s. First regular thing for Marvel, though.
OH: How do you feel about working on multiple all-ages titles? Is this something you enjoy doing?
Langridge: Yeah! I like writing things that people actually read. All-ages books have fewer barriers - anyone can read them. It maximises your potential audience. And super-heroes and talking pigs are perfect all-ages subjects!
OH: How did you come about working with Chris Samnee on Thor, the Mighty Avenger? His art seems to compliment your storytelling style perfectly.
Langridge: I'm thrilled to be working with Chris. He's a phenomenon. Nate Cosby, our editor, initially sent me a few sample pages by another artist, kind of manga-influenced, and I thought, "Okay, yeah, I guess we could do something with that." Nothing actually wrong with any of it, but it didn't really excite me very much. Then he sent me some of Chris' work and it was immediately obvious that he was the guy. He draws like Alex Toth in his prime or something - really just amazing, confident, mature work, with rock-solid drawing chops underlying it and a great storytelling sense. I couldn't be happier working with him.
OH: There are some subtle changes that you've made in Thor's origin story for Thor, The Mighty Avenger. Could you tell the readers about some of them?
Langridge: Well, there was an editorial mandate that there would be no Don Blake for this version of the character, so we had to work around that to begin with. I wanted Jane Foster to be involved right from the beginning - the entire first issue is from her point of view; we discover Thor as she does, so we get to see him as others see him and get a sense of just how strange and amazing this guy is. She's our eyes, she's the one we're supposed to relate to. Thor is slightly distant and magnificent by comparison. So Jane had to be involved in the origin. It all sort of followed on logically from there, really.
OH: Your characterization of Jane Foster is one of the strongest Thor fans have seen in quite some time. Are you planning on continuing to build upon her character more?
Langridge: Yes, definitely - she's Thor's rock, his anchor in the human world; they're going to grow together as Thor gets used to Earth and she gets used to Thor - and the wonders and madness he brings with him. Jane Foster is essential to this version of the character.
OH: What can readers expect to see in upcoming issues of Thor, The Mighty Avenger?
Langridge: Ooh, loads of things! We've got guest stars galore, we've got the usual Asgardian suspects, we'll be unravelling the mystery of what Thor's doing on Earth in the first place. Plenty of ruminations about what, in a world full of gods and monsters, is so great about being human. Thrills, spills and rainbows - and plenty of heart, I hope.
OH: If you had to convince readers to pick up Thor, the Mighty Avenger in 20 words or less, what would you say? (Bonus points if you do it as a reverse-haiku!)
Thor is stranded on the Earth -
Jane, his only friend;
Rainbows, thrills, until the end!
OH: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Langridge: I would love to have the time to take on other projects! While Amy Mebberson was working on the Family Reunion story in Muppet Show #4-7 I found time to do a ten-page Doctor Who story for Doctor Who Magazine; that should be out later this month in the UK. But that's about it for now - I'm spinning enough plates in the air as it is!
Mr. Langridge was also more than happy to ask the question on every Outhouser's lips:
OH: What are your feelings on more Fin Fang Four?
Langridge: I'm definitely keen to do more - if nothing else, so we can get enough material together to put out a collection. Not any time soon, unfortunately - there just aren't enough hours in a day.
Finally, Mr. Langridge stepped up to the plate and answered some fast-paced, hard-hitting lighting round questions!
Favorite superhero? Original Captain Marvel! No, Plastic Man! No, Metamorpho! Ooh, I can't decide.
Name one good thing (if such a thing exists) about Wales. Portmeirion, the "village" of the original Prisoner series, is there. Like a wedding cake made by a lunatic.
Favorite type of candy? I like licorice.
Werewolves or Vampires? Vampires are classier. Werewolves just want to hump your leg and drink water out of the toilet.
Who'd be more likely to save your life in a medical emergency: Doctor Who or Doctor Seuss? I expect the Doctor knows a bit of medicine, but he'd probably just talk you into believing there was nothing wrong with you so you could run away from a Dalek or something. Dr Seuss probably knew some real doctors, at least.
Favorite Doctor Who companion and why? Ummm, Donna Noble, because she's a grown-up, and funny.
Who wins: Zeus vs. Odin and why? Odin, because I tossed a coin and it came up heads.
What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Lithuanian or Arctic swallow?
How long would it take Batman to make Superman cry? Dick Sprang Batman or Bruce Timm Batman? Actually, isn't there a school of thought that says Superman doesn't cry? And doesn't Batman have better things to do with his time, like make Robin cry?
Liquor, beer or wine? Don't... make... me...choose! Must... have... all... three!
Favorite comic not written by Roger Langridge? All-time: Carl Barks' Donald Duck 10-pagers in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. Or possibly the Barney Google newspaper strip from 1919-1942, by Billy DeBeck. Or Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar.
Current: I'm sort of out of the loop on current stuff. Al Columbia's Pim & Francie was great.
Roger Langridge's newest book, Thor, the Mighty Avenger #1 is available whereever comic books are sold. Do yourself a favor and pick up the best comic book you haven't read yet! Also, but the Eisner Award nominated comic, The Muppet Show, also available whereever comics are sold!