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The Comic Book History Of Comics: A NYCC Interview With Fred Van Lente And Ryan Dunlavey

Written by Tim Midura on Sunday, October 22 2017 and posted in News with Benefits

The Comic Book History Of Comics: A NYCC Interview With Fred Van Lente And Ryan Dunlavey

On action, comics vs prose, and The Outhouse's place in the history of comics.

Source: New York Comic Con

Fred Van Lente is an American comic book writer and novelist. His comic book work includes Marvel Zombies, Incredible Hercules, and Archer and Armstrong. His latest novel is Ten Dead Comedians.

Ryan is an American comic book artist and cartoonist. His comic book work includes Dirt Candy: A Cookbook and MODOK: Reign Delay.

The duos' work includes Action Philosophers, The Comic Book History Of Comics, and the upcoming Action Presidents.


Tim: You mainly seem to lean toward work-for-hire books. Is that a conscious decision?

Fred: No? I mean, the work-for-hire work is steady and is a very nice brain cleanser from doing creator-owned stuff. Sometimes it's nice to have the pressure off you and deal with someone else's ideas for awhile. I've done creator-owned work at Dark Horse and I write novels. I'm doing stuff for Harper Collins and IDW.

Tim: As I asked the question I was looking at Weird Detective like uh.

Fred: That's another one I do.

Tim: You've written a few number ones over your career.

Fred: I have!

Tim: What goes into a number that's entirely a fresh start when Valiant brought back Archer and Armstrong?

Fred: It's like a pilot episode of a TV show. You sort of have to give the mission statement, which sounds super boring. Do not do it the way I'm describing it. You do a mission statement for the whole series, but you have to hook people with an exciting premise and exciting opening, but also give them an idea of what the whole series is going to be about. It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge.

Tim: You've been with Valiant since the relaunch. In that time a lot of writers have come and gone. What has made you stay with them?

Fred: They keep offering me really interesting properties. Something like War Mother is very different from things like Archer and Armstrong, which is different from Ivar, Timewalker. War Mother is very different. They keep giving me new opportunities to stretch which is really all you want from an employer.

Tim: War Mother initially launched as a one-shot out of 4001 AD. It's now an ongoing series. Was that always the intention?

Fred: You know, I don't know. We were very lucky and very gratified to have a terrific response to War Mother. I was really gratified. It's terrific to be able to expand that into a mini-series. So far the reaction has been very terrific as well. It's a fun world to explore with a lot of world-building and great characters.

Tim: Touching on Comic Book History of Comics, have you ever thought of doing the Comic Book History of Fred Van Lente's Comics?

Fred: As you pointed out, I've done enough work-for-hire books that I probably don't own the rights to, so it might be a legal challenge.

Tim: In the spirit of the history of comic books, are you forfeiting all rights to the publishers for Comic Book History of Comics?

Fred: No. Fortunately Ryan and I got a good deal on that and we own all those rights. IDW has been very good to us.

Tim: Wouldn't it be more authentic that way?

Fred: Well, it would follow an interesting pattern. That's true.

Tim: With Comic Book History of Comics and Action Philosophers, there's a lot of historical truths. Why bring those to comics instead of prose?

Fred: Like the way political cartoonists can do a good job of satirizing the day's events with a single panel, comics is a good medium visually to expound on things in an interesting way and not a boring didactic way. The old cliche is that a picture is worth a thousand words. It's kind of a truism, but I think it's a truism that is true. A lot of studies have been done determining that readers retain more information that's presented in comics more as opposed to just straight up prose. So it's a terrific medium. We have a new series coming out in February called Action Presidents. It's like Action Philosophers, but with the first executives. It's exciting to be able to do that. It's ostensibly for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, but I think it's truly an all-ages book. Anybody will be able to enjoy it.

Tim: You said that people retain better with comics. Do you think people won't remember Ten Dead Comedians as well?

Fred: (Laughs) Well Ten Dead Comedians has a lot of jokes, swear words, and weird sex stuff. So there are other ways to graphically implant things on people's minds.

Tim: In the Comic Book History of Comics, how predominantly is The Outhouse featured?

Fred: Ryan, can you check to see...

Ryan: I don't even have to look. Not at all.

Fred: Let me go through this. I think there might be an Outhouse.

Tim: We'll take it. Similar question, Ryan. What about history lends itself to the comics medium?

Ryan: A lot of what Fred was saying. It does engage people a lot more than sitting in a classroom and reading a text. When I read other people's comics I feel like my whole brain is engaged. I'm looking at pictures and reading stuff. A lot of people learn things in different ways. I think comics is the best way to do that.

Fred: Like I said, studies show. It's not just us talking out of our asses.

Ryan: I enjoy doing them because it's education for me.

Tim: How much of it is learning for you?

Ryan: A ton. Fred especially does a ton of research. It's easy for me too since my mind can relax since it's based in reality. I can look up the Teddy Roosevelt archives and visit his house for reference.

Tim: With Fred doing the bulk of the research, how much of it is you taking his word for it, like when he says Stan Lee is the greatest ever?

Fred: That's basically the whole point of my work is saying how Stan Lee is the greatest.

Ryan: Have we disagreed on anything? I think there was one thing.

Fred: You didn't like one of the titles of a story, but you didn't bother to tell me until after the book was printed.

Ryan: I was too busy drawing.

Tim: How many issues is Action Presidents?

Fred: It's a series of hardback books. Each one is 110 pages long. The first two books cover George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and drop February 6, published by the fine folks at Harper Collins.

Tim: What went into the decision to do those OGN-style?

Ryan: That was the publisher.

Fred: That was Harper Collins' decision. Well, at one point we were discussing doing four presidents a book and chopping them up.

Ryan: We had different ideas of how to approach it.

Fred: They wanted Presidents' greatest hits in individual books, which is just fine.

Tim: How many volumes do you think Trump's presidency will cover?

Fred: His story is not over yet, unfortunately.

Ryan: We'll have to outsource the artist. Somebody else is drawing that one.

Fred: A six-year old.

Tim: You did say it's at a fourth or fifth grade level.

Fred: Our vocabulary is bigger than his. As are most fourth graders, I believe.

Tim: How many volumes do you plan on doing?

Fred: We're contracted for four at the moment.

Ryan: We could do more if they wanted us to.

Tim: Have you revealed who the other two presidents are?

Fred: Yeah, it's Theodore Roosevelt and JFK.

Tim: How much Marilyn Monroe is in that JFK book?

Ryan: I don't think she is.

Fred: She is not. But infidelity is.

Ryan: That's the kind of thing you want to avoid for that age group.

Fred: For some reason, fifth graders are not into the pool sex parties in the basement of the White House. Which sounds like I made that up. But I didn't.

Tim: How much do you leave out writing for a younger audience?

Fred: Yeah, I think kids can handle a lot, so we're not avoiding anything. Not that infidelity is the main thing we talk about.

Ryan: We cover heavy topics. We're covering war and slavery. It's all a part of history.

Tim: With the recent controversy surrounding Aubrey Sitterson and the G.I. Joe tweets, did you ever think about taking to Twitter to generate controversy when you were writing G.I. Joe?

Fred: Uh, no. The G.I. Joe fandom is interesting. They have their sort of own specific take on things. They definitely divide into the people who are into the cartoons versus people into the comics versus people who are into guns and the military aspect of it. I tried to do my own thing. I'll genuinely talk to anybody. There were a lot of people with serious objections to the things I was doing on G.I. Joe. They didn't like the fact that I created the G.I. Joe social media liaison who was of course named Hashtag. That's my kind of G.I. Joe that I like. Others may like other things.

I don't want anyone to construe that of criticism of Aubrey. I think Aubrey is great. I knew him when he worked at Marvel. I definitely support him. The range of fandom goes to very respectful to very disrespectful.

Tim: I think that's most fandoms.

Fred: That's true.

Tim: Maybe not philosophy fandoms.

Ryan: A little bit. More comic book history stuff. I had a guy take me to task about the way I didn't draw Captain Marvel's cape right. You get people like that.

Fred: At least it didn't escalate to death threats.


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About the Author - Tim Midura

Born in the frozen tundra of Massachusetts, Tim Midura has long possessed a love for comic books and records. After stealing the beard of Zeus and inventing the pizza bagel, a much more heavily tattooed and bearded Tim Midura has finally settled in San Diego. He's the world's first comics journalist who doesn't want to become a comics writer. Find him on twitter, facebook or by email.

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