Locked in a Room with a ‘Madman’ – Interview with Comic Artist Mike Allred
This week’s guest should be no stranger to fans of alternative comics. You might know him best as the creator of the infinitely popular MADMAN or perhaps you’ve only recently become a fan thanks to his phenomenally ethereal work on DC Comics’ iZombie series. Still others might know him as a member of musical group The Gear, which also inspired his work on Red Rocket 7. Regardless of how you discovered him, it’s obvious that Mike Allred is a man on many talents… not to mention a fellow strange kid and nostalgist.
We were thrilled that he agreed to join us for a short interview this week to reveal a little bit about himself and some of his upcoming projects, including the long-awaited MADMAN feature film and the unfortunate end of iZombie!
Welcome to the clubhouse Mike, we’re absolutely stoked to have you here! Fanboy to fanboy, I gotta ask… who’s your favorite Bond?
It’s always been Sean Connery, though Roger Moore made a few faves: Live and Let Die, Man With The Golden Gun, and The Spy Who Loved Me.
Even though he’s new to the franchise I’d have to go with Daniel Craig. He’s a total badass and what he lacks in suave charm he certainly makes up for in pure intensity.
Right on! Daniel Craig was KILLER in Casino Royale. But Sean is the man!
As a fan of 60s and 70s nostalgia, who do you think would win in a battle: Steve Austin or a Cylon?
Stevey! Cylon’s in the 70s were pretty slow. But, if they’re in a ship and Steve is running in slow motion… could be bad for Mr. Austin.
Hedging your bets, huh? *laughs* That’s cool. So, your name is perhaps most synonymous with the cryptic comic book hero known as Madman. Before we get there can you tell us how got started in comics?
The short version: A friend re-introduced me to comics as an adult and convinced me to turn a screenplay I was working into a comic (DEAD AIR). I was storyboarding it, so it was a fairly easy transition and then it got published by SLG. That encouraged me to keep going.
The Madman we know and love today came along around 1992, but didn’t he appear before that under a different name?
He was a supporting character in an anthology title of mine called GRAFIK MUZIK, but he has always been called Frank Einstein. When I put a costume on him in his own series, he became known as MADMAN.
MADMAN is definitely one of the more esoteric heroes to find an audience in the past decade, especially considering how “extreme” everything was in the 90s. What do you think has contributed to the character’s long-lasting popularity?
No clue. Possibly my ridiculous unwavering enthusiasm?
I’d venture to guess that we all have a bit of MADMAN in us, or to quote Norman Bates “we all go a little mad sometimes,” but are there any specific attributes that you share with the character? Is there any sort of Clark Kent/Superman connection that exists?
I used to deny it, because I did realize it. But I now acknowledge that he pretty much is me, especially his insecurities. He’s my [fictional] filter on many levels.
Earlier this year you launched the long-awaited MADMAN 20th ANNIVERSARY MONSTER HC – over 200 pages of content! How did it feel to have such a huge project come to fruition?
Pure joy. It’s my all-time favorite book [and] has almost all of my favorite artists in it. I’ll be buried with it.
How much of the material would you say is reprinted from previous books versus brand new content?
I’d have to say over half of it is the pin-ups I’ve collected over the past twenty years. The first bit is a new full-length story by me, then 20 plus new strips by different cartoonists.
After the initial MADMAN series you went on to introduce new characters in THE ATOMICS. Was the original intent of that series, and AAAPop Comics! as a whole, to explore a broader scope of Madman’s world?
Absolutely. [It was also] to test, stretch and disciple myself with a monthly, self-published title. An invaluable exercise. It helped me understand virtually every aspect of the business as well as the art form itself.
Are there any immediate plans for future releases through the AAAPop label?
No immediate plans.
Regarding world expanding events for MADMAN, there’s been talk for years now about a film adaptation by director Robert Rodriguez. If you had your pick of actors and actresses (dead or alive), who would you cast as Frank Einstein, Joe, Dr. Flem and Mott?
Ooh, I can’t say since we could be in talks with folks soon. If limited to actors who have passed on to the great beyond, I’d say Paul Newman or James Dean for Frank, Audrey Hepburn or Natalie Wood for Joe, Basil Rathbone for Flem, and Cary Grant for Mott.
*laughs* Nice! I remember reading in an interview with Rodriguez last year that the film was actually delayed because of a script conflict with The Bourne Identity. Have there been any new developments since then that you’re aware of?
Nothing I can say, but I’d love to read that interview. I do remember being urked by The Bourne Identity playing so terrifically in my playground, but I can’t complain too loudly since the books came well before my creation, so I can’t whine about them ripping me off.
In terms of mainstream comics, you’ve mentioned before that the death of Gwen Stacy (Amazing Spider-Man #121-122) has had a significant impact on you as both a comic creator and a comic fan. Can you elaborate on that a bit more for us?
Well, comics were always around growing up thanks to my Dad and big brother, Lee. When my folks split up and it was just me and my Pop, I continued on with buying my own comics… until they killed Gwen, who I had a HUGE crush on. It destroyed me. From there I spent my “Newspaper Boy money” on records until a pal showed me what was happening with comics in the late 80s. Then I got the bug again.
Speaking of dead girls, or “undead” rather, you and series creator Chris Roberson have been working together on Vertigo’s iZombie for 23 issues now. What drew you to that project instead of continuing with Madman Atomic Comics?
First, we adore Shelly Bond. I was always promising to do something long term with her at Vertigo. She [ended up] showing me Chris’ proposal and it lit me up. Chris was cool with my take on it and we were off to the races… a true labor of love.
While there’s no issue slated for April it appears there will be two issues coming out in May, one illustrated by Jim Rugg (#24) and the other by you (#25). Can you offer any teasers as to what fans can look forward to as the series reaches this milestone issue?
Well, the world shaking events we’ve been teasing are leading us to the grand finale. So, as all things must end, issue #28 will be the monstrously epic conclusion to our tale. I’m excited to see all we’ve planned come to conclusion, and excited to reveal what our next big projects will be, but I can’t reveal anything more yet.
Mortality and obscurity – or rather the ambiguity between life and death – seem to be reoccurring themes of your work. What is it about this subject that appeals to you creatively?
I can’t say it appeals to me. I actually suffer from what my psychologist father called “Existential anxiety.” It’s almost impossible for me to stop obsessively dwelling on the big questions and unknown mysteries of all existence, it terrifies me beyond words. I have frightening visions of eternity and so I seek comfort from others and through the creative process seeking relevance and significance in all things. I lean on love, loyalty, friendship, and meaning for joy and comfort.
Now that you mention it, there’s also a sense of joy/fun to your stories as well which is what I think makes them so entertaining. Its like watching a lucid dream unfold on the page and on that note… what is one of the strangest things you can remember doing as a kid?
Wow. Don’t get me started. All I can say is enjoying this moment and each that follow with the utmost fulness, clarity, and truthfulness is what keeps me sane. I’m always looking for that uplifting sense of life. Fortunately, mostly thanks to Laura, it is almost always there.
I’ll give you one simple “strange kid” memory. Swimming in a large natural pool, hiding in the air pockets under the water falls, and then imagining myself to be a water creature, and then slinking down the creek on my belly searching for my “home.”