Talk Over Balloons: writer Fred Van Lente

One of the many talented writers to more recently make a mark in the American comics industry is the versatile Fred Van Lente. Since 2oo4 Van Lente (@fredvanlente) has collaborated with artist Ryan Dunlavey (@RyanDunlavey) to create the well-loved "Action Philosophers" series and its to-be-completed follow-up series "Comic Book Comics" for their small-scale publisher Evil Twin Comics. He has also done a great deal of work for Marvel Comics including co-writing "The Incredible Hercules" with Greg Pak (@gregpak) and writing issues of "The Amazing Spider-Man" (inarguably among the most high profile comic-books published in America today!) as well as fun stuff like "Marvel Zombies 5" and "Iron Man: Legacy" with many, many various artists.

The Long and Shortbox writers have been aware of his work for a good many years and Fred graciously agreed to answer our questions about his comics writing work- past, present, and future.

Jon Gorga: So, off the bat and into the trenches: By working on comics like "Comic Book Comics" as well as comics like "The Amazing Spider-Man" you straddle the line between the mainstream and the indie worlds of American comics. The truth is you are one of many who dance the same dance at Marvel: Fraction, Bendis, etc. Do you think we're in a new era of creators playing wherever they please, and if so why?

Fred Van Lente: Well, there's a pretty straightforward reason for it: the indie publishers are the farm teams where Marvel recruits its talent from. Fraction, Bendis and Jonathan Hickman were all Image creators prior to coming to Marvel, and I was a self-publisher and had some stuff done through Moonstone. We all began as indie creators and that's how we were first introduced to the comics world, so it's no surprise we want to remain a part of it. The independence and creative freedom of creator-owned work is an addictive drug; a lot of time it can't match Marvel paychecks, though.

JG: I can imagine returning to your roots at Evil Twin feels good when you can manage it. Speaking of your indie work, what stage are you and Ryan Dunlavey at right now with "Comic Book Comics" #5?

FVL: It's almost wholly scripted, and Ryan is pencilling hard. Life has thrown us some bumps along the way but we hope to have it for New York Comic Con in October.

JG: Then we will see you both there! I'm curious, how did a project that's a comic-book about the history of comic-books come about?

FVL: We knew ACTION PHILOSOPHERS would eventually end, and we wanted to continue doing the Humanities in comics form, for lack of a better word. It occurred to me that no one had ever done a comprehensive history comic about comics before.

I also knew way more about comics history than philosophy when we started, as I served for many years on the Curatorial Committee of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) in New York City, where I'm now a trustee.

JG: MoCCA is among my favorites places in NYC. Always has been. Let's move over and talk about your Marvel work like "The Incredible Hercules". Hercules and Amadeus Cho made a pretty damn strange team. The Prince of Power and the Prince of... sugary snacks? What made them work together for you?

FVL: It's a deceptively simple concept: Brains plus brawn equals great team. Also, it helped Hercules as a character to be paired with someone arguably more irresponsible than he was.

JG: Balancing humor and pathos seems to be something you're particularly adept at. Do you find that it's the reader feedback that helps you find that balance?

FVL: Sort of. It's more of a lifetime of being a wiseass, so it's the feedback from classmates and family members when I was in the eighth grade. The problem with depending on reader feedback is that they're reacting to stuff you wrote quite some time ago, usually about six months, and you've moved on since, so their comments aren't always applicable anymore.

JG: Where did the inspiration come from for those sound-effects in "The Incredible Hercules" issues you co-wrote with Greg Pak?

FVL: Assistant editor Nate Cosby, who started it in WORLD WAR HULK, and carried it over into iHerc and we ran with it. That's why in the climax to SACRED INVASION, when Herc takes out the god of the Skrulls, we made the SFX "NATECOSBOOM" as a tribute to him (and that's now his Twitter handle, 'cause he's a nerd).

JG: I'm actually following @Natecosboom myself. The advice he's giving away for free on there is invaluable. SDCC's announcement pointed to Dan Slott as the new solo writer on "The Amazing Spider-Man". Are you looking forward to reading some "Amazing Spider-Man" you didn't have to sit in a meeting about or are you feeling wistful about your time tag-team writing the series as one of the 'web-heads'?

FVL: It was a lot of fun and a very special way to work. The best part of working on the book were those writers rooms. Since I was doing AMAZING and also the anthology title, WEB OF SPIDER-MAN, I've got to say I'm a little Spider-Manned out, so Dan came to the rescue at just the right time. But I have a couple small Spidey things lined up already for the future, so the readers of AMAZING aren't quite rid of me yet -- and I wrote the lead story in our last "Web Head" issue, #647.

JG: Well I'm glad to know there will be a little more Spider-Man material from you coming to us. Now, all three of us at The Long and Shortbox Of It are big fans of "The Immortal Iron Fist" work from several years ago that really rejuvenated Danny Rand as a character. How much of that stuff is informing your writing of the character for the "Shadowland: Power Man" mini-series that has just begun and next year's "Power Man and Iron Fist"?

FVL: It's definitely a part of it, but IMMORTAL IRON FIST mined that mythology pretty thoroughly. I'm more interested in the mismatched private investigating duo that made Mary Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammil's POWER MAN AND IRON FIST so terrific. It's a spellbinding mystery with El Aguila the center, and introducing a lot of great new villains like Don Pagliacci, Noir and the Commedia dell'Morte.

JG: Before we let you go, a large number of our readers are college-age and plenty of them are aspiring comics-folk. What advice do you have for writers and artists just starting out?

FVL: We're back where we started -- start making your own comics. It's how you're going to get noticed, and thanks to the Ye Olde Interweb, you don't even need a publisher any more to get that notice.

JG: Good advice. Any upcoming releases you want our readers to keep an eye out for?

FVL: Don't forget, CHAOS WAR is the multiverse-shattering climax to me and Greg Pak's "Incredible Hercules" saga, shipping (twice!) in October, and in November I'm doing the tie-in DEAD AVENGERS, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Fred's writing will be instrumental in Marvel's upcoming crossover-event "Chaos War", pitting gods of the Marvel U against one another! And in October, "Comic Book Comics" will illustrate another chapter of the history of the medium of comics in the Twentieth Century. Check out Fred's website here!

Thanks for reading!

And Fred, a thanks to you for your time! We were lucky to have you!

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