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!

A New Downloadable Venture Forward?

iFanboy announced this week that will begin offering Marvel's comics, not just for viewing, but for download and not just to mobile devices, but to desktops as well.

Could this be another step toward the fabled 'iTunes of comics'?

An application is now available for download to both Windows and Mac computers on which can access a database of comics files available for permanent download to a personal computer upon successful payment of a set amount for each individual comic.

That does sound a LOT like iTunes' model of: permanent download of a music file, with paying per song.

According to iFanboy co-founder Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick), these comics files will be automatically available on your iPhone or iPad's app... you know, if you have all that jazz too. This means that the files are compatible in at least some sense, but I suspect I wouldn't be able to read my old CD-ROM-store-bought-PDF-files in the program. -sad face-

HOWEVER, much BETTER and MORE IMPORTANT are the community features the service claims to have which I assume are designed to put people enjoying similar comics in touch with eachother as well as allow a user to recommend comics to their 'Friends', either personal or digital, i.e. comics social networking. Of which there is very little. This would effectively be a kind of 'Ping for comics'. Making the service, in at least one way, up to date with what iTunes offers its users.

[via Newsarama]

However, nothing has been said about day-and-date release, but nor has the announcement said anything about exclusivity.

In other words, you may see Marvel (and then perhaps DC at a later date) opening digital desktop publishing of their comics to other services such as Longbox and Panelfly, but you are still going to be making those weekly trips to your local comics shop unless you want to be limited to six-month-old comics.

~ @JonGorga

Out of a Field So Far Left That It's In Wakanda...

So, the Panther's out of the bag, and the new Man Without Fear is going to be T'Challa, picking up where Matt Murdock left off with issue #513.

Be honest: Who saw that one coming?

With Daredevil going to be Reborn (again) and all of those "Who'll be the new Man Without Fear?" teasers from the last couple of months, we knew something like this was coming, but I don't think anyone really expected that it was going to be the Black Panther, given that the character's recent home has been thousands of miles from Hell's Kitchen and that he hasn't been involved in Shadowland (well, as of yet- I've only read through issue 2).

I still think there's something funny going on here- why not just relaunch the Black Panther in his own title? My best guess is that Marvel is trying to build a Daredevil "family", like what they've been doing with the Hulk (as Kevin Melrose points out in the article linked above, there is some precedent for this in the launch of Incredible Hercules a few years back). This announcement, plus Fred Van Lente's Power Man and Iron Fist mini (also starting in December) combined with these teasers, which suggest a new Heroes For Hire series, indicate that something's cooking in the Kitchen. Perhaps Shadowland is the start of something bigger than we really know just yet, and perhaps this welcome focus on street level heroes isn't going to ride off into the sunset once that mini finishes.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513 ships in December from creative team David Liss and Francesco Francavilla: I've never heard of either, but since Francavilla is the guy who drew all of the Man Without Fear teasers, there's at least something definite to be excited about.

Strange Surfer

Yesterday, the above preview from Strange Tales II accompanied an interview with writer/artist Frank Santoro- suggesting that at least some of the stories that we'll see in the second iteration of the anthology will be serious rather than comic. Santoro had this to say about his Surfer story:
It plays into my fascination with romance comics and this sort of romantic, universal idea. The other thing I was really interested in doing, and I don't know if I pulled it off or not-I don't know about you, but whenever I look at a Surfer comic, it never really looks like he's surfing through space. There's always this splash page or big panel where he's got an arm forward; he's surfing in a way that you would never really surf. If you ever look at people surfing, they're barely moving their bodies. They're sort of just lilting with it, you know? They might duck down, but they're not posed with their arm forward and their leg back. Usually there'll be this one big panel in the spread, but there's no real sense of motion. I never get the feeling that he's soaring through space. Maybe for that one panel, but it's too over the top. I was trying to have a more quiet approach to it, and I hope I pulled it off. Hopefully people will agree. My intent was to show that motion, to show how he could move across the spreads. And I only had four pages, so it was like, "Do I have two two-page spreads? Do I have one spread with a right side and a left side?" I bookended my story-you'll see what it is-so that it's a Moebius strip, honestly. It just goes in and out. With four pages, you really have to pare it down, so hopefully it worked.
Read the rest of the interview here.


Well, this is pretty cool.

Kieron Gillen, who finished up his run on Thor a couple of weeks ago and who will begin a new X-Men series entitled Generation Hope in a month or so will be joining Matt Fraction on the writing team for Uncanny X-Men starting with issue #531.

Remember that when Fraction joined Ed Brubaker on the title two and a half years ago with #500, he replaced Brubaker soon thereafter. Does this mean something of a changing of the guard for the X-Men? Is Gillen going to replace Fraction at some point in the near future?

I don't know, but what I do know is this: if you're going to put together a brilliant writing team like Fraction and Gillen, why the hell would you put Greg Land on the art?

Uncanny #531 comes out in December.

Comics Scholars ASSEMBLE!

Sorry for the lack of chatter here over the last week- Clare and I are in the midst of the start of a new semester and Jon just got a new job- but to make up for it, we have a lot of stuff coming up this week, including something really exciting that Jon is going to post in the next couple of days. The Long and Shortbox of It has hit the big time.

In the meantime, though, I have some exciting news to announce:



COMICS STUDIES CONFERENCE SESSION #8: ArtFrank Verano (University of Westminster) weaves capitalism, culture, and contemporary art theory into an analysis of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a work that takes on and subverts its function as both pre-sold commodity and work of art. Josh Kopin (Bard College) examines the way shared art duties on Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s The Immortal Iron Fist furthers the series’ narrative, while also exploring the structure of comics and the way we consume sequential art. Alexa Laura Siegfried (University of California, Riverside) questions whether there is a difference between fine art and illustration in a study of the relationship between contemporary artists like James Jean and Dave McKean and the fine art canon.

That's right, folks- I'm giving a presentation at NYCC in a few weeks! This one's a good one, too- it introduces something I'm calling the Comics Consumption Problem, which is something that we've done some work with here. I hope some of y'all will come check it out- it's going to be a blast. You should be able to find the full CSC schedule up at the NYCC website soon and if you do stop by, be sure to say hi.