Alberto Benavente: How do you go from writing for a music magazine to write comic books?
Mike: I love to write and I love to create. Playing music allowed me to create and writing for music magazines scratched the other itch, but once I stopped performing in bands, I needed some sort of creative outlet. I’ve loved comics all my life, and wanted to create comics all my life, so it was just a natural progression that I’d segue into comic writing at some point.
Alberto Benavente: How did you come up with an idea such as LTB in the current USA comic book scene, where superheroes, Zombies and, well, uhm…Zombies Superheroes take priority over any other concepts?
Mike: I’ve always enjoyed writing stories for children and I was offered a chance to write a prose series for a magazine, so I dusted off an old comic idea I had and altered it to make it an all-ages story, replete with young protagonists, and stuffed animals. I didn’t have much hope that it would get picked up, due to the “Super-Zombie” factor you refer to above, but it was and I couldn’t be happier.
Alberto Benavente: Yours is not a book “only” for kids, although it looks like it at first sight. Did you think people would see it just like that, as some kind of “this is just kids’ stuff”?
Mike: To a certain extent, when people hear “all-ages” they seem to think “kid’s stuff”. I’m not sure why that is, maybe some people have an aversion to what they enjoyed when they were young, or maybe some people are struggling so hard to be “grown up” they don’t want to be associated with “kid’s stuff”. Either way, I think those people are really missing out on some good stuff. Owly, for example, is one of the best stories I’ve ever read, but if I fell into the “I don’t read kid’s stuff” trap, I’d never have experienced it.
Mike: Well, we certainly didn’t show it to “every editor” that would have taken months [laughs]. However, when Erik said he’d publish it, I was on cloud nine. I walked back and told my wife, then called studio-mate Rob Schwager and had him email Jack Lawrence to let him know the book had a home. It was a great feeling and one that I’ll cherish forever.
Alberto Benavente: How did Ron Marz become your Editor?
Mike: I had a little bit of contact with Ron through the CrossGen Associate Writer’s Program that never got off the ground. Then when I was working PR for a publisher, they’d approached him to do some work for them and somehow I ended up acting as a liaison between Ron and the publisher. We soon became good friends and when I was getting LTB geared up for San Diego, I asked Ron if he would come on board as Editor. He was pretty resistant at first, but then he read the pitch and saw the artwork and signed on immediately.
Alberto Benavente: Have you got any negative review about LTB so far? We can’t find any!!!
Alberto Benavente: Image, Alias and the Image again… How did this publishing mix up happen? Can you explain to us what happened there?
Mike: Just to set the record straight, LTB was basically ALWAYS an Image book. We created with Image in mind as the publisher, agreed to publish it with Image before Alias even existed, put out the entire first series with Image and so on. Alias became involved before they decided to become a publisher, as a production house. They helped us get the book produced and packaged, and then they released the first trade paperback through their own imprint once they severed ties with Image. Jack and I wanted LTB to remain with Image, and although things took a few twists and turns, the second series (and third and fourth etc) are Image books.
Alberto Benavente: We won’t ask you what is cooler –lions, tigers or bears-, but…Will there be, in upcoming miniseries, more animals?
Mike: Certainly! The second series introduces several new characters and I have plans to introduce more with each new story.
Alberto Benavente: In recent declarations to The Pulse, you said: “But now that it is out there, it was successful and it’s now available in ten different languages and twenty plus countries, I’m left wondering how in the world we’re going to top it”. How do you expect the reaction is gonna be for LTB in Spain?
Mike: In all honesty, I don’t really know. I have copies of the Spanish version on my shelf and they’re extremely nice. It makes me want to learn Spanish so I can read it all over again.
Alberto Benavente: We’ve read that you are thinking about transferring LTB to other mediums such as cinema, videogames… could you tell us something about that?
Mike: Our production company is in gathering screenplay pitches right now from several big-name screenplay writers. A final version will be selected soon and then the movie will lock in a director and move into pre-production. As for video games, those will come with the movie. We’re also laying the groundwork for a series of LTB novels, the first of which should hit stores some time next year.
Alberto Benavente: The artist, Jack Lawrence, has a cartoon style ala Disney, quite fantastic. It gives the series a great atmosphere and we think that a part of the success of the series is because of him as well. How did you meet each other? How long does it take to him to finish an issue? It’s been over a year since the first limited series…
Mike: Jack is amazing. We met when I interviewed him for www.brokenfrontier.com and soon discovered we had several mutual desires and goals in the comic world. A few months later, he contacted me and asked if I had anything to show him, story-wise. I ran the Gimoles past him, which wasn’t really his cup of tea, but then I showed him LTB and he loved it. As for how long, when he was only working on LTB, he was getting a full issue done in about four to five weeks. He’s currently working on ATOM for Panini, so that takes up the Lion’s share of his time.
Alberto Benavente: Coming back to the beginning of the interview, I must confess that the miniseries made cry and laugh equally. It made me feel as if I were a kid again… Were you looking for this effect from the beginning or it just happened eventually?
Mike: I just wanted to tell a story that I would enjoy reading. I love the characters and to some extent, Joey is me or at least my eyes and ears on this great trip through the Stuffed Animal Kingdom.
Alberto Benavente: One last question regarding LTB… What is cooler…Tigers, Lions or Bears? I guess that judging by your first cover for Phantom, it must be the tigers.
Mike: Well, Ares is my favorite, with Minerva coming in a close second.
Toni Boix: Changing the subject back to the Phantom, you have said that you chose this character over some other interesting offers. Were any of those offers from Marvel or DC?
Mike: I can’t say.
Toni Boix: You have claimed several times in the past you were a big fan of The Phantom yourself. Does this admiration of yours respond to any specific run on the character or to the potential you see in it?
Mike: Mainly the newspaper work of Mr. Falk. The man was a master storyteller and I really find it strange that he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
Toni Boix: The amount of material that has been published about the character over its years of existence is massive: comic strips and Sundays, Italian material, Scandinavian comics from Egmont that are published in Australia, Gold Key/Charlton stuff, DC, Marvel and Moonstone in the States… How much of this are you considering for your current work?
Mike: The only stuff I use as reference is Mr. Falk’s work. The Moonstone continuity exists in its own universe, with nothing but Mr. Falk’s work as a foundation. I have all the newspaper strips on CD that I read, and I love to pick up the Frew Annuals when I can find them. Those Australians really know how to package a great Phantom book.
Toni Boix: Why do you think reason has never been really successful in its American run in comic book format? Do you think that the childish orientation in many of its runs hasn’t allowed the authors to exploit its more suggestive and attractive aspects?
Mike: I don’t think “childish” is the right word. More like “innocent”. As for why he hasn’t been successful in US comics, well, he had a run of over 75 issues at one point, so I think that’s pretty successful. As for other runs, from what I saw, the publishers didn’t seem to get behind the property enough to really give it a solid push. Thankfully, the fine folks at Moonstone are doing a bang-up job of promoting the book.
Toni Boix: The characteristics of the character allow you to place him in all kinds of stories: exotic adventures, politic conspiracies, fantasy with some horror touches, superhero action… What is gonna be the most common approach in your run?
Mike: There are a few things I really love about the character: 1) the mystique 2) the fact that he’s a true hero 3) the ability to tell stories at any point in a four hundred year time span. All those things will come into play in my stories. I just completed my fifth Phantom story and I have four more laid out already. Each one is slightly different from the others, but they all have common threads that touch these three points.
Toni Boix: What can you tell us about Temur Singh? Aren’t you afraid that people who don’t know the character’s story can get lost within its vast continuity?
Mike: Well, if they do, shame on me for being a bad storyteller. A good writer should be able to introduce new characters at any point where the story dictates and at the same time, allow the reader to know whom that character is and what role they play. Temur will be playing a rather big role in the issues to come. His first appearance should be sometime in the fall of this year.
Toni Boix: Even though your plots have to get the approval from King Feature’s people, they are not considered as a part of the character’s continuity. Isn’t it a little bit frustrating?
Mike: Not at all. Like I said before, Moonstone has its own continuity and my stories will build on what has come before from great writers such as Chuck Dixon, Tom Defalco, Ben Raab and others. I’ve also written one story that bridges a gap between two of Lee Falk’s tales and have plans to do more of that sort of thing in the future.
Toni Boix: You have created a new character called Manuel Ortega, who will be a recurring enemy for the Phantom. Why an enemy of such characteristics and why Hispanic?
Mike: I’m not sure why he came out as he did; it was a rather organic creation process. The Phantom is a very multi-cultural book, so I didn’t want to just have a Caucasian villain. Ben Raab had just introduced an African villain and the Singh Brotherhood is mostly Asian, so it seemed a Hispanic was the way to go, in terms of racial characteristics. I have lots of Hispanic friends, so I know a fair bit about the culture (at least here in the US), which made it easy to draw from certain experiences. I also wanted a character that embodied a lot of the same traits the Phantom has. To a certain extent, readers will slowly learn that he very well could have been someone just like the Phantom, but certain events send his life path in a different direction, ultimately creating a rather formidable opponent for the Ghost Who Walks.
Toni Boix: Did you have something to do with choosing Gabriel Rearte to pencil your run in the series? Did you give any opinions about which characteristics the artist had to accomplish?
Mike: I was given a few choices as to who to have work on the book. Gabriel was one of two I wanted to work with and it turned out the other artist was busy with different projects, so we didn’t have to choose between them, Gabriel became the man. I worked with Gabriel for a few weeks creating the look of Manuel, but other than that, he already knew The Phantom pretty well.
Toni Boix: Previous Rearte’s works had an Image-ish esthetic, with ugly villains and voluptuous women. To be honest, Manuel Ortega looks impressive, but how Rearte’s approach will affect Diana Palmer, Phantom’s wife?
Mike: Only time will tell.
Toni Boix: You said that, given your run with the character is going to be a long one, you will be able to introduce subplots through it. That is one of the best characteristics in Claremont/Byrne run in X-Men, and Wolfman/Perez’s in New Teen Titans. It generated a lot of intrigue and expectation. Did you want to use it with that intention as well? What have your references been in that regard?
Mike: I don’t have any conscious intention to mimic any other writers, with the possible exception of Mr. Falk. The fine folks at Moonstone are very happy to have one writer set on the book for the foreseeable future, as it allows the book to settle into a groove, where sub-plots can be fostered and brought to fruition over the course of many issues. At the same time, each arc will stand on its own, so that new readers can hop onboard at least every other issue.
Toni Boix: Which character of the American comic books you think it would be the fittest one to make a crossover with the Phantom?
Mike: It’s hard to say. The first one that comes to mind is Batman. I think it would be fun to see the two interact, as the Phantom was rumored to be some of the inspiration for Batman and Superman. Batman might interact with The Phantom is a similar fashion to how he interacts with Superman, however, The Phantom isn’t quite the boy scout many people think of when they think of Superman.
Toni Boix: We are certain that there are some other works of yours such as The Light Knights and Gimoles, just as you have some other projects waiting to find an artist. Can you give us any more information about those works of yours we don’t know of here in Spain?
Mike: Well, unfortunately, Gimoles artist Theo Bain won’t be able to complete the series as he’d originally hoped, however, I’ve just landed a new artist to complete the story and we intend to release it as a complete graphic novel later this year or early next. After that, the new artist and I are moving on to The Light Knight, my first creator-owned super hero. The Light Knight story began as an all-kid super hero team, but I’ve since re-tooled the character(s) and now the story will solely revolve around the Light Knight himself. Readers can learn more about these and other upcoming books at: http://www.runemasterstudios.com/
Toni Boix: Is there anything you want to tell the Spanish readers?
Mike: I hope you enjoy the new Lions, Tigers and Bears book that should be in stores now. The package is really splendid and I hope the story inside does it justice. Please feel free to stop by our message boards and let us know what you think once you’ve read it: http://www.runemasterstudios.com/forums/phpBB2/index.php
The happy couple (AB & TB): Thanks a lot for attending us. It has been a pleasure and we are looking forward reading your new works.