Mike Allred: The Most Dangerous Interview of his LifeA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
I've done a lot of interviews during my career at Comics Bulletin, but I've never done an interview till now where I was worried about my interviewee surviving his experience. When I caught up with the great Mike Allred, he was climbing a cliff to get some location sketches for an upcoming issue of his series iZombie. Mike was huffing and puffing as he was literally climbing down from a mountain as we held our discussion. But surprisingly, Mike was totally articulate and fun and was a really fantastic interview subject. He's also created a massive sort of book lust in my heart, for reasons that will be obvious once you read this chat.
Jason Sacks: Thanks for taking the time, I really appreciate it.
Mike Allred: I'm slowly making my way down this cliff, so if you hear a scream or something, call for help!
Sacks: So the reason I contacted you about doing an interview is that I received a press release from Sarah DeLaine at Image about your giant new Madman book that's coming out. It sounds like an amazing collection of artists and comics.
Allred: The greatest ever, if I may be so bold. You just take my involvement out of this, and I've looked long and hard to see this number of geniuses under one cover. I've never seen it, so I'm really proud of it.
Sacks: Who are some of the people who are part of it?
Allred: It's two-fold. The new material, and I hate to make lists – but the new strips are just really cool. Some of my very favorite artists and best friends doing their take on Madman, and it's just a bizarre mix of styles and moods. It's just stunning. And then the other half of it, or the other attraction points I guess, would be all of the, I think close to -- gosh, I don't have the number in front of me, but all the pin-ups done by all the different artists over the past 20 years. It's just amazing to me what we've gathered. It's kind of like the tortoise looking back and seeing all the stuff he's gathered on his little trek. And that's everybody from Jack Kirby and Alex Toth and Frank Frazetta, Joe Kubert, Dave Stevens, Moebius, and on and on. I just pinch myself that these people did this for me.
Sacks: It's all the all-stars, man! You don't get any better than Kirby and Toth and Dave Stevens.
Allred: All my heroes, all my friends, all my favorites, under this beautifully produced book. I mean, they rushed me a copy of the book, which I got on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Eve Eve, and, you know, you always worry about these things -- did it print correctly, is the paper going to be quality? -- but cover to cover it's just top notch. I'm just thrilled to pieces, okay? It's my favorite thing. It'll be buried with me.
Sacks: I can tell you're crazy excited about it! Now you've got me anxious to read it. What are some of the things that make it great for you? Is it the fact of how it all came together as kind of a dream project? It sounds like this is something you've been thinking about since you received the first pin-up for Madman.
Allred: The idea of doing the new strips, I'm pretty sure that came from Jim Valentino. We were doing a signing, and this was well over a year ago. Along with Bob Schreck, who edited all my Snap City Universe stuff, ever since he was my editor on Red Rocket Seven. Between them they kind of brainstormed and they thought, "Hey, it's the 20th anniversary, what if we had 20 different strips by different artists?" And that's what prompted me to say "let's do that!"
So I started asking some pals and was concerned that some might not meet the deadline or pass. I mean, you gotta expect that. More than 20 people, and they all came through. There's more than 20 new strips.
One of my friends from early on was Richard Sala, who's a terrific illustrator and alternative comics artist. He does a lot of good stuff through Fantagraphics, and he did the very first Madman pin-up. And it was just for fun. We were just sitting around talking, and he said, "I'll draw your guy!" He did this beautiful watercolor, and we wanted to show it off so we ran it as the back cover of the first issue of Madman Adventures, I think it was. Then Mike Mignola did one, then Geoff Darrow did one, and on and on, and so every time I was with someone -- like for instance, Frank Miller introduced me to Frank Frazetta. I just held my breath and said, "Hey, would you be up for doing this?" and he said, "Yeah, sure, that's cool!" I don't think he used the word cool, but… The point is, he did it. I guess it goes back to that old saying, it never hurts to ask.
But then I got ambitious with it and decided to do a project where I released this box of cards. Then I kept asking anybody who would do it, and it happened after that. So every time I discover an artist I like, or run into somebody, or, in a lot of cases, I would be sent this stuff without even asking for it. Somebody awesome would send me a Madman piece. I tried to put all of those in this book.
But ultimately the absolute greatest thing about this book is how huge it is. I had done a "Metamorpho" story for Wednesday Comics with Neil Gaiman. They'd come out [originally] in this newspaper format. I mean, real newspapers. I don't know if you ever saw it. That was Mark Chiarello's dream project, and then when he collected everything, it was a beautiful 11x17 hardcover. So when we were talking about doing these strips and celebrating Madman's 20th -- well, it never hurts to ask. So I said, "What do you think about this Wednesday Comics format?" and it was green lights all the way. And now, here it's a reality. It's a thrill to see this beautiful production and know it fits right next to my Wednesday Comics collection and my Dave Stevens Artists Editions, these original art size classy quality hardcover books. I'm just bobbing with excitement.
Sacks: I can tell you have a bit of a fanboy in you, to get to be right next to so many of your favorite cartoonists. That's gotta totally be a dream come true.
Allred: I am just Mr. Fanboy. I've never lost that love for comic books and the medium, and all the different artists and styles and storytelling techniques. It's endlessly thrilling for me. So, yeah, I'm a fan first, and I consider myself lucky that I don't have to work for a living. Because, honestly, this is what I was doing in my spare time when I was a beat reporter. And it's what I would be doing now in my spare time if I wasn't blessed enough to make a living at it.
Sacks: I guess that, and making music. I saw you play at San Diego, at Trickster.
Allred: Oh yeah, that was a blast.
Sacks: I could tell you were having a lot of fun. You were rocking the house.
Allred: That was the first time we played for a comic book crowd, and I've never been more nervous. Because when we went out there and started playing, almost every face was somebody that I've known for years, but all together in this circus known as Comic-Con. But once everybody started dancing it was like, okay, this is great. It ended up being our best gig ever.
Sacks: Trickster really surprised me. I didn't know what to expect, but it ended up being a great chance to meet people and not have that formal convention atmosphere.
Allred: Yeah, Scott Morse, who's been my buddy for, gosh, well over a decade -- we were actually in Italy together and he told me and Laura about this idea he had that became Trickster and asked if I thought it was a good idea. I was just kind of half listening and was like, "Yeah, sure, sounds great," and then he just killed it. That was really cool. It was like our own private Shangri-La, our own private club, and anybody who wanted to hang out there was welcome. It had that just really relaxed and great vibe.
Sacks: Oh yeah. I went there with a bunch of Comics Bulletin's writers and we just had a great time there talking to people. It was a great chance to get to know people on a personal level. It was fantastic.
Allred: I think it went well beyond everyone's expectations. Scott was thrilled, which is for me the most important thing. And I'm honored that I was a part of it.
Sacks: One of my writers, Rafael, wanted me to ask you if you find composing and performing music to be more demanding of your time than doing comics.
Allred: Oh, they're so different. They're different and all of my worlds kind of meld together. For instance, a lot of music inspires the imagery in my artwork and vice versa. A lot image and illustrations inspire the kinds of things I want to write about in my songwriting. There's a visual punch in my head that I try to get through my hands onto the paper. I try to get that kind of expression, look for that sound to express that visual.
Neither is difficult. Both are very cathartic and you just get that great high when you're creating something. Another art form that I love and wish I had more time to do would be filmmaking. That's the one that's difficult. With music and comics, you can sit alone in a room and make something. With film, it's way more difficult and way more expensive. That would be why I don't work in film as often as I'd like to.
Sacks: It's interesting, because comics are a total medium of self-expression. All you need is yourself and a pencil or a computer.
Allred: If I had what was available to me now when I made Astroesque, for instance, I probably wouldn't have stuck. Art becomes more and more accessible as time goes on. That's what technology is blessing us with. Now I see how, I mean, we shot on film and then we edited on video and now you can choose video and make it look like film and edit it on your computer. So it's definitely an exciting time for that. But right now I've got so many [projects]. Other than the Madman film with Robert Roodriguez, I don't think I have any film ambitions in front of me right now.
Sacks: And with comics, I guess you'll be staying with iZombie for the forseeable future, right?
Allred: We have an endgame in mind, and we're trying to figure out how and when we'll wrap it up, exactly. I've always got four or five things that I'd like to do, and when things time out, one thing just naturally floats to the top. That's what I jump on and give everything I have. It's just thrilling to do so.
Sacks: iZombie is doing great for you. It’s really one of the breakout hits from Vertigo lately.
Allred: I'm really proud of it. I have so much fun with it. It's one of the reasons why I'm climbing down this cliff. Because the story takes place in Eugene, Oregon. That was Chris Roberson's idea. It's where I'm from. It's where we live. So I'm literally telling a monster story that takes place in my back yard. If that doesn't make for good times, what possibly can? We've got a huge sequence that takes place on top of Spencer's Butte, which almost looks like a giant volcano at the south end of Eugene. So I'm up here, and I'm out of breath.
Sacks: If you need to cut this short so you don't fall off a cliff, that's cool.
Allred: If I die, you can say that you have my final words.
Sacks: It's like in Holy Grail, the castle Agggh!
Allred: I don't have a Bluetooth, so I'm sticking my iPhone up to my ear.
Sacks: Not to risk your life more, but before we get off the phone I have to ask you about the X-Statix Omnibus that just came out. I was really delighted to see that come out.
Allred: Oh, me too. That was a great surprise. It was pretty much all put together when they asked me to do a new cover for it, so I didn't have to sweat anything out in terms of the look and what they had intended for it. Thumbs up all the way. I have these terrific "pinch me" moments where I think, "Wow, we did that!"
Sacks: You had a good long run on that book.
Allred: Yeah, yeah. We're all very proud of having the comics come out with that book. It was a wonderful time. You know, making comic books, man, that's what it's all about. And here we're able to create Marvel mutants and have them rub shoulders with all these icons, going up against the Avengers, ahh, just the best of times.
Sacks: And you created some great characters, too, some of which I still love. Dead Girl, of course, and Doop. Doop was awesome, he was the best mutant ever because it totally fit the idea of mutation but he was his own very happy guy himself. He wasn't the usual tortured mutant.
Allred: Doop was the first of my designs to get rejected, too, and Axel Alonso came back, and he put some of my doodles up in the hallway and everybody was running around going, "Doop!" So he called me back and said, "You know what, we need to rethink this and put your guy into the line-up." At this point he's the sole survivor of our crew.
Sacks: That's right! That's a shame! You had some great characters in that run!
Allred: Peter and I are always talking about revisiting it. We were just in France together -- and that's another thing, man, we draw comic books and we're these exotic world travelers! I mean, who would've thought that people would pay to have you go around the world signing comic books? Pinch me.
Sacks: Man, you've got me jealous! I work in software and I get to travel but I have to work when I travel.
Allred: And that's another thing. I can never call what I do work. It's just too big a kick.
Sacks: You really count your blessings, don't you? That's awesome. So many people don't. Plus you get to work with your wife and your kids help a bit, also.
Allred: That’s right. We've got our own little enterprise here. We've got our own little Apple Records, doing film, music and comic book production.
Sacks: You obviously love the '60s and early '70s British Invasion stuff. I'm thinking of Red Rocket Seven and all the scenes that were reminiscent of old albums and stuff. It's really a big part of who you are, isn't it?
Allred: It's like all of popular culture, with the exception maybe of rap music, everything that I love was pretty much nailed down between 1965 and 1975. And everything that I've loved since has direct roots to elements from that era -- whether you look at new wave or grunge. With film, you constantly see an evolution in different eras and styles through various eras. But musically, yeah, for me it's like '65 to '75 and everything that is heavily influenced from that decade, that space in time. That's what I find most exciting.
So bands like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols, the Raveonettes, Arcade Fire, MGMT…
Sacks: I can tell that your passion for the '60s culture really shows in your work, but with a modern feel. Your characters dress really fashionably, for instance.
Allred: I hope the work feels contemporary. We want everything we do to feel contemporary and progressive and groundbreaking, but a little bit of nostalgia is nice seasoning. So that's the intent. We just want everything to pop and click and whirr and move and shake and make people feel something. If that's what's happening, then what more can you ask?
I'm the first to admit that it’s a very selfish thing that I do because, from the get-go, I want to please myself first. Then I want to please my editor and I want to please the people that pick up anything I do. If they like the work I've selfishly created and played with for myself, then that's a bonus.
Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy art form. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.