You might not necessarily associate superheroes with Fantagraphics. In the publisher’s history, its offerings tend to skew on the alternative end of the comic book spectrum, known for such graphic novels as Ghost World by Dan Clowes, series such as Peter Bagge’s Hate, and reprint compilations of classics such as Krazy Kat and Pogo.
However, this spring, the publisher looks to flex its comic book muscles with the introduction of ALL TIME COMICS, a line of interconnected, yet standalone, series featuring such characters as Bullwhip, Crime Destroyer, and Atlas, under the line’s curator Josh Bayer. Mr. Bayer spoke with us recently about the creation of ALL TIME COMICS, the family of comics’ aesthetic, and what to expect from the characters who will show up along the way.
FreakSugar: For folks who aren’t familiar with the news, what is the genesis behind ALL TIME COMICS?
Josh Bayer: When my brother challenged me to run a superhero comic line, we decided we’d make books that had the power and weirdness of the comics we grew up with. If we were to place them in a pocket of time, they’d fit right in at 1979, the type of comic you’d buy for 40 cents at a spin rack. My brother is Sam Bayer, who is a director most well-known for doing the “Smells Like Teen Spirit Video,” as well as videos for Smashing Pumpkins and a lot of others.
FS: You and your brother Sam are co-creators of the ALL TIME COMICS line. I know you two have collaborated with one another off and on in the past. How did you two come to work on ATC together?
JB: Sam just hit me up. I guess he was excited by the start of my career with SUSPECT DEVICE, as well as RAW POWER and THETH, and other books I’ve done. He wanted to celebrate that I’d learned how to make comics, which I have on almost every level, with his help; Sam put me through school. He’s always been a really supportive figure in my and my other brothers’ lives. Sam had already come up with most of the superheroes, their names, their abilities, what kinds of cars they drove, and their basic concepts. He had Atlas and Crime Destroyer down. A couple months later, artist Ben Marra and I came up with Bullwhip, and Sam approved. Ben and I also came up with a lot of the details that refined the vision of the ALL TIME COMICS Universe. Later, on Sam added the Blind Justice concept to the mix and I developed that, using Rick Buckler Jr. to bring my concept art to life.
FS: From the art and pages I’ve seen so far, there’s a clear aesthetic that combines a love of the past with a somewhat modern sensibility. What are some of your influences from comics past that you wanted referenced or given a nod to in ATC’s line?
JB: Everything from Caniff’s TERRY AND THE PIRATES to Don McGregor and Billy Graham’s BLACK PANTHER art to Chester Brown wormed its way in. But I thought about all kinds of comics, Michael Fleisher’s GHOST RIDER, Gerber’s DEFENDERS. But also we wanted to bring the sort of homemade quality to the comics you used to see, and that’s why Al Milgrom is such a perfect collaborator. His covers during the Bronze Age were as raw as you could ask for, he was in the same camp as Joe Kubert. His work often looked very rustic and spun together with sketchy lines. Of course, he’s a chameleon and can also be very slick. I’m so glad he’s involved with our project.
FS: Following up on that, the characters in ATC’s line seem to also harken back to pulp heroes and various points in cinematic history. Are there any particular genres or pieces of art or literature that impacted how you approach ATC’s line?
JB: Yeah, I was inspired by ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST for Blind Justice, but in a very loose sense. I also thought about Bill Mantle and the way he struggled to subsist in a cranial trauma ward after his accident in 1992. I was inspired by everything from Revenge movies like JOHNNY THUNDERCLOUD to the episode of SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN where he fights the Big Foot Android. Jack Kirbys’s OMAC was an influence, so was CC Beck’s SHAZAM. My scripts are full of film references. But that just the beginning point, then things branched off into their own direction.
FS: What was the process of deciding which creators you wanted to work on ATC and reaching out to them?
We gamble and ask people for introductions. Most creators are freelance. There’s some people who wouldn’t respond, but most were very responsive. In some cases, I had to try to shine up the material, I polished the hell out of the script I gave to Herb Trimpe before we published it. We wound up publishing his last work. Ben Marra, who I mentioned before, came aboard when his then-publisher had virtually overnight decided to extinguish itself, and I was able to get him aboard during a period when he would normally have been way too busy. I also managed to get Noah Van Sciver, which is amazing, because both of those guys are the highest tier cartoonists, and among the the best for this project. I loved working with them.
FS: How do you approach blending homage with original material? While these characters very classic and timeless, they seem to bring novelty to the table that we definitely haven’t seen before.
JB: It was hard sometimes leaving behind the comedy impulse, because I’ve done a lot of parody and weird satire comics, and it was an interesting challenge not to do that here. I trusted that the creators were going to take the ball all the way to the end zone if I wrote something that was as interesting and as unique as I could make it. I knew they’d multiply the impact I hoped to make, because they care about the work they do, and about comics in general, and it shows. The combination of our voices makes our own special harmony.
You know sometimes when you listen to your favorite band, and you find out they’ve done some cover you’re interested in, and then you find out they just sound like a cover band for that song because they don’t innovate enough. Other times, covers turn out like THE MINUTE MEN’s cover of VAN HALEN AIN’T TALKIN ABOUT LOVE, which is nuts. GUN CLUB’s cover of “STRANGE FRUIT” is totally unique. POISON IDEA’s version of “WE WILL ROCK YOU” is great song. MOTORHEAD’s cover of “Tie Your Mother Down” is so punched up and perfect, even though Queen’s version is great in its own right. The covers that sound like new songs are the best and always retain some element of the original. It’s like what we are doing: we are borrowing a rhythm or a lead riff from superhero comics of the past, but we wanted to write new songs based on those traditions.
FS: Can we talk about the character lineup? Crime Destroyer in particular seems he shares sensibilities and touches on social issues that are pertinent today and yesteryear.
JB: Yeah, I live vicariously through him and his ability to shoot Klan and Nazi members in the face, He’s a great, character to do comics about, and yeah, there’s a lot of the same conflicts all over the country happening, and so much abuse of power in our faces. Everyone I know has had some conflict with supporters of the Alt Right at some point this yearly.
FS: I love the design and conceit of Atlas: a hero whose fear literally makes him weaker. What was the process behind creating Atlas?
JB: Sam had the character already outlined, and the core of the character was there: that he is power incarnate but can be brought down by a stab of serious fear. I came up with some science that explains how fear interrupts with a signal that he receives from a satellite in space which is constantly reworking the makeup of his body.
FS: Bullwhip is the only female character in the lineup and seems to be focused solely on her work as a crime fighter, with no room for other concerns. What can you tell us about her and what drives the character?
JB: Yeah, comic characters are figures of mystery, and when I see a show where a character doesn’t have a home life or a background, I accept them more rather than less. The whole dual identity thing: a full time job and then I’m a superhero on top of it barely makes sense. I actually have no life, I’m dedicated to my comics mission all the time, so I relate to the idea of having nothing else but the mission above all else.
FS: What is the takeaway you want readers to have when reading ATC’s line of books?
JB: I want them to have a magical experience. I want them to be transported to a state of mind that recaptures the essence of a quality that is lost now… to have the feeling that they just read the last forgotten comic book from 1979. We’ll see if we’ve been successful.
ALL TIME COMICS kicks off its launch this March with All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1.
For more information, check out the official press release below:
From Fantagraphics, the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists, comes ALL TIME COMICS, a shared superhero universe featuring the world’s most fanta*stic heroes. Atlas! Blind Justice! Bullwhip! Crime Destroyer!
Each issue of ALL TIME COMICS features a mash up of new cartoonists and classic comic book creators collaborating with writer Josh Bayer to unleash superhero stories that no other publisher would dare to publish: a stunning series of six comic books featuring startling stand alone, interconnected adventures chock full of retro crime fighting. The launch title, ALL TIME COMICS: CRIME DESTROYER issue 1, is a 36 page oversized spectacular featuring the wonderful writing of Josh Bayer, the irresistible inks of Ben Marra, and the last art by legendary artist Herb Trimpe, who co-created Wolverine. The first issue also features covers by acclaimed cartoonists Jim Rugg (STREET ANGEL) and Johnny Ryan (PRISON PIT). Upcoming issues of ALL TIME COMICS feature art by Rick Buckler (VIXEN 9), Ben Marra (TERROR ASSAULTER: O.M.W.O.T.), Al Milgrom (co-creator of Firestorm), Noah Van Sciver (DISQUIET), and more.
ALL TIME COMICS is the joint venture of the Bayer brothers: Josh Bayer, an underground comics artist and teacher, and acclaimed mainstream director Samuel Bayer, who launched his career 25 years ago with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.
“There’s an alchemy to the Bayers’ editorial vision that is undeniably exciting, and I’ve gotten a genuine charge out of their enthusiasm for ALL TIME COMICS,” said Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds. “In a market flooded with crass attempts to cash in on Hollywood’s interest in superheroes, ALL TIME COMICS is that rare project motivated by a sincere appreciation and affection for the creators behind the creations.”
“ALL TIME COMICS is both an expression of affection for the books that shaped our lives, and a link to a pre-internet time when comic book culture was more precious and rarefied. It originates from a lifetime of research and our devotion to the comics medium,” says Josh Bayer. “This project is a chance to work with not only acclaimed independent figures like Noah Van Sciver and Ben Marra, but to spotlight superstars of the field like Al Milgrom and Herb Trimpe. I see ALL TIME COMICS like an Obelisk: something that can be admired but with a greater significance beyond itself. It stands for all comics.”
“I am so excited by the combination of writers and artists that we have working on ALL TIME COMICS,” says Sam Bayer. “We’re bridging generations of creators — veterans from the 70’s with contemporary creators — to make comics that are retro cool.”
In addition to featuring the last art by Wolverine co-creator Herb Trimpe, ALL TIME COMICS features the first work of veteran artist and industry legend Al Milgrom since 2014. “It’s exciting to be a part of this new publishing venture, All Time Comics,” says Milgrom, “Independent comics have a raw energy and enthusiasm that pushes the comics envelope. I’ve really enjoyed inking BULLWHIP and BLIND JUSTICE and I’m looking forward to this old dog learning some new tricks!”
ALL TIME COMICS is a shared superhero universe featuring four heroes: Atlas, Blind Justice, Bullwhip, and Crime Destroyer.
“Working with Sam and Josh on ATC was about as close to a dream comic-book project as I could ever hope to be a part,” says artist Ben Marra. “Since I was young I’ve been a fan of superhero comics. I’ve always wanted to draw superhero comics. Working on the character designs from the ground up, then being able to collaborate with comic book legends, artists I’ve looked up to since I was a kid, Herb Trimpe and Al Milgrom, was an incredible experience.”
“Sam came to me with the foundation of the characters already laid out,” says Josh Bayer. “I was able to start coming up with details like Atlas’ origin and backstory, Bullwhip’s villains and supporting cast, and a lot of Blind Justice’s story, which I’m maybe the proudest of. I was inspired by details of Bill Mantlo’s life after I read that that he lived in a head trauma center for years after his comics career was ended by a hit and run driver in 1992, I made up the Optic City Center for Cranial trauma Victims as a base of operations for Blind Justice. I also brought in a lot of stuff that fascinated me about the 1980s into some of the stories, basing supporting characters The Misogynist and Candy Chryssalium on figures from 1980s culture, since the whole concept of ATC is about folding time back on itself, trying to go back to right some wrongs, and do things over the way I think comics should be done.”
The oversized first issue of ALL TIME COMICS: CRIME DESTROYER issue 1 will retail for $4.99, and subsequent standard size issues will retail for $3.99.
Keep up with the newest Crime Destroyer, Atlas, Blind Justice, and Bullwhip at http://www.fantagraphics.com/alltime1/ Follow ATC via Twitter at @alltimecomics and via Facebook @ALLTIMECOMICS. Don’t miss the most talked about superhero event not published by a corporate conglomerate when the adventures of the world’s most fanta*stic heroes begin in March 2017!
ALL TIME COMICS: CRIME DESTROYER #1
Josh Bayer (story); Herb Trimpe (pencils); Ben Marra (inks); Jim Rugg (cover) + Johnny Ryan (cover); MARCH 2017
ALL TIME COMICS: BULLWHIP #1
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Das Pastoras (cover) + Tony Millionaire (cover); APRIL 2017
ALL TIME COMICS: ATLAS #1
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story, pencils, inks); Das Pastoras (cover); MAY 2017
ALL TIME COMICS: BLIND JUSTICE #1
Josh Bayer (story and pencils); Rick Buckler (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Victor Martinez (cover); JUNE 2017
ALL TIME COMICS: CRIME DESTROYER #2
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story, pencils, inks); Das Pastoras (cover); JULY 2017
ALL TIME COMICS: BLIND JUSTICE #2
Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story); Noah Van Sciver (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Das Pastoras (cover); AUGUST 2017