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When you learn how much research and realize how interested that artist Patrick Zircher is in the 1920s/1930s era of the Mystery Men, I expect you might be equally intrigued to learn more about this five-issue David Liss-written Marvel miniseries. The first issue, which was previewed by CBR late last week and goes on sale June 8, introduces readers to the first champions of the Marvel universe. As detailed in the preview: “Before Captain America, before The Twelve, there was The Aviatrix, The Operative, Achilles, The Revenant and The Surgeon! What drives these five heroes to pull on masks and take to the rooftops of Manhattan? What dark conspiracy not only brings them together, but threatens to tear the America apart?” In this email interview with Zircher, we discuss his affinity for designing a comic and characters much in the same vein as “Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer, and the Spirit”, as well as why the word “zeppelin” is cooler than “blimp” plus many other fun details. My thanks to Zircher for his time and to editor Bill Rosemann for giving Robot 6 readers a look at pages from issue 2. Once you’ve read the interview, be sure to comment on which Marvel heroes and villains (circa 1930s) you would love to see in Mystery Men.
Tim O’Shea: In terms of designing characters, how enjoyable/empowering is it to venture into relatively unexplored territory (of the 1920s and 1930s) in terms of the Marvel universe with this Mystery Men project?
Patrick Zircher: It’s been a gas. Though we approached Mystery Men as belonging to the Marvel Universe, as part of the big, big story– working in an earlier era allows for a lot of freedom. At the same time, all the possibilities for cool ties to the Marvel Universe this series opens has the comic fan in me pretty excited.
O’Shea: Drawing pulp style characters, does that allow you to flex creative muscles you don’t normally use in modern day stories?
Zircher: Yes. There’s a lot of opportunity for design work and the designs and costumes are very evocative of classic characters. Stylistically, though there’s certainly a noir element, Mystery Men is more a blend of era-specific detail and modern storytelling.
O’Shea: In getting the right look for the series are you researching a great deal, as to how the cars and buildings of the 1920s and 1930s looked?
Zircher: A lot of research, volumes of art deco, classic car, 30s architecture and fashion books. Andy Troy, the colorist for the series, was a great help in keeping the books true to the period.
O’Shea: How much fun is it to get to work a blimp into the story (I see at least one in the preview art released to date)?
Zircher: Well, first, you have to call it a zeppelin because that’s even cooler. It was so fun I’m still wearing my aviator goggles.
O’Shea: Are there certain aspects of David Liss’s writing that you’ve come to appreciate more as the story evolved in this collaborative process?
Zircher: There are several things; David has great ideas, makes each character distinct, writes terrific villains; but he’s also, and maybe above everything else, a wonderful plotter. He genuinely knows where his stories are going. Which means I know where they’re going. Which means I can bring more to the page, make the Mystery Men‘s personalities really reflect the situations they’re in. Make them better ‘actors’.
O’Shea: How gratifying is it to have collaborator David Liss say of your work (in this March CBR Liss Mystery Men interview): “I think whatever success this book has it will be in large part due to what Patrick brings to it. It’s one of the best looking books I’ve ever seen.”
Zircher: I saw that quote. What can I say? I have a big man-crush on the guy.
O’Shea: Speaking of the book’s look, how much trial and error/revisions did you put yourself through before landing upon a look for these characters that worked for you?
Zircher: The Operative, Revenant, and the Surgeon were crystal clear, the designs very close to the first pass– and others were a very collaborative effort, with a lot of input and revision. As far as the story, I turned in the first three pages, penciled and inked, and then asked editor Bill Rosemann to trash them. Re-drew them entirely. That’s unusual for comics because it’s a lot of work and time. But I was simply nuts about this.
O’Shea: Unlike most Marvel series, where the characters have superpowers, these are masked vigilantes–how challenging is it to inject energy and action into the scenes with relatively normal strengths?
Zircher: Not so hard. That may be because of experience. Still Mystery Men did require extra work, a love for the era and sense of danger and thrills characters like Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer, and the Spirit can find themselves in. I’ve gotta lot of love for that, so finding a way to show that energy was no problem.
O’Shea: I’m not asking you to pick favorites of the team, but are there certain characters you’ve developed an affinity for, when drawing them?
Zircher: I’m fond of them all. That comes from being so involved in their design and origins. But, if I had to say, a chemistry develops between the Operative and the Revenant, a partnership that’s also a rivalry, that I just love. They’re opposites in many ways, not just in personality but even visually. They have a kind artistic balance, black costume and white costume, that, in it’s way, demonstrates their rivalry.
O’Shea: This project is a miniseries, but if response were strong enough, would you be open to an ongoing?
Zircher: This era of the Marvel Universe is such unplowed, fertile soil, it would be great to work it. Not only is there so much to do and say with the Mystery Men, the potential for pulp stories with rare characters like Dominic Fortune, Iron Fist Orson Randall, Ulysses Bloodstone, Terror, and the original Ka-Zar, or of drawing connections to Marvel’s Golden Age, has me wishing this was a line of books.
O’Shea: Enough answering questions, do you have any questions you’d like to ask your fans reading this interview?
Zircher: I have one for the die-hards who know their Marvel timeline. Several mainstream Marvel heroes and villains existed in the 30s (I reckon Namor was about 17 at the time of the Mystery Men). Who would you love to see in the Mystery Men?