Talking Comics with Tim | John Arcudi
Sometimes I wish I could run two interviews in a week, but that’s not always possible. Last week marked the release of The Complete Major Bummer Super Slacktacular, a Dark Horse published collection that features writer John Arcudi and artist Doug Mahnke’s co-creation Major Bummer (a 15-issue comedic series that ran from 1997-1998, originally published by DC Comics). This interview was lined up months ago, yet delayed on my end. Then I suddenly realized last week that the Major Bummer collection was due to be released. After a hastily compiled apology note to Arcudi, we quickly conducted this email interview (for which I am grateful to Arcudi). As described by Dark Horse: “Lou Martin’s just gained incredible superpowers! Too bad all he wants to do is stay firmly planted on the couch. But an alien got Lewis Martin, slacker extraordinaire, and Martin Lewis, promising young lawyer, confused and sent an Extreme Enhancement Module to the wrong guy, and now Lou’s got superheroes trying to get him to . . . ugh . . . contribute to society–and outlandish super villains, monsters, and aliens are out to take him down!” This series is a damn funny body of work that has both Arcudi and Mahnke firing on all cylinders. Don’t take my word for it, consider Comics Should Be Good’s Greg Burgas 2010 post from his Comics You Should Own series. I genuinely hope that this collection sells so well, that Arcudi and Mahnke get to explore the possibility of developing new Major Bummer stories. If you were a fan of the series, please do me a favor in the comments section and chime in with your thoughts on it.
Tim O’Shea: Back in 1997, what prompted you and artist/co-creator Doug Mahnke to pitch your creator-owned idea to DC–and how was it that you were able to negotiate a deal that allowed the rights of the series to eventually revert back to you?
John Arcudi: Captain Slackass (the original name) was an idea that I had come up with a few years earlier. When Peter Tomasi up at DC asked me to submit a few series ideas to him, I tossed that one in as a lark thinking “They’ll never go for this.” As to the rights, it was a standard element of the DC creator owned contract back then. They needed to continue to exploit the property in some way after publication had ceased, or compensate us, or return it. No special negotiation skills were required.
O’Shea: Once the rights reverted back to you, in order to get it back in print, did you always have Dark Horse in mind, or did you offer it to other publishers as well?
Arcudi: We shopped it around, but Dark Horse gave us the most attractive offer. Other publishers wanted to do two volumes and we just thought that was a mistake.
O’Shea: Looking back at the 15 issue run, are there aspects of your storytelling on the project that you appreciate more with a fresh pair of eyes?
Arcudi: It’s a lot tighter than I remember it being. I mean, the whole aim was to be funny, but it’s nice to see that I also approached the stories themselves professionally. And yes, it’s always a surprise to see that I’ve conducted myself professionally. That’s never how I remember things.
O’Shea: In designing the book, were there any tweaks/corrections made to the dialogue or art? Were you able to include any bonus material?
Arcudi: There were a handful of corrections that needed to be done in the lettering, and the process of transferring the digital files from an older format to a usable format resulted in some color tweaking, but mostly it’s the old series… only better. As for bonus material, we added some of Doug’s character design work, a shot of one of Carla Feeny’s hand drawn color guides (done with colored pencils — looks cool) plus some excerpts from my original pitch and original unused script for #1.
O’Shea: Did Feeny hold onto her hand drawn color guides, or how you track that down?
Arcudi: Yeah, Carla held on to them. In a digital world, Carla’s an analog kinda gal, but in the best way possible. She holds on to the artifacts. And again, they’re beautiful to see.
O’Shea: By any chance, can you recall how you came up with casting a Nazi dinosaur as one of the book’s villains?
Arcudi: People think I’m kidding when I say this, but it seemed so obvious to me at the time. I mean, it’s just so logical, right?
O’Shea: With a slacker like Lou Martin as the lead character, a superpowered individual who tries his best to not take any action at all–did that make writing stories where action happened more challenging? Or did you always know that you would have to build the action around Lou’s desire to not act?
Arcudi: Just because one guy is averse to taking action doesn’t mean a story can’t be action packed, especially with a cast of supporting characters who all want to see action. But yes, Lou’s desire not to act was the catalyst for plenty of action by design. And the catalyst for comedy, which was far more important (in my eyes, anyway).
O’Shea: Comedy was the backbone of the series, how critical was Mahnke’s art to sell the comedy? And how long had you been writing comics before you mastered the challenge of comedic timing (in terms of dialogue)?
Arcudi: I don’t know that I’ve mastered it to this day, let alone where I might have been as a writer back in 1997-1998. All credit goes to Doug on that account. Having worked with Doug on The Mask and on an Aliens series, I knew he could handle everything and anything; action, humor, horror, drama. Doug’s the master, here, not me. A master of expression, of body language, of panel construction, and storytelling. He was the only guy who could do Bummer because it was conceived with him in mind. Nobody can make a comedy book work the way that Doug can.
O’Shea: Can you give me your three favorite Mahnke comedic storytelling moments in Bummer?
Arcudi: Only three? Okay. On Page 49 of the collection, when the cat has enlarged to the point of smushing everybody against the walls of the small bathroom, and then after a beat, Gecko (who is allergic to cats) sneezes to end the page. Perfect! Page 270 is next when a crazed alien emperor surprises one of the main characters in the book and then proceeds to use that character almost like a handbag. Trust me, it’s hilarious. And my all-time favorite is the spread on pages 98 and 99 which just has to be seen. Describing it would sound goofy, but it works.
O’Shea: Back in 2010, Greg Burgas wrote (in praise of Major Bummer): “Major Bummer … remains a pinnacle of their (Arcudi/Mahnke) work.” Would you agree with that assessment?
Arcudi: Yes I would.
O’Shea: If response to the collection is strong enough, is there any interest in developing new Major Bummer tales?
Arcudi: Doug and I have talked about this very thing, yes.