Talking Comics with Tim | Jim Gibbons on Brain Boy
On general principle, I love any project with an alliterative name like Brain Boy. And even though JK Parkin just interviewed Dark Horse Assistant Editor Jim Gibbons, when I found out he had the scoop on the Brain Boy Archives that Dark Horse is set to release this Wednesday, November 16, I pestered Gibbons for a brief email interview. The 1962/1963 six-issue series serves as the only comic written by prose novelist Herb Castle. And while Castle developed the origin with legendary artist Gil Kane, after that first appearance, the actual series was drawn by then-newcomer Frank Springer. Inspired by the Cold War landscape of the early 1960s , the short-lived series proved a great springboard for discussion with Gibbons.
Tim O’Shea: How did the idea first come about to develop a Brain Boy archive?
Jim Gibbons: This was all Dark Horse Comics’ head honcho Mike Richardson’s idea. That guy knows his old comics like nobody’s business and we—as a company—wouldn’t have as extensive or as impressive an archival collection series without the passion Big Mike brings to the table for a lot of these projects. As a relatively young guy, I’d never heard for Brain Boy—and may not have had I not been assigned to work on this project with editor extraordinaire Philip Simon—but man, I enjoyed every wacky turn of this short-lived comic series.
O’Shea: Were you able to shoot the pages from original art, or what did you have to work with? Was there a great deal of restoration work that needed to be done?
Gibbons: All pages were scanned in house from the original comics and restored to their former glory by our incredible digital art team! They work tirelessly on archival projects like this all the time and never get enough credit for their hard work. Next time you pick up a yellowed and tattered issue from the ’60s, try and imagine the amount of work that goes into making that looks like brand new and you’ll start to get an idea of the hard work our digital art team puts in.
O’Shea: Would you agree that Brain Boy is best considered within the context of its time? As is noted on the inside book flap, the book was released in 1962–at the same time of the first James Bond movie and one of the coldest moments in the Cold War–the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Gibbons: I’m one of those guys who always checks the publication date of every graphic novel he reads before flipping to page one. Part of fully understanding and enjoying a comic story for me is directly related to knowing when it was published and what was going on in the world/the world of comics at the time. If I’m reading X-Men, I like to know what story lines came before and after what I’m reading, what political issues may have influenced the story, etc. Plus, writing styles change so much over time and I find reading old comics much more enjoyable when I know what era to place them in.
With Brain Boy, knowing that these stories were coming out when the country was terrified of communism and nuclear war really enhances the reading experience. I think a 12-year-old kid could pick this book up and enjoy it, but I think if that same kid understood the political climate of the country when this book was written, they’d gain a greater appreciation for it. (Though, that might come later… When do kid’s study the Cold War in Social Studies class nowadays?) I think I stumbled onto the fact that this book was written shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was doing some research to help pull together an early draft of some back cover text for the collection. When I put those two pieces together, I smacked my forehead and thought, “Of course! How did I not realize that earlier?! This whole book makes so much more sense now!” Not only that, but the book is a pop culture time capsule of 1962-’63. It’s a fun comic regardless, but it’s a fascinating comic when you consider the history.
O’Shea: Were you aware of Herb Castle’s writing before embarking on this project?
Gibbons: Not at all, but I was bummed to find out he never wrote another comic book after Brain Boy. I don’t know if he just preferred prose writing or what, but I wish there was another comic out there like this from that era. Castle didn’t pull any punches with this book. I think it’s pretty bold comics writing for the era… but I’m 27, so what do I know?!
O’Shea: If response to these archives was strong enough, do you think Dark Horse would entertain the notion of a new Brain Boy miniseries? Batton Lash certainly makes a case for one in his intro.
Gibbons: Ha! I’d LOVE that! I actually put together—mentally—a whole modernized take on Brain Boy while working on the archive that I’d love to read. I think the character and premise have a lot of elements that could make for an excellent politically-savvy modern comic. I mean, what’s not to love about a telepathic James Bond character?
O’Shea: Were you surprised that Brain Boy is not already more recognized, given that it was Frank Springer’s first work in comics?
Gibbons: As I was going through the old Brain Boy comics, I just hoped that—when all was said and done—modern audiences would take a chance on an old comic with a quirky name and discover all the juicy espionage and goofy monster-of-the-week stories within it and be inclined to go on a Gil Kane or Frank Springer kick shortly thereafter. This sounds cheesy coming from a guy who’s obviously biased when it comes to Brain Boy, but I had no idea what to expect from this series and—in the process of reading it and working on the archive—this comic really charmed me. I’ve got a real soft spot for any and all things Brain Boy now… and if that leads me to go read a bunch of old Dazzler comics in the near future, I won’t complain!
O’Shea: Can you single out a favorite story or scene from the archives?
Gibbons: I know withholding spoilers from comic from the ’60s is a little silly, but there is a scene between Matt Price/Brain Boy and his arch nemesis Ricorta that is referenced a few times throughout the series… Oh man, the first time that scene played out, it blew my mind. If you read the book, you’ll know exactly what moment I’m talking about. It’s just this crazy, shocking, fantastic scene that goes down in this absolutely harsh, calculating, and totally rational way that you just never see happen in comics. Considering how off-the-wall “gritty” heroes like Batman were in the same era, seeing Brain Boy’s cold-blooded moments is kind of stunning.