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Dark Horse’s Catalyst Comix, a title I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced in October at New York Comic Con, at last debuts today. Joe Casey is a writer who starts every project with a manifesto, and this one is no different: Relaunching a relatively unmourned line of comics in his own image, he’s seeking to create a superhero book that’s an antidote to “the overly conservative nature of Marvel and DC.” I can appreciate that ambition, but what really sold me is the sheer depth of the pool of artistic talent assembled to bring Casey’s scripts to life: Dan McDaid, Ulises Farinas and Paul Maybury drawing the three strips that make up each issue. Rafael Grampa, Paul Pope and Brendan McCarthy are rotating as cover artists.
I spoke to Dan McDaid on the eve of the book’s launch to discuss working within this all-star team of creators, and he shared his process on creating a typically powerful, apocalyptic-looking sequence of his strip, starring Frank Wells, the hero formerly known as Titan, from Will to Power.
Robot 6: Did you ever read any of the Comics’ Greatest World titles back in the day? Any pressure working on a character created by Mike Richardson, the book’s publisher?
Dan McDaid: Not really, no. I was pretty mad for comics in the ’90s, but my main focus was DC stuff. Ask me about Zero Hour sometime and I’ll bend your ear till it falls off. But I was aware of the Comics’ Greatest World stuff, and the character Titan always stuck with me (though I thought his name was Will to Power). He always looked so angry about something. Maybe it was the thigh-high red boots, I don’t know. I reread them all recently to kind of catch up with the character and that whole world is as mad as a box of frogs. It’s brilliant in its way — everything is really intense. Everyone is shouting or screaming or being thrown into walls. And there’s some incredible talent on those books — guys like Mike Manley and Chris Warner. So I was surprised how enjoyable it was, and also a little daunted, if I’m honest. But in terms of pressure from Mike — no, none at all. Mike was very clear right from the outset that Joe and his gang had complete carte blanche to do what we wanted, cherry-pick what we liked from the original series, tweak stuff, refine stuff, ditch stuff. It’s as close to an indie book as you can get.
Catalyst has a unique structure: Your strip takes the lead for three issues, then rotates to back-up strip to allow the others three strips each to lead. I’m guessing Joe Casey has some ambitious master plan you’re all part of/privy to? What’s working with Joe like? Is he as mad as one might think from reading his comics?
I think there is a master plan, though I’m not sure I could tell you what it is. But I like that. I feel like I’m in free fall, I’ve got almost no idea what’s coming next! Joe will sometimes drop me a cryptic hint: “Do you watch The West Wing?” “Could you draw a passable George Clooney?” “How about Tibet?” But with a talent like Joe’s, you know you’re in safe hands, as an artist. And every script I’ve received so far features some fantastic left turn I didn’t see coming. Part 6 … I’d love to tell you what happens in Part 6. It’s completely brilliant and quite mad, though it might surprise you to learn that Joe is not really all that mad at all. He’s pretty genial, but incredibly focused and passionate.
And that’s a helluva line-up of artistic talent you’re part of, between the guys doing the strips and the covers. It must feel good to be part of that team.
As for being part of that team, it’s incredible, of course. When I saw that first Grampa cover … holy wow. He had taken this pretty nice redesign of Titan I did and added all this cool extra business and gave him these ridiculously cartoony boots. Pow! Immediately upstaged. I’ve talked a bit with Paul and Ulises, and they are frustratingly talented, enthusiastic, full of energy and potential. I don’t get to see much of their work as we’re all working away on our bit of the puzzle, but then they’ll send me something or put something on Tumblr, and I’m awestruck, horrified and envious all over again. This really is a gorgeous-looking book. If I wasn’t in it, I’d still be all over it.