Interviewing: Fred Van Lente

In our very first interview, we talked to Fred Van Lente at Wizard World New Orleans. Mr. Van Lent is the writer on the Comic Book History of Comics as well as titles such as Archer and Armstrong and Assassins Creed.

NNC: We’re here with Mr. Fred Van Lente. I said that correctly?

FVL: Yeah, you got it on the first time.

NNC: Author of  Archer and Armstrong and Comic Book History of Comics.  One of the things, I noticed in a lot of your comic books you say there are history influences, in the ones that I’ve read at least.  Are you a big history nerd?

FVL:  I am.  Yeah. Probably my single favorite genre is historical fiction. I like to read a lot of historical fiction.  I’ve done books like Assassins Creed, that’s historical fiction. Doing a lot of the Valiant stuff like Archer and Armstrong and Ivar, Timewalker obviously has a lot of history in it. Then there is non-fiction stuff like Comic Book History of Comics and Action Philosophers.

NNC:  With Action Philosophers, am I mistaken in that you actually taught a philosophy class as a TA?

FVL:  Well, it was a writing class.  The way the students responded I realized that I had a talent for explaining things. Comics are super useful in taking abstract ideas and making them more intelligible by putting pictures to them.

NNC: That takes me to my next topic: Education in comics. Do you think there’s a place for it besides literature and reading?

FVL: Oh yeah definitely. One of our new projects is Action Presidents with Ryan Dunlevy, who also did Comic Book History and Action Philosophers. We are doing a very big project.  It’s going to be 440 pages long spilt over four hardbacks coming out on Harper Collins Kids starting in March 2018. It is individual comic book biographies of various presidents in that kind of irreverent, humorous but accurate style that we have become legendary for (laughs).

NNC: You also wrote a play on Jack Kirby. Is it different writing a script for a comic book compared to a play?

FVL: Yeah, the stage is very unique because it has a lots of challenges to it.  My wife is a playwright, Crystal Skillman, so it wasn’t really that hard because I had her helping me.

(Mr. Van Lante has a  few people  come to the table and he spends a few minutes talking to them.)

NNC: One of my favorite musical artists, Sturgill Simpson, said he doesn’t listen to a lot of country music mainly because he doesn’t want to steal and sound like other country musicians. Do you feel that way about comic books? Do you read other comics?

FVL: It’s not that I’m afraid of stealing. It’s more like when you work in a sausage factory all day the last thing you want to eat when you come home is hot dogs. That’s what it comes down to.  I also have to read a lot of comics for work. It’s not to say I don’t read a lot of comics, I do. Right now, I’m reading a manga history of Japan of the 20th century called Showa. It’s huge. I just read a bunch of Roger Stern’s Avengers comics that I bought on a whim because I liked the Avengers as a kid. I read old stuff. I don’t really read a lot of current stuff, just because I have a back log! (laughs). I’m literally years behind in my comics reading.

NNC:  When you work with an artist, does his drawing inform the way you write?

FVL: Oh yeah. You have to put people in a position to succeed.   Not that most comic book artists couldn’t do most anything, they pretty much can. It’s that some people are really good at certain things, so you want to accentuate that.  Ryan Dunlevy is great at comedy, and his style is very cartoony.

Reading: Comics Roundup

Some comics I’ve been reading as of late:

Silver Surfer (2016, 1-4): Silver Surfer travels the universe on his board having adventures with his human companion, Dawn Greenwood.  Dan Slott writes the Surfer as a Doctor Who type of character who saves the day on this planet and others. Dawn Greenwood is his Rose and makes sure that he “remembers” his humanity.  While it might seem like a knockoff, the story serves as both a tribute to Doctor who and yet remains original enough to be interesting. As good as Slott’s writing is here, its the artwork that is the show.  Mike Allred, who also contributes to the story, perfectly pencils the comic.  Even better is the work of his wife, colorist Laura Allred, who makes this one of the more vibrant comics I’ve read. It matches the stories perfectly in tone. No matter how gripping the plot can be, this is one comic that I just enjoy looking at the artwork and make sure I have the time to take it all in.

Archer & Armstrong: I’m only on issue 6 of this ongoing series by Fred Van Lente and Emanuela Lupacchino and I’m amazed by how hooked I am.  One of the reasons, I’m shocked is that I hate anything that smells conspiracy theory. This takes conspiracy theories and runs with it.  Everywhere is a secret group plotting.  Lente truly makes these groups menacing. It also helps that we have two likable leads who are very flawed characters. I can’t wait to read more.

Citizen Jack: A man who has no business being in charge of small business, much less the country, makes a deal with a demon to run for President.  His campaign makes him an everyman that people can identify with even though he hasn’t said much of substance.  I’m only one comic in and Sam Humphries has me hooked in that it would be funny if it weren’t so terrifying sort of way.  The artwork, by Tommy Patterson is both crude and detailed, again reflecting the tone of the writing.

What are you reading?

 

ComicCon-ing: Early Wizard World New Orleans Preview

At Nola Nerd Couple, you know we love comic cons. Well, New Orleans Comic Con is just two months away!  New Orleans’s largest comic con will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention center on January 6,7, and 8 2017.  While there are still plenty of more guests to be announced, it is already shaping up to be a great con!

Wizard World runs the New Orleans Comic con.  We have attended the New Orleans Comic Con for quite a while now and have even gone to other Wizard World Cons such as the one at Philadelphia.  Their cons are always smoothly run.  They always get top notch entertainment.

For people like us that collect celebrity autographs, this is shaping up to be a great con. Stephen Amell and David Ramsey of Arrow will be there. Mr. Amell will only be there on Sunday so if you plan on meeting him, make sure you plan wisely.  Having met him before, he is always charming to his guests and works hard to make sure all people who pay for an autograph get an experience worth the money they are spending.  Two Sons of Anarchy actors will be there as well also. I haven’t met Theo Rossi before and am looking forward to add him to the collection. And since he is in Luke Cage, I might have to buy two autographs.  We have met Ryan Hurst before, but part of me wants to get a Remember the Titans picture signed. For those that only know him as Opie from SoA be warned, he is a gentle giant.  Other actors that have announced are Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek, who is still as beautiful as ever, and Peter Mayhew (Chewbaccca) who is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet at a convention.  As soon as other guests are announced, we will post them on our website!

The line up for the artists for New Orleans this year is incredible. I’m only going to list a few of them here but this is as strong as of line up of artists and writers that I have seen at a con.  Here are just a few:

  • Neal Adams:  An Eisner Award Hall of Famer he has worked on Batman, Green Lantern, X-Men, Superman, and Avengers. Favoring a realist style in his artwork, his artwork helped revive quite a few characters and created some of the greatest works in comics.  I can’t tell you the number of people that have told me how great Green Lantern/Green Arrow is, and it is on my to read list.
  • Fred Van Lente: I consider Mr. Van Lente’s Comic Book History of Comics to be required reading for nerds. I can’t wait to start Archer and Armstrong, his current work wiht Valiant Comics.
  • Bob Camp: The guy worked on Ren and Stimpy.  Do I need to say more?!
  • Sam Humphries:  The current writer for Green Lanterns!
  • Ken Kelly:  The first album I ever bought with my own money was Kiss’s Destroyer.  Best 5 cents I have spent at a garage sale.  Mr. Kelly painted the cover.
  • Phil Ortiz:  Mr. Ortiz has worked on the Simpsons, Muppet Babies, and He-Man.  We highly recommend you get a “Simpsonized” portrait of yourself!
  • Joe Quinones:  His relaunched Howard the Duck is excellent. He even got Lea Thompson to agree to “be” in the book!
  • Dan Slott:  Mr. Slott is Marvel writer working on Amazing Spider-Man since 2008.  His run on the present Silver Surfer is one of best Marvel books out right now.
  • Rachel Stott:  One of my favorite illustrators, her work on the Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover is brilliant. It stays true to the masks from the film while allowing a high level of expressiveness from those characters.

Besides celebrities and artists, Wizard World New Orleans always has great panels and events such as the costume contests.  They are still working on the  approving and scheduling approving of panels and events.

When they release more celebrity guests, events, and programming, we will write about it here!

ComicCon-ing: Space City Comic Con

Being approved as media for a comic con is a tricky business.  We are there to promote the con.  We truly aren’t media in that we are not there to do an investigative report on the con.  Nola Nerd Couple states on their application that our main focus is on getting people to understand why we love conventions.  Before the con, we hype up the con so people can understand why we want to attend one. After the con, we report on what we did. We also provide some constructive criticisms in the hope that someone at the con reads them. Most of the time we report 99% positives.

Yet, we are fans.  We have dual personalities at cons. We are media looking to interview mainly comic book artists. We really want to sit down with the artists and learn more about their craft. We would love to interview actors, but their time is extremely regulated and limited.  We pay our own way to the cons we attend. We are also fans who love to collect autographs, and pay for that ourselves.  Media passes might provide us with free entry but everything else comes on our own dime.

It was our anniversary and Cristina surprised me with tickets for autographs for some of the Sons of Anarchy people. Then alleged nonpayment and bounced checks occurred with the Sons of Anarchy cast. (We will post an editorial later this week explaining it from our point of view.  We didn’t get to talk to any higher ups so all we have is speculation and our story).

So this post is going to focus on the good things that happened. Mostly.

Continue reading

Reviewing: A Comic Book History of Comics

I had The Comic Book History of Comics on my wishlist for a while. I really wanted to read it this summer.

Then I saw author Fred Van Lente was going to be at Space City Comic Con and moved it up on my reading list. It did not disappoint.

The book runs a little over 200 pages and is written in comic book form with drawings by Ryan Dunlavey. They pack a lot of information into those pages and cover comics humble beginnings to digital downloads with everything in between. Even though very little space is wasted, it is a very quick read. Lente and Dunlavey assert that this is a creator’s medium even if they are controlled and exploited by the companies. Without the creators, the companies wouldn’t have had the characters and stories to build their empires.

The book takes you through waves the comic book industry has ridden over the years. People want superheroes, and then they want romance, and then crime and horror, etc. The comic creators had to follow supply and demand.

By focusing on the creators, often you see their struggle. Upfront is their struggle to control their own artwork. Van Lente and Dunlavey do a great job of explaining work for hire and copyright laws. So good, that if I was teaching civics instead of computer science, I would use those chapters to explain those concepts. Of course, the artists are often going up against the big companies, but the authors don’t shrink away from creator vs. creator struggles. More than any other account I’ve read, they have told the Ditko-Kirby-Lee story in the most nuanced manner.  Ditko and Kirby are definitely given their due in this account. Lee, here, gets the most balanced treatment I’ve read in a while.  For those of you that just know Stan Lee from the movies and think he created all those characters, read this book. Then do some more research. It’s not as cut and dry as you would believe.

Nor do they just focus on DC and Marvel creators. Robert Crumb and the underground comics movement get a good share of panels. This was an area I really haven’t shown much interest in, but after reading this, I know want to read his illustrated version of Genesis.

The authors also do a great job of showing how comic books have gained respect as their own art form. They do point out that in the US this isn’t as true as it in such countries as France, but you can seek the arc of how they went from lowbrow entertainment to where it reaches the heights of Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

Thankfully, this is not just a fact only history book. Like any good historians, they provide their opinions based on the facts. They don’t shy away from criticizing their subject matter when it needs criticizing such as the economics of comics since the 90s. They also show the creators as they were and don’t romanticize any of them (now I know why Wonder Woman gets tied up so often). They also don’t make this overly academic.  In other words, it is always interesting…even the anime chapter.

Biggest complaint: the book is too short. There are too many stories to tell that are left untold. Each chapter deserves its own book. This is a compliment to Van Lente and Dunlavey, especially since I want them to tell these stories.

In the final chapter, they discuss how comic books help us make sense of the world. I really wish they would have taken it further. In fact, I really wish more people from other disciplines would follow this book’s lead. As an educator, I feel the comic book is an untapped form for learning. As they state how a comic book can make the Theory of the Cave understandable, comics could do these across many mediums. By writing their history of comic books, Van Lente and Dunlavey prove that comic books can be a viable medium for any academic field.