Interview by Christopher Irving
My first time interviewing Mike Allred was upon the release of Red Rocket 7 and his indy film Astroesque (on VHS!) in 1997. At the time, it was Allred's first non-Madman project.
CHRIS IRVING: Right now, you’re currently working on Madman, you have Astroesque coming out in a month, and Red Rocket 7 #4 came out yesterday. Anything else you’re working on that you’d care to tell?
MIKE ALLRED: We’re ready to go to Memphis to mix my band’s album at Sunset Studios....The band is called The Gear, but it’s the Red Rocket 7 album.
CI: So what type of music would you describe it as?
MA: Kind of...mod metal. (laughter)
CI: Mod Metal? That’s a new one.
MA: I don’t know. I really like the kind of crunchy, infectious early Kinks and Who, and early Stones. This is kind of really fun, simple, powerful, infectious rock. You kind of take those mod sensibilities and just give it a lot of crunchy metal, almost technical twist. So, yeah, Mod Metal would be a good way to describe it.
CI: Wow, so do you play guitar and do vocals on this?
CI: How many other band members do you have?
MA: Two, a bassist and guitarist.
CI: I understand Astroesque ties into Red Rocket 7. You’ve been having some hints about that. Does it serve as a prequel, or does it take place between panels, or even after the fact?
MA: It’s kind of parallel. With Red Rocket 7...[it] kind of takes place over forty-some years, and Astroesque takes place in the day after tomorrow. The time frame is exactly when Red Rocket 7 begins and ends which is one step ahead of the present day.
In Red Rocket 7, after people see Astroesque, they’ll see the characters walk by someone, or someone will be on TV that was on TV in Astroesque. One of the characters in Astroesque is one of the characters that sets everything in motion in Red Rocket 7.
It’s not a secret, it’s the original man [Red Rocket]. He’s one of two major characters in Astroesque.
CI: Red Rocket 7 in itself seems to be a pretty ambitious series; you’re retelling the history of rock ‘n’ roll and, at the same time, this grand Kirby-esque, cosmic adventure. Do you think Red-
MA: If that’s what you think, then I’ve succeeded (laughter). That’s what I was trying to do.
CI: That answers my question! Now what about Madman? We haven’t seen him since the Hullaballoo with Superman. Do you plan on picking that back up very soon?
MA: There are going to be four monthly issues of Madman Comics following Red Rocket 7. There will probably be a couple of months’ break. Madman Comics #11, which was the last regular issue flowed into Hullaballoo. It’s Madman continuity, not Superman continuity. The Hullaballoo, if I had my way, would have been called Madman Comics #12, 13 and 14. But, we wouldn’t have sold as many comics! (laughter)
It’s that continuity exactly. Madman Comics #12 follows immediatly after Hullaballoo.
CI: Does Red Rocket 7 tie into Madman in any way?
MA: Not at all...I’ve never really defined this, but Madman’s world -- Snap City is a fictional city so, obviously, it is some kind of parallel universe. But Red Rocket 7 takes place in the real world with real history. Actually, in Red Rocket 7 #1 there is a Madman refrigerator magnet that says “This is a real world, this is a piece of merchandise from a comic book.” So in red Rocket 7, there could be someone reading a Madman comic book. There won’t be a real Madman there unless it’s an actor, like in the film; which we’re in pre-production on right now.
CI: What can you tell me about the film for Madman. How far into pre-production are you?
MA: Well, we’ve finally found the perfect director and we’re in negotiations now, so I can’t say who he is. When we were at Universal, it was going to be me. Through all of the frustrations, I think by my insisting on being director, it completely halted the project. There were too many people worrying, too many concerns. I wasn’t. I know I could make the perfect Madman movie. With those frustrations, it inspired and prodded me into making my own films.
So, I took some of the option money and made Astroesque. I have a partner named Shane Hawks, who helped me with Astroesque. I couldn’t have done it without him. So we did a second film which was his concept, called Eyes to Heaven. We’re now finishing the editing on that, and I will then be doing the soundtrack music for that. We also have a comic book tie-in for that, which is also kind of an off-shoot.
I’m trying to bring other interested parties into comics. It is my highest priority, the comic book medium. Mainly because, I think it’s being with the greatest potential, and the most accessible elements, but also the most untapped potential. The misconceptions for comics, that it’s for kids, or you’ll hear people say “Oh, I’ve outgrown comics.” Well, would you ever hear somebody say “I’ve outgrown record albums,” or “I’ve outgrown movies,” “I’ve outgrown television.” It’s ridiculous, when you realize that comics are literature and artwork combined for storytelling, you can do anything in a comic book, and it’s possible for one person to do a comic book. It’s the purest storytelling art form there is....
One person can write a novel, but maybe that novelist can’t draw. For me, the definition of a cartoonist is someone who both writes and draws, and illustrates. A cartoonist is the purest storyteller, with the greatest potential for telling a story ultimately in a visual [way], using literature. In that end, I find it most exciting and having the most freedom to try and stretch a little bit. My whole career has been about trying to find vehicles that are marketable in the medium and the current industry with it’s current readership, and stretching it, using those vehicles to just push it a little further and bridge that gap between juvenile entertainment and real, pure artistic literature.
Did I go roundabout your question? I don’t even remember what the last one was (laughter)!
CI: I asked you how far into pre-production Madman was.
MA: There you go! I went on a big spiel. I am so fanatical about comics and just how much we’re falling short: it’s frustrating and exciting at the same time. There is so much that has happened in music, and will happen, in films. You can’t just step up to the plate and say “Okay, I can make a significant difference,” it’s too daunting. The room to grow and the room to make a mark, it’s there. That’s important to me. There are so many wonderful people working today, yet they have an underground fanbase, or the audience just doesn’t exist to give them the appreciation that they’re due.
I’ll be the first person to admit to selling out, just enough to kind of bridge that gap between mainstream tripe and something that is excellent. Hopefully, my work [you can] walk across my back to get to the really good stuff and the kind of work that I aspire to. I don’t think I’ve come anywhere close to doing my best work, and hopefully this medium will grow and support that work when I get to that stage of my career. It’s where things like these other projects tie in. If someone is an indy music fan, maybe they’ll find out the lead singer/songwriter/ guitarist of this band also does comic books, and check it out. Or someone will see my films at an arthouse or on video and find out “It says here there’s a comic book, and here’s a phone number.”
When you look at comic books, it doesn’t look that commercial, but when it’s being made into a film, it has that greatest potential of bringing people back. Every time there’s been a big comic book movie, interested, curious people will go into a comic book store and they hit a wall. There’s just no one bridging that gap, as I was saying. It’s everyone’s responsibility, it’s the retailers responsibility, the distributor’s, to encourage the growth of this medium.
So, with the Madman film, I’ve realized that I could steer things as a producer, and have the confidence with the collaboration, for it to be the film that I really want it to be, even if I’m not directing it. I’m very excited about who we’re negotiating with right now, and the cinematographer that we’re getting, the production designers, that’s the stage that we’re at. Once we get all that in place, the obvious next step is casting, and then it’s into production.
CI: As far as casting, do you have any suggestions? I remember you’d once mentioned Kyle McLachlan as Madman.
MA: Yeah, I’ve always found him to be interesting. He looks like a classic leading man, but at the same time, there’s something odd about him; something not quite right that makes him very interesting. I see the same characteristics in Eric Stolz, someone who I think could have made more obvious choices and been a more famous movie star...clearly from his choices, that wasn’t what interests him, being an actor is. Here’s somebody that could, through this strange costume, show all those facets of Madman without putting a name actor in. He is a name actor, but not somebody that neccesarily would get people in theaters. That was a problem at Universal whenever I would mention both of these actors. They want somebody that’s going to bring people in, for obvious reasons, they want to make money. Fortunately, Robin Williams has followed teh book, and everybody agrees he’d be teh perfect Dr. Flem, and put him in a role where he can be intense and kind of dark. In the script there are all these failed clones with bright red hair, and goatees and blisters, he gets his head cut off and put in an aquarium and a bathtub and in a jar, and carried around in a container. We kind of see two Robin Williams -- we’ll see the really interesting actor, in the more serious films he does, and then the goofball wacky Robin Williams. Here, we’d have the serious actor, but in these really strange situations. I think it would bring the really best out of him. Hopefully that would bring people in, and we’d have the freedom to get the right actor for Frank Einstien, instead of the most box office actor. Although there are some box office actors that have been brought up that I think would be great. Everytime it appears who I make a suggestion, you’ve read that I’ve said Kyle McLachlan, this just irritates everybody to no end ! (laughter)
Nobody wants to be the second, third, fourth, choice but for me to say “Here’s some actors that I’ve thought of,” that shouldn’t discourage anybody for making a run for the part. This is me just dreaming.
CI: Good luck, something I’ve always been wondering: what do you see the costume made of, a cloth costume?
MA: In the film?
CI: Yeah, in the film.
MA: This was one of the first hurdles that, once I made clear how it would work, people went nuts over. To me it’s obvious, but it’s a concern that I thought was ridiculous. I want to kindo fgo back about fifty years ago and kind of take the approach of ths Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz or, more recently, Jim Carrey in The Mask. In other words, it would be a normal cloth costume, he’s made this himself.
There are cut-away shots of him pulling this cloth mask on his face, but when you’re seeing him walking around, the prosthetic will be a piece that goes around, almost like a ski mask, but with the face cut out, but would be blended in so the actor’s face would be right there, completely open, but would look like a second skin. It would have this surreal feel to this. It will have a really odd, interesting look in the film, the actor’s face is going to be right there.
I think it’ll look great. I’ve done some production paintings, and one of them was published in an issue of Madman Comics. I actually used Eric Stoltz as a model for that, it would look like that....it would look like the full headpiece with the hair coming out. In that illustration I even left the eyes alone, he’s got very pale eyes. Otherwise, we’re kind of looking at Marilyn Manson-style white contact lenses (laughter). Again, just have a real strange look to it.
CI: The Grafik Muzik series you did years ago, how would you grade it now, looking back in comparison to Red Rocket 7 and your current Madman work?
MA: Very primitive, kind of primal. Even as I was doing it, I was disappointed, because it wasn’t coming out [right]. I always had very specific ideas in my head, but I couldn’t make my hands put it out on paper. It wasn’t actually until Madman that I dstarted successfully making that connection. Which is different than how a lot of other people feel about their work, I think. Some people relate to how I feel about the process of creating something. I see a lot of people at conventions that will come up and show me their work. It’s obviously in need of a lot of development, a lot of skills jsut haven’t been exercised enough: lack of understanding of anatomy, or perspective, yet they’re convinced it’s great. So, when you come up against somebody like that, you can’t critique their work, you can’t constructively tell them “Here’s a few suggestions to help you improve,” because they take it as an insult. I’ve always welcomed that. The first comics professional I’ve ever met was when I was a TV reporter in Germany. I was just working on Dead Air, and I met Will Eisner. He came to Germany promoting a film called Comic Book Confidential. I was at the comic shop where he was going to do a signing later. I was asking where I could get [a] Comic Book Confidential poster. It looked really cool, and I asked “Is there any way I can get one?” and they told me “Go to the movie theater where they’ll be showing it.”
This was during the day and I went over there. The guy who answered teh door at the theater, which was locked, didn’t speak English, but heard that I spoke English. He just waved me in, smiling “Oh, come on, come on.” He was very relieved that Laura and I had shown up because poor Will Eisner and his wife were just sitting there with nobody to talk to! So, he talked to us, and I had some of my work with me, and it was just this great moment; here was just this great legend, one of the true pioneers and, to this day, is a progressive cartoonist. I had all of this private time with him and he, some would think, tore my work apart, really told me “Here’s some of your weaknesses, here’s what you can do to improve some of your draftsmanship, etc., etc,” and it was like money, it was like wow! You couldn’t pay for that kind of advice, from Will Eisner. I reall took that stuff to heart and really went to town.
There was another time where Neil Gaiman asked me to do Sandman, early on in the series. The editor rejected my sample pages. I thought it was a done deal, because Neil wanted me to draw it, I thought that was all it took. I did some sample pages and they were rejected and that was the hardest moment for me in this career. Fortunately I thought “Man, I’m going to show her,” and I worked harder and harder and harder. To this day, I look at my stuff and see where I just didn’t nail it, what I really wanted to be on the page just isn’t there. I’ve since accepted that that’s a very healthy thing. Later I can go back and look at the work and enjoy it and see the progression. Sometimes I’ll go too far, and try something that isn’t quite working, and realize that...I’d preferred how I’d been doing it before and so, I’ll rework that. It’s a never-ending cycle [that] keeps you interested, keeps you fresh and excited about what you’re doing. I consider it a blessing, to be your most critical critic.
CI: Do you plan on reprinting any of the Grafik Muzik, or any of your earlier work?
MA: Not at all. For me, they’re like ancient hieroglyphics. If people make the effort to hunt them down and buy them. If they want to see them that bad, then godspeed. But it’s nothing that I want to encourage being seen, on a more accessible level. It was a learning period for me, and I kind of like it’s place where it is. Everything I’ve done from Madman on, however, I want to keep in print...keep it as available as possible because it’s work that I am very keen on having people seeing. From now on, my intent is [that] I think Madman’s got another twenty issues before I complete the ultimate story before I tell his entire story. In the meantime, I want to do other projects that play with format and do that stretching that I like to talk about. Madman is something that I have a lot of affection for, has given me a spotlight in this business and I definitely will not be abandoning the story until it is finished. I will also use it to provide me that visibility, to have less conventional comics [and] projects get more attention, and at least do my part on moving this medium forward.
CI: It must have been cool to get The Spirit assignment from Kitchen Sink for the new anthology that’s coming out soon.
MA: Actually that’s something that I’m really disappointed in, because it came right when I was at my busiest. This year has been unbelievable. I’ve had at least one thing out every month for about a year. It’s because after I did the movie stuff, even going back to all of the time I spent at Universal, developing the Madman film. I looked back and it was like “I didn’t do anything.” Last year I had three comics come out. I thought that was pathetic. Here was something that I’d really committed to and was letting myself down. So, I kind of re-committed. When Madman was re-optioned, that’s when I pulled myself out of the director’s seat, and everything started to move along. I realized what I really wanted to do was independent work, whether it was independent films, independent music, or independent comics.
I was inspired to follow Astroesque with Red Rocket 7, and there was Superman/Madman Hullaballoo, which we then moved up to give a nice big burst of attention before Red Rocket 7, which needed it because it’s obviously pretty unconventional format-wise as well as story-wise. I did a Spider-Man book right before that, because it was an opportunity to work with Joe Sinnett. In the middle of all this was the Spirit offer and I just didn’t have the time to do it. Fortunately, one of my best friends, Matt Brundage who is a cartoonist, and Micheal Avon-Oming, who is a talented cartoonist kind of stepped up and said “Okay, we’ll pick up the slack.” We all kind of came up with this story together and I roughed it out and then Micheal tightened it up and Matt inked it, he did some drawing on it too. It was fun as a collaboration but, for me, as a Spirit fan, I wish I could have done it on my own to really have made it mine. So, it’s a mixed blessing -- on the one hand, the finished work is something that I’m proud of, and was a real joy to work with these two great guys, but also there was the selfish side of me that wishes that it was all mine! (laughter)
I’m glad that I was involved, and I just wish that the darned thing would come out.
CI: What should we expect to see from you in the coming year?
MA: The album will be coming out right after the last Red Rocket 7-Oh! What I didn’t get to mention that I am so jazzed about -- when I first came into comics, [there] was a comic book called The Jam, created by Bernie Mireault. This book lit up my life, there was a one-shot called The Jam Urban Adventure Super Cool Color-Injected Turbo Inventor From Hell. It came out in the late ‘80’s; to this day it is my single-most favorite comic books ever. The Jam was actually a major influence on creating Madman, as was The Spirit and Alex Toth’s The Fox and Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. It was just fun and had characters that felt real and were three-dimensional. Bernie also has this very unique style which is anything but commercial, but to me is very addictive, I love it. Anyway, he’s been doing a lot of coloring work and varying projects over the past few years and we got together [and said] “Wouldn’t it be fun if we did something together?”
So, he’s bringing The Jam back; it’s a two-issue project called The Madman Jam, and...I think it overlaps the last Red Rocket 7 and fills the gap before the next Madman Comics. The beauty about this book is [that] it’s going to look like animation cels. Bernie was actually a big influence on Laura’s coloring and...the color in Color-Injected book, the pages were shot on animation acetate and then painted with cel vinyl, just like you paint animation cels. It looks amazing! His pallette [and] coloring was a major influence on Laura and I. The first box of Madman cards were painted with cel vinyl. The book has this M. C. Escher theme through it, all kinds of weird visual tricks throughout all forty-eight pages. I’m drawing and inking Madman entirely, and I’m also inking his character. It’ll be drawn in his style, inked by me, which kind of pulls it together, and my characters are completely inked and drawn by me. Because of the difference in our inking styles, it’s going to pull the figures out from the background and will have this incredible look to it. It’s just a blast of a story!
Following Red Rocket 7, you get the Madman Jam, four monthly issues of Madman Comics, The Feeders (which is the comic that ties in with the Eyes to Heaven film, which will be coming out on video by summer), the Astroesque movie comes out next month on video. Then, I’ve got this detective story project, which I’m going to be doing before the next Madman Comics chapters. I see it coming out in four or five issue chapters. This next four-issue arc is "The Exit of Dr. Boiffard", somewhere around issue #30 is what will take me to take Frank Einstien to his climax.
CI: It was quite a cliffhanger at the end of #11...
MA: That was a real stinky thing to do and I apologize! It wasn’t intended to be that way. Actually, #11 was going to be the beginning of this five-issue monthly arc and, right as we were doing it, this other stuff started happening. As I worked on a Kevin Smith movie called Chasing Amy, these various opportunities came up, and so we decided to release #11 to try to explain what the plans were. I think if I continued on this arc with Madman...I didn’t have the juice, and I wouldn’ve fallen into the trap of just being 'the Madman guy'. Instead, I’ve exercised these other muscles which were needing attention and, ultimately, it’s just made me a better storyteller [and] artist. I’m healthier in every way because of it. Instead of just sitting around and waiting for the right opportunities for making these things, I’ve made those opportuinities.
I guess that ultimately that’s what I’m about, that’s the moral to this story: that’s the message that I’m trying to get across: for anybody whose just sitting around waiting for that opportunity, waiting for permission to create something in any of these mediums, my words of wisdom are simply “You can do it, attack it. Attack it now! Do it now!” Find out what it takes to do it and simply attack it! Get it done, and then move on to the next step. In all entertainment...mediums, there’s this feeling that you have to be discovered [and] given permission. That’s what the independent movement is all about, it was what was so exciting about [their] success in the mid 1980’s, with independent films recently. The most exciting thing that’s going on in entertainment is this desire to discover this raw, honest, sincere work of all these different creators who are just taking what they have and making something great out of all of this. I am a huge fan of all of this, as long as there’s that instaiable need for fresh, original, exciting ground-breaking entertainment -- Wow! we’re really on the crest of a wave here. I encourage everybody to stop, if they are a creative or artistic person, they have those juices just boiling up.
Let them out, and I’ll be your biggest fan.