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Art team supreme Mike and Laura Allred

For over twenty years now, Mike Allred has been one of the most inspired creators in comics. His first graphic novel, Dead Air, was published by Slave Labor Graphics in 1989, and the following year he brought to the world the character for whom he’s best known: Frank Einstein AKA Madman. There have been several Madman series over the years, the most recent being Madman Atomic Comics, through Image. Around the launch of that series, Image also published the Madman Gargantua HC, an 852-page collection of all of his Madman series to date. That book now has a follow-up in the Madman Atomica HC, which collects the 18-issue run of Madman Atomic Comics along with all 16 issues of his Madman spin-off The Atomics (2000-2001) as well as various one-shots and extras.

The Atomics expanded the world of Madman by evolving several denizens of Madman’s hometown Snap City into a would-be super-hero team with colorful characters like Mr. Gum and It Girl. The thing is, they, like Madman, aren’t really super-heroes. Allred uses the trappings of the super-hero world to tell his own kinds of stories. He incorporates romance, science fiction, horror and more, but his stories are essentially about existence, and the character’s place in the universe. He simply uses the most colorful way – characters in masks and spandex – to do it.

While Madman and the world of Snap City represent his magnum opus, Allred has also done some very memorable work-for-hire, including Marvel's X-Force/X-Statix with Peter Milligan (btw, is an X-Statix Omnibus on the way? There are whispers!), and his current Vertigo series iZOMBIE with writer Chris Roberson. In both his collaborations and his self-penned work, Mike’s art is a masterful mix of stylization and storytelling. His love of the sixties doesn’t just mean his art is a mere homage to Silver Age comic book art. He is equally influenced by the graphic design and pop culture of the era. He and his acclaimed colorist/wife Laura Allred create comics pages that jump like few others. And Mike's character design is always dynamic, distinctive, and fun. 

Mike was kind enough to talk to me recently about his work, particularly that which is collected in the just-released Madman Atomica HC.

Dugan Trodglen: As someone who missed out on the original Atomics HC, I’m so excited to see this collection. Is it safe to say that the Madman Gargantua HC was successful enough to justify this book?

Mike Allred: Very safe to say, happily.

DT: Atomics was the longest creator-owned run you’ve done other than Madman. What do you think when you look back at the series? 

MA: A very important step in our process. Very liberating. Set the stage for all to come.

DT: At the time, what made you want to move away from Madman-centric stories but stay in the world of Snap City?

MA: I just wanted to build a bigger family of characters to surround Frank Einstein.
Madman Atomica HC

DT: You excel at character design. Between X-Force and Atomics, you have been a fount for fun, arresting visual characters. What goes into your design process?

MA: It's all playtime. It's what I've done since me and my big brother Lee sat around drawing our own characters. I just start doodling and pick out my favorites.

DT: The Atomics, like Madman, have the look of super-heroes, but their adventures are nothing like super-hero adventures. Is it a conscious effort to avoid certain super-hero trappings or do your stories just flow out of you freely?

MA: Free flow, Daddy-O! Rule # 1: Entertain myself and hope that enough folks dig what I do to let me keep doing it.

DT: You’ve bounced back and forth between your creator-owned work and working for the big publishers (X-Force is an all-time fave, and iZOMBIE is terrific so far). What dictates which one you’re doing at a given time? 

MA: It seems to be instinctual. I need to fly solo in my own little world, but I also feel a burning need to stretch out on collaborations. And the team-ups always seem to be "an offer I can't refuse" scenario.

DT: How long are you planning on remaining with iZOMBIE ?

MA: As long as it's fun for all involved. We have a game plan for at least a couple dozen issues.

DT: Do you have designs on your next return to Snap City?

MA: Yup. I have a Giant-Size spectacular almost in the can for early 2011. And then a HUGE extravaganza for Madman's 20th anniversary in 2012.

DT: Nice! Frank Einstein has spent a great deal of his comic book life trying to figure out just who exactly he is. Did you deliberately keep the answer just out of your own reach for the purposes of storytelling? I assume this sort of existentialism fascinates you.

MA: It doesn't fascinate me. It tortures me. Ultimately, there is no easy answer. The answer in the book is "Knowledge comes with Death's release." Still, Frank always keeps existence joyful and wonderful.

DT: It had been a good while between your own books when you returned to Snap City for Madman Atomic Comics. Why did you decide to combine Madman and the Atomics into a single book?

MA: Simply the best way to draw all of my favorite characters all at once. Originally I was going to switch them every other month. I still may do that sometime in the future.

DT: In Madman Atomic Comics you experimented with an "animation" style: drawing the backgrounds and then going in and drawing the characters in front of it. What made you decide to try this and what do you think of it looking back at it?

MA: Our old pal Al Columbia had played with it, inspired by old Fleischer Bros. cartoons, so I thought I'd try it.  I saw that it allowed a possible justification for spending extra time making lush detailed backgrounds that could be re-used like in animation.  And since I drew the figures on separate sheets, I could also experiment with the compositions, shrinking them down or blowing them up...to a point.  I very much like the look of it.  But it wasn't practical on a time management basis.  A lot of the figures were cropped where normally I would only draw what was needed, and the backgrounds were rarely reused.  But, as with any experiments, you gain invaluable experience and confidence.  No regrets.

DT: The series also featured two specific issues with remarkable experimental techniques. First, in issue #3, you take Frank on a trip through his subconscious via panel after panel of homages to dozens of cartoon and comic creators and styles. How did you come up with that idea, and did you at first think, “No, that’s too big a challenge”? Did it take a while to pick each style?

MA: The idea just popped in my head, and at first it sounded like an easy thing to do. Just copy from my favorite artists. But then I become obsessed with using the same tools each artist used, if I could find out. And then I ran out of pages and still had more artists I wanted to ape...

It was a very satisfying challenge. One of my personal favorites for sure.

Madman Gargantua HC

DT: Approximately how much longer did the issue take than the average to create?

MA: Almost twice as long. It took about seven weeks.

DT: Have the various sources been listed anywhere (maybe in the Atomica Hardcover)?

MA: The artists? They are mostly listed in order in the issue's indicia.

DT: The other issue that really breaks the mold is #9, an issue that is a continuous panoramic shot with Madman and the Atomics battling a creature through the streets of Snap City. What was your thinking behind this storytelling technique?

MA: I wanted to create an epic cinematic tracking shot in a comic. Thus, the world's biggest comic book panel which can be seen unbroken on the aaapop.com website.

DT: How did you manage to lay the issue out as you did?

MA: That was the challenge. I actually drew the whole background continuously and separately. Then I drew all the figures on separate sheets. We colored and scanned them in like animation cels. Very labor intensive. But worth it.

DT: You brought back Red Rocket 7 in the pages of Madman Atomic Comics. So much of your work is tied together, even your band The Gear with its album Son of Red Rocket 7. It seems like you yourself are this close to actually meeting your own creation Frank Einstein. In your mind’s eye, is all of this one big project?

MA: Yes. RR7 seemed to be unconfirmed as part of my overall universe. And so, I confirmed it. It becomes more and more difficult to know what is real anymore. Me KR-AY-ZEE!

DT: How did your fellow creator pals – Darwyn Cooke, J Bone, etc – get involved with guest stints in Madman Atomic Comics?

MA: It was their idea! What a treat! That was my favorite! I got bit of a break and got a killer issue in the process.

DT: I dare not fail to mention the work of the award-winning colorist, your wife Laura Allred. I can’t imagine your art without the incredible job she does on it. How closely do you work with her on the palette? I imagine you two all but share a brain at this point when it comes to the look of your comics.

MA: I am truly blessed! I love colors. But I have a hard time telling them apart at times so I'm lucky to have the best in the biz right next to me. There is the rare occasion when I ask her to change something. Very rare. She has a wicked upper cut. It truly is a blast. I ink a page, hand it off to her, she scans it and then injects it with her color magic. The best!

DT: How has her technique changed over the course of the art form’s evolution of the last 10 years or so? (Feel free to have her answer this!)

Laura Allred: I may need to write a book. It's simple but very complicated to describe. We've refined our process with every single issue. Only this year...in fact, two issues of iZOMBIE ago, that we reached a completely satisfying process. I'm able to use Michael's modeling textures separate from his inked line art and seamlessly make them colors now. Very happy.
iZombie Vol. 1: Dead to the World TP

DT: Two stories in The Atomics: Spaced Out and Grounded In Snap City TP aren’t listed in the contents of the Madman Atomica HC: Crash Metro and Spaceman. Are we going to have to hold on to the trade paperback if we want those stories (and we do!)?

MA: Spaceman is in there and officially part of Frank's Universe. At this point Crash Metro is another universe co-created with Martin Ontiveros. But that trade was the perfect opportunity to color and collect the story. 

DT: What sort of extras can we look forward to in the Madman Atomica HC

MA: Man, it is HUGE! Everything we could fit is in there.

DT: Since I have your attention, how was it working with Neil Gaiman on Wednesday Comics’ Metamorpho strip? How did you guys hook up?

MA: LOOOVE working with Neil! Mark Chiarello, who I also love dearly, simply asked who I'd like to work with and I told him I'd love to work with Neil again. A few minutes later Neil was on board.

DT: You two really pushed the envelope visually with that. How did Neil communicate what he wanted the page to look like?

MA: We initially had very long phone conversations. Then the very detailed scripts came. Very clear, concise, detailed, inspiring, energizing scripts.

DT: What is the status of the Golden Plates, your adaptation of the Book of Mormon?

MA: I'd love to finish it. But the biggest challenge at this point is trying to figure out how to make it pay for itself. It's the kind of thing, that when finished, could sell easily, and continuously stay in print. But it's too labor intensive to not pay for itself as I go. So for now, it's on hiatus.

DT: Lastly, can I have It Girl’s phone number?

MA: 555-867-5309. Tell her I said "hello".

collectededitions.com is honored that Mike and Laura took the time to speak with us.  We wish them continued success, whether it be freelance or his creator-owned work. We love it all!


Some highlights from the Mike Allred library:

Madman Atomica HC: Collects Madman Atomic Comics #1-18, The Atomics #1-16 , Madman King-Sized Super Groovy Special, It Girl and Mr. Gum One-Shots, and more
Madman Gargantua HC: Collects Madman #1-3, Madman Adventures #1-3, • Madman Comics #1-20, and Madman Super Groovy Special
Madman Atomic Comics Vol 1: collects Madman Atomic Comics #1-7
Madman Atomic Comics Vol 2: collects Madman Atomic Comics #8-13
Madman Atomic Comics Vol 3: collects Madman Atomic Comics #14-18
iZombie Vol. 1 Dead To the World TP: collects iZOMBIE #1-5 and story from House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1
Wendesday Comics HC: Includes Metamorpho story by Mike and Neil Gaiman

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