Of the many good things one can say about Mike Allred, the first thing that needs to be said is the guy’s work is unmistakable. Anyone who pays any attention to comics can immediately pick up his crisp linework that feels classic and modern all at once. If that’s not distinctive enough, Allred has made a career out of some of the most unique characters the industry has seen, especially Frank Einstein. Or, as he’s known to most, Madman. In April, Madman will be making a return to comics with a new series by Allred (published by Image). Also, a Madman movie is in development. With all these developments going on, we tracked down Allred for an interview on his most famous creation, among other topics.
Jean-Claude Van Doom: First, I was wondering when you began developing the new Madman series and what prompted you to return to the character? Were there stories that you’d been wanting to tell for some time? In short, why now?
Mike Allred: I’ve been meaning to get back to Madman for several years. I was fulfilling my contract with dark Horse in 2000 with the intention of self publishing via AAA POP following the ATOMICS. We’ve had the MADMAN movie in devlopement with Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker studios since 1999 and really wanted to have new material to coincide with the movie. But Robert hit a major detour with the success of the Spy Kids movies and then helped hook him up with Frank Miller to make the Sin City movie. I hit my first major detour when I agreed to work with Peter Milligan and create new Marvel mutants and relaunch X-Force with Axel Alonso. Then I took another left turn with our GOLDEN PLATES series, which is a huge commitment.
Long story short, my burning desire to get back to the world of Frank “Madman” Einstein was something I couldn’t put off anymore, and following our self-publishing experiences, and a long conversation with Erik Larson, realized that Image Comics would give us the best of both worlds.
JCVD: What about Madman’s character do you hope readers take away from the new stories?
MA: A deep connection. I want to show connect with him what all human beings have in common. At least those that don’t take life for granted and ask all the big questions, starting with “Who am I?” and “What is life all about?”
JCVD: And, conversely, what is it about Madman’s character that you think has kept him so popular over the years?
MA: I can’t be sure. Based on what I’m told, he’s fun, exciting and a well rounded believable character.
MA: Everything has changed in my process. There has been a natural progression for me as an artist and a writer simply based on my evolution as a human being.
JCVD: Can you explain a bit more how your process has changed, particularly relating to how you’ve changed as a person?
MA: That’s a tough question, because most change is so gradual — sometimes unnoticed.
I feel I’m more aware as a person. I’m more capable of feeling for others, getting in their heads — I guess you could say I’m more sensitive to other people’s feelings as I’ve become less aggressive about what I want and more interested in what makes other people tick and why human chemistry seems to either have us either hugging or strangling each other.
As an artist I’ve become less interested in being prolific, grinding out pages — and more interested in being impressionistic, and so, happier with what ends up on paper. This has brought about a new love for the pencil, instead of regarding the pencil as a quickstop to the final piece. I’ve enjoyed playing with my pencilling and brushing techniques recently that has brought about a big leap in the overall quality of my work. Everything seems to be clicking into place. I still have my bad days, and paper still gets burnt or crumpled up, but less often.
JCVD: Of the many things you do – Madman, the Golden Plates, projects for Marvel, filling in on smaller titles like The Goon – what do you enjoy the most?
MA: I love them all, but there’s no question that I flat enjoy Madman the most. It flows easy and is a crazy good time. It satisfies all my creative juices without any stress or fear or concern with how it will be received.
JCVD: Does the freedom of an original series like Madman feel more enjoyable than working on a big-publisher’s project?
MA: Yes. Big time.
JCVD: Within comics, is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to do? Any other projects coming?
MA: I’ve pretty much worked on every favorite character if at least only a pin-up. but there are probably some, like Batman, that I would like to tackle in a big project–but nothing more than my own creations. I have several concepts I want to get to as well as completing my Golden Plates project. But right now, I’m completly focused on MADMAN Atomic Comics.
JCVD: It seems like there’s constant news about the growth of the comics industry. How do you think it’s changed since you broke into the business? Is it easier to get a start?
MA: It’s a lot clearer on the “how to’s” and with computers, a lot easier to put your own comics together.
JCVD: What’s the one piece of advice that someone trying to get into comics now absolutely needs to hear?
MA: Prepare to produce at least 100 pages of crummy work before really clicking. Always look for ways to improve. Be your harshest critic, but also NEVER lose the desire to keep going. Do everything you can to maintain the joy of the process. As long as you love the work, it won’t be work–you’ll keep going, and get better and build audience as you go.
JCVD: What books/creators who’re up and coming do you enjoy most?
MA: All of them. I can appreciate anyone that’s giving us their best. But I’m more often inclined to revisit or newly discover established talent. For instance, the new Modern Masters volume on Charles Vess rekindled my enthusiasm for his work and got me digging for some of his stuff I didn’t know about before. Also, Chester Brown’s Gospel Adaptations, the Hernandez Bros. on Mister X, Eric Powell’s Goon, James Jean’s cover work, Dan Clowe’s Death Ray. I’m just looking at what’s surrounding me right now. I’m really digging my pal, Darwyn Cooke’s, Spirit stuff and Jeff Smith’s Captain Marvel work. Just rebought Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100 collected.
MA: More than I had anticipated. I thought it was pretty self-indulgent on my part to expect people to buy a collection my old junk and various minutiae.
JCVD: One of my friends (Jim Doom) has enjoyed them immensely, I know, as he’s closely followed your career. Did you intend those as a way of reaching out to other creators and helping to inspire people to give comics a chance?
MA: Honestly, firstly, I wanted a concise chronological record of everything I had done. Beyond that I had hoped to encourage other artists, especially favorites of mine, to spew their scrapbooks onto a published forum for me to enjoy. The Charles Vess book, for instance, goes a long way to satisfy my hunger to know as much as I can about a favorite artist’s output. The Art Of Brian Bolland too. Of course these books weren’t inspired by The Vault, but I’m hoping for more of the same from all my faves.
JCVD: And, of course, I have to ask about the movie. How is development progressing?
MA: It’s really pumping now. We’re waiting on notes from Dimension on the screenplay so we can do a polish and scedule the shoot dates. Robert’s going to be busy through April releasing GRINDHOUSE, so I’m not expecting the next hurdle until he’s finished with that. But everything is rockin’ and rollin’.
JCVD: I really, really appreciate you taking the time.
MA: Thanks for your interest.