Roger Langridge - Flash Gordon: Kings Cross #1 Cover

As an Antipodean comics reader of a certain age I have a long held affection for Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom. Mandrake, from reading his adventures in my Grandmother's Australian Woman's Weekly and The Phantom from my Dad and Uncle who regularly picked up his comics for cheap entertainment. With the passing of their creator Lee Falk in 1999 I lost most enthusiasm for following their adventures but every now and then I find a modern take that's interesting.

In recent years Dynamite Comics have published comics teaming King Features characters Mandrake, Flash Gordon, and The Phantom (Currently Mandrake's pal Lothar)

Recently Roger Langridge contributed a cover for Flash Gordon: Kings Cross #1 featuring the King Features team up, I asked him a few questions and he generously shared some of the preliminary work that went into creating the cover.

Did you get any art direction before or after the penciling/rough stage for this cover?

I was asked to include Mandrake, Dynamite’s current Phantom (i.e. Lothar), the new lady Phantom and Flash Gordon. Beyond that, the details were pretty much left up to me. Once the initial sketch was approved, editor Nate Cosby requested that I do all of the lettering as part of the artwork, which I had more or less planned on doing anyway for the newspaper one, so the art I turned in didn’t require any pre-production beyond slapping it into InDesign (or whatever the cool kids use these days). 

Did you provide any input into the colouring of this cover? Or just leave in your trusty colourist's hands?

The trusty colourist was me, so the answer to both of those questions is yes! I’ve used that dot-screen trick before (where you can see the dots that make up the colours, Roy Lichenstein-style) a couple of times, so I felt, since I knew what I was doing there, that I would rather do it myself and make sure it was done the way I’d imagined it. There was one colouring note from Nate, to fix Lady Phantom’s hair colour (I made her look too blonde originally), but apart from that they went with what I turned in with no other changes.

You've worked on a few classic American newspaper strip characters in recent years are there any others you'd consider doing a stint on? (Would love to see you more Mandrake with you writing and drawing!)

I’d be up for that, although I don’t think Mandrake is quite the hot seller we’d both like it to be, unfortunately. Other characters I’d like to have a crack at: well,  I enjoyed the Barney Google/Popeye team-up in IDW’s Popeye #12 a whole lot; doing a regular Barney Google series in the style of Billy DeBeck would be a dream job for me. I’d love to have a go at Alley Oop, the time-travelling caveman, some time, too. And, as long as we’re fantasizing, let’s throw The Spirit on to that list as well! (I can dream, can’t I?)

Interview: Bruce Mutard

Melbourne cartoonist Bruce Mutard launched his first project under his publishing imprint Fabilaux, Art Is A Lie by Carol Wood and Susan Butcher, at Melbourne's Homecooked Comics Festival earlier this year. Art Is a Lie is currently available via an Indie Go Go campaign.

Collecting material originally published in Artillery magazine as well as unpublished comics, Art Is A Lie employs the comic styles of many masters of the art-form to present the truth about art and the artists that make it. I asked Bruce a few questions via email about Art Is A Lie and his entry into publishing with Fabilaux.

Matt Emery: What motivated you to enter the heartbreak and sorrow of publishing comic books?

Bruce Mutard: Aw, c’mon, think positive! Well, look, obviously I’m not in it to make money, so it’s a case of wanting to publish Art Is A Lie in particular, since I knew Artillery were unable to do a collection, and neither could Carol or Sue, yet I wanted a collection of it. But the quality of the work was so amazing, I knew there’d be plenty of other people who’d appreciate it as much as I do, and hopefully, among Artillery readers, who’d been chortling at Dead or Alive (the name the strip goes under) for the past nine years. So, it’s a case of putting my money where my mouth is. I will not have my heart broken by this, and how can putting out comics be sorrowful? It’s spreading the joy, even if it’s only fifteen copies.

Emery: When did you first encounter Carol and Susan's work?

Mutard: Coming across their self-published Pox, probably the first or second issue way back in the mid 1990’s. I can’t recall if I saw it in a shop, or we started trading our comics via reviews in other comics and zines in that mail-trading pre-internet era or what. But Pox always stood out for it’s rambunctious, acerbic, intelligent satirical bite, which appealed to me immensely in the days when I was much more an underground cartoonist than the *ahem* serious graphic novelist I am now. Now that I’m an *koff* artist, I can appreciate their wit and talent in Art Is A Lie so much more. Maturity does have its pluses, so long as one doesn’t overdo it. 

Emery: Can you talk a bit about the material in Art Is A Lie and its original publication? Do you have a favourite piece in the book?

Mutard: I have a one sentence summary: Art Is A Lie is a collection of one page satirical biographies of famous artists, done in the style of famous cartoonists. But that’s not entirely accurate, as there are five strips of two pages or more, including an art alphabet done like Edward Gorey mixed with Ambrose Bierce. There are also a few of fumetti, one with Carol and Sue, and others featuring models on sets, all made and built by Carol; she’s an amazing model-maker. The one quality I am totally in awe of is the depth of the girls knowledge of pop culture and ephemera, particularly that which is nostalgic. They have amazing collection of breakfast cereal toys which in themselves, are of amazing quality; it’s hard to believe they used to come with Weeties and Corn Flakes. There are thousands of pop-cultural and art references in Art Is A Lie, such that probably only someone like Jim Bridges would get most of them. My favourite piece is Tom Kat Of Finland. I mean, who else could have thought of doing a biographical piece of Tom of Finland as a Krazy Kat story and make it work? But then there’s Frida Kahlo as a Betty Boop cartoon (there is a resemblance), Marcel Duchamp in a Dick Tracy story, The Van Eyck brothers as a Spy Vs Spy parody… there are NO weak entries in this book. 

Artillery is an American art magazine with a refreshingly insouciant approach to Art, not taking itself or the art world too seriously. Like all art mags, it’s dominated by ads for art exhibitions in galleries, mixed in with content, which can be new takes on famous artists, revision of a movement, or speaking to contemporary artists about their work, art theory, movements, ideas and what not. And… they have Dead Or Alive. It runs on the smell of an oil paint and turps soaked rag out of the editors house in the hills of LA. 

Emery: Were you involved much in an editorial capacity with Art is a Lie?

Mutard: Not really. Carol and Sue work as a team, so they tend to edit by bouncing ideas off one another. Susan once told me that Carol is the one who comes up with all the craziest ideas and she slowly whittles them down to what’s actually able to be done. They both write and draw, with Susan tending to do the art that looks tighter, and Carol, the looser. The only time I asserted editorial authority was one time I visited them after a long break and was blown away by this magnificent model monster horror lab as if from the 1930’s Frankenstein movie. The detail in it was amazing. Carol then told me that they were thinking of doing a fumetti wherein they would tell the story of how they come up with their ideas. I promptly told them that I was herewith asserting editorial privilege and demanded that they do that strip otherwise no book would be published. They delivered. Boy did they deliver. They had to reanimate John Constable and then re-kill him to do it, but it was worth it. 

Emery: Are future Fabilaux publishing plans in the pipeline?

Mutard: My plan for Fabliaux is to publish niche works, so books that I don’t think have a huge readership, but nevertheless should appear in print. The reason for that is to keep a lid on the scale of the operation so that I can continue to spend most of my time making comics, which is what I think I do best. Sales will mostly be done online, via crowdfunds and tables at comic festivals and book fairs, so nothing mass market. I will probably publish my long hidden graphic novel Alice In Nomansland, which is definitely niche. I am also wanting to publish a collected Pop Culture and Two Minute Noodles by Dillon Naylor and the amazing list of artists who’ve drawn those characters. I’ll probably only publish one or two books a year to start with.