Comics Image Comics Interviews

Adventureman Interviews: Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, and Clayton Cowles.

Concurrent with writing a review of the new hardcover (HC) version of Adventureman (read the review here), I conducted interviews with all of the book’s creators. Because there wasn’t room to put all of the interviews with the review, here is a chance to read what each creator thought of their efforts to put this very special edition together.

MATT FRACTION, Writer

Matt Fraction is an Eisner Award-winning comic book writer. He is best known for his work on Marvel Comics’ The Invincible Iron Man, The Immortal Iron Fist, Uncanny X-Men, and Hawkeye. He also worked on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen for DC Comics. In addition to Adventureman, Fraction’s other original book, such as Sex Criminals, November, and Casanova are published by Image Comics.

1. How long have you been a fan of pulps and, more specifically, of Doc Savage? What is it that you found the most fascinating to the point that you created your own take on the genre? 

I think I’m more aware of, rather than a fan of, Doc Savage, per se — I’ve read some, but not a lot. What I really responded to and what kicked off what would become the Adventureman story in my head was Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, his biography and concordance of Doc Savage and his corner of the Wold Newton family (concordance-style books like that are a lot of fun. Farmer’s Tarzan one TARZAN ALIVE, or Kinglsley Amis’ THE BOOK OF BOND, etc., are a great way to absorb all the cool bits from problematic fiction without having to slog through any of the gross, boring, outdated and ignorant nonsense that can drag you out of the story).

In that whole MEN OF MYSTERY-kinda realm, I like The Spider more than Doc, I think — the language in the books is sharper, the pulp is more pulp-y, it’s trashier and more kinetic and violent. The EMPIRE OF CRIME cycle was big for me. I got a lot of enjoyment and energy from the French FANTOMAS books by Allain and Souvestre and his German counterpart MABUSE by Norbert Jacques (the attendant serials of the former and films of the later were big for me, too, as was Feuillade’s LES VAMPIRES). That stuff gets almost surreal and dream-like in their logic and imagery, it’s no wonder Magritte loved them so much. I like the Shadow radio shows more than the books and the ‘spicy’ wave of pulps too but, again, I’m really a pulp dilettante and can’t speak to any of it with any authority, expertise, or true depth of experience and exposure. 

Adventureman concept sketch. Source Terry Dodson.

What I find fascinating in all the pulp material I’ve been exposed to are things like the rudimentary DNA of the superhero genre, combined with their worldly (worldly at best; colonial, at worst) sense of adventure, geography, and scale the stories take. To me there’s as much Tintin in ADVENTUREMAN as there is Doc Savage, I guess. 

2. When you began to put together the structure for Adventureman, what did you find easiest to achieve and what was most difficult? I ask because I assume there must be a balance between the pulp fiction side of the story and the more realistic Claire / Tommy side. 

The whole of Adventureman feels like a big blank page — and when dealing with a character who has a patchy memory, and a fictional history that will come back in fits and starts, I can just make stuff up, moment to moment, and worry about how it will all jigsaw together later. So if I need to explain how Claire knows she’s a universal blood donor and that, in fact, a blood transfusion from her has healing properties, I can cut into a big action set piece with ghost pirates and air combat without worrying about how everyone got there or what it all means — because the point is the transfusion, right? All killer, no filler. 

The result has been that the plot construction comes together pretty easily, all things considered. It’s a fairly straightforward story (for me, anyway), so there’s not a lot of jigsawing it together. I have an intuition for how long scenes should go, who I’m missing, who I’ve seen enough of, and what needs to go where and when. Some of that changes in the writing, of course; some of that changes in the art once Terry and Rachel have been Terry and Rachel. There’s one particular scene, for example, that keeps getting bumped and keeps getting bumped and should land, at long last, around issue 10 now — but when it does finally land it’ll work better because of all the stuff that comes before it. So there’s not really been too much to-ing and fro-ing, honestly. Which can psych me out sometimes because I’m not used to plotting being as smooth a process as its been in ADVENTUREMAN, but that’s my problem.

The most difficult thing is, quite frankly, I’m terrible with character names and this is a book with a superhumanly-large cast that I did a fair amount of figuring out in the writing… but my first picks for names are rarely what sees print. So I’ll be referring to someone’s name from two and half drafts back and it can just get confusing. Luckily with a collaborator like Terry, every character has such a different feel and look and vibe it’s easy to keep the what of them all straight. I just keep screwing up their who

3. Were there good guys and bad guys that were thought up, but didn’t make the final cut?

Nah, they all just go into an off-stage green room area until they get their time. One of our creative goals for the book was to give ourselves the kind of stage where we could put on whatever kind of show we wanted, for however long it interested us. The story of ADVENTUREMAN was built with that flexibility in mind. 

Terry and I have running lists of ideas and characters and set pieces and locales we want to hit, and know that, one day, we’ll get there. A perfect example: there’s a scene at the open of issue 5 (spoilers! Issue 5 has an opening scene) I set on a kind of Trans-Siberian luxury train for no good reason other than I watched Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS (1972) and thought, ooh, elegant transcontinental railway car, that’d be a good place to set a scene. So we stage a little flashback there. And now it’s in the wings waiting for an attendant action set piece along with dozens of others. Or maybe we’ll never go back there again. Who knows? 

4. How was it working with Terry Dodson and his wife Rachel? Did you have a bit of a round robin when generating the initial look of the book? Also, I really liked the quality of the lettering by Clayton Cowles, especially when Claire is not hearing very well and the text is grayed out. Nice touch! 

A total joy. We worked together first on UNCANNY X-MEN then again on DEFENDERS and realized during that time collaborating at marvel that the sort of thing we wanted to build together wasn’t really served by the 30-day deadline of monthly work-for-hire comics. So we’ve been picking at the world together on and off for, gosh, maybe ten years now — and I think it shows in Terry and Rachel’s work, they’ve built the book from the ground up. If it were possible to design the nails that got driven into the wood that built the sets, they’d have designed them. Anyway there’s been a lot of exploring between us, and I try to write for Terry as collaboratively as possible, rewriting around his explorations and discoveries, growing and changing the shape and specifics to better serve the art, rather than try to force things the other way around. 

And Clayton is a key collaborator! We asked very specifically for him, because we knew he’d get the gestalt and be willing to do the legwork and play and explore with us. He’s the best, and he so seamlessly ties together the book that has something like a dozen different typefaces in it…

5. I read in an interview with Dave Cockrum that when he penciled the X-Men book with Chris Claremont he got a little crazy as Chris added more and more characters to the team. He took it as a challenge to get ’em all in the various frames as the team grew, and as the numbers of bad guys grew. Were you conscious of how many characters there were in the pulp side of the book and that Claire’s family was pretty much the same size?

Yeah, it was… I mean, part of the process of… I don’t want to say ‘reclaiming’ because, well, I don’t know that that’s what we’re doing exactly, but it’s the only word I can find at the moment — part of the process of excavating what we responded to from the pulp/men-of-mystery milieu was the ensemble nature of the heroes’ support units — always becoming a kind of found family — as well as the genre’s internationality. And while we’re hopefully leaving the colonial, racist, and imperial attitudes and ignorance behind, the nature of rebuilding a pulp/MoM found family unit in the modern day would and could look like… well, a great big family. So we knew we’d be consciously setting up a big family of sisters that would be over time inheriting all the different mantles of the original Pulp crew… which meant coming up with a batch of characters we’d see and get to know just enough to recognize when they were being replaced, decades later. Which meant, y’know. seven heroes, seven sisters, seven villains, various goons and thugs, mechanical marvels, weapons, vehicles, logos… 

The thing I push myself to remember is NOT to overstuff every panel with every character. They don’t all NEED to have a moment every issue. We get to know the sisters a few at a time; they’ll come forward and recede again as the story demands. This first volume though is so much about Claire, at the forefront, and the love story between Phaedra and Jim as the capstone on the pulp era that to underserve any of that in service of a supporting character without, at this point, that much to do would be kneecapping our own story. 

Everybody gets their spotlight, in time, and after enough pages. 

6. One final question: Is there anything about the hard cover four-issue set that you would like people to know that no one has yet asked about?

I, uh, despise and resist as much as possible the act of returning to my own work (surely this compounds my already-established bad-with-names thing), but I swear this ADVENTUREMAN hardcover is maybe the most beautiful book my name’s ever been on. It looks so good. Terry, and our designer, Leonardo Olea, have crafted this… gorgeous thing. It feels both of its time and brand new, all at once. What I’m saying is, to hell with me; you have to see this beautiful book. AND, it was drawn at a European BD page size vs the American comics page size, so you’re literally getting MORE art in the hardcover than you did in the issue, not just the same art blown up, like the difference between seeing a film pan-and-scan vs. in its original aspect ratio). I keep looking at it and marveling I’d ever be so lucky to be a part of such a thing. 

TERRY DODSON, Penciler and Colorist

Terry Dodson is an American comic book artist, penciller, and colorist best known for his work on such titles as Harley Quinn, Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Uncanny X-Men and Star Wars: Princess Leia.

1. In an X-Man interview I remember that Dave Cockrum had a love / hate relationship with Chris Claremont putting more and more characters in each frame during his run on the book. Adventureman seems to fall into a similar category. Is it hard to work with so many characters in one series of books?

Yes, it’s challenging- no doubt it is a LOT of work. However, this is my project, so it’s extremely important to show everyone equally to establish their importance. It boils down to just that much extra time so I’ve convinced Matt to break up the multiple characters as much as possible if we want the book out on any kind of schedule (and Matt is a smart guy. He’s fully aware of this).

2. How much leeway were you given to develop the costumery for the characters, as well as the overall look for Claire’s very diverse-looking family? What was Matt’s involvement with the process? 

Concept art: Claire, Evie, Ursula, Sera, Angel, and Chagall. Source: Terry Dodson.

Enough rope to hang myself – I think would be the accurate description. I say that because there were so many characters with so many options set in different time periods and worlds that it really was a lot of work to do.

Matt had a basic character description – and from that I went to my sketchbook and came up with multiple versions for each character. From that Matt worked up more detailed descriptions and then reworked more finalized versions and finally details from the script and on the page.

And like most projects I work on, I continually change the looks. That’s the great thing about comics compared to animation. There is not a style guide for me. So I am able continually to adjust the look, designs, etc. for the better.

3. How was it to work with Matt. Presumably everything was remote, via Google Docs, Zoom, etc. How easy was it to fall into a production rhythm? What were the highs and lows?

Actually we did the bulk of Adventureman pre-Covid. And working with Matt was totally awesome – a true collaboration. We worked together plenty beforehand and this project was groomed over a decade in which we had time to figure out our working method. Which is a plot that allows me room to move panels and pages around. And Matt builds on what I give him and vice versa – so we are continually surprising each other and the reader!

Matt and I worked on this a lot face to face and via emails, etc. The entire book was drawn before Covid and I only started to color the book during Covid so, yeah, most of our work was done just exactly how it would’ve been done non-Covid.

4. Your wife Rachel inks the book. Do you two have a lot of shortcuts so the flow goes smoothly and rapidly from pencils to inks to colors?

Rachel does everything by hand and I do everything digitally from there on. We have worked together for 24 years in a row so, yeah, at this point there are a lot of shortcuts and short hands and the great thing is if there’s anything that comes up we work close by so I can make the changes myself or correct the drawing or ink It myself.

5. There are many cats in the book. Does Matt like cats, or do you like cats? Or do you both like cats?

We are cat people – and I thought it would add a lot of personality to Claire and the household. I think Matt took note of me adding a leopard to the ADVENTURE group in the beginning, so he added the cat at the bookstore.

6. Do you have any info on whether fans will be seeing more of yours and Matt’s work on the title and, if so, when?

Yes. Issue five is complete and I’m drawing issues six – Adventureman will be returning in full force in the summer. Our goal is to get out a good quantity of  story each year, but  all at the highest quality — so that when we collect the book, people will want want to read again and again and it will stay in print forever. The “’Kyle Baker’ quality jollity”!

RACHEL DODSON, Inker

RACHEL DODSON received her Interior Design degree from Bassist College, which lead her on a path to inking comics 9 to 5, and allowed her a life of leisure – riding horses, open water swimming, guitar plucking and landscape gardening.

1. What is it about inking by hand that you love to the degree that you haven’t gone to using a computer? What do you think of digital inking?

I feel confident inking with the brush, it’s pure, simple, basic, tactile and SO versatile. Everyone always asks what tools I’m using and I only have to use one brush – it’s an amazing tool! I have little interest in working digitally, or drawing on a computer. It’d be just for fun. I do have respect for those that do work digitally. I find it fascinating that people work that way.

2. Your inks appear very black. Do you have a standard ink that you use?

I’ve found that the quality of the inks I’m using has degraded over my career so I actually have to go over things twice. Plus, I’m meticulous about my inking. My current ink is Royal Talens India Ink – I buy it in 16.6 oz. containers. It’s used primarily for tattooing.

3. Do you feel pressure to do more work on the computer or to move over to the computer because it’s faster or considered to be more modern?

No, none at all. However, if I was starting out in the industry today, yes.

4. Do you have a favorite Adventureman page that you inked? What made it fun to do?
One of Rachel Dodson’s favorite Adventureman pages. Faces, faces, faces!! Source: Rachel Dodson.

I love inking organic stuff, faces, hair – there is a double page spread introducing the sisters would be a good example. The more character/characteristics in the art, the more fun it is to work on, definitely.

CLAYTON COWLES, Letterer

Clayton Cowles is an Eisner and Ringo nominated letterer and a 2009 graduate of the Joe Kubert School. His current credits include Batman, Rorschach, and Strange Adventures for DC, Adventureman, Bitter Root, and Die for Image Comics, and Daredevil, Eternals, and X-Men for Marvel. He lives in upstate New York in a house with two cats.

1. What separates Adventureman from other, perhaps more pedestrian, comic books you’ve worked on? Did you know that Fraction and Dodson asked specifically for you? How does that make you feel?

It’s pretty different, stylistically. I developed the style specifically for Adventureman, especially the balloon tails. Since the book is inspired by pulp comics from the mid-20th century, I tried to mimic the balloon tails from Alex Toth’s books and Terry and the Pirates. But I stuck with round balloons instead of the bubblier ones from back then, since Matt seems to be a fan of these.

It was a while ago, but I believe I heard from Matt and/or Terry directly about lettering Adventureman…so yes, I did know that they asked for me specifically. I already worked with both of them on Defenders, and Terry already had me letter the U.S. editions of Red One for him. I’m glad they liked what I did, because I really wanted to letter Adventureman. So I guess that’s how I feel—“glad.”

2. Was there any iterative work to come up with the greyed out typography that showed Claire couldn’t hear everyone sharply? Or did you nail it on the first try?

I had to figure out some weird blurring stuff in Adobe Illustrator, but I don’t think it took too long to figure out. I don’t usually employ blurs in Illustrator due to preflight issues when books have to go to press, but we were able to make it work here. Right before the book went to press, I made the text even lighter and blurrier. The characters are spouting nonsense placeholder text and it’s important that the reader can’t make it out.

3. Matt Faction mentions all the different typefaces that were used and I’m not sure of the count. Can you talk a bit about your strategy for using varied typefaces and how you selected the ones you used? Were they all character centric?

I’m not sure of the count either, especially if we’re including character logos. Each of the fonts used for those were certainly character centric. The main strategy for font selection is “fun nostalgia,” which is why we picked Chatterbox for the main text.

4. What is one thing you know about the four-book HC publication that perhaps no one else knows?

It’s big and pretty. I know everyone knows that, but that’s all I know about it.

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