By Jermaine McLaughlin
There’s a new King of the Underworld in the Marvel Universe, and his name is Johnny Blaze. Blaze, who first appeared in 1973, is the most well-known, flaming-skulled, daredevil cyclist and spirit of vengeance at Marvel. He descended to the throne of Hell during the events of last year’s Dr. Strange: Damnation mini-series and last week, he made his first appearance in the new Ghost Rider series. But he isn’t alone. Johnny will enlist the reluctant aid of his half-brother, Danny Ketch (another Ghost Rider who gained an insane level of popularity during his own titular run during the 1990s), to help him in maintaining what passes for order in his new kingdom. Bringing the tale of two riders to life will be the duo of writer Ed Brisson (Uncanny X-Men, Iron Fist, Alpha Flight: True North), and artist Aaron Kuder (Guardians of the Galaxy, Fantastic Four).
The Beat caught up with Kuder at his artist alley table during New York Comic Con to talk about the new Ghost Rider(s), the joys of absurd redesigns, and who he’s pulling for in a race between the two riders.
Jermaine McLaughlin: So how’s your NYCC 2019 been thus far?
Aaron Kuder: It’s been crazy, but fun.
McLaughlin: So we’re getting two Ghost Riders for the price of one with this project?
Kuder: Yes, we’re focusing on Johnny and Danny, turning the focus more on the sort of overall mythos of Ghost Rider, and expounding upon the stuff in both their shared histories that hasn’t been explored before.
McLaughlin: How well-versed are you in the history of the Ghost Riders as you come aboard this book?
Kuder: I was introduced to Ghost Rider from the ’90s run, with Danny Ketch’s introduction into the Marvel Universe. Like many things with comics that you get into, you learn backwards. An artist or writer or story you like will send you researching what came before, hich is how it worked for me and Ghost Rider. Getting introduced to Danny led me to going back and reading more about Johnny in the older runs from the ’70s.
McLaughlin: Given your previous projects, would you say this stands as a bit of a departure from the type of books you usually work on?
Kuder: Yeah. And I felt a lot of that, given the initial reaction to people about me being on this book. Many of the books that I’ve been on before have been a bit more lighthearted and more upbeat. Ghost Rider is a dark, twist away from what I’ve done before. But it’s been fun. It given me a chance to kind of spread my wings and push the gambit of what I can do.
McLaughlin: How has it been to collaborate with writer Ed Brisson so far?
Kuder: He’s great. As an artist, there are writers that you work with that are just totally staunch in what they want to do. No give in their vision, which for the artists can be a little boring. Ed’s not like that at all. He’s super happy to collaborate, talk through things, and figure out a way to make scenes bigger and bolder.
McLaughlin: How much design work are you doing with this new series?
Kuder: Tons!! Which is tricky for well established characters. You don’t want to stray too far from the iconic images that people are used to. For Johnny, we went back to the white, rectangular shape on the front of his bike, and with Danny I went back to the spikes on his gauntlets. I don’t know if they had officially gone anywhere, but there were a bunch of images that I saw online of Danny sans spikes. Having two characters that have flaming skulls means it can be difficult to tell them apart at times. So I’m striving to make them both iconic while keeping any redesigns simple.
McLaughlin: So Johnny starts this story off as the King of Hell. I assume that means we’ll be spending some time in the underworld with him. How fun has that been to draw?
Kuder: When you have creatures and characters in the background that are creatures of fantasy, it allows you to just go crazy and have a whole bunch of fun. The first issue, I have a demon that carries a pair of six shooters, has six legs, a chicken head and a human body. You don’t have to have the constraints of a drawing spandex human characters every time.
McLaughlin: So is there any fun to be had with Danny’s part of the story on Earth?
Kuder: With Danny, He’s just in a hurting place in his life. And I don’t know what it is, especially since I’ve drawn so much comedy over the years, but through Danny I’ve found that depressing is fun to draw. Morose, grumpy people. Maybe it’s just me getting older, but I can relate to it more.
McLaughlin: Outside of our chicken-headed friend, are there any characters you’re anxious for the world to see now that the debut issue has dropped?
Kuder: I got to redesign the character Lilith. Previously, she had these giant spikes telescoping out of her forehead. I got rid of those, and without giving too much away, I’ll just say that she’s known as the Mother of Demons, so I went that route when I redesigned her. Trying to figure out what a demon society’s image of a mother would mean.
McLaughlin: And finally, since you’re been playing in this sandbox for a while, who wins in a race, Danny or Johnny?
Kuder: In a race? Johnny’s the King of Hell, so he’s got a little fuel in the tank. He has the ability to tap into all of his new hell powers, which is a bit of a teaser for the series. So, Johnny, hands down. Which is not to say I approve of that, as I’m always one to root for the underdog.