The Beat had the chance to sit down with the Strange Adventures creative team of Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan “Doc” Shaner during this year’s C2E2. I was warned before they arrived that they were in very high spirits, which was absolutely the case. It was a fun conversation that I sometimes had no choice but to watch unfold before my very eyes.
I was very kindly given a copy of Strange Adventures #1 after the interview concluded, and I walked away from it very impressed. It’s unlike anything these creators have ever done, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting projects to ever come out of DC’s Black Label imprint. Without further ado, enjoy the conversation!
The Beat: The book’s coming out in a few days, how are you guys feeling about it?
Mitch Gerads: All the same symptoms as the Coronavirus.
Tom King: I’m afraid to leave the house thinking the government will shoot me. I’m nervous!
Gerads: I’m more nervous for this one for some reason than Mister Miracle.
King: You have no reason to be nervous! The art is beautiful. Everyone can tell the art is beautiful. It’s the story that people are going to be f*cking mad about.
Gerads: The thing I’m nervous about is handling everyone who’s gonna say they like the Doc portions and not the Mitch portions.
Doc Shaner: I’ll take it.
King: You think people are going to have online polls? I bet you, especially with the paper on the first one, that people won’t know you guys are switching off.
Shaner: I think there’s going to be more people who don’t know where you [Mitch] begin and I end.
Gerads: They strangely complement each other. We didn’t sit down and figure anything out like, “Oh, we’ll use this colour palette.” It all just works together.
Shaner: I’ve heard that. That folks who have read it were surprised by how much we move toward each other.
Gerads: It’s interesting too, in the first issue we didn’t coordinate anything. So whatever we turned in was the first time we saw that happening. There are pages that have some of me and some of Doc, and there’s a couple of instances where it flowed real nicely in the way we magically laid it out but in later issues we said, “How’d you do this panel, because then I’ll make it work on my panel?”
King: You guys are doing your own thing, but I’m purposefully not doing Watchmen-esque transitions where he’s holding a stone in the present and holding a wheel in the past, because I wanted to do something different.
Gerads: We turned some of those into that. There are a lot of spots where I chose to end a scene with a shot, and then Doc found a way to take his scene and start it from that layout.
King: Especially with Alanna, you guys are doing some stuff where it goes from your Alanna to Doc’s Alanna. That’s where the real contrast is.
Gerads: It’s kind of like Mister Miracle where Barda became my favourite character, and now Alanna’s becoming my favourite character.
The Beat: And when it comes to your collaboration with Doc, I’m fascinated by the fact that you share pages. How did you discuss panelling these pages? Did you find the process limiting in any way?
Gerads: Mister Miracle was all nine-panel pages. [Strange Adventures] is based on a three-panel layout, like Darwyn Cooke‘s New Frontier. You start from that, but then you also came up with the idea that we didn’t want to be beholden to it like Mister Miracle, so if we want to combine two panels to make a bigger one, or a splash, then we can. That was already in place, so we didn’t have to worry about me drawing a long panel and Doc having to fit in with my work. Which I like. I like telling stories in a very simple, left-to-right manner.
King: I bet nobody will notice the three-panel grid. When I read New Frontier, I feel like I’m very comic literate, but I didn’t know about it.
Gerads: I didn’t know until you told me about it! Nobody’s noticed that Batman #62 and my Heroes in Crisis issues were all three panels.
The Beat: I noticed!
Gerads: Well, there you go! Well done. It was in Batman that we wanted to try this.
King: We were experimenting with Batman and Heroes in Crisis as a way to learn the language of the art. We knew how to do a nine-panel grid, but with this we had to dialogue it differently. Also, it’ll read way fast.
Gerads: Yeah, you were worried about that.
King: I’m still worried about that.
The Beat: And when it came to the covers, who planned to have the images central and reflective?
Shaner: It’s actually gone back and forth. There’s been one issue where we based it on Mitch’s sketch and then the next one was mine.
King: Has it ever been done before?
Gerads: I don’t think so. It became such an obvious thing once we found out how the book was structured. We’ll each do a cover, and we’ll each play off of each other.
Shaner: We wouldn’t do this on just any book.
King: It’s amazing to do something new that hasn’t been done before.
The Beat: Doc, you’re colouring yourself on Strange Adventures. Was this a choice that you were going to make eventually in your career, or did you feel confident because you were joining a Tom & Mitch project?
Shaner: Both. I’ve been pushing for this for probably more than a year now. I’ve been doing a lot of fill-in issues and one-shots, and I was trying to find a schedule that worked where I could colour myself. I’ve been getting to a point where I was getting frustrated with both the way I was drawing and the way the final art turned out, which isn’t to say I’m against colourists. I’ve had the chance to work with some amazing colourists, but I could tell that the way I was drawing was being affected by the way I knew the colour was going to be handled. I was drawing toward the colourist. I was looking for an opportunity to draw toward myself. So far it’s been far more fulfilling. I feel like what I’m getting in the final art is more of what I was shooting for in the beginning.
King: I feel like I’ve worked with the best artists in comics, and this is the best-looking book I’ve ever written.
The Beat: That’s high praise.
King: Which is stupid of DC Comics, because I’ve worked on Batman for 85 issues and they put Mitch and Doc on Adam Strange. But I have no doubt, this is one of the best-looking comics I’ve ever worked on, and one of the best-looking comics I’ve ever seen.
The Beat: I haven’t read it yet, so I’ll be the judge of that.
Gerads: [laughs] Fair enough!
The Beat: Doc, in the past you’ve talked about how you’ve been wanting to move away from a kind of Golden Age style, that you don’t want people to interpret your art as a throwback style. How do you overcome that to work on a project where your part of the story is the idealised portion?
Shaner: I just didn’t want to be pigeon-holed. It’s not that I hate Silver Age or retro stuff, I just didn’t want to do one thing. And I can tell that I definitely was, through no fault of anybody else. It just how careers tend to end up. Darwyn said the same thing before he passed. Tom, you can speak more to it, but your plan going in, was it to be more Silver-Agey?
King: I think this is me reacting to your art, but when I saw it coming in I thought, “I think we can go darker than I thought we could.” I planned it to be Silver-Agey, but with each issue I felt like that your story is the tale of Adam’s savagery. It’s not just the tale of Silver Age goodness, it’s a tale of a guy descending into madness. I saw the bloody pages from #3 and I felt that your section is like the Heart of Darkness journey, and your art’s perfect for it because it makes the reader comfortable enough that they can be uncomfortable. It’s like in a horror movie where you start off with a beautiful, pristine scene and the one little flaw seeps into it. Whereas Mitch just has Alanna smoking.
The Beat: Speaking of Alanna, a thought came to me last night. Strange Adventures makes this the third DC couple that you’ve written.
King: Only three? It feels like it’s more than that.
The Beat: Batman and Catwoman, Scott and Barda, and now Adam and Alanna. And I thought to myself, is Tom King a romance writer?
King: I am. I am, 100%.
The Beat: Is that a recent thing? Because I just thought of it and it completely influenced my perception of everything you’ve done.
King: When I first proposed Batman, I was thinking of how to make it different. I was talking to Mark Doyle who’s now the head of Black Label I said, “What if we did this as a romance comic?” Because Batman’s always been written as a pulp comic or a horror comic and I thought this was a different genre. So it is a major influence on me, yeah. It’s super-corny, but I’m madly in love with my wife and it informs and infects everything I write. I try to tell her, “Look honey, I wrote 85 issues of Batman as a love story, happy anniversary!” And she says, “No, you still have to take me out to dinner.”
DC Comics has this romance in it in a way that Marvel doesn’t, it’s one of the few advantages we have over the competition. There’s a romantic ideal that we can lean into. But they’re totally different couples, because with Catwoman and Batman you have her being this villain, this untamed person. With Scott and Barda, you have a couple who’s been married forever and you’ll see that there’s a different dynamic between Adam and Alanna. She’s literally the princess of her world, she’s in charge of keeping it safe. And you have the princess married to the adventurer. It’s a darker relationship, I think.
The Beat: Tom, you don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to. Strange Adventures deals with Adam Strange coming under a certain level of scrutiny because people are saying that his past is all a lie. As someone who’s had unfounded claims thrown against you, I’m wondering if that inspired you to write this story?
King: 100%. Strange Adventures happened right around that time. I was falsely accused of faking my CIA past which is crazy because I didn’t fake it. I remember the utter feeling of helplessness and frustration of being accused of something I didn’t do and having to prove who I was. That emotion was very much on my mind when I was constructing this. Adam might be a little more guilty than I was. Or maybe he’s not as guilty as I was, I guess we’ll find out.
The Beat: That’s why I was afraid of asking this question, I didn’t want to equate you to whatever he might be guilty of.
King: I don’t think you can write a character unless you’ve experienced what they’ve experienced. I know my job is to have imagination, but one of the funny things about this comic is that it was inspired by a very mean tweet someone sent me. It was just the tweet you’re not supposed to read like, “Tom King just writes comics because he committed war crimes and he’s trying to hide it.” That’s not what I do, but how cool would it be if that’s what I did? That literally sent me off to the track, what would it be like if I was hiding my past?
The Beat: You mentioned your 85 issues of Batman previously…
King: Yes, and two annuals and a special…
The Beat: I’ll allow it. I’m wondering since this is the first limited series that you’ve started since wrapping up on Batman, are there any lessons from the ongoing that you applied to Strange Adventures?
Gerads: He just kept writing Batman secretly because he’s in Strange Adventures.
King: Because you asked for it!
King: I think the thing I didn’t want to do the most was become stale. My first three books, Sheriff of Babylon, The Vision, and Omega Men were all about the Iraq War experience. My next books, Batman, Heroes in Crisis, and Mister Miracle were all about trauma and family and romance. I was super scared, I’ve done my best work, so the idea was to get experimental and do something weird and off and just not sit still. Not be a dying shark, to keep going. That’s why I brought in Doc to do something that’s never been done before, two different artists serving one story. I did a lot of reading, trying to look at comics as not just a genre form or entertainment form but as an art form. To be as ambitious as I possibly could. To make it as good as the greatest novelist is trying to make it. That was the lesson I learned, to keep pushing.
Strange Adventures #1 by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner, and Clayton Cowles hits stores and digital markets today.