After meeting each other by being paired up on Marvel Comics' Uncanny X-Men, writer Matt Fraction and husband-and-wife artist duo Terry and Rachel Dodson wanted to work together again - but on their own thing. And for Matt's case, he wanted to do it for his daughter.
So here comes a '40s style pulp serial.
Wait, what...? Nah, they make it work.
First announced in 2015 recently debuting on comic shelves, Adventureman tells the story of the fabled, now forgotten, Adventureman pulp serials and how they have bled into the lives of a single mother and her excitable son, opening up a world beyond their world and adventures beyond their belief.
With #1 out now and #2 expected for July 8, Newsarama spoke with Terry Dodson about their new book, the process from conceptualization to release, his own visual inspirations, and what this particular title means to him and his "comics family".
Newsarama: Terry, what was the first spark of Adventureman? Was it a matter of wanting to do more straight-forward pulp adventures or was there a more abstract idea at the center at the start?
Terry Dodson: We wanted to create a high adventure comic with all the best parts of the world of pulp heroes but with a modern twist, that you can only get 80 years later! This was the broad feel that Matt brought to me as a proposal in 2010 after I told him how much I liked drawing New York in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men.
Nrama: What was the development process like from there?
Dodson: For me it was taking all the things that I like, and merging with Matt’s initial concept - keep the basic story but created a fully realized world to set it in. Matt has a basic plot and list of characters/concepts with brilliant names and I began breathing life into those and there are so many “concepts” I want to explore that I pick and choose where to add those.
Nrama: How has the story or designs evolved since the first announcement in 2015 until now?
Dodson: I know for a fact that the plot is the same - we have stuck to it. However, how much we added to the story, characters, and world has expanded exponentially every issue.
The way we work is Matt sends me a few pages of plot, with some surprising new elements, then I "storytell" those pages and new elements and ideas emerge. From that, Matt writes the next section, and the evolution continues!
And to give you an idea of how this works out practically - Matt’s initial plot for #1 was 21 pages and I drew 32 and we ended up with a 56-page story to wrap it up properly!
And one more important thing, Matt wanted to write a book for his daughter, and nothing he writes are books she can read. This was always a book for her!
One concrete thing I know we added was the diversity of the cast of the two worlds of characters. They were described with a name and a general idea of "ability" but besides that their looks were up to me, and I wanted a real diverse group to draw as there were seven sisters in the modern story for instance. So the idea of a multiracial cast was very appealing for me as a reader, and obviously, as an artist — such a broad range of things to draw on every page - hard to get bored with all that diversity!
With the pulp cast, I really wanted to avoid the stereotypes of the pulp heroes of that era and care about Aaron (read: Adventureman) so we started off with a type of character and then we tried to turn it on its head. And you will see as the story develops how far that has gone.
And believe me, this is a creator-owned book. I have a lot of ideas and more every day (and Matt Fraction is a GENIUS). So, every page if something pops into my head that is an improvement on something that has happened before I adapt and change and make it better! We are continuing to have ideas that pop up and Matt and I will insert into the story. It's such a pleasure to see how much this world of this comic has grown in this time.
Nrama: Since this title is pretty obviously you riffing on "high adventure pulps", do you or Fraction have a wish list of visual hallmarks or set pieces you want to get to eventually? Can we expect a big biplane battle or supervillain submarines somewhere down the line?
Dodson: We set the bar pretty high for the first issue, but it just gets better and better as the WORLD really is our oyster. This is a story based in NYC, but we can tell the adventure stories ANYWHERE (ANYTIME ANYPLACE) and that is exciting!
Nrama: I'd like to talk a little about the way you visually render sound in the opening. How in the world did you layer all of those sound effects into the panels? Was this focus on the dynamic set dressing always a part of your visual idea for the series?
Dodson: I love doing the sound effects lettering myself. I always have, initially, I simply enjoyed it as an artistic challenge. But then I realized how important it was to the actual storytelling: they are the shape of the story and the letters/FX had to look clear to the reader as to where the letters and sounds are placed.
Nrama: In the first issue, it was established that Claire, one of the lead characters, was hearing-impaired.
Dodson: Matt had the great idea how to work this out and fix into Claire’s hearing and now I’m hearing it! And then I had to figure out how to make that look on the page so I’m happy to hear it reads well and it’s something that you can always keep playing with, improving on it.
Nrama: You mention that Fraction explicitly wanted this to be a book for his daughter, did that color the way you approached certain pages or set pieces? I mean, you aren't exactly known for visceral action, but there was an element of knowing the audience you were playing for when you started to draft?
Dodson: Yes, it gave me a good set of guidelines to make this an all-ages book. Which, any more, is pretty broad, meaning a book that could be published by Marvel or DC so I wouldn’t say this is in any way like a children’s book — I think it’s a book that I could’ve read when I was growing up myself.
Really, I drew this book for myself — I was the main audience — and in general, draw things that are for all ages - as it’s an adventure book and a book about family.
Nrama: What are some visual inspirations you personally are pulling from with this series? I imagine there is a big stack of pulps just sitting around your office somewhere, right?
Dodson: Actually, I put aside all the traditional kinds of stuff from that era and instead grabbed images of New York from that time. Especially art deco-related things, plus all the fashion and hairstyles and you’re looking at the old movies etc.
Actually, the Rocketeer movie had some great clothes and sets as well. It's nice to see the period being lived and moving around in a real space.
But probably the biggest inspirational source after that would be all the artist's work at the time. Leyendecker, Cornwell, Rockwell, Lovell — illustrators of that era and I tried to look at the colors and how they perceive people. But I find when doing research for something it’s best to pull from real life and then adapt amazing things that you can see. The real-world authority being designs that you can learn from.
Nrama: You said "anytime" earlier, can you give us a few hints as to the scope of the time periods we might be seeing?
Dodson: Well, we have the opportunity that the book starts off in the early '40s and then reappears today so it already gives us 80 years to play around with plus the fact that it's about a pulp-era hero and that milieu, and those characters histories go back even farther and of course, there’s always the future!
Nrama: The whole ethos of Adventureman and the O'Connell family, especially in issue #1, seems very inspired by Lester Dent's Doc and Patricia Savage. Was this a conscious choice or just a happy pulpy accident?
Dodson: Matt's inspiration for the book was Doc Savage, His Apocalyptic Life by Philip Jose Farmer - a kind of encyclopedia of Doc Savage. This gave Matt his start and we went from there.
Nrama: Finally, in the wake of #1 being out in the wilds a bit now, what is something you hope readers take away from it?
Dodson: I really hope that readers take away that they are reading a story about interesting characters apart from all the explosions, dieselpunk, and BUGS! - that at the end of the day it’s the characters that make the story important and how those characters away to another that’s what we start time on.