Guest Blog: “FANTERVIEW” BY BENJAMIN KISSELLon September 7th, 2011
Brock Heasley, the creative genius behind the immensely popular SuperFogeys webcomic (first appearing in 2006), agreed to sit down and do a web-based “fan-terview” with me. In late spring of 2011, I came across SuperFogeys on a friend’s site.
I had heard of the series back in the height of Myspace.com and had read a strip here and there, but hadn’t taken the time to get really into it – my loss. The crisp art and inventive story-telling keeps the reader at rapt attention. I doubt it will come as a surprise, but, I read the entire series (and the published SuperFogeys Origins) at that point in the span of a day. I could kick myself for not getting on the terrific ride that Brock Heasley pilots sooner. I count myself lucky to have stumbled onto this pleasure that so many others had found before me.
Benjamin Kissell: It’s clear that you draw on the archetypal superhero stories for the writing in SuperFogeys. How much of this is purposeful versus the natural extension of writing a super hero comic?
Brock Heasley: First of all, I don’t know if I’m totally comfortable being called a “genius.” I much prefer the term “uber genius.” Or “Amazing Man of Superior Everything.” Basically, the better you make me sound, the more accurate you will be. Truth in all things.
(Someone hit me with a hammer. Please.)
As to your question, it’s really both. In the beginning, I very much thought about which superhero analogues I wanted to create, even going so far as to crib design elements directly from the comics I love. Latter-day Fogeys characters like Soviet Sam and T-Magus are not so much like that. I mean, you can find the analogues for them, but I didn’t start their creations there. At the end of the day, I’m so well versed in superhero lore and types that it just leaks all over the characters. (That sounds gross.)
BK: With the influence of DC/Marvel/etc super heroes, how much is impacted by the classic storylines of halcyon days (Dark Phoenix Saga, Batman: Knightfall, The Death of Superman) and how much is by the more recent story-arcs and character developments (if any influence at all from the modern)?
BH: I think it’s fair to say that I take ideas most heavily from the comics I read when I first started getting into comics. So we’re talking 1988 – 1996 and any back issues I grabbed during that era as well. There’s one particular Avengers story from the early-mid 1980’s that I’m very specifically drawing upon for SF Chapter 12, “Jackpot!” And I’ve just recently hinted at a “Crisis” that took place in SF Universe, which should raise some the eyebrows of any DC Comics fans out there.
I still read comics today, but I don’t try to keep up on all of the storylines like I used to. That said, I’d love to do the SF version of “House of M” at some point. I love alternate reality stories!
BK: Drawing on the use of archetypes and established characterization, how much of that allows you to use cues – visual and verbal – to allow the readers to imply certain facts (an assumption factor)?
BH: I think it’s extremely helpful anytime you can find a shortcut to communicate something to the reader. I introduce a short guy with sideburns and a cigar in his mouth, and you’re already thinking Wolverine before he even says a word. That’s nice. Allows me to get to the good stuff more quickly. It can also be a real problem. Captain Spectacular is clearly a Superman analogue and it only took four strips for people to start telling me “Cap wouldn’t talk like that.” In my mind, I’m thinking ‘How the crud do you know what Cap would talk like?’ But to most people, in the beginning, Cap was Superman. He’s far from that now so I don’t get many complaints.
BK: In previous story-arcs within the series, you’ve used that assumption-factor to catch the readers off-guard and break their expectations. How much of this is planned?
BH: Well, I think that’s just good storytelling, isn’t it? Set up the reader to expect one thing and then show them something else that makes just as much sense. I try to use the reader’s expectations against them as much as possible. Cap is a great example. He’s not this perfect hero we may have thought he was initially.
That said, I think if you constantly subvert expectations, then that BECOMES the expectation. At some point, you do the expected BECAUSE it’s unexpected. The trick is to know when that point has arrived.
How much of this is planned? A good portion of it. I really think about the story on a mechanical level. Pieces gotta fit!
BK: At times, you’ve come close to breaking the 4th wall – strips like the Myspace.com pages – do you find this helps or hinders your creative voice? Do you find it impacting your story delivery negatively, positively or not at all?
BH: I’m not a huge fan of fourth wall breaking. It’s too easy. I read an interview with “Community” creator Dan Harmon recently in which he talked about the creation of an episode that mimicked the style of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” and shows like that. He said he found it such an easy episode to write and it ended up being incredibly funny. There’s something to be said for having more tools in your box. But I’m a little like Dan Harmon. I find it more interesting to see what you can do when you leave some tools in the box.
The rare times when I’ve approached that fourth wall, it’s been helpful. The MySpace pages allowed me to get a lot of stuff about the characters out there. But, I don’t think they were a huge hit with readers. I always skip them when I go through Chapter 3. I’ve even moved most of them to the Extras/Guest Strips archive on this new site.
In the back of my mind I have this idea for a character whose power is to break the fourth wall. How that would work and what advantages that would bring to that character I’ll reserve for myself, but if I ever did it it would be a huge move into a direction I’ve largely avoided.
BK: With the SuperFogeys: Origins stories, since you plotted them and wrote them but did not do the art, did you intend for them to be a proving ground for a possible future SF-artist replacement? How did the SuperFogeys: Origins begin?
BH: No, SFO was never intended as a proving ground. I never really imagined someone else would draw SF proper until it happened. The Origins started when I decided I wanted to write a book and I needed time to do it. Back then, I was doing two strips a week and it was taking everything I had to do that much. Mike DeVito at Th3rd World suggested I do another SuperFogeys comic to run once a week to replace the missing update and have it drawn by someone else. The first idea was to do a more traditional super hero strip focused on the modern day Society of Heroes. I couldn’t get my head around that and went with SF: Origins instead. I can hardly believe the series is still going strong. Which reminds me—I need to get crackin’ on more scripts!
BK: With the character similarities between Captain Spectacular and Superman, his inactivity/passivity during the Tangerine/Dr. Rocket (Herman)/SpyGal situation garnered a LOT of fan reactions – good and bad. Did you have any idea this was going to happen?
BH: I truly did not anticipate how hard a time people would give Cap. Especially after his inaction during Chapter 5, “The Redemption of Dr. Rocket.” People are really, really hard on the guy. I even did some adjusting of the storyline to fit the new way Cap was perceived after that. Just a tweak to acknowledge he’s a bit of a screw-up.
BK: Who’s the character you see the MOST like their comic book predecessor? The least?
BH: Tangerine is probably the most like his predecessor, Wolverine. Or at least he used to be. He’s been going through a lot of changes lately. Captain Spectacular is probably the least like his predecessor. Maybe Swifty. I always thought there was a twinge of sadness and anger to the very idea of the character of the Flash. I mean, the dude has got to be so impatient and frustrated with how slow everyone else is. DC almost never capitalizes on that. Marvel does, with their Flash analogue Quicksilver.
BK: Which comic book characters would you want most to SuperFogey-ize and introduce into the SFUniverse?
BH: Everyone asks for Batman. And Spider-Man. I’d love to do both. A character by the name of “Arachno” has been mentioned. And featured in the background. Maybe he’ll speak one day. But I kind of like the idea of taking more obscure characters and bringing them to SF. That’s how Spy Gal and Death, M.D. came to be (based on Black Widow and Deadman, respectively).
BK: While reading the SF:O tales, I noted that Swifty had a drastic costume change, mid-story, due to allegations of too-much similarity to another fast-hero, I assume? Have you worried that other creator-owned characters may take umbrage or exception?
BH: This is a good time to mention that I’ve updated the archive on this new site and all of Swifty’s appearances that involve his full costume have been changed to the new version. But you’re right—he looked way too much like the Flash at one point. Even worse was Captain Spectacular. He actually used to wear red and blue. No collar. Yellow insignia. Crazy, right? About halfway through Chapter 2, I changed it to the familiar yellow and blue number he’s in now. Much better fit, I think. I’m not too worried about any of the other characters. They’re much less obviously total rip-offs, visually.
BK: Going with the classic Comic Book/Strip rules, how fast and loose do you play with time-liness? You’ve established that the SuperFogeys primarily operated in the 50s and 60s, and that they’re in their 70s and 80s now (well, Captain Spectacular and Dr Rocket are a fair bit older), how does this impact the 2-strip a week format? Does it? In essence, how much time has passed between Strip 01 and today’s strips?
BH: The way I have it in my head is that everything you’ve seen in the Valhalla storyline takes place in 2007. There’s really no other way to do it because the two-strip-a-week format just can’t be in real time and I’ve got characters who are pretty near death as it is. As for how much time has actually passed since Strip 1 and now…I’d say maybe about 3-6 months. Not real long.
BK: How has doing The SuperFogeys impacted your life? Many will say life imitates art and that art influences life; how has writing, drawing and plotting this humongous story been influenced by your own life? I know certain characters are drawn directly from your day-to-day (Cami and Dictator Tot), are there other facets? More cool behind-the-story secrets we Fans of The SuperFogeys we can learn?
BH: Certainly there are other characters that are based on real people I know. Captain Spectacular’s laziness and general attitude comes from a member of my extended family (who I quite like and will not name). Spy Gal has quite a bit of my wife in her. Mega Matt is based on a friend of Mike DeVito, and one of my friends as well.
Probably the biggest story secret is that the entire point of the SuperFogeys—the big theme I’ve been dealing with and that won’t really come out until I reach the end of the current storylines—is based on a closely held personally belief I have about what a life well lived truly is. It’s an idea I get from my religion, but it’s not strictly a religious idea. I’m being vague on purpose. Don’t want to spoil anything.
Thanks to Benjamin for a great interview! I had fun. Love to do it again sometime.