A Bug Goes Through The Allreds
Mar 12, 2017
by Vince Brusio
They have been a staple of comic book culture for decades, and now they’re getting behind a project that stems back to Jack Kirby mythology. Some refer to them as the First Family. Others just call them talented beyond any measure. But they might just be calling themselves “lucky,” because they got to play with a character and his universe that stem from the mind of one of the greatest comic book pioneers of all time. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, we talk with Lee and Michael Allred about their work and passion for the upcoming Bug!: The Adventures of Forager #1 (MAR170391), which is headed to comic shops from DC Comics this May. It looks to be a book that would leave “The King” quite satisfied.
Vince Brusio: What makes this book a "Young Animal" title?
Lee Allred: Gerard Way says Young Animal is a place to explore "strangeness with a lot of heart." Kirby already injected a whole load of freaky-deak strangeness in creating Forager. Mike, Laura, and I are bringing the heart.
Michael Allred: Admittedly, we seem to bring a lot of unintentional strangeness ourselves, no matter what we do. No one has the guts to tell Lee how strange he doesn’t realize he is. I’m not gonna do it. So it’s great to have a place that encourages it.
Vince Brusio: Why a cocoon? Why doesn't he roll out of bed?
Lee Allred: Bursting from a cocoon is visually powerful and fun for Mike to draw. Mike having fun drawing strangeness with heart is our Allredx3 secret weapon!
Michael Allred: And, of course, we’re dealing with Forager’s new life. Some bugs require a cocoon to transform into a new life. In this case, it’s used primarily for reconstituting Forager’s remains.
Vince Brusio: How would Forager have fit into a day in the life of the Hive had he not emerged from a cocoon?
Lee Allred: Actually, he wouldn't have fit in at all. If you remember, Kirby had Forager chased out of the hive, hunted down as a traitor, barely escaping alive because he didn't fit in.
Michael Allred: And we’ve seen he’s not exactly welcome with the “higher ups” either, even facing harsh bigotry from Orion himself.
Vince Brusio: Forager: what makes him so special? So tragic?
Lee Allred: Forager is a child of two worlds, belonging to neither. Not the underground Bug Colony, not the floating sky-city of the New Gods. That alienation, that search for one's own place, is a unifying theme of Young Animal titles.
Michael Allred: And so easy to empathize with. Who hasn’t felt on the outside at times in their lives? Forager’s upbeat perseverance is inspirational. And tragic because his efforts, even saving the Universe, often go largely unappreciated.
Vince Brusio: How did you settle on his personality?
Lee Allred: Forager is an atypical Kirby character. Uncharacteristically upbeat. Kirby opened New Gods#10 with a splash page of Forager scampering off with stolen Earth food, restaurant cooks in full pursuit. He's not mean-spirited, but he is mischievous. Touching on that Young Animal theme again, he has heart.
Michael Allred: It just flows. We’ve yet to second guess exactly who he is.
Vince Brusio: How did the Allred clan put their heads together to make this book?
Lee Allred: Mike and Gerard batted around a lot of Young Animal project concepts. I think BUG! gained traction because of the deep, deep affection Mike and I have for the character.
Michael Allred: The initial welcoming challenge was, “What character or characters have you always been eager to play with?” We kept throwing various groups and concepts against the wall to see what would stick, and the one element in every single approach was Bug aka Forager. So, Lee and I simply moved him forward as the star of his own adventure and everything fell into place like magic.
Vince Brusio: Was there some other litmus test you used to settle on your central ideas?
Lee Allred: We wanted a romp across the DC Kirbyverse, that's the surface level. We also want something deeper. Kirby loved using the grand sweep of mythology, so myth becomes key to accomplishing that, both classical mythology and Kirby's own Fourth World mythology.
Michael Allred: And when we presented that approach, everyone at Young Animal and DC HQ encouraged us with their enthusiasm.
Vince Brusio: Could you describe your work environment and method of production?
Lee Allred: I work in a low stimuli blank-walled room and write with noise headphones on. Just me, the words in my head, and a blank white page on the computer screen. I'm a morning writer; I usually start my writing day at 3 or 4 am.
Michael Allred: And I overstimulate myself with overlapping distractions. Music blasting, children playing, animals romping, art on every surface, and multiple screens simultaneously demanding my attention. From there I find a zen-like discipline and tune everything down to a laser-like focus. That is until around 9pm at night when Laura and I are largely left alone to get productive and work through the night like vampires.
Lee Allred: One thing I do that's a bit quirky: for most scenes I open up a Notepad file and write characters dialoging with each other. Just word balloon dialog. I then build the full script around the dialog. This stems, I think, from my love of Golden Age radio shows and character-driven anime. In both those mediums, character dialog drives the story.
Michael Allred: And I imagine I’m directing these wonderful characters and attempt to bring them to life on the page...then I ask them all if they’ll be my friend since I’m that guy who can be in a crowd and still feel crushed with loneliness. Sniff.
Vince Brusio: How do your individual responsibilities come together at a time and place to give us this six-issue mini-series?
Lee Allred: Before I script an issue, I make the two-and-a-half hour drive from the Oregon Coast to Mike's house in Eugene to discuss in broad terms my plot outline and various story elements. (Laura says that Mike and I talking over scripts sound like two little boys playing with their favorite toys.) I go back home and write. Then I make another drive to get Mike's input on the finished draft.
Michael Allred: It’s even more effortless than that. I’ve been crazy lucky with all my creative relationships and collaborators. But there’s nothing like the instinctual chemistry I have with Lee. My tastes were largely defined and developed directly by Lee’s influence from my earliest memories.
In fact, my earliest memory is of Lee shaking a rickety card table I was standing on, and then waking up in a hospital bed with a concussion. The bed was blanketed with comics Lee talked Dad and Mom into buying for me. Or, more likely, for him. In many ways, that sums up our relationship. He can torture me, but I’m always the better for it. He knows what I like mostly because it’s stuff he introduced me to as his Baby Bruddah. Lee has an encyclopediatic knowledge of comics, its history, and the best creators. I’ve benefitted from that in every possible way. And whenever we get to create together, it’s with a shared childlike joy coupled with life's accumulated skill and experience.
So, we daydream, we brainstorm, and then burst with story ideas, even though Lee almost always has a very clear idea where he wants to go. Lee goes back to his Fortress of Solitude and puts everything into relatively coherent streamlined pieces of long game genius. He even fills his scripts with illustrations and reference which always gives me an extra kick.
Lee Allred: From there, Mike and Laura and our wonderful letterer, Nate Piekos of Blambot, do their patented magic.
Michael Allred: And they all lived happily ever after.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.