In 2017, indie publisher Fantagraphics will release its half-ironic, half-earnest superhero comic All Time Comics, drawing younger fans to a golden age and silver age comics aesthetics while applying a contemporary sharp wit to the heroes of yesteryear. It’s an ambitious book, illustrated by both punk artists and veterans from Marvel and DC, and the publisher has even released a series of free coloring book pages in promotion.
As creator Josh Bayer tells Inverse, “[Our] objective is unification. It’s about creating a project where veterans of the mainstream comics industry and the independent punks like me, who have been so influenced by their art, can work hand in hand, and along the way it evolved into something that has a life of its own.” We spoke with Bayer via email about All Time Comics, which he believes will diversify superhero fandom through humorous homage.
Who do you imagine as the ideal reader for ‘All Time’? Did you keep contemporary superhero fans in mind, or people who already read alt comics and follow the artists in the book?
All Time Comics was created for fans of indie comics, and die-hard, life-long regular comics fans. We wanted to pay homage to the slash and burn attitude of indie comics, and to see what happened when we smashed those two things together.
Though most indie cartoonists I know love all good cartoonists from the past, there’s a perception of opposed factions. Us creators are all in the same gang, and the passage of time makes it even clearer how much the old differences don’t matter.
How much of this project is a parody, and how much of it is meant to honor classic superhero tropes? How did you strike a balance between reverence and taking older books to task?
Indicting older styles of writing and older attitudes sort of fell by the wayside, and making a negative statement about “The Big Two,” DC and MARVEL, wasn’t a part of our mission.
We’re more interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to the fullest before some of these older creators are gone for good. They won’t be around forever, and clearly that was true in the case of the late, great Herb Trimpe (co-creator of Wolverine), who pencilled our first issue, CRIME DESTROYER. From all my contact with Herb, and gauging by how sure and vigorous his line was, I thought he was in peak shape and wasn’t going anywhere. He passed away suddenly last year.
So, here, we’ve been able to build a stable of talent that includes the older generation and the new guard, too. And together, my brother Sam Bayer, Ben Marra, and I all hatched up a line of new superheroes collectively. We were able to get brilliant artists of the older generation, like Herb Trimpe, who is a legend, and Al Milgrom, whose innovations are still being built upon today.
With them we brought in the new guard, like my peer Noah Van Sciver (Disquiet), and the end result is this new line of genre comics.
Are your new heroes supposed to represent existing superheroes?
So, Atlas seems like a 1940s character with a kid sidekick and a fantastic Lost Horizon-style origin. Crime Destroyer is emblematic of post-Vietnam anti-heroes. Blind Justice is the postmodern character whose identity is collapsing in on itself, and is almost dysfunctional in every way outside of crime fighting. Bullwhip started out as a Silver age archetype, but she ended up being the most future-forward character, where she has discarded her classic dual identity altogether, and represents a stripped down, back to basics concept of heroism.
The heroes either live in Optic City or in Swan City, our fictional metropoles. Blind Justice disguises himself with bandages, and is not bulletproof — but believes he is bulletproof. All these familiar attributes really are just starting points, and as soon as possible, the characters’ own identities start to emerge in the books.
Did you assemble the creatives on the project? What drew you to the artists and writers on the book?
I just followed my instinct. [...] I am not sure what the single unifying characteristic of their work is. Maybe a rejection of current trends, like drawing glossy eyed characters with sculpted, perfect hair.
I’ve got to believe there are people who’ve been turned off to the over-colored, over-processed muted tones of the art in modern comics. I know I started to hate a lot of the writer’s tones in superhero comic when I looked at them more a few years ago where it sounded like they were trying to please a perceived appetite in their audience for increasingly slick talk, slick art, slick surface details. But I think it seems like a few other recent books have reacted against those early 2000s era trends.
Are you impressed / invested in any currently running superhero stories?
D.C.’s YOUNG ANIMAL imprint sounds promising so we could be in good company in 2017.
I love all of Jaime and Beto’s superhero stuff in LOVE AND ROCKETS. I worked in a comics store til 2011 or 2012, and it was easier to get an overview then. I really liked a few books that I remember as being inspiring, especially Garth Ennis’ The Punisher, and the first 50 issues of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Jonah Hex, but I guess those aren’t too recent and those characters are both not super-powered.
I liked the four issues I read of Mark Millar and Frank Quietly’s Jupiter Legacy. And I loved all the issues of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I’ve read. I think I’m one of the few people who thought the Bendis Alias (later reprinted as Jessica Jones) series was richer and more organic than the Jessica Jones Netflix mini-series. But that’s maybe a theme with today’s mainstream market. The comics lover is eclipsed by the film and TV show audience, which is just so much louder.
All Time Comics will be available in March 2017.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.Photos via Fantagraphics