THE FIN IS IN
In last week's column, I described the euphoric effect that great comics can have on me. This week, just such a euphoric comics experience completely derailed my existing plans for what I had planned for this week's Comic Pimp edition. This last Wednesday, when I finally got a chance to get my hands on a preview copy of the first installment of Andy Diggle and Pascal Ferry's six issue mini-series ADAM STRANGE, I was instantly hit with that all-too-familiar comics high. Instead of going on the all-night comic reading bender I wrote about last week, I set to work getting both you and me some more information and some sneak peaks of this series. So damn good was this re-introduction to one of DC's classic characters, so cosmically gorgeous was the art, and so much fun was this pulse-quickening funnybook romp that writing about ADAM STRANGE became my first priority.
Adam Strange, for those who aren't familiar with the character, made his first appearance in 1958 in Showcase #17 as the result of an editorial decision to capitalize on the rising popularity of the science fiction genre. Adam Strange is a man of two worlds, transported between Earth and his adopted world, Rann, for extra-terrestrial outer space adventure full of jet packs, laser beams, clever thinking, and exotic alien princesses. Bringing this decidedly pulp retro-space adventuring premise and ultra-modern deco worldscape into the 21st century where it belongs today falls on the ever-able shoulders of author Andy Diggle and artist Pascal Ferry. One perusal of the lightning-in-a-bottle combination of Andy's writing and Pascal's pencils and it's easy to see why I just had to scrap any and all other plans for the week and do an exclusive interview with Mister Diggle himself.
And besides, even if it meant my column was a day or two late, I had questions about this new ADAM STRANGE series that needed answering.
Comic Pimp: Thanks for doing this interview on such short notice, Andy. Do you mind if I skip the history lessons and the introductions and just get right down to it?
Andy Diggle: Not at all!
Comic Pimp: Alright then. Anyone who has been keeping tabs on this new series will know that Dan Didio asked you if you were up to helping DC revamp ADAM STRANGE. What grabbed you about the character and made you say to yourself "I could write the hell out of this guy with the jetpack and finned head?"
Andy Diggle: It was a chance to jump into the DCU with both feet and make a splash, and have some fun doing it. I've been writing THE LOSERS for a while now, and after all that grim-and-gritty real world stuff I wanted to write something bright and shiny and fun and crazy. It's out-and-out pulp sci-fi adventure, which is something that's always been close to my heart. Adam Strange is the kind of hero I can relate to and get behind - he doesn't have any weird and unlikely powers, he isn't bogged down with any tediously convoluted backstory or loads of emotional baggage. He just gets out there and saves the planet!
Comic Pimp: Well you certainly kept all the hard-core pulp elements that really make a book like ADAM STRANGE stand out. And I for one, couldn't be happier to see it. With cult pulp flicks like SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW burning a pop-culture hole in the public's wallets, do you think ADAM STRANGE could help develop pulp science fiction into a burgeoning market here in the comic industry?
Andy Diggle: I hope so! There's enough of a buzz around the book to make me hope it could have legs, and there's loads of forgotten DC sci-fi characters languishing in obscurity who are ready to be buffed up all shiny and new.
Comic Pimp: Alright, before we go much farther I've gotta just get this out there right away... one of the things that I dig about Adam Strange is that he's one of the biggest nerds in comics!
Andy Diggle: ONE OF US! ONE OF US! ONE OF US!
Comic Pimp: (laugh) Hard not to love a Freaks reference, and it's also hard not to groove on a character like Adam Strange. Here on Earth he's a mild-mannered archeologist, but one hit from the Zeta-Beam and suddenly he's this mighty galactic space hero out there saving the universe! And no matter where the guy is he's still this colossal geek and he's constantly using his brain to think his way out of tight situations. How much fun is it to write a comic about the thinking man's action hero?
Andy Diggle: Yeah, it is good fun that he has to use brains rather than brawn. But he can bring the brawn too, y'know? I wouldn't want him getting out of every tight spot with just some lame-ass techno-babble bullshit solution. I like the fact that he's old school. He's always had this smart lateral-thinking thing going on - but when the chips are down, he can throw a mean right hook as well.
Comic Pimp: The big trend in comics writing these days is "decompressed storytelling" (that's what the kids are calling it anyway). This style of writing tends to deliver well in trade paperback format, but can make for some really slow-paced single issues wherein nothing much happens except talking. One look at the work you've been doing on THE LOSERS and here on ADAM STRANGE and it's pretty apparent that you're the man who is bucking this trend. You're got a frantic paced style to your comics that seems to work really well in both a monthly, syndicated format and also once the storyline has been collected into a trade. What's the secret behind balancing interesting characters and the trademark Andy Diggle balls-to-the-wall pacing?
Andy Diggle: Density is the new decompression, baby!
Comic Pimp: Hell yes. Preach on, Brother Diggle, preach on!
Andy Diggle: Yeah, I don't know, maybe it's because I grew up reading guys like John Wagner and Alan Moore telling complete stories in just 5 pages in 2000AD, but I haven't got a lot of time for so-called "decompression." Sometimes it can feel like an excuse for lazy writing. Like Rudyard Kipling wrote, "Sorry this is such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a short one," y'know? Writing something long and flabby is much easier, you can just throw it all down on the page. It's editing it down into something tight and snappy, dense and intense, that's what takes the time. At 2000AD I called it "distilling a barrel of beer into a shot-glass of rocket fuel." That's what a comic book should be - a shot-glass of rocket fuel, knocked back in one gulp. Give the readers some bang for their buck, give them a fucking thrill ride!
Comic Pimp: You've definitely proven that you like us readers to get as many of those those rocket fuel shots as our livers can handle. Another thing I've noticed that you're also really good at is putting a new coat of paint onto crusty characters of yesteryear, and do it with reverence for what has come before. You've taken these characters, comics that have a history with fans, like SWAMP THING and ADAM STRANGE, and bring something new to the table while maintaining all that the fans love about that character. Is that a challenge to move things forward while still keeping the elements that old school fans find essential? How do you go about determining what to keep and what to toss out?
Andy Diggle: I don't know, I suppose you just have to look at it and trust your own judgement as to which elements are essential, which ones need tweaking and which ones you just have to jettison altogether. With SWAMP THING I barely changed a thing, because my story was more about tying up all the loose ends left by the previous two series. It's not like I was trying to do some radical reinvention of the character, there'd already been more than enough of those. I just wanted to get it back to basics, make it a horror comic again.
As for ADAM STRANGE, the old-school appeal and the potential for updating it was pretty clear. It was just a question of finding a way to keep all the traditional elements in place without just rehashing the same adventure he's been having for the past 50 years. If there was a problem with the traditional Adam Strange stories, it was that they all tend to follow exactly the same pattern - he'd jump into the Zeta-Beam, get zapped to Rann, save the planet from some monstrous threat with an ingenious bit of lateral thinking and a dash of derring-do, and then fade back to Earth before he'd had a chance to snog the wife. So I wanted to use all those essential elements, but mix them up so you didn't know exactly where the story was going or how it would end. So nothing can be taken for granted. In issue one, Adam thinks Rann has been destroyed and his family's dead, which obviously throws everything he stands for into question. And then he discovers that maybe things aren't as they appear to be, so he heads out into space to find out what's really going on. So it's kind of a detective story on a cosmic scale, a "Mystery In Space!"
Comic Pimp: Exactly what any old school Adam Strange fan could hope for! Tell me something... my old man is a retired chemistry teacher (which explains the hair), so I would be remiss if I didn't ask you what science or pseudo-science influences you draw upon in writing ADAM STRANGE. What in your view makes a book like ADAM STRANGE tick, scientifically?
Andy Diggle: My dad was a scientist too, and a lifelong fan of real old-school "hard" S.F. He used to have these huge runs of AMAZING STORIES and ASTOUNDING in the attic, and would take a cruel delight in pointing out the scientific inaccuracies in all my favorite sci-fi movies when I was a kid. So I grew up with like, "There shouldn't be any sound in space!", and "Those laser beams should be traveling at the speed of light!", and "That canopy seal on that X-Wing doesn't look airtight," and "How did the Alien grow from a chestburster to a man-sized creature without eating anything? Where did the extra mass come from?" Fun fun fun. So while I love writing these really over-the-top sci-fi action sequences, there's always this little voice in the back of my head saying, "Is that plausible?" Which for a character like Adam Strange is perfect. It has to be grounded.
Of course if you try and apply that kind of rationalistic worldview to the DCU as a whole you'll go fucking insane, because that universe really doesn't make a lot of sense - but as far as this Adam Strange story is concerned, yeah, I want to at least try and create a coherent scientific basis for things. I'm no science geek, but it does bug me when people don't know a nebula from a galaxy from a supernova or whatever.
Comic Pimp: Reading this first issue, I'm pretty sure I got that familiar feel of reading old school British science fiction comics from the 80's. As you said earlier "distilling a barrel of beer into a shot-glass of rocket fuel" that is certainly how the book felt to me. Do you think there's a little old school 2000AD in there, or is that just me?
Andy Diggle: I guess if there's anything I'm bringing to Adam Strange from the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, it's that old-school Thrill-Power! Just that breathless pace, relentless action, lots of cliffhangers... and zero navel-gazing. If you want to read a comic about people sitting around on their asses talking about their relationship issues, this isn't the book for you. If, on the other hand, you want exploding star-systems, crazed alien bounty-hunters, homicidal robots, and jetpack dogfights between the skyscrapers of Gotham City, then come on in, kids!
Comic Pimp: It's got all that in spades, Mister Diggle, which actually brings me to the next thing I want to talk about. And that's a guy whose name I can hardly say without adding a string of explicatives because his art is so fucking great on this book: Pascal Ferry. He's really turning in some glorious, glorious work on ADAM STRANGE. What are you guys feeding him, and can we start feeding more artists that stuff too?
Andy Diggle: Gorgeous, innit? I think there must be something in the water over there.
Comic Pimp: I'm like a fucking broken record, telling anyone who will listen to me how impressed I am with Pascal's work on ADAM STRANGE. And let's not even talk about how I've been practically begging to buy a page or two or original art to hang on the Isotope walls. How much of the updating of Adam Strange's look and universe are you responsible for, and how much credit goes to the awesome Mister Ferry?
Andy Diggle: I'm ashamed to admit it's all Pascal. I'd write him these long rambling design descriptions, which he'd duly ignore and come up with something ten times better all by himself. Good job too!
Comic Pimp: Absolutely! So with this re-introduction of ADAM STRANGE are we looking at a return of DC's multitude of high-fi sci-fi heroes? Can fans of old school DC science fiction comics expect to see any appearances in this mini-series by any special guest stars?
Andy Diggle: We've already said that the Omega Men, the Darkstars and L.E.G.I.O.N. (not to be confused with THE Legion) will be making an appearance. Plus maybe one or two other familiar faces from the past...
Comic Pimp: That's a great line-up of guest stars, looks like it's a damn good time to be a DC science fiction character. With you and Pascal doing ADAM STRANGE and Mark Waid and Barry Kitson relaunching LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES we're looking at something of a resurrection of DCU's sci-fi comic genre. I'm aware that even if you know that you can't divulge specifics of who will be working on which characters in the future, but are there any other characters that you'd like to see relaunched or work on yourself?
Andy Diggle: I've been toying with the idea of pitching a SPACE RANGER revamp, but that's on the back burner for now. I'm seeing Han Solo basically doing Captain Picard's job. A explorer-for-hire. The DCU's so full of squeaky-clean do-gooders, I thought it might be fun to have a real mercenary running around out there, getting into trouble and generally fucking shit up.
Comic Pimp: Yeah, I'm definitely down with that! Somebody better green light that in a hurry. Alright, we've danced around this interview avoiding the controversy that I know is surrounding this baby, but it's time to get down to the meat and potatoes here. That big, white fin on Adam's head, we both know that it's been the subject of a lot of talk. I even remember you telling me sometime back you weren't sure you were going to even keep the head fin! So c'mon, everybody wants to know... what really made you decide to keep Adam's fin?
Andy Diggle: The truth is, it wasn't down to me! I wasn't keen on keeping the fin, to be honest (sorry mate!) - I always throught it made him look like kind of a dork. But Pascal really made it work. I think this way everyone's happy.
Andy Diggle: We should get T-shirts printed up!
Comic Pimp: Hell yes, I'd wear that! One more question to ask before I let you go, I don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone who hasn't read the first issue yet, but I will say that Adam's hot alien wife, Alanna, doesn't play a particularly big role in this first issue. But Andy, dude, you aren't planning on holding out on the sexy space babes on us, are you?
Andy Diggle: Hey c'mon, would I do that to you? Wait until you get a load of Wing Commander Sh'ri Valkyr and her Thanagarian Love Nest. You'll dig it the most.
Comic Pimp: Right on! "Thanagarian Love Nest" definitely sounds up my alley! Well thank you for your time, and congratulations of a terrific first issue, Mister Diggle. I'm looking forward to every panel you and Pascal have coming down the pipe!
Andy Diggle: I just hope you enjoy reading it as much as I'm enjoying writing it. This is probably the most fun I've had writing a comic and I think it shows.
Comic Pimp: Oh it shows... it absolutely shows.
Those savvy comic readers out there will no doubt be familiar with Andy Diggle's other comic work as well, and know that he appears to be having a hell of a lot of fun with all of his projects. After conducting this interview I was lucky enough to get to read the scripts for the next three issues in the ADAM STRANGE series, wherein I learned even more about Andy and Pascal's take on this classic character, as well as this "mystery in space" and that "Thanagarian Love Nest" that Mister Diggle was referring to. Being a comic retailer I've been fortunate enough to have read a lot of comic scripts by authors from all segments of the industry. And I think that Andy Diggle writes some of the most visual, economical, and fun reading scripts I've seen. I think they'd be a useful guide for any aspiring writers out there wanting to learn how to distill their comic book scripts down into rocket fuel like the master, himself. While I obviously can't send you the scripts for ADAM STRANGE since the book isn't even out yet and I don't want to get Andy in trouble with the suits at DC, Andy and I still have an offer for you. If you're interested in seeing how the pros do it and reading Mister Diggle's script for the slamming LOSERS #1, drop me a email and I'll send you a copy, generously provided by Mister Diggle himself, completely free of charge.
Now that's a great offer!
And don't forget, my Comic Pimp reading amigos, The Fin Is In, and the 32 page full-color ADAM STRANGE #1 is available this Wednesday, September 29th for a mere $2.95.