Being The Man: Jeff Parker on 'The Interman'

Tue, March 11th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[The Interman]While most of the comic book movies being talked about these days are based on big name super heroes, there's one that's based on a super powered guy and he definitely doesn't wear bright colored spandex. That movie would be "The Interman," based on the comic of the same name by Jeff Parker. CBR News spoke with Parker to introduce readers to the hit graphic novel that led to this movie getting picked up.

"What would a person with a flexible DNA code, the ultimate adapter be like? And when the ugly secret side of the world becomes his environment, how much does he change to fit in with it? The story explores basic questions we all wonder about ourselves. Are we as people determined by our genetics, or are we more than that," explains Parker. "Van Meach is a man born in a lab, designed to adapt his DNA to any environment and situation. The people who created him in The Interman Project think he's a global threat, and have hitmen around the world to hunt him down. One of those hitmen, Outcault, seems to be only trailing Van and letting him live because of a mysterious connection. Along the way Van is helped by Dr. Richard Keele, a famous tv naturalist, and Rajani Sirraman, daughter of the man who headed the project years ago. And there's the Ukranian agent May, who isn't like the other hitmen. . ."

It's been said that "Interman" is "Jonny Ques"t on steroids. "Well, besides that there are no kids or dog with a permanent mask," replies the writer/artist when asked about the influence. "I wear my 'JQ' and Doug Wildey influence proudly. I loved that cartoon. Let's talk about it instead of my book. It burned into my brain as a kid, and it's still holds up when I watch it as an adult. A funny aside; I was contacted by Dark Horse a few years ago when they were doing the latest version of 'Jonny Quest' as a comic, and I was really excited about the whole thing. But it was a licensed property, and my pages had to go by the Hanna Barbera people. HB kept complaining that my art looked like 'Classic Quest,' as they called it. I only ended up drawing a cereal giveaway comic instead of starting off the series. I think Dark Horse was as disappointed as I was. HB's new version didn't last too long. I'd also like to point out that Doug never wanted Jonny to have a dog. Bandit was supposed to be a monkey."

Something that no one's complained about in "Interman" has been the supporting cast of the graphic novel and even CBR's own Augie De Blieck's "Pipeline" column highlighted this aspect of the comic as a high point. "I don't think I realized how two-dimensional most supporting characters are until I started getting all this feedback from people glad that I fleshed mine out some," explains Parker. "Every book or movie I've really liked does that. I just enjoy character-driven plot rather than plot-driven characters. Writing that way sometimes makes the story go in different directions than you anticipate, but it gives it much more life."

Could there be stories about any of the supporting cast?

"I originally had no plans to do any spin-off character books, since it will take me some time to draw Van's next adventure. But then the other day Steve Lieber and I were talking about the possibility of a single-issue story that's all about May, or Outcault, with me writing and him drawing. I may start asking readers who they'd like to see in such a feature first."

Parker is well aware that the spy genre is doing well in all popular media right now, from the James Bond movies to television's "Alias" to comic book's "Queen & Country," and when asked how he keeps his work from feeling too familiar, he replies, "Well I don't watch 'Alias,' and Greg's more of a hardass than me! As for Bond, they never try to make him a real guy anymore. You have to go all the way back to 'From Russia With Love' for that. Or maybe the Timothy Dalton movies, he was way more fleshed out in those, though the production values were bad. I just try to imagine what everyone's role would be-- you'll notice there's no real bad guys in the story. The hitmen aren't great people, but they're just doing a job. The CIA Director thinks he's doing the right thing, but maybe his judgment is a little clouded by past failure."

This lack of traditional villains and the idea of focusing on creating antagonists instead is all part of Parker's plan, namely to make "Interman" an enjoyable series of graphic novels and not an overdrawn soap opera. While it may seem that the recently released first volume left the room open to explore more of the project that created Meach, Parker says he'll avoid that and adds, "Actually, there won't be a whole lot more delving into the Project's past, that way can lie soap opera, and I want to avoid that. I can't help but start layering things when I'm plotting, and there's always room to suggest something more. In many ways a complex story is easier than a simple story. In terms of sequels, there are a few more stories of varying lengths, and then there's a definite end. Each story will be its own beast, not so dependent on the others, but they'll all work together as a whole. In fact Meach will be a little more fun in the next story, since it doesn't begin with everyone trying to kill him. He's a little more comfortable with the skills he learns in this first story, and we get to see a little more of what he can do."

[The Interman]Though the characterization has been universally applauded, the narration in "Interman" has met with some criticism and Parker is glad to respond to comments that he made the narration too hard to follow in the graphic novel. "I can't think of any other way to have gotten things across and get in that much backstory early on, though. That's why I made use of personalized caption boxes, to keep it a little clearer. The Accountant's looks like a notepad, Marcy's looks like a file folder, Van's are always free-floating in the air. I could have been more specific with Outcault's-- his are simply grey, like his world.

"None of that Bram Stoker-ish multiple narrators for the next one though. There's only a little bit of narration, and it's Van's."

As much as Parker enjoyed working on "Interman," the science and geography of the story demanded some study, and 128 pages takes time. "It was a lot of research, which slows things down, but I enjoy it. The length of it was a little daunting, but I made the story as short as I could. Working on something for a long time with no feedback, you can easily lose momentum. Now that I hear readers are looking forward to another story, that will help progress a great deal.

Can Parker explain why his book has been so well received? "I don't know if I'm the right person to say why. I like to think it's because the mainstream of comics is finally starting to intersect with what's mainstream in the rest of entertainment-- movies, books, and so on. Maybe a paradigm shift is too much to hope for. I thought people might like it, but I wasn't expecting this! It's really energizing. A lot of sharp readers out there."

"He's not wearing a costume, but it's still escapist fiction. Van's just doing stuff I wish I could do-- learn quickly, not freeze or get hot . . . breathe underwater. Yet he's very human . . . I think readers can relate to him, and some of the other characters. Maybe that's it."

The idea that "The Interman" could ever become a feature film was one floating around in Parker's mind, but he never considered it'd attract this much attention or this quickly. "I thought it might get some interest, and maybe a quiet option. But Valhalla and Paramount seem very gung-ho about making it happen, which is exciting. Even if it ends up wildly different from the book, it'll still be pretty neat if it happens."

Does he have any thoughts on ideal casting? "Everyone keeps mentioning that Sean Connery looks like Outcault, but I'd actually picture Terence Stamp. My ideal Van Meach might be John Cusack, but his New Crime deal would rule out his being in a Paramount movie."

For people who are wondering if they should pick up "The Interman," Parker offers his favorite reason to get the book.

"Because readers are going to need to know the story so they can jump into Volume 2!"

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