It's no surprise that Marvel Comics has been dusting off a few of the forgotten corners of its publishing history in celebration of its 70th Anniversary as a comic book maker. And while characters like the Young Allies, the Mighty Destroyer and Miss America may not pop up all too often, this week's "All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special" drops the adventures of a Marvel character who fell through the comedy cracks.
Aside from "All Select's" lead featuring starring the bombshell crimefighter the Blonde Phantom (courtesy of Marc Guggenheim and Javier Pulido), indie comics fans will be delighted to find acclaimed "Tales Designed To Thrizzle" cartoonist Michael Kupperman bringing all of his off-kilter comedy chops to bear on a story starring Marvex the Super-Robot – a character who unfortunately has become a footnote to the Marvel Universe. But Kupperman used that lack of legacy to his advantage.
"I'm not sure how many Marvex stories there were," Kupperman told CBR. "I think I found a source online that listed several. [Editor] Alejandro [Arbona] sent me the first two, and Marvex completely changes his appearance from the first to the second. Very little about the character seems defined except for his habit of romantic engagements with women because he's a robot -- which he takes off his clothes to prove. That's a detail I've kept in my story too. So there isn't much of an established Marvex mythology to follow.
"The original Marvex story really does read like something that was improvised on the spot. The story follows no logic or drive to the character either. He's a robot, and he's on earth, but he doesn't really have an impetus to do anything. There's no destiny he's following. There's no quest. He's just on earth, and he has adventures that don't add up to anything. So that's the model I tried to follow. My story meanders and is sort of about his lack of need to do anything or interact with anyone."
While most of the Marvel 70th Anniversary comics have been pulpy adventure throwbacks, Kupperman explained that his character represents another facet of the Golden Age of comics which has proven just as important to creators on the edge of comics. although he was still taken aback to get the gig. "When [Arbona] showed me Marvex the Super-Robot, it's just irresistible. The character – it's like he was made for me. It's very much up my alley in terms of sensibility and look. It's been a really fun project to work on, and I hope I'm doing it justice. Marvex is from the very early days of comics where it just looks like feverish teenagers did the comics overnight, which is a look I really enjoy.”
Of his history with the House of Ideas, Kupperman explained, "I discovered Marvel Comics and superhero comics rather late, actually. In college I had a roommate who was very into superhero comic books and actually started reading a few on my own. So I do have affection for Marvel, but not the kind you start building in your childhood. Tin Tin, on the other hand -- if I ever got the chance to do a Tin Tin story, that would be very exciting for me."
Kupperman takes pride in the finished result of his work in "All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special," but admitted, "I'm sure some people really won't like it. That's a safe bet, but that's true of everything, isn't it?"
The Marvex story has rolled into more Marvel work for Kupperman, who willl soon be contributing stories to the publisher's indie-inspired "Strange Tales MAX" series. "I'm not sure what I'll be doing there yet, but that probably won't be quite as free wheeling," he said.
In the meantime, fans of Kupperman's work have plenty of outlets to see the cartoonist's comics, including his latest "Tales Designed to Thrizzle" #5 from Fantagraphics Books and the brand new color hardcover of the first four issues with introduction by "TV Funhouse" animator Robert Smigel. "The color trade should be out, and I am very, very excited about that,” Kupperman said. “It's in bookstores as well as, of course, online. And it just looks really great, if I do say so myself. If I hadn't done it, I would want it badly. It's really the first time I feel I've succeeded in the 'book as object' category. It's very sexy. I do feel like the color changes the quality of the whole experience. It's a much more permanent object than the comics are.”
The demands of increased freelance work have affected Kupperman’s “Tales To Thrizzle,” and he admits he needs to work more quickly. "That's something that had to happen. I've also learned how to deal with publishers and the process,” he said. “One thing I learned from 'Snake 'n' Bacon' [my last hardcover through HarperCollins] is that you're better off working with an independent publisher who really cares about the product than you are with a large publisher who may give you a deep advance but will then forget about the book or do some other strange maneuvers. 'Snake 'n' Bacon' is still technically in print, but unfortunately it's being printed in not the best way so that the copies don't look as good as the original printings did."
Speaking of Kupperman's crime-fighting duo, consisting of a hissing snake and a real piece of bacon, the pair debuted in their own animated pilot on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block. The feature can currently be viewed online. Even though the show won't continue as a full-time series, Kupperman remains optimistic that more animation is in his future. "Feedback from people in general has been quite good, I think. Adult Swim? Not so much. In fact, I haven't heard a word since it aired, but they had already said, quite frankly, that they weren't interested a little while ago. I'm happy they broadcast it finally at all. But Adult Swim has not been very enthusiastic. I am talking to another network, and right now it's the lawyers talking. Something might happen. I hope so. It's just difficult dealing with corporations because the legal and business sides are always so aggressive that it holds everything up for months, first of all, and it makes working difficult. I'm hoping to get something else started. It's just really hard to get a 'yes' and then get a contract."
Until then, Michael Kupperman has plenty on his plate within the worlds of comics and humor. "Right now, I've got about 36 pages right in front of me for different places. Like I'm doing comics for the Lemony Sniket books in trade paperbacks, and I have four chapters to finish of those. There's that, plus the illustration work. I am doing one piece of animation for an online company. With all that, it becomes difficult to find the time to crank out the 'Thrizzle,' which really is not a money-making venture."
"All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special" is on sale now from Marvel Comics. The “Tales To Thrizzle” hardcover is on sale now from Fantagraphics Books.