What does H.E.R.B.I.E., the Fantastic Four's robotic babysitter, have in common with a pair of twenty-something slackers who would rather pee in a plastic cup than vacate their comfy TV-side seats? Both feature in humor books by cartoonist Chris Eliopoulos, though "Desperate Times," offered in a collected edition for the first time from IDW Publishing, is a far cry from "Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius." The comic, which first appeared in the pages of "Savage Dragon," stars unambitious roommates whose paths ultimately diverge and features college-style humor about dating, drinking, midgets, and Furries. CBR News spoke with Eliopoulos about the trade paperback, which is available now.
Eliopoulos has become known in recent years for his work on kid-friendly titles like the previously mentioned "Franklin Richards" miniseries and specials, "Pet Avengers," and various issues of the "Marvel Adventures" series. "Desperate Times" is a bit different, aimed at a decidedly older audience. "I started off doing 'Desperate Times' before I did the Franklin Richards and Pet Avengers stuff, and it appealed to a more adult reader. It was only later, when I had kids that I wanted to do work that I could share with them," the cartoonist said. "But, I enjoy having a book out there that we adults can enjoy and not have to make sure it's safe for the kiddies. Trying to explain a drunk sloth named Kennedy to a kid is too much hard work. Just like my life, I like spending time with my kids, but there are times I want to hang out with adults and tell an off-color joke or twelve."
Drunk sloths aside, certain aspects of Eliopoulos's strip betray a degree of autobiographical flavor in "Desperate Times," such as main character Marty's brazen announcement that he will make his way in life as a freelance artist. "The characters were originally based on me and a friend from college who were trying to get along in life. I then kept using things from my life as fodder for the book," the cartoonist said. "I'm a screwed-up individual."
The new book collects the four issues of "Desperate Times" that Eliopoulos originally self-published in 1998, plus an additional two issues published by Image. Eliopoulos said that he became caught up in lettering work and the Franklin Richards books, leaving no time to arrange for a collected edition. "It wasn't until my editor, Andy Schmidt, contacted me and asked if I wanted to publish a collection," he told CBR. "I went back to read the books to see if it was even worth it, and I found myself enjoying them from a reader's point of view. So I agreed."
"Desperate Times" started as a newspaper-style strip in Erik Larsen's "Savage Dragon," then briefly expanded into long-form comic stories before reverting to the shorter style once again at the end of its run. "It's funny," Eliopoulos said of his strip's evolution. "I started by doing strips in 'Dragon' because I always wanted to do a newspaper strip, but that became limiting, so when I did the book, I approached it as a sitcom. Then, along the way, I was approached by a newspaper syndicate to possibly put it in the papers. So, I switched back to the strip format. It wound up not getting syndicated, but I had developed a writing method with the strip and kept it up."
The different styles each have their own distinct advantages and drawbacks, Eliopoulos said. "The storylines are a little more stilted when doing it as a strip, and you look for the joke every 4 panels," he explained. "You have to more disciplined and edit more when doing strips, but when I looked back at the book, I was kinda surprised to see how well the characters worked in both formats. If I were to revisit 'DT,' I might consider the long form storytelling. I've come to really love it after working on the Pet Avengers."
CBR asked Eliopoulos what path potential new "Desperate Times" strips might take, whether the series would pick up where it left off or fast forward to the present, a la "Clerks II." "We have talked about perhaps doing new material. And if the book does well, or if IDW is interested, I would really love to do more books," the cartoonist said. "Halfway through this book, 'my' character gets married and the other guy, Toad, is left the single man and the story became the difference in life between the two. Moving forward and adding a pregnancy to the mix might be even more fun."