Steve Bissette, Part 2: Of Hypernauts and Tyrants

Wed, July 7th, 2010 at 12:28pm PDT | Updated: July 7th, 2010 at 12:58pm

Comic Books
Alex Dueben, Staff Writer
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The legendary Steve Bissette rejoins CBR to discuss his upcoming projects

Steve Bissette is one of the most important figures in comics over the past three decades. As an artist, he remains perhaps best known for penciling the Alan Moore scripted "Swamp Thing" in the 1980's. He also wrote, illustrated and self-published "Tyrant," and as a publisher, Bissette oversaw the anthology "Taboo" which featured work by Moore, Eddie Campbell, Charles Burns and other comic book luminaries. A tireless advocate for creators' rights, Bissette is currently overseeing the future of the field as an instructor at The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. He is also publishing the webcomic "King of Monster Isle" and blogs regularly at srbissette.com.

In the first half of our interview, we spoke with the artist about the events surrounding the creation and aftermath of the "1963" miniseries, discussing his relationship with Moore, Veitch and his other peers, his short-lived retirement from comics many years ago, what brought him back into the industry and much more.

In part two, the creator discussed "Tales of the Uncanny - N-Man & Friends: A Naut Comics History Vol. 1," the project Bissette is co-editing with Tim Stout and publishing through About COmics, using his characters from "1963" along with others he's created for the new series. A preview book was released at this year's MoCCA Festival, which Bissette shares a look at, offering insight into the legal complications involved in its creation and publication. We also spoke about his webcomic "King of Monster Isle" and get some info about his great, unfinished comic project - "Tyrant."

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CBR News: Steve, which characters from "1963" did you get the rights to, and for those who have never read the original miniseries, who are they?

Steve Bissette: I have four primary characters - N-Man, The Fury, The Hypernaut and Sky Solo and Her Screamin' Skydogs. There's also a bevy of related characters, supporting players and villains and a raft of creative concepts that go with those. These include every character named or referenced, including in those respective original Image series' footnotes and letters pages, with the notable exception of the characters Rick co-owns with the Tomorrow Syndicate. Those aren't my property, so they're out of the equation, with the exception of The Fury and the Hypernaut.

Fury vs. Shadowhawk from the issue of "Shadowhawk" featuring the 1963 characters

Let's see - N-Man is essentially a variation on the man-monster-superhero archetype, a scientist irrevocably transformed into a monstrous being who retains his human personality and intelligence. Yes, he's like the Hulk, but he's also in the mold of Swamp Thing, The Thing and many other comic book characters, including Hellboy and some of what's come since "1963" was published in 1993. Also of his breed, his stories will usually center on N-Man pitted against monstrous villains and forces of nature, embracing an Earthbound science-fictional bent that will also allow me to introduce some characters I've harbored since high school and college to the mix. I've already collaborated with a group of creators on some terrific material featuring N-Man, including a collaborative 12-page story featuring N-Man and Hypernaut that CCS graduate Keny Widjaja and I cooked up, and a French version of the character my dear friend Jean-Marc Lofficier scripted and French cartoonist Cyril Bouquet illustrated. You see, in France, N-Man was known as "Dr. Super-N," and Jean-Marc took an original nemesis creature I concocted - Vyrmix - and ran with it. I've also been working with CCS alumni Josh Rosen and co-editor Tim Stout on an "N-Man vs. Draculex" story that we're all excited about. That's just the tip of the tapestry, so to speak.

The Fury began as a synthesis of non-super powered athletes like the 1940s Daredevil and Batman, with a bit of 1960s Spider-Man in there - the teenage angst and dysfunctional familial ties - with a background we had introduced in the original Image series. We showed that his father had been a Golden Age hero, too, killed by the Sinister Squid, and the Fury is carrying on that legacy. I'm working with my co-editor on the current project, Tim Stout, and we've cooked up some angles to flesh out the Fury that resonate with actual comic book history while adding some twists involving Sky Solo - their relationship is a bit twisted, and that is spicing the Fury in compelling ways. Truth to tell, there's a little bit of "Brat Pack" in the Fury's makeup, if I must cite an existing comics series as a reference point; if the Fury had lasted into the 1990s, he'd have been closer to Rick Veitch's King Hell universe than anything the majors were doing until later in the '90s.

Sky Solo and Her Screamin' Skydogs have been unexpectedly fun to expand in both directions. In her cameo appearance in the original 1993 "No One Escapes...The Fury," she was a female Nick Fury or Man from U.N.C.L.E. type of 1960s paramilitary spy character. I've given her a past that harks back to the WW1 pulp era, when she and the Skydogs fought in the skies in biplanes over Europe, and brings different incarnations of Solo and the Skydogs up through WW2 - when they were like an aerial female Blackhawk team - and the Korean War, when communists were the all-encompassing menace, into a solo espionage incarnation of Solo in the 1950s, leading into her association with the covert paramilitary L.A.S.E.R. organization in the 1960s - and beyond. Lots to play with here, including a supernatural aspect that will become more pronounced in the character as we move her into the comics of the 1980s and '90s in our invented chronology. We've had fun with all this, with some terrific work already being done by Holly Foltz, Sean Morgan, Randall Drew and others.

Finally, the Hypernaut is our extraterrestrial science-fiction character, living with his primate-like alien sidekick Queep in Earth's orbit in a space station that's a three-dimensional geometric conundrum. He's in the classic space adventure mode of everyone from Flash Gordon to Space Ranger, with a difference: he was the result of alien surgical technology trying to repair an US Air Force pilot who crashed and barely survived an encounter with a UFO, and he is one of an intergalactic collective of similarly android-like alien beings also converted into hi-tech homunculi of their respective species and forms. This taps the archetype of intergalactic collectives that have peppered science-fiction literature, films (see the opening shots of the Japanese "Super Giant" aka "Starman" films from the 1950s) and comics (notably "Green Lantern"), but again, we're doing something fresh with it while celebrating those obvious pop culture prototypes and precursors. Hypernaut has already become an instant favorite among the creative team I'm lucky enough to be working with: as I mentioned, Keny Widjaja and I have already completed a 12-page Hypernaut/N-Man cross-over story, but Mark Bilokur (who I've known for something like 15 years now, we first met at Necon, a summer horror writers conference, in the late 1980s) has really run with the character. Between Mark and myself alone, we have a healthy backlog of Hypernaut stories to work up already.

We have done all this while adhering to the spirit of the original Image Comics series. Given the original co-creator's decisions and desires, it's incumbent on me to walk the tightrope between honoring those characters in their original 1963 incarnations, and inventing wholly new backgrounds and directions that are in synch with the original creations. In some ways, it's been difficult, but it's also been fun and liberating, too. I legally have to make them my own, and my solution has been to invent not just new back stories and contexts for each character that remain consistent with their original appearances in the Image miniseries, but given the original co-creator's dictate that his name not even be used, I've also invented a new fictional construct for the comic book publishing company that "owned" my characters. I've invented writers, artists and a publishing history, too, that will play a part in what's coming up.

So, you're somewhat reinventing those "1963" characters, and you've also created a few new ones for this book. Could you introduce us to them and explain what they bring to the mix?

I've discussed the original Image miniseries characters a bit, but we've also been having fun with characters who were just names until now: Draculex, for instance. Part of the unforeseen pleasures with that character, and a couple others, is playing the "what if'" game to the hilt. What if you had a villain who was clearly based on vampire archetypes, but you were dealing with the Comics Code Authority circa 1962? No vampires or werewolves were permitted, except in the context of "The Adventures of Jerry Lewis" or "Bob Hope" comics. So Draculex becomes a synthesis of elements evocative of popular vampire motifs of that era, when Hammer Films were popular, but my fictional publishing house, Naut Comics, had to sidestep that to create an alternative mythology.

Commander Sky Solo circa WW2, art by Sean Morgan

Now, this all sounds mighty arcane, but you've got to understand that for me as a storyteller and artist, these kinds of problems and the solutions required really gets the creative juices flowing. Cooking up a Draculex the Comics Code would have possibly approved in 1962 made it a gas to work through, and the collective desire to make N-Man's girlfriend Sally Stevens a willful, motivated female character rather than another early 1960s cipher also pushed the narrative and Draculex as a character in interesting directions. Still, she had to fit the 1960s pop culture realities, too - all this fascinates me, and my creative partners get that, and so they get fascinated with it, too, and the sparks fly. I've also cooked up a bevy of other original villain characters, from the monstrous Vyrmix to fleshing out a moniker we name-dropped in the original Image miniseries, The Warsaw Pack - I could go on and on. So, as silly as all this may sound, it's been a blast.

Another character component is that of the fictional creators behind these comics stories: the publishers, editors, writers and artists. That has been fruitful. The longest article in "Tales of the Uncanny - N-Man & Friends: A Naut Comics History Volume 1" is about Hypernaut's creator, a writer named Curtis Slarch. I created Curtis Slarch as my sort of "Kilgore Trout" decades ago, and once tried to sell a faux-article about this completely invented writer's career to "Heavy Metal" magazine back in 1980 or '81. Given the dilemma Hypernaut's real-life co-creator left me with, adapting Curtis Slarch to the Naut Comics narrative seemed a natural fit, and that proved to be a game that creative collaborator Mark Bilokur also found compelling. We've had a lot of fun with Slarch, and you'll see the fruits of that in our initial volume. Mark took that as fuel for the creative bonfires he's kept burning for Hypernaut stories, too, so it's been potent in ways I never could have foreseen.

I also encouraged the contributors to create surrogate personas and names for themselves as artists and writers, if they wanted to - everyone will be properly credited in the acknowledgements, but if they wanted to play the game, I encouraged that. If they'd been drawing N-Man or Sky Solo in the 1950s or '60s or '70s, who would they have been? Where would they have come from, lived, done? Robyn Chapman, editor of the anthology "Four Eyes" and co-editor of "True Porn" as well as a fellow faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies, concocted a terrific piece on two science-fiction fans from the early days of fandom and their creation of the first Naut Comics fanzine, "Queep," named after Hypernaut's alien companion. Josh Rosen, who penciled the "N-Man vs. Draculex" story I'm co-scripting with Tim Stout, created an imaginary cartoonist who worked for Naut Comics - and that persona has been interviewed for the first Naut Comics volume (by journalist and fellow CCS alumni Modi Kwanza). That's an element of creating new characters I hadn't anticipated, but it's really added to the mix.

There's a lot more, but I've got to save the element of surprise, don't I? I mean, there's been so much to play with, including different incarnations of the existing characters people may remember - Comrade Cockroach, The Voidoid, Sally Stevens and so on - but why spoil it all? I'd rather save details on the new material until the first volume is out, which will be before the end of the year.

You released a preview book "Tales of the Uncanny" just in time for MoCCA, and, similar to "The Escapist" comics that were released by Dark Horse, the book places the characters in a historical and "real world" context. Is this the same format and style that "N-Man and Friends: A Naut Comics History, Vol. 1" will be seeing when it's published by About Comics?

Yes, but in a much richer and broader tapestry, I hope. I've proposed - and with the help of many hands, we've created - this metafictional construct of a company with its roots in the early 20th Century pulp era, and characters with their own peculiar idiosyncratic histories, including merchandizing, serials, TV shows, parodies and so on.

It may be tough for some folks to wrap their heads around at first - it was hard to explain what I was thinking to Tim Stout when I first invited him to work with me, and then we had a tall order to explain it to the creators we approached - but I think the book will be self-explanatory once it's in reader's hands. Some folks, like novelist and comics historian Les Daniels and beloved fan cartoonist Fred Hembeck (who contributed a fantastic two-page Fury satire in the classic Hembeck style), instantly 'got it.' For some others, it took time.

Rather than tackle this project alone, you're editing the book with Tim Stout. Why did you bring Tim onboard and what does he bring to the project?

Tim Stout just graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies this May, along with his wife Katherine Roy and an incredible group of classmates. Tim's background is in filmmaking, both narrative and documentary, and his primary interest is in storytelling in all its forms, in all media.

Tim's class was the first-ever at CCS to wrestle with a second-semester icebreaker we dubbed the "Golden Age Project," though technically the period they ended up emulating was closer to 1948-53 in historical terms. In short, the students are divided into four groups, and each group is assigned a particular genre, each with a faculty member serving as editor. For Tim's class, the genres were Funny Animals, Horror, Science-Fiction and Adventure. They are assigned creating, completing and publishing, from scratch, a 24-page full-color comic book in their assigned genre in two weeks flat - just two weeks! - as if it were being created and published in the late-'40s or early 1950s. Tim was part of the science-fiction group, under editor James Sturm; I edited the horror title, working with an amazing team that included Mark Bilokur and Keny Widjaja, who also jumped aboard the "Tales of the Uncanny" project from day one.

By the second day of production work, I noticed Tim was working up an editorial coordination of duties chart: a spreadsheet designating who was doing what on their comic, what stage they were at, and so on. I'd only seen one editor in my professional life using such a system, and that was the late Julie Schwartz at DC - I had worked, briefly, with Julie in the 1980s penciling a sequence for Robert Loren Fleming and Keith Giffen's "Ambush Bug" (it's in the "Showcase" trade collection of "Ambush Bug," pp. 370-373, if anyone's interested). I asked Tim where he'd seen Julie's charting system, and Tim looked a bit gob smacked and said, "Uh, Julie who?" Tim had worked up the system on his own and was coordinating the flow of collective work on the science-fiction comic group. I shut up and observed, off and on over the two weeks, and was quite impressed with Tim's efficiency and abilities working essentially in the role of line producer or line editor, if you will, seeing to the completion and coordination of every task to the smallest detail. The entire group did a tremendous job - hell, all four groups did amazing work - but it was Tim's systematic approach that stuck with me. The thought occurred to me that he'd be a hell of a co-editor if I ever did anything requiring that kind of tight coordination of multiple creators.

Hypernaut, art by Stephen R. Bissette and Jay Piscopo

(I should also mention that all four faux-Golden Age comics were terrific, and we've now streamlined the process and assignment further; it was an even more successful venture this past year, with the new CCS class, and the "faux-1952" comic project is now a key benchmark in the CCS freshmen year curriculum. It really builds creative team working skills, extraordinary focus and application of all they've learned to that point, and leaves everyone exhausted but feeling like they can collectively accomplish almost anything. It's a keeper.)

Flash-forward to the summer of 2009, as Rick Veitch and I were working on possible reprint edition of "1963," the original series, I reckoned I'd best lay the groundwork for a relaunch of my respective characters sometime in 2010, after the release of the 1963 volume, if all went well. I approached Tim during his summer break and asked if he'd be interested in working with me as co-editor on this project, if it came to pass. It took some doing to articulate what, exactly, this beast was, but Tim understood it and was game, and in fact was trying to conceive of how to fold editing this into the CCS senior year thesis project. He met with the powers-that-be at CCS and they were agreeable to our working together, as long as Tim also pursued and completed his own work as writer and artist on his own comic narrative project, too.

Tim and I quietly laid the groundwork for "Tales of the Uncanny - N-Man & Friends: A Naut Comics History Vol. 1" over the fall, and announced the project at a meeting for interested CCSers and cartooning community members in November of 2009, with the intention of doing the work itself between semesters, during the winter break. It was important not to disrupt anyone's thesis project work, and the invite was extended to CCS seniors and alumni only in the CCS community, and we worked like ants during the winter break, and there was a real sense of urgency once the hoped-for 1963 reprint collected edition collapsed in January 2010. With precious few exceptions, for the most part we set all ongoing work aside for the duration of second semester except for the work Tim and I were doing together as editors. We got it all back up to speed after graduation last month (May 2010), and we've been at it full-speed since.

Part of Tim's skill set, in which he's wise beyond his years, is story analysis. Part of his CCS thesis was the writing and publication of a terrific little booklet, "Short Notes on Long Comics" (2010, go here to order a copy immediately), which emerged from his ongoing blog writing about comics, graphic novels and storytelling (see Tim's website). Tim knows his shit, but he's also open and receptive to brainstorming new ideas and shaping them at a level I haven't enjoyed since the old days with Rick Veitch, Steve Perry, John Totleben or Alan Moore.

Tim's much more structured and linear in his thinking than I am - I tend to instinctively nurture and shape material at a more primal level, organically, letting it percolate and congeal before applying more rigorous dissection and story-shaping skills - which has led to a lot of discussion of our respective work methods, and it's been a real learning experience for both of us. Tim has been tremendous to work with. He's sharp, creative, organized, quick on his feet, a close listener, articulate and has ended up scripting a fair amount of material as well. Like all creative collaborations, it could have been touch-and-go, but we work well together and Tim has been a real boon across the board - at this point, I can honestly say this is one of the best creative working relationships I've enjoyed in years. Some smart publisher is going to snap Tim up at some point, but until then, we'll get all we can done on these characters and proposed volumes, and I'll count my lucky stars Tim was up for it.

You've also connected with Nat Gertler and About Comics for the project. What made About Comics the right partner when it came to publishing the comic?

Simple - I've known and liked Nat Gertler for years; he published my work in the "24 Hour Comics" collection back in 2004. Every year, I get a royalty statement and a check. That's rare in this field, I'm sorry to say. Nat has proven himself trustworthy by experience, and when I approached him with this screwy idea, we almost immediately came to terms and are on the same page.

I like the books Nat publishes, he agreed to the terms I needed to work within and he left Tim and I alone to do what we wanted to do. We've taken it all a step at a time, and it's gone well. He's the sole proprietor of About Comics, so there's no bureaucracy or dancing around - he's been open to our ideas, fluid and adaptable as necessary, and we all can move on a dime, so it's been unlike working with any other comics publisher in my experience. We have no pretensions or expectations. We kept it simple. I bankrolled the creative work on my own; Nat sunk no hooks into the properties. He's been terrific, and if all goes well and Nat wants to continue, we'll continue doing more faux-history volumes like this one.

I know the book is technically a work for hire project, because all the rights are owned by you. Combine that with the fact that you've been a big supporter of creators rights over the years, and it must have been quite challenge in finding a way to make this project feasible and also fair to your collaborators.

This has, without a doubt, been the toughest ethical challenge of the entire project, in a venture riddled with ethical issues. The primary challenge is one we skirted entirely back in 1992-93, in that we didn't wrestle with the core contractual issues at all regarding "1963." We set up a clean business model, paid everyone fairly, divided up the royalties evenly between writer/penciler/inker (I also sent shares to the letterers and colorists I worked with), and since they were all one-off print runs, it was all over at the end of 1993. We had to revisit everything in 1998, to negotiate the division of properties agreements, but we really didn't engage with the core legal issue of who owned what on "1963." That was a huge mistake, and we see now the consequences for everyone.

I can't and won't repeat those errors in judgment. I've got to preserve and protect my ownership of my group of characters, concepts, titles and trademarks, and I've got to be rigorous about doing so from the get-go. From the beginning of work on "Tales of the Uncanny" - which I'd played with as long ago as 2002-2003, when I did a little work with cartoonists like Matt Putnam-Pouliet and writers like Les Daniels - I worked with my legal advisor Jean-Marc Lofficier to draft simple, short form agreements. I paid cash for any work done by others, with the contracts in place to ensure my ownership of the characters and concepts I owned. In the case of Les Daniels, who introduced his own character and concept, our agreement was modified to ensure Les retained ownership of his creations and was simply permitting me to publish the work in the context of my project.

I've extended that into all current work on this project. If it involves my characters, concepts, titles and trademarks, it's work-for-hire, and I own it. In a couple of special cases - Les Daniels, Fred Hembeck (who owns his own title and his own likeness) - contributors have a different arrangement and agreement, in which I contract with them for permission to include their work in the volume. But the vast majority of work in Volume 1 is work-for-hire. Still, I want it to be the fairest deal possible; our contract acknowledges and enforces the contributor's moral rights, and we've set up a fair division of payment and royalties. To that end, I set up a payment pool, out of which everyone in Volume 1 is paid a share pro-rata based on the quantity of completed work they did; I do not draw from that pool for my work on the project, in order to maximize the shares the rest of the creative team individually earns. Everyone will also earn a royalty on any sales once Volume 1 is published, again based on their respective pro-rata share of the final page count; I am taking a royalty for my creative contributions, as a partner with everyone in the royalty pool.

Fury vs. the Voidoid, pencils by Stephen Bissette, inks by Dave Gibbons

As I noted in that fateful "Comics Journal" #185 interview, part of what I think really rubbed folks the wrong way, is that I pointed out that fecund creators like Alan and Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison really need the work-for-hire environment to function and be as productive as they are. The company sees to the contracts, the legal relationships, which can be liberating, in a way, and frees one of the consequences of some decisions or non-decisions. The legal construct in place around corporate-owned characters and concepts means writers and artists don't have to tussle with forging legal relationships, and particularly for writers, the corporate work-for-hire structure absolves them of having to confront the nuts-and-bolts of working with artists as creative partners, and writers in comics who do not draw their own work require artists. This isn't a "one size fits all" assessment, mind you: I think some writers have demonstrated extraordinary collaborative and partnership skills, including an increasing number of long-term creative partnerships thriving outside the traditional corporate venues, like those that have yielded works like "Groo" on up through "The Walking Dead," for instance. But some writers and artists need the work-for-hire environments. They need the page rates, they need to not have to deal with the employer/employee dynamic that is so corrosive to many creative partnerships outside of DC and Marvel, they need the structure in place where they don't have to think about the business aspects other than their own income and schedule, and can just write or just draw. If they aren't happy, short or long term, with how things go, they can blame the editor or publisher or whatever, and move on to other projects. But let's be honest about that dynamic, and define it as such. Thankfully, that's not as prevalent in comics now as it used to be - we're a full generation away from an industry completely dominated by work-for-hire - but it is still the norm in the gaming industry, for instance, and movies and TV.

Work-for-hire is a legal construct that reduces the creator to non-creator status, legally. In terms of the work Alan, John, Rick and I did on "Swamp Thing," legally, we didn't write, pencil or ink the work - we didn't create anything - DC Comics was the sole author of the work. We just happened to be the bags-of-meat moving fingers over typewriter keys, making marks on paper to accomplish the tasks essential to the legal author and proprietor, DC Comics, to "create" those stories. That's the hard reality of work-for-hire, but the difference also lies in whether the contracts are honored or not. To this day, whatever my considerable differences with DC Comics over the years, DC honors their contract, and have over the decades, in fact, revisited and renegotiated aspects of those 1983-86 contracts in ways that have been very beneficial to those of us who worked on "Swamp Thing." I still get quarterly royalties for both "Swamp Thing" and all "Hellblazer" publishing, and the "Hellblazer" - John Constantine - arrangement is as a co-creator, and is far more generous than the royalties on "Swamp Thing." DC is one of the precious few publishers who have honored their long-term contracts, I'm sorry to say. But there it is.

Yes, it's work-for-hire; yes, I pushed hard to explore and find other legal frameworks under which this work could be created and published, including assignment-of-copyright language. The fact is, you don't have a lot of wiggle room, and none at all where trademarks are concerned. I won't go into much more detail as there's still a lot of work to be done in this arena, but under current North American copyright law - since the Copyright Act of 1976, and its many revisions since - work-for-hire is still the primary legal mechanism for having others work on characters, titles and concepts one owns copyright and trademarks to. I'm not happy about that, but this is the world I live in with the rest of North America, and I have to play ball accordingly.

That said, its possible to honor a creator's rights within these legal parameters: fair treatment, fair payment, full credit, acknowledgement of the creator's moral rights, and so on. I even paid everyone, and prepared a separate contract, for the bit of work printed in the 16-page "Tales of the Uncanny" preview booklet that debuted at MoCCA in April 2010. If anything is done with anyone's work, they will see some income, there will be payment.

Jean-Marc and Starwatcher Graphics had prepared an excellent work-for-hire legal agreement for the "Arzach" project in the early 1990s, which I contributed to. That was a collective anthology of portraits of Jean Giraud/Moebius's character Arzach, and the contract was a model of its kind that allowed an international array of cartoonists to contribute to the project without being legally slighted or misused. That was our template for the "Uncanny" contracts.

My long-term goals - which I won't go into here - include the hope for using my characters and titles to help launch creator-owned work by others that I have no claim upon. For instance, if I were able to launch a science-fiction oriented vehicle for N-Man and Hypernaut that featured their adventures, but also featured stories by others featuring their characters, titles and concepts - well, I'd only own the N-Man and Hypernaut stories, you see. The creators I'm working with now would be the first to enjoy those opportunities, and the template is after all how almost all comics characters were originally introduced: anthology titles with multiple characters showcased, as in everything from "Action" and "Detective Comics" to "Tales to Astonish" and "Dark Horse Presents." Among my many long-term goals in this venture is creating vehicles that would allow my creative partners to launch their own, fully-owned creative work and characters in ways that the initial association with my characters would prove mutually beneficial.

I also must add, fully in the context of this conversation, that I've learned some hard life lessons about collaborative creative ownership. Without sounding either accusatory or embittered, it's telling that while I still earn quarterly royalties from DC Comics on the work I did with my creative partners on "Swamp Thing," I can and will never earn another penny on anything else I ever did with Alan Moore, ever. Most of that was out of choice - "Taboo," for instance, made no claims whatsoever on anything it published, we purchased only first-publishing rights, and that was a conscious decision. But in some cases, I didn't really have a choice, and "1963" could have been one of those, had I not lobbied hard as I did in 1998 for a legal division of properties. That was a hard decision to make and press for, and most creators don't tend to those Ps and Qs in their careers. We have to, though. If we don't, we create a procession of legal orphans, and that forces our real-life children to deal with all these dangling threads once we're gone.

Out of all the creative partnerships I've had over the years, only Rick Veitch and I have maintained solid working relationships and worked out how we'd handle reprints of our collaborative work and how we'd share any income. Rick has been a rock. In the case of other friends and creative partners, I also had the hard life lesson of the late Steve Perry's situation - in the end, throughout the last year of his life, Steve was selling out his share of co-created work to anyone willing to buy. It wasn't fun and it wasn't pretty, and it has left his sons with no legal share in their father's own work. When creative teams part company or have a falling out, or one partner dies having sold off every copyright share he co-owned, nobody earns anything without hard legal work in the aftermath - and that requires maturity, will and stamina that, in the end, wasn't there for a "1963" reprint volume.

Creator rights include the right to say, "No," too, and that must be honored as well. Alan said, "No." That's how it is, that's his right. I've lived with a very firm "No" for quite some time, now, and that's fine. However, those life lessons I mentioned also informed how I've shaped the legal agreements for "Tales of the Uncanny" and any and all work involving my characters, concepts, titles and trademarks left to me.

Hypernaut, art by Stephen R. Bissette

I wanted to ask about "King of Monster Isle" which you're releasing on your blog as a webcomic. You mentioned before launching launching chapter 2 recently that the project had grown to be much more ambitious and expansive then you originally planned. What is the comic about, for people who may not have been been paying attention, and what are your plans for it?

Thanks to digital comics pioneer Cayetano "Cat" Garza Jr., and the urging of other friends, I took the plunge in late 2009 to play with online comics. I'm still not convinced it's viable - there is absolutely no revenue or income stream, it's all work for the love of doing the work and telling the stories - but what the Hell, it's the 21st Century, I blog daily, what the Hell? "King of the Monsters" Chapter One was launched earlier this year and ran through March 2010, and I'm about to relaunch Chapter 2. It's going to end up being pretty lengthy, as it turns out.

As for Chapter 2, I kicked it off at the end of April, but the events that culminated in the murder of my old friend Steve Perry and all that followed, really knocked the wind out of my sails for a time. May became a haze: Steve's disappearance, the revelation of his murder, CCS graduation and my wife Marge had surgery in early June - it's been demanding, and something had to give. It was sane and easy to dock the freebie online comic, and pick that up once I had more time. I'll be back in the saddle and continuing that later this summer, though.

So, in short, "King of the Monsters" indeed grew from an anecdotal "monster 'Battle Royale' on an island" conceit to something fuller and deeper. I'm not sure where it came from, but I know where it's going, and I'll be using my daily blog "MYRANT" as the venue for serializing it. Chapter 1 is all archived online, and it is what it is: Cardinal Syn, the character I introduced in "Taboo" and "Bedlam" decades ago, delivered the pre-game blessing. Now the shit must hit the fan - or the island, to be specific. Mayhem ensues. I think folks will have some fun with it, and it's how I'm teaching myself the necessary computer skills, though I still draw it the old-fashioned way: lines on paper.

Before we wrap things up, I would be remiss in speaking with you and not asking about "Tyrant." Based on the recent April Fools joke, in which you announced a movie deal for the book, it's obvious that many people are still interested in the series. Is there a chance of seeing a collection of the issues to date or new material any time soon?

I've not given up on "Tyrant," though it's been lying fallow for far too long. Self-publishing was no longer viable for me after the one-two punch of the 1996 Direct Market implosion, leaving Diamond a monopoly and sole distributor standing, and the divorce from my first wife Marlene, with whom I'm still a close friend.

All I'll say is I am pursuing a new avenue. I'm working with some great folks right now, and the hope is to find a new home for the project in the book industry. It may end up being a single volume, it may end up allowing me to continue "Tyrant" as I'd dreamed - only time will tell. I'd best say nothing more just now - wish us luck, is all.

Fury vs. Shadowhawk from the previously noted issue of SHADOWHAWK featuring the 1963 characters: The Fury © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, by contractual arrangement with the original co-creator; Shadowhawk ® and © Jim Valentino, all rights reserved.

Fury vs. the Voidoid, pencils by Stephen Bissette, inks by Dave Gibbons; art and No One Escapes... The Fury, The Fury, The Voidoid © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.

Commander Sky Solo circa WW2, art by Sean Morgan; art and Commander Sky Solo and Her Screamin' Skydogs © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.

Hypernaut, art by Stephen R. Bissette; Hypernaut and Queep © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, by contractual arrangement with the original co-creator, all rights reserved.

Hypernaut, art by Stephen R. Bissette and Jay Piscopo; art and Hypernaut © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, by contractual arrangement with the original co-creator, all rights reserved.

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TAGS:  steve bissette, 1963, alan moore, rick veitch, the fury, n-man, hypernaut, swamp thing, taboo, tyrant, king of monster isle, about comics

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