Before his spotlight panel at Special Edition NYC officially began, "Silver Surfer" artist Mike Allred -- clad in a black jacket, a black and red T-shirt, and a red kilt -- entertained the audience with his antics as he looked for his wife and frequent collaborator, colorist Laura Allred.
"Laura?" he said into the microphone, drawing out the name. "I'm missing my most favorite person in the whole wide world."
There was an audible "Aww" from the audience upon hearing this, and then laughter when Mike Allred finally saw his wife. "Come on here, lady!" he said. "Come on sexy!"
Moderator Ben Saunders suggested that instead of starting the panel with the "obvious" question of how Mike broke into comics, instead he could tell the story of how he met Laura, describing it as a "scene from a movie, or maybe a whole movie." Laura gazed at Mike affectionately as her husband described a "beautiful October Day" in which he got onto a bus in his first year of college and saw, getting on the bus, "the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life." Laura told her side of the story next, mirroring Mike's version of the tale by describing him as "the most beautiful guy I had ever seen."
"Life just gets better and better with Laura," Mike said.
Next, the projector displayed an image of Mike's first comic, titled "M. Dalton Allred's Dead Air," which Mike completed while teaching film at the Air Force Academy. The project was originally written as a screenplay, but a friend suggested that Mike draw it. Mike noted that he had "stopped reading comics for the longest time… it was actually the death of Gwen Stacy that cold turkey I just stopped buying comics. It destroyed me."
That same friend got Mike back into comics with titles like "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Watchmen," which had "like 2 issues left to go." It was also this friend that introduced Mike to his first professional contact, writer Steven T. Seagle, "one of the four guys that created 'Ben 10.'"
The projector next displayed an image of Mike's second comic, an anthology called, "Graphique Musique," which Mike said was inspired by the work of the Hernandez brothers on "Love and Rockets." Allred went on to explain how "Graphique Musique" "like a lot of my work, has a lot of music references."
"Music and comics… go hand and hand," said Laura.
Back to Los Bros. Hernandez, Mike said that he was drawn to the "clear, crisp, clean artwork" of "Love and Rockets," as well as the wide variety of genres. He said that the Hernandez Brothers and Moebius were his two biggest "modern influences," which eventually prompted him to rediscover Jack Kirby.
"My all-time favorite story to this day is ‘The Galactus Trilogy,'" Mike said. "I've got issue 48 signed by Stan Lee… I'm living the dream. I pinch myself every day. All the things that I loved as a child are the things that I get to do now, and with people that are just really special to me."
The conversation later turned to "Madman," with Mike describing how part of his impetus for creating the series was to give his children a comic that he could show them. "I wanted to do something that my kids would like but would also have a level of maturity… what could I do? I just put a costume on my favorite character, which was Frank Einstein." He also noted that the Silver Surfer had an influence on Madman's costume design.
After a brief discussion about Allred's time with Kevin Eastman and Tundra publishing, Allred said that he had seen the "iZombie" pilot. "It kills. It is so good. I was so happy with the actress, Rose McGyver."
The conversation later took an existential turn, after Saunders asked Mike how much of him "gets into" the various projects that he has been involved in.
"My dad was a shrink," he said. "I suffered from what he calls ‘existential anxiety' … every few years, I am in a total panic, just terrified, of existence in general, the idea of dying, or maybe equally bad if not worse, living forever…" This led to a greater desire to live in the moment, as well as a fascination with religion.
Mike said that Frank Einstein/Madman is often a stand-in for himself. "He speaks for me in many ways. His love for Jo represents the love I have for Laura, and also his awe, his love for life and existence."
When asked about how audiences may react to his habit of genre bending, Mike said, "I never cared… I entertain and appease myself first, and then I hope that enough people will enjoy it that I can make a living out of it."
After discussing his experience with the "Legends" imprint at Dark Horse, Mike noted that the "Madman 3-D Special" would be coming out before Christmas, describing it as the "Avatar" of 3-D comics.
Moving the discussion to his "X-Force"/"X-Statix" run with Peter Milligan, Mike described the characters he co-created as "semi-creator owned… the challenge here was that (Marvel) wanted us to take over X-Force, which had been a group of Rob Liefeld creations… and man were people pissed off! But I'm extremely proud of this book."
Mike recalled the challenge of creating characters only to have them killed off at the end of the first issue. He said that while he appreciates the Hitchcock view on violence, which supposes that whatever audiences can imagine for themselves is worse than whatever is shown by the artist, Mike said that he wanted the death scene in "X-Force" "to be felt, to be shocking and to be horrific."
He said that his views on violence were largely shaped by his father's experiences working with Vietnam War veterans. "Ken Kesey was my dad's orderly," Mike said, Kesey being the author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest."
"I saw these broken men… and I would imagine what they saw… that's why I lean towards suggesting rather than showing," Mike said. "Peter wrote a very graphic script… and then it came time to submit it to the Comics Code Authority, and they were like, ‘No way!'" Instead of compromising with the Comics Code, Marvel ultimately decided to do away with the code altogether.
"The man who finally killed the code, everybody," said Saunders, prompting applause. "Mike Allred!"
When Saunders asked the audience for questions, the first came from man who wanted to know how Mike stays physically fit even while "drawing so much."
"He rides his bike a lot," said Laura.
"Look at him! It's genetic!" said Saunders. "This guy eats cake and hot dogs all day!"
The next person wanted to know more about Mike Allred's relationship with Alex Toth. Allred described how he would give the "Space Ghost" creator apricots "and other goodies" in exchange for drawings.
The next audience member asked Allred to compare the upcoming "iZombie" adaptation to his other adaptations that never were developed, and added that he would like to know about the future of Allred's rock band, The Gear.
Allred described the music of The Gear as "psychedelic, Pink Floydy space rock" and added that they are currently working on their third album.
In regards to his adaptations, Allred said that "Madman" had been optioned by "Sin City" director Robert Rodriguez since 1998, but Allred claimed that he made "more money by not making the movie" than he would have if the project had come to fruition.
"When and if something happens, it will be because I have maintained that control. I will be the only one to blame if you don't like it, because it's something I have been very protective of," Mike said.
The next fan asked another two-part question, starting with asking if Mike has a favorite Madman pinup, then asking, "What are you listening to right now?"
Allred answered the second question first, listing Ghost of the Sabretooth Tiger (Sean Ono Lennon's band), Beck's new album and Tame Impala, adding that he still listens to the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Roxie Music and other classic rock bands. "I never get tired of listening to my favorite music," he said.
As for his favorite pinups, Mike said that it was "magic" getting the pinup from Frank Frazetta, but that if he had to choose a favorite, it would be the one from "The Rocketeer" artist Dave Stevens, which happens to be owned by actor Thomas Jane.
Saunders asked the final question: "You said earlier that the Silver Surfer is one of your favorite characters, but I didn't give you a chance to elaborate on why. Why is he? What attracted you to the Surfer?"
"He was the most soulful character I had ever read in a comic book." Mike went on to explain how the Silver Surfer was "forced to be a part of mass murder" and felt great remorse that drove a journey to right his wrongs, which Mike relates -- "not that I've ever been a mass murderer!" -- to his own sense of remorse and existence.
He also teased the future of his "Silver Surfer" series with writer Dan Slott, saying, "We're going to take you places that you've never seen in the Marvel Universe… the things we have planned! If you haven't jumped on board yet, do so now!"