Mike Bullock on “Why I Write Comics”
There’s a somewhat indescribable feeling I get when anything touches my imagination, a rush of anticipation mixed with hope, wonder, excitement and something else that is, well, indescribable. Since I was old enough to really be self-aware, I’ve recognized that this feeling has brought me more happiness than any new toy, game or other material possession ever could. It’s that same sensation I get when I watch a great movie or, you guessed it, read a good comic book.
As I’ve grown older, it seems it has become harder and harder for external stimuli to engage that shift lever which pushes my imagination into overdrive. I’m sure there are plenty of studies conducted by men and women in various collegiate arenas that show just how and why this happens to all of us as we age, but for me, it’s simply the real world responsibilities of adult life trampling my ‘make believe’ time until my brain has come to expect nothing else.
So, with that in mind, when people ask me why I write comics, my first response is non-verbal, sincere and irrevocable: I smile.
Within milliseconds of the muscles in my face pulling at the corners of my mouth, cheeks and eyes, my lungs send a blast of air across my vocal chords then past my lips to form the words, “It’s a lot of fun.”
This, as the title of this column states, is as it should be. Let me explain.
Not only do I have a blast telling tales of Joey and the Night Pride in Lions, Tigers and Bears, I get a big kick out of imagining the exploits of the oldest costumed super hero in the pages of The Phantom. In addition, I have a great time concocting adventures involving Firestorm, Moon Knight, ROM, Luke Skywalker, The Lone Ranger and dozens of others, but for now, I can’t share those with the rest of you.
So, what is it about comics that make them fun for me? Well, I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting my passion, but I can say with utmost certainty imagination is the key ingredient.
Moreover, while all comics have a degree of this, they don’t all engage my mind in that certain way, just as not all movies grip my imagination either. Take for instance X3: The Last Stand. I haven’t bothered to spend enough time figuring out how many ways that story failed, but for me, it failed one hundred percent.
Maybe it was due to the fact that I read Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America #1 right before watching X3 for the first time. Meltzer brought in a world of possibilities, millions of potential directions the story could go in and laid them all on the table next to the body of one of my favorite old school characters, The Red Tornado. I was pumped up to read #2 before I even made it half way through #1.
That’s how well Meltzer’s story worked with me. Conversely, twenty minutes into X3 I was wondering when it would end and how fast I could send it back to Netflix so I could get a movie I might enjoy. Sure it had Phoenix, one of my favorite old school characters, but the story was anything but exciting and at no point did it even so much as turn on the light in the antechamber of my imagination.
Meanwhile, out there is someone who just read Phantom #12, my first issue with the Ghost Who Walks and they had the same reaction I had to X3.
However, when #13 hits stands on Wednesday, November 15th there will be someone else who has the JLA response. At least I hope there will be. If I make you imagine the possibilities, then I did a good job. If not, rest assured I’ll try harder with each successive attempt. With #12 I’m not sure I enjoyed creating it as much as #13, and (for me at least) it shows.
When writing Lions, Tigers and Bears I try to capture that sense of wonder and melt it into each and every page of the story.
I reach back to the twelve-year-old boy still inside me who would spend hours after reading the latest ROM: Spaceknight staring out the window watching an imagined adventure where I was transformed into one of ROM’s peers and battled the Dire Wraiths at his side. That same kid who would wish he could join the adventures in the Microverse with Acroyear and Time Traveler or fight intergalactic villains with the Fury of Firestorm. Yes, that same one who is writing this column with two light sabers on the walls of his office.
Meltzer captured that vibe and put it on the pages of JLA #1. Robert Kirkman impregnates every panel of Invincible with it. Bendis does it all over Ultimate Spider-Man. So, too, do the creators of Rocketo, Bone, Elfquest, Infiniteens and several others whose titles escape me at the moment.
It isn’t just “good writing + good artwork = good comic”. It has to have the essence that people who are simply skilled technicians can’t offer. It has to have a craftsmanship that comes from someone who is fully in touch with his or her inner twelve year old. You know, that same kid who sat in class and imagined the pencil was a rocket ship preparing to launch from Planet Boredom and fly straight through the window out into a galaxy filled with dynamic possibilities.
In order for comics to be fun to read, they should be fun to write, draw, ink, color, letter and edit. If they aren’t then what hope do they have of being good? Is anyone out there really good at creating something they don’t enjoy? Sure there are a few exceptions, but I bet those same exceptions would be great if they loved doing whatever it is they’re doing. That sense of fun and excitement has to make a nest in the narrative, hibernate in the line work, bathe in the colors and all of it should be prepared to leap from the page every time the cover opens and a new set of eyes takes it all in.
If every comic you read did that, wouldn’t they all be good? No, they’d all be great.
As much as I enjoy writing columns, I’ll have to wrap it up here so I can get back to something I really enjoy: writing comics. That is, unless JLA #2 is around here somewhere or I have a reason to take one of my light sabers down and battle alongside Acroyear, ROM and a Jedi or two…