Hi there, chums! For some time now, but the past year specifically, I have found myself drawn more and more to the Silver Age of Comics, that preposterously creative period during roughly ‘56 through ‘70 (depending on who you ask - it can be a bone of contention!). It was characterized by comics being loudly declared as being For Kids! by the big publishers who wanted to survive the McCarthy Hearings-era purity purge that resulted in the Comics Code Authority. Needing to reassure a generation of parents alarmed by Wertham-popularized fears for their children’s moral development, publishers pushed hard on All-American wholesomeness in comics to where it has become recognizable in most art and storytelling of the time.
In my growing appreciation for the Silver Age (and to a different degree her older sister, the Golden Age) I find myself having amassed a number of bookshelves of DC Archives, Marvel Masterworks and various other forms of Silver Age content. I have been digging into the four-color wonders of an era I had previously understood but had left largely unexplored and very under-appreciated. Sitting next to my other comics interests I now have Silver Age Goodness and it’s been a real pleasure to keep returning to those expressive and fun-forward treasures.
There are fandoms for most areas of comics interest, and Silver Age enthusiasts are the ones that I find most represent the positivity and (forgive the patriarchal term) _gentlemanly charm_ that characterizes the sub-genre they appreciate. As I have expanded my horizons on the subject of Silver Age Goodness, I have found that I must in some way include in my definition somehow the ongoing spirit of the Silver Age (SA) that has continued to exist to today. In addition to reading reprints of comics from the era, I’ve begun reading some contemporary books modeled in classic SA styles. There’s a surprising amount of them and I realize that like myself, a solidly Bronze Age/Gen X dude, there are a lot of folks out there who have learned an affection for this simpler time that we never knew.
I reviewed THE HEROES UNION #1 and BIG BANG ADVENTURES #8 recently and wrote a little about my thoughts on the subject. Since then I have of course been doing more reading about, thinking about, and talking to people about comics, be they Silver Age, SA-style or otherwise. From those conversations has come an opportunity that I would be a fool not to take advantage of, so you’re just in time to take part in a personal first and join me as I conduct an experimental interview format I like to call Totally Wingin’ It.
Oh, did you come here for a comic review? Today we’re doing it a little differently and if no one says anything, I doubt I’ll get in much trouble. The Wednesday Pull List guys are cool, but I can’t vouch for you-all if you start feelin’ yourselves so keep those noses clean, capisce?
Okay, I’ll level with you - as far as interviewers go, I make a hell of a casual comic book reviewer! Mainly because I’ve never tried it before, so I dunno, I might be Barbara Walters over here, let me know. Point is - you, me and the other five/six cool kids out there who read this column have reached a point in our relationship where we can try some new things, baby, keep it fresh. In the time-honored tradition of doing exactly that, I’m bringing someone into the relationship.
Woah, that metaphor is creeping me out! Let’s knock off that nonsense when Company gets here, huh? Ya weirdos.
I recently read my first Big Bang comic and since my review of KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE, Big Bang has been on my mind, friends. I’ve poked around the site a bunch of times, checking out the blog and community-oriented content. I found and won an eBay copy of the first issue of the original 1994 Caliber Comics run (score!). Pedro Angosto, writer of KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE, has been patient enough to keep responding to my emails and Twitter DMs, and despite having literally a thousand better things to do, has agreed to be my first ever interview subject! In fact, I somehow conned him into getting some of his creative comrades on Team Big Bang roped in! Pedro is just a super nice guy and I am grateful for the time he and his supporting interview subjects are donating to my foolishness.
So, a recap, kinda. Back in the dark days before the Internet was useful for pretty much anything, comics were booming and busting sort of simultaneously and I was a dashing young pup slingin’ plates of the ol’ four-color blue-plate special for fun-hungry souls at a literal Mom n’ Pop local comics shop. Classic comics material was still tough to access in a time when the reprint market was in its infancy. Forget new readers becoming exposed - the industry was going through this very weird time, with a focus on the modern and the new, the flashy and the now. The Golden and Silver Ages of Comics and the specific spirit of storytelling that is so much a part of them was in danger of becoming a lost tradition, especially ironic during this age of creator ownership and independent publishing.
As noted, the definition of the Golden and Silver Ages will vary depending on all sorts of factors, so for the purposes of this read let’s super-roughly call it pre-1955 and ‘55-‘70, respectively. For our purposes it’s more about the styles and traditions of these comics Ages and they feelings they evoke. Golden Age is early days for the art form and things are crude by today’s standards, the narrative very different from what we’re used to now. The storytelling was messy and erratic and charming.
The Silver Age was the return of superhero comics to dominance after they had lost their shine in the late ‘40s. The Comics Code Authority really birthed the Silver Age by putting hyper-puritanical limits on the sex ‘n violence content comics could contain and still carry Code approval. Publishers’ new mandate was to be kosher, meet the ridiculous new rules - and then the best ones used those guidelines as a challenge to have as much completely bonkers fun as possible, full stop. SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND, LOIS LANE not only could be a comic book all its own, but it sold huge, employed top-tier talent and was REALLY GOOD! This is Silver Age Goodness! It is by now a thriving art form and also just as much, it’s a craft or a trade. DC comfortably dominates until Marvel changes the game, quality of work is super high and healthy competition drives creative innovation. Again, bonkers and fun are key words.
After that comes the Bronze Age, which many will argue is the very best of them all, roughly ‘70 to ‘86-ish. Again, all depending on what your context and focus is. This time is characterized by former fans as creators, storytelling shifting to much more complex and layered, with long-running plot lines, soap opera style. Creative and artistic highs everywhere, the rise of the independent comics, comiX and ‘zines. This is when I came of age and started to define myself as an individual human person, so I traditionally identify most with this period in comics.
After that it gets into that weird damn time that was the 90s in comics, that time of meteoric creative highs (and some depthless lows), speculator frenzy and customer-gouging inspired by retailer-gouging driven by the early days of the corporatization of comics. It was an exhilarating, exhausting time. I kid you not, some folks refer to this as the Dark Age.
Wow, this is becoming an essay on something slightly larger than intended! Pedro, I promise, I’m getting there!
Which brings me back to this ill-advised “interview” with the remarkably kind and patient folks at Big Bang Comics! Love for the brightness and fun-first approach of the Silver Age inspired Gary Carlson and Chris Ecker to create their own vintage-inspired universe of characters, publishing Big Bang through small publisher Caliber Comics in ‘94, then through arguable one of the largest publishers, Image Comics for ten plus years. New adventures are still being put out, now self-published, the stable of creators growing even as the characters themselves have developed their own decades of real history. Big Bang was born a loving homage, imitation as absolutely the finest form of flattery... and then it evolved. Let’s talk about Big Bang in 2021.
Hi Pedro! I’ll skip the thank-yous since I did that earlier and besides, I know you’re the stoic type and I don’t want to embarrass you! You somehow mistook me for a comics reviewer with a readership, and agreed to give me a free copy for review. That was cool as hell and I am so happy that I liked it, because otherwise yikes, right? Uncomfortable. So first tell me a little about reviews; do you read them? How can you not, right? Any anecdotes about worst review, best review, most head-scratching?
Of course I read them all! Even if I've been writing comic-books for 20 years now, both in Spain and U.S.A., they are only a dozen, so I am humble enough to know I am an inexperienced writer and still have lots to learn, and readers are always going to catch stuff you can't be conscious of.
When I published my first book in Spain, Circulo Justiciero -Justice Circle- which happened to also be a Justice Society pastiche like Knights of Justice, only with characters I “created” loosely based on Public Domain ones, I got a single review from a fellow Spanish creator -who shall remain nameless- that now we would call a trolling one, but we didn't have that word back then! It wasn't the comic for him, he didn't get it at all.
Then, when my first BBC book came out - Round Table of America: Personality Crisis one- shot, a Silver Age JLA pastiche, we were playing with the then “hot” Identity Crisis event - there were two critics: One, done by Keith Howell, Doc Challenger, was deep, long and even compared my work positively to that of then current JLA writer Geoff Johns - we used to have very similar take and ideas on superheroes.
The other one, and here comes the anecdote, was a one-liner that said something like: “This book is crap”. Well, you can't win them all, can you? Needless to say, I didn't take that one too deeply.
Before being a writer, I have been a loud-mouthed critic myself, so it's natural that now I get my due! And reviews are very necessary to make people aware of indy books. Even if BBC was published by Image Comics and had a notable fan-following, many of them wouldn't know that the series is still going and producing some of the best work on the imprint now. So thanks again for your efforts and help.
Following on the idea of criticism, I am curious to hear your thoughts about paying homage and where, if any, there’s a line **not** to cross. How close is too close for comfort, I think I am asking... the terms homage and pastiche, how far does that take you before it’s stealing? Have you ever had to pull a character because you felt it came too close?
Well, the lines not to cross doing pastiche are the ones that will get you the lawyers of the company of the original character suing you!
As long as there have been popular characters, there have been pastiches. Even Don Quixote got a second part not written by Cervantes but some “Avellaneda”, before his original author wrote his own. Sometimes the pastiche ends being more popular than the original. Like Star Wars, that started being a Flash Gordon/John Carter one.
Superhero pastiches have been done since the Silver Age, starting with Roy Thomas' Squadron Supreme. Alan Moore has been doing superhero pastiches all his career: Marvelman (Captain Marvel), Watchmen (Charlton Action Heroes), 1963 (Marvel in the 60s), Supreme, ABC, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Morrison, Millar, Ellis, Busiek...
Building a great pastiche character for me it's like creating a good Variant/Alternate Universe of an existing one: Needs to have something from the original and also something that makes it different from the original, a world or tone of his own. That's the way in which Big Bang characters were created and I humbly try to add to that, paying homage but also playing and developing them in singular directions, not explored -or abandoned- by the original character.
Do you have any plans to expand the Big Bang universe to include any non-superhero stories? Or does it seem like superheroes is a niche where you can still produce new nostalgia-driven work like Big Bang does, but in other genres like western or war they benefit more from being modernized? I am thinking of the Palmiotti and Gray westerns DC was doing since well before New52, and making pretty good comics; and also war stuff like what Garth Ennis has been doing with Avatar and Dynamite. Excellent stuff but hardly in the Silver Age style.
If you read the History of Big Bang Comics (soon to be released in a single volume), you'll find there are already many non-superheroic characters in their universe. I even included jungle queen Zhantika in Knights of Justice!
I'm a HUGE FAN of Judgment Day, the Awesome Comics event that Alan Moore created to introduce pastiches of pre-superhero DC characters in his Supreme stories. Given the chance, I'd love to do something along those lines for Big Bang Comics.
Is there a big publisher’s Silver Age character or concept that you’d love to create for, or by this point is your true love for your own creations? Is there any big pub toys you’d love to bring from their future Age back and tell your kind of adventures with them? I am trying to picture a retro Lobo... I mean, if he can succeed in Timm-verse Animated Series style, right?
I love all the Animated DC Universe, for me the creative peak of all superhero fiction. Dini, Timm, Tucker, did a lot of homages and pastiches too in them, like Batman Beyond based on Spider- Man (his enemies are versions the Sinister Six, in case you didn't notice). And while I love animated Lobo, it's not the kind of character I tend to sympathize with.
As a comic-book fan and writer I'd love to write any Marvel, DC or any other company superhero character, from any era, but afraid that is not going to happen anytime soon.
What’s next for Big Bang Comics, and each of you individually? What’s the best way for me to keep you guys and Big Bang, in my orbit?
I'm working with Jorge Santamaría on a 3 part WHIZ KIDS story called THE LAST WHIZ KIDS STORY, being a huge homage to the Wolfman/Pérez New Teen Titans run, and at the same time tying together the stories of all those BBC characters: Galahad, Moray, Cyclone, plus many new characters/pastiches we created.
Also slowly developing THE PANTHEON OF HEROES (homage to the Legion of Super- Heroes) to give them their own scope and introduce some future versions of Big Bang characters in their time. Would love to do much more with Ultiman and Doctor Weird, but need the committed artist that fit those projects. If anybody is interested in working with me, they can send me samples of their work thru my social networks.
And the best you can do for Big Bang Comics -apart from this kind interview- is to buy them thru INDYPLANET and if you like them, tell your comic-book fans friends about them!
At this point I interrupt my own interview to just say, again - is this guy the nicest? And humble! Plus, who is with me in wanting to learn more about both the Spanish Circulo Justiciero, and also Round Table of America: Personality Crisis? Well, the second is easily enough remedied, as it’s available as digital download or print on demand at IndyPlanet.com. As for Circulo Justiciero? Well, let’s just see how far I can get pestering Pedro.
It should also be noted that my interview experience is zero. I guess I sort of wrote complicated and over-worded questions for poor Pedro and more or less catapulted them to him. If there is no follow-up or through-line to the questions, the fault is completely mine. Also, this is where I realize how much I am dominating the interview with my own tomfoolery and decide to make the rest of my questions simpler.
Here is where I turn to Pablo Alcalde, artist for KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE, with a few comments and questions. And a whole lot less time wasting, I hope!
One of my favorite pages in the issue is, I think page 26, the one where it’s two tall columns, at the bottom is The Badge and Dr. Stellar, both slumped in defeated postures. Above each is a sepia-tone flashback panel from each’s history and a villainous Fury gargoyle-like above those. I love that page, it’s so perfect for the tone of the story and makes me need to learn more about these characters.
Thank you! I enjoyed portraying the drama that the scene required. I think that was a great idea from Pedro: To integrate the origins of both characters in the story and gave us a chance to show it in a comic for the very first time, plus let those two characters come into the spotlight.
Pablo, with so many visually dynamic characters to work with, which was most fun to draw?
To start with I enjoyed designing the characters that Pedro and I co-created for the issue, the Alliance of Evil, especially Mephistopheles, such a theatrical character was very fun to draw.
Among the heroes, The Beacon has that aura of mystery and mysticism shared with the character he's modeled after and enjoyed drawing the page in which all his power are unleashed for the first time.
Venus was also fun to draw in the Underworld scenes and, being a speedster, Blitz is great for action scenes and poses (despite his horrible uniform).
I would have wanted to draw more of Thunder Girl. It took me a while to get ahold of her and I loved to draw her last scene, when she changes into her Molly Wilson persona. Hope I get more chances to draw her!
Was there any specific page or scene that you really enjoyed drawing?
I liked the first page a lot, showing there was some secret plot by somebody who is not shown in the panels. The the double-spread of the villains appearing in Washington I loved too, even if Pedro and me spend some time coming with the best group shot.
I also loved the Styx River scenes, designing Charon's ship with skull on its bow, a creepy touch. Simon came up with a great atmosphere with his color for the scene.
Finally, the double page of the the rest of the heroes fighting against the effects of the crisis was a challenge and a nightmare to plan but one worth taking. The last double-spread where Venus unleashes her powers ended being great too and Simon's color enhanced it!
Anyway, I enjoyed the whole thing! Those are archetypical characters and Pedro came up with a great story where they have to sacrifice themselves one after another for a greater good!!
What are your comics influences? How do you come to be drawing comics of such a classic American style?
I'm an “eighties kid” and have always been fascinated by superhero comics, not only for their characters but also for the magic of continuity and a shared universe. Growing up in that decade, I worship artists like “Saint” John Byrne (as you can tell by the headshots for our roll call), you could feel the passion of everything he did in every panel and story. Same with Alan Davis, George Pérez, Jose Luis García López, John Romita Jr., Arthur Adams, and even earlier ones like Neal Adams, Gil Kane, John Buscema, etc...
Also love the works of more current ones like Immonen, Coipel, Quitely, Carlos Pacheco...
Do you plan to design any new characters for Big Bang? If so would you be in favor of cape or against a cape? I imagine this is must be raging debate among artists.
I've designed a new characters for Chris Ecker, Baron Fledermaus, that will appear in the coming KNIGHT WATCHMAN: CREATURES OF THE NIGHT.
I'd love to design more characters and of course get back to do more Knights Of Justice or any other Big Bang character given the chance, but that now depends on sales, really. So if you want more of our work, just BUY IT and spread the word!!!
About capes, I have mixed feelings, ha! Lots of folds and wrinkles to draw them, and have to go over them several times to get the right shot. But when I get it I feel proud and also it's good to give the character a heroic halo and more dynamic shots!
I interrupt myself again here to switch to our 3rd subject, the honorable Gary Carlson, creator, chief writer and publisher of Big Bang Comics!
Gary, thank you so much for taking the time for me and the tens of readers I bring along. It is a genuine honor. I literally have in my hand a copy of Big Bang #1 from Caliber Press and while it is not an actual copy I myself sold from the shelves of Flashpoint Comics in 1995, it could have been. All these years later I remember that cover on the shelf because it stood so apart from the rest, which by then trended much differently. And that logo was then, and still is now, just fantastic. I love it. Please forgive the fanboy gushing.
At the time, I confess that while your book caught my eye, I was much more interested in another style of comic and didn’t pay much attention. I didn’t really start to appreciate that Silver Age Goodness style until I hit about 40. Much longer ago than I care to think about just now! You have built your life’s work around keeping that tradition alive in a different way than the collected edition market does. Or even can, I suppose. What are your feelings on that body of work now, ranging way back to your indy-boom Megaton days now so distant, to your current IndyPlanet distribution?
I'm very proud of the Big Bang/Megaton body of work that we've done. It has always been a labor of love and still is. I'm proud when people “get” what we're doing. From the start, people have thought we were just ripping off the old comics and characters. We have always tried to give the characters their own backgrounds, even if the idea was to produce a new “old” comic that fans had never read.
As Big Bang’s own Stan Lee, creative director and writing most of the output for so long, what’s it like letting some other writers add their stories into your universe? How does a guy like Pedro gain your trust and become your Roy Thomas? What kind of guard rails do you give him?
It can be tough. Mostly I try to get others to adhere to the stories and histories that we established. I request that artists and writers stay away from direct homages. We aim for something new. Our motto has always been that instead of just changing the names, try to be original and take a “left hand turn” away from the direct source material.
Pedro did a wonderful job on the Round Table of America: Personality Crisis book, and has always gotten what we were doing. He's enthusiastic and easy to work with. I can be a pain to work with and ask for changes in the stories and concepts. Especially with stories based on 80s and later concepts, I don't like to stay too close to the original continuities.
Is there one of your creations you still don’t like to share? A special one that it’s hard to imagine allowing another writer to pen?
Not really. As long as the writer stays true to the character and our history I am pretty good about it. I thought that it might be hard to share Megaton, but Allen Forbes did a nice job on the two prequel issues that we've published. I've never gotten the chance to write a ton of stories featuring Megaton, so would probably have trouble letting someone else write a more modern version.
The Heroes Union got the idea of new comics in the Silver Age Goodness style back onto my radar, I plan to dig out my old Sentinels trades for a re-read and I’ve been dipping my toe into the Big Bang universe. In the spirit of fair play and sharing, tell me what I can look forward to from you, and also what are some books I should look for that you admire or recommend?
I work with whatever writers and artists that get what we're doing, and are willing to work for the fun of it and love of old comics since there is, and never has been, much if any of a profit on these books. It's tougher these days because most of the aspiring artists grew up on the comics of the 1980s and later and don't always have a feel for doing the Gold and Silver Age stories. We are currently working on a Megaton storyline that brings Ultiman back into the continuity, at least for now. Thunder Girl is a favorite of mine, and I was lucky enough to meet Jon D'Henry who can pull off the retro style. There's a Golden Age Venus story in the works, as well as two Knight Watchman stories - “Election Day” and “Creatures of the Knight” that take place around the Knight Watchman: Graveyard Shift era. There will soon be a third issue of our self-titled National Guardians, and there are currently 5 or 6 issues of the modern Anomalies title in progress that will be out soon.
As to what do I read these days? Not much. I still check out various DC titles now and again, to see what they're doing with the Teem Titans or Legion of Superheroes. I read everything that Erik Larsen produces, and Dan Reed's Dimensioneer book is a favorite of mine. It has a classic comic feel to it without being any kind of homage or pastiche.
Thanks for the interview. If you're looking for back issues, I can probably supply a number of them.
Thank you so much, Gary! I’ll take you up on that for sure!
I encourage readers to check out the links below to learn more about Big Bang Comics and where to get them, in print and digitally, and how to stay updated on what these talented dudes are putting out. I am a dyed-in-the-wool Teen Titans fan, so I am really looking forward to Pedro’s THE LAST WHIZ KIDS STORY! I am also interested to see the new Baron Fledermaus character of Pablo’s, debuting in the upcoming KNIGHT WATCHMAN: CREATURES OF THE NIGHT. There’s a lot of cool stuff to discover with Big Bang, sweeties.
Here’s where to find it all.
Big Bang Comics’ Indy Planet store, Twitter and Facebook
Pablo Alcalde’s Art Station and Instagram
Gary Carlson’s Megaton Comics and Big Bang Comics
I am tremendously grateful to Gary, Pablo and Pedro for taking the time out to talk to me about their work. This interview has been a first for me and yeah, I know, it showed. I already have follow-up questions boiling around in my bean and I fear we’ve barely scratched the surface! And you doubtless have your own burning gottaknow - don’t be shy, throw your thoughts into the Comments or hit me up on Twitter! Who knows, maybe you can help me build a Part 2 to this mess, what do you say?
Be nice, my Mom reads this column.
Until next time, you jazzed julies and psyched sisters! Go hug someone, you could use it.
Silver Age Goodness, by Max Cage, for Wednesday Pull List