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4LN Interview with Fred Van Lente, author of Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery

Fred Van Lente is one of those writers that has me hooked.  Up till now, Mr. Van Lente has been churning out top-notch comics with Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse, and IDW.  You might remember that we interviewed him awhile back about his work with Valiant. Now Mr. Van Lente is switching gears with his upcoming debut novel Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery. After reading a review copy, I reached out to Fred (editor: did you ask if you could call him Fred?) to see if he’d be willing to spend some of his increasingly rare spare time chatting with us about his new book.  Spoiler: he agreed.

4LN: Some of our readers may remember that we had a chance to speak with you in February 2015, what have you been up to between now and then?

FVL: Well, quite a lot. Many, many comics, like Deadpool vs the Punisher, Weird Detective and Comic Book History of Comics, and a few other projects, but I have to admit what I’ve been most excited about is my first novel coming out, Ten Dead Comedians, which I stated around November 2015, not so long after we last spoke, and is at long last coming out July 11th!

Digging into your new book, what is it about And Then There Were None that drew you in? Is there something special about that particular story, or the golden era of mystery for you?

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is a classic of the genre — it’s not just one of the bestselling mysteries, it’s one of the bestselling books, period, of all times. There’s something so elemental about the concept — a bunch of people trapped in a place, being knocked off one by one, with one of the potential victims themselves the likely killer. I had read that Christie thought of the idea years before she wrote the book because she couldn’t believe she was the first person to try it. She was, and justly reaped the rewards of her originality.

What made you decide to tell a classic mystery story using Comedians of all makes and models? (Genre mashup)

I’ve made genre mashup something of a specialty in my career, from Cowboys & Aliens (Western/sci-fi) to Incredible Hercules (Greek mythology/superhero) and more recently in books like Weird Detective, which combines the Cthulhu Mythos with a police procedural. So even though this is in the prose format it something that comes very naturally to me.
But you know combining comedy and mystery seems so simple, because so much of the language of comedy is about violence — you “die” on stage or you “slaughter” audience, if you did great you “killed,” if you do badly you “bombed.” So the idea of combining Last Comic Standing with basic set-up of And Then There Were None almost seems like a no-brainer.

Comedy obviously plays a big part of the novel, as you even go so far as to include a comedy routine for every comedian, each with their own style. What kind of work goes into ten unique routines, each in a different voice?

It was not easy, to be honest with you. When I first started writing the book I resisted doing the monologues because I knew doing ten of them in such distinctive voices would be a bitch. But then I a) realized how I could slip clues to the mystery into each and every one and b) uh, I would probably not hit my contractually-mandated word count if I didn’t add them, so, my choice was clear! It was very hard, although I am such a huge comedy nerd I had voices for all of them in my head kind of to begin with, but it was hugely satisfying and it’s one of the things folks say they like the most about the book, so clearly it was the right decision.

When I first started reading Ten Dead Comedians, I thought I could pick out specific real life comedians that inspired your characters, but as the story developed I realized that none of them quite fit. How did you go about developing your ten comedians that might or might not be dead soon?

I mean, there are certainly various archetypes the comics represent — Las Vegas lounge comic, late-night host, “blue collar” comic and so on — but, you know, I am killing (most of? All? Read and find out) these characters in spectacularly gory ways, and I’m not a monster. I don’t want any real people dead. Also, it’s not very interesting to me as a writer to just try and copy somebody else’s schtick completely. So everyone is a gumbo, a mixture of various actual comics. So the insult comic is really a blend of Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. There’s bits and pieces of Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman and various other “observational” comics in Zoe Schwartz. My wife nearly worked for Blue Man Group at one point so our “Orange Baby Man” is sort of a combo of their philosophy with a prop comic like Gallagher or Carrottop, and so on.

Is it difficult to make the jump from comics to novels? Are there any big differences between the two writing styles.

Sure. I mean, in comics scripting you’re creating a blueprint for another person to follow. But in prose you’re the whole show. There’s no other collaborators to lean on. I’ve been writing prose on and off since I was a high schooler, though, so it’s not like I was a complete neophyte. I’m one of those cliche writers who has a bunch of novels collecting dust in drawer. So to have the first one be published is indescribably exciting.

Was there anything from the comic world that possibly helped you with the writing process?

The comics world is a monthly grind, which translates to a daily, weekly grind on the creative team. The constant deadlines really builds discipline, which is helpful when you’re writing a 70- or 80,000 word novel spread out over many months. It lets you pace yourself properly.

Whenever you’re in a writing slump, do you have a method you use to motivate yourself to get back at it?

Yes: Write. It is the only method. Allow yourself to be in a slump and write shittily. You can always redraft it later. But the only way to get past writer’s block is to write around it.

Lastly, do you have any other big plans on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?

I am excited to beginning my second novel, The Con Artist, a mystery novel set during the San Diego Comic Con, out next year. And I’m also co-writing a thing with my old pal Greg Pak, can’t wait to see that announced. For the summer I’m doing a lot of promotions for Ten Dead so maybe I’ll take a break afterwards? Ah, who am I kidding, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself…

Summary from Quirk Books:

Fred Van Lente’s brilliant debut is both an homage to the Golden Age of Mystery and a thoroughly contemporary show-business satire. As the story opens, nine comedians of various acclaim are summoned to the island retreat of legendary Hollywood funnyman Dustin Walker. The group includes a former late-night TV host, a washed-up improv instructor, a ridiculously wealthy “blue collar” comic, and a past-her-prime Vegas icon. All nine arrive via boat to find that every building on the island is completely deserted. Marooned without cell phone service or wifi signals, they soon find themselves being murdered one by one. But who is doing the killing, and why?

A darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other classics of the genre, Ten Dead Comedians is a marvel of literary ventriloquism, with hilarious comic monologues in the voice of every suspect. It’s also an ingeniously plotted puzzler with a twist you’ll never see coming!

4LN Interview – Going “In the Bag” with A&A Writer Rafer Roberts


Next month, Valiant Comics will debut a brand new series featuring their odd-couple, superhero duo Archer and Armstrong, titled “A&A: the Adventures of Archer and Armstrong.”  Archer and Armstrong are two of my favorite Valiant heroes so when this series was announced last year, I was beyond excited.  The previous run lasted 25 issues, and I have been eagerly awaiting the return of this comedic tag team ever since it ended.  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rafer Roberts, the writer of the new upcoming series, and ask him a few questions about what it’s like writing a drunken immortal, a teenage ninja, and all the hilariously bizarre misadventures they get dropped into. Please enjoy!

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4LN – To help our readers get better acquainted with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got started in the comic industry, and, more specifically, how you got started with Valiant?

Rafer Roberts – Sure! I’ve been writing and drawing and publishing my own comics for over twenty years, pretty much staying in the underground and DIY worlds with comics such as PLASTIC FARM and NIGHTMARE THE RAT. A few years ago, I drew the bootleg comic THANOS AND DARKSEID: CARPOOL BUDDIES OF DOOM with writer Justin Jordan which got a lot of attention and got us hired to do similar backup stories for all the Valiant anniversary issues. I discovered that I really enjoyed working for Valiant and asked if I could try my hand at writing something.

Getting the chance to write A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG is a dream. I mean, just the basic concept is amazing. Armstrong is a ten thousand year old drunken, immortal, warrior-poet and Archer is an ex-fundamentalist super-human teenage martial arts expert. They fight against all the weird and strange forces that secretly control humanity and bicker like an old married couple the entire time. That level of weirdness mixed in with a great deal of heart and the human condition falls right into my sweet spot as a writer. It’s a lot of fun!

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When working on a series like A&A, how do you balance the material from the previous run with where you want to go with the new series?

The previous series was amazing and, honestly, it is a bit intimidating coming in after that run. The thing that makes my life easier is how Fred Van Lente resolved pretty much all of the previous plotlines and left the duo in a very good place for a new creative team (and new readers) to come in.

Archer and Armstrong have had these crazy adventures, come out more or less victorious, and are better friends because of it. I look at that and how that informs their motivations moving forward. While we’ll be building upon the themes introduced in the first series, and while I look forward to playing with all of the wonderful toys, I’m much more interested in creating new adventures rather than try to do cover versions of stories that people have already read and loved.

That said, there are MANY characters I am looking forward to playing with. Mary-Maria, Archer’s ninja-nun sister, is just a fantastic character. The 1% and a few other surviving factions from The Sect, the conglomeration of organizations that secretly ruled the world, are gloriously bizarre. But, and this is important, these are characters that people have come to know and love, and I plan to treat them with respect.

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A&A seems to have almost free rein as far as story possibilities, having everything from dinosaurs to Ninja Nuns. What’s it like writing a story with so many possibilities, and what can we expect to see in the future?

You’re right! There isn’t much that I can think of that couldn’t be an Archer and Armstrong adventure, but that seeming lack of limitations can actually be harmful if not properly harnessed. What gives me focus as the writer is to remember that this comic is about something. This is a comic about two very unlikely friends who know their differences are what makes them stronger, and who have each others’ backs despite constant bickering. A&A isn’t a book about strange stuff and the two men who deal with it; it’s a book about two friends who happen to fight weird stuff. Under all the humor and surrealness, there is a great deal of heart.

I admit, when coming up with future storylines I do think of the fun part first. “What if they go to the circus?” “What if they fight a giant baby that shoots lasers from its eyes?” That sort of thing. But if I can’t figure out a way to make that fun part enhance the emotional aspect, then the fun part gets cut and I think of something better. (Sorry, Laser Baby.)

Working with this creative team is also very freeing in what I’ve been able to get away with. Artist David Lafuente has been kicking ass on pencils, and every page he’s turned in looks even better than what I had imagined. There’s nothing I can write that David isn’t going to be able to draw and improve upon. Ryan Winn on inks and Brian Reber on colors are also doing amazing work and helping to make A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER & ARMSTRONG one of the prettiest books on the shelves.

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Without giving too much away, what kind of shenanigans can we expect once the heroes enter Armstrong’s infamous bottomless satchel/man-purse?

Inside the satchel is a Home Depot designed by M.C. Escher. It’s an entire world with an infinite, multi-planed warehouse at its heart, filled with thousands of years’ worth of Armstrong’s trash and treasure. Archer and Armstrong will be visiting a few of the subsections including a booze cellar, a desert wasteland made up of ten thousand years of Armstrong’s garbage, and the living quarters where the strange creatures who inhabit and work in the satchel go for coffee breaks. Armstrong goes inside in order to find something very valuable that has gone missing, something that he needs in order to make amends with an old friend who he did wrong by in the past, and Archer follows him after things almost immediately go awry. In order to retrieve the item and escape the bag alive, they’ll have to fight their way through an old enemy who has been trapped inside the satchel for three thousand years and now commands an army of lizard men, goblins, fish monsters, and trash golems.

That old enemy is Bacchus, or at least someone claiming to be the Greek God of wine and revelry. Bacchus and Armstrong were friends back in the day and he considers his imprisonment to be the ultimate betrayal. He’s a large goat-like man who has gone slightly mad, having been trapped inside the satchel for so long. He looks like Baphomet but acts like a manic-depressive Paul Lynde.

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What kind of research goes into writing a 6,000+ year-old rabble-rouser and a character who’s super power is essentially anyone else’s super power?

I’m pretty lazy, so a lot of my research is done on the fly! The Internet and Wikipedia are wonderful tools when trying to figure out, for example, which eastern front WWII battle Armstrong would have most likely drunkenly stumbled into. I’ve been making a concerted effort to watch more historical documentaries for potential story ideas. For Archer, his powers derive from the Akashic Records. I actually did do quite a bit of research on that, including listening to a few audiobooks about Edgar Cayce and a new-age how-to guide about accessing the Records oneself. I don’t know how much of that will make it into the comic, but it was interesting and did give me some ideas about how to explore Archer’s abilities.

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If Archer & Armstrong ever got adapted for television or film, what medium do you think would work best and what actors would you like to see play the heroes?

I personally think that adapting the serialized art form of comics works best when adapted by the serialized entertainment structure of television. I mean, what Marvel is doing by serializing their movies works pretty well and Valiant’s plans for HARBINGER and BLOODSHOT looks pretty awesome, but you don’t get to do the smaller adventures on the big screen. Everything in movies has to be a big event. On TV, you’d have the big events, but you’d also get to spend more time with the characters and see them in their down time. How many scenes in the X-Men movies are them just playing softball? I guess you could say that’s what the comics are for!

Anyway, I used Bobby Moynihan as reference when I drew the backup story for ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG #25. I think he’d be great. He looks the part and can pull off the emotional range. Archer is trickier, and I think you’d want to go with an unknown for his role. I was thinking maybe Dominic Monaghan for a while, until I realized he was as old as me. Maybe build a time machine and get him at FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING age?

 

Finally, can you give us a little back-story on the hilarious A&A bootleg that’s been floating around?

No.

Ha ha ha! I have to walk a very fine line when discussing the Bootleg in public. For the record, the folks at Valiant are cool with me having done it and I’m not in any sort of trouble. As I mentioned before, I come from a section of comics where being ignored by the general comic reading populace is the norm and I understand the need to do whatever you can to get people to notice you. In this case, that was creating a 12-page bootleg comic parodying the characters that a major comic company has hired you to write for real and mailing it out anonymously to random comic stores.

The Bootleg was a lot of fun to make, but the best part about it is the way the fans took it and made it their own. They took the Bootleg and bootlegged it, creating a bunch of variant editions (such as a Gold Version printed on yellow paper) and mailing them out to other fans who couldn’t find one otherwise. That sort of community and overwhelming positivity is pretty rare nowadays, and I’m glad I get to be a part of it.

I want to thank Rafer for taking the time to chat with us today.  A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG will hit the stands on March 16, 2016, so be sure to head down to your local comic shop and pick up a copy!  We hope you’re as excited as we are, but if you still need some convincing, check out a preview of the first issue below!

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By Grabthar’s Hammer: An Interview with Erik Burnham

Last year I wrote about my favorite science-fiction parodies of all time, and Galaxy Quest was a shoo in.  It’s one of the few movies that can watch all the time and not get tired of it.  One day while looking up something unrelated I stumbled across an article about the upcoming Galaxy Quest comic that would be a direct sequel to the film.  Needless to say, when I found out that a sequel was coming in the form of a comic book, I was absolutely stoked.  This week alone I have referenced the movie with two separate Twitterers; one of them a local sports talk radio host who referenced the Omega-13 on air, and the other was Erik Burnham, writer of Galaxy Quest: the Journey Continues.
I reached out to Galaxy Quest: the Journey Continues writer Erik Burnham for an interview, and he kindly obliged. Check out our conversation below!
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4LN: How did you initially get your start in the comic book industry?
 
Erik Burnham: This’ll be a long one!! I’ve been drawing (in general, and also comic strips for my own amusement) since elementary school – and writing (stage and screenplays, prose stories and fanfic, as well as radio bits when I worked in that industry.) That’s what set me up.
 
In 2000, I lost my job in radio and started hanging around more on message boards. Alvaro’s Comic Boards and Chuck Dixon’s Dixonverse, which emerged originally from the CB Birds of Prey board. There were people I liked talking with, and they posted on both boards. I met even more people through them, and I had a lot of time to network with no job.
 
One night, a chunk of us were on the old AOL IM (remember that, kids?) and talking comics. Usually we talked about stuff we liked, but tonight, it was all grousing. Not liking this publisher’s event or that comic’s run… the same old topics fans always gripe about when they get in a complaining mood. But then someone asked “Could we do better?” And we decided to put our money where our mouths were. That was December, 2001.
 
In August of 2002, we had an 80 page anthology. Cover by Steve Lieber. Intro by Denny O’Neil. A western by Chuck, and a bunch of first-timers doing their own thing.
 
My entry was a comedy, featuring Nick Landime (even his name is a pun!) Nick was received okay, but since he wasn’t a superhero, he wasn’t the star of the book. But I kept doing Nick stories anyway when the Shooting Star Comics Anthology (as we called it) morphed into a quarterly, published by the fledgling Shooting Star Comics. The antho ran six issues, and I did something in each of those. (Nick appeared in four issues of the six issue run, as well as in two convention specials and his own one-shot, Nick Landime vs. the World Crime League – a story I’m proud of, and art I’m kind of bummed over. I drew it during a December while working retail, and brother, does it ever show! But I digress….)
 
The other thing Shooting Star did was publish Tom Waltz’s Children of the Grave as a miniseries. This lead to Tom seeing Nick (and it fit his sense of humor – he dug it!)
 
When Tom Waltz became an editor at IDW… he gave me a chance to pitch. In this case, a horror story for the Gene Simmons anthology. After that, he gave me a shot on a miniseries about a “fighting monster” toy launch – Nanovor. This went over well, too, so he called and asked if I liked the A-Team…
 
That got me to do two issues of the A-TEAM War Stories with Chuck Dixon. (Chuck wrote two, I wrote two. I got Murdock and BA.) Chuck and I had so much fun working together we did a Simpsons story for Bongo.
 
Doing all that lead up to my big break. Since I’d heard IDW had Ghostbusters, I had been asking to pitch. Tom gave me my shot by offering me the two issue INFESTATION tie-in, part of IDW’s first event.
 
It went over well. So well, in fact, that I was asked to pitch a Ghostbusters ongoing.
 
And everything else flowed from that.
 
(Don’t give me that look – I TOLD YOU it’d be a long one!)
 
4LN: Are there any specific writers that you especially admired who influenced you early on?
 
EB: Oh yeah. I was (and am) a voracious reader, and it’s all grist for the mill. But to keep this answer shorter than the last one, I’ll stick to comic book influences while I was growing up. Folks like Stan Lee (a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #19 is one of the first comics I clearly remember reading.) JM DeMatteis (I envy his skill at going from comedy to drama), Gerry Conway, Peter David, Chuck Dixon, Mark Waid, Chris Claremont and John Byrne… a lot of the usual suspects, and a lot of Spidey writers. Most of my heaviest comics buying was when they were at gas stations (I’ve never lived near a comic shop!)
 
Since I’ve started writing, any writer who can write stuff that’s fun grabs my attention. Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows was a favorite for that. Jeff Parker is another guy that consistently is where I want to be.
And dear God, I almost forgot Dwayne McDuffie and would never have forgiven myself. He wrote everything so well, and created my favorite concept ever: DAMAGE CONTROL. It is to my eternal regret I never got to tell him so in person at the one con we both were present at!
 
4LN: Your “comicography” is full of nerd pop culture icons – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, X-files, with a couple crossovers thrown in for good measure – and now you are working on another nerd classic (one of my favorites), Galaxy Quest.  How would you say pop culture has impacted you as a comic writer?
 
EB: It has helped me pay my bills for years, now…
 
But seriously, it’s a wonderful thing to get a chance to be a small part of these things that are responsible for so many good memories for so many people.
 
Better, to hear I’m doing it right more often than not.
 
And sometimes I hear from folks who tell me that something I wrote made them feel better or moved them in some way. That’s a hell of an impact. Pop culture has given me a chance to help entertain or even comfort folks.
 
I don’t want to come off as pretentious, and I know it does, but it means a lot to me to be able to brighten someone’s day.
 
Plus, those paid bills are sweet.
 
4LN: As fun as it must be writing about a lot of people’s favorite cartoons and movies, have you discovered anything difficult about writing them?
EB: Kind of. I mentioned how much people can attach to some characters, and nothing I do will please EVERY fan. There are readers that want a darker, more dramatic and horrifying Ghostbusters – but I take my lead from the movie, and put more weight on the comedy.
 
Other times, there’s the trick of balancing what I want to do with what the editors and publishers and licensors and fans all want. Balancing may be the trickiest part with all those moving parts… because everyone has concrete opinions and fans always have higher expectations.
 
But that’s just tricky. Difficult? That’s manual labor in extreme weather – which I’m happy to avoid.
 
4LN: Moving on to your upcoming series, Galaxy Quest: the Journey Continues, where did the idea for this book come from and what can fans of the movie expect?
 
EB: It may have been CBS that wanted it, because Galaxy Quest is still one of the favorite Trek-films-that-isn’t-a-Trek-film. Exploiting it in live action would be trickier at this point, but comics are forever.
 
The general idea I started with was playing it strictly as a sequel to the movie. They don’t have a ship, they’re doing their show, living their life, and years have gone by. I did mirror the film’s opening some, starting at a con (but not a mall-con!) with the group at a higher level of popularity.
 
The biggest thing I can say I was asked to do was give Brandon (the Justin Long character) a bigger part in the story. Easy enough to accommodate!
 
We’ll be seeing everybody… and the situation they get into this time is a direct result of Jason using the Omega-13 device in the movie. So rewinding time 13 seconds didn’t have consequences for MOST people. Who’s to say that was the case everywhere?
 
I also play with pop culture – and con culture — in similar ways to the movie.
 
4LN: Is there anything in particular about the movie that drew you to want to write the Journey Continues?
 
EB: It’s an opportunity to work on something that, like Ghostbusters, was funny because of how the characters responded to the things they face. Their reactions felt authentic.
 
I like that, and it’s something IDW and CBS wanted to continue in the book. Not camping it up, nor making it too serious.
 
And that’s fun for me!
 
4LN: Was it hard writing these characters that were played so well by their onscreen counterparts?
EB: No. That’s the best thing – when there is a CLEAR VOICE, when you can hear in your head how Tim Allen or Alan Rickman or Sigourney Weaver would most likely deliver a line reading, it makes it easy. The wrong words stick out like a sore thumb.
 
4LN: Is Guy Fleegman safe now that he has a last name?
 
EB: Guy is smart. Guy is gunning for his own spinoff show. Guy comes up with a plan to cover his own rear in issue #2… though he may wish he hadn’t.
 
4LN: What would you say to someone who is considering picking up Galaxy Quest, but hasn’t made up their mind yet?
 
EB: If they liked the movie, or my run on Ghostbusters, or just stories with a heftier balance of fun than doom and gloom… then I hope they’ll give it a chance.
 
I’ve been having fun, artists Nacho Arranz and Esther Williams have been having fun, editor Tom Waltz has been having fun… and in my experience, it’s the more the merrier.
 
Plus, we address cosplay. Hard hitting social commentary, AS YOU LIKE IT.
 
4LN: What’s the most important piece of advice you feel could benefit an aspiring comic book writer?
 
EB: For writing in general, I always say read as much as you can, listen to how people talk, and most importantly, finish as many things as possible. Practicing crossing the finish line is important. But that’s general writing advice.
 
For COMICS writers? Honestly? First, write a complete 8 page story (to get used to brevity. It’s EASY to pad stories out, so much harder to be brief) and then DRAW THAT STORY. It doesn’t need to be beautiful. It doesn’t need to be shown to another living soul. But nothing will teach you about the limits of the page faster or better than drawing out a script.
 
You’ll see that it’s impossible to have a BIG PANEL where a man walks through a crowded bar and sees fifteen people doing fifteen things… and then there are six more panels on the page. I’ve seen things like this! And most folks roll their eyes when it comes to writing a short piece or practicing drawing it (and making space for the word balloons.) But I tell you for a fact, this will help you improve as a comic book writer and appreciate your artists!
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Lightning Round: just answer with the first thing that comes to mind.
 
4LN: If given the opportunity, what comic book character would you love to write?
 
EB: Peter Parker.
 
4LN: Who is an artist that you haven’t gotten a chance to work with yet, but would love to?
 
EB: Chris Samnee.
 
4LN: When you were writing Alexander Dane’s lines, did you hear Alan Rickman’s voice in your head?
 
EB: I heard EVERYONE’S voice in my head! But Alan Rickman’s voice is always there. Lurking. Waiting.
 
4LN: What was your favorite cartoon when you were a kid?
 
EB: Depending on the definition of kid, let me just go with Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. (Also a confession: I was terrified of the Incredible Hulk TV show.)
 
4LN: If you had to choose between living in the Star Wars universe and the Star Trek universe, which would you choose and why?
 
EB: Trek, hands down. The Star Wars universe is more dangerous. I’d probably get killed and eaten by an Ewok.

4LN: Final question: If you had to get an apartment with one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who would you choose and why?
 
EB: Donatello. I have a feeling he could whip up a device that gets me free cable channels. Don’t judge! We’d be movie buds.
I would like to thank Mr. Burnham for doing this interview.  He is just a great guy.  Make sure to head to your local comic shop and pick up IDW’s Galaxy Quest: the Journey Continues this Wednesday, January 21st!
Want more Erik Burnham?  You can follow him on Twitter @erikburnham, or check out his website, burnhamania.com.
IDW was kind enough to give us a preview of Galaxy Quest: the Journey Continues, make sure to check them out below!
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4LN Interview: Jeffrey Brown and the Best Star Wars Books Ever Written

When I was nine years old, my dad made the mistake of taking me to see the theatrical re-release of Star Wars Episode IV: a New Hope, and it blew my mind.  I had caught glimpses of the Original Trilogy in the past (presumably on TBS: the Superstation), but I was too preoccupied with the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers to notice.  Seeing these films on the big-screen was an altogether different experience.  After that moment I was obsessed.  Somehow my less than stellar memory was teeming with obscure facts about all facets of the movies as well as the elaborate fan-fiction formerly known as the Expanded Universe (RIP).

My first son, Charlie, was born just a little under two years ago, and out of all of the great gifts we received two things stick out the most.  Those two things?  Two copies of Jeffrey Brown’s New York Times Best Seller, Darth Vader and Son.  For a soon-to-be dad, who is also a Star Wars fan, this book (and it’s sequel, Vader’s Little Princess) was the perfect gift.

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There are a LOT of Star Wars books on the market (both good and bad), and I’ve read my fair share (… both good and bad), but none of them have resonated with me as much as Darth Vader and Son.  Brown seems to have landed in a particular niche that wasn’t tapped before — children’s books for nerdy parents to share with their kids.  Charlie loves for us to read Goodnight Darth Vader to him, but I guarantee you my wife and I love it more.  I had been planning on writing an article about Jeffrey Brown’s work with Star Wars for a while, but before writing it I decided to reach out to the author in the off-chance that he’d have time to do an interview with us.  Mr. Brown was generous enough to answer our questions during his down time at San Diego Comic Con. Check it out!

 

4LN – Obviously Star Wars had a big impact on you growing up. Can you tell us a little about the how and why you fell in love with Star Wars?

Jeffrey Brown – Every Christmas my parents would give me a Star Wars action figure in my stocking. I would go to the neighborhood dime store and buy packs of Star Wars cards. I would read my Star Wars books over and over. It was just part of the texture of my childhood, and there’s no movie I remember seeing in the theater more vividly than when our babysitter took my brothers and I to see The Empire Strikes Back when it came out. 

 

4LN – Can you tell us what inspired you to write each book?

JB – I had been invited by Google to draw sketches for a possible Father’s Day homepage doodle. They wanted something showing how awkward an everyday father and son moment would be between Luke and Vader, and since my son was four at the time it seemed perfect to make Luke four and put Vader in my shoes as a parent. When Google decided to use a different concept, I was able to take it and turn it into a whole book. With the first book, there really wasn’t room for Leia, but me and my editors at Chronicle and Lucasfilm all knew that if Darth Vader and Son did well enough we had to do a book for Leia, too. One response I’ve gotten for those books is from parents reading them to their children to at bedtime. I thought it would be better if I just made an actual, proper bedtime book for Star Wars, which is the new book, Goodnight Darth Vader. I didn’t want to do just another Goodnight Moon parody, so I took the opportunity to just draw all kinds of characters and creatures going to bed.

 

4LN – When you got married, did your wife have any idea what was in store for her as far as Star Wars nerdery goes?

JB – She didn’t… I wisely kept the depth of my Star Wars fandom hidden from her.  

 

4LN – Your books are seriously funny. My wife was reading Goodnight Darth Vader (which came out July 22, 2014 – go pick it up) and laughed out loud at the Space Slug/Millennium Falcon panel, and the fact that you used the scene where Yoda (spoiler alert?) is dying for the part where he goes to sleep. This isn’t a question really, I just wanted to tell you that.

JB – Thanks! I like to twist things around, so re-purposing Yoda’s dialogue was funny to me. The ‘Don’t let the space slug bite’ line was one of my favorites. 

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4LN – As fun as these books must be to write, have you discovered anything difficult about writing them?

JB – It’s gotten harder because I’m sticking mainly to the original trilogy, and I feel like I’ve nearly exhausted that material for how I do things, but even that isn’t all that hard. Things tend to feel easy when they’re fun to make. 

 

4LN – In the back of your book there is an illustration of you and your sons in clone trooper armor, how did you first share your love of Star Wars with your sons?

JB – They’ve worn a lot of Star Wars clothes as babies, and I buy them Star Wars toys, whether they like them or not.

 

4LN – Do your kids love Star Wars as much as you do?

JB – Not yet, but maybe someday they will. So far, my older son, Oscar, has only seen A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, along with the Clone Wars cartoons. I think there’s so many different things competing for kids’ attentions these days, it’s harder for them to get into one thing. Once he’s old enough to see a new Star Wars movie in the theater, I think that he’ll like it even more. My younger son is only one, but he likes pointing at his Yoda skateboard toy.

 

4LN – Any advice for nerd parents wanting to share their nerd-obsession with their children?

JB – I think if you’re into something, your kids will either love it like you, or hate it. So you shouldn’t try to… Force it.  

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4LN – What would you want people to take away from the books you’ve written?

JB – I hope they have fun, have their imagination sparked, and get inspired – the same things I get out of Star Wars.

 

4LN – You’re obviously a long time fan that is invested in this story, what direction would you like to see the new trilogy take?

JB – Personally, I’d like to see it take whatever direction they want – as a fan, I think I’ll get more enjoyment out of being surprised. I’m sure it’d be fun to be involved in shaping the direction, but nothing beats sitting down in the theater and not knowing what’s coming next. I’m even going to try avoid seeing the trailers…

 

4LN – How many times a week does J. J. Abrams call you for creative input?

JB – I’m sure it’s dozens, but  he must have the wrong phone number?

 

4LN – How do you feel about the Lucasfilm Story Group no longer considering your books canon (sarcasm)?

JB – I’ve never been too concerned about what’s cannon and what’s not, whether I’m making it or someone else is. I think the Star Wars universe is big enough to allow for all kinds of stories, even contradictory ones.

 

4LN – Do you have to constantly refresh yourself with the films when you are working on these books, or do you just have an archive of knowledge stored away that you draw from?

JB – I don’t know how much I have to, but I do. I usually have them playing again and again, even in the background while I’m drawing the final art. 

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4LN – There are a lot of positive morals in the Star Wars films, which can seem kind of abstract to kids watching the movies.  You seem to have taken those and sprinkled them into your book Star Wars Jedi Academy, which could have a much larger impact on them.  Was this intentional or was it just inherent in the story itself? (Star Wars Jedi Academy 2 is hitting stores TODAY, July 29, 2014 – go get it)

JB – It’s partly inherent, and partly intentional. I try to use parallels to the films in my work, so the morals come through. Or maybe I just have Star Wars morals, since I grew up with them!  

 

4LN – Who is your favorite character from either trilogy and why?

JB – Yoda. He’s just so quirky and funny, doesn’t ever take anything too seriously but has that immense power smoldering underneath his wrinkly skin.

 

4LN – If you had to pick a favorite movie, which one would you pick and why?

JB – The Empire Strikes Back, because of Hoth, which is very similar to winter in Michigan where I grew up. It also introduces great characters like Yoda, Lando, and Boba Fett.

 

4LN – Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

JB – I’m working on Jedi Academy 3 right now, along with one more book in the Vader series. I’m also taking a break from Star Wars to work on a new middle grade series called Lucy & Andy Neanderthal. 

 

4LN – How often do you dominate your friends in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit (assuming they even risk playing with you)?

JB – It’s been a long time since I played, but every time I played I was pretty dominant. Unfortunately, we never played for money!

 

I want to personally thank Mr. Brown for taking the time out of his day to answer some questions.  He is a great guy, and his books are hilarious.

If you’d like to pick up Jeffrey Brown’s work, follow the links below:

Darth Vader and Son

Vader’s Little Princess

Goodnight Darth Vader

Star Wars Jedi Academy

Star Wars Jedi Academy 2 (This released TODAY)

Also check out Kids Are Weird: And Other Observations from Parenthood

You can also head over to his blog here.