Mike Allred’s Madman Tour de Force

Madman Atomic Comics #15I've been thinking about Mike Allred a lot over the past week.  Last week saw the release of the most recent collection of his series Madman Atomic Comics, and included in the book was a wealth of behind the scenes materials, which made me marvel at the man's craft.  Seeing such openness to his work and storytelling process is refreshing, especially considering what a fan of his I have become over the years.

When Mike Allred relaunched his signature creation in 2007 in Madman Atomic Comics, it would be the first time I bought a monthly Madman comic. I had encountered his work for years at the comic shop, admiring his skill and economy of lines that still maintained total expressiveness.  But in a time when experimentation was on the rise at Marvel back in 2001, X-Force/X-Statix became one of my favorite books of the last decade, in large part due to the Mike's work.  It was a great, imaginative run with a horde of new mutants, which also turned me towards Allred's earlier work on Madman. After having spent time playing with other peoples’ toys, it was a huge joy for me as a fan to see Allred go back to work on the character that really launched his career, and to follow this adventures as they unfolded (mostly) monthly.

Over the course of the seventeen-issue run of Madman Atomic Comics, Frank Einstein AKA Madman embarks on an arduous journey of existentialism, love, self-discovery, and rock & roll.  From deep space, to other dimensions, to a concert on the dark side of the moon, each issue brought fun and unpredictability back to comics in a refreshing way.  I had no idea where the story was going, and that ride that Allred takes you on is part of the reading experience.  You are on the journey for answers about life alongside Madman and company.  He's an existential hero ahead of his time, but also a reflection of our times.

But I predict that what will make Madman Atomic Comics a notable book for years to come is not necessarily the stories it told, but the way in which the Allreds told them.  I don't really think it is a stretch to say that Mike Allred produced the work his career in these pages; every line and shadow is overflowing with the soul that Mike pours into them, and as a reader, you can sense the connection he has to his characters.  This is a run that featured a single issue of Allred using well over a hundred different art styles, switching between panels, and sometimes within a single panel.  Or a silent issue taking place at a wedding in space.  Or an issue made up of one continuous panel that would put even Jim Steranko to shame.  Over 20 years in the business, and Allred is constantly reinventing himself and his approach, and that has to be respected.  Later in the run, he even brings in friendly collaborators like Nick Dragotta, Darwyn Cooke, Jamie S. Rich, and Joëlle Jones for their own spins on the Madman world.

Madman Atomic Comics Vol. 1: Existential ExitsNow as great as Allred's work is between the covers of an issue of Madman, what I get really excited about as a process junkie are the steps he takes to get there; why he does what he does, and how he achieves results that he can get excited about himself.  Fortunately, Allred is extremely forthcoming in that department, and he fills his already gorgeous trade paperback collections with a wealth of behind the scenes bonus materials that delve into his process.

In Existential Exits, the first collection of the new run, Allred spills plenty of pages of original pencils, explaining the new outlook he took with his pencils as he approached this project. Using a mixture of graphite and watercolors, Allred gives new texture and definition to his creations in the pages here seen moreso than in any of his previous work. Rather than viewing his pencils as a stepping stone to the final inked artwork, Allred began using his pencils to start his pages with cleaner, Madman Atomic Comics Vol. 2:  Paranormal Paradisemore fully-formed artwork, and later letting the inks enhance and help fully realize the artwork.  Rounding out the collection is a gallery of Allred's covers to the recent collections of the previous Madman library, before and after his wife's colors are laid down.

With the second volume, Paranormal Paradise, the bonus section begins to swell further with explanations and experimentations in an animation-style approach to creating comics; creating background plates on which Allred can paste his characters.  There are sections featuring art by Ronnie Del Carmen and Scott Morse, who both boast animation and comics work on their resumes, and continued pin-ups and jam pieces from comics luminaries.  The biggest joy is seeing the process behind the world's biggest comic book panel, the 28-page "tracking shot" spread that comprised the entirety of issue #9, complete with a connected look at the spread as well as the individual figures presented separately as Allred drew them.

With the recently-released third and final (for now, at least) volume titled Electric Allegories, Allred devoted half the book's 200 pages to a further peak behind the creative curtain. For a process junkie like me, this book is the motherload.  Not only do we see all the various cover artwork produced for this last batch of issues, but we get a pile Madman Atomic Comics Vol. 3:  Electric  Allegoriesof Mike's Madman-related commissions, a pin-up gallery featuring work from comics luminaries such as Gene Colan, Dave Johnson, James Jean, Jim Rugg, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon, and so many more.  Further joy comes at the reproduction of parts of Allred's original artwork at actual drawing size, really showing off the detail of the pencil lines and brush strokes.  Having seen Allred's original artwork at last year's San Diego Comic Con (including his ridiculously oversized Metamorpho pages from Wednesday Comics), this is a real treat, and the next best thing to owning the artwork. Continuing bonus features include Darwyn Cooke's original pages for his contribution to issue #14 (try spotting the number of difference between these and the printed versions), a Jamie S. Rich/Mike Allred/Dave Jonson collaboration on a Liberty Comics short story, and more.

If the bonus contents of these recent Madman Atomic Comics collections are not enough for you, then I should also direct you to seek out two more books released within the last few y.  First, from the fine folks at TwoMorrows Publishing comics Volume Sixteen in their Modern Masters series, focusing on none other than Mike Allred.  An 80+ page interview conducted by Eric Nolen-Wathington sprinkled with generous amounts of artwork in various stages of completeness, as well as Allred-drawn Madman movie storyboards.  The second book comes it at a humongous 264 pages put together by Allred himself; From the Vault of Michael Allred.  That book will prove trickier to find, as it appears to have been part of a fairly limited print run.  Originally serialized as a 4 issue mini-series, the Vault is best described as the extremely detailed, commentary-laden personal scrapbook of an artist still in the prime of his career, both artistically and productively.  His goal with the project was to "[try] to provide the kind of access and insight that I would like to have of the artists who inspire and excite me," also hoping fellow creators might follow suit.  It's also clear throughout not only these books, but in any of his discussions about the craft, how important the contributions of his wife and colorist Laura Allred are to the results.  More than anything, it's inspiring to hear the joy an artists takes in his work, and here I think it is evident on the printed page.

 

Modern Masters Volume Sixteen: Mike Allred       The Vault of Michael Allred

 

For those already itching for Allred to get back to Snap City, fear not.  According to the man himself, there are already plans for two big Madman specials; one coming late 2010/early 2011, and a huge Anniversary Special making Madman's 20th year planned for 2012. In the meantime, enjoy Mr. and Mrs. Allred’s work on the delightful new Vertigo series iZombie, the first issue of which was released last week for only a dollar.

iZombie #1

 


Benjamin Simpson lives and works in Los Angeles, spending considerable time focused on furthering his career, often endorsing questionable products and working behind Larry's back to ensure his enduring presence on the show, even when Larry is being scrutinized. Feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I love Allreds art and his ideas. He’s such a creative guy, but I’m not a huge fan of his sequental work. To me, they just don’t flow as well as some other artists. I’ve only read the first Madman volume and the stuff in Wednesday Comics and because of the ackwardness of it I’ve put off on picking up anything else.

    After reading this I want to go back and check out his other works. Nicely done Ben 🙂

  2. Great article, but proofread it

  3. @valo Really? I love his sequential work.  It’s creative and pushes the envelope but I ADORED his work in Wednesday Comics and all the Madman stuff I’ve read so far.

  4. @gobo I knew you’d have this reaction ;). I think it’s just a taste thing, honestly, like I said the guy is a great artist. He’s got a great style to his line, I just have a hard time tranistioning from panel to panel with his work. Might be an experiance thing as well.

  5. Nice article, I made a post on Mike’s message board to make sure everyone sees it!