Monday, April 2, 2007

Interview: Mike Bullock

I consider Mike Bullock to be at the forefront of the movement to create more high-quality all ages comics and graphic novels. I spoke to him about some of his great ideas for getting kids back into comics and getting comics out to kids.

All Ages Reads: You’ve been a real advocate for all-ages comics. How did that particular fire get lit?

Mike Bullock: Comic books played a very big part in my early years and it pains me to know that my children might not have the opportunity to dig through a spinner rack at the local drug store and grab up a handful of good comics to wile away an afternoon with. Bringing comics back to drug stores, grocery stores and the like is one battle, but when I started writing Lions, Tigers and Bears, the lack of great all-ages comics that parents could feel good about giving to their children was a glaring hole in what the average comic shop offered. Luckily, that trend has reversed quite a bit lately with the recent influx of solid all-ages comics now available, however, that doesn’t mean everyone out there knows about them.

AAR: Which titles do you remember loving as a kid?

MB: When I was very little, I loved Batman and the Justice League, mainly because those were the books my older brother would buy. When I was about 7 or 8, my mom let me buy my own comic book and I picked up a copy of the Avengers and from that day until I was about 14 all I wanted to read was Marvel stuff like Spider-Man, Moon Knight, ROM: Spaceknight, The Micronauts, Defenders and a few others. Then DC slowly crept back in with books like Firestorm, All-Star Squadron and Warlord. By my sixteenth birthday, I’d “outgrown” comics and stopped reading them until I was in my early twenties and I realized that comics were just great stories and it didn’t matter if anyone else thought they were “just for kids” since to me great entertainment is good for anyone of any age.

AAR: While Lions, Tigers, and Bears is definitely “all ages” in terms of being family-friendly, some of your Beasties are pretty scary! At what age do you feel a child might be ready to read Lions, Tigers, and Bears?

MB: I think that’s totally up to the parents. For me as a child, I was never scared by things I found in comics or saw in animation. For some reason I was always able to realize the difference between fantasy and reality. However, I have encountered children as old as nine or ten who are unable to make that distinction. I really don’t think you can place a blanket statement on it that says what exact age children will respond in what way to entertainment they’re presented with, as each child is an individual and grow in their own unique ways. That’s why it’s so important for parents to always be involved in the lives of their little ones, just as you are with your girls.

AAR: Can you talk a bit about some of the creative ideas you’ve used to get your comics into the hands of kids?

MB: Certainly. When I was a kid, my local library had a Comic Book Exchange, where you could bring in some comic books and trade them for the books the library had in stock. I probably read thousands of comics that way that I’d have never been able to read had I been forced to purchase them with my meager allowance. When I started LTB, I realized that local libraries here in Phoenix didn’t have this sort of thing going on, so I went to Mike Banks at Samurai Comics and pitched the idea to him of starting an exchange at our local library.

Armed with a few hundred books donated by Samurai, as well as fifty to sixty from my personal collection and two hundred copies of Lions, Tigers and Bears, I held a free comic program at the local library to launch the exchange. All the children who attended received free comics and were given an explanation of how it worked and what they needed to do so that they could all have new (to them) comics to read on a regular basis.

After that, (once again with the help of Samurai Comics) I launched another exchange at my local Elementary School and put on a “Create Your Own Beastie” contest, where the kids were able to learn how to create comic characters, comic books and ask questions on how all those things happen, as well as what happens in the stories. At the end of the program, the Comic Book Exchange concept was explained to all the students who attended and the raw excitement on their faces and in their voices when they heard about it was staggering. Anyone who thinks kids don’t like comics is dead wrong. They love them just as much now as they ever have before, they just don’t have the access to them that our generation enjoyed growing up.

Jack Lawrence and I also participated in the Phoenix area Children’s Literacy Program. We created an original LTB story that ran in the Arizona Republic newspaper every Sunday, all summer long, in 2005 as part of that program. Scott Tingley over at has taken the initiative to create lesson plans for teachers all over the world based on that story. If you’re a teacher or a parent reading this, surf over to Scott’s site and check out all the great resources he’s compiled for parents and teachers.

AAR: Besides LTB, can you name some current or recent all ages books that stand out in your mind?

MB: The first that always comes to mind is Owly. I absolutely love that book and can’t say enough good things about it. It was awesome to see Andy Runton get the Eisner this year. It was certainly well deserved. The next to come to mind is Abadazad. JM DeMatteis is making magic between those covers and Mike Ploog is there to bring it all to life for us. Another one that’s crept up on me is Sonic X. Every issue is an exciting, lighthearted story that’s just plain fun.

AAR: Coming back to your work, Jack Lawrence did such a great job on the art for Lions, Tigers, and Bears. How did you go about replacing him when he had to move on?

MB: It was hard. Very hard. Jack and I grew together so much that we almost seemed like twins to those who saw us together and heard us talk. Every time I had an idea, he took it one step further and vice versa. I really couldn’t have asked for a better artist to work with on my first project. His talent and drive are immeasurable and his imagination is as fertile as anyone I’ve ever encountered.

Unfortunately, working with Jack spoiled me to a certain extent and when it came time to replace him, I found Jack had raised the bar higher than some people can jump. Luckily, after quite a bit of “hair-pulling-out”, I stumbled upon an old email from Paul “Gutz” Gutierrez and went to his site and checked out his work. Remembering he’d replaced Jack once before and knowing he had a great love of all-ages comics, I shot him an email and within days he was working on the book.

AAR: We met Paul at Comic-Con and his sketches were great. We’re looking forward to seeing his work on LTB. We also really love The Gimoles, which have been appearing in the back of LTB issues. Any plans for a Gimoles series or trade?

MB: Well, as lucky as I was to find a replacement for Jack on LTB, I’ve not been so lucky in replacing Gimoles artist Theo Bain. Theo’s style suited that property so well that I’ve yet to come across another artist who could give those characters the same magic. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying. In fact, if there’s an artist reading this and you think you’re the one to continue Gimoles, shoot me an email and you might be the next Gimoles artist.

Ultimately, I’d like to finish the four-part story and release the entire mini-series as one single trade paperback. But before that can happen, there are roughly thirty-five pages of artwork that need to be completed.

AAR: Both LTB and Gimoles seem tailor-made for animation. Anything in the works you can tell us about?

MB: Hollywood is a funny place. The Gimoles was optioned first by an exciting new production company that has gone through massive restructuring since they first took on the option. Now that the restructuring is over, the option term has ended as well with nothing having come of it.

Meanwhile, Lions, Tigers and Bears is charging full steam ahead and some pretty big announcements should be forthcoming soon. I can’t say much more than that about it at this time, but I’m pretty excited and really think the people involved in bringing LTB to the big screen will ensure that existing LTB readers are blown away by the project they have coming down the pike.

AAR: The reprint of the Lions, Tigers, and Bears Volume 1 trade paperback came out this week, and I’ll be buying one to donate to the girls’ school library. Issue 3 of Volume 2 will be in stores soon – don’t miss it!


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