This year marks 100 years of Jack Kirby, and comic book publishers have been celebrating it in a variety of ways. And while fans may best know the King of Comics' work at Marvel, creating the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and countless others, it's his later and lesser-known work at DC that many find to be the more experimental, groundbreaking and personal.
"Who the heck is Forager?" you may be asking yourself. Well, don't worry, you're not alone. Forager is a relatively obscure character who was part of the Fourth World mythology that Kirby created around his New Gods characters. He was an especially heroic and independent member of the subterranean insectoid race that inhabited New Genesis, and only had a handful of appearance before his apparent demise saving the galaxy in the pages of Cosmic Odyssey in the late '80s.
But if two things are certain in comic books, it's that no one stays dead forever, and every character is someone's favorite. And fortunately for Forager, he's a favorite of the extraordinarily talented Allred family.
This week, the first issue of Bug! The Adventures of Forager hits shelves, written by Lee Allred, drawn by his brother Michael Allred and colored by Michael's wife, Laura Allred. The title is the first new title to be added to the launch titles of Gerard Way's Young Animal imprint at DC, which has made waves reviving oddball characters and concepts from the weird corners of the DC Universe.
The Allred family has a deep appreciation Kirby and his creations (an issue of Michael and Laura's Silver Surfer won an Eisner last year) and I had an opportunity to take a look at the mind-blowingly fun first issue and ask the family a few questions about it. Check out the interview along with a five-page preview of the first issue below, as well as a look at the variant covers by Paul Pope and James Harvey.
And be sure to let us know what you think, and who your favorite weird Kirby characters are, in the comments!
The very first page of the first issue makes it clear that everything we've seen happen to Forager in Kirby's New Gods and then in Cosmic Odyssey still happened to him. Did you have the option to start with a clean slate, or was the intention always to pick up where he'd been left?
Lee Allred: Forager the Bug pretty much was a blank slate. He appeared in two Kirby issues of New Gods and then died in Cosmic Odyssey. So there wasn't really any reason not to include what had gone on before. Moreover, since many readers will be unfamiliar with the character I felt a quick one-page synopsis of the lives and times of Forager was called for. Gerard Way's Doom Patrol did much the same in re-introducing the Cliff Steele and Larry Trainor characters; I followed his lead.
You had an opportunity to update Forager's look for this series, but—I think wisely—chose to keep it. What makes the Bug's costume so timeless to you?
Michael Allred: It's strangely iconic. Strange in that there are so few pages of him. You'd think such a relatively obscure charter would be an easy target for a full on re-design. But if it ain't broke … I love the character so much and the funky Kirby cool weird vibe. Those wonky black and red zig-zaggy pants. I made only one significant update. I magnetized his shield so he wouldn't have to struggle with that old strap.
Between this and your Silver Surfer run, you clearly have an affinity for Kirby's creations. What is it about the King's work that resonates so strongly with you as a creator? And how does is this series different than your previous runs on his characters?
Michael: I think I'm more surprised that absolutely everyone doesn't share that affinity. He pretty much wrote the language of comics. It's startling when time and again you are faced with how prevalent Jack Kirby was in this art form. He pioneered or dominated genre after genre his entire career: Super heroes, of course, but also War comics, Romance, Westerns, Crime, Sci Fi, and Monsters. I have several major influences, and am constantly inspired by other creators old and new, but Jack Kirby consistently energizes and re-energizes me. He even inspires me in the decent and dignified way he lived his life.
Jack Kirby's DC creations have a weirder, trippier vibe than what he was doing at Marvel. I love tapping into that.
We get introduced to the first of many promised guest-stars in this issue: Sandman. You've talked a bit previously about your first time reading about Bug, but what was your first experience with this character?
Lee: Much of my formative years took place in a remote rural town. So remote, in fact, that we were on the tail end of the magazine distribution system. Our drug store spinner racks often didn't get every issue of the big titles like Justice League or the Avengers. Instead, we got all the poorly selling comics the jobbers couldn't foist off on the big customers. Titles like Starlin's Warlock series, Claremont and Cockrum's X-Men back when it was an unknown bi-monthly, and of course Kirby's experimental titles. Titles that today are considered iconic. Sandman was one of those off-beat books destined for future greatness that showed up every month in our little town.
Michael: Actually, I never really got around to Kirby's 70's Sandman. Not until DC published those beautiful Fourth World Omnibi. After drinking them in, I kind of slapped my head feeling ignorant for not seeking them out in full earlier. I might have this rep for being such a know-it-all Kirby fan, but I've always tended to just cling to my favorites and stupidly ignored so much of the fringe. Thanks to Lee, who almost always introduced me to my favorite childhood comics, this project has opened up a whole new corner of the Universe for me.
Laura, we've already heard a lot about the Allred brother's lifelong love of Forager, but do you have any special connection with the Fourth World characters, or Bug in particular?
Laura Allred: Hah! No. He's mostly completely new to me. I did color him in Michael's issue of DC Solo. But that was a long time ago, and only a couple pages. I love comics, but almost everything I've fallen in love with has been introduced to me by Mike. And now Bug the Forager is my brand new favorite thing! My goal is to one day introduce him to a new favorite comic, but he can run to the comic shop faster than me.
When I think Jack Kirby, one of the first things that come to mind are the wild colors. You obviously have a lot of experience coloring Michael's work, but does your thought process change at all when working with Kirby characters?
Laura: Not so much. I want what we do to have a timeless classic feel to it. I often used to see what we do referred to as retro or old-fashioned, but as we've progressed, as every artist should try to do, I think our consistent effort to feel out each story on a gut instinctive basis, tied to the "timeless classic" initiative gives everything a fashion forward feel.
Having said that, I know many people may regard Kirby as old-fashioned. But I see him as one of the best examples of "timeless classic". And so that's my approach.
We know just from the cover that there are a lot of crazily-costumed characters coming up. Which of the many guest stars in this book has been the most fun to color?
Laura: Oooh. That's a tough one. You know, I'd have to say our completely new creation, Kuzuko the Ghost Girl.
Being a part of the Young Animal line, did you do anything differently than you would have outside it?
Lee: I am downright ecstatic about working on Bug! through the auspices of the DC Young Animal imprint. The unique status as one-foot in/one-foot out of the canon DCU that Gerard Way has built has allowed a wide-open approach to the character and his guests. If I had to draw a Venn diagram between what I'd want to do with Forager no-questions-asked and what Gerard's Young Animal line is letting me do, I'd have a single circle of perfect unity.
I couldn't ask for a better project. Mike's kicking it with the art. Laura's amping up her colors. Nate Piekos of Blambot is lettering his arm off. We only hope the readers have at least half as much fun reading Bug! as we're having making it.
Michael, you're also doing covers and a one-off issue of Doom Patrol, what appeals to you about the Young Animal imprint that makes you want to get more involved in it?
Michael: Sorry for using this word again. But it's the vibe. Gerard Way has created this simultaneously safe and dangerously thrilling space to stretch out and play. It sparks up the creativity in a wonderful electric way.
The first issue is whacky and fun, but it also dives into some pretty complicated thematic territory, exploring the nature of rebellion. Can you talk about how that idea resonates with this particular character and with this particular moment in history?
Lee: Bug is a teen character. Kirby established him as such. Simply by being a teen with inherent struggle to find and establish one's own identity as one grows out of childhood into adulthood, means that the issue of rebellion at some level is already baked into the cake. Add to that Forager's origins—of being a New God raised in a hive of Bugs, of being less-than-fully accepted by the New Gods for being raised by the Bugs—and you add another flashpoint. Add to that that in trying to win over his fellow New Gods, Bug fought and died in one of their never-ending wars. (Don't worry folks; he gets better on page two of Bug! #1.)
Add it all together and you have the issue of rebellion front and center. But on the other hand you also have Forager's upbeat personality and propensity for doing the right thing. So you have these two forces in conflict with each other. It's a theme that I think is universal, resonating not just in this current moment in history but in all eras.
Perhaps no better philosophical discussion of the nature of rebellion and of being a rebel can be found than the writings of Camus, so I've brought him into the Bug! mix, both through literal quotes and through internalizing Camus' themes into the structure of the story arc. And thanks to the mnemonic magic of Mike's art, the entire comic book reading public will learn from Bug! #1 how to properly pronounce "Camus."
Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 is in stores May 10 from DC Comics. All art by Michael and Laura Allred