ALLRED'S PASSION: MIKE ALLRED ON THE GOLDEN PLATES
by Chris Arrant
Mike Allred has done many things in life. So much, in fact, that some might call him a “Renaissance man”. A quick look as his resume reveals work as an artist, writer, film-maker, actor, musician, producer and publisher. With successful runs on Marvel’s X-Statix and X-Force, as well as his own titles Madman and The Atomics, Allred has established himself a place in comics with his timeless style and vibrant, kinetic energy. This fall it looks like he’s adding another occupation to his repertoire: missionary.
Well, maybe that’s over-stepping, but not by much. The next project on the horizon for cartoonist Mike Allred is The Golden Plates: The Shape of All Things. It is an adaptation of The Book of Mormon, and is scheduled to come out in October from his own AAA Pop Comics. Before any misconceptions are formulated about the material, it’s probably best to have the creator himself explain why he’s working on such an epic project.
“I've contemplated it off and on since my career took off,” Allred explained. “In fact, I drew one of the Three Nephites [from the Book of Mormon] in Madman Adventures #3 back in 1994. Those in the know got a kick out of it, even though I've since felt it probably wasn't an appropriate thing to have done.
“I hesitate to explain exactly what happened to commit me to actually doing this; something profound and unspeakable. I know perceptions and misperceptions are already buzzing like crazy based on one simple announcement. And I'm not sure I want to add to any misperceptions. Too many people already think I'm crazy. Simply put-- I have to do this. The images are in my head; almost as if I saw all these monumental events happen right in front of me. I've never been more alive with drawing anything in my life."
According to the website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Book of Mormon is a companion book to the Old and New Testaments found in the Christian Bible. It has been translated in 66 languages, and printed copies have totaled nearly 116 million.
“It's a 1000 year record of people who journeyed from Jerusalem 600 years B.C. to Central America and the amazing events generation to generation kept and written on thin plates of metal counting down to the appearance of the resurrected Christ - in the New Testament, Christ told his apostles of ‘other sheep not of this fold’ who he would visit - and ultimately an entire people's destruction 400 AD--But not before the last keeper of the Golden Plates buried them under a rock in a mountainside.”
According to records, Joseph Smith discovered these scriptures in 1823 and published his English translation in 1830. Since then, this publication has prompted the forming of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which studies the Book of Mormon hand-in-hand with the Bible.
But don’t let the religious and historical aspects of this book turn you away. This works as a stand-alone tale that is rich with action, suspense and drama. When Allred originally announced this on his message board, he described it succinctly.
“Think ‘It’s A Wonderful Life meets Conan the Barbarian’!” Allred exclaimed. “There's no other book that is so rich with adventure, action, romance, courage, beauty, and spiritual enlightenment; at least, none that I'm aware of. At the very least it's a phenomenal story rich with visual power. So, if I pull it off. It'll be the most significant thing I'll ever be a part of.”
But some might worry about adapting a religious document such as this, which is bound to have its detractors. Prior to the release of the film The Passion of the Christ, there were many public outcries against the film makers for even attempting to re-tell such a revered story. And how will the fans and the comic industry-at-large respond to this?
“Good question. I can't worry about that, I guess,” Allred said. “Jack Kirby's work was full of religious context from Thor to Galactus to The New Gods. We all can relate to Heroism as comic book fans. All I ask is for open minds to experience what I'm doing for themselves. Enjoy it as a super cool graphic novel. If it rings true then go to the source and go from there. We all come to our own spiritual truths. I'm simply sharing mine.”
Conversely, this is an ideal resource for those in the Mormon community as another means of relating their scriptures. With churches all across the United States and the world, Allred’s work on The Golden Plates seems to have un-paralleled uses for Mormons in their work, especially with, but not limited to children. Mormons are called by their faith to spend two years doing mission work, spreading their faith (the LDS is one of, if not the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world), and could easily see Allred’s work as a tool in that regard.
“Absolutely. Use it as a tool to make The Book Of Mormon itself more accessible," says Allred. “My heart's in the right place. I love this book like no other and have every intention of doing it justice. I hope [the Mormon community] embraces it.”
“But this won't be a dry Classics Illustrated adaptation or I wouldn't do it,” Allred forewarned. “And let's be clear, there are bloody, bloody events depicted here. That's my biggest struggle at this point. Where is the line between authenticity and good taste? It may not be right to primer young kids with what I'm doing. I have well respected sounding boards with which I'm leaning on to make this everything it can and should be in addition to all my own decade's worth of research.”
Mike Allred has been working full-time in the comic book industry for 14 years and in that time he has worked with Slave Labor, Dark Horse, Image, Oni Press, DC Comics and most recently, Marvel. He has spent the past several years as artist on the off-beat X-title, X-Statix, written by Peter Milligan. It was recently announced, however, at a convention appearance in Barcelona, Spain, by Mike and Peter, that the X-Statix was ending at issue #26. Mike Allred and Peter Milligan were the creators of the entire X-Statix run after, controversially, taking down the comics code on the title X-Force where their run began. With the many collaborators that Allred has worked with over the years, he was quite fond of his work with Milligan.
"I'm really proud of our collaboration. On my part I'm still not sure if I portrayed the violence correctly. I feel it needs to be felt," Allred explained. “I don't want to exploit violence but it's all about context. That's a tough balance. Over all I think we made our point and said what we wanted to say. I might adjust some of the tone in retrospect--polish here and there. The Princess Diana thing stung real badly. No one will ever know what that was going to be. I've said it before and I'll say it again--our intentions were respectful, fun and affectionate. But it became something else and ultimately was the beginning of the end. That was real tough for me.”
And during Mike Allred’s run on X-Statix, he had several of his friends help not just in the art department, but in inspiration and motivation.
“I have to thank Philip [Bond], Shane [Glines], [J.] Bone, and Nick [Craine] for backing me up with their nifty inking. I might've popped without their back-up. And Darwyn Cooke who has a way of making me feel like I'm a way better artist than I really am. I might as well thank Joey [Quesada], Axel [Alonso], and, of course, Peter [Milligan] while I'm at it. Love everyone on the team, John, Jenny--everyone. What a great ride. What an opportunity! As a fan of Marvel Comics it was such a huge kick to create our own characters that ultimately went head to head with Marvel icons like Iron Man and Captain America. I'd love to work with all those folks again; real and imaginary.”
During Allred’s stint on the X-Statix and X-Force, there were many memorable moments with the characters Milligan and Allred created. Several stand out in the minds of its fans, and Allred has several of his own. “Not the Princess Di stuff. Heh Heh, “ Allred joked. “I dug how it all kicked off: the intro of Guy Smith and his budding romance with Edie, then loving again with Venus. Tike's attitude was always right on. What a great character. There's so much. I loved the quiet moments. I truly loved the fill-in issues where we hand-picked the artists. I think Paul Pope's issue is vastly under-rated; so much classic work from everyone.”
And with the critical success of the X-Statix, the creative team of Milligan and Allred were fueled even more in their collaboration. With the end of X-Statix drawing near, there has already been speculation not only ‘if’ they’re going to work together, but ‘when’. “There’s nothing planned… yet, " Allred said. "But it's what we kept talking about when we were in Barcelona last week. It'll happen.”
And comics aren’t the only thing that Mike Allred is working on. He’s also made his own movie, Astroque, and has worked on an adaptation of an early Madman story arc, G-Men from Hell (released in 2000). Currently in pre-production is the movie adaptation of Mike Allred’s Madman, to be directed by Robert Rodriguez, who is currently working on an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City. But Robert Rodriguez’s involvement with the Madman movie pre-dates his interest in Sin City, but don’t think that means it won’t get made.
“This is always delicate since there are potentially so many naked toes that can be stepped on. More often than not it's best to keep quiet on these things in order to let them proceed correctly,” Allred explained. “Having said that, Robert has made a multi-picture deal with Miramax/ Dimension and Madman is a part of that. In fact, Robert convinced them that the best way to make a comic book movie is to have the creators co-direct the films. Frank [Miller] is way ahead of me on every level and it should surprise no one that my little comic book project would take a back seat to his. In addition, Frank wrote his screenplay years and years ago but turned back to comics when the situation didn't sit right and turned his back on Hollywood. I actually hooked Robert up with Frank and Bob Schreck who helped convince Frank that Robert is a great guy and could be trusted to make a Sin City film the way Frank would want with him co-directing. I'd do anything for Robert and his wife Elizabeth. They've done more for us than I could ever say.”
“So, at this time George Huang, a long time friend of Robert's and writer-director of the indy hit Swimming With Sharks is writing the Madman treatment based on the outline Robert and I put together. So, when that's approved we kick into the screenplay and if approved shoot the movie. We already have our Frank "Madman" Einstein; He’s star of 2003’s biggest money maker. I'm pretty sure it was the biggest box office flick (that should get a few tongues wagging). So, it either happens or it doesn't. It seems to me this is just gonna be one of those projects that just take a long time to hit the big screen. Keep in mind I was first approached about making a low-budget Madman movie right out of the gate in 1992. It should be obvious why I stopped holding my breath. But when I'm called on--just try to hold me back!”
On the comics front of Madman, Allred plans to release a new series to coincide with the release of the movie. While Allred was hesitant to reveal the specifics on this new series, he did confirm that not only would it have the continuing adventures of Madman, but also the cast of The Atomics, including Flem, Astroman, Metal Man, It Girl, Mr. Gum, Cool Cat, The Slug, Spaceman, Black Crystal, Lava Lass and others.
In addition to the The Golden Plates, the Madman movie and comic series, Allred has yet another book up his sleeve. For Allred fans, they seem to be getting what they want... in spades.
“Solo is a DC series where each issue of 45 pages of story and art are done by a single artist.” Allred explains.” My Solo issue will consist of Batman A-Go-Go, One hour with Hourman, A New Gods short - with Orion, Lightray and Mister Miracle, Doom Patrol vs. Teen Titans and a climactic blow out with virtually every DC character I've ever wanted to draw. And I'm collaborating on a couple of the stories with my Big Brother Lee ‘award-winning sci-fi author’ Allred who hooked me up to comics in the first place. It's Groovin'!”
Another project that Allred’s name has been attached to in various places is a mini-series for DC’s Metal Men with Evan Dorkin. Allred was quick to gush about the project, and how something like this came about. “My longtime pal, Bob Schreck, called me up and asked if I'd like to do a six-issue Metal Men series with Evan Dorkin. Soz I said, ‘Are ya nuts?’ I said, ‘of course I would,’ I said. That's what I said. Anyhoo, I'd since drawn one issue while working on all of the above. Too slow I'm afraid. And so it's currently off the schedule. I hope to get back to it, but ultimately it's a good thing. Now all I have to focus on is finishing Solo and making The Golden Plates everything it should be. Until then everything else will just have to take a back seat.”
For Allred, he’s in the midst of the biggest wave of inspiration he’s had since Red Rocket 7, an earlier project that incorporated comics, film and music. They say you have to strike when the iron is hot, and in Mike’s case, it almost seems overwhelming.
“My blood is pumping faster. My hands are feeling tingly,” Allred said. “I have to be pulled off the drawing table. I just love so much what I'm doing right now. Part of it has to do with working with one of the comic book biz's best writers for so long and being let loose on my own path again--making all creative decisions again after learning so very much from working with Axel [Alonso] and Peter [Milligan]. Also, I'm now starting with Mark Chiarello on Solo, and Darwyn Cooke will tell you what a blessing that is; clicking with my brother, Lee, who sat with me on the lawn drawing our own comics when we were kiddies and now doing it with him for real.”