And now a few words about data storage and cleaning up and a last minute check and what is that and huh and I don’t remember this at all or what this was. It reads kind of like a comics press interview, but it kinda reads like a magazine article, too. Anyway, I googled the first couple lines and it didn’t come up so whatever this was it never appeared, so…
…in the interests of a look behind the curtain. Pretty cool examination of what you start with and what gets whittled away by inventiveness and circumstance. Thanks to whoever it was who did the original interview; I can tell I really enjoyed answering these questions for you.
The Living Planet, Part 1
A lot of people have been talking about Larry Young’s recent industry fable Planet of the Capes, and a lot of them have spoken more eloquently than I ever could. That’s pretty much the reason I’ve avoided talking about the book myself,and up till now there’s hardly been anything I could contribute to the general discussion.
Until the original outline of the story itself landed in my lap. (Mike Sterling’s little bird dropped it there, specifically.) Given this outline and the benefit of hindsight granted by so many other reviews scattered all across the critical spectrum, I’ve got a little chance to do something different and work over the brain of Planet’s mastermind.
I’ll be taking this in four parts: First, the original character descriptions. The next three parts will be the three seperate acts in spec form and how similar (and different) they are from the finished product.
THE CHARACTERS BEFORE – FROM THE NOTES OF LARRY YOUNG
Four superheroes encounter our world.
No one learns anything. Everybody dies.
The four heroes are thus:
THE GRAND: Our Superman analogue. He’s the one who the reader will initially think is the most stable, because of the borrowed-interest we’ll get from Superman, but he’s the one who falls the farthest when the foundation of who-he-is and what-he-stands-for is knocked away. Without the checks and balances of epic fistfights and evil supervillains to vanquish, The Grand becomes as corrupted as any evil he’s ever faced before.
JUSTICE HALL: Evoking both the “Hall of Justice” and the phrase “…and Justice for all,” this guy is our super-patriot. Picture if Nick Fury was Captain America, but had the spooky inner drive of Batman. We’re going for the driven sort that Batman is, by a guy with a nationalistic bent. This is the guy who won’t go through much of an arc, because he’s the best there is at what he does. He’s the symbol of his country, a proud black raven, and nothing shakes him from his course. While a superbly trained athlete, he’s just a man; yet even The Grand doesn’t fuck with him.
SCHAFF: Once the costumed adventurer The Red Fez, Schaff battled alongside the super-team The Feds on one of their most harrowing adventures. Staving off an alien invasion, The Red Fez foiled a last-ditch effort by the aliens to escape back to their home planet. The Fez leapt into the matter-transference beam activated by the aliens as a means to escape… but as his grasp tightened around the fleeing alien commander, the Red Fez’ momentum took them into and then out of the beam. Scrambling alien and superhuman DNA yielded a mindless rampaging monster, our Hulk analogue, who nonetheless is able to be mostly controlled by…
KASTRA: …the sexy teen daughter of the alien commander. She stayed behind to care for what’s left of her father, a brilliant military commander outmaneuvered by a lucky punch. We’re looking for an Adam Hughes-kinda thing with this character, all curves and sass. If her alien garb suggests an ancient Greek influence, that’s probably because she’ll be our Wonder Woman analogue.
THE CHARACTERS AFTER — STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
Q: Surely you’ve had some pretty strong feelings about The State of the Industry for a long time. Lots of frustration, lots of anger, lots of amusement. What finally pushed you over the edge and got you to write PLANET?
Larry: Naw, it’s not like that at all. Frustration and anger? No more than about anything else. Amusement? Sure, but I get my amusement from all over. I think at first it was just trying to justify my good pal Joe Casey’s assertion that I could write a decent superhero story with the fact that I’m forty years old and honestly don’t get much out of the superhero stories, anymore. But I figured if I dressed up an allegory in capes and tights, and used it to comment on certain aspects of the obviously-flawed comic book industry, I could have some laughs.
Q: 2) Marvel gets a lot of flack for its incoherent policies and willful ignorance of its fans, but DC’s a sinner too: beyond DC’s imprints, their regular titles are dangerously static. What puts DC in the ostensible “hero” role among the Big Two in PLANET, insofar as this story has a “hero”?
Larry: Amongst Marvel and DC, I think DC is closest to my own mindset. Slow and steady wins the race, you know? I think both companies are hamstrung by needing to service their own corporate masters, but what’re ya gonna do? It’s the nature of the beast.
I wanna emphasize that none of these analogues are direct-line stand-ins for companies or characters or what-have-you. You can figure out what I think about each, honestly, by just a careful reading of the dialogue.
Q: 3) The suggestion from the Grand’s character description is that he needs some checks-and-balances to keep him stable and honest, or else he’ll fall and fall hard. On the other hand, PLANET seems to suggest that the deadlock between DC and Marvel can only end badly for both. What’s your ideal situation for the Big Two keeping each other in line without choking the industry?
Larry: I don’t know enough about what those guys have planned to really comment very sharply on that. If anything, I hope observers of the scene see PLANET as a cautionary tale… that while everyone’s working together, things go smoothly, but once one player takes his eye off the ball, it’s game over. The only thing to watch is how and when it ends. Some retailer friends of mine think that that’s already happened, and the Marvel-caused Heroes World distribution panic has killed the Direct Market and no one’s realized it yet.
Q: 4) All of the “heroes” in PLANET seem to have a “great power/potential used irresponsibly” motif going on, except Kastra, the representation for indie publishers. Have you you gotten some flack for that, considering you yourself run an independent publishing label?
Larry: Not any more than usual! Schaff doesn’t really use his power irresponsibly, does he? He just can’t coordinate his dual nature. Justice Hall is pretty responsible, too, I think. His only flaw is not reacting fast enough to The Grand’s mercurial change… but like I said, none of these things are one-to-one correlations to anything, really. Sure, Kastra is the daughter of Schaff, and you could make the argument that that through the sacrifices of early self-publishers like Dave Sim and Jack Katz and the Pinis, it’d have been harder for indy companies like First, Eclipse, Pacific, Comico, and all to gain a foothold. So one is related to another. If people throw our company in with that crowd, well, I’m flattered.
ACT I BEFORE – FROM THE NOTES OF LARRY YOUNG
Introduce JUSTICE HALL, swinging in towards a scene of urban devastation. As he swings towards the carnage on his Batrope, he does a little pondering about who he is and why he does what he does. On page five, he’s stopped by a kid who waves him down from on top of the building he’s perched on. Sensing that there’s a crime in progress that he’s being alerted to, Hall swoops down.
“What is it? Have you been mugged? Where are your parents? This isn’t a cat in a tree thing, is it? I don’t do cats-in-trees.”
No, it’s just a fanboy, who wants his autograph. He pulls out a spiral-ring notebook from his knapsack and wants Hall’s autograph. He’s about fifteen. Old enough to be out by himself at ten o’clock at night, but young enough to not realize being out by yourself at that time is kinda silly.
Hall tells him, “Go home. You’re asking for trouble.”
This kid will be our audience stand-in. If The Grand represents DC, then Justice Hall represents Marvel. Two sides of an equation trying to do the same thing by competing means. Schaff, in his rampaging yet mindless power, represents self-publishers… wielding the power of the comic book form but only haphazardly and without conscious direction. It’s an accident if something bad happens and it’s an accident if something good happens. Kastra, the alien girl, represents the independent publishers, who may have the pluck and the wherewithal to hang with the big guys but have to survive on being quicker and more clever because the punches they throw don’t bring down the house. Finesse beats power any day, anyway…
So our fifteen year old kid is our audience substitute. He’ll be along for the ride… not exactly a B-story, but a throughline to the end of the act… Justice Hall initally tells him to piss off, but then relents, as there really is a human face under the mask. He’s taken with the boy’s naivete and relents. Signs a page in the kid’s makeshift scrapbook (maybe a newspaper clipping about one of Justice Hall’s exploits) and tells him to get off the streets. It’s a good country… a damn fine country… but on a school night it’s better to be home with the lights off.
Kastra arrives on the scene with her people’s spaceship, which acts as a group quinjet a nd shuttles the four around the world, and, apparently, deep space, as well. She lands the honkin’ thing outside of the carnage Schaff is creating and gets out with a flourish.
This kid then meets Kastra, who’s quite flattered by the attention, and flirts with the kid mercilessly. He’s got an 8 x 10 of her in his book, protected by a plastic sleeve. The intimation here is the kid spends some time alone with his scrapbook in general and Kastra’s photo in particular.
After the out-of-control Schaff is made docile once more, and the two-year old he’s been swinging around (representing the hope for the comic book fans of the future, natch), the kid even gets Schaff’s autograph: “GEED!”
Just then, The Grand flies down, having missed all the brouhaha, and informs them that they’ve got to stop a crashing alien ship. There is some back and forth with the kid, as he tries to get The Grand’s autograph. Even Justice Hall is a little put off when our Superman-analogue blows the kid off. Kastra, Hall, even the nearly-mindless Schaff all gave the kid the time of day… the intimation here is that The Grand is doing good works for a deifferent reason than the others. There is no altruism in him, apparently… if there is, it’s a selfish altruism… not good for goodness’ sake, but good because of desired effect is reached. What is the desired effect or outcome for The Grand? We do not yet know… all we know is what the kid knows, that the powerful Superman analogue is blowing him off and is not giving him his autograph. It’s a small, simple thing, but telling to the audience that this guy isn’t Superman. He’s not crass, per se, he’s just not all things to all people.
As far as the kid is concerned, though, the guy he idolizes the most might just as well have punched him in the stomach.
This act, remember, all takes place at night, with the inside front cover of the book being a solid black, and the main action of the first act all taking place in a dark, moody, atmospheric Gotham-City-of-sorts.
This is taken through to the second act, which takes place in the spaceship, and is all sort of neutrally lit. A transition between the black of the first act and the bright, washed-out day in the desert of the third act, which finishes with the all-white inside back cover. Black to white, ink to no ink, something, to nothing. Man, that’s a bleak view of the comic book industry, isn’t it?
“We’ve got things to do,” The Grand says, blowing the kid off brusquely.
No autograph for him, and no joy for your regular comics fan as the stand-in for Marvel Comics blithely ignores the stand-in for the comic book reaading audience and flies off, literally abandoning his audience. The four of them head off into deep space…
ACT I AFTER – STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
Q: Okay, first off, I’d just like to say… Brandon McKinney’s art was pretty much pitch-perfect for the project. He made the Grand look like a world-class asshole from Panel One, and that’s not easy. How’d you two hook up for this project?
Larry: Brandon and I have known each other for a while, and I set him up with Warren Ellis for SWITCHBLADE HONEY. I feared that Warren would be swamped with work and I didn’t want Brandon to be waiting for script, so I pitched him the idea to work on PLANET while we waited for Warren. But W was right there with his script and so PLANET waited while B finished up that.
Q: How long ago was that?
Larry: Spring of 2001, I think.
Q: So you’ve been sitting on this script for a while. How many little tweaks and alterations did it undergo between the original outline and the finished product? Aside from drastic reduction in length.
Larry: Two major rebuilds. The first proposal would have been at least 288 pages long, and that didn’t fit my “compression” idea… I don’t really revisit and rewrite that much. Just tweak dialogue to fit space issues at the lettering stage. By the time I sit down to write, I’ve pretty much figured out the tale I want to tell.
Q: You didn’t actually hack out 288 pages, did you?
Larry: No, that wouldn’t be efficient.
Q: Make for a hell of a director’s cut, though. Okay, I know you’ve stressed that none of the characters are one-to-one stand-ins for different aspects of the industry, but I have to wonder about the swap of Justice Hall and the Grand, and whom they represent. After the color sequence is done, their personalities seem to have solidified into pretty specific caricatures. So come on… level. Which is it for them, DC or Marvel?
Larry: Well, I think it’s clear that they represent the Big Two, yeah?
Q: It’s pretty clear, yeah.
Larry: So does it matter which is which? I swapped ’em around because that’s what happens with Marvel and DC. Two horses, nose-to-nose.
Q: But if it’s a cautionary tale, a warning of potential things to come, I’m curious on your exact take on what role each of the Big Two will take in it… if we don’t change course.
Larry: Well, it’s an allegory. There is no exact take.
Q: That’s why I’m asking for yours.
Larry: I don’t want to say what I think, because then that ruins the fun for the reader. It’s like asking Dickens who he’s riffing on in BLEAK HOUSE, man.
Q: Fair enough. Schaff’s shown with tremendous power, wielded uncontrollably, sometimes doing as much harm as good. Do you think self-publishers still have that much influence in the field?
Larry: Yeah, I think self-publishers have the potential to wield that much power. But an interesting take is that Schaff represents the distribution aspect of the industry, as well.
Q: Specifically Diamond, or distribution overall?
Larry: Distribution, overall. Diamond, Cold Cut, FMI, the book trade… a many-limbed juggernaut. See? Allegory is fun, if you get into it.
Q: The interesting thing is, I went into reading PLANET cold. I didn’t read your Cliff’s Notes on it until afterwards, so I could take it in fresh. To me, Schaff came off as fanboys as much as the kid with the autograph book did. So much power to change things, with almost zero guidance on “doing the right thing.”
Larry: “Just wanting you to care,” “remembering when good people did good things”? Yeah, I can see that.
Q: Kastra giving the young autograph hound a kiss on the cheek and making his day… tell me that that is not a Larry Young moment in a nutshell. Convince me.
Larry: What’s a “Larry Young moment”?
Q: Self-insertion. Which sounds kinda sexy.
Larry: The entire book is my take on things, so every main character says or does something I see that should be done or said, in comics. I think Justice Hall is probably closest to my personal worldview.
Q: Oh, I just meant a bit of self-insertion in that that’s what you try to do with the fan base. Flirt, talk, get them intimately involved. So to speak.
Larry: I think every company has someone whose job that is. It’s the nature of PR and marketing. But that’s flattering that you think I’m the personification of good marketing.
Q: Well, some would say that DC and specifically Marvel do a pretty horrible job of relating to the fan base. Of course, that’s precisely what the Grand does. So… you and Justice Hall? Elaborate.
Larry: He has a firm idea of what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable, doesn’t take any shit, is no-nonsense, is prepared for all the angles… has a strategy when things go wrong, and still has time to give a kid personal attention even while he’s saying he doesn’t have time. The “I don’t do cats in trees” page is the one I bought from Brandon.
Q: And maybe the one guy who can stand up to the Grand?
Larry: Like I said these aren’t one-to-one correlations. I have aspects of The Grand in my view of comics, too. People are complex cats, man.
Q: And decades of company history even more so. I’m with you. An interesting change from outline to TPB you have is the fanboy’s reaction to the Grand blowing him off. In the TPB, the kid feels down, but Kastra cheers him right up again. In the original outline, you detail it as the kid feeling as if he “might as well have been punched in the stomach.” What prompted the change?
Larry: A maturation of my view of the ephemeral nature of an audience.
Q: Since 2001 and the writing of the final script? What changed that?
Larry: I just realized that as our business grew, we’d have diehards and casual readers and new converts. I saw how Marvel fans, for example, keep reading Spidey no matter what Marvel does… but it’s not the same audience; there’s a turnover. So Marvel and DC, and us, even, do what’s best for our companies, and not necessarily what’s best for an individual fan.
Q: So you don’t see the audience for superheroes as largely static, like a lot of critics do.
Larry: If I did, I wouldn’t have published PLANET OF THE CAPES and HENCH and the three FOOT SOLDIERS volumes. The middle chapter of ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE: SPACE 1959 is a rumination on the superhero.
Q: Well there’s a pretty big sentiment rolling around that the only people buying Spider-Man, et al, these days are 35-year-old fanboys who’ve been buying the title all their lives. You think superheroes still have legs, then?
Larry: I wouldn’t dismiss a good story just because of its format or subject matter. Super heroes, westerns, romance books, hot rod stories… if it’s a good tale, well told, then I think there’s an audience.
ACT II BEFORE – FROM THE NOTES OF LARRY YOUNG
Deep space, wherein we find that the spaceship in trouble is one of a fleet of Kastra’s people the Mykryl, who routinely patrol the space near Earth as a favor to their former captain and his daughter… keeping things in this part of the galaxy safe as a reward for the service of a former warrior and what’s left of his family…
The Grand is concerned about the ship… seems it’s lost computer control… The ships innards are organic; the circuitry and relays are made of synapses and dendrites. Pull open an access panel and you’re more likely to find a few bags of blood and meat connected to an amorphous organ of some kind than you would the expected circuit breakers and fuses.
The ships controls are not responding, or, if they are, they are responding in unpredictable ways. It turns out that the organic material that makes up the innards and circuitry of the ship are the remains of accident victims and folks who have willed their bodies to science for some reason or another. The alien ship has gone through one of those wacky areas of space where weird shit happens. The phasing technology that the ship uses to shift between dimensions of time and space for travel (more on this later, as you shall see) has reanimated the meat on board and has alerted it to its former lives.
Oddly, the ship’s innards are threaded with Lassie, Timmy, a grandmother, and a serial killer. You get what I’m saying, right? A family pet has been hit by a car? It’s ability to play fetch is well used by its simple brain cells which search and locate data in the ship’s computer. Timmy drowned in the well? His healthy pink liver cells can filter toxins from engineering byproducts. Kindly grandmother gives up the ghost, on to her reward? Her tendons can still do useful work opening and closing doors on command. Serial killer executed by society as the ultimate punishment? Body willed to science by the government, a sick fuck now controls life support.
These four are now loose on the ship, floating sticks with two-dimensional representations of their former bodies electronically floating in air.
The Mykryl need Kastra and her pals to stop them and take control of the ship back before they drop into Earth’s atmosphere and destroy Fremont.
Which, of course, they do, at the last second, using the phasing technology of the ships engines on a personal scale by bamfing the serial killer out into space and Timmy and Lassie and Grandma sacrificing themselves while exerting a last ditch effort to save the ship.
Of course, the plan can only work because they are working in concert with Justice Hall, who is revealed to be sporting a hand-held version of the phasing tech in his communication gauntlet, possibly against the day he may have to use it to stop Schaff permanently.
It’s revealed in a flashback that, in fact, Justice Hall was the one inadvertently responsible for causing Schaff to be created in the first place, when he, The Grand, The Red Fez, and The Repairman (who’s a woman, don’t cha know) were first on this Mykryl ship in the mid Eighties. When trying to stop A Bad Guy who briefly gained control of the ship, The Red Fez and the ship’s captain (Kastra’s father) ended up fused into one mindless monster of rampaging destruction.
This sets up Justice Hall’s fallibility and subsequent guilt, Kastra’s maternal feelings with the parent-child roles reversed, why the Mykryl would still be hanging around Earth (because of a sense of duty to their mostly-fallen Captain), and Justice Hall’s having the portable phasing tech in his souped-up communications gauntlet. Whew!
While the sacrifice of Timmy, Lassie, and Grandma are valiant and appreciated, the ship is now caught in the gravity well of Earth, and is going down. No way to stop it. Fremont is going to be vaporized, and probably most of the neighboring towns as well.
Only one thing to do: activate the phasing technology and hope the Mykryl can phase through the planet. Because Justice Hall, Kastra, The Grand, and Schaff are in the quinjet, trying to tow the crippled ship out of Earth’s gravity, they’re not going to be saved, even if the risky maneuver saves the Mykryl.
Justice Hall activate his personal phasing tech on the off chance the field of the Mykryl ship pulls them along and out of danger… but all that succeeds in doing is phasing them through to OUR EARTH.
ACT II AFTER – STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
Q: Act II is the first place we see extreme differences between the original outline and the finished product. This act barely resembles the original outline form. What finally made you cut the rather brilliantly surreal ship personality bit?
Larry: Act II was supposed to be an adventure of the team, so we can see how they interact. For the allegory, we don’t really need to know HOW they interact; it’s enough to know that they DO.
Q: And do they ever. That color sequence is memorable as hell and had to be satisfying to see in print. What gave genesis to that? In the original outline the flashback warrants one paragraph… and in the final product it dominates the whole Act.
Larry: Well, the structure of the book sees us romping through the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and the Modern Age… so it just seemed a natural to dummy the flexographic press look of the comics I enjoyed as a kid. Yeah, since the alien meatship stuff had to go, I figured I’d just replace it with the Red Fez/Dave Sim/Schaff/self-publisher flashback stuff.
Q: Is that what prompted you to make the flashback so dominant? Homage?
Larry: Naw, I just wanted to make the self-publisher stuff more central.
Q: “Alien meatship”… man, that is some seriously bizarre stuff right there.
Larry: It’s a crazy place up in my head.
Q: That it is. The self-publisher stand-in Schaff does play a pretty big role in here, as does his relationship to Justice Hall. In the outline you place sole responsibility for Schaff’s state on JH’s shoulders.
Q: It changes a little in the final product. We’ve got this moment of tenderness or kinship or whatever you want to call it… Between JH and Schaff. Here’s one of those questions you hate: Do you think there’s any love like that between the Big Two and self-publishers?
Larry: The folks at DC always take my call. Patty Jeres is one of the best marketing people in comics, and has a fine editorial eye of her own.
Q: So you think there’s still a good relationship there. I don’t doubt that, just wanted to hear your take.
Larry: Paul Levitz always has time for Mimi or me if we have a question, and I’ve always had very good conversations with Karen Berger and Mark Chiarello when I have the opportunity.
Q: Any chance they’ll be seeing this book?
Larry: Jim Lee has seen it, I know.
Q: Nice. Have you gotten any feedback from professionals?
Larry: Sure; all the folks I talk to regularly loved it.
Q: Which in a roundabout way brings me to my next question. One of the major complaints floating around the blogo-mart — before the allegorical nature became clear to a lot of the reviewers — is that the story moves in an almost herky-jerky manner from place to place. The actions of the characters are arbitrary, but that’s the fun of it; but a lot of folks had a tough time with the pace.
Larry: They didn’t grow up reading comics in the 60s.
Q: Crap, my eldest sibling wasn’t old enough to read comics in the 60’s. You’ve made your statement that the pacing in PLANET is a middle finger to decompression, is that right?
Larry: I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s a valid observation.
Q: It’s certainly a change from the 288-page epic you had originally planned.
Larry: Look at the first 50 issues of the FANTASTIC FOUR… Dr. Doom, the Mole Man, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, all sorts of stuff. The story in those issues would last 300 issues today. Stories evolve… making a point about decompressed storytelling was more fun.
Q: True. How long is it taking UFF to show us the origin of Dr. Doom?
Larry: What’s the UFF?
Q: ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR, sorry.
Larry: Oh, yeah… ummm… I don’t know?
Q: There’s a pretty heavy amount of grumbling because it’s taking 6 issues to say what the original first issue did by itself.
Larry: Yeah, honestly, I don’t know what to say about that. Some folks will bellyache about anything.
Q: Larry Young doesn’t buy superhero comics? Now there’s the shock story of the 21st century.
Larry: Naw, I get some stuff… I buy DEMO. I liked the ULTIMATES when it was coming out
Q: Don’t you print DEMO?
Larry: Yeah, that just means I buy more than one copy.
Q: Give me the Larry Young shopping list.
Larry: Today I just picked up the SPIRIT volume 7, Planetes vol 3, and Back Issue #4.
Q: Any monthly series you follow besides the ones you publish?
Larry: Naw, not that I can think of. I don’t read all that many comics, anymore. I’m about the trade paperbacks. Plus I read a lot of other things. Right now, I’m reading AMERICAN CARS, THE JOURNAL OF LEWIS AND CLARK, and the latest VICE and MACADDICT magazines. I have the last few Judge Dredd magazines, too.
Q: Uh oh. You wait for the trade? That makes you the anti-Christ in a lot of circles. A lot of people, I call them “whiners,” talk like waiting for the trade is going to kill the business for good. I take it that argument holds no weight with you, considering you yourself are a publisher but you wait for the trades anyway.
Larry: Whiners whine, man. That’s what they do.
Q: So it’s not a concern for you.
Larry: It’s not so black-and-white as all that. I read WALKING DEAD monthly… some stuff I just don’t care about. I’m a busy guy, so I can hardly keep a monthly story straight…
Q: Your boy Adlard had a great first issue on WALKING DEAD, by the way.
Larry: Charlie’s an incredible artist.
Q: The DEMO contest wraps up today, and you’ve heard the question floating around: Why no DEMO TPB? I know you’ve given an answer, but the one I saw was in a comments section, not in anything permanent.
Larry: Seriously, man, I answer this once a week. It’s all over the Internet, in every interview I’ve done in the last six months. Here’s what it says on Thought Balloons: “This is like asking a marathon runner on Mile Eleven when he’s going to run another marathon.”
Q: So basically back off till you’ve caught your wind. Last question’s just one me and Shane were tossing around. We’re kind of curious what you, Larry Young, comics visionary of the West Coast, see on the rise. The Next Big Thing, be it series, writing style, genre, writer, artist…
Larry: I NEVER answer this question. It’s like asking a magician to explain his sleight-of-hand.
Q: Heh. “Keep an eye on the shelves,” is that it?
Larry: I make my money by anticipating and then creating the Next Big Thing. Look at how many script collections are out now; look at the books that have copied the LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS format…
Q: And damn if that isn’t one pretty book, too.
Larry: “It’s tough being the one with all the brains.”
Q: Luckily “you’re the one who’s got the juice.”
Larry: Just a clever mammal at the twilight of the dinosaurs.
ACT III BEFORE – FROM THE NOTES OF LARRY YOUNG
The heroes are all briefly discombobulated and disoriented. Schaff is bent over the still and possibly lifeless form of Kastra, Justice Hall is hung suspended by his cape nearly ten feet off the ground in a tree branch… The Grand is face down in the dirt.
It is slowly revealed that this accident has brought them to OUR EARTH, where there are no superheroes. At first, they are the toast of the town. We’ll show a few pages of crime-stopping montages; The Grand stopping a bank robbery; Kastra talking someone off a bridge; Schaff frantically digging out some trapped contruction workers.
We’ll even show Justice Hall getting a cat out of a tree for a little girl. He might even look into “the camera” and give a little shrug and wink to the audience.
They are all revered here on our Earth, having inadvertently left The Planet of the Capes…
…but it soon all starts to go bad. The Grand starts showing some attitude. He sets up shop sunny Hollywood, which has the dual distinction of being a town all wrapped up in looks and power (which The Grand represents and exhibits, superficially), as well as being the, if you’ll forgive me, the POLAR opposite of the Arctic, and the secret headquarters of Superman and his Fortress of Solitude. The Grand has gone the other way, not separating himself from humanity to pause and reflect on his deeds and responsibilities, but to swim in the wretched excesses of sex and drugs and rock-and-roll… and he is their king.
When this situation finally becomes overt, Hall contacts Kastra and Schaff, who have secreted themselves outside of society and now are living in a cabin on the shore of a tranquil pond deep in the hills of central Vermont. They are coaxed out of “retirement” by Justice Hall, who convinces them that they need to go and have an intervention with The Grand. They make it to Hollywood where they are finally granted an audience with The King, “for old times’ sake,” where Hall and The Grand show they’re at opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum now.
The Grand is all about excess and might makes right and winner take all and is basically a superpowered version of Gordon Gecko from WALL STREET. Justice Hall is humanity’s last champion, and is being run ragged.
“I need your help, like I did back home. I can’t handle it all.”
“You don’t need me,” says The Grand. “You need us all.”
“Sure; yes, I need you all,” admits Hall, not knowing where this is going.
“Well, if you don’t have us all, you’ll have to give up this silly plan to save these weaklings from themselves.”
“The fact that we are more powerful, more resourceful, more intelligent, more savvy and more whatever means that we have to be more responsible, too. We all do.”
“So, you can’t do it without all of us?”
“No, I need you all.”
So then The Grand snaps Kastra’s neck, and looks at Justice Hall expectantly. As if to say, OK, well, you need us all to save these pathetic fools, so you can’t do it, because I’ve killed one of us. Need us all? Give it up.
Of course, Schaff loses his mind in an unparalleled rage in the history of rages. He knows in one half of his body that his daughter has been murdered right in front of him, and in the other half of his body, he knows that a former comrade and present fighting partner has murdered another friend. No matter how you look at that one, Schaff is pissed.
He lunges at The Grand and blows the both of them out of the side of The Grand’s Hollywood palace. Atop the Hollywood Hills, it no longer says “Hollywood” on top of the famous sign, but rather “Grandscape.” He’s been remaking the surroundings into a big lovefest for himself.
After a protracted battle, where Schaff just beats on The Grand with no effect, yelling his signature phrase, “Geed! Geed! GEED! GEED! geed.” Over and over as he pummels away at The Grand… he eventually tires enough so that The Grand systematically dismembers him. Pulling off first one arm, then another, then ANOTHER… squishing legs and twisting protruberances until there is just a mass of quivering jelly on the ground. It’s not possible that Schaff could still be alive under all that mess… but it still seems as though he’s still struggling…
This battle has taken then into Death Valley, and Justice Hall has followed them in the quinjet. Now, on the page, all of the color, all of the features around them are blown out and overexposed, as if a photograph had been misdeveloped.
It is here we have the big philosophical debate between the two sides of this issue. The Grand, representing wretched excess and absolute power that has been corrupted absolutely can’t possibly fear a guy dressed up as a raven. He’s a regular Joe… sure; he’s been trained to the gills, he’s the Federated States’ super-soldier… but he’s got nothing to with which to go up against a strange visitor from another planet.
And they both know it.
Of course, after their verbal battle degenerates, Hall takes a swing at him. Useless blow after unfeeling blow rains on the laughing, maniacally twisted face of The Grand. Go ahead, beat yourself silly, until I kill you as I killed poor Schaff. I let him beat his rage out against me until he couldn’t swing another punch. You do the same, old friend, It’s the least I can do for you, Beat me until you break every bone in your
Of course, The Grand doesn’t fear Justice Hall, although he should… as The Grand is is parrying every blow with “lovetaps” of his own, gradually whittling away at the strength of Justicve Hall.
And Hall knows it. He’s weakening… The Grand is just toying with him like a cat before finally killing the mouse.
“I’m going to play with you until you’re just not fun anymore,” The Grand says.
In one last defiant gesture, Hall activates his personal phasing tech with the bloody stumps of what’s left of his fingers. He stands up, shakily at first, then confidently, finally proudly erect as all of the patriots and ancestors and signers of the Declaration of the Independence all are summoned up in one last defiant act against the
symbolic spectre of all oppressors everywhere…
…as Hall puts his phased hand right through a monumentally startled chest of The Grand.
There’s one panel where the two of each other look into each other’s eyes: one of those suspended-in-time moments that you can only really get in comics. One panel of both of them in profile, with Justice Hall looking up at The Grand with a bit of self-satisfaction. It’s all over here, he seems to say. The Grand comes to that conclusion, too, and in impotent rage, backhands Justice Hall across the face, ripping the front of his face off.
Now, The Grand has a dead superhero affixed to his front, he’s slowly dying, as even a strange visitor from another planet can’t survive having a superhero’s arm occupy the same space as his own vital organs without having some adverse effect…
In fact, The Grand is dying… he going to die in seconds… we pull out, and away from these two forms in the desert… One a dead hero and the other dying… Justice Hall hangs limply from the front of The Grand… The Grand sags under the weight of his friend literally impalement of him… we pull back, and back, and back until there is
nothing but white… nothingness on the last page, and on the inside back cover.
ACT III AFTER – STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
Q: I’m pretty sad to see that this Hollywood sequence didn’t make it into the final product. Apparently you’ve got a thing or two to say about comics going to Hollywood?
Larry: Well, it was just an example of wretched excess. I’d worked in LA for a few months and it wasn’t my kinda town. I suppose if I’d spent in any time in Las Vegas, I would have set that bit there.
Q: But setting the Grand up in friggin’ HOLLYWOOD seems… Serendipitous, at the least.
Larry: Hollywood versions of comics are usually pretty good, to my eyes. I always like seeing the adaptations to film. . More of the what-I-would-do of that part of the story, I think. You know LIVE FROM THE MOON isn’t about Ishmael Hayes, rich guy? It’s about Larry Young, rich guy?
Q: Let’s make sure you never hit the lottery, then. All right. Oh yeah? Got a favorite?
Larry: I think it’s safe to say the 1978 SUPERMAN is the best translation.
Q: In the original outline you’ve got the Grand actively killing off both self-publishers and indie publishers. Final product they die trying to stem off the flood. That’s a considerably softer take on what exactly could be the demise of the Selfs and the Indies. Any reason you changed the tone of that?
Larry: That part of the plot was written at the height of Marvel’s Heroes World debacle.
Q: Give me some elaboration on the Heroes World thing. I’m not too familiar with it.
Larry: Marvel bought its own distributor and caused everyone to choose up sides. With Marvel trying to self-distribute, DC arranged with Diamond to be ‘exclusive’… All the other major publishers signed up with Diamond, leaving Diamond’s only other competitor, Capital City, with smaller-volume publishers and eventually going out of business. This is just my understanding as a guy who reads the Comics Journal of the time… and not as a comics historian. But when people talk about the “Death of the Direct Market,” that’s what they’re talking about.
Q: In the first interview you said there are friends of yours who think this has already killed the DM, and the DM’s just not aware of it yet.
Larry: Yeah, a lot of my retailer buddies point to that as the circling of the drain.
Q: Think the DM’s days are numbered yourself?
Larry: Not as such, no.
Q: The most drastic change… well, one of many… from the original outline of Act III and the final product is the inclusion of the Fantastic Four stand-ins, and their part in the self-destruction of the superheroes. What got you to bring them in?
Larry: They’re the opposite numbers to the fanboy Alec in Act I. You need a bookend to how the superheroes are perceived. Since the Superman analogue was going bad, I figured it might be fun to write unpowered FF analogues. Sort of an extension of the Marvel/DC schism, and also commentary on the “real-world” aspect of it.
Q: And it was a fun fanboy moment to realize whom you were emulating there, I have to admit.
Q: Which could brand me of the crime of being unsophisticated.
Larry: The fun thing is that it works on both levels.
Q: The Grand at the end seems to have some awareness of the self-destructiveness of his actions. He even quotes the book’s money line: “Nobody learns anything, everybody dies.” This seems to suggest some awareness, on some upper level of the Big Two, that they’re aware that what they’re doing is wrong. Or could go horribly wrong. You believe that’s the case?
Larry: The Big Two know what they’re doing. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s WRONG, as companies have to do what’s right for them. Sure. Got to turn a profit.
Q: What compels them to keep going? Beyond the obvious green answer.
Larry: Money is the answer, man.
Q: And a certain amount of… selfishness? That seems to be the Grand’s thing. “My way or no way.”
Larry: Companies aren’t selfish. But, yeah; what’s best for them.
Q: I’m thinking along the lines of the Big Two, though. That they do what they want because dammit, they’re the Big Two, and they founded this business, and yadda yadda…. Maybe “self-righteousness” is a better description.
Larry: I don’t think that’s fair. Companies are storehouses of properties. They need to maximize their holdings.
Q: Well that, to me, is what the Grand is signifying. Not necessarily what the case is NOW, but what it COULD be.
Larry: The Grand is just doing what he thinks is best for him.
Q: And having a bit of fun with it, too.
Larry: When there are no limits, why stay imposed in some self-limitation?
Q: And “the good of the people” is just way too abstract if you have that much physical power in your hands. Now, that last fight between JH and the Grand… I couldn’t not think of the climactic Superman/Batman battle in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. The parallels seem… appropriate. Was this an intentional move?
Larry: Not a direct-line nod, but when two square-jaws are on opposite sides of a question, things happen.
Q: The results seem fairly symmetrical, too. You’ve got a supposedly dead Batman and an exposed Superman at the end of DKR. I guess your take is a bit more cynical in its result. Holy shit, Larry. You’re more cynical than Frank Miller.
Larry: We both grew up in rural Vermont. Maybe those winters have something to do with it.
Q: That would explain Kastra and Schaff’s hideout being in Vermont, then?
Larry: Yeah. I was just hoping people would slow down and READ the comic.
Q: Next up: Larry Young vs. Frank Miller in a Vermont brawl-for-it-all.
Larry: The one thing I’m a little dismayed with is that the people who don’t get the analogue right way are the ones who admit they’re reading too quickly. You’re paying 13 bucks for a graphic novel, yeah? Why not enjoy it?
Q: The pace of the story lends to a breakneck read. I know I had to read it fast one time and then go back through more slowly. And that’s the beauty of OGNs: You can read them again and again. I just plain don’t feel comfortable talking about something or reviewing something unless I’ve been through it a couple-few times.
Larry: OK, that’s great! I was trying to do something that rewarded multiple reads.
Q: It gets more rewarding with each read. The light touches come into sharp focus. All right: You’ve given us the cautionary tale about the State of the Industry. Tell me, my man: who’s got the juice to turn it all around?
Larry: Slow and steady wins the race.
Q: Here’s the obligatory end question: what’s next on the horizon for you? Got another book in the works?
Larry: Yep; I just wrote the first 19 pages of a big sprawling slam-bang and sent it off to the artist. Of course, we’ll be announcing at San Diego. And then the PROOF OF CONCEPT book should be out around December.
Q: Anything you can tell me now? General subject matter, length, tentative release date? Or, say, who the artist might be?
Larry: Naw, it’s too early. You guys are all the same.
Q: “Big sprawling slam-bang” it is, then. Good luck to you. I have a feeling PLANET’s audience will grow with age.
Larry: Thanks very much. That’d be fine. Wouldn’t mind that at all.