Dynamite Entertainment has pulled together three of King's Features most dynamic and well-loved icons and put them in the hands of Jeff Parker. Chris Roberson sat down with Parker to discuss the King's Watch series and his heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom.
CHRIS ROBERSON: I'm curious to know your first introduction to these characters. I didn't really get exposed to the Phantom and Mandrake until later in life, since the newspaper my folks subscribed to didn't include those strips, but I was an enormous fan of Flash Gordon from an early age. Are these characters you knew growing up, or that you discovered later in life?
JEFF PARKER: I watched that Filmation Flash Gordon cartoon on Saturday mornings and read Phantom in the paper. Mandrake I didn't see until college, when I found those reprints. Comics Revue? Also as a kid I saw the Buster Crabbe FG serial on my local PBS station, and loved that. And then of course in 1980 I went to the Delaurentis movie about three times, I loved that too.
CR: This is clearly a new take on each of these characters, but I couldn't help noticing a few nods towards earlier versions (including a "defenders of the Earth" gag, which I respect). Leaving aside the work of the original cartoonists (because really, who can top the likes of Alex Raymond?), do you have favorite versions of these characters?
JP: Well yeah, the Alex Raymond original strips are the top. But as I said, I loved the campy movie too, and the Crabbe serial. For Flash, there's something good worth harvesting from all of them. I really enjoyed the Billy Zane Phantom movie until it fell apart in the final act. I liked the spirit of it and how they did real stunts and the way Phantom enjoyed his role. But as for Mandrake, that's still shaped in my mind by the Kurtzman/Elder parody in MAD from the 50's. I thought that story was hilarious, and it was my first exposure to Mandrake. I loved that they reveal his mansion home was really a shack in the junkyard that he hypnotized people into seeing that way. They generally only roasted features that they really liked.
CR: I think one of the things that makes King's Watch really work is the stunning art of Marc Laming. How closely did you work with him on the designs?
JP: Well yeah, Laming is amazing! I sometimes give him some sketches to show what I was thinking, mainly for Zarkov's Z-Plane, but he just rolls ahead like some force of nature, designing whole cities and everything. The greatest one may be when you see how he imagined The Skull Cave. And you would think he'd have a towering ego with that kind of ability, but he's the best guy. Just a pleasure to work with him and Jordan Boyd, who has been really delivering above and beyond with the color. Jordan really thinks about story beats in the color, and you just don't always get that, as you well know.
CR: Who is responsible for that fantastic logo?
JP: Me! Thanks for noticing it, I was going for a very classic feel and wanted to give the big three their own icons in it.
CR: And licensing being what it is, I'm imagining that we won't be seeing any other King's Features characters in the series beyond those who have already been introduced, right? But if you could include any others that you wanted, who would it be? And know that if you say Funky Winkerbean, you might give Chris Sims heart palpitations.
JP: Maybe I'll have Funky's pizza place destroyed in the final book then. Or Mark Trail explaining the alien animals we have attacking Earth. Or Mary Worth giving Mandrake manipulation advice. Man, this is quite the exercise once you start thinking about it- Little Billy from Family Circus leaving a dotted trail all over Mongo… Prince Valiant would fit in pretty well, actually. But if I were going to recruit any character who would of course do well in a fight, it would be my all time fave, Popeye.
King's Watch #3 is on sale now.