Talking to Rick Veitch About Boy Maximortal, Turtles & Swamp Thing
Rick Veitch has self-published the complete Boy Maximortal, the new book in his King Hell Heroica graphic novels which began in 1990.
- Rick Veitch self-publishes "Boy Maximortal," continuing his superhero deconstruction saga.
- Veitch explores the lost ideals of heroism in modern superhero narrative.
- Discusses the challenged state of the comics industry and the rise of independent publishing.
- Reflects on conspiracy theories and teases potential for completing the King Hell Heroica.
Rick Veitch has self-published the complete Boy Maximortal, the second book in his King Hell Heroica series of graphic novels, which includes Maximortal and Brat Pack, published back in 1990. One of the central figures in superhero deconstruction, with The One from Marvel Comics, Miracleman from Eclipse and Swamp Thing at DC Comics, as well as part of Image Comics' 1963, he is continuing his increasingly disturbing King Hell Heroica superhero story well into its third decade. The new volume is available today. I had the chance to ask Rick Veitch a few questions about what is happening now and what happened then.n A preview runs after…
Rich Johnston: We live in a world where some of the most successful superhero storytellers, from Alan Moore to Ed Brubaker, have stepped away from the genre. While the King Hell Heroica is more of a commentary on superfiction and the desires behind it, what keeps you returning to the form?
Rick Veitch: Superheroes seem to be stuck in a rut brought on by the marketplace success of "grim and gritty". This started in the comics during the eighties, got worse in the nineties, and has since matriculated up the corporate culture chain to our multiplexes and streaming services. But for all of the eye-popping CGI, modern superheroes are pretty one-dimensional and dull. They're mostly concerned with survival in an escalating conflict. The plot provides them with a menace. They have mommy/daddy issues. They fight and wisecrack. They win and return home the same as they were (except when one of them needs to die for a while as a marketing stunt). Corporate supes are denied the best part of classical heroic storytelling, which is the treasure that will transform their lives. The Knights of the Round Table were out to find the Holy Grail, which would guide them to a higher level of purity and completion. Modern superheroes don't have a clue about that. If there's ever a Holy Grail in one of today's superhero movies, it will be written into the story as a fiendish weapon in the hands of a super-powered lunatic.
So, I'm motivated to explore this transcendent ideal that properly belongs to superheroes. I've been doing it since the beginning of my career in stories like The One and Abraxas and the Earthman. And the theme is definitely at the core of the Heroica.
Rich Johnston: All of the King Hell Heroica seems to paint the bleakest picture of humanity possible, with the comics industry just a subset of that every day horror. How do you relate to the whole comics industry as it stands now? Has anything improved in any way from your perspective?
Rick Veitch: If by "the comics industry" you mean "the direct sales market" that I came up in, then I don't have much hope for it. The opportunity to establish American comics as a real cultural force has been once again squandered by a few businessmen. As soon as they had control of the comics supply chain they strangled the art form and, ultimately, themselves. Thankfully, new ways for creators to find readers are developing. A lot of creators are getting funded on Kickstarter, suddenly able to realize their own visions without having to think about the barriers put in place by publishers, distributors or retailers. The Kindle print-on-demand system has worked great for me. I've been able to bring back The Heroica and Rare Bit Fiends, create all new works in my Panel Vision series and have control of my backlist. I think I have nineteen titles in the Kindle system.
Rich Johnston: Because, here was a time that Brat Pack was heading to the screen. It seemed impossible then, slightly less impossible after the success of The Boys; where is that journey now?
Rick Veitch: To my great relief, the options ran out and I got the rights back. The production company hadn't really read it, I think. Once they had the rights, they looked at it and said, "We can't do that!" and hired a screenwriter who basically shitcanned everything in the book. My hat is off to the producers of The Boys, who understood what they had and stayed true to the "twisted superhero" sub-genre. A comedic/absurdist take on superheroes is a good foil to what Marvel and DC do. And it proved successful in the marketplace.
Rich Johnston: Reading What We Can Know About Thunderman, I couldn't help but find your own sketches for the character online. What was once intended with him, and did you see Maximortal's framing of the creation of Superman reflected in those pages?
Rick Veitch: I'm pretty sure Alan told me that Thunderman was the first hero he wrote when he made his homebrew comics as a kid. In the Superverse plot, we were developing. Thunderman and Thundergirl were separated as children and ended up in different universes.
Rich Johnston: More comics that will never see the light of day… talking of which, do you believe you will complete Volumes Three and Five of King Hell Heroica?
Rick Veitch: Right now, I'm fully functioning and active, drawing every day. But I'm seventy-two, so in terms of the game of life, I'm heading into sudden death over time and anything can happen. But Volume Five is half finished. And I intend to start Volume Three in the early part of 2024. So I am hopeful I get the time to finish the thing. We're talking about 250 pages, I suspect.
Rich Johnston: Something very much to look forward to. Looking back, twenty-two years after 9/11, have your thoughts, as expressed in The Big Lie changed at all? How about a number of similarly framed events that include, but are not limited to, the coronavirus, Chinese labs and associated lockdowns, laptops. pizza parlours, wars and more? How many other Big Lies do you see?
Rick Veitch: I'm old-school; a sixties counter-culture conspiracist still questioning the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations, the CIA and the Viet Nam war. We don't have any answers on the assassinations but the release of the Pentagon Papers and the Church Committee proved that we had every right to be skeptical of the government's portrayal of events. The fact that they used the tragedy of 9/11 to start a twenty year war in the Middle East seems most relevant. Personally, I'm going to believe my own eyes and the collapse of the Twin Towers and Building 7 still look like three perfectly executed controlled demolitions to me. I ignore all the modern conspiracy buzz except to wonder who's flooding the zone with craziness to take the heat off themselves.
Rich Johnston: Talking of rumours, I hear that DC may be bringing the Vertigo imprint back for 2025. You are famed for leaving Swamp Thing after they didn't publish a greenlit and fully drawn issue – and for others like Neil Gaiman refuse to take over the book as a result. Getting close to forty years on, is there any way you could revisit those days?
Rick Veitch: Over the decades, there have been numerous discussions with, and honest attempts by, DC to not only publish Swamp Thing #88, but to also let me finish my time travel storyline. But something always seemed to derail it. I know there are great people up in DC right now who would love to make it happen. It's one of those corporate Gordian Knots!
Rich Johnston: On that matter, one of your other successes was working with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boys at Mirage. But because you didn't sign over rights to stories, a lot of those admired Turtles works have not been reprinted. We are having a new wave of Turtle interest with the movies and comics. Is there a chance you may return of current owners work on a deal over those stories?
Rick Veitch: That's another mess I would love to clean up before I croak! After Kevin and Peter reneged on our original agreement, I was never able to get a new deal with Mirage to move forward. Now they've sold to Nickelodeon and I haven't yet been able to connect with those folks. I hope someday to have that conversation and come to reasonable terms on my 200 pages of work. My first Turtle issues originally appeared just as the movie and Turtlemania hit, so there are a lot of kids who got into reading comics through them. Right now is a very good time for fans to let Nickelodeon know they want these stories! In the meantime they should plug into my new stuff: Boy Maximortal! Panel Vision! Rare Bit Fiends!
Rich Johnston: Will do, Rick, will do…
Boy Maximortal: The Complete Volume Two of the King Hell Heroica Paperback – November 21, 2023 by Rick Veitch
Rick Veitch, Quixote of Comics, brings his King Hell Heroica to a furious boil in this collected edition of Boy Maximortal. Originally serialized in comics, here is the complete Boy Maximortal graphic novel; Volume Two of Veitch's planned five book cycle, the King Hell Heroica. It joins The Maximortal (Volume One) and Brat Pack (Volume Four), in the hearts and minds of discriminating superhero readers around the world. Accelerating faster than a speeding bullet, Boy Maximortal continues the story of True-Man, now a teenager hiding from an increasingly desperate military while trying to come to grips with powers and urges far beyond those of normal men. Played against a backdrop of the sleazy underworld of comic book publishing, Veitch's superhero deconstruction digs deep into the roots of a cultural mythos that has come to define our times. Young True-Man is a higher dimensional entity enthralled by a cheap disposable fantasy, grappling with otherworldly origins while hoping to save the world. With the government hunting him down and a girlfriend obsessed with his secret identity, life for our young super being is anything but simple. What happens when the most powerful creature on Earth reaches puberty? What secret truth running through history has led to his manifestation? If the military catches him can he be contained? Rick Veitch continues his Eisner nominated superhero deconstruction in this highly anticipated second volume the King Hell Heroica series. Note: the back-up material that was included in Boy Maximortal comics #1-4, is not collected in this volume. A short essay on modern superhero culture, "The Forgotten Quest", by Veitch, is printed here for the first time.