PopCultHQ is kicking off 2018 in a new way. Each month, we’ll be selecting Comic Book Creators of the Month and interview them for a spotlight article. For June 2018’s Writer of the Month, we chose Fred Van Lente.
When I began my research of Fred Van Lente’s work as a writer in the comic book industry, I was not prepared for the massive list of credits to his name. I will note that this article does feature a combined 387 comic book covers in slideshows featuring the award-winning writer’s work. And that’s not counting a considerable amount of one-shots, appearances, scattered issues, etc. Let’s run down some of the highlights…
At Marvel Comics, Van Lente has been featured all across the Marvel Universe, writing for Alpha Flight, Amazing Fantasy, Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes, Captain America: First Vengeance, Chaos War, Chaos War: Dead Avengers, Dark Reign: Mister Negative, Deadpool, Deadpool vs. the Punisher, Eminem/Punisher (?!), Fantastic Four and Power Pack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Telltale Games, Halo: Blood Lone, Herc, Incredible Hercules, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man Legacy, Marvel Zombies, Power Man and Iron Fist, Power Pack: Day One, Savage She-Hulk, Skrulls vs. Power Pack, Spider-Man: Big Time, Super-Villain Team-Up/MODOK’s 11, Taskmaster, Weapon X, Web of Spider-Man, Wolverine: First Class, and X-Men Noir.
Cover Gallery of Van Lente’s Work at Marvel Comics
Phew! If that wasn’t enough to make you search through your longboxes to pull up some classic and popular issues from the publishing giant, Fred has also covered some major characters and titles with other publishers. The first work of Van Lente’s that really grabbed me was his long run on 2012’s Archer & Armstrong at Valiant Entertainment. But he killed it on even more titles at Valiant, like Armstrong and the Vault of Spirits one-shot, Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer, The Delinquents, Generation Zero, Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight, Ivar, Timewalker, and War Mother.
Cover Gallery of Van Lente’s Work at Valiant Entertainment
Another interesting thing to note was that just before I reached out to Fred for this interview, I caught his appearance on a CNBC program documenting some of this history of comic books in America. I’ve included the video at the end of this article, as it’s a must-watch for any comic book fan or historian-to-be. Speaking of the history of comics, Fred has also penned a couple of volumes of The Comic Book History of Comics, tackled some fun projects like Action Philosophers! and HowToons [Re]Ignition, and worked on classic properties like Conan, Magnus, Robot Fighter, G.I. Joe, and The Green Hornet ’66 Meets The Spirit. And in addition to the earlier named Marvel and Valiant, the list of publishers is as extensive as it is impressive: Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, Top Cow Productions, IDW Publishing, BOOM! Studios, Dynamite Entertainment, Titan Comics, Moonstone, Platinum Studios, Evil Twin Comics, and more!
His latest project looks intriguing and hilarious! The Con Artist is a 288-page novel coming out Tuesday, July 10th from Quirk Books. It’s Fred’s geek noir about murder in the comics industry, featuring illustrations by Tom Fowler. This stuff explains it better…
Paperback ISBN: 9781683690344
e-Book ISBN: 9781683690351
Page Count: 288
Release Date: July 10, 2018
Comic book artist Mike Mason arrives at San Diego Comic-Con, seeking sanctuary with other fans and creators—and maybe to reunite with his ex—but when his rival is found murdered, he becomes the prime suspect. To clear his name, Mike will have to navigate every corner of the con, from zombie obstacle courses and cosplay flash mobs to intrusive fans and obsessive collectors, in the process unraveling a dark secret behind one of the industry’s most legendary creators.
That’s a must for anyone who loves comics or has been to a convention. I can imagine the references only congoers may truly appreciate! But I digress, let’s get to the interview with the man himself – The #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning writer, historian, long-time wiseass, Brooklyn’s Fred Van Lente!
PopCultHQ Spotlight Interview
Writer of the Month – June 2018:
Fred Van Lente
PopCultHQ: How did comic books influence your childhood? What was the defining moment in your life that you knew, from then on, that you wanted to write comic books for a living?
Fred Van Lente: When I was growing up, my dad had this book called The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. It had all of the golden age superheroes in it, their early stories from the 1940s and 30s, all of their origins and so on. I made my mother read this book to me until she just threw her hands up in protest said no more. So I stared at the pages comparing pictures to the words it’s like you read my cell. So I was able to read right when I entered school so my mother liked comics a lot more after that! That pretty much started a lifelong of session with comics in general and superheroes in particular.
So many years later I went to school for film. But I found myself hanging out with guys were studying to be a comic book artists in the Illustration department. I really loved the immediacy with which they my scripts to life. Soon I found myself dropping out of film school, becoming in English major concentrating on the writing side of things. After school, I moved to New York City with them and we all tried to break into comics together. It took a little longer for some of us (ie me), but ultimately it worked!
PopCultHQ: The title you worked on that first grabbed my attention to your name was the 2012 run of Valiant’s Archer & Armstrong. It was a fun, but intelligent humor that actually helped shape the mold I envision of these characters to this day. You’ve also taken a comical look at history with your Action Presidents and Action Philosophers series. Many may ask about your telling the stories of the famous, if not legendary, characters and brands in comic book history (Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Conan, G.I. Joe, Deadpool, et al.). But when I was re-reading The Delinquents last night, it was your sense of humor that grabbed me again. I’m curious…how is writing similar or different for you when taking on a title allowing your comedic talents to come out versus say, your approach to a superhero series? Do you have more fun and crazy stories to tell?
Fred Van Lente: I mean, I’ve been a wiseass my whole life, so I guess it’s impossible not to see things in comedic terms. I suppose some people that means you don’t take things seriously, but it’s just the opposite for me! I laugh to keep from crying. The world is a difficult place, with so much self-serving lying from people in public service and in their private relationships, that’s what the best humor does — it holds falsehoods and phony piety up to ridicule. It’s the only way I can make sense of the world, particularly in the trying times we live in now. So I don’t ever see it not being a part of my work, you know?
Cover Gallery of Van Lente’s Work at Dark Horse Comics
PopCultHQ: I caught your appearance recently on CNBC, which I see you announced on your website. I was impressed to learn you’re a comic book historian; being featured to discuss Gaines/Wertham in CNBC’s The Moral Panic That Almost Destroyed the Comic Book Business, as well as producing two volumes of The Comic Book History of Comics. Given what you know, on the grand scale of things, where do you consider the current state of the comic book community/industry to where it has been in years past? Has the introduction and advancements of technology (internet, social media, digital copies, digital payments, etc.) made this the best time the industry has seen? Or are there past moments in which we might look back to in order to help its current state?
Fred Van Lente: The digital age is an interesting paradox. While it’s fostered a lot more diversity, and provides more opportunity for more people and are more importantly a lot more kinds of people, all that new product means it’s harder for individual voices to be heard. Bigger franchises thrive more than ever because they have the muscle to be heard. Chaos tends to benefit those who were already strong. So mainstream comics, which very much still depends on a brick and mortar retail environment, has struggled to adapt — though they are hardly alone in that.
The future is still very much uncertain, I’d say. History is great at helping us understand the present, but it’s not all that great a predictor of the future. Historical truisms are true until they stop being so — as the last few years have proved!
Cover Gallery of Various Work by Fred Van Lente
PopCultHQ: What has been the most important and/or valuable piece of advice you’ve received as a writer in the comic book industry?
Fred Van Lente: When you’re first starting out, start small — don’t launch into a mega 24 issue, 5000 Page epic. Comics creation is a labor intensive process, pace yourself! Do short stories first, it’s a great teacher. My first pro paid comic work was for Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse doing a short serial of 8 Page installments. The company went under before it got published, but it taught me how to maximize minimal story space, which was invaluable.
Fred Van Lente: Well I am spending a chunk of the year promoting The Con Artist, a seamy geek noir about a murder at a huge comic con at San Diego. We’ll be doing a launch party at Astoria Bookshop in Queens the night of July 10 when the book drops, Then I’ll be appearing at San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and various places in-between to promote it. The best place to follow my schedule is to follow my Twitter feed or my Facebook fan page. (links below)
PopCultHQ: What do you enjoy most about attending and appearing at conventions? How do fans of your work respond when meeting you in person?
Fred Van Lente: Definitely interacting with readers is the best part. Whenever someone expresses love for your work, or that it got them through a difficult time in their life, or that they learned something or saw something in a different light, those are the moments that really lift you up as a writer.
PopCultHQ: If you had the power or ability to make one change in the comic book community or industry, what would it be?
Fred Van Lente: The rise of toxic male entitlement fandom is gross and something I wish I could wave away with a wand. As a comics historian, it’s particularly galling how they’re trying to use the difficult economic period the industry is going through as some sort of proof it should be less inclusive. In times of crisis, it’s time to expand the tent, not turn people away. That’s true of all times, come to think of it, but pining away for the long gone good old days never helped anyone, especially the ones doing the pining.
PopCultHQ: Which other writers are you reading right now? If given the opportunity, is there a writer currently producing comic books that you’d like to work with (in any capacity)?
Fred Van Lente: I was in London recently and picked up the terrific 2000 AD edition of the amazing British WWI comic of the early 80s, Charley’s War, by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. The books are huge and beautiful and I barely got them in my suitcase but I love them. I definitely want to see more historical fiction comics — that’s my favorite genre, and though I’m known for straight non-fiction, I do with my pal Ryan Dunlavey like Comic Book History of Comics and Action Presidents. I’d love to do more fiction in that sphere.
Special thanks to Fred for making time to speak with PopCultHQ!
To find out more about our June Writer of the Month,
be sure to follow Fred Van Lente online (links below)!
And check out Fred Van Lente as he speaks on how comic books became
public enemy #1 in America’s war on juvenile delinquency!
Writer – Fred Van Lente