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Comic Book Day: Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel Talk THE FOX

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by on October 23, 2013

In the wake of Ylvis’ balls-trippingly crazy music video, many people are asking themselves just what it is the Fox says. For writer Mark Waid and writer-artist Dean Haspiel, they don’t need to ask, because they’re the ones putting words in his mouth. We’re not talking about some run of the mill vulpine forest dweller; this Fox is a pulpy action hero dating back to comic books from the 1940s. Mild-mannered reporter Paul Patten tracks down stories by day and tracks down crime by night. He’s a quippy mixture of Clark Kent and Peter Parker that manages to split the difference in all the right ways.

The Fox has had several revivals over the intervening seventy-three years, the most recent of which is at the hands of Waid and Haspiel. In case the more adult tone of Afterlife with Archie wasn’t a clue, Archie Comics is trying to beef up its offerings to attract both the all-ages and the adult crowd. But how can they find that coveted crossover title? They’re looking to revive the Red Circle universe, a line of neglected, but not forgotten, heroes who are ripe for the revamping. To take you behind the scenes of Waid and Haspiel’s creative process, I caught up with the men themselves to talk about why The Fox was overdue for a comeback, his inherent appeal, and what to expect from the series.

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Nerdist: So let’s talk about The Fox, guys. I’m excited — I really enjoyed the first issue. It’s definitely — when you think of Archie Comics, you don’t necessarily think of superheroes. It’s normally more poppy characters, so this is definitely a pleasant change of pace from what I’m expecting from them.

Dean Haspiel: Thanks!

N: So tell me a little bit about how you got — I know this is part of a larger revival of this whole Red Circle universe, but tell me, why The Fox in particular? What attracted you guys to this character?

DH: Mark, you want me to start?

Mark Waid: Yeah, please go! It started with you, so go.

DH: [chuckles] Well, it’s funny, because Mark can probably speak more to the actual history of these characters since the 1940s, but I think I was first introduced to The Fox in the mid to early 1980s, when I picked up a Black Hood comic, and in the back-up feature was a Fox story done by Alex Toth, and he put some imprint on that character and on my mind in the mid ’80s, that I kind of always remembered this character. And I think part of it was because the guy had no super powers. He was a photojournalist that kind of puts on a costume and is ready to fight crime when necessary, and I thought that was kind of cool.

In fact recently, when I was digging up some of the old characters, a lot of those old 1940s pulp characters did not have super powers. They were just, like, detectives, or guys that had Olympic strength, or agility. I thought that was really cool, and I kind of wondered — maybe Mark can speak to this — when did super powers get introduced? Was that through Superman?

MW: It was introduced with Superman, but even still, the generic strong men were the thing of the day. That’s what I have found. The Flash was the first figure who actually had one specific super power. And even long before they were considered — that was before they were considered the outliers — it was just easier for comics creators of the time, who were working for very little money, or were working very fast, to just emulate more of the stuff that they knew was successful, like The Shadow, or Doc Savage. Those were the non-powered/costumed, or a percentage of them were, but not necessarily super powered. That requires a certain degree of imagination that, when you’re being paid a dollar a page, you don’t have time for.

DH: Also, I’m glad you bring up the Shadow, because there was something that I’ve never even told you or Paul Kaminski, the editor of The Fox. Just to bring it back around to how did this all start with me kind of going to Archie and talking about doing a Fox series – it started because a writer pal of mine had just done a six page Black Hood story with an artist, and he was showing it to me. I was saying, “Wait a minute! Is Archie bringing back those Red Circle heroes?” Because they seem to kind of dust them off every 20 years. They kind of come out for a couple of years, then they go away, and that’s been the case since 1940.

So he said to me, “Yeah, there’s other people that say they’re going to bring back some of the other characters.” I had just created a character called The Red Hook that was semi-inspired by The Fox. Instead of being a blue suit it was a red suit, it had floppy ears, and that kind of stuff, and instead of being a crime fighter, he was a super thief. With that in mind, I asked if I could send his editor, that being Paul Kaminski, my Red Hook story, to kind of know if I could do a back-up feature or something with The Fox.

So he kindly gave me the address, he introduced me, I sent it to Paul, Paul dug it. I pitched him a six-page Fox story, and he liked it so much when I was finished with it, that he actually offered me to do a mini-series. And then I’m sitting there, like, “Oh, my God!” [laughter]

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N: That’s great! 

DH: I have to come up with something now!

MW: Oh, man! [laughter]

DH: [laughter] That’s why I do this, Mark — because, it’s like ALL the time! [laughter] It comes from passion and love, but the thing I do is tell you, Mark, or Paul — I was going through my archives, for some of the story ideas I had, and honestly, I’ve always remained true to this particular Fox story that we’re doing right now — it’s a cross between Apocalypse Now and The Island of Lost Souls, or The Island of Dr. Moreau. But really, what it was, was my own personal pitch of what would happen if John Carter, Conan, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Green Hornet were in a story together.

N: Together at last.

MW: That’s awesome! I didn’t know that. That’s great!

DH: I know, it’s pretty funky, and then you throw in Apocalypse Now and The Island of Dr. Moreau. These are iterations of what I might have done, because, again, The Fox is such an open character, that you can kind of do almost anything with him, as long as you keep the idea that he’s just a guy. He has no super power. He gets into a lot of different pinches or a lot of trouble. And then, of course, we came up with the idea that he’s actually just a freak magnet — like, once he started it, he couldn’t stop. Yeah, so…

N: [chuckles] Awesome!

DH: And the way Mark’s been writing dialogue is SO awesome, and so much fun. I was actually thinking about it last night, Mark — because Mark just sent me the script for the new issue — and the way, because — and you can speak more to this, Mark, as well — but because Paul Patten is a reporter, it’s almost like he’s reporting his own adventure as it happens. It’s almost like he’s live blogging the thing as it occurs, and you’re getting inside his thoughts. There’s a lot of fun thoughts going throughout this story as it’s happening.

N: Yeah.

MW: Yeah, what he said. Yeah.

N: [chuckles]

MW: I used to say that you can always tell, when you write these characters — they’ve been around, they’ve been established, and you look at what makes them work, and you look at the basics of the character, and in this case — I think I actually did more of this in this issue than I have in previous—is his internal narration. He tends to think of everything like a reporter. He tends to think of everything like a photographer. I think I had that line about how he’s trying to adapt the environment around him, so he uses his photographer skills of observing the landscape and trying to figure out how that’s going to work to his advantage, as if he were taking a snapshot.

DH: That was great. I loved that moment, because it also checked something I did in the first issue, in the actual back-up feature that got this ball rolling, was about looking at his image, or looking at what’s in front of you, and excavating the narrative goals from that. We did a lot of discovery. We live in that ADD culture right now where we’re getting hit with so much information, and a lot of information is the visual. Because of the internet, because of television, because of our sight, and so many people ignore what’s in front of them.

I remember once somebody telling me that it’s really hard to pick a jury, because someone could get murdered right in front of you, and you have no idea what just happened, because you’re not using your senses in a way that allows you to detect certain things, or remember things that in a reporterly type way, and yet he’s really good at that, which is what makes him a super hero, as it were. Yeah.

N: Yeah, one of the things I enjoyed about your portrayal of him is unlike — he has some similarities to a Peter Parker type, where he’s a photojournalist, and he’s always bantering, but he seems way more self-assured than Peter Parker ever was. So that self-confidence goes a long way.

DH: We basically see him as a post-coital Peter Parker.

N: [laughter]

MW: Yeah, yeah, yeah,.

N: That’s the pull quote, right there!

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DH: Exactly! I know he’s good at his job, there’s no insecurity there. It’s just that there’s a big difference between knowing you’re good at your job and not wanting to do it anymore, and The Fox would trade it all just to have an afternoon off where he can watch the game without being interrupted, where he can work in the yard, something very down-to-earth and suburban, but because he puts on this costume, because he sort of made himself a freak magnet, if you will, he draws stories to him. That won’t stop, and they’re after him all the time.

N: Gotcha.

DH: And I love how Mark also writes – if we’re going to talk about it tonally, Mark really compounds the fact that he’s constantly distracted. He’s distracted because he’s so observational, and he can see things coming, and he can see 12 ways out of something, but then he’s thinking about some domestic issue with his wife, or a scoop of ice cream that he wishes he had right now, you know, being constantly distracted, and that’s really half the reason he gets in trouble is because his own mind is wandering half the time. So he is wanting that suburban home, and that barbecue on the weekends with friends, and he’s not able to obtain that. He may be the first super hero with ADD. [laughs]

N: Finally, someone we can relate to. [laughs]

DH: He’s very modern in that way! But also, the first issue was not—the first issue you read, Dan, was not the first issue I proposed.

N: Oh, really?

DH: That was actually — that came later, because basically I started just going off a hundred miles an hour, and Paul was smart to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! We’ve got to start at 35 miles an hour, and then we can amp it up. Let’s introduce this character. Let’s quickly show that he just moved from Japan with his family, and he’s coming to basically try to settle things with his estranged daughter. I don’t know if that’s going to happen in the pages of Fox, or if it’s going to happen in Crusaders or what. But we need to establish certain kinds of normality about him. The fact that he’s got kids impacts the Red Circle later on,” and so on and so forth. And then he gets into a little trouble with this Madam Satan.

When I first proposed that character, Mark did such a great job of writing her dialogue that I actually fell in love with Madam Satan, so we have to bring her back, I think, at some point, because she’s a little misunderstood. That’s all! That’s all.

N: Yeah, I really enjoyed her little soliloquy when she was trying to convince Paul at the end. Like, “No, come on, just join me, I’m on your side. You just don’t get it yet.”

DH: “You just don’t get it yet, Paul.” And of course, she wanted the kids, and those big chomping teeth of hers. So yeah, that’s where it starts, and we’re going to have this fun ride, five issues, and fingers crossed people dig it.

One of the other things I was reacting to when I pitched this series, not only did I want to have a pulp, fun spin on it, and there’s no way I could do this without Mark writing it, honestly. He’s really created such a great personality for the character. And then Alan has been coloring the books. Have you seen those lately?

MW: Oh, that’s great! He’s a good story teller, but more than that, he gets the color to pop. He makes it look energetic without seeming cartoony. Yeah.

DH: And that’s what I was trying to go for as well, like visual tone. I’m a big fan of Golden and Silver Age comic books, and I know today, with a lot of what I call “blockbuster” style comic books, which are – I don’t want to say are competing with the movies, but are trying to go neck-to-neck with the movies with the way they look – I can’t draw like that! I can’t color like that! And honestly, sometimes it looks a little too drab and blank to me, and what I’m trying to do here as well with The Fox is kind of show the fun of comics.

I mean, look what Mark is doing with Daredevil and Hulk and all the comics he’s basically written over the years. Those are the kinds of comics I want to continue to read, and be fortunate enough to be able to make with Mark, you know? And I don’t think we have enough of those these days.

MW: Yeah, I know. I mean, it’s not in any way to say that all comics need to look that way…

DH: No, of course not!

MW: …but you want to see a variety of stuff available to you. Not everything has to be hyper–depressive, nor does everything have to be super cheeriness. Some of this stuff is just adventuresome.

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N: One thing that I really enjoyed about the first issue is that it just has this palpable sense of fun and adventure, and, especially, I think your point is well taken about all the stuff you see in the cinemas these days. This summer, every blockbuster that came out was so damn depressing! You know, I’m there to see a super hero movie. I understand you can have a serious situation, but you’ve got to inject a little bit of levity in there as well, so I think you guys really — it was kind of like the shot in the side that I think we’ve been waiting for.

DH: Thank you so much, because that’s a little bit of the fear I have, too, that maybe the market can’t sustain these kinds of comic books, but we’re hoping that there’s still an audience for these kinds of stories, you know, adventure pulp stories with a modern twist. That’s basically the idea here, and yet it’s also just fun to draw! Hopefully we’re making a comic book that you can pick up without having known anything about this character, and by the end of the book, you’re like, “I want more.”

N: Yeah. I think something in particular is that we’re experiencing something like a pulp revival right now, but there’s not a lot of “all ages” pulp, and I think what The Fox accomplishes is you can be an adult and get a lot out of this; you can be a kid and get a lot out of this. So I think that you guys are — it’s a difficult line to toe, especially with adventure pulp comics, there’s that tendency to try to go over the top, too violent, too dark, so I think that it definitely fills a niche in that regard.

DH: Right. It’s funny, because I’ve been told, and maybe Mark can respond because I’m curious to see what Mark says about this, but I’ve been told that “all ages” is almost a curse word in the market! [chuckles] But then I remind myself, the first 10 minutes of Up, how many — every adult is weeping, just in the first 10 minutes of Up, and then it’s this great story for kids and adults, and then you’re crying again at the end, and maybe even the kids are too, and to me, that’s what “all ages” means. It means a story that transcends all ages, that means something, that almost has a timeless quality to it, and that’s one of the things we’re trying to achieve here, which is a difficult balance, because you want to appeal to an adult sensibility. You want to get a little gory, gruesome and sexy, but you also want to appeal to what kids want as well, and I don’t mean speaking down to kids, but speaking up to kids.

MW: Yeah, exactly, and that makes a good point. “All ages” does tend to be pejorative, which sucks, because somehow that got equated with namby-pamby, and toothless, and toned down. But, dude, the Muppets are all ages! Find me an adult who thinks that’s just stupid kid stuff. You get out of it different things for different levels of viewers. Same with the Pixar movies. I think it’s probably just a matter of — it’s something that you don’t necessarily need to add more violence, or more blood or anything to try to artificially elevate it to “maturity,” because I think that is what a lot of “all ages” material does to sell itself out and to get it to try desperately to reach for an adult audience, and then you end up failing both the adults and the kids. What you need — all you need — is a sense of stakes, a sense of danger. Danger doesn’t mean blood and gore and horror. What danger means is, and what stakes mean, is that there is something that could happen to the hero. There’s something that—there’s some drama to it amidst all of the levity.

DH: …and of course, none of that matters if you don’t care about the characters, so you spend a little time hopefully making the readers care about the characters, and then you can put those characters through the wringer, and care what happens next. So, yeah, it’s rare to pull a stunt like Psycho, where by the first reel, the protagonist has died.

MW: Spoiler alert!

N: If you haven’t seen Psycho, don’t read this interview!

DH: [laughter] But what I find interesting, Dan, is something you said previously, and I know it’s probably sort of Archie and Red Circle, is a perception of, “Oh, here are these super hero comics that Archie Comics is doing. Isn’t Archie just Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead?” Yes, of course, and that’s a perennial product that they do, but what’s really cool and fun is that you do have these super heroes that have been around forever. Some of them do have super powers, and they are based on old detectives, and these kinds of people that are classic icons, almost, and hopefully what me and Mark and a bunch of the other talent that they are recruiting to do some of the other comics will add something to the market here. But something that we’re also not seeing as much these days is your classic comic book, but with a modern twist.

I can’t stress enough, and maybe I’m a jerk for thinking this, but I’m just getting tired of seeing these bleak comics, as you said, Dan, about our summer blockbuster movies, they’ve gotten so dark. And I’m an adult, I’m 46 years old, Dan! I watch horror films all the time, but I don’t necessarily want my super heroes to be horror films.

N: Exactly. Unfortunately, I have to wrap it up, but I just wanted to say one more thing before I go, sort of on that subject of the films — I really appreciated the lesson that Paul took away from Man of Steel this summer, that you guys hid in the first issue. I thought that was a nice little Easter egg!

DH: [laughter] Yeah! I loved when Mark wrote that line. I kind of cringed at first.

N: Yeah, at first, I was like, “Oh my god, this took a very dark turn!” But then she got back up, and I thought, “OK, we’re still good.” [chuckles]

DH: I think it was Paul that figured that out. He said, “This woman is Madam Satan.” She just confirmed that she is Madam Satan, no matter what you do to her.

N: It’s nice to know that she can get up and shrug that kind of thing off.

DH & MW: [laughter]

N: So yeah, guys—thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I had a blast talking with you, I had a blast reading the issue, and I think it’s going to make a really great piece.

DH: Thank you so much!

MW: We appreciate it.

Archie Comics’ The Fox #1 by Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel hits stands on Wednesday, October 30th. Are you excited to return to the Red Circle universe? Let us know in the comments below!