One of the nice things about writing for Multiveristy is encountering all the different types of comic readers, not just that read the site, but also that write for it. We have fans who run the gamut from strictly superhero readers to people who never pick up a book with a cape on the cover. And yet, when “Future Quest” by Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner was announced, there was a cacophonous roar of approval from the Multiversity staff.
I think that says a lot about what sort of creators Jeff and Doc are – they inspire joy through their work, never going for the easy way through a property, but always finding the best way; the way that is the most fun and the most adventurous. When I spoke with the duo about the book, I told them how happy they made they Multiversity staff, to which Parker replied, “Well, we did it for you guys.”
So, there’s the proof that we’ve moved into the Illuminati of comics.
For those that haven’t heard much about the series, it is an adventure book starring many of the classic Hanna-Barbera characters from the 60s and 70s – Jonny Quest, Race Bannon, Space Ghost, Birdman, the Impossibles, and many, many more.
Enjoy the interview, and check out some of the black and white preview pages that DC sent over. And, of course, make sure to pick up the issue when it hits your local brick and mortar or digital shop on May 18!
Let’s start at the genesis of this. For a lot of readers, these characters have sort of appeared on the periphery of pop culture the last 20 or 25 years but haven’t really had a spotlight in quite some time. When were you guys first introduced to the characters we’ll be dealing with, specifically Jonny Quest?
Evan “Doc” Shaner: Jonny Quest, it must have been … I know I saw the original cartoons at some point, but the show that was running when I was a kid was The Real Adventures. That’s when I was introduced to Jonny Quest. The rest through [Space Ghost] Coast to Coast and so on.
Jeff Parker: I assume you found that DVD that floats around and got a hold of those Quests.
ES: Yeah, yeah. I’ve got those now, but they used to play those cartoons on Cartoon Network when I was a kid.
JP: I saw it … also, not original because it debuted in 1964, but in the 70’s, when I saw it, they were packaged in a rerun and it had this intro with this voice that would come on and say, “Super secret. A super sonic jet on a super secret mission,” I still can’t say that right. It would tell you the basic set up instead of the quiet intro that you can find on YouTube. It just plays the cool jazz music as they go out risking their lives. Of course, it was amazing. It was real adventure stuff and traveling all over the world. They weren’t even trying to be particularly educational, but you couldn’t help but learn something about geography and maybe a little bit of science, even though the science, of course, would be focusing on things like growing Komodo dragons to a great size.
Jeff, you’ve done this a lot in your career: taking a property that has been something that’s associated with something from a number of years ago, and you’ve brought it into modern comics. When you’re doing that for something like this, because the character is not all that well known by today’s readers, do you feel like there’s a need to spice it up at all, or are you just happy to present the character in a similar way to how it was presented 30, 35 years ago?
JP: Yeah, I don’t think you have to do anything. I think that was the mistake that Real Adventures of Jonny Quest did. It was the 90’s, so they were like, “He’s in VR. Look at all this virtual reality.” How is that more exciting than going and having real-life adventures? I don’t know. I obviously was totally twitching there in the seat with that headset on. [Laughs] No, I always, whenever I’m doing one of these type of things, try to go back and strip it down to the essentials and see what works about it.Continued below
It was the dynamic of the group, specifically Jonny and Hadji as adopted brothers. Now these little buddies deal with everything. Jonny’s more impulsive. The weird thing is Jonny kind of imprints on Race Bannon, the secret service guy who’s assigned to protect. Whereas, Hadji, the adopted kid, it seems to be modeling himself after Dr. Quest. Even though we may never show it, I like to imagine that in the future, Hadji is the one who becomes a scientist, and Jonny’s the one who can’t stay out of trouble and getting shot at all the time. They make a great team that way, and, of course, they’ve got that dog.
I just try to boil it down to the basics, show what was originally there. If you watch the cartoon, it’s not hard to transpose it to the modern day at all. Even when everybody’s talking on cell phones, it’s the same thing as them holding little walkie-talkies back then. It all works.
Doc, from your perspective, when you’re taking on these iconic looking characters, how much do you feel you have to update their look? Because one of the reasons you’re such a great fit for this title is the clean line and timeless approach of your art; especially when I saw your Space Ghost, I was like, “Oh, wow. We’re getting the classic Space Ghost. That’s great.” When you’re taking these iconic characters and bringing them into a new book, are you just having fun with these old designs, or are you trying to make subtle upgrades to some of the looks as you’re going along?
ES: A little of both. There’s some of these designs that don’t need any help at all, like Space Ghost. I haven’t changed a thing with Space Ghost or Jonny. Hadji, there’s some slight tweaks to his clothes. For the most part, they’re all very, very close to how they appear originally. The couple of characters that I did update a little bit are either for reasons of just so it’s more in my style, kind of like the Impossibles or Birdman where it was just like that I felt I just needed a little bit more, nothing outrageous, but just needed to go that extra step. Even then, I try very hard to stay within the same realm, not do anything too crazy because I think the overall design is so strong already that there isn’t much that needs to be done.
JP: Alex Toth’s design doesn’t need a lot of help in general.
I definitely agree with that. Let’s talk about the scope of the series. We’re looking at the other Hanna-Barbera titles coming from DC. Each of them has a very …
JP: This interview is over. I’m sorry.
I just had to do that.[Laughs]
Those other books have carved out a very specific niche in the world they’re playing with. This seems to be expansive and have a little bit of everything. How big is this story?
JP: Well, the story opens across the galaxy; you see a planet that’s been utterly ravaged by a big force and a lot heroes trying to stop it, and a lot have already died. Then we cut to the future. We come in in a few pages in the modern day Florida where Johnny and Hadji are walking around with these jet packs on. You realize right away somehow this is going to tie, across the Universe, some stories together. It sets the tone right away that this is going to go big, even though we’re going to start down in the Florida Keys and the Everglades with all kinds of stuff like you might have seen at the beginning of the Jonny Quest opener coming after them.
It was interesting. The first way Dan [DiDio] told me about the project they wanted to do was by sending me the picture Darwin had drawn of all the characters together. It was great. He didn’t even tell me what it was. He just sent me the picture, which was a perfect way to do it because I saw them all together in this, like … Well, clearly, this has to all work. Somehow the Herculoids have to be in here, and the Impossibles, and the Galaxy Trio, and everybody.Continued below
I started thinking about that, like, how would you do a “New Frontier” for the Hanna-Barbera action figures of the 60’s, action adventure heroes of the 60’s. Then it started coming pretty fast. It’s because they do all have similar aesthetics to them, except, as Doc points out, the Impossibles. That was the one that, I admit, kind of threw me at first. Here’s these little guys that look like the Jetsons and are from the Flintstones cartoon. As usual, Shaner comes in, makes it work, and then it’s like, “Oh, good. Now it all works in my head again.” They are definitely from the lighter end of it. There’s heavier characters in the series, and you get to the light ones, the heavier ones being your Race Bannons and your Space Ghost and such.
Doc, who’s been the most fun character to play around with so far?
ES: I’m trying to think. Most of what I’ve done so far has been Jonny and Hadji. That’s been the bulk of it. We haven’t done much of Birdman, but I’m really looking forward to doing more Birdman.
JP: Yeah, Birdman caught us by surprise. I don’t think either Doc or I had a big, strong opinion on how to do Birdman. It wasn’t one I watched a whole lot, though I did watch him. Like in spy stuff, when a guy with an eye patch tell you what to do, you pretty much fly out and go do it. The fact that he was a bit more of a blank slate than a lot of the others lent to him just having more room to have his own personality. Instantly he came to life in the script. He’s a surprisingly cool character. His name is not Harvey, by the way. It’s Ray.
When you were talking about that, it’s like now everybody knows all the characters from parodies of them.
I was just going to say that.
JP: They know The Venture Brothers and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and Harvey Birdman [Attorney at Law]. It’s like, “Hey, there’s something to all these Hanna-Barbera characters we’ve still got all this stuff for.” This is kind of an interesting position for us to be in, like, “Okay, now we’ll show you what they were originally supposed to do. Can we pull that off?” That’s pretty much, in my mind, the tasks. Like, “Yeah, those were funny shows.” The Venture Brothers still is, and I love the fact that they stick to the aesthetics so hard. They clearly love the material. Now it’s like, “Okay, can we still make it work?” You’ll be the judge.
There is something about when you guys work together. There’s an innocence to a lot of the characters that you’ve dealt with, like the Marvel family, and then Flash Gordon has this totally incorruptible streak of adventure in it. Everything you guys do just has this sense of joy and enthusiasm, and it just bursts off the page. DC sent over a couple of the preview pages for this book, and I’m just looking at it grinning ear to ear because you guys have just done such an incredible job of bringing what’s fun about these characters to the forefront. That’s kind of where I want to wrap up today, just talk about what makes these characters so fun to play with? You can see how much fun you guys are having.
JP: Well, because we’re a couple of guys who just stumble around with blinders on, so it’s really easy for us. I don’t know. I hope Shaner has some insights on this. My thing is I just don’t like to be cynical in stuff like that, especially when it was something that started out as a kid show. Arguably, Jonny Quest wasn’t a kid show because it was on late at night, and they were totally smoking people left and right. It was really full on James Bond stuff when it came out, which was pretty heady to imagine the years, again, before you have mature stuff like that on at night in animated form. I just look at it like you don’t need the…here’s where I hand it off to Evan while I come up with a better quote because I was about to bumble into something there.
ES: This sounds simple, but I think we like to make the kind of stuff we like to read. Certainly for me…I don’t want to speak for Jeff, but this is the kind of stuff I like to read, is the fun stuff. Not that I don’t also read dark, heavy stuff. I do, but the stuff I really enjoy and get a kick out of is the fun. I think that that just ends up being in the book by osmosis or however you want to put it.
JP: Hopefully, people don’t get that when we’re saying fun, we don’t mean there aren’t consequences or there aren’t stakes in the story. I don’t like stuff like that. If I feel like the story is very safe, I tune out and I get bored really fast. It’s fun because it’s exciting. It’s not fun because it’s safe. I think we agree on that. You can heavy stuff happen without rubbing the reader’s face in it. I don’t know. Space Ghost blows up an alien. He doesn’t have to feel particularly great about it. He doesn’t have to stand there and watch it burn and amuse himself. Let him be a hero. Let them all be heroes. These aren’t … we’re not doing the anti-heroes here. I feel like they’re a bit covered for the past 40 years. In this case, we’re examining, like, why are…maybe these people aren’t different from everybody else. Why are they that way? Let’s just charge into with that. Captain Marvel, of course, was easy. I think we both had a clear idea of what Captain Marvel was like in his very innocent approach to things.
Thank you guys so much. If you’re looking for the next thing to please the Multiversity writers, a Captain Marvel ongoing is on our list. Take care of “Future Quest” first. Get a couple of good years in, and then …
ES: I’ve heard that. Can you guys push for us on Superman instead?
Sure. We’re on your side here.