Art Ops #1 Cover Interviews 

Shaun Simon Shares the Secrets of “Art Ops” [Interview]

By | October 1st, 2015
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

One of the most anticipated of the new Vertigo titles is “Art Ops,” from writer Shaun Simon (“Neverboy,” “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys”) and artist Mike Allred (“Madman,” “iZombie”). The story is one that is instantly memorable: people are stealing artwork, but not in the way that you think. Instead of taking a painting off the wall, they are stealing the subjects of the artwork. So, for instance, issue #1 sees the Art Ops – sort of the Secret Service for art – protecting the Mona Lisa herself, by pulling her out of her painting and putting her into, essentially, Witness Protection.

The concept is incredibly fun, and the first issue doesn’t disappoint. I had the pleasure of speaking to writer Shaun Simon (who happens to be a fellow New Jersey denizen, like a few members of the Multiversity staff, myself included) about working with a legend like Mike Allred, the relationship his music has played in his comics work, and what the series will do when Allred returns to “Silver Surfer” come January.

This is obviously a book with a high concept that is very centered both in espionage and also in fine art. What is your relationship with art? Are you a big museum guy?

Shaun Simon: I’m not a big museum guy. I do find art in all its forms very interesting. I think because…it’s very personal and it’s created by people who obviously have a desire to do it. To express what they see or what they feel, I think, that always intrigued me and see what kind of art people create. It’s very interesting to me, especially when you’re talking like abstract and surrealist stuff. That stuff is absolutely fascinating to me.

It’s interesting because there’s a lot about art in the book. However, the book is really about the artwork, not the artist. Was that kind of a purposeful take you guys wanted to approach the book from?

SS: Yeah. I think because the idea that once something is created, it exists. It’s more about what is created rather than who is creating it. I do think we will get into the other side of that at some point, but for this first arc we want to stick to the art itself.

That makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting because it’s a book about art and you have one of the most identifiable artists working in comics doing the art for it. How did you and Mike hook up, and how great is it to write a comic that Mike Allred draws?

SS: That was all Shelly Bond. I came to her with this idea. I originally pitched it to her as a short for one of Vertigo’s anthologies. She liked it so much that she asked me if I wanted to turn it into an ongoing series. Then she brought up Mike Allred’s name. He’s not someone you just throw around unless you think you can get him.

I know Mike and Shelly go back to the eighties, I believe. I think Mike’s first job as an artist was with Shelly editing. She always kind of loops Mike in – they share a lot of the same likes and tastes in music and art and comics. Mike’s always said when Shelly has something cool and interesting, she always brings it up with Mike and Mike tends to agree with her. That’s what happened with this. She brought it up with Mike and he kind of fell in love with the idea. We started talking back and forth in developing it.

What did Mike bring to the book that wasn’t there before he got involved?

SS: His whole aesthetic. For example, how Reggie Riot looks. He’s kind of basically punk rock kind of attitude oozing type of character. As issue, the issue two cover is out there, he has this art arm. For example, when I tried to describe this, of what I’m thinking, he just kind of understood it and then he sent us this image, which is the cover for issue two. It just blew our minds, Shelly and mine.

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The cover to Art Ops #2

I think Mike is such a recognizable name in comics and I think that he brings something that you can’t just get anywhere else. It’s a Mike Allred book. You know what you’re going to get and you know how it’s going to look. I do think what he’s doing in this book is a little visually different than what we’ve seen before, which is interesting to me. Maybe it’s a little darker.

Yeah. Absolutely. A lot of Mike’s books, and I mean this as a compliment, they feel like they take place someplace other than the real world.

SS: Right.

He has this very ethereal quality to his work and I feel like this was very rooted in the real world. I really enjoyed it for that reason.

SS: Yeah. Right. I don’t think that’s something we’ve seen a lot from Mike. That was one of the things. We met up, maybe it was … I don’t know. I think it was two years ago when we first came- when it first started happening. Mike was in town and he was doing that Special Edition: New York City.

Mike, Laura [Allred, Mike’s wife/colorist], and Shelly and I, we met up and we walked around the village. We walked around New York City. He had a camera out and he wanted to see a lot of the city. He got a lot of inspiration in New York City. We wanted to bring it somewhere relatable. He walked around and he took it all in. I don’t think he’d been to the city all that much so I think this was a big trip for him and very inspirational as well, to try to nail this city down and make it to what it is now in the book.

This is obviously a question that I think Mike would answer in a different way than you would answer, but starting the book with the Mona Lisa as one of the main characters and one of the main thrust of the book, that is such an iconic piece of artwork. Were you ever worried of like, ‘oh crap we have to make sure that this looks just like the Mona Lisa?’ Was there added pressure you think on Mike to try and replicate the look of something so iconic?

SS: No I wasn’t worried. I know Mike was very – he was very intent on getting her to look right. I know he put a lot of work into that. It’s such a simple- she’s very simple looking. However we do kind of fuck all that up on purpose.


SS: As this first arc goes on, she changes the way she looks. Under all of that, it’s still her and the way he’s drawing her, you still know who she is whether she’s wearing knee high boots and tight leather pants or whether she looks like from the painting. That’s a huge compliment for Mike to be able to do that.

Yeah. That’s actually one of the things I loved about the book; we’ve only seen the Mona Lisa as a still image. I’m sure there are people that you’ve seen a photograph of first, but then you meet them in real life and they kind of look like that photograph, but not really.

SS: Yeah.

Every shot of Mona Lisa in the book looks like the Mona Lisa without looking like the painting of the Mona Lisa. It’s hard to describe. Mike did a really masterful job.

SS: Yeah. He absolutely did, man. That, like I said, is a huge compliment. You’re going to see a lot more. She’s going to go through different changes in these first five issues too. He just nails it every time.

Both you and Mike have a history as musicians. You both have played in bands. I’ve interviewed Mike a few times, and I know he’s a huge music fan. I presume that somebody who’s played in bands before that you’re as well a huge music fan. How does your love of music inform what you do in a comic? Is there any connection there or do you see them as separate loves in your life?
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SS: I don’t see them separate. I think the way I grew up, I grew up playing in bands and I grew up getting chased by cops on my skateboard. There’s definitely a lot of that goes into Reggie Riot as a character. I also think there’s this…you look at a great pop song and verse, chorus, verse, chorus. To try to emulate that into a comic somehow would be something, I think, very, very cool. The ups and downs and this and that. It’s something that, it’s always in the back of my head subconsciously. The ups and downs and the way things kind of flow.

Yeah. I like that. That’s actually a really cool way to think about it.

I have to ask about the art arm. It’s such a crazy concept and it looks so insane on the page. Was that something that you came up with full formed or did Mike’s interpretation of that really change how the art arm looks?

SS: No that was totally Mike on that one. That was something that I wanted to have with this character from the beginning. I didn’t know how to describe it. I didn’t know how to get that across and what it should look like. I think it was just basically he’s got this swirling art arm. I think it was as simple as that and then Mike took that and just went to town and gave us what we have now. I never imagined it looking so cool, with the bandages and the art kind of swirling in and out of it. It looks very cool.

It almost reminds me a little bit, just because of the bandages, of something you’d see in “Doom Patrol” or like a crazy sci-fi influenced comic from the sixties, which is such a Mike Allred thing, and is so perfect. It really does fit in the story.

SS: Those books are definitely stuff that inspired me and made me want to create comics. I think “Art Ops” is an extension of that. I think that people who love those kind of books are really going to … I think “Art Ops” has a very similar energy and vibe. Its intention is to be a comic and I think it excels at being a comic.

I know that Mike has other commitments and other publishers coming up in the future so he probably won’t be the only artist to touch the book.

SS: Yeah.

How much do you think the book is going to change under the pencil of somebody else or is that part of the charm of it? You can take a comics artist that can work differently with a different style of fine art and then shift the book that way for a different arc? Basically I guess my question is how artist dependent are the stories you’re going to be telling from here on out?

SS: I think one of the greatest things about this book is that we can have different artists come in and we do have different artists come in. We have, I don’t know if it’s announced yet, but we have someone coming in and doing a two parter, and then after that it’s going to be a one shot by two different artists.

For me as a comic writer and a reader, I love to see different artist’s take on these characters. I think that’s something that Mike is very interested in too. We do have some really awesome, awesome people coming in and doing guest artwork. He’s also working with Matt Brundage. He’s a long time friend of Mike and he’s coming in and doing pencils on some of the issues for Mike. The way that these two are working together, it’s phenomenal.

I’m a big fan of that. I’m a big fan of different takes on characters and all that stuff. It’s going to be fun to watch.

“Art Ops” #1 is on sale October 28th.

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).