Talking All Time Comics with Josh Bayer and Mixing “Contemporary” with “Old School”

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-jim-rugg-cover-2In December, Fantagraphics announced a new superhero universe All Time Comics headed up by Josh Bayer. The line will feature a series of six comics featuring stand alone, interconnected adventures with a focus of retro crime fighting bringing together new cartoonists with classic creators.

The line of comics features the creative talents of Bayer, Herb Trimpe, Ben Marra, Jim Rugg, Johnny Ryan, Al Milgrom, Das Pastoras, Tony Millionaire, Rick Buckler, Victor Martinez, and Noah Van Sciver.

I got a chance to ask Josh some questions about the line, its influences, and what we can expect.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for All Time Comics come from and how long did it take from the initial idea to the announcement?

Josh Bayer: That’s a good question. It was an incredibly long time, from 2014 ‘til now. Looking back, that three years represents a ton of work under the bridge, writing scripts, editing contacting talent, getting worked lettered, colored, not to mention promoting and getting the work ready to print.

GP: With a shared superhero universe starting from scratch, that has to feel a bit overwhelming. How’d you go about figuring out what to characters to highlight with this initial batch?

JB: Beginning points are always hard. With All Time Comics, we started eating the sandwich from the middle. Not only did we jump into the middle of this endeavor, but we wrote the books as if there was a whole history, as if these are from an alternate universe where All Time Comics were an ongoing thing for decades. I wrote most of the books, or co-wrote them with Ben concurrently with each other, so if one book wasn’t the best beginning point the next one might be. That lessened some of that anxiety.

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-johnny-ryan-cover-2GP: What were your influences while putting this together? What are some of your favorite shared superhero universe?

JB: I don’t know if they influenced but inspired yes: Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics, Alan Moore’s 1963 line and some of Mark Grunewald’s Dp7 comics, and a few of the other New Universe books. Definitely, but mostly Mark Grunewald.

GP: One of the big things you hear folks talking about when it comes to shared universes is accessibility. Was that on your mind when you went about creating everything?

JB: Yes, but that’s more like something which makes sense in retrospect rather than something I planned.  I just wanted to make some books with my brother and my friends, and then with my heroes, it got more interesting as it went on.

GP: How much detail have you go into creating all of the characters? Is there years of backstory or is this the “birth” of these characters and universe?

JB: Not all the backstory is present, we really scratch the surface. We show Crime Destroyer’s origin in a one-page montage that is my favorite Herb Trimpe page. We don’t go into the other three heroes’ backstories, so there is a lot of that to delve into in the future, potentially.

At the same time Phil Jimenez was my teacher at SVA, he used to say that the modern comics industry sometimes thinks that everything needs a reason behind it and an explanation, but not everything needs an explanation all the time. So there’s checks and balances, we know the past of the characters, but you don’t necessarily need all that information to make them the best comics they can be.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-das-pastoras-cover-rgbGP: The folks participating on the project is an impressive roster of talent. How’d you go about recruiting everyone and what were some of their initial reactions?

JB: The younger cartoonists were mostly people I already knew. For the older artists I asked around. One of my friends Cliff Gailbrath was instrumental in getting me in touchy with Herb, and I think I contacted Al through his commission website. Once Herb vouched for me it opened a lot of doors. Aside from that I was really lucky and worked hard to impress those guys. I had never done as polished as script as I produced for Herb, but I wanted it to be as impressive as I could manage. I have no complaints about how that evolved I look back and I was very fortunate that this thing worked.

GP: How’d it get decided who would work on what project?

JB: I just made lists of my favorite people, made them offers, and shifted teams around based on their needs and availability. Each one was an experiment, and each one worked out. Believe me, I’d love to have 15 more teams of unlikely collaborators working together. It’s just a matter of time, money, and basic resources, not a lack of inspiration.

GP: Diversity seems to be on the mind of so many in the industry. Was that something you thought about when creating the characters and recruiting the talent?

JB: Having older and younger artists working together is a nice step towards representing those older and younger faces, but I’d like All Time Comics to be more diverse. Season one, we had four artists, all from similar backgrounds, even if we’re from different eras.  If there’s a Season Two, you’ll hear from a broader array of voices in some All Time Comics books we have coming out after these first issues.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-tony-millionaire-coverGP: The announcement talks about “old-school comics” and “contemporary storytelling.” What are those things to you?

JB: That’s a good question, since those are broad terms and are meant as a calling card to the public. Old School comics had a texture and an energy I liked. That energy was embodied by people like Al and Herb, and that energy is still around, not just in our books — it’s not like mainstream comics are done by robots. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve seen that I like in other people’s superhero comics. People like Ben and Noah are both contemporary and old school, they are traditionalist, and at the same time are interested in speaking to people in today’s world. And so am I. Old school and contemporary means the combination of all our efforts.

GP: There’s been the initial announcement and launch, can we expect more down the road?

JB: First, we need everyone to go out and dig Crime Destroyer, Bullwhip, Atlas and Blind Justice. After that? To be continued….

GP: Thanks so much for chatting.