TOM FLOYD-Artist/Writer/Creator of CAPTAIN SPECTRE
AP: Tom, pull up a chair here at the ALL PULP interview table. It’s a pleasure to have you. Can you give us a bit of background on who Tom Floyd is?
TF: First of all thanks for having me here at All Pulp. I do appreciate it a lot.
Who is Tom Floyd, good question, as I still have trouble with that one. I have been a roustabout in the oil field, a soldier in the U.S. Army, a mechanic, an art teacher in public schools, a black line camera operator, a graphic designer…let’s just say I have worked at a lot of jobs. I am a father and grandfather, kind of a recluse, but always a kid at heart. Also always interested in comics, and storytelling. I grew up fairly isolated, but always had my imagination to rely upon.
AP: Okay, you have your hand in Pulp in a few different ways, but let’s focus first on your art. Can you give us a rundown of what sort of projects you have done as an artist, pulp-wise?
TF: Well first and foremost is the current Captain Spectre comic, which is a cross between my love of pulps and movie serials. I have also illustrated an edition of Tarzan of the Apes for the Burroughs Bibliophiles, and several editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs books for Bison Press. I have worked on the Spider for Moonstone, doing the first Spider Christmas story with my good friend and great writer Martin Powell. I also got to illustrate a collection of Spider stories for Moonstone. I have illustrated some game art for various companies doing pulp style role-playing games. And currently working on the first short feature of KiGor the Jungle Lord for Moonstone. Also some covers for various small publishers that are doing pulp reprints and the so called ‘neo-pulp’ stuff.
AP: What appeals to you as an artist about creating pulp art? What sets pulp art apart from other genres of art?
TF: Everything about pulp art is what draws me to it. I like the time period especially. I am a huge fan of the movies of the 30’s and 40’s and the serials, so all of that carries over into the pulp art. It is a heroic art form. And at the same time sensational and sexy. It was the original archetype for comic art. It’s like the adventure started with the pulps. I like to research the clothing, the cars, and guns, and especially like dreaming up my own science equipment. Nothing like designing your own death-ray.
AP: You’ve done quite a bit of art around the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Are you an ERB Fan? How did you get associated with ERB in terms of doing art for several published items? What appeals about ERB to you as a fan and artist?
TF: Yes, I am a huge fan of ERB. He is one of the authors I read as a kid. I was able to lose myself in Burrough’s Africa especially. The Tarzan books are my favorites, but I enjoyed the Mar’s books, and all the others.
My first job doing some Burroughs art other than for myself was with Bison Books. I did several covers and interiors for them. Everything from Pellucidar, to all the Moon books, then I was contacted by Jerry Schiender from the Burroughs Society to do an edition of Tarzan of the Apes. I did two covers, one for the dust jacket, one for the frontispiece, 8 black and white full page illustrations and 28 chapter headers for the text. It was my finest hour, to actually get to do a published Tarzan. This year I was contacted again by a section of the Burroughs Society to do the cover for a new edition of ‘the Mucker’. Also I was the artist guest of honor at the convention in Chicago and I was awarded the Golden Lion Award. I must say it was unexpected and of one the greatest honors of my life.
I guess what appeals to me the most about the Burroughs works are mostly the visuals. On one hand he gives you enough details to imagine what things look like, but on the other it is like it is shrouded in a fog. So as an artist you can get in there and add or take away things and people still recognize it as a scene from a Burroughs story. You also can’t beat ray-guns and swords for posing people with.
AP: Burroughs is a very visual writer, very descriptive in many ways. What kind of challenge does that present to you as an artist, other than the fact that it is ERB?
TF: Just the fact that it is ERB is a really daunting fact. Just getting over the shock that someone wants me to illustrate any of ERBs works is a hurtle. Then I have to think about making sure what I draw is true to the text and the visual language of the novel. I always read through the book I am working on. When I did the Tarzan of the Apes, it was the pulp text not the printed book, I read through it because honestly I had never read the pulp. Most people don’t realize it is different from the novel. When the book got printed some revisions were made. Most striking to me was the scene where the tiger is attacking the cabin where Jane is hiding. Burroughs went in and changed the tigers to female lions in the book version. So I got to show Tarzan fighting with a tiger. It was great fun.
Also trying to pick a certain look for the characters. With Tarzan there are so many versions, and influences. My first vision of Tarzan was the Johnny Weissmuller movies. He, even though is vastly different than the book Tarzan, will always be my favorite on screen version of Tarzan and visual idea of the character. Again Burroughs descriptions of places and characters give you enough information to make them identifiable to fans, but leaves enough room for an artist to play around with. That way each artist can make his/her own version and fans still recognize the character. Also you have to overcome the fact that artists like Hal Foster, Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel, and so many great artists have drawn these characters. So you have to bring your best to the table each time.
AP: TARZAN and other Burroughs creations are not the only established characters you’ve rendered. Can you talk about your work related to KI-GOR and THE SPIDER?
TF: With both the Spider and KiGor, I was already a bit fan of both. I always preferred the Spider's adventures to the other crime-fighters of the era. I like the craziness of the stories and really wanted to do a Spider comic. I really enjoyed doing the illustrations for the Spider stories first. Then I really pushed for a Spider comic, and got the chance to do a story for the Moonstone Christmas anthology. Again with my favorite writer, Martin Powell. I wish I could have continued with the series as I was just getting comfortable with the character, and his look and feel.
With KiGor again Martin Powell and I approached Joe Gentile at Moonstone for KiGor to be a small try out part of the new Originals series at Moonstone. KiGor is the best clone of Tarzan, and since I will probably never get to do a Tarzan strip, I really wanted to bring back good old jungle adventures. As with each product I produce, I try to do the best I can in the time allowed. I could spend lots more time getting it just right, but again with my day job and all I only really get to work on comics an hour or two a night, and on weekends. So I try to produce the best I can. There was some updating done with KiGor, as per the request of Moonstone. So I came up with several versions of the character. I guess the main thing was they wanted a bit more of a modern take. I came up with the idea of the scarification on his left arm. Since KiGor was taken in by a shaman, which also gives a mystic quality to the character, I thought that maybe one of the only things that Robert, KiGor, had with him was a coat of arms in a bible. His father was a missionary killed by a tribe. So his shaman father sees this coat of arms as a spirit guide, so he does the scarification on young Roberts arm. Hence the dragon, and the crenelated line from the Kilgore family crest. The other thing was KiGor was always shown on the pulp covers and in the books with a leopard skin loincloth. The fans can blame me for taking that away and using the standard doe skin type. I have never liked the look of the leopard skin loincloths. Also we sexed up Helene a bit more as she was always shown with a bathing suit type of leopard skin design. As any good woman will be she will have various outfits. I hope to change them for each story.
So no more Spider stuff for me in the near future, but look for KiGor in a widevision story, and the eleven page back up story from Moonstone in the early part of next year.
AP: When working with someone else’s character, what sort of process do you go through to prepare to work on it? Any techniques you use either in preparation or in production you would like to share?
TF: First off, I want to be faithful to the look and feel of the character. Or else why else do it. I have never understood why people take characters and change them so much that the original fans can’t even recognize them. I see so many modernizations of characters that fail, at least in my eyes. I understand companies do that because of the built in audiences, but I think you lose those readers when you destroy the characters. So I tried to remain faithful first and foremost. Of course you have to deal with people that are wanting things updated.
Then I have to draw the character and get used to drawing him/her. So I start out sketching. I produce tons of drawings, how the character stands, moves, fights, etc. What they look like on bad days, good days, with costume, without costume, in various sets of clothes. Sometimes I even pick an actor or actress from the past I think would be a good fit, visually for the character, and try to cartoon that persons looks into the character.
AP: When you’re working on a character that lived first in prose and now you’re drawing his/her comic adventures, is that different than just creating and drawing your own characters? Is there a certain pressure to meet a standard for fans of the original pulp adventures when you’re bringing their favorite heroes to life in a comic?
TF: Again, I try to remain faithful to the original version of the character whenever possible. The original version should be the template by which you work. Of course other influences come into play. The character has to flow with the artwork. You have to try to capture the better poses and visuals from the prose and translate them into the comic medium. There, again, is pressure from all sides in visualizing characters. From the fans, future fans, and the tradition of all the great illustrators that worked on the character before. I just always hope mine is a little different, and that someone somewhere likes it.
AP: You have your own creation that you not only draw, but also write. Who is Captain Spectre?
TF: Captain Spectre is my ultimate creation. He is everything I like about the kinds of stories I like to read. He is also a pawn of my imagination. I designed the strip and character to be able to plug him into every genre and he fits. Some characters from the moment of creation are a certain type of character. But the good Captain can take on all types of stories and genres. He could fit in a Universal horror movie type of story just as easy as he can fit into a space opera. He is a part of me, a very personal character. He is an outlet for my stories, personal and imaginary.
But technically he is the son of a scientist who turned to evil late in his career. As a boy Chris, Captain Spectre, was left alone to his own devices. When World War 1 broke out he joined up against his father’s wishes, which caused a rift in their relationship. As a soldier Chris earns the nickname Captain Spectre for his behind the lines work he does during the war. When he learns of his fathers death, he takes some of his fathers fantastic inventions to wage a war on evil wherever he finds it.
AP: It’s obvious when one looks at www.captainspectre.com that he was born of several influences. Would you list what some of those were and how they were a part of your development of Spectre?
TF: Well that is kind of a long list. Obviously when most people see it at first they think, depending on the age group, that it is a Rocketeer clone. That is what I usually get at comic conventions. Mostly since they only know that influence, and don’t even realize Rocketeer was a piece of the serial Commando Cody, Rocketman character. Commando Cody is my favorite serial character, so he was a major influence on Captain Spectre. The Captain is also part Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Captain America, Flash Gordon, TV’s Captain Midnight, a dash of Peter Pan, and a bit of the Spider thrown in. That is if you want separate it all out. Mainly the stalwart heroes influenced the basic character. But also Captain Spectre enjoys his adventures hence the dash of Peter Pan, and some characters like Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. The Lightning Legion is directly influenced by the Secret Squadron from TV’s Captain Midnight - I still have my decoder badge and patch, and still drink my ovaltine.
There are parts of me, my dad, and personal heroes in there too.
AP: Captain Spectre definitely has a special place in your work, that is evident in the sleek, streamlined way the site is set up and the level of content and items that are available. Is there a market in this modern era for a character steeped in old time radio shows, movie serials, and pulp magazines?
TF: Well again, I think a good story is a good story, so I would think that people don’t get turned off by the fact it takes place in the past, like a period Hollywood piece. Also I feel there is a history in comics that isn’t recognized sometimes. Where we came from, the beginnings of the industry, that should be preserved. About all I purchase anymore are older collections that are being published now. I am really glad those are around because I don’t buy anything new anymore. I have grown tired of the long stories that don’t seem to go anywhere and are totally character driven.
So I do think there is an audience for good stories, if only I could tell a good story. But I do think there have been some successes in the field. The Rocketeer was popular, mainly just for Dave Stevens art. I also feel that the Spider would translate to modern times because his body count was more than the Punisher. I know of revisions of a couple of other characters in the works, but aren’t happy with the treatment. But I am an old school kind of guy. I don’t even like new movies, and I even prefer black and white ones. But there are a few people out there like me, so those are the people who will read things like Captain Spectre.
Also you have to consider the digital comics route. I think this has the potential to reach more people. I have a few fans in other countries that I would have never reached if not for the internet. And I think it is all about the quality of the work. Good story and good art will get a few readers no matter what the genre.
AP: How do you make Spectre relevant to modern readers? Or is that even a concern you have?
Well, I actually didn’t start out thinking about modern readers. I just thought about what I hoped was good stories. The strip actually started as a way for my art to get better. I want to be a better penciller, inker, visual storyteller, and visual designer. I wanted to fill a niche of comics that don’t seem to exist much anymore. Good adventure cliff-hangers. I was really tired of the big event comics from the big two publishers. Plus I don’t even recognize some of the characters I grew up with anymore. So Captain Spectre is a throw back to the old days. I knew going in it was a tough sell, and that modern readers probably won’t like it much. I don’t have page upon page of characters standing around talking, and I don’t center on the personal problems of the characters like most big comics now days. I would like new readers to enjoy it because it a fun adventure strip, but all I can do is pour my heart and soul into it and hope people find something in it they can like. I have such a slow production rate since I have a day job and find it hard to make time to do the fun Captain Spectre stuff. It is hard to produce enough work to get noticed. The planning and process of doing the strip is very time consuming.
I think bottom line I want to tell good, solid, fun, and exciting stories and hope people find it.
Even today a good story is a good story. I hope one of these days I am a good enough storytelling to tell one. I do hesitate to call myself a writer. I try to improve all the time. But, I get bogged down sometimes in all the ideas I have, so more than half of them get thrown out, or set aside to be used later on. So maybe one of these days I will write something that will be good. I find I have lots of ideas for stories, I just hope I can get them on paper some time where they actually read like real stories.
AP: Do you have other original creations? If so, where might we point folks to check those out as well?
TF: I have tons of original characters. Some published, some hidden away for use later on. The Captain Spectre strip is a good clearing house, or place to introduce other characters I have created. Recently I introduced the Sam Justice, the Gun-Hawk, character I created. Sam is like all the B movie cowboys I grew up with, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Only no singing, I can’t write songs or play a musical instrument.
In the past I ran a comics company during the 80’s. Elite comics was called ‘the best kept secret in comics history’ since it didn’t last too long and was a color comics company during the black and white explosion days. We published several titles. I wrote and provided the art for ‘the Epsilon Wave’ which started a character called ‘nightmare’. I also created other characters in the past such as ‘Mr. Fright - the haunted man’ which was a really demented generational hero in the horror genre. I plan on reviving him in a Captain Spectre chapter someday. The Epsilon Wave also had a character which was all Texas in it. I had big plans for him and still do, so someday you may even see ‘Lone Star’ in a Captain Spectre chapter.
The Elite comics titles are still around in the quarter boxes at cons. Ever now and again someone will find an issue and pass it to me at a convention to sign. It is truly a blast from the past.
I have created characters in every genre since I was a kid. From sci-fi to secret agents they all still live in my mind, and hopefully I can get them all down on paper again someday.
AP: Pulp, both fiction and art, historically has been looked down upon. What would you say to someone who thinks pulp art is lesser than other types of art just because of its subject matter or the fact that it appeared on the cover of a fiction magazine?
TF: As an ex art teacher, I will try to keep this short since I could rant on it all day. First all illustration has been frowned on throughout the generations. There has always been a rift between the so called ‘fine artists’ and the illustrators. I have never understood the two camps, when bottom line it all comes down to one thing - making a living. Fine artists try to get exhibitions to sell their work, so they must get discovered. Illustrators have to get a paying job to sell their work. Just because one is cloaked in cosmic psycho-babble about creating the work and what they are doing, and the other in technical skill and style and publishing -- they are both about getting work and getting paid so you can create more work.
I mean honestly have you looked at modern art lately in a gallery, fine artists are doing the same thing that was done in the 40’s by people like Pollock and Stills. The fine artists go for the rich audience who can afford to own one of their paintings or whatever, and the illustrators go for the throat of the common man. The illustrators like telling stories and entertaining people not hiding away their work in rich guys dark hallway where only more rich people see it.
AP: What is in the near future for Tom Floyd? What is coming for Captain Spectre, as well as any other work you are doing?
TF: Well I consider Captain Spectre my future. I hope to retire in a few years from my day job and devote all my time to Captain Spectre and other projects. But in the pipeline right now for the good Captain is his first printed comic adventure. It will be a stand alone issue that is a good old fashioned slobber-knocker. Or in other words an all out action pulp adventure. The second issue will be World War 2 adventure, followed by the third adventure which will be a sword and planet type story.
Also I am about half way through that first KiGor short story, and have finished the KiGor widevision illustrations. I have other odds and ends in the pipeline but those are secret at the moment.
AP: Tom, its been a true honor to visit with you. Thanks for your time.