MIKE BULLOCK, Writer/Creator
AP: Mike, welcome back to ALL PULP.
Mike Bullock: Thanks! [looks at the new blinds] I love what you’ve
done with the place.
AP: Ha! Catch everyone up on what you’ve been up to and what you’re working on.
MB: Well, I have a lot of irons in the fire, but the ones that AP’s
readers are most likely interested in include putting the finishing
touches on the first Black Bat/Death Angel graphic novel, which heads
to the printer this week.
AP: You’ve been involved heavily in Moonstone’s pulp comic line,
including bringing your own character, Death Angel into the mix as
well as working with well known characters from Pulp’s Golden Age. In
general, what appeals to you about these types of characters as a
MB: Since the first moment I saw the Michael Whelan cover on A
Princess of Mars back in the ‘70s, I’ve been a pulp fan. There’s just
something about speculative fiction created in the early 20th century
that’s always captivated my imagination. I think it has something to
do with the sheer sense of wonder many of those tales possess. Those
stories were also more clear-cut, in that you always knew the hero,
always knew the villain and were never bogged down in the “shades of
grey” trends and anti-hero shtick that’s so prevalent these days. I’ve
since become greatly intrigued by the creation process many pulp
writers went through back then and how they combined elements from the
real world with what we now call “fringe science,” melding both into a
bubbling concoction of imaginative zeal.
AP: Let’s narrow the scope here. You are the writer behind
Moonstone’s BLACK BAT. This iconic character is credited for being the
inspiration for many heroes that followed him, most notably Batman and
Daredevil. Who/what is THE BLACK BAT?
MB: He is a DA, a hero, a man who burns with a desire to use
everything at his disposal to bring the guilty to justice. In his
pre-Bat life, Anthony Quinn was nearly single-minded in his pursuit of justice through the legal system. I’ve often found that those who truly excel at what they do share this trait, and sometimes it takes them to heights those of us who tend to multi-task can never hope to achieve. That was true of Anthony Quinn, which put him directly in the crosshairs of organized crime. After an attempt to destroy evidence
goes horribly wrong, blinding Quinn in the courtroom that was his battlefield, he learns to adapt, (with that same single-mindedness) and move outside the confines of the system he so diligently defends by taking on the persona of the Black Bat.
AP: When you were given the BLACK BAT to write, what sort of feelings
went through your head, how did you feel about taking on a character
that, although not well known, had a definite established history,
personality, and a loyal fan base?
MB: Whether I like it or not, I’m no stranger to dealing with a
character with a decades-old, passionate, vocal fan-base. I mean, you
can’t write a character like The Phantom and not have that ghost
hanging over you every time you work on a story. So, that part of
taking on Black Bat didn’t faze me much. I’m cognizant of the fact
that some people will love what I’ve done, some will hate it and some
will find themselves indifferent. The only group I really fret over is
the last one.
AP: What’s the creative process you used when you started working on
BLACK BAT? Any special techniques, rituals, etc. that you go through
when writing a character for the first time and/or when developing a
MB: First, I dig around and read as much as I can about the character
such as past stories, online bios, information by knowledgeable fans,
etc. Then I sit down and try to imagine what was going through the
original creator’s mind when coming at the character for the first
time. Once I have a handle on how I feel the character will react to
certain situations and themes, I then turn around and try to concoct a
series of events I can transform into a story based on how the
character will interact with them.
AP: As you considered the directions you might go with the character, what stood out to you the most from the BLACK BAT’s story? What aspects hooked you as a fan that you then wanted to bring out to the readers?
MB: As I mentioned upstream, it’s the single-mindedness of Quinn. I’ve been fascinated with people many consider “game changers” for years
now, studying how they approach things. One commonality I’ve seen in such people, from sports icons, to filmmakers, to inventors, is their
single-mindedness. Men such as Robert E. Howard, Bruce Lee, Dale Earnhardt, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan and George Lucas all embody this
trait and it’s something that jumped out at me about Black Bat; a laser-like focus on the task at hand. While none of these men are striving to be the absolute best at what they do as an end game, their dedication to the craft brings that about as a by-product.
AP: A major discussion that goes on all the time in various media, but
particularly it seems where pulp characters are concerned, is why
modern creators change the classic characters in some way when they
write them. Did you come to BLACK BAT intending to change it, to
update it, to make it fit with modern stories? Or was that more of an
organic process, change happening as you put the idea together?
MB: I certainly didn’t set out to do that, but somewhere along the
line I think I did re-imagine him to a certain extent, or possibly a
more accurate way to say it would be ‘re-create’ him. My fascination
with the old pulp writers, combined with the study of game-changing
men made me stop and take a hard look at just what I thought a man
like Norman Daniels might do with Black Bat were he to create the
character now instead of the 1930s. He’d have the backdrop of the
early 21st century mindset to work from, with our lessened societal
moral code: what was considered “R” rated in the 20th century is “PG”
these days. He’d also have a solid working knowledge of post-traumatic
stress disorder and how it can ‘cause personality fragmentation. He’d
know how personality fragmentation works and how it manifests. He’d
also know that rarely is a man who is so driven justified with what
most consider normal.
All those factors lead to a perfect storm of sorts, ignited by the
acid that hit Quinn in the face and brought the genesis of the Black
AP: One change, subtle to some, glaring to others, is that your BLACK
BAT is a killer. Even though BLACK BAT did sometimes use maximum force in the original stories, your take on Tony Quinn is definitely more savage, more ruthless. What was the motivation behind this? Was it because these types of characters sell or was it more to do with the character itself?
MB: I don’t do anything because I think it will sell, because honestly
I have no clue what will or won’t sell. If I did know, I wouldn’t need
to write anymore, except to sign my name to royalty checks at the bank [laughing]. The decision to go there with this incarnation of Black Bat was nothing more than the logical progression of what I mentioned above: A single-minded, traumatized, fractured man who views criminals as a disease that needs to be cured. Or, maybe it’s all part of a larger campaign to strike fear in the powerful men behind those Black Bat encounters? Since the original Black Bat vowed to use fear as a weapon, it makes sense that he would communicate that fear in a language his adversaries speak. In the interests of not spoiling what’s to come, I don’t want to say which way it’s really going...
AP: Is your version of BLACK BAT more relevant today than the
original version? Does relevance even matter?
MB: I have no idea. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder. Some
might only find it relevant if I adhere exactly to what’s come before,
others might see it as me doing something that fits into modern times,
others might only consider it relevant if they’re entertained. That’s
another one of those questions, like “what sells” that I’m just not
smart enough to answer.
AP: One of the arguments many of the pulp purists have when discussing
changing existing characters is “If you want to make him different
than what he was, give him a different name and create a new
character!” What are your thoughts on that? Why are creators looking
at these old, largely forgotten properties and tweaking and changing
them instead of creating whole new characters from top to bottom?
MB: I couldn’t speak for why anyone else does that other than creators create, it’s in our DNA. For me, I acknowledge that no one will ever write a Black Bat story as good as the ones already in print written by the Bat’s creator. No one will ever write Conan as well as Howard, no one will ever write Doc Savage as well as Lester Dent and I never wrote a Phantom story that measures up to one from Lee Falk. So, instead of trying to do the impossible, I felt led to try and sit in Daniels’ seat, think inside his parameters, but include what we know these days in regards to the psychology of fear.
All the old tales, and all the news ones as well, always have a
certain degree of social commentary, a certain amount of the writer’s
worldview and life experience built into them, sometimes overtly, but
more often than not subconsciously. I think we have to acknowledge the
age old adage: Life imitates art. It’s hard to imitate certain aspects
of a life we’ve never led, while striving to remove aspects of the one
we do lead.
There’s also the real possibility I’m simply off my rocker…
And, to touch on the other point, I did create my own pulp character
from top to bottom with Death Angel.
AP: To follow that tangent, tell us about that. What makes Death Angel
fit into the pulp world?
MB: Death Angel is a combination of unquenchable drive, righteous anger and fringe science all balled into one package of “night stalking” vigilante. ‘Angel is my tip of the hat to the great writers who heralded the golden age of speculative fiction from the 20th century. My chance to create my own take, do with it as I want, and tell the sorts of stories that have no place in my other creator-owned properties like Lions, Tigers and Bears or Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel. So far, reader feedback has been very positive, so I think I’m doing something right… for once [laughing]
AP: All right, soapbox time. You have as long as you want to pitch
BLACK BAT to the purists, to the readers and fans who feel like you should have left BLACK BAT as is. Why should they read what you’re doing with the character? What will they find that they can connect to in your take on this character?
MB: All I’d ask is that everyone waits for the story to unfold before jumping to any conclusions. I know it falls under the “not your Father’s” cliché, but I love the character and really tried to imbue that into the stories. I really want to show people who never read
Black Bat stories why he’s such a great character, and hopefully, that
will lead them back to the source material. Unlike some people who
have taken on older characters of late, I truly love the pulp “genre”,
truly love the characters and want them to regain the spotlight they
deserve. If you disagree, then by all means, speak your mind, but I’d
ask that you give it a fair shake before deciding it is or isn’t for
you. That’s all I can ask.
AP: What else do you have cooking, pulp wise and beyond, in the future?
MB: Well, I’m looking forward to doing more with Black Bat and Death Angel, as well as Captain Future and a few other things. Joe Gentile and I are slowly laying the ground work for a Return of the Originals: Battle for LA sequel, of sorts (not really a continuation of what CJ Henderson wrote, but just another epic tale featuring a multitude of pulp heroes). On the pulp event-horizon you’ll find Savage Beauty, our new jungle girl book, and Air Vixens, featuring a new tale with Bald Eagle, Black Angel and Jasmine LaForge of Iron Ace fame.
I’m working on another “brought back to life” property that I can’t
talk about just yet, but I can say the last time the character was in
comics, he was one of the five most popular comic characters on Earth.
For anyone into all-ages comics, my own Lions, Tigers and Bears is
roaring back into book stores in May, with the debut of volume III,
followed soon thereafter by re-issues of volume I & II. I also have
another all-ages property I’m creating right now that will hopefully
hit stores in 2012.
AP: Thanks, Mike!