Lions, Tigers, and Gimoles - Oh My! An Interview With Mike Bullock
Mike Bullock is a rare talent: a writer who is equally at home both in the fictional Stuffed Animal Kingdom and the very real jungles of Africa . He is probably best known as the writer of LIONS, TIGERS & BEARS and THE PHANTOM, but soon, readers will get to discover (or rediscover) his characters, the Gimoles in SECRETS OF THE SEASONS. I originally planned this to be a Gimoles-only interview, but the more I thought about it, the more questions I came up with that were related to other subjects. Mike, great guy that he is, kindly agreed to indulge me.
Comics in the Classroom-John Norris: Wow, it's been WAY too long since we last saw the Gimoles! Are you relieved to have them back in print?
Mike Bullock: Absolutely. The Gimoles first sprang (pun intended) to life in my imagination nearly twenty years ago, so it's a wonderful feeling to finally have their first story “in the can”.
CitC-JN: For those who may not be familiar with the Gimoles, how about providing a brief synopsis.
MB: The Gimoles are the little elves responsible for the creation of springtime. For eons, they've worked hard at creating flowers and leaves, and teaching baby songbirds to sing. However, one year, Ichabod Cornelius Frost, the Czar of Winter, decides he never wants the snowy season to end. In order to make this happen, he kidnaps Mr. Groundhog, so that he can't signal the end of winter by shutting down the snow and ice machines. Well, as you may have guessed by now, it's up to the Gimoles to rescue Mr. Groundhog and bring winter to an end before it's too late.
CitC -JN: How did you come up with the idea?
MB: A long time ago, I had a friend who was rather slender and his ears were somewhat pointy. One day, I was over at his house and he was out in the garden helping his grandmother (who also resembled an elf) clear the snow away from the planting rows and topsoil. It clicked in my mind that they looked like little elves making spring. I sat down immediately and wrote out a poem that became the basis for the story in Secrets of the Seasons v1: The Gimoles.
CitC -JN: This is going to be a graphic novel, correct? Is Theo Bain returning as the artist?
MB: Yes, this is a graphic novel. Unfortunately, Theo Bain completed the first half of the story and had to move on to other things. Luckily, for me, Lions, Tigers and Bears editor Ron Marz introduced me to Michael Metcalf and within a few weeks he was nearing completion of the second half.
CitC -JN: The franchise is being retitled “Secrets of the Seasons.” How come?
MB: In the few years since the single issue of the Gimoles came out, I've had time to expand upon the story, as well as field lots of requests to tell stories featuring Caliday - the Sultan of Summer, and the Niffles - the Autumn elves. With that in mind, I've laid out four tales (one for each season) to showcase the other mythical creatures that make the seasons march on.
CitC -JN: Let's go back to LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS for a bit. How did that series originate?
MB: LTB started as a prose serial that was to run in the back of a magazine that never got off the ground. Once the plug got pulled on the magazine, I shelved the whole thing until the fateful day when Jack Lawrence came to me and asked if I wanted to work on a comic with him. The rest, to quote a cliché, is history.
CitC -JN: LTB's production had its share of setbacks (as did GIMOLES), from switching publishers to replacing artist Jack Lawrence with Paul Gutierrez. How did you handle yourself during this time?
MB: Luckily, I'm already bald so there wasn't much hair to pull out. It was a pretty rough time. Jack and I had talked numerous times about working together until we were old and grey, but when you get the sort of offer Jack received, you just can't say no. Action Man: A.T.O.M. is something of a dream job for him, with a dream paycheck, so it only made sense that he would need to devote his all to that. For me, it was as if someone pulled the rug out from under everything. However, God provided and everything has since worked out for the best.
CitC -JN: How does it feel to be back at Image Com ics ?
MB: I'm not sure I ever really left. But, all-in-all, it's a great feeling. I lived in Southern California when Image was founded and remember all the electricity in the air when they were making their first moves. I was a musician at the time and a band mate and I really wanted to create comics for Image. Ten years later, I got my wish and it's been great.
CitC -JN: LTB has won accolades from critics and fans (deservedly so), including the prestigious Ang oulême Discovery Prize for Younger Audiences. What was the Ang oulême experience like?
MB: Totally unexpected. I didn't even know LTB was in the running until it had won. I received a private message on the Image forums simply titled “congrats!” when I opened it (expecting some sort of odd spam or something) I found a nice gentleman from France informing me that LTB had won the prize.
CitC -JN: Are there any future plans for Joe y's favorite hero, Tiger-Man?
MB: He recently appeared in the POPGUN v1 anthology from Image in a campy flashback story. Remember the comic Joe y was reading in LTBv1 #1? Well, that's this story. It's reprinted in the second LTB trade also. I've talked with a few artists about bringing him to his own mini series, but the time just hasn't seemed right as of now.
CitC -JN: How did THE PHANTOM come to you?
MB: I have a friend who writes wonderful stories in the vein of the Twilight Zone. While watching an episode of the Night Stalker TV show, based on Carl Kolchak, it occurred to me that said friend would be great at writing Kolchak comics. So, I emailed Joe Gentile at Moonstone and introduced my friend and told Joe he should hook him up to write some Kolchak stories. Joe responded, “That's cool, but what do you want to write for us?” Without a split second's hesitation, I said “The Phantom.” As it was, Joe needed someone to pen a fill in issue to give then series writer Ben Raab a break. After I submitted the script and it was approved by King Features, Ben decided to move on to other things and Joe offered me the job full time.
CitC -JN: You recently completed an arc entitled “Invisible Children,” in which the Phantom takes on an African madman named HIM. Seeing as this arc was based on terrible real-life events, was it hard to write?
MB: The only hard thing about it was forcing myself to pull back and not show the degree of horror the real life children endure. The original plot was far more gruesome than what appeared in the actual comics, but being as these are comic books, we felt the need to tone down the reality of the situation. In the end, I'm thankful that the arc brought attention to the cause and that helped to alleviate the suffering of those kids.
CitC -JN: I have you to thank for turning me on to SONIC X, since I began reading with issue #21, which you wrote. How did that come about? Are there plans to write future issues?
MB: I had a friend introduce me to an editor at Archie back in '05. It seems they had plans on grabbing up several of the all-ages creators and having us all do issues of Sonic X. Somehow, that all changed at some point and I ended up as the only one who did a story. While I had a lot of fun writing it, I don't foresee doing anything more with the blue hedgehog any time soon.
CitC -JN: You've been fortunate to have some amazing artistic talent giving life to your stories, such as Lawrence and Gutierrez (LTB), Bain (GIMOLES) and Silvestre Szilagyi (PHANTOM). What's it been like collaborating with these guys?
MB: A real blessing. Each and every one of those guys, plus the handful of others I've worked with, are all amazingly talented. While I miss collaborating with Jack Lawrence the most, I love the fact that I know get to work with guys as talented as Silvestre, Manny Trembley and Samicler Gonçalves.
CitC -JN: What do you want from an artist?
MB: Fun. I want them to have fun while drawing/inking/coloring/lettering so that the fun pours all over the page and then creeps up and wipes a smile all over the face of the readers.
CitC -JN: How much description do you give, and how much do you leave to the artist?
MB: That varies from artist to artist and issue to issue. Sometimes I have a very specific image I see in my mind and I try my best to describe it to a “T” for the artists. Mostly, I tell them what I'm imagining and leave it to them to enhance that and bring it to life.
CitC -JN: You have two projects in development, LIGHT KNIGHT and WE'RE WOLVES. What can you tell us about them?
MB: Manny Trembley, known for such awesome Image books as Sam Noir and Panda Express , has recently jumped onboard to bring The Light Knight to comic stores. Manny and I have revamped the character, redone his costume, rebooted his origin story and are in the process of creating an entire new mini series to bring LK to the world. We've left the kids out of this, and are concentrating solely on the ‘Knight. Once he's firmly established, we may bring the kids into the picture, but at the moment, we're working on him and him alone.
We're Wolves has stalled out after artist Ruben Procopio had too many demands placed on his time to continue with the book. I'm hoping to find a new artist to bring that one along sometime soon, but haven't had much chance to look around over the last few months due to all my other projects.
CitC -JN: You mentioned being a musician and band mate. What instrument(s) do you play? Are you currently performing in a group?
MB: I play guitar and bass and used to sing. I say used to, as I trashed my voice years ago and can't do much in the vocal department anymore. I haven't been in a band in about six years, and haven't played a show since the mid 90s. While I do miss it from time to time, I get far more satisfaction out of writing comics.
CitC -JN: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
MB: All kinds of stuff. One day I might want to listen to some classic jazz, the next I'm listening to classic rock, then a day later it's extreme metal. Right now I spend the most time listening to Jeremy Camp, Soul Embraced, Newsboys and Becoming the Archetype. Ask me again in a few months and it'll be a whole different set of bands, though.
CitC -JN: Do you listen to music while writing?
MB: No, I prefer silence. I try to really escape into the world's I'm writing about and, for some reason, I never hear music in those worlds. Which, now that I think about it is rather odd, as I always have some sort of song playing in the back of my mind...
CitC -JN: Who has influenced you, both personally and professionally?
MB: When I was young, the two bands I wanted to be in were KISS and Heart. As I began playing in bands, I found myself really being drawn in by such a multitude of musicians I really can't say which one influenced me the most.
CitC -JN: How has being a Christian impacted your work?
MB: I don't really know that's it's impacted it one way or another other than the obvious backdrop one would gain from their beliefs. And, there have certainly been times where the Lord has helped me over hurdles and given me the strength to get a job done when I wasn't really feeling it.
MB: The only thing I've struggled with is finding a solid Christian company to help bring my non-secular stories to life. If there's one out there you know of, please let me know.
CitC -JN: Anything else you'd like to share?
MB: Just a request for folks to preorder the Secrets of the Seasons: The Gimoles. It's available in the April/June Previews in the Image Section.
CitC -JN: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
MB: Thanks, John! God bless!
By thy side,
John “Figaro” Norris
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