Mike Bullock Talks Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel
Best known to the comics world for his popular Lions, Tigers and Bears series, Mike Bullock joins us to talk about his new comic, Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel.
Comics in the Classroom : You came to comics a little later than most after a career in the music industry, but you met with success fairly quickly with your first mini-series, Lions, Tigers and Bears . Could you give us a bit about your comic output up to your newest comic, Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel ?
Mike Bullock : Well, I've now completed three Lions, Tigers and Bears series, my first Secrets of the Seasons series and about thirty or so installments of The Phantom , as well as an issue of Sonic X and a few other odds and ends. Prior to Timothy, I put a fair amount of time into my all-ages superhero team book The Light Knights and a handful of other books still looking for a publishing home.
CitC : Timothy is your newest creator owned series. What is this one about?
MB : Wondrous imagination! The sort of unbridled enthusiasm only a child can have and adventures all over the galaxy.
When his father returns from his latest business trip, Timothy discovers the present dad brought home is nothing more than a lame beach towel. That is, until Towel comes to life and offers to take Timothy anywhere he wants to go, including the far off Planet Zoom! They soon find themselves in the middle of an intergalactic war with the lives of millions hanging in the balance.
CitC : How long have you been developing this one? What is the process like for you – how do you get from an idea to a finished product ready for the bookshelves? I know you could go on for pages with a question like this, but just give us the major points.
MB : Good thing you tossed in that caveat at the end. I already talk too much, so giving me a set of questions like that might have elicited a server crashing response. [wink]
I sat down some time ago and worked up fifteen or twenty idea-seeds for new properties. Timothy was in there, along with My Machine and Wish Sticks (the next two I plan to bring to life). After deciding to run with Timothy, I fleshed out the characters, formulated a plot, brought in an artist, replaced the artist with Michael Metcalf, smiled a great deal when Met' started turning in character images and then scripted it out. Metcalf and letterer extraordinaire Josh Aitken sculpted some incredible visuals and we handed it over to the fine folks at Image/Silverline so they could send it to the printer. I think that's all the “major” points.
CitC : In comics, the writer usually has a fair bit of control over what the artist draws, which makes sense since comics is a visual medium and the art has to be in sync with what the writer is trying to convey. On the other hand, a writer doesn't likely need to describe Spider-Man or Batman to the artist. Timothy comes from your head, he is your character, how do you work with your artists to make sure they create what you have written down and what you have pictured in your head?
MB : It varies from artist to artist, but normally, I hand over to them a character bio with a detailed physical description of what I'm picturing in my mind. Sometimes the artist nails it on the first go, sometimes it takes a few back-and-forths with me supplying more notes in order to land on what really showcases the character.
CitC : I haven't read more than the preview provided on your website, but in Timothy it looks like you are revisiting some themes from Lions, Tigers and Bears : wish fulfillment, dreams, magical items passed on by a family member. Why do these sorts of things drive your work when creating stories for younger readers?
MB : I spent a lot of time alone when I was little, mainly because I made Dennis the Menace look like a well behaved young man and that landed me on restriction far too often. So, I had to turn to my imagination for entertainment. I'd often pretend certain items had magical qualities, etc, which would fuel my make-believe adventures. The family member aspect comes in simply because I don't want to advocate kids taking anything from strangers, and it makes for a nicer story if it's a gift from a loved one.
CitC : I like that – good point.
Although obviously aimed at younger readers, LTB struck a chord with older fans as well; veteran comic readers who think “watered down” goes hand in hand with “all ages comic”. Why do you think LTB was so well received and how has that driven your work on Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel ?
MB : I think there's always a demand for good, original all-ages entertainment. Just look at the amazing success Pixar has garnered from their movies versus what happens when someone re-hashes old material. Comics can achieve the same successes if marketed and made available to the right audience. A perfect example is how well Bone did once it was made available to a larger cross section of society.
I simply feel driven to create these sorts of stories because it's what I enjoy doing. The world is so full of stress, greed, anger, tragedy, etc that I don't really want to add entertainment that echoes that sort of thing. Escapism is what good stories are to me, so while I feel there is a need to showcase that to an extent in comics (a deep seeded need to watch good struggle with and eventually triumph over evil in real world scenarios), I think there isn't enough of the “wondrous” stuff to balance it out.
CitC : There are many out there who think that comics for kids = “watered down” (I sometimes feel like I can't read an all ages comic review on the bigger comic sites that doesn't mention something along the lines of “kids comics are usually watered down, but this one is good”) implying that the reason kids comics don't sell better is because they are simply not that good. I have to assume that you have had a few conversations about this kind of thinking during your time in comics, where do you side in this argument, or is it not that simple?
MB : In my humble opinion, I feel that's an undeserved stereotype fueled by short sighted writers/editors/publishers who treat all-ages comics as if they should be created for second class citizens or simply as a launching pad for ancillary marketing. Spider-man wasn't off the charts cool in the 60s and 70s because of his ability to sell lunch boxes or underoos. He was cool because of the talent and passion that went into his stories.
In addition, I've run into far too many writers/editors who think that a “good” all-ages comic is just a dumbed-down adult comic. That's not only ridiculously erroneous, it's insulting to the all-ages audience. Kids aren't stupid adults, they're intelligent people who simply haven't experienced as much, or learned as much as adults with similar tastes. Books like Bone, Herobear and the Kid, Wildguard, Tiny Titans, Billy Batson, Amelia Rules, Owly, Dreamland Chronicles, etc aren't watered down and they're some of the best all-ages success stories out there. If someone had the same “dumb it down” mentality to Detective Comics, Action Comics, Walking Dead or Uncanny X-Men you can guarantee that they'd get the same reviews, but somehow they'd escape that stigma simply because many of the “powers that be” seem to view them as more legitimate than all ages books.
CitC : Thanks so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to mention before we finish up?
MB : Certainly! Thanks for all the efforts by you and the CitC staff to keep wondrous comics in the public eye. It's great that you've kept this site running and come alongside parents and educators to provide them with a trail-guide of sorts through the quagmire that is the current comic book landscape. You folks rock!
CitC : Thanks for that and thanks for everything.
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