Andrez Bergen is a talented writer who recently wrote a pretty cool novel, Who's Killing the Great Capes of Heropa, mixing noir fiction with superheroes. An interesting person to interview of course....
Tell us - what is 'Heropa' about?
Ostensibly? The novel is about escape, in particular from dystopian future Melbourne, Australia — the last city on Earth. It's a place polluted, dangerous and divided; decay, filth and death stain the streets as this city wilts beneath ceaseless acid rainfall.
The escape is to a better place, Heropa, a bustling, lively metropolis with clear skies and a monumental skyline, its architecture early 20th-century art deco and the gleaming boulevards patrolled by superheroes known as Capes, chief among these the group known as the Equalizers.
New recruit Southern Cross — without his mask a spitting image of Jack Kirby's sketches for Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) in the 1960s — is the latest refugee from Melbourne, looking for a place not only to hang his hat and mask but also to find solace away from a world disfigured.
But as the tides turn, the Capes are assassinated by persons unknown and the body count begins to accrue, Cross we figure out that the novel is far less about escape or tights than standing up to defend what one believes in
To readers of what comics will it appeal?
I think any comic book buff would appreciate this, but in particular fans of the Marvel Bullpen in New York in the 1960s, when Stan Lee and Roy Thomas got to play with artists like Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Jim Steranko and Barry Windsor-Smith and brilliant super-group titles were created: Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men.
Golden Age comics from the 1940s are also an essential backdrop here, and I was heavily influenced by later writers and artists like Frank Miller, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, so they've had impact as well.
But you know what? International comic books like Tintin, 2000 AD; The Phantom, Barbarella and That Bulletproof Kid also get a tip of the fedora.
This novel comprises 473 pages, and it's a dual homage to (as I say) the 1960s Marvel age of comic books as well as '40s detective noir — decanted into a blend of sci-fi, dystopia, and other ingredients. Plus there are 35 comic book illustrations by an array of international artists.
This makes the package a little pricey in physical form, but it's worth this for the artwork alone.
Where can we find the book?
The official release date for bookshops is 27th September, but the book is currently available in paperback or Kindle versions bright and early from Amazon USA (http://www.amazon.com/Who-Killing-Great-Capes-Heropa/dp/178279235X) and Amazon UK (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Who-Killing-Great-Capes-Heropa/dp/178279235X).
How do you think superheroes work out in prose, and why did you decide to take a stab at it? I think they work just fine, but this is nothing revolutionary.
Pulp crime fighters like The Shadow and Doc Savage were being pushed through in written text in the 1930s and Zorro wore a mask but first appeared in 1919 thanks to a manual typewriter rather than an easel.
All three were influences on my childhood, particularly Zorro, just as much as the hand-me-down 1960s Marvel Comics I got from my much older half-brother.
But I'm equally influenced by cinema, and I write the way I perceive situations visually — put this down to both comic books and old movies. Since I'm not the best artist myself, I tend to write the scenarios down in groups of words, and have been doing that even for sequential art stories since high school.
And for me, when I do comic books, I think superheroes. This novel was therefore always on the cards. The design for the costume of key character Southern Cross was first put together when I was 16.
Who is your favourite comic book hero, and who's your favourite creator?
I found this a tough question, since at various times I've adored the Beast from the early issues of X-Men, Wolverine as conjured up by John Byrne with Chris Claremont in 1979-80, and the Flash when he was still Barry Allen. I always had a soft spot for Hergé's kid-reporter Tintin and the violent justice dished up by Judge Dredd in 2000 AD. If we include Japanese manga, Major Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell) would be right up there as well. I loved what Frank Miller did with Daredevil in 1981 and Batman in the mid '80s.
But there're still two that stand out and tussle for dominance: Captain America, especially how he was visually defined by Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko in the late 1960s, and the Thing from Fantastic Four — again Kirby's vision of the orange rock-hewn hero, in tandem with inker Joe Sinnott.
So I guess that also answers your question about favourite creator. Jack Kirby. The novel is dedicated to the King.
What is it about superheroes that appeals to people so much and why are there so many comic book movies now?
I'll start at the end of the query this time — superhero movies are the flavour of the month, and flavours of any calendar month usually mean big bucks for the studios involved. I say usually, because they still need to make good films. The Avengers was good, as was Captain America. Green Lantern was poor. Then again, I never was into that character. I think the timing's also right as the SFX are at their best in making these costumed people with insane powers look... well... bona fide.
Getting back to the beginning, what is it about superheroes? For me the obvious answer is escapism — these people have the mojo to change lives, worlds, entire galaxies. But the best comic book yarns ground these blessings in the humdrum reality of daily life, explore the bickering side of the relationships these Capes share, and pitch good against bad — punching through the grey area between the two. They're morality tales, hopefully without too much preaching.
And they're fun to explore.