I was amazed at just how many things I cherish that HANK TUCKER was involved in creating. Fox’s animated THE TICK cartoon show is one of my all time favorites, anchored in their Saturday morning lineup right after X-Men, that hour of entertainment was often the highlight of my week growing up. THE LITTLE WOODEN BOY AND THE BELLY OF LOVE goes down as one of my favorite half-hour of television ever and I fondly remember crafting my own little wooden boy in High School wood shop class. Like most Generation X kids, my afternoons were filled with Disney’s DUCKTALES, CHIP ‘N’ DALE RESCUE RANGERS, TALESPIN, and DARKWING DUCK, all of which, Hank Tucker worked on storyboards. The 1978 animated LORD OF THE RINGS cartoon I watched as a very young child one random Saturday morning, it shaped a love of fantasy stories and Tolkien that influences my own creative pursuits to this day. Disney’s ENCHANTED is also my wife’s favorite movie.
Not impressed? What if I told you that Hank Tucker also worked on SCOOBY-DOO, THE LAND BEFORE TIME, X-MEN EVOLUTION, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, MICKEY MOUSE CLUBHOUSE, SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS, GOOF TROOP, WINNIE THE POOH, G.I. JOE, DRAGON’S LAIR, THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN, HEAVY METAL, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, CHARLIE BROWN, PETE’S DRAGON, and so much more amazing pop culture treasures. His IMDB page reads like a highlight reel of childhood memories.
When I read sat down and read Hank’s comic, THE ACTUAL ROGER, from ALTERNA, I had a smile on my face from ear to ear. It is a fun, witty, story that captures a lot of the humor that made The Tick a favorite of mine. Drawn in such beautiful detail and shaded in fantastic gray-scale, it stands apart in today’s comic world that is over saturated with books geared towards young readers or adult oriented stories filled with sex and violence. It is a refreshing change of pace to read a true PG-13 story that captures the fun and intelligence of the classics of years past. A reminder that young readers are far more intelligent than we give them credit for and older readers still have nostalgia for good, clean, stories.
Comic Crusaders recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Hank Tucker about being a Storyboard artist, breaking into Indie comics, and the awesome genesis of a great character, Magnanimo.
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST?
I began drawing when I was six, after seeing my first Superman comic (probably a Kurt Swann) sitting on a coffee table at the Corbin Village “Baby Bootery” in Woodland Hills. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen on paper! I tried walking out with it but my mom – no sucker for tantrums – forced me to put it back. When I got home I started scribbling and scribbling on a pad to try to remember what the guy in blue and red looked like, creating sort of an ice cream cone shape with sticks for arms and legs and a little ball on top for a head, out of which a single long wavy line (the cape) extended. From there, I just kept drawing whatever I couldn’t be or have.
Then when I was ten, I saw Disney’s Jungle Book. After a little investigation I discovered the whole picture (which I loved) was made of moving drawings! This added another dimension to the possibility of drawing “what I could never be or have.” So I started making flip books and eventually I made a short film, by the time I was eighteen I was animating professionally, mainly on commercials, leading up to Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. When studios began outsourcing animation near the end of the 1970’s, I made another big decision, which was to move into story-boarding.
WHAT MADE YOU MAKE THE JUMP FROM STORYBOARD ARTIST TO INDEPENDENT COMIC BOOK CREATOR?
It was more of a straddle than a jump. In ’03 I was boarding on a little independent feature called Valiant with Mike Ploog, one of comic’s greats, and just seeing him there doing his board drawings almost as though they were comic panels inspired me. Vague I know, but that’s really how it started. I just watched him and thought, “Could I ever do that?”
Well, I couldn’t do what Ploog did then (and can’t now), but it got my wheels turning. There was also potential for an option or sale. Comic based movies were picking up momentum following Sony’s Spider-Man in ’02 and really the idea of owning what I worked on had been haunting me for a while. I’d gotten an agent with a couple of spec scripts that were making the rounds with no success, and eventually decided that film, being producer/director/investor driven as it always is, could never really satisfy that desire, even if it made a sale. Certainly I’d never own what I wrote once it was in an investor or studio’s hands. We’re talking megalomania here. I wanted me out there…not half me, quarter me, or any other fraction of me. An indie comic seemed to be the answer. I’d have only me to blame if it bombed, and only me to buy a drink for if it if it was a hit.
THE ACTUAL ROGER IS A ONE MAN SHOW. CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU CREATE, KNOWING THAT YOU ARE WRITING/PENCILING/INKING/COLORING IN GRAYSCALE AND LETTERING?
Hah! My “process” is pure chaos and schizophrenia. After working out a bare-bones written outline (less than a page) I take about a month jotting notes on paper, apps, napkins and scribbling thumbnail visuals, looking for scenes, odd characters and big ideas. As they occur to me I’m weighing their comedic and surprise value against the logic of the one page outline and how character motives and goals are going to unfold… It’s a very messy business! Then I move to paper, page after page of those Canson and/or Blue Line comic pads, 11×17, working out the flow of action and panels in broad scribbles with a #5 mechanical pencil. It’s like graphite “cloud” on paper that pretty much only I can make out. For some reason it has to be on actual paper. I literally can’t think or work digitally at this stage, even though I’ve done storyboards digitally since 2006. When the “cloud” stage is complete I go back over these pages, rubbing them down with a kneaded eraser and, with a #7 mechanical pencil, do an extremely tight pencil cleanup. It’s like slowly waking from a dream. Throughout this stage and other stages, I’m still jotting dialogue and plot points often on the pages themselves and elsewhere. Then when it’s all cleaned up, believe it or not, I snap a pic of each one with my iPhone, no scanners, these are still basically “roughs” and at this stage size doesn’t matter (you read it here) and then I upload them all to Dropbox.
From there I download each one by one into Manga Studio, a fantastic INEXPENSIVE drawing program from Smith Micro, where I resize them (now size matters) and then meticulously ink and tone them with the best set of drawing tools I’ve ever used. The lettering is canned, sorry, I’m no letterer! If I lettered even the NSA couldn’t read it. Then I deliver to my very patient publisher as a bunch of tiffs.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC BOOK CREATOR? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
The experience has been tense, mainly due to my ever conflicting animation work schedule, but also because way back when I submitted to publishers, I never imagined any of them actually going for it. The truth is: I’d begun The Actual Roger as a “hobby” in ’03 (while on Valiant, as mentioned above) and poked away at it casually for a few months, eventually inking characters on comic board paper with actual ink and a brush and working out dialogue. Then, rather than complete it with inked backgrounds and clean borders, I reduced it and made 10 copies of the pages as is, bound them 40 pages each, counting the cover – and took them around in that unfinished state to various publishers tables at the ’04 San Diego Comic-Con where it was pretty much greeted by crickets. At that point, thinking the whole venture was pie in the sky hopeless, I just set the whole thing aside for about 9 years.
Sometime in 2013 I took two months off from work for personal reasons and randomly, out of boredom, wishful thinking, who knows… decided to finally finish it. I inked the backgrounds; added tones, etc. Then for the hell of it I got a list of potential publishers off Wikipedia and submitted digitally to the first six in the alphabet on a Wednesday in May of that year. That Friday, to my complete shock, I got two offers! One included a contract, which was Alterna, a small New York indie that happened to have hit the New York Times Best Seller list the year before with FUBAR. Again, this was totally unexpected. I’d never considered what would happen if my book were actually accepted. I was like the dog chasing the car, then actually catching it. Whoops! The bottom line is I wasn’t prepared for the rigors of actually getting a comic series done single-handedly. The car’s been chasing me ever since. I was absurdly late finishing Issue 4.
Moral of the story: don’t do that, silly people! Finish the thing before you take it around and plan for success! It might actually happen…
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR/ARTIST LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
The best advice I can think of (also applicable to the film business) is: don’t follow trends! The minute you do you’re de facto behind it. Look for fresh subject matter and characters you’re interested in. Remember why you read comics. Be entertaining. Make them want to see what happens on the next page. Then, when you’ve got something finished, don’t blindly lob your creation over any old publisher’s wall. Check and see what they do and who their target audience is.
WHERE DID THE CONCEPT OF THE ACTUAL ROGER COME FROM?
The inspiration came from an utterly real-seeming dream I had when I was 9 (Roger’s age), exactly as depicted in the Roger Issue 1. I was on the floor watching TV and started pushing myself up for some reason, probably to take a leak, and then I just kept going up to about a foot and half off the ground. In the dream, though, there were no reactions… no cops, no press, no visits from The Company. It was just me flying around the floor of my house, bumping into walls and hoping I might one day make it up to three or four feet from the ground. The other thing I remembered was the profound (yes, profound!) sadness of waking up to find it was only a dream (sigh)…
I LOVE MAGNANIMO. HE IS THIS SUPERMAN LIKE CHARACTER YET EVERY SINGLE ACTION HE TAKES IS FUELED BY HIS OWN SELFISH DESIRES. HE GENERALLY SHOWS NO EMOTION OR CARING FOR ANYONE AROUND HIM, YET HE IS PERCEIVED BY THE CITIZENS AS THIS GREAT PROTECTOR. WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR THIS CHARACTER COME FROM?
Magnanimo began as a villain in another pet project of mine from the mid-eighties: “Calling Dr. Eckk”, about a grotesque Uncle Creepy style ghoul of a super-villain (Eckk) who is pulled out of prison when America’s official Superhero goes nuts and demands public worship. The superhero, a more stylized version of Magnanimo, was a taken for granted, put upon, alien who one day wakes up to realize he IS ALIEN and that the people he’s serving should be serving him! In fact, should be served to him…on plates. Eckk was the only one who ever was able to give him trouble so he is let loose and set against Superhero.
If that sounds familiar, don’t forget, I’m talking eighties, before Suicide Squad, Minions or Megamind. If there was anything else out there like it, I hadn’t seen or read it. Much later a friend of mine at Dreamworks, who remembered me showing him the project, e-mailed me in a panic and invited me for lunch to show me Megamind in progress and to swear he never told them anything about Eckk. It honestly never even occurred to me. It would have been a dark animated featurette, but the magnitude of the plan and the thin to non-existent relevance to my career of making a personal film at the time soon ended it. I held onto the designs, though, and when the Roger comic idea came up and I needed a comedic foil for Roger, Magnanimo was re-born, but not as an alien. As the story unfolded and his story and nature and weaknesses began to fall into place, his costume design began to suggest things… in particular the collar. The heart-shaped design on his chest became a much softer irony than it would’ve been for a Superman who starts eating people…
The real fun of Magnanimo (aka Claude Coats, named after the great Disney BG artist who painted Peter Pan’s flight over London) for me is he is truly just an everyman; he’s neither hard criminal nor committed hero. He made a mistake, committed a crime in anger that gave him his power but also got him incarcerated and he wants a reset. To pay for the damage he’s done, get on with his career and off with the tights. Like those poor guys in orange filling Hefty bags on the side of the freeway, except that instead of cleanup service hours, he’s on what the authorities are calling (to make it sound more cheerful) an “indefinite retainer” to repay Uncle Sam the $4.2 Billion USD he owes by saving people and property. He’s completely under the thumb of the authorities with a potentially deadly Achilles heel hardwired to his seeming ability to fly. He’s also haunted by the possibility he’ll never be free, since “a guy like me can’t just be allowed to run around…” And finally, now he’s stuck with the added torture of having to teach and protect this “practically useless” low flying little kid they’re calling his sidekick, another “anomaly” in need of federal supervision. What we see on the outside is a company-crafted good-guy image running totally counter to his fervent secret goal of earning enough dough to get out. He has a gun to his head! “Go out, smile, and save people and property carefully selected for you out of all the people and crises out there, for maximum monetary and PR value…or else.” I don’t know, I feel his pain…
HOW MANY ISSUES DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE ACTUAL ROGER?
The one I’m in the middle of roughing out now, Issue 5, will wrap up the current story line “Cosmic Flukes.” Once that’s released, all five will then be put out as a compilation trade paperback.
YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE RESUME AS A STORYBOARD ARTIST AND HAVE WORKED ON SOME OF THE ALL TIME GREAT, GEEK AND POP CULTURE ANIMATED FEATURES, SUCH AS LORD OF THE RINGS, DARKWING DUCK, THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN, AND OF COURSE THE FOX ANIMATED TICK CARTOON SHOW. IS THERE ONE-PROJECT THAT STANDS OUT AS SOMETHING YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’d have to say Enchanted, which was the second time I worked for Kevin Lima (the first was The Goofy Movie, a close second) although last year I moon lighted for ten months on a new animated picture called Animal Crackers, for Tony Bancroft (Mulan). It has some of the best work I think I’ve ever done. Very fun stuff and I’m looking forward to how it turns out.
YOU ALSO DIRECTED AND PRODUCED THE ANIMATED TICK CARTOON SHOW, INCLUDING MY FAVORITE EPISODE… THE LITTLE WOODEN BOY AND THE BELLY OF LOVE. IS THERE AN EPISODE THAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE? WHAT EPISODE DO PEOPLE MOST ASK YOU ABOUT?
“The Little Wooden Boy” was my first episode on the series and a lot was riding on it. Trust of the studio (Graz Entertainment), of Fox, of Ben Edlund, the creator of The Tick, ratings, etc. Then when the show came back from Korea, everyone was reassured. I was relieved when Ben came to town to take a look at the rough cut on a moviola and began howling with laughter. It was a great day and I think the episode turned out great.
That said though, the episode people usually ask me about is “That Mustache Feeling!” It was the first one of my second season and the third
season of the series. Ben and one of his co-writers, Chris McCulloch (“Jackson Publik” of Venture Bros. fame) had flown in and huddled in a cubicle with a doodle that Ben had done of the Tick sporting a slim Cesar Romero-mustache. Throughout the day the two laughed their asses off and I knew another great script was coming down the pipe.
My personal favorite is Heroes, which was a parody of a then popular show called COPS. The Deadly Bulb may be the funniest, tragic, original, surrealistic villain in superhero history, courtesy of either Ben or co-writer Randolph Heard, I can’t remember who came up with him. And the lines! “Arthur, honk if you love justice!” Only Ben could write a line like that and only Townsend Coleman, as far as I’m concerned, could ever deliver it!
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES MOST NEEDED TO BE A GOOD STORYBOARD ARTIST?
I would say the most important quality would be “showmanship”. Marlon Brando, I recently heard, always tried with his acting, to keep the moviegoers from bringing the popcorn to their lips. Showmanship is the key to moving characters and plot forward, not always logic or story structure theory and even if, say in TV, you’re not so plugged into coming up with the story itself, showmanship is still critical. The audience may know or anticipate what’s going to happen, but they don’t know how or when! Those are things the TV board artist can and should help pinpoint for the director and everyone else down the pipeline. You got to SELL the story while you tell it!
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO ASPIRING STORY BOARD ARTISTS THAT ARE LOOKING TO BREAK IN TO STORY BOARDING AND ANIMATION?
As my friend, mentor and I guess part-time “agent” (also a great artist, musician and television director) Art Vitello used to say, “there’s no good time to get into animation.” Just be ready with the talent and the knowledge and then get to know people even if they’re only remotely connected. That is, be a friend (a real friend) and see where you’re invited. Take small jobs: my first job in animation was packing artwork in boxes. I couldn’t imagine it turning into anything. Within six months I was an assistant animating and then animating.
YOU ARE ON A DESERT ISLAND AND CAN HAVE ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MOVIE/TV SHOW, AND ONE NOVEL. WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
If I were on a desert island I’d be really depressed and want to laugh, so all but the last season of GET SMART. Anything by PDQ Bach (“Professor” Peter Schickele) and Our Man in Havana by Graham Green.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
BRIGHTON ROCK, which is another one by Green. It’s one of his most famous works and when I pick it up and start reading I keep getting pulled away from.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
Well, when I finish issue 5 and everything is packed together for a print run I think I’m required contractually to show up at one or more of the cons. The nearest ones for me would be San Diego and Anaheim. I’ll be Tweeting before it happens, believe me… ; )