Since the launch of the hit movie Guardians of the Galaxy, audiences have fallen in love with a living a walking Tree and a talking Raccoon. And now Rom Space Knight has hit the comic book shelves thanks to IDW, the comic based on the 1980s hasbro action figure.
Now that Rocket Raccoon has become a household name and Rom’s unexpected comeback, do we know of the man who created them?
Bill Mantlo, was a pioneer of Marvel Comics in the 80s who had the world at his feel until he was in an accident that changed his life forever. Still today, comic readers enjoy the imagination of Bill Mantlo.
We have the absolute honor of interviewing Bill’s younger brother Michael Mantlo, with the help of Comic Crusaders alumni Johnny ‘The Machine’ Hughes & Mike the 13th Crusader (of The Definitive Crusade), Al Mega (CEO of Comic Crusaders/Undercover Cape & Co-host of Flipside Focus) and Bud Young (Host of No-Prize Podcast) we have put together some questions for Michael.
CC: Firstly Michael, how is Bill’s health?
MM: Bill is in stable, but compromised, condition. There are no visible physical deficiencies, only the complete and total cognitive impairments.
CC: Bill was a pioneer of my childhood, being a kid in the 80s he brought my toys to life. This is a tremendous feat especially when the stories were good (even to today’s standards). What was his mindset when giving life to these toys?
MM: Bill’s mindset was always controlled by his limitless imagination. He possessed an almost childlike sense of wonder and fascination with all facets of his creative talents, and his output of material was constant.
CC: Bill pioneered bringing toy licenses to comics with Micronauts, Team America and Rom. He also wrote Sectaurs and Transformers. Can you share with us Bill’s love affair with action figures?
MM: Ha ha ha…I don’t know that he had any love affair with action figures. They were simply another source of inspiration (similar to the Sci-Fi movies, TV shows, and zillions of books that he devoured). It was Marvel that discovered his knack for bringing life to lifeless (and soulless) plastic figures!
CC: What is Bill’s favorite creation (character or story) and why?
MM: Believe it or not, Bill told me he was proudest of “Cloak & Dagger”, as they were New Yorkers dealing with the types of issues Bill dealt with on a daily basis in the city that he loved.
CC: Was there EVER a character he wanted to work on or story that he wanted to tell?
MM: My understanding was that Bill longed for the opportunity to write “The Flash” (a DC character), but he never got the chance. This was told to me second-hand, but I do believe it to be true.
CC: Did Bill ever speak about creating White Tiger? The first Hispanic superhero with George Perez. Was he aware of the ground he was breaking?
MM: Yes, and no. He spoke very fondly of “White Tiger” due to his very close relationship with George Perez—that was the reason the character was Hispanic (Bill’s tip o’ the hat to Senor Perez). I don’t know that (at the time) they realized it was “groundbreaking”, but they wanted very much to come up with a Hispanic hero.
CC: Bill had a 5-year run as writer of Incredible Hulk and during that period was the first writer to give Hulk the intelligence of Bruce Banner. Did Bill do everything he wanted with that iteration of the character?
MM: Ha ha ha (again). Forgive my laughter, but I don’t think Bill EVER thought he got to do everything he wanted with ANY character that he wrote. I do know that he was incredibly gratified with the reception he got for that run on “The Hulk”, especially the Bruce Banner “abused childhood” storyline.
CC: Bill in his time at Marvel created several odd yet unique characters such as Rocket Raccoon, Cloak and Dagger, The Soviet Super Soldiers, Arabian Knight, Sabra, and Shamrock. These were diverse characters in a time when comics weren’t diverse. What were the reactions in Marvel HQ at the time?
MM: Hmmmm…..if you’ve done any kind of research into Marvel’s dealings with their writers during Bill’s era there, I think you’d find there were LOTS of head-butting and power struggles going on. Much was due to “personality conflicts”, as well as the usual management/employee battles. Bill had his share of both friend and foe at Marvel.
CC: In terms of creating the characters last mentioned, this was during a time when many creators refused to introduce characters they knew they would never own. What made Bill such a trend-setter and how do you think he would have fit in with comics today?
MM: Bill wasn’t considered a “trend-setter” at the time…that’s only come in hindsight. Bill openly acknowledged that he was paid to create, and damn it, he created! I don’t believe he ever refused to introduce any characters, but he bristled constantly at editors that fiddled with, or denigrated, his creations.
CC: We know Michael, you played a huge part in making sure Bill received credit for his comic creations. Could you share with us about the challenge with Marvel in making sure that Bill received the proper credit for his works?
MM: Well, there’s this misconception out there that Marvel didn’t do right by Bill, and nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there were some difficult negotiations, but nothing contentious. I take very seriously my “job” as Bill’s guardian, and I believe his legacy is also a part of what I am supposed to be protecting. With that in mind, every negotiation I’ve entered into with Marvel ALWAYS held the caveat that Bill was to receive credit for anything Marvel used that he had created, even if that meant a little less on the financial compensation side. Marvel has been an outstanding partner for Bill, and I am eternally grateful that they have stepped up and acknowledged Bill’s contributions whenever possible.
CC: Michael, which Bill Manto comic book story is your favorite? And why?
MM: WOW…..that’s a tough one. I love the “HULK” issue that introduced Rocket Raccoon, but in my heart of hearts, I’d have to say I was always fondest of Bill’s “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man” writings (all of ‘em), and that’s probably because Spidey was kinda the first “teen” superhero Bill introduced me to when we were kids (and he came from Queens, NY, like us—NATCH!). In reality, I have a few unpublished “short stories” that are REALLY my favorites…..I’m hopeful that one day I will be able to share these with the world.
CC: Please tell our readers about The Bill Mantlo Support Fund and how do we donate?
MM: I established the Bill Mantlo Support Fund back in the late 1990’s as a way to “fill in the gaps” between whatever funding sources Bill had to surrender to the State for medical coverage (once his health insurance provider bailed out), and what was left over. If you’re unaware of how all this nonsense works, in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage, one has to surrender all earnings and property to the State, save for a $50 per month “allowance”, to compensate for the enormous costs involved in Nursing Home care. It gives me the opportunity to provide Bill some little “extras” (favorite meals, new clothes, entertainment…basically anything that would bring pleasure). It’s very easy for folks to donate…..simply go to www.billmantlo.com and click on the links (being a dinosaur in the computer age, I’ve tried to keep this as simple as possible for everybody).
CC: Final question, is there any Bill Mantlo creation better than Hypno-Hustler?
MM: Ha ha ha (one last time)…..Yeah….BILL MANTLO, MY BIG BROTHER.
Bill with baby Michael.
The Mantlo Brothers today.
You can also pick up the book, Mantlo: A Life in Comics.
Check Dodgy’s podcast at FlipsideFocus.com