Fred Van Lente may have one of the strangest resumes in modern comics.
After all, not many writers can give their first claim to fame as writing an award-winning non-fiction comic book series both satirizing and paying tribute to the greatest thinkers in human history; yet that’s his name alongside artist Ryan Dunlavey’s on the cover of Action Philosophers, which won the Xeric Grant in 2004.
Since then, he’s gone on to write what seems like an endless stream of series and miniseries for Marvel: Marvel Adventures Iron Man, Marvel Adventures Spider-man, Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four, Amazing Fantasy, Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK’s 11, Wolverine: First Class, and more besides.
These days, his most steady gig is co-writing (with Greg Pak) Marvel’s Incredible Hercules, a fan favorite series and critical darling that’s been praised for mixing mythology with good old Marvel superheroics. He’s also writing the X-Men Noir miniseries, a mystery story set in the heyday of prohibition.
And, just to make sure his resume keeps getting stranger, the third issue of Comic Book Comics, his second collaboration with Ryan Dunlavey, just hit the stands recently. As the title suggests, it’s a comic book that chronicles the history of comic books.
Fred took a few minutes out his schedule to talk to us about how he wound up writing for Marvel, how not to kill Jocasta, and how not to get sued when infringing on copyright.
ComicMix: How does the writer of a black-and-white independent series about the great thinkers wind up writing all-ages superhero stories for the Marvel Adventures line?
Fred Van Lente: Well, believe it or not, my working for Marvel and me doing Action Philosophers happened simultaneously. What happened was, for two completely different career paths converged. I was doing Action Philosophers on and off with Ryan [Dunlavey] more or less for fun until we got the Xeric Grant, and I did a color independent comic with a great artist by the name of Steve Ellis, who’s now better known for having co-created the series High Moon over at Zuda. We did a super-crime mob series called The Silencers for Moonstone, and that brought me to the attention of Mark Paniccia over at Marvel. Mark invited me over to pitch for an anthology series called Amazing Fantasy. They ran a poll on Marvel.com for which characters to revamp, and they chose Scorpion. By a bizarre coincidence, Action Philosophers #1 and Amazing Fantasy #7, which premiered the new Scorpion, came out on the same day.
FVL: Yeah! And in most stores, because they were both “A” titles, they were racked next to each other. So after ten years of trying to break into the business and not really getting much traction, I not only had two comics come out on the same day, I had them sit next to each. And to add irony to irony, I had broken my ankle. So I was laid up and on painkillers, so I was unable to go to the store and see this magnificence for myself.
CMix: That’s kind of sad.
FVL: Well, my friend sent me cell phone pictures.
CMix: Gotcha. So, my next question is, how does the writer of all-ages Marvel superhero stories wind up co-writing Incredible Hercules, one of the most critically beloved mainstream titles right now?