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FOG! Chats With Cartoonist Patrick McDonnell About ‘The Super Hero’s Journey’

The second title in the bestselling MarvelArts series, a collaboration between Marvel Comics and Abrams ComicArts, The Super Hero’s Journey, from internationally bestselling cartoonist and writer Patrick McDonnell (Mutts) might be the best Marvel release since the first MarvelArts title, Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross, a year ago.

Speaking to the inspirational nature of the classic 1960s Marvel comics and explores the need for positivity, kindness, and a spiritual connectedness, the unique book recontextualizes comics written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Vince Colletta, with McDonnell’s own art to create a profound and moving reading experience. 

Using the Marvel Universe as avatars, McDonnell brings together his inspirational and moral sensibilities from throughout his career and muses on how comics changed his life and set him on the course to become a cartoonist.

Patrick was generous enough to take some time to discuss the book, his favorite Marvel stories, and love.

*  *  *  *  *

FOG!: I thought this book was really something special and a love letter to both Marvel and childhood. What was the genesis of the project?

Patrick McDonnell: I had just completed one book project and was thinking about what I might do next. Abrams editor, and good friend, Charles Kochman then offered me a chance to try a book with the Marvel super heroes as part of the Alex Ross’s curated line, MarvelArts. The 10 year-old in me jumped at the chance. The Super Hero’s’ Journey was a childhood dream come true.

The book features excerpts of early Marvel Comics by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Vince Colletta. Was including original Marvel art part of the plan from the beginning and when it came to your selections, were they already definitive in your mind or did Marvel make suggestions on certain images/panels to include within your narrative?

One of my first concepts for this project was to combine my art with the classic ‘60s comic panels and pages to tell a new story in a new way. It gave me an excuse to re-read all those amazing early issues. I was looking for panels that would work with my storyline, but also staying open to find happy surprises that might help shape the story. Marvel was not part of that process but were supportive and enthusiastic of the final product.

Early in the book, you mention that reading the early Marvel comics was life-altering and transformative and transported you. Can you explain how the experience changed you?

Early childhood art experiences open you up to new ways of thinking and seeing the world. Those comics made me want to explore my own imagination and creativity. The Marvel super heroes made you believe that everything and anything is possible and to strive to be the best you could be.

You’re best known for your long running comic strip, Mutts. Was there ever a decision on whether you would pursue comic strips to comic books? What about each medium is particularly attractive?

My art style and the characters I create have always been very loose and humorous. Even though I loved the Marvel comic books, I was aware that my own drawings weren’t realistic enough to be as spectacular as Kirby and Ditko.

 

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and George Herriman ‘s Krazy Kat spoke to my personality, abilities, and heart more deeply. So that’s why I pursued comics strips with Mutts. But working on The Super Hero’s Journey was pure fun. My goal wasn’t to duplicate the flare and skills of Kirby and Ditko, but to capture the innocence, joy, love, and cosmic energy of their work.

The core message of The Super Hero’s Journey is love. When did you discover that love was the literal heart of the story and how, if at all, was The Super Hero’s Journey influenced by or an influence for Heart to Heart: A Conversation on Love and Hope for Our Precious Planet, the book you recently collaborated on with His Holiness the Dalai Lama? How did that project develop?

Love, compassion and empathy is at the core of all my work. It is also the undercurrent in the classic Marvel stories. Just read the two powerful Jack Kirby quotes that begin and end my book. The wisdom behind those two passages was the kickstart for my story.

Heart To Heart started in Africa. A friend’s wife, Pam Cesak, is a member of the board for the International Campaign for Tibet, and we all spent a week together in Botswana. One evening we were talking about the fragility of our planet and the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion. My wife suggested that perhaps I could collaborate with him and illustrate his words. Pam presented the idea to her board; it was taken forward and His Holiness approved. In many ways, my book with the Dalai Lama, Heart to Heart, and The Super Hero’s Journey are all part of the same spiritual path.

Now that you’ve explored a very different kind of graphic narrative with The Super Hero’s Journey, what are your top 5 favorite Marvel issues/storylines?

As a kid they were:

  1. The Galactus /Silver Surfer epic Fantastic Four #48 – 50

  2. Captain America’s Red Skull Sleepers story Tales of Suspense #72-74
  3. The X-Men Sentinel thriller X-Men #14-16
  4. The Sinister Six; Spider-Man Annual #1
  5. I’m still a huge fan of Jack Kirby’s 1970s work.  For Marvel it would be his The Eternals#1-13. I’m particularly obsessed with the Uni-mind.

With the 30th anniversary of Mutts coming next year, how do you plan on celebrating the accomplishment and what other projects do you have coming up?

I’m celebrating the coming 30th anniversary of Mutts by keeping a promise I made many years ago. In Mutts, there’s a character named Guard Dog. He represents the many unfortunate dogs that are chained in backyards throughout our country. Guard Dog has been a reminder of how poorly humans can treat animals, and to hopefully inspire owners to unchain their dogs. The Mutts readers want Guard Dog to find his freedom. So I am working on a storyline that will tell his own super hero journey.

The Super Hero’s Journey by Patrick McDonnell
arrives in stores and via e-tailers on September 26th

 

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