Monsters, mayhem, and mad science can be found in the upcoming issue of Dark Horse Presents #27 with creator Michael T. Gilbert's Doc Stearn...Mr. Monster. Meshing horror with super heroics, Gilbert's creation has been around for almost thirty years, and is finally making his return to Dark Horse Comics later this month.
It was 1987 when Mr. Monster first appeared in Dark Horse Presents #14 Vol. 1 and with the next issue, the newest volume of DHP will start a four-part arc for a new generation of readers to pick up. Newsarama recently talked to Gilbert about the Mr. Monster character, his return to Dark Horse, the longevity of the character, as well as his inspirations that provided the fuel for Mr. Monster. He brought along an exclusive look at the first chapter for good measure.
Newsarama: Michael, for readers who might be unfamiliar with your career, could you tell us about some of your previous works?
Michael T. Gilbert: I've been a professional comic artist since 1973, with stories featured in Heavy Metal, Slow Death, American Splendor, Star*Reach, Quack!, Batman, The Spirit, and Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories. Over the years I've written or drawn comics starring Superman, Batman, The Spectre, Dr. Strange, Elric, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons, and SpongeBob! But my signature creation remains my fearless monster-fighting superhero, Doc Stearn … Mr. Monster, who's celebrating his 30th birthday this year.
Additionally, since 1998 I've written over 120 “Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt” comic history columns for for Roy Thomas's Alter Ego magazine. I've also designed t-shirts, advertising giveaways, TV news graphics and gruesome tattoos. My wife Janet writes Disney comics too, from our home in rain-drenched Eugene, Oregon.
Nrama: Michael, from the preview art, Doc Stearn...Mr. Monster almost seems like a 50's horror sci-fi B-movie mixed with the Jekyll and Hyde story. How close is that assumption?
Gilbert: That's one way of looking at it. I think more in comic book terms, with Doc Stearn...Mr. Monster being a mash-up between the old EC horror comics and Will Eisner's The Spirit. Maybe with a little Doc Savage thrown into the mix.
Mr. Monster's the World's Greatest Monster-Fighter. Kids everywhere can sleep safely knowing he's on the job. Doc was killing monsters years before Hellboy, the Goon and all the rest. In fact with his first story published in 1984, Mr. Monster became the first successful monster-fighting hero outside of mainstream comics.
I try to mix horror, heroics and really black humor in my stories. Mostly I write stories with heart. I think of Mr. Monster as a timeless throwback to the comics of the 40s and 50s. Of course cheesy 50s monster movies and pulp imagery are an influence too. And anything else that I think will be fun to add to my horror-brew.
As for our hero himself, Doc Stearn, Mr. Monster's alter ego, is a brilliant scientist with a hair-trigger fuse. When evil shows it's blighted face, he trades in his medical scrubs for his fighting uniform and twin .45s. God help the Monsters then!
Doc's the ultimate specialist. He knows everything there is to know about killing monsters. But just try to get him to do his laundry. Like many obsessives (myself included!), Mr. Monster finds the real world a little more challenging. Luckily Kelly's there to help him navigate that minefield!
Nrama: How long did you had the idea of Mr. Monster before taking it to Dark Horse? What was appealing about the anthology format?
Gilbert: I'm sure this is news to younger readers, but I created my first Mr. Monster story thirty years ago this year––inspired by a short-lived (one story!) Golden Age superhero of the same name that appeared in a Canadian superhero comicbook in the 1940s, written and drawn by artist Fred Kelly! It was his one-and-only appearance. I found him decades later, and created a new adventure for this obscure forgotten character and have been doing so ever since.
Chapter one of my story appeared in an anthology published by Pacific Comics, one of the first Indy publishers. Then it was on to Eclipse Comics when Pacific went bust. I started working with Dark Horse in 1987, when they were just starting out, writing and drawing an eight-issue series (Mr. Monster: Origins), as well as short stories for Dark Horse Presents.
In the decades since, various publishers have printed Mr. Monster mini-series. Mr. Monster's Comic Crypt (a comics' history column) has also been featured for over twelve years in Alter Ego magazine. But publisher Mike Richardson has always been a big Mr. Monster fan, so we've teamed up again. Now it's come full circle and I'm delighted to be working on new Mr. Monster stories for the revived Dark Horse Presents!
Nrama: What is the relationship between Kelly, the lovely lab assistant, to Dr. Monster/Dr. Stearn?
Gilbert: If Mr. Monster's the muscle, Kelly is the brains of the team (and her body's not bad either!). She gets paid very well for organizing his war on monster-dom, making sure he's got the right ammunition and such. Kelly's very laid back, smart, and a nice counter-balance to her volatile boss.
Over the years their romantic life has been something of a mystery. Doc's single-minded focus on destroying creatures doesn't leave him much room for other things. However in the upcoming Dark Stearn storyline (beginning in Dark Horse Presents #27), they'll be taking their relationship to the next level.
Nrama: You wrote, illustrated, and colored the series. Did you ever find it too daunting sometimes or did you ever find a way to balance out the work?
Gilbert: If I were doing a regular series I doubt I'd have the time to do everything myself, so this is a rare luxury. In the past I've shared writing and art chores with some of my favorite creators (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Dave Stevens, Simon Bisley and so on). Right now I'm enjoying the challenge of doing it all myself…except for the spooky lettering, which Ken Bruzenak does right on the art, the way they used to!
Nrama: Tell us a little bit about the influences that inspired your art style.
Gilbert: My influences are all over the place. I loved all the EC artists, especially Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman. Will Eisner has been another huge influence. I loved his moody stories and art on The Spirit. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby taught me how to add atmosphere and action to my stories. But I've also studied masters of humor like Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge), John Stanley (Little Lulu) and Jack Cole (Plastic Man).
Nrama: Any hopes for an ongoing, or are you satisfied with just contributing to Dark Horse Presents?
Gilbert: I'm happy with Dark Horse Presents for now. In any case, I prefer shorter stories or mini-series to ongoing titles. That way I can spend more time writing and drawing the kind of comics I love to read!