Re-Visiting the Classic: Rick Veitch on Brat Pack

Rick Veitch on the Brat Pack Re-issue

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Do you get a kick out of sidekicks – or do you like to see sidekicks being kicked around?

Either way, the upcoming re-issue of Rick Veitch Bratpack could be the book for you. This dark satire of superhero sidekicks was inspired by the voting poll that DC did in the 1980s where fans voted to kill off Batman's sidekick, Jason Todd aka Robin. Veitch, then a celebrated cartoonist working on Swamp Thing, was intrigued by that social event and took it one step further with Bratpack.

Shocking at its time, Bratpack was both lauded and criticized for the book's tone and subject matter. The book was nominated for an Eisner for "Best Graphic Album", and Veitch himself said that part of the book was a satirical exaggeration of the theories of Frederic Wertham of Seduction of the Innocent fame.

In June, Veitch's own King Hell Press label will be re-issuing Bratpack in a new edition. The book, which Veitch describes as "an ironic, over-the-top antidote to the status-quo" is in many ways a forefather to Garth Ennis' The Boys. For more, we talked with Veitch by email.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Rick. What originally led you to create Bratpack?

Rick Veitch: I first conceived of Bratpack in 1987, which was a wild time because the whole art form of comics was clawing out of a business and cultural straightjacket it had put itself in during the '50's. I'd grown up, not only on mainstream comics, but undergrounds too. So I saw a way to combine those two sensibilities; utilizing my mainstream skills to really get at the dark underbelly of superhero comics. The easiest targets, because no one had done it before, were kid sidekicks.

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NRAMA: This book really attempts to deconstruct the superhero/sidekick paradigm. How do you think that paradigm has progressed since you initially did this book?

RV: You know, I'm probably the wrong person to ask about today's state-of-the-art teen group comics since I don't really look at them. But if they are like the other mainstream comics I see, then they are probably quite dark and violent. All-Star Batman seems to be leading the charge into darkness at the moment.

But Bratpack takes it a step further. It's a "Twisted Superhero" comic. It's so over-the-top it makes you laugh while you're gasping in horror. Fans of The Boys, which is one of my favorite reads right now, will feel right at home in Slumberg.

NRAMA: This book really put superheroes into a new perspective – but what did you hear back from the comics community, particularly the superhero publishers?

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RV: Well, originally it was going to be published by Piranha Press, which was an edgy imprint DC launched in the wake of Dark Knight and Watchmen. They must have sensed the same potential I did in trying this sort of approach. So Bratpack actually could have been a DC book!

NRAMA: After re-reading Bratpack for this interview – I couldn't imagine it!

RV: But I ended up taking it with me when I left over the Swamp Thing #88 debacle. King Hell, which is my own imprint, co-published it with Tunda so I had complete ownership and control and I didn't have to worry about what other publishers thought.

Criticism, especially of how I portrayed the Midnight Mink and Chippy, was strong in some quarters. But I felt it was fair game as the relationship of Batman and Robin had been the subject of so much public speculation over the years.

NRAMA: The ending isn't quite what I expected – it ties into one of your other books, the Maximortal, but somehow doesn't leave it on the high point some readers would expect. Is it just me – what do you think of the ending now many years later?

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RV: Is it me or has the younger generation been programmed to only accept a certain type of storytelling? My comics have never been about pushing readers' buttons for the quick sale. I'm more about letting the reader know they have these buttons and how they ought to be careful about who's pushing 'em. And why.

That said, I was talking with my agent about how to pitch Bratpack as a film and one of the ways I came up with to end it for the screen is with a final fight between the kids and the adults. They're all immortal because they have the Maximortal blood, so it would turn into a battle between psycho super zombies. Is that closer to what you might expect?

NRAMA: That's a different way to look at it, but the ending is what it is.

Going back to the book in my hand here, I'm reminded of the technique your use of the two-page layout divided into fours to show each sidekick's induction with their superhero. After a couple pages I really became engrossed in the quick switches to four different scenes – what led you to doing this?

RV: Pretty much every project I take on I try to play creatively with the form. Comics are such a fantastic sort of silly putty you know? They can be shaped infinitely. I don't see much exploration of the form in modern mainstream superheroes. They can be beautifully illustrated and gorgeously laid out but there's nothing fresh there, you know? And when you add the current "decompressed" storytelling, you get a four minute read of nothing but instantly forgettable eye-candy.

NRAMA: I've read that this new edition will have new material not in the original. Can you tell us what's included?

This paperback edition has a new cover and remastered interiors. I was able to get all the original art on loan from Albert Moy and scanned and tweaked everything to get the truest reproduction.

You might be confusing this edition with the 300 page hardcover I announced about six months ago.

Brat Pack - the new collection

NRAMA: Yes, it was. What happened with that?

RV: That was going to have tons of extra stuff. But I had to cancel plans for the hardcover when the economy started to go south. I'm glad I did too because the economy's in even worse trouble now and Diamond's latest rules are squeezing small publishers like myself out of significant parts of the market.

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NRAMA: You bring up something else I want to talk about – as a publisher, how have these new Diamond rules affected you?

RV: I've got nine titles in print, so King Hell traditionally brings in almost half its income on sales of it's backlist through Diamond. That's been taken away in the last few months although I'm not sure to who's benefit. So looking forward, small publishers are facing a whole new equation in how to plan and price a book.

This might a good time to mention that King Hell has held the line on a price increase. I understand how tough it is on everyone out there so this edition of Bratpack is priced the same as the last.

NRAMA: That's a good way to end it, Rick. Thanks for talking to us.

The new edition of Bratpack is scheduled for release on June 13. Veitch has provided a free download of the first issue at this linkwww.rickveitch.com.

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