Greatest Hits Gone By - Tischman on his Vertigo Series

David Tischman on Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits #6

When you think of the words ‘Greatest Hits’ what do you think of? For more, it’s a compilation of the most popular songs by a band or performer over the course of their career. Hopefully, it highlights the various points in their career into one cohesive package, taking the best of what’s out there to represent the musicians. In music that’s great, but in comics you want a story showing the good and the bad – the highs and the lows – and that’s just what the recent series The Greatest Hits did—but with superheroes.

Published by 2008 by Vertigo, the six-issue series focuses on a English superhero quartet called ‘The Mates’ and their humble debut in the 1960s to the drug fueled 70s and into the present day. From the heights of their glory to the depths of excess, their story is told from the point of view of a Hollywood director who has his own ties to the team.

The series was by writer David Tischman and artist Glenn Fabry, and they ably tell the story of a superhero team whose celebrity status seems to overshadow their hero efforts. Their story is told through a Behind The Music-like documentary by Nick Mansfield, whose father was the primary reporter covering the heroes’ career at the expense of raising his son. Fabry’s been a staple of Vertigo books, and this rare interior work shows a clean line work that gives the story a perfect platform to examine the different eras that Mates operated the emotions of the team members and their friends and family.

With The Greatest Hits miniseries recently concluded and a collected edition planned for later this year, we talked with Tischman by email about the series and future possible stories.

Newsarama: Pressed to describe this in as concise manner as possible, I’d have to say it’s the Beatles as superheroes in a tell-all biography. You’re the author not me, so how would you describe it?

Greatest Hits #3

David Tischman: Yes--but no. I think that's what people were expecting, but the Mates were never intended to be the Beatles. In Greatest Hits, the super-hero team is meant to have the place in our public consciousness--in the social and cultural zeitgeist--that the Beatles do. More "cultural icons" who can be identified by every living person on the planet, than a direct knock-off. That's the way I see it. At it's core, Greatest Hits is about heroes, and the forms that takes--and how the public's expectations of who you are is so radically different from the person you become. That’s where the Beatles analogy works--how long has it been since the Beatles broke up? People still expect Paul McCartney to be the same person he was on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

NRAMA: The miniseries just wrapped up and a collected edition is in the wings somewhere at DC, so let’s talk about the series as a whole – spoilers and all. Although it’s superheroes – at its core, the comic is really about the culture of celebrity and how those in the spotlight and those in the background are affected by it. Can you tell us your thought process in interweaving all these threads of music, superheroes, celebrity and film together into one thread?

DT: I wish we'd had more space to get MORE into the music stuff. Originally--and because the story takes place over so many decades--we wanted to show how the powers of the heroes changed in a way that reflected the music of that generation. Meaning, in the 70's more heroes did drugs to augment their powers. In the 80's, at the beginning of the tech boom, we see more armored heroes, because it's cool and because the armor makes them harder to kill. In the 90's we see a return to basics, a stripped-down hero, along the lines of Batman, as if Kurt Cobain became a super-hero. Coming into the 21st century, many of the heroes are younger, often teens, who are given their powers by corporations, and who have no real sense of the heroic legacy of the Mates. We tell a great story, but all that would've added another four issues! It's there, it's just subtle.

NRAMA: I read in another interview that the final fate of Nick wasn’t what you originally planned. In the book he does the film but ultimately reneges on releasing it, empowering him in some way to get outside his father’s shadow. Where was the swerve for you, and how did it come about?

DT: Really? I'm sure you're right, but I really don't remember that. [laughs]

Greatest Hits #1

There WAS a "swerve" as I was writing--the whole idea that Archie, who's an asshole, and who abandoned Nick and who Nick hates--the idea that Archie does what he does and handles it the way he does--okay, yes, all six issues are out, but I'm not going to lay it ALL out, go back and READ! That idea came about as I was writing the third issue, and it definitely affected a lot of the pages moving forward.

NRAMA: Yeah, let’s save something for the collection.

The make-up of the team conveys a familiar formula to the casting of teams, whether they be superhero teams in comics to members of of a boy band. The shy one, the dark one, etc. Why do you think this formula is so prevalent, and how did it work for you in the confines of this book?

DT: When you look at any super-team, the mix of powers you need is the same as the mix in a band. Specifically a boy band, but any band, really. Just like no one wants to see an entire super-team of Iron Mans, you don't want to see an entire band of drummers. But going back to the band thing--and I will use the Beatles for this one. Every super-team has a beacon of goodness, i.e. a Superman type. That's Paul's function. To balance that out, you need a hero who is more "black and white," with a dark personality. That's a Batman-type, or someone like John. Spiritually, the Beatles had George, and the Defenders had Dr. Strange. Finally, you need the wise-ass of the group, the impish guy--remember when that was Plastic Man in the Justice League? That's Ringo. In the Mates, we made their powers an extension of those personas. On the drummer, though, we did stir a little Keith Moon into the mix. Just for fun.

NRAMA: I’m sure every band could benefit from a little Keith Moon.

I’m a little ashamed to admit, but when I first read about this book I glossed over it a bit. Superheroes under the Vertigo Imprint seemed like an odd fit, but when a friend of mine let me borrow several issues I could see why it worked. Describe for us how these superheroes can fit so well into the Vertigo framework?

DT: For me, I wish Vertigo did MORE super-hero books. I understand why they don't, but super-heroes are the staple of comics, and the darker takes and motivations on heroic characters is often too "hard" for mainstream publishers. And, frankly, if you look at the line, Karen Berger's done a lot of super-hero books--maybe not tights and capes heroes, but Animal Man and Black Orchid and Swamp Thing and Sandman and Sandman Mystery Theater--all huge titles--are the "harder" super-hero forms I just mentioned.

Greatest Hits #2

NRAMA: You’re working with a British comics institution in Glenn Fabry. Was he on this project early on? How did his involvement color the direction the series develop?

DT: Glenn has been on the project since Day One, which goes back father than any of us really want to go! As we were working on the book, I'd send Glenn e-mails every week, because the pages were just so fucking good. Glenn's responsible for the look of the book, and he kept the book honest, in terms of period detail and in terms of the Mates' British roots. He's always such a gentleman about it, but there were a couple times when I'd get a note, maybe a Brit would say this line a bit differently, or in England at the time, they did this--all of it very smart, and very constructive, and it added another layer to the book that a guy from New Jersey--me--wasn't able to bring to the table.

NRAMA: Depending on sales of the collected edition, could you see more stories in the future for Nick or the Greatest Hits?

DT: Based on the readers and the fan reaction I get at cons, yeah--I'd love to do more stories about the Mates. Especially the Solicitor. For some reason, he's everybody's favorite. There's a great Solicitor story to be told. Him and Soul Sister in New York in the 70's. That'd be fun.

Twitter activity