In July, Marvel’s Fantastic Four go where no “First Family” has gone before—they go literary. What’s that? Do they crash land in the center of a Norton’s Anthology of English Literature? Sort of—Fantastic Four: True Story pits the FF against a classic Stan Lee-created villain (who has never faced the FF before) who causes the fabrics of various pieces of “classic literature” to converge on one another. Written by Paul Cornell with artwork by Horacio Dominguez; Fantastic Four: True Story will also have cover art provided by Pride of Baghdad artist, Niko Henrichon.
Newsarama contacted Paul Cornell to talk about the literary nature of Fantastic Four: True Story and the logistics of breaking a new wall of meta-literary proportions.
Newsarama: To start off: What's Fantastic Four: True Story all about?
Paul Cornell: The FF realize that something to do with fiction has invaded the consciousness of humanity, and so everyone's despairing. So Reed has to invent an entire new field of human science—it'll take him twenty minutes and he'll need a screwdriver—and then they're off into fiction in the Fictocraft. Reed gets to say 'behold' for the first time in ages.
NRAMA: You're crossing fictional characters into the realm of literary fiction--isn't that meta-fiction?
PC: Yes. A+ and have a gold star. The whole thing is looking over its own shoulder at the reader, and the lovely artwork really grabs that quality and runs with it, like that quality is a football, but a kind of ironic football, you see? The art is kind of faux manga with Euro swirliness.
NRAMA: What pieces of fiction can readers expect to run into in True Story? Did you stick to one specific period of literature or is there a serious of broad strokes?
PC: There's a terrifying barrier that keeps the FF and their allies from exploring anything in the last, ooh, 75 years or so. But apart from that, we visit everything from the Jungle Book to M.R. James to Dante. Indeed, Dante is the FF's guide and mentor. “Like in Clerks,” as Johnny says.
NRAMA: How did you go about choosing the pieces you chose for this mini?
PC: They had to be easily recognized, with interesting characters who could pop in and be themselves and be fun straight away. I get to enjoy the Sheriff of Nottingham again, and there's an unusual appearance for Robin Hood as he appears in Ivanhoe.
NRAMA: Were there any books you considered but were like, "Nah...too easy," or, "No way--too hard..."? No James Joyce?
PC: More the latter than the former. Ahem. Actually, I probably could have grabbed Molly Bloom. But that's what they all say.
NRAMA: What's your background with noteworthy (academically speaking) literature?
PC: I've got some English Lit lurking somewhere in my past. More than that, there were a few Classics Illustrated in those crates of books as comics my brother left laying around the loft. At the same time, I met Dan Dare and the Famous Five, I learned, from reading CI, that a man can be blinded by showing him a heated blade. I think it was the Brothers Carry Mats Off; something Russian. I don't think that's really possible though, do you? It looked very dramatic in the comic. MythBusters has probably debunked it.
NRAMA: What inspired you to come up with this project?
PC: Big Tom B[revoort] asked me if I had any FF ideas, and I always like them as explorers, and this was a new field for them to explore. And there's an old villain in here, an original Stan Lee villain, the FF have never met, so I'm told, so it was good fun him being the surprise.
NRAMA: You're British—and you're writing the new Captain Britain and MI: 13 and there has to be some comfortability to that title because of the setting and the characters you've already been connected to through your Pete Wisdom MAX project; how is writing Fantastic Four different?
PC: I never wanted to do just the British books, and indeed, Cap isn't going to be 'that British book'. I really loved writing a comic featuring, as my Mum calls him, 'that stretchy man', whose adventures I so enjoyed in Lee/Kirby British reprints as a kid. Marvel America didn't feel foreign in those and it doesn't now.
NRAMA: What's been your biggest challenge in writing comic books to date?
PC: Me and Nick Lowe only fight about helmets and haircuts. Anything above the neck, that's the only stuff we disagree about. Seriously, I've had such great editors: Nick and Tom and Molly. Good folk to work with. I couldn't think of a serious answer, could you tell? I'm actually having a ball. Surfing that Gordon Brown stuff was a challenge, but a really fun one.
NRAMA: What's next for you after FF: True Story?
PC: Erm, can't tell you, comics wise! All very secret! But exciting.