MEN IN BLACK Meets Fine Art In Vertigo's ART OPS

DC Comics October 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Vertigo is launching a dozen new titles this fall, and in one the art is literally coming to life.

Art Ops by Shaun Simon and Mike Allred takes the mind-bending idea that art is alive and "blossoms" into what Allred calls a "giant art piece." Launching in late October, the ongoing series centers on a character named Reggie, who discovers that not only is art able to come to life, but there's a group of operatives, or "Art Ops," who make sure artworks stay controlled and hidden. Eventually, Reggie and a group of other characters end up forming an Art Ops team, and the adventure begins.

Newsarama talked with Simon and Allred about the idea, and found out how the Mona Lisa's escape from her frame not only graces the cover of the book, but was the idea that originally kicked off the concept.

Newsarama: Shaun, this is such an unusual concept — this idea that art is alive, and that there's a secret organization of agents that polices and patrols art. According to the mythology you're establishing, most people can't even see it, but these Art Operatives can, and they have to keep the whole thing controlled. What was the genesis of this idea?

Shaun Simon: Yeah, it started as just, "The Assassination of Mona Lisa." I had the idea for years, but when I pitched it, it was basically that the Mona Lisa gets out of her frame and a group of Art Operatives have to track her down and put her down. That's where it came from.

And then from there, we just started developing it into what it came to be.

This book isn't trying to be anything else but a comic. And I think that's what we really have going for us. It excels at what it's trying to do. For me, comics are surreal and unusual and bizarre and quirky, and that's what we're trying to be and that's what this book is about.

Nrama: So you pitched this idea to Vertigo as an ongoing?

Simon: I was actually talking to Shelly Bond, pitching a short story for one of Vertigo's anthologies. But when I pitched it, she liked it enough to ask me if I'd turn it into a series. And she asked about how I felt about getting Mike Allred to draw it, and obviously I said, yes, please do! And she did.

Mike Allred: The only person in the entire industry who I go back further with than Shelly is Steve Seagle. He actually hooked us up in the first place. The first thing I was ever getting paid for, in like 1989, which allowed me to quit my broadcasting job and Europe and come back to the states, comes back to Oregon — January 1989, was doing comics full time, but this company Comico that Steve Seagle and I were doing this series for, which Shelly was editing, that company went bankrupt. But in the meantime, Shelly and I just remained close. We were simpatico. We loved the same music and movies…

Now, at Vertigo, Shelly always had great, fun things happening. And in this case, she got Shaun and I together in New York, and we walked around and, on that day, came up with characters and everything. And I just fell head over heels for Shaun's concept, and I went right to town designing the characters.

And we brought in other artists with their interpretations. So you're going to see this series which starts with this really cool, crazy, fun idea that blossoms into this giant art piece. It's very organic, and I'm really excited about it.

Nrama: Let's talk about the characters at the center of the comic. The character that brings us into this world is Reggie, who kind of accidentally discovers this world of living art, and he finds out that his mother has been attached to the Art Operatives for years. How would you describe Reggie?

Simon: Reggie grew up as a latch-key kid. His mother was the head of this organization for years. She's always out. Always working. So he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his mom.

And then in Art Ops #1, a tragedy kind of takes him, and he blames his mom for him, and that kind of sends him over the edge. His mom is very different, as we're going to see.

And we'll see other characters who are going to form this new team of Art Ops coming from different places, trying to scrape together a new Art Ops after the old one disappears.

Nrama: Yeah, the first issue really jumps into the story at a point where there's already a history to the Art Ops.

Simon: Yeah, I wanted to come in at the point where the Art Ops has been around for 20 or 30 years. That was a big thing for me.

Allred: Yeah, it feels like it has a history to it. It feels like an epic right from the beginning, with this rich history we can build into, and a rich potential for the future that we can just expand.

Nrama: On the cover to #2, we see the way you're depicting the sort of living art that forms Reggie's arm. I assume we'll see more of that as the series goes on?

Allred: Oh yeah. Absolutely. There's this very exciting thing for people to discover.

Simon: I had an idea of what Reggie looked like in my head. As you see on that cover, he's got this arm. And I didn't know how to describe the arm to Shelly or to Mike. I don't even know what I said, but Mike just kind of took that and ran with it and created this crazy, surreal kind of arm.

I just think it's amazing and really, really cool.

Credit: DC Comics

Allred: It was like that for all of the characters, for me. Whatever Shaun described, I immediately had an image of it in my head.

The only character that I had to give extra thought to beyond that initial burst was The Body [who's the black-costumed character on Art Ops #3's cover to the right]. He is a very strange, unique character, so I had to roll him around in my head a few times before coming up with what's on the page.

But everybody else was, like, as soon as the characters were introduced to me or described to me, I knew exactly what they should look like.

Nrama: Are we going to see characters from paintings and other types of art that we know? As actual characters in the book?

Allred: Absolutely. Yeah. Anything and everything. Even sidewalk graffiti can come to life. There is no limit. Any kind of art can live in this book.

Simon: That's one of the things that enticed me. This isn't just pictures from frames — this is anything. And that's one of the things that, further down the line in the comic, really plays a part. It's not just paintings by Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. It's anything. There are limited possibilities.

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