When DC announced in January a new imprint based around Hanna-Barbera's cast of iconic cartoon characters, the title that gathered arguably the most attention was Future Quest by Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner.
The new series puts Jonny Quest and his best friend Hadji at the forefront, along with galactic policeman Space Ghost, but also features more obscure characters like the Impossibles and Birdman. The series features designs by Darwyn Cooke and DC is touting it as a New Frontier of the Hanna-Barbera adventure world.
The series is not only notable for reviving the characters, but as Parker points out, these cartoons, which were re-run in various forms from the '60s to the '90s, had a big influence on today's comic book creators and television and film writers.
Newsarama talked to Parker and Shaner to find out more about Future Quest.
Newsarama: Jeff, we've seen some solicitations that describe the adventure you've created, but what kind of book is this? And how did you come up with the story that would bring together all these characters from these different cartoons of the past?
Jeff Parker: One of the suggested takes on it early on was to treat this as a New Frontier for the Hanna-Barbera action adventure universe. And that was the perfect thing to say to me, and probably Doc too. I was like, whoa, treat it like my favorite thing DC has done? Yes. OK, I can do that.
So right away, we needed a big galactic threat that made sense, that it could attack Space Ghost, the Herculoids, the Galaxy Trio, and also post a huge threat to Earth.
And if anything poses a huge threat to Earth, Dr. Quest is going to know about it. And just by simple math, Jonny and Hadji are going to get mixed up in it, and Race is going to shoot something.
So that's the basic thing that gets them all together — something that has attacked the solar system that Space Ghost and the Herculoids and the Galaxy Trio live in, and it's crossed over through a Vortex to start emerging on Earth.
And you'll find out that this threat, actually, is responsible for other things throughout history. I love time-space stuff, so we get into a lot of that.
And then the real chore of it is that Doc has to pull it all together and make it all look like it makes sense by drawing it all in a style that makes sense for everybody.
Nrama: I was going to ask why the title contains the word "Future." You talked about this threat having affected other things throughout history. Is the "Future" a reference to time travel?
Parker: Yeah, the "Future" is really more to suggest that time has something to do with it.
It's not a bunch of time travel. So don't worry. Everybody's not running back trying to change the timeline or anything like that.
The "Quest," obviously, is because, just like the Jonny Quest show was the lynchpin that everything sprung from in the '60s, we're kind of going with that again with this series. It's the root of it all. It sets the tone for everything else, so everything has to bend a little bit more in Jonny's tone, which is pretty inclusive, I think. We still have humor and light stuff in there, but it's mostly that kind of global action-adventure that that show was known for.
Nrama: We've seen this wraparound cover for issue #1 that shows all kinds of awesome characters from throughout the Hanna-Barbera action-adventure universe. How did you pick who you were using? Is the plan for different characters to get involved as the story goes along?
Evan Shaner: A lot of it was handed to us in what DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and Darwyn Cooke had talked about.
Parker: Yeah, I think they were going with ones they remembered.
I know for a fact the Impossibles are in there because Dan liked them. [Laughs.] And it's funny, because that was a real challenge. I was like, OK, the others are kind of easy because they're all designed by like Alex Toth.
So now, the task there was, like, Evan has to figure out, well, what if Toth has been assigned The Impossibles cartoon too? How might he have pulled that off? But it's really, clearly all him.
And then, you know, as we were just talking about the story, Doc kept drawing pictures of Dino Boy, who wasn't originally part of the original pitch to us back and forth, and bam — just the idea of seeing him draw dinosaurs, now Dino Boy is part of it too.
It wasn't complicated enough!
Nrama: And there's Blip the space monkey is in it too, right?
Parker: Of course! There are a lot of sidekick animals in this that actually, I wasn't considering at the beginning of the project. But once you get into it, you realize almost everybody's got a mascot animal that runs around with them. And now we've got to figure out something for those animals to do.
Nrama: As you mentioned Darwyn Cooke did some designs on this, but it sounds like you had to bring all the characters together into the style you were using for this series. What was that process like for you as you had to make them all fit in one universe?
Shaner: I had to tweak some things here and there. Jonny and Hadji and the whole crew from Jonny Quest is the focal point, the anchor for the whole story, and that's the way I've look at it visually.
Jonny and Space Ghost are largely exactly the same as they were in the '60s. So characters on that end change less. Birdman, his costume is a little different, but for the most part, he's still the same character. The Galaxy Trio are also largely the same.
But characters like Frankenstein Jr. or the Impossibles, who would be more toward the Jetsons, or Flintstones kind of side of things, certainly changed a little bit more to try to fit in with that view point.
Parker: Darwyn even said — and I can say this, because I'm speaking for Darwyn, because Evan wasn't there, but I heard him — Darwyn said at the time, "We'll just let Shaner go nuts. He's a stronger designer."
I was making a note when I heard that, I need to tell Doc that Darwyn said that.
Shaner: Well, seeing Darwyn's image first — because that's how Jeff mentioned this whole project to me, was just sending me Darwyn's original splash with all the characters running at the camera.
Parker: That's what they did to me. Dan didn't tell me what it was. He just sent me the image. That's a great way to do it.
Nrama: Yeah, that'll sell it best.
Shaner: Yeah, and also knowing that Darwyn wanted me to do this? That's intimidating, because I'm a huge fan of Darwyn! Like Jeff mentioned with New Frontier, that's one of my favorite things that DC has ever done. And I'm a huge fan of Darwyn's. So it's intimidating, but a great challenge.
Parker: Yeah, just him speaking for wanting us to be part of the project, I think immediately makes us both level up. You know, like, well!
Parker: Suddenly it felt like somebody had stuck a badge on me or something. And it's the best blessing for something like that.
Nrama: Can you talk about the structure of the story? Are there back-up stories or flashbacks at all, to set up the characters? How do you educate readers? I know most of these characters, but not every single one.
Parker: You don't have to know anything about them.
But DC has OK'd — because I kept pushing this — I realized that as the story keeps getting big, I thought we really could use some stand-alones showing people who these other characters are.
You don't need it so much for Jonny Quest and Space Ghost. We cover them for you within the main story. But some of the others, like Birdman and the Herculoids and the Impossibles, could have benefitted from it. And although this is going to drive some retailers nuts, we're inserting these specials that will have stand-alone stories that still kind of tie into the main story. So apologies to everybody that it reorders things in it a little bit. Just order a lot of them, because that's what you want.
It's turning out really nice. And one of the great things is Steve Rude is helping us out with some of this stuff. And boy, I just saw some of his pages yesterday. To me, Nexus was a huge thing for me. I loved that book. And it hit so many of those buttons, because clearly Steve was into all these cartoons too.
Marie Javins, our editor, has been very selective. She's like, well, if we're going to bring in anybody outside of the core team to do more stuff, they've really got to be a big deal who fits in with the whole aesthetic.
Nrama: You mentioned Steve being obviously a big fan of these characters. What about you two? Were you big fans of these characters? Were you familiar with all of them, or did you have to research them? I love the idea of you being paid to sit and watch cartoons.
Parker: It's a weird thing, when you have to justify it to your family. You're just sitting there watching some YouTube cartoons. They're like, what are you doing? It's like, "I'm working! Please! Please got to another room! These robots are getting smashed by monsters. I'm doing my serious research here, please."
But yeah, I knew them all because I spent way too much time in front of the TV as a kid. And luckily, in the '70s, these were all being re-run and re-packaged. So I got to see a lot of the Jonny Quest stuff, maybe some of the violence cut out that I didn't realize at the time. And I saw Space Ghost and all the rest of this stuff years after it originally aired.
Evan saw all the parody versions first.
Shaner: Yeah, yeah, I came to all these kind of through the back door of Coast to Coast. I mean, Harvey Birdman was a lot later. But I wasn't terribly familiar with Birdman before. Harvey Birdman.
I saw Real Adventures of Jonny Quest before I really had seen much of the original series. It was also a weird thing where they kind of played side by side, at least in the early to mid-'90s, whenever that was, Cartoon Network played a lot of the original cartoons in the afternoon. And then some of the parody stuff that later became Adult Swim would come on later at night.
So I remember having both versions in my head at the same time.
Parker: Space Ghost Coast to Coast is pretty weird now when you go back and think about it, because they were kind of doing a Max Headroom thing too. Like, it would cut back to weird non-sequiturs back and forth. It was bizarre. People are probably going to be confused by Space Ghost speaking in whole sentences.
Nrama: That brings up a good point. We have seen these characters approached from a more adult angle, from a more mature angle, and then there's the more kid-focused versions. Where does this fall?
Parker: It's all age, in the way a major Pixar film would be. I'd compare it to The Incredibles. If you had to think in terms of tone. I mean, we're not thinking of The Incredibles but I think it works as something that Netflix would say, "You might also like Future Quest" after you see The Incredibles.
There's a lot of heavy action, there's threats, there's death in it, but there's also very pure characters who are innocent. And also, we don't rub your face in the violence. Space Ghost doesn't stand around and watch as he pulverizes some monster into dust. He just kind of does his job and keeps going. We're all moving too fast here. It's all about how you choose to show things.
But I do think we'll surprise you with some things.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell readers?
Parker: Even if you don't know who Space Ghost is or the Herculoids, these cartoons were influential on a whole generation or two of creators. They're massively influential on me. So it's nice to have a chance to honor that and show why they're so good.
We try to broaden it out and bring in some new characters where it makes sense to, in a very natural way, to kind of expand the base a little bit, because all kinds of different kids need some things to imprint on too. And the robot gets bigger. And also, there's a space monkey in it. Don't forget that.