For six years in the early 1960's, the prime-time television show The Flintstones depicted the everyday concerns of a modern family — but in a Stone Age setting. The ground-breaking animated series, produced by Hanna-Barbera, lived on for generations through syndicated reruns and eventually live-action films.
Now DC Entertainment is taking the iconic characters of The Flintstones and updating them for comic books — reflecting modern-day concerns (instead of the 1960's) while also incorporating a satirical look at civilization itself.
Re-designed by Amanda Conner, the characters of Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty and the whole Bedrock gang are coming to comic books beginning July 6 with The Flintstones #1 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh. The release is part of an ongoing slate of books DC has been releasing that feature updated versions of the Hanna-Barbera characters.
Newsarama talked to Russell and Pugh about the upcoming release and what readers can expect from the new The Flintstones.
Newsarama: Mark, this comic book really keeps the same characters and core ideas from the Flintstones TV series, but you've updated it a bit for modern audiences. Can you talk about that approach, and why you guys decided to come at it from that direction?
Mark Russell: I feel like, as a writer, I write a very specific way. I don't feel like I'm a very good mercenary writer. I'm not somebody who can just jump in and write in a certain voice or style. I have to pretty much write about things that are important to me or I'm not going to be good at all.
And so in my conversation with Dan DiDio about doing The Flintstones, I mentioned that, that I wasn't going to just be able to knock off some renovated Flintstones cartoons. And he assured me that's not what they're looking for at all. They really wanted my voice in the Flintstones. They wanted me to infuse it with the same sort of social commentary I did in Prez.
And that's what sold me on the project, was the fact that I was going to be able to, like, do the Flintstones my own way. And DC's been very supportive of that, which is really gratifying as a writer, because I don't think I could do it any other way.
Nrama: It's interesting to hear you talk about infusing it with social commentary. I mean, it's full of humor, and it's still the Flintstones. But I was finding it difficult to exactly describe how the approach is a bit different from the cartoons.
Russell: I think it's sort of this grand critique of civilization in Flintstones form. I wanted to talk about bigger themes, about where the world went wrong at the very beginning using the Flintstones as my template.
I think that makes it even funnier. And it also makes it a much more warped sense of social critique, because you have to do it through the prism of the Flintstones, whom one doesn't really associate with that at all.
Nrama: Let's talk about the art, Steve. Were these characters already designed?
Steve Pugh: Amanda Conner did the original sketch work on the Flintstones, and those were very much locked down. And we knew we were going to use the original look, with the bear skins and stone houses and such. And then I came on board.
I was using touchstones of Mad magazine, and artists that had realism in their work but were also caricaturists.
I also had the idea that Hanna-Barbera and I were drawing the same people, but just in a different style. That was my thinking on the matter.
It was important that people could still see that it was the Flintstones. Mark was moving it on so it was a more sophisticated Flintstones, and it meant more and it had more depth. So to make the connection with the reader, I thought it was very important that they be the Flintstones — you know, that the relationships are very recognizable, they're the same family, and they're the same sympathetic guys they always were. So I hope I've built in that recognition.
Russell: Yeah, Steve, wasn't Fred based upon some British comic, like his appearance?
Pugh: Yeah, I think Amanda Conner was using the guy who played Paul Blart in the Mall Cop comedies
Nrama: Actor Kevin James.
Pugh: Yes, but Fred, for me — you know, he's a big guy, but he's got kind eyes. That's what I was trying to go for. You know, huge guy, physically imposing, but you know, he had the eyes of a father. And there's a British comedian named Tommy Cooper who had this amazing, Neanderthal-like face, I mean really, really large features and deep-set eyes, but really, really kind eyes at the center of that. A really lovely man. And he was my touchstone for Fred. He was my key to getting into the character.
Nrama: The characters feel more realistic than the way they were approached for the animated series. I feel like Mr. Slate, who plays a key role in the first issue, is maybe the most changed.
Pugh: Yeah, he's gone from a basically slight man to a guy who's quite vain and hits the gym a lot.
I think Mark's approach brought that about. Slate is a rich guy who has time to take care of himself and think a lot of himself, whereas in the original cartoon, Slate was more of a management figurehead, a kind of dry numbers guy, whereas Slate of the comic is a much more driven one-percenter who has this vision that, because he's rich, he must be special. And I try to put that into his physical appearance.
Russell: Yeah, in a lot of ways, I wanted Slate to be a commentary on how much the corporate culture has changed since the '60s in the original cartoon. In the 1960's, Slate was this, just sort of mediocre guy who wasn't really particularly mean or good or anything. He just kind of kept the business running and was happy to share the wealth with everyone below him. And just wanted to keep the gravy train rolling.
In our version, like Steve said, he's much more driven. He's much more patterned on a modern CEO who is worried about his legacy, is worried about how he's seen in the world. He sees himself as a demigod on Earth. And he's very interested in cutting corners and getting ahead where he can.
Nrama: That was one of the things I was going to ask about — the idea to modernize the Flintstones is less about changing the relationships, but more about reflecting the changes in the world since the '60s to the present day, right? What civilization is today compared to the perception of civilization in the 1960's?
Russell: Yeah, in a lot of ways, civilization has always had these fundamental flaws, or these fundamental attributes that we've never been able to get away from. And I think I really try to make that clear in the first issue. Civilization is basically finding ways to wash your hands of all the killing that is needed to be done in order to maintain a civilization that requires borders, that requires food creation and stone houses and things like that. There's a lot of death and human misery that goes into creating all these things, these nice things that we all enjoy. The point of civilization is to sort of shield you from having to actually do the sausage-making, to find some poorer, more foreign and unfortunate people to do it for you.
That's kind of why Slate wants to bring in Neanderthal labor, and what he sees as the advantage of civilization. Of course, they quickly realize it's really just a veneer to cover up the horror that goes into creating.
Nrama: That sounds so grim, but maybe we should emphasize this is a funny book!
Russell: Yeah, it's not nearly as much of a downer as I just made it sound!
Nrama: I think that's what makes it so unique. I felt that social commentary, but I was laughing through it.
Russell: Yeah, I think it's pretty funny and biting. But at the same time there is a little social critique.
But please just give it a chance.
Pugh: Yeah, I think that's the takeaway. Don't just think of this as some brand name cash-in. The creative team and the editorial team are really trying to make a terrific book and put a lot into it, and everybody's working very hard to entertain the reader. I would also say, please give it a chance to find an audience.