Veteran comics creator Brendan McCarthy has enjoyed a new profile with his work designing the Oscar-winning hit film Mad Max: Fury Road. This week, McCarthy helps bring DC Comics' Doctor Fate to a close with the conclusion to a two-part story he illustrated off a plot by series writer Paul Levitz.
McCarthy spoke with Newsarama about Doctor Fate, as well as comparing him to comic books' other doctor - Doctor Strange - whom McCarthy has also worked on.
Newsarama: Brendan, how did you come on board for this story?
Brendan McCarthy: DC boss Dan DiDio got in touch and asked if I'd like to draw Paul Levitz's final story on his Doctor Fate run. Paul wanted to go out with a bang with a big psychedelic firework show...so they came to me.
Nrama: What was it like working with Paul on this?'
McCarthy: We talked briefly by email. I asked him to write me a looser story, not too much writer's “direction” if possible, so I could be a bit more playful.
I think that's the best way to get something good out of me. I had recently finished my graphic novel Dream Gang, and was happy to play with something fun that I wasn't writing as well.
Nrama: I’ve realized you can now stake a claim as one of the few artists to have worked on both Doctors Strange and Fate. What's unique about each sorcerer?
McCarthy: Well, I love both characters. With Dr Strange now in the limelight due to a pretty good movie that has launched him as a viable character, he no longer lives in the fringes of the Marvel comic universe.
Doctor Fate, on the other hand, still languishes in “second tier” character land... I've always liked Doctor Fate, but he doesn't seem to connect with an audience. I'd like DC to give me a go at doing something with him and making him work as a “mystical” character with his own distinct world to inhabit.
Doctor Fate existed long before Doctor Strange, but has never had a creative genius like Steve Ditko, for example, to take him in hand and inject a load of good new concepts that might make him work. It would be fun to do a cross-over with the two characters.
Nrama: What did you enjoy about getting to do this story?
McCarthy: I wanted to showcase an approach to Dr Fate that might excite DC and show a direction that the book could go in.
I asked the brilliant UK artist Mark Harrison to color the strip. I've worked with Mark before, I got him to do some movie concept art for me some years ago. I got Mark to move over to my more “psychedelic” style, and I designed the panel borders/backgrounds to get the final look for the pages – “McCarthy” it up a bit, so to speak.
I think it looks pretty good, and it gets better as we found the groove.
Nrama: You've had some new attention on your older work in the last few years. What projects would you most like to see reprinted, or revisit in new form?
McCarthy: Yes, it's been interesting to return to comics after a few decades working in movies and TV -- being at the beginning of the CGI animation revolution. and then learning the skills of movie-making -- culminating in all the Oscars for Mad Max: Fury Road, a genuine modern masterpiece.
That attention allowed a new audience to discover my older work from the ‘80s “British Invasion” era... they're seeing how forward-looking it was, in the areas of gender and its other politically subversive themes. My output was overshadowed at the time by Alan Moore, Gaiman etc, the big marquee names, but underneath that direction, I was doing some new and radical material.
It's a bit like when The Beatles were doing Sgt Pepper in 1967 and the hippies were at their peak, the Velvet Underground were kicking off their very different sound and look which eventually gave us David Bowie and the punk revolution years later.
Stories like the banned SKIN, about a disabled character -- a thalidomide-affected skinhead which showed the effect of corporate violence inflicted upon innocent families. The Rogan Gosh “Bollywood” graphic novel had an east Indian guy as the lead, with a transvestite character included.
Thirty years ago, nobody was taking on these type of gender-outcast characters, but now it's where the culture is going. People now appreciate how ahead of its time our work really was. It influenced people like Grant Morrison and Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz) in a big way.
Nrama: Have you found more doors are open for you since the Mad Max film came out, and if so, what have been the most interesting opportunities? Do you have plans to do more work in television and film, and if so, do you see eventually doing your own feature?
McCarthy: I don't tend to run after Hollywood much anymore. The allure wore out after about 20 years working in that world. Fans have no idea of how horrible that scene really is. It's vicious and nasty. I'm only interested in producing good work, like Fury Road, and not maintaining a high-profile “career” to keep my star aura buffed!
I'm an artist. When jobs come up, I look at them and see if I can contribute something meaningful. Sure, sometimes you need the money. The years spend drawing comics and generally living below the poverty line in my younger days means that I kept my feet on the ground about all that Hollywood razzamatazz.
Nrama: There's also been renewed attention on 1980s and 1990s British and Vertigo creations with such imprints as Young Animal and Karen Berger's return to editing at Image. What would you like to see comics most recapture creatively from those eras, and what do you think the industry has most gained and lost since then?
McCarthy: The biggest thing we've seen since the ‘80s is the move over to the “film pitch” comic, where creators are tailoring their concepts and storytelling technique to make their comics “producer-friendly.” so that they might be sold as movie franchises or TV shows.
I think it can make for some pretty tedious reading, as far as I'm concerned... I find reading “film pitch” comics very boring. Most writers are regurgitating already-seen movie concepts and not striking out into completely new areas.
Someone like Mark Millar is leagues ahead of most of these “movie pitch” writers – and he actually gets his stuff picked up and into production. I'm always on the lookout for good, original ideas in comics. That's what really floats my boat!
Let me say though, that there are great works being done all the time and the industry is in good shape. It's grown enormously. This is just a particular phase, and comics will be pointing in a new direction in another twenty years.
Nrama: What all do you have coming up, in comics and in other media?
McCarthy: There will be some very interesting news coming up soon on the comic front, which I can't talk about right now. I also have written a new movie with George Miller and hopefully, it'll get made in a shorter time frame than Fury Road – which took about 18 years!
Nrama: What are some other characters/concepts you'd like to work on, in any media?
McCarthy: I'd like to try something in VR. I'd like to make a CGI feature or TV series based on the Dream Gang graphic novel. But I don't like to talk too much about stuff I'm planning as, like many creators, I'm afraid I'll jinx it!
The Dream Gang graphic novel from Dark Horse is still available, but gradually selling out from the comic stores. It's been very well received and is a really good example of psychedelic art and thought. I'm mulling over a Dream Gang sequel, but I'm letting the story brew before I commit to doing another book.
The second Doctor Fate episode will have to tide readers over for the time being!