Two of the craziest superhero creators out there relive one of their favorite collaborations this week when Dark Horse reprints the cult favorite DC book Major Bummer. By the mid-1990s, John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke already had a loyal following for creating The Mask for Dark Horse, which had then-recently become the hit Jim Carrey film. So, DC brought them in to deliver their brand of insanity for “The First Inaction Hero.”
Lou Martin was a slacker by even the slacker-heavy standards of the 1990s, but when a couple of aliens working on their school thesis decided to create some superheroes, Lou accidentally got a package intended for an idealistic lawyer named “Martin Louis.”Stuck with more muscles than the entire Image Comic line combined, super-intelligence he could only access subconsciously and a magnetism for weirdness and trouble, Lou found himself in charge of a group of equally-inept “heroes” determined to make him their leader, even as all he wanted to do was sleep, play video games and not get fired from his various minimum-wage jobs. But aliens, mutated villains and a giant Nazi T-Rex named “Tyrannosaurus Reich” had other plans in mind...
Though the book only ran 15 issues, Major Bummer attracted a loyal following for its riotous sense of humor, action and bizarre characters. Since then, its creators have both gone on to bigger things, with Arcudi writing Dark Horse’s B.P.R.D. and Mahnke illustrating Green Lantern with Geoff Johns at DC. Now, Dark Horse is finally reprinting the series as The Complete Major Bummer Super Slacktackular, out this week. We got the boys back together to reminisce about their classic book, what it’s like to see it back in print, and whether they’d want to do more.
Newsarama: Guys, how does it feel to see the book back in print, and how did the deal with Dark Horse come about?
Doug Mahnke: I'm very pleased that it will be collected. This will save me the trouble of scraping together all the issues when I want to read them. As far as via Dark Horse, John has a long standing relationship with them and they were open and interested in putting it all together. I know it was a challenge.John Arcudi: It’s great to see this back in print, of course. All the rights to Major Bummer reverted to me and Doug about eight or nine years ago. We just needed to grab the digital files for publication and then it was a matter of finding the right deal. Took a bit longer than we planned, but it’s here now.
Nrama: How was your collaboration on the book similar to working on The Mask? How was it different?
Arcudi: Well, we talked a lot more when we were working on Major Bummer, and our aim was very, very different. The Mask was a lot less methodical.
Mahnke: John and I collaborate well under any conditions, be it Mask or MB. As far as MB is concerned, it was all our baby, which makes it “special.”
Nrama: Why did you decide to set the book outside of the DC Universe proper? What, God help us all, do you think would have happened if Lou had met any of the DC heroes?
Arcudi: I am so terrible at writing superheroes that it was never an issue. In fact I was surprised that DC let us do it in our own little universe.Mahnke: The story is funnier and more complete without the other heroes. What's the big deal about a Nazi T-Rex if Superman can come in and punch its head off? If all the craziness is contained in Lou's world, it is all his problem. If Lou had met any of the DC regulars, I am sure he would have been impressed and intimidated. He never sees himself as effective or super, so those folks would freak him out.
Nrama: How did you come up with the characters – was it that John had descriptions and Doug drew them, or were there cases where Doug had a design and John came up with the backstory, or even cases where John came up with a name, and Doug came up with a design based on that?
Mahnke: I am sure all the characters were conceived by john first, unless he says otherwise. It’s been about 14 years, you know... how much can I remember? I will say the designs themselves were more or less up to me.
Arcudi: All the characters were set before Doug did designs, but that’s not really the whole story. Before I ever wrote the first script, I wrote up a bunch of character descriptions and submitted them to Doug. After I saw the amazing drawings he did, that’s when the characters really became who they were. I wrote to his art and that’s really where the characters came from.Nrama: Particularly curious about the origins of Nunzio and his runnin' crew. I love that Nunzio still thinks like a small-timer in terms of being afraid of being busted for shoplifting, or getting into trouble for escaping a prison he could break out of easily.
Arcudi: Yeah, he was easy. I just channeled my inner juvenile delinquent to write him, but you’ll have to ask Doug how the hell he came up with the leopard print bikini underwear (or costume, I guess). That was all Doug.
Mahnke: Nunzio... once a small-timer, always a small-timer. That’s what was charming about him, as there sure the hell wasn't anything else. I always loved his design – gigantic freak in tiny leopard print underwear. It said a lot about little Nunzio. Only a little punk greaseball would wear drawers like that.
Nrama: Which characters were the most fun to write/draw?
Mahnke: All the characters were fun to draw really. Fourteen issues was not enough to get all the fun in. John wrote them all so well [that] it was great to put the images with his words. Not many guys can say they enjoyed drawing a chubby little old woman or an uber-geek in galoshes, parka, Little Orphan Annie eyes and braces from hell, but I can.
Arcudi: They were all our characters, so really, for me they were all fun to write. If I hadn’t liked a character, I wouldn’t have used him/her.Nrama: Tyrannosaurus Reich -- I have to ask how you came up with that one.
Mahnke: John's feverish brain, naturally.
Arcudi: I don’t know. Coward Nazi Tyrannosaurus. Seems pretty obvious to me.
Nrama: Peter Tomasi was the editor, and is doing pretty well for himself as a writer now. What was it like working with him on the book?
Arcudi: Peter Tomasi was the best editor in the business. He really knew how to get the best out of me without being all hands on. He would always lead me to the right place where I could do what I do, rather than 2nd guess what I’m supposed to do.
Mahnke: Pete was great on all levels.... it's hard to say enough about him. He was very important to the book with his great eye for detail, creative side, and commitment. There is more MB to read because of him convincing DC that we needed more issues before calling it quits.
Nrama: What do you feel was DC's attitude toward the book -- did they "get it?" What do you feel were the biggest problems it had attracting an audience?
Mahnke: Humor books are a hard sell in a super hero market. That much is clear.Arcudi: Ah, who knows. I mean, do humor books even sell today? I can’t blame DC for an industry that now takes itself so deadly seriously. The bigger question is, how the hell did that happen?
Nrama: A number of your books involve people whose lives are either ruined by superpowers, or at least violently misuse them. What would you do if you got superpowers yourself?
Arcudi: I’d probably sleep a lot more.
Mahnke: If I had super powers I would use them for the greater good, as my parents didn't raise no super-villain.
Nrama: Do you think Lou would have ever changed?
Arcudi: God, I hope not.
Mahnke: . No. He is basically a lazy and harmless person, and no amount of extra powers could change that.
Nrama: What do you feel has changed about slackers since you did this book, or do the pillars of slackerdom remain eternal, like the pyramids?Mahnke: I think slackers are perfecting slackerdome and taking it to new lows. As a rather motivated and driven person, I don't relate to them whatsoever, but I do find them amusing, as long as they are not getting in my way.
Arcudi: They’ll tell you that they’ve re-contextualized their sloth as an ironic response to the Western workaholic culture, but in fact that excuse is just a mask for their petrifying impotent despair at an increasingly meaningless existence dominated and shaped by multinational corporate concerns.
Nrama: What were some of the storylines you had planned if the book had continued?
Arcudi: I have enough trouble with people stealing from my published stories. I’m not about to offer an opportunity for them to steal from my unpublished stuff.
Mahnke: My plan was to have Lou and the gang get stuck on a desert island after a three-hour cruise, but John thought that was too complex of a story line and would require a four-year story and some spin off issues to get it all done.
Nrama: Would you do more Major Bummer if the opportunity presented itself?
Arcudi: Why not?Mahnke: Yes, but only when I feel safe.
Nrama: For that matter, would you like to see the book done as a film or TV show?
Mahnke: Of course! It has been optioned for years, patiently waiting for the day it gets to slack to life on film.
Arcudi: Hey, it could happen.
Nrama: And finally -- what are some of your favorite moments/lines from the book?
Arcudi: Way, way, too many to count.
Mahnke: There are so many favorite lines from the comic, and I can’t accurately quote any of them. In one of the issues where lou and the bad guys have teamed up against Super-Zinnac, Carlos and Lou are up on top of Zinnac's spaceship while Carlos cuts a hole to let Lou in. As Lou complains about the craziness of Zinnac, Carlos responds with “Ha, aliens are dinks. They are always doing shit like that,” or something to that effect. That always stuck with me.