Going to EXTREME Part 1: Creators talk 90's Image Revival

Going to EXTREME Part 1:

Bloodstrike group design

One of the most unexpected – and exciting – announcements last fall was that Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios line would return to Image Comics this spring with some of today’s most acclaimed creators at the helm, picking up the numbering from where the previous series left off.

In addition to Alan Moore’s long-lost scripts for Supreme being illustrated by Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen, the new Extreme line includes new continuations/reboots of Prophet by Brandon Graham of the acclaimed English-language manga King City and Simon Roy, Glory by Hell Yeah writer Joe Keatinge and Wet Moon creator Ross Campbell, and Bloodstrike from Hack/Slash’s Tim Seeley and Franchesco Gaston.

Extreme was synonymous with many of 1990s comics’ greatest excesses – tons of action and violence, and a showcase for new creators; but also late-shipping books, dropped plotlines, characters seen as derivative and strangely disproportioned bodies whose feet were often off-panel.  Yet it also had its fans – and the new line, which premieres with Prophet this week, is already winning over critics including Warren Ellis with their wild, pulpy reinventions of these concepts.

To celebrate the new launch, we got writers Brandon Graham, Joe Keatinge and Tim Seeley on the horn for a conference call.  In a frank, rowdy and often, well, extreme interview, they discussed their takes on the new books, the highlights (and criticisms against) 1990s Extreme, and what they want to achieve with their titles.  Are you ready for the all-new Extreme?  Read our interview and decide for yourself. 

Newsarama: Guys, how did all this get started? Did you all know each other before this?

Brandon Graham: Tim had hired me for a Hack/Slash cover long ago, and I knew Joe from a pizza place…

Joe Keatinge: [laughs] It’s true.

Tim Seeley: I knew Joe since he worked at Image back at the day. But I think us knowing each other didn’t have that much to do with our getting the job.

Keatinge: Yeah, I think it had more to do with our mutual friend Eric Stephenson.

Graham: That guy?

Keatinge: Yeah, he’s all right. [laughs] I was asked on board November 2010 by Eric, and he said you, Tim, were already on board for Bloodstrike

Seeley: Yeah, I was asked a while back, and for a while it looked like it might not be happening,. All I know is I wrote the first script like last April, so it’s been a while….

Graham: And I heard you were writing a bunch of pitches…

Seeley: Yeah, and people like to throw that out! [laughs] But I didn’t know there was going to be a relaunch thing. I’d been pitching Bloodstrike since about 2008. I knew Rob from cons, and through [Robert] Kirkman and stuff for a few years, so I’ve hit him up with ideas on his message boards and at cons and stuff. When I pitched him Bloodstrike, I didn’t hear anything for like three years, but better late than never, right?

Nrama: How familiar were you guys with the original concepts of these books before you came on board?

Graham: I think I was the least familiar.

Keatinge: I think Tim is the most familiar. I’m somewhere in between.

Seeley: I was a huge Image Comics/Extreme junkie. When I was 12 or 13, I went to the Chicago Comic-Con with the debut of the Image guys. So I just happened to be in line when they announced they were doing Image. So it affected me pretty heavily, I think. [laughs]

Blookstrike's Cabbot

I was pretty into Image. I think I dropped all the other books I was reading at the time so I could get all the Image ones. Obviously, not all of them were awesome, but there were some really exciting books among all that stuff.

So yeah, I read Prophet and Glory, and…I think I read all of them except New Men, which my little brother read. We had the line covered in my house. I was into the Extreme line when the Alan Moore reboot hit, and that was when I was about old enough to get into comics, so I was saying things like, “Hey, that Alan Moore Youngblood doesn’t have Badrock in it, so I’m gonna pitch me a Badrock series!” [laughs]

Nrama: What about the rest of you guys? Were you into the Extreme books back when they were first being published?

Keatinge: Oh hell yeah. I had a similar situation to Tim, where I was just about the right age when Image first launched. I discovered those guys through their Marvel work, and when they left to form Image, I didn’t even understand there were different companies – I was just, “Uh, this is a bunch of awesome stuff.”

And I glommed on to pretty much everything – like Tim was saying, between me and my friend, we had pretty much the entire friggin’ line. And the Extreme line was a big part of that. With Youngblood, there was a specific run -- #6 through 11, I think – that was pretty friggin’ awesome.

Another Cabbot design

And then Alan Moore’s stuff revitalized my interest in that – Supreme and Youngblood and Judgment Day, and even his short Glory run. I loved Stephen Platt on Prophet, that blew me away, I still love those comics. I was definitely a huge fan going in. When Eric asked me to be part of this last November, I was like, “Anything you want. I’m all in.”

Nrama: Brandon, did you read the Image/Extreme stuff?

Graham: I'd read some, though it wasn’t really the kind of comics that I was into when I was a teenager – I was reading a lot of Japanese stuff then, mostly.

Nrama: What do you remember made those books unique?

Keatinge: It wasn’t really like anything else that was coming out at the time. The Marvel and DC stuff coming out concurrently seemed…safer. The Image stuff somehow seemed dangerous, almost like I shouldn’t be reading it, but when you’re 10 or 12, that’s what you want to read.

Graham: Would you say it seemed more extreme, Joe?

Keatinge: Oh, shut the hell up! [laughs]

Seeley: But it did seem to be something new coming up through the industry. We wanted something that seemed more visceral. I can look back at it now – that was the era when I was 15, 16, when they did “Extreme Sacrifice” and such – and that was the era when I was just sort of a vibrating pile of hormones, I just wanted to hump stuff.

They were putting in so much stuff, there was just this rawness to them, and even if it didn’t always work, that rawness worked to their advantage in a way. It was almost something like where you felt you could be a part of it yourself, creating new stuff and not giving a f*** what anyone thought about it.

Nrama: Do you remember any specific stories or issues that meant a lot to you?

Keatinge: Youngblood #6. To this day, that is like the best comic I go back to when I look at the Extreme stuff. I think Rob did #1-4, and Roger Cruz did #5, and then there was a break for a while, and then Rob came back with Eric Stephenson scripting.

And it was awesome! It was everything I ever wanted out of Youngblood, the concept most fully realized. I loved that book. I still have the copy I had as a kid out on my spinner rack.

Graham: I was thinking of that teenage-boy stuff Joe’s talking about, and what that would have been for me – probably something like Busecema’s Conan or The Dirty Pair, something like that.

Seeley: The indy-flavored stuff in the 1980s, it’s cool stuff like that made comics more respectable and sort of moved us closer to the mainstream and stuff, but my problem with it is it sort of infected superhero books.

Bloodstrike's Deadlock

And now it seems like we’re living in a well-written but kind of dry world of superheroes now. And we have those old techniques we can use to combine with newer techniques, that kind of really appealing, wild energy of that older stuff.

The first issue of Prophet that Chuck Dixon and Stephen Platt did – I didn’t even like Stephen Platt’s art at the time, but I remember thinking, “This does not look like anything that I’ve ever seen!” There’s a Jae Lee issue of Youngblood: Strikefile that looked like the heavy metal playing in my 14-year-old brain.

Nrama: Did you guys have any favorite characters, for that matter?

Seeley: Chapel was always really cool; not a likable guy, but he looked awesome. I was really into Cabbot. There’s something cool about a guy who’s basically a G.I. Joe zombie.

Keatinge: Badrock was big for me when I was younger. When Alan Moore came on board, I was pretty much the biggest Supreme fan ever. I just liked that era of Youngblood.

Graham: It’s kind of hard to look back at it, because my whole view of Image has switched in the last couple of years. I was that kid who actively did not like superhero comics growing up – I was completely on the other side of the fence and I could see like, the backlash against Liefeld’s work.

But seeing how Image treats creators, and how the company operates, I feel like that’s my side of the fence. And I’ve been going back and looking at this work differently, and it’s harder now in ways as a 35-year-old than as a 14-year-old, to go back and look for characters I like.

I’ll see Deadlock and go, “Wow, that’s Wolverine!” I don’t think, “Wow, that’s a great character!” so much as “Wow, taking Wolverine and turning his costume red and calling him Deadlock! The nerve!” [laughs]

Seeley: I’m going to amend my initial comment and say while I didn’t like Stephen Platt’s art at first, once he came on Prophet, I was the biggest fan. Period.

Keatinge: It didn’t look like anything else.

Nrama: You know, to this day, I’m still not sure what Prophet was about.

Graham: [laughs] I have some ideas, but part of the idea of the new series of Prophet is about wiping the slate a little bit and making it much clearer. Because yeah, I was reading the issues again recently, and there was stuff in there where – they were rotating creators a lot, obviously – I don’t honestly know if the people working on it always knew what it was about. [laughs]

Keatinge: Brandon, did you read the issues Platt did?

Graham: Yeah, I did. There’ll be all these scenes where characters are in these big sci-fi space stations or whatever, and they’ll be saying, “I have this secret plan!” I’ll read three issues ahead, and go, “Okay, what was his plan?” And it’ll never come to fruition. I’m like, “I don’t think that guy had a plan.”

Nrama: That’s about 90 percent of all supervillians in the 1990s. It was a very confusing time.

Bloodstrike #27 cover

Graham: Maybe that was the downside of it being such an artist-centric era, where people were going to go crazy and just draw whatever they wanted to draw. And it’s very different now because it’s such a writer-centric era, and the downside of that is maybe it’s taken away some of the fun of just putting out a book and going, “This might be nonsense sometimes, but kids love this, and it’s really fun.”

Keatinge: I’m trying to do what Tim was talking about earlier, which is taking the kind of insane energy of those old Image comics and combine them with modern storytelling, or storytelling, period.

Seeley: Trying to make the comics with the excitement you remember in reading them while growing up?

Keatinge: That’s a big part of it too. I’m really trying to channel that, that excitement from when I was a kid.

Next: We continue to get Extreme with Graham, Keatinge and Seeley as we talk about their reinterpretations of the Extreme concepts.

Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!

Twitter activity