You’d think a creative project named Greatest Hits would be an musical album of some sort, wouldn’t you? David Tischman knows better. Greatest Hits is more than your average super team book, and yet everything you would expect from a writer whose credits pre-comics include the Fox Network. He has written for IDW (Star Trek Year Four), Marvel (Cable), DC (Angel and the Ape), Moonstone Books (Sherlock Holmes), and now Vertigo is pleased to release Greatest Hits (of the Mates).
Hold your applause until the sixth issue, please…
Tim Lasiuta: Greatest Hits is a refreshing look at superhero teams, and seems to be ripped right out of the pages of a magazine that could be called ‘Rolling SuperHeroes’. How exactly did you come up with the concept and approach to ‘Greatest Hits’?
David Tischman: I was driving home and I had the radio on. A Beatles program, talking about the band’s final album; the four of them weren’t getting along at all, and Paul hoped that by staying in the studio — away from any outside influences, the drugs, the fans — that they could make it about the music again, and heal the personal rifts and stay together. Of course, it was too late — but I started to think, being a rock star isn’t that different from being a super hero. And all these super-teams — The Justice League, the X-Men — yes, they have a common goal and an incredible bond — but how do the personalities get along? We don’t have super heroes. But if we did, they’d act like rock stars.
Originally, I wanted to do the book as a straight documentary — the super-hero version of a Ken Burns film. But as the idea developed, we needed a more tangible, present-day emotional connection to the heroes. That’s where Nick comes in. Nick Mansfield, an incredibly talented writer-director who’s squandered his 15 minutes of fame. His father was the journalist who traveled with the Mates — and his father abandoned Nick and his mother for the excitement of super-hero life on the road. We see “Greatest Hits” through Nick’s eyes.
TL: Just as every band has its’ stereotypical members, the Hits have theirs. Crusader is the Compass, perhaps their Superman…Golem, their Thing/Hulk…Zipper, their Kid Flash/Speedy…and Vizier, Dr Occult/Dr Strange/Zatanna all rolled up into one, and the Solicitor, Scott Summers perhaps. Clearly, your characters are amalgrams of well known cultural icons from our life times. What is your description of the team and how does it relate to rock n roll history.
DT: Crusader is our Superman, Solicitor is our Batman, Vizier is our Dr. Fate, Zipper is our Flash, and Golem is our Hulk. All iconic powers — used in every super-team — as if we were casting the next big boy band. Personality-wise, you have to have your moral straight-shooter, whether that’s Superman or Captain America; you have to have the darker, one step from vigilante guy, whether that’s Batman or Wolverine. The magic guy, by definition, is going to be more spiritual — and Vizier ends up somewhere between Dr. Fate, Dr. Strange and the Spectre. The super-fast guy is always more fun when it’s Bart Allen goofy. And Golem, well, yeah, he’s more Thing than Hulk, but he’s pissed off, too. The Mates are NOT the Beatles — and their history ends up very different than John, Paul, George and Ringo — but using those models, it’s easy to see the prototypes.
Musically, yeah, that’s interesting. I wanted to show how our heroes have progressed in a parallel way to popular musical styles. We have the great super-teams of the 60’s, then we see more individual heroes in the 70’s, many using drugs to augment their powers. In the 80’s, as the tech boom started, we see more armored heroes, and heroes using gadgets — which is the safest way to dot he job and not get killed. In the early 90’s, we see stripped down “grunge” heroes — heroes who don’t need powers to fight crime. Kurt Cobain as Batman kind of thing. And going into the 21st century, we see younger heroes, who get their powers from the multi-national corporations who pay their salaries — heroes who have no real crime fighting skill, and who have no sense of the heroes of the past. That’s an important aspect to “Greatest Hits,” and we see the contrast played out in some of the “talking heads” we use in the documentary about the Mates. It’s a great counterpoint to the action and the drama.
TL: Issue #1 takes readers from the opening scene of the documentary (Come Together) and the interesting set up as the Solicitor enlists Golem (and Vizier). “And I don’t like them Heroes that stay at the pub all day, and take drugs” is a hilarious line. The sudden ‘cleaning’ up of the living room via magic, a perfect throwback to the 60’s with POP as a sound effect. There is humor in this book, as well as the story of a team that goes through the throes of a meteoric rise to fame, and from there, only the god of superheroes knows. Knowing your previous work on Bite Club, this is not going to be a predictable run…what can you tell us about the next 5 books?
DT: There are surprises along the way — literally, in each issue, just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on — things change. Which is the way life is — and why rock stars and anyone in the public eye — and these heroes — why they have such a hard time “growing up.” The mystery of the book creeps up on you, but it’s big. And the way each of the Mates end up — they change so much, but the way they end up, they all stay true to who they are, from the first time we meet them. I really like the way Nick ends up. It wasn’t the way I originally planned it — he’s one of those characters that kind of took himself over, which is kind of the point of his character. Nick finds a way to become the hero of his own life.
TL: As a dyed in the wool, Beatles fan….I do see certain similarities in the characters? Was that intentional by Fabry? I even see a twisted Paul McCartney, and Ringo in the scenes…Is there going to be a title called ‘Strawberry Fields Forever?’
DT: The Mates are not the Beatles, and you’ll see bits and pieces and similarities to many of the 60’s groups — including the Who and the Rolling Stones. But the Beatles, they have a huge and unique place in the zeitgeist. In that sense, the Mates are comparable to the Beatles, because as a super-team, they share the same place in our collective memory as the Beatles. You’ll see that played out throughout the series.
TL: From Bite Club to Star Trek, your work has been compelling. I enjoyed the Next Gen run and Year Four you did for IDW. You did American Century with Chaykin, and Cable for Marvel. What sort of stories do you enjoy telling? Is there any genre you steer away from? Did you find the Star Trek franchise difficult to write for, considering the massive history behind the Trek Universe?
DT: In TV and movies, you get pegged. You’re the comedy guy, or the thriller guy, or the guy who writes women — you really don’t get that as much in comics. Maybe because you’re considered “the comic guy.” Each book is different for me, and each book — hopefully — allows me to key into a different part of my brain, so it’s all fresh. Cable was about real-world politics, and Bite Club was vampires, and American Century was period crime. Star Trek, obviously, was science fiction. I don’t stay away from anything. My interest tends to be toward big i
deas I bring to a personal level, with a twist.
On Star Trek, though — I think Next Gen was more successful than Year Four. I wanted the books to be different, to feel different, and on Year Four I went with four-panel pages to give more of a widescreen effect, and telling single-issue stories — I think a lot of those stories needed more panels to breathe.
TL: I thought your run on American Century with Chaykin was remarkable, especially on issue #24 when you brought John Severin in to do the western.. What is the future for that project after the 27-issue run? Did you and Mr. Chaykin ‘run out’ of material?
DT: I love American Century. Look, we went 27 issues and I’m thrilled that eight to nine thousand people went out each month and looked for that book, and bought it. But the reality is, we needed bigger sales numbers to keep it going. Material-wise, Howard and I had the next 12 issues plotted out. After the New York storyline, Harry was going to be in white-trash Florida working at a small circus. Then we had a story in New Orleans. But I’m happy — we got to tell some great stories.
I’m a huge fan of old-time radio, especially the crime stuff. I’ve been talking to Joe Gentile at Moonstone about Johnny Dollar. I just love the period, and the kind of cases Johnny took on — tonally, it’s very similar to American Century.
TL: Your professional work with Howard Chaykin forms a large part of your creative output. Angel and the Ape, Superman Lib, Son of Superman, American Century, Bite Club, and even the JLA: Secret Society of Super Heroes have been written with him. What kind of working relationship do you have with Howard? Is he the layout man in the partnership?
DT: Howard and I wrote a lot of books together — my first book — and Howard taught me how to write comics. I wouldn’t be here without him. The last book we did together was the Bite Club sequel, Bite Club: VCU. We’re on different schedules and it was just time to pursue our individual projects. But how do we work together? We take turns doing nothing.
TL: Many writers cite the influence of guys like Julie Schwartz, Denny O’Neil, Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs in their early development as a professional. Who turned you onto professional writing?
DT: I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I read comics as a kid, starting in the mid-70’s — a lot of Paul Levitz’s Legion of Super-Heroes and Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil, and David Micheline on Iron Man and Claremont/Byrne X-Men — but I also read a lot of books. I watch so much TV, and we’re so steeped in pop culture, I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, and going back to a lot of the classics, just to get a different voice in my head.
TL: What kind of books do you read when you’re not ‘on’? Are you one of those self-help guys?
DT: I need help, but I don’t read self-help.
TL: Once we find out the eventual end of the Mates (you gave it away already), what is next up for you David?
DT: You can figure out that Mates break up — but you won’t figure out how they end up. It’s in there, but you have to read all six issues to see it to the end. Right now, I’m working on a creator-owned book at Wildstorm, and I’m roughing out a new monthly series. I’ve got some cool ideas. I’ll let you know.
Coming Soon to a comic store near you….the Greatest Hits! (echo effect)