Like a lot of people of a certain age, I sometimes pine for the “good old days,” a nostalgia trip down memory lane of all the things that I loved (or missed) over the first (REDACTED) decades of my life. Writer/letterer/publisher Christopher Mills is one of us, too. And, thankfully, he has put his money where his mouth is and done something to sate his desire for a return to a time when comic books weren’t so dark and serious. In this case, the 1970s. The books back then had a certain look and style that you just don’t see anymore. Mills’ Atomic Action Comics has mined the field of minor (VERY minor) Golden Age characters from some low level publishers, put a Silver Age shine on ‘em and reintroduced ‘em in the Modern Era to people who didn’t even know they existed. And therein lies the fun.
The first issue of SPACE CRUSADERS stars a dude named Rex Dexter of Mars, a hero in the mold of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, with this updated version exhibiting the dark humor and rather glib repartee of Han Solo. The character was created by Dick Briefer, debuting in the first issue of MYSTERY MEN COMICS, published by Fox Feature Syndicate and cover-dated August, 1939. The series inhabited the back-pages of the first 24 issues of the book, as well as a 1940 single issue of his own title, the only time Rex appeared on a cover. In “Menace of the Saurian Sphere!,” Mills’ story is fun and exciting, an adventure that sees Rex and his traveling companion aboard the Blue Comet, Cynde, pick up a tiny Kooba Cola-drinking space octopus that Captain Dexter calls a “goblin,” are attacked by robot antibodies inside the massive sphere that gives the story its name before escaping through a hatch that leads to… a prehistoric land populated with cavemen and dinosaurs; when the duo come face-to-face with an angry T Rex, Cynde exclaims, “Amazing! A living Tyrannosaurus Rex!” To which the nimble-brained Dexter says, “Wait! HIS name is Rex, too?” Brilliant! The cavemen save Rex and Cynde from the dinosaur, only to be saved by the Captain when the injured beast turns his attention toward the tribesmen. Aaand… then things get interesting. This story is a total 1970s throwback, a freewheeling, wild and woolly 28 pages that leaves you wanting more! And, I haven’t even told you about the art yet.
The pencil and ink work by Peter Grau reminds me of a looser version of Dick Giordano (I always thought that Dick’s solo work had a rather wooden feel), while Matt Webb’s colors add to the Silver Age feel of the book; it’s brighter and as close to those old comics as anything I’ve seen outside of stuff like the MY LITTLE PONY books or the ones starring ancient Harvey characters like CASPER, THE FRIENDLY GHOST and BABY HUEY. The Grau/Webb combination is certainly a thing of beauty… futuristic settings, robotic adversaries, beautiful women, raging dinosaurs, cute alien pets, a hapless hero, these guys can do it all! The same creative team returns for SPACE CRUSADERS 2, but Rex Dexter doesn’t. As Mills discusses in this first issue, his vision for this book is to feature a different Golden Age character/strip in each issue. The featured character in number two, as alluded to in Rex’s story, is Basil Wolverton’s Spacehawk, the Lone Wolf of the Void. The cool thing about Mister Grau’s work is that he modifies his style to evoke the source material; with Spacehawk, he recalls Wolverton’s off-the-wall aliens and monsters, while the main characters bring to mind late-’60s and early-’70s Jack Kirby. Understand, though… his pages are not straight copies of the old masters; just think of them as more of an homage.
Apparently, the only constant here (aside from the fun stories and great artwork) is the back-up feature, Lance Lewis, Space Detective, an oddly appealing concept that debuted in MYSTERY COMICS #3 from Nedor Comics in 1944. While there’s no information about the creators behind the series, at various points in the its four year run, Graham Ingels and Bob Oksner was responsible for the art. “The Voltese Icon” is the first of what will be at least a three-part saga, by Mills and Webb with art by Nik Poliwko. Like Grau, Poliwko’s work is a throwback to the Silver-Age greats… in this case, it’s kinda somewhere between Al Williamson, Grey Morrow, Wally Wood and Berni Wrightson. In other words… Awesome! The name and the plot are obviously take-offs of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, THE MALTESE FALCON, but with mind transference. Like all good multi-part comic stories, the cliff-hanger ending has you counting the days until the next installment.
SPACE CRUSADERS and all Atomic Action comics are only available from atomicactioncomics.com, printed on demand and shipped by IndyPlanet. They’re a bit more expensive than regular books, but the detail to quality is well worth it.
PART ONE: AN INTRODUCTION (OR, HOW THIS THING ACTUALLY CAME ABOUT)
Sometime after Jeremy and I launched the Mule, we wandered into Star Clipper, a great little comics shop in the Delmar Loop in the University City area of Saint Louis. As fate would have it, there were several members of the creative consortium called Ink and Drink plying their wares out front, as was their wont at least one Saturday a month. We left them our contact info and… didn’t hear anything from them. Fast forward to late December, 2014 and another visit to the Clipper. This time, the sole representative of the comics guys was Greg McCrary, creator, writer and artist of the wildly insane LASER DOG. I cornered him (actually, I walked up to his table and introduced myself) and told him that we were interested in doing a piece on the local scene. He was stoked… I was stoked and, after a couple of small bumps in the road (from both of us), we decided that e-mailing our questions and answers would be the quickest, most efficient way to introduce you to the creative side of the Saint Louis comic book scene. Somewhere in there, Greg mentions that he’ll sell you a copy of LASER DOG if you see him on the street; that’s true. In fact, he’ll draw an entire LASER DOG strip on your arm if you ask him to… that’s how much he loves to draw and create. Ya gotta like a guy like that. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the other guys of Ink and Drink are insanely talented, too. You can check ’em out here: inkanddrinkcomics.com.
PART TWO: THE INTERVIEW (OR, THE RESULTS OF PART ONE)
THE MULE: LASER DOG is like a sci-fi free for all – a little loopy, with a bizarre sense of humor, and yet, there’s plenty there to make you think… little social commentaries rolled into the story and art. Where did the idea for LASER DOG come from?
GREG: The very idea of Laser Dog manifested itself while I was at work. I used to work at Six Flags, drawing caricatures and, during the later years, my time there was quite mind numbing, boring. On one particular day, my co-worker, a very talented artist, Harrison Weathers, was requested by a patron of the park to draw a caricature of her dog from her phone. So, Harry does so and when he was finished, the lady very much enjoyed the picture and paid and left happily. When she left, I turned to Harry and told him, “that drawing was terrible… ” Which he replied, “Yeah, I know. I’m going to try that again.” As he was beginning to draw his second attempt of a caricature dog, it was pretty much turning out to look exactly the same as the first drawing. Harry noticed this as well and gave up prematurely before filling in the eyes. When I saw the empty void in the drawing of that dog’s eyes, it hit me like a kick in the nuts. “It looks like lasers should be coming out of those eyes,” I proclaimed out loud. And, from there, my body took over and colored what has come to be known as LASER DOG. The other co-workers and I were instantly obsessed and we all relentlessly began to draw and write our very own stories of Laser Dog. However, I was the only one out of all of us who was dedicated/insane enough to follow through and make a comic about our obsession, created out of our maddening boredom. (That was very long… sorry.)
THE MULE: Were you one of those kids in school? The one that was always getting in trouble for doodling and drawing and making fart noises to make the other kids laugh?
GREG: I actually don’t recall being that disruptive or getting in that much trouble during my elementary and high school years. Although, I don’t think my teachers were entertained by the idea of me doodling during their lectures. But, I felt that I actually focused more while I was drawing and I listen better, believe it or not. But, I was definitely the wise cracking rascal out of the group and I still do make a fool of myself and love to hear people laugh at my expense.
THE MULE: Okay… here’s the major question: What breed of pooch is the cosmic hound? I’m getting the scent of a pekingese or, maybe, a bichon frise.
GREG: Well, Laser Dog is Everything. And yet, he is Nothing. So, I always say that he is Every Breed of Dog. And yet, he is No Breed of Dog (pretty much any question about Laser Dog can be answered through this motto).
THE MULE: You self-publish LASER DOG. What types of obstacles have you encountered with that DIY approach, if any? Conversely, what advantages are there to publishing the book yourself?
GREG: I think the biggest obstacle you face as an indie comic is the budget. I’m responsible for paying for everything so, unfortunately, I can’t print as many as I or the consumer may want. But as far as the benefits, there’s not much pressure. No “real” deadlines and I get the final say. Although, not putting deadlines on your project could also leave you to some serious procrastination.
THE MULE: There is so much happening in your layouts and art. I was concerned that the digest size may not do your work justice. However, after seeing the first issue digitally at webtoons.com, those scenes just seem to jump off the page… uh… the screen. In a perfect world, what medium does Greg McCrary feels best suits the free-wheeling style of LASER DOG?
GREG: I always imagined it as a comic, but honestly Laser Dog is very versatile. I can see it in any medium: web comic, animation, live action movie/TV show, whatever. And I encourage anyone who wants to see that happen to go ahead and do it. Laser Dog is a free marked; anyone is encouraged to make their own comic, oil painting or marble bust for Lasy-D. Laser Dog is like life, you can’t own it or take possession of him. You can only participate with Laser Dog and I welcome anyone to do so.
THE MULE: The covers are amazing pieces of art, as well. How do you feel about coloring the inner pages? Do you prefer leaving the inside of the books black and white?
GREG: Well, once again, this goes with budgeting mainly. It just makes more sense that I do black and white because it’s the cheapest and most affordable. I can see LASER DOG benefiting in color; however, black and white is all I can afford. But I love gray-scaling and working with black and white, so it doesn’t bother me too much. But, I can totally understand some people wanting some more visceral stimulation.
THE MULE: You’ve published two issues of LASER DOG and a third issue (the conclusion to the heart-stopping two-parter, “The Legion of Mullets”) is imminent. So, where does a fella pick up his very own copy of LASER DOG?
GREG: Well, you could have picked it up at Star Clipper. But, unfortunately, they’re going out of business, so you can only get a copy there before February 7th. I’ll find several locations to sell out of later this month, but you can order issue one or two on indyplanet.com and if you see me on the street, just holler at me and I’m sure I’ll have a copy for you.
THE MULE: Tell us a bit about your background and other projects. What drives Greg McCrary to do the things he does?
GREG: I graduated from Meramec Community College with an associate degree in Graphic Communications. I drew caricatures out at Six Flags for six years. I really honed my skills working out there, learning the art of exaggeration from a lot of great artists. So, a lot of my influences come from caricature artists: Joe Bluhm, Jeremy Townsend (aka Jert), Tomokazu Tabata. My earliest influence is Genndy Tartakovsky; DEXTER’S LAB definitely was a big deal in my childhood. But, later comic influence goes to SCUD; I love the character designs and the flow of the story and the paneling. But, as far as what drives me to draw, it’s nothing I can pin point. It’s almost as natural as breathing, I just need to do it (it’s more bordering on a curse or a compulsion). But I love drawing. I would die without my art.
THE MULE: There’s a small cadre of comic book creators in the Saint Louis area. Do you get together, like a support group, to work out ideas and collaborate on projects?
GREG: I’m a part of the group Ink and Drink. We get together and try to produce a comic twice a year. I sometimes get with friends and try to collaborate on a comic, either coloring or doing a cover or helping on backgrounds.
THE MULE: Aside from LASER DOG 3, what can we expect to see from you in the next few months?
GREG: I’m not sure if it will come in the months soon to come but, I’m working on two projects with a couple of friends that will hopefully be printed within the not too distant future. Marie Enger will be helping me out on a comic I’m making called SKITZO. It’s a POKE’MON clone type story, but it’s centered around schizophrenics who battle their illusions instead of creatures. And, I’m writing a story for my buddy, Michael Minter (aka Makuto) to draw. It’s called “Into the Dark.” It’s about a world of magic and three sorcerers that try to master the science that makes up the magic of that world.
THE MULE: Finally… what, exactly, is LASER DOG LIVE and where can one catch a performance of the same?
GREG: LASER DOG LIVE was an interpretive dance/show, based on the first issue of LASER DOG that my friend, Caitlin Hafer, put on in San Francisco. It was quite a show. Unfortunately, it was only a two night event. There are no plans for a World Wide Tour (at least, not yet). You can take a look at the performance on YouTube if you type in “Laser Dog Live” or, you can look it up on the Laser Dog Facebook page. I have it posted on the wall.
THE MULE: Thanks, Greg, for the peak inside your vast cranial cavity and for the insight into the world of LASER DOG.
GREG: Thanks for your interest in LASER DOG and… never forget: Laser Dog is everything. And yet, he is nothing…