Gary Carlson

Sports and comics seem like an unnatural fit. It is interesting to note then, that there are some similarities. The minor leagues feed the major leagues in both sports and in comics. In comics, the minor leagues can be considered fanzines, underground comix, independent comics, web comics and everything else not the big time in comics. Often, the minor leagues gain large followings and while not the major leagues, becomes the preferred choice. The same can be said to happen in comics.

That can all change in the future. Today thought, we jump into the past. 1981 to be exact. This is interview takes a look at an incredibly long season with Gary Carlson, publisher of Megaton Comics and creator of Big Bang Comics. This crazy science fiction year of 2020 sees both Megaton and Big Bang meeting head on.

I have been a long time of Megaton Comics. Having collected the majority the companies output when they were first released (and I still have them!).

Megaton Comics CBG ad.

JOESEPH SIMON
Megaton Comics started a few years before the Black and White Explosion. New readers to the industry likely have no idea how the comic industry was back then. I’m curious to know your recollection of the industry when you started.

GARY CARLSON
It was mostly Marvel and DC back then, plus Archie, Harvey, Charlton and a few others. A few black & white independents had just started, like ElfQuest and Cerebus. The ones that really inspired me were super-hero titles like Larry Houston’s Enforcers, Mike Gustovich’s Cobalt Blue and Ken Landgraf’s Landgraphics publications.

Mike Gustovich’s Cobalt Blue

JOESEPH
ElfQuest and Cerebus, of course, helped create new foundations in the comic industry that help support it even today.

I love Cobalt Blue as well. The right amount of science fiction to superhero ratio with a great design to stand out in the super hero market. Mike came up with a completely different feel for the super hero story with Justice Machine, while creating a whole other universe for his heroes to exist in. He successfully merged science fiction and superheroes with great design ideas.

Larry Houston’s Enforcers!

Ken is an interesting creator. He started as a kid. Went as far as to purchase a Ditto Machine and a Spirit Duplicator, and then started printing comics like Crimestopper Monthly and Vampire Kiss. He then sold them through the fanzine Rocket’s Blast ala mail order. Ken later worked at Marvel and DC and even did storyboard and other art for TV shows like Law & Order, MTV, HBO, Showtime and other networks and shows.

Larry published great cosmic themed comics in the late 70’s and would find himself working at DC (working on Captain Carrot and the All Star Squadron), Charlton, Hero Graphics and other publishers. He then became very well known in the animation field (TMNT, James Bond Jr., X-Men, GI Joe, Transformers and Robocop).

That is quite the cast for inspiration!

After Megaton came out, the Black and White Explosion happened and then the Implosion. Most readers who do remember the Black and White Explosion, probably remember as a comic fan or retailer. What was your perspective of the comic explosion and later, Implosion?

Ken Landgraf’s NYC Outlaws!

GARY
The Explosion was exciting and frustrating. By 1985 or so there were new companies and new titles starting every month. I was having trouble getting Megaton out on a regular basis and got lost in the shuffle. It was also much harder to find artists with so much competition from new companies, many of whom promised better money and then never paid the artists. Lots of books that were solicited were never actually published, especially if the orders were low. There were eight or ten distributors back then, and they started going out of business one by one, owing the publishers money. As now, the shops bought comics on a non-returnable basis and they got stuck with tons of bad independent comics that had actually gotten published.

JOESEPH
In many ways, the industry is experiencing a modern day Explosion with all sorts of different ways one can easily and cheaply get their own published. Based on the Implosion and your own experience what cautionary or lessons should the industry embrace now to help better itself?

GARY
I don’t know. Diamond’s Previews is still full of tons of independent comics these days. Like I said before, the shops buy them on a non-returnable basis. It’s got to be hard to guess what’s going to sell. I’m going through KaBlam and IndyPlanet these days; print on demand or pdf downloads. I don’t sell a lot of copies, but the printing end doesn’t cost me anything. In the Megaton days, printers had minimum orders of 5,000 to 10,000 copies of a book that you had to print.

JOESEPH
I remember Megaton Comics very fondly. Stan Lee was right when be said the Marvel Way is a style that does identify a Marvel comics much like there is for DC. In ’81, I was already aware of the Charlton heroes, the Mighty Crusaders at Red Circle / Archie Comics, and others. I was looking for other takes on superheroes and discovered Megaton Comics. To me, even now, there was a different kind of energy.. The layouts, art and story did not subscribe to Marvel or DC. It was its own thing.

I’m not sure if you agree with my assessment. If you do, was this a conscious and deliberative move or was it happenstance? If you disagree, was this, then, perhaps, the proto-Big Bang Comics in some manner that I can’t detect?

GARY
I don’t know. I was mostly trying to find artists doing professional level work. No particular style. They just worked in their own style with as little interference possible from me. Most of the stories were by me, initially fully drawn by me. I’m still surprised I didn’t scare away Mike Gustovich and Butch Guice with those. I started writing full scripts, but backed off to more of a “full plot” format to try to give the artists room to tell me story without being so locked in.

JOESEPH
It is interesting to think about it. Megaton Comics launched many careers. These careers would explore Marvel, DC and in a way, marshal the forces that become Image Comics. Do you think a Megaton style, through your surrogates were able to help influence Marvel, DC or Image styles and or energy?

GARY
Totally. Mike Gustovich, Butch Guice, Erik Larsen, Angel Medina, Clarke Hawbaker, Rob Liefeld and others all moved on from Megaton to do work for the larger companies and made names for themselves. For all the grief that Rob receives these days, you could feel his energy and excitement through his comics.

JOESEPH
I agree!

Here’s a strange twist. Your company is named after Megaton, your hero. He is a hero who has two hearts. In the story his two hearts go out of sync. This leads to testing and the birth of a new super hero. In my life 5 years ago I discovered I had genetic heart disease. I have two stents. The heart has 4 chambers and two actually were out of sync (known as arrhythmia). When I get a stent the doctors hook me up and I have wires and cables coming from my body. It’s all a very Barry Windsor Smith looking! So at some point I remember Megatons origin. Back in 1981 I felt great, then I didn’t know I had heart issues. Now, of course, I do and the origin story takes a whole new vibe for me.

I’m curious what prompted that aspect of the origin?

GARY
I’m afraid I don’t have a deep answer for that. I wanted the character to have an advanced adrenaline surging through him at all times to make him powerful, and two hearts seemed like a way for the body to handle that strain. I may have read about an animal with two hearts or someone with a 6-chambered heart, but after 40 years, I just don’t recall.

JOESEPH
Big Bang Comics is a celebration and tribute to what you loved about comics from when you started reading comics. How does it feel to bring Megaton into your Big Bang universe?

GARY
Megaton was designed as a new generation of heroes. Two or three of the older characters are there in issue #1, and when Chris Ecker and I started Big Bang, we went back and fleshed out (and renamed) the older generation. As early as Big Bang #4 from the original Caliber Press mini-series, Megaton was part of the a “modern” line-up of Big Bang. When BB moved to Image Comics, the request there was for strictly retro comics, so we didn’t do any more modern versions. I’ve recently produced the first new Megaton story in almost 30 years and it feels great.

JOESEPH
I find the world of comics that acknowledge the great comic history that we have to be really interesting. AC Comics, Dick Ayers Dr. Wonder, Alan Moore’s 1963, and many more have all done this.

GARY
It’s true. Chris and I pitched Big Bang at Caliber originally but they didn’t see a market for retro books. When 1963 started up, they saw there was a market for it and gave us the go ahead.

JOESEPH
What you have done with Big Bang is proof of your encyclopedic level memory of the industries greatness. I’m curious what do you think are highly influential aspects of the industry that remain unknown. What creators from the Golden and Silver Age of Comics has somehow skipped under the radar of stores and readers?

Grass Greens Wildman!

GARY
There are lots of classic creators and characters that aren’t well known, from the 30s through last year. Fans are forever discovering them and keeping them alive. I was proud to be able to work with Grass Green and Howard Keltner and give their work a bit of exposure in my Megaton era.

JOESEPH
Grass Green’s worked on Rocket’s Blast (like Ken) along with Alter Ego, Star Studded Comics, The Buyers Guide to Comics Fandom and other fanzines! He went on to co-create The Shape with Roy Thomas for Charlton, did work for Witzend and Kitchen Sink, created Hal-Kor the Human Cat, Plastic Mam (yes Mam) and Rok, Wildman and Rubber Roy. While paying tribute to the golden age, the underground, and his love of comics, Green used humor to expose America’s racism and bigotry and is considered on of the first black participants in the 80’s fan art movement.

Biljo White and Grass Greens The Eyeunderground, and his love of comics, Green used humor to expose America’s racism and bigotry and is considered on of the first black participants in the 80’s fan art movement.

He also created the Eye with Biljo White! The Eye is a great fanzine created hero.

Howard Keltner created Doctor Weird! He was involved heavily with fanzines like Rocket’s Blast as well. His work really stood out. It energetic and expressive while being completely and uniquely his own.

I’m curious, were you a fan of Rocket’s Blast? What other fanzines did your read? Since we’re talking about early fanzines, did you ever see Rick McCollum’s work?

GARY
Nope, I’m not familiar with Rick McCollum’s work. I wasn’t familiar with Rocket’s Blast until I met Grass and then Howard. My Big Bang partner Chris Ecker was involved in fandom, but I wasn’t familiar with it and the fan publications, except for a Legion of Super-Heroes one or two.

JOESEPH
You have been called the godfather of Image. I think, in many ways, you paved the way for others to pay tribute to the past with your creation of Big Bang. To take what normally might be considered fanzine kind of thinking out of the fanzine and into a pro publishing.

Are you aware of the efforts at Indellible, Neo-Charlton, Warrant Publishing (publishers paying tribute and in a way continuing in the footsteps of Dell, Charlton and Warren)?

Rocket’s Blast was a long running fanzine (1964-1983). This is issue #55 (1967).

GARY
I think Rob Liefeld called me the Grandfather of Image Comics. Not the Godfather. A bit less ominous. Sure, I’ve seen some of those mentioned on FaceBook, and worked with some of the creators like Mort Todd, in a later incarnation of Big Bang. But I don’t follow any of them or look to work on any of those publications. With BB, we strove to tell a Superman or Batman story, written and drawn like their (or other period) creators, but to try to make the characters somewhat different from the originals. I’ve always liked what Erik Larsen did when using old characters like Daredevil and Captain Tootsie, and especially his Next Issue Project books.

JOESEPH
I really liked the Next Issue Project myself and the use of golden age and often public domain characters. I hope Erik returns to that kind of work. He has a very high passion for comics and their history, that’s for sure!

In other interviews you have mentioned a trade paperback collection of Megaton Comics. Is that still happening?

GARY
I hope so. I put together two or three versions of the trade paperback, and Erik Larsen offered to publish a one volume version of the collected 8 issues through Image Comics. It sounded like a perfect solution to me. The last time I updated the operating system on my Mac computer, it wasn’t compatible with all of the Adobe software I was using. I hope to get back and update it all soon.

JOESEPH
I hope it happens! I would buy the collections in an instant! It would be very interesting to see what today’s readers think of Megaton collected. With extra content to help inform new readers, I think it would be fantastic!

GARY
I hope so. The plan is for black and white reprints. If the first tpb goes over, there will be another with the unpublished material and some other stuff.

Megaton #1

JOESEPH
You started Megaton with your own money which I applaud. I’m curious, you wrote a good chunk of the stories. How long were you working on the stories before you started the company? How far in advance did you have them written?

GARY
I didn’t work in advance at all. When Mike Gustovich agreed to draw a story, I had to write it and define the character. Same with Butch Guice and the others. Most of the characters were tailored to my perceptions of the artist I was working with on the initial stories. Ethrian was Frank Fosco’s character, which we collaborated on. When Erik Larsen signed on, I came up with a new character, sent him a very brief plot and some sketches and he redesigned the character and filled in the initial plot. I had a few characters I had been doing prior to Megaton, but most had to be retooled to be more original.

JOESEPH
Don Chin wrote the Feral / Ice Cream story. His next appearance was the publisher behind Entity releasing the Megaton Holiday Special (in color!). What happened to Feral and how did the move to Entity happen?

GARY
Feral was Ken Meyer, Jr’s character, as I recall. I don’t recall why there was a gap between the Feral stories. I do know that after Chris Ecker moved on to Now Comics to do EB’nn the Raven that Ken and I started working on the second Crusader story. Unfortunately, I thought that work looked too much like 1940s Simon & Kirby instead of a 1980s strip and we stopped. It was one of my inspirations for Big Bang Comics a number of years later.

As far as the Megaton Holiday Special, it was partially completed in 1987 when we pulled the plug and cancelled the books due to plummeting sales. Five years later, with Erik Larsen and Rob Liefeld having become big names and co-founding Image Comics, people were talking about Megaton and Don Chin contacted me about publishing the Holiday Special in 1993 or whenever.

JOESEPH
Gene Day! How did that come about?

GARY
John Cosgriff was a friend of Chris Ecker’s, and he had an unpublished story that he had written which had been drawn by Gene Day and he let us use it.

JOESEPH
Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Falcon have all had interesting times in comics and now, even TV. What are your thoughts of these characters and in contrast to Megaton?

GARY
While Matt Scott/Megaton was a black guy, it didn’t define him. He grew up as a semi-famous child actor and lived in Hollywood, not in Harlem. When he grew up, he acted in some blaxploitation films. In most of my original sketches he was a caucasian guy and at the last second I thought he looked better black. He was a hero that happened to be black, as opposed to have been created as a “black hero”.

JOESEPH
(Crusader was a hero in a story that starred in one issue of Megaton that never got to its conclusion.) Did Crusader fall victim to Headhunter?

GARY
No. He would’ve come out of retirement and been an old guy with the new younger crowd. He did get beaten up pretty good in the unpublished second story by Ken Meyer and myself though.

JOESEPH
Salamander (A credited creator in Megaton)? Who was he?

GARY
Salamander Deadfish was a name Butch credited to the writer of the initial Ultraman/Ultragirl story. As I said, I had written and drawn the whole story, but Butch adapted it and did breakdowns. It was a joke.

Hawbarker Megaton issue.

JOESEPH
Hawbaker really was a change in art for Megaton in issue 2. Drenched in mood and ambiance. He really made that issue visually his. What happened? He lasted that issue and a pin up in #3.

GARY
Clarke Hawbaker was like a lot of the guys I worked with. His work was professional quality and he was looking for exposure and a break. Megaton gave him a portfolio to show around and he found better paying work. There were about two years between the first and second issues of Megaton, due to guys moving on to Marvel and DC and elsewhere. Mike Gustovich left for Marvel and suggested Bill Reinhold (I think) to replace him on Megaton, but Bill moved on before even doing a story. Clarke was a slower artist, and some pages were lost in the mail which delayed us. Then he moved on up the ladder.

JOESEPH
Ethrian and Berzerker, any 2000AD influence? If not, what were the influences?

GARY
Nope. Ethrian was Frank Fosco’s creation. I always figured it was a Jack Kirby/New Gods influence. Berzerker started out in 1975 as a character called Terminator, but after the movie came out I changed his name. My big influence there was probably Rich Buckler’s Deathlok.

JOESEPH
Issue 3 saw a page count drop. Was this due to economics / logistics of the state of comics then?

GARY
I was just trying to get the book out more often. The first 2 issues were 64 pages each. A normal
comic was 32 pages. I could have had four or five issues out in the first two years instead of two.

JOESEPH
What inspired you to try your hands at comic publishing with an anthology? Traditionally, and criminally so, they don’t do well over the course of time. Criminally because I love anthologies. A lot of innovation and great talent comes from anthologies. What anthologies do you like?

GARY
My original inspiration was to have 7 or 8 strips and spin them off into their own books. I was trying to do too much, losing artists, and decided to concentrate on Megaton, Ethrian and Vanguard and then expand the company. I ended up in the same boat with Big Bang Comics, basically a different headliner character in each issue. It’s hard to build an audience that way, because readers don’t like all the characters or creators. I sort of got things in order with Megaton #s 4 through 8, keying on Megaton but by then the Explosion was full on and we were lost in the blitz of books and hadn’t established a solid enough reader base.

Steranko’s History of Comics two volume set!

JOESEPH
With Big Bang Comics, it’s obvious that you are very knowledgeable about the beginnings of the industry. Have you, through Big Bang Comics, discovered new aspects of comics past?

GARY
Not really. Mostly I try to honor my favorite characters and creators. It’s always been about finding artists with the right styles, or those who were willing to ghost styles. We were lucky over the years to find so many quality artists. I started reading comics in 1963 or so, and there were a lot of DC Annuals reprinting Superman and Batman stuff from the 1950s. Jim Steranko’s Histories of the Comics and Jules Feiffer’s Great Comic Book Heroes opened my eyes to the older stuff in the late 1960s.

JOESEPH
The Fieffer and Steranko books are great tomes of comic history! I’m glad Steranko is keeping his in print. Big Bang paid tribute to Steranko’s History of Comics, if I remember correctly.

GARY
Yes sir. Two issues- numbers 24 and 27. Steranko wrote the introduction for #24. That was a thrill.

The Big Bang History of Comics complete with a Steranko introduction!

JOESEPH
Do you know if Fieffer’s is still in print?

GARY
I don’t think so, but it’s available in various editions on Amazon, from pretty cheap copies to expensive ones.

JOESPEH
Any other book you might suggest for readers to discover more about the great history of comics?

GARY
There are lots of them out there now. Growing up, my aim was to be a cartoonist and the first books I read were about the history of comic strips. I loved Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon work.

Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes!

JOESEPH
You started out as a DC Comics fan. Was writing Aquaman a dream come true?

GARY
Yeah, that was pretty great to work there. That was thanks to Erik Larsen. He was writing about 5 titles then. I started working with him on Nova at Marvel, but he switched me over to Aquaman which was a blast.

JOSEPH
Having written Aquaman, what are your thoughts on his Hollywood appearances.

GARY
I love Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. I loved all the casting in Justice League – – just not their treatment of Superman.

JOESEPH
If DC came knocking, what would you hope they would be offering you?

GARY
The original Captain Marvel/Shazam would be very cool. Their characters have changed so much over the years, and I don’t follow many new comics so I don’t think I’d be much good. They started changing things with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was one reason we created Big Bang Comics. Over the past thirty years, I’ve had the chance to write stories of the versions of the characters I loved while growing up, including the Pantheon of Heroes (Legion) and Whiz Kids (Titans).

JOESEPH
Thoughts about the Shazam movie?

GARY
I enjoyed it, but it’s not MY Shazam. My idea would have been a movie starring Nathan Fillion.

JOESEPH
Shazam! What a history of odd circumstance with that character. The lawsuits and the legacy from his Whiz Comics days to DC’s ownership of him and how Marvel Man / Miracle Man spun out of that and now a completely different version stemming from Whiz at Marvel in their ownership of Marvel Man. What version of Shazam would you like to write?

A selection of Big Bang Comics.

GARY
The original one, the C.C. Beck version is the one most of my Thunder Girl and Mighty Man stories are based on.

JOESEPH
The Legion has a grand history. The social awareness of the original Teen Titans was great for its time period. I used to collect the digest reprints. And that led to Levitz and also to Jim Shooter. Once you’re at that point, I was sunk. Been collecting since. I loved Wolfman and Perez’s Titans. I feel there was a lot that could have been done with the original series.

What was your favorite era of both The Legion and the Titans? What “era” did your stories take place in?

GARY
My favorite was the original run of the Teen Titans, with Nick Cardy’s art. I loved that stuff. Perez’ New Teen Titans was great stuff too. Jim Shooter’s original run on the Legion is the classic run for me, followed by Dave Cockrum’s run, which reignited it.

JOESEPH
You went from creating comics for Megaton, a company you owned, to creating comics for other companies. Was there any surprising changes or similarities from how you ran things at Megaton to working for another publisher and what comic (from another publisher) was it that you realized this?

Dr. Weird!

GARY
It was a little different, from just pleasing myself to trying to please others. But much of what I wrote was for Erik Larsen, and he trusted me and let me do what I wanted, for the most part. With the TMNT, we ran our ideas and plots through Peter Laird at Mirage and he okayed them or offered suggestions before we proceeded. Big Bang Comics was back to being my own company in collaboration with Chris Ecker, and Dr. Weird was co- owned with Edward DeGeorge after we bought the character from Howard Keltner.

JOESEPH
Big Bang is more than just one comic. There are also Big Bang related titles. T- shirts and a movie on DVD even….With a long history, tell us a little those readers who might be as familiar with Big Bang.

GARY
Big Bang was our way of celebrating the history of comics and the creators. Ultiman was based on Superman, Knight Watchman on Batman, etc. Not for us to do “new and improved” versions, but to tell the kind of stories we read as kids. We tried not to do “homage” stories, or retellings of stories, and I even tried to keep the artists from doing covers based on famous ones. That’s 80 years of inspiration to work with. Some of our favorites were the HISTORY OF BIG BANG COMICS issues based on Steranko’s books, telling the fictional history of our fictional characters and creators. The KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE video, starring Ultiman, Knight Watchman and Thunder Girl was written and filmed by Philip Cable and is still available to purchase from Dichiera Productions. There’s a link to it on our website www.bigbangcomics.com

JOESEPH
You also have exciting news, Megaton is coming to Big Bang in Big Bang Adventures! Give us the elevator pitch!

The exciting Big Bang Comics and Megaton team up in Big Bang Adventures #3!

GARY
Megaton and Ultragirl face off against a cyborg alien intelligence that’s come to take over humanity and the Earth.

JOESEPH
Any other Megaton Comics characters appear in future Big Bang comics?

GARY
Oh yes. Berzerker has already appeared in BBA #1 and there are two Dr. Weird stories in the can already for future issues.

JOESEPH
It feels like, talent wise, you were a college sports team and your players were slowly being hired in the pro’s.

GARY
Yup. I always felt like we were the minor league team, getting the guys ready to move on up to the majors – – giving them some experience, some samples to show, and to prove that they could do it.


If you liked Megaton Comics, love homages to the great comics of our industry and looking for something that isn’t a year long storyline that crosses over into dozens of other books but is genuinely embedded in the super hero genre, then check out Big Bang Comics! Thank you Gary for this interview. I’m looking forward to future appearances of the characters from Megaton Comics, future issues of Big Bang Comics and see where the future takes Gary. Fingers crossed for the Megaton reprints.

Select heroes from Big Bang Comics!

https://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/megatonComicsHeader4-600x153.pnghttps://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/megatonComicsHeader4-150x38.pngJoeseph SimonInterviewsBig Bang Comics,Gary Carlson,Megaton Comics
Sports and comics seem like an unnatural fit. It is interesting to note then, that there are some similarities. The minor leagues feed the major leagues in both sports and in comics. In comics, the minor leagues can be considered fanzines, underground comix, independent comics, web comics and everything...