Combining the magic of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko with the lessons of the Dalai Lama, Patrick McDonnell’s metatextual The Super Hero’s Journey is a unique addition to the graphic novel medium.
The Super Hero’s Journey is part biography and part hero’s quest, with a heavy dose of inspiration from the Marvel comics of the 1960s.
We discuss McDonnell’s love of the original Marvel Comics and how he crafted The Super Hero’s Journey in this exclusive interview.
Where did the idea come from to blend your personal life experiences into a metatextual biography, using the world of 1960s Marvel comics as your framing device?
Patrick McDonnell: When Abrams comics art editor Charles Kochman asked me if I’d like to create a book with the Marvel super heroes I immediately said yes. It was a boyhood dream come true. I had no idea what I was going to do, but my approach was to capture the fun and energy of those early comics and the wonder and joy I had in discovering them. Some memoir slipped into my story and the journey began. And what better way to honor the original creators than to include their own incredible work.
In terms of constructing the graphic novel, how did you go about selecting the artwork from the classic Marvel comics and what was your thought process when it came to arranging them on the page?
McDonnell: Fantastic Four Annual #3 (Reed and Sue’s Wedding) with its inclusion of so many super heroes was a big inspiration. I wanted to do the same. Marvel did many stories of heroes fighting heroes over some misunderstanding, so I started with that concept. It was a lot of fun, and a great excuse, to reread all those childhood comics. I searched for panels and pages that would work for my initial outline, but I also stayed open for pieces that might help shape it. It led to many happy surprises. As far as arranging the items on the page, the story dictated what went where and I wanted each page to be visually exciting.
Why did you decide to use Reed Richards as your “guide”?
McDonnell: It just happened. I never thought Reed Richards would be the star of my book. Compared to other super heroes, he’s a bit boring and not as fun to draw. But, like a lot of my work, the story took a life of its own and kind of wrote itself. I was like the Watcher witnessing it unfold and trying to not interfere.
Why did the Marvel Comics of the 1960s have such a profound impact on you, as opposed to other comics of the day?
McDonnell: My brothers and I read everything. Little Archie, Dennis the Menace, MAD Magazine, Batman and Superman, but those Marvel books were on a totally different level. All the characters were unique and cosmic but also very human. Kirby and Ditko were master storytellers and their art was so alive on the page. Stan Lee was a genius marketer. You felt like you were part of this wonderful secret world. I still have my MMS card and stationery.
Do you remember the first Marvel comic that you bought or read?
McDonnell: My older brother Michael first started collecting Marvel and I remember reading one of his Avenger books. But the first comic I bought myself was X-Men #11 with the Stranger.
How would describe The Super Hero’s Journey to a comic fan and a non-comic fan?
McDonnell: To the comic fan, I would say The Super Hero’s Journey is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the Marvel Universe. It’s a mashup of my art with classic pages of Lee, Kirby and Ditko. It stars all your favorite heroes, telling a new story in a new way. For the non-comic fan, I would say it’s a graphic novel / memoir that takes you on a fantastical journey to discover the super being inside us all.
McDonnell: Well, there’s always my daily comic strip, Mutts. I’m now working on a long storyline about my character Guard Dog. It’s reminiscent of the old continuing adventure strips, like Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates. I’ve also been taking the time to create more large fine art paintings like the ones that appear in The Super Hero’s Journey.
The Super Hero’s Journey will be available in finer comic shops and bookstores everywhere on September 26.