Smash Pages Q&A: Fred van Lente

The veteran comics creator talks about his latest novel, “The Con Artist,” his current comics projects and more.

Fred van Lente is the comics writer best known to some of us for the series Action Philosophers!, Action Presidents and the Comic Book History of Comics. He’s also spent years writing a wide variety of books for Valiant, Marvel and Dark Horse including Archer and Armstrong, Brain Boy, Conan, Marvel Zombies, Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK’s 11 and his current project, the Valiant series Psi-Lords.

Van Lente also has a busy career outside of comics. He’s a playwright, perhaps best known to comics fans for King Kirby, which he wrote with his wife the writer Crystal Skillman. He’s also a novelist with two crime novels under his belt, Ten Dead Comedians and The Con Artist.

The Con Artist came out last year and features a comics creator at the San Diego Comic Con who gets drawn into an elaborate web of murder and corruption in the comics industry. It manages to be both laugh out loud funny and incredibly inventive, making a book that is very much about comics and industry, but also telling a story that is firmly in the noir tradition of corruption, betrayal and violence that leads back to original sins.

Convention season is mostly over, but I asked Van Lente if he would be up for a few questions about the book and his work.

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Living with the King: Telling the Jack Kirby story

Jason Mehmel shares what he learned about Jack Kirby during his time directing the play “King Kirby” in Calgary in 2016.

All this week we’re celebrating the life and influence of comics legend Jack Kirby, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 28. Today we present a guest editorial from Jason Mehmel, a professional director and producer of theatre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, who had a unique opportunity related to Jack Kirby.

by Jason Mehmel

I’ve known about Jack Kirby for years… his style is as unique as a fingerprint. Crazy designs, often using circles. Crackling energy balls of negative space (later called ‘Kirby Krackles’). It represented the platonic ideal of superheroes, particularly the Marvel characters he created, and the subsequent artists, composing with better anatomy, perspective or even composition, are still ultimately riffing on the energy behind Kirby’s pencil, and the choices it led him to.

Robert Klein as Jack Kirby (Jeff McDonald/Sage Theater)

Two years ago, I came across a theatre script about the life of Kirby and found myself running a theatre company. I decided to jump at it and produce King Kirby: A Play by Crystal Skillman & Fred Van Lente, which walked through the pivotal moments in Kirby’s life:

How he came from poverty, his early love of science fiction and big ideas, and of telling them visually. How he got into comics from that love, and the birth of Captain America, just before his own wartime experience. How Marvel Comics as we know it exploded from his pen, and those of his fellow pencillers, though it would be hard to compete with the sheer volume of characters and stories Kirby developed in those years.

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