Eric Trautmann Talks About The New Adventures Of Flash Gordon

Eric Trautmann has been writing comics for several years now, working on such titles as The Shield, Checkmate, JSA VS Kobra and Action Comics. Currently he writes Red Sonja and Vampirella for Dynamite Entertainment and has recently been announced as the writer on Flash Gordon. I recently talked with Eric about his new assignment and managed to get a few details.

POP CULTURE ZOO: Let’s talk about the writing duties on this series. Both you and Alex Ross are credited with “story,” but can you clarify your roles?

ERIC S. TRAUTMANN: The germinal idea that informed the series came from Alex; both he and I had pitched wildly different FLASH GORDON ideas to Dynamite, and along the way, it was decided he and I should discuss the series. Ultimately, we threw away my original pitch, and we decided on what would eventually become ZEITGEIST.

From there, I outlined the series — colored by discussions I’d had with Alex about the kinds of things he wanted the series to accomplish — and moved on.

Alex weighs in on each script, and has definitely contributed a great deal to the overall story — not least of which was the central premise — and then I sit down and write the script. Alex has his goals for the series, I have mine, and each script attempts to achieve each set, if that makes sense.

So in terms of “roles,” Alex is the vision-holder for the series, and is deeply entrenched in the visual design of the characters, the look of the book, and so on; my role is much more typical: I write the book.

PCZ: Modern day remakes on classic properties are all the rage right now, yet this series takes place in the 1930’s, the era when Flash Gordon originally began. Why set the series then as opposed to present day?

EST: My original pitch was intended to do precisely that, a more modern Flash Gordon. King Features liked it, Dynamite liked it, but Alex pointed out that any number of recent attempts to make a more contemporary Flash Gordon have either met with little commercial success (the Syfy series, for example) or already have existing fans and would be direct competition (like Ardden Entertainment’s ongoing Flash Gordon comics). Going back to the character’s roots seemed like a smart move, if only to differentiate it from the other Flash Gordon material available.

The fact that I’m a sucker for that period of history didn’t hurt, either.

PCZ: Set things up a little for us, who are Flash and Dale Arden in this new series?

EST: If you’ve read Alex Raymond’s strips, that’s who the characters are. Flash Gordon: Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player. That was his original “origin,” and I’m using it. Dale’s origins in the strip were a bit less thorough; I believe she was introduced in the series as “Dale Arden: A passenger…” or some such.

I’ve tweaked her origins a bit — she’s a cartographer, working for the State Department (on loan to the War Department).

PCZ: Is your Dr. Zarkov still a half-mad scientist?

EST: Perhaps a bit more than half, yes. Zarkov is… I believe the technical term is “lunatic.”

PCZ: Is your Ming still merciless and straight-on evil, or might we see more dimensions to him?

EST: Ming is still Ming. I don’t know that I want to understand more about him. Do we need to see his tormented childhood, or first failed love? I don’t want to sympathize with him. He’s an alien, and his appetites are bottomless — he really is the living incarnation of greed — and I think that’s sufficient, honestly.

PCZ: This is probably jumping the gun, but will we see the Shark Men, Hawkmen and Lion Men of Mongo in this series?

EST: You will see a Hawkman and a Lion Man in issue 1. A Shark Man (and many others) will appear in issue 2. As many of the original Alex Raymond peoples of Mongo that I can pack into the story, you’ll see them.

PCZ: What approach is artist Daniel Indro taking in illustrating this book? Is he giving it a classic comic strip look or a more modern appearance?

EST: Kind of a blend, really. Alex’s art direction and character and environment designs are highly evocative of the Alex Raymond material — filtered through that wonderful photorealistic lens that Alex possesses — and Daniel is taking that material and rendering it in a very modern, detailed style. It won’t look like a newspaper strip, but you’ll have no problem recognizing it as possessing the distinctive “Flash Gordon” style.

PCZ: What is your favorite version of Flash Gordon?

EST: Other than the one I’m writing?

I love Alex Raymond’s version, obviously, and Alex Ross was born to draw this character, but I think some of my favorite renderings of Flash Gordon were Al Williamson. (There’s a specific homage to Williamson that will likely end up as one of the covers in our series.)

PCZ: Is this series intending to be a retelling of the classic Alex Raymond adventures or do you have definite story plans of your own?

EST: Again, kind of both. Yes, we’re going back to the character’s roots, but there’s some specific material — notably in issue 2 — where we (and this was largely Alex’s idea) go out of our way to both explain the series’ title, and show why Flash Gordon was literally the man born to take on the threat of Ming.

PCZ: What do you think makes Flash Gordon an appealing hero and his adventures enticing to a new audience?

EST: I like to think that there’s always room for an unironic hero. The right guy, in the right place, at the right time making a difference that can literally save the world. What’s not to like?

Thank you to Eric Trautmann for taking the tie to answer my questions. FLASH GORDON – ZEITGEIST #1 is on sale in November from Dynamite Entertainment and is only $1.00!

Vampirella’s “Crown Of Worms” In Restropect

To be clear, I’ve never liked Vampirella. I’ve generally found the character dull, one dimensional and completely uninteresting. However, I have given Vampi a chance with each reboot, restart and relaunch that has been attempted over the years, but still found her lacking in anything but the titillation factor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t make for great comics to me. When Dynamite Comics announced they were bringing the character out of limbo with a new take by one of my favorite writers, I once again readied myself for exploitative disappointment. This time, I was pleasantly surprised. Writer Eric Trautmann has crafted a fully three-dimensional and interesting character and a very engaging book as a result. For the first time in over forty years Trautmann managed to finally elevate the character above Playboy-pinup status and make her a real woman. Oh, and he put some clothes on her.

The announcement of a new Vampirella series was met by yells of triumph from her legion of fans, which quickly turned to cries for the head of Trautmann because he thought that maybe she should wear pants. And a shirt. Sensible shoes seemed reasonable as well. Yes, people were actually pissed off because Trautmann had the common decency to make the book about story and character and less about softcore porn. The fact that this is a writer who writes some of the best female characters around seemed to matter not, for fans would no longer be able to almost see her nipples. For my part, I was instantly interested in reading this book. Sure, call me a prude, but it’s sometimes nice to have a comic the cover of which I don’t have to hide from my kids like it was a skin mag. Thankfully, Dynamite Comics is well aware of the costume issue so has continued to feature the original costume on the cover. “No, son, the lady on that cover isn’t flashing the moon. If she was facing us you’d see she has clothes on…” Progress is achieved in baby steps, apparently.

So, what about this vaunted story that I think redeems a character I’ve previously hated? Is it all that and a bag of chips, as the kids would have said back in the day? Actually, yes. “Crown of Worms” is actually one the better comic book storylines I’ve read in a long while. Basically, it involves Dracula attempting to lure Vampirella into what appears to be a very dangerous and dark trap, but it could be that ol’ Vlad is up against something that even he fears and he needs Vampi’s help. I’m going to leave it to you to read the issues to see how it all goes down, but it is a great read and well thought out. And, yes, the original costume does re-appear, in both a dream sequence and in Dracula’s view of the ideal Vampirella. I sort of see Vlad Dracula as the embodiment of all the nay-sayers as, despite whatever scheming he may have going on, it’s obvious he just wants Vampirella back to the way she was. He may not have moved on in the past few decades, but our girl sure has.

Apart from giving the character of Vampirella some much needed, well, character, “Crown of Worms” does something else of significance; Trautmann gives Vampirella and new BFF, Sofia. Again, much like the title character, Sofia and a well-written character, once again playing to Trautmann’s strengths. What is most interesting is that Sofia begins as victim rescued by Vampirella in issue three and grows into the life-saving by the end of the story. We get to know more about this character in the denouement in issue seven where we also find out Sofia’s last name. That one’s going to raise your eyebrows and add a cool new layer to the book. This series has now become as much about Sofia’s journey as it is about Vampirella and if ever things sour between the two I vote for a Sofia solo series. In the end, Vampirella finally sheds her old costume and persona and gains a new ally and friend. And comic book fans gain two new awesome female characters and a great comic book series.

“Crown of Worms” is now available in one handy collection from Dynamite Entertainment along with issue eight of the ongoing series. You should head to your local comics shop right now and pick up both. Eric Trautmann writes a terrific Vampirella and one of the best comic book series on the stands today. You’ll show up for the scantily clad vampires, but stick around for the awesome story and kick-ass characters.