TONY LEE: Straight away, cards on the table - I was a massive fan of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon episodes, but the first time I (in the UK) ever saw Mandrake and the Phantom was the 'Defenders of the Earth' cartoon. How did you get into these guys adventures?
JEFF PARKER: Through that same serial you saw and the Phantom strips that ran in our papers here. The Phantom was in tons of newspapers. And of course I went to the 1980 DeLaurentis movie. Mandrake was the one who took the longest, but I picked up those Pioneer Comics reprints when I discovered them.
TL: Having read the first two of the series, the first thing that struck me was that it's a modern-day reboot for Flash Gordon, with tech savvy reporter Dale Arden hunting this 'mysterious pilot'. Was this a conscious decision from the start, or something Dynamite wanted?
JP: They asked if I could do it in a modern setting, and I thought sure, there was no reason not to. I often like that challenge because I think many readers think something that's classic adventure always has to take place in the 30's, but I believe pretty strongly you can put that spirit into almost any time and place. I had this notion for Flash Gordon for a long time and was excited to use it at last- the idea that he's this master of frivolous pursuits, fencing, horse riding, base jumping, all stuff he could indulge in as a wealthy kid, but had no aptitude for business or any kind of regular work, a real headache for his father. But then the threat of aliens and spies becomes the environment, and it's the kind of atmosphere he thrives in, the right man for the times.
I wanted Dale to be more proactive, and a science writer to mix up the dynamic a bit. She and Zarkov understand each other and can talk science all day, and Flash doesn't really get what they're going on about. But he is absolutely the one who will make the big leap or punch that keeps them all alive.
TL: I couldn't help but note that you've not only brought in supporting characters in surprising roles, like Mandrake's friend Lothar starting with The Phantom. Will we see more of this as the story progresses?
JP: Yes, we bring in another of Mandrake's supporting cast as you'll see. I wasn't originally going to have Lothar hang with Phantom that much, but then I really liked the way they played off each other once it got going, as you well know there's not much better than when characters surprise you and start acting of their own accord. That's when a story becomes a living, breathing thing.
TL: Currently the main antagonist is Mandrake's main nemesis The Cobra, but will we see others like Ming The Merciless appear?
JP: Oh yes. It's not a party without Ming! Cobra is essentially the General, and Ming the one at top, as always. I want to keep him in the background but overarching, where he doesn't get directly involved but is the source of everything volatile.
TL: When you started putting this together, was there a list of people you could or couldn't use? Were there any painful removals, characters you'd really have liked to see in it?
JP: No, this came together surprisingly well as far as elements and characters I hoped for. Dynamite and King Features have been very accommodating. I like to think it has something to do with Marc Laming's brilliant pages rolling in and making these heroes look so good again. He and Jordan Boyd have made this one of those books artists will have to own. It certainly would look good in hardback, if anyone's listening to my opinion…
TL: We're almost at the end of Kings Watch - will it be a nice story you wrote, or a first chapter of something bigger for you? Will these revised characters be continuing on?
JP: As will become clear, it is very much a beginning. Something extremely cool comes erupting out of King's Watch and I can't wait for the announcement.
TL: You're one of the busiest men in comics it seems, what's next for you in 2014?
JP: Finally another original graphic novel to be printed, from Oni Press this time, done with artist Sandy Jarrell who has also drawn Batman '66. And more Batman '66 fun. Also my Aquaman stories get started at the end of this year- as well as the mysterious thing that comes out of Kings Watch. But I swear I'm going to take a vacation this year, at long last!
KINGS WATCH #3 is on sale this week. You can check out an exclusive extended preview HERE.