Art is alive. It has a soul. It breathes as it speaks and provokes. And sometimes it freaks out, escapes from its frame, and tears through lower Manhattan on a vodka-and-red-bull binge.
Such is the world presented in ART OPS, the imaginative new series written by Shaun Simon and drawn by Michael Allred of iZOMBIE and Madman fame. In the series, art walks among us, monitored by the Art Operatives, the top secret agency responsible for tracking down rogue works. But when the entire team goes missing, it’ll be up to the layabout son of its head agent to figure out what’s going on and rebuild the agency from the ground up. The comic is a love letter to art and New York City, so we thought we’d ask the creative team a few questions about both. Here’s what Shaun and Mike had to say, along with colorist Laura Allred, issue #2-4 penciller Matt Brundage, letterer Todd Klein and editor Shelly Bond.
What's your most vivid first memory of visiting New York City?
Shaun Simon: First is cutting class in high school, hopping on the PATH train, and getting chased by cops on my skateboard. Can’t remember if it was because we were skating on stuff we weren’t supposed to be on or because we looked like we should be in school. Probably both.
Most vivid is either playing CBGB's to a handful of friends, or hanging out with Arturo Vega in his apartment and seeing his original art. Arturo, FYI, was considered the fifth Ramone and designed all their logos, including the crest which you can now buy at your local suburban mall. His place was right around the corner from CB's.
Michael Allred: When my very first editor took me to a Broadway show.
Laura Allred: When my parents loaded all us kids in a station wagon and traveled cross country to see America with the Big Apple being the "cherry on top." It was like a real life National Lampoon's Vacation.
Matt Brundage: I just visited for the first time last year. I spent the day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a friend who has lived there his whole life. I took about 1,000 pictures and went everywhere he could think of. The whole city to me is Art from the graffiti on the mailboxes to the architecture on a doorway to people gluing little pieces of glass on the bottom of a lamp post.
Todd Klein: Visiting my great-aunts at their east 53rd Street apartment, going to Radio City Music Hall in 1959. The Rockettes and The Nun's Story on the huge screen.
Shelly Bond: 1978. It was the dead of winter and we were headed towards the Essex House near Central Park West — by way of the east side. With snowflakes on my lips, the pink neon sign caught my eye: It was the window for Fiorucci, the coolest boutique I'd ever seen. We headed inside to gather our bearings and I was mesmerized by silver mannequins with white wigs and swaggering sales clerks. Eurotrash (maybe Bowie) on the sound system. At that precise moment in time I knew I wanted to grow up and become new wave.
What decade stands out the most to you and why?
Mike: 70s! CBGBs! Ramones! Blondie!
Laura: I always think of Barefoot in the Park as my ideal NYC. And all those ridiculously charming 1960s movies.
Todd: 1969-1979. Attending The School of Visual Arts in ‘69-‘70, and starting work at DC Comics in 1977. Exploring Manhattan on my own both times.
Matt: I would say the ‘20s, when your most distinctive skyscrapers were built and the city was taken over by skyscraper fever with the whole world watching in amazement. You have some amazing buildings on the go now, but there just isn't the same excitement. Also, it was the time of Gershwin, prohibition and jazz—all the things that made the new world different from the old.
The second would probably be the ‘80s. Andy Warhol, Studio 54. All these things in New York epitomized Rock and Roll.
Shaun: I like the dirty NYC of the late ‘70s/’80s. It seemed like a lived-in sort of bedlam that people became comfortable with.
What was your first Vertigo comic as a reader?
Shaun: DOOM PATROL.
Matt: SWAMP THING.
Laura: I was there when it started and was already reading THE SANDMAN.
Todd: THE SANDMAN.
Shelly: Pre-Vertigo, HELLBLAZER #1 was part of my first bag of comics, sharing close quarters with an issue of Love & Rockets, Grendel and Cerebus.
When did you know for sure that comics were the thing you wanted to do?
Matt: When I was a kid reading Kamandi.
Todd: I was a comics reader and fan from early childhood, beginning with DC heroes like Batman and Superman, switching to Marvel in the early 1960s, then back to include DC titles like the original SWAMP THING.
Shelly: A college professor showed my screenwriting class how to storyboard by looking at Peter Gross' Empire Lanes comic book. Little did I know that I'd be Peter's favorite editor at Comico the Comic Company a year later.
Mike: If I'd known it was something I could strive for, it would have been a lifelong goal. It was probably reading Love & Rockets that locked it down for me.
Best location for an impromptu cocktail party?
Mike: WARHOL FACTORY!
Matt: The Warhol Factory.
Laura: Oooh, Strawberry Fields. Central Park is magic day or night. So why not a party?
Shaun: As much as I would have loved to have been at the Factory or Chelsea Hotel, an LSD-laced stroll through Strawberry Fields would probably intrigue me more.
Who are the top 5 people (living or dead, real or imaginary) on the guest list? Who's the bouncer?
Shaun: Guests would be Hunter Thompson, Danny the Street, Perry (Robin Williams) from The Fisher King, David Carr, John Lennon (mainly because I think most of his public persona was a front and I'd love to prove myself wrong).
The bouncer? Abe Lincoln.
Mike: John Lennon, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Joe Strummer and Debbie Harry, with John Belushi bouncing.
Matt: The guests: Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Gene Kelley, Martin Short and Elizabeth Taylor. The bouncer…Mr. T.
Laura: The Beatles arriving in NYC was when all pop culture shifted like never before. Everything changed for the better—fashion, music, even haircuts. So I'd want John, Paul, George and Ringo at the top of my guest list, and let's make Brian Jones number five. Muhammad Ali could be the bouncer.
What music (or audiobooks or other background sounds) do you listen to while you work?
Matt: Lionel Ritchie’s Greatest Hits.
Laura: Any number of audiobook novels. For music I always love Beatles, David Bowie...
Mike: Most anything from England between 1965 and 1975: Beatles, Stones, Bowie, Zombies, Pink Floyd, Queen, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, T. Rex, The Who, and some Yanks squeeze through like The Monkees and Alice Cooper. And newer music: I love Beck, MGMT, Radiohead, Tame Impala, The Dandy Warhols, Arcade Fire, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger...
Shelly: Can't edit and listen to anything, unfortunately. If you hear the dulcet tones of Moloko or The Clash coming from my office, I'm totally slacking off or sleeping. Or slacking off by sleeping.
Todd: My iPod is full of a variety of music and music types: classical, folk, pop, rock, blues and more. Largest number of tracks is probably The Beatles, closely followed by James Taylor and Donovan.
A few more New York questions. If you could preserve one city block what would it be and in what time period?
Shaun: St. Marks. Late ‘70s.
Matt: Late 70's, the Bowery. CBGB'S. Or maybe the Mid-Twenties.
Todd: I would love to visit Manhattan in the 1880s. So much cool stuff then. The next best thing is reading Time and Again by Jack Finney.
Laura: Madison Square Garden exactly when Led Zeppelin first played there.
Mike: Times Square in the year 3000.
What's your favorite time of year to hit the city?
Todd: Spring and fall are the best.
Mike: Fall. Gimme that autumn chill.
Laura: Autumn in New York!
Shaun: Christmastime at night when there's snow on the ground and the streets are empty.
Finally, what's your NYC Anthem and why?
Mike: “I Just Wanna Have Something To Do” by the Ramones since there's always something to do in NYC.
Laura: Simon and Garfunkel's “America” (especially covered by David Bowie). Such lovely. So haunting.
Shelly: Bowie's cover of “It's Hard to be a Saint in the City” or a cover of “Empire State” by Moloko.
Matt: “Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed. Moody, laid back, sexually and drug charged. Calm moody and intense at the same time.
Shaun: “Teenage Lightning and Lonely Highways.” It's calmer and stranger than “Wild Side,” but has a similar vibe. Calm and strange is how I like NYC.
ART OPS #1 will be available on October 28, 2015 in print and as a digital download.