John Lucas's artwork has been described as a synthesis
of Alex Toth and Jack Kirby combined with the attitude of Johnny
Cash. Having toiled in relative obscurity for the past ten years,
Lucas is now illustrating The Barker backup stories in Detective
John was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to
sit down and chat with RevolutionSF's Rick Klaw.
RICK KLAW: What is the Barker?
JOHN LUCAS: The Barker was a golden age comic,
featuring a cast of carnies who solve crime. The series replaced
Uncle Sam in quality comic's national comics and
ran for around 15 issues of its own title. Between both titles,
it ran for some forty, fifty-odd issues.
What was Jack Cole's [Plastic Man creator] involvement
with The Barker?
Beyond a few of the covers, I'm not sure if Cole had anything
to do with it. As far as i know Klaus Nordling drew them all.
Nordling, also, drew a big chunk of the Lady Luck adventures
in the Spirit Sunday supplements. He's probably best
known for that work, but The Barker is, in my opinion
at least, much better. There are some episodes that I'd rank
among the most beautiful comics stories ever created.
How's that for hyperbole?
Where did this idea to bring back the strip come from?
A collector friend, Don Mangus, was selling some of his
collection off and I picked up all the copies he had. When
I saw it I flipped. How can you not love carney folk solving
crime? And as I said, they're just beautiful.
I had talked to a couple of writers about pitching it with
me, but they flaked. after a few years of stops starts and
unanswered emails, I had pretty much given up. But on one
of my foraging trips to the DC offices, I told Michael Wright
[Detective Comics editor] about it. He, being a man
of above-average taste and intelligence, thought it sounded
great. He told Bob Schreck [head honcho of all the Batman
titles] about it, and Bob, being a man of above-average taste
and intelligence, agreed. They suggested I e-mail Mike Carey,
tell him what it was about, and see if he was interested.
He, being a blahdy blah blah blah, said he'd love to do it.
I suggested the idea of killing the dog-faced boy. He dropped
and added a couple of characters. Then I sat back and waited
for his purdy words to tell me what to draw.
Is this the first appearance of these characters since
the original run?
As far as I know. you'd need to ask some one with a more
complete knowledge of the funnies. I tend to obsess over specific
artists rather than characters.
What is the fascination with carnivals and sideshow
Aw, jeez. I have no idea. I could probably spin off some
half-baked observation on the human psyche, but who'd want
to read it? It would probably be more revealing of my own
Maybe it's like loving an ugly dog or when you're walking
through the woods and you're compelled to pick up a gnarled
stick. I don't know.
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How does The Barker compare with HBO's Carnivale?
When I pitched it, I reminded Bob and the Mikes about the
success of the show, but beyond that it didn't influence my
approach any more than my already healthy fascination with
period material. I'm one of those guys that thinks most things
modern are kinda crap. And most of the modern stuff I like
wears it's sense of history proudly, for all to see.
I like the show. I could do without the priest storyline.
Does the world need another evil priest story? The carny characters
are interesting enough to carry the show. And Adrian Barbeau
as a tattooed snake charmer. Meeeeoooow!
What attracted you to this project?
Is this your first work for DC?
It was different. My tastes tend to run to the absurd. It
was a project that would allow me to draw a cast of grotesques.
Much more fun than drawing pretty boys in their underwear
Was there one particular aspect of this story that you enjoyed
drawing than any other?
Just the odd characters. I got to draw an acromegalic giant,
a dwarf, a tattooed lady contortionist, and a fat lady.
No. I've been kickin' around DC for years. For the longest
time, I was the guy they called to finish up the run of canceled
comics. Disavowed. Man of Steel. Codename Knockout. All
dead. I drew a Spartan one-shot that John Cassaday
inked, [that is] laying in a drawer somewhere. I worked on
the Starman 80-page giant and James [Robinson] ended
the book a couple of years later. I guess that doesn't really
count. It was a book that was successful, but the creator
wanted to end it. But this is the first project I've done
where I'm confident the book will still be around in ten to
Are there other obscure Golden Age characters that
you'd like to bring back?
Gosh. I'm sure. um. Granny Gumshoe?
I'd love to write and draw the golden age Green Lantern.
I have, what I think and have been told, is a great way of
handling him, as he now exists.
Airboy would be fun. All those characters that McFarlane
now owns. Valkyrie. The Heap. I'd love to do something with
that whole universe.
What is the dream John Lucas project?
I have two.
I want to write and draw the Golden Age Captain Marvel.
I'd want to do it my way. If I was given the opportunity to
work on it but was unable to have the freedom to take my angle
on it, I'd say no. Otherwise, I'd feel as though I was doing
more harm that good.
I have my own project, that I'll keep under my hat for the
moment. I have it written and part of it drawn. I am very
excited about it. When I get closer to having it finished,
I'll beg you to do another interview. I actually have a few
big-name comic artist friends who are going to contribute
art, so it should get a bit of press. I hope.
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How would you describe your artwork?
Stranded. Alternative editors think it's too mainstream
and the mainstream don't quite know what to do with it. It's
a tough row to hoe, but if I can develop a following, I think
it'll be a loyal one. All the artists I'm most influenced
by are the kind of guys who put out a project, the die-hard
fans buy it, then wait for the next scrap. Hopefully, I'll
be able to follow that model.
What are you currently working on?
A few things. I just finished a story for the anthology
Superior from Adhouse Books,. It's an anthology of,
mostly, alternative artists' takes on superheroes. It's, sort
of, a sequel to their anthology of robot stories, Project:
I'm currently working on the covers and illustrations for
three Joe Lansdale books. Subterranean Press is reissuing
the first two Drive-In books and releasing the third
as limited edition hardbacks in slipcases. Pretty fancy stuff.
They're really great, really creepy books. Joe's a great guy
and a hell of a writer, real salt of the earth. I've illustrated
a couple of his comics stories and I've been eager to work
with him again.
I'm working on a Batman, Legends of the Dark Knight
arc, again with Mike Carey, but that's kind of in scheduling
limbo at the moment. Hopefully we'll get to finish it. I'm
as happy as a kitten in a tree about drawing bats.
And last but far from least, I'm about to start on a series
of Army of Darkness comics. I've seen Evil Dead
2 about a million times. I love that character Ash, and
Bruce Campbell cracks me up. I've never understood how that
guy isn't bigger than he is.
What comics currently excite you?
Oh, man. My brain always freezes when I'm asked this.
Jack Staff by Paul Grist is pure genius. Every
issue is a "how to" lesson on comics. His Kane series
was great, too. I keep waiting for the promised graphic novels
to continue the tale.
New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. I read everything
he does. Brilliant stuff. The guy really has a handle on the
fun and charm of great old stuff and is able to smart it up
for the modern audience without any awkwardness. he's so talented,
he's really hard not to hate.
Wanted by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. It's one
of those post-modern deconstruction-of-the-comic-hero thingies,
but I really dig it.
I'm reading Bone for the first time and it's fantastic.
It's everything that smart, all-ages material can be.
I know there are more, but I can't think of them. I never
tested well in school.
If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
I'd probably be working in a record or book store. That's
what I did before I started making money drawing. I never
planned or trained for anything else. Never wanted to do anything
else. Even as a kid, when I wanted to play for the Yankees,
I drew pictures of me playing for the Yankees.
John Lucas' work on The Barker can be seen starting
in Detective Comics #801.
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