Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Scott McCullar and His Thrill-Seeking Men of Mystery

Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fist Action would like to welcome one of pulpiest comic book creators around to the site -- Scott McCullar, the warped brain behind Thrill Seeker Comics and characters like The Yellow Jacket: Man of Mystery, The Emerald Mantis, and The Chrononaut.

And coming out soon you’ll be able to get your own paws on the new, all-color special graphic novel that collects all the Thrill Seeker stories from the fan-favorite Shooting Star Comics stalwart.

Thanks for sitting in with us, Shaft (to those in the know, that’s Scott’s other way of being addressed). Let’s get to it then. Why don’t we start with you telling us about the formation of Thrill Seeker Comics back during the days of Shooting Star Comics?

I actually had the germ of an idea for the creation of this comic book series going all the way back to when I was a young teenager in middle school when I drew pictures of a martial arts  character in my school note books that would become the Emerald Mantis during the age when Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow debuted in G.I.JOE comics and cartoons in the early-to-mid 1980’s.

I revived the idea of writing and drawing my own comic book in the early 1990’s as I was finishing college. I had an idea for a story that took place in New Zealand and would transition to a make-believe city in the deep south of the United States. One of the characters was a female hero called the Tricrüsta, originally based on my ex-wife all those years ago when we were newlyweds. The fictional southern city was named St. Franҫois de Port which exists halfway between Memphis and New Orleans on the Mississippi River where Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana meet on the map.

I never got around to writing that story, but the fictional city was further developed by me when I began to play the VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE roleplaying game sessions in the early 1990’s after I had graduated. By late 1997, I began to create a squad of characters called THE OUTCAST SEVEN which I was going to feature in this fictional series in my own independent comic. I began writing scripts and sketching concepts for the comic, but it got put on the backburner as I was also starting to do some work for DC Comics and West End Games working on writing for the DC Universe Roleplaying Game as well as Green Arrow projects, acting as a writing consultant for Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer, and eventually writing a Green Arrow comic of my own.

I was looking for a vehicle to launch THRILL SEEKER COMICS featuring the Emerald Mantis, but just didn’t find the right time until SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY came along…

And all that good stuff from SSC… how did all that get started anyway?

My recollection is that by late 2001, I was approached by some friends online who were also aspiring comic book writers that included folks like John Morgan Neal and Erik Burnham to join them on a venture to create an anthology comic book that would showcase our new talent with us all writing and drawing our own creator-owned stories. Many of the new collaborators on this project were regulars on Chuck Dixon’s message board called The Dixonverse at his website. This was the perfect place for me to launch what I would call THRILL SEEKER COMICS and I would feature the Emerald Mantis.

Except, I also created at the last moment for my first story what I thought would be a “throwaway” character that would prove to be more popular than what I had imagined. I introduced a pulp character with a trenchcoat, fedora, and attitude that began to take on a life of his own named the Yellow Jacket: Man of Mystery.

Just who is The Yellow Jacket, and what went into his creation?

The Yellow Jacket: Man of Mystery is what I would call a poor man’s version of the Green Hornet who is instead from the Depression era Deep South. He was inspired by just about every other comic book and pulp fiction book trench coat and fedora wearing vigilante toting a pair of smoking .45 pistols but being a southerner was my twist.

While influenced by characters like the Green Hornet, the Crimson Avenger, the Shadow, the Spirit, and even The Punisher…  he was actually inspired more by George Clooney’s role in the Coen Brothers film O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? with his portrayal of the character Ulysses Everett McGill. He does have a bit of influence from Clark Gable in some of his roles in films like MOGAMBO and SAN FRANCISCO as well as a few others. Maybe slight touches of Bruce Willis and Humphrey Bogart are in Yellow Jacket’s DNA as well.

There is even a bit of my own Uncle Junior or my late Granddaddy mixed into Yellow Jacket as I sometimes imagine his southern mannerism and his way with the gift of gab in how he structures together his words in a southern dialect and context. The character originates from yonder down there in the South. Same territory as George Clooney’s Ulysses Everett McGill or even Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Lt. Aldo Raines.

Yellow Jacket is a tragic figure of sorts. He faked his death during World War One and took on someone else’s identity. After the Great Depression, he became a wanted vigilante in the 1930’s on the run getting into adventures and mishaps. His is a story of redemption. He is humorous, tragic, deadly, yet heroic in the end. He has acted as judge, jury, and executioner yet has a heart of gold. By the tales that take place in the 1940’s and beyond with him, he embraces a rebranding of sorts in becoming one of the masked mystery men fighting the Axis forces during World War Two and other evil doers beyond.

I have many more adventures planned with him and his earliest adventures are showcased in the THRILL SEEKER COMICS ARCHIVE VOLUME ONE.

What can you tell us about the rest of the Thrill Seeker Comics universe?

In the pages of the SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY, I was able to tell stories from different time periods with characters mainly focused on Yellow Jacket and different family generations of men who were the Emerald Mantis. You got to peek at a few other heroes like the Sacred Scarab. The Thrill Seeker Universe was conceived to be an alternate world in the multiverse that could easily crossover with characters you might find at DC Comics or Marvel. I do have my own fictional cities and other thrilling locations, but it is a variation of our world with heroes and villains.

I showcased a few heroes, but in my mind and in my sketchbooks and plans, it is a rich universe with many characters and stories to tell. I confess that part of my creation of this universe was that while I was just getting a chance to work for DC Comics when I began working on THRILL SEEKER COMICS, I was sort of frustrated that I couldn’t fully play in DC Comics’ sandbox with their toys.

I took archetypes and shook them all up with my own spin so that I would have my own toys to play with and break if I wanted to do so. Fifteen years later, now that I’m older, I’m actually much happier to play in my own toy box now and plan on reviving the series after more than a decade to write and illustrate new tales beginning next year.

I’d like to think that my Thrill Seeker Universe is where The Coen Brothers meets Quentin Tarantino meets Bronze Age Comics. My entire pulp universe inspired by hard-boiled noir tales, 1970’s kung-fu flicks, war films and grindhouse movie hijinks mixed with the feel of classic comic book sensibilities. While it isn’t intended for young kiddies, THRILL SEEKER COMICS is a frenetic mix of humor, bloody violence and reclamation of the soul aimed at mature readers that love blood and guts-style brutal action.

Tell us about this new book of Thrill Seeker Comics you’re putting together.

Friend and former Shooting Star Comics collaborator Erik Burnham encouraged me just over five years ago to collect all my Thrill Seeker short stories and put them into a collection. Originally, they were all drawn black and white. I admit there were a few panels that were rushed that I was not happy with that I wanted to redraw. I also had an unpublished story that was unfinished in what was going to be SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY #7. With those tales and one published in a one-shot called JOB WANTED as well as an online comic web strip, I cleaned up the art and stories, colorized everything, and put in a sort of “DVD Commentary” in the back of the book along with some pin ups by artists. It is a really nice 128-page book that is completely finished and is currently running a crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter that I hope many of your readers may check out and support.

Now, You know and I know how you got the nickname Shaft from your lifelong enjoyment and involvement with DC’s emerald archer, but your business dealings with him went deeper than mere fandom. What’s the skinny on that?

I broke into comics in the late 1990’s with the Internet being a new sensation due to my fansite dedicated to Green Arrow. Somewhere along the line, I got the nickname “Shaft” as you mentioned because of my love of Green Arrow, but also because I was a message board moderator at some sites for Chuck Dixon and others… and I was a hard-hitting no-nonsense guy.

When I was the Art Director at Shooting Star Comics when we were publishing independent books, there was a moment when one outside comic creator who wanted to work for us tried to bulldoze his way into something and I had strong words with him. I guess some of the other guys saw me take on a very superfly TNT and guns of the Navarone approach with him in my retort and thus I was “Shaft” forever after…

I later had a wallet given to me that said “Bad Mother Fucker” on it as I’m sure it was a nod to my love of Samuel L. Jackson… and somewhere along the line… many of the comic fans on Dixonverse and elsewhere gave me the nickname. It stuck.

Almost 20 years later, it still sticks in certain circles. But I’m much more chilled now in life.

Things were happening for you all those years ago. At one point, WIZARD MAGAZINE spotlighted you after Kevin Smith said he wanted you to take over writing GREEN ARROW comic for him at DC Comic. Then, not too long after that, you kind of disappeared on the scene. Glad you're back, but what happened?

I was always around on the peripheral, but a lot like John Lennon did in the late 1970’s before he came back with DOUBLE FANTASY album (um… and unfortunately was murdered), I sort of walked away from things too in order to deal with matters in my personal life.

To be frank, life threw me some curveballs with the end of Shooting Star Comics in 2006.

From there, I’ve spent my time raising kids, played bass guitar in a bar band, went to grad school to earn my master's degree, continued with my studies in martial arts and earned a few degrees with my black belt, went through a messy separation and divorce, lost a job when downsizing hit, lived in Japan for a while to figure things out, fought ninjas, got back on my feet here in America and found a new job, bought a home that I’m currently restoring, courted many fair maidens since I’m single now, and just going about and doing all sorts of other things.

I admit the separation, divorce, and aftermath took a huge toll on me. There was even a while there that THRILL SEEKER COMICS property was caught up for over a year in the legal proceedings of the divorce and frozen where my ex-wife would have owned half of this. Our lawyers worked out a deal and it actually states in my divorce decree that I traded the family dog and turned the pet over to her in order to keep full rights to THRILL SEEKER COMICS and be able to publish. I'm glad my kids got the dog and I got my intellectual property unfrozen and back.

It is true that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. My son Mitch was born in 2000 when I was helping Kevin Smith on GREEN ARROW. When I began working with SHOOTING STAR COMICS, my son was just a year old. Now my son drives, has whiskers, is about to earn his black belt, and is in his senior year of high school planning on going off to the University of Michigan in 12 months.

How the heck did Shaft, Jr. grow up so fast? Not to mention that I have a daughter who is now 21 years of age.

Well, after this decade of preoccupation with other things, I'm now looking to get back to writing and drawing brand new comic book stories featuring my characters from THRILL SEEKER COMICS.

I miss working in comics and look forward to returning with new stories. And I look forward to the release of this archive collection that you can order now with a pledge on Kickstarter.

How can readers get involved in the Kickstarter and get copies of the TSC book?

I truly appreciate it once again if anyone is interested in buying the archive book, you please head over to Kickstarter website and pledge in one of the brackets fitted for you to order the book. We have a goal that we’re trying to hit by the last day of September but would love to hit it now and provide some stretch goals with cool items to be offered that you can find out about now if you take a look.

You can check out the Kickstarter page at:.

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