With Further Ado #056: Catching up with Michael Uslan

I caught part of a televised discussion on whether success more likely comes from either (a) an intense focus on one specialization or (b) living a life full of many experiences, and then specializing.  After talking with Michael Uslan, it seems that filling one’s life up with many experiences, all of which are pretty cool, might be the way to go. 

You may know Michael Uslan as the guy behind Batman at the movies. Perhaps he was your university professor years ago for that ground-breaking course on comics.  Or maybe you know him as that guy who loves The Shadow comics and wrote a few in the 70s for DC and again more recently for Dynamite. Did you first cross paths with him in New Jersey, as the local boy who put on that Montclair Museum show focusing on comics a few years ago? You might remember he wrote that brilliant Batman Elseworlds graphic novel, Detective No. 27. Or maybe you remember him as the guy who came up with the creative “Archie gets married” idea a few years ago.   

Hard to believe it, but he’s all of those guys. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he did all those things. Undoubtedly with more to come.

I caught up with Michael Uslan recently.  I’m always impressed how congenial and gracious he is, especially given all he’s involved with.  In fact, during our conversation, he started to tell me stories about that legendary comic logo designer, Ira Schnapp. “Ira was like your old grandfather from another country,” he explained.  I could’ve listened to his stories for hours, but Michael and I had to stay ‘on topic’. He was about to share some fascinating insights on one of his current projects.

It Started with Batman’s Anniversary

There’s been a lot of nostalgia around the anniversary of that first Batman movie from 1989.  Hard to believe it was 30 years ago, isn’t it?  Michael Uslan was the executive producer.   He was explaining to me that he’s onto the next anniversary; planning the 15th anniversary of Batman Begins.

And that led Uslan to remember that it has been 10 years since Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty.   Back when Archie got married it was a big deal. There were a lot of comics sold. “The reaction in the mainstream press, worldwide, was amazing,” recalled Uslan.

This was a very clever story. I am loathe to use the words “stunt” or “event” because it really was a well-thought-out tale. Uslan’s concept was a six issue story and in the first few issues, Archie married the quintessential rich girl, Veronica. Then there were a few issues where Archie married the girl next-door, Betty. The final issue tied it all together.

A Roller Coaster Ride

In preparing for the new series, Archie: The Married Life 10th Anniversary, Uslan wondered what it would be like for Archie (and his friends) to struggle with that sometimes-challenging period 10 years after a marriage. He thought about what people that age deal with and rattled off a laundry list of agita-producing topics like:

  • People facing career dead-ends…
  • ..and reinventing themselves to pursue their “Plan B”
  • Getting past the dreaded seven-year itch
  • Dealing with aging parents
  • And all the drama of one’s own kids approaching teenage years

“A lot of people are dealing with a generation gap, and it’s even bigger,” noted Uslan. “Kids are plugged in all the time. How will Archie handle that?”

Uslan compared his approach to this series to that feeling one gets when returning for a 15th High School Reunion. “Some folks peaked in high school; others have evolved into fantastic people.”

There was a lot of ground to cover with this mini-series.  Uslan explained that he realized that there was only one way to do it: and that was to plunge in headlong.  As he talked, he realizes the breakneck speed of the story he’s telling.  “It feels a little like a roller-coaster ride, but life is really a roller coaster ride.”

He teased that there are “lots of twists and turns” and fans will be especially surprised at “who everyone ends up with.”

(Note: There were sequels and spin-offs exploring Archie’s married life, but the project that Uslan is working on now just focuses on the aftermath of those six original issues.)

The Art of Archie

This new series will showcase interior art by Dan Parent and Glen Whitmore; two of my favorites. 

I asked Uslan what it is like to work with Dan Parent. “Dan Parent?” he said. “Such a joy. To me, Dan is one of those definitive Archie artists.  He carries on the Dan DeCarlo legacy. And does such a good job of it.”

Colorist Glenn Whitmore always brings so much to the party and his work on this series is no exception.

Archie: The Married Life 10th Anniversary offers several variant covers, and each one is so clever.  Even though I am a longtime reader, I tend to love the ones by edgier artists Like Robert Hack and Francesco Francavilla. 

Two weeks ago, in my summer reading “With Further Ado” column, I shared another variant cover, one that pays homage to the classic “Flash of Two Worlds” cover. Just brilliant.

Breaking New Ground: Aging Parents in Comics

One of the non-traditional, for comics at least, storylines that Uslan deals with in this story is the reality of being a caretaker of aging parents. “I don’t know if it’s ever been in comics. [Archie Comics’ Co-CEO] Jon [Goldwater] had concerns about dealing with it.  ‘Let me try,’ I said.  I wrote a couple of pages of it.”

Goldwater loved it and he gave Uslan the green light to continue developing this plotline.

As Archie struggles with difficult decisions for his dad’s care, “Archie has to make a choice. It will be left open ended.  Everyone can take their own viewpoint of it,” Uslan explained.

We talked about the success of TV’s Riverdale, and how it impacted his work. “The good news is that it’s giving the world different interpretations of Archie that work for different readers.  I‘m an old fart: my Archie is classic.  That’s the only guy I can write about.  Because there was a time when they were all my friends.”

“Dark Riverdale or Bright Riverdale? Miss Grundy dying of cancer or sleeping with Archie?  It depends on what generation you are,” said Uslan.

He compared it to the Caped Crusader again.  “Who is the one true Batman?” It all depends.  “Dick Sprang – Neal Adams – Jim Aparo – that is my Batman. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be Frank Miller.” Or someone else.  It was fascinating to hear how a guy who essentially was responsible for different versions of beloved characters keeps it all in perspective.

Archie: The Married Life 10th Anniversary continues with issue #2, on sale September 11th.

$3.99, full color comic

Covers by Dan Parent, variant covers by Jim Balent and Andrew Pepoy