Continuing our look at the influences of Bill Mantlo on today’s comic creators, I got to talk with Cullen Bunn about how Mantlo may have influenced him. I’ll give you a hint, it might be World Building… Bunn has been building up quite a catalog of work himself, having been published by Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Oni Press, and IDW.
DAN WICKLINE: Rom, Micronauts, Swords of the Swashbucklers, Cloak & Dagger, Rocket Raccoon, Invasion… Bill Mantlo was responsible for some of the most beloved characters and storylines in comics from 1975 through the late 1980s. What was your first experience with his work?
CULLEN BUNN: I didn’t necessarily realize I was reading Mr. Mantlo’s work at the time, but I bought Micronauts #7 off a grocery store spinner rack and immediately fell in love with the book. I poured over that issue again and again. It was the first time that the world-building in a book really struck me. That world-building is one of the things that marks Mantlo’s work for me.
DW: As a creator, did Bill’s work have any influence on you? Which series or storyline had the biggest impact on you and your work?
CB: The Micronauts definitely had the biggest influence on me, although I loved Rom and Swords of the Swashbucklers, too. I’ll mention world-building again, because that is where I feel his work inspired me most. In the case of Rom and Micronauts, he was writing stories about toys which, at the time, had no backstory of their own. He built all of that mythology himself. Swashbucklers was one of the first creator-owned comics I remember being very excited about because I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with something all his own.
DW: What is it about Bill’s work that made it different and unique among the books being produced at the time? What do you think was his greatest strength as a writer?
CB: Broken record time. World-building was Mantlo’s greatest strength. Besides that, though, he really knew how to play a long game, to seed in seemingly small story elements that would pay off in a big way later on.
DW: Since his tragic accident was over twenty-five years ago, a good number of today’s comic readers may have never read his work or only know him through his creations like Rocket Raccoon or Cloak & Dagger. What series or story would you suggest would best showcase Bill’s talent and why?
CB: Since Micronauts is the comic that made me love comics, I’d have to suggest that book. Swords of the Swashbucklers is another great choice. Both series were set in the wilds of space and show off pure creativity and excitement for creating comics.
DW: Bill was a comic creator for over fifteen years and was also practicing law at the time of the hit and run. In an instant, his entire life changed. How does his personal story affect you or influence your decisions for your own life as a creator?
CB: It definitely makes me think. I try to plan and prepare for the future, but I can’t imagine that anyone could possibly be ready for something like that. The best I can do, I think, is to work while I can and try to work on projects that will leave a long-lasting impression on readers.
DW: Being a comic creator is living life without a safety net. There are groups like the Hero Initiative, or the folks behind the Swords of the Swashbucklers kickstarter, that are trying to help creators like Bill. But is there more that can be done to help the people who created so many of the characters we still enjoy today?
CB: Support the books they’ve created, especially when these creators are often still getting royalties on those sales. Some creators sell commissions or books through their websites. At conventions, some creators of many of your favorite classic comics do signings for a small fee. Give them your support. Keep an eye out for projects that support these creators, and spread the word about their work and how others might contribute.
The Swords of the Swashbucklers kickstarter is in the final two days with the recently announced stretch goal being a new Swords of the Swashbucklers comic project with Butch Guice and the Mantlo family involved.
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