Every time when I stared at the news the last 6 months, with accusations from each side, subterfuge across the globe, and dissent, I thought, wow, this world is way more F'ked up than when the American came out. The American comic series is even more accurate now.
Reading the first issue of the series I turned, looked at my best friend, visiting from Indiana, and said, I am not sure, but that was perhaps the best comic I have ever read. It is both artistically good, and intellectually savvy.
This interview is with two of the creative talents from the book. First we chat with Mark Verheiden, the author and creator, followed secondly by artist Grant Miehm, who did work I rather deeply admired.
To what extent is the concept used for the series both prescient and better applied today than when it came out decades ago? I remember reading it and thinking holy shit, this makes perfect use of media inflation, government subterfuge and manufactured events, how very powerful. And yet, it doesn't even seem so fictional now, after so many years of bullshittery.
MarkV: I have to admit, the political world has become even more absurd than even I could have imagined back in 1986. In the age of Trump I’m not sure how outlandish the idea of a manufactured hero/leader would feel today. Anyhow, it’s for others to decide if the series was prescient, but I don’t think the premise feels outdated, except maybe for some of the pop culture references. Boy George is still a thing, right?
Have you heard any fans preferring a straight forward character of The American, without the delicious curves and out of the ordinary rug pulled out? As such does it speak of the character being solid prior to the ironic tale, or does it mean the reader doesn't get the deeper levels of the story?
MarkV: I don’t think anyone ever asked for a “straight-ahead hero” version of The American. But it’s not like I was flooded with fan mail back in the day (which was pre-email). What I do hope is that The American as a character can stand on his own, and not require an intimate knowledge of other patriotic heroes. There is certainly a bit of satire in the basic set-up of the story, but I’m not satirizing any specific characters, just the idea of manufactured heroism.
Do you have any new stories for the "character" or have you finished your work with it?
MarkV: I’m a big believer in always moving forward and not looking back, so if you had asked me a month ago, I would have said I didn’t have anything planned. But I actually (and literally) just dreamed up an idea for an American mini-series, so… who knows. I’m still friends with the folks at Dark Horse and we’ve discussed bringing the big guy back from time to time, but I’ve been pretty busy on other fronts.
Did you conceive of the character thinking about characters such as Captain America, Fighting American, Star Spangled Kid, Patriot, The Eagle... or, were the characters of the day more ironic, less "patriotic" and he was more of the day? And, since Grant Miehm is a portion of this interview, what special qualities did he bring to the run?
MarkV: I’ve always been a big fan of Captain America, so of course that was rattling somewhere in the ol’ brain pan, but honestly The American was more born from my fascination with Col. Oliver North and the then current Iran-Contra affair. That brouhaha seems almost quaint 30+ years later, but the way North was lionized by some for his illegal acts just hit a chord. I’ve also always been struck by America’s thirst for heroes, whether it’s sports, military, movie-stars or whatever. We like to build ‘em up then tear them down.
Grant was in the daunting position of following up on Chris Warner, who came up with the physical look of the character and set the visual template for the series. To his credit. Grant jumped in and grabbed the reins with enthusiasm and great skill, making it his own. Kid America never looked seedier! Anyhow, I doff my chapeau in his talented direction, we did some fun books together.
Would you be open to a movie made of the comic, and if so, a single movie, or a Netflix sort of limited series...?
MarkV: Funny story there, we actually set The American up at Warner Bros. with producer Joel Silver way back in 1989, and that became my first studio screenplay. Unfortunately, like a lot of things, it was never made, but yes -- if the right situation came along, I think it would be fun to see Hough and Cyber-Ike and the ‘Merican on the big screen.
AND ARTIST GRANT MIEHM
When illustrating the American what is the most important aspect of that work? Does the complicated history of The American reduce the need to make it an iconic image? Or does the iconic aspect of the character never change?
GrantM: I’d say the iconic aspect doesn’t change, Alex. With ‘The American’, one of my major thoughts was that while the character engages in some questionable behavior – Issue # 7 is a good example – he must still remain that same iconic hero who is making a mistake, and not one turning away from what’s good or right, no matter what happens.
Is your being Canadian helpful or not a consideration for your concept of the character?
GrantM: It’s not really a consideration for me. Those things may be a factor from time to time in the story, but I’m interested in visualizing the actions of the characters based on the dynamics of the plot more than anything else.
Did Mark Verheiden do anything different as writer that surprised you? If you were to describe his style what would you describe it as?
GrantM: Mark did many things I found quite engaging. For example: Hough’s alcohol abuse has a lasting effect, and isn’t ignored when inconvenient. Mark incorporated that sort of idea to great effect to make the story a very real thing – he’s a realist, and creates a totally believable story. That might be an appropriate phrase for me to use in describing Mark’s writing. And of course, Mark’s work has many other excellent aspects, as well. I was really blessed to have worked with him.
Does the American stand next to Captain America, Fighting American, Star Spangled Kid, Patriot, The Eagle... or does his ironic and temporary service as a hero / tool of the Government make his less heroic?
GrantM: I saw the American as being somewhere between those two poles. I thought he was more the man searching for himself in complicated circumstances, and not necessarily trying to find his place in those circumstances, either. Being a hero was something I felt he was prepared to admit he might not be in the long run, although it never came to that during my time on the book. The American’s attempts to face himself – that’s what made him a hero to me.
Was the use of comics from the past as a commentary and way to tell the back story more fun to do than a typical story?
GrantM: Yes. Absolutely. The back story of ‘The American’ was very thorough and detailed. It fit seamlessly into the continuity. That helped tremendously in making it a great assignment, and a great series to contribute to. And one, I might add, that I’m very proud to have been a part of.
Thank you to Mark and Grant for their time.
Look for more work from Mark and Dark Horse comic collections with his American Omnibus, Aliens hardcovers, and Predator Omnibus editions.
Look for more from Grant, who is currently writing, designing and providing the art and color work for 'Scouts In Action' and its companion features in Boys' Life magazine as he has, since the late 90s, - seen by over 4 million readers every month. As well, the American Omnibus, Green Arrow V5, numerous kindle editions of his comic work with DC, especially his work on Manhunter and the Impact titles.