Comics celebrity playlist: Fred Van Lente
C&T continues to feature comics creators, this time turning a spotlight on writer Fred Van Lente. While he has been in print for about a decade, Van Lente has recently published several highly praised works for both indie and major publishers.
After writing indie books for several years (Tranquility, Watchdogs, The Silencers), Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey have received considerable acclaim for their Action Philosophers! series which recently concluded. Published by their creator-owned Evil Twin Comics, these "non-fiction" comics focus on the lives and thought of prominent figures in (you guessed it) philosophy while incorporating heavy doses of humor. While anything but strictly educational, these innovative and entertaining books are fun and jam-packed with knowledge.
Somehow I think they managed to capture the dynamic between Thomas Jefferson and King George III, even without dialogue:
I always suspected that TJ had a high midi-chlorian count.
Their sequence with Karl Marx as a Rambo for the proletariat is a winner as well:
Each issue focuses on three prominent philosophers, and the single issues have been collected in three volumes available from Evil Twin Comics or other retailers. Subjects include Plato, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Georg Hegel, Carl Jung, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rene Descartes, and about a dozen others. Truly unique, and more fun than should be had reading philosophy.
More recently the bulk of Van Lente's output has been for the House of Ideas at Marvel Comics. He has scripted such iconic characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four for the company's all-ages Marvel Adventures line as well as runs on Amazing Fantasy and Heroes for Hire. The project that has my attention, however, is the mini-series Super-Villian Team-Up/M.O.D.O.K.'s 11.
It's a crime caper in the spirit of Ocean's Eleven in which cult favorite villain M.O.D.O.K. (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), who is basically a brilliant giant head with a flying chair, assembles a team of B- and C-list baddies to pull off an impossible robbery. It's filled with snark, action, and unexpected double-crosses along with a group of underused villains like The Spot and Rocket Racer. Tons of fun, and the final issue (of 5) is due on November 7.
In addition to that great series, Van Lente is also currently publishing mystic martial arts mini-series The Weapon with Platinum Studios, and has big stuff on the way. The biggest news of all, in fact, involves a Jade Giant. Beginning with #112 in December, Van Lente shares co-authoring duties on Marvel's The Incredible Hulk with Greg Pak. As Pak has had that title firing on all cylinders the past couple years, it's great to see Van Lente joining up. Next year will also see the creative team behind Action Philosophers! return with both Comic Book Comics and Action Presidents, with the former an irreverent look at comics history and the latter highlighting presidents as did philosophers. Look out Federalists, Jefferson may get to wield that light saber yet again...
I've asked Van Lente to contribute a playlist to C&T, and he has graciously agreed. He describes his music tastes as "hopelessly eclectic and hopelessly banal" and came up with a great collection of fun covers to combine the two. Enjoy...
Fred Van Lente's Comics Celebrity Playlist
The Travoltas - "That Thing You Do" (from Travoltas Party!)
A shout-out to my Dutch roots. Amsterdam's premiere surf/punk band does a great acoustic cover of Tom Hanks' favorite one-hit wonder.
Twink - "Enter Sandman" (from Supercute)
You have not lived until you've heard Metallica done on toy piano and cello.
The Bad Plus - "Iron Man" (from Give)
I first saw this jazz trio on my birthday (Valentine's Day) in the Village Vanguard. It was like five below outside and I had a hundred degree fever but, corny as it sounds, they made me forget all that. They specialize in pop covers. My favorite is really "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but I chose this one because it's more obscure.
The Folksmen - "Start Me Up" (from A Mighty Wind soundtrack)
You can keep your Waiting for Guffmans and Spinal Taps, this is my favorite Christopher Guest mockumentary. My wife and I loved the movie so much we actually went and saw the three faux bands perform live at Town Hall. Alas, Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer did not reprise this hilarious Rolling Stones cover, which I don't think was actually in the movie
The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars - "Tradition" (from Knitting on the Roof)
"At three I started Hebrew school/At ten I smoked some weed/I hear they picked a bride for me/I hope she puts out" GENIUS!!
They Might Be Giants - "Jessica" (from Why Does the Sun Shine?)
My first road trip freshman year of college was from Syracuse to Troy, New York, to see TMBG perform in the basement of the college student union. It was just the two of them, their various instruments and computers, and I've been an addict ever since...Just about the only way I'll put up with the Allman Brothers.
Johnny Cash - "Personal Jesus" (from American IV)
Although I do like "The Man Comes Around" better.
Thanks again, Fred!
For more on Fred Van Lente and his projects, see his website. His various wares are available from Amazon.