Fred Hembeck Interview

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(WoW DEC 07)

If you've read comics in the past 20 years, you've likely run across the work of Fred Hembeck, the man who draws the most recognizable knees in comics. Possibly one of his Dateline: @#$! strips in a fanzine or maybe his Fantastic Four Roast for Marvel. This month, Image releases the Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus, which is exactly what the title says. Westfield's Roger Ash recently spoke to Hembeck to find out more about this project.

To link to this interview, use this link (right click and copy)

Westfield: I'm not sure what would be the better question to ask; what is in the volume or what's not in it since it's the Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus?

 height=Fred Hembeck: What's not in the volume is anything I've done for Marvel or DC or anybody else within their actual pages using characters that are copyrighted by them. For instance, I did a story for Munden's Bar years ago for First, and also a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story for Peter and Kevin. That material's not in there. Pretty much all the stuff I did in old fanzines and the like is though, including all the Dateline:@#$! strips that I did for The Comics Buyers Guide, Comic Book Artist and a bunch of other publications.

Westfield: Why did you decide to do this as a great big omnibus instead of a few smaller volumes?

Hembeck: The original plan was just to put together all the Dateline:@#$! strips. That was an idea that Al Gordon had when he first phoned me about it. I thought, "Yeah, OK, uh huh." I admit, I wasn't necessarily sure that it was going to work. It's been about three years now since he first mentioned the idea to me. Eventually, he got Erik Larsen involved-a friend of his who also happens to be the publisher of Image! Then this nutty idea began to sound like it could actually happen. At one point, I did kinda say, well, maybe we should do it all up in a couple of volumes, but Erik thought it might be best to just get everything out there all at once. Just go crazy and put as much stuff as we could into the book. I'm not a hard sell--I said OK. I got on board with that idea pretty quick and ultimately, that's what happened.

Westfield: If someone's never read your work before, how would you describe it?

 height=Hembeck: That's a tough one. [laughter] I describe it as the work of someone who grew up reading comic books. Kinda lived and breathed them during his younger years. Then, in some strange manner, while trying to start up a career as a regular, straight, adventure-style cartoonist, kind of fell into this situation where he started making cartoons about all the great stuff he'd read as a kid--and since he needed someone to be the narrator for these mini-lectures, he wound up drawing himself in there. And things kinds snowballed from there. That's not a really good explanation, is it? You're giving me tough questions here. [laughter]

Westfield: Would you say your work is done as a comics fan, but in a humorous manner?

 height=Hembeck: Sure. I guess you could describe it as being kind of a highly personal look at comics history, done with tongue in cheek, but also trying to be historically accurate. It's a visual form of commentary done with a lot of humor so as to make sure it's not too dry.

Westfield: One of the things you've gotten into in the past couple years, I'm assuming some of these are going to be in there, is doing re-creations of old covers. How did that come about?

Hembeck: That actually started out in some of my earliest Dateline:@#$! strips. They're not there solely in and of themselves, but I would occasionally draw a cover and then provide commentary alongside it from some talkative little cartoon characters. Back in 1977, if you wanted to discuss this sort of stuff, there were no blogs where you could just post a cover and make fun of it. Nope, you had to redraw the cover entirely and then make fun of it! So, I did that once or twice and found that people liked it. Years later, in the mid-90s, I had a friend who knew a guy who collected original artwork and he asked me if I'd be willing to redo some specific covers for sale to him. I did and that also snowballed. And once you factor in eBay, hey, all kinds of possibilities are open. Now, in this book, there aren't too many of my cover redos on view. There's only a handful, not counting the ones that had already been integrated into the strips. I figure I have to save something for the next volume-assuming there is a next volume!

 height=Westfield: Are there other projects you're working on at the moment?

Hembeck: There is one that hasn't actually been signed and sealed yet, but there's a very good possibility that I'll soon be doing the art for a five-issue series along with another writer. That's for the future. Currently, I've got a lot of odds and ends all over the place, just little one and two-page things off in different corners of the field. Just trying to keep busy-and build up material for the third volume!!

Westfield: You do have a blog too, don't you?

Hembeck: Yes I do. I have a web site, Hembeck.com. There's a whole lot of stuff there-five years worth at this point. I always encourage people to come take a look. We do commissions. We do all kinds of good stuff. Always available for work.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

 height=Hembeck: I'm excited at the prospect of seeing all this stuff of mine gathered in one place and I hope that people who have read my stuff over the years will enjoy seeing it, too. And I especially hope that people who haven't will maybe take a look at it and enjoy it as well. I hope we sell some copies. That's what I'm really try to say. [laughter] I hope people like it.