In 1975, one of Marvel Comics' strangest authors, Steve Gerber, scribe of such out-there books as Man-Thing and Howard the Duck , created Omega the Unknown . Weird was an understatement. Ostensibly about a precocious kid raised by robots and haunted by a superhero version of himself from the future (at least, I think that's what it was about), Omega lasted only 10 issues before Marvel gave it the ax. Fast-forward three decades: Celebrated New York novelist Jonathan Lethem, who wrote both Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude , has revived the character in a new comic book illustrated by local artist Farel Dalrymple, who moved to Portland from New York in 2006. The man behind the moody Pop Gun War and the acclaimed Meathaus anthology, Dalrymple exhibits a quirky, kinetic style of linework that perfectly matches Lethem's surreal script, and the first strange issue of their collaboration hit the shelves last month. WW recently hung out with the artist in his Northeast Portland apartment to talk heroes, superheroes and MySpace friends.
i]WW[/i] : How'd you wind up getting the Omega the Unknown gig?
Farel Dalrymple: I got an email from the writer that basically said: "Hey, it's Jonathan Lethem. I want to do a book for Marvel, you wanna draw it?" I guess he assumed I knew who he was—and I did.
And you said…?
What's it like going from the indie publishing world to working for arguably the biggest comic-book company in America?
It's all such special circumstances, that's really the only reason I'm actually working for Marvel. I've tried to get work from them before…I've known a few editors here and there and I've done work for DC and Dark Horse. They just never really seemed interested, and understandably so; I don't really fit their, uh, house style. So far it's been pretty cool, I haven't really butted heads with anyone there. A few times there's been some editorial suggestions, but I think because the writer has so much clout we can kind of get away with a lot of stuff that a normal creative team can't get away with.
Tell me about working with Jonathan Lethem.
It's pretty unbelievable. It's weird being a fan of someone's work—I've had that happen a couple of times, meeting someone I grew up reading, and we've ended up talking and emailing, and it's like, whoa, that's kind of tripped out. That's how I feel about Jonathan Lethem. It's pretty incredible; he's just this really nice guy. We're both on different coasts, so we don't really hang out much….
But you've met him…
Oh yeah, when he decided where he wanted to set the story he took me walking around Washington Heights, at the top of Manhattan, and I did a little photo safari. He showed me all these different places and said stuff, like, "OK, this is where I want these robots to be, and this is the area where the hero is going to live, and this is the part where he'll hang out in." The comic is really weird, and there's really weird things about Washington Heights—Fort Tryon Park, really dense woods, the Cloisters are up there, there's a bald-eagle preserve…it's wild terrain mixed with brownstones just a few yards away. The ocean is really close, and there are above-ground trains. It's a strange place.
So is Portland. You've been here for more than a year now. What do you think of the local comics scene?
It's amazing. I haven't experienced anything like it, even in New York. I knew a lot of cartoonists there, but it really feels like there are more here. You run into people more often. I don't want to say it's…incestuous, but it seems like it's all kinda tied together. You know, in a really good way. I love it.
Back to the larger comics world: i]Omega[/i] 's creator, Steve Gerber, was pretty public with his disapproval regarding a new i]Omega[/i] series. Has any of that changed since the book came out?
Actually, I got—of all things—a MySpace message from him. I don't remember the exact words, but it basically said, "Congratulations on the project, I like your work."
Did you add him as a friend?
Farel Dalrymple's work will be on display at Floating World Comics, 20 NW 5th Ave., #101, 241-0227 through Monday, Dec. 3. His comics can be purchased there or anywhere fine comic books are sold.