Caught In the Nexus: Mike Bullock & Jack Lawrence

“A child’s instinctual need for the comfort of a stuffed animal is rooted in a reality long forgotten by the adult world. The hidden truth is that these companions have been defending children since the dawn of time. Follow young Joey on the adventure of a lifetime as he travels through the Stuffed Animal Kingdom, a journey that puts the fate of all the world’s children in his hands and brings him face to face with his destiny.”

That’s the concept for “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” a four-issue mini-series from Image Comics and Runemaster Studios. The first issue will be in stores on January 26th and is created and written by Mike Bullock, with artwork by Jack Lawrence. An eight-page preview can be found on the Runemaster Studios website, and the little preview has already caused quite a buzz for the title, as the comic’s site features praise from such pros as Mike Wieringo, Gail Simone, Mike Kunkel, and David Finch.

We at the Nexus were able to get in touch with the book’s creators to talk about what should hopefully turn out to be one of the first surprise hits of 2005.

The Nexus: First off, let me say that upon seeing the preview on your site, my first thoughts were “wow, I want to read this right now.” Could you explain to the readers who haven’t seen the previews yet, just what the concept of the book is, and whom the book’s cast consists of?

Mike Bullock:Essentially, young Joey Price is put in a position where he feels rather alone in the world. He’s moved away from his friends and his grandmother to a new town. My family moved around a lot when I was young and there were times where my brother and I really seemed all alone. Anyone who remembers moving as a child can relate to how scary it can be once the reality sets in that the environment you know and are comfortable with is left behind and so are all your friends. The Beasties (monsters who are out to get little children) realize that this is the perfect opportunity to get Joey and come after him. Luckily, for Joey, his grandmother has enough foresight to give him a special gift, The Night Pride, magical stuffed animals that come to life to protect Joey in his time of need.

The Nexus: I noticed that Jack Lawrence’s art in the preview had a wonderful, wonderful animated style to it. What were the major stylistic influences in putting together the character designs along with the look and feel of the book?

Jack Lawrence:I’d recently discovered a European artist called Wendling, whose beautiful big cat designs were a great source of inspiration for the Night Pride, but mostly it’s just a style that’s become ingrained in me over the years. I think it’s just a gradual assimilation of Disney, Don Bluth, Warner Bros and anime. If I’m drawing an animal, I go to great lengths to study that animal. I have a huge library of reference material at home, but even so, I usually buy a few new books with each new project I start. You can have all the style and flair in the world, but if you don’t study the source, a cat won’t look like a cat!

The Nexus: It seems odd from ‘Marvel Legends’ toys, to ‘Teen Titans’ cartoons our world is saturated with comic book culture, and yet it seems harder and harder to find good titles aimed at younger readers. Why is this and what can be done about it?

Mike Bullock:Well, I’m certainly not an authority on what motivates other writers when they concoct their properties & concepts. I do know that there is a rising tide of great all-ages books coming out in 2005, however. From new titles such as the Imaginaries and Lullaby to The Stardust Kid, Beyond Avalon, Pigtales, my own Gimoles and more to the established greats like Bone, HeroBear and the Kid, The Dreamland Chronicles and the best new all-ages property of 2004: Owly. There are lots of good all-ages stuff available if you look hard enough.

As for what can be done to bring more in, well, it’s just a matter of cultivating the creators who are bringing along these properties right now as well as paving the way for other creators to bring theirs to the forefront as well.

Aside from that, readers need to support these books. Die-hard fans of the grim and gritty mature books still have children in their lives that might love one of the books I’ve mentioned. Next time you go to the comic shop, pick up an all-ages book for your kid, or your nephew/niece, friend’s child, younger cousin or the little boy next door. Without younger readers grasping just how much fun comics are now, there won’t be any older readers in a few short generations. Most existing comics’ fans learned to love comics at a young age, pass that love along to the young readers in your life, they’ll thank you for it down the line.

Jack Lawrence:I think there’s been a bit of a problem with the “all-ages” tag. It’s changing now, but a lot of people still see “all-ages” and read “kid’s stuff”, which just seems to turn people off. It’s probably ended up being a benefit, as those of us who want to put out all ages books are really having to make sure they are just that; they’ll appeal to everyone from 2 to 102. It’s meant there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening, and in fact, those fans of the grim ‘n gritty storylines might surprise themselves and enjoy a GOOD All-Ages title now and again.

The Nexus: On a similar note, your book is published by Image, a publisher that started off doing creator owned superhero books, before venturing into a larger variety of genres. How did you go about pitching Lions, Tigers & Bears to Image?

Mike Bullock:My friend Chuck Sellner, writer for the new Kandora Publishing, introduced me to Erik Larsen at the 2004 San Diego Comic Con International. I showed Erik our promo kit and told him the pitch. There were a few tense moments where I was expecting to get the standard rejection speech, and then Erik looked at the artwork and said, “I really like this, we’ll publish this.” The rest, as they say, is history.

The Nexus: Moving back to the title… are the adventures of Joey and The Night Pride going to wrap up neatly in the fourth issue of the mini-series or is there already talk of a sequel mini-series? If demand is high enough, would you guys want to do an ongoing series with the characters?

Jack Lawrence:My personal belief is that a creator has a kind of responsibility to lay seeds for future stories. If you do that and your story bombs, you haven’t lost anything. If your story succeeds, however, you’ve immediately got some very passionate people reading your stuff. Those people need to know that you care as much, and think as much about the property as they do. When you suddenly start picking up on threads introduced a year, two years ago, the whole story becomes so much weightier, and everyone’s left satisfied.

Mike Bullock:Lions, Tigers & Bears Vol. I is indeed a self-contained story. However, Jack and I have gone out of our way to plant lots of seeds for future tales and even left some “easter eggs” throughout the four issues that people might not pick up on the first time they read it, but after subsequent re-readings they’ll (hopefully) discover some things they hadn’t before. Other things will become apparent once the next mini series is complete as well.

The Nexus: So really let’s settle this once and for all… Lions vs. Tigers vs. Bears which are better?

Mike Bullock:[laughs] That’s like asking us to choose between our children. They’re all the best in their own way. Pallo the lion is a cunning leader whose daring, selfless actions inspire loyalty in those that follow him. Ares the tiger is a noble warrior and good friend who would help out anyone in need even at the cost of his own life. As for the Bears, well you’ll just have to wait until the series is in stores, so that I don’t spoil anything for readers.

Jack Lawrence:Depends on the context! If it were in the real world, I’d say Tigers are the coolest of the three. In the world of LTB, they each have their pros and cons, but the popular choice for coolest character seems to be Ares, the White Tiger. Having said that, we’ve got the villains to unveil yet, and I think one or two of THEM might just get their fair share of fans. [laughs]

The Nexus: Thanks for your time; this is my first question & answer session, so I hope I didn’t totally bomb. The first issue of Lions, Tigers & Bears is shipping on January 26th. Be sure to check it out.