INTERVIEW: December 2008: by LUCY HELL for MYSTERY ISLAND PUBLICATIONS
LUCY: Cracked was considered by many to be the best spoof of a spoof magazine. Yet, when the magazine changed hands later on … and the new owners asked for your assistance … had the approach to comedy and format changed?
MORT: You said it! Cracked had a 40+ year uninterrupted run and when it was bought and relaunched, it'd been geared to a totally different, and unexisting, market! It was reformatted for an older, but certainly not more sophisticated, audience. It's a shame Cracked didn't make it as this world needs humor now more than ever!
It is important to be exposed to satire in youth. It forces you to think and makes one skeptical and apt to question that which needs to be questioned most: authority!
Since I left Cracked I have pitched a new humor magazine concept to a few publishers. I do think it is time for the humor magazine to evolve to the next level. The traditional format and content of Mad and Cracked need to mutate in order to compete with other, flashier media.
LUCY: As a child were you a juvenile delinquent, class clown, or strange outcast? All three? None of the above?
MORT: All of the above, naturally, but not necessarily simultaneously.
LUCY: Did you carry a metal lunchbox to school? Which one/ones?
MORT: Of course! I had the Batman one, though it must have been second generation because later I saw a kid who had an embossed one, y'know, with the kind of fake 3D. The one I wish I had then was an "It's About Time" lunchbox based on the TV series. Cavemen and Spacemen.
What I remember most about those lunch-toting days was the pre-digital Thermos® bottles we used to have with glass in them! First, if you ever had milk in it, forget it ... No matter what else you put in it, it would forever smell of mildewy milk. Secondly, the glass would always break. I poured glass and juice a couple times. Wonder how many kids quaffed theirs down and sliced up their throats internally before Thermos® went plastic?
LUCY: The plastic thermos bottles are so ugly though. Tell us about your early attempts to draw. Was your family supportive?
MORT: Mostly indifferent. My spending time drawing was good for them because it shut me up and I was an otherwise hyperactive kid. Nowadays they probably put youngsters like me on meds.
LUCY: Yeah, crack, probably. Your background in parody and spoofing has led to the creation of some very interesting characters, but Bat Lady in particular, seems more of a homage to certain genres. Is that true, a tip of the hat--rather than a knock-off?
MORT: No, it is a very crass rip-off. Actually, Bat Lady started as a (fake) comic book character in a (real) newspaper comic strip I did. But then I started fleshing out a background for the character and began digging it. Vampire fiction is very popular and since she is a superheroine, she straddles both genres.
There certainly is homage to other characters but she is also pretty unique and has a lot of potential. On the surface, she may resemble Vampirella but has a different personality and audience. And despite the "Bat" in her name, she has no esthetic connection to any Gothamites except she runs around in her underwear like them.
LUCY: Kinda Buffyish on the vampire-killing plotting, but I like Buffy. What does the future hold for Bat Lady? I loved the graphic novel, but I want more. I miss her …
MORT: Bat Lady appeared in a mass independent comics-crossover mini-series last summer and I've been working on an origin comic that is based on a Bat Lady screenplay I wrote. I've been talking with artist Javier Hernandez about doing a cross-over comic with his teen zombie character El Muerto. And maybe we'll do a Bat Lady-Lucy Hell mini-comic together, yes?
MORT: As of this second, Bat Lady is on the back burner as I focus on Sadistik and The Diabolikal Super-Kriminal film, but that could change in the next second if a production company shows interest in my lovable Teen Virgin Vampire Hunter!
LUCY: Tell us about the publication, Free Comics.
MORT: Free Comics was a noble experiment to bring free comics to the masses! It was a New York City newspaper distributed through the tri-state area featuring comics by well-known and up-and-coming cartoonists. Unfortunately it only lasted a few issues as we couldn't find enough advertisers to support its non-existant cover price! We've talked about doing a graphic novel collection of the comics ... but it wouldn't be free!
LUCY: Now tell us about Comicfix.
MORT: I started Comicfix in 2000 to develop and distribute newspaper comic strips. We began with Speed Racer, a celebrity bio comic, Rat Fink and the first interactive strip Molly the Model (where Bat Lady first appeared). The strips ran in the New York Post but we couldn't get enough other newspapers to pick up the strips and make them profitable. Plus the constant daily deadline of writing (and drawing most of) so many strips was hellish and I dropped them after a few years.
Since then Comicfix has provided art services for TV and video (like storyboards and animation), record labels (CD covers, posters and videos) comics and film.
Primarily Comicfix is now devoted to the further adventures of Sadistik and his photo comics. Comicfix also produced the Italian documentary The Diabolikal Super-Kriminal which will soon be hitting American film festivals and comic conventions after a successful run in Europe.
LUCY: Tell us something about the Sadistik project that you haven’t gone over in detail elsewhere yet. Is it you, perhaps, that wants to put on the bone mask and go a-killin’?
MORT: Oh, yeah! My only reason for getting involved with Sadistik is to put on that awesome outfit! And it's really fun translating the Italian photo comics and writing so purple.
For American comic fans, this is a whole new world. It's like an alternate reality where comics ain't populated by superheroes, but supervillains. And the comics aren't drawn but photographed. Pretty wild stuff that reads like a film.
In fact, the documentary covers this unique history of Italian anti-heroes along with the creators and actors in the Sadistik photo comics. Most of the actors in the comics were also in Euro horror films, spaghetti westerns and sword-and sandal epics. Can you imagine if America had published photo comics in the 1960s & 70s and used well-known actors in their titles? It would have been wild!
One of the best kept secrets of Sadistik was the actual identity of the actor who portrayed the King of Crime. He appeared in all the adventures and is unmasked in the film. Director SS-Sunda did an incredible job of identifying and tracking down most of the actors for interviews. After the Italian movie premier last year, we had the actor, Aldo Agliata, unmask live in front of the audience and they went crazy. It turns out he hosts a popular cable talk show in Rome and roved the audience, mic in hand like an Italiano Johnny Carson, answering questions and cracking up the crowd.
Now we're shopping a script for a live-action Sadistik film though I'm thinking of producing a low-budget web series first to introduce the character. He's already had quite a film career ... in Turkey. Producers there bootlegged the character, called him Kilink and made over a dozen eye-popping motion pictures!
We're also getting some foreign licenses for the comics and publishing in Italy and Greece and talking to France and Japan.
LUCY: Sounds great. Were you a big fan of monster movies as a child? Did you watch Creature Feature on weekend mornings? What’s your favorite monster/horror/science fiction film?
MORT: Duh! A bit! Though I'm a fan of all kinds of horror and fantasy from around the globe, I think my favorite has to be the Big G, Godzilla, Gojira-san. For some reason I can relate to the poor little radioactive creature, and like the 007 films that went from dark to goofy and dark again, I can appreciate all the Godzilla releases for different aspects. And I actually have the CD soundtracks from most of the G films which I play while I work.
LUCY: Your favorite animated cartoon is?
MORT: Oh, that's tough to narrow but just about anything by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett and I am quite partial to those Speed Racer animifications.
LUCY: Do you fear monkeys riding bicycles?
MORT: Not particularly, unless they are also playing the cymbals at the same time. I guess my repeated exposure to Chim-Chim and Planet of the Apes has inoculated me against chimpophobia.
LUCY: Tell us something scary that has happened to you.
MORT: Sledding off a cliff in the Austrian Alps. Me and a friend were playing Mad Max, zipping down iced streets on a mountain, yelling at people and throwing snowballs, when we went up an embankment and over. As we were falling there was that slo-mo gimmick and I turned to my friend and asked if he was okay before we hit. After falling hundreds of feet, we just missed being impaled by trees and hitting a river and I was surprised we weren't dead or injured. A group of natives peered over the cliff, saw we were OK and laughed at the brutish Americans.
So it was scary for the seconds we were floating in the air, but ultimately fun. There was also that time I was tripping and thought I saw a UFO but it just turned out to be cops pulling us over.
LUCY: Sam gave Jen ½ of his jujubes. Jen ate ½ of the jujubes and gave the rest to Kyle. Kyle kept 8 of the jujubes and gave the last 10 to Kim. How many jujubes did Jen eat?
MORT: Jen ate 18 jujubes. I didn't do the math, I called Jen and asked her, so if there's a discrepancy take it up with her.
LUCY: Jen's a lying bitch. What else would you like to talk about? Tell us something about you we haven’t heard before.
MORT: I'm always working on too many projects as most are speculative and don't make any money until they are done. Beyond Sadistik and Bat Lady, I'm developing an animated web series for Playboy.com (which I'm also producing the music for), have a proposal in with a major conglomerate about starting a new line of comics, adapting the novel The Screaming Mimi into a graphic novel, contributing to the new Tales from the Crypt series and doing some acting in short films. I also still do a lot of freelance illustrating; record covers, magazines and ads. There's also tons of other stuff I can't think of right now but I probably should be working on it right now!
Something that you never heard about me before? I am double-jointed.
LUCY: Thank you so much, Mort. Don't forget to tell Bat Lady I said, "HELL-O!"
THE BAT LADY INTERVIEW::
THE LATE MORT TODD ON MYSPACE
"Mort Todd Interview" by Lucy Hell.
Edited/formatted by Bradley Mason Hamlin. © 2008 by Mystery Island Publications. Published: 12.27.08.
All rights reserved.
Photos of Mort Todd and Mort Todd art from the collection of Mort Todd.
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