Restuffing the Animal Kingdom

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Next month sees the much-anticipated return of Lions, Tigers & Bears to the Image Comics ranks. Together with artist Jack Lawrence, former BF-staffer Mike Bullock revisits the world of Joey, Courtney, the Night Pride and the Stuffed Animal Kingdom in a four-issue miniseries that is sure to make young hearts around the world beat faster in excitement.

BF caught up with Bullock to pick his thoughts on the second volume of LTB—selected as a Diamond Gem of the Month in the March Previews—and the world of all-ages comics.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The first Lions, Tigers & Bears miniseries ended with Joey wondering whether his adventures in the stuffed animal kingdom were all a dream. I guess he’s about to find out they weren’t?

MIKE BULLOCK: Actually, he’s found out already in the story we did for the Arizona Republic and the Arizona Library system. That story takes place between volume one and volume two. However, it’s not necessary to have read the Library story before you delve into volume two. In fact, it won’t really be necessary to have read volume one before two, but it will certainly enhance the experience.

BF: What exactly can you tell us about LTB Volume 2? Since the story arc is called ‘Betrayal’, is it safe to assume that the tone will be a bit darker than the original volume?

MB: I don’t want to give away too much, as there are scads of loyal readers who don’t want me spoiling any surprises. I can, however, tell you that truths will be challenged, faith will be tested and in the end, things will never be the same for Joey, Courtney or the denizens of the Stuffed Animal kingdom.

BF: In the first mini, you stunned the majority of the book’s—young—readers by seemingly killing off Ares. Have you got some shocking twists and turns planned for the second going? The title of the story at least points in that direction…

MB: Well, I can honestly say that my storytelling abilities have grown immensely since I penned the first series, so you can expect a lot more twists, turns and surprises in this new series. 

BF: Is it that much easier to write now that you have two mini series under your belt?

MB: Definitely. I’ve now written about 20 comic scripts and I have the mechanics of it pretty well in hand. When I sat down to write the first LTB series, I really didn’t have a very strong grasp of script work. Thankfully, Ron Marz helped out immensely and the series wasn’t nearly as clunky as it might have been had I not worked with such an experienced editor.

BF: Will we also see the introduction of new stuffed animals over the course of the next four months?


BF: One might say that, about a year ago, publishers and fans alike all of a sudden got more interested in all-ages stories than they have been in a very long time, maybe ever. Do you think it’s a coincidence that this interest picked up only a few short weeks following the release of Lions, Tigers & Bears Vol. 1 #1?

MB: I really couldn’t say. If any one book really raised the awareness of all-ages books, I’d have to say it was Bone. The Scholastic deal was monumental and one of those moments in comic history that I think will always be a landmark point in the timeline. I think Bone did a wonderful job of making people realize “all-ages” wasn’t synonymous with “kid’s stuff” and that opened the eyes of a great many folks just in time for books like Owly, Lions, Tigers and Bears and The Dreamland Chronicles to come along.

BF: In any case, out of all the all-ages comics that were released over the course of the past year or so, LTB generated some of the biggest fan acclaim and support. Can you share some of your experiences with devotees both young and old that you’ll never forget?

MB: I’d have to say the one bit of mail I received that sent a shiver down my spine was from a Father in California. He was in the Navy and had just returned from a tour of duty overseas. Unfortunately for him, he’d shipped out days after his second child was born and in the second year of his first child’s life. As many people know, two years is like an eternity to a child, so when he returned home, his kids looked upon him as if he were a stranger. For two long years he’d wanted nothing more than to come home and embrace his family and when he got here, the kids didn’t know who he was other than the man from the pictures Mommy showed them nor did they know what to make of him. Who was this strange man in their house?

With great dejection in his heart, he sought solace in the one thing that had always allowed him some respite from his real world troubles: comic books. So, off to the local comic shop he went, head hanging low and a shadow over his heart. Once in the store, he picked up several of his old favorites such as Batman, Spider-Man and other, more mainstream books. As he was leaving, Lions, Tigers and Bears #1 caught his eye. He stopped, picked it up and flipped through it. The thought occurred to him that his children might like it, so he purchased a copy and went home. That night, at bedtime, he read the story of Joey and the Night Pride to his children. They were completely enthralled and couldn’t wait for Daddy to tell them the story again and again.

So, a few weeks later, as this Father once again found himself occupying his rightful place in his children’s hearts, he sent an email over to me to thank Jack and I for creating the book and allowing him to find his way back into his lives of his little ones.

Man, I still get chills just thinking about that. We never dreamed we’d have such a positive impact on anyone with our humble little comic book.

BF: That definitely is a great story. The first mini was an instant hit outside that home in California, as the first issue sold out almost immediately. Based on the pre-orders this time around, can you say retailers have learned their lesson not to sleep on stuffed animals anymore?

MB: I really hope so, but not all the onus of pre-orders falls on retailers. Readers need to let their retailers know what they want to buy. If a book sells out all over the world, but in “John Smith’s Comic Emporium” a reader never asks for it, John Smith might be taking a big gamble to pre-order more than a few copies. So, if you’re a reader out there, make sure you let your retailer know you want this (and any other book you love) as soon as possible.

BF: So, at this point, there’s no way to tell if the stories published in the Arizona Republic turned more people on to comics?

MB: Not definitively, no. We did have a few folks come up to as at last year’s San Diego Comic Con International and tell us they’d seen it in the paper and never knew it was a comic book… however, if they were at Comic Con, it’s not a stretch to assume they were already into comic books.

BF: Any updates on the adaptations of LTB in other media?

MB: We’re hoping to have a pretty big announcement at either Wizard World LA or the Emerald City Comic Con, but right now I have to keep my lips sealed.

BF: Man, you’re really not giving anything away, are you? Not revealing one of the twists, not telling if a new stuffed animal will show up and now this… Are you that afraid of being eaten by a beastie if you let even as much as a cat’s paw out of the bag?

MB: Those Beasties have quite the mean streak. Would you want Crush & Munch showing up on your doorstep because you let your loose lips sink their ship?

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BF: What we do know for sure is that the writing skills you first displayed on LTB haven’t gone unnoticed in the industry’s inner circles—your writing The Phantom for Moonstone forms a clear indication of that. Have any other publishers shown interest in you to tackle an existing property for them?

MB: Yes. But, as you’ve seen already, I can’t get into that as of yet.

BF: I’m sure you’ve come to expect an answer like that, dear readers (you too, beasties)! All kidding aside, how important do you think that Lions, Tigers & Bears  was your first comic book baby?

MB: I’m not sure it was that important, but merely fortuitous. Looking back on it now, I really think we just benefited from some great timing where Jack, Ron, Dave and I could come together and make sure we knocked it out of the park. We had lots of lead time and did our best to make sure every iota of the story and art was the best we could make it. Lucky for us, a lot of people agreed that it was.

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