We recently caught up with Shane Houghton and Chris Houghton at the observatory. Here’s what happened…
Q: Where do the two of you hail from?
Shane: We both grew up in St. Johns, Michigan. Our parents lived the country and we had lots of time to play outside and use our imaginations. It was pretty awesome. I used to light action figures on fire behind the old garage.
Chris: Yeah, I miss being in a small farm town at times. Beautiful woods and streams and it’s much quieter than L.A.
Q: How long have the two of you been creating stories together?
Shane: Pretty much our entire lives. We played with action figures and Legos a lot and we usually followed or made up some sort of story line to follow while we threw imaginary punches and blew up each other’s pirate ships.
Chris: Yeah, Shane and I have always been working together. Even back in High School, we worked on a bunch of theater productions together and were in a couple of bands together. We’ve always made short films together and now the last couple of years have all been about working together on comics.
Q: Tell us about some of the short films that you’ve made together?
Shane: One time we made a short about a guy (me) who finds a bomb in his kitchen. He’s a rich snobby guy and calls in the best-darned bomb technician in the biz (Chris). Chris, who was maybe 16 at the time, wore a hilarious fake mustache and basically this guy has no idea how defuse this bomb. Me being a clever filmmaker never shows the audience the bomb but lets all the actor’s reactions let you know that this one’s a big doozie of a bomb. There’s lots of strange improv as Chris bangs at the off screen bomb with a hammer, bites a purple crayon in half, and decides whether he should cut the red wire or the green wire (that segment runs for a good 30 seconds or something stupidly long. He goes, “Red wire? … Green wire? … Red Wire? … over and over and over. It’s hilarious). Time has run out and he cuts the wrong wire. Everyone must run (in slow motion) out of the house while making all the strangest faces they can think of. Then we finally show the “bomb” and it’s a smoking toaster. Toast pops up and all is well. Wah-wah.
Chris: Haha, yeah that one was a lot of fun. We also made a movie that was a gritty dry-wit comedy about a detective working to find a missing girl. It was very much in the vein of John Swartzwelder’s “The Time Machine Did It.” That’s one of my favorite films we made because I think it’s genuinely funny!
Q: Back in the day, which action figures were your favorites? And why?
Shane: My favorite action figures by far were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I don’t think we even had all the Turtles, but definitely TONS of those wild and crazy mutated villains and allies. My favorites were Mondo Gecko, Mutagen-Man, and Rahzar. The Ninja Turtles toys were so gross and deformed and therefore AWESOME to my little boy brain. Heck, I still think those are some of the coolest toys ever made!
Chris: Yup, I was also a big fan of the TMNT toys. I think most of the TMNT toys in our house were communal for all three of us brothers. I also loved me some Star Wars action figures. I had an old Lando Calrissian from the 70′s line that I got at a garage sale as a kid. I loved it a lot but I do remember chewing off his nose for some strange reason my adult brain can no longer comprehend.
Q: Who are some of your earliest comic book and/or cartoon influences?
Shane: The first comic book I read was a Sonic the Hedgehog #6 which I bought with our Mom at K-Mart while waiting to pick up Chris from a birthday party at Pizza Hut. We also devoured collections of Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, and The Far Side.
Chris: I thought our grandma bought that for you Shane! I loved reading the comics in the newspaper, that was our main source of constant comics not living too close to a convenience store (back when they had comics) or comic shops. I remember when we were really young, we’d always go to a shop in Lansing, Michigan called “Sports Cards and Comics.” Shane saved his allowance and always bought a bunch of great Spider-man comics and the like. The store had a deal that for every dollar you spent in the store, you could pick out one free comic from a bunch of old boxes under a table in the back of the store. They were all the comics that wouldn’t sell but I didn’t know that. I remember getting a TON of Chuck Dixon’s Airboy comics and absolutely loving them.
Q: When did the characters of Reed Gunther, Sterling, and Starla first come into being?
Chris: I wanted to be a part of a small group of comic book creators in Mid-Michigan who were doing an indy publication called “Comics Obscura” full of short comics. I pitched them a space story but because they already had a few space and sci-fy stories, they asked for something else. So I came up with the idea of bear-riding cowboy that together tricked helpless towns into thinking they were heroes and thus, feed, clothe and pay them. It was a very different tone (and loose concept) than the Reed Gunther of today because I was writing and drawing it.
Ultimately, Comics Obscura stopped publication (perhaps at the fault of those bad Reed Gunther stories?!) and Reed Gunther was shelved. Later, Shane took the characters, revamped them, created Starla and presented me with the script of today’s Reed Gunther #1 as a Christmas gift! It was a ton of fun so I had to draw it even though we had no plans to do a full series. Then we did a second issue and we just haven’t stopped.
Shane: When I was working on a story for the awesome characters Chris made, they needed some sort of force to push back during their adventures. Starla is a classic foil and is more like a traditional Western hero than Reed is. We liked her so much in the first issue that she’s stuck around for all the follow issues!
Q: How did you get your start at Image Comics?
Shane: We submitted through their standard guidelines!
Chris: That was about it. We spoke with Eric Stevenson at a couple of comic conventions who expressed interest in the series. Image from day one has been completely supportive of Reed Gunther and we couldn’t be more happy.
Q: Any words of advice for up-and-coming comic book creators on the rise?
Shane: Just make a comic. We self-published for over a year before looking for a publisher. Mostly because we didn’t know what we were doing, but it was the best thing for us to be able to show publishers a finished product. And have fun. If you’re not enjoying it, why would your readers?
Chris: Yeah, there’s no rush to get published by a publisher. Especially nowadays, it’s so easy to get a few hundred books printed up at a local print shop or through a print-on-demand website. Go to a few local comic conventions and have fun with it. Or, better yet, do a web comic. It’s basically free to do and it’s much easier to reach an audience.
Q: Who’s idea was John Henry Zombie, and how did that come about?
Shane: The John Henry Zombie came about because I was looking to weave some American historical “facts” throughout the Reed Gunther mythology. I love John Henry and was trying to figure out a way for him and Reed to team up against something. But John Henry is not really John Henry until he dies beating the machine. Suddenly it struck me that it would be way more interesting if Reed met him AFTER he died. Ergo… zombie.
Q: Who are some contemporary comic book creators that you admire?
Shane: I’m a big fan of Ian Boothby’s Simpsons Comics stories and have been trying to scoop up as many different stories by him as I can. I also love Joe Hill’s Locke and Key (as well as his prose work) and I think John Layman’s Chew is the most compelling, wild, gross and hilarious comic book out there. I can’t wait for more Chew and to see where they take the series.
Chris: I’m a big fan of Guy Davis, both as an artist and as a pal. He was a great mentor to me when Reed Gunther was just starting a couple of years back and he continues to be whenever I have a thousand questions about creating comic books. I’m big fans of my fellow Heeby Jeeby Comix pals, David DeGrand, Bob Flynn, and Dan Moynihan. I also really love the work of Robb Momaerts, Jay Fosgitt, Stan Sakai, Pierre Alary, Chris Schweizer, and far too many more to list.t
Q: Where do you see Reed Gunther ten years from now? Twenty-five years from now?
Shane: Twenty-five years?! I don’t even know what I’ll be doing six-months from now! If Reed is lucky enough to still be around in twenty-five years, and I haven’t decided to kill him off and make the comic all about his grizzly-bear-steed, Sterling, I would say that Reed will be President of the United States. Oooh! Ohh! Or fighting monsters in SPACE! Or probably still just riding around the old west on Sterling’s back… with his twelve kids!
Chris: Maybe he’ll be writing and drawing stories about Shane and I? That’d be really strange.
Q: Tell us a funny Vincent Kukua story?
Shane: Vincent is forced to work on Reed Gunther by Image. He’s our production artist and makes the really cool back covers, sweet western-themed Image ads, and makes sure we don’t screw anything up with our book. We’ve never met face-to-face, but one night we did get drunk together and mail David Duchovny a rabid calico cat.
Chris: I would but because Vincent is such a violent raging lunatic (as everyone I’m sure is well aware of) I choose not to tell of funny story about him for I fear the safety of Shane, myself, you, and the dear readers of this interview!
Q: What happened when David Duchovny received a rabid calico cat in the mail?
Shane: After that, I think he landed his role in The X-Files. You’re welcome, David.
Chris: I don’t know a thing about David Duchovny but I do know a thing about calico cats: did you know they’re almost always females? SCIENCE!
Q: Each of you can only bring five things to a deserted island with you, what are these things?
Shane: A Pilot G-2 pen and a durable notebook to write about my decent into madness while I waste away on this deserted island. And some action figures and a book of matches to pass the time.
Chris: Duh, a plane so I could leave the island!
Q: What is the most fun thing about creating the Reed Gunther comicbooks?
Shane: The most fun I have working on Reed Gunther is getting to work with Chris. Not only do we collaborate really well, but we have an absolute blast while doing it. We compliment each other really well and I love seeing how Chris interprets what I write. I also really enjoy coming up with new things for Reed to yell when he gets surprised like, “Bourbon and Raw Eggs!”, “Pickled Beets!”, and “Wilted Wildebeest!”
Chris: Agreed! I also love the fact that it’s a creator-owned series and we can basically do what we want with the story and characters. There are no focus groups or networks to please and we’re not working with a team of 50 to create this comic. Shane and I pretty much do it all and that’s extremely rewarding.
Editor’s note: Issue #4 of Reed Gunther is available now wherever fine comicbooks are sold!