Interviewing: Fred Van Lente

In our very first interview, we talked to Fred Van Lente at Wizard World New Orleans. Mr. Van Lent is the writer on the Comic Book History of Comics as well as titles such as Archer and Armstrong and Assassins Creed.

NNC: We’re here with Mr. Fred Van Lente. I said that correctly?

FVL: Yeah, you got it on the first time.

NNC: Author of  Archer and Armstrong and Comic Book History of Comics.  One of the things, I noticed in a lot of your comic books you say there are history influences, in the ones that I’ve read at least.  Are you a big history nerd?

FVL:  I am.  Yeah. Probably my single favorite genre is historical fiction. I like to read a lot of historical fiction.  I’ve done books like Assassins Creed, that’s historical fiction. Doing a lot of the Valiant stuff like Archer and Armstrong and Ivar, Timewalker obviously has a lot of history in it. Then there is non-fiction stuff like Comic Book History of Comics and Action Philosophers.

NNC:  With Action Philosophers, am I mistaken in that you actually taught a philosophy class as a TA?

FVL:  Well, it was a writing class.  The way the students responded I realized that I had a talent for explaining things. Comics are super useful in taking abstract ideas and making them more intelligible by putting pictures to them.

NNC: That takes me to my next topic: Education in comics. Do you think there’s a place for it besides literature and reading?

FVL: Oh yeah definitely. One of our new projects is Action Presidents with Ryan Dunlevy, who also did Comic Book History and Action Philosophers. We are doing a very big project.  It’s going to be 440 pages long spilt over four hardbacks coming out on Harper Collins Kids starting in March 2018. It is individual comic book biographies of various presidents in that kind of irreverent, humorous but accurate style that we have become legendary for (laughs).

NNC: You also wrote a play on Jack Kirby. Is it different writing a script for a comic book compared to a play?

FVL: Yeah, the stage is very unique because it has a lots of challenges to it.  My wife is a playwright, Crystal Skillman, so it wasn’t really that hard because I had her helping me.

(Mr. Van Lante has a  few people  come to the table and he spends a few minutes talking to them.)

NNC: One of my favorite musical artists, Sturgill Simpson, said he doesn’t listen to a lot of country music mainly because he doesn’t want to steal and sound like other country musicians. Do you feel that way about comic books? Do you read other comics?

FVL: It’s not that I’m afraid of stealing. It’s more like when you work in a sausage factory all day the last thing you want to eat when you come home is hot dogs. That’s what it comes down to.  I also have to read a lot of comics for work. It’s not to say I don’t read a lot of comics, I do. Right now, I’m reading a manga history of Japan of the 20th century called Showa. It’s huge. I just read a bunch of Roger Stern’s Avengers comics that I bought on a whim because I liked the Avengers as a kid. I read old stuff. I don’t really read a lot of current stuff, just because I have a back log! (laughs). I’m literally years behind in my comics reading.

NNC:  When you work with an artist, does his drawing inform the way you write?

FVL: Oh yeah. You have to put people in a position to succeed.   Not that most comic book artists couldn’t do most anything, they pretty much can. It’s that some people are really good at certain things, so you want to accentuate that.  Ryan Dunlevy is great at comedy, and his style is very cartoony.