Australian writer/artist Mike Cooper aka Dr Mike 2000, grew up with sci-fi & superheroes like many people did but this proved to be the inspiration for his own psychedelic comic book world to become a reality…..time to catch up with the Doc.
What was the first title you worked on?
The first comic strip I produced was Love Machine, a four page black and white piece intended for Bernard Caleo’s anthology “Tango” back in 2009. You can still find it online on my website. It’s the first appearance of Cyberius, one of the central characters of Universe Gun, and portrays him as a reformed villain who now happily serves humanity.
These same ideas made it straight into Universe Gun as quickly as page 2. The strip wasn’t accepted into Tango, but Bernard did kindly send me a free copy all the same. The art and writing are both pretty rough, but I’m still happy to have it on display.
How has your work changed since then?
The biggest change was my move to digital. I never really found my groove with inking and especially colouring using real world media. In 2012 I bought a cheap clunky second-hand tablet PC off eBay, and haven’t looked back. I produced a three page short story called “The Third Door” – depicting a fantasy version of myself and my girlfriend living together.
At the time I always left via the back door to get my bike, and she’d leave via the front door to the car. The titular Third Door referred to our private shared world within the house. This was where I started experimenting with digital art and seeing what I could do with these new tools.
I’ve embraced perspective drawing big-time. I’ve taken up life drawing to improve my anatomy. I’ve basically pushed myself in a lot of ways as I’ve worked on Universe Gun. Prior to my comic work, I produced a number of mods (ie original story-driven campaigns) for the superhero game Freedom Force, all featuring my own characters. I had a bit of a cult hit with them. My writing since then hasn’t changed in terms of the core elements. Strange, out-there stories, cool characters with their own arcs and distinctive voices, and all the technical side of storytelling – foreshadowing, twists and so on. That’s are all there unchanged.
What I have had to learn though is how to apply this to comics, and how to make a smooth reading experience in this particular medium. Page turns, for example, don’t exist in games. Pacing is different when the reader can flick back and forwards, or pause.
Who are your main influences?
As a writer, its Grant Morrison all the way. I grew up with the whole “British Invasion” of the 80s and 90s, but he was the one writer who consistently pushed all my buttons. His obvious love for superheroes and their strange ways and worlds shines through in his work, even when he’s parodying them. His introduction of elements of modern art theory, physics, and all sorts of esoteric knowledge like that really worked for me. Pete Milligan would come a close second – no-one writes young love the way he does.
As an artist, I’ve had a number of influences from within comics. Alan Davis, Frank Quitely, a lot of the usual suspects as I was growing up. When I started Universe Gun I looked outside of comics a bit, and came back to the Yellow Submarine and the old psychedelic art of the 1970s. The false colour shadow/solarised look has been used in comics before. Cam Kennedy did it beautifully in “The Light and Darkness War”. Simone Bianchi definitely does it, Valentine De Landro does it in Bitch Planet, and Christian Ward is a master of it. I took it and made it my own partly because I liked it, but also because my original tablet was too slow to cross hatch on properly!
In terms of the drawing, below the finish, I look up to the late great Seth Fisher. His work had an unprecedented amount of joy to it, you could tell from any single page of his that he was having a ball drawing the shit out of everything. This combined, with his cartoony finish and single thickness lines, became a big part of what I try to do. His site (www.floweringnose.com) is still maintained by his family.
What comics are you reading just now?
I’m picking up about 20 titles a month currently. Some notable shout-outs: Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Mike Allred. Allred’s a brilliant understated artist who adds a certain sensibility to every title he draws. This has been a wonderful light-hearted take on one of Marvel’s most portentous and brooding characters, and #11 (with an amazing mobius strip layout) is a must-read for any comic creator interested in the form of the medium.
Clean Room – Gail Simone is a fantastic writer. Here we have her at her impenetrable best, with a really ambiguous cast of characters in a very strange setting.
Ultimates – this is the crack cocaine of superhero comics. Cosmic, mind-bending stories with a fantastic cast. Kenneth Rocquefort provides some stunning layouts, and then some guest issues drawn by Christian Ward! Count me in!
Doom Patrol – Gerard Way could have produced a slavish follow-up to Grant Morrison’s run (which is my favourite comic ever) but he’s adding his own strange voice to the series. I’m loving it so far.
What’s the best thing about creating comics?
It’s the magic of making something out of nothing. It feels really daunting when you start, especially on something the size of Universe Gun. You’re going to build this virtual world where nothing happens without you painstakingly scratching out lines on paper or tablet. Two people having a conversation may takes weeks to create as you redraw them over and over again. But life rolls on, and if you apply yourself every week, you soon have a physical portal into that world that only existed inside your head previously. You can share it around. I love seeing my characters animate as I read the pages I made. I love it even more when someone else tells me who their favourite character is, and talks to me as if they’re real. That’s when I know its worked.
What are you working on just now?
I’m wrapping up Universe Gun #9 now. Three more issues to go, that means it’ll be my main focus for the next year at least. In the meantime I’m brewing ideas in the back of my head for my next projects.
Heliana will be an art-heavy one-shot comic about war and privilege. Set in the 23rd Century in the Universe Gun world, it follows a young woman from a technological paradise thrust into the battle between humanity and the Cyberius virus that is trying to become the dominant form of life on Earth.
After that I’m looking at a 7 issue mini-series The Amazanauts, a cosmic parallel-world spanning story of Ms. Amazing and six alternate versions of her. This one will be the chance to really let my hair down and get strange and trippy.
Where can we see you next?
I’ll be in Supanova in my hometown Adelaide in November. Early next year I’ll be tabling at Australian Comic Arts Festival (ACAF) in Canberra if it goes ahead.
You can catch up with more of Mike’s work over on his website and check out his Facebook & Instagram pages for more. You can also get hold of Universe Gun over on Comixology.