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Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: R. Kikuo Johnson

The Harvey Award-winning writer and illustrator keeps it all in the family with a story about the Fantastic Four

By Sean T. Collins

R. Kikuo Johnson burst on to the indie comics scene with Night Fisher, his gritty, Harvey Award-winning graphic novel about drug addiction and delinquency among Hawaiian teenagers, so you might think his STRANGE TALES contribution would be similarly bleak. You probably wouldn't think he'd do a comedy about the ever-lovin' Thing's love interest Alicia Masters and her villainous dad the Puppet Master—but Johnson's not a predictable guy.

We talked to the in-demand illustrator—and real-life roommate of MYTHOS and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN artist Paolo Rivera—about what he has in common with Ms. Masters, his love of the King and whether Namor's thing for Invisible Girl is naughty or nice.

Marvel.com: Alicia Masters and the Puppet Master are a pretty offbeat choice. What about them appeals to you?

R. Kikuo Johnson: I just thought it was a vastly underused domestic relationship in the Marvel U. And I also felt like out of the entire Marvel U., Alicia Masters as a young artist, living and struggling after college, was the character I could put the most autobio into. I think the fact that she's a blind artist is hilarious. She's just a hilarious character.

Marvel.com: I guess it's not quite perfectly autobiographical for you, since even though you're an artist, you're not a blind...

R. Kikuo Johnson: Well, not literally, but maybe in other ways.

Marvel.com: What's the story about?

A page from R. Kikuo Johnson's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
R. Kikuo Johnson: It's kind of a father-knows-best comedy. In one sentence: Alicia's out of art school, she's bound with tons of art school debt, and Dad promises to stop stealing to pay off the loans if she goes out and finds her own job, so she's gotta find a job.

Marvel.com: That sounds semi-autobiographical for a lot of people, I would imagine!

R. Kikuo Johnson: [Laughs] Pretty much. But as a blind artist, she's limited with her choices of vocation, and comedy ensues...or does it? I'm not really sure.

Marvel.com: Were they favorites of yours going way back, or was this an idea that just struck you now?

R. Kikuo Johnson: They weren't my favorites back as a kid, I guess. I grew up on a pretty steady dose of John Byrne Wolverine, so that would've been my favorite when I first starting reading comics. When I started getting really into cartooning as an art, just completely fell in love with Jack Kirby. To me, Kirby is Marvel; when I think of Marvel, it's Kirby. FANTASTIC FOUR is just my favorite, and in that first 20-issue arc, Alicia Masters is such a major character. She's pretty much in every issue, starting with issue #4 or #5, when Puppet Master first appears. So I thought I'd try to bring her back. I also felt like she wasn't really treated fairly—she was always just used as a stupid decoy. I wanted to give her a little more credit. I know what it's like to be a young artist. It's tough.

Marvel.com: What Marvel books are you reading these days? I know you have kind of a close personal link to someone who's involved with Marvel from time to time...

A page from R. Kikuo Johnson's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
R. Kikuo Johnson: That's true, yeah. I keep up with whatever my roommate Paolo Rivera is doing at the time. I love reading them, and keeps me up to date. But when I buy Marvel comics, it's usually ESSENTIALS. I'm reading pretty much exclusively Kirby, and once in a while some other stuff. I do a lot of back issue diving. I'll read a lot of older '70s reprints of '50s material-all the weird wonder tales, all the weird monsters, I really get into that stuff. And it's cheaper too. There's so many classics to read, it's hard for me to keep up with the new stuff.

Marvel.com: Are there any other Marvel characters you'd like to tackle some day?

R. Kikuo Johnson: Yeah. The other quintessential Marvel relationship that I love, and it's really sexy, is the Invisible Girl—at that point, she was a Girl—the Invisible Girl/Namor relationship. All the bondage, and this whole "I'm gonna take you underwater" situation...I love that. I'd love to write something with that.

Marvel.com: It's a little fetish-y...

R. Kikuo Johnson: It's fetish-y, but he's kind of this weird 12-year-old mean kid who wants to take this girl to his treehouse. It's fetish-y, but it's also kinda so innocent. And he's got such a history. Between first Bill Everett and then Kirby, there's such a backlog of quality material. He's really a rich character in my mind. Bill Everett's Venus would be another character. She's kind of like a blank slate, but another rich character.

Marvel.com: For fans out there who don't know your stuff, but come across your story in STRANGE TALES and like it, what do you recommend that they check out if they'd like to see more of your work?

R. Kikuo Johnson: That would be my 2005 graphic novel, Night Fisher. That would be the best place to start. It's my only big book in print. It did pretty well, it got me a Harvey Award for Best New Talent. Since then I've done a few short  strips in Mome and other anthologies. Other than that, I've done a lot of freelance illustration work that you can see in The New Yorker and other Conde Nast publications. I'm currently hard at work on another long project. I'm not sure when it will be released, and I don't want to say too much about it, but there's a non-fictional element to the piece, and a research has been a major part of the process these last few years.

Marvel.com: Finally, it's always interesting to me when well-known artists live together. What can you tell us about your roommate, Paolo Rivera?

R. Kikuo Johnson: He makes a mean chocolate chip cookie. [Laughs]


Check out R. Kikuo Johnson's Puppet Master story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale October 7!

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