PORTLAND-BASED COMICS CREATOR Jeff Parker first gained recognition for The Interman, but in recent years he's focused more on writing than drawing. In addition to his books for Marvel Comics—including the retro-cool Agents of Atlas and X-Men: First Class—it's worth checking out Parker's most recent collections, Mysterius the Unfathomable and Underground. The occult comedy Mysterius, drawn by Tom Fowler, documents the misadventures of a dickhead magician and his assistant; Underground, with art by Steve Lieber, follows two park rangers stuck in a dangerous cave. Both are fantastic.
MERCURY: Where did you get the idea for Mysterius?
JEFF PARKER: I wanted to do something that was more like a Douglas Adams kind of thing, you know? I had also been wanting to do something with the occult. [WildStorm Editor] Ben Abernathy invited me to pitch something, so that's when I said, "Can I do something supernatural?" He goes, "Yeah, whatever!" He just kept saying "yeah, whatever," every time I asked anything. Not long after, I came back with this. I like the dynamic of [Mysterius] and his assistant, who essentially is his conscience.
Mysterius reminded me of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea, in terms of how magic and pop culture are used. How immersed did you get in the magic side of things?
I don't actually worship Glycon, that serpent-headed puppet that Alan Moore does. I respect that he does! But every time I get in a situation like that, I just sit there and try to think, "Well if magic did work, why would it work?" I do love doing problem solving like that.
So you kind of approach it like a puzzle.
Yes. Let's quote the Insane Clown Posse: "There's magic up in this bitch." I just saw that video. I was like, "Oh my god, they don't believe in magnets."
What made you want to write Underground?
Steve [Lieber] was the catalyst, because he wanted to do a cave story. He did a short story with the character, and then he just said, "I don't know what's making this thing tick. What've you got?" In a way, he kind of tricked me into this whole thing because the whole time he was doing all this research and he was reading things and watching videos, and he kept telling me everything, so I was just learning all of it with him.... It's clearly a man versus nature story. It was really fun to do that because there are threats from other people, there are people with guns chasing them in the cave, but the biggest danger becomes the cave, easily.
You write both independent comics and comics for big publishers—do they use different parts of your brain?
They do seem to use different parts. One of the things that's fun for me is I can play them off of each other. You can kind of tell with Underground, it's like, "I don't get to swear in Marvel Comics!" so suddenly everything's "goddamn this" and "fuck that." And then after doing that for a little bit, it's like, "Hey, no one's flying!" So suddenly I'm back at Agents of Atlas or something like that, where everybody can fly around and travel through time. If you schedule it out right—if you do a little bit of this here, and switch over to a little bit of that—it can really be a relief both ways.