When the news of DC Comics’ new Hanna Barbera line hit the Internet, there was a fair share of skepticism about how the four titles — Scooby Apocalypse, Wacky Raceland, The Flintstones, and Future Quest — would live up to fan expectation. With one resounding exception. No one — and I say no one — questioned the choice of writer Jeff Parker and artist Evan “Doc” Shaner to shepherd Jonny Quest, Hadji, Space Ghost, and a host of other heroes into the 21st century.
As the title’s release draws near on May 18th, Parker and Shaner sat down with Comicosity to share a little about their thoughts on the characters, Hadji’s importance, and what it’s like to write and draw these classics for a new audience.
Matt Santori: Thanks so much for taking time today! I just want to start off by asking you both broadly about your exposure to the Hanna Barbera properties before starting on Future Quest!
Evan “Doc” Shaner: I came to these characters in the backwards way of knowing them first through Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. Then I went back and watched the originals.
Jeff Parker: Yeah, we’ve never really talked about what it’s like to not know Space Ghost before something like Coast to Coast and then go back to see the original?
EDS: It was weird, because I’d see Coast to Coast at 11pm on Fridays. So, if you hung out with your friends on the weekend…
JP: Like as a college kid out drinking…
EDS: It was the closest thing we had to a water cooler show when I was in school. Every Monday morning, it was like, “Did you watch Space Ghost?” And we’d all talk about the jokes. But at the same time, they’d play the original cartoon in the afternoons, so I knew it existed and that they were pulling stuff from the original.
Same thing with Jonny Quest. I knew Real Adventures wasn’t the first Jonny Quest show. I don’t know how to describe it other than that I was aware there was different versions of all of these characters.
JP: That happens a lot to me with comics. Even as a kid, I realized that what I was reading was probably a revamp thing, and that there was source material out there I could find.
Since I’m older than Doc, but I’m still not old enough to have watched it originally, I watched the reruns that were packaged in the 1970s, which was cool, because as far as I know, they hadn’t cut anything out of any of them yet. So all the scary and violent stuff was still there in the Jonny Quest cartoons. Space Ghost was pretty friendly, though. He just tended to beat things with energy rays from his fists, and turn invisible.
So, I got to see all that original stuff and I was wowed by it.
The neat thing was that my dad would talk about, when I was a baby, he’d be sitting with me on Saturday mornings and watched Space Ghost, while I was just rolling around with a toy or something. And for years, I was like, “What’s Space Ghost?” because it wasn’t on reruns yet. When it finally showed up, I thought, “No wonder he thought this was cool! This is really cool!”
Later on, I really got into Alex Toth and Doug Wildey, the architects of all of this, who lay the foundation for all the Hanna Barbera Action Adventure Heroes. I got to become friends with Doug and talk to him a lot and get his insights. I also corresponded with Alex Toth a lot, but I was a little too scared to go over and meet him in person. [laughs]
I have a bunch of postcards with his little duck on them, though. It was a real privilege because those guys totally formed my aesthetics for most of what I do now. I’m just really lucky I got to see something good when I was young and impressionable, instead of a bad cartoon.
MSG: That begs the question, in talking about this book, there’s a lot of talk about who this book is designed for. It would be pretty unlikely to be exclusively meant for only people who watched the original cartoon when it was first on. How are you each honoring the past and the future of these characters?
JP: Ha! I knew you were going to go there.
Some of the fun of this will be that many modern readers haven’t seen any of that source material. We certainly don’t expect anyone to know anything about it. You don’t have to. All you need to know is what you see in our story.
DC also just recently approved what we’re calling “The Vortex Issues,” where we’re going back to tell some short stories about the characters from before Future Quest happens. I’m really excited about that. It’s really going to round it out and give readers some insight into characters that focus just on them. Birdman, Herculoids, Frankenstein Jr. You’ll get to see our interpretation as they go into this, but by themselves.
We’re not really using any particular continuity from the original cartoons. That’s not really a consideration here. And that’s how it used to be anyway. Only what you saw at any one time mattered. They didn’t expect you to remember much from one thing to the next. And we’re trying to keep with that.
MSG: And Doc, along those lines, one of the things we heard from fans immediately when it was announced was that your art style is perfect for Future Quest. Kind of a blend of super clean nostalgia, but also very modern and fresh. Can you talk about how you’re applying your style to the characters and the book overall?
EDS: It helps that Doug Wildey and Alex Toth were the architects of this world we’re going into. They are both well within my wheelhouse. I’ve long been a huge Toth fan. Both really play well to my sensibilities. So, coming in, I immediately took to the designs. There’s no part of this world that seems too out there for me. I already have such an appreciation for what they put together.
JP: I’m sure a lot of artists would take objection to this, but it’s kind of weird to think of them asking anyone else but you, honestly. I’m always watching online to see what people are saying about stuff. I see a lot of artists who are saying they would have loved to have been working on this, but begrudgingly admit that DC was right to get you to do it. [laughs]
EDS: I appreciate that! [laughs]
JP: But it also means that there are certain things where they realize: there is a right way to do this. And that way is to get Evan to draw it. That’s how you know it’s started from a good place.
EDS: Yeah! And for me, I know that it’s something a lot of my peers and friends would be pretty jealous of. Because I certainly would be if it was someone else. I don’t take that lightly. This opportunity means an awful lot to me.
JP: Yeah, I got a lot of private, direct messages when the announcement happened, that were like, “Hey congratulations!” with gritted teeth. [laughs] But I’m certainly not going to squander such a great opportunity. We have something cool for the year and to make a big splash with. We’re determined to make it stand out and have it be something you’ll want to revisit and reread.
MSG: So, let’s talk a little bit about character. Tell me about your take on Jonny Quest.
JP: Jonny is pretty much the same character he’s always been. We have the same basic premise. His dad is one of the world’s greatest scientists. His work just happens to connect to a lot of things that can be used for military purposes, so a lot of people are interested in him and on his case all the time. His mom has died in a way we allude to, but don’t go into in the beginning.
A secret service agent, Race Bannon has been assigned to the family. They’re constantly traveling into dangerous areas of the world, not to mention constantly hunted by dangerous spies, who want what Doctor Quest is developing. It’s got a built-in premise.
At some point, in India, they meet Hadji, who Doctor Quest adopts. In the original Doug Wildey story, Hadji saved him from someone throwing a dagger at him. And yeah, I probably would adopt a kid on sight if he did that for me. Luckily, Jonny and Hadji are immediately best friends and adopted brothers. It’s very much a big scary world with lots of high concept stuff happening, but it’s all seen through the eyes of these two boys, these buddies, from different backgrounds. And how they just take it all on.
The interesting dynamic about the family is that Hadji is pretty much imprinted on Doctor Quest. You get the sense that he’s the one that’s going to grow up to be a scientist. Meanwhile, Jonny can’t stop modeling himself on Race Bannon, the guy with the gun. Everything about the way the two boys act reflects those men.
At some point, after the series, I’d love to talk about it again, because there’s so much interesting psychology going on there. I don’t know if they realized it in the 60s, but they probably did.
And they have a dog, for what it’s worth. He barks a lot. [laughs]
The whole thing about Jonny Quest is, yes, he’s important — obviously, as the project is called Future Quest. But the focus is not always on Jonny and Hadji, but they are the thing that sets the tone for everything else. Everything else bends to the Jonny Quest tone. Pretty easy for Space Ghost. Maybe a little bit more difficult for Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles.
But that’s where Shaner comes back in and makes it all work, by making it fit in a piece and make sense in the world. And that’s no mean feat. I do love when we can pull stuff like that off. It’s like “I just want to see how they do it.” Well, yeah, now I just want to see how we do it.