Everyone has to grow up eventually — even comic book characters, right?
With today’s release of Legends of Tomorrow #1 from DC Comics, we’re treated to a bevy of Silver and Bronze Age comic book greats in all-new six-part stories, but none as unexpected as the perennial baby characters Sugar and Spike. Now grown and working as private investigators, the duo that used to run around in diapers getting into all sorts of trouble are now full-grown adults — getting into all sorts of trouble. And the scribe behind that trouble is none other than Silver Age DC aficionado Keith Giffen, who sat down with Comicosity to share a bit about why you should check out how Sugar Plumm and Spike Wilson are, now that they’re all grown up.
Keith Giffen: Potential. That’s why I’m usually attracted to characters.
I’ve been trying to work with Sugar and Spike for years, by the way. I’ve been after Dan DiDio for quite a while to let me play around with these characters with the same basic idea that I’m exploring now. When he finally called up and said, “If you want them, take them!” I just jumped at it.
I’m not playing around with anything [original creator] Sheldon Meyer did with them. They’re not little kids anymore. I can’t compete with that. I think the Sugar and Spike book that Sheldon did was some of the quainter stuff I’ve ever read. I’m not going to compete on that level. But it’s the idea of what kind of adults did they grow into, and where are they now? That appealed to me.
MSG: If you’re not mining the original Sheldon Meyer run…
KG: Nope. Nope, not at all. We make some references to the original characters in there, but beside the fact that it’s Sugar and Spike and I tried to extrapolate some of their personalities, there’s not anything from there in here.
MSG: Sure. You are taking inspiration from the originals for the relationship between the two characters then?
KG: Well, the relationship between the two characters was pretty much well established. I’m just trying to extrapolate that for them as adults. Spike is still the go-along-with-it, sort of frustrated kind of guy who usually gets in trouble. Sugar is the mastermind. The one that comes up with the ideas and is in charge. She’s got the direct, take-no-nonsense attitude.
I didn’t go into this thinking I was going to completely redo the characters. I wanted to go into Sugar and Spike with as much respect as one can show to work that has been done before, and yet still tell the story I wanted to tell. I think if people see the Sugar and Spike strip, they’ll recognize the characters by their personalities and how they interact, I hope.
What worked so great about the original characters was that Spike was the willing accomplice and Sugar was the slightly madcap schemer. That works great when you’re dealing with infants or little kids, but as adults, they’ve grown quite a bit. But I also think as adults, we carry around a lot of what we were when we were younger.
MSG: This is just one example of your recent work dipping into the 1960s/70s sandbox, pulling characters out into the modern day, like Supergirl in Justice League 3001 and your upcoming Scooby-Doo: Apocalypse title. What’s the draw for you?
KG: I don’t know if I’m drawn to it or it’s more about the assignments I’m offered. But I guess all of us who are working in the business that liked comics when we were younger have a lot of affection for the first comics you read. If the first comics you ever read were the old Curt Swan Superman, you’ll probably think of Superman that way and hold it above everything else.
The characters I get to play with in Justice League 3001 and Sugar and Spike, and the other characters that came to life for me back then, are the ones I guess I gravitate toward. You play with them and hope you don’t do any damage.
KG: I think that fresh perspective comes to play in everything you do. Yes, I have a lot of affection for the characters in the 1960s and early 1970s when I was just starting to read comics for the sheer joy of it. When I handle these characters, there definitely has to be a certain amount of respect for the way they’ve been portrayed.
In other words, I don’t go into Sugar and Spike and completely change their personalities. I try to figure out what it was about their original personalities that I liked so much, and how can I adapt that to the kind of stories I want to tell? If it doesn’t work, then you don’t do Sugar and Spike. You create new characters. But when it does work, it’s a joy because you almost feel like you’re continuing the adventures of characters you really cared for.
My primary concern is not to do any damage. Don’t do anything that could get the people who loved Sugar and Spike to come after me. [laughs]
MSG: How are you working with Bilquis Lively to get what you’re looking for out of these characters artistically? Are you doing breakdowns or handing over character reference?
KG: No, actually. In fact, I wrote up the first Sugar and Spike script and just handed it over to Bilquis. I wasn’t familiar with her work, although she has a great body of work already. And when the first pages came in, it couldn’t have been better if I was on the phone with her every day talking it through. I was stunned by her approach to the work and how much her artwork actually made it work. They just felt so much like Sugar and Spike.
She’s absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for a better artist.
MSG: Yeah, she really did seem to capture their personalities in their looks very well.
KG: Yes, each one of the characters that walk on screen is unique. You can’t mistake Sugar for any other woman in the series. You would never mistake Spike for any other character either. She just has the touch. I’m so grateful that Bilquis is on this book, because she is one of these artists that I can hand a script to, turn around, and go do something else. And then when the pages start coming in, they are dead on. Just dead on. I couldn’t do better myself.
MSG: Another character that pops up in this first chapter is Alfred Pennyworth, and Bilquis seemed to capture a very Silver Age-influenced look for him, not to mention some other cool Easter eggs.
KG: I knew that we were dealing with the various Batman costumes and that editorial would get her the necessary reference. I assumed the same thing with Alfred. But to just nail what I’m trying to do with the Sugar and Spike story, without any conversation or coaching at all, she’s just a stunning artist. She captures what I’m trying to get across just perfectly.
KG: Every one of the Sugar and Spike stories have something to do with DC super-heroes and the secrets they’d rather have kept secret. Batman with all of his gaudy colored costumes. Wonder Woman when she almost married an alien. Superman Island, where he once stored all the Kryptonite.
I picture them as the team that’s called in when the hero just can’t deal with it. They are the ones that take on the case. It allows me to revisit some of the more bizarre corners of the DC Universe without openly mocking them. This is not Ambush Bug. This is not a book that holds up old comics and gets a chuckle out of how naive it all was. Each story in Sugar and Spike is played straight. And I just think it works.
While we’re dealing with things that the comic fan today might find funny or silly, when things like the Batman costumes were first introduced, we ate it up. As kids, we bought it for what it was. So, I tried to get across the idea that it wasn’t ridiculous to us back then, and it never will be to the characters in the Sugar and Spike story. It’s all played straight as the original stories.
Keith Giffen writes Sugar and Spike for today’s Legends of Tomorrow #1, a new 80-page six-issue mini-series featuring stories of Firestorm, Metamorpho, Sugar and Spike, and the Metal Men.