I know what you’re thinking. “How the hell do you make a comic out of Mystery Science Theater 3000?” It’s the first question I asked when the book was announced. But thankfully, ‘MST3K’ maestro Joel Hodgson is smarter than me.
In retrospect though, the answer is obvious. Instead of riffing on movies, the comic versions of Jonah and the bots riff on, well, comics. Specifically, Golden and Silver age comics that have since lapsed into the public domain. And if you know your comics history, you know that comics of that vintage give them plenty of material to work with!
Unlike the series, in which the hosts watch the movies and crack jokes, the riffing here works by turning Jonah and company into participants in the events of the books on which they are riffing. But of course, it’s not all riffs. Like the show it’s based on, ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic’ also includes host segments with the bots, TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, and the rest of the Netflix-era cast.
At this year’s New York Comic Con, we had the opportunity to chat with artist Todd Nauck, who pencilled the comic’s host segments. Our conversation touched on his MST3K fandom, adapting such an unorthodox show to another medium, and more.
So you just did this giant ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ book for Dark Horse. What’s your personal history with the property?
Well, I started off as a fan. A big time fan since the early 90s. I have every episode on VHS tape, DVD, and digital now. I really love the series and was really excited for the Netflix series to debut. In anticipation of that, I did a piece of fan art of Jonah and the bots and Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester and Patton Oswalt as Max. I shared that on my Twitter and it got some buzz from the ‘Mystery Science Theater’ cast and crew. And so when Joel Hodgson was meeting with Dark Horse editor Randy Stradley to get the book together and figure out the art teams, Joel pulled up my fan art and asked Randy, “Can we get this guy?” So it was the first time fan art got me a job opportunity! And as a huge fan, I was so thrilled to be able to work on a property I’ve been a mega-fan of for twenty-plus years.
‘Mystery Science Theater’ is such a weird show to begin with, what went through your head when they called you up and said they were going to do it as a comic book?
There had been rumors that there might be a ‘Mystery Science Theater’ comic in the 90s that never came to pass. So a lot of people were speculating about how they’d do that. So when I got hired for it, I was just thrilled to get to draw my favorite characters, Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, the Netflix cast… so when Joel explained how riffing comics would be different than riffing movies but still have that same flavor, it was really interesting to see how creative Joel could be, how genius the concept was, and how that translated well for comics. But you still got that sense that it’s still part of that world, that it’s an expansion of that universe, it’s continuing the stories of these characters, and it makes sense for comics. It’s not so static, it’s something that’s fresh and original that still has that classic vibe.
You handled the host segments while other artists tackled the riffing. Was there much collaboration there or did everyone do their own thing?
We kind of all did our own thing. Randy and his editorial team did a great job in coordinating anything that overlapped, and the scripts spelled it out really clearly which panels would be which. So I didn’t really have to work with Mike Manley or Jack Pollock to make sure our art was synching upright because the editors were doing so well. They kept scans flowing between us when necessary. But for the most part, I could just take those host segments and run with them. And I was a bit ahead because the series starts with host segments. I was the first one to start drawing, so Jack and Mike oftentimes were able to see what I had drawn to filter in whatever they needed to for the riffing parts of the Silver Age and Golden Age stories they were working on.
Were there any riffs you wished you’d been able to draw?
Not that I can think of. I was really excited to see what Mike and Jack did, because their styles really lent themselves to that era. Joel had actually wanted me to draw the riffing segments as well, which I had to decline. I was doing a Spider-Man series at the same time, so I didn’t have the time to try to develop and adapt to a Silver Age or Golden Age style so that the look would be seamless. I think them getting Mike and Jack was perfect, because they make it so spot on that I bow to their creative prowess there. They really were the best look for that, and they did far better than I could have done, especially with the timeframe I had to work in. So I was thankful just to work on the host segments, and there are a lot of great jokes in there as well.
Is there a gag or anything in those segments that you’re particularly proud of?
One I think was when Max and Kinga are referring to their history, how you can’t mess with continuity in a comic, and then Kinga puts Max in his place by holding up a photo of their respective fathers, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank. I thought that was a fun dig and a chance to draw Dr. Forrester and Frank.
And lastly, do you have anything else coming up? Where can people find more of your work?
Right now they can find more of my work over at Marvel. I’m doing lots of covers for Marvel. I did a lot of stuff for ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ recently, and ‘Cosmic Ghost Rider’ with writers Paul Sheer(?) and Nick Giovanetti, which is now in trade paperback. And, you know, just biding our time hoping that maybe Joel Hodgson will want to do a second ‘Mystery Science Theater’ comic series. If so, I’d love to be part of that one as well!
‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic’ is available now in trade paperback. For more from NYCC 2019, be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com in the coming days!