“She’s totally true to the spirit of the era” Mask of the Red Panda writer Gregg Taylor discusses how to write the perfect female sidekick (and also get the girl)

Gregg Taylor Mask of the Red PandaThis weeks sees the arrival of the second issue of the fantastic Mask of the Red Panda from the folks at MonkeyBrain Comics. With it’s brilliant mix of 1930s adventure serial mixed with a brilliant supernatural/ magical under current we raved about the first issue and so couldn’t wait for this latest installment of the adventures of August Fenwick and his sidekick Kit Baxter (aka the Flying Squirrel!). To get the inside scoop on the world of the Panda we contacted  writer Gregg Taylor to find out just what the secret is to writing the perfect pulp adventure series.

Mask_of_the_Red_Panda_01.inddThe Red Panda has existed as a radio serial and in novels before, why make the jump to comics now? 

GT: It felt like it was time, in that it felt like it was finally the moment when it could be done properly and succeed. When I set out to create the radio serial with Decoder Ring Theatre, it was a thing to do to see if I could. Born out of my love for the medium and the classic stories of the golden-age of American radio programs, sure… but podcasting and digital recording techniques had put the tools in my hands to play in a genre that I adore, and to have a reasonable chance to get it into the hands of an audience. Clearly the universe had thrown a gauntlet down, and it would not be denied. We did a first “season” of 12 Red Panda episodes and 12 episodes of our crime drama Black Jack Justice and then started setting them loose into the world. To tell the truth, we all expected that that was going to be it. But suddenly we had this wonderful audience of people listening and caring passionately and telling their friends, and we were off to the races. We started into season 2 immediately, and eight and a half years later we’ve never stopped.

Of course, there are loads of people involved in creating the radio shows, a great ensemble of actors I’ve put together from my days in the theatre, and we have a lot of fun. But most of the actual investment of time was mine. Writing the shows, recording and mixing and promoting… I wasn’t asking for a big chunk of anyone’s life but my own. Same thing with the novels. I love the classic hero pulps. The Shadow, the Spider, the Phantom Detective, Doc Savage… love them! And it felt like the characters had a fan base that would carry over to novels in the same continuity, and they did. But again, it was mostly my own head on the chopping block. Creating a comic book is a whole other level, in two respects. First of all, it couldn’t be a one-man band creating this – this was going to take a tremendous artistic contribution – and a lot of hours of sweat – from somebody else… which was new. And unlike pulp novels and radio shows, comic books are actually… how do I say it… they’re more of a going concern. There’s an industry there. Going in with a bit of a following and a strong knowledge of who these characters are and how their world works has made all the difference. It allowed me to take in stride the parts of a new business that I’m just learning, and put the Red Panda‘s best foot forward.

Also a listener to the shows named Joshua Winchester kept bugging me for a comic book, so at least part of it was to shut him up. Thanks Joshua!

When I ran a review of issue 1 I got quite a bit if interest from your fans, does the Panda and Decoder Ring Theatre have quite a dedicated fan base already?

GT: Yes, we do all right. As I say, it isn’t a medium that gets a lot of play here in North America – which is both a blessing and a curse. It gave us the freedom of this wonderful medium to play in and mix it up with without the industry big boys to come and kick us off the playing field before we could figure out what we were doing. There are a lot of people who like Old Time Radio programs, and there’s a market for audiobooks etc, but when we started doing this there really weren’t a tremendous number of folks creating new work in this medium (there are lots more now)… so there wasn’t a built-in audience, but it has grown steadily and there are a lot of folks who are very passionate about our stories and our characters, which is this incredible gift to have, really.

Mask_of_the_Red_Panda_02.inddAre you a big comic fan or more of a crime fiction fan first? if so what are your influences in terms of writers and characters?

GT: Both. All of the above. The Red Panda‘s world owes a tremendous debt to classic pulp writers like Walter Gibson, the man who created the Shadow; to dozens of writers of early American radio programs; to Will Eisner and the Spirit… and of course it’s fair to say that there are huge influences of both Batman and Doctor Who in the Red Panda. When it comes to crime fiction, I love all things Richard Stark, and Raymond Chandler.