"Found" Comics: Joe Infurnari on Ultra-Lad
By Chris Arrant
Earlier this week, a new comic debuted on the webcomics collective Act-I-Vate. Or is it new? That's part of the story to The Transmigration of Ultra-Lad, which was "brought" online by Eisner-nominated cartoonist Joe Infurnari (The Process). According to the cartoonist, this comic was found in the attic of his childhood home that dates back to the early 1950s. The never-before seen flagship comic to a failed start-up known as Jolly Brand Comics. In the comic, Ultra-Lad goes through the rigors of youth, arch-enemies and adventure.
For more, we talked with Infurnari.
Newsarama: So, what is your comic, The Transmigration of Ultra-Lad about?
Joe Infurnari Well, I'm reluctant to call it my comic because it's more a reprint of a lost piece of comics history called The New Adventures of ULTRA-Lad!
While rummaging through the attic of my childhood home, I found a very mysterious old comic. I had been up there to look for some of my older comics from when I was a teen and this comic, The New Adventures of Ultra-Lad was not at all familiar to me. I did a little research on it and it appears to have been a comic printed very shortly before the Seduction of the Innocent controversy and as a result of that, this ashcan comic never saw print as it was ultimately intended. In fact, the New Adventures of Ultra-Lad was to be the flagship of the startup, Jolly Brand Comics. Publisher Arnie F Junio had sunk all of his money into getting Ultra-Lad off the ground and the whole venture collapsed when the gavel fell and the writing was on the wall for comics. The artist and/or writer for this book are not credited and I fear their name(s) are lost to posterity.
So there I was with this rare comic whose art and dialogue is remarkably ahead of its time and whose story ties in strongly with my own work! I couldn’t let it or the creators pass away into obscurity. When the opportunity to do a webcomic on Act-i-vate came up, I discussed a few possibilities with Alexis Sottile. This time around we thought I should do something unconventional and post up pages from this comic that has inspired me so much. It’s a way for this lost tale to be brought to light and made available for anyone to enjoy for free. The comic itself is at times funny and campy but not without serious subtext. It deals with a lot of the issues of youth, growing up and growing old; things that will resonate with many comics readers in today’s market: the older comix reader who thrills at being transported to his youth and the young comix reader who delights at Ultra-lad’s outrageous feats of daring adventure and action.
NRAMA: Are you sure about this, Joe?
JI: Yes, yes I am.
NRAMA: ...okay. Moving on... How does what you're doing for Act-i-vate fit in with the Eisner Nominated webcomic you do called the Process?
JI: It does...a lot! After reading this very rare comic another feat of cosmic coalescence triggered the realization that this book had encapsulated many of the themes I was already dealing with in the Process. Some of these include identity, ideas about one's interior life versus the external world, looking at your life from its beginning in youth and infancy and from its end in old age and death. It's also an example of an idea that I hold dear. That is, taking a medium or in this case, genre, not accustomed to such philosophical and grand themes and use it to tell stories laced with such primordial concerns. In the case of this ULTRA-lad! book, it deals with an old man at the end of his life and his struggles with his Jungian shadow, ULTRA-lad!, who represents his lost childhood and vigor and in many ways his frustration with the fragility of his own life and the failed promises of youth. The arc of this story is the grappling with one's life and moving beyond it without regrets. To free oneself from the shackles of your past and to grant oneself acceptance of a life on one's own terms. Of course, this is the subtext that is buried within a hilarious, campy and action packed romp of a comic! It's also one of the major drives behind the Process.
NRAMA: What are the virtues of working on a webcomic over print?
JI: For the ULTRA-Lad! story, the virtues are that a lost piece of comics can be brought to light and made available for free! The incredibly successful rediscovery of Fletcher Hanks that seems to have sparked a desire to unearth other under-appreciated comics creators like Boody Rogers and Rory Hayes shows that people want to look at and read this stuff. I'm not entirely sure that ULTRA-Lad! will stand anywhere near as tall as these other figures from comics' past but I am hoping to simply give this character his chance to shine in the most democratic way I could think of, on the internet for free.
NRAMA: How did you get hooked up with Act-I-Vate?
JI: It was a strange confluence of events that can only be attributed to a powerful coalescing of cosmic synergy. Out of the blue, Dean Haspiel contacted me through Facebook about an online anthology he was putting together. We wrote back and forth a couple times before I was on board to do a story for his series of Next-Door Neighbor. Simultaneously, I had been in contact with Heeb/Smith Mag comics editor and Act-i-vate minister of hype, Jeff Newelt about doing some comics with him. I knew he was involved with Act-I-Vate but hadn't been thinking about the uber-collective when I was writing him. At best, I thought I might get a comic inHeeb (which I did). Behind the scenes, Jeff sent a link to my site, www.joeinfurnari.com, to Dean as somebody to invite into Act-I-Vate. Dean agreed and when approached to do it, I leapt at it!
NRAMA: Why'd you choose to this comic out through Act-I-Vate and not your own solo comic website like you have for the Process?
JI: I didn't include it in the Process site despite being a 'chapter' of the Process because it's really it's own thing and should be able to have it's own life on it's own terms in a more neutral space. The Process site is great. I am very happy with it and how it's grown, I just felt that this comic should be given it's own due and the best way to do that would be through Act-i-vate.. I've incorporated it into the chronology of the Process but I feel it also benefits from being somewhat separate. I've also tried to look at it that the 'universe' of the Process is vast and to have it on another venue helps expand it's readership beyond just www.theprocesscomic.com.
NRAMA: What else are you working on?
JI: Readers should check out the latest issue of Heeb magazine for my one page comic called "Workin' Girl Golem" and keep their eyes peeled for my Next-Door Neighbor contribution with writer Alexis Sottile. It's called Vs. and I guarantee it will definitely leave an impression. It's a true story of my hilarious and horrific New York rental history and is not to be missed by anyone who's ever lived in this city or considered moving here. I'm also resuming my work on the Process as well as the Borrowed Time series with Neal Shaffer and Oni Press.