by Jim Burrows

Shield G-Man Club: Who introduced you to comics?

Rik Offenberger: That would be my father. He read comics in the 40s and when he got a bad grade his mother threw them out. When I was little he would buy comics for me and read them to me as bedtime stories. When I was older he would take me to Sunday school and on the way home we would stop at 7-11 and he would buy me a Slurpee and a comic book.

SGMC: How did they influence your taste in comics?

Rik: He liked superhero comics and that is what I still like today.

SGMC: Were you involved with fandom as a youngster?

Rik: It all depends on what you mean by involved. I went to the San Diego ComicCon in 1986 before it was as big as it is today but I was never a member of a club. I purchased comics by the mail from ads in other comics but by the time I discovered Fanzines I was an adult.

SGMC: Were you always a Crusaders fan, or did you start out favoring another company?

Rik: One of the problems with buying comics at a 7-11 was that they didn’t get every issue and they didn’t know or care. So I favored DC Comics because each issue was self-contained and I couldn’t get a complete Marvel story arc as a 7-year-old. I had seen old copies of Mighty Comics in a used book store and a copy of the Jaguar in a public library but it wasn’t much exposure. My father purchased copies of the Dynapubs Flashback Reprints of Pep Comics but I didn’t understand the difference between the different publishers at the time. I didn’t “discover” the Crusaders until the 80s and I have been a fan ever since.

SGMC: What makes the Crusaders stand out for you?

Rik: I had a fascination with the Lancelot Strong covers I had seen in the Overstreet Price Guide when Mighty Crusaders #1 hit the stands I saw Joe Higgins and Lancelot Strong both as the Shield and that was exciting and the same day I bought the Fly #1 and I was totally hooked. The front page gave the readers the history of the characters and that was fun too.

SGMC: You’ve been involved with comics both as a fan and as a pro. How did you go from one to the other?

Rik: I was a comic book retailer and one of the ways I wanted to prompted my store was through journalism. I contacted the Comic Buyers Guide by telephone and applied for a freelance job with Don Thompson. I had contacts at Marvel through the Diamond retailers summits and Ken Krugger at Capital Comics Distribution. I know Jim Valentino before Image Comics launched so I covered the Image launch for the CBG and other things I could think of. As a freelancer, I had to find my own stories. I also wrote for their sister publication the short-lived Comic Retailer.

I was on the internet very early, I started writing for Silver Bullet Comicbooks, Newsarama, and Comic Book Resources. As a journalist, I had contact with Michael Silberkleit one of the owners of Archie Comics. I did a story about his father and later I interviewed Michael about his own story. When there was an opening at Archie Comics. I called Michael and said I wanted the job. We talked for about 15 minutes over the phone and he gave me the job. I was at Archie Comics for 10 years.

SGMC: Presumably, starting out as a fan helped you on the pro side. Did your fannish tastes, preferences, biases ever hold you back, though?

Rik:  Michael was very supportive of ideas and I always kept in mind that everything I did at Archie needs to generate enough income to justify my salary. But I wasn’t in a creative position so I looked for new ways to promote their product and worked with various sources to get better coverage for Archie. The more Michael read about Archie Comics online the happier he was. But I had no editorial input so my tastes didn’t come into play.

SGMC: The Agent Shield covers and stories are a major project. What motivated you to take it on?

Rik: Kevin Moorhead. He had done a series of cover commissions telling the stories of the Mighty Crusaders after the series was canceled.  There were no comics, just covers with a solicitation like text blurb about the plot of the story that when with the cover. I just copied his idea.

SGMC: Which comes first for Agent Shield? The art? The storyline? The arc/event?

Rik: The concept was just a thought, I didn’t like what they were doing with Joe Higgins since the Golden Age. Joe Higgins was an FBI Agent at a time with G-Men were heroes by themselves, on top of that he was a superhero. When they updated him in the Silver Age Private Strong was a soldier and Bill Higgins was a guy who couldn’t keep a job. At DC Joe Higgins was the soldier and when he came back to Archie Joe became a bureaucrat at  MLJ. I thought Archie really dropped the ball on an exciting civilian identity and also originally Joe Higgins made himself a hero through his own determination, like Batman. After the Golden Age, he was no longer active in his own origin. So I wanted to bring him back to his roots My version would be an FBI Agent, hence the name Agent Shield. As a tribute to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and named him Simon N. Kirby. I drew him to look like the Wally West all-red version of the Flash and added a physical shield to the costume. I met Mitch Kwok online and we started on a project of 100 Agent Shield covers, the original plan was to have him with two MLJ characters as a team-up book. Not every cover was a team-up but that was the original plan.

SGMC: How do you decide what other creators’ characters to cross over with Agent Shield?

Rik: We started with just the MLJ heroes but later we included original heroes by creators who were members of the Shield G-Man Club.

SGMC: If you could be the “showrunner” for the next generation of the Mighty Crusader comics, how would it relate to SGMC: Agent Shield, his story, and the world? How would it differ?

Rik: If I were in charge of the Mighty Crusaders revival I would take them back to their Golden Age roots.  I think one of the biggest errors that publishers make is that the fans aren’t looking for a new hero with classic names. They want their heroes. That’s why all the replacements heroes at Marvel failed. Every time they revive the MLJ Heroes they try and do it the Julie Schwartz/Stan Lee way and recreate everything. What they don’t understand is that there were no fans left when Julie Schwartz and Stan Lee did their revival. There wasn’t a group of Jay Garrett fans disappointed with Barry Allen. Likewise, there weren’t a lot of Plastic Man fans unhappy with Mr. Fantastic because no one collected comics back then. They were developing new fans.

These days the fans know the properties and want the original versions, so you can’t take away Joe Higgins and give them Victoria Adams instead and wonder why the fans of Joe Higgins aren’t excited. I wouldn’t want to bring Agent Shield to a revival, I would want to give the fans what the heroes they want and hire writers that were excited to tell stories with them instead of trying to create a different universe.

SGMC: Who are your favorite MLJ/Archie characters? In general and as a specific interpretation?

Rik: In truth, I like them all. I have strong patriotic feeling as an individual, and the draws me to the Shield. The Fly is a great character. The Black Hood works really well in a lot of different genres and has some fun stories. The Fox wasn’t my favorite until the Dean Haspiel mini-series. Dean Haspiel proved that it just takes a creator that cares about their history to make them fun.

SGMC: The Shield G-Man Club stands out for its generosity. What made you get the ball rolling by giving away G-Man kits?

Rik: I wanted to be a member of the G-Man Club, it was too late to join the 40s version. No one was going to do it for me, so I had to crate the club myself. The plan was to reproduce the old card and badge, which we did the first year. Everything else is done with the generosity of the club members like yourself, who have devoted time and energy to make things to give away to fellow fans. We wouldn’t this very magazine if it wasn’t for you donating your time and skills to help bring it to life for all the other members. I am proud that some many people want to be part of this shared experience.

SGMC: So, do you have any non-homage/pastiche characters prowling around in your head waiting to tell their stories?

Rik: There is a character called Lynx that I created 30 years ago and was planning on publishing it. It has some great art from Justin Vargas. When I was a retailer I giving it away a page at a time as the work progressed. I published an ashcan version but never did the full comic. Who knows, someday I may finish it.

SGMC: Alternatively, is there an homage other than Agent Shield that your itching to do?

Rik: Agent Shield is the way I think they should have done the Shield. I also have Sgt. Flag who is a parody character whose name is a homage to Captain Flag. MLJ had two patriotic characters, so I wanted two for the club. While Agent Shield is my idealized version of the Shield. Sgt. Flag is all about Rob Liefled and Todd McFarlane from the 90s. Sgt. Flag is all the action and adrenaline of Stalone and Swartzeneger that Rob and Todd tapped into with all the trope that goes with that time period. His costume is asymmetrical, he had swords and guns, he has extra pouches and he kicks ass. Beyond those two I would rather work on something original.

SGMC: What with the Mighty Crusaders Network, First Comic News, Agent Shield, the Shield G-Man Club, the MLJ Companion, you’ve done a lot of fandom-based work. Do you have any recommendations for other fans?

Rik: If you do all of this stuff for yourself, other people will join you and support you. The Mighty Crusaders Network started as a Geocities website for Lancelot Strong. Brad gave me his site MightyMLJ and Scott Martin gave me his site the Crusaders Chronicles and the Mighty Crusaders Message Board. I combined all of them to make a network of all three sites and that was the Mighty Crusaders Network.

The MLJ Companion is an outgrowth of the Mighty Crusaders Network, the website turned into a book.

First Comics News was my business plan to take over Steve Conley’s Pulse.  I was offered the job but not the pay structure I wanted, so I converted my Yahoo, Super Hero News into First Comics News using my Pulse business plan, it’s exactly the site I had hoped for and it only survives because other people join in to support indie comics.

The Shield G-Man Club only exists because all of you joined.

My recommendation “if you build it they will come”. If you’re having enough fun, other people will join you to have fun too.