A long-time working actor best known for his roles in Carrie (1976) and Big Wednesday (1978), Katt achieved lasting fame for his portrayal of Ralph Hinkley in the Stephen J. Cannell series The Greatest American Hero which ran from 1981-1983.
And now, twenty-five years later, The Greatest American Hero is poised to make a comeback in a completely different form: the comic book. And Katt is eager to talk about how he made the transition from screen to page.
"I wrote a screenplay and I thought it was a great premise… and I couldn’t get it off the ground but it was a great story, so I took it to a friend of mine [Catastrophic Comics Vice President] Chris Folino, who’s been a great champion of the comic book and what not – helped me out tremendously. He said, you know, we should turn this into a comic book (the upcoming Mythology Wars). So he helped me establish… Catastrophic."
Putting his own money into the start-up, Katt and Folino worked together to draw up a slate of projects for their new company.
"…it took a long time to gear up to go into production, and during that time, we came up with another story – Chris had an idea for a story as a writer," Katt explains over the din in the massive hall. "We started with Sparks, and I was kind of the story editor and helped shape that along with him. Then I got the artists and everybody else involved, and that’s our first book!"
Already drawing enthusiastic reviews for both its writing by Folino and artwork by French illustrator JM Ringuet, Sparks is a superhero noir thriller, wherein the lead character Ian Sparks learns the dark side to (and the sometimes tragic costs of) heroism. It leans heavily on the noir archetypes, including a riveting opening that pays homage to the classic thriller D.O.A, in which a character stumbles into a police station to report his own murder.
While working on Sparks, Katt and Folino started talking about projects that Katt had done before that could potentially be adapted.
"[There was] Carrie… and House was a great franchise we explored to purchase, and then we came up with Greatest American Hero," he smiles, " which seemed like a no-brainer.
Originally airing 1981-1983, Greatest American Hero(GAH) chronicled the comic adventures of Ralph Hinkley, a teacher of "special kids" who gets lost in the desert one night and meets FBI Agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp). While trying to escape from aliens, Hinkley is given a red suit and cape that endow him with superhuman powers and told that his mission is to save the world. Unfortunately, as he’s leaving the desert, he loses the instructions on how to operate the suit, and has to learn its operation through trial-and-error.
Turning the series into comic form seemed like "a no-brainer," Katt explains, "there was a lot of stories that hadn’t been told yet in regards to the suit, and the adventures of having the suit."
But there was one problem: someone else had the same idea.
"[GAH creator] Steve Cannell said there was already interest by another company called Arcana, and so we approached Arcana and… Arcana and Catastrophic are producing the comic book together. They’ve been great partnering to present this."
"It’s ‘Stephen J Cannell Presents’ so he’s the Godfather, the man overseeing everything," he quickly adds, "We run everything by him. We don’t want to undermine the integrity of his original characters, his storylines, so… we’re taking it a little bit into different areas, but we’re staying pretty true to the original stories.
When asked about the adjusting from film to comics, Katt is quick to dismiss any differences.
"You know, the bottom line is its storytelling. It’s telling stories, something that I know pretty well. Bob Culp, I don’t know if a lot of people know, is a fabulous writer, just fantastic, so I learned a lot from him, and I learned a lot over the years, it was a great way of telling short-form stories."
When asked about the level of support and enthusiasm for a series cancelled decades earlier, Katt can’t keep the excitement out of his voice. Is the level of affection surprising to him?
"Not only have I been surprised by it, but Stephen Cannell has been surprised by it!" he explains, smiling wide. "Just a few weeks ago, he was saying that of…over forty shows he’s produced, this by far — has had the most longevity, and is remembered and has been received the warmest of all of his shows."
"And we’ve had a lot of support – my dear friend Bob Culp and Connie Selleca (Pam Davidson in GAH) were here for the launch, just a little while ago, [and] that’s kind of-kind of the genesis of the whole Catastrophic Comics."
"There’s a lot of comic books to choose from, but we tend to think that the fan base out there has a great affection for Greatest American Hero, and will come and look for our comic books on the stands."
While busy with the new imprint, and his ongoing projects, Katt still maintains a steady acting career, including an exciting bit of news. He’s coming back to TV again… on NBC’s Heroes.
"You’ll see me in… the first couple of shows of this season coming up," he teases. "I was working for an old friend of mine [director] Greg Beeman… He and I had worked together some ten, twelve years ago on Problem Child 3 Öand we had a, just a wonderful time… So he called me again and said "Bill, there’s a nice part on Heroes."
As we prepare to wrap up, I ask Katt if, with his years of experience, he has any advice for writers and artists just starting out, some of whom might be lining up for his autograph outside the booth as we speak.
"Just keep on writing. Reading. I just heard something Bob [Culp] said today, "For every page you write, you have to read a thousand." And… don’t worry about rejection, you know. Rejection is the name of the game. You have to develop a little bit of a thick skin, and just know you have to write stories that are going to come from a passionate place, something that has to be said."
And with that, the Greatest American Hero excuses hims
elf to go back and meet his fans.
Greatest American Hero is scheduled for a late Fall release. Mythology Wars is scheduled for early Spring. For information on these titles and others, please visit www.catastrophiccomics.com