Wizard World, Inc is partnering with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) to auction off a custom-made and autographed Back to the Future 2-in-1 digital pinball and arcade machine, created by VPcabs. The machine will be donated by VPcabs and autographed by cast members Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson. VPcabs will be debuting the 2-in-1 digital pinball and arcade machine, along with its digital pinball machine, at Wizard World Chicago, August 18 – 21.
eBay for Charity will begin the auction for the custom-made and autographed 2-in-1 digital pinball and arcade machine on Saturday, August 20 with 100% of proceeds going to the MJFF. Both the Back to the Future digital pinball machine and the 2-in-1 digital pinball and arcade machine were developed by VPcabs via a licensing agreement with the NBCUniversal Brand Development Group.
The custom-made and autographed Back to the Future 2-in-1 digital pinball and arcade machine features:
Original Back to the Future artwork, custom designed to make this machine one-of-a-kind
Laser engraved plate autographed by the 3 cast members
In one of the most impressive gatherings of professional wrestling talent in Wizard World history, fans can meet some of wrestling’s biggest names when WWE Superstars John Cena, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sasha Banks,The Bella Twins and Becky Lynch attend Wizard World Comic Con Chicago, August 18, 19 and 20 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
The dates and times for each appearance are as follows:
Thursday, August 18
WWE® Superstar Seth Rollins (4-7 p.m.)
WWE® Superstar Sasha Banks (5-8 p.m.)
Friday, August 19
WWE® Superstar John Cena (3-7 p.m.)
WWE® Superstar Dean Ambrose (4-7 p.m.)
WWE® Superstar Becky Lynch (2-5 p.m.)
Saturday, August 20
WWE® Superstars The Bella Twins (11 a.m.-2 p.m.)
They will greet fans, pose for photo ops, sign autographs and more, at the largest and longest-running Wizard World show.
Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival returns for its third annual festivities on August 18-21, in conjunction with Wizard World Chicago. The Festival has announced highlights of the groovy lineup featuring the critically acclaimed opening night nail-biter Don’t Breathe, directed by Fede Alvarez; a salute to genre hero Fred Dekker; an epic event featuring comedian Doug Benson; and a 25th anniversary celebration of the most excellent sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (originally titled Bill & Ted Go To Hell).
The festivities will kick off on Thursday, August 18, with the opening night film Don’t Breathe, the highly anticipated shocker from director-producer-writer Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) and produced by Sam Raimi & Rob Tapert. Alvarez will be in attendance. This will reunite Campbell with Alvarez, who directed the successful 2013 remake of Evil Dead . Sony Pictures is set to release Don’t Breathe on August 26, 2016.
The inaugural “Groovy as Hell” award will be presented to writer/director Fred Dekker (Fox’s upcoming The Predator). The awards ceremony will consist of a 30th anniversary screening of the cult classic Night of The Creeps and a very special screening of The Monster Squad with actors Andre Gower (Sean) & Ryan Lambert (Rudy) also in attendance.
Festival favorite Doug Benson (Doug Loves Movies, Chromic-Con, Super High Me) will be in town for a very special ‘Doug Benson Movie Interruption’ of Army of Darkness, with guest interrupter Bruce Campbell ! The two will sit in the front row together with a selection of mystery comedy guests, and say whatever hilarious stuff that pops into their head. A limited amount of single tickets for this event are on sale now!
BCHFF is thrilled to present a 25th anniversary celebration of everyone’s favorite time-traveling metalhead slackers, a screening of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey with director Peter Hewitt in attendance! Additional guests for this screening will be announced at a later date.
The festival will also mark the World Premieres of Found Footage 3D, the long-awaited satirical horror film produced by Kim Henkel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and directed by Steven DeGennaro, and Show Yourself, a haunting & remarkable genre-bending feature debut from Billy Ray Brewton (subject of the wonderful award-winning 2014 documentary Skanks, and programmer for Slamdance Film Festival).
Fans in the region will also experience the Chicago premieres of:
The Greasy Strangler – The most hilariously disturbing film of the year. From Elijah Wood’s Spectrevision, Drafthouse Films, & Ant Timpson.
Here Alone – Winner of the 2016 Tribeca Audience Award.
Abattoir – From Darren Bousman, the director of Saw 2, 3, 4, Repo: The Genetic Opera, Mother’s Day, and The Devil’s Carnival. Darren will be in attendance to present the film.
Pet – The SXSW hit starring Dominic Monaghan (Lord of The Rings Trilogy).
I am Not a Serial Killer – Starring Christopher Lloyd in yet another career defining performance.
Beyond The Gates – Winner of the midnight audience award at Los Angeles Film Festival.
The Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival jury this year includes a few dignitaries well-known to horror fans: Tom Holland (writer/director, Fright Night, Child’s Play); Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror Picture Show ); Cerina Vincent ( Cabin Fever); and Zach Hagen (producer, He Never Died).
Many additional titles, surprises and guest announcements will be announced over the coming month, along with a very special closing night feature, presented by Bloody-Disgusting.com.
Festival badges are $100, and are on sale now at www.bchff.com! Limited single tickets sales for screenings will go on sale Wednesday, July 6th.
The festival and all screenings will be held at the Carmike Muvico Rosemont 18.
A trio of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re wrong
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovato, Stephen Lang
Dir: Fede Alvarez
Distributor: Sony Pictures
U.S. Release Date: August 26
How do you build a haunted house? Ask the enigmatic Jebediah Crone, the main suspect in a case of stolen rooms where horrific tragedies have occurred.
Cast: Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye, Dayton Callie, Bryan Batt,, J. Larose
Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
BEYOND THE GATES
Seven months after their father’s disappearance, two brothers reunite to liquidate the family video store. Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse when they find an old VHS boardgame with evil powers, and all hell breaks loose.
Cast: Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton, Matt Mercer, Jesse Merlin
Dir: Jackson Stewart
FOUND FOOTAGE 3D
A group of low-budget filmmakers sets out to make “the first 3D found footage horror film,” but find themselves *in* the first 3D found footage horror film when the evil entity from their movie escapes into their behind-the-scenes footage.
Cast: Carter Roy, Alena von Stroheim, Chris O’Brien, Tom Saporito, Scott Allen Perry, Jessica Perrin, Scott Weinberg
Dir: Steven DeGennaro
THE GREASY STRANGLER
Pure. Fucking. Chaos.
Cast: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo
Dir: Jim Hosking
A young woman struggles to survive on her own in the wake of a mysterious epidemic that has decimated society and forced her deep into the unforgiving wilderness.
Cast: Lucy Walters, Adam David Thompson, Gina Piersanti, Shane West
Dir: Rod Blackhurst
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
In a small Midwestern town, a troubled teen with homicidal tendencies must hunt down and destroy a supernatural killer whilst keeping his own inner demons at bay.
Cast: Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Max Records
Dir: Billy O’Brien
Seth works at an animal shelter, and for years has been secretly in love with a waitress named Holly . When he repeatedly fails in his attempts to woo her, he naturally decides to lock her in a cage at the shelter where he works. And that’s just the beginning…
When his friend dies unexpectedly, Travis heads into the woods with his ashes to say goodbye. But as he deals with his grief, and the way it has affected the relationships in his life, he starts to realize that he actually might not be alone.
Cast: Ben Hethcoat, Corsica Wilson, Barak Hardley, Stephen Cone, David McElwee, Robert Longsteet.
As if appearances by superstars from Star Wars, Back to the Future, “The X-Files,” “The Walking Dead” and many more film and TV favorites weren’t enough, there’s another reason for fans to grab VIP admissions to Wizard World Comic Con Chicago, as the first 800 “Wizard World VIP” attendees will receive copies of the “Batman #50” and “Superman #50” exclusive black & white variant covers, both drawn by Patrick Gleason. The Midwest’s largest pop culture convention is set for August 18-21 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Note that this applies to “Wizard World VIP” purchasers only; celebrity VIP packages are not included in this offer.
Batman has returned to Gotham City! In this extra-sized conclusion to Snyder and Capullo’s epic story “Superheavy,” Bruce Wayne returns to the cape and cowl to battle Mr. Bloom alongside Jim Gordon for the fate of the city they both love. “Batman #50” is written by Scott Snyder, with art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki. Gleason’s cover is an homage to Jim Lee’s Batman #608 2nd Print.
Superman returns in all his glory in this very special issue that sees the Man of Steel back to full power as he faces his greatest enemy and also comes face to face with the pre-Flashpoint Kal-El! At last, it’s the meeting of the Supermen you’ve been waiting for! “Superman #50” is written by Gene Luen Yang, art by Howard Porter. Gleason’s cover is an homage to Jim Lee’s Superman #204.
Among the standout celebrities attending Wizard World Comic Con Chicago are Carrie Fisher (Star Wars); Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson (Back to the Future); David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”); Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”), Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Rosario Dawson, Elodie Yung and Elden Henson (“Daredevil”) and many more.
Top creators, in addition to Gleason, include Gene Ha (“Justice League”), Humberto Ramos (“Amazing Spider-Man”), Greg Weisman (“Captain Atom”), Claudio Aboy (“Heavy Metal”), Fernando Dagnino (“Suicide Squad”), J.J. Sedelmaier (“Sat TV Funhouse/SNL cartoons”), Clinton Hobart (Licensed Disney Fine Artist), Jorge Molina (“Uncanny X-Men”), Manuel Garcia (“Iron Man”), Rafa Sandoval (“Action Comics”) Tim Seeley (“Revival”), Guy Gilchrist (“Nancy”), Greg Horn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and dozens of others.
Chicago show hours are Thursday, August 18, 3-8 p.m.; Friday, August 19, noon-7 p.m.; Saturday, August 20, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, August 21, 10 a.m.-5 p.
Wizard World, Inc., has announced that Star Wars’Carrie Fisher will make her first Wizard World appearance ever in Chicago, where she will join the Back to the Future trio of Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson. Also, The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson will join the previously announced David Duchovny, Mitch Pileggi & William B. Davis for a cast reunion, August 20-21!
The beloved Back to the Future stars will take part in a Wizard World Q&A panel, hosted by Michael Klastorin, the production publicist on the second and third films in the series, and author of “Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History.” The panel will discuss entertaining behind the scenes stories of the making of the films, and reflect upon the impact the film has had on movie-going fans of all ages for more than three decades!
Located at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, they will join previously announced guests including Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), the cast of Netflix’s “Marvel’s Daredevil” including Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock/Daredevil), Deborah AnnWoll (Karen Page), Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson), Jon Bernthal (Frank Castle/The Punisher), Elodie Yung (Elektra Natchios), and Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple), and more.
Wizard World, Inc. has announced that the cast of Netflix’s breakout hit series Marvel’s Daredevil will be on the scene at Wizard World Chicago, August 18 -21, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Actores from the show scheduled to attend include Charlie Cox(Matt Murdock/Daredevil), Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page), Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson), Jon Bernthal (Frank Castle/The Punisher), Elodie Yung (Elektra Natchios), and Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple). All of the cast members are scheduled to appear Saturday, August 20th – Sunday, August 21st, and will meet & greet fans, sign autographs, pose for professional photographs (Photo Ops), and conduct interactive Q&A panels.
Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix is a live action series that follows the journey of attorney Matt Murdock, who in a tragic accident was blinded as a boy but imbued with extraordinary senses. Murdock sets up a practice in his hometown neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York where he fights against injustice as a respected lawyer by day and a masked vigilante by night.
The Daredevil cast will be joined by previously announced guests including Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), Sebastian Stan (Captain American: The Winter Soldier), David Duchovny (X-Files), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), and more.
Horror fans across the Midwest will again be treated to the best in genre film as Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival returns to the Chicago area from August 18-21. The 3rd annual festivities will feature dozens of films including the U.S. and World Premieres of both features and shorts, special anniversary screenings, 35mm repertory screenings, and a variety of special guests. The festival will once again be held in conjunction with Wizard World Chicago, all under the guidance of the inimitable, one-of-a-kind host, Bruce Campbell.
Submissions are now open for both short and feature films; details and information on how to submit are available at www.BCHFF.com.
In 2015, BCHFF featured the U.S. Premiere of Tales of Halloween , a 30th anniversary screening of Fright Night with writer/director Tom Holland , special guest Eli Roth, along with the Chicago premieres of He Never Died, Turbo Kid, Dude Bro Party Massacre III, and many more!
Further details on the program, guests, venues, and tickets will be announced at a later date.
I caught up with Victor Dandridge after a panel on independent comics and diversity that was a bit of a disaster. All of the other panelists were white men, and while they acknowledged the absurdity of their situation, they ended up sidestepping most of the issues that the panel intended to engage with. But Victor clearly had plenty to say about representing diversity: as an African-American writer, as the creator of black gay superhero The Samaritan, and as the owner of Vantage: Inhouse Productions. We discussed his many projects, marketing to different age groups, and identifying with comics characters who don’t look like us. I started off asking Victor to talk about his work in general.
Victor Dandridge: Basically, with my work I try to – and this is one of the things I wanted to get into [on the How Independent Creators Can Help Solve the Industry’s Diversity Issues panel] but we didn’t get into, is I actually delegate my books based on age range. So I have all-ages with Wonder Care Presents: The Kinder Guardians, teen-friendly with Origins Unknown, young adult with The Trouble w/ Love, and adult with The Samaritan. So I’m actually one who aims to speak to age groups more than anything. That’s what’s important for me.
Graphic Policy: You’re trying to get a wide audience by segmenting and having them cross over.
VD: Exactly. I don’t want to be one of those guys that presumes the universal product. I know a lot of people that are like, “Oh, anybody can read my book.” Yeah, that might be true, but it’s made for somebody in mind. Like, there’s a certain audience that it speaks best to. I’m not one to openly say, I make black comics, but The Samaritan does speak as a black comic. That one is one. Is The Trouble w/ Love? Maybe not. Does that mean black people can’t get into it? Far from it. But that’s not necessarily who it seems to be marketed to, so that’s not necessarily who I would market it to directly. Same thing with Wonder Care. I know plenty of adults who love Wonder Care. It is kid friendly though. It aims to market itself to children. That’s the goal. So it’s one that says, yes, I acknowledge that this is who it’s for. Can other people get into it? Absolutely. But I definitely take into consideration that I am making things for certain groups of people that might not transcend to everybody. That’s legit, you know?
GP: And there’s a place for that. I think you do run into that trap of, do you write for “everybody,” or do you market to a specific segment, or do you just write what you feel and just figure out who’s going to respond to it?
VD: As an indie guy, one of the things that I think gets me away from that is having multiple titles. I know a lot of people who only have one title, so they’re stuck in this place of saying, “This is my book, and it has to speak to everybody, because I only have this one thing.” I’ve been fortunate enough to have a diverse range and so I am effectively able to say, no. This is more for you. This is more for you. And people can say, “Okay, cool.” And I can accept that, and I can run with it. So it works out well.
GP: It’s fun to hear somebody say that when you do have most people who are very, very invested in one project. But I do want to hear more about some of the specific titles that you write. I’m really curious about The Trouble w/ Love, especially because of the anecdote you told [on the panel] about people not wanting to look at it.
VD: Okay, so The Trouble w/ Love is a young adult title, and it features a Superman analogue named Apex Prime. And he has a wife and a family, but then he falls in love with someone else, and years later his son comes to him and says, “Dad, what happened?” And he’s basically explaining how human he is despite all of his myriad superpowers and things like that. And it’s more of a true story. It is actually about my life, a little bit more than not. I had to actively decide not to portray the characters as African-American, because I didn’t want it to necessarily be this thing that is used as a stipulation against black people. I had to think that way. I felt like it would actually speak more universally if it had more roots toward the Superman archetype that it’s built off of. So that’s what I wanted. I already had an African-American Superman-level character in The Samaritan. No need to overpopulate, try to fill in quotas. Let’s switch it up! I don’t have to make him look like me even though this is my story. This could be anybody. Let that play out on the page. So he is definitely Caucasian. The woman that he falls in love with is Hispanic. We’re playing around with things. Not trying to hit quotas, but it’s just how the story worked. It worked for me that way. So that’s why I wanted to tell it. It just is ironic that I was at a show, standing behind a table for black creators, and this woman’s like, “No. I don’t want to read it because it doesn’t have black people.” And I’m like –
GP: It’s autobiographical!
VD: It’s about me! “Yeah, but it doesn’t look like you.” And I’m like, so? There’s lots of people that don’t look like me that speak to me. It is what it is. But people sometimes have trouble looking beyond themselves, which is sad. Forest for the trees.
GP: Are there characters who, growing up as a comics fan, you identified with despite the fact that they didn’t look like you?
VD: Absolutely. So I gave the “Great power, great responsibility” thing. My uncle was violently killed. He was one of the guys who was so behind my getting into comics, and I was eleven years old. Batman! I can get behind that! So the idea of me saying, at eleven, I want to make comics for a living in honor of my uncle, that is essentially my vow by candlelight a la Batman. I didn’t have to have Bruce Wayne look like me in order to have that understanding. Gun violence is something that is very typical in the black community. I can understand that. I don’t have to [descend] into being a gang member, I don’t have to run the streets. I can say, okay, this bad thing happened. I don’t want it to happen to me. I want to do something different. And this is something that we both had an affinity for. I’m going to do something in this vein for him. That’s what I got from Batman. Same with the X-Men as an entire concept. The idea of being hated and feared because you’re different! Yeah, that speaks! It wasn’t until 1975 that we actually had an African-American character in the X-Men, and she was female. I’m not female, so all the more reason to find something akin to who I am, or something about what I think, that is alike with these characters, and it not have to be this cookie-cutter flat-out mirror image of myself.
GP: I’m very much with you on that. People always ask me who my favorite member of the X-Men is, and I’m like, Beast, obviously, and then they look at me for a minute.
VD: I love Gambit. I wanted to be a charming guy, and I wasn’t that cool. I was kind of nerdy. So there was something majestic about how suave he was. I loved Gambit, and that was it. He wasn’t Wolverine, he wasn’t Cyclops. I didn’t need to be the leader. I didn’t need to be the most popular dude. I wanted to be the cool guy.
GP: And I wanted to be the one in the basement who was secretly solving everybody’s problems. Which is Beast. But I did want to talk to you about The Samaritan, which is the one of yours that I know, and didn’t realize was yours. So I’m putting a face to it, which is really cool. But what I love about it – I don’t know if you realize that whenever people talk about queer comics, this is one of the first ones that comes up as an interesting one because of the intersectionality of it being a comic about a black character and a comic about a gay character. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that intersection and how you’re twisting the Superman tropes?
VD: With that one, the main character, Smith, is actually homosexual. It’s not something that is widely talked about, because it’s not necessarily pertinent to what he’s doing right now. But it is something that I’ve built into this character, something that’s not going to be for a shock and awe reveal or anything like that. It’s something that I feel is pertinent to him. In fact, there’s a part in the fifth issue where Nita, who is – we’ll call her the prostitute, she throws an option at him, and he declines. That’s one of the first clues that you get, it’s like, he’s not interested in her because he doesn’t like girls. The figure [of Smith] himself is a strong, resolute figure. The idea that he’s homosexual does not make him weak, it doesn’t make him a pansy, sissy, any of the stupid, degrading adjectives that are thrown into anybody who is homosexual. Especially in the black community, it’s not something that is regarded as highly, or even respected as it should be. A person’s preferences, they’re preferences, leave it be. But that’s not the way the community as a whole operates. So that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to look at him that way, to showcase him as that type of figure. I think there’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s the point. I want kids to be like, “Yeah, I want to be Smith!” and have him be so cool, that even with the reveal that he’s gay, they’re like, “So? He’s still awesome. Yeah! I still want to be Smith.” That’s what I’m looking for.
GP: So he’s transcending, and also the idea that he’s still gay even when he doesn’t have a love interest.
VD: Exactly. I recently saw something where they were talking about the notions of how bisexual individuals are portrayed in film, and how it always shows that they are either scandalous, or cheating, or things like that. And I was thinking, well, here’s the truth. The idea of you saying that you’re bisexual can only seem like it’s legit on paper unless you interject both sexes as an option. The only way that you’re really going to do that is to show somebody either being polyamorous, or they’re cheating, or whatever. It’s an unfortunate thing, but the truth is, you would be bisexual even if you’re with a guy and only a guy. If you still have an attraction to women, you’re bisexual. No one should have to prove it in order to claim who they are. And that’s what the point is with Smith. He doesn’t have to be actively seeking a male counterpart right now in order for him to truly be gay. Gay men can be single, too. I feel like that’s a crazy thing to have to say, but apparently we do.
GP: And I think you can get at that perspective by having him be an outsider in more than one way, and having his race something that’s not always commented on but is always present. And making the analogy between the two.
VD: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things that we ended up playing around with very decisively. We have him without a costume. The idea is that he’s wearing a simple hoodie. His aim is to fit into the neighborhoods that he’s walking around in. To just be who he is, and look like as many people as possible, function like anybody else that’s there, but actively be saving as many people as he can.
VD: Thank you.
GP: You are really proud of being an independent writer [and artist].
VD: Absolutely. I love it.
GP: What do you see as the advantages of going that route?
VD: I am free to do whatever style of storytelling that pops into my head. I don’t have to ask permission, I don’t have to see if it’s okay, if it’s going to fit somebody else’s demographic analysis, go through their marketing programs or anything like that. I can just tell stories. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I do have a story that fell short. It’s called The Villain. I’ve only recently started talking about it again because I was disappointed in it. But at the same time, I kind of revel in the sense that I was able to produce a multitude of titles, and only one hasn’t quite found the market that I was looking for. But in that sense, I can still say, hey, I did it! Nobody can take that away from me. I still put forth more work into this world. I put forth effort, and I learned stuff from it. As an indie guy, I am so free to do as many things as possible. It’s just really up to my whim, what I feel I want to do at any given time. And that’s the beauty part. I’m constantly creating. And I love it.
GP: Do you have any future projects, or anything you’re planning on?
VD: Oh, God, yes! The Trouble w/ Love actually has a follow-up. This is a one-shot, and we have a follow-up called Never Too Late. It’s going to be a four-part series that deals with some of the ramifications or repercussions of this story. That’s going to be coming out. We do have a secret thing with The Samaritan in celebration of the five-year anniversary of its first issue coming out. I don’t want to say too much about it. It’s going to be a surprise. We’re still continuing Wonder Care Presents: The Kinder Guardians. Issue four, ideally speaking, will be out somewhere around October or November. There’s lots and lots of things that are coming out that are all just about pushing ideas. We’re returning with Origins Unknown, volume two of that one. I’m very excited. Lots of cool stuff.
GP: You are so excited when you talk about your work! Don’t apologize – I love that.
VD: I love my stuff, yes, but I love comics as a whole. So it’s always going to be something I get excited about.
GP: If you were to go to the dark side and write for someone else, what character or series would you love to write or draw for?
VD: In the weirdest way possible, I openly state that I would love to write Youngblood for Rob Liefeld. I know! No one thinks that I’m serious when I say this, but I am 100% serious! I think it has such a unique cast of characters, and I would love to get my hands on them.
GP: I love the most left-field answers, because then I’m picturing it.
VD: Yes, you’re like, “So what would you do with it?” And I’m like, yes. Exactly.
GP: Everything! That’s what you would do with it.
VD: Everything. That’s exactly what I would do. I’d have so much fun with that.
GP: Pirates, aliens, cowboys, or ninjas?
VD: Aliens. All day.
GP: Why aliens?
VD: Aliens have the most promise. Like, we know ninjas, we know what they’re capable of. We know what pirates are capable of. There’s something about aliens that’s so far reaching and open. Yes. Give me aliens all day, every day. That’s what I want.
Of all the independent comics I previewed before heading to Chicago Comic-Con, Kiki Jenkins‘ Idolonis the one that made me binge read until I lost track of time. The two chapters of the webcomic posted so far are sweet schoolgirl romance – Azumanga Daioh meets Mean Girls with a sapphic twist – but Jenkins revealed in our interview that Idolon is about to take a sharp left turn, as we learn about several characters’ entanglement in a criminal underworld. In under a year, Jenkins’ memorable characters have brought her a passionate fan base, whose financial support has allowed her to produce a print version of Idolon.
Graphic Policy: Tell me a little bit about Idolon in general.
Kiki Jenkins: It’s about a girl named Cassandra. She’s been homeschooled for her entire life, very sheltered, by a very eccentric father. Her senior year of school, she gets a scholarship to attend a school with actual real live people. She meets Sam, who is sort of a girl like her except she’s very shunned by the entire school. [Cassandra] finds out later that the reason no one likes Sam is because no one likes her sister, Deanna. Deanna and her girlfriend Benny are part of this crime ring. So they’re hardened criminals, but they’re hilarious at the same time. So they’re not, like, horrible people. And [Cassandra] basically gets thrust into this life that’s completely foreign to her. But both of them learn from each other. Deanna learns to tone it back a little bit, and Cassandra learns how to come out of her shell – by living with criminals! And it’s also a love story, at the heart of that, as well.
GP: The high school and schoolgirl influences are really obvious, but also the crime story – what gave you the idea to bring those two genres together?
KJ: I just thought that would hit people really hard, that they would be reading this, like, you read the first chapter, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s a cute little schoolgirl story!” and then bam, you’re hit with these criminals, and I thought that would be a really fun juxtaposition. To explore Cassandra’s side, where she’s this schoolgirl, and also Deanna’s side, because they happen to be friends, and live in the same space, but they’re two completely different people. I didn’t get any inspiration from the criminal side from my life, but a little bit of the things they do from experiences that I’ve had. I just thought it would be really fun and really different.
GP: You’re making the transition from web comic to print. How did you get that opportunity?
KJ: I got everything from my readers. I was really excited to find that I had more readers than I thought. I’m really blessed by having tons of loyal fans, readers who would be willing to buy a copy. So I did a crowdfunding for it – everything is crowdfunded. But even when it becomes published, everything will still be free, available online, because I think it’s really important that people get to read the story, and the story that I will present to people, for free. But having those loyal fans who have helped me print it, like, all of the preorders that they did, is what funded it, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
GP: That’s amazing, to get the fans so involved.
KJ: Absolutely, and being sort of new – the comic is only in chapter two, and to have that already is just incredible. My fans are everything. I owe everything to my readers.
GP: Are there things that the fans have suggested that you’ve put in?
KJ: Sort of. I think it’s more that they’ve guessed what will happen. People will say that they want to see Benny doing this, when that’s already planned for her. I think they’re reading, and they get a sense of who she is, and they’re like, “Oh, I hope this happens.” And it will. And lots of crazy things that people are going to expect are going to happen to all of the characters. The story is already completely planned out, but I still have room open for little suggestions, like for new characters, and things like that.
GP: One of the things that really spoke to me is this experience of young women coming out to themselves and falling in love for the first time. What is it you’re trying to put forth, especially to young female readers who might be coming out as lesbian or bisexual? What do you hope they get out of that in particular?
KJ: I hope that they see both sides of the coin. Cassandra, who hasn’t even come out to herself yet, and then Deanna, who’s just totally out there. She’s the most out person, and really blatant about it, same with Benny. I want readers to be able to see that no matter what their experiences, whether they’re a Cassandra or a Deanna, or somewhere in between, they’re not alone, and there’s always going to be someone there who has gone through it and will be able to help them through it, even if their family doesn’t approve of it. Because Deanna, her family has absolutely disowned her for it. I really want them to see that there’s different levels of being out. There’s being really out and there’s being not at all out. But whatever people are experiencing, they’re not alone. One of the characters is probably experiencing it too.
GP: Since you’re self-published, you do all the writing and the art yourself. The positive side of that is, you get to do whatever you want, but the negative side is self-editing. Is there anything you thought of for the characters that you decided not to do?
KJ: So much. [Laughs] There’s so many parts when I think, oh, I’m going to do this storyline, and then I’m like, Kiki, you need to pull it back. I’ve already gone out on a limb with some of the things that Benny and Deanna will be doing that are very violent. Even then, I’ve had to have myself reel it in and self-censor myself a lot. But then when I take it to other people, like close friends that I share it with, they’re like, “No, man, you’ve got to go for it!” That’s the great thing about being self-published, and about being your own writer and artist, is that if you’re going to do it, you’d better, like, full-out, pull no punches when you do it. There’s going to be a lot of things that are really out there, but I hope it will be something that people haven’t really seen before because you can’t get away with nearly as much when you’re published by a publishing house or with someone else’s writing. It’s going to get really crazy really fast.
GP: If you could draw or write for any existing comic character or series, what would it be?
KJ: Ms. Marvel. Absolutely. I love Ms. Marvel. I love her relationship with Captain Marvel, and the fact that she’s so different from the superheroes that we see right now. She’s Muslim, she’s a woman of color, and that’s super important to me. And not only that, but she’s just like me! She writes fan fiction, and she’s super geeky, and she totally has no idea what she’s doing with her life, and she’s awesome. I’d really love to explore that. Plus, her character design is really cool. I love Ms. Marvel.
GP: I love it when somebody brings up one of my favorites. I’m like, “Yes!”
KJ: That or Spider Gwen. I love Spider Gwen too.
GP: Pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?
KJ: Ninja aliens.
GP: You only get one. Everybody wants to pick two! You get one.
KJ: Aliens. Aliens are way more fun. You’re not constricted by human experiences. You can make the craziest crap up and people will be like, “They’re aliens. It makes sense.” And that’s totally what I’m here for.
In their new ongoing series for Action Lab Entertainment, Awake, writer Susan Beneville and artist Brian Hess imagine a future where young people travel through space, saving planets in crisis – by talking to the planets directly. Susan and Brian told me all about the process of turning Brian’s fantastical vision into words and images, and how they collaborate to bring the world of Awake to life. They aim to make Awake accessible to a young adult audience but appealing to all ages, and they take pride in telling a story where compassion and cleverness are more effective than violence in solving the problems their characters face.
Graphic Policy: Just tell me a little bit about Awake.
Susan Beneville: Awake is a story about a young girl and her brother who are part of an intergalactic race of people who have the ability to communicate with planets and to wake up planets. So when a planet’s in trouble, when a planet is about to go through a natural transition, it’s the job of these children to go down to the planet and wake up the planet’s consciousness and help it through these transitions. So in our story, Regn, the young girl, has to go to this planet, and she finds out that this planet is already in complete chaos – fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes – and so she has to figure out why there’s so much chaos on this one particular planet. It’s one of the things that I was really trying to do with the comic, writing it, was to really think about the idea that a planet has a consciousness, and so one of our main characters in the series is Gremon, which is the consciousness of the planet. The planet itself is a character.
GP: That’s really neat because we’re used to seeing spaceships as characters, but a planet as a character is taking it in a new direction. What kinds of comics or novels that came earlier influenced you in this, if anything?
SB: I don’t think I, personally, had any reference. The original idea was Brian’s.
Brian Hess: I came up with this idea. I wanted to do something for kids, and I was reading a lot of young adult graphic novels like Doug TenNapel’s Rat Fist or [Kazu Kibuishi’s] Amulet. I was also watching [Avatar: The Last Airbender] and [Legend of Korra]. This started back in 2008, so Korra wasn’t even out. And the funny thing is, one of the characters in [Awake], Operi, is this big polar bear dog. And after Korra came out, I was like, “Oh no! What did I just do? Darn it!” A lot of people were referencing that, “Oh, you just copied Korra,” and I’m like, “No, this came out quite a while ago.” We spent a lot of time – way too much time – nurturing it, getting it where it’s at today. We started this, what, two years ago now?
SB: In earnest, yeah.
BH: Really got into it two years ago, and we’re really happy with where it’s at. I really had to get over the I just need to make this kind of feeling and stop reworking it. I did the first seven pages over, what, four times?
BH: Seven times? I stopped counting after the second one. But I wanted it to look like an animated film. That was my goal. Animation, Treasure Planet was a big influence on this, stylistically, along with all of those young adult books.
GP: How did you two start working together?
SB: My cousin and I, several years ago, were hired to do a custom comic book for a big hotel chain in the Bahamas. I was writing it, and my cousin was the creative director. We hired Brian to do the artwork after some really bad experiences with other artists. We landed on Brian and he was amazing.
BH: Thank God.
SB: Seriously. Then, in 2009 or 2010, he came to me because he had this idea for Awake. At that point, I would say it was more like a vision than a full-on plot.
BH: I had some basic text in there. Literally, the first seven pages are still in the book in some form. That she did that is kind of fun for me.
SB: To honor him. But then he said, “I need to bring in a writer,” and asked me if I would write it. We sat and we talked for three or four hours, and that’s when we really started to talk about, what is the story really about? What’s the theme going to be? Who are the key characters going to be? What is it that we want them to achieve? And then I went home and wrote a treatment that was, like, twenty pages long. He looked at it, thumbs up on both sides. I started scripting, and we initially self-published last year.
BH: September 2014. So it’s been a year now, almost a year to the day since we originally launched it. We’re relaunching it with Action Lab September 16.
GP: So you’re relaunching from the beginning?
BH: Yeah, but if you did pick up the original 700-piece run that we had, we split it up in two, so that’s the first and the second issue, and we added ten new pages to each, so if you did get [the self-published version] – if you were lucky enough to get it – you do get something new.
GP: Are you hoping to have this be an ongoing, with an open run?
BH: It’s an ongoing bi-monthly series. I’ve already finished the first arc, and I’m working on the second arc.
SB: He’s doing the arc right now on issue number 5, and I’m already scripting issues 6 through 8. We are fully intending this to be an ongoing. Action Lab is absolutely committed to it and has been super supportive. I’m never quite sure if we’re allowed to say this, but we’re actually the Action Lab free comic book.
BH: We are the submission for Action Lab. We are their Free Comic Book Day submission. I’ve already finished that.
SB: It’s so cool!
BH: We literally just finished it a week ago. And if we do get in there, it’s going to be really fun. It’s my favorite issue so far. But every issue that I’ve just finished is my favorite one. I become obsessed with every page until I’m done with it.
GP: I think that’s almost a typical artistic progression. You get that, “I love what I’m doing,” and then the “I hate what I’m doing.”
SB: I feel like that’s my personal challenge, to put something in each book that’s going to be new and exciting for him to draw. And then it’s also my personal challenge to throw in a couple pages that will make him tear what’s left of his hair out.
BH: No, but the fun thing is, the way we work is, like here [points to Awake art on display in the booth], we have these two characters in a buggy, and that was just something I came up with, and she’s like, “All right, I’ve got to find a way to put this in.” And so in the second arc, the buggy turned into an ice buggy. And I love it. I love that the first arc had the hover bikes, and the second one is going to have a lot more vehicles like the snow buggy. (That isn’t spoiling anything.) I have other ideas for crazy vehicles. There’s something for everybody, you know? The little girl who’s kind of learning and growing up, and finding out where her place is, and her powers, and how to take care of herself. You have her brother Picar, who’s learning, or relearning how to use his powers, and how to take on the role that he was meant to have. And then we have all this kind of fun stuff happening on the side. It’s so much fun to have kids come up, and they’ll pick it up on a Friday and come back on a Saturday and be like, “What happens next issue?” and I’m like, “You have to wait! I’m sorry! It’s on a schedule!” And we’ll have adults who will do the same thing. It’s really fun, it’s really rewarding to go to the shows and have that instant gratification of them reading it and giving feedback.
GP: You guys lit up when I mentioned the political angle of Graphic Policy. Are there messages or ideas that you’re hoping to get across, even under the radar?
SB: I don’t feel like it’s political.
BH: It’s not environmental, either.
SB: To me, it’s more like a spiritual thing, or an emotional thing. For me personally, my politics, I’m from the Bay Area, I’m progressive. But it really is this concept that things are connected, particularly within a planet, that it manifests what we put into it. So it’s this broader idea of taking responsibility for your world. Sure, the bad guys here definitely abuse the planet and take advantage of the chaos that happens. And some of my politics is there in terms of pollution and things like that. But it’s really focused on feelings, and extremely positive in that respect. One of the things we tried to stay away from – and it’s a hard thing to do in comics – is the real easy violence. I really struggle to make sure that the way that they resolve conflict is clever, and not just, how do I use my powers to punch that guy in the face? And it’s also the idea that if you have power, it’s not that easy to use it. You have to know how to use it. You have to have the confidence to use it. Particularly because our main character is a girl. I really wanted to show that she’s struggling with it. She’s fighting her comfort level with it. And she’s the only one who can do it for herself. She has a guide who helps her, but the first two arcs are really going to be about her getting that maturity level where she becomes completely confident in her powers. And that, to me, I’m really looking forward to that. That’s going to be a beautiful thing, when she actually has the ability to say, “You know what, I’m good. I’m really good, and I have this self-esteem and this confidence.” And not everybody in the book, like her brother, they don’t all have it.
BH: It’s a good balance, too. I mean, there are fistfights in the comic. You’ll see in the second issue that comes out in November. There are straight-up fistfights. There’s a bar brawl. But it’s to show how demeaning that can be to your character, and how immature it is. And then the only other time they really get rough is at the end of the first arc, when they are literally fighting for their lives. One of them is going to be kidnapped. And I really like that it’s not violent to be violent. There’s no bad language in it. It’s really clean, and every piece of dialogue is really thoughtful. That’s one thing I like about how Susan writes – everything has a meaning. It’s not just dialogue for dialogue’s sake. And everything is building an emotion and building on character.
SB: And one of the other things that we were really trying to do was to create a book that we felt was truly an all-ages book. Because there are a lot of books that I love that are really kids’ books, and the language is a lot more simple, the story is a lot more simple. For me, I really respect every one of our readers, and I think that a book that appeals to a ten-year-old can be just as appealing to a forty-year-old. They can all have that same connection to it. We really have focused on that in terms of the level of the art, the style of the art, and the language that we use.
GP: I’m a big proponent of getting things out of the “YA ghetto,” of saying things aren’t “less than” because they’re accessible to a younger audience, and they’re not limited to that kind of audience.
BH: Yes, like, the color palette, it’s super saturated. I did that on purpose, because most comics are so monotone or duotone. I’m not knocking them, it’s just that it wouldn’t fit our story. But every colorist I talked to – that’s why I ended up coloring it by myself. I did the penciling, inking, and coloring. Now we have a wonderful colorist, her name is Darné Lang, and she’s doing a fantastic job. She did clean-ups on issues one through four, and then she started doing the full-on color on issue zero, and she’s going to be with us from now on.
GP: I know you’re putting on paper your dream idea, but if you could draw or write any existing comics character or series, what would it be?
SB: Oh, for me, it would be Batwoman.
GP: Is there a reason for that?
SB: Number one, she’s a lesbian character, and I really identify with that. I like that so far, the book has done a really nice job of crossing over the supernatural and superhero/supervillain type of thing. And I just like that her persona is, to me, sort of scratchy and edgy, and she’s not very warm. And yet when I imagine her fighting, it’s just beautiful and graceful.
GP: Brian, what would you draw?
BH: I would love to draw Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s just right up my alley. Even before the movie came out, I was really into it. That would be my dream, to draw that: a cover, or an issue, or anything. A sketch card.
GP: Last and silliest question: pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?
BH: Not pirates. Listen, it’s cowboys and aliens.
GP: Pick one!
SB: Pirates all the way.
GP: There are going to be, like, pirates and cowboys fighting in the third arc.