12-18-10:  Tim And Tristan Of Launching Pad Games Talk Scarlett With Secret Identity

Secret Identity recently reviewed the new iPhone game "Scarlett and the Spark of Life," a funny, well written adventure game that hearkens back to some of the great point and-click games of the past. This week we were lucky enough to catch uo with the creative duo behind "Scarlett and the Spark of Life," Tim Knauf and Tristan Clark of Launching Pad Games.  We talked to Tim and Tristan about the game, their studio, and what plans they have for Scarlett's future.

Secret Identity:  You've sort of taken the old “kidnapped princess” cliché and turned it on its head with “The Spark of Life.” How did the idea for this series come about?

Tristan: I received a text message from Tim one day. It began, “Furious princess builds a horse NO WAIT HEAR ME OUT…” My first reaction was to call him insane, but by the end of it I was convinced. That must have been one impressive text message.

From there, the ideas just tumbled out. No idea where they came from for the most part. Cider may have been involved.

Did one of you guys have a bad experience with a Llama when you were a kid?  What nightmare did you pull the Polcalcos from?

Tristan: No, no, we love llamas! At least, we’re happily neutral about them. They don’t bother us, and we don’t bother them.

Tim: Don’t believe a word he says. Tristan is a secret hater of ungulates and everything they stand for.

What were some of your influences for “Scarlett and the Spark of Life”?

Tim: In terms of other games, I’m going to pull out the big (not to mention obvious) guns and say the "Monkey Island" series, plus other classic LucasArts adventures like "Full Throttle" and "Grim Fandango." That said, we’re certainly not traditionalists; we aim to put a few genre tropes to rest on our journey through the Scarlett Adventures.

Tristan: Beyond games, Terry Pratchett’s "Discworld" novels were almost certainly a big influence. In fact, Scarlett has quite a few parallels to Susan, Death’s granddaughter. Probably some Neil Gaiman thrown in there, too — I do love a good twisted and subverted fairy tale.

It seems like the smartphone, social and casual game development landscape is similar to the old days of pc game development.  Small teams, small games, innovative concepts, etc.  What's your perspective on the development landscape right now, and where do you want to go with Launching Pad Games?

Tim: You know those retrospectives you sometimes see about guys in the early 1980s writing their own games, packaging up tapes in zip-lock bags and making big bucks? I used to read those with a kind of envy. Then I realised that there’s a golden age going on right now. We’ve got all manner of artistic exploration going on in the PC scene, a huge selection of excellent, experimental Flash games (and subsequent remakes as big-selling console titles), the new frontiers of social gaming, the App Store where one- and two-person teams can still sometimes outsell the big publishers… This is a fantastic time to be an independent developer.

Tristan: The Scarlett games should occupy us for a while yet, but beyond that… well, we always have a lot of radically different ideas zipping through our heads, so who knows. As Tim says, the environment we’re in is very exciting right now, so if we can contribute to that, then I’m happy.

For those that enjoyed “Scarlett and the Spark of Life,” can you tell us a bit about the other games you currently have out there?

Tristan: If you want something else with a story, you should check out The Pretender series of puzzle games. They’re completely free to play on our website, so try them out now!

Tim: And if you’re after some fantastically addictive combo looping score attack fun on your iPhone, grab yourself a copy of Zoo Lasso.

When can we expect the next installment in the Scarlett series?

Tristan: Soon-ish! We’d love to be more specific, but pixies come and break our legs in the middle of the night if we miss an announced release date. Trust me, though, we want people playing and enjoying Scarlett Episode 2 as soon as possible.

Our thanks to Tim and Tristan for taking time to chat with us.  You can find "Scarlett and the Spark of Life" on the iTunes store.  You can find out about all of Launching Pad Games' projects at their official site.

12-10-10: Brimstone Rains Down Upon Secret Identity

A couple of weeks ago we reviewed the first issue of “Brimstone and the Borderhounds,” a new series about the corporate battlefield that is Hell, and a group of pseudo bounty hunters that round up wayward souls who try to escape their fate.  One of the main creative minds behind that series is the man whose name appears in the title—Brimstone.  Brim is a pro wrestler whose entertainment persona is now going beyond the squared circle.

Secret Identity recently had a chance to chat with Brimstone about the origins of both his persona and the comic series that bears his name.

Secret Identity:  For those of our listeners who may not be familiar with your alter ego, can you tell us a bit about Brimstone the wrestler?

Brimstone:  I've been a professional wrestler for well over thirteen years and in entertainment for over thirty! At one time or another, I've worked for all the leading brands in sports entertainment as well as toured the independent circuit worldwide. I've never considered myself a one-trick pony, so when I originally began coming up with a 'gimmick', I wanted something memorable and marketable. That being said, I've since branded the Brimstone name and developed it into more of an entity as opposed to just a wrestling persona. 

How did the initial idea for Brimstone and the Borderhounds come about?

I've always loved comic books and growing up I’d always dreamt of being a character in one. After playing the role of a modern day super-hero in the outlet of professional wrestling, I felt that the Brimstone persona could easily be translated into comic book form. I initially put out a call to a few artists in order to get an idea of what a comic version of Brimstone would look like. The first sketch that I received came from Jacob Chabot who is the creator of the title, “Mighty Skullboy Army” and is currently working for Marvel Comics on “X-Babies.” The design invoked the creativity and got me amped up to start the ball rolling to turn the concept into reality. I spoke with my close friend Marcello Carnevali to see if he would be interested in partnering up with me to construct a universe built around Brimstone. We met up at a local diner for what was supposed to be a cup of coffee and in turn hammered out what I suppose is now the “Brimstone and The Borderhounds” bible. Believe it or not, that was the easy part! Finding the right candidates to become partners in this venture was difficult… I wanted to find people who believed in the project and would earn a vested interest in the success of the final results, not just hired hands. After a vigorous search, I finally came across a young and hungry artist named Sajad Shah. I knew from the moment I saw his work that we needed him on our team! After discussing our vision, we all just knew it was right… we clicked so perfectly together in what we were looking to accomplish. As the founding members of Hound Comics, the three of us built the initial look and history behind the universe. Five years of hard work and dedication have finally paid off as the title has begun to come into its own! 

Can you give folks a quick synopsis of the book?

As per Issue #2:  “You’ve met your fate, you shuffled off this mortal coil, you’ve bought the farm; simply speaking… you’ve died. Physics dictates that energy cannot be destroyed just changed, so we are born, we live, we die and then what ever remains of our consciousness surfs the subspace corridor, known as the Nexus, until it is plucked out and remanded to whatever existence you’re sorry butt got chosen for. A choice made long before you ever exited your mother’s womb. Whether it’s Hell, Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana or a number of competing factions; everyone that has ever died, ever, in any world in our universe goes somewhere. Those unlucky enough to end up in “Hell” are brought to a city where the powers that be have bought into our myths and have created a large corporate empire for the sole purpose of obtaining and containing the most precious commodity known, souls.”  I certainly don’t want to give too much away… We have multiple storylines taking place within the same book which coincide with one another. The initial four part story arc sets the tone for the entire series, so if we are something that you may be interested in reading, I’d suggest starting from issue #1. 

You've created a world with a lot of depth for Brimstone and the Borderhounds.  Where did you draw inspiration from?

Just to clarify; it isn’t only me who has created this world and overall universe… I’m ecstatic to have a team of creators who have just as much input as I do. As far as the characters and storyline are concerned, Marcello (lead writer) and I have pulled inspiration from close friends and established wrestling personas in order to breathe life into the pages. All the fun and crazy quirks that exude from these characters are because they are all based on real people with real human qualities. We want the reader to be able to feel something for each character… similar to wrestling. In the ring, it doesn’t matter if they are booing you or cheering you as long as they are giving you some form of a reaction; otherwise you aren’t doing your job. So, we want you to empathize with our characters. Love them, hate them, fear them, and think they are hysterical… as long as you are reacting, we did our job! As for the look and the feel of the world surrounding our fearless pack of Hounds, Sajad (penciler) and Thiago Castro (colorist/letterer) pretty much have full reign of creativity. Aside from the development of the characters’ specific looks and requirements, Sajad has been able to let his imagination run wild with the surroundings and various creatures that lurk within the wasteland. Thiago has taken a phenomenal stand on the colors… you distinctly know when you are in Hell and you know when you’re not. He’s breathed life into the inhabitants with his sadistic style of coloring. Let’s not forget Allen ‘Vandal’ Chickering (inker) who enhances the line work with depth and shading. In my opinion, a concept is just a concept until it’s made into reality. Marcello and I have ideas that we feel are innovative and thought provoking, although without the rest of the team providing the visual for the story… it would be one dimensional. Quite simply, this is a group effort rather than a dictatorship. We’ve all had different inspirations that have helped in creating the foundation of such a vast universe!

Were you a big comic fan growing up?  Who are some of the creators you were inspired by?

I’ve always been a huge fan of comics, especially G.I. Joe and the X-Men (specifically Snake-Eyes and the Beast). The first superhero comic that I ever remember having was "Batman" Vol. 1 #327 released September 1980, although "Star Wars" issue #1 was the very first comic that I had. I used to draw a lot and I wasn’t half bad from what I’m told. My nickname growing up was the Beast and I was the leader of a little club we called the Beast Team… Obsessed much? Hahaha, childhood memories! When I got a little older I got really into "Groo," "New Mutants," "X-Force," "Lobo," "Ghost Rider," "Pitt," "Maxx" and "Spawn." I’ve been inspired by guys like Stan Lee, Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane not necessarily just because of their unbelievable talent, but because of their business savvy.

Do you currently read comics?  What's on your pull list now?

I don’t have as much time as I used to have due to my schedule… when I do get to sit down and read something, I enjoy titles that are different and walk to the beat of their own drummer. My current pull list is pretty small these days but on the regular it includes Mark Miller’s, “Nanny & Hank.” Every so often I’ll pick up an old school book that I haven’t read before, or I’ll grab something that looks cool… just nothing on a regular basis. Again, that doesn’t mean I don’t love comics; because I do! It’s just that I’m pulled in so many directions that I usually can’t get through a book uninterrupted which gets pretty frustrating. I do try and bring books home for my son when I get the chance… he is just about the right age to enjoy them!

So far with "Brimstone and the Borderhounds," we are still meeting new characters and getting a sense of the world.  Can you give us a teaser of what you've got planned as the series goes on?

Be prepared for a lot of big things to come… We have a plethora of special guests making their way into the wasteland including Robb Demarest from SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters International” (trust me it won’t be hokey). Expect more vital characters to rear their ugly heads in the coming issues assisting in answering questions that have been left unanswered. Most of all, get ready to watch ole’ Brim kick some serious ass! On the flipside of things… we currently have the Animated Series in production with an amazing animation house, “Floating Pear Productions.” We are brimming (no pun intended) with anticipation on the animated series; Dee and Damon at FPP are ‘off the chain’ when it comes to transforming our visions into cartoon form! 

We also have the ‘Brimstone’ action figure in production with Shocker Toys for release in Toys R’ Us summer of 2011 and the “Brimstone and The Borderhounds” video game in production with SGN Games for the Xbox LIVE and PS3. Keep an eye out for everything Borderhounds in 2011… it will be the year of the Hound!!!

Secret Identity would like to thank Brimstone for talking with us.  You can find out all about “Brimstone and the Borderhounds” at their official website, www.theborderhounds.com. You can also grab the first two issues of the series over at Drive Thru Comics.

8-29-10:  Michael McMillian Talks Lucid With Secret Identity

Secret Identity listeners and readers may know the name Michael McMillian from HBO's hit series “True Blood.” McMillian's Reverend Steve Newlin was a major villain in the second season of the show as the Reverend and his church, The Fellowship of the Sun, sought to wage war on all vampires.

More recently however, Michael has added the title of 'comic creator' to his resume, as he's the writer and creator of the new miniseries “Lucid.” A joint project between Archaia and Before the Door Pictures (Zachary Quinto's production company), “Lucid” combines Bond-style espionage, medieval magics and inter-dimensional aliens to create a unique world where one man's sorcery is all that protects humankind from that forces that conspire against it. This week Secret identity caught up with McMillian to get more details on the series.

Secret Identity:  Michael, given the work you've done in television and movies, what made you choose comics as the medium for this project?

Michael McMillian: I’ve always wanted to write comics. The opportunity to do so simply happened to present itself after I’d worked out here in LA as an actor for a number of years, but comics have always been a goal along with working in film and TV.“Lucid” was the result of Before the Door’s request that I pitch them some ideas specifically for comics. My goal is to make “Lucid” a comic book that I would enjoy reading.

How did you end up working with Before the Door on this “Lucid”?

I went to college with Zach Quinto, who formed Before the Door with our other schoolmates, Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa. Soon after they got off the ground, they called me up and said that they wanted to create comic books. With Zach’s foray into genre with “Heroes” and “Star Trek,” I thought it made a lot of sense, and naturally I was excited. Neal had previously read a few pilot scripts and screenplays I had written during my first few years in LA and was always a bit of a champion of mine. Basically they threw me a bone and I bit! I pitched them a couple of ideas and the result is “Lucid.”

Was “Lucid” a fairly new idea or something you've been working on for a long time?

The heart of “Lucid”—the idea of secret agents with magic powers working for the government—was a new idea when I started developing the comic with Before the Door. However, I had wanted to do something with magic for a while. Some of the concepts were taken from a pilot I wrote years ago that I eventually abandoned. So a lot of those ideas found new life in “Lucid”. The Ambrosian Order, the Daoine Sidhe, The Pendragon Prophecy and even Wren, who debuts in Issue 3, existed in earlier forms in that script. I may return to that world at some point and perhaps fold it into “Lucid” continuity.

Can you tell us a little more about the world of “Lucid”? We know that magic exists, but is this taking place in an alternate now, or sometime in the future?

Lucid” takes place in a parallel universe—an “alternate now.” Most of our universe’s history is shared with “Lucid's,” but some details are different and probably around the year 2000 our time lines really started to branch off. For instance, Kennedy existed in “Lucid's” timeline, but the Bushes were fictional parallels of the Bushes. Instead of President Barack Obama, “Lucid” has President Jefferson Monday. Magic has always existed, but just like our world, the general public doesn’t believe in it. However, there are those “in the know,” i.e. Secret Magical Orders, governments and certain sects of the social elite who do. However, only those born with a specific “gift” are able to channel magic, so mages in this world are somewhat of a rare commodity and in high demand.

Your main character, Matthew Dee, is a guy who went from being a hardcore cynic to the country's foremost sorcerer. Are we going to find out more about how that transformation happened during this series?

Not immediately. There are hints about it in Vol. 1, but to be honest I was sick to death of origin stories and prequels when I started writing “Lucid.” I wanted to take the Indiana Jones route and just jump into it. I will definitely get to Matthew’s origin story down the line, but I think giving him a bit of mystery up front could pay off better in the long run as opposed to just starting off at the very beginning. That might sound counter-productive, but practically speaking, I only had four issues for this first “Lucid” series, and I approached it as if it were the only one I’d ever get to write, so I chose to dive straight into Matthew’s career as Combat Mage. There are 15 years between pages 2 and 3 of Issue #1. That’s a lot of story. How Matthew made the transition from a disenchanted youth to a combat mage was gradual, so I want to tell the meat of that story when I have a longer miniseries or graphic novel to do it in. My hope is that when the pieces of his backstory are finally put together, readers will go back to “Lucid” Vol. 1, and it will have more meaning for them the second time around. I would like to add, however, that Matthew does retain some of that cynicism. Magic is treated almost like a religion by mages, but Matthew is a bit different. He didn’t lose all of that youthful skepticism during that lost time or during his training, so he’s more of a practical guy who sees magic as a means to an end. His comparative coolness and how it affects his role as “Protector of the Realm” is at the heart of Vol. 1.

With references to Gary Gygax and Kobolds, you must be a D&D fan, right?

I have to confess that I’m not! Maybe I could be considered D&D friendly? I bought the basic set with a buddy when I was in high school, but we didn’t know anyone who played and were totally lost so we quickly gave it up. A few years back I read a great article about Gary Gygax in an issue of The Believer and for some reason it just stayed with me. When I was looking up Swiss last names that could work for Danya, the Swiss Combat Mage on the cover of “Lucid” #1,“Gygax” was listed and it just seemed like an obvious choice. Danya refers to her father in the story, so maybe her dad was a parallel version of Gary Gygax who was actually a Combat Mage in that reality? That’s the kind of fun that I want to have with “Lucid”. “Kobold” was a term I discovered when looking up the Swiss-German word for “goblin.” I had no idea it was used in D&D, but all the better for it!

Are the creatures from another dimension, the “Daoine Sidhe,” considered to be the “big bad” in “Lucid,” or are there even bigger threats that Dee will be facing?

The Daoine Sidhe will be a constant threat to the world of “Lucid,” but they give way to a more immediate villain in Vol. 1. Their presence in the first issue is to help define the world and give it some history and danger. I wanted to establish that one of Majestic’s (the secret government agency that employs mages) primary purposes is to keep watch on the Daoine Sidhe. For all of those conspiracy buffs out there, this is sort of my take on the MJ-12 Program that was supposedly created by the U.S. government after Roswell. These are little clues to readers how the world of “Lucid” is constructed. The Daoine Sidhe will be featured again in future storylines.

Who are some of your creative influences?

Fairly obvious: Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Bendis… David Micheline because he was the first comic writer I ever read and his run with McFarlane on “Amazing Spider-Man” was to me what Claremont and Byrne’s “X-Men” was to most Marvel Zombies. Graham Hancock’s book, “Supernatural,” was a huge influence on “Lucid” as was Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beatles and David Bowie. Vol. 1’s title is “Magical History Tour” and each chapter is named after a song by one of those bands. I picture “Lucid” Vol. 1 being like an EP—it’s a mini-album that establishes a sound and lays the groundwork for what comes next. There’s even a Phil Collins reference in there. Sorry, everybody.

Even though this initial series is a limited one, do you have other stories lined up if Lucid proves successful?

The future of “Lucid” is obviously dependent on sales and all that important business, but I’m hopeful it will live on. In my mind, “Lucid” Vol. 2 will delve further into the history of magic juxtaposed with a high-chase action story that pits Matthew against combat mages from major world powers we don’t see in Vol. 1. It’s sort of a “magical space race” story. Vol. 3 will pick up a major plot thread from Vol. 1 and most likely delve into Matthew’s origin story and his connections to John Dee, his ancestor who was Queen Elizabeth I’s combat mage. After two volumes of big action I imagine it being the most personal and intimate “Lucid” story to date when it arrives. That story should complete the “First Act” of “Lucid.” Readers can make this happen by picking up “Lucid” #1! They will all be helping to ensure the future of a brand-new baby universe. See? Magic! It takes a village, people!

Secret Identity would like to thank Michael McMillian for talking with us about “Lucid.” Issue #1 will be arriving on September 9, 2010. For more info on the series, head over to www.archaia.com and www.beforethedoor.com.

6-20-10:  BOOM Kids! Editor Aaron Sparrow Talks Kids' Comics With Secret Identity

One of the things we love the most here at Secret Identity is spotlighting the efforts of publishers to bring more young readers into comics. Over a year ago one of our favorite publishers, BOOM! Studios, launched a line of comics specifically aimed at younger audiences. The BOOM Kids! line features a slew of Disney/Pixar titles like “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles” and “Cars,” as well as classic Disney series like “Mickey Mouse and Friends” and “Uncle Scrooge.” BOOM Kids! also received critical acclaim for their line of Muppet books, and their “Meet the Muppets” collection was recently nominated for an Eisner award.

This week Secret Identity got a chance to talk to BOOM Kids! Editor Aaron Sparrow about the line and the success it’s had so far.

Secret Identity: It’s been over a year since the BOOM Kids! imprint was launched. Could you talk a little about how the imprint came about and why you thought it was the right time to launch a kids’ imprint?

Aaron Sparrow: Well, there's always been a huge concern that comic readership as a whole is getting older, and that there's a lack of new readers to keep the medium growing. The prevailing sentiment of the industry seemed to be that kids don't read comics anymore. The industry seems to have accepted that as an insurmountable fact, and so they stopped tailoring content to the kids market...a self-fulfilling property if ever there was one. I think our CEO, Ross Richie, took a look at that conventional wisdom and rejected it. After all, he was a kid when he picked up his first copy of “Fantastic Four,” and became a lifelong comic fan. So the idea was a simple one: if you take great properties like the classic Disney characters and the blockbuster Pixar films, and craft engaging stories, why WOULDN'T you be able to get kids back in the comic book stores? Not to mention that the entire BOOM! attitude, from Ross to Mark Waid on down through editorial, is "Don't tell us what we can't do!"

You’ve had a string of first-issue sellouts with BOOM Kids!  Is it safe to say the first year has been a success?

The retailer and fan response has been overwhelming. We've got the most savvy and determined Marketing Director in the industry today, Chip Mosher, and he really got these properties out there and the retailers took notice. The fans showed up to buy the books, but it was the retailers who took the ball and ran with it, and ordered the books to make sure they got into the kids hands.

What kind of response have you gotten from parents so far?

They've been great. BOOM! does a lot of conventions around the country, and every time I've been at the booth I have parents come up and thank us for putting out a line that they feel comfortable reading with their children. Comic fans naturally want to pass on their love of the medium to their children, but many say they didn't feel that there were many books they felt comfortable reading with them. Seeing parents excited about our books and passing that on to their kids is probably the best part of my job.

You’ve worked with Disney/Pixar for a while now with the BOOM Kids! line.  Has it been difficult to work with licensed properties, or have you been given a lot of freedom with them?

Whenever two companies get together, there's going to be growing pains as you figure out what the direction is going to be for the line, and get used to working with each other. That being said, we have been given a lot of freedom to tell new stories, and to be trusted with some of the greatest characters ever created is a great honor. From the Muppets to Woody and Buzz to Uncle Scrooge and Darkwing Duck, there are some of the most recognizable characters on the planet...and we get to play in that sandbox and add to the canon. What could be better than that?

Recently we’ve seen spin-offs of the major Disney lines, like “Ultraheroes” and “Wizards of Mickey,” both of which started as arcs in your core Disney books.  Is that part of the strategy for those core books moving forward, to introduce new series through them?

We're certainly not ruling it out, although we're careful to not over-saturate the market. Not every story we do is intended to spin out into its own series, but if the demand is there, we certainly will. If fan response is overwhelming to something, we'd consider a spin off. We're in the business of pleasing our fans first and foremost.

In addition to the licensed kids' properties you’re currently working with, will you be launching new properties as well through BOOM Kids?
Is this where I use the obligatory "I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you" line?   I'm just going to smile slyly and tell you that's all you're getting out of me at this point.

Can you talk a bit about your newsstand strategy and how that ties into getting kids access to your books?

Getting our comics into the hands of kids everywhere is super important to us. Bigger companies than us have been felled by going big in the newsstand. We've been very careful making gradual steps into that market and it has paid off tremendously. There is definitely room to grow there.

Finally, how is it that BOOM! continues to launch new ventures and be innovative in a time where a lot of companies are ducking and covering?

We're too darn stubborn to know when to quit? Actually, I think the best time to attack is when the market seems to be in retreat. We've made what to some might look like big gambles and they've paid off for us. Play big or go home!

Secret identity would like to thank Aaron Sparrow for taking time to talk with us about the BOOM Kids! line. For more information, head over to www.boom-kids.com.

6-11-10: Todd C. Rowland of Alderac Entertainment

Coming this September is a game that involves elements of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’! ‘Dust Tactics’ is a world where events in our past have changed and effected the outcome of World War Two. The game will be making its debut this summer ant a little show called Gen Con and will hit stores sometime in September!  

Todd C. Rowland of Alderac Entertainment Group took some time to talk with Matman about how a non gamer can enjoy this new game and some of the things to look for when playing ‘Dust Tactics’!       

Secret Identity:  Please describe the world of Dust Tactics! From what I know in my history, World War Two ended in 1945!

Todd: Indeed it did. However, the Valkyrie plot was a success in this timeline, eliminating Hitler and causing the Axis forces to make much better strategic decisions in the long term.  

In creating this ‘alternate history’, is there a point where you as creators said 'if this happens the result will be this?'

Todd: Paolo Parente is the father of Dust, and he's put a lot of thought into the repercussions of the extended war, and the new technology that results. One thing to note is that while the world does change, the people are still the same generation that fought the war then, and you'll see it in the characters.

If you could, describe the play of the game. What style of game is it and is it comparable to anything else out there?

Todd: It's essentially a skirmish game, with really amazing miniatures. The base box set features the battle over a secret Antarctic base, and comes with a battle book that lets you recreate specific missions in the battle, such as reconnaissance, securing the elevator, etc. You can also create custom missions using the reversible ground tiles and objects like ammo crates that make for cover, just assign a value to the army (i.e. everyone gets 250 points worth of troops) and off you go.

Each unit has their own equipment, and every single figure is custom sculpted, so you'll always know exactly which one you're shooting at, it's not just "generic rifleman."

Gaming and comic books are suffering from the same thing and that is potential fans are caught up in other things. How do you hope to get the word out about Dust Tactics?

Todd:We're kicking it off by targeting right at the player base for this type of game.  Gen Con Indianapolis, the largest game convention in the US, will feature the Dust Tactics Gen Con Skirmish, where players can learn the game, play a battle, get exclusive figures, and compete over the weekend. The side (Allies or Axis) with the most winners over the weekend will receive even more prizes.  At the same time we're doing a very large push to hobby game stores, including the exclusive German "Loth" walker.

It seems that World War Two was the last world conflict between an easily definable good and evil element. Is this why you chose this point in history to base the game?

Todd: There's always a sort of romantic vision of WWII, where as you said there were definable good and evil. But there are also the other elements, the new technology that was so advanced from the last great war, the larger than life leaders and heroes, the music of the era, etc. It just makes for a great setting. And while there have been a few other games to do alternate WWII settings, we thought we could make one even better. 

What are some of the situations and characters the player will get to play?

Todd: The base game features several units and mechs, as well as Captain Joseph Brown and Sigrid Von Thaler, who you have met in the Dust Wars comics. Other major characters will make appearances in expansions. The first one, Artillery Strike, is already in preparation, and will introduce command groups and more. The heroes, like Joe, bring special abilities to the game, and can augment other units or go it alone.

As a non-gamer, what will attract me and others to this game?

Todd: Everyone I've shown my prototype to, who are not gamers, couldn't put the figures down.  I really can't express what an amazing job the sculptors did with this. You can see the rivets on the walkers...  it’s that detailed!  It's a beautiful game and the rules are extremely simple, yet the individual weapons and skills of the units provide a great deal of strategy.  The ability to customize missions and army sizes allows for tons of replay as well.

Will it be easy for someone like me to pick up the game or do I need to have years of gaming experience?

Todd: Not at all. As mentioned above the rules are fairly simple. If you can see someone, you can shoot them!  You might not hit, due to cover and the like, but there are simple line-of-sight rules, the modular board has squares that show how far units can move and how much space they can take up, etc.  

We really hope you'll give Dust Tactics a try at your friendly local game store.  And if you come by Gen Con, be sure to swing by the AEG booth and say hi, we'd love to meet you all!

For more information on Dust Tactics, you can go to a few places. For information about Alderac you can go to www.alderac.com. To see more of the Dust Tactics campaign and roll out, just go to www.dust-tactics.com.

Sincere thanks goes to Todd for spending a few minutes with us. This is a very busy time for him, getting the game ready and gearing up to make a big splash at Gen Con this summer!

5-23-10:  Brendan McGinley Talks Funny Business With Secret Identity 

Brendan McGinley is a writer who knows how to keep himself busy.  Whether it's updating one of the many webcomics over at Bankshot Comics, bringing the funny as a contributor at Cracked.com, or even doling out cooking recipes on his site, Brendan's always up to something.  We were lucky enough to catch up with him this week, and he took a break long enough to bring us up to date on what he's currently working on.

SI:  Brendan, how did Bankshot Comics came together and the other creators who are part of it? 

Brendan McGinley:  Legends about us being summoned at midnight with a candle formed from the tallow of sacrificed virgins are, of course, poppycock. Bankshot grew naturally from theDose humor anthology. Most of the artists are people whose work I admired on creative message boards, or referrals from there. The bulk of my collaborators are in Argentina, a few from the Philippines. The other writers tend to be people I've worked with at Wizard or other places around comics. It's a big, fun mutual admiration society. 

You have a bunch of different projects going on right now at Bankshot.  Can you tell us a little about them? 

Sure, we put up something new every day, so you can either read a title one installment a week (admittedly, a rough pace) or enjoy the collected issue all at once in the galleries.

Sundays are She's Famous Now, an anti-romantic comedy about a young man who gets a second chance at his high school crush after she becomes the world's most famous pop star. The problem is he's too nice to do what's necessary to win her heart when he's competing with 3 billion other males. Fortunately, he has an amoral roommate with a plan and a vision. 

Monday is when we update Hannibal Goes to Rome, the epic tale of the Carthaginian commander's march over the Alps with elephants. You'd better catch up though, because he's already slaughtered Roman consular armies twice and is about to make winter hard for Scipio. 

Tuesday is Invisible Inc. day, when all the conspiracy theories come out to play! A reporter has discovered that the real reason supervillains don't try to take over the world anymore is they succeeded decades ago. We're doing the first arc right now, "Yellow Journalism."

Prose Wednesday is a break from the comics to read written essays...about comics. Or sometimes recipes. Or maybe comedic screeds. It's a pot luck thing until I get hopping on some prose fiction. 

Thursday is when the pages of Dose run. We've just started the one non-humorous or satirical tale in that anthology, called "Strychnine Kiss." It's sort of a post-apocalyptic mob feminist thing. That sounds too vague to read. Basically, it's born of my love for Grim Jack, and it's a hard-boiled woman in a city where the mafia and the government are the same thing. 

Fridays are for Citizen X: The Mission. That's a western set in a world where Carthage beat Rome and went on to establish their own empire. A frustrated young cop insists on pursuing his own path against his nobleman father's wishes, and gets sent to the western frontier in Ireland to keep a steady hand on tensions between the civilized settlers and the local savages. 

Saturday is just old school sketches, pages from aborted projects, character designs, maybe pictures of pretty ladies, which I've learned that artists rather enjoy drawing. 

On Heist, you collaborated with friend of Secret Identity Josh Elder (Mail Order Ninja). 

Yes, we originally were going to pitch Heist to DC, then tweaked it into an Epic pitch for Marvel (or maybe it was the reverse). I remember that it was going to be a group heist for Epic, and at DC, we just wanted to introduce a terrific new villain who broke into the JLA satellite with no problems, and we were going to explain this no-name just waltzing in because he was so damned good no one in the DC Universe had ever seen him even though he'd been around for years. We thought we were clever, because we weren't 25 yet. Now we're old enough to see nobody cares. 

When Josh and I met as DC interns, the company was putting out this epic mini-series called Haven. It was like 9 or 10 issues. I never read it, but the art was aces. There were 9 or 10 issues of this story about aliens coming to Earth and the Justice League was in it. As I understand it, they bought it after receiving the pitch at a convention, which never, ever, ever happens. So that was, to us, sort of like watching your neighbor strike gold. You start thinking about chucking a pick-axe in your own back yard, you know? Here we are, editorial interns, surely we can make a good pitch for a super-villain mini starring the JLA. In 2004 there weren't a lot of super-villain titles; it's been explored a bit since then. It's quite a fun subgenre, really. You get to see what drives all these people to do different criminal activities, and then stick a metaphorical power onto it, which is how the best superheroes work as well, when their power is bound up in their nature. 

Anyway, the idea came from our talking about what a hypocrite Batman is to keep sticking Joker in Arkham knowing full well he'll get out and murder dozens of innocents every time. The inherent failure of soap opera like that is you either build a better prison until the Joker becomes utterly super-super-superhuman by escaping, or Batman's just a jerk who's sacrificing Gotham's citizens on the altar of his moral principles. Josh also gets offended by some story I've never read where Superman would rather let Lois Lane die than kill someone for the same reason. It was like "Remember back in the '30s and '40s when those guys got the job done?"

That got us talking about how the villains were just as stupid to keep getting out and seeking revenge, so we came up with the idea that any effective criminal would do everything he could to avoid the cops. Once you're truly pro, you don't nurse your grudge, you go off and successfully commit crimes. 

I'm not sure if we ever submitted it to the Big Two because DC had a bit of a structural shift and stopped wanting to hear from interns, but either way we shelved it until one day I started tinkering with the idea of what Geist was stealing from the Justice League, and I realized that there's a fairy tale that very, very effectively flips into a riches-to-rags story. Then I basically ripped the entire DC pitch out, smashed it into the first issue, and made the rest into Boy Meets Power, Boy Loses Power, Boy Gets Power Back. That's the thing I really like about these DC and Marvel pitches I've done; once you have to retool them so you're not just doing an independent version of Arachnid Lad, you start to go off in crazy directions, you're no longer trying to write the fare that editors say they want. 

Josh liked what I'd done, and I remember he pointed out quite rightly that once you've taken over the world, you get trapped by it. Congratulations, you've mutinied. You have the helm. Where are you going to steer the ship? So power isn't necessarily the most desirable thing, because even for a villain, with power comes responsibility. If you want to keep everything the way you want it, maintenance is required. That's no good for a thrill-addicted thief.

But the thing I'm most proud of in that series is what happens thereafter. There's a very hard left into a different sort of comic entirely for an issue, and yet, it's utterly essential to Geist's development, it's really a fulfillment of his utter adrenaline exhaustion and inability to be impressed anymore. It just came to me to express the frustrations Josh and I were feeling by 2006 or so.

Heist is now available in print as well over at Indy Planet.  Will you be collecting all of your current webcomics in print? 

Yes, we're just waiting to get the covers in for Invisible, Inc. and then those two issues will be available as well. The way we're doing that one is fun -- I've based the characters off my friends and family, so they'll be posing for my good friend Ryan Brenizer, who's one of the country's top wedding & portraiture photographers these days, and we're going to come up with some really hot fumetti covers for the "Yellow Journalism" arc. But we're at the mercy of a few schedules, so that'll happen sometime this year. It will either be print on demand, or, cross your fingers, someone who's expressed interest in it will pick it up.  

Hannibal Goes to Rome, we're talking with Jim & Kris over at Shadowline about whether they'd like to take that to print with Image next year, so the bigger the audience we can build now the better chance we have at that. 
What else do I have? Dose? Yes, Dose was the print one that moved to the web, and I think I'll do a short-run of issue #3 followed by print-on-demand. That's about all you can hope for from a humor anthology. That's this summer.

Ultimately, everything gets to print, you just need to build up a few issues before you launch one. The web and print audiences aren't nearly synonymous, so you can't count on your online readership to run out and buy an issue and then still want the next one in six months, you need that six-shooter release for a book like Heist, or a cannonade in TPB form. 

You’ve also got projects going on outside of Bankshot, and one of them is near and dear to our hearts. We here at Secret Identity grew up reading Cracked.  How did you get involved with Cracked.com?   
This is a little funny, because I decided to get Dose together in 2006. Mad was always an influence -- according to my mom, it's the first thing I ever read -- and I think we all know Cracked was a pretty painful imitator that eked by on its focus on comics whereas Mad was more TV & movies, mainstream pop culture. Kids aren't dumb. They know when someone's trying too hard, and while Cracked could be funny, it was the kind of funny of hearing a comedian do a flawless impression of a funnier comedian.

So I'm sitting at my desk in 2006, knowing I'm about to do a humor anthology, and I wonder, "Is Cracked abandoned? What are the odds I could get those rights for a buck and put out something not trying so hard to be Mad?" I look it up on Google, and...oh, "Coming tomorrow: CRACKED.COM!" And of course, it's very sharply put together, with guys like Jay Pinkerton and now Seanbaby, basically internet comedy dream team. They've got a pretty solid row of columnists, and their editors know how to be funny, which is a pre-requisite that gets overlooked a lot in publishing: knowledge of the topic. The impossible has happened in our lives: Cracked is finally funnier than Mad. 

So I titled mine Dose and thought no more on it until I saw last year they were taking submissions. I'd been reading and loved the new direction, so I fired out a few, and got some very nice emails from Dan O'Brien and Robert Brockway asking me to keep doing what I was doing. They also saw I made comics and asked me if I'd illustrate some articles from their forthcoming book, which I was more than happy to do. I've been very, very lucky, and they've been very, very good to me, featuring a lot of my Topics and slinging work my way. Don't tell Cracked how in love with it I am, or it will take me for all the work I can do. It's the best feeling in the world when the people who crack you up tell you they think you're funny.

I mean, other than dating a 23-year-old, it's the best feeling in the world.   

When you’re not working on a project, what are some of your favorite comics to read? 

Honestly? I don't read anything anymore except what gets passed in front of me or what my friends make. Although I'm pretty thrilled Green Lantern is finally everything I wanted it to be when I was 14. And I'll read anything Grant Morrison writes. 

I share a lot of sensibilities with Valerie D'Orazio so I seek out her stuff. She and David Gallaher have been very big supporters, and good friends, directing a lot of people to Hannibal and Invisible, Inc. I genuinely like their work, though I'd probably end up supporting it anyway if I didn't, in more vaguely recommended terms like, "They're very presentable people! Their shoes are shiny."

I love Chris Ward's writing and wish he'd do more comics, certainly more humor comics. I follow Evan Dorkin because, well...cripes, look at Dose. I'm a huge Love & Rockets fan, which is a heartbreakingly true book about life and love and art and punk and poverty and good friends who go away but you will remember those people your entire existence. 

Since you’re in the New York area, will we be seeing you at New York Comic Con in October?
Yes, I'm at most of the New York comic scene stuff. Or I was. Maybe those scoundrels are gathering in dark corners without me. Anyway, I won't have a booth, but I'm usually wandering around in a tuxedo. Your sister will pretend not to be attracted to me, but that is what we both want you to think.

Is there any other news or projects you want to let people know about?

Well, they're a little delayed by costs, but comics down the pike are:

REAPING PROFIT (black comedy): The world's greatest salesman talks his way into the Grim Reaper gig, but literally defies Fate to pursue the woman he loves.

BLACK AMBULANCES (suspense/thriller): A misanthropic EMT pursues a fleet of mysterious ambulances whose victims never arrive at the hospital. 

DOUBLE FALSEHOOD (superhero): It's a Shakespearean superhero romance. Assume we're going to dodge everything that sounds awful about that concept. Andres Ponce, who draws Heist, turned in a real pretty issue. and it's going to be a collaborative affair, a different artist each chapter. I promise to lean on everything fantastic about Shakespeare and not try to jam a comic page full of thees and thous unless someone's talking like a Kirby character.

Thanks to Brendan for taking time to chat with us.  To keep up to date on what's going on with him, head over to www.brendanmcginley.com

5-16-10:  Jess Hartley Talks With Secret Identity About The Shattered Glass Project

Secret Identity listeners are familiar with Jess Hartley from the two Creator Spotlights we’ve done with her over the past few years.  Jess is an author and game designer who, among other things, has worked on several projects for White Wolf and wrote a novel based in White Wolf’s “Exalted” universe.  This Spring, Jess is embarking on a new writing project that involves a unique approach to publishing.  We caught up with Jess this week to learn more about “The Shattered Glass Project.” 

SI:  For those who haven’t checked out your previous work, can you talk a bit about the kinds of stories you write, and the subjects you like to deal with?

Jess Hartley:  Certainly!  Thanks for asking. I think of my style as "specializing in gaming, horror, romance, and the unlikely place where they all messily collide." Many of my readers first got to know my work from my game-products for White Wolf, which tend to have a dark, sensual edge to them. I've got a big soft spot for traditional folklore and mythology, and retelling old stories in new ways.  But the one thing I always try to bring into a story - no matter how dark - is the human element: the aspect of characters, be they heroes or villains, that makes readers identify with them, at least a little bit. I think that makes the victories sweeter and the tragedies more poignant.

In terms of types of products, I've written more than three dozen RPG products over the past ten years, ranging from novels to games to supplements. I've also contributed to several anthologies or non-game-related materials, I co-host a podcast (Pulp Gamer's Out of Character - www.pulpgamer.com) and write an online geek advice and etiquette column.

I like to think of myself as a Jack-of-all-Trades when it comes to wordsmithing. It's not the form or the theme that's as important, as whether I feel passionately about the project and can really give it my all.

Shattered Glass is a pretty unique approach to both publishing and reader involvement.  Can you give us the details on how people can get involved and what they receive for supporting the project?

The Shattered Glass Project is based on a Patronage model of directly reader-sustained fiction. I am writing an urban fae short story (10K words at minimum) with strong supernatural elements. I am going to make that story available to a select group of Patrons, and only to them for at least one year from the start date of the Project (March 20, 2010.) For the Patronage enrollment period (which for Shattered Glass, runs throughout the season of Spring 2010 (March 21st to June 20th), readers who want to be a part of the Project can sign up for a Shattered Glass Patronage and make one of three levels of donations, each with corresponding benefits. 

* Virtual Patronage ($5) - Virtual Patrons will receive a .pdf copy of Shattered Glass when it is complete, along with a .jpg version of the poem I've written to accompany it.

* Artisan Patronage ($25) - Artisan Patrons will receive a physical copy of Shattered Glass when it is complete, along with a hand-written, wax-sealed Thank You letter and physical version of the poem, From Shattered Glass. 

*Personae Patronage ($150) - Personae Patrons receive all of the benefits of Artisan Patronage, plus their name and likeness will be represented in Shattered Glass as a character.
(NOTE: Personae Patronages are closed for Shattered Glass. Interested parties are welcome to write and express their interest, and those who contact us will be given first chance to participate at this level should future opportunities arise.)

There's a contribute button on the Shattered Glass Project page or folks can contact me about becoming involved (jess@jesshartley.com). I've been able to work with some prospective-Patrons who weren't able to use the standard Paypal format. I really want to accommodate everyone who wants to be a part of the Project, if it's within my power to do so.

How has the response to the project been so far?

Amazing, to be honest. This Project seems to have really struck a chord with readers who are interested in dark, modern fantasy, those who are curious about the possibilities of alternative publishing paradigms, and those want a more intimate connection with their fiction-creator. Not only have we received Patronages from Europe, from Canada, and from all across the US, but the response from online media (podcasts, news sites and bloggers) has been fantastic as well. 

We're receiving a great deal of encouragement on this experiment, and I really would love to say a big "Thank You" to everyone who's supported us through Patronages, through publicity or offering their advice and experiences to make this as smooth a path as possible.


In terms of the story itself, you’ve described Shattered Glass as an “urban fae” story.  Can you elaborate on that?

Urban fae is a subset of Urban Fantasy (sometimes refered to as Contemporary Supernatural Fantasy or Modern Paranormal Fiction). It refers to a genre where fantasy elements (specifically "fae" or "fairies") are incorporated into a story set in a modern, mostly-like-the-real-world setting. I'm a big fan of retelling fairy tales, but this will be a modern, unique story that will incorporate strong elements found in traditional legends and folklore about the fae. Fairies, fae-folk, elves and the like...  but think modern, fast-paced, and dark.   

My inspirations in this genre include Charles de Lint, Jim Butcher, C.E. Murphy, Emma Bull, Laurel K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Lilith Saintcrow and Kelley Armstrong. 

You mentioned that this project came about in part because of the death of your laptop, but also because of your desire to experiment with direct marketing.  How do you view the current publishing landscape, and do you see yourself continuing explore non-traditional publishing if the Shattered Glass project proves successful? 

I believe strongly that exploring new options doesn't mean abandoning or scrapping traditional ones. I'm a big supporter of traditional mainstream publishing, and will continue to freelance and write for established publishers regardless of the success of the Shattered Glass Project. But I do think that modern technology offers writers and readers opportunities that weren't available even 5 years ago, and that it would be a shame to not explore those opportunities to their fullest potential. That's one of the reasons I refer to The Project as a "fae fiction experiment". I really don't know what to expect from it; I've got some ideas and some instincts and some principles to apply, but beyond that, I'm just doing my best to create something magic and seeing how it all turns out. 

I think that, like everyone else, the publishing industry is feeling the pinch of the current economic situation, and has to be more aware than ever of the possible risks and returns on any project they undertake. Unfortunately, that means that more and more of the industry's attention must be placed on projects with a fairly high assurance of strong return, and there is less and less opportunity for things like short stories, novellas, poetry and the like. These are areas that I think are ideally suited for being provided directly from writer to reader. 

They're also very well suited for giving readers something special - we're currently experimenting with hand-binding, paper-making and other artisan skills, hoping to incorporate those elements into the physical copies of Shattered Glass, to make them little works of art for our Patrons. 

I don't want to promise anything publicly yet, because like any experiment, I'm sure challenges we haven't thought of will arise, but our goal is to really create something unique and precious for our Patrons. And yes, if the demand seems to be there, I would love to continue experimenting with reader-sustained fiction projects beyond Shattered Glass. We'll just have to see if that seems to be something the readership wants, past this first short story.

How do you plan to keep supporters involved during the creation process?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to all of my Patrons, thanking them for their support, updating them on where the Project was in the creative process, and gifting them with a poem I'd written using some of the thematic elements and imagery I'm going to be using in the story itself. I invited them all to write me with any thoughts they'd like to share about the poem or the Project itself. I also keep my
website, Livejournal and Twitter (jesshartley) updated with progress on the Project, in addition to posting about interviews like this one which may reveal additional information updates on the Project's progress. 

I'm really striving for a very "open-door" policy with my Patrons; I want them to know that this Project wouldn't be happening without them, and that they're a very important part of the process. 

We’ve interviewed you twice at conventions where you were a gaming guest.  Are you still active in the convention scene, and where can people see you this year?

Yes, I love the convention scene; it's my recharge, my chance to actually make contact with readers and gamers face-to-face, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. This year, at the end of May, I'll be out in Toronto for
Anime North. This is my third year at AN, and they give a great show. Although their roots are (as the name suggests) in Anime, their gaming department is really growing by leaps and bounds, and they've got some great things planned for this year.  

Then in October, I'll be travelling to Reno, Nevada for
SnafuCon. It's my first year as a guest there, but I've heard wonderful stuff about SnafuCon, and can't wait to get a chance to visit with the folks there. 

At both conventions, I plan to be doing panels on everything from the gaming industry to fiction to etiquette, and I'm always available to answer questions or sign books between panels.

That's all the conventions on my line-up for the rest of the year, but I'd love to add more to my itinerary, so if there are events out there that would like a gaming/fiction guest - please feel free to contact me.

In addition to Shattered Glass, what are the other projects you are currently working on, and where can we find out about them?

I just finished an episodic fiction project for Mind Storm Labs, based in their Alpha Omega game system. The Adventures of Little Yoshida is a 9-part fiction series, following a story arc I created for one of their canon characters, Little Yoshida. The first episode is available through their
online store, and a new episode will be released each month until the series is finished, early next year. All the episodes are included in the purchase price, so you buy one time and get to enjoy new fiction for the next nine months!

As well, essays I contributed are a part of Green Ronin's "Family Games: The Best 100", and "The Bones: Us and Our Dice", which is a collection of stories from and about gamers and their favorite polyhedrals.   And I'm still writing "One Geek to Another", my geek etiquette and advice column, which is featured on my website and syndicated on
Pen And Paper Games and Ideology of Madness.

I've got some other projects going, but they're all currently under NDA, unfortunately. I try to keep folks up to date on them through my blog, Twitter and LiveJournal, as well as my Facebook Fan Page. So check there for updates as they become available.

Our thanks to Jess for taking time to talk with us about “The Shattered Glass Project.”  For more info on the project, head over to www.jesshartley.com.

4-17-10: Meet Jorge Pacheco (Sing To The Jetson's Theme)

Thanks to the wonder of the world wide interweb, we were able to chat with artist Jorge Pacheco in the privacy of our own homes. Jorge is the artist who now gets to chronicle the adventures of Hero Envy! Before the next issue gets released, we want the world to meet, know and love Jorge like we now do.

Secret Identity:  Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! 

Jorge Pacheco:  I just checked out the website. Thanks for making me a part of it. 

So tell us about yourself. I see you're a graduate of the Joe Kubert School?

Yes, I graduated in May of 1986 and I have been working professionally ever since.

How old were you when you said “I'm going to be an artist?"

I was about 2 years old when I drew on my parents’ walls in crayon. Probably then.

You have done work for many companies we know of like DC Comics, Hanna Barbera, and Warner Bros. As an artist, did you ever feel stifled doing art like someone else wants you to?

Not all all! I really just enjoy drawing. I think you learn by drawing almost anything, whether it be Fred Flintstone or Caspar, the Friendly Ghost. Of course, I would rather draw in my own style (whatever that is) and my own creator-owned characters, but it’s much easier to get work drawing characters that have already been created, not to mention that when working for the bigger companies, the money is usually better. 

So who were your influences? On your site I see a little Kyle Baker, some Jack Kirby and a touch of Erik Larsen. Am i close?

Wowww, I love all those guys’ work that you mentioned. Thank you! I think every week, I have a new influence, but I do think everything begins with Jack Kirby. He’s my all time favorite, but there have been so many influences...it’s hard to narrow it down to just a couple.

On your site you have tons of pictures of you and your family. Have they always been supportive of your work have they been? 

Yeah, and no! I think in many ways throughout the years, I am the only one who has really believed in me. Nobody understands the passion and long, long hours I put in for the little pay, but I believe in myself and know that I will make it "big" one day...it just takes time. 

Are you the cool artist dad?  

I am a work-at-home Dad and I really love it. My son is now almost 2 1/2 years old and he is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

We found out about you from the boys at Hero Envy. Keith Gleason was so excited to get you as the artist for their Hero Envy comic. How did you guys hook up?

We hooked up over the DrawingBoard.org website and I feel very fortunate to be working with Keith and the whole Hero Envy gang.

What is or would be your dream project?

Working on my own creator-owned project and making a good living. I’m currently getting together some more "realistic pages" to show the major companies. You will see by my website that most of my work has been on the humor side. ( Please check out my website at, www.pachecotoons.com) I think the super hero market is bigger and it may be a little easier to get steady work.

Anything else we can share with our audience?

I just feel fortunate to make a living doing what I love and hopefully I am giving a little joy to those who read my books.

Our big thanks to Jorge for taking the time to chat with us. To see more of his work go to his website at www.pachecotoons.com.

3-30-10: Elizabeth Massie Is The Interview!

For many comic fans, our introduction to writer Elizabeth Massie was with Julie Walker Is The Phantom from Moonstone Comics. As you’ll soon discover there is more to Beth than just writing comics. She’s an award winning novelist and creator of her own little world ‘Skeeryvilletown’.

Secret Identity: You may be a new comer to writing comics, but not to writing! You're a real, live novelist. Was writing something you always wanted to do?

Elizabeth: I’ve wanted to do lots of things – visual arts, acting, singing (and I still do all those to a smaller degree) but writing always rose to the top of that creative cauldron. I always found myself daydreaming stories and jotting them down, especially when I was young and sitting in a class that had me bored. It took me a while to get published, though. With the exception of stories in my college publications, it wasn’t until I was 30 that I had my first piece of fiction accepted by a magazine. For anyone who thinks it has to be now or never, chances are you aren’t really meant to be a published writer after all. 

And you are not just a writer... you are an award winning author. And that is better than just a writer! You’re a two time winner of the Bram Stroker Award, not bad. What books were they for and what was it that you think made them 'award winning'? 

My first Stoker was for my novella, “Stephen,” which appeared in the first Borderlands anthology. It was extremely edgy and surreal, almost a dark fairytale, though it was set in a recognizable time and place – a rehabilitation center – with two main characters who were victims of their circumstances yet took drastic steps to change them. Readers told me that the tale horrified them while stirring emotions of compassion. My second Stoker was for my novel Sineater. Very different story from “Stephen” in that it wasn’t meant to be surreal but very real. It tells the tale of a boy in the Appalachians whose community is bound up very tightly in religious mythologies and traditions, and of the boy from the “outside” who moves there and challenges everything he encounters. As with “Stephen,” the characters in Sineater seemed to touch and move the readers. Bottom line - I think it was the characters that readers and voters liked most. I was honored and humbled to have my works recognized this way. 

AND, you're also an artist! As I looked around your site I was introduced to the crazy and very imaginative world of Skeeryvilletown. Tell us a little about it and tell me more about 3-Eyed Devil Cat!

3-Eyed Devil Cat is one of two sideshow freaks who escaped the circus and ended up in Skeeryvilletown. How 3-Eyed Devil Cat got there is anyone’s guess; he doesn’t really move. I’m guessing Fire Breathing Dog ‘O Death (the other freak) put 3-Eyed Devil Cat on a dolly and wheeled him there. Skeeryvilletown has a population of other bizarre characters – Boo Boy, Rattie, Wolfie, Battie, the Witch Sisters, Little Furry Run-No, and more. Here is a link to the Skeeryvilletown Café Press shop, where some of the characters can be found on shirts, calendars, mugs, hats, and more. My favorite item is the “12 Faces of 3-Eyed Devil Cat” wall clock. http://www.cafepress.com/Skeeryvilletown . Heh!

Wowza! Horror novels, devil cats, and a Necon whore? You are very busy...

Elizabeth: Indeedy-do!  

I did a review of ‘Julie Walker Is The Phantom’ and thought you did a great job with the book. What I loved about it was you made a woman character (two actually) very strong and adventurous in a time when women were not encouraged to be more than housewives or secretaries. Where did this story idea come from?

Elizabeth: First of all, I was approached by the folks at Moonstone to do a Julie Walker comic book. Very cool, since she’s had very little air time (understandably so, however; after all her brother is the Phantom and is a very busy guy.) However, the premise was….what would happen if Kit was suddenly unable to do his job? 

With that in mind, I decided I wanted to write a comic set in the 19th century. I’ve always admired Nellie Bly (real name – Elizabeth Jane Cochran; I’m sure my interest in her has nothing to do with the fact that I’m also named Elizabeth Jane) and her no-nonsense approach to life; her determination to do what she felt she had to do regardless of the sex stereotype roadblocks people tried to put in her way. She was one of the first investigative reporters, socially aware, adventure-minded. I thought it would be great to pair up two dynamic women – Julie and Nellie – in such a way that the strengths and courage and skills of each were highlighted without either being diminished. And a race around the world? What a great venue for a tale.

I wasn't sure if this was your first work in comics, but if so, I wonder how did it come about? Did moonstone come looking for you or you approach them?

Moonstone approached me. I’d written several short stories for other Moonstone anthologies – The Night Stalker, Zorro, the Spider – so they already had a feel for my writing style and approach. 

I know the writing process is different for novels and comics! For you was it a big drastic change in how you normally write?

A story is a story, regardless of the format. I came up with the idea the same way I always do…just thinking it through over and over for a while. But the actual writing process, as you say, is quite different. I first wrote the story out as a very detailed synopsis (as I often do with novels) but then had to break it up into pages and the pages into panels. I wanted to make sure the big “Boom!” panel came on a left hand page so the reader would (hopefully?) be surprised when it happened. I had to really condense what I would have otherwise expounded upon, since space is limited for dialogue and narration. I guess in a way it’s like story-boarding a movie script. 

You can learn a lot about someone by reading their 'About Me' page. You were a bad student who wanted to be spanked by the Beatles and you also wanted to marry Peter Tork of the Monkees! Wow. So i guess my question is...why Peter? Davy was cute, Mickey was funny and Mike was sooo brooding and serious. Peter?

When you’re 13, and a sensitive, shy kid like I was, I always went for the guys who seemed the most “safe.” Davy was cute, yes. Mickey was funny and Mike was brooding (and married!), but Peter was goofy and cute and seemed to the most harmless!  

I hope we can expect to see anymore comic work from you in the future.

I’m working on an 11-page Moon Man comic for Moonstone at the moment for their new Pulp Fiction line, which will debut this year. I’m also writing a Moon Man story that will be produced in “wide vision format” as part of a pulp anthology. Illustrations for these will be by Cortney Skinner. I have a super-hero gal story coming up in Moonstone’s Chicks in Capes anthology this spring. My character, Silver Slut, is a whole lot of fun; a teenaged girl who has all the power and responsibility of super-heroism dropped into her lap when all she wanted to do was graduate from high school and go to art school. There is a lot of humor in the story. I’d love to do an actual comic featuring her at some point in time. Or a comic story set in Skeeryvilletown. Who knows? 

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and letting our listeners and readers get to know you a little better.

Thanks! It was fun. 

Sincere thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to chat with us. To find out more you can go to her official home on the web at www.elizabethmassie.com.

3-6-10:  Archaia's Stephen Christy Talks Fraggle Rock With Secret Identity

by Brian LeTendre

We here at Secret Identity have long been fans of Archaia, having met some of the great people there a few years ago at the Kids' Comic Con.  2009 was an interesting year for the company, as Archaia went through some restructuring on the administrative side, which included a break from publishing for a few months.  When things ramped back up in June of last year, Archaia emerged with a strong team and a publishing strategy that included a healthy mix of single issue comics, double-sized collected editions and graphic novels.  Since then, books like “Awakening,” “Mouse Guard,” “Days Missing” and “Titanium Rain” have been regularly discussed on our podcast.

Given Archaia's reputation for quality, it was no surprise that the Jim Henson Company felt Archaia would be a great fit for a new line of comics based on some of Henson's most popular properties.  The first of those comics will be hitting store shelves in April, with the debut of “Fraggle Rock” #1.  This past week Secret Identity caught up with Archaia's Director of Development Stephen Christy, who gave us the details on the Henson deal, the upcoming “Fraggle Rock” series, and Archaia's publishing strategies in both print and digital mediums.

Secret Identity:  When Archaia resumed full-time publishing back in June, you had some new strategies around double sized issues and collected editions. Can you talk a bit about some of those choices and what we can expect to see in the future?

Stephen Christy:  Definitely! As we all know, what the entire industry has been seeing the last decade has been a move away from the traditional “monthly” model of comics where a title is broken into 22-page chunks and serialized over a number of months and a move toward the more permanent graphic novel/trade paperback format. Sales of comics have generally fallen over the last decade while sales of graphic novels and trade paperbacks continue to rise. 

With this in mind, when we re-launched Archaia last year we really wanted to stand out from the crowd of mainstream comic book companies and focus more specifically on hardcover graphic novels. This allows us to give our readers a higher production value in the books that they’re reading with a lower price point than most other companies, as you’ll rarely see any Archaia graphic novel over $19.95 or $24.95. It wasn’t so much of a new strategy for us as much as a refocusing on what’s important, which is creating lasting sequential storytelling that won’t disappear off of shelves the month after it’s out.

You also dropped a bombshell in June with the announcement of the Henson partnership. How did that come about?

Haha… if this was the podcast you’d have that song “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” playing in the background of this answer! The Henson partnership came about through a friendship that I’d developed with Joe LeFavi, formerly Henson’s Director of Development. Joe and I had known each other for about a year before we made the official announcement, and the partnership came about by us proving to him that Archaia was the only company that would provide the attention, production value, respect and TLC to these properties that we all grew up loving. 

From the very beginning of our discussions with Henson we weren’t treating this like a normal comics licensing deal, it was a partnership through and through. Archaia is in a long-term partnership not just to develop comics based on classic Henson properties such as “Fraggle Rock,” “The Dark Crystal”and “Labyrinth” but to also co-develop new and original properties, including some incredible material from Henson’s vaults that I can’t quite talk about yet. Suffice it to say, it’s going to be an exciting few years for fans of Henson comics!

We'll be seeing the fruits of that new partnership soon, as “Fraggle Rock” #1 will be hitting stores in April. Can you tell us a bit about the series?

It’s a three-issue miniseries that’s an anthology. Each issue will have one 20-page lead story that we’re treating like a “lost episode” of the original TV show, and two 4-6 page backup stories per issue that we’ve invited some great talent to be a part of. So each issue will be about 10 pages longer than most mainstream comics, and retail for $3.95. The book will also be in the awesome 8” x 8” trim size that “Mouse Guard” is in, which is a great format to play with from a storytelling standpoint.

How are you making this “Fraggle Rock” series accessible for readers who may not be familiar with the TV show?

Well, thankfully “Fraggle Rock” is a very different show than… say, “Lost”… It’s not a very hard show to figure out in terms of who the characters are and what the situation of the show is. That being said, we’re definitely going out of our way to make sure that people who have never read or seen anything about the show before can pick up a book and not have a problem getting into it. 

One of the things that I’m really excited about and is going to be a great introduction to the world of “Fraggle” is our “Mouse Guard”/”Fraggle Rock” Free Comic Book Day flip book, which is coming out on, you guessed it, Free Comic Book Day. That’s going to be not only a great introduction to the world of Fraggles (and “Mouse Guard”!) but it’ll also give readers a sense of the tone and style that we’re trying to take with this series. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

You've got several creators who will be contributing to the “Fraggle Rock” comics, including some newcomers. Can you tell us a bit about the folks behind “Fraggle Rock?”

I love anthologies, and one of the great things about doing this first series as an anthology is that we have an awesome mix of new talent who are literally getting their first professionally published work in the book, to talents like Jeffrey Brown and Jeremy Love who are well-known in the indie comics world and have a ton of great experience. When we hire people for this series we hire not just “big” people whose work we admire, but younger up-and-comers people that we want to mentor and give a chance to shine, much in the same way we do on the creator-owned side at Archaia.

With some of the Henson projects, as well as titles like “Gunnerkrigg Court,” it seems like you are really expanding your kids' offerings. Is that a conscious part of Archaia's strategy moving forward?

It’s not so much about putting out books specifically for kids as it is putting out graphic novels that truly are all-ages, in every sense of the word. I think “Mouse Guard” is the best example of this… it’s incredibly beautiful and intricate on an artistic level yet there’s fans of that book as young as 5 and as old as 75. The best stories, the one that really stick with us, are the ones that can appeal to multiple generations at the same time. It sounds lofty, but that’s definitely something we care about and it’s a direction that you’re going to continue to see Archaia move in the next few years.

Archaia has also embraced digital downloads, as most of your titles are available over at Drive Thru Comics. Has that been a successful initiative, and do you plan on continuing to digitally distribute?

Our digital strategy is one of the most important parts of Archaia’s publishing plans over the next few years. PJ Bickett, our CEO, comes from a digital development background and I think he knows better than a lot of other company owners in the business how important digital is. 

The whole reason that Archaia exists is not just to simply make comics but to hopefully create books that can bring new readers into the medium. We do that by putting as big an emphasis possible on not just on quality but on creativity and accessibility. It doesn’t matter to us if new readers are finding our books in bookstores, on an iPhone or iPad, on a Kindle or at their local comic shop. The only important thing is that they’re finding our books, and that after reading and enjoying them that they branch out to our other titles and all the wonderful books that are also available from other publishers. So yes, in terms of generating new readers and bringing new people to the Archaia brand, it’s been an incredibly successful initiative.

As we move into 2010, can you tell us about a few of the projects we can look forward to?

Well, for Henson fans the thing that I’m most excited about is that we’re bringing the Jim Henson classics “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth” to comics this fall. Not only that, but we’ve enlisted Brian Froud, the original conceptual designer and the heart and soul of the original films, to do covers and art direction for the titles. This is the first time since his book “World of the Dark Crystal” that Brian is publicly returning to this universe in a big way, and I promise that fans of both movies won’t be disappointed. 

We’re playing for keeps with all of these books, including “Fraggle Rock”… we want these titles to be read 20 years from now, the same way the movies and TV show are still capturing new fans almost 25 years after their release.

Secret Identity would like to thank Stephen Christy for taking time to talk with us.  “Fraggle Rock” #1 is slated to arrive in stores on April 28th, followed by the Free Comic Book Day preview on May 1.  To keep up on all the latest Archaia news, head over to www.archaia.com.

2-21-10:  Dan Goldman Talks Red Light Properties

Back in January, we told you about how Tor had launched a brand new digital comic reader on their website,  and Dan Goldman's new “Red Light Properties” was the first comic to be featured in the new reader.  Dan is widely recognized as one of the people spearheading the online comics revolution, having helped found www.act-i-vate.com, one of the most popular collections of digital comics on the web.  Secret Identity recently caught up with Dan to talk about the launch of “Red Light Properties,” working with Tor, and his status as one of webcomics' founding fathers.   

Secret Identity:  Let' start with the basics, Dan.  For those who haven’t checked out the comic yet, what’s the premise of “Red Light Properties?”

Dan Goldman:  “Red Light Properties” is the first book in a series that tells the story of a small real estate firm on Miami Beach that exorcises haunted houses that sit stagnant on the market, and then connects them with victims of foreclosure who need a place to live.

The firm is run by the Tobins, a married couple in the process of splitting up on page one.  Cecilia is the broker who runs the real estate part of the business, and Jude handles “the ghost shit”.  His psychic abilities are “enhanced” by various plant substances used by tribal shamans that psychotropically boost his sensitivities and allow him to enter the spirit world to exorcise the dead from the real estate they are trying to sell.

And since the Tobins’ personal and professional lives are all tangled together, the horror elements balance nicely with the character drama.

“Red Light Properties” is currently being serialized on Tor.com every Tuesday from January through June; you can being with the first chapter by visiting www.redlightproperties.com.

What inspired you to create “Red Light Properties?”  

The nugget of the story, the agency and the main characters, came to me while drinking a glass of water in 2001 while living in a crappy old house in Brooklyn; I wrote about the genesis here. 

All that said, “RLP” is really a smoothie of much of my experiences, relationships and flavors; that makes it very personal while being entirely fiction.  Everything I’d done and every project I’ve ever worked on has contributed to this series.

This is a story you’ve been working on for a number of years.  How much has it changed since the original idea?

A lot actually; since I’ve been tooling with this for a long time over the years, it’s gone through many rewrites.  The first draft actually took place in Brooklyn, NY; some of those stories have evolved nicely into a backstory I’ll slowly reveal over the course of the series.

Some of the supporting cast has changed a bit, particulary Kako, who readers haven’t met yet; his role was filled by another cat who’s been moved to enter the tale around Vol. 5 now.  I’ve been working on these characters and the larger story for nine years and the elements that were always truest have stayed firmly in place.

You’ve set the story in Miami and you’ve really incorporated a lot of the cultural elements from the area.   What was it about Miami that made it the right setting for “Red light Properties?”

I grew up there, and the Miami portrayed on TV and in magazines is really only a few blocks of a much stranger place.  When I first saw the pilot for “Dexter” on Showtime, I could see that story and my characters walking similar streets... Behind the postcard pastel-and-neon image, there are layers and layers of darkness to the city, and it’s fertile enough to tell a wide range of stories.

Being one of the pioneers of webcomics, how do you feel the medium has changed over the past few years?

As uncomfortable as I am calling myself a pioneer, I do think web/digital comics are clearly coming into their own.  Devices are catching up with the ideas, and the digital marketplace everyone was waiting for will keep arriving in different shapes/platforms for a while.  Not only that, but the population of potential readers carrying all manner of web-enables screens in their purses and pockets show how large the digital comics audience really can be.

With “Red Light Properties” you’re at the forefront of what Tor.com is doing with their new reader.  How did you end up working with them?

I did a story for Tor that premiered on Obama’s Inauguration Day called “Yes We Will”; I had a really good experience with them... and I’ve been in touch with their editor since, poking about longer-form original works.  One day Pablo invited me out for a nice dinner and I explained RLP and my vision for the way I’d present it.  The reader is something that grew out of that dinner.  Tor was intent on building a comics reader into their site to accommodate one direction their acquisitions were moving, so it was serendipitous when I showed Pablo some work I’d done for another project that incorporated the “panel reveal” thing that “RLP” does... and he was wowed.  After consulting with them for a few months while getting “RLP” together, we were able to build the ability to advance panel-by-panel into Tor’s reader, and the response has been staggeringly positive thus far.

Can you give us a few hints about what we can expect as the story unfolds over the next few months?

You’ll get to see the “RLP” crew doing what they have to do to save their own building from foreclosure and pushing themselves and each other to their limits in the process.  I promise you’ll laugh, cry and be very very afraid by the end.

We'd like to thank Dan for taking time out of his insanely busy schedule to chat with us about “Red Light Properties.”  Visit www.redlightproperties.com every Tuesday for the latest updates to the comic, and check out www.dangoldman.net for info on all of Dan's projects.  Click on the player below to see a great video on the process behind “Red Light Properties.”