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Adam Warren Gets “Empowered” with New OGN

by  in Comic News Comment
Adam Warren Gets “Empowered” with New OGN
“Empowered” vol. 1

With the release of the satirical sci-fi American manga series “The Dirty Pair” in the late ’80s, series writer and artist Adam Warren became an almost overnight star. The popular series helped thrust Warren into the spotlight, leading him to work on books like “Gen13” at Wildstorm as well as “Livewires” and “Iron Man: Hypervelocity” for Marvel Comics.

His latest project is the original graphic novel “Empowered” from Dark Horse Comics. Written and drawn by Warren in the familiar manga-influenced style he’s well known for, the book shares the satirical and comedic stylings previously seen in “The Dirty Pair,” but with a decidedly more adult audience in mind. With the book now in stores, CBR News spoke with Warren about “Empowered,” it’s inspiration and how a slow-down in new work forced his hand to create this series.

First off, introduce “Empowered” to our readers.What’s it all about?

The first volume of “Empowered” is a collection of short stories depicting the less-than-glamorous life of a C-list superheroine. Not only does her embarrassingly provocative “supersuit” often malfunction and leave her in dire peril, but long-suffering heroine Empowered also can’t quite seem to fit in with the “Mean (Super) Girls” and testosterone-drunk “fratboys in capes” who are her nominal teammates. So, through a series of humorous anecdotes, we follow our positive-thinking, but put-upon protagonist as she valiantly muddles through the goofily demented world of modern superheroism with a little help from her real friends – who, we find out, are all “bad guys” of one sort or another!

Or, to put it more briefly, “Empowered” is an episodic “sexy superhero comedy,” mixing a twisted take on costumed crime-fighting, romance and absurdist workplace humor with a strong dose of that “manga flava” – and just a dash of the kinky.

“Empowered” pages 59 and 60

You mentioned that Empowered’s closest friends are not her fellow superheroes, but a number of supposed “bad guys” she’s met during her “adventures.” Tell us about this cast of characters.

Well, chief among them is her boyfriend, “Thugboy,” a sweet but self-admittedly criminal henchman whom she met “on the job” when he, well, tied the depowered superheroine to a chair. (Okay, this is perhaps not the most ideally progressive Meet Cute that one could hope for; this definitely shows our heroine to be less than entirely flawless as a role model for impressionable young people.) Professionally thuggish but good-natured, he becomes a one-man cheering section for his insecure, oft-embarrassed “superchica” of a girlfriend; however, his murky past, as a former member of a gang of self-proclaimed “Witless Minions” who gleefully ripped off and defrauded unsuspecting supervillains, soon comes back to haunt them both.

“Empowered” back cover
“Empowered” page 62

Empowered likewise met her future best friend, the hard-drinking and extroverted yet emotionally supportive female ninja named, uh, “Ninjette,” in the midst of yet another brush with distress. Sadly, though, we discover that Ninjette’s warm bond with her hapless but heroic friend does have its limits: for example, she clearly doesn’t share Empowered’s fondness for “slash” fanfiction written about real-life superheroes. Oh, well.

The third “baddie” in Empowered’s life is the self-declared “Caged Demonwolf,” an evil, bodiless demigod trapped inside a set of power-draining alien bondage gear during one of Emp’s rare but genuine moments of superheroic “badassery.” Now, the harmlessly incarcerated beast rests atop her coffee table, ruthlessly critiquing DVD commentary tracks and haranguing everyone around him with bellowing, blustering doses of nefarious advice delivered in ringing tones worthy of a classic Lee/Kirby cosmic supervillain. (Have to say, I really, really enjoy writing this character’s bombastic declarations on the most inappropriate of topics, from sports talk to pubic hygiene to whether or not Thugboy is “whipped.”)

The rest of the cast features a host of Empowered’s often-obnoxious superhero teammates, from her implacably hostile nemesis and sorceress-with-a-secret Sistah Spooky, to the “horndog hero” (and exploiter of low-self-esteem superheroines) Major Havoc and the shapeshifting, confusingly named blob “Protean,” whose superpowers derive from an STD he picked up from an alien princess. Beyond them lie an even more colorful horde of dubious villains, such as “Pimpotron Alpha” (robo-procurer to the Cosmolactic Emperor and a Don-King-level creator of malapropisms), the perpetually ablaze and perpetually horny fireball “Willy Pete,” the ill-informed Anglophile “Rum, Sodomy & the Lash,” gangs of easily-offended, oversensitive goons, and even a misguided geek lusting after Empowered’s far-from-reliable supersuit.

What inspired the creation of “Empowered?”What made this the compelling project you needed to work on at this point in your career?

“Empowered” pages 110 and 111

To answer the second question first, I’ve been working on “Empowered” in large part because of my inability to actually get work at this point in what I laughingly call “my career.” I’d kinda hoped to transition to full-time work strictly as a writer by now – it’s more fun, much more quickly accomplished, and easier on one’s hand than both writing and drawing – but, well, I was never able to pick up very much work along those lines. So “Empowered,” which for much of its lifespan was merely a throwaway joke project I’d work on in my spare time, has become my primary job for the time being.

As for the project’s genesis, “Empowered” has an exceedingly unsavory origin – a few years ago, while cranking through a heap o’ commissioned sketches for various kind, free-spending folks, I hit a long stretch of what one might delicately and euphemistically refer to as “damsel in distress” requests, if you will. As I soon grew tired of doing plain ol’ pin-up illos of “Power Girl laid low” or the like, instead I began drawing very, very short stories in comics-page format about the trials and tribulations of a plucky but tragically bondage-prone superheroine, lumped together under the ironic title of “Empowered.” (Hey, I’m all about the storytelling, yo.)

“Empowered” pages 112 and 113

Long story short, over time this series of quick, quirky little anecdotes unexpectedly began to mutate, morph and complexify into something far more interesting than I’d planned. Our oft-distressed heroine developed a personality, found a cast of supporting (though not supportive) characters coalescing around her, Met Cute with her future boyfriend “on the job,” and began to stumble her way through an expanding arc of stories that didn’t always involve her getting tied up. For the most part, the focus drifted into broader degrees of ribaldry and “sexy comedy,” not to mention further hammering on the goofier tropes and implications of the superheroic experience, and general-purpose humor about having a lousy job and extremely obnoxious coworkers. Eventually, despite its admittedly ignominious origins as a set of “damsel in distress” commissions, “Empowered” unexpectedly morphed into a “real comic” before my very eyes, albeit a somewhat twisted and thoroughly off-the-wall example of the form.

That’s for sure. But, Empowered, the character, seems to be both representative of today’s current state of female superheoes, with a heaping dose of satire and commentary thrown in.You’ve created a character who’s buxom and beautiful, yet she suffers from low self esteem, seems to hold her outfit with a certain amount of dislike and it’s even made fun of by the very villains she tries to take down.What’s exactly is the message or point your trying to make with this character?

Heh, heh, heh… In the long run, “Empowered” winds up actually being (dare I say it) “about something,” believe it or not. In fact, weirdly enough, it’s about something that never occurred to me when I first started working on the project. However, I’m most certainly in no rush to start jibber-jabbering about “Empowered’s” hidden theme(s) at this point, particularly since such jibba-jabba wouldn’t necessarily help the book’s sales much; rest assured that, in time, all will become clear.

“Empowered” page 114
“Empowered” art by Adam Warren

You’ve produced a massive graphic novel at 248 pages.What was the production/development process like on this?How long have you been working on “Empowered?”

I started noodling away on the first few “Empowered” short stories over the July 4 th weekend of 2004, while waiting for approvals from Marvel on a “Livewires” cover; in fact, as a bit of trivia for all three of you “Livewires” fans out there, Empowered’s appearance was influenced by my initial character-design roughs for the “long-haired, club-going Social Butterfly” seen in “Livewires” #3. (Emp herself is not, repeat not, a visual riff on DC’s Stargirl, despite what some have speculated.)

I’ve been grinding away at one “Empowered” story or another between my intermittent bouts of employment ever since. The rest of my work is generally locked into the rigid format of 22-page installments and a fixed number of issues per miniseries or story arc, and requires elaborate planning, plotting and prep work (however spontaneous and freewheeling the results might seem). With “Empowered,” by contrast, I would just think up a quick idea for a story, rough out and dialog a few pages, then put pencil to paper for the finished pages within only minutes of first sleazing up the basic narrative concept. Of late, the project’s developed a wee bit more long-term planning than was once the case, as I’ve hashed out a number of specific character arcs and overall plotlines for future volumes. Still, the process involved in writing and drawing the individual stories remains just as flexible and freeform as ever.

On your MySpace page you said this is the first volume of “Empowered.” Do you have future volumes planned already?If so, any idea when they’ll see the light of day?

“Empowered” pages 140 and 141

I have the first four volumes planned out, though very loosely planned out, given the highly freeform and organic process by which the comic is produced. “Empowered” vol. 2 is slated to ship in September of 2007; in fact, I’m currently working on roughs for the book’s cover art, after submitting solicitation copy last week.

The series’ longer-term survival, however, will depend on how well these first two volumes are ordered – or more accurately, in how they’re re-ordered over the months to come. For the time being, I’m looking to put out an “Empowered” collection every six months or so, depending on what other work I line up. I get quite a kick out of working in the “Empverse,” so I’d love to keep on rolling with the project.

Adam, who do you see “Empowered” appealing to?Obviously your long time fans, but readers of what other sort of books do you feel “Empowered” is perfect for?

“Empowered” is aimed at anybody who can appreciate a good laugh, sexualized romantic comedy, unconventional fun with superheroes, sparkling dialogue and manga-influenced artwork. The reader does, however, need to be able to tolerate a heavy dose of cheesecake and some degree of beefcake as well, the latter of which will only increase in future volumes. (Or “tofu-cake,” really, as an upcoming story features an excerpt of “yaoi” slash-fanfiction manga about the male Superhomeys; as you may know, yaoi artists rarely draw their “beautiful boys” looking all that beefy.) And given the project’s rather unsavory origins, let’s not forget the whole “distress-prone superheroine” thing; that aspect of “Empowered” has been toned down and deemphasized a good bit from the original commissioned pages (no, really, that’s true, believe it or not), but a fair hint of the kink remains.

“Empowered” pages 142 and 143

The reader also, alas, needs to be 16 years or older (if not 18+). Sadly enough, “Empowered” features arguably the most straightforward and accessible storytelling of my career, but the stories’ frequent sexual content obviously puts the book way off-limits for younger readers. While the book features no actual nudity as such (beyond, woo, a bare backside or two), a goodly number of scenes clearly depict the heroine and her boyfriend in quite obviously, ah, “intimate” situations. In fact, the book will ship shrinkwrapped, with a “parental warning” sticker slapped on it, to in attempt to avoid the dire attention of outraged mommies and daddies.

As you may have perceived from the previous two paragraphs, if you’re a humorless, puritanical scold of either the right- or left-leaning variety, this book isn’t really aimed at you. Wait a minute… What the heck am I saying? I can’t lose out on potential sales, here! No, if you’re a humorless, puritanical scold, desperate for an opportunity to get back up on your high horse, this book is definitely aimed at you! Buy a copy of “Empowered” so you can pore over its outrageous and offensive pages and be outraged and offended in great detail! Let my book be the wind (of chagrin) beneath your wings, helping you fly off into an epic hissy-fit of sputtering, keyboard-pounding, righteous indignation! Or not.

“Empowered” art by Adam Warren

With the first volume of “Empowered” now out there, what’s next for you, Adam?Where do you go from here?

At present, I have a few proposals adrift in “development limbo” at several of the Big Companies, but none of them have progressed far enough to be discussed publicly. Along those lines, you might take a look at the recurring feature “Failed-Project Fridays” in the “Journal” section of my deviantART page, where I yammer on about many different defunct or dormant projects.

Beyond that, I’m currently flailing away on the cover and interior pages from “Empowered” vol. 2, and mulling over the possibility of doing a new “Dirty Pair” collection in “Empowered’s” repro’d-from-pencils format. Also, I should add that I write and draw a one-page humor piece on Playstation issues in the back of the videogame magazine “PSM” every month.

By the way, another “Empowered” story excerpt is a-lurking in the “my Pics” section of my newish MySpace page.

Thanks, Warren. We’ll be sure to check that out.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.

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