For Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, the kids comics masterminds behind ‘Aw Yeah! Comics’ and its growing Kickstarter schemes, the past seven years have been a crazy journey. Plucked by DC Comics to help revitalize the publisher’s “Johnny DC” line of kids comics, the pair delivered “Tiny Titans” — a humor series that ended up having equal appeal to old school comic fans and elementary students alike.
But all good things have to come to an end as readers recently learned that Art and Franco’s time with DC’s kids line was — at least for now — coming to a close with the twelfth and final issue of “Superman Family Adventures.” The series launched last year on Free Comic Book Day as a successor to “Tiny Titans,” and even as that happened, the cartoonists knew that it was a peak position for their careers.
“Even my dad saw this happening, and he said, ‘Wow! DC Comics and you’re working on Superman. What are you going to do after that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know man!'” laughed Baltazar while discussing their work with CBR News.
“It is kind of an evolution because ‘Tiny Titans’ was like [our self-published series] ‘Patrick The Wolf Boy’ only with the Titans,” he said. “‘Superman’ is a different type of storytelling where we started with shorter stories for the first few issues, but then we started getting into longer ones. Now with issue #10, 11 and 12, it’s going to be a long, continuing epic. It’s going to have ‘To Be Continued’ cliffhangers in every issue.
“The story writing has evolved, I think, just because of the character of Superman. We’ve been fans of Superman since we were kids, so to me he’s epic. Every moment he shows up, something’s up. Like, when at the end of a story you find out Lex Luthor is the villain, you go ‘Oh no!’ That’s the feeling we have with Superman. With ‘Tiny Titans’ they wanted it more like ‘Patrick’ where there was no fighting, no bad guys — just gags and kids. The direction for this series was ‘Make Superman!’ It’s pretty crazy.”
Aureliani explained that part of the challenge outside of changing their storytelling style was convincing readers that they could deliver something different from the gag-a-minute stylings of “Tiny Titans.” “I think this has all evolved with what we’ve done for DC, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that we’ve always done all kinds of stories,” he said. “We’ve written full-length scripts and we’ve written more serious stuff, if you will. And we’ve always done the cartoony stuff too, but to us it’s all natural. We jump down the pipe of whatever it is and write the story or draw the story. It’s all natural to us, but so many people go, ‘These guys are going to do what now?’ It may be a surprise to them, but it’s been stuff we’ve been doing all our lives.”
But even though “Superman Family Adventures” is wrapping earlier than the pair expected, they’ve got eyes on a finale that will be shocking even to their most ardent fans. “We wrote ideas up through issue #40,” Baltazar explained. “We had stories all the way through that. So we came prepared, but we also knew that we wanted to make each issue so good that it would feel like it was our last one. We didn’t want to throw stuff out there that’s not good. Every issue had to have everything in it. The hockey gloves were on the ice. So when we found out that #12 was going to be the last issue, I knew that I had three issues left to say what we wanted to say. It’s everything that we wanted to happen in the Superman history.”
The story twists by doing something the core Superman comics have never done: resurrecting Kal-El’s mother in the present. “In issue #8, Superman brings back his mom from the Phantom Zone. Lara survives,” Baltazar said. “That was the first little tidbit we put in that’s going to change the way the rest of the series goes. We said, ‘Issue #8 is going to turn this so that everything will be different from now on.’ We’ve been teasing since early on things like the Brainiac symbol and Lex Luthor gathering Kryptonite and talking to all the villains. That was all leading to something, and you’re going to see where it was all going. We’d been planning on stretching this out longer, but when we found out we had to wrap it up, we just unloaded. Every two pages, the scene changes. I’m working on issue #11 right now, and some scenes only last one page. There’s so much content that it seems meaty. There’s so much involved that if this was in the regular DC Universe, people would be going nuts.”
The cartoonist even joked of the twist, “I told my wife what we’ve got planned when we get off plotting on Skype, and she said, ‘Oh my God — that’s Geoff Johns good! Go write that down!’ And I said, ‘I already did!'”
And though this story is the end of their Superman run, the pair explained that it’s not likely the end of the DC kids line even as they prepare to return to self-publishing with Aw Yeah! Comics. “They said there’s more stuff, but a lot of stuff is being approved and talk about right now,” Baltazar said. “Nothing’s official, but I know they’ve been talking about restructuring [the kids comics]. We’re on their speed dial, though. There’s plans.”
Aureliani explained that the changes in their DC output — as they prepare to launch their first mainstream DC title with “The Green Team” — is just a lesson in why it’s important to stick to creator-owned alongside work for hire comics. “I’ve had these conversations with Art before where with ‘Aw Yeah! Comics’ we can do whatever we want because it’s ours,” he said. “With DC, they’re a big company, and they make decisions from somewhere else. It gets handed down to us as ‘Hey, this is happening.’ We can either be cool with it or pass on it, but we don’t make those decisions. But for ‘Aw Yeah! Comics,’ we decide what happens. We’re very loyal to people we’ve worked with, and we’re very reliable which is why I think we keep getting called back. We never really miss a deadline unless some extenuating circumstance comes up. And as we’ve delivered, hopefully we’ve delivered stuff people like. I think our Kickstarter is a testament to the idea that people have liked it.”
Stay tuned for more with Art N Franco on “The Green Team” next week on CBR!