Aspen Comics Editor in Chief Vince Hernandez pulls double duty as the writer/creator of the fantasy series “Charismagic.” The series stars a Las Vegas magician named Hank who discovers his abilities are much more real than simple parlor tricks. Lacking any combat experience, Hank is forced into a dangerous conflict against dark magic, accompanied by his talking cat Sparkles and the beautiful druid Sudana. In the wake of “Charismagic” volume 1’s completion and nearly wrapped “Charismagic: Death Princess” prequel miniseries, Aspen and Hernandez are preparing to launch “Charismagic” volume 2 featuring artwork by Vincenzo Cucca and vibrant colors by Emilio Lopez. The book’s release is part of the company’s 10-For-10 initiative which boasts as many new #1 releases for $1; “Legend of the Shadow Clan” #1 and “Shrugged” vol. 2 #1 are already available for purchase, with J.T. Krul’s “Jirni” shipping in April and Hernandez’s “Charismagic” vol. 2 #1 going on sale this May.
Hernandez spoke with CBR News about the new “Charismagic” volume, digging into the mythology of the magical world, his knack for killing off characters, the excitement surrounding “Charismagic’s” release the week of Free Comic Book Day and the creative relationships the writer has with his art team. Hernandez goes on to reveal additional details regarding Aspen’s upcoming 10-For-10 titles, speaking transparently on what the initiative means for the company and provides exclusive preview art from “Charismagic” volume 2 #1!
CBR News: A threading theme throughout “Charismagic” is fear. The main villain of Volume 1, Samsun, imposes it on others throughout the story and in Volume 2 the Death Princess feeds off it. What makes fear such a driving force in “Charismagic?”
Vince Hernandez: Fear is a very powerful emotion for storytelling — you can go in any direction with how a character responds to their own fears and what drives them to do the things they do. With Samsun a lot of his anger and motivations are built out of fear in how people respond to him and what he can do to others. However, even the good guys in “Charismagic” have their own fear challenged — our leading man Hank responded heroically to his fear. What he didn’t know he jumped into full-bore. Comparatively, Kon, one of the most powerful characters in the story, ran when confronted with his fear in “Death Princess.” The all powerful wizard doesn’t always act heroic.
I want my characters challenged and grounded — fear makes a lot of sense to do this. People like to think they’d act heroically when put in fearful situations. I like to think I would, but at the end of the day when considering what the characters are confronted with in these books, I’d probably run my ass off too.
Is there a specific pecking order for the various magical affiliations in the world of “Charismagic?”
I’ve never really delved into power levels or which characters are able to defeat whom. I should make something like the “Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe.” That’d be fun. We actually started to with the #0 issue of Volume 1, but we’ve introduced so many characters now it’s hard to put a gauge on it.
I can say it all comes down to our wizard Kon who’s the lead of the “Death Princess” storyline. He’s the end-all be-all in the world of magic — everyone goes to him. We introduced the Death Princess at the end of Volume 1 to spin into the new series. I really like her — she can control minds with her magic abilities and is a great equalizer to Kon who balances the world with his good intentions, but then here comes the Death Princess who builds massive armies.
We also have Sudana and Hank who are our main protagonists. They’re still learning what their powers can do, so the story goes through them. Hank especially is learning he’s a lot more powerful than he initially thought. As the reader, we’re still discovering all this information, too.
Then we have lowly guys who I introduce and kill in one or two page scenes [Laughs] which I love to do. I don’t know if that’s just my way of storytelling or if there’s some deep-seeded problem I should get checked out. [Laughs] I think it may have to do with time constraints and how we don’t do long volumes, but I love introducing a character and killing them a page or two later. As an editor I wouldn’t tell a writer to do that, but it’s been a thing in “Charismagic” where characters meet their demise very early on.
Kon and the Death Princess are the most powerful people, but in Volume 2 I turn that on its head with characters who discover new things about themselves — they take center stage, not to make a pun. I also love building up characters readers may have underestimated at the start of the series.
Do the magical abilities of the all-new characters in Volume 2 affect this power structure?
Yeah, absolutely. In Volume 1, Hank takes the reader along in discovering the world of magic. In Volume 2 we take a look at what Hank’s everyday life is like before he was swept into this quest. We meet his agent, a character I really like [Laughs], and we meet other characters who were around in Las Vegas we haven’t delved into yet — both new and returning. Since Volume 1 Hank and his cat Sparkles adopted a big giant pet that’s getting a bigger role in the 10-For-10 “Charismagic.” If the first volume was surrounding the world of magic, this second volume is focusing on the world of Hank and humans. The question has become: how does Hank’s ability to vanish affect the humans in his life?
Do you address the cliffhanger at the end of Volume 1 involving two major players in Hank’s life?
Yes. They’re the main antagonists Hank, Sudana and Sparkles have to topple. This strengthens Hank’s relationship with Sudana — these characters are so close to him and this is all new to Hank. Where we left Sudana and Hank at the end of Volume 1 there was closure but also this felling of “hey, what’s going on with these two?” I don’t waste any time — the first issue could very easily be an issue #7 with new aspects to bring in new readers. I’m big on continuity — I don’t change the status quo for no reason.
Who’s the target audience for “Charismagic,” the new volume in particular? Obviously you want to keep the readers of Volume 1 and “Death Princess,” but what type of new blood is your main draw?
While working on Volume 2 I’ve considered what are new readers looking for to attract them to the book? “Charismagic” has been pegged as a fantasy action adventure story but it’s so much more than that — I’m big on fantasy. There’s so much you can do with the fantasy genre. We’re adding new chapters and layers to the story that don’t necessarily focus on our main hero Hank. I’m not holding back in terms of what we’re presenting — this is where you’ll see the main scope of just how big everything in “Charismagic” is. The first volume took place on Earth and other realms, the “Death Princess” took place in the past but now in this second volume everything comes crashing together. “Death Princess” characters appear in Volume 2 — we’re expanding the world and we want new readers. Hey, “Harry Potter’s” over so if you need that magic fix, we have it.
Can you expand on the character carryover from the “Death Princess” miniseries to Volume 2?
Absolutely. Kon the wizard is our link from the first volume into “Death Princess” where we are introduced a new cast. I’ve always planned to bring them back — the first issue of Volume 2 you see one returning character immediately. This is an example of where if you read Volume 1 and “Death Princess” you’ll start to get those hidden gems of continuity. If you didn’t read those stories, this is an instance of a new character to check out which should inspire a reading of the earlier work. The strongest aspects of “Charismagic” are the art and story. We hit snags in Volume 1 with delays but I’m happy with how we closed it out. At this point in comics it’s really sink or swim and I’m grateful for the opportunity to create Volume 2. It makes me want to do a better job and put even more into it.
Is the new “Charismagic” series going to stick to a monthly shipping schedule?
Issues #0 and #1 of the first volume sold really well but the book hit a delay, I’m not going to lie — some serious delays around #3 and #4. We thankfully fixed it, releasing the last few issues on time which lead right into “Death Princess,” so what we lost in delays allowed us to luckily pick up speed on all the new stuff. The time’s right for people to jump into Volume 2. I’m looking at art pages from the end of Volume 2 #3, so yeah — there won’t be any delays this time.
Colorist Emilio Lopez plays a key element in relaying information to the reader and influencing the story in more than just mood lighting. What’s your working relationship like?
Emilio’s not just a colorist — he does so much more for the book. I talk to him every day to discuss colors and what he’s thinking. Actually, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t make decisions about what characters or scenes will look like until I talk to him. He has so many great ideas. I think he knows more about the world than I do — he’s coming up with new things for the book all the time. Before we even started Volume 1 we decided it’s a magic book so we didn’t want characters to be distinguished by not only how they act, but by their color and magical abilities. This idea needed to be conveyed since it gives the reader an understanding of where these characters sit on the fence — he understood that idea right away. Emilio’s a color master. Every character that’s been designed he’s added his own touch in terms of color but also in wardrobe and magic. When artists change on “Charismagic” he provides a filter where it feels like nothing’s changed.
Let’s talk about your new collaborator on the series, Vincenzo Cucca. What’s it been like working with him?
Vin is amazing — his line art is similar to [“Charismagic” volume 1 artist] Khary Randolph’s but with his own spin. He’s just killing it on pages, working fast. I don’t know what’s in the water over there in Italy but Vincenzo’s just gunning it over there. He’s fun to work with and understands the “Charismagic” world. Most importantly he wants to leave his mark on the book, which is amazing for me to find an artist who’s equally enthused about the series as I am.
Speaking of Khary Randolph, in issue #2 of Volume 1, did I see a Legolas and Gimli reference?
[Laughs]Yeah! Yeah, you did! I don’t know if I can admit to that — yeah, yeah I can. Randolph likes to have fun. He’s aware of geek culture and knows what I like — I think at one point I mentioned to him I like “Lord of the Rings.” He felt like he had the liberty to do that — there are easter eggs throughout the first volume. Khary went on his own adding things — check out Kon’s chamber specifically. I couldn’t stop him — he wouldn’t even ask but just busted it out and I would laugh. He put himself and I into issue #1 of Volume 1; the very first scene with Hank performing in the auditorium, Khary and I are in the audience. So in essence we’ve kept ourselves alive in the series — we’re wandering somewhere in Las Vegas inside the “Charismagic” world. Maybe we’ll reappear at some point [Laughs], that’s part of the thing with this book — the story is paramount but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s a fun natured story and you’re going to see stuff in the background when looking hard.
The “Charismagic” universe is populated with a variety of beasties — from talking cats to angry monsters and dinosaurs. What are some ferocious fauna Vincenzo Cucca draws in Volume 2?
We at Aspen love the creatures and they’re a big part of “Charismagic.” This goes back to the fact that we’re all grownups but kids at heart. It’s about what we want to see, which are big, epic creatures. We love the character moments but I’m not going to lie — we love the critters. At the end of Volume 1 a bunch of creatures are unleashed on Earth and on the first page of Volume 2 you see the response to that and what happens. Our big issue #1 beastie in Volume 2 is epic on a city scale.
In reading “Charismagic” volume 1 and “Death Princess,” I noticed an inconsistency in censorship; words like “shit” aren’t censored but the “F word” is. From your perspective, why the choice to censor certain words over others — or why even have your characters curse at all?
The answer to that is more municipal than I think you’d like to hear. Honestly, when we edit these things we don’t notice we’re going a little too far with the language until the lettering comes in. That’s where we’re willing to tone it down. I like to think “Charismagic” exists in a PG-13 world. The story doesn’t need to take it to that next level in terms of language. I’m no language angel — I definitely have a foul mouth, but I grew up loving Disney and Indiana Jones, too. There are moments where I like to throw the curse words in; you’re right though — the “F word” has yet to really make its full impact. Maybe now that you mention it I’ll use an “F word” moment to really pound home a character scene. [Laughs] Maybe a new villain will be the first to drop an “F bomb” into this world. Although, sometimes I think Sparkles the cat would be the first to do so.
Seriously, I wish I could say there was a concerted effort in figuring out what words we’re willing to use, and I probably should do that, but it all comes organically as I work the scenes. If it should go to that level it’s really arbitrary.
Switching focus, “Charismagic” volume 2 is part of Aspen’s 10-For-10 initiative — other titles from the 10-For-10 that are out now include “Legend of the Shadow Clan” and “Shrugged” volume 2. Both of those #1’s sold over 30,000 copies — now two months in, how has the response been to the 10-For-10 initiative?
That’s a good question — it’s been a lot of hard work but it’s been worth it. “Shadow Clan” #1 debuted in the Top 100 at Diamond which we’re really happy about. For us as an independent publisher, selling 30,000 copies of an issue is impressive. “Shrugged” followed suit topping 30,000 as well so we’re definitely happy. A lot of people here at Aspen have been working around the clock to create this many titles in this short amount of time, and we still have a current library of books that are just finishing up — it’s a busy time at Aspen.
We’re looking forward to the next couple of releases with “Jirni” in April and of course “Charismagic” volume 2 in May. We want to see how people respond to the middle portion of the 10-For-10. We did these retailer exclusive covers which have been phenomenally received by the retail community. We printed over 20 different covers for “Legend of the Shadow Clan” #1 and the same for “Shrugged” vol. 2 #1 which blew our expectations out of the water. It’s a high incentive to get those exclusives — we’re offering retailers individualized covers for each store that does the incentive. We were expecting only a handful to participate but that wasn’t the case, so we’re very happy.
For the 10-For-10 retailer exclusives, what was the selection process for artists and “Charismagic” volume 2 specifically?
Part of the reason for the 10-For-10 success is we targeted artists the comic book community loves and would want to see on an Aspen book. For instance, Amanda Conner has a “Charismagic” volume 2 cover and we have a Mark Brooks cover coming up. We also brought in artists we thought no one’s seen on an Aspen book yet. Eric Basaldua’s doing all the #3 covers for the 10-For-10 titles. We’re not slowing down. J. Scott Campbell is doing 10 retailer exclusives in total — including “Charismagic” volume 2. I was excited about that one — like a 10 year-old fan! When J. Scott’s cover came in I couldn’t wait to show people. “Charismagic” is my baby, so to have a J. Scott Campbell cover — I’m excited! It’s the wallpaper on my phone, I have a print up in my office — I’m happy to see J. Scott Campbell draw one of my characters.
“Charismagic” volume 2 #1 goes on sale the Wednesday before Free Comic Book Day (on May 4). Was this the plan all along?
That’s exciting for me. When I found out this series was the May release, [Aspen President] Frank Mastromauro and I discussed it and we thought it would be a no brainer for us to release “Charismagic” the week of FCBD when there are so many new readers and new customers in stores — it’s a $1 book! People aren’t paying for their comics that week so maybe they’ll put down a dollar to try an Aspen book. [Laughs] Plus, the trade of Volume 1 comes out a week later and “Death Princess” finishes I believe the same day as the new #1, May 1. It’s being finished right now so we’ll know the specific street date soon, but there’s going to be a lot of “Charismagic” in May. I’m excited.
Considering the huge effort put into the 10-For-10 by the people at Aspen, are there any plans in the works for a greater company-wide universe that’s all interconnected?
So far we’re sticking with the individualistic route. However, to hint towards one of our later 10-For-10 titles, we do have a property that’s brand new and its own entity but definitely exists in a world we’ve already created. Fans of our water-based books will definitely see a connection there. So in that sense you hit the nail on the head — we are trying new things in connecting universes. I can’t say if we’ll do more of that in the future, but I also can’t deny that we’ve talked about it before.
Did you take a different approach to “Charismagic” volume 2 considering its part of a larger, new reader friendly initiative?
We’re taking an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it approach” with this new volume and upping the ante at the same time. Check it out and the rest of the 10-For-10. We’re trying new things with the initiative and it’s up to the fans to tell us if it’s a success or not. If you feel like a certain title fits your fancy, tell us. That’s what the 10-For-10 is all about — showing our cards and letting the fans respond. So far it’s going great and I want it to continue that way. Thanks to those who have supported the 10-For-10 so far; it’s the fans who brought us here throughout our first decade of publishing comics.
“Charismagic” volume 2 #1 goes on sale May 1.