Steven T. Seagle has a significant success rate in the world of television animation, creating long-running cartoon/international franchise “Ben 10” with his Man of Action cohorts — Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and Duncan Rouleau — and with the MoA, serving as a major creative force for Marvel’s current “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Avengers Assemble” series on Disney XD.
Like the rest of the Man of Action crew, Seagle was active in the comic book world years before the first “Ben 10” episode aired, with noted credits in that medium including “Sandman Mystery Theater,” “Big Hero 6,” “House of Secrets,” “American Virgin” and the Eisner-nominated “It’s a Bird…” original graphic novel. Seagle has maintained a presence in comics as Man of Action’s television career has flourished, his most recent project being last year’s “Genius,” published through First Second.
CBR News has the exclusive first details of Seagle’s next comic book work: “Imperial,” an Image Comics series debuting in August, illustrated by Mark Dos Santos. Dubbed a “bromantic” comedy, the series follows the world’s only superhero, Imperial, who chooses an average guy named Mark to be his successor — a flattering offer, but poorly timed, as it comes as Mark is in the midst of final wedding preparations before he marries his girlfriend, Katie. Oh, and Mark’s skeptical as to whether the whole far-fetched situation is actually happening or not.
In his first interview on the series, Seagle explained to CBR that inspiration for “Imperial” came after his multiple stints writing superheroes for Marvel and DC Comics: “What if I did a superhero book on my terms?”
CBR News: Steven, what inspired “Imperial,” and getting back into the superhero world a little bit?
Steven T. Seagle: I admire greatly people who seem to be able to do the comics I tend to read, which are not so much superheroes, a little more genre stuff, or a little more weird or artsy; small press, independent stuff. And then those people who can jump back in and do a great superhero book. I’m just not that guy. Every time I’ve tried to do a superhero book, it’s had good intentions, and then gone awry for reasons of my own, or reasons beyond my control. The only time I thought I hit it out of the park was “It’s A Bird…,” which was my take on Superman, but that was kind of about me not liking Superman.
I woke up a while ago and said, “What if I did a superhero book on my terms? What would that be like?” Without editors, without input, and without having to worry about how you keep “the franchise” alive for the next movie? That’s what “Imperial” was born out of. What would an actual Steve Seagle attempt at a superhero book look like?
Is “Imperial” an idea that’s been percolating, or something that developed fairly recently?
I wrote it pretty quickly. Once I had the idea, it all came fast. It’s a bit of a buddy book. It’s in the mold of being chosen to be “the next protector in a line,” the passing of the mantle. Green Lantern comes to mind, thought it has little to do with Green Lantern. I just thought, “How would that actually go down in my world?”
I wrote it pretty quickly. Then I lined up a guy who I had known from my local comic book shop — Comics Factory in Pasadena — Mark Dos Santos, who had been working there a long time. I’ve been looking at his portfolio over the years, and going, “Nope. Nope. Not ready. Nope.” Then I looked at it one day and I was like, “Yeah, I think you’re ready.” So I pitched him this idea, and he said yes, and I wrote it up. It took him a little longer to draw it, because he had some other commitments. It’s been percolating a while, but I wrote it kind of all at once and quickly.
It seems like there’s a good amount of fun to be had with this book, and some comedy, which is something we don’t always see from comics. Was that an element you definitely wanted to explore?
It is definitely more fun than a lot of the crazy, dark, “mature” superhero books. But I think this is more mature in a lot of ways. It’s about this guy Mark, who is on the cusp of getting married, and on the cusp of becoming the next great champion of the planet Earth — and those two things are just on a collision course. It’s hard to learn how to fly when you’ve got to pick a band for your reception. Which of those takes precedence? Should you in fact try every plate at your dinner sampling with your soon-to-be wife, or should you learn how to shoot laser beams out of your eyes? If those two things conflict, and you just don’t have that much time, what do you do? It’s born out of that.
The strange thing is, I do think it’s a superhero book. I think it is one of those passing-the-torch kind of comics that I read a lot of when I was a teenager and loved — but, it’s also one of those real-world comics, slice-of-life books, at the same time. It’s a bromance, it’s a buddy book, but it’s got commitment issues.
Since it is at least partly a superhero book, let’s talk about the world that it takes place in. Imperial is the only superhero, correct? It’s not a world cluttered with superheroes?
It takes place in this world, where this is a Sky Harbor Airport, and a Pasadena, California, and a Denver, Colorado — and it’s primarily based out of Denver. And there’s only one superhero, which is Imperial. We don’t know anything about him except that he is Imperial — he wears a crown, he has this rack of amazing powers. And somehow, he’s landed on this schlubby dude, Mark, to be his replacement. And only Mark can do it. Mark’s a long-time comic book fan, it’s kind of a dream come true, because there have been, in this world, “Imperial” comics, and an “Imperial” TV show. He’s like, “Wow, really, I got picked for this?” But then immediately both he and the readers go, “Really, he got picked for this? How is that going to go down?” So the book is really examining that influence that the hero has over human, and in a weird way, the influence human has over hero.
so Mark isn’t an obvious choice then for the line of succession.
Definitely not. So how he wound up as the only person who could take this mantle is a bit of a mystery.
I grew up in Colorado. My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot. Twice during our tenure, we lived in Colorado. I wanted to set something there — shoutout to all of my fans and friends that I had back in the day. I did the Denver con a couple of times while I was writing this book, and I was just like, “Yeah, Denver! Why not Denver?”
The list of superhero comics set in Denver must be pretty small, so you’ve already made the book distinctive.
The book also starts with an unexpected death, so I wanted Mark to be able to go up in the mountains and deal with that, and that’s where he first encounters Imperial. So also just a need, story-wise, thematically, to have some quick, accessible, very big mountains nearby.
Let’s talk about Mark’s fiancee, Katie. Is she on board with Mark’s potential future, or is a point of contention?
Mark himself is wondering if any of this is happening, because it kind of seems impossible — beyond implausible. So I wouldn’t say he’s been completely forthcoming to Katie, and when he tries to be, some strange, hopefully comedic, things happen. All Katie knows is she’s getting married in about a week and a half, and her boyfriend is acting really weird. All Mark knows is he’s getting married in a week and a half, and if he tells his girlfriend that he’s being visited by a superhero that everybody else has absolutely no connection with beyond his comic books and TV shows, she’ll probably have him committed. So that’s the tricky nature of their triangle.
Circling back to Mark Dos Santos. That’s a fairly new name to most folks, and presumably you need need a specific type of artist to pull off both the superhero and comedic aspects of the story. What do you like about what Mark does, and how he executes this story?
Mark’s been around for a while. He’s done some stuff for Zenescope, and he’s got another Image book, and he put out a book of his convention illustrations last year. It was really the convention illustrations that finally won me over to think he had gotten to the point where he should do a book. He does these cool Rockwell or Leyendecker versions of superhero characters, which is then what I had him do for our covers — we’re doing all the covers kind of based on riffs of famous “Saturday Evening Post” covers and whatnot.
Aside from that, he’s also just got a very mainstream-y, superhero book look, and I do need both of those things working. I need to believe the superhero parts, and I need people hanging out in a restaurant, eating pheasant, talking about their wedding, and have both of those things function. I think people really have taken a shine to what he’s doing on the prints and posters he’s doing, so we’re trying to do some of that. And then I’ve got Tom Mauer lettering it, who does a bunch of work for Joe Kelly. He’s been a real trooper in terms of finding the right look for the book, because I want it to look and feel like a “comic book” comic book — we’re not doing high-end stuff. I feel like comics have just evolved past their own usefulness in a lot of ways, and I’m just trying to get back to doing a fun superhero book.
We have Brad Simpson coloring it, who’s worked on Joe Casey’s book “Sex.” I gave him a very specific palette, and he hit it out of the park.
It’s been a while since you’ve done a comic book “series” — you’ve written several graphic novels recently. This is listed as a series. Are you seeing it as a fairly open-ended run, or a finite number of issues?
My brain exists in finite numbers of issues. Aside from how its listed, I’m just going to plead the fifth on this front. Part of the storytelling is, I don’t want people to be thinking about how long this story is.
You’re busy with a lot of different stuff in the TV world, but how much of a priority is it for you to make time to do comics work — something you’ve been so closely involved in for so many years?
I always have comics stuff going on, as do all the Man of Action guys. We are very busy, and we’re about to get really busy with some super-cool stuff coming up, mostly in the live-action TV world. That’s very exciting. But, we’re comic book guys. We talk regularly about the idea that we don’t want to lose our footing in that world. We love comics. We do comics to be comics — we’re not the guys who are like, “I’m going to do my movie as a comic.” To lose track of that would be to lose track of who we are as people. That’s a lot of our friendship — bullshitting about comics that we love. We don’t want that to go away.
I don’t like to talk about anything until it’s finished, because I hate when you hear about something, and five years later, you’re like, “What happened to that thing?” I’ve been guilty of that, too. Nowadays, I just keep it under my hat until it’s done. This whole thing is done, done, done enough to put out, which is good. I’m always working with Teddy Kristiansen on books. I have a huge graphic novel that I’m 130 pages in, that nobody knows anything about, and nobody will know anything about until it’s finished. But comics will always be coming from the Man of Action guys.