Since his days hacking and slashing through the creator-owned scene, cartoonist Tim Seeley has expanded his mark with a number of projects both self-made and collaborative. And this year, he’ll be doing both at Dark Horse.
Already on tap for May is “Jack Kraken” –Â a one-shot reintroduction for the strange superhero Seeley created as part of the “Double Feature” comics app created with his coworkers at Chicago’s Four Star Studios. And now CBR News is happy to announce exclusively that June will also see the release of “Sundowners” –Â a new ongoing creator-owned title written by Seeley with art by “The Crow’s” Jim Terry which focuses on a support group for would-be superheroes. Both comics feature a level of horror influence along with costumed craziness as longtime readers of Seeley’s work may recognize.
CBR spoke to Seeley about adding to his Dark Horse workload, and below the writer digs into Kraken’s origins in his Kindergarten days, what lacks from modern day superhero comics and how “Sundowners” explores questions of what is sanity alongside alien science fiction tropes.
CBR News: Tim, you’ve got two new Dark Horse projects on tap as things head into the summer. First is a one-shot for “Jack Kraken” –Â a superhero character readers may know from the “Double Feature” digital comic produced with your Four Star Studio mates. I get the sense that this is only the latest character for you where you create it, put it out and then wait and see where new opportunities grow for it. Is that how this grew towards Dark Horse?
Tim Seeley: I think that’s a really accurate description, actually. Part of the job of comics is making a living, obviously, and doing the things you know that people like. It’s stuff you can get paid to do. Then you’ve always got to make your own new stuff up and build an identity for yourself. Jack Kraken is a thing that I made up when I was a kid, so I was always drawn to making things with him. I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t sell a ton of copies with him at first, but I felt if I kept working on it, people would want to check more out eventually.
So what specifically led to this most recent chapter in the character’s life?
[Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief] Scott Allie and I are friends, and I’m friends with his assistant Daniel Chabon too. So if we go too long without working on anything, one of us will call the other and say, “Let’s talk about working on something.” And I felt that the audience that likes what Dark Horse does — likes things like Hellboy and the sort of pulp-inspired superhero stuff — is the same audience that I think would like Jack Kraken. It pulls a lot from that idea of combining a superhero with a super secret agent with a monster hunter and making it into one crazy thing. He’s the perfect fit for a Dark Horse reader.
The previous stories you’ve done with the character pretty much threw the reader right into the action with Kraken and just let things run from there. Are you approaching this one-shot differently considering there may be more first timers seeing is as a Dark Horse book?
Yeah. This is collecting the short stories that were in “Double Feature,” and then there’s a new tale that’s sort of an origin story. But they’re printed in that order, so the new story comes chronologically after the originals. It’s actually called “Who Is Jack Kraken?” because my favorite comics as a kid were always the ones that said, “Who is this guy?” [Laughs] It’s like, “I don’t know! Maybe I should read it and find out!” So it’s all about the secret identity of Jack.
How old were you when you created this guy, and how much has he changed since then to lead to a definitive origin?
I created him when I was five or six. He started out because my grandpa was a construction guy, and he had these gloves on the wall in his office that had a picture of a guy climbing a mountain that said “Gripper Gloves.” For some reason, I turned that into a character called Gripper. I changed it to Jack Kraken eventually because Gripper invites too many masturbation jokes. [Laughs] But it’s the same basic premise — the kind of thing you can only come up with when you’re a kid, which is a guy with a mask like Spider-Man who can stretch like Mr. Fantastic, has a jetpack like Iron Man and a special gun that knocks people out. Oh yeah, and he fights monsters. That’s the kind of thing you think up when you’re five. It pulls all the things you like in so you can sit at your kitchen table drawing a guy whose arms can stretch across the page to punch a monster out. When it came time to reinvent him, I didn’t change any of that stuff really. I just made it a little more acceptable and not as goofy. But it’s still a pretty awesome kind of goofy.
So as you’ve gone on to work in superhero comics professionally, has that experience colored at all how you’d want to approach such a solidly five-year-old concept?
There’s a weird thing that’s happened because of the movies where we keep asking our superheroes to be more grounded. There’s this aspect of reducing the wonder out of them so that they’re more relatable. And as a kid, the thing I responded to out of superheroes was the sheer imagination they inspired. The lack of grounding was the best. Sure, I wanted their personalities to be something that I understood, but I didn’t need their costumes to be practical and leather. I don’t need a character to be more realistic so it can work in a movie. I’m not making a movie! I wanted to recapture some of the sheer wonder and craziness of the comics I loved that inspired me to make up Jack Kraken at the beginning. He’s an homage to that part of you that gets a little too old for superheroes but also demands that they entertain you. [Laughs] Let’s bring some of that back.
You’ve drawn some of the Jack Kraken work in the past, and you’ve got a few different artists represented here. What’s your plan in terms of collaborators and how far you’d like to take this beyond an additional one-shot?
Ross Campbell drew one of the original stories, and I drew one. And then Jim Terry, who is the artist who most recently worked on “The Crow: Skinning The Wolves” for IDW, is a buddy of mine here in Chicago, and he’s drawing the brand-new story. It’s a weird time with creator-owned stuff right now because the stuff that’s really taking off is the stuff that’s outside the traditional superhero model. I think that’s fantastic because we’re all benefitting from these different genres. So in a way, trying a superhero thing might not be the most ideal at this time. But it’s also crazy that people are finding things that work for them outside of what’s worked in comics almost exclusively for the past 15 or 20 years. That makes it the perfect time for me to just say, “Here’s something I love. If you dig it, I’d love to do more.”
Speaking of that, Dark Horse is also ready to reveal that you’ll be launching a new creator-owned series with them in June called “Sundowners.” A name like that almost sounds like a vampire comic, but I get the impression this is a pretty sever twist on the superhero genre as well. What’s going on here?
It’s a really weird book. [Laughs] If I had to give it a high concept pitch, I’d say it’s like “They Live” meets “Doom Patrol.” It’s a horror comic first, but it has superheroes in it. It’s about a group of people who meet every week for a support group called Sundowners. It’s run by a crooked psychiatrist who believes all these people suffer from a disease where they see things that aren’t there — evils that don’t really exist –Â and put on costumes to deal with the illusion. It’s a syndrome they all have, in his opinion. But in reality, they might be crazy or they might be the only ones who know about a secret invasion by interdimensional aliens. So it’s got a feel like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with some elements from “Kick-Ass” mixed in.
The way the book developed was me noticing these people who want to be superheroes in the real world and dressing up in costumes and running around the street. We have this thing that happens now where people actually walk around dressed as superheroes. And if that’s you, you are considered crazy. [Laughs] There’s definitely something wrong with you there. In comics, we never question people doing that. It looks great on paper, but in the real world, it’s nuts. This book is all about that line in between. These people are clearly trying to help the world, but are they mentally ill?
But aside from that psychological drama edge to the characters themselves, as we go will there be a larger science fictional or fantastical hook to what this all means?
There is, but it definitely plays like a horror comic. The tropes of it are these people dressed in very classic-looking superhero costumes who believe they have the powers, and we’re really asking the question, “Do they have powers?” That’s the fun part of the book. Every issue you’ve got these four main characters where it will sometimes feel like they did something superhuman while other times you’ll go, “Wait. Did anyone else see that?” It’s all about people’s perceptions of each other and their perceptions of superheroes — and also creepy aliens. [Laughs]
I think maybe the one strong connection between alien conspiracy theory people and those invested in superheroes enough to dress up in outfits and go out in the streets is something of an obsessive nature. Is that kind of mindset what you used to build these four characters?
It’s odd. One thing I don’t like about “Kick-Ass” is that it gets into the real world aspect of superheroes a bit by making fun of fans. And I don’t want to do that. I’m not interested in that or trying to say that in the real world, superheroes are stupid. I’m not interested in that in any way. But what I did want to do was figure out the sort of classic aspects of people who run around at night. What kind of person and identity works best in a genre of story about running around late at night? So one of the characters is a monster hunter. Another is a vigilante/Batman-esque person along with a night lady/Batgirl type. And then the fourth is more of a Doctor Strange/mystical character. This is ultimately more about why those character types always come up in vigilante/superhero stories. Something like “Kick-Ass,” I think, is more about having fun at the expense of people who like this stuff.
Do you have one main focal point character through the story?
All four of them are really the stars. And then there’s our psychiatrist. He’s the glue that holds them together even though he’s a terrible guy. But the four “heroes” do split the series pretty evenly, and I think the first six issues is all about these people realizing that they need each other more than anything. It’s about the team-building aspect of the concept. You start with them basically as strangers in a support group trying to help each other by relating their own problems.
The more I hear you talk about it, the more it feels like this is really the latest step in your recent run of comics like “Revival” which seem to push the character side of things past the bread-and-butter genre trappings you’re known for.
Well, I also think “Hack/Slash” was a pretty character-focused series, but there are folks who know that book because on the outside, we didn’t sell you on that element. We sold you on butts and stuff. [Laughs] Butts and boobs and blood! But the book was really more about the character work than it was about anything. That’s always been what I’ve wanted to do. “Sundowners” is closer to “Hack/Slash” than something like “Revival,” but it and “Revival” share some DNA too in how there’s a mystery growing. My favorite thing about “Revival” is when readers come back to us with their theories on what’s going on, and that’s such an amazing interaction for me. I want to do something like that in “Sundowners.” Every issue is going to ask you, “Is this person a cosmically powered being, or is she just a lunatic?”
This is also another ongoing series for you. Are there lessons you’ve learned about making these kinds of long-form creator-owned books work for you as you’re starting this new collaboration with Jim Terry?
I learned a lot from “Revival,” so I’ve tried to implement the same kind of system here. It’s “Get someone who’s reliable. Get someone who can tell a story as well when writing as they can when drawing.” After working with Mike on “Revival,” I wanted the same thing on “Sundowners,” and Jim Terry is a guy who’s written screenplays and done his own comics. He co-wrote “Skinning The Wolves” with James O’Barr. So he’s going to be both a reliable, strong artist and feel me on the story. Then Sean Dove, my Four Star Studio mate, is the colorist. And for covers, we’ve got Rico Renzi and Chris Brunner because I felt they could offer up a really distinct look for the book that I wanted. It’s not the traditional, dynamic kind of superhero look. It’s more like an ’80s Vertigo superhero. You’re seeing costumes and capes and all that stuff, but it’s through a very different filter.
To wrap, with so many strange ideas lurking at the edge of this series, where do you being the whole story in a way that can gain the attention of those readers who have a lot of creator-owned options out there?
Basically the story is about these people getting together because everyone they know thinks they’re crazy, but once they’re together, they start to attract attention. One of the members of their group gets kidnapped for reasons no one knows. He’s a 65-year-old man who can’t talk because he had damage to his vocal chords, and they have no idea how to get him back. The kidnapping opens them up into this huge conspiracy story that they might just be imagining — or it might be real. The first issue will set you up with who these people are, and I didn’t want to waste any time at all. There’s tons of stuff going on and tons of action. It’s a little bit old school, I think. Jim’s style kind of evokes the old EC Comics horror style, and it would be insane to not be inspired by that as we went along.
Stay tuned later this week for Dark Horse’s full June solicitations on CBR.
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