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Green & Sterbakov talk “Freshmen Summer Vacation Special”

by  in Comic News Comment
Green & Sterbakov talk “Freshmen Summer Vacation Special”
“Freshmen Summer Vacation Special” on sale in June (cover by Rodolfo Migliari)

Seth Green and Hugh Sterbakov’s team of college students with bizarre super powers returns this June with the 48-page, Sheldon Mitchell-illustrated “Freshmen Summer Vacation Special,” at which time publisher Top Cow will also be offering a hardcover edition of the original “Freshmen” miniseries.

The heroes, who were given their powers based on their thoughts at the moment of a freak accident, include, among others, the telepathic Annalee; Charles, a Vegan who can now hear the speech of plants; Brady and Renee, a bickering couple whose push/pull powers only work when they’re in physical contact with each other; and a talking gopher. Team leader Norrin, a true comic book geek, was out getting pizza when the freak accident occurred, causing him to miss out on powers altogether.

CBR News caught up with Green and Sterbakov to discuss the “Freshmen” series as a whole, the “Summer Vacation Special” in particular, and why it’s impossible to top a cover blurb from George Lucas.

How would you guys describe “Freshmen?”

Seth Green: Well, we describe it a couple different ways. We kind of broadly describe it as “Revenge of the Nerds” meets “X-Men.” More intent-wise, we’re looking at a period of time where, you know, most kids are defining their identity, and figuring out exactly who they are in the world. In addition to all the things an average teenager deals with, these kids have the added deformity of super powers.

EXCLUSIVE: Pencils for Norrin pinup by Sheldon Mitchell

When you guys were originally thinking up the series, how did you work together to come up with the characters, the story and so on, or what was the genesis of the series?

Hugh Sterbakov: We were sitting around one night at my house, playing ping-pong….

SG: He says sitting but actually we were standing.

HS: We were standing around one night playing ping-pong, and we were drunk…

SG: Not just drunk, but drinking!

HS: Heavily.

SG: Heavily!

HS: We were well into it. It was out of character, actually, we’re not big drinkers.

SG: It was the weekend. We were somewhat depressed. We had really nothing going on.

HS: We were drinking away the misery of life. What happened was, I had some unripe bananas. And I decided, as drunk as I was at that moment, that what really would hit the spot was those bananas. I wished — I wished to God! — that I could ripen those bananas. I said I wished I had the mutant power to ripen bananas.

SG: And I said, “That’s gotta be a categorically useless power, unless you’re a grocer.” You know, there’s really no value to being able to ripen bananas. And that would be more of an affliction than a super power. But neither of us could deny that that would in fact be a super power.

HS: And Seth said, “That might be the most useless superpower ever,” and I said, “Oh no, sir!” I think I can top you. And we started coming up with a super team based around powers that were fairly useless.

SG: We’ve both also always been fans of comics, always fans of team books and things like that. Very interested in this dynamic. Both of us have always been interested in the plight of teenagers, and the plight of, you know, young boys and girls. We were both kind of not-super-popular.

HS: Yeah, that’s our superhero origin. We grew up together. We met in kindergarten. We got into comics together. I have 40 long boxes — it’s got to be 42 now, I just bought two more. I have every appearance of Spider-Man. I mean, I am a diehard comic book fan.

SG: Hugh is Norrin.

HS: Yeah, I am, basically, except for somebody — unfortunately for her — married me. And you know, we’ve just really always loved comics, we’ve always loved — we conceived it as a movie. Not because we weren’t excited to do a comic, but because we thought with Seth’s, you know — We thought it would make a really great movie! We thought we’d have an easier shot making a movie than we would a comic. And so we pitched around, and everybody really liked the idea but they said, go make a comic book and you’ll have an [Intellectual Property], and it’ll be easier to get moving on this. So that’s what we did. I got a phone call from Top Cow and they said, hey, we’ve heard of you, what have you got? And I gave them this and we’re in business suddenly, and you’re interviewing us for it!

And would you still be interested in taking it to movies sometime?

SG: Absolutely.

And you’d be looking at live action, or animation?

SG: We’d do it live action, absolutely.

EXCLUSIVE: Pencils for Puppeteer pin-up by Sheldon Mitchell

For Hugh, “Freshmen” was the first thing that many had read by you. Did you have other comics or TV or film credits?

HS: One thing for Marvel. It was half an issue for an “X-Men Unlimited.” But for the most part, I kind of come from Hollywood.

SG: He’s like Andy Kaufman.

HS: Yeah, I’ve sold a whole bunch of things that people liked and made me money and never got made. So I can’t show you any productivity after twelve years down here. That’s all I’ve got. It’s a sad, sad story.

SG: Hugh is one of the most prolific people that nobody knows about.

HS: That’s exactly the thing. I write a lot — and I even sell a lot! — and I work a lot, and you wouldn’t know who the hell I am. There’s thousands of people out here like me.

SG: But there’s a wonderful anonymity to it. You can walk around Comic-Con and I can’t.

HS: Yeah, that’s nice. Girls in Buffy t-shirts aren’t trying to rape me. There’s two sides to every story. That’s where I am. And you know, I’m developing some other stuff right now. But you know, I’m so proud of “Freshmen,” and I really, really love it, that if this is what I’m known for I’ll be a very happy boy.

What can we expect in the “Summer Vacation Special?”

SG: Aw, it’s so cool.

HS: Well, you know, we’ve had a very busy year, and we’re working on “Freshmen” in a lot of different avenues. This year, we decided to just do one issue, which is gonna kind of bridge the gap between “Freshmen II” and “Freshmen III.”

SG: It’s a great opportunity to do an adventure story. Typically with this series, there’s all these other elements that get folded into it emotionally. And this is an opportunity to just show the kids in action. We only rarely get to see them acting as a team and functioning as an adventure force, you know, as a fighting team.

HS: We just had a very dark, emotional end to “Freshmen II,” and it even ended on a cliffhanger, and we wanted to kind of lighten things up and let down our hair a little bit, you know, metaphorically speaking — I could come up with a couple more clich–s but basically we’re just trying to get back to the fun of the beginning of the opening series, the fun of the unknown adventure and exploring these powers without the pathos, for kind of a one-shot adventure story.

SG: Hugh called me up and said, “I think I know how to DO this.” And he made it a story about the metaphor of everyone letting go. Because what you have is all these kind of poisonous relationships, all these toxic relationships. All these addictions and codependencies that our kids have built up with different aspects of their lives. You know, with Renee and Brady, with Norrin and Amy, with Charles and Suzie, it’s because of that that this really functions well. So you’ve got a really fun out-and-out super hero story, but underneath it all is the emotional core that Hugh can’t help but bring.

HS: The thing that happened as I was writing is I realized that, although the story can be this big fight, it can actually be about what the kids are going through behind the scenes, that kind of dovetails off the end of “Freshmen II.” So I’m pretty sure it’s going to work out great. If you’ve never read “Freshmen,” it’s going to work really well on a fun, visceral adventure ride, and if you are familiar with how “Freshmen II” ended you’re going to realize what the kids are going through and how it’s going to play out in relationship to where their emotions are at this moment. So, all that having been said, it’s 22 pages of rip-roaring fun.

Can you tell us from whose perspective this story is told?

HS: This is the first time we’re doing it, I’m very excited — it’s the Intoxicator. Actions are going be sheer drunken… I mean, there’s one point where in the captions he’s saying “Wait, I forgot what happens here,” while you’re watching it unfold. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a whole other story going on in his head while the actual story’s going on the page, and you’ve got to explore both of them. And it’s really been a lot of fun because the Intoxicator’s a popular character, but because of the way the story lines have gone we haven’t really had a lot of opportunity to really get into him and have a lot of fun with what’s going on with him.

And, you know, the truth be told — when we decided we were going to do this character, from the beginning I didn’t want him to — I didn’t want to glorify his powers and make it so he’s scott free drunk all the time. On the other hand, I didn’t want to have to stop this whole comic and go to AA. So I’m trying to balance him out. We keep referring to the fact that he’s failing all his classes, you know, it’s affecting his life, but I really want to balance that because I don’t want to stop this for a public service message. And you kind of see some of that in this issue, as well, because he’s completely drunk out of his mind, he’s having a great time.

SG: He’s also going to figure out different ways to intoxicate himself that don’t have such permanent wide reaching effects. That’s his burden, is to take advantage of his super power without ruining his life.

HS: The story is, Charles’s renegade, “Fatal Attraction” plant kind of comes back as a giant, King Kong-type monster. It’s basically fighting with your ex-girlfriend, if she was seventy feet tall and made of plants. It’s going to be a fun adventure, and a lot of pathos, and romance, and horror. It’s just going to be the greatest thing ever.

So it’s Charles’s plant but it’s from the perspective of the Intoxicator?

HS: Yeah, it’s Charles’s plant but it’s told — well, it’s very much an action story. This is not like most of the other Freshmen stories. So it’s all taking place at the same time, and all pretty much action-driven. The Intoxicator is narrating it, but it is Charles dealing with his plant.

Do you have your cover blurb yet?

HS: We’ve actually stopped doing that. I’ve decided the joke has grown old. I don’t know if you know this, but we got George Lucas for “Freshmen II” #6, and I just decided, you know what? We’re never going to top George, we’ve made our point, celebrities like us or are vague enough towards us to let us use their names. And it’s not a shot to anybody else that we could get or whatever, but you know, nobody wants to go back to the well. I think it’s a good time to retire that.

SG: We did it as a fun novelty, and we love that the book’s being taken seriously and we don’t want to get in the way of that.

HS: And you know, one of the nicest things — no, the single nicest thing — in my comic book writing career happened because of that. Just on my MySpace page, it was my birthday, and Brad Meltzer sent me a birthday — just out of nowhere, I’ve never met the man — and I was like, dude, I love your work. And he wrote back, “Same here.” And I almost — I won’t use that word. I just couldn’t believe it. We emailed back and forth a couple times, and he gave me a cover blurb. And I told him, you know, absolutely insult us, that’s what we ask for. He was still pretty charming, he couldn’t bring himself to insult us outright. But that was one of the best little moments of my life to hear that. Because you couldn’t find a bigger fan of “Identity Crisis” than me — all of Brad’s work, really. So if that’s all that comes of that, I’ll take it.

“Freshmen” lithograph

Obvious question: kids are on their summer vacation now. When they come back to school they’ll no longer be freshmen. Is there a title change for volume 3?

SG: No. We’ve talked about this a lot, the property will always just kind of be “Freshmen,” even though they’ll become sophomores and such.

HS: Exactly, yeah. Don’t hold me to this, because I literally have given very little thought to “Freshmen III,” probably to an irresponsible point.

SG: You kind of know exactly what’s going to happen, you haven’t really had to map it out.

HS: Yeah, well, we’ll figure it out when we get there. But anyway, we’ll probably call it like, “Freshmen: The Sophomore Year,” or something like that. There will be some kind of addendum, but the IP is “Freshmen” and I think, beyond the literal sense, it speaks to who these kids are, what they’re dealing with, and I think the title will be appropriate long after they get through their freshmen year of school.

You know, a particular kind of thing excites me, like serialized stories, and I think if I was more responsible I might have considered not dating the school year and just leaving them as freshmen forever. But you know, we’re in an age where I’m influenced by great things like “Buffy” where the kids are allowed to age and grow up. You know, it’s a problem they just got into with Spider-Man where he got too old. So I’m going to follow that as it goes. The other night I was working out how their senior year would end, just in my head. But we’re going to stick with “Freshmen,” at least I think for now, and see how it goes.

SG: It’s like the “New Mutants” kind of always being called the New Mutants. Or “New Avengers” or whatever. It’s more the collection of the people than anything literal.

HS: So the IP will always be called “Freshmen,” but I think we’ll be putting an addendum to the title and making it clear that the kids are, you know, advancing through college.

Volume 2 came with a special web-only comic. Are there any plans to do a little bit more of that, either with volume 3 or between volumes?

HS: We’re going to do — and I haven’t given it any thought, so I can’t even tease you about it — we’re going to do a text backup story, even in the “Summer Vacation Special.” It’s going to be a 48 page issue with 22 pages of comics, so I’m going to do a backup story like I’ve done in the trade paperbacks. And I may do some more of those for the internet, some more text stories. Because that’s something I can do on my own. But the nature of doing that [web] issue — you know, somebody’s got to pay the artist, and inker and colorist. I really wanted eight issues to tell “Freshmen II,” and we weren’t able to do that, we had to tell it in six.

I really wanted to tell this story, but on the other hand I wasn’t sure this story was worth asking people to pay three dollars for, either, as a single issue, because it was a very personal back-story to just one of our characters.

What I definitely will be doing is more text stories. I don’t know if you’ve ever read a book called “Youth in Revolt” [by C.D. Payne], it’s the most fantastic book, I think they’re making it into a movie now, with Michael Cera. It’s a first-person account of this insane kid and I love that sort of thing.

SG: It’s just this crazy, sociopathic kid who is willing to blow up his school — I mean, it’s a great book.

HS: I was heavily influenced by that when I wrote the first backup story, for Norrin in the first trade paperback. And I kind of expanded it in the second trade paperback. I would like to do more of that stuff, you know, first person stuff from each of the kids’ point of view about what’s going on. But unfortunately right now, we’re in the middle of this pretty heavy cliffhanger and I don’t feel comfortable resolving that anywhere but in the comic. So I’ve got to be careful about what I touch on in those stories.

Anything else you’d like to add?

SG: Go buy “Freshmen Summer Vacation Special!”

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

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