This July, Aspen Comics launches its first ongoing comic book series. “Executive Assistant Assassins,” written by Aspen Editor-in-Chief Vince Hernandez with art by Jordan Gunderson and Teodoro Gonzalez, continues exploring the universe created by David Wohl in “Executive Assistant Iris” and expanded during Aspen’s first-ever event, “The Hit List Agenda.” While Wohl’s volumes of “Executive Assistant Iris” will continue to explore the adventures of the title character, “Assassins” will help to further flesh out characters introduced in the pages of the core series and “The Hit List Agenda.”
In order to shed some light on Aspen’s impetus to launch an ongoing series, CBR News spoke with Hernandez about his plans for the ongoing series, the characters involved, the involvement of universe creator David Wohl and the potential for other ongoing series launching from Aspen.
CBR News: Vince, tell us about “Executive Assistant Assassins.” What’s the core concept here and how does it relate to the world David Wohl set up so far in the “Executive Assistants” canon?
Vince Hernandez: It relates to David’s original “Executive Assistant Iris” series wholeheartedly, but it also exists as its own title at this point. It’s an offshoot of the “Executive Assistant” brand, which honestly, David did a really good job with the first two volumes setting up a universe we can expand upon. For this book, it’s been just the next logical progression for that series as well as a bit of a milestone moment for us. It’ll be Aspen’s first ongoing series. We’re closing in on our ten year anniversary, which is crazy because a lot of people don’t know we’ve been around that long. We’re going on ten years and we’ve never done an ongoing. This will be our first and we’re excited.
“Executive Assistant Assassins” will be rotating story arcs of different Executive Assistants. If the readers don’t know anything about “EA,” they’re basically, these are girls and females — not only females and I won’t hint any more than that — but it’s a group of women that kind of originated in China. These women are basically servants their whole lives to these powerful corporate masters. [Their masters] are businessmen, they work in that dangerous corporate world that needs a little extra edge: a bodyguard, a secretary, everything built into one. If you’ve read the first two volumes, we introduced Iris as the principle heroine in the “Executive Assistants” universe. From there, we introduced more and more. Last summer, we did the “Executive Assistants: Hit List Agenda” crossover which was a huge success for us as a company just because we had an “Executive Assistant” book on the racks every week over the last summer. This is about the next natural step for the series to take it into an ongoing series with some of the characters we hadn’t explored fully in the first two volumes. David’s third volume is already being planned and coming up so that’ll run parallel to this series. There’s going to be a lot of “EA” action coming up in July.
I want to come back to the fact that this is Aspen’s first ongoing series a little bit later, but for now, you mentioned David is already setting up his next volume for “Executive Assistants.” Can we expect some kind of crossover between David’s series and the ongoing?
[Laughs] That’s a very good question. It’s pretty much the first thing you think of when you have these two parallel titles running respectively at the same time. It’s a natural thing to cross them over. We definitely have something planned for next year where they’ll inter-cross which each other. That won’t be until after issue #5. So, we’ll have a story arc to start the “Assassins” series and then there’ll be a two-issue series from that introducing a brand new Executive Assistant and from there, we’re planning a big crossover between “Iris” and this that people are really going to flip over. It’s going to be bigger than any crossover we’ve done yet.
Who are the main players in “Executive Assistants Assassins?” What’s the background on these characters and what motivates them as the series progresses?
In “Executive Assistant Iris” volume one, we were introduced to a character named Lily. Fans of the series or new readers might recognize her as the green-haired heroine from that volume. “Assassins” basically starts out with her story and it’s a three-issue story arc called “Life After Death.” It basically deals with what these executive assistants do after their master dies. We’ve done a bunch of stories where we see them free themselves from the grip of these masters, but we’ve never seen them living the life afterwards and what happens to them. This three-issue story arc picks up right at the moment where Lily is figuring out or doesn’t know what direction to go. When we meet up with her, she’s really at rock bottom. She’s got a drug problem, she’s always been kind of a loner but now she’s literally alone with nobody to rely on. Her story, this “Life After Death” story arc, really spirals out of that. You come to find out that she has — there’s a lot of members of her past, people she’s wronged in the past, that come back and they’re seeking to kill her. Basically, it’s the tale of this one girl Lily who’s all alone. She’s got problems and definitely I would relate her to your regular story heroines.
I wanted to touch on a lot of different things with this. I wanted to get a little darker than things we’ve seen before with the EAs. We’ve done corporate espionage and we’ve definitely done a lot of action and violence, but now we want to take it to another level where these girls are just affected by all the stuff they’ve done in the past, how it builds up and how they deal with it. Her outlet right now is drugs. I wanted to be really realistic with that because everything in this first arc is very grounded in reality. There’s no comic book cliffhangers that you’re going to see. There are no heroes that show up to save her. I wanted to go with a more — I don’t want to say noir-ish because that’s definitely not the case here — it’s more of a realistic crime take on the “EA” property. It’s been a lot of fun, too, because David Wohl has actually been in the office and the studio almost every day so we can spitball ideas and talk about the universe, what he wants to do with it and where we want to take the series. It’s great having the creator here because you can just bounce ideas off of him and get a take.
How involved is David going to be moving forward with “Executive Assistants Assassins?”
I would love him to be involved as much as he wants to. He’s definitely a busy guy and he’s writing “Fathom” for us as well as the next volume of “Iris,” but there’s pretty much no aspect of this series that we move forward on without him seeing. What’ll happen is when the pages come in, the artist Jordan Gunderson — he’s a new talent — he’ll lay out everything, David will look at the layout. He’ll do the interior pages, David will sign off on those. Every story element from the outline to the finished script, I run by him. It’s funny because you say a creator should always be involved but in my [experience], you see creators that want minimal involvement. There are some that create the world and ask others to deal with it, but David is very hands-on. He wants to make sure that everything is as he has planned. He has huge plans for the series, just off and talking with him and seeing what ideas he has, I can’t see there not being several more volumes.
You mentioned the first story arc of “Executive Assistant Assassins” will deal with Lily who was introduced in the first volume of “Executive Assistant Iris.” How new-reader friendly is this new series going to be considering it’s set in a pretty established universe?
It’s going to be very new reader friendly. We’re building the series with the thought process that if you had not read volumes one and two or the crossover, you wouldn’t be lost. Basically, stuff from the first volumes is referenced and there’s definitely overtones from her history that pop up, but it’s definitely not necessary to read the first series. It’s built from the ground up so new readers can jump right in. We really want to emphasize that because it’s our first ongoing and it’s our first continual story arc that we’re building from #1 on. We really want to make sure people know you can read the previous volumes and know what’s going on, but you don’t have to.
This is Aspen’s first ongoing series, a big step for the company. Normally, Aspen does a miniseries model reminiscent of television seasons, a formula that seems to have worked out well so far. What was the reasoning to make the switch to the “Executive Assistants” universe?
Naturally, there was a timing for it and it was also me pushing for it because I wrote a miniseries for last year’s crossover, “Executive Assistant Lotus” and I really enjoyed the world. I liked writing those characters and I wanted to continue doing that. I also, as Aspen Editor-in-Chief, wanted to push the ongoing to let people know — people always assume that because we do these miniseries and one-and-dones, we can’t do anything further than that. I know we’ve had delay issues with a lot of books and people point to that, but we want to show people that, look, we can put out an ongoing and keep it going. The timing was right, we had just come off of “The Hit List Agenda” crossover, it was a huge success for us, so we really wanted to explore these ideas on how we could move the “Executive Assistant” brand in different directions and keep it going and keep it fresh. That was definitely one of the first thoughts I had when we thought, “Why not continue the story, just change the arcs and the teams like a comic book?”
We definitely used that model of thinking and just me pushing for it. I really wanted to do it. I went in and told Frank [Mastromauro, Aspen’s President] that we should do an ongoing. We had already talked about it a bunch of times and the timing wasn’t right here or the timing wasn’t right there, but this time, I had just come off the “Executive Assistant” book that I wrote. I really enjoyed it and I really wanted to kind of put my own stamp on something for several issues. As a comic book writer, I wanted to do something longer, leave my mark and go back to the relationship with David. It’s an easygoing working relationship with a creator and he’s generally really supportive of the ideas I have. If there’s something he disagrees with, he’ll just lay it out for me. It’s definitely one of the most fun collaborations I’ve ever done. All the little things came together and it was just the right time. Aspen fans I think can look forward to a few more titles, definitely in the ongoing market.
It’s interesting, it seems like the “Executive Assistant” series is actually the starting point for a lot of Aspen firsts. “The Hit List Agenda,” Aspen’s first ever event, started with “Executive Assistant” and now it’s the source of the first ongoing series. Is there a reason the “Executive Assistant” series has been the platform Aspen has chosen to launch all these firsts for the company?
That’s a good point there. I think of all our properties, it definitely has the most cutting-edge universe building capabilities to it. I know it’s weird jargon to use for what we put out as books and properties, but I feel like with the “Executive Assistant,” the way that David built the universe and the property lends itself well to introducing new versions of these characters, these executive assistants, whereas “Fathom” or “Soulfire” or even “Lady Mechanika” are a little more set in the storylines we have planned for them. So there aren’t maybe as many opportunities to branch out into an ongoing. We actually have spoken about a “Fathom” one that we wanted to do. That world is so big and there are definitely stories that have yet to be told.
“Executive Assistant” is definitely on the cutting edge of all the properties we do in terms of universe building. We can branch out of it very easily with different executive assistants. People really respond well to the character designs of all of them and there’s definitely an element of — almost like a Pokemon situation — where you introduce a new one and people flip over their look and want to know more about them. I think that’s really a tribute to David and what he created and the longevity of the property from the get-go. We saw it and we were just hoping readers and fans would pick up on it. I feel like they have, so I would say the readers are the ones that dictated what we did with that book. There are other properties we’re exploring that with as well. For us, it’s all about universe building. We don’t ever want to have a property that just sits there and then we’re done with it. We try to pick properties that we can expand on after one storyline. There has to be longevity to the storyline, a universe beyond just the initial story arc.
As a writer, what do you think the challenge is both in introducing this series to new readers and also beginning the company’s first ongoing? This is something that Aspen’s never done before. What are the challenges there?
Honestly, there are a bunch. We want to make sure the new title is good enough for fans to love. That’s always paramount. There’s the quality level; we want to make sure we reach the standards of the series that have come before and keep that going. On a monthly book, that’s a different animal because it’s really easy on a six-issue series to get somebody who might be able to put in a certain level of detail. Now with the monthly aspect, we always have to continue to move forward. Luckily, I think we’ve planned well for that with creative teams. We’ve already lined up the first ten issues. We’re already pretty much I think on issue #6. We’re about to start issue #6 so we’re in good shape with that aspect. In terms of the retail side of it, it’s big for us because, quite honestly, we’ve had a reputation for lateness with a lot of books. It’s always been something we try to overcome with the perception from retailers. The last two years, we’ve had our hiccups — “Lady Mechanika” being one that we just didn’t plan the production taking as long as it did. If you do go down our line, there are minimal delays on all the other titles there have been. It’s pretty much been running well for the last couple years and this is our way of saying, “Look, we can keep a book coming out monthly. It’s not that we don’t choose to, the properties we do and the projects we choose dictate what we do with the release schedule.” This is our coming out party where we say, “Every month, there is going to be an Aspen title in stores no matter what.” We’re hoping fans pick up on that, and more importantly, we’re hoping retailers will support it as well.
In terms of expanding the number of ongoing Aspen titles, are you looking at other properties right now? I know you mentioned “Fathom” as being on that list.
There are a few. Obviously, “Soulfire’s” another one of our flagship titles. It’s definitely one of our tentpole books. Everything falls around “Fathom” and “Soulfire,” it seems like, when our production schedule comes out. Those are other series off the top of my head that lend themselves to an ongoing model. Personally, from my own standpoint, my book “Charismagic,” I’m continuing to a second volume there but I hope at some point to continue on and maybe do it in an ongoing format. There are a few that are definitely in the driver’s seat — “Soulfire” being one of them, “Fathom” being another — but that’s not to say any of them [are off the table.] I’ve spoken with Joe [Benitez] about “Lady Mechanika” and I know after the first volume of that comes out, he has plans for other stuff. For us, it’s all about timing because we’re a small outfit, so there’s only so much we can do in a given day. I would say “Fathom” and “Soulfire” are the two in the driver’s seat for ongoings in the future.
“Executive Assistant Assassins” debuts in July from Aspen.