This month, WildStorm and writer David Lapham take readers to the heart of America, but this isn’t the house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and 3.5 children. Instead, Lapham describes the borough of Sparta as a “small isolated town [that] has some funny ideas about their place in the world.” Together with series artist Johnny Timmons, the writer plans to deliver a unique take on what it means to be American – whatever that means.
“Well, the folks [in Sparta] are die-hard Americans,” Lapham told CBR News.Â “They believe – and need to believe – that they are good Americans. It defines them and makes their lives whole. Same as a lot of people and places here. Even the most cynical of us still believes in the founding concepts of the country. Well, in Sparta those founding concepts are a bit off, but they’re accepted with the same fervor as we accept life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Their pursuit is a little more…fervent…than ours, but not so far fetched.Â Nothing more out there than owning slaves, for instance.”
According to Lapham, Sparta may love their country, but their idea of the land of the free and the home of the brave seems to have a slightly different meaning than it does to the rest of the US population. “In Sparta the people love America,” Lapham told CBR News.Â “They love, mom, apple pie and football. They believe in the American Dream and pursue it through subterfuge, blackmail and assassination – just like they were taught in Mrs. Sanborn’s fifth grade covert operations class. The only crime in Sparta is to be unseemly in public, but if you can, say, eliminate your boss in his sleep and take his job…that’s how you get ahead in life, right? There was no greater hero in Sparta than Godfrey McLaine, quarterback of the Mighty Spartans, though beloved Godfrey himself has survived dozens of assassination attempts by his backups. But three years ago, Godfrey disappeared into the Yeti-filled mountains that surround Sparta and keep it isolated. Now Godfrey has returned, bigger, redder and more magical than when he left, to take on the mysterious Maestro who runs Sparta and has been keeping some secrets from its citizens.”
The cast of “Sparta: USA” is a varied group beyond the main hero and villain – though both of them are characters worthy of the adventure story Lapham has crafted. “Godfrey is basically the biggest star in the world [of Sparta],” he said.Â “Men want to be him, women want to be with him, (and believe me Godfrey took full advantage of that!). He left Sparta, learned a whole lot, and has returned with the truth…and magic. No one likes the truth, and folks aren’t so keen on him now.”
“The Maestro is our villain. He’s the mayor of Sparta and makes sure the air of peace and picket fences is maintained,” Lapham said of Godfrey’s adversary. “He doles out babies and has big plans for Sparta.Â He’s also even taller than Godfrey, and blue. He and Godfrey are our first clue something’s not normal in Sparta. The secret of the Maestro is the secret to the world of Sparta.”
Beyond Godfrey and Maestro, Lapham has a bevy of other characters populating the town and series, including golden boy Johnny Franks, the lovely Nora, Godfrey’s wife Wanda and the young boy Ralphie.
“Johnny Franks has become the hot new quarterback since Godfrey left,” Lapham said.Â “With Godfrey not so popular, he becomes the central battleground between Godfrey and the Maestro for the heart of the people. This is all great for Johnny’s ego. Not so great for Sparta.”
“Despite what a hundred other women say, Nora was Godfrey’s true love,” he continued. “Nora kicks ass. The new, monogamous Godfrey would marry her in a second….if he wasn’t already married.”
“Godfrey’s wife and mother of his children is the Machiavellian Wanda,” Lapham said of Godfrey’s significant other. “She has the gift of sight and dreams the future. Whether her actions seem good or evil, the only goal in her fevered brain is to keep herself on top.”
“Ralphie is a young man about to make his move for upward mobility, a move he quickly regrets and may cost him the hand of his true love,” he said. “He may find redemption through Godfrey.”
For Lapham, depicting a town like Sparta is very much a return to the familiarity of the type of towns he has created in some of his other books including “Young Liars” and the award-winning “Stray Bullets.” “The core idea of an isolated town that has some off kilter ideas on how the world works is very much a concept I like to play with,” he said.Â “Seaside in ‘Stray Bullets,’ Browning in ‘Young Liars.’ But here, I married that with a very expansive fantasy concept that I hope will surprise people. When all the elements fell into place and I started thinking about Sparta and why it existed, this just fit perfectly.Â ”
“At its core, it’s still me. There’s raw emotion, tragedy, and darkness,” he continued.Â “I would say, though, Sparta is the most straight up adventure concept I’ve created. Those elements are there, but first and foremost this is a straightforward fantasy/adventure. There’s actual good vs. evil here. There’s big action, there’s a concept that’s external rather than internal. I’m not saying I want this, but other people could write ‘Sparta’ based around the core concept. ‘Stray Bullets’ and ‘Young Liars’ were about me, and because of that, really quite impossible for someone else to write.”
While “Stray Bullets” and “Young Liars” may have been more personal for Lapham, he’s still having plenty of fun crafting “Sparta: USA.” “After such an internal and serpentine book like Young Liars, it was a blast to kick back and tell a straight up adventure story,” he said.Â “Plus, I love the concept behind the book.Â It’s so broad to me. I hope, hope, hope I get to tell more stories set here. I really hope readers just think it kicks ass. I hope (artist) Johnny Timmons gets recognized for his talent. His work on this is stellar and gets better each issue. I hope people beg Wildstorm to make a Godfrey McLaine T-shirt. I want a Yeti action figure. Really.
“The biggest challenge is promoting the book and getting people to buy it,” Lapham said.Â “There’s so much on the market, it’s hard to pry enough folks away from all the mainstream titles they feel they have to collect and get them to try something different even though they’ll love it. Trust me, you’ll love it. Really. If not, you can get your money back…(Not from me. By working a little overtime at the Thrift Mart. What’s a little overtime vs. possibly finding your new favorite book).”