A not-so-covert band of award-winning comics professionals have banded together to create new heroes for a younger audience. Their studio, Agent of D.A.N.G.E.R., has already released two junior novels and are well on their way to infiltrating the worlds of comics, video games and animation. The agents — Shannon Eric Denton, Phil Hester, Jon S. Lewis and Rob Worley — bring a depth and breadth of experience to the endeavor.
Denton is a writer and producer for “World of Quest,” has designed a number of animated series for Fox Kids, and has long worked as a writer and editor in the comics field, co-founding Komikwerks along the way; Hester has a number of comics credits to his name as both writer and artist, including a current run as writer on “Wonder Woman,” and his series “Firebreather” was recently adapted into an animated feature; Lewis is the co-author of the “Grey Griffin” series of novels for Scholastic and Little Brown and has recently launched his own “CHAOS” cycle of books; and Worley is currently in the midst of the all-ages “Scratch9” series for Ape Entertainment.
CBR News: How did this particular group come together?
Shannon Eric Denton: Mutual admiration society. We’re lucky enough that our careers have let us meet people we admire creatively and we’re even luckier personally when those same people end up becoming our friends. Plus we’re all VERY dangerous…
Jon S. Lewis: I love dystopian stories and I used to think I could thrive on my own if some strange virus wiped out 90% of the world, but sitting at a computer and writing all day is such a solitary experience that it can suck the life out of you. I realize that I need people! And I love the idea of having a talented group that can bounce ideas off one another and come up with ideas that can change the world.
Rob Worley: I was told there would be donuts.
Phil Hester: It was most definitely a Shanghai deal. Seriously, I’m an unfocused tornado of irresponsibility and Shannon knows how to rein in that sort of energy. He came to me with this nerd “A-Team” idea and I could not resist.
What sort of projects are you looking to produce?
Denton: All the stuff that made us want to get into this business in the first place has had a huge influence on the types of projects we want to generate. Comics, books, video games, cartoons and certainly toys were a major factor in all of our childhoods so more than likely an AoD project is gonna have to have that multifaceted feel….it’s gotta be fun and full of action.
Worley: I have such a blast writing for young readers, so AoD looks to be a great outfit for staying in that realm. I have a technical background as well, so doing stuff like “Adventure-O-Matic,” which aims to cut across books, comics and mobile computing in its storytelling really appeals to me.
Hester: I have a lot of cool ideas that I will never live long enough to make. Working with the AoD brain trust, and the new talent they’re bringing in, is a fantastic, exhilarating way to realize those ideas.
From your website, it looks like you’re interested in bringing these properties to a number of different media, and the talents of your crew reflect this. What considerations come into play when you’re developing a new concept, and considering which medium would best introduce it?
Denton: That’s a good question. I think all four of us see ourselves as creators rather than just “I’m a penciler” or “I’m a novelist.” We like to make stuff. The idea is king so once we have that it’s really just a matter of letting the idea generate the media. Between the four of us we’ve covered games, movies, TV, comics, cartoons, toys, novels, etc. So basically we go to whatever is going to get the idea from concept stage to reality the fastest. For our first two projects that happened to be novels.
Both of those novels are with super-talented writers we’ve been looking to work with. Jake Bell wrote “Megamatrix” and Jason Arnett wrote “Evolver.” Tokyopop and Image artist Armand Villavert, Jr., did a stellar job on the covers! So as you can see the focus of this group is to collaborate. There are gonna be a lot of names announced in the coming year!
Worley: There’s so much interesting stuff that comes from being in the information age. Webcomics, eBooks, YouTube films and so on. I’m interested in finding ways to blend the experience of the story. We’ve got some cool stuff planned.
The books that have been released so far are digital-only junior novels, if I’m not mistaken, on Nook and Kindle. Why take this approach?
Denton: It’s such an exiting time to be doing this. The market is growing so rapidly it puts us on equal footing with the big publishers and it also allows us to get the idea to market the fastest. It’s not the only approach we’re going to use but it will certainly always be a component. We’ve had great success recently with the ACTIONOPOLIS line of books put out through Komikwerks, so this seemed like a natural fit.
Lewis: The world of publishing is changing on a near daily basis, and having a strong digital presence is critical if you want to be relevant. Kids of all ages love technology, and even though printed books are going to be around forever, we want to be where they are. And there are some wild success stories of authors like JA Konrath, where creators are making anywhere from $10,000 – $24,000 per month on digital books (not a typo). The margins are amazing, which allow creators to sell products at a reasonable price point and still make a livable wage.
Hester: On top of the reasons given by my partners, it is very hard to make a comic book. It takes a long time and costs a lot of money, even if you’re just paying a small rate to an artist. This is a great way to introduce these concepts quickly and to a new audience that may not have easy access to comics.
Will the other announced titles be debuting in similar fashion?
Denton: Some of them. We have a few others that are going straight to TV as options and a few we’ll be announcing soon that will start as comics.
Are there any plans for comics versions of “Megamatrix” or “Evolver?” Will they also be made available on digital comics-focused sites like comixology and graphic.ly?
Denton: Yes and yes! We love comics and the goal is to get everything out in comic form. As most people who have ever actually tried to make a comic know, comics are very labor (of love) intensive. Our comics will be debuting later this year whereas the novels we could get out now around all of our busy day jobs making comics and shows for others people.
Phil has recently had success with the “Firebreather” cartoon, and of course Shannon’s worked in animation for quite a while. Are cartoons a focus for Agent of D.A.N.G.E.R.?
Denton: They certainly are. Getting “World of Quest” optioned and then set up and airing on the CW was a realization for me that this can be a reality. I produced on the series as well as was one of the writers, and with years of Marvel, WB, Nick, and CN shows under my belt, I know the animation market. Because of this, I also know this stuff can take forever. “Quest” took almost five years from when we optioned it to when it actually aired. So while animation is going to be a focus, generating real product that we have control over will always be priority number one.
Hester: Yes. We need toy money.
You’ve also all worked in comics and have a good number of credits in many different genre to your names — Phil, of course, famously being the current writer of “Wonder Woman.” What role do comics play in the studio’s strategies?
Denton: I think for all of us comics are where the love is at. It’s where we get to take something we created and visualize the world. Because there are a few of us involved here, we’re working hard to make sure it’s a shared vision of the idea we all created. That takes a little longer.
Lewis: As much as I like writing novels, my passion is comic books and it’s a huge part of my focus for 2011 and beyond. There is something magical about working collaboratively with an artist to come up with a concise and powerful story. And I count it an honor to work with guys like Phil, Shannon and Rob. Phil’s story, “The Coffin,” is one of the best stories ever written and it’s grossly under appreciated. I can’t tell you how excited I am that he’s getting his shot at the big time. He is one of the best writers in the game today.
Hester: I certainly can’t wait to make comics out of these ideas. I also can’t wait for people to see just how magical a comic book writer Jon Lewis can be. Plus, we never see enough of Rob and Shannon, despite all the work they do. More is better!
The site also mentions video games. How does these piece fit in with your overall plans?
Denton: Generating a game idea should revolve around a great story. We’re setting up everything we’re creating to be visually powerful as well as having an archetypal component. It’s a natural fit. When I was working on the “God of War” game, it became very clear that there was this amazingly fun and clear story to the characters in the game. So for me, visualizing everything was pretty easy from there, and with AoD we’re taking that same approach that the story drives everything….with explosions.
Worley: And monkeys.
Denton: Exploding monkeys.
Worley: Now you’ve made it weird.
Let’s talk a bit about some of the titles themselves. “Megamatrix: Hero Within” and “Evolver: Apex Predator” are available now, and there are five more upcoming books on the website. How would you describe these properties, as far as individual concepts and what they share in common?
Shannon Denton: Individually, one is a post apocalyptic world in which super-powered beings exist and the other is the world we know if suddenly genetic mutation became a reality. As for commonalities, the both have lots of action and the rise of the hero as their central theme. All of our projects in the AoD line have that hero’s journey as their center even though the trappings we cover them in will make them unique.
And they are all going to be ideas that the four of us sign off on as feeling like something we not only would have enjoyed as kids but also as properties we continue to enjoy as adults and, in our case, lucky enough to make our livings from.
Plus, there’s lots of explosions.