How might the course of history have changed if magic and mysticism, rather than scientific discovery, had been the driving force behind innovation and new technology? Cars run on gestures, computers run on spells, and the organizations and companies who craft new ways of manipulating the forces of the universe develop the products of modern life. “Smoke and Mirrors,” debuting this week from IDW Publishing, sets this world on its guard as new yet familiar form of magic enters the picture. Written by “Transformers” and “Blackhawks” scribe Mike Costa with sleight-of-hand artist Jon Armstrong and illustrated by Ryan Browne, the series explores magic as technology and reveals a few tricks of the trade. Comic Book Resources spoke with Costa about the five-issue miniseries.
“Similarly, Simon is a precocious boy whose dad is the famous head of a massive technology company, which creates its own kind of weird social isolation. They’re not close friends, but they’re both comrades in that neither of them actually has any close friends at all,” he continued. “And their relationship, which is based on their similarities, is going to have some serious consequences due to their differences.”
The action kicks off when Ethan, inspired by a street performer’s seemingly new magic techniques in seedy part of town, asks some questions and tinkers with powers he can’t control. In addition to mesmerizing card tricks, the stage magician Terry Ward carries something in his trunk with the potential to change the world. “He’s hanging out in a seedy place and performing on the street because it’s the only way he can use his special skills to make a living and not raise suspicion,” Costa said of Ward’s current station. The disguise of using sleight-of-hand rather than the world’s more standard magic works on everyone but Simon. “No one in this world has ever seen stage magic or deceptive sleights before, and if they knew what he was actually doing they would be amazed — but in a bad way,” Costa said. “It would be like watching a movie about aliens, and then discovering that the aliens weren’t special effects, but were actually real.
“Luckily, most people just assume what they’re seeing has a ‘logical’ explanation like special effects. It’s Ethan who actually makes the shocking discovery that Terry is much more than he seems.”
Costa is working with magician Jon Armstrong on this series, who provides background to make Terry Ward’s tricks authentic and his character believable. “Without Jon, this comic couldn’t exist,” Costa said. “I’m a big fan of magic, and I practice sleight-of-hand as well, but Jon is a true expert and I rely on him for dozens of details in every script to create verisimilitude in Terry’s back story and character. Jon and I also developed the broad-strokes of the story together, and a lot of the more complicated logistics of the magical world were worked out over several long conversations and meetings over the months.
“But more importantly, Jon is providing the elements that make this series truly unique. Each issue of this five-issue miniseries is going to have a magic effect that actually works, on the page, for the reader. We’re doing everything from mind-reading to psychological forces, and Jon’s job is to design these things,” Costa revealed. “Along with being a magician, he’s also worked as an Imagineer for Walt Disney theme parks, so he has just the right kind of peculiar expertise and deranged, fevered brain to conceptualize this kind of stuff.”
Ryan Browne is tackling the art for “Smoke and Mirrors,” and he and Costa have a long history of working together. “Ryan and I actually first met when we were assigned to work together on a story in the fifth grade, so our entire history began with a collaboration,” Costa said. “I used to want to be an artist as well, but by the time he and I got to high school, he started to really significantly pull ahead of me in terms of fine-arts talent. And I, for lack of a better term, totally gave up. I decided to focus on writing instead. So by senior year of high school, we settled into our current roles with me scripting and him drawing. In the years since then, we’ve probably collaborated on — maybe fifteen different ideas? Some of which produced a full issue. One, in fact, produced two. But we’ve never had a professional publisher pick one up until now.
“I’m really exited for ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ to come out and enter into the pantheon of seminal works of genius within the art form, so all those self-published issues I have in my garage with print-runs of 15 will be worth billions. Billions, I say!”
Aside from continuing a collaborative process between writer and artist that goes back to childhood, Costa said that Browne’s style is also a keen fit for the particular story of “Smoke and Mirrors.” “Ryan has a very visually dense style, very graphic and detailed,” Costa said. “Jon and I left it up to him to basically design every aspect of this world. Mostly because we are lazy and our visual imaginations are pretty frail compared to what Ryan can come up with. He had a stunningly huge job to do here, designing everything from clothes to hairstyles and our only direction was something along the lines of ‘make it look sorta the same as the real world, but different.’
“In a way, we’re all heroes. But in another, more accurate way, Ryan is the hero. He worked harder than all of us on this thing. He colors his own art too, the maniac.”
“Smoke and Mirrors” #1 is on sale Wednesday, March 21.