At New York Comic Con, Stephen Green and Heather Kenealy had their big moment in the spotlight. As the winners of MTV’s competition to find an artist and writer for Stan Lee’s new comic “The Seekers,” they took to the stage in front of a sizable crowd and basked in the glow of their newfound careers…for roughly ten minutes. Then things got a little dicey.
The panel started late as organizers waited for Stan Lee to take his place behind the curtain. Once “The Man” appeared, all was forgiven and the audience offered up a healthy round of applause as he sat down next to MTV Comics Executive Editor Tom Akel and the two winners. Instead of hearing about Green and Kenealy or how the web-based comic series would develop, however, fans were given cards with hieroglyphics and instructed to begin swapping them. The intent was to get everyone to align them in a specific order, but the result was mostly mass confusion. Were entire rows supposed to work together to collectively win a prize? Before anyone could figure the rules out, Evan Velush claimed victory, earning himself a cameo appearance in the book.
From there, Akel acted as moderator, projecting some of Green’s artwork onto a screen and summarizing how archeologist Arthur Norden and news reporter Jennifer Hart would first encounter the mysterious titular characters. “The Seekers are a race of beings from another planet that were planted here on earth two hundred thousand years ago…and their job is to monitor planets throughout many universes.” Sensing that humanity has reached a point of social and technological advancement that could potentially result in disaster, the Seekers begin awakening to “determine if we are a race that is fit to survive.”
Kenealy spoke up, comparing her approach on the series to “Indiana Jones meets Fringe,” while emphasizing that her beautiful female reporter wouldn’t bear much resemblance to other famous comic heroines like Jean Grey or Starfire, who she felt were being objectified as of late. “I want the two genders to be equal partners,” she said, with Lee attempting to inject some humor, adding, “Another woman who doesn’t know her own mind! Can’t you make the male a little bit more prominent?”
Akel asked Green about his take on the female Seeker depicted in the art he’d submitted to win the contest. The soft-spoken Southerner explained that he’d favored a more human appearance over something alien, mainly because the scene required a man to feel comfortable enough to hit on the Seeker, and ask her back to his casino hotel room.
With this, Akel declared there was no more material to share and opened the floor for questions, a mere eight minutes into the discussion. Those in attendance were clearly thrown by the overall lack of structure to the proceedings, but before anyone could take to the microphones with inquiries, a bigger surprise followed: Stan Lee promptly excused himself. “Can I go before the questions start, because I have another panel and I won’t know the answers anyway, so let me just congratulate them.”
As exclamations of dismay echoed throughout the room, Lee bid his winners farewell and exited. His leaving sparked a mass exodus, partly due to the audience’s lack of interest in anyone other than Lee and partly due to the confusing approach taken within the panel up to that point. The fledgling professionals were left to sink or swim purely on their ability to connect to the remaining crowd of three dozen.
And connect they did. Putting Lee and the card-game behind them, Kenealy and Green discussed their feelings towards landing such a high-profile opportunity. The duo — who had only just met face-to-face moments prior to the panel — had both especially enjoyed their families’ reactions to their happy news. “I just turned 40 in October,” Kenealy revealed to applause, “and both my mother and father are so relieved [I got the job]. They were saying, ‘Maybe you should look into teaching!'” she laughed. “They know this is something I’ve been wanting since I was six.”
“My parents are good old, simple, rural, Alabama people,” Green said. “My Dad is 68, a truck driver — we’re like the prototypical Alabama family. I called them and said ‘I’ve got some cool news — I’m going to be doing this book that Stan Lee created!’ And my parents are like, ‘Who’s that?’ and I said, ‘The guy that created Spider-Man!’ and they were like, ‘That’s really cool! That’s really cool!’ And then my Mom said, ‘But Stephen — what about your job?'” Green was previously an appliance salesman at Best Buy, while Kenealy worked at a comic shop to supplement her screenwriting. As winners, they’ve been awarded $10,000 each, allowing them to refocus their energies purely on comics in the weeks to come.
Green, however, is being realistic about his first real foray into professional illustration. “I’m pretty slow,” he admitted to the audience. “I want to hit about four pages a week — I think that’s a good goal to go on. I’m not a professional. I think part of getting the pages done is learning to cut yourself a break. I don’t want to short-change the reader. I want to produce quality art that I’m proud of.”
One guest asked which ancient sites would figure into the story, prompting Kenealy to reply, “I want to stay away from the standard ones. No Machu Picchu, no Stonehenge, no Roswell. That’s been done to death.” Instead, her research has directed her more towards historical oddities as inspiration for this sci-fi tale. “Way back in the 20s, there was a race between Russia and the United States to build the deepest hole. I don’t know why that was a race, but that’s what the race was and they lowered a microphone down into the hole and heard what sounded like Hell. Just screaming voices, something that sounded mechanical, so it’s possible that we’ll go back into that giant hole and see what we can see.”
“I like historical things,” she went on to say, of her inspirations. “I like things that may have really happened. Both of the screenplays I wrote have a high mythology [quota]. That’s where I come from.”
Green, meanwhile, credited artists like Mike Mignola and filmmakers like Hitchcock and Kurosawa for his desire to push himself artistically. “I think I would rather try some funny camera angles and let it fail then play it safe every single panel and not do anything exciting.”
Kenealy is also eager to make the book a page-turner. “I want to see mystery, I want to see adventure. I don’t like romance comics — it just kind-of bores the hell out of me.” “The Seekers” will have its share of humor to balance the darkness of underground exploration, courtesy of Authur’s young nephew. “He’s probably going to be our mischievous character,” she said, before adding, “I’m probably babbling. I’m so nervous!” The crowd gave them both some heart-felt applause, and the rest of the Q&A went off without a hitch.
Those who opt to read “The Seekers” when it begins hitting the MTV website in 2012 will quickly learn that lead character Arthur is in the midst of a very troubling period in his life. “He’s accused of being responsible for the death of his entire group,” Kenealy explained, stating that his fiancee might even be among the dead. “He’s not even sleeping indoors because he was buried alive. He’s sleeping in his truck.” Meanwhile, Jennifer, the investigative reporter, will be working to move up in her career. “She’s doing puff pieces because she’s blonde and cute and perky. But she’s like, ‘I want to be a newswoman! Maybe I’m cute, maybe I’m perky, but I have a brain in my head!'” And to put to rest the notion that her looks wouldn’t overwhelm her character, Green stated that he’s not into the “bimbo” look.
Kenealy apparently hasn’t even seen Green’s designs for the leads yet, but is “super excited.” He’s also confident their 110-page collaboration will bear fruit. “I think we’re going to find some kind of approach that will bring out most of our strengths.”