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It is never a good thing when the publisher for your humble little creator-owned comic book series goes out of business, leaving you, not to mention your creation, not to mention all the hours and hours and endless hours of hard work – not to mention all that lost sleep – that you put towards crafting the thing, more or less out in the cold. And there can certainly be found no shortage of series cluttering up the comics graveyard (i.e. the quarter bin) of your local comic store as examples of just this.
But when your publisher goes out of business the very Monday of the Wednesday that the first issue of your humble little creator-owned series is slated to hit stands, it’s almost enough to make you want to park the car in the garage with a rubber hose snaking from the exhaust pipe around into the cabin.
Such was the unfortunate case for the crew of “The Black Coat: A Call to Arms” when Speakeasy Comics permanently closed its doors at the end of last February.
But on the heels of every winter comes a spring and the month on the calendar now reads April, and the climate has again started to warm, and “The Black Coat: A Call to Arms” has found a new lease on life with publisher Ape Entertainment. The first issue of the four-issue mini-series hits shops today and we thought that now was as good a time as any to catch up with “The Black Coat” creative team of Co-Creator/Co-Writer Ben Lichius, Co-Writer Adam Cogan and Co-creator/Penciler Francesco Francavilla to chat a little bit about the bumpy road they’ve had to travel to get where they are today.
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Comic Book Resources: First off, guys, who is The Black Coat?
Ben Lichius: The Black Coat is lots of things actually. By day he’s Nathaniel Finch. Nathaniel’s a scientist, an inventor, a newspaper publisher, and a respected citizen of New York. By night though, he’s a masked super spy working for the Continental Congress to thwart British plans to further subjugate the colonies. Most of the book revolves around this last aspect and as it turns out, the British are willing to go to some pretty incredible extremes to bring their errant children back under control. So the Black Coat faces lots of amazing threats from monsters and pirates to black magic and twisted science. He’s on the front lines, fighting the battles that are too difficult or dangerous for his network of agents.
CBR: A quick scan of the bios page over on your website reveals that you three guys all hail from pretty varied, diverse backgrounds. So, why don’t each of you give us a quick rundown of who you are, where you come from, your experience in the field up to this point, etc? Also, how’d you three guys all come to hook up in the first place?
BL: I’ve always loved comics, but I’ve made a career for myself in video games. I’m the Art Director for a studio in North Carolina, so my background is really in art. For this book, though, I’ve been doing more writing and editing than anything. Partly because that’s all I have time for, but mostly it’s because Adam and Francesco are so much more talented than I am! It’s a real treat to work with these guys.
Adam Cogan: Ben and I have been friends for nearly six years now (it’s amazing how time flies). I work with him as a game designer at Vicious Cycle Software. After Ben came up with the initial concept for “The Black Coat,” he and I would get together and brainstorm ideas about the character and the world, so I pretty much was around for the whole birthing process and that first slap on the tush (that was a baby metaphor). Anyway, a few years ago I lost my senses and decided to start taking comic writing seriously and Ben asked me to take over the writing duties on the book. It was a pretty natural evolution.
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Francesco Francavilla: I had been published in Italy a few years ago, before deciding that a corporate job was more financially steady (and it still is). Once I settled here in the US, still working corporate jobs, I decided to go back to the drawing table: that’s when I met Ben. He was looking for an artist and I liked the concept so here we are.
CBR: Reading the first issue of “The Black Coat: A Call To Arms” is almost like picking over a smorgasbord of pulp archetypes. What were some of the things that influenced you in coming up with the character and concepts for the series?
BL: I love pulp and serial style entertainment. There’s just something fun about swashbuckling heroes like Zorro and Indiana Jones. So they were a big influence on me. I’ve also got a whole library of 1940’s matinee serials that I love – stuff like “The Masked Marvel” and “Commando Cody.” So when I sat down to develop “The Black Coat,” a lot of those elements started coming out. There’s also a distinct horror aspect to “The Black Coat” as well, which adds a darker dimension to things. Even that is still done in a pulp style thanks to Francesco’s love and amazing knowledge of the genre.
FF: I grew up mostly with Italian comics, which can be considered a bit “pulpier” than the American superheroes, so I guess I had a natural predisposition to the genre. The story itself seemed to lend itself to an adventure/classic/pulp approach.
CBR: So then why choose the eve of the Revolutionary War as the setting for the series? I mean, for a number of reasons, it certainly doesn’t serve to make things any easier for you guys. What/how much research did you have to do on the period, costumes, customs, etc. before you could actually get to work?
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BL: It’s a natural place to start since there is so much tension at that moment. In the months before the war, it really wasn’t a matter of if war was going to break out, but when. New York is a pretty pivotal place, too, since it was the base of operations for the British. It’s a lot like Berlin was during the cold war. The perfect place to run a spy network.
I’ve done loads of research preparing for the book. It’s my favorite part of the process. But I think the hard part is applying it all to make a more believable story, and that’s fallen mostly on Adam and Francesco.
AC: The first story arc deals with events that take place just a few months before the beginning of the war. We wanted to build up to that moment and cover the escalation from The Black Coat’s unique perspective, the cat and mouse chess game that takes place between the British and the Colonials. But we also plan to weave events of the actual war into the Black Coat mythology as the story continues, when he and his spy network becomes increasingly important to the struggle for independence.
FF: The research has taken the same time (if not more) than actually drawing the pages because I tried to be as accurate and faithful to the period as I could. All the hard work has paid off, because the pages came out very believable.
CBR: And what should readers expect from the four-issue mini?
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BL: “A Call to Arms” serves as an introduction to the latest major threat to the colonies. The British have called on an ancient secret society known as The League to help bring order, but all the League brings with them is chaos. The Black Coat really has his hands full. It should be a lot of fun.
CBR: Speakeasy closed up shop the same week the first issue of “A Call to Arms” was slated to hit the stands, but it never did. What was that like? Did you guy’s panic? Cry? Did you ever seriously think about packing it all in?
BL: I had just gotten back from the NYC comic con when I got the news, and I guess I was pretty exhausted because it didn’t really hit me too hard at first. As that first week went on though, I started getting pretty worked up, angry, and really frustrated. Francesco and I had a pretty clear idea of what needed to be done though and that helped me focus and keep moving ahead. I don’t think we thought about packing it in for even a minute. We had all done too much work at that point to throw it all away.
FF: Panicking? Actually I kept drawing the pages because we have deadlines and the books were (are) going to be published 😉
CBR: Well, the good news is now now you’re with Ape Entertainment and everything seems to be back on the right track. How’d this situation come about? How’s it been working with Ape thus far?
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BL: All the guys at Ape have always been big fans of “The Black Coat.” I got several emails from publishers right away when Speakeasy went down including emails from both Brent Erwin and Dave Hedgecock. We knew that they were great guys and that they liked the book, but when we saw that they already signed “U.T.F. (Undead Task Force)” from Speakeasy and were filling their existing preorders, we knew we had a shot to get the book back on track sooner rather than later. Ape busted their butts to make it happen for us and we’re really grateful.
So far I have to say, and this is no exaggeration, Ape did more for us in two weeks than Speakeasy did in six months. That’s not to speak badly about anyone at Speakeasy, because I know they had some other issues going on, but it is nice to finally be receiving some attention.
CBR: If “A Call to Arms” proves successful enough, should fans of the series expect to see further adventures of the Black Coat in the not too distant future?
BL: We’ll see how it goes, but that’s the plan. “A Call to Arms” is a complete story, but there will be some big time threads that we want to follow up on if we get the chance. I’d love to see “The Black Coat” eventually become an ongoing, but we’re doing what we can for now.
AC: We have 12 issues planned out and many more ideas after that, and with a little luck, we’ll have the chance to tell those stories. It really just comes down to a question of reader support.