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Writers From Across the Globe Tackle “Mister Universe”

by  in Comic News Comment
Writers From Across the Globe Tackle “Mister Universe”
“Mister Universe” on sale in January

Why do superheroes need secret identities? It’s been the topic of many books and many different reasons have been explored. A common response to this question is that heroes keep their identities secret to protect their loved ones. But here’s an interesting thought – maybe they just need a rest every once in awhile?

A secret identity allows a superhero to remain invisible among the crowds. This is something Mister Universe needs but can’t have. A masked intergalactic champion with unlimited powers, Mister Universe doesn’t have a secret identity; he simply fights day in and day out to protect the innocents of Earth and alien civilizations from crime, space monsters and anything else that may come up.

Mister Universe is also fictional – a hero in a comic book read by a boy named Tommy, a 14-year-old boy with a very wild imagination. He doesn’t talk too much and closes himself off most of the time. He’s also obsessed with the tireless hero in the comic book "Mister Universe." Maybe a little too obsessed?

"Mister Universe" is the creation of Greek comics authors K.I. Zachopoulos (co-writer) and Vassilis Gogtzilas (co-writer, artist), and this January their story can be read in a new one-shot from Image Comics.

CBR News spoke with the two creators on the other side of the globe to find out more about "Mister Universe" as well as their own backgrounds and how their perspectives on comics has been affected by their cultural environment.

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What inspired the creation of "Mister Universe?"

Vassilis Gogtzilas: I always had problems in my personal and social life because I read comic books (and sometimes because I like to draw them). You know, when I was younger I had my parents telling me that I would have to stop reading them, that it’s a waste of time and money. They never had problems with me drawing them, but they didn’t like that I was reading them. I mean, I still have people asking me, "Are you still reading comics?" Or, "Oh, you’re an artist. What do you do? …comics? What’s wrong with this guy?!?"

I wanted to make this the subject of a comic book. In Greece, I’m not considered a normal guy – I’m a freak. You see, if you are a creative person, you have problems. And that’s what Tommy is in this story: a creative person. But if you are different, people want to discriminate against you because of this. I always felt that I ‘m from a different planet. I always felt that I don’t belong anywhere. That’s where this story came from.

Page from “Mister Universe”

K.I. Zachopoulos: Creative people are generally unwelcome in conservative societies where everything must be done in an ordinary way. Also, special people with strong fantasies sometimes have social problems in their daily life. A boy who likes reading and drawing comics instead of fast cars, trendy music, and breathtaking women is not considered normal.

Everything that doesn’t "go with the flow" is condemned, so for me, the main idea of this book was more than interesting. Every time that I was giving my last penny for a comic book – or for an ordinary book – was a moment of antisocial loneliness. I wanted to express that feeling and Vassilis’ idea was the right way to do it.

It sounds as though this story is a bit of a twist on the standard superhero story. What is it about the genre that you like to have fun with?

VG: Superheroes are a male fantasy. Everybody wants to think how great it would be to have superpowers. Personally, I like the fantasy aspect of it. Also, superheroes are great to draw – it’s a lot of fun. It’s pure pop art. Guys in funny-colored costumes; it’s a very romantic idea. Our daily lives our so "ordinary," we will always have the desire to read something bigger than life.

KIZ: Superheroes are "children of their era." We need them for more than one reason. If people need superheroes as a painkiller for their hard daily life, then superheroes must fulfill that duty. They are powerful, but on the other hand, they also have to face the difficulties of their human nature. They are imperfect with a tendency to perfectionism, and powerful with a strong tendency to weakness. At the end, they are our exaggerated models. They give us a third person view. In them, we can see ourselves in a clearer way.

Tell us a bit about your comic book backgrounds. Is "Mister Universe" your first published work? And you both still live in Greece at present, correct?

VG: Unfortunately, I still live in Greece. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to leave. I live in the suburbs of Thessaloniki, the second largest city of Greece, near the industrial area. At night, the air stinks. Almost the only people who live here are workers. It’s a very strange place. In my opinion, Greece is very conservative. That’s why I like to travel from time to time.

I made a trip to London four to five years ago and had a very nice time. I attended the Bristol Comics Con where I met Joe Quesada and Jim Valentino and showed them my work. Joe Quesada showed some interest. I even traveled to the states last year and attended the San Diego Comic Con. I have a tendency to travel to comics-related places!

I have read comic books from a very young age. I always drew, but I started drawing comics a little later, when I was about nine or ten-years-old. You know, in school I was "the boy who draws." I started publishing in small press magazines and doing newspaper strips from the age of 14. I worked for a newspaper as an illustrator for two years, and then I decided to go freelance and started doing editorial illustrations for magazines.

I did a comic book about soccer called "Dynamite." I also made an advertising comic book called "Deniman" which won an award too. But my favorite works are the comics I did for the Greek small press. In the U.S., "Mister Universe" is my second comic published by Image. I’m also participating in "Popgun" with a ten-page comic coming out this month.

Page from “Mister Universe”

KIZ: I am also an inhabitant of that small and mysterious country. I do not totally agree with Vassilis, but as far as I am concerned, Greece is not the best place on earth for artists – especially for ones just starting their careers. I live at the opposite side of our city where money flows like a river and people smile happily to each other every single morning…no, I’m joking.

Greece is a place like all the others on the globe. I also like traveling, but I think I prefer the eastern parts of the world. "Mister Universe" is the starting point of my career as a scriptwriter, but there are also some other projects that I participate in here in Greece. I am member of a team that creates role-playing games and our first book was published one year ago. Its name is "GunTale," and it has to do with gunslingers, sheriffs, Indians and all of our beloved stereotypes of the wild, wild west.

I also work as a writer and my first book, "Mon Alix," will be published in Greece around Christmas. It is a love story placed in the near future of our city, where social, environmental and psychological factors lead the life of a middle-aged, underground writer.

How and where did you two meet? And what led you to working together on this project?

VG: Till now I was always writing my own scripts. Many people were sending me texts to read because they wanted to do a book with me, but I never felt that their material was close to my sensibilities. One day, I had a call from a friend of mine who is a graphic designer. He said that he wanted me to meet one of his friends who happens to write. We went out for a coffee in one of those decadent urban coffee places that I like going to, and that’s where I first met K.I.

KIZ: I was a comics fan all my life, but my readings were basically oriented in epic fantasy ("Savage Sword of Conan," etc.). On the other hand, I had never thought that I could use my fantasy and creativity to write scenarios for comic books till the day I saw Vassilis’ work. I begged a friend of mine to arrange a meeting with Vassilis.

I met him [at the coffee shop] and I gave him two short stories of mine, but unfortunately I had to leave Greece for a period of time because of my work (sometimes I work as a prehistoric archaeologist).

VG: He gave me something of his to read. I didn’t pay it much attention, but in one of the days that followed I decided to read it and it was great! I knew that we had some things in common, and I was sure that K.I. could write better than me. We arranged a new meeting and I told him that I really liked what I read.

We discussed things that we could do together and that’s when I mentioned doing "Mister Universe." At first, K.I wanted me to adapt one of his novels in a comic book form, but I had had this "Mister Universe" story in my mind for a year and I desperately wanted to do it. He agreed and we started working on it.

And how did this project end up at Image?

VG: I met Erik Larsen at the San Diego Comic-Con. I am a fan of his work and he was one of the artists I wanted to meet. I loved his work on "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Savage Dragon" is still one of my favorite comics. Anyway, I showed him my work and he liked it. He suggested I do something for Image.

So, when I came back to Greece, I started working on "Mister Universe." I sent Larsen the first pages and the script and he liked it. That was one of the happiest days of my life! For me, publishing something through Image Comics is a childhood dream coming true!

I’d love to do more work for them. Collaborating with Erik Larsen was great. I’d love to do this again – many times.

Page from “Mister Universe”

What have you both learned through creating "Mister Universe" and having it published by Image?

KIZ: My God! How can I answer to question like that? Releasing a comic book through Image Comics is a personal dream. It’s something that I cannot fully realize! We surely learned a lot of things. We have to work harder in order to beat our own standards and surpass our artistic weaknesses!

Are you planning to do a Greek translation of the book?

KIZ: Until now, we haven’t discussed this, but if a Greek publisher finds our work interesting, it sounds like a good idea to me.

Having grown up in Greece, can you tell us about how the comics industry is viewed there? Are comics more or less "legitimate" than here in the U.S.?

VG: I always read American comic books. I like reading superhero characters like Superman, Batman, Wolverine and the Hulk. I’d love to draw these characters if ever given the chance. But I always liked weird stuff too. I love Sam Kieth’s work. He is the greatest. Sam was my idol as I was growing up. I love Wally Wood’s work. Moebius is another favorite of mine.

When I was a teenager, I had this very ideal view of the comics industry. I love the idea of drawing till late at night in a dark studio trying to make a deadline. This is a very romantic way of life! I remember reading Bernie Wrightson’s "A Look Back." I love everything that he said in that book. Sam Kieth’s "I Before E" was a big influence. Sam Kieth’s work was a big influence in general. As you see, I had a very pure and innocent idea about what a comic book artist’s life is and that’s what made me move forward.

KIZ: I read both American and European comics. As I mentioned before, I was always a fan of epic fantasy. On the other hand, superhero books were a standard on my reading menu. Iron Man, Rom, the Fantastic Four, Spawn and a horde of heroes were the prime material of my childhood dreams. But only when I started writing stories and scenarios did I find the secret charm and the real joy of the comic world.

Do you have any other projects in the works at the moment?

VG: We have one more script finished which I ‘m working on, and we will start working on a new one once I’m finished with some other work that’s been keeping me busy. I also have one more "Mister Universe" story in my mind that I’d love to do in the near future. It’s a concept that can evolve into a miniseries.

We haven’t talked with a publisher yet about these new projects. I’m drawing a short story for a new comic anthology called "Outlaw Territory." Also, I finished a comic for the second volume of "PopGun." The script is written by K.I. Wish us luck!

KIZ: There are so many ideas in our minds that our time becomes more and more precious. Time spent in comics is precious and beneficial. It’s healing time!

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Image Comics forum.

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