A heroic adventure: Mike Kunkel on 'Herobear'

For creator Mike Kunkel, the last three years have been a blur. In late 1999 Kunkel debuted his "Herobear and the Kid" through his company Astonish Comics. The story of a young boy, Tyler, and his stuffed bear, Herobear, was an instant success and has garnered critical and fan acclaim. It's been nominated for multiple Eisner Awards, including this year's nominations in the category "Best Title for a Younger Audience." CBR News caught up with Kunkel this week to find out what's coming next from Astonish Comics.

With regards to "Herobear and the Kid," fans won't have to wait too much longer to read the finale of the first story arc. "Issue five is being steam driven," Kunkel told CBR News. "I feel like John Henry trying to finish this before [Comic-Con International: San Diego]. I want everybody to have it in their hands before the convention gets here. It will wrap up the first chapter. It will give you lots of good, fun stuff and then that will lead into the hard bound trade."

That trade Kunkel mentions will collect the first five books of "Herobear and the Kid" and will be released in two formats. The hard-bound trade will be an oversized book, much like the first "The Red Star" trade released last year, and will feature a variety of extra sketches and drawings never before scene. Each book will also come with a limited edition "Herobear and the Kid" seri-cell. The soft-bound trade will be a regular sized trade paperback without all the extras. While no firm target date for the trade has been made yet, Kunkel hopes to release the trades the week of his birthday, September 30th. "It'll be my birthday present to me!"

Kunkel's hard at work on other forms of merchandising right now. Coming to comic shops shortly will be the first in a series of posters called "Interpretations," which will feature different artistic visions of Herobear and Tyler by top artists in and out of the comic book industry.

"The first one is by a woman named Sarah Parr. She is a 3D sculpture artist from England. She sculpted a papier-mâché Herobear and digitally put it in the computer, created a background and everything. That's our first image."

The second in the series will feature artwork by Humberto Ramos. Kunkel has received potential commitments from artists J. Scott Campbell and Tim Sale for future posters and he has a number of other animation artists waiting in the wings. There will be only one printing of each poster and each will be released as quickly as he can get the artwork from the participating artists. The price should be around $10 per poster according to Kunkel.

Available in time for Comic-Con International will be a maquette coming from Electric Tiki Designs that features Herobear with Tyler on his shoulders. The cape swirls down and around the two of them, making the stand for the sculpture. Kunkel also tells us that he may have trading cards available for San Diego and is looking into PVC toys.

Next month sees the release of something a bit different from Kunkel. Herobear and Tyler will be crossing-over with the Penny Farthing Press character Decoy in a two issue mini-series titled "Herobear & Decoy: Field Trip." "Decoy" tells the story of a little, green, shape-shifting alien, Decoy, who's paired up with rookie cop named Bobby Luck. Courtney Huddleston, the creator of Decoy, will share writing and penciling responsibilities with Kunkel. The art will be in Kunkel's signature style. This partnership arose out of an earlier poster collaboration that went so well the two decided to embark on this project.

"The first issue is a lot about mysteries," said Kunkel. "What sparked the whole idea was in any neighborhood that any of us grew up in, there was always one house that was a mystery house. The weeds overgrew it, you never saw people coming in-and-out of it, but you knew someone lived there. It was the kind of house that if you lost a ball in their backyard, you'd never see it again. That's what sparked us. I tried to keep it close to the feeling of 'Herobear' in the sense that there's always a nostalgic point to the story.

"Essentially ['Field Trip'] is about Tyler going on a field trip. He visits this police station where Officer Luck works. The unfortunate thing is Officer Luck is a rookie who is constantly being hassled by the other cops, so he gets pegged to be the school teacher for the day. As they go on their field trip they come upon this house that Luck grew up by and it's for sale. In the midst of all this, different crimes are happening around town and we're leading up to see if there's a connection to this house."

Since the first issue of "Herobear" hit the stands, the publication schedule for the book has been inconsistent. With only four issues out in three years, Kunkel is aware the wait between issues troubles many fans. The creator joked, "Mike Kunkel's not a slacker!"

All kidding aside, the lack of a consistent schedule weighs heavily on him. "You know what, I have no set schedule. It's horrible to say that, I know," said Kunkel. He went on to explain the reason for the delay is related to the amount of time and effort he puts into each book. "I try and treat each book as a little more than just a comic book. I treat them more like children's books in the sense that I do spend more time refining them. It's almost like I need to feel good about it before it goes out. I think because I have the freedom of self-publishing -- I don't want to abuse that -- but they're more important to me. I want to make sure that when it goes out it's as good as I can make it at that moment. So, they take longer.

"I have to honestly thank the fans. They've all been tremendously supportive and understanding. I couldn't ask for better fans."

Kunkel's Astonish Comics has also published other books in addition to his own, such as Jason Lethcoe's "Zoom's Academy" and Scott Sava's "The Lab." Kunkel mentioned he may be publishing some new books shortly, both comics and children's books, and to expect an announcement at or around CCI in August.

As if everything listed above isn't enough to keep Kunkel busy, he also has a "Herobear & the Kid" animated feature film in the works at Universal Studios. Comics writer Jeph Loeb will act as Executive Producer for the feature with Kunkel Directing. Loeb and Kunkel will work closely together on the script, which will be based on the first five issues of the comic book.

Charles Gordon and Adrian Askarieh are producing for Universal. Gordon was a producer on "Field of Dreams" and "October Sky" as well as another comic-to-film property, "The Rocketeer." "What I liked about [Charles] is he has a real nostalgic feel to the movies that he's worked on. Jeph and I are good friends and we have a natural click to the way we tell stories."

Kunkel says he's very close to diving pretty deep into the production and getting a start on the script.

"It will be a traditionally animated movie. There are so many talented animators and artists out there now that know traditional animation, it will feel good to pull all them on."

Kunkel is also contributing to Marvel Comics "X-Men Unlimited #37," due out next month. Visit CBR Wednesday for more on that with Kunkel and editor C.B. Cebulski.

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