Wizard World Chicago was supposed to be Benito Cereno's big comic book breakout party.
He had a professional badge. He had dinner with Erik Larsen. And most important, his new Image Comic, "Tales from the Bully Pulpit," would be in his hot little hands by show's open.
Only one problem: the show opened, yet his book hadn't appeared at the Image booth.
"It was supposed to be there. I got there early to setup the Image booth, and there were boxes and boxes of 'NYC Mech' # 4 and 'Bad Ideas' # 2, but my book was nowhere to be seen," Cereno remembers of his angst-ridden early moments of Wizard World 2004. "Finally, I went wandering around Artist's Alley, and a wife of a friend of mine asked me to sign her copy. I ran back to the Image booth. I had to take a photo of the box, I was so happy."
And suddenly, Cereno was Mr. Comic Book Guy.
Sure, he's done some shorter scripts, backup stories for "Invincible." But this, this was a glorious 64-page action-packed thriller with his name listed first. And not only that, it had Teddy Roosevelt on the cover. Clutching a blue-skinned damsel in distress, naturally.
On page two of "Tales from the Bully Pulpit," with art by Graeme MacDonald, a time-traveling Teddy Roosevelt punches out a cop. And the story gets wilder from there.
Bully Pulpit is an adventure comic with historic figures as the main characters. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th and youngest president, serves as the quick-acting, leaping, fist-throwing action star. His sidekick is the dead science hero, Thomas Edison. Together, they take on the only evil suitable for this obvious duo -- the direct descendent of Adolph Hitler. Oh, and it all takes place on Mars.
"The germ of the idea was to see really iconic characters represent something outside of themselves," Cereno says. "I wanted to juxtapose these iconic figures. I wanted to use a U.S. President as an action/adventure character. Teddy Roosevelt is the action/adventure president. From there, I wanted the weird science aspect -- Thomas Edison represents science. And the Nazis, the Nazis are the ubiquitous villains -- they are the cliché."
Bully Pulpit made it to the printed page simply by being the idea of Cereno's that Image liked the best. He had several tricks up his sleeve, but this was the one Image wanted to see out first.
Bully Pulpit is a 64-page no-ad 1-shot monster that harkens back to a simpler time in comics. For now, it's the only planned appearance of Teddy and Thomas as an evil-fighting duo, but Cereno hopes they can combine forces again.
"I would love to keep writing these two characters," Cereno says. "I have all sorts of adventures for them. The next one would be a pirate/undersea adventure. Hopefully we can do a follow-up... hopefully."
THAT'S MY CRIB... NOW GET OUT
Almost on cue, the interview is interrupted mid-sentence by Tony Moore, artist on the upcoming Image series "Fear Agent" and former artist on "The Walking Dead."
As in any good episode of Cribs where Fred Durst happens to stop by for a beer, Moore gets a few words in:
"The Bully Pulpit is one of the most fiercely original comics to come out in the past 15 years, in fact," Moore says, and hesitates. "Ok, I got nothing. You caught me totally off guard here."
Cereno refocuses and continues, talking about the challenge that is getting readers to take home a 64-page one-shot.
"I know it's difficult -- especially from a bunch of unknowns. I hope the concept has enough of a hook," he says. "They know people that do good books like this comic (referring to praise from Brian Vaughn, Phil Hester, Robert Kirkman and B. Clay Moore on the back cover). And the cover looks so good... people will hopefully wonder why their shop is selling a comic that isn't in mint condition off the shelf."
The cover, in a clever design, features corners drawn to imitate a ragged, chipped, yellowed comic from decades past. It's just one of the many charms of the book. Add in a Hitler descendent that speaks in a half-German half-Spanish accent, some moments of outright comedy, an unlikely new master race, along with a twist ending, and Tales from the Bully Pulpit makes itself a worthwhile risk for comic buyers.
So how would Cereno sell his comic to a kid at the comic shop that picked up the book?
"I don't know if I'd let them know it was my book," Cereno says. "I'd just say, 'Read that book, it's a good book.' And I'd watch them. And if they didn't buy the book, I'd just cry."