Creators Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau comprise Man of Action Entertainment, and truly live up to the name of their collective. Whether you've read their creator-owned books like Casey's "Sex" or Kelly's "Four Eyes" for Image Comics, or spent hours watching their many animated shows like "Ben 10," "Generator Rex" and "Ultimate Spider-Man," the men behind Man of Action are all over the place, constantly producing new, high-quality entertainment across a variety of mediums. After 15 years of working together, the quartet assembled for a visit to the world famous CBR Floating Tiki Room to speak with Jonah Weiland about a number of topics in a wide-ranging interview at Comic-Con International in San Diego. They discuss how they've managed to continue a long-lasting working relationship, their individual and collaborative projects, the roles each serves within the collective and how their particular chemistry has fueled their longevity.
In the first part of the conversation, Weiland sits down with Joe Casey and Joe Kelly to discuss writing their own books, which often feature more mature content, versus the all-ages animated shows they've created for television. Kelly then goes into some detail about how Man of Action functions and what each member specializes in, while Casey says he doesn't try to analyze where the success stems from too much before elaborating on how dysfunction has actually driven them to keep moving forward and progressing.
On the creative freedom that comes with being a part of Man of Action:
Joe Kelly: I didn't smarten up about doing my own stuff, really, for a while -- 'cause when we were first at Marvel and DC would've been a really primetime for me to do creator-owned books. And then, it wasn't until "Steampunk," I kind of put my toe in the water, which was cool, but then I kind of got sidetracked into more mainstream stuff. You know, like more corporate stuff. But now, I love it. I mean, I don't ever want to get pigeon-holed, personally. And I think as a group, we never want to get pigeon-holed. So to be able to bounce around between -- we do some kid stuff, we have some adult stuff, we have some stuff that falls in between -- that's one of our goals.
On the ups and downs a 15-year working relationship:
Joe Casey: The dysfunction is part of the chemistry -- if you don't recognize that, you'll just end up fighting against it, and then you can't progress -- because you're too busy trying to fix the other people, or trying to turn yourself into something you're clearly not. You know, this is a pretty broad comparison, but bands go through this all the time. They find some success and then they think they want to redefine what they are, or they're not happy with what they are. Every band, even that I've been in on a really low level, are never happy with being the band that they are. They always want to be something else. And, we have a unique situation where we're kind of happy with what we are, but there's room within it for us to become something else, or individuals to evolve into other creative areas and things like that. So it's kind of the best of both worlds. And we try to keep that in mind, keep that perspective, the whole time.
For the second half of the conversation, Weiland welcomes Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau to the CBR Yacht to get their thoughts on what has allowed Man of Action to thrive for 15 years. Seagle then explains shifting from putting out content geared toward adults to something more all-ages with "Camp Midnight," and Rouleau discusses how they've gone from collaborating over the phone and internet to just recently spending time together in an office, and how Casey refers to it as "The Square of Awkwardness."
On what each creator brings to Man of Action:
Steven T. Seagle: Well, the nice thing is that we're all creative people and we met as creative people, but we don't create the same way. So we have very different aesthetics, but we kind of quickly agree on what we think is interesting or cool, and we're a very socialist kind of construction. ... I think when we started it was like a battle for whose idea would win, and over time, what's changed is that it's whose idea is most fun, and we just flock toward that one and go with it. We also split everything exactly equally, no matter who makes it up, or comes up with it, or does it, which is really odd, but it also eliminates that kind of competition in a bad way and just gives us competition in a fun way.
Duncan Rouleau: I think that's exactly right. That's something that's -- we were talking about this with the Writers Guild -- I think the biggest thing is over a period of time we've just learned how to trust each other in an implicit way that just kind of cuts through a lot of the crap. You get to the best idea -- the right idea -- for whatever we're particularly working on. Then it's so much easier, especially when working with outside entities, big entities, to have a couple of advocates you know are gonna be advocates on your side of the table for any particular idea.
Seagle on his lack of kid-friendly comics thus far and how that's changing with his upcoming Image Comics book "Camp Midnight":
Seagle: We've done "Ben 10," and ["Ultimate Spider-Man"] and ["Marvel's Avengers Assemble"] for Marvel and Disney, and we created the "Big Hero 6" characters, which especially in this past year, it's been those families coming up and saying, "Oh, we love 'Ben 10.' We love 'Big Hero 6.' What of your comics can my kids read?" And the answer is, none of them. ... I felt bad about it, so I've done a couple of storybooks through Image, which are kind of younger on the other side. And I was just like, "I kind of want to do a comic that anybody could read." ... Adults can read it, obviously, but I wanted something that was safe for everybody -- but still about stuff. So, I don't think it's lacking anything thematically, I just think it's lacking a bunch of cuss words and decapitations and the things that are in all my other books.
On working together in a single office for the first time:
Seagle: We have an office now, which we've never had in 15 years, and it's very weird to all be in one place. We've been a virtual company for 15 years, and now we're like sitting and staring at each other day in and day out. Right now it's all one big room.
Rouleau: [Joe] Casey calls it the "square of awkwardness." [Laughs] As you know, a lot of the comic book culture of professionals is this kind of phone culture. "Did you read what so-and-so said?!"
Seagle: So we just bring that in.
Rouleau: But, what you don't get is you don't get [in an office] that level of anonymity that you can on a phone. So we probably censor ourselves a little more.