Image Comics'"Invincible" is the kind of comic book that everyone loves. Writer Robert Kirkman not only crafts an engaging, fun superhero series, but the titular hero has managed to amass quite a following, including an appearance on the critically acclaimed television show "The Shield." When you're being pimped by an Andre 3000 guest spot, you know you're doing something right. And "Invincible" is like a throwback to the early era of Marvel Comics' superhero comics, complete with a very real, nuanced lead and all the soap opera you could want from a superhero comic book. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that a companion side project would be announced in mighty Marvel tradition: a series of handbooks! Arriving in stores this November from Image Comics, "The Official Handbook Of The Invincible Universe" is comprised of two 48-page handbooks, reminiscent of the classic Marvel Comics handbooks that provided all the information you could ever want about their characters.
Spearheading the project is Dusty Abell, an artist who has worked everywhere, from "Ex-Mutants" at Malibu to various Superman projects for DC. He's also worked with "The Man," Stan Lee, at Stan Lee Media, and spent a lot of time on "King of The Hill," as well as recently contributing to "Ben 10." To say he's got a diverse résumé would be an understatement when it comes to Dusty Abell. With the project hitting the shelves in a few short weeks, CBR News spoke with Abell, who revealed the scope of the project and explained its origins.
"About nine month's ago my buddy, wicked talented character designer Phil Bourassa and I walked into our pal Dave Johnson's office one morning while we were all working on the Cartoon Network show 'Ben 10' while he was chatting it up on the phone with Robert Kirkman. Phil had recently bought an entire run of 'Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe' and all the guys on the crew had been talking about all our memories of reading them when we were all kids and how much we enjoyed them," Abell told CBR News. "So we walk in during Dave's telephone call and Phil and I just kind of say to ourselves, you know it sure would be fun to see a Handbook style book with all the cool characters in Invincible, a book we were all totally digging. I pitch the idea out of the blue to Kirkman, who on a tremendous leap of faith said ok, as long as you can organize the thing. So for the past several months in addition to working full time on Fox's 'King of the Hill,' I've had the time of my life putting together an awesome amount of talented folks for our homage to Mark Gruenwald's Marvel Handbooks."
That love for the Marvel Handbooks - and vividly illustrating & explaining all those little details of your favorite characters - began at a young age for Abell. He cited the backup tale in "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #1, which focused on the functions of Spidey's webshooters and costume, as the first time he realized how much joy was in those details. During his teens, Abell discovered the Marvel Handbooks and was instantly hooked. "This was a full fledged attempt at compiling comprehensive biographies and marvelously thought out explanations of how the heroes and villains I'd grown up reading about were able to do what they did. I was also able, for the first time to see how the entire Marvel Universe fit together, from the biggest players to the most incidental characters. I really enjoyed the strength level and power explanations, the pseudo-superhero science mixed with a large dose of real world scientific explanation was fascinating to me, and I loved the idea that someone somewhere was working really hard to justify all the cool things I was reading about in my Marvel comics. Also, let's not forget about those incredible cutaway mechanical and architectural drawings that Eliot R. Brown did explaining the inner workings of the Fantastic Fours Fantasticar, Nick Fury's flying sports car or Iron Man's armor. I was bowled over by the intricacies of his diagrams and technical drawings. Did I mention Eliot is providing one of these for our Handbook! Come on, how cool it that!"
With that much love for Marvel Comics' superpowered characters, one might expect Abell to tackle the heroes from the House Of Ideas, but it seems that "Invincible" has become a new favorite of the artist. "It brings back that sense of fun and unexpected surprise that I remember fondly from reading comics when I was younger and that I think is sadly missing from a majority of the books being published these days," said Abell. "It's quite frankly everything I love about comics but with a fresh new approach to doing them! Cool characters that I enjoy reading about, exciting, well written stories and amazingly good artwork, how can you go wrong. I love comics in general and having an opportunity to put together an homage to a book I revered as a young reader, collaborating with many of the most talented creator's in the business, for a series I think is the best superhero comic published today was simply a dream come true."
While "Invincible" co-creator Robert Kirkman hasn't been mentioned much so far, that's not for lack of involvement: Not only is he proofing every entry, but he's also adding in previously unknown information. Joining Abell and Kirkman on the handbooks are artists whom the former described as, "among the best in their respective fields, be it comic book art, character design, illustration, animation or storyboarding. Representing the classic comic book artists that were my idols growing up are Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Rudy Nebres, Terry Austin, Mike Zeck, Ron Frenz, Paul Smith, Eliot R. Brown, Craig Hamilton, Shawn McManus and Ty Templeton.
"Contemporary comic artists include Jason Pearson, Kelsey Shannon, Kaare Andrews, Dave McCaig, Phil Noto, Kalman Andrasofszky, David Williams, Brian Stelfreeze, Dexter Vines, Cory Walker, Andy Kuhn, Ed McGuinness, Cliff Rathburn, Mark Irwin, Mike Wieringo, Craig Rousseau, Bill Crabtree, Nick Bradshaw, Ryan Ottley, Lovern Kindzerski, Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Gus Vasquez, Tom Feister, Rob Haynes, Cully Hamner, Khary Randolph, Rico Renzi, Sanford Greene, Brian Reber, Frank Cuonzo, Anthony Castrillo, Eric Canete and Keron Grant.
"Artists from the fields of commercial illustration, animation and design include Phil Bourassa, Ruben Martinez, Cheeks, Alina Urosov, Paul Wee, Dan Panosian, Ragnar, Marcio Takara, Chuck Wojtkiewicz, Dan Schoening, Tommy Tejeda, Dan Schoening, Le Sean Thomas, Jeff Rebner, Tom Perkins, Derrick Wyatt, Jaoquim Dos Santos, Glenn Dion, Javier Burgos, Jeffrey Cruz, David Hartman and Stephen Silver.
"As far as writers go, we have Peter Sanderson, original handbook writer and researcher; David Campbell, who runs daveslongbox.com on the web; Chris Tolworthy, of zaksite.co.uk, handled the science of the Invincible universe; Stuart Vandal, current Marvel handbook writer; Sean O'Brien, comic book and screenplay writer; and myself.
"There are a few more people who I would love to mention because they would make your head spin, but I don't want to give everything away yet! The biggest thrill of producing this book is opening up a file from either an artist or a writer and just being blown away by what I see. I can guarantee that no one will be disappointed by the artwork in these books, they are all stunning! I have to make special note of the very first piece that I received back in the very beginning which was for the character Aquarus by Kelsey Shannon, it's an amazing piece that I think really helped set the bar high among all the other artists early on, so big ups to Kelsey!"
Even if you're one of the many devoted fans who've checked out "Invincible" since the beginning, you can expect the Handbooks to offer you a new insight into this fantastic world. Covering almost every major and supporting character seen in the series, Abell revealed, "You will learn things you never knew before about a great many of the characters in the series. Although we won't be including spoiler material for upcoming stories, the Handbooks will provide an invaluable base of knowledge for all things Invincible up until this point. If we are fortunate enough to warrant doing a collection of the Handbooks at some point later down the line, we will hopefully be able to add new entries to the books as new characters appear and possibly update existing entries for characters whose storylines have evolved. A sequel sure sounds fun as well!"
If you've never checked out "Invincible" in the past, and would like to get a taste of the superhero universe that has earned loads of critical acclaim, "The Official Handbook of The Invincible Universe" is a perfect entry point. "If you were a fan of the original series that we're paying homage to from back in the day then these two books are what you've been waiting to read for close to twenty years," said Abell. "Many of the artists and writers of the original series that we loved in our youth have come back, joined by some of the biggest new talents in the industry today to give the illustrated handbook another shot for a whole new generation.
"These books were put together with all the care and attention that Mark Gruenwald and his crew had for the books they produced back in the early '80s and I hope everyone that picks up our two issue series will have felt that we did our best to live up to the standard set by the original series all those years ago. This project was organized by a fan of comics for fans of comics, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have overseeing its creation."