Fight Club: Rich Bernatovech talks "Sentinels Book 3: Echoes"

It's been a couple of years since New York Times Production Manager Rich Bernatovech burst onto the comic book scene with his first "Sentinels" graphic novel, and in that time, he's developed a loyal fan following. After devouring Volume 2, readers clamored for the next installment and this winter, Bernatovech, along with artist Luciano Vecchio, brings back the superhero team for "Sentinels Book 3: Echoes." CBR News caught up with Bernatovech to talk about the new book, and for those just coming onboard, the scribe provided a brief recap of "the story so far."

"'Sentinels' tells the story of a second generation superhero team whose parents disappeared when they were young. Determined to follow in their parent's footsteps, each team member has dealt with their upbringing in a different way. Some more troubled then others. When we started the series the team was disbanded after the death of one of their members and found themselves forced to regroup to fight a common threat. From there they found the government after them and then were abducted by aliens. All this seemed disconnected. But when villains who had once fought the first generation began to be murdered, it became clear to the Sentinels leader, Templar, that the team was being manipulated by someone. He believed they were put into these situations. But before he could prove this, he was captured.

"'Sentinels Book 3: Echoes' picks up a little over a year after Templar's disappearance. The team has a new structure and leader as they search for their missing members and continue to act as the country's heroes. With this book, the focus of the Sentinels' main villain will become clear and the history of the Knights Templar is also explained."

With the betrayal at the end of Book 2, fans saw the beginnings of darker tones in the series and Book 3 continues in that vein. While this book will be an evolution of past volumes, Bernatovech is quick to assure readers that mindwipes are not in the cards. "I don't really think of Sentinels as getting darker, but I do think we went a little more adult themed. We're dealing with the same subject matter that we had in the first two books, but it seems the nudity in Book 3 has raised a few eyebrows. I don't have a problem with it and we are a 'mature readers' labeled book, so I don't think it's a problem. It's nudity, not sex. And both Luciano and myself feel it serves the purpose of the story for both the characters involved. It's funny how you can have all the T and A you want, but show one penis and it's too much.

"I'm not a big fan of the darkening of comics nowadays, but I must admit I am enjoying a lot more books today even if they are 'darker.' I see where they're going and know that things will lighten up again soon. With 'Sentinels,' we've always had the story planned out, so if things seem darker with this particular book, it's just this part of the story, not the overall theme."

Superheroics will assume the forefront in Book 3, as the search for Templar heats up, and the team must deal with the repercussions of their last major battle, but readers won't miss out on their favorite part: the soap opera. While "Sentinels" features a large cast, Bernatovech has taken special care to give each character some kind of personal arc and he'll further those relationships in this new book. "This is my favorite part of 'Sentinels,' writing the character interaction. The Sentinels aren't just superheroes and most of the response we've gotten has been about that. Readers enjoy that we put depth into them and their relationships. I love balancing the action with character's interaction. As a writer, I think we all put parts of ourselves into our work, so naturally there's going to be some personal experiences mixed up in there. But the characters seem to write themselves a lot and even if I want to do something with one of them, if it isn't right I can tell."

While fans are passionate about the writing in the series, "Sentinels" aficionados have used every turn of the word to compliment Vecchio, whose work in Book 3 represents the next step of his evolution as a penciller. "What can I say about the art, it's amazing," exclaims Bernatovech. "I truly believe that Luciano Vecchio is going to be a big name in the industry one day. He puts so much detail into his work, more now than ever before. His characters are so alive and animated. Each of them has their own unique look, which is something few artist try to convey. He's also matured as a storyteller so much that I find myself deleting dialogue and let the art tell the story in many places. That kind of work and enthusiasm really feeds my writing and challenges me to work harder. I think we've hit a great stride in our collaboration that readers will be sure to see in Book 3."

Self-publishing "Sentinels" has been a mixed experience at times for Bernatovech, who was ready to sign deals with other companies before those fell through, for various reasons, and he explained the highs and lows of his experience. "Selling 'Sentinels' is honestly the hardest part of everything and in some ways the most rewarding. Right now, it's especially hard to self publish due to the changes in the industry and order minimum amounts being raised by distributors.

"For us, the best thing we ever did was publish 'Sentinels' as an OGN. That gives us staying power on the shelves. If we had been publishing in single issues, we'd have been bankrupt by now. But by going straight to trade, more readers have taken a chance on us. They get more for their money and let's face it, money is tight for everyone nowadays and comics are expensive.

"Going to conventions has been excellent. The amount of support we've seen from readers and other indie publishers has been great. There's a real ground swell beginning in the indie market. People seem to be looking for something new, something that they know won't be negated or 'out of continuity' a year after it's published. It's kind of exciting. But the best part is definitely meeting readers and talking to them. We have a very loyal group started and it builds more everyday.

"So, even if Erik Larsen flips through our book for twenty seconds and say it's 'un-impressive,' it's still rewarding. Because there's also George Perez, Terry Moore and others saying 'impressive.' You have to take it all with a grain of salt and focus on the positive. Take no single person's word as gospel. Everyone has a different opinion on what they like and not everyone is going to agree with you. "

Everyone does have their opinion and in the "real" world, which Bernatovech deals with on an intense day to day basis at the New York Times, he admits that the comic nerd stereotype isn't going anywhere soon. "Ah, the comic geek stereotype. Yes, it exists and people do make fun of comic fans outside the comic world. But not so much anymore. Sure, there's still the jokes about the Simpson's Comic Book Guy and jokes about living in your parents basement and living through the Internet. But with movies and TV series based on comics all over, it's hard to ignore the legitimacy of graphic storytelling. The Times has done many stories on comics in the last few years. Yes, it's the same writers over and over, but still it's publicity. And any comic publicity is good for the industry. My main fear is that we are getting too much of the same thing. DC definitely gets all the articles at the Times. But there's a reason for that, they do their PR. Even though a Marvel book like 'Runaways' might be a better book than DC's 'Outsiders,' DC is still going to get the publicity because they do hard PR to the newspapers focusing on Judd Winick's name and John Walsh's 'America's Most Wanted.' That's why papers will print stories like that and a book like 'Outsiders' will get more attention outside comics than a book like 'Runaways.'"For now, I believe it all benefits the industry. But the things I hear are things like the bigger comic publishers need to start delivering on some of their promises. Getting new readers into comics through the press is great, but keeping them is going to be harder. They have to stop with the stunt story telling."

Fans of "Sentinels" have speculated on spin off potential for several characters, since the cast is so huge, and Bernatovech isn't ruling that out. "We have plans for something after the last Sentinels book comes out next year, but right now our main goal is finishing the story we set out to tell. We've gotten lots of feedback and suggestions for possible spinoffs, so who knows. The only concern I would have is doing a spinoff just for the sake of doing one. We don't want to do that."

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