Give Me The Black Coat "...or give me death"

It's being billed as the "Summer of Sequels" at the box office, with almost all the major studios banking on the new adventures and continuing exploits of familiar and pre-established franchise characters like Shrek, Spider-Man and Captain Jack Sparrow to pack in the crowds at the local multiplex.

Meanwhile, at a comic store near you, Ben Lichius, Adam Cogan and Francesco Francavilla, the creators behind last year's surprisingly successful four-issue mini-series, " The Black Coat: A Call to Arms " from Ape Entertainment , have slightly more modest expectations in mind.   Sure, the creative triumvirate would love for their modest, little creator-owned follow-up mini, "The Black Coat: …or give me death." to do "Spider-Man 3" type numbers when it hits stands later this month. Their domain being that of indie comics and not that of multi-million dollar summer blockbusters, Lichius, Cogan and Francavilla kept their ultimate goal on the new series a bit more humble. Simply, the team's aim was to tell a compelling, action-packed, pulp savvy story that would reward those loyal fans who followed the Black Coat's first adventure all the way through, while hopefully attracting a few new ones in the process.

"'The Black Coat: …or give me death.' is another four-issue mini, and it picks up right where the last one left off," Ben Lichius told CBR News. "It's been about a year since 'A Call to Arms' came out, and we've had a story to tell all along, but one of the realities of small press publishing is that, without reader support, you're going to lose money – potentially lots of money – so we wanted to make sure we had enough reader support to make a second series viable and that our wives weren't going to kill us. We got the ball rolling as soon as we felt like it was going to work out, and that's basically where we are now.

"I was very pleased with the reactions we got from readers, retailers, and reviewers [on the first series]. We got and continue to get a ton of support from readers! They really make the books happen, so the fact that we are able to do another series kind of speaks for itself. Most of the people I have met that read the first series have already pre-ordered the second one, which is great."

And what can fans expect from the Black Coat, his network of loyal spies, the Knights of Liberty, and their nefarious adversaries, the mysterious and menacing League, this time out?   "If you enjoyed the first series, then I think you'll get more of what you like in this next one," Lichius said. "There's still plenty of action, intrigue, and monsters to go around. My hope is that it will still feel every bit as fun as the first series did. I don't want to give too much away, but we do have some major changes in store for the Black Coat this time around. He's going to go through some rough spots, and end up in some unlikely places, as he works through what happened to him at the end of the first series. On top of all that he still has the League to deal with, so things will get pretty intense. There's a war about to start, so we're turning the heat up on him this time around.

As Lichius indicated, the events in "…or give me death" pick up immediately from where the final issue of "A Call to Arms" left off, which Black Coat fans will remember was a pretty major cliffhanger, and one that left the Coat in a rather precarious situation. The only significant change between the first series and its sequel is that this time out, Lichius, who co-plotted the Black Coat's initial adventure with the help of Cogan – who himself handled most of the actual scripting chores on "A Call to Arms" – will now be flying solo on writing duties.

"I wrote the majority of the first issue of 'A Call to Arms,' but never felt like I was much of a writer," Lichius confessed. "I would liked to have done more writing on that series, but Adam is a much more experienced and talented writer than I am so I was happy he agreed to do so much to get things off the ground. So when it came time to do the second series, Adam had some other projects he was working on and I was feeling ready to step up to the plate for a full set of books. Early reviews for '…or give me death' have been positive, so I hope I've been able to keep the ball rolling."

Part of the appeal of the Black Coat is that the character is so clearly influenced by and pays tribute to other popular pulp, comic book and action movie heroes, yet at the same time Lichius and Co. have managed to infuse the character and the world he inhabits with original, intelligent and innovative concepts entirely their own through putting a unique spin on those familiar concepts, situations and archetypes.

"The biggest influences for the Black Coat come from old pulp serials of the 40s and 50s and great movie characters like James Bond and Indiana Jones," Lichius confirmed. "Other characters like Batman and Zorro are obviously major influences as well, but I always try to give the Black Coat his own voice and spin on things. As a writer, I'm really most influenced by any material that takes itself seriously. I mostly watch movies, and while I like a good satire, I am totally hooked on character driven action/adventure movies that know how to have a good time without winking at the audience while they are doing it. To me, the fun of storytelling is that thought: 'What if this really happened?' I like seeing other creators take that notion to heart and I find it very inspiring."

However, Lichius also acknowledges that his artistic collaborator, Francesco Francavilla, comes from a different creative background than himself, and therefore tends to approach the characters and concepts of the Black Coat's world somewhat differently, which thus far has only served to make the book that much more unique. "Francesco comes from a background in European comics and has a serious love affair with classic horror movies (don't tell his wife!). He once did a Halloween thread on the [illustrator's forum] Drawing Board where he drew a different classic horror-inspired image every day of the month. It was stuff like Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, all those great old Universal movies, and every piece was just terrific. Then, at the end of the month, he revealed that each piece fit together to make one giant skull-faced collage. It was awesome! You see stuff like that and you have no doubt where his influences come from."

It's been about a year since the last Black Coat series was on the stands, but none of the creators involved have been resting on their laurels in the interim. In fact, all three have been working on an assortment of other projects both inside and outside of the field of comics. "As I mentioned, Adam has a few other projects he's working on," Lichius explained. "He has been doing 'Villains' for Viper and has an ex-Alias book that is now looking for a new home along with a few other stories he has in mind. He's always thinking of cool stuff. You can follow his exploits at www.monstermenace.com. In addition to comics he's been designing video games, and that takes a lot of time too. He's just finishing up design work on 'Dead Head Fred' for the PSP. I'm working on that game as well.

"Francesco has been busy, busy, busy. Along with commissions and storyboards and stuff, he did an issue of 'Fear Agent' with Rick Remender late last year and he will actually have two minis on the shelf this spring. Along with 'Black Coat: …or give me death', he's also doing 'Left on Mission' from BOOM! Studios. He has another project with Rick planned for this summer as well, I believe. He never stops. You can see what else he's up to at www.francescofrancavilla.com. Meanwhile, I have been focused mainly on the Black Coat, so not much for me. My day job [as a video game designer] takes up most of my time, so free time is pretty hard to come by."

Although all the creators involved would love to see the Black Coat move from the ranks of a series of limited series to monthly ongoing status, they also at the same time understand the fickle nature of the comics marketplace, and have even come to somewhat relish the similarity that the mini-series format provides them to that of those old pulp serials that the Black Coat is the descendant of. "Sure, I'd love to see 'The Black Coat' become an ongoing series, but for now I'm happy to see it in its current form," Lichius said. "I like the mini format. If this one does well, we have one more mini planned. After that, I have an assortment of ideas that I would like to see happen but only time will tell. We're telling the story of the start of a war. Once the war starts, there's no end of great stuff that we can do with the character!" 

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