It's 1 a.m., and Greg Thompson, writer of the new Image Comics series Hero Camp, is feeling a bit lucid from the tasty combination of Miller Lites and Gold Schlager shots. He's standing alone in a dark parking lot outside Gilligan's in Arlington, Texas. But there's no worrying about Thompson -- not only is he within walking distance from home, he's also madder than a hill of South Texas fire ants. The cause for his strife? Comics.
"You know, I can't even buy my 7-year-old nephew an issue of Flash anymore," Thompson bites. "Super heroes are supposed to be for children. I'm not letting this go. The only stuff they're getting right now? Marvel Age books. What happened to the stuff I read as a kid? The Kirby, the Kane, the things anyone could connect with?"
According to Thompson, a book that connects with all ages of readers arrives in comic shops May 18th in the form of his book, "Hero Camp," written with the neglected all-ages market in mind.
It's the story of Eric, the son of the two most powerful heroes in the world. To Eric's dismay, he has yet to demonstrate any super abilities, despite his special parents. Eric's mom and dad decide to send him off to super hero camp anyway. But being the only kid at camp without powers could cost Eric everything.
"It's pretty much 'My So-Called Life' meets 'Meatballs,'" Thompson told CBR news. "Except with capes.
"It's definitely a super hero book, but about growing up, finding and belonging. It's a Saturday morning cartoon come to life," he says. "The main character doesn't have powers while his parents are the two greatest heroes in the world. It's universal for your parents to have expectations of their kids."
The first issue kicks off with Eric being thrown off a cliff, plummeting to what could be an early death. No, a villain isn't trying to kill him so early in the series, it's just that it's rare for a camper at Camp Enokchuk not to be able to fly. Throwing campers off cliffs and watching them learn to fly is as innocent at Hero Camp as it would be for camp counselors to teach kids how to canoe at a normal camp.
"Hero Camp" has already been sold successfully as a sharp-looking mini-comic from Thompson's own Atomic Chimp Press. Those minis are still available at the official Web site. The book came together three years ago, Thompson says, when he decided it was time to "put up or shut up." No more bitching about comics, he explains, unless he tried to do something to make them better himself.
First came the idea. But things screeched to a halt without an artist. Thompson was looking for the most rare combinations of talent -- someone who had a style that fit the book, and that would do the work initially for free.
Finally, a mutual friend introduced Thompson to series artist Robbi Rodriguez.
"We've been working together since November 2003. Robbi definitely co-created this book," Thomspon says of his artist. "I had the idea in my head, but it didn't all come together until Robbi put it all together on paper."
Now, to have the book headed to comic shops everywhere -- it will be the realization of a long-time dream for Thompson.
"Once I see it on the shelf, with the nice big [Image] 'I' on the cover, that's when reality sets in," Thopmson says. "Growing up, I watched all those guys form Image Comics. Now, to be a part of that is exciting. Twelve years ago, to have a comic at Image meant you were a millionaire. Times have changed, but the aura is still the same."
Thompson works in the comics business already, just not on the creative side. His day job is working for www.mycomicshop.com, running the Web site as well as the shipping department. The afternoon hours he spends working enables him to get in four to five hours a day of writing, typically working on projects -- some of which will surely be covered by CBR in the future -- until 3 or 4 a.m.
"I'm lucky -- I have a very understanding wife," Thompson says. "But all this work -- it's going to pay off."
Writing has been a passion of Thompson's since the day he realized that it was an actual profession. He's the type of writer that was so moved by his writing heroes that he made a yearly trek North to Lawrence, Kan., just to knock on William S. Burroughs' door, to get any wisdom he could from the late beat writer. The first time he knocked, he ran like hell, but once he got the nerve, he stuck around to see what he could learn from the writer.
"He told me not to be afraid to steal in writing," Thompson remembers. "You've heard the quote, 'mediocre writers borrow, good writers steal?' That's what he told me. If you see something great, don't feel bad about taking a part of it an putting it in your work."
As the conversation winds down, Thompson ponders returning to Gilligan's. The bartender is a friend of his, a drummer of a local band. But it's late and last call is coming at any moment.
Thompson decides to go home. Besides, there are children's comics to be saved. They're not going to save themselves. And he's not going to save them with a hangover.