SNEAK PEAKING ON THE PLANET OF THE CAPES
One of the things about my job as a professional comic pimp that I absolutely love is getting sneak peeks of the latest books before the masses get their hands on them. For a not-ever-to-be-reformed comic book geek like yours truly getting a copy of something brilliant before it even hits a Diamond or a Cold Cut catalogue is perpetually exciting and always cool. Along with getting to talk comic books all day long, filling my bookshelves at Casa de Sime with hundreds of graphic novels, and getting to do whatever the hell I want to do with my life, checking out sneak peeks is one of the best perks of the comic retailing gig. Let me tell you, we comic retailers get some these things every month. And understandably so, smart publishers and creators know that these kind of sneak peeks often times make a significant impact on my orders, particularly for first time creators and publishers. They come in the form of completed comics, sometimes xeroxes of the book partway through production, and occasionally I get the printer's blue-lines.
But as much as I like getting a personal sneak peek I like sharing them with my customers even more. Because when we talk about comic shop customers, we're talking about some of my favorite not-ever-to-be-reformed comic book geeks of them all. And thanks to the fine San Francisco publisher AIT-PlanetLar I get to do just that this week with "Planet of the Capes," when we roll out the official pre-release event that's been nearly 3 years in the making.
Tomorrow afternoon (which could very well be this afternoon or yesterday afternoon or last year afternoon, depending upon when you're reading this), the Isotope is going to be hosting author Larry Young and artist Brandon McKinney and we're giving people a chance to get their hands on this action-packed book early. And you can bet that, come the new day, the Isotope will be packed with Larry Young and Brian McKinney groupies, and bustling with no small amount of comics enthusiasm.
Hell, I can't wait. Larry Young is a creator whose comics I hunted for and proudly showed off to my space rocking colleges at band practice five years ago, long before I had met the man. And I'd be absolutely remiss in my duties if I didn't say that Brandon McKinney's art blew me away on last summer's Warren Ellis speculative fiction graphic novel "Switchblade Honey."
Now I'm fortunate enough to happen to have gotten to know Larry and Brandon, because I think they're both insanely talented, friendly, down to Earth guys who know what they are doing and know what they want to be doing… and that, my friends, is comic books. I can certainly relate. Also I'm fortunate enough to have a cool shop that creators like Larry and Brandon like enough to want to hold an event like this at because AIT/PlanetLar knows how to treat a retailer like diamond-encrusted gold. Because it's not every day you get to share a sneak peek of the "Planet of the Capes."
But that's Friday, and it hasn't quite come yet. Tonight, in the quiet before the storm, I get to kick back on the Isotope's leather sofa and enjoy a great original graphic novel and a great tequila. Larry Young and Brandon McKinney's "Planet of the Capes" paired with three fingers of the rare Porfidio Cactus. And with both, your palate knows you're consuming some top of the line shit. Aged to perfection and plenty smooth, but with plenty of that fire that gets you coming back for more!
Ah, life is good!
"Planet of the Capes" isn't much like one of the astronaut-laden indy classics that Larry is known for, aside, of course, from the top-notch writing. We're not talking about your typical Larry Young book here at all. "Planet of the Capes" is an irreverent foray into the superhero genre.
Superheroes? From Larry Young? Seriously??
Regular readers of this column will know that I don't have a problem with superhero comics in the least. In fact, I'm not ashamed to tell you that I read hundreds of superhero comics every single month, and that some of my favorite books are of the spandex and cape variety. But Larry Young doing superheroes? The pairing sounds a little out of character. But one look at the gorgeous Brandon McKinney art convinces me that Larry knows what he's doing… so I dive in.
As I finish the last page and the last of my beverage I can't help but wonder what inspired the maverick independent comic author and publishing maven to write a book that revels in the superhero genre as much as it dissects it. So, I refilled my glass and put the question to the man himself. What makes the self-professed "king of Independent comics" decide to write a superhero book?
Here is what I learned, and this comes straight from the mouth, or rather the keyboard, of everyone's favorite loose cannon Mister Larry Young himself.
"Like most everybody, I blame Joe Casey."
"I talk to ol' Joe quite a bit, because not only does he have his fingers on the pulse of the comic book industry… not only does he know how to make the mainstream characters sing, but also effortlessly puts his stamp on the offbeat and the independent… not only does he have one foot in the old and one foot in the new and easily take what he needs from both to craft a new thing…
"…but Joe's just a heckuva nice guy, so even though I'm not a chattin'-on'the-phone sort of dude, I always make time to call Joe and get a what's-what out of him. He knows what's good medicine, and he knows how to make it go down easy.
"So one day I was on the phone with Joe and he was trying to get me to stick my toe in the superhero water and write up a superhero book. We were going back and forth, with me trying to tell him that I didn't think I could really add to the scene, and that my interests were really more geared towards science fiction and action/adventure stuff, and Joe trying to tell me not to get hung up on the men-in-tights-fighting-crime aspect of it, and then just about when I was gonna tell him, 'Joe, man; give it up. I don't have anything to say about superheroes,' the whole idea for 'Planet of the Capes' sort of leapt out at me.
"Coincidentally, the coming weekend was WonderCon 2001, then in Oakland, and I ran into Brandon McKinney. Brandon's salt of the Earth, and is the Second Nicest Guy in Comics, after Jim Lee. So Brandon and I were talking about what he was working on, and he asked me if I was following up the invisible girl story, "The Bod," that I did for 'Double Image' with a less-experimental comic. Funny you should ask, I said, and sort of spit-balled the main outline of the story to him: that I was going to write an allegorical story about how I see the comic book industry using superhero archetypes. That on one level, it'd be an 80-page fight scene; I think I even used our marketing tagline 'Nobody learns anything; everybody dies' in that first conversation. But on another level, each of the archetypes would represent a certain faction of the comic book industry, and it'd be my hope that I had the chops to reward second and third readings. I think Brandon just liked that I was thinking beyond Hulk Smash, honestly.
"So we talked a bit more about it, and Brandon got really enthusiastic about the project. I told him that our grim-avenger-of-the-night character would be his world's super-patriot, as well, and that in this world, Benjamin Franklin was their first superhero, setting up a generational line of superheros who protect their country. I thumbnailed him as Nick Fury in Batman's suit, playing Captain America by way of The Phantom.
"Brandon got a little smile and said it was nice talking to me and went back to his table, and I went back to the AiT/Planet Lar booth and that was that. I have these sorts of conversations all the time with my talented pals. Except this time was different, in that, not even an hour later, Brandon drops an 11 x 17 fully-rendered and inked illustration of the character on me, back at the booth. I hadn't even named the character yet, and here was a completely-realized version of the guy I'd just described! Brandon's enthusiasm just blew me away!
"So when Warren Ellis pitched me 'Switchblade Honey,' I told Brandon if he wanted to make a big splash in comics, he could do worse than signing up for Warren-Ellis-does-'Star Trek' and then following it up with The-King-of-Independent-Comics-does-'Watchmen,' and Brandon jumped over onto 'Switchblade.'
"This worked out for me, because since B was working on Warren's book, I had time to really polish up the story, and I got the idea to underline the allegorical nature of the tale with the actual physical form of the book. That since we were commenting on the Big Four and the nature of fans and delivery mechanisms for comics in the story itself, why not comment on the schism between black-and-white independent books and full-color superhero books, while we were at it. So I did a little streamlining of the story, and now Act I takes place at night, Act II in a color "Silver Age" flashback section, and Act III takes place in the desert, where everything is blown-out and overexposed, as in the sun. So as you go through the book and physically turn the pages, the tones behind the panels go from 100% black, through color, to 100% white, nodding to the sorts of printing comics have. Brandon even worked up some PhotoShop tones to fake that Flexographic printing press look from the late 70s and early 80s.
"I gotta say, it turned out even better than I imagined."
Larry was kind enough to share with me not only the original picture that Brandon McKinney presented to him at the 2001 WonderCon, but also some other concept sketches.