Making Magic With Comics on Cards

Every once in a while, you come across an idea that's so natural, so obvious, that you smack yourself in the head because you didn't think of it.

Last year, I was at a comic con in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver. I met an artist named Jay Peteranetz, who gave me his current project, "Magicians Must Die." But it wasn't a comic, at least not in the traditional sense. It was sequential storytelling, but the art was printed on the backs of a traditional deck of playing cards.

"Magicians Must Die" is the brainchild of master card manipulator De'vo Vom Schattenreich, with Jay providing the artwork. I was engaged by the story, and especially the format. The sequential nature of comics, especially with grid-style layouts, lends itself to "card-by-card" storytelling.

The fifth card deck was recently released, bringing the first story arc to a conclusion, and I talked to Jay about how the magic is made.

Ron Marz: How did this all come about, and how did you become involved?

Jay Peteranetz: The catalyst for this was the writer, producer and creator of "Magicians Must Die," De'vo Vom Schattenreich. De'vo started the Extreme Card Manipulation art form in 2001.

His story was originally scripted as a movie. De'vo had actually done some test footage for the movie almost 10 years before the first deck of comics was started. It came about as a comic when I met De'vo at my retail sales job, where I worked as a jewelry salesman. He had come in to buy his wife an anniversary present, and was wearing a rather large ring that he manipulates.

We got talking about his ring, since I was also selling him one, and that led to my other interests, which included comics and my passion for drawing. De'vo asked to see some work, so I directed him to my website, and about a week later he called me and we sat down to talk comics.

De'vo said, "I have this idea for a comic." Which, of course, we comic artists hear all the time! But two things caught my attention. Number one, his reputation online, and in my store, as a card and ring manipulator -- he holds a record in the Guinness Book of World Records -- was impressive, to say the least. Number two, he wanted to do it on the back of playing cards. After our talk, I told him I needed to see if I could do this. A week later, we got together and I confidently proclaimed, "I got this." So we signed a contract. We released the first deck in November of 2012, and all 2500 copies sold out in 10 days.

Give me some background on you. How long have you been drawing, and how did you get your start?

My very first experience drawing seriously happened in 1991 in third grade. A friend of mine brought Jim Lee and Chris Claremont's "X-Men" #1 to our class and said we should try to draw the characters. So we did, and immediately I fell in love with the larger-than-life characters, stories, powers and abilities. I really wanted to be Ice Man after reading that comic... and still do.

Throughout elementary, middle and high school, I kept drawing. I took every art class available, but never seriously thought about it as a career until 10th grade, when I learned about the BFA in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Shortly thereafter, I got an opportunity to draw a short in the back of a comic for a now defunct company out of Colorado Springs called Panther Comics, which led to more work from them.

What kind of adjustment did you have to make your style and storytelling in order to make it work as a card set?

Thankfully, artistically, I didn't have to make much of an adjustment. The quality of the printer was top notch and really allowed us to utilize a wide gamut of color, depth, and darkness. In terms of storytelling, every two rows of the comic complete a "thought," much like a comic book page. The challenge for this was how do we give the proper information when each card is laid out.

Unlike turning the page of a comic, and getting that entire "thought" in a quick glance, with "Magicians Must Die" you slowly reveal each beat of the story as you lay the cards out. When laying out the cards, you may only get to see the top half of a panel before the panel is completed when the next row of cards is laid out. So I needed to carefully consider the necessary information on the top row of a "thought," then complete and enhance that with the bottom row. I think I really figured that out with issue #2. You can read the comic by laying out every other row, but the secondary rows really fill out the story and give context to the action.

So one deck of cards is equivalent to how many pages of a traditional comic book?

It really depends on the issue. I have laid out the first deck into a PDF, and it came out to nine pages, but when trying to do the same with issue #2, I came up with seven. If I were to do this for all five issues, I think we'd end up with approximately 40 pages of story.

Tell me a bit about the story itself, and why cards are the right vehicle to tell this story.

The story itself is about a card master and his sister. I hope that's enough of a reason to put this on playing cards. The beauty of comics, for me, is that you're not stuck to a book. They can be anywhere and everywhere. So when De'vo told me he wanted to do this on playing cards, and that the main character was a card manipulator and card master, it just fit perfectly.

"Magicians Must Die" follows the story of D and his sister, Star. Evil magicians kidnap them at a very young age. The Magicians of this world no longer perform their tricks for the public, they lost their audience. So they go from town to town and capture "volunteers" that they can put in their illusions for their own entertainment. Because, just like illusionists and magicians in our world, if you don't know how the trick works, you can get seriously injured.

Anyway, when D and Star are very young, the Magicians come to their castle. They destroy the castle, capturing a lot of "volunteers" and gaining a few recruits, including these two young children. D and Star grow up in the Magicians camp, learning the illusions, but D can't put down the cards he found and is constantly learning how to manipulate the cards. This gets him into trouble because he isn't learning the illusions. He's put into a water illusion and seemingly dies, but ends up escaping. The card masters find him when he escapes, and they train him in manipulation, illusions, and magic so he can go save his sister. These five decks end with D trying to save his sister. You'll have to pick up the comic to find out if he does or not.

When you showed me the cards, one of the first things I thought of is where do you even get something like this printed?

There are a lot of playing card companies that have a custom printing division. We get these printed by the United States Playing Card Company, based in Kentucky and printed here in the U.S. They're the largest playing card company in the world and own Bicycle, Bee, Aviator, Kem, Hoyle and more. Their card stock and printing capabilities are unmatched in the world of playing cards. De'vo has printed every one of his nearly 30 decks with them, and constantly wins awards from the card manipulation community for the card handling, card quality and card design.

Do you do card tricks yourself?

I do not, though De'vo has taught me a few simple tricks. I can do a fan, and I know three card tricks. De'vo has a series of books and movies that give you step-by-step instructions on how to do many of his tricks. They can be found at the same place as "Magicians Must Die."

And the fifth deck completes the initial story?

The fifth deck completes the first story arc. These five issues introduce the world, the characters, and introduce the villain for future issues, if we move forward. So it doesn't complete the story, but it does give a full story and closure for the first part of the world we're creating.

This will be the last issue on playing cards for the foreseeable future. With the United States Playing Card Company, minimum runs are 2,500 cards, so the investment to print is large, and the distribution is, unfortunately, limited to the online store and at comic conventions and appearances.

Is there any other way than cons and appearances, and the website, obviously, to get these? Will you ever try to distribute through Diamond or other channels?

That has been the biggest challenge for this series. We have run into two constant issues with distribution and the direct market. First, we're constantly asked, "How do you play it?" And usually along with that comes, "Definitely can't play poker with this, the cards are marked." Overcoming both of those is always the first challenge.

Reminding people that this is a comic book, and the decks are not made to actually play cards with, takes some time. Comic store owners don't necessarily have time to explain that to their customers, so it's hard to do in-store sales without a way to uniquely and prominently explain how it works.

Laying out the entire deck also takes up the space of a small coffee table, and most comic stores don't have that much real estate to give up. So getting comic stores to buy into this idea has been tough. Though we do have some very adamant comic book store support in Denver, where I live.

We have submitted to Diamond, they loved the art, and the style, and the story, but they didn't accept the product due to "incorrect format." So we didn't press the issue, stuck to our own website and conventions, and have sold more than 10,000 copies of the five issues so far.

Do you think the story ever be reprinted in a regular comic format?

That's is still up for discussion. We constantly discuss the possibility, but as of yet, there are no plans. We do want to move forward with the story as a comic book. There's a lot more of this story to tell, so we're putting together our pitch.

Regardless, the goal of this series was to do something different. We did that. We wanted to make a splash in the comic industry. We did that. The splash many not have been huge, but it was big enough to be known as the "card guys" in the industry. The most amazing thing about this to me is the amount of congratulations and support we have received. Like you, every person we show the comic to thinks the idea is brilliant and has enjoyed the uniqueness of the format. It has been a true pleasure to work on, and we hope to find a publishing partner who wants to continue the adventure.

All five "Magicians Must Die" story decks are available at: http://www.worldcardexpertsstore.com/products/

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" for Dynamite, "Skylanders" for IDW, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics on Madefire, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

Donny Cates' Thor Dons His Crown in the Blackest of Winters

More in Comics