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Sleight Of Hand: Mishkin Casts A “Spellgame”

by  in Comic News Comment
Sleight Of Hand: Mishkin Casts A “Spellgame”
“Spellgame” Covers by Darwyn Cooke
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Long time comic readers know Dan Mishkin’s name well. He’s the man who co-created and wrote “Blue Devil” and “Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld” at DC Comics, books that both generated a cult following. Since then, Mishkin’s been going back and forth between the “real world” and the comics industry, including a stop in 2001 with artist Tom Mandrake on the Image Comics series “Creeps.” Next Wednesday, Mishkin sees his latest creation come to life in the pages of “Spellgame” with artist Ramon Perez from Speakeasy Comics. We spoke with Mishkin to learn more about the series and to get a preview of the first issue.

“Spellgame” tells the story of con artists/stage magician John Dodge, a really not-so-nice guy who finds himself in a world that’s going through some dramatic changes. “Magic, which has been largely absent from our plane of existence, is starting to return, and Dodge discovers he has the innate ability to use it,” Mishkin told CBR News. “He has a hard time believing that’s true, though, and he’s a lot more comfortable relying on the tricks he’s learned as a stage magician and con artist. But even though he’d prefer to steer clear of the world of magic, that world won’t leave him alone, and he’s got to figure out where he’s going to stand in a war that’s brewing between magical good and magical evil.

“As for story arcs, I’ve got to tell you that for good or ill, this is turning into an arc-free series. There’s definitely a master narrative about the coming war I just mentioned, and in the first three or four issues readers will be introduced to several of the major players in the story. But every issue has a beginning, middle and end– a conflict that gets set up and resolved even as pieces of the bigger story are falling into place. It’s perhaps more reminiscent of Silver Age Marvels, at least in terms of story structure, than a lot of what’s coming out currently.”

With John Dodge, Mishkin has created a multi-faceted character who may have given up on finding anything worthwhile in this world, but there’s a spark of goodness deep inside him that a friend of his sees. “His friend Harry, who can recognize that spark and who hasn’t given up on Dodge, will turn out to be an important resource for him as Dodge confronts the question of what kind of person he’s going to be (and Harry turns out to be the character I really identify with, which may strike some people as odd when they see how Harry develops).

“Spellgame” #3 “Spellgame” #5

“Dodge is going to have repeated run-ins with the magical criminal organization that’s recruiting people newly endowed with magical abilities to their side,” continued Mishkin. “The face of that organization is a man named Victor Rinaldo, a suave and self-confident fixer who Dodge already has a history with. Rinaldo will have many opportunities, both direct and indirect, to make Dodge’s life miserable. But beyond Victor and his organization, Dodge will go up against magical or magic-using characters like Suicide Jack and Q-Pid; fight the occasional monster; travel to a magical dimension; find a beautiful assistant; and run into a man with a mysterious past, a friendly ghost, and a pathetic bunch of good magicians. He even gets pushed around by pixies in one issue, which can’t be good for his ego.”

The setting for “Spellgame” is Las Vegas, Nevada. Maybe not the fist locale you’d think of to place for a series filled with magical fantasy, but this isn’t your typical magical world. “First of all, I’ve got to give credit to Speakeasy’s Adam Fortier for coming up with the Las Vegas angle as we were developing the book,” said Mishkin. “I was thinking of using just any old city– and putting the series in the lowdown parts of a city was important to me because that was a large element of the distinction I wanted to make between this and other magical worlds. This is grunge magic, just-trying-to-find-a-way-to-scrape-by magic, magic as a tool of thugs and hoodlums; and I liked the idea of having that magic insinuate itself into Dodge’s life rather than having him discover a magical other world. Or England.

“Adam’s suggestion to use Las Vegas added a whole cool extra layer to that. Vegas is its own fantasy world, and the magic and spectacle of Las Vegas ends up in a kind of competition with the magic that’s now reaching earth. The second sort of magic could easily go unnoticed amid the first. And of course, though the tourist bureau’s commercials don’t show it, the city does have its darker underside beneath the lights, so that fit well with my original intentions. The mixture of glitter and grit makes the setting something special.”

The seeds of “Spellgame” were planted a few years back when Mishkin first had the idea for the series. “It was something I toyed with that didn’t quite go anywhere at the time, and the idea grew out of the initial play on words that gave me the title: turning ‘shell game’ into ‘spell game,'” explained Mishkin. “In fact, I’d used ‘Spell Games’ as the title for a story arc when I was writing ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ in the nineties, and I later realized that the title could nicely be applied to a con man and shell game operator in our own very real and non-fantastic world. So I had the premise of a sleight-of-hand con artist who gets real magic powers, and when I learned about Speakeasy, I thought it fit the bill of what they were looking for. So, I worked it up into a short proposal and sent it to Adam, who liked it and worked with me on the further development, particularly the Vegas angle.

“Spellgame” Interiors by Ramon Perez
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Unfortunately, “Spellgame” has been beset with delays since it was originally announced back in January for an April launch. Here we are in September with the book finally set to debut next week, October. Why the delay? Mishkin explained, “I think there were two main factors: one involved the usual ‘new publisher getting up to speed’ issues, which have clearly been resolved because Speakeasy is going like gangbusters now; the other is having begun work with a different artist who ran into problems and couldn’t continue with the book. But I don’t really mind the delay. It’s allowed us to give Ramon the lead-time he needs, get those terrific Darwyn Cooke covers, and really put out exactly the package we were hoping to create.”

As Mishkin mentioned, the series was originally to have been drawn by artist Djef, who was unable to continue with “Spellgame,” so in stepped Ramon Perez, who’s also the co-creator of the upcoming Speakeasy release “Butternut Squash.” “I’m thrilled with the work he’s turned out,” said Mishkin. “Ramon and I haven’t actually had a lot of conversation, since he’s working from my full scripts and doing a terrific job interpreting them. But Ramon and I did get to meet at San Diego this year and we both agreed we love what the other is doing. He’s enthusiastic and fun, both in person and in his work, and he’s perfect for this book. I’ve made it clear to him that I’d enjoy incorporating his ideas into the series, which is not hard to do when you’re doing single issue stories instead of arcs; and the character of Q-Pid, who’s on the cover of issue 5, is his creation.”

While “Spellgame” will be keeping Mishkin nice and busy in the coming months, he’s got a number of other irons in the fire. “The next big project I’ve got will be showing up outside of comics, though a comics publisher is behind it. The guys at Komikwerks are putting together a line of short, illustrated prose novels for children, and I’m doing a three-book project called ‘The Forest King.’ The books are illustrated by my old friend and collaborator Tom Mandrake, who’s doing exactly the sort of beautiful and occasionally creepy work you’d expect from him. ‘The Forest King’ tells the story of a boy who moves to a small New England town after a family tragedy and becomes convinced that something evil is lurking in the woods. It’s aimed at about a ten-year-old reader, and the first volume is due out in January. [Editor’s Note: For more on Komikwerks’ novels for children, click here.]

“And staying with work for younger readers, I’ve had conversations with both Tokyopop and Scholastic about graphic novel series ideas, with most of what I’ve been pitching aimed at girls.

“I also worked on a three-part Batman story that was supposed to come out this fall, but unfortunately will probably not see the light of day. It was another thing I did with Tom Mandrake, whose Batman is dark and wonderful. But with a surplus of inventory and whatever changes are going on as a result of ‘Infinite Crisis,’ DC has had to write off some projects they’d commissioned in good faith (and have of course paid for in full). It’s a disappointment, but maybe I’ll get to play in that arena again at some future date. For now I just get to enjoy their books like any other fan.”

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