Smith Has a Hell of a Time with Top Cow's "Tom Judge"

Tom Judge will not be having a great time in the new year. The star of Top Cow's flagship title, "Artifacts," gets even more face time with readers in January thanks to a one-shot called "Tom Judge: The Geometry of Hell" written by Phil Smith ("Witchblade: Due Process") and drawn by "X-Treme X-Men" cover artist Kalman Andrasofszky. The issue examines the time that Judge, a priest turned defender against evil, spent in Top Cow's version of Hell before coming back on the scene during "Artifacts."

Judge first appeared in the Top Cow crossover book "Universe" which explored and introduced many characters who interact on a regular basis with the company's heavy hitters like Artifact-enabled Witchblade bearer Sara Pezzini and wielder of the Darkness, Jackie Estacado. The 2001 series by Paul Jenkins and Clayton Crain introduced Judge to the world along with Tilly Grimes, the clairvoyant young woman who helped Judge find his own artifact, the Rapture. The pair walked away from the spotlight for a bit until playing major roles in "Artifacts" pre- and post-Rebirth, an event that literally restructured the Top Cow Universe.

Smith's upcoming tale finds Judge trapped in Hell with Tilly the only person who can save him. The story revolves around perception, reality and how one can completely change the other. CBR News spoke to Smith about that dichotomy, Smith's history with Top Cow and the driving forces behind the one-shot.

CBR News: Phil, this is an origin story of sorts for Tom Judge. What can you tell readers about what they'll see in the one-shot?

Phil Smith: An origin of sorts for sure. "Geometry of Hell" is the story of how Tom Judge got out of Hell at the beginning of the original 13-issue arc of Top Cow's "Artifacts." Emotionally this is about someone being given the choice to save a friend. It's like Sam going into the Tower to save Frodo, or the crew of the Enterprise putting their careers and lives at risk to save Spock, not leaving someone you love behind.

Visually what I wanted to play with was the mind-bending experience of a human mind trying to wrap itself around the reality of a "Hell." Here Tilly is given an opportunity to go into Hell itself to save Tom. In studies of humans it has been discovered that children need exposure to certain things at certain ages so their cognition develops "normally." This idea that our view of the world is formed by what we already know, or think we know, is something I wanted to explore using Tilly Grimes and Top Cow's Hell as the backdrop. In it the idea of what you see and what you believe is the knot Tilly has to wrestle with to save Tom. Tilly is a clairvoyant that uses a mathematical formula her Grandfather created to see events in the future. It is sort of like the ultimate equation that scientists are looking for, something that allows you to understand everything. But of course it does not quite work that way. I've made no secret that in the 10 years I worked at Top Cow Tilly was my favorite character of the entire universe. I picture her as a Cassandra of Greek legend. Blessed to know the future, but doomed for no one to believe her. I played with that a bit in the "Top Cow Holiday Special" which is sort of a prelude to this one-shot.
Working on a character like Tom Judge must have been an interesting experience because he's a franchise character, but he's only been written by a few people, most recently Top Cow Universe architect Ron Marz. Did you work closely with him when crafting the story?

I pitched a couple of stories and this one landed. Ron and Filip [Sablik] had their pick. Having worked in an editorial capacity, and getting to work as a writer now and again, I am very sensitive to the work of other writers. Ron has done an incredible job building a new framework in the Top Cow Universe. That being said I also wanted to do something different so this story is in a "pocket," if you will, of story, because it deals with perception, could later be re-told or re-imagined in other ways. Kind of sneaky, I thought. Also if this story and the exploration of this Hell is well received I have a five-issue arc ready to pitch that will exist in the same story pocket separate and distinct from anything Marz, [Tim] Seeley or [David] Hine are doing in the TCU and also compatible with pre-"Rebirth" and current continuity. Very clean and polite to everyone involved -- I hope -- but we shall see what the orders are in December/January. To be blunt, orders will make or break it.
Was it difficult making sure the story answered questions for longtime fans but also remained accessible to new readers?

Enjoyable, not difficult, but in the final we will see if longtime fans and new fans connect with it. Here I wrote for Tilly and Tom. I am very into her especially as a character and wanted to write about what her friendship to Tom means to them.

Back to the question, since the story is focused clearly on one idea, our perceptions of reality, and one goal, saving a friend, those are the hooks that we can all relate with interest to. Hopefully the fans and retailers will see that in this story. The story answers the main question we raise on page one which is how did Tom get out of Hell? The answer is on the last page. The pages in between are the build up to the crisis Tilly and Tom face at the climax.
You started off editing at Top Cow, how did that eventually lead into writing comics? What keeps you coming back to their characters?

I started as an intern in Editorial thanks to Fiona Avery and Renae Geerlings. Matt Hawkins hired me as a designer and I worked my way up over 10 years to Managing Editor. Chaz Riggs taught me Quark while I was also going to school for graphic design and illustration between my two other jobs at the time. I owe a lot to Chaz for his patience. Part of how I got the internship was that I had self-published a three-issue series with J.K. Woodward that never saw the market but showed Renae that I could put a project together. I actually started writing, detoured into the fringes of Editorial with a focus on design, and am now swinging back around the sun in a Bird of Prey heading back to writing. Hopefully Starfleet has a ship waiting for me instead of a court Martial -- for anyone not getting this reference see "Star Trek IV."

I spent 10 years around these characters and getting to see how people like Marc [Silvestri] and Matt feel so strongly about them pushed me to find my own connection with them. I feel strongest towards Tilly who was introduced in the "Universe" storyline written by Paul Jenkins. I thought there was a lot more in her and in any interview about Top Cow I am always mentioning that. I think it rubbed off somewhere since she is getting more time in the TCU in the Rebirth story lines in the ongoing "Artifacts" series.
What's it been like working with artist Kalman Andrasofszky?

A dream! Kalman is an incredible talent that we were lucky enough to land. Ron had worked with him in the past and vetted him and [former Top Cow Publisher] Filip [Sablik] liked his work. [Editor] Bryan Rountree has been great getting this book together and making sure it comes out so fans can enjoy it. With his schedule, like the reality pocket in the story, this was something Kalman threaded into his own work continuity and you will get to see it in January. This was actually written in early 2011 around the time "Artifacts" #5 came out, but with all the continuity buffers and the pocket I built into the story this could be told at any point in Top Cow continuity. This I hope made it easier for Kalman not having to make drastic changes since this is almost its own world.
You recently launched your own Fighting Lion Comics, what has that experience been like so far?

It has been wonderful! I have had a great deal of support from fans since our first appearance this year at Stan Lee's Comikaze. Elena [Salcedo] at Top Cow was a big help connecting with the show promoters and even got me a booth next to Top Cow's, which was fun. At the show I released an ashcan preview for "Brik Jones: Attorney for Earth" illustrated by ["Twilight Guardian" artist] Sid Kotian. I just announced the ongoing artist for the first five-issue limited web/comic series for "Brik," Giuseppe Cafaro. Also the three-issue series I worked on 10 years ago with J.K. Woodward I am editing, re-writing and re-packaging as a web comic and e-book called "Human: Oceanic" which will, once I raise the funds, later be released as a digest sized hard cover. There are a lots of hats I wear now. Just getting the website fightinglioncomics.com was a huge learning curve, but what I do not know I just learn. Taught myself to color last year. This year was the imprint. Next year is more writing and maybe time to dust off my pencils and hit the board for a couple of years but... we will see.

"Tom Judge: The Geometry of Hell" by Phil Smith and Kalman Andrasofszky hits stands on Jan. 30.

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