You'd be hard-pressed to find a better word than "passionate" to describe Tyrese Gibson. Whether or not you agree with the man's ideas, there's no question that the actor-singer has strong opinions about how things should work in the entertainment industry. So when the "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" star announced he'd be creating a comic book, it was a sure bet that he'd have a thing or two to say on exactly how a comic book should be made. But with respect to the comic book itself, "passion" isn't the first word that comes to mind - that word would be "mayhem."
In August, Gibon's creator-owned series "Mayhem!" launches courtesy of Image Comics. Along with co-writers Mike Le and Will Wilson and artist Tone Rodriguez, Gibson has crafted a story about a masked vigilante in a dystopian Los Angeles plagued by murder, drugs and other insidious crimes. With the help of his partner Malice, Mayhem heads on a collision course with the nefarious Big X, a criminal that our hero has mysterious and surprising ties to.
Still, Mayhem's biggest ally isn't in the pages of the comic book itself, but in the legions of fans that Gibson has called upon in support of the new series instead, a legion he hopes will discover other comic books aside from "Mayhem!", potentially offering the industry a new and unanticipated readership.
In this exclusive interview, Tyrese Gibson spoke with CBR News about how he first came into contact with the comic book world, his process for getting the word out on "Mayhem!", what he thinks the industry should be doing to better market itself, and his thoughts on both his "Mayhem!" supporters and detractors.
CBR: Your Comic-Con International in San Diego is where you first fell in love with comic books. Tell us about that experience.
TYRESE GIBSON: That's where it all hit me, man. I'm a man that's driven by passion. I'm a singer and I've been known to sing from my heart and to come from a passionate place with my lyrics and melodies, writing songs from my heart. When I perform on stage, I try to be passionate. It's kind of a crazy connection, but when I went out there to Comic-Con to promote "Death Race" with Jason Statham, what I witnessed more than anything was selfless passion.
"I'm a huge comic book fan and I don't care what you think of me. I'm gonna wear this outfit up the street." Whatever costume they were wearing, I was moved by it. I'd never witnessed anything like that in my life. I've seen people wear costumes to concerts but people don't necessarily go that far - they keep it kind of contained. At Comic-Con, it was really unreal. I have an appreciation for passion.
Now, I've made this very clear, so no one can do any background checks on me: I did not grow up reading comic books, I have no long history of being this comic book guy, but I was moved by it. I consider myself a new fan of the new generation of comic books. Not only was I moved by it but I decided that I needed to figure out a way to be a part of this world. The seeds were planted from that point.
Mike Le and Will Wilson, my "Mayhem!" partners in crime, approached me about doing a comic book. Again, I wouldn't have known what a good or bad comic book was, so my thing first was visually. I'm a very visual guy. The one thing I do appreciate from the comics that I'd glanced at and the comic book films I'd seen is the strong leading man. There are some characters that'd be a bit of a challenge to make into a film, because they might be aliens or whatever. Once they brought ["Mayhem!" artist] Tone Rodriguez into the office and he showed me images of this character, that's when the tweaking started. I said, "Add this. I want him to have a Desert Eagle gun in his hand and I love the mask, but why don't you add the lines under his eyes." It became this thing where I was kind of molding and helping to shape this guy out. We then developed the other characters to try and paint a picture of this world. What is this world, where does he exist, who are these other people, what are his conflicts among these other characters?
We just really tried to create this world with Mike, Will and Tone. I couldn't ask for better partners. The problem at this point now is that this "Mayhem!" shit is just so in my bloodstream. Mike Le will tell you - I have love for 'em and I hope they don't come at me aggressively after this interview - but there've been a few moments where I had to remind them of what this is all about when it comes to our passion and really making this shit happen. When we're making a comic book, there is no such thing as taking a break from this. I'm out here traveling internationally to promote ["Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"] and I'm mentioning "Mayhem!" in damn near every interview. I'm not taking a break from this, so nobody on the team can take a break on any level. We have to shake the game up.
So producing and promoting "Mayhem!" is a 24/7 process?
This is twenty-four hours, that's it. We're full throttle. For me, if there's any small moment where I feel like someone is not putting themselves towards "Mayhem!", I'm gonna be the first one to say so. Because I'm like, "Look, you all got me into this world, and now that I'm in it, I'm so full on it's crazy. I've got the number one movie in the world right now and I'm out there promoting 'Mayhem!'"
There's no such thing as a break, man. When you enter a new world, you want to shake the fence up a little bit, but I didn't know what shaking the fence was until I started getting the calls from the Avi Arads, the Robert Kirkmans, the Jim Lees and all of these folks that are in this comic book world and make this world what it is. I'm asking a million questions, trying to figure out a way to best shake things up. What is the tradition? If someone sells 10,000 - 15,000 comic books, the book is considered huge. Well, that ain't huge to me. It's standard for comic book shops to pre-order two or three copies of a comic book. Well, we sold over 10,000 comic books from just one store after one month of effort. That's from Meltdown Comics [in Los Angeles].
I know that when it comes to promoting an album, there is no limit to what you are willing to do to get the word out. When it comes to comic books, it's so casual and more so into catering and advertising and marketing toward comic books and them only. The way I look at that is that you're actually stopping the ball of the comic book world and exposing fans and new generations of fans, you're robbing them of an opportunity to find a comic book hero that they can identify with.
It seems with "Mayhem!", you want to reach out to a group of readers that may not necessarily be invested in comic books already?
Let me explain something to you, man. I'm going to be completely honest. I love comic book fans and my intention 100% is to be embraced and loved and appreciated by the existing comic book fans. But I'm even more excited about introducing this world, just like I was introduced to it, to a whole new generation of people that never read a comic book in their life. I got people calling these comic book shops around the world that have never purchased or opened a comic in their life. I am proud of that.
More than anything, I want you to buy and support "Mayhem!" of course, but I'm also excited for new fans to discover which comic book character can they relate to. Which strengths and weaknesses and struggles and all of these other things - which character do you relate to? I want you to discover that.
The reason I've been on Twitter and giving out this 1-800-COMIC-BOOK number is that the comic shop owners are not understanding that my intention is not calling your shop to only order "Mayhem!" It's really, "Order 'Mayhem,' because we've got the cool factor and the energy going on. Allow the fans to come into your store and buy 'Mayhem!' More than likely, they're going to end up buying other titles while they're in the store." When I call these comic book shops myself, I'm calling with all this passion. I'm like, "Mayhem!" is coming out August 5th. We've got Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman and Eric Stephenson, they gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. I would ask that you get away from your standards, which are ordering three or four comic books, and you order more than 100. Order 200. Let's get the comic book fans into your shop and, more than likely, they're going to end up buying other titles from your shelves. The other side is, if you order 300 or 400 comic books - which I really want you to do - then you should also advertise and market the fact that you have this comic book in your store. Why buy 300 or 400 when people aren't aware you have the product?
Aside from "Mayhem!" then, are you looking to find ways to make the comic book industry itself grow even more?
Absolutely. The thing is, the comic book industry was doing just fine long before my black ass came in there. [laughs] Please believe that. But for me, I want to bring a new energy to this world that, from my understanding, is not there. In speaking to the tradition, how do we sell comic books? In the past, anyone who sold comic books did this, this, this and this. Well, look, I appreciate that approach, but my intention is this. If I'm opening "Esquire" and "People," they're running ads from facial products, newspapers, shoes and more. Well, I'm gonna be running an ad from "Mayhem!" I'm going to have various different companies out there on the marketing and branding and advertising sides purchase my ads from "Mayhem!" and they're going to have their logos at the bottom of the page, the way everyone else has done it. The way albums are marketed. The way all these brands are marketed. It's cross-promotional for everybody. Everybody wins.
Why aren't comic books advertised on the sides of buses or on billboards? I don't understand why. You can't sell albums if you don't do what you've gotta do to get the word out.
What are you going to do once "Mayhem!" comes out? Will you keep going with it?
This is definitely not going to be a one-two-three series, and then we fade out. I've got all kinds of intentions. Right now, I'm coming up with a major plan. We're doing something really special for the Hero Initiative [that will be announced at Comic-Con International] for all of the various comic book veterans that have dedicated 20, 30 years to the industry, long before I came into it. I totally respect what the Hero Initiative represents. They're into trying to fund and help these comic book legends to survive - their art, their work. Somebody else owns it now and they don't get credit... all of these things, so they can't pay for their medical bills or their own rent and they're struggling. Once I was made aware of this program, I was like, I gotta do something. We're still putting the plan together, but what I'm doing is gonna tie a lot of these legendary comic book veterans so that they benefit from the sales of "Mayhem!" and everything else I've got going.
Listen, I'll be brutally honest. I'm not in this for money, because a comic book costs $2.99. I'm sure that adds up, but come on, I'm not in this for money. I'm in this for pure passion and because I'm really excited about venturing off into a new world. I want to say to all of the cynics and all of the comic book veterans that sit online and write negative comments about "Mayhem!", I love you. I love you and my motivation is to even get you from having doubts about what my intentions are to really being on board.
Actually, I want to tell you all that it's not about being motivated by negativity - because it's not - but when I'm online and I go to these blogs and websites and I read these negative comments, I actually learn from them. Some of the things that people may say kind of make sense. If one person is thinking it, someone else might be thinking it. A comment that makes sense can benefit our direction and how we're tweaking it and help to mold this comic book into being one of the better ones out there. It's an ongoing effort to mold and develop and make this comic book as special as can be.
For me, when you're venturing off into a new world, you can't act as if the opinion of the people doesn't matter, because I'm a visitor - this is your world. I'm just visiting, I'm just knocking at the door. I'm looking to learn all that I can learn. If you call Avi Arad right now, or Jim Lee, or Robert Kirkman, or any of these guys, they'll tell you, I sit on the phone and ask a million questions. I was on the phone talking to Jim Lee, and I asked him a million questions about Alan Moore. How can I sit down and have a conversation with Alan Moore?
I was on the phone with Todd McFarlane about a week and a half ago. We spoke on the phone for about 45 minutes, and now we're scheduling a trip for me to go out to Arizona. I told him, "I want to come out to Arizona. I want to meet your wife, your kids. I want to walk around in your world. I want to meet your employees, see all your toys and all this stuff that you've got going on and developing." Because I look up to a man that can start off in one world and spread off to do these other things. I respect it. So we bonded, we talked on the phone, and I'm on my way to Arizona. This is all research. This is all me trying to take it all in. I just got the word that me and Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman are going to be on the same panel for Comic-Con in the Image Comics booth.
I know I'm rambling right now, but I'm just fired up, man. This is how passionate I am about this new venture. I don't know it all, but I'm learning something new every day and I'm just fired up about this opportunity. Thank you Mike Le, Will Wilson and Tone Rodriguez - you just started some real mayhem.
"Mayhem" #1 goes on sale August 5 from Image Comics.