Longtime Line it is Drawn artist Bill Walko is doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to do a print collection of his excellent webcomic, The Hero Business. I figured I'd have a talk with Bill about the project and the comic.
What is The Hero Business about?
The Hero Business centers around a marketing agency that caters exclusively to superheroes. When heroes die and come back to life, they handle the paperwork. If sidekicks leave the nest, they audition for new ones. Looking for a team-up to boost your q-rating? They'll negotiate terms with today's hottest caped crusaders. We have a lot of fun playing with those comic book tropes, showing how a behind-the-scenes marketing machine is actually engineering them all.
Beneath the sly commentary and sitcom level shenanigans, though, there's lots of drama. A few of our co-workers are harboring deep, dark secrets. And when the dirty details are brought to light, they just may doom the company before the next crossover season!
How much of your own background has gone into The Hero Business?
Quite a bit, actually. I'm a lifelong fan of comic books and cartoons. And most of my career – as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator – has consisted of working with marketing agencies. So I've seen it all when it comes to the seedier aspects of the business... including petulant clients, unscrupulous marketing tactics, and overblown promotions. So The Hero Business kinda brings both those experience colliding together. Superheroes as those difficult clients… yeah, I saw a lot of humor underneath that premise.
There's also some marketing agencies "types" you see as you go from place to place. The nervous type-A account person. The shady marketing guy. The VP who likes to hear himself talk in meetings. I thought it'd be fun to bring those people to life through a superhero sitcom setting. None of us work with a semi-reformed super villain like Dr. Malefactor, but all of us have probably worked with a prickly co-worker. So it's relatable, too, on an amped up level.
What were some of your key influences in developing the series?
I'm a big fan of workplace sitcoms, everything from Cheers to Newsradio to The Office to Futurama. Those types of shows often mix diverse personalities in a room together, and we delight at their discomfort. There's something about the places we work, and how they create a forced-family dynamic. You're stuck with each other, whether you like it or not, so a lot of the drama and humor comes from those interactions.
And, anyone who's familiar with my artwork knows I'm a big fan of the fun. I always enjoyed comics and cartoons that unabashedly embraced that aspect of the genre. Super-powered people running around in tights is inherently absurd, and there's a lot of crazy elements of the genre that we can recognize and laugh at, too.
Is there any particular character in The Hero Business that you feel that you most identify with?
That would really have to be Brody, the somewhat brooding Art Director at the Hero Business. For obvious reasons, I guess. I mean, Ive been Brody for most of my adult life. The constant push-pull of being an artist in the world of marketing, is that you are trying to preserve a strong aesthetic when clients are often pushing you into safe territories. So you bristle, you grouse, and you feel unheard. Because ultimately, the people paying the bills are gonna win that argument every time. It's art vs commerce basically, and every artist's soul dies a little when commerce is the victor. Heck, Brody won a coveted Spandie Award and still gets no respect.
Brody is also a big comic book fanboy. So I relate to him in that way, too. One funny thing that grew organically, is that Brody developed something of his own arch nemesis. There's a character called Major Spoiler, a pesky precognitive that lives to spoil futures events for lowly Earth creatures. As a genre fan that hates spoilers, I definitely relate to Brody when he tangles with this guy!
Brody's the one character that didn't have a storyline to call his own in season one, but he's featured in a fun way toward the end of our story. But man, I have big plans for him in season two. Especially when the Hero Business goes to Comic Con!
A fun aspect of the comic are the gag strips (The "Coffee Breaks"). What's your personal favorite Coffee Break gag?
"Pool School" is a favorite, because it sorta serves as the perfect example of what the Hero Business stands for. It's a typical office scenario, but the punchline plays on a well-known comic book trope. I like the way the last panel is a swerve, and I also like how each of the character's personalities shines through their reactions.
From an art perspective, I like "Blast Scoff". It plays with that now-overused sequence in action movies where heroes walk toward the camera away from explosions, all nonplussed and badass. I like the way that first panel came together, and I rather enjoy the punchline on that one.
What, exactly, is collected in The Hero Business Season One trade paperback?
So when I originally planned out the series, I mapped out six "episodes." It works like the first season of a TV shows, inspired largely by Buffy The Vampire Slayer's episodic format. There's six story lines that each serve as a done-in-one episode. But there's a larger season-long story arc and "big bad" threat. That's all resolved by the sixth story, so you get a complete epic "season one" story.
In addition, you get 50 "Coffee Break" gags. These are like the Sunday funnies or the one-page jokes Archie Comics used to run. Each gag plays off a superhero situation through a marketing lens.
I'm also including the "Temp Comics", where I invite a bunch of up-and-coming and established artists to lend their talents to the Hero Business. Longtime followers of "The Line It Is Drawn" will see some familiar names in this collection, like Caanan Grall, Axel Medellin, Chaz, Xum, mic?, Cynthia “Thea” Sousa Rodgers, Nick Perks, Sean McFarland, Fernando Pinto, David Branstetter and Derek Langille.
Plus, sketches and some behind-the-scenes stuff I haven't shared anywhere yet. So a real "Director's Cut" kind of feeling to the collection, which is over 220 pages at this point!
What are your plans for the series moving forward?
When I first conceived the series, I knew I had at least this full "season" to tell. But as these things happen, the stories and characters have inspired so many new ideas and scenarios. One of the hallmarks of the comic has been the plot twists. There's a big one at the end of the first story, and there's a few more in season one. I love that I was able to catch people off guard, but all the pieces are there when you go back and reread it all. In planning the pieces for season two (and beyond), I've got a few more of those!
The Hero Business is largely my love letter to comics, but I've also grown to love each of the characters. Some of the drama beats introduced in season one will continue forward. As I mentioned earlier, the company will be going to Comic Con, which will be great fun. And the season-long arc of season two will provide plenty of fodder for parody.
So I hope a lot of people get on board and enjoy what's in season one. Because it feels like we're just getting started!
Click here to contribute to Bill's Kickstarter campaign.