Recently, I was fortunate enough to speak with author and comic book creator JC De La Torre about his upcoming comic book Star Mage. For fans of action and adventure, not to mention parents of would-be or aspiring comic book fans, be on the look out, as the story revolves around a young boy who discovers his hidden past and true calling. The first issue is set to hit shelves on April 16, 2014.
Not to be too obvious, but in my experience, space is a setting in print, TV, and film that is typically reserved for the scientific. Going back to Flash Gordon, or the old stories of Barsoom with John Carter by Edgar Rice Burroughs, there were vaguely scientific-ish explanations for just about everything. Even The Force from Star Wars was later explained as being microbial. What inspired the incorporation of outright magic in Star Mage?
Well, it’s funny you mention Star Wars, as its one of the few instances were wizardry and magic – the Force – was intermingled with a science fiction environment. I’m sure there’s others out there that I’ll get called out on but it’s the one I think of the most. I’ve been a fan of Sci-Fi my entire life, much of my writing has centered around that. But there’s always been a part of me that was intrigued by the idea of magic in the physical universe. How would it interact, what would it’s properties be and if species were in tuned with this magic, how could they harness it for good…or evil purposes? I truly wanted to explore that aspect with Star Mage while providing a fun, action packed adventure.
As an author, you’ve written several books. Much of what’s been said about them in reviews speaks to the speed at which your writing moves. There have been comparisons to Dan Brown in how fast things can flow, which, when telling a story in about 22-26 pages might be a very good thing. How do you feel your writing style works for comic books, as opposed to a novel? What has been your process been like moving from one to the other?
Well, first I’ve always been very flattered to be compared to best-selling authors like Dan Brown. I actually hadn’t read him until the comparisons starting coming. I don’t see it, but it is definitely an honor. I’ve always tried to write my stories in a very visual way. I wanted to paint the picture, so to speak, for the reader so their mind’s eye could really envelop them in the scene. I think unlike a lot of novelists, I didn’t want to waste the reader’s time with trivial things that really had no impact in the story. I want to get to the meat and potatoes. Now, there’s a lot to be said for little excursions into detail – JK Rowling showed that with the world building she’s done with Harry Potter – but for me, I just want to tell a fun, action packed story. As it relates to the comic book realm, I think this skill has really helped me. I’m not an artist – I can barely draw a stick figure, but I have the ability to identify those who can do it well and thankfully my writing style allowed me to convey the things I’m seeing in my imagination to where the artist can take it and turn it into something beautiful and amazing. I will say that the outlining of the story is vastly different. In a novel, you have hundreds or even thousands of pages to get your point across. In a comic – you have 22 pages and you have to not only get the flow on a page properly but also give the reader a reason to turn to the next one. It’s challenging but I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had. It’s been the highlight of my career.
Originally Star Mage was a crowd-funded project via Kickstarter. On the funding page, it clearly states that the book is paid for with the donations, with no publisher’s financing. At least from issues #1 and #2, possibly #s 3-6. Do you plan to remain that way through the entire run of the book? How did you come to that decision? How did IDW get involved?
Well, truth be told, Star Mage began as a JC De La Torre funded project. 🙂 But I quickly realized that if I wanted the level of quality in the artist I was going to work with, I had to pay him a competitive wage. One issue was done before the kickstarter – but to finish the series, I needed the funding of my defenders of the realm – the backers of the project. Without them, none of this could happen. While I can’t really go into specifics of the deal with IDW, I can say that we have a partnership with them. After some intense negotiations, I was able to retain merchandising and movie/tv rights to the project. That’s not to say I’ll not work with IDW on bringing the project to the cineplex, but I think it’s probably unique in comics that the creator is published by a major publisher but still keeps his ability to expand the product beyond the comic book medium. IDW has been terrific to work with, I couldn’t ask for better partners. It’s been an amazing experience. How did it all come about? Its really thanks to the first artist of Star Mage, Ray Dillon. He had worked for them in the past and was able to get some early work in front of them. They were intrigued and stayed in touch as we transitioned from Ray to the fabulous Franco Cespedes. Once three issues were in the books, it was time to talk and things came together fairly quickly after that.
It seems that in the last few years, once you look past the Big Two comic publishing houses, I would argue that the emphasis for Creator Owned content has seen a renaissance. Be it IDW, BOOM!, Image, etc, creators are now seeing a real paradigm shift in terms of having increasingly more and more leverage. What are your thoughts on that? How do you see this evolving, both in the short term and the long term?
I think there’s some definite truth in that statement. It’s a bit give and take. For a company like IDW, it allows them to expand their brand beyond licensing without having to take on huge investment and risk. I know Image charges creators a fee – almost like a vanity publisher – but keeps the stringent editing principles that ensure that it’s a quality project they’re delivering to consumers. I think there’s also an element of risk for the creator, though. The major publisher is going to get their cut, the retailer is going to get theirs – there might be fees involved in having an Image, BOOM! or IDW logo on your book – and you also have to pay your artists (unless you’re one of those fortunate individuals who have the capacity to not only write a great story but have artistic ability to translate that into a good looking book). With so much of the risk being passed on to the creator, one can be a bit more choosy when it comes to whom they will align with. I love IDW, I’m a great fan of many of their products and I can’t tell you the honor it is to be publishing with them – but if the deal didn’t feel comfortable and right for me and those working for me, I wouldn’t have blinked at walking away. There were some other publishers ready to go if I couldn’t have come to agreement with IDW. Thankfully it all worked out. It’s my understanding that this is a new paradigm for creators in comics.
In Star Mage, you’re introducing a lead character who is 14. Was this done intentionally to reach younger readers? I ask because the average comic book buyer tends to be a little older, maybe by four or five years, if we’re being optimistic. What do you think needs to happen to see a sizable shift towards younger readers seeking out comic books the way they would t-shirts with the same heroes on them?
Yes, it was definitely intentional. Look, let’s face it. The big two will always dominate the market – especially with their movie franchises taking Hollywood by storm. I grew up a reader of Marvel , Spider-Man was my hero of choice with Ghost Rider a close second. But comics have changed greatly since my time as a youngster. You do indeed see them marketing more to the older, college age reader. There’s more sensual [content] and violence in comics today than I can ever remember in the old days. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m actually working on a new vampire project based on one of my novellas called “White Chapel”…and it will have blood, gore, violence and sexuality. There’s a place for that in comics. But with Star Mage being my first foray into this medium, I really wanted something that was for all ages. I wanted the soccer mom to see Star Mage and not fear that it would be inappropriate for her 10 year old or 14 year old. I’m hoping Darien’s strength and ability to overcome adversity will be a role model for young kids.
So what do you think it would take, from your position, to get this book into kids’ hands? Not just from a publishing stand-point. But from the general point that reading isn’t an activity that a large percentage of children rush to participate in?
I know what you mean. It’s sad in a way but in today’s 140 character, ADD society it is what it is. I just think there needs to be more options for kids beyond My Little Pony and SpongeBob Squarepants. I think comic companies need to invest in projects that appeal more to that market. I’m hoping by doing interviews like this that the word gets out on Star Mage to the soccer mom’s that it is indeed safe to bring your kid back into the comic shop. I’m doing my darndest to get the word out on Social Media where a lot of our generation spends their free time. I also think as we continue to see advancements in the digital medium and with the continued poliferation of motion comics and what not, that this medium can still capture the younger audience. First you have to get the parents, then you can get the kids. The exciting thing is some of my Kickstarter supporters have told me how much their eight or nine year old have loved their preview issues…that’s encouraging to me that maybe we’ll be able to tap into an audience that’s been neglected for a while.