As discussed last week I had the distinct pleasure of covering the Chicago Comic-Con for Black Gate earlier this month. About 20% of the enormous convention center is dedicated to comic artists and creators, set up in an area called “Artist’s Alley.” There you could see a bewildering array of amazing illustrations from the Japanese anime style to traditional pen and ink, and meet the creative minds behind both popular super heroes (last year I got to meet Gary Friedrich, creator of Ghost Rider) as well as emerging new talent.
It was there I found my friend and film actor Jason Contini (star of Shadowland) along with his partners, brother Nathan Contini, Justin Mitchiner and Nicholas Hearne promoting their new comic series Legacies End.
The gents were kind enough to give me an early look and I must say, even though I’m a bit of a super hero traditionalist (Wonder Woman for example), I absolutely loved this very modern day approach. Think X-men and Watchman meet Kick Ass and you wouldn’t be far off.
Clearly, I had to know more.
An Interview With Jason Contini, Nathan Contini, Justin Mitchiner and Nicholas Hearne
Conducted and transcribed by Sue Granquist, August 2011
GC: How did you get into creating comics? Was it to meet girls?
NICHOLAS: Why else would a red blooded American man create a comic book but to meet girls?! Geek chicks are the best!!! (GC: so what are you implying, Nicholas??)
JASON: Well, I think that’s the main reason to do anything, right? Girls!! No, I think for us, it was more that we were all super comic book fans for nearly most of our lives. And we’ve all talked about doing a comic book of our own for years.
NATHAN: Yeah. I guess that’s where it started for all of us. I have always been an avid comic book reader and have always loved to draw so it just felt natural to put two things together that I loved.
NICHOLAS: It was something that we not only wanted to do, but HAD to do. Every member of the Archlight team has had a deep rooted love for comics and its unique story telling style. Three years ago we decided it was time to put up or shut up and I’m glad to say that, after a lot of hard work and a little luck, we showed ourselves and everyone else that we could do it.
GC: What comics where and are your favorites and where do you get your inspiration?
NICHOLAS: I’ve been a diehard comic fanboy for the last 22 years. I was into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, both the original black and white graphic series and the “family friendly” series produced through Archie Comics. A few years later, I expanded to reading Marvel titles. All the X-Men books and their 2099 line, that told stories about the Marvel Heroes in the far future. Today, I’m still a hard core X-Men fan, but I also love The Walking Dead, Army of Darkness, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Invincible and anything to do with the Hulk!
NATHAN: Captain America and Green Lantern have been my favorite books to read.
JASON: The first comic book story I can remember reading was Crisis on Infinite Earths and that is still my all time favorite comic book storyline. I like the big epic stories like X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse, Avengers Disassembled, Blackest Night and of course Marvel’s 2099 line.
NATHAN: I think we all dug that one.
JASON: I like it when a story is building towards a specific moment or climax like with Dark Night Returns or Watchmen. But I also grew up with the Archie/MLJ characters like The Shield, Comet, Fly, Black Hood, and The Mighty Crusaders. That would be my dream comics job. I’d love to bring those characters back!
JUSTIN: I’m with Nick. I’m an X-Men and Turtles fan.
NICHOLAS: As for where I get my inspiration…it kind of just happens. I can’t explain it most of the time. I believe it’s really my mutant power! (laughs) It really depends on the project. I could tell you the inspiration behind Legacies End, but that would spoil the ending.
NATHAN: I look to pro artists like Ed Mcguinness, Andy Kubert, Frank Cho, and of course Jack “the king” Kirby.
JASON: I take a lot from mythology and the work of Joseph Campbell. And of course J.R.R. Tolkien. I like the big stories. Star Wars, Lost, that kind of stuff.
GC: Tell us a bit about the storyline of Legacy’s End.
NICHOLAS: The basic idea of Legacies End is” what are you willing to do to make the world a better place”? The story is generational.
In this world, “super heroes” started showing up after World War II. They were respected, loved and slightly feared. They did what they did because it was the right thing to do. In present day, all the old heroes are either dead or retired and the new batch of Masks (as we call them) are completely different.
It’s all about being a celebrity, getting their pictures on magazine covers and collecting a nice government paycheck. The world is a lot darker and heroes do not shine as bright as they once did.
That’s when some of the old Masks decide to get back into the fight and change things. It’s all about sacrificing your freedom for your beliefs, doing the right thing for the right reasons and being willing to give your all, no matter how high the stakes are. Will the ends justify the means? Well, you have to read the comic to find out.
GC: Story line aside, I loved looking at the Legacy’s End illustrations and finding cool hidden elements (at least I thought they were hidden), such as the Governor of California bearing a striking resemblance to Arnold and an actual picture of Jason on a shelf in Smitty’s drawing room. Were these intentional or am I imagining things?
NICHOLAS: There are a lot of hidden goodies within the art work.
JASON: All the Easter Eggs are absolutely intended.
NATHAN: For instance, the photos: We wanted to put ourselves and the people closest to us in the book.
NICHOLAS: And a few friends and family members can be seen in a few of the crowd shots… including Jason, Nate and myself!
JASON: You’re such a narcissist.
NICHOLAS: I know. (laughs)
JASON: We also did mock covers of classic comic books throughout history featuring a fictional comic book called THE CONQUERORS that Smitty created. And if you look real careful throughout issue 0 and all upcoming issues you’ll see hints that we have dropped that tell you where the story is headed. But we won’t tell you what the hints are. You’ll just have to read it and look for them yourself. (GC: Love it!)
GC: With four of you working on the finished product, who did what?
NICHOLAS: I wish I had some artistic talent, but sadly, I can’t even make a stick figure look right. (laughs) I just stick to what I’m good at and keep writing cool stuff for the Contini boys to draw.
JUSTIN: Even though I enjoy the writing, I think I really enjoy getting the final comic and actually reading a comic book that I helped create.
NATHAN: I personally enjoy the drawing aspect.
JASON: I enjoy doing both writing and illustrating, but will focus on the writing in the future. I just knew that, where Legacies End was concerned, Nicholas was the best man for the job.
GC: After reading the first installment, I think Legacy’s End would make a great movie! What actors do you see playing the main characters?
JASON: Wow. That’d be something. I do tend to think of actors while I’m drawing. I think I would cast Clint Eastwood as Knight-Hawk, Liam Neeson as Genesis, Susan Sarandon as Isis, Jeff Bridges as Kingston Leer and my Dad John Contini as J.D. Smith. (GC: Jason and Nathan’s Dad is an actor as well.)
NICHOLAS: Funny thing is, as I write the story, I see it play out in my mind as a movie! I couldn’t even begin to cast everyone right now, but I do have a few actors in mind. Clint Eastwood as Knight-Hawk, Jack Nicholson as Kingston Leer, Cate Blanchett as Isis and John Contini as J.D. Smith.
NATHAN: Many of the Characters were based on actors. Especially Smitty. We really thought of our Dad John Contini as an older man mixed with Jack Kirby. As for Aegis… Chris Hemsworth maybe? I honestly couldn’t think of any other actor.
JUSTIN: I think I should be the voice of an animated Super Cat. And wouldn’t it be great if Nicholas Hearne played The Professor? (laughs.)
GC: Inventing one unique super hero both in story and in illustration is no small task, yet you’ve created many. Can you tell us a little about the creative process behind bringing a new “mask” to life?
NATHAN: Jason and I have been creating most of these characters since we were little.
JASON: Although we did have to go through them all and redesign them to fit in a more modern world. And then from there, we had to create their back stories. We never really came up with stories for these guys when we were kids.
NATHAN: We were pretty much focused on what would look cool.
JASON: So, actually, Nicholas probably had the hardest job in trying to come up with origins and histories for all these characters.
NICHOLAS: One of the reasons it took almost three years to get the project to where it is now is because it took so long developing each character, fleshing out their back stories and making sure they fit in the over-all plot of the books.
We started out with a stack of over two hundred character sketches that had been created by Jason, Nathan and their father John over the last 20 to 30 years. We picked the ones that would best fit our story then went through the very long task of updating each of the characters designs. That took the longest, because we wanted to make sure that each one stood out just as much as the next.
Funny thing is, there were a large number of characters who neither Jason or Nathan knew what powers they had. I asked them, “What do you want me to do with them?”. Jason made it simple for me. He said, “Just run with it, dude. We trust you.”
JASON: Even though Nathan and I created these characters, they are now just as much Nicholas’ and Justin’s characters as they are ours.
NICHOLAS: And that’s why I love working on this project! After the main plotting was out of the way, and except for a few editorial changes, I was given the freedom to write what I thought was best for the story. Add that to the guys art and you have a great comic book!
GC: With so many potential character stories waiting to be told in Legacy’s End it could be expanded quite far into the future. Do you plan to keep exploring your Legacies End world or do you have other tales waiting in the background to be kicked off?
NATHAN: Oh, of course. We have both one-shots and maybe even other minis planned down the line.
NICHOLAS: Legacies End is a massive story. So massive that we have to tell it in three parts! And who doesn’t love a trilogy?
Each series will have 12 issues, as well as a handful of one-shots focusing either on specific characters or events that take place before the main story starts. And unlike other comic companies, everything we publish revolving around Legacies End is connected directly to everything else. There will be clues around every corner and if you pay attention, you just might figure out the answers to a couple of mysteries before we reveal them.
JASON: It’s almost like these one-shots and tie-ins are like Tolkien’s Lost Tales of Middle Earth. They will be stories that will be referenced to in the main book and will be integral to the characters’ back stories. And Justin will be working very closely with Nicholas in writing those stories.
JUSTIN: I’ve already begun putting together the first two one-shots that we will be doing. And I’m really excited about doing a spin-off book featuring The Conquerors which is the fictional comic book within Legacies End.
NICHOLAS: That doesn’t mean Archlight is only going to be about Legacies End. We have a lot of other projects in the works. We’re just looking for the right artists and writers to show up and help tell those stories.
GC: You’ve also created Super Cat for a younger audience. What inspired this story line?
NICHOLAS: The funny thing about Super Cat is, even though I was not a part of developing the project, the book never would have been made without me! (laughs)
I’m only half joking. Super Cat is a character that Jason drew back when he was in grade school. Trying to play a prank on me, he put Super Cat in the stack of possible characters for Legacies End.
When I saw it, I told him that it would be a cold day in the Tropics before Super Cat would ever be in a “serious” super hero book like Legacies End. Jason then vowed to draw an image of Super Cat in EVERY issue of our book. It became a running gag that he would use to torment me. He even went so far as to draw me into a crowd scene with a Super Cat shirt on!
JUSTIN: Then, Jason and I decided to put together an actual Super Cat comic book as a gag gift for Nicholas. We started to develop the project and ended up having such a good time doing it that we now have more than 20 issues planned out. We’ve created another entire universe of heroes for this book. Just wait till you see what we’ve got planned for the Super Cat-verse!!
JASON: All we can say is…. Super Speedy Bunny!!! Just wait!! You’re gonna love it!!
NICHOLAS: We’ve always wanted to do a kids comic, but Justin and Jason made it a reality. They even went as far as making me a character IN the book. God bless their fanboy hearts.
GC: For the aspiring comic creators in our audience, can you share some of the secrets of getting a comic published?
JASON: Don’t stop!! If you’re an artist, draw all the time! If you’re a writer, write every day! If you’re dedicated enough there is no reason why you can’t put your own book together.
NICHOLAS: Getting comics published is not as hard as it once was 10 or 15 years ago. It’s all about self publishing. There are many printing companies out there that have the tools to bring someone’s vision to life. Just like most things in life it takes time and money. Another important factor, if you want people to read your book, is promoting the hell out of it! Print out fliers and postcards; go to as many conventions as you can get to, talk to the people. Create a website or fan page.
NATHAN: And utilize social networking sites. Facebook, myspace, twitter….
NICHOLAS: Every little bit of publicity helps.
JUSTIN: The most important advice is never give up. Never stop writing. Never stop drawing.
NICHOLAS: Never stop reaching as high as you can.
GC: Goth Chick News readers in particular will want to know; would you ever consider writing a horror comic? And if so, I would like to know if it would have a goth chick in it?
NICHOLAS: Write a horror comic? Are you kidding me?! I LOVE horror as much as I love comics!!! I’m chomping at the bit to get a horror comic out there. Archlight Comics WILL publish a horror comic…as soon as we get some more artists to lighten the load on the Conitni Brothers.
NATHAN: Legacies End has a few mutated creatures in it, in fact. We do enjoy monsters.
NICHOLAS: Grotesque monsters from the darkest corners of a nightmare, blood sucking vampires lurking in the shadows, hordes of flesh eating zombies signaling your death with every hungry moan…yeah, a horror comic is in the works. And as far as having a goth chick in it? The way I see it, you can’t have a horror story without a Goth Chick! (GC: SuhWEET!)
GC: What’s next for you and where can the readers find more of your work?
NICHOLAS: While most of my time will be spent working on projects through Archlight, I’m currently working on a comic project through Sadlittles.com called Tuxedo City. This is another project that has been in the works for some time, created by Nathan Ohlendorf, scripted by myself and brought to living color by the talented Jason Keith Phillips. Basic plot? Mobsters with super powers. The book will be released in a premium content hard cover in the late Spring of 2012.
NATHAN: I do have some comic stories that I’ve been developing for some time now but nothing really set yet. The majority of my time right now is being taken up between both my bill paying job and penciling legacies end.
JUSTIN: Most of my focus right now is on Super Cat and the upcoming Super Cat Christmas Special. I’m also currently working on a film project with Writer Alex Kellerman called What’s in the Woods of Wonder? The Adventures of Tom and Eddy. We’re currently raising money for the project and developing it. You can find out more about the project here.
GC: Jason, last time we talked you were promoting Shadowland. Do you have any new movie projects you can tell us about?
JASON: Yeah, Shadowland came out on DVD last November and has been doing very well. It’s available through Amazaon.com, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy etc.
I also have a romantic comedy called The Anniversary that is available for streaming on line at www.the-anniversary.com and a war film called Khyber that is currently in post production. But I think the most exciting thing is that Archlight is going to start making the move into film next year with an indie horror film. (GC: SUPER sweet!)
NICHOLAS: Jason and I actually started plotting it and developing the script while we were in Chicago for Wizard World this year. Nothing definite yet, but I CAN tell you that it will be a character focused, supernatural horror film.
NATHAN: We hope to release some concept art and design stuff in a few months when the website for the film launches.
JASON: I know we’re being kind of cryptic right now about it, but just have patience with us. We’ll officially announce the project sometime in the beginning of 2012 on our website. 2012 could be the year of Archlight!
Are you an aspiring comic writer or working on an indy horror flick? If so, post a comment or drop me a line at Sue@blackgate.com and tell us how it’s going.