Dave Elliott: EiC of Benaroya Comics Loves World Building

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks


Dave Elliott is one of those people whose name brings instant credibility to any comics project. In the late 1980s, he created A1, one of the great anthology series in comics history, worked at Marvel UK for many years as an inker, and even was offered the role as Editor of the Epic line and later co-founded Radical Studios. So when I heard that Dave had been appointed as Editor of the comics from new publisher Benaroya Comics, I knew that the comics would be interesting. In this interview, Elliott talks about Benaroya's first few comics and shares a few interesting viewpoints on the comics industry as well.

Jason Sacks: Let's talk about some of the new books you have coming out.

Dave Elliott: The first book we've got coming out through Image is Red Spike. It's a five-issue miniseries, $2.99 cover price. The first issue we're selling for a dollar.

I want to stress, by the way, that our dollar first issue is not like five pages of story, some character designs and slapped out like some of the fake issue zeroes you see -- it's a full-on, just like any other issue is going to be except it actually has more pages of story than issue two. The first issue of Red Spikehas 30 story pages. It's all full-color for a dollar, and it's was available on the 4th of May.

Sacks: And you said it's a full story, too. It can be done in one and be satisfied, but you're also teased if you want more.

Elliott: It's a good introduction to the series. It's five issues. It really does set up the story. You're gonna wanna come back for issue two, which, as we said, is gonna be $2.99. We're doing that DC thing of keeping it $2.99. Hold the line!

Sacks:So what's the series about?

Elliott: It's about a government black operation, where scientists have been working -- and it's based on real science -- how, over the last 30 years, people have been playing into the use of adrenaline and artificially using it to speed people up, increase their strength on a short-term basis. We've all heard the stories of how normal people could do superhuman things under stress, when the adrenaline kicks in. There's no radiation or people becoming super-heroes. It's playing off hard science. So, it's trying to create a super-soldier, but through real science rather than fantasy science.

Sacks:It really could happen in the real world.

Elliott: And probably is.

Sacks: I wouldn't mind having that power. Who's doing the series?

Elliott: It's being written by a screenplay writer called Jeff Cahn. He came up with the concept, and it's his first comic book series. We managed to get Mark Texeira to do the covers, and because this first story arc relies on some heavy flashbacks which, in issues two and three, actually amount to half the book, Mark Texeira is also drawing all the flashback sequences. So Mark's actually involved in the interiors as well.

Sacks: Who's doing the rest of the art?

Elliott: His name's Salvador Navarro. He's a Spanish artist. Really cool -- very much in that Bryan Hitch influenced style of art.

Sacks: Sounds like an interesting book. What compelled you to have that be your first title? A lot of times people want to launch with something that's emblematic of the whole line.

Elliott: While we have several books coming out through Image, I think it's very important that they each be seen individually. When you're developing projects, some projects just automatically develop faster -- they come together quicker than others do.

So, it was a mixture of that and the actual core idea that made this be the first title. I think that, particularly for people who are interested in super-heroes, it's going to be something that's not dissimilar from what they might be seeing elsewhere, as far as that type of material. But it's clearly not super-heroes of the capes and cod kind.

Sacks: So they aren't in costumes but in normal dress?

Elliott: They're not in costumes per se. This is their military uniform that they go into combat with. The crux of the story is actually going to focus on two best friends who come from different backgrounds -- who come to be very close friends -- but their personalities are very different. And when one's not quite so controllable as the other one, they decide to initiate a new phase in the operation where they try to actually control him, and it means putting in an implant. And when that goes wrong and the agent goes rogue, his friend has to go and bring him in.

Sacks: So it's a super-hero story with a classic friend story in the middle of it, too.

Elliott: There's a spy act to it, too, and there's a little bit of tragedy, which you'll see more of. The guy who ends up going rogue -- his life is finally just coming together for him. He's had a very tragic past, and just when his life's clicked -- he's got the woman of his dreams, they're gonna get married, everything's come together -- they operate on him, which sends him off the deep end, and that ruins his life again. So, it's the anger and frustration he feels, no longer able to control his emotions. So the Red Spike takes over and causes a lot of conflict.

Sacks: It's the kind of thing a lot of us can relate to -- losing control of your life.

Elliott: Let's be honest -- none of us are in control of our lives.

Sacks: It's a little bit of a Hulk-out kind of thing, actually. What made the Hulk TV show so compelling for a lot of people.

Elliott: It's not too dissimilar, but there's no transformations.

Sacks: What's the next book that comes out after that one?

Elliott: The next book is coming in the following month, June. It's a six-issue miniseries called Samurai's Blood. It's set in Feudal Japan. It's the story of a clan that gets betrayed and the entire clan is wiped out except for three teenagers. It's not just their struggle for survival -- they're determined for revenge, going up against an entire clan by themselves. It's the sacrifices they have to make and the ordeals they have to go through to get their revenge.

Sacks: Is that done manga style or western style?

Elliott: It's done in a western style. We've seen the anime manga infiltrate a lot of western artwork, so there's definitely that influence in there, but in the same way that Joe Madureira is a manga artist. He's clearly a western artist influenced by anime and manga. I would say that's the case here, but it's very western.

Sacks: I imagine there's a lot of research that had to go into producing a book like this.

Elliott: We actually had a couple college professors work on it, making sure that any use of the various codes of conduct and samurai were correct, the architecture for the time period was correct and that we had all the rules, the honor system -- even the Japanese kanji lettering had to be authentic for it. So, whenever you see it, we've actually done our research on it. We're not using current kanji.

Sacks: It never occurred to me that there was a classic kanji, just like any language evolves.

Elliott: Just as we're used to things like Helvetica, obviously they didn't have Helvetica 100 years ago.

Sacks: Who's working on that title?

Elliott: Nam Kim. He previously worked on Radical's Incarnate with Nick Simmons. He was Nick's background artist, inker and colorist. This is Nam doing all pencils on it. It's quite amazing. The cover artist is Jo Chen, who we're all familiar with -- Buffy covers, SerenityRunaways. Her work is absolutely gorgeous. It's being written by Owen Wiseman.

Like Red Spike, we're launching that with a dollar first issue with 32 pages of story. That will be on sale the second week of June. We're far enough along with all our projects -- having several issues of each of the books in the can already -- that we can actually say Red Spike will come out the first week of every month,Samurai's Blood will come out the second week of every month and then our third title, which is Marksman, will come out the third week of every month starting July.

Sacks: Tell me about Marksman.

Elliott: Well, you've seen a lot of postapocalyptic stories before. This is a nuclear war -- we thought, what would really be the outcome? If there was a massive global collapse of the economy, what would really happen? I don't think it's farfetched to suggest, human nature being what it is, that certain states in America would want to hold on to any resources they had. So, a state like Texas that has a lot of oil would want to keep that oil. That would be its currency, its power from that point on.

The story focuses on two states -- on Texas and California. It's a battle where Texas tries to invade the last remaining civilized city in California, which is San Diego, because you've got such a huge military presence in San Diego. You've got the Navy, the Air Force and the military all there. They seized control of the city and demolished a ring of hotels and buildings, creating a wall around the city. They've got things like nuclear-powered submarines and ships, which now are fueling the city. They've got solar power.

For the most part, it's quite idyllic. Everyone's walking around, still using iPhones. They're still using iPads. They've got laptops. They've got wireless. They're working quite nicely, thankyouverymuch, and there's a lot of those. There's a scientific community in San Diego that they've pulled in to make sure it stays that way. 

Now, this is 60 years after that event. Basically, the soldiers' job was to stay on top of this wall and shoot anybody that would try coming into the city. And, America being America, you've got to have someone to celebrate: "Okay, where's the football team? Who are we gonna root for?" So, the Marksmen have now become this football team.

Sacks: Celebrities.

Elliott: They've been allowed to customize their armor in different colors, they've got spraypainted elements on there -- anything that makes them individual. And when they go out, it's all webcams. And if they come across a group of cannibals and they shoot them, it becomes a TV show.

Sacks: So what made the Texans decide to invade San Diego?

Elliott: Because of the solar power, because of the atomic energy -- they've got to a comfort zone. The human condition is never one to sit back and say, "Okay, well, look, we're comfortable. Let's just stay here." "No, we've got this. Let's get that as well." Everyone wants to unify the country again, but under their own terms with them in charge.

Sacks: Are there other areas of the country that have survived? Or are these the only places?

Elliott: There's no way of communicating with other cities. You'll have to rely on old-school traveling there and finding it. The first series deals with Texas and what we're calling New San Diego, and we're hoping that, if we go to a second series we're going to find out where else in America has survived.

Sacks: Seems like a very well thought-out world!

Elliott: We tried to. With each of the projects, I've created a mythology, a "real" world. I think that any property is only really believable if you thought out the parameters of that world.

Sacks: Who's the staff on that one?

Elliott: It was David Baxter and myself who actually came up with the story for it. David Baxter's the writer for it. He's a screenplay writer, and so this is his first comic book series. It's Tom Coker, who's doing Undying Love at the moment for Image -- he's our cover artist. The interiors are actually a return to comics for Garry Leach. Garry Leach with Alan Moore was the co-creator of Miracleman, the reinvented Marvelman. He's doing finishes over Javier Aranda's pencils. Jessica Kholinne who's been doing such a wonderful job on DC's Power Girl completes the team.

Sacks: Do you have a fourth week Benaroya book, too, in August? Or is it too soon to talk about that?

Elliott: It's too soon. We do have three other titles coming from Benaroya, but until I'm comfortable with having at least three issues in-house of those, I don't really want to schedule them. We are hoping that possibly it will be October, November, December release for those three. But, again, I really want to make sure we have those issues in-house. I just don't want to schedule them before they're ready.

Sacks: Would you say there's an underlying philosophy for the line? Something that really motivated you to pick these particular titles to publish?

Elliott: They're all diverse. Each one is a different time period, a different genre -- it's just fun doing that. That's what I enjoy. When you go to the movies, you see one movie one week, but you don't go see the exact same thing the following weekend. You want to see something different. I'm the same way with the projects I work on.

Sacks: Talk about your philosophy about the dollar issues to start readers out.

Elliott: Look, these days, with the economy being what it is, it's so tough to get people to try a first issue. We want to help in any way we can. We were kind of half-joking about it, but I think what DC's doing is great in trying to hold that line at $3. Particularly, by launching that dollar issue, it makes sense for us to keep the subsequent issues at $2.99. Because otherwise it's too big of a jump. If we can put people on that first issue, we hopefully will keep them around on the $2.99 issues.

The other thing we're doing is -- the last issue of each of our series is 32 pages, no ads. Everyone likes having that big bang ending, and you can really only have that with the extra page count.

Sacks: Do you have plans to do any ongoing series, or do you want to stay focused on minis?

Elliott: To be honest, unless it really grips people, like The Walking Deador Invincible, I think that, if you're not Marvel or DC, it only makes sense to do a series of miniseries. You've really got to make sure that there's a strong support for a book. I think the best way to do that is a series of miniseries. If they keep buying it and if we get to the point where we've got two or three miniseries and the sales have built up and we've got the sales to support an ongoing book -- yeah, I'd love to.

Sacks: The other project I wanted to ask you about was THE VAULT, is that another project of yours?

Elliott: Yes. I'm working with my good friend Sam Sarkar. He's created a new concept that I've been helping him build out and now it's ready, I'm editing and producing the comic for him.

Sacks: And this is with Image also isn't it?

Elliott: Yes, it's a three issue series. The first issue launches at the end of July and runs monthly through September.

Sacks: Just in time for San Diego.

Elliott: That's right... What timing... 

Sacks: At WonderCon you told me that you are working on other projects, so if the Vault is one of them, anything else you can talk about?

Elliott: Hah, I've signed more NDAs this year than ever before. What I can tell you is the issue of Heavy Metal I've just finished putting together...

Sacks: Heavy Metal? Wow. One of my faves! It will be great to see it back again!

Elliott: Yeah, this is third issue I've done. One every ten years... 

Sacks: Is there a theme for the issue?

Elliott: Other than every strip and pin-up is produced by the wonderfully talented artists at Imaginary Friends Studio in Singapore, just pure fun and adventure.

Sacks: Which issue is this for?

Elliott: It's the September issue that goes on sale the end of July.

Sacks: Hahaha, so you'll have copies of this as well at San Diego?

Elliott: Yes... In fact, we're going to have a limited edition wraparound cover from Stanley Lau just for this show and Singapore Comic-con.

Sacks: What about you? You've done all this work with other companies; will we see you creating again?

Elliott: I hope to be able to announce three of my own projects much later this year, but I have to be patient. All in good time. The worlds I'm building can't be made in 7 days.


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