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Troy Hickman's Common Grounds: SBC Q&A

Posted: Monday, November 24
Posted By: Tim O'Shea
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Troy Hickman was no overnight success. The independent creator had been exercising his independent creator muscles for more than a decade before Top Cow’s Jim McLauchlin sought him out this year about the rights to his minicomic, Holey Crullers. As McLauchlin explained when Top Cow announced the project: “I picked up the mini-comic at the 1997 Wizard World Chicago convention and instantly fell in love with it. The stories were told with more heart, soul, and humanity than anything I had ever read. When I came to Top Cow, I made it my first priority to contact Troy Hickman and get rights to the property." As further explained in the same Image press release, Top Cow arranged to buy the property from Hickman, name him the series writer, and then worked with artists throughout the comic industry to bring his stories to life. Once the property was bought, the name was changed to Common Grounds.

Here’s the background on the upcoming series: “Common Grounds, is set in a chain of coffee shops across the country, where super-heroes and super-villains gather to sip coffee, munch on donuts, and hang out without causing a major brawl. It’s in this neutral setting that stories are created focusing on the ‘human’ side of the superhuman.”

Tim O’Shea: In 1997, when Top Cow Editor Jim McLauchlin picked up the Common Grounds pre-cursor Holey Crullers mini-comic at the 1997 Wizard World Chicago convention, could you have ever envisioned that years later he would pick it up as one of his first projects at Top Cow?

Troy Hickman: Sure...and then I envisioned that I'd flap my arms and fly to the moon! No, it came out of the blue, and just blew me away. I'd known for a few years that Jim was a fan of the comic; that's why Wizard did a sizeable article on it back around 1997. Because I've been out of the loop for a while, though, I wasn't even aware that he was at Top Cow, so when I found out he wanted to publish Crullers...well, luckily they had someone around to resuscitate me.

TO: How intimidating or gratifying is it to have industry veterans like Dan Jurgens, Chris Bachalo, Ethan Van Sciver, and Michael Avon Oeming collaborating with you? How did you garner Jurgens as the series’ regular artist, and what value do you feel he adds to your stories?

TH: Hmmm...strangely enough, I haven't been that intimated by it. I guess maybe I should be, but the artists working on this stuff have, without exception, been really gracious and down-to-earth folks, and they've been kind enough to make me feel like I belong here, rather than being a very small fish in a very big pond. Now, gratifying is another matter. You tell me: how gratifying is it to be toiling in relative obscurity, doing a self-published, photocopied, black and white digest comic, and then six months later to have one of your scripts drawn by George Perez? I was trying to describe this feeling to my girlfriend, who was not a comic fan at all until she met me, and the best comparison I could come up with is if you were a struggling actor doing dinner theater and you suddenly found yourself co-starring in a feature film with Laurence Olivier. That's what this is like for me. And bear in mind that the feeling is even ten-fold beyond that, as I'm not just getting the chance to see George draw my stuff, but also the aforementioned Chris, Ethan, Mike, as well as Sam Kieth, Angel Medina, Carlos Pacheco, J. Scott Campbell, Rodolfo Migliari, and on and on. I feel like I've gone to comic book heaven, quite frankly (a wonderful place where you can eat fried chicken while you read and your issues will still remain pristine!).

As far as Dan Jurgens, I am so thrilled to have him as our "regular" artist. I love Dan's work, and he's really establishing the Common Grounds "look." I've seen most of his pages for the comic, and they're just wonderful. When I picture the comic in my head, even in terms of coming up with future stories for it, I see it in a Jurgens world, y'know?

TO: Is the donut shop element a subtle nod to the "cops like donuts" cliche on a certain level?

TH: No, not really. The donut shop (which now, as Common Grounds , is just as much a coffee shop) came about as a necessity of needing a meeting place for the characters. I originally wrote the story "Beyond the Speed of Life" (which will be the first story in Common Grounds #1) before I even considered doing this as a series, and I needed a location for the characters, Speeding Bullet and Ed Franklin, to meet and talk. I came up with a donut shop called Holey Crullers off the top of my head, and when I decided to keep this kind of story going, it seemed like a perfect vehicle for it.

TO: Was it a hard decision to sell your characters as a property to Top Cow, after the number of years you had worked as a self-publisher? After self-publishing for so long, what have been some of the biggest adjustments working creatively for someone other than yourself. Is it hard to relinquish control?

TH: Yeah, it was a tough decision for me. I've been doing Holey Crullers for a decade now, not just writing the book, but editing, paste-up, copying, folding, stapling, you name it, so it's my baby. Selling the property to Top Cow, however, will get these stories to a much broader audience (thousands instead of hundreds), and that's what I'm shooting for. Luckily, I haven't had to relinquish much, if any, creative control. Jim and the folks at the Cow have done their best to work with me, trusting in my vision for the comic and the characters. There's a reason that the comic was able to build a cult following, even as a mini-comic, and we've tried to stick with that.

TO: Do you think more people are receptive to a story that tells the human side of a superhuman's life because of the success of Astro City (and works like it)? Or from your perspective is that a bad comparison?

TH: Being compared to Astro City is never a bad thing! And actually, I've heard that a number of times. As I myself have said, if you moved Harvey Pekar out of Cleveland and into Astro City, you'd have Common Grounds . On a personal level, I'm thrilled to have my work even mentioned in the same breath as that of Kurt Busiek. He's probably my favorite American comic writer working today. I can see similarities in our work, too, not in terms of quality, but things like a respect for the genre, an interest in continuity, and of course a focus on characterization more than action. Are people more receptive to this kind of superhero story now? I sure hope so. Remember that I started doing Holey Crullers in 1994, and back then there wasn't much being done like this. In the interim, especially here lately, similar comics have begun to spring up, comics that take a look at the more human side of superheroes, and I think that's great. So yeah, hopefully it's made the climate more hospitable for a comic like Common Grounds .

TO: How giddy (or whatever state of euphoria you want to use) were you when you saw your previously black and white characters in four color glory?

TH: Oh, I'm still giddy about it. Every time I see one of Rodolfo Migliari's beautiful painted covers, and I realize that "Hey! I created those guys!"...well, it's like nothing else in the world. It's like giving birth without the labor pains. It's been fun, too, trying to figure out how the characters should look in color. I never really considered it when I was designing them.

TO: More and more in recent years--while there are folks who value and enjoy superhero tales--there are a seemingly increasing number who view (mistakenly I believe) superheroes with great disdain. Do you think a work such as yours could change the minds of a few superhero genre naysayers?

TH: Well, I'd sure like to think it could, especially since it's one of the reasons I created this series in the first place. It irks me to no end that comics fandom has become split into camps over this stuff. I love comics, all kinds of comics, and to assume that any genre is inherently flawed or inferior...well, that's just goofy. It really raises my hackles when anyone refers to the superhero genre as "adolescent power fantasy." How can anyone read Watchmen and not realize it's as good as anything that's ever been done in this medium? By that same token, I don't like to see superhero fans become so myopic that they're unwilling to pick up a really well done slice-of-life comic, or a western, or anything else. There are few things that cheese me more than elitism and narrow-mindedness, so you can imagine how this whole issue gets to me. Hopefully with Common Grounds I've created a comic that anyone can read and enjoy, provided they give it a chance.

TO: I know you're also doing an issue of Top Cow’s Witchblade, but are there any other properties or projects you'll be developing for Top Cow (or elsewhere)?

TH: I hope so. I have soooo many ideas, both for Common Grounds and for other series, and I sincerely hope they have a chance to see the light of day. I've already proposed an idea or two to the Cow, and we'll see how that goes. Since Jim and the other folks there have had so much faith in me, I certainly want to give them the first opportunity to publish other stuff by me. I guess the sales on Common Grounds may influence that...so tell a friend!


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