A lone woman, disguised and hugging the shadows in a quiet suburban town – not your typical kind of superhero. But this isn’t your typical kind of comic.
After an auspicious start in the pages of a rare early 90s mini-comic, the super-hero known as Twilight Guardian made the jump to the big leagues as an entrant in Top Cow’s Pilot Season competition in 2008. This dedicated hero operates in our own very real world, patrolling a nine-block suburban neighborhood looking for all manner of crime – from parking violations to household disputes and maybe even a cat in a tree. Although her challenges might seem small-time, it was her adventures that landed her in the big time. Although facing some pretty stiff odds with the other 2008 Pilot Season entrants, this street-level super-heroine triumphed and won the contest. And now just two years later, Troy Hickman’s hero who could returns in an all-new four issue miniseries scheduled to debut in January.
For Troy Hickman’s, it’s become the high point in a comics career that stretches back to the early 90s and the independent comics scene where he got his start. Along the way he’s done stints on Witchblade, a City of Heroes series and his own Common Grounds series, the latter of which earned him two Eisner nominations; but as Hickman tells us, this is a new playing field for him.
We recently spoke to him about Twilight Guardian…
Newsarama: Troy, after years of waiting, you're back in the saddle with the new Twilight Guardian miniseries at Top Cow. What's it like to be able to come full circle on this project?
Hickman: It has been a long time coming. Twilight Guardian first appeared in the early 90s in my Tales of the Pathetic Club mini-comic, then had a one-shot mini of her own (the two had a combined circulation of maybe a thousand copies). So I was surprised when Top Cow contacted me out of the blue about publishing it as part of the 2008 Pilot Season competition, and I was even more surprised when it won.
Then, due to various ethereal issues dealing with the business end of the funnybook biz, we had to wait until now to get it on the stands. But now it's here, Twilight Guardian: Heroes and Villains. And it feels great!
Part of the reason for that is that it is a series, or at least a mini. Up until now, most of what I've done in comics has been either short, self-contained stories (such as Common Grounds), fill-ins (Witchblade), one-shots (Turok), and the like. The closest thing I've had to a series was a three issue run of City of Heroes, but because that dealt with pre-existing characters, I didn't have much of an opportunity to "do my own thing." Eventually I'd love to make that final breakthrough and have not just a mini, but an ongoing series; I think I could do some very cool stuff with it.
Nrama: When that original Pilot Season: Twilight Guardian book came out it took me a couple reads to get into it; I came in expecting super-heroics like you'd see in DC or Marvel, but what we got was something more grounded. I've seen you write some straight-up superheroes before Troy, so how'd you come around to take this street-level approach to it?
Hickman: Actually the majority of stuff I've done, while being superhero-oriented, has been somewhat unconventional by design. When I started doing Common Grounds, it was an effort to see if I could do a superhero comic with functionally no action and still keep it dynamic. And that seemed to work. So with Twilight Guardian, I'm trying to take that "grounded" quality you mention and crank it up to eleven. I want to see if I can do a superhero book in the "real world" without giving in to the impulse to suddenly inject superpowers or cross that line into something that might happen in real life, but is pretty darned unlikely. I want to keep Twilight Guardian as realistic as possible while still keeping it a book about a superhero.
Of course, part of what the series examines is what that word means, both to Twilight Guardian and to the comic reading public. Hopefully it will work on a number of levels.All of that, by the way, is not to say that Twilight Guardian will not have superheroics, which is where the comics that she reads every night come into play. I think I introduce something like forty new superheroes and villains in these four issues, in one way or another.
Nrama: For those that missed out on that original one-shot, the Twilight Guardian herself – what's she about?
Hickman: Twilight Guardian is a woman who patrols a small area around her neighborhood every night. She's been inspired by reading a lot of comics, and there's an implication that she's maybe just a bit "outside the norm." The extent of that is one of the things on which the series will shed some light. Is she crazy? Is she something worse than just crazy? We'll find out more about her past, about her connection to comics (it's more than just fandom), and about why she does what she does.
She's an interesting character to work with, as she's not a hero in the traditional sense. She's never saved the world, or even a city block. She's never apprehended a criminal, or taken part in a "mission in space." But her heart seems to be in the right place. She's fiercely dedicated to her quest for justice. And the fans seem to like her. Interestingly I've created a female character that is supposed to be as "normal" as possible in appearance, as opposed to the ultra-curvy, scantily-clad stereotype of the super-heroine, and countless guys have told me "I'm really attracted to her!" I don't think Twilight Guardian will suddenly replace Power Girl for sketchbook material at comic conventions anytime soon, but we have had Twilight Guardian cosplay now, so she's moving up in the world.
Nrama: In this new series you open up the nine blocks the Twilight Guardian watches over. Can you tell us about her beat, and what she runs across typically?
Hickman: While it's never named, I always think of the neighborhood Twilight Guardian patrols as “my” neighborhood here in Lafayette (Indiana). In fact, the series largely came out of the fact that I take long walks in the middle of the night, though I'm not in costume (or...am I?). Because it's a fairly crime-free place, though, Twilight Guardian doesn't deal with burglaries, assaults, and other "true" crimes. She's more likely to come across homeowners putting their trash in the wrong bins, or injustices she conjures up in her mind, such as the illegal "snail races" in a neighbor's backyard.
And that's where the fun and the challenge comes in for me, in trying to take the mundane, which to me is infinitely interesting, and making it engaging for the reader. With this mini-series, though, that becomes a bit easier, as I can work in more plot. The one-shot that won Pilot Season was more of a character study, whereas this builds more of a story, though not a traditional one. This time around it becomes a drama regarding Twilight Guardian's background, an exploration of the nature of comics, and even something of a mystery story (although you may come away from it with more questions than answers).
Nrama: Maybe you should let me interview her!
While I wait for the call, let’s talk about the first real nemesis Twilight Guardian encounters -- someone named Dusk Devil. Can you tell us about this character and their match-up?
Hickman: Most of Dusk Devil's secrets have to remain just that. I can tell you that he plays a major part in the series, and that he'll be as important to Twilight Guardian as the Green Goblin is to Spider-Man or Luthor is to Superman.
Nrama: Joining you for these four issues is a new artist – Siddharth Kotian. How's you connect with him, and get on the same page for the unique tone of the book?
Hickman: When the time came to choose a new artist, the guys at Top Cow gave me a short list of people that we might be able to get for the project. I looked them over and there was no doubt that Sid was the way to go. His artwork was perfect for what I was trying to do. It's tough to find an appropriate artist for a book like Twilight Guardian, as a lot of folks have gotten so locked into the conventional style of drawing superhero comics that it's difficult to get them to "tone it down" for a book like Twilight Guardian (if you could have seen some of the early sketches for the TG one-shot, you'd see what I mean; some of them made Little Annie Fanny look like Sarah, Plain and Tall). But Sid has really done some standout work here. One of the great things about him is that these four issues have required him to do literally probably a dozen different styles of comic art (covering numerous time periods and genres of the medium), and he's risen to the occasion for all of it. He's a very sharp guy, and I'm so glad we've got him on the comic.
Nrama: Before I let you go, answer me this: what would you say you've learned from doing this project – both the PS issue and this miniseries?
Hickman: I think I've learned what I had hoped all along, that a superhero comic that strays from the conventions of the genre can still be entertaining to a certain segment of the comic-buying public.
Recently I was lucky enough to have dinner with Joyce Brabner and Frank Stack, and I was talking to them about my history as a comic reader. I grew up loving superhero titles, and then at about age fifteen or so, I discovered American Splendor and similar comics (bless you, Bud Plant), and I loved those, too. But far too often I've seen a rift in comic readership between the strictly-superhero folks and the fans of more esoteric independent comics. The former sometimes sees the latter as too "artsy" and the latter often views the former as merely "adolescent power fantasies." I've never been able to shoehorn myself into either camp because I see so many great comics coming from all sorts of mindsets and creators. So when I did Holey Crullers, which became Common Grounds, I wanted all that in there, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby alongside Pekar, Steve Englehart next to Howard Cruse, etc. And that's what I'm (hopefully) continuing to do with Twilight Guardian. My goal isn't to make a comic that everyone will read (though it'd be nice), but to at least make one that every kind of reader can appreciate and enjoy. We'll see how I did.