Aspen's IDOLIZED Lets Readers Channel their Inner Simon

 

Comic fans are notorious for wanting their voices to be heard, whether sharing praises for their favorite titles on creator websites or vehemently complaining to publishers at comic conventions.

Aspen Comics is taking advantage of fans' desire for interaction as the company gets ready for the new comic book Idolized. The publisher is letting the fans choose what the characters look like by voting on the comic's Facebook page.

And in this case, life is imitating art, since the comic itself is about "fans" choosing superheroes.

Idolized takes place in a televised superhero competition show called "SuperHero Idol." Written by David Schwartz with art by Micah Gunnell, the new series will tell the story of a girl who is motivated by revenge to enter the competition, where the public votes on what superhero gets to be on the world's best superhero team.

To go with the theme of the comic, Aspen is giving fans a chance to choose from three different designs for each character. Whichever design gets the most votes will become the permanent version of the characters.

"Since this is a series about a world where people vote to choose their favorite new superhero, it makes sense that, instead of having us choose what these heroes look like, we should open it up and let the fans vote," Schwartz told Newsarama.

Schwartz, who is an entertainment lawyer by day and comic book writer by night, recently became familiar to Aspen fans for his work on Fathom: Blue Descent, but also won critical acclaim for the Image comic Meltdown.

To find out more about the comic, and the idea behind the "design voting," Newsarama talked to Schwartz.

Newsarama: David, what can you tell us about the idea behind Idolized?

David Schwartz: Well, ever since the end of my Image Comics series Meltdown, people have been asking me if and when I'd be writing another superhero book. I've definitely wanted to, as I love the genre, but I really wanted to wait until the right concept struck me. I knew it had to be something unique, compelling, emotional and exciting, and rife with opportunities for social commentary. A tall order.

 

So, one day several years ago, I was reading an article about the astounding success of the American Idol zeitgeist, and the tremendous amount of drama that the kids on that show go through; the fear, the desperation, the crushing blow of a bad performance, the elation of a great performance, the feeling that their entire future could be riding on every choice they make about their clothing and hair, every word they say, every note they sing.

Love it or hate it, it's hard to deny that It's a tremendously pressure-filled, high-stakes situation. And I was thinking, if there was truly a superhero world like the Marvel or DC universes, would there be a show like that, with that level of human drama and intensity? If so, what would it look like?

Out of that grew the idea of a comic book series about a TV show where super-powered teens and 20-somethings are competing for the ultimate dream-prize: a guaranteed spot in that world's top super-group, The Powered Protectors.

Guaranteed entry to the Protectors is huge. After all, it wouldn't be easy to become a legal, sanctioned, paid superhero. But, if you get to start off by winning “SuperHero Idol?” Well, it’s like you’ve instantly arrived, and can write your own ticket from there on out. The chance of winning offers fame, fortune, massive endorsement deals and, of course, a chance to actually save the world. Kids who dream of being worshipped as the next Superman or Wonder Woman would be falling all over themselves to get on — and perhaps even win — the show.

And, from there, I fleshed out the idea for Idolized as the story of a girl with superpowers and a dark past, who seeks revenge, and ultimately finds redemption, over the course of competing in this televised superhero competition show.

Given the revenge angle, essentially, it’s True Grit meets American Idol…with capes.

Nrama: It sounds like something that really spins out of our modern culture. Is there some commentary here about the way the media works these days?

Schwartz: Oh, absolutely. We'll be really taking a deep look at the effect that this process has on the kids who compete on it, the way in which the world reacts to them. We'll look at the way the producers twist the reality of what these characters are actually doing and saying. We'll be ruminating on the nature of fame, the public fascination with supposed heroes who they think they know well (but really don't know at all), the reason people get so obsessed with reality shows, and, perhaps most interestingly, the role that superheroes would play in our lives if they truly existed. And we'll be doing it all over the course of a thrilling, action-packed, emotional storyline.

 

Plus, if you're looking for social commentary, you'll really dig our primary super-villain. Can't tell you much about him yet, except that he's a villain whose ends are noble, but whose means are horrid. Readers ultimately may not know whether to root for or against him.

Nrama: How would you describe the main character? What's she like? And what inspired your creation of her?

Schwartz: Joule is a pretty dark, angry character.

She went through something pretty horrific as a little kid, which she blames herself for. She’s spent the last decade since then working madly to become a superhero. She’s determined to atone for her failure; to save other lives in order to make up for the lives she let slip away. She’s working day and night at honing her powers. Gaining speed and strength, agility, dexterity. Honing her mind, soaking up information like a sponge. Working one dead-end job after the next, just making enough money to pay for her training. She’s gotten good – really good — but she just can’t get that first lucky break into the business.

Until she decides to audition for Idol. She didn’t want to go that route. She’s embarrassed to be surrounded by a group of people she assumes are only desperate for fame and fortune. But, she needs to be a hero, needs to win this opportunity to step up and prove herself, shake off her demons. And, most importantly, she thinks that, by winning, she may be able to get close enough to the man who caused her all that anguish that she'd actually be able to exact her ultimate revenge upon him. So, she sucks up her pride, gets on line, and stands before the judges to audition.

What I love about her is that she's really a study in contrasts, a person who's internally at war with herself. She desperately wants to do good things, to help atone for what she sees as the sins of her past, and help change the world. But, at the same time, she's filled with anger and loathing and wants to kill the man who wronged her. The interplay of those two sides of her — one half wishing to be a do-gooder, the other half ruthlessly seeking to draw blood — gives me a lot to play with, and makes for a great, dramatic character arc over the course of the series.

Nrama: How did you guys come up with the idea to let fans vote on designs?

Schwartz: The voting is something that I'm really excited about, because it gives our fans the chance to really be a part of the book, and to help build the series from the ground up.

 

Basically, I send detailed character descriptions to our incredible artist Micah Gunnell, he sends us back 3 potential looks for each character. Typically, Micah, the Aspen team and I would look at the choices and pick the one we collectively felt worked best.

But then I thought, this is a series about a world where people vote to choose their favorite new superhero, it makes sense that, instead of having us choose what these heroes look like, we should open it up and let the fans vote. It's completely thematically in line with what the series is all about. And, ultimately, we're really making these books for the readers, always with their ultimate enjoyment in mind, so it only makes sense to give them a chance to help shape the look and feel of the series into exactly what they want it to be.

So, readers can (and should!!) go to http://www.facebook.com/IdolizedComic to view and vote on what each of the Idolized cast of characters will look like. Each Monday, Aspen will be posting a new set of character designs for readers to vote on. The following Monday, a new set of characters will be posted, and the voting for the prior week’s characters will be locked. So, make sure to vote early and often in order to ensure that the characters in Idolized look exactly the way you want them to! If you've ever dreamed of helping create comics, here's your chance!

Of course, we expect that it’ll be a tough competition, because all of the visual designs Micah’s been cooking up look absolutely amazing. For instance, in Week One fans had the chance to vote on the designs for two characters, Regenerate and The Present, and, out of the hundreds and hundreds of votes cast, less than 30 votes separated the top design choices from their closest competitors. So, if you want to help make completely sure that your favorites win, spread the word and get all of your friends and followers to vote for your top choice!

Nrama: What role will these characters play in the comic?

Schwartz: These characters are the "Top 10" finalists that Joule competes against for the "SuperHero Idol" crown. At first she looks upon them all with great derision, but, over the course of the competition, she actually comes to like and respect her competitors. They each have their own reasons for being there, their own hopes and dreams, pain and desperation that’s driving them.

Much of the series takes place after the TV show itself has wrapped, but these Top 10 members still play a large role in Joule's life even after the TV show ends. In fact, in the final issue's big, climatic battle, we'll really see each of these characters get a chance to step up and shine.

Nrama: Micah's gotten a lot of attention from fans for his work at publishers like Marvel and Aspen. How has it been working with him?

Schwartz: Micah is really a brilliant, brilliant artist.

Obviously, the first thing you notice about any artist is their style, and Micah's work is truly gorgeous stylistically.

But for me, what's most important isn't style so much as having someone with great visual storytelling ability and innovative, exciting layout and design choices. If you've seen his work on books like Executive Assistant: Orchid or Shrugged, you know that Micah's incredibly innovative in terms of his layouts and design work. He brings an insane amount of energy to every page, and helps to tell the story in clear and inventive ways. Just check out the attached pages he did for "Orchid" for examples of what I'm talking about.

 

I first met Micah back in 2004 when he was a competitor in the first "Comic Book Idol" artist competition. Given the storyline in Idolized, that now seems pretty ironic. I saw his work there, really thought it was uniquely smart and original, and contacted him about potentially working on Meltdown. Even though we didn't end up getting to work together on Meltdown (other than an amazing pin-up he generously contributed to the trade paperback), we've always talked about finding a project to collaborate on, and I'm thrilled that we're finally getting that chance.

I truly believe that once folks see the mind-blowing work he's doing on Idolized, he's going to be thought of as being right up there among the biggest and most valued names currently working in the industry. In fact, even if folks absolutely detest my writing on Idolized, they should still pick up the book just for Micah's art alone.

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell people about Idolized?

Schwartz: Just a reminder that folks should get out to the polls and cast their votes! Visit www.facebook.com/IdolizedComic , vote for your top choices, hit the "Like" button so that you'll be able to see each new character as we post them, and please spread the word to your friends and followers. It's going to be a truly fun series, I'm having a blast with it, and I truly appreciate the chance to shout about it from the proverbial rooftops.

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