For four seasons in the late 1990s, fans met and watched the adventures of Jarod, a master of disguise who could also master any skill on NBC. He was The Pretender, and his sci-fi thriller story gained a following, as many seem to do, even larger when it went off the air. After a pair of TV movies extended Jarod’s story, at Comic-Con International: San Diego, creators Steven Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle announced the world of The Pretender would be returning, by way of novels and graphic novels alike.
While the pair decided to handle the novels themselves (the first, Rebirth will hit stores October 7, 2013), they announced yesterday during a Google hangout with fans around the world that Jenna Busch, a Newsarama alum and one of the contributors to the popular Womanthology comic book with all female creators, would be writing the story for The Pretender: The Centre Chronicles. They say this is just the beginning, as they create "the Centre world," and plan to continue to expand that world and mythos in multiple media.
The story starts with a six-issue arc (that will then be collected into a hardcover), and it features an all-new, in-continuity story that takes place before the TV show. Busch sat down to chat exclusively with Newsarama about the new story (as well as bringing the exclusive reveal of the high-res cover by Jeffrey Henderson), what she loves about The Pretender, and what fans can expect to see.
Newsarama: Jenna, it has become quite the trend to revive TV shows (both live-action and animated) as comic book series. Many of them have been the "next season" of the show – is that how this one will be set up?
Jenna Busch: Actually, the series I'm doing will be focused on the origins of The Centre. How it came to be, what connections it has to world events and how it changed a young Miss Parker into the woman she is now. This is a story that hasn't been told yet and I'm so excited to be the one to bring it to everyone!
Nrama: What was the interest of creators Steven Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle in reviving this concept?
Busch: The Pretender has a huge following, despite the fact that it went off the air in 2000. In fact, it's actually never been off the air in France. Steve and Craig knew fans were passionate, but once they got on social media, they saw exactly how passionate. (There were so many fans on the Google hangout we did to make with them yesterday that it crashed the site!) The guys were writing a Pretender novel and when the announcement was made on my site ... well, I think it's fair to say that fans around the world lost their minds. They heard from people in Portugal, Brazil, Russia, France, Australia and a zillion other places, and everyone was over the moon about the return. The plan is books, films and an expanded universe, parts of which I can't talk about yet. I can't wait for fans to see what's coming!
Nrama: Likewise, what was your interest in reviving the concept? How did you get involved, and what about The Pretender so jumped out at you?
Busch: I was actually a huge fan of the show when it was on the air. My friend Valerie Whitlock introduced me to Steve to chat about social media (since I pretty much live in the Twitterverse). We got to talking about what I do and he found my work in Womanthology and heard about the full length graphic novel I'm doing with Rachel Pandich and Eisner award winner Janet Lee. He asked if I'd like to be involved and I jumped at the chance.
I fell in love with The Pretender because of the mythology. I love a story I can spend hours speculating on and investigating. I love the idea of re-watching or re-reading and finding out that a tiny little detail in one place was actually a clue to a huge storyline. The Pretender has so many mysterious plot twists and clues! Just chatting with Steve during that first meeting gave me insights to things I'd only guessed at.
The other reason I wanted to be involved with this project was because of Steve and Craig. These guys are so passionate (there's that word again) about their fans and letting them into the world they've created. They have direct contact with fan sites and they really want everyone who loves the show to be involved with the direction it's taking. They just launched the website for the series: thepretenderlives.com. When it went live yesterday during our Google hangout, they really got a taste of how much fans of the show appreciate it. Working with guys like these two is a dream come true for me.
Nrama: The concept of someone becoming whoever he or she wants seems tailor-made for a serialized format like comics – will each issue tell its own story with a new "identity," will there be an overarc story, or a combination of the two?
Busch: Actually, the one I'm doing is going to be a prequel of sorts, though the idea of someone being able to change their identity is actually going to be a big part of it. I can't say exactly how at the moment, but there is a clue in the cover art. I know. I'm a tease.
Nrama: Let's talk villains: You mentioned The Centre earlier… is Jarod involved in some way here, too?
Busch: The new book that Craig and Steve wrote, "Rebirth" definitely has the Centre harassing Jarod. They're not going to let him get off easily and he's not going to let them catch him!
In the prequel that I'm writing, we're going to see how it all started. We'll meet a young Miss Parker (Steve and Craig started calling me The Blond Miss Parker, so this one is close to my heart), Grandpa Parker and a certain woman who is the key to where it all began.
Nrama: How much have you worked with Steven and Craig on making sure the tone of the comic matches that of the TV series? How involved are they in the process?
Busch: We've been talking story quite a bit! They've been wonderful, letting me take my crazy idea and run with it, but this story is going to be cannon, so the world they created is where this all comes from. I'm doing yet another re-watch of the series and loving it even more than the first time. If I have an idea, I go back to them and we hash it out. Honestly, that's the fun part about writing something based on an existing property like The Pretender. I can watch an episode, see a detail and find a reason that it's in there that relates to my story. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a piece of furniture could end up as a huge part of it. That might be a clue. Just saying.
Nrama: Tell us about the artists involved with the project, Jenna. The cover art being shown here, and anything you can tell us about interior art.
Busch: Yesterday during the Google hangout, we debuted a sketch of the cover for the first chapter. Artist Jeffrey Henderson did it for us. He's doing the cover and a six-page preview piece that we'll be showing at Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles at the beginning of November. He's incredible! You can get his full bio here, but he's worked for DC, Marvel and Image, he's done art for comics, video games, advertising ... they guy is incredibly talented! He's worked on a ton of feature films including Inception, Twilight: Eclipse, and 30 Days of Night. He's worked closely with Sam Raimi on Spider-Man 3 and [concept art for the unproduced] 4, The World of Warcraft film and Oz the Great and Powerful. He's actually also an amazing actor, voice over artist and musician as well. He's got a ton of his work up on planethenderson.tumblr.com, including some of the storyboards for Oz and Spider-Man 4. He's crazy busy, so he's probably not going to be able to do the interior art (we're working on getting someone wonderful for that right now), but he'll be art directing for us and doing the covers.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to tell us about The Pretender?
Busch: Just that I think fans are going to love this. We're getting the answers to some questions that fans have been dying to get and I'm honored to be a part of it!
Nrama: Finally Jenna, we go way back, so who wins in a fight, Gary Busey or Nick Nolte (with…what were the weapons again?), and why?
Busch: Haha! I guess we should tell everyone where that comes from, right? I'm actually an entertainment reporter and the Entertainment Editor for Fan Voice. I used to write for a ton of sites, including Newsarama! When we met, years ago, I was working for a site called UGO and I had two company questions. One was, "Who would win in a fight: A minotaur with a trident or a centaur with a crossbow?" The other was between Nick Nolte with a box cutter and Gary Busey with a sock full of quarters. I'm going with Busey, because between the quarters and the teeth, he's unstoppable. (For the first one, the centaur. Ranged weapons, you know.)