Whether he’s on the field pressuring quarterbacks or off the field building schools in Ghana, Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije exhibits qualities of superheroes in his daily life. It’s natural, then, that he’d look to superheroes to explain just how it is athletes are able to perform at an exceptional level.
That’s the basis, then, of The Protectors, the first comic book launching from Idonije’s own independent publisher, Athlitacomics. Just as Idonije returned to the Bears after a season at – ahem – another NFC North team, Athlitacomics returned to C2E2 in Chicago for another go at launching their first series. After 2013’s zero issue, the first issue of the proper story hit the show, with Idonije front and center, meeting fans, talking up his story, and doing signings right along side comic book writer Ron Marz and artist Bart Sears, the creative team he hired to make his dream come true.
We stopped by the Athlitacomics booth to chat with Idonije about his triumphant returns (both to the Chicago Bears and to C2E2), got to try on a Bears helmet worn in the Super Bowl, and did some predictions with Izzy, as he’s known to fans and friends alike about both comics and football.
Newsarama: Well, first off, Izzy, what’s it like being back in Chicago where you belong?
Israel Idonije: Oh man, it feels good! I love the support, since signing back, it’s been unparalleled. I’ll tell you though, there’s a lot of work to do, and just getting ready for a great year, a great season.
Nrama: You get to celebrate your return here with C2E2 – being back another year, what’s the feeling compared to last year, coming back around?
Idonije: It’s just building on the foundation that was set last year. This is the launch of our second issue, but issue 1 of the story for Protectors. We have a six issue story arc for the first story that we’re telling, and I’m excited to now get the story out – creating it, and having it written and illustrated is one thing, but now you get to share it with the world. You get to watch how people react to it, and it’s been a lot of fun. We have an amazing team, and it’s been a great experience. We’re having fun telling the story, and that’s what it should be about!
Nrama: You guys have taken your time with this, putting #1 out there a year after the zero issue. What have you learned in the last year, about how to get these into fans’ hands?
Idonije: Like you said, we did issue 0 last year at C2E2, and now we have #1 – we’re focused right now on finalizing some deals that will get us access to get the book in comic stores across the country. We want to give all our fans, anyone who wants to pick up the book and read it, give them access. We’re working on a digital presence as well – so we’re now finalizing all those deals to get it across platforms.
Nrama: What’s the importance of using Chicago, using C2E2 as the vehicle for the launch?
Idonije: You know, I’m a Chicago guy. This is my home. I had been to the convention before ever being on the exhibiting side. Just the relationships with ReedPOP – they’re really a great family of people. So having the ability to launch the story here and get to sow seeds for this property, the Protectors, and the company, Athlitacomics that we’re building here in Chicago.
So every year, it’s a great show, the fans are amazing. It’s important – I’m a big believer in building organically, and starting with my home.
Nrama: Of course you pulled in some seasoned veterans in Ron Marz and Bart Sears to work on your first ever comic – what’s it been like working with them? How closely were you involved in getting the story off the ground?
Idonije: It’s been just phenomenal. It starts with Ron – I got connected with him first in San Diego. Before anything else, not the work, just as a person, you want to work with good people. You want to work with people that you enjoy being around and working with, and across the board we have that.
I had this story that I created. It was robust, but had a lot going on. Ron came in and looked it over, scaled it down. He said, “great story, but for it to work, let’s change this, let’s tweak this.”
Then Ron brought on Bart, and he upgraded these characters’ identities, with what they looked like, their uniforms, he really polished everything.
So that’s where we are. It was about “this is what I have,” then putting it in their hands and letting them do what they do best. Letting them create, innovate around the properties, and helping the Protectors be the best that it can be.
Nrama: I know we talked about this a little bit last year, but why comics for you? Why is that the business you’re launching, and why is it the delivery system for your stories?
Idonije: You know what, I don’t know! I just wanted to do something creative, I wanted to tell a story, and doing a comic was the first thing that popped into my head! That’s why!
I just wanted to do this story of the origins of athletes, of athletic ability, and doing a comic book was the next thought. I spent three weeks during training camp in 2007 mapping it out. It’s just this story about these athletes and the true power behind them, and it worked for comics.
Nrama: So you guys getting the Bears comic book club back together now that you’re back in the right uniform?
Idonije: (laughs) It’s a different locker room! Lance Briggs is still there. Martellus Bennett is a great, incredibly talented guy – he’s not a big comic book guy, but he’s a great illustrator, he’s always drawing, so hopefully we’ll be able to introduce him to some stuff. Matt Forte, Shea McClellin’s a big comic book guy. So we’ll get some of these guys out and start introducing them.
Of course, I’m gonna put my comics in everyone’s lockers! (laughs)
Nrama: (laughs) Oh yeah, absolutely, “you know if you guys wanna tweet this out…”
Idonije: Yeah, yeah, you’re more than welcome!
Nrama: What’s your big goal in coming to C2E2?
Idonije: You know, it’s to get the story out there, but it’s really about the connection. At the end of the day, it’s all about the connection with the fans. Getting to know them, shaking a lot of hands, signing a lot of autographs, taking pictures. I just want to thank them all for coming by and supporting me. Everything else is secondary to building relationships and thanking the fans.
Nrama: So, a non-comics question, but I have to ask you as a Bears fan – what about that D, man? I mean, two years ago, the number 2 D in fantasy points – last year, the number 2 D in getting dropped a couple weeks in was more like it. What’s going on with it now?
Idonije: (laughs) Oh, man. Well, you know, they’ve made a concerted effort to shore up the defense, and get us back to the level of defense we’ve played. Bringing in Jared Allen, covering some key points, getting Peanut Tillman back. I think across the board the Chicago Bears want to return our defense to the identity of who we are. I’m positive that with these guys, with Mel Tucker as our defensive coordinator we’ll be able to get there and achieve that.
Nrama: I will tell you, I traded you back onto the Bears in my Madden game, and got you 12 sacks on the season – what do you think?
Idonije: (laughs) That’s a good omen! You heard it here first!
Nrama: Well, now that fans have #1 in their hands, when will we see #2?
Idonije: Yeah, that is a big focus for us. After the convention is done, we’ll get those deals finalized, get our publishing and digital presence ready, and in the next six months we want to tell this whole first arc and start looking to the next one.