You see them on big-city street corners and subways – the people doing slight-of-hand, shell games, the sort that leave your wallet lighter as you wonder “How did they do that?”
Now, BOOM! Studios shows us what happens when one of those people has to fight crime in the new miniseries Cloaks, coming this September. Based on a premise by actor David Henrie (Wizards of Waverly Place, How I Met Your Mother), the series is co-written by Caleb Monroe (The Remnant, Hunter’s Fortune) and illustrated by artist Mariano Navarro. We spoke with Monroe about how he created this world, and why comics are, in their own way, magic.
Newsarama: Caleb, describe the premise and characters of Cloaks.
Caleb Monroe: At its most bare-bones, Cloaks is the story of a young street magician turned spy. Magician as in “illusionist,” not “wizard.” Adam D’Aquino is young and idealistic; he’s been using the premise of his magic shows to steal from the rich so he can give to the poor. He thinks he’s getting away with it, but an off-books government agency has noticed him…
Nrama: How did the idea for the book come about?
Monroe: The premise, along with Adam and most of the cast, came from creator David Henrie. I wasn’t privy to the hows of that bit—it came to my hands sprung like Athena fully-formed from David’s forehead. I took that rich world and those rich relationships and built an initial case, an initial villain, for Adam to face.
Nrama: This story involves a great deal of slight-of-hand and cons — curious about the research done for these, and what's cool and fascinating to you about those?
Monroe: I have a rule about research I borrowed from Steven Pressfield: no more than three books of research before I have to start writing. Otherwise the research becomes an excuse not to write. So I try to be very wise in those three (or less) books I choose.
In this case, I chose an overview of the current state of magic and sleight of hand, a history of the art, and how it works neurologically. I ended up with way more material than could be included in our four issues, but we packed a lot of cool real info into the series.
What I found the most interesting as I scripted the story was that sleight of hand and comics work in fundamentally the same way. A magician shows you his hand here, there and here again, but is intentional in what he leaves out: what happens between those positions is not seen by the audience and has to be filled in by their brains.
Same with comics. The panels on any given page are selected moments, but the reader’s mind has to fill in what’s happening in the gaps between them.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about the relationship between the main characters, which seems like the main dramatic engine for the story.
Monroe: Adam finds himself caught between. His parents disappeared when he was young and he ended up being fostered by a Wall Street family and having a brother, after which he was adopted and raised by a magician, Blackstone, who was an old friend of his parents.
When Blackstone died, he ended up back with the wealthy family until he struck out on his own at age 18. So he’s a man with three fathers, all very different, and they’re all in there in his head somewhere, vying for primacy as he figures out who he is.
He has two very different and opposite relationships with the two women in the story. He’s partnered with two very different government agents. Essentially, at the beginning of our tale, Adam thinks he’s figured out exactly who he is and what he’s capable of.
Then he starts getting tugged in all these new directions and pressured by all these new relationships and circumstances and he has to redefine his identity in light of them.
Nrama: What's it like working with David? And dangit, what did he think about what happened to The Mother? Yes, I'm still weepy.
Monroe: Heh, we haven’t discussed The Mother, so you’ll have to ask him that sometime.
But in general, David’s been a dream to work with. He’s a great storyteller and has given me all the space I needed to be the same.
Nrama: And what's Mariano bring to the book with the art?
Monroe: He’s amazing! He’s very good with action. He’s comfortable with higher panel counts. For the first time in my career I’ve tried writing certain scenes in “scriptment,” rather than full script, letting Mariano break down how, exactly, the panels will go. It’s been fun for me to stretch those muscles.
Essentially, I still write the scenes in full script, because that’s how I measure that I’m putting the right amount of words and actions per page, but then I go back and remove the parts where I broke it into specific panels/pages and leave those decisions up to Mariano. It’s been really fun (and educational) to see both how similar and how different his breakdowns of the pages are from the way I would have done it.
Most of each issue is still full script, but they all have at least one scene that was scriptment style. I’ll be curious to see whether readers can tell where and when the different scripting style was used each issue…
Nrama: Is this mainly a self-contained story, or do you have long-term plans for these characters?
Monroe: Both. Our mini-series is self-contained, but we’ve also set up a world and situation where we can tell many other stories with these characters and hope to do so one day.
Nrama: What's a unique advantage of getting to tell this story in comics form?
Monroe: I got into it already above: the fact that magic and comics operate on many of the same visual principles makes the marriage of form and content a very interesting one. You have to be a little careful about it, or it can end up like translating French into, well…French. But that aside, Cloaks has deepened my appreciation of the power and the limitations of both art forms.
Nrama: Describe a favorite slight-of-hand trick.
Monroe: I like the shell game. It’s so simple, and so well known, and centuries old, but people still get taken. Three walnuts and a pea, and it was the backbone of the first major criminal empire of the American West, and you can find people doing it on the streets in any major city to this day. We built a scene around the shell game in the second issue.
Nrama: Any other books/creators you're enjoying lately?
Monroe: Lately I’ve really been digging a lot of the 2000AD stuff. Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos, Indigo Prime, stuff like that. I’ve been getting into the manga of Natsume Ono and Kyoko Okazaki. Felipe Smith’s Ghost Rider. Richard Kadrey’s latest Sandman Slim novel, The Getaway God. Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden novel, Skin Game. That’s a good topslice.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Monroe: I’m working on a science fiction project I can’t talk about yet, but I’m very excited about that. I haven’t really had any comic book work that’s been straight up sci-fi yet.
I’m also teaching myself to draw. I’ve decided this coming year I’m going to draw my own one-shot: to expand my scripting abilities, my appreciation of the medium, and simply to do something that’s entirely mine. It’ll probably be terrible, but I’ve also decided in advance I’m going to love it because it’s terrible, and therefore I’m unable to fail!
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Monroe: I wrote a Dawn of the Planet of the Apes prequel one-shot that just came out a couple weeks ago as an SDCC exclusive. It’s called Contagion, done with artist Tom Derenick and I’m rather proud of it. BOOM! still has a few copies and they’ve made them available for sale directly through their web store , so if you weren’t able to go to Comic-Con last month, or even if you did go, but somehow missed the book in all the crazy hustle and bustle, now’s your chance!
Get wrapped up in Cloaks this September.