There are comic debuts and then there are comic launch parties.
This past weekend, North Carolina comic shop Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find hosted an event to launch the debut of Spider-Gwen #1 featuring hometown creators Jason Latour and Rico Renzi. Artist Robbi Rodriguez, who resides in Portland, was flown out for the event. The store had an in-store signing with the creative team, as well as intermission performances by Married With Sea Monsters, who provided the voice, per se, of The Mary Janes in the hit song “Face It Tiger!”.
The store opened up at 10 a.m. per usual to pass out wristbands down the line for the signing, which was soon wrapped around the building. “You know, I know Latour was in New York the other day,” said Terence Hoskins, Charlotte resident and comic fan in line with this newborn daughter, “and that just looked like another signing to me. This right here is where Spider-Gwen begins, to me.”
The store was decked out with refreshments, even a cake with Latour’s artwork for the store variant cover on it. Also on display were various contributions of Spider-Gwen art from the likes of Chris Brunner, Cully Hamner, Sanford Greene, and Joel Carroll.
“I don’t know if something like this can sink in, because I don’t want to take any of it for granted,” said Latour. “It’s pretty mind boggling and I say that in a good way. You can live your whole life as a creative person and not have something like this make this sort of connection with people. I think Robbi and Rico and [Marvel editor] Nick Lowe are all aware of that fact.”
Rodriguez said he treats Spider-Gwen like a creator-owned book, but “it is weird seeing her in a mobile game and other pop culture s---.” He also said he tries not to pay attention to any of that because “if you do, that’s when the pressure builds at that point.”
Renzi had a more optimistic point of view about the sensation.
“The response is really exciting and definitely helps motivate me to share what I'm working on more often than I normally would. Meeting folks who tell us this is the first comic they've ever bought is great, and meeting old-school Spider-Fans who love the book is really cool as well.”
In addition to the new release of the Spider-Gwen #1 comic book, the signing was also home to the release of an unoffical tie-in 7" vinyl by the band Married With Sea Monsters, with the cover art designed by Rodriguez and Renzi.
Latour said he was initially hesistant about the musical pairing, but came around once he heard the song.
“I’ll be honest I’d only heard a little of their stuff at the time so I was a little worried as we were tipping in, but fortunately it’s a kick ass little song.," says Latour. "When you’re writing music for comics, you can’t do anything more of what is going on and you can only hope that it’s visceral enough that it connects. I was pretty happy how that worked out.”
Heroes Aren't Hard to Find owner Shelton Drum was also on hand working the store and managing the line, but he took time away to update us about the origins of the record.
"I asked Kat [Dixon, lead singer of Married With Sea Monsters] if it would be cool if we published a record and she said that would be awesome! It belongs to the band and we're very proud to be a part of that."
Drum said only 500 copies were produced, some of the records have already hit ebay selling for on average $200, but don't worry, Drum is planning on putting some on Heroes' store in the near future.
"Yeah the reason it's not available right now is because I have back orders for the comic book. So I can't justify putting something up that's going to be a couple weeks in shipping. The band has some copies, I suggested sell at their shows or ebay them, but that's part of the benefit for them is to get some of these and use them for marketing promotion".
Drum also has invited for the band to perform at this year HeroesCon. "They agreed to come and they'll be here playing, selling merchandise in the dealers room."
Speaking of inspiration, Latour spoke about the beginnings of Spider-Gwen and the evolution of how things came to be. It began with a failed 'Uncle Ben as Spider-Man' pitch that failed to take off.
“Well Nick Lowe called me about writing an ongoing book and wanted to test the water to see if I had the free time, [laughs] not that I do now, but I certainly didn’t back then. So that conversation turned into doing these Spider-Verse one shots. So the first things that came to mind were Spider-Ham related [laughs]."
He continued with the process from there.
“In an additional conversation, Nick mentioned that Dan Slott wrote some notes about there should be a Gwen Stacy character among all these Spider-People. Having grown up a big Spider-Man fan, by the time I came around, Gwen Stacy was just a plot point, and at first I viewed that as sort of a canon thing you’re not supposed to touch. When I was a kid it was Gwen Stacy and Bucky Barnes you were supposed to leave alone. With my Ben pitch, I felt like I knew the Uncle Ben character and they liked it, but if you’ve read 'Spider-Verse' there’s an Uncle Ben moment that would have stepped on.”
Coming up with a Gwen Stacy idea wasn’t exactly the easiest at first, he continued.
“So I told Nick I’d consider working on the Gwen character...there was something about it and reassessed my thoughts about Gwen Stacy. We’ve had so many copies and people trying to replicate Gwen’s death and the impact it had on Peter that it just seems like a copy of a copy of a copy. I just woke up with a story in my head and I knew I wanted Robbi and Rico to do it and what angle I wanted to do this from with her in a band and sort of wanted to use my artists’ talents to the fullest.”
Renzi, who's colored comics with Jason Latour for years, says that camraderie is a big part of the book behind the scenes.
“It’s definitely easier working with your friends,” said Renzi. “You don't have to spend a bunch of time explaining things to each other because you already know what your friends mean after just a few words or pictures.”
Renzi then talked a little bit about the process on his side of things.
“Jason and Robbi get on the phone and bat around ideas and Jason comes by my office and we talk through stuff, things get refined, Jason sends a draft to Nick Lowe, then Nick and Marvel give Jason notes. Jason refines things and then Robbi and I get to work.”
Renzi has also been working in comics for several years now, but the past year and a half have been the most prolific for him and he couldn’t be happier, but he’s constantly moving.
“Work life has been crazy for me. Between spending time with my awesome family, my 9-5 at Heroes Aren't Hard To Find and coloring a few books a month for a while, it's been tough. I love all of the books I'm working on right now though.”
Since Latour and Rodriguez are treating this like a creator-owned book, Latour said they’re going to have as much fun as possible with it.
“This is going to sound weird because I don’t want to disrespectful on my time on the Wolverine & The X-Men, but the fun about working on an 616 title, there’s a lot to mine from. It’s inspiring to have that sort of stuff around you. On that same token, though, I think it’s everybody’s dream to have their own creator-owned story so it’s been really fun we get to play with these characters in our own way, but in a meaningful way, too.”
He put things in perspective when working on something like Spider-Gwen.
“The thing is, with other books you have to compete with other creators on handling certain characters. There’s only one Spider-Gwen and that’s pretty rare for me in my career as I’ve followed big names on some big titles, but this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I can give this book my own voice.”
Probably the biggest challenge in creating Spider-Gwen -- called Spider-Woman in her universe --was having it work, even though in a seperate universe, alongside other female Spider-heroes like Spider-Woman and Silk.
“The big thing is can 'Gwen and Spider-Woman exist in the same place and time?'" Latour asks. "There’s a big revelation of the one-shot where she tells her father her secret before she’s whisked away to this superhero jamboree war. We’re not ignoring that. I think one of the unique strengths is that Gwen is an outgrowth of this mega event and one of the cool things about this book is that she knows other universes exist and the potential to interact with all that stuff.”
When asked if other people from 'Spider-Verse' will show up at some point in Spider-Gwen, Latour says its possible.
“Yeah, but we’re going to take our time to know Gwen before we get all Fast & Furious and have other Spider-People come around, though. As for long term? I plan on exploiting anything I can that’s available from the 'Spider-Verse' and everything from Earth-65.”
Earth-65 named, of course, after the fact that Gwen Stacy first appeared in 1965.
Latour continued with how Gwen is looking at her life at being Spider-Woman and she’s driven but to not fail, but to succeed.
“The first arc is essentially an existential crisis. If you look at it from her perspective, there’s only one choice of which Gwen Stacy or Spider-Woman has to go, and I’ll leave it at that.”
After the signing, there was an afterparty at Charlotte’s Snug Harbor where Married With The Sea Monsters played their set, as well as Junior Astronomers. During the show, those that bought a ticket were treated to an exclusive flyer designed by Latour that is a take on his variant cover. The 7” vinyl was also available to those who missed out on one at the signing.
“I was expecting maybe 200 people to come by,” Renzi exclaimed as he looked around the audience. “I was surprised by the line around Heroes before opening and the consistent signing for close to five hours! It was a blast. The after-party with Married With The Sea Monsters and Junior Astronomers was the perfect end to a great day.”