What does coffee and norse mythology have to do with one another? Nothing, as far as historians will tell you – but they’d be wrong.
The indie brewing company Death Wish Coffee have partnered with comics creators Ron Marz and Rick Leonardi on a special one-shot titled Death Wish Coffee Presents Odinforce that became available on Free Comic Book Day. Although it was only available in two upstate New York shops on Saturday, it’s now being made available online and planned to be included in special packages by the coffee company and given away free at conventions.
But if you're expecting to see a conspicious product placement in the one-shot issue, sorry - everyone involved made it a point just to make a good story. Newsarama talked with Marz and Leonardi about this project, as well as Kane Grogan from Death Wish Coffee about this unique tie-in.
Newsarama: Ron, what is Odinforce about?
Ron Marz: It's about a group of Viking warriors on a quest to reach Valhalla and retrieve Odin's stolen power. So short answer, it's an adventure story that half rooted in history, and half rooted in mythology. Plus, it's a chance to revel in 20 fabulous Rick Leonardi pages, and a glorious cover by Joe Jusko.
Nrama: Rick, what made Odinforce interesting enough for you to want to do it?
Leonardi: I'm always particularly interested in stories that involve research and learning new things, so this story was a great chance to get smarter about Viking stuff- clothes, weapons, and especially longship construction. Lots of cool video on YouTube of Scandinavian craftsmen building Viking ships according to their best guesses about methods and tools, then taking them out into the North Sea to see if they guessed right.
And of course, anytime Ron calls with a cracking yarn, you gotta go!
So I binge-watched the History Channel series, and started scribbling...
Nrama: So what is this "Odinforce" exactly, and why does Halfdan and the others want it?
Marz: The Odinforce is the collective might of the Norse god Odin. It's what makes Odin ... well, Odin. For the purposes of our story, that power has been stolen away, and must be recovered. Halfdan and his crew are serving the will of the gods by undertaking the quest. I should also mention that "Odinforce" is a specific blend of coffee that Death Wish makes. Valhalla Java Odinforce Blend is something that Death Wish put together with guitarist Zakk Wylde, so it made sense to me to include at least the name in the story.
Nrama: There's more to Norse mythology than Thor comic books, as good as they might be. Can you give us your thoughts on doing a story, with that Thor-centric verse of Norse Mythology at the top of people's minds these days?
Marz: Obviously Marvel's Thor comics cast a long shadow, especially for me. I'm a huge Thor fan, and Walter Simonson's run, along with the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stuff, are some of my favorite comics ever. But this story is more about people than gods ... though you might get a glimpse of a god or two if you read the story.
Nrama: How did the idea of Odinforce come to you?
Marz: When I sat down with the guys from Death Wish, the Viking theme seemed like a natural direction, especially after their Super Bowl commercial. The commercial was so well executed, we wanted to capture some of that feeling. Death Wish just wanted a story that comic fans would respond to, not something that came off as thinly-veiled marketing. So I tossed out an idea that touched on "Valhalla" and "Odinforce" as name checks. They liked it, and that's the comic we made.
Nrama: Kane, let’s bring you in here. Why is Death Wish Coffee getting into the comic book business?
Kane Grogan: We are always looking for alternative markets to grow in beyond the typical coffee market. Everyone loves coffee, but who really loves coffee and needs it the most? Who will relate to our brand and message? The comic book community was a natural fit for us. Our fanbase is rabid as is theirs. They love coffee and want something strong enough to keep them up. One of my very good friends works for a podcast called FanboysInc and we decided to sponsor them. From there they put us in touch with some people in the industry and next thing we knew we were sponsoring panel's at last year’s New York Comic Con. From there the conversation morphed into the possibility of solidifying the relationship and creating an actual comic book and Ron stepped up to the plate and wanted to do it already being a big fan of ours. We have to say we are so pleased with the outcome. It's badass!
Nrama: So how is the story itself connected to coffee?
Marz: Well, it says "Death Wish Coffee Presents" on the cover. Beyond that, there's not a direct connection to the coffee. It's not like the characters sit around a campfire and drink a bracing cup of java. There's no product placement, there's no mention of coffee at all. Death Wish wanted to produce a cool story, not a commercial. The amount of freedom we had in putting together the issue was tremendous. Death Wish basically said, "Here, you guys know how to make comics, so you go ahead and do that." The only real direction was don't make it into a commercial.
Nrama: So with no image of a Viking sipping on some Death Wish Coffee in the comic book, what’s in the book itself for the company?
Grogan: We have always had a strong belief in spreading our name and brand and letting the sales come later. If enough people are talking about you, the sales will come. Our social media has the same philosophy. We rarely use it as a direct sales link and instead post a lot of awesome content. It's turned us into the number one rated coffee brand on social media which is insane considering who our competitors are and the fact that we are still a small company. This book is no different. It's just another really cool thing we have been a part of that will also help spread our name brand and hopefully reach some new fans as well as give our current ones something awesome to hold on to. We are very aware that if we just release a comic book that's littered with our product, it will be torn apart and seem cheap, as it should be. We want comic book fans to really like it.
Nrama: Ron, from the sounds of it, you acted as writer, project manager, editor and recruiter of the rest of the team. How'd you land on Rick Leonardi, Nanjan Jamberi and Joe Jusko to work with you on this?
Leonardi: It was all Ron‘s idea.
Quoth he, "Rescuing princesses and toppling obelisks on hapless, proto-Nazi soldiers is all very well (this is what, in fact, we have been doing in Korak the Killer, an e-strip at edgarriceburroughs.com), but real men draw Vikings!"
To which I replied, "Raaarrhh! Send the script!"
Or words to that effect.
Marz: I've worked with all of them before, so that obviously helps in terms of the creative casting. You always the right talent matched to the right kind of project. For this issue, schedule was also a factor, because we had a fairly tight window to get everything done. So it helped to have pros who know their way around a deadline. Thankfully, everybody had enough of a slot in their schedule to make the book happen. Rick is an artist's artist, he can draw anything, and he's one of my favorite people to work with. Obviously Joe Jusko is the first guy you call when you need a painting of mighty Viking warriors. And Nanjan was the colorist on my John Carter: Warlord of Mars run, and I really like what he does, so I've pulled him in on a number of projects now.
Nrama: Are you a fan of coffee yourself, Death Wish Coffee or otherwise? If so, how does it help you create comics?
Leonardi: Coffee is, of course, life. Without it, nothing happens, not even comics.
Marz: It's already what we drink at home, so absolutely. A lot of comics have been written here under the influence of Death Wish Coffee. I discovered Death Wish almost by accident, buying a bag in a coffee shop in Saratoga Springs, New York, because the packaging was great. I initially had no idea it was a local company. We ended up loving the coffee, and met Mike Brown and Kane Grogan from Death Wish because some friends in the Albany-area comics community already knew them. Everything fell together so easily, it was just a great project all around.
Nrama: So, any chance Death Wish Coffee could do more comic books in the future?
Grogan: If this one is received well, I don't see why not. A year ago we had nothing to do with the comic book world. A lot has happened fast, so who knows?