THE GOLDEN GUARD, A New Superhero Universe Embracing RPGs & Skipping Comic Stores

"The Golden Guard" art
Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro
Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Vito Delsante and Carlos Cabaleiro are getting back to the heart of 1940s superheroics - punching Nazis and more - in their upcoming title The Golden Guard. The series, which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter for a October 2017 debut, is bringing a heretofore unknown 1940s superteam comprised of "The Greatest Generation" to modern times - and they don't like what the world has come to.

Delsante and Cabaleiro are looking to give fans a deeper connection to their throwback heroes, by partnering with RPG creator Charlie McElvy for a companion RPG that can be played using the Mutants & Masterminds game system.

With nine days left in The Golden Guard's initial Kickstarter campaign, Newsarama talked with the three creators about this unique project.

Newsarama: So who are the heroes of The Golden Guard?

Vito Delsante: The team is comprised of fourteen (!!) heroes, but after Chapter One, we really focus on six: Americana, the leader who is given near immortality and super strength as long as the country believes in her; Cadmus, the smartest, fastest and strongest man in the world; King Jaguar, a daredevil crime buster; Kid Viper, the sidekick of the Black Viper; Honorata, Charlemagne's last paladin; and Silent Shield, the mute soldier. They are met in the future (meaning, our present) by a few of their former teammates, but the most notable one is Theo Concord, the former Captain Scarab and head of the Agency for Amplified Public Servants.

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Nrama: Carlos, how'd you go about designing the various characters from The Golden Guard?

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Carlos Cabaleiro: Vito has a long track record of finding and working with very talented artists. A lot of cooks have been in The Golden Guard kitchen so I had a great starting point. I think looking at the design work Sean Izaakse has done for Stray (the most iconic costume in modern comics) set the bar for me and was the biggest influence. The rest comes from a wide variety of inspirations (Hanna Barbera cartoons, 60’s-70’s-80’s anime, and modern video games). Honestly, the design process is a blast and usually involves a few key words from Vito and Charlie and one to two sketches, a suggestion or two and viola! It’s been a lot of fun and the feedback from fans on a few of the designs (Cadmus’ design has been a fan favorite since we first teased him) lets me know we are on the right track. 

Nrama: So who are they fighting in this first issue?

Delsante: At first blush, they are fighting the Gorgos, a sort of Nazi-stand in group (ala Hydra) who is led by Lord Kraken, who may or may not be human. But if you dig deeper, if you really put forth the effort to read and, in a way, inhabit this world, you'll see they are truly fighting prejudice of all kinds. It's not a mistake that our core team, the team we follow from past to present, is made up of characters that represent marginalized minorities: a woman, an African American, a senior citizen, a homosexual, a disabled man, and two teenagers that more or less represent millennials. We're taking this book as an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless.

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Nrama: Carlos, what made the Golden Guard something you wanted to do?

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Cabaleiro: First off, I’m a huge fan of superhero comics. I always have been. Heck, the first thing I remember actually reading was a Batman digest collecting stories from the 50s. I can easily say that Marvel and DC books/characters have been some of the most influential parts of my life. The creative desire to tell a great superhero adventure has always been in me but the comic industry and I have been a bigger “will they or won’t they” tease than Dave and Maddie, Sam and Diane, Archie and either Betty or Veronica or Ross and Rachel. Now felt like the right time for me to take the plunge because of the talent of the gentlemen I’m working with, the political climate in the United States, and the current state of the superhero genre in print publishing. It also doesn’t hurt that I have the opportunity to work with a man I’ve wanted to work with since I first met him at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2005, Vito Delsante. We lost touch (I’ll clearly take the blame for that) but through social media we reconnected nearly a decade later. We can thank not only Facebook but perfect timing on my part for posting an illustration I did (in some rare downtime) of a certain golden age team that caught Vito and Charlie’s attention. 

Nrama: Legacy is something you've keyed into before, with Stray and The Mercury Chronicles. Why do you think that concept resonates with you so much? And what makes the Golden Guard even more tuned into the idea of legacy heroes?

Delsante: I think... Look, everyone that enjoys the stories I write always comments on how much of me is in the stories. I'm always trying to push pieces of me out to... I don't know, exploit? My life is fodder and inspiration for a lot of my books. And, legacy... I think maybe it's because I didn't know my father extremely well until the summer before he died. I knew him, I carried his name, right? But, who was he? He died in a car accident shortly after I turned 15, so I'll never really know. So, for me, as a father of a four-year-old girl and a 1.5-year-old boy, I think about legacy a lot.

I like to say that I don't own Stray; my kids do. They're the ones that will benefit from it more than I will. Right now, I'm working hard on it, I'm trying to make sure it's a good, solid comic book. They won't have to work on Stray; they'll hopefully be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. So, Stray is my legacy. The Golden Guard takes that idea and just pushes it forward. It's less about personal legacy, what you leave behind for your kids and how your past informs your present... The Golden Guard is about what a hero's legacy is and should be. It's about the example you set, and who follows it. It's a very simple hypothesis: if you disappeared right now, and reappeared almost seventy years later, who would remember you? What would they remember about you? And would you be happy with that? One of our first taglines, or mottos, was, "Change history. Change fate. Change the world." So, the Sword of Damocles that hangs over the team's head is, "What can they change?" because just by virtue of being in the present, they will change the future. So... can they change their pasts?

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Nrama: Carlos, how about you and legacy heroes?

Cabaleiro: My answer may be a bit different than Vito’s but it comes from the same place and the same love of comic book legacies. I still remember picking up an issue of Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron at my local 7-11 in Elizabeth, New Jersey at age 7 or 8 and being blown away that there was a whole other generation of the superheroes that existed that I had no idea about. For a good long while there, the DC and Marvel universes felt like living breathing worlds that you could casually drop into (pick up an issue at a convenience store) or go as deep as you wanted (history books, handbooks, collecting back issues, RPGs). This was a time before Wikipedia and collected volumes. This was a time of fans and not just readers.

Vito has said this numerous times to me, we want fans for The Golden Guard. We want people that want to dig deep and stay in this world for a while. We want them to live in it, to imagine what’s next. The theme of legacies gives us layers and layers for the fans to dig through. For them to see the connections from the past to the present, how the present changes the future, and to speculate what’s next. A chance to see our heroes grow, change, adapt, and die but through it all, leave a lasting impact. And Vito has been doing this for years. Seamlessly fold in Charlie’s WatchGuard in this world and it’s deep but we will also make it accessible. We want you to stay for a long while. Hopefully through the History Book of the Golden Guard, through social media interactions, through the RPG, we will help fans stay involved. We want fan speculation, we want questions, we want to see fan art, we want to see cosplay and we will reward that with Likes, Shares, Easter eggs in future issues, etc. So while working on characters with a legacy, we are creating one ourselves.

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Nrama: Carlos, Vito tells me this is your first long-form comic book work, and first creator-owned comic book project. How does this feel for you?

Cabaleiro: I’ve always wanted to do a major superhero comic so this is me getting to live out that childhood dream. I’ve worked on a few indie books, I’ve been attached to quite a few projects that seem to dissipate or fall apart (some of them fairly major projects) and I’ve also completed work that will never see the light of day. Jack Kirby was right when he stated a career in comics will break your heart. Luckily, my art career has kept me around the industry in some capacity (mostly licensing work for LFL, Disney, AMC, DC/Warner Bros.). I had almost given up on working in the comics industry but I love what Vito has done with Stray (I’ve been a backer since day one) and when they pitched the idea to me I was sold. And I need to buy in all the way. If I was going to tie myself to another project, it needed to be something I felt passionately about and felt that it would succeed. It’s a heavy commitment (well over 100 pages for this Kickstarter) but they had me. I really hope the excitement shows in the work. I don’t think backers will be disappointed at all.

Credit: Andy Smith

Nrama: How far along are you in drawing the book?

Cabaleiro: I am currently finishing up the History Book of the Golden Guard, the 48-page comic we are going to give all backers (shortly after the completion of the campaign) in weekly increments leading up the release of Book 1 in October. I’ve worked my tail off to clear my entire schedule for the next three to five months to complete the main book. Backers can be assured that The Golden Guard will be my life and full-time gig with no interruptions. You don’t last long as a freelancer if you miss deadlines, and I haven’t yet and I won't. All in all, it’s 96 pages of the comic, two covers, and all illustrations for the RPG element. I think it’s the best bang for your dollar and I’m really proud of my work on it so far.

Nrama: This story is political - in the same way that the early Captain America and Superman stories were: fighting against persecution, and social injustice. You've written X-Men and Superman before - why do you think this is so rare in 2017 superhero comic books?

Delsante: I saw a headline on a competing comic news site (Bleeding Cool) that said, "Keep Your Politics Out of My Comic Shop," and it made me realize that we might be living in a time, creatively, where a lot of creators don't want to speak up about the things that are important to them. I had a follower on Twitter say that they would no longer support my work because I made some comments about the current administration, and that kind of thinking is prevalent. You can't be yourself and speak your mind, or put that into your work. I understand why that retailer said what he said about politics and comics; retailers want to sell books. When you bring your personal attitudes and politics into your art, you run the risk of alienating retailers, who may then give a complaint. Well, who does the retailer complain to? The publisher. And who does the publisher complain to? The creators. No creator wants to be handcuffed, creatively. And I think that the current climate, more so now than in the past 15 years, is one where tolerance for personal beliefs is at an all-time low. Everyone wants to make money, and if there's a chance you may lose a dollar, you can't take it. Again, I totally understand that retailers point of view. I just don't agree with it.

Credit: Carlos Cabaleiro

Nrama: One thing you’re doing to stand out to retailers – and readers – is combining comic books with tabletop RPGs with The Golden Guard. How'd this unique concept, to be launched simultaneously, come about?

Cabaleiro: I think it goes back to wanting our creations to be a living breathing world. What better way to do that than by letting you write and live your own adventures in this universe? Table top gaming is at an all-time high so making this a major part of The Golden Guard is a no-brainer. It feels like we’ve clearly created something that captures what being a fan of superhero comics in the 80’s was like (considering the three of us are children of that era, it’s not surprising) yet something that’s socially and politically relevant today. And again, it’s just another way of making sure that the backer can be a very active part of this from day one.

Delsante: It's partly because we wanted to play with format. A 64-page magazine (not a comic book) that contains 48 pages of comics and 16 pages of roleplaying material, including a pull-out poster/campaign map - no one is really doing that on Kickstarter. Or in comics, lately. Also, when the three of us came together, we wanted to play to our strengths, and Charlie is a fantastic writer, but he's also an amazing conceptualist. He kind of let me write the comic all on my own, and I kind of challenged him with, "Ok, then you write the game." It was just smart to take the gamer and let him create.

Nrama: Can you tell us about the scenario of the first The Golden Guard RPG scheduled to be released with this book?

Charlie McElvy: I can tell you that it’s still under construction, but think of TGG the comic as the final result of an event, like most comics stories, that could’ve gone a different way or had a different outcome were it not for a few catalysts. The RPG allows the story to shift, change, evolve, or continue in as many possible ways as there are gamers playing it. In a sense, the RPG format gives The Golden Guard new life in the hands of new “writers” made up of the gaming community. They get the joy of asking the questions, “what if this didn’t happen,” or “what if he died instead of her,” and so on. Probably one of my greatest joys as a creator is watching the fan base take them to the next level. RPGs are fan fic come to life and made real. It’s our Velveteen Rabbit moment, in many ways.

Credit: Sean Izaakse

Nrama: What do people need to know to be able to play this game once it’s out?

McElvy: The system, Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition, is the basis for this initial launch. We may expand into other systems (e.g., Supers!, HERO System, etc.), and we have considered designing an all-new system, so there’s a lot more opportunity to enjoy this aspect of The Golden Guard. For now, owning and understanding the rules for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition is necessary. It’s truly a great system, so if you aren’t familiar with it now, go do so! You’ll enjoy it, I promise. Gaming is a way of taking your favorite comic book characters, including those in The Golden Guard, and getting inside their motivations, their aspirations, their desires & goals, and executing on them. It’s a way of breathing new life into existing characters in ways that even we as the creators may not consider. With that, we highly encourage you to explore the freedoms of this RPG, and make The Golden Guard adventures all your own!

Nrama: This is a comic book and a RPG game - I would imagine the comic influences the RPG, but have the mechanics of it being an RPG affected the story or art of the comic book?

McElvy: Not at all. And thankfully! That is primarily because the gaming platform, Mutants & Masterminds, so easily “fits” the superhero comic book genre’s demands, whatever they are, whichever Comic Age (Bronze, Golden, et al.), cosmic or earth-based, time/era based, etc. Green Ronin Publishing really created quite the platform from which to operate. I’ve used it since the first edition (1E), and they’re now on 3E, with no signs of slowing down. It’s only gotten better. Plus, I work with the best stats guys on the planet in Leon Change and DT “Sketch” Butchino. They do fantastic work, which permits me the freedom to develop around the required elements and produce an outstanding product (hopefully).

So, more to the point of the question: we aren’t in any way limited by the RPG format, thanks to its innate flexibility, and so the writing is done as freely as any other comics work.

Newsarama: Charlie, how did you get involved with The Golden Guard in the first place?

McElvy: It was a weird confluence of things that, for lack of a better phrasing, “just happened.” I was a fan of Vito’s and he (unbeknownst to me, initially) of mine and my world wherein WatchGuard and Teen Force 5 reside. We met, became friends and the rest is history. We shared so many commonalities, ideas, and passions that it was just a natural thing for us. I’m not even sure we were conscious of it until it all came together. Vito had The Golden Guard cooking already, and it wasn’t until we started talking about the book and how it connects with other properties (shhh) that things really started moving, and then… enter: Carlos!

Vito and I took one look at his Justice Society of America fan art and agreed that he was the One. It had to be Carlos. Period. End of discussion (not that there ever was one to be had – we knew it).

Nrama: You've stated that The Golden Guard comic book magazine will never be sold in stores. Why did you decide to avoid comic book stores alltogether?

Delsante: It goes back to the idea that someone may discover the book casually, complain to a retailer about the political overtones and ask for their money back, then the retailer complains to the publisher, and the publisher cancels the book. The appeal of Kickstarter is that you can directly appeal to your audience. So, theoretically, let's say 100 comic book fans discover The Golden Guard on Kickstarter, but 30% of them don't like the subject matter. Well, cool...because the other 70% will support the book, and really, they are the audience we're trying to capture because, like you mentioned, this is an annual, so that means we're doing a Kickstarter again next year and every year after. We want to keep that audience around for the long haul and build on top of that. I truly believe that there isn't a publisher that would touch this book, and that's ok. It doesn't invalidate what we're trying to do, or cheapen the story. We're stronger for it. Who knows? Maybe a publisher will come along with a deal that we can't say no to. And maybe retailer support may come. I don't think we'd say no to a perfect situation, but from where we are standing right now, it's better to do this on our own. Someone always has to go first, right?

Credit: Sean Izaakse

Nrama: And are you skipping a digital release as well?

Delsante: We will give digital files to our backers, but right now, we haven't discussed comiXology or any other digital comic distributor. A couple of folks over there are aware of the book, but no one has actually approached us about digital distribution. We're certainly open to it; again, the three of us don't want to deal with retailer backlash, so this fits within the larger scope of our plans.

Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for The Golden Guard besides just reaching your Kickstarter funding level?

Delsante: Personally? I want the book to be self-sustaining, and perhaps figure out a subscription plan where we wouldn't necessarily have to do a Kickstarter, but can have folks pony up an annual subscription. After that, I really don't know. I have no ambitions toward chasing a Hollywood adaptation (although, an animated feature would be cool). If anyone wants to make toys, we're open. Video game? Sure, contact us, but I think it's safe to speak for Carlos and Charlie when I say that all we want to do is make a great book. I think we have it. I think we have a real stand-out in the medium and I think we are making a comic that can move people and make them think.

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