WonderCon '10: Image Brings Vertigo's CRUSADES to HC

On the floor of WonderCon today in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, you see comic book fans of all ages from young to old coming together for their love of comics. And in a recent announcement by writer Steven Seagle, he’s putting out books for both the young and old. Seagle, who is at the convention with his studio-mates from Man of Action, just announced a new children’s book called Frankie Stein and the long-overdue collection of his 2001 Vertigo series The Crusades.

In Frankie Stein, he is reteaming with his Soul Kiss artist Marco Cinello to do a straight-up kids storybook about a little boy named Frankie Stein. Eagle-eyed Newsarama readers will remember that Seagle has been working on this as far back as 2003 when we interviewed him about it, but this new book is one that’s percolated in their minds for years before reaching the finish line.

His second announcement is a pair of collected editions for his 2001-2002 Vertigo series The Crusades with artist Kelly Jones. The twenty issue series and prequel one-shot followed a group of San Francisco citizens who lives are thrown in disarray with the arrival of a murderous Middle Ages knight. One of the few series at Vertigo not to be collected into a book, The Crusades is coming out – with some extras from Seagle and Jones to boot.

Both Frankie Stein and the collected editions of The Crusades will be published by Image Comics as part of the ongoing Man of Action imprint the studio has established in recent years. For more on these books, Newsarama talked to writer Steven Seagle.

Newsarama: It looks to be a busy weekend for you, Steven. We just talked to your fellow MOA mate Joe Casey about his new book, and you’ve outdid him with a new book and a new collection for an old series of yours. Let’s talk about Frankie Stein first. What can you tell us about the book?

Steven Seagle: It’s a kid’s book – a picture a page and an oddly metered text – that sort of classic storybook feel. But it’s more in the vibe of a fractured fairytale – we’ve skewed the point of view! So a Frankenstein monster child who’s been raised his whole life in a castle breaks out for the first time on Halloween night – only to find that the world is full of monsters!

Nrama: Obviously this idea of a kid-friendly take on a scary Halloween character is not completely new – hello Tim Burton – why do you think this mixture is so potent and popular to people?

Seagle: Well, Marco and I are both big fans of those Tim Burton worlds, but this book was born more out of the necessity of theme than homage to Burton. This is an “outsider trying to fit in” story. Kids often feel like they’re the only with a certain problem and the monster motif gave us a fun way to talk about that reality in a hyper-real and comedic way. Visually, Marco is in a much brighter place than the Goth vibe of most of the current Halloween stuff. His art – fully painted – is so rich and detailed that it’s almost more Where’s Waldo at times.

Nrama: Can you explain the differences in writing something aimed at children as adverse to teenagers/adults with your superhero work?

Seagle: Yeah, this has been much harder. It’s driven me crazy. You have to be very specific and efficient in kids books. It’s like trying to write in the style of Samuel Beckett or something. So precise. Every word matters tremendously. And then it still has to be simple – something a kid can read and get. I went a little older on the vocabulary of the re-write though – more in the spirit of a William Joyce kids book than a Dr. Seuss tome.

Nrama: You’re working on this with Marco Cinello, your collaborator from Soul Kiss. Can you tell us about your evolving collaboration with him over the years?

Seagle: Well, Marco is first and foremost a rare find – a guy who is amazing that world just hasn’t discovered yet. The Soul Kiss hardcover we put out a few months ago is a testament to this. It was his first comic book and people were comparing his work in that to everything from Pop Art to Will Eisner. But what I love most is his work ethic. He is a gunner! I can’t work fast enough to keep him busy! So we’re doing more and more projects together because he’s brilliant and fast – a trait combo lost to most creators after the  Kirby era. We’ve already started on a third project together that will be a long-form graphic novel more in the vein of my work on It’s A Bird…

Nrama: Frankie Stein sounds like this is more a storybook than comic – is that right?

Seagle: This is most definitely a story book. That’s actually one of the things we changed between the old version and the new. The old version had sequential panels, but they broke up the visuals and created more of a weird hybrid than kid’s comic story book.

Nrama: Speaking of that “old version”, Frankie Stein has been talked about for awhile – Newsarama even covered this back in 2004 when it was going to come out from IDW – but never did. What happened there?. I’ve read that that never came out and this is a redone version of that. Is that right? And if so, can you tell us why?

Seagle: Artist Marco Cinello and I completed Frankie Stein back in 2003 and approached IDW about it at the San Diego Con that year. They agreed on the spot, solicited it, then said that they wanted to wait a year to do it. Then after sitting on it a year they said they didn’t feel the direct market would support children’s books and they didn’t have the means to reach the actual book market. Then…they started a line of kid’s books like a year later and never called! I take this very personally, Ted Adams! Ha!

I was looking for another publisher, but once Man Of Action - the creative studio I share with my fellow comic nerds Joe Kelly, Joe Casey & Duncan Rouleau - creators of Generator Rex premiering on Cartoon Network April 23 (plug) – lined up our publishing deal with Image I decided to put the book out myself. But with the benefit of added time, I thought Marco and I could revisit the book and make it even better, which we did – new pages, new cover, new book design, new script.

Nrama: When will Frankie Stein be coming out?

Seagle: Frankie will be out in time for Halloween…naturally!

Nrama: Naturally. Moving over from storybook monsters to some real terror, let’s talk about The Crusades. This collection is a long time coming – nine years even, from the series original publication at DC/Vertigo. Can you tell us what made now the right time to get this together finally in one book?

Seagle: The right time has everything to do with Shelly Bond, Karen Berger and Paul Levitz. Kelley and I have always had a very specific vision for what we wanted this collection to be – two volumes in hardcover called “Knight & Dei.” But the term “creator owned” only gets you so far when you’re at a major publisher. Out of the blue, DC/Vertigo decided to put out The Crusades collection this year and it was going to be a softcover of the first story arc only – which was not what Kelley and I wanted at all.

I really went to the mat with Shelly and Karen and begged them not to do it because it wasn’t what Kelley and I wanted. And worse, if the first volume didn’t do well enough for DC, there wouldn’t be a second volume…ever! Karen expressed our wishes to Paul, and right before he announced his step-down, he reverted the rights to us (which we had been requesting for about five years) so we could do the project the way we saw it. I have to thank them for that.

Nrama: Truly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but The Crusades was originally a one-shot prequel and twenty issues. Will all that be in this?

Seagle: Yes, the first book, “Knight,” is the prelude volume Crusades: Urban Decree and issues 1-9. The second book, “Dei,” is issues 10-20 and some bonus material. Both books will be hardcovers and feature new covers by Kelley, new cover and book designs by me, and new re-mastered pages with some color and text fixes as well as overall production and cover colors by Soul Kiss and Frankie Stein artist Marco Cinello.

Nrama: We’re speaking on this like everyone must know it, but I know more than a few people missed out on the book the first time around. For those who didn’t read it the first time around, what is it about?

Seagle: A medieval knight starts dealing brutal justice on modern day San Francisco. This is Kelley Jones drawing mayhem meted out on modern metropolitans – skull crushing, limb severing, eye gouging – you know, your typical…love story? Yeah! Because as this anachronistic knight from the Dark Ages is doing dark deeds to despicable people, Venus Kostopikas – a beautiful fact checker for a San Francisco newspaper – is slowly finding herself drawn out of the arms of her caustic boyfriend, Anton Marx, and into the world of the Knight.

Nrama Off all the characters, Anton Marx made quite a mark on me – whenever I hear someone say “Am I Wrong?” I’m reminded of him. Can you tell us what you were aiming for with that character, and what you think he does to the series?

Seagle: Well, he’s actually a supporting character in my mind – a major one, but the lead of the book is Venus. But Marx is a hot mess! He’s a talk radio shill with a flashpoint opinion on everything. He’s an intentional self-inflicted caricature – underlined by the non-anatomical ways in which Kelley draws his mouth – a cartoon of conservative talk radio host more interested in ranting and ratings than life and love. Some people found him unreal when the book first came out, but as the years have gone buy I’ve met this guy…twice! While touring my play we did a lot of radio and let me assure the world – Anton Marx may have been an over-the-top work of fiction when we did this book, but the world has since created him!

Nrama: Artist Kelly Jones, whom with you did this series, is known for his particular style of artwork – but in this he really breaks out of those preconceptions for something unique. Can you tell us about working with him on this?

Seagle: Kelley was and is great to work with. He is a smart guy who is always digging a little deeper to wed the story with the visual. He would call every time a script came in and talk through it so fluently that I felt like he must have been the guy who wrote it! He never missed a single intention. We had great fun the entire run and were sad to see it close. We’ve missed working with each other so much that we’re kindling up a new project to rectify that.

Nrama: And after eight years waiting, when will the first collection of The Crusades be on shelves?

Seagle: The first volume, The Crusades: Knight, will be out by Comic Con in July.

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