It's time for the toys to get tough.
If that sentence sounds odd to you, then you're not one of the surprisingly enthusiastic readers of The Stuff of Legend, the comic from Th3rd World Studios that went to multiple printings after debuting last year.
Set during World War II, The Stuff of Legend is about a group of toys who venture off from the security of the toy chest to save their kidnapped young master from the Boogeyman. In a story by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith with critically acclaimed artwork by newcomer Charles Paul Wilson III, the first volume followed the toys as they ventured into The Dark, an evil land populated by bitter, lost and discarded toys who have taken on the Boogeyman's mysterious cause.
Now the comic is returning in July with a second volume over four issues, continuing the story of the band of toys on their quest to rescue their human master.
Following up on our discussion with Wilson about the artwork, Newsarama talked with Raicht and Smith about all the critical attention, how the series looks in digital, and what comes next for the independent series.
Newsarama: Mike and Brian, just overall, what's your reaction to the fan and critical response to Stuff of Legend?
Mike Raicht: It's been great. Getting people to check out new books is always a tough thing. We love working on the book so to have other people enjoy it enough to buy it and recommend it to others is about as good as it gets.
Brian Smith: The reaction from fans and the comics industry in general — everyone from fellow pros to retailers — has been overwhelmingly positive beyond anything we could have hoped for. We really can't thank everyone enough for picking the book up and sticking with it.
Nrama: Where does Stuff of Legend Volume 2 pick up? Can you set up the basic story we'll be seeing?
Smith: The Stuff of Legend Vol. 2 picks up a few days after the events that closed Vol. 1. The town of Hopscotch has been liberated and is now free from the Boogeyman's influence, but Max, Jester, Percy and the rest are no closer to rescuing their human master than when they first landed in the Dark. They decide to employ some new, more aggressive tactics in order to finally get some answers, but not everyone agrees on this new course of action. With the Boogeyman's army breathing right down their necks, our heroes will face their toughest challenges to date in this volume.
Nrama: Is there a certain character who is at the center of the journey in this volume? How does that differ from the last volume, and what can you tell us about their journey?
Raicht: The first volume was set up to introduce our entire cast but it was, at its heart, Max- and Percy-centric. One wanted to find the boy at all costs and the other wanted to survive at all costs. The rest of the cast had their chances to shine but those two kind of became the stars and the two opposing view points of the book.
This volume is different. By now everyone can kind of see what roles we have carved out for everyone so it's our job to make sure we serve up some surprises while continuing everyone's arc. I don't think we want to reveal too much about where things are going because we want the tale to unfold for the readers just like it is for our toys. Everything is just as new to Percy, Quackers, Scout and Max as it is to the reader. That is a lot of fun to write.
Nrama: Did the two of you feel more comfortable with the characters this time around, and did that influence the way you wrote this volume?
Smith: We've always been very comfortable with the cast, I think that's a result of having a clear ending in mind for each character right from the start. The only real uncertainty was how much room we'd have to get to that ending, and thankfully it looks like the book has done well enough where we'll be able to hit all the beats we wanted to without compromise.
Nrama: Did the story evolve as you began writing it? Can you give an example of how this volume may have changed as you two got further into the story, and why it changed?
Raicht: Someone, whether it's Brian, Charles, our publishers/designer/colorist team of Mike DeVito, Jon Conkling, or myself, is always coming up with a new area of The Dark to explore or a new toy to introduce. That's the fun of working together. It really is a team effort and we all love the book and the stories we're trying to tell.
One thing we ended up adding early on was a larger role for some of our villains, especially The General and Homer, the baseball player. Their introduction was initially a cut scene to give readers a look into what was going on within the Boogeyman's ranks but Charles did such a cool job of designing the characters and depicting their relationship that we ended up crafting more stories for them in the upcoming volume. Homer has actually become one of my favorite characters, psychotic that he is.
Smith: We're sticking close to our original outline, but definitely, there's been a few characters who emerged as favorites along the way and got some more attention on-panel — whether it's seizing opportunities to expand on an existing relationship, or to take a character who only appeared on one page and bring him back for a more meaningful turn.
Nrama: Will Stuff of Legend continue beyond Volume 2 no matter what? And how long do you intend to make the story?
Raicht: We've already outlined Volume 3 and beyond. The end of our story is written but we have a lot of tales to tell and places to visit before then. Now it's a matter of what the market will bear and us, hopefully, being able to tell all of the stories that lead up to that ending.
Nrama: How has it been working with your artist Charles again, and how does Volume 2 showcase his art?
Raicht: Charles gets better with each page. So far in the first two issues we've written we have a lot of big battle scenes and splash pages for him to dig into. He just kills on those. We also have some quiet moments which showcase his art even more. Moments that we hate to even add words to because they are so beautifully handled without them. We're really lucky to be working with someone who is amazingly talented but at the same time really coming into his own. I think we're as excited as the readers are to see how he interprets The Dark.
Nrama: Do you think this type of independent comic has a future on electronic media? And have you seen Stuff of Legend on iPad or other electronic delivery devices?
Smith: I've had the chance to check out Stuff on the iPhone, and I was really impressed with the presentation. Really slick. And I really enjoyed the pacing of the story when you can't cheat and look at the next page, or accidentally spoil a moment by glancing ahead -- all of the panels are presented one-by-one. It's different than holding the physical copy in your hand, but good in ways that I didn't anticipate.
Nrama: What else are the two of you working on that you'd like to tell fans about?
Raicht: We're working on Finding Nemo for BOOM! Studios, which has been a blast. Our first arc, "Losing Dory," follows Nemo, Marlin, Gill, Bruce and the gang as they try to track down a kind of kidnapped Dory. It's hitting in July, as well.
Alone, I have a Joker's Asylum: Killer Croc one-shot coming out from DC. It's a nasty little tale about a completely unhinged Killer Croc finding a family to call his own. Nice wholesome stuff.
Coming from Th3rd World Studios in November, which is way far away but it's almost completely drawn so I'm really excited about, is a werewolf book I'm writing called The Pack. It's drawn by Italian artist, Daniel Faccilongo. It is set in high school and covers what might happen if this type of contagious "virus" was combined with raging hormones. It has nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, werewolves and awesome art by Daniel.
Smith: Besides the Nemo comic Mike mentioned, I also have some new solo writing work coming out in the near future, along with a new Editorial gig that I'm really excited about. The fourth volume of the graphic novel series I illustrate for Penguin, The Adventures of Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy!, was just released this month, as well.
Nrama: Then to finish up, anything else you want to tell readers about volume 2 of Stuff of Legend?
Raicht: Just that this arc, "The Jungle," is four issues, and it comes out bi-monthly. We're really trying to get more issues out there. Volume 1: The Dark is also available in trade form now so there are opportunities to catch up. This is definitely a labor of love for all of us. We hope the fans continue to give us a chance.
The entire Free Comic Book Day 2010 issue of The Stuff of Legend can be read here on Newasrama.