Kyle Camden was your average sixth-grader with a penchant for pranks until a plasma storm…changed him. That same plasma storm brought a new figure to town – Mighty Mike, the new superhero. But Kyle’s convinced Mighty Mike is up to no good, and he’s going to prove it even if he has to become an…Archvillain.
That’s the premise of the new series from author Barry Lyga, who’s no stranger to superheroes. In addition to being a former employee of Diamond Comic Distributors and scripting a few comics, he’s written the YA hit The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and last year’s prose novel Wolverine: Worst Day Ever.
Lyga’s new novel – the first of several coming out over the next year – is his first foray into younger-readers material, and out-and-out SF/fantasy. With Archvillain getting a big launch from Scholastic, we chatted with Lyga about his new book and his upcoming projects – which include a foray into graphic novels with a well-known comic artist. Read on to find out what it takes to be an Archvillain.
Newsarama: Barry, tell us about the plot and characters of Archvillain.
Barry Lyga: The basic plot is pretty simple: A kid named Kyle Camden gets superpowers and super-intelligence when he's exposed to the energies from a plasma storm. At the same time, another kid mysteriously shows up with superpowers, too, and becomes a super-hero named Mighty Mike.
Only Kyle knows that Mighty Mike is actually an alien pretending to be human...probably for some nefarious purpose. So Kyle decides to use his newfound abilities to bedevil Mighty Mike and reveal him for what he truly is. Hilarity, as they say, ensues!
Nrama: What inspired this concept?
Lyga: The publisher actually approached me with the basic idea of a kid with superpowers using them for evil, not good, tormenting the local super-hero. I originally declined to write it, but one day I was thinking about it and some of the comedic elements really clicked for me.
As a huge comic book geek, the idea of writing a series about a 12-year-old supervillain just seemed enormously satisfying!
Nrama: How long do you see this series running?
Lyga: There will be at least three books in the series, possibly more if people really like it.
Nrama: Kyle, like many of your protagonists, seems to be stuck in his own head and lacks perspective on other people's problems. What is most interesting to you about this type of character?
Lyga: Well, what you call “stuck in his own head,” I call being a kid! I think kids can be tremendously empathic and feel a connection to other people, but from adolescence on, there's also this period of time where they individuate and really become self-absorbed. What's the rallying cry of the average kid? “You just don't understand!”
There's this assumption -- and we've all been there! – we are unique and special and no can ever understand our pain because no one has ever suffered like we have. Part of the maturation process is outgrowing this tendency, so it's a very fertile field to plow in fiction about kids.
There are lots of variations on that theme, whether it's Fanboy's fear-driven isolation or Kyle's haughty, arrogant separation from society.
Nrama: Which of Kyle's pranks/inventions is your favorite and why?
Lyga: Well, the Pants Laser will always be very special to me because the idea of vaporizing people's pants cracks me up.
But I think Erasmus -- the snarky artificial intelligence Kyle builds into his iPod – Is my favorite. I love that Kyle is oblivious to the fact that he is responsible for how annoying Erasmus is, and of course, I get to use Erasmus in every book!
Nrama: What kind of character is more appealing for you – a superhero or a supervillian? Or, more to the point, who do you relate to more,>Superman or Lex Luthor.
Lyga: Well, I probably relate more to Lex Luthor, but Superman is more appealing. Which is how it should be, I guess. Lex represents human foibles and frailty, taken to the extreme, while Superman is the unattainable ideal we all aspire to.
Nrama: Tell us about some of your other upcoming books, and your graphic novel with Colleen Doran.
Lyga: The graphic novel is sort of top secret right now. I hope to show off some artwork by the end of the year, though. It's sort of a supernatural teen romantic comedy. Sort of. (laughs)
Colleen has been great to work with and we're both really psyched for it to come out, which will be sometime in 2011.
I'm also working on a new series for teens titled I Hunt Killers, which is about a kid whose father is the world's most notorious serial killer. Dad's in jail now, and his son has decided to track down a killer in order to prove he's not like his father. It's really gruesome and it has a scene in there that is the most horrible thing I've ever written in my life.
Nrama: What's different about telling a story in sequential format than prose? Conversely, what's different about telling a story with superhero/SF elements, as opposed to a realistic tale?
Lyga: Big questions! When you write a comic book, you need to think visually and then you need to communicate those visuals in such a way as to spark the artist’s imagination to present them the way you see them. This is powerful and frustrating!
On the one hand, you are giving up some of your authority ― rather than “speaking” directly to the reader, you use an intermediary, who interprets your story, and whenever you use an intermediary, there’s always the chance that something can be lost in the interpretation.
But like a serendipitous game of “Telephone,” there’s also the chance that so much can be gained! A good artist will take what you imagine and make it more powerful and more accessible for your readers.
You do lose some of the intimacy of prose, where you can live inside a character's head, but you gain that amazing, visceral sense of reality that only great art can bring.
As to the differences between realism and genre stories... Well, I try to bring the same level of characterization and artistry to whatever I write.
But I have to admit – in Archvillain it's great to know that I can just cut loose and have two kids with superstrength punch each other through walls for a few pages. It allows me to stretch my imagination in new directions and show conflict in different ways.
Nrama: Any updates on the Fanboy and Goth Girl film?
Lyga: Sadly, no.
Nrama: Who are your all-time favorite supervillains and why?
Lyga: I became a huge fan of Darkseid as a kid because of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen's “The Great Darkness Saga,” but I think very few people since then have approached that sort of quality work with that character.
I always loved Reverse-Flash. The costume and the backstory were terrific, and the fact that he killed the Flash's wife and then was killed himself by the Flash? That blew me away as a kid.
Nrama: What are some of your current favorite comics?
Lyga: I'm a huge Legion geek, so I am thrilled as hell to get to read Paul Levitz on the Legion again!
Get to know Mighty Mike and his Archvillain in bookstores now