When you look at your life, do you find yourself with an incurable magical void? Not enough Doc Stranges, not enough Constantines? Well, we’ve got good news for you.
Coming this June from BOOM! Studios, a brand new series is debuting entitled “Thomas Alsop.” Born out of the previous collaborations between Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt, this new epic series has lofty plans and goals for Alsop, who is the current “Hand of the Island,” a title handed down from generation to generation. Guarding Manhattan from evil using his family’s predilection for magic, Alsop goes up against evil demons and reality television.
You can read the first ever Thomas Alsop story here. For our chat with Chris and Palle, please read below.
So one question I like to start with when interviewing new people, and I’ll start with you for this, is: why comics?
Palle Schmidt: For me, making comics is like making movies, only it doesn’t cost anything! If I can draw it, it can happen, I don’t need to ask anybody’s permission. My previous experience has been making my own stories and having “final cut”, so working with a writer was a daunting thing. As it turns out, I love it just as much as working on my own stuff. It’s great to be in the trenches with someone other than myself, someone who cares just as much. And I can just focus on the art and the storytelling, bringing Chris’ great story to life.
Chris Miskiewicz: I respectfully blame my father for my comic book addiction. I think I was around ten or eleven when he sent me into this old time, hole in the wall, comic book store out in Canarsie, Brooklyn with ten bucks in my hand. The place was a mess of stacked books and dust, but I fell in love in there. This is what I needed. 22 page windows into anything but my everyday life of Brooklyn bullies and neighborhood Italian knuckleheads. I came out fifteen minutes later with a stack of comics, and have somehow found myself going to the shop every Wednesday ever since to see what my “friends” were up to.
I also blame my grandmother’s love of afternoon daily soap opera’s that I’d watch with her as a kid for the way that my mind grabbed onto episodic fiction. I just got it. This plotline will connect with that one, that one with this. It’s partly why I love the monthly episodic nature of comics. It’s one of the last holdovers of the 20th Century. You read, you wait, you read, you wait, and the story continues.
And then of course, I just love comics. I love the freedom. You can literally do anything in comics. Every little idea that you ever spazzed out about while daydreaming on a crowded rush hour train is possible in comics. People fly. There’s wild science. And of course… Magic!
How did you two originally meet and begin making comics together?
PS: MoCCA was my first US comics convention, believe it or not. The Devil’s Concubine was set for release from IDW, so I came over to sort of check out the scene and was completely awed from the positive vibes I got on both my art and just the forthcoming and friendly atmosphere. Dean Haspiel, Chris and Seth Kushner were among the first people I met in the industry and I consider all of these guys friends and mentors. I think I got the idea for my comics tutorial site, comicsforbeginners.com, seeing how they developed Trip City and Chris’ webseries. They’re all do’ers as well as talkers, taking things in their own hands rather than waiting for the gatekeepers to take notice. As for our comics collaboration, after reading Chris’ stuff, all he had to do was ask.
CM: Palle and I had the fortune of meeting at MOCCA a few years ago. He had come to New York with a collection of Danish artists to see what the scene was like.
I believe it was Seth Kushner, one of my partners at TripCity.net, who had met Palle first while I was away from our table. I came back and he said something like, “You should talk to that guy. He’s good.” So, I did, and we hit it off immediately. It was one of the easiest conversations I’ve ever had.Continued below
Palle had just finished “The Devil’s Concubine” by IDW and had half the pages for his forthcoming original graphic novel, “Stiletto” with him. I looked them over and was floored by the art. This guy. This was the guy I was looking for my big not so secret project that I was violently typing all of the time. So, I immediately asked if he was interested in doing an episode of the anthology web comic I was writing, EVERYWHERE, published by ACTIVATEComix.
It was pretty far-fetched that he would be interested. Palle was heavily into crime fiction at that time, and the plot for EVERYWHERE was basically, that you wake up to find that billions of the same species of animal are all over the world at once, without explanation. So… Horses Everywhere, Kittens Everywhere, and so on. It was great fun to write each episode with a different animal apocalypse drawn by different artists. No recurring characters. Total Twilight Zone stuff.
In the end, Palle took a copy I had printed for the convention, read it at his table, and texted me twenty minutes later saying that he dug the writing and was in.
So, we ended up blending where we were and what we were doing into a heist story where a bunch of guys knocked over an MTA transfer station where they sort through the daily metrocard money. But, they were robbing them in a world of fish. Fish Everywhere was the first thing we ever did together, and I have to say that I’m damn proud of that episode of the series.
However, over the course of working on that I kept bringing up the story I was writing which would one day become the 8 issues for Thomas Alsop that BOOM is putting out. I really couldn’t stop thinking about Thomas that year. I was possessed by the character.
Palle and I immediately followed Fish Everywhere with a 12 page Thomas Alsop Short, “The Case of Dead Uncle” which originally was published at TripCity.net. We did it as a test to see what people would think, and were floored by the response. So, Palle got to work on issue one.
I really like the concept of the series, the latest in a line of guardians of Manhattan. How did you guys come up with the idea for the series, and how did you develop the character of Thomas Alsop?
PS: The visuals for Thomas was part rock star part douchebag magican, with an ironic twist. Thomas KNOWS he’s a bit of a douche and even plays on it. He’s about as unlikely and reluctant a hero as can be – and yet he’s the absolute right hero for this particular plave and time. I like how Chris has crafted a multi-dimensional character and I just enjoy the hell out of drawing this guy, both in his swagger and in his more vulnerable moments. And we get to see him be more of a take-action kind of guy later on in the series.
CM: Research. Research. And then more historical research. The one thing I’m finding out about myself is that I don’t start writing anything until I can hold a pretty good bar conversation on the subject. In the case of Thomas Alsop, the subject would be New York History & magic.
A few years ago I managed to find a family grave site inside of a larger cemetery in Queens, New York with graves dating back to the 1680’s to early 1700’s. I was amazed at the find, where it was, and it blew my mind that something so old could be situated where it was. I was only able to make out the last name, Alsop on a worn out tombstone.
I became obsessed with researching that area of Brooklyn & Queens over the following months, from going on industrial walks along the Newtown Creek, to simply hitting up libraries and historical sites to see what I could dig up. I read about the Dutch settlers who were the first to claim the land, as well as the native tribes who got pushed out of the area, and my imagination kicked in.Continued below
I got to writing several stories with Richard Alsop, the first Hand of the Island, who held the title from 1699 to 1799. This noble farmer who tried to get the residents of Greenpoint Brooklyn to stop burning their daughters as witches. His actions got the attention of Mazara, The Original Hand of the Island, who foresaw how the native tribes, and his own, The Tribe of the Hand, were about to be wiped away by the Europeans. So, Mazara made the best-worst decision he could and cursed Richard Alsop, and all in his family who would come after, to serve and protect Her, the Island, who manifests herself only in the dreams of each Hand.
My series bible for Thomas Alsop is longer than the first 8 scripts. I have graphs, lists, & connected families all running together through this series, just building off of this long heritage of unlikely magical heroes. Men and women who have taken this job so very seriously, until Thomas.
Thomas doesn’t want to be the Hand, he’s been cursed as the hand since he was 24 when his father was killed. He awoke the next morning with a job and supernatural powers that he never wanted. Prior to that moment, Thomas was a well to do younger man from a well to do family attending NYU, and just screwing around on guitar trying to be a rockstar in a band. After he’s cursed, it’s a whole different ballgame for Thomas. He understands the gig, understands the history, understands his power-set, but just doesn’t want any of it.
If this were real life, and you were a New Yorker, you’d most likely have a Thomas Alsop story from some night when you ran into him in a Lower East Side bar, where he was utterly trashed trying to forget whatever supernatural event just happened.
It’s on a night like that where his life forever changes, and his buddy Marcus Rogers a TV Production Assistant goes out with him and films an event on his iPhone. Marcus puts the video up on youtube, and within a month its gone completely viral with several million hits. They’re soon after offered a Reality Ghost Hunter/Illusionist Show, Thomas Alsop – Supernatural Detective.
And that moment is a real game changer for Thomas. He’s now a national celebrity, giving into his fame, often on late night talk shows doing skits. He’s loved by his fans, hated by his fans, and despised by just about every other supernatural or magical based character in the series for being so visibly out there.
That’s basically where we meet him at the beginning of the first issue, before the main plot kicks in. A case that both Thomas in 2011 and Richard in 1702 are working at the same time.
The generational thing is certainly interesting, and I can imagine it comes with a certain amount of weight and burdens. How did you develop the mythology and history for this series?
PS: From the artists perspective, the tricky thing was to keep the time periods different and guide the reader through the style and color choices. I love the contrast between the urban present and the wild and rural 1700’s New York.
CM: I’ve left a huge canvass for us to pull from, which is basically all of New York history for the last 300 years. Every little corner of time in NYC that a person might find interesting, yep, there was a member of the Alsop Family there. Everything that’s every happened in or around New York, yes, a Hand of the Island was there.
The Revolutionary War? Yep. Richard helped General Washington escape the British at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Civil War? Yup, there was a Hand present. The Five Point Riots? Yup, Mary Jenkins-Alsop, Hand of the Island was right in the middle of it. WWII and the crime ridden streets of New York during the 1960’s & 70’s? Yup, Thomas’s Father, James F. Alsop was a NYC Police Detective, as well as being the Hand.
And then in the modern age of internet, reality TV, texting and iPhones, well…there’s Thomas Alsop, the absolute worst Hand the island has ever known, who quite possibly is exactly the kind of hero that the time period, and the island, and this city need.Continued below
What’s the collaborative process like for this series so far? How’ve you learned to cope with each others eccentricities?
PS: Well, I think I butt in quite a bit more than Chris does, in fact. I’m also a writer, so I can’t help coming up with little suggestions or line edits. Luckily Chris is cool with that. We email back and forth, text and the occasional Skype call to talk through a scene or a story element. When I’m in New York we talk Alsop NON STOP and go location scouting. Whatever eccentricities we have, we seem to be on the same page on every aspect – which is a rare and beautiful thing!
CM: At this point in my creative life this the best collaboration I’ve had with anyone. Palle is a writer & artist. He just gets story, story points, beats, everything. We’re both on point with this story, where it needs to go, and where we’d like for it to go in subsequent volumes if it’s a hit for BOOM and they green light further volumes of Thomas Alsop.
As far as the nuts & bolts of how we work, I give Palle as much freedom as he wants per page. If there’s something he wants to change, or extra panels he wants to put in, or there’s a better/different way to deliver a scene, as long as it doesn’t alter the plot, I’m cool with it. Honestly, every time Palle has made a suggestion, it turns out better than what I had in mind. Basically, we’re both looking at the same thing from a different angle, hopefully making the final product better from the blending of our two parts.
It’s pretty funny actually. I keep saying to people that I used to play in an NYC band called Swinger Eight for years, and that “working with Palle Schmidt has turned into the best band that I’ve ever been in.” Hopefully fans dig this first arc as much as we do and we get to tell more, because I love writing this guy, and he’s got a ton more stories in his world that we’d love to explore.
In hearing you guys talk about this a bit, I get the impression that your influences are similar but different. There’s some pulp in there from Chris, definitely pop-culture from Palle. What are you guys looking at for inspiration with this series?
PS: Well, for my own books I would have a clear answer ready, but for Thomas Alsop I have to say my only inspiration was the script! The painted style was something I developed with STILETTO so I guess I could cite my own book as an inspiration, ha ha! And I was forced to read The Scarlet Letter at English literature at university, so my depiction of 1700’s New York probably came from that and The Crucible.
CM: Honestly, everything. I scour news & science sites daily for ideas, and just to stay informed. Due to the various era’s that Alsop covers I’ve very much enjoyed digging into New York history for story points, both historical/factual events, and then just weird stuff.
You would not believe the amount of creepy that’s occurred throughout the five boroughs, or how many mass graves there are underneath Manhattan parks, or the odd things that occurred on some of the islands in the rivers and Jamaica Bay. Anything odd and interesting I find goes in the Alsop file for later.
I know the description of the series sites some figures who may have similar elements to your character, and you guys sort of touch on it too, but what steps are you taking to give Thomas a unique identity? What do you think makes him stand out from the rest of the crowd?
PS: I try to add a stoned rockstar attitude to Thomas, he’s just totally disrespectful to any and all rules. I guess what makes him stand out visually from other comics characters, is that he doesn’t wear his underwear on the outside… Or no underwear at all! For me it’s all in the script, in Chris’ depiction of Thomas and the numerous conversations we’ve had about him. Even though it’s not in the script, I just instinctively know what outfit to put him in, what his demeanor should be.Continued below
CM: I assume you mean Dr. Strange & Constantine, and if you’re talking magicians in comics, it’s hard not to reference them.
There all kinds of reasons why people connect to a character. I think that there’s a time and place for characters who have a certain voice, and I feel that Palle and I are crafting a very real, flawed person, along with an interesting modern take on the master magician concept. Thomas is very much someone you might meet. He’s got that quiet brooding anti hero thing down, but he’s also wild, loud, and right in your face due to his television show. Hopefully the blending of magician and media star end up making something new. I think that part alone sets Thomas Alsop up differently than other occult comic anti heroes. Everyone knows late night TV, and reality stars, and ghost hunter shows. But imagine if someone as brash as Howard Stern was also a powerful sorcerer, and they were from New York? I’d want to see that guy and learn about the spirit of his city, and hopefully fans will too.
With a book like this I imagine that, when magic and powers are used it becomes rather integral to the storytelling. Magic in comics is usually shown in unique ways, after all. What can you tell me about the design of the series so far?
PS: I don’t know if what we’re going for is unique, we just try to tell the story in the best way we can. As for magic, I like the hidden connections, the unexplained and the stuff that takes place off screen. Like the scene in issue #1 where we see Richard Alsop use his powers. It’s seen from the perspective of his men, who are equally awed and scared by these mysterious forces. Every hand seems to have a hard time connecting with people after they can suddenly make people cough up perpetual smoke and the like.
CM: This part has been a blast. Richard, the first Hand, was also a master carpenter. And whenever he came across something that he couldn’t beat, he’d build a tool to deal with the problem, which he then enchanted. So, Thomas has access to an entire arsenal of really cool gadgets he constantly uses. From guns, to boxes, to trinkets and charms. Beyond his innate abilities, Thomas has a gadget in his pocket to deal with almost anything he comes in contact with.
It sounds like the scope of the series is pretty big already, so how are you viewing the structure of the series? Is it arc-based, are you hoping for intermittent one-shots?
PS: I’ll defer to Chris on this, I know he has big plans. But I also know it all depends on how the story is embraced by readers. I could do this forever, in whatever format.
CM: My dream would be to do a few volumes of Thomas Alsop, and take the story as far as it can go, showcasing other Hands in the same way we go back and forth between Richard & Thomas in this first arc, showing how its a huge interconnected story about this family, and how it all kind of fits together. (In my head at least.)
As far as a publishing plan goes, beyond just continuing the series as a monthly… I suppose publishing Alsop like Sin City, or Hellboy would also be ideal, doing definitive arcs/volumes of 6-8 issues. Something like that.