Recently, I got caught up with Image Comics all-ages title Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors (buy the first trade on Amazon or at your local shop!) and was blown away. This book is one of the most fun ones on the market, and something I can’t believe I didn’t read until now. It features incredible art from Armand Villavert as well as great concepts and character work from writer Mark Andrew Smith.
Today on MC, I talk with Mark Andrew Smith about how this book came to me, working with Villavert, where the book goes next, and a whole lot more. Thanks to Andrew for talking with me, and you can find our interview after the jump.
Mark Andrew Smith: Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is about a school where the children of villains study to follow in their parent’s footsteps and to learn the trade of being a mastermind. I think the characters and character relationships are very engaging, and also the book builds and builds with each new issue.
How did the idea for the book come about? I love the idea of heroes and villains pairing up to create a mutually beneficial armistice based off licensing agreements, and was surprised as soon as I realized that’s what it was because it seemed like an idea that was so awesome it should already have existed (aka phenomenal idea).
MAS: The book started with the title ‘Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors’ and from that I began to brainstorm a list of about twenty characters and the class curriculum that would be taught at the school. From the list of twenty characters we narrowed it down six. Once the artist Armand Villavert came aboard for art and he did the character concepts, I could visualize them when I was writing, and they came alive on the page.
How did hook up with Image for this project, and how has that experience been?
MAS: I just asked if I could do the series and they said yes. Originally it was going to be an original graphic novel, but I got tired of doing those and I wanted to reconnect with the monthly readership in comic book shops. I’m glad I did.
|Mummy Girl (Mayet) dropping comic knowledge on us|
One of the things I loved about the first trade worth of material was the issue that was dedicated to Scott McCloud that had Mayet talking to Kid Nefarious (and the audience) about the power of the medium. First off, was McCloud an actual teacher of yours, or was it more of a “I read Understanding Comics and it rocked my world” sort of deal? Second off, how did you decide to take this potentially simple plot device and use it as a place to defend the medium in a way?
MAS: I saw Scott McCloud lecture when I was at school, but he wasn’t my actual teacher. I think his book is so educational and there is so much to be taken away from reading it. So yes, ‘Understanding Comics’ has had a huge influence on me.
I thought it was a fun commentary to have Mayet so into the potential of comics and then Kid Nefarious isn’t listening to her and he’s just interested in Superhero books. That was how I felt about comics at the time, and there’s a lot of truth to the scene.
Of course, anyone reading the book knows that, so it was preaching to the choir, but also a fun and giggle worthy moment to have comics exist in a world populated with Superheroes and Supervillains.
You do a great job of blending the villainous idealism of the kids and the pragmatism of their parents. Going forward, do you expect to see more of the parents in the series with the apparent awakening of the Dragon Emperor (or whomever that was at the end of issue #6), or are we still going to stay mostly focused on the kids?Continued below
MAS: The book is focused on the kids for the next two volumes, and then we’ll get some more parents. I like Kid Nefarious’ dad a lot, so I want to see him pop up more. At the end of issue 6, the monster that pops up is named SHIRAN, and he and the Dragon Emperor are two different beasts.
I love that you take time in issues to really develop relationships between characters, like the young love between Mayet and Kid Nefarious or even Kid Nefarious’ dad going to the end’s of the galaxy to always get his mother those special flowers. How important for you is it to take little asides to remind readers that these villains are really just normal people with occasional bad intent?
MAS: I liked the scene with Kid Nefarious’ father because it’s an epic battle in space that turns out to be just like a jog for him where he’s getting flowers for Kid Nefarious’ mother. I think he’s a bit bored with retired life, and wants to go out and get into some supervillain action and to keep his skills sharp. But the outcome of the huge battle is for something so simple and it’s a tease for readers.
I just like moments like these where we see supervillains being real people and doing things that normal people would do that we don’t get to see supervillains doing in other books. It’s great to pull back the curtain and see those moments of humanity there.
Armand Villavert is someone I’d never experienced before this series, but man, the guy is a knock out at expressive, energetic characters and someone who is incredible at switching styles on a dime. Where did you find him, and how is it working with someone with his talents?
MAS: Armand Villavert was working on a book for Tokyopop, and I liked it and asked him to work on Gladstone’s. Working with Armand is great because he does perfect character designs and is great at animating the characters and having them come alive on the page. I love working with him.
All-ages (aka “fun”) titles are generally a hard sell for a lot of readers, but it seems that a lot of people I know are pretty enthusiastic about Gladstone’s. How successful have you felt with your first arc?
MAS: All-ages are a hard sell, but I think the key thing here is that we did all ages, that happened to be a superhero title, which is the specialty of the direct market. With that it was a little easier because most of the comic readership in stores like capes.
I think we’ve been very successful with the first arc, and I’m happy we wrapped it up and really went out on the high note with the action, concluding everything but also leaving readers wanting more. The fight was something we put our full energy into and our goal was to make each new issue better than the one before it and to keep building. I think people took note of that and they’ve been telling their friends about Gladstone’s.
Any idea when we can expect issue #7 of Gladstone’s?
MAS: Issue 7 should be out early fall. But it’s a new issue #1 for the next series titled: THE BATTLE OF THE SUPERHERO ARCHIVES. We’re working on the art right now and building more and more material.
Let’s say theoretically Gladstone’s becomes a hit cartoon. Who records the theme song?
MAS: That’s an impossible question to answer. I’d want it to be some band from Japan or Asia and to be really original and epic.
Besides Gladstone’s, what else are you working on? I read somewhere that you are teaching English in Thailand, actually.
MAS: I’m working on a baseball horror graphic novel with James Stokoe called Sullivan’s Sluggers that I hope finally comes out this year. I teach ESL in Asia and I’ve been doing it for my job for the past five years, but it’s getting to be too long, haha. I’m going to need an escape plan from ESL soon.Continued below
Can you tell us anything else about Sullivan’s Sluggers? We’re big fans of James Stokoe as well, and this sounds like a pretty awesome project even just at a higher level. Have you lined up a publisher for it yet?
MAS: Sullivan’s Sluggers is a horror book about a baseball team that stumbles into a town filled with flesh hungry monsters. The team have to use all of their baseball skills and tricks to survive the night. It should be out through Image, hopefully (Fingers Crossed) sometime this year.