Remember that time you posted a fun sketch online and then it blew up? The next thing you knew, you were creating a new Image series based around that character that was coming out this August? Well unless you are creator Rich Tommaso, you probably don’t remember that time.
Following up his most recent comic work with the Image titles “Dark Corridor” and” She-Wolf,” Rich is getting ready to introduce readers to Malcolm Warner also known as the “Spy Seal.” Follow the journey as Spy Seal joins the world of international espionage in one of Britain’s most covert MI-6 divisions, The Nest. We were able to talk to Rich about this new series, its tone, its creation and its characters who are animals and are also spies. Look for the first issue of “Spy Seal” on August 16th.
The character of “Spy Seal” blew up from a sketch you posted online and now we are here getting ready for the first issue to drop. How did this all come about, how do you feel about it and what is it about?
Rich Tommaso: After I did a sketch of him and saw what a huge response it got online–that were constant for over four days–in the way of flattering and encouraging comments, retweets, immediate professional pin-ups, cartoonists asking to do backup stories, a cool Halloween/cosplay pic, fan art, and questions about whether or not there was a possible series in the works, I knew I had to bring this character back and make some new comics with him again. I mean, I had never received such praise over anything I’d done before this in my 23 years making comics professionally. It was very odd because this was some little comic I used to draw as a kid and here he was, in my adult life, getting so much attention. I immediately contacted Image to let them know about all of the hoopla and, once I did, I got a pretty fast green light on the project. The comic is a classic spy story that follows the adventures of MI-6 British secret agents chasing down an international crime ring of terrorists who are using art galleries as fronts to pass along British military/governmental intelligence from Britain to Russia.
Who is Spy Seal?
RT: He’s a character I created when I was 13,14 years old, back in 1984. Heavily inspired by various comic books and TV cartoons of the time. I drew two full-color issues on plain white, 81/2 X11 paper using mostly colored pencils. After those comic books I put him in a comic strip series for five weeks and renamed the series, British Agents, He was the typical jet-setting, suave, British secret agent. He would travel around the globe and chase after world-dominating evil villains–all with the help of a large cast of other secret agents he would encounter along his travels.
When it came to this first issue is this a story you had planned for some time or something that has evolved since the idea for this being a series was developed?
RT: No, I had nothing planned and it took me some time to think up a good story. I wanted the story to be something that could be available to readers of various ages–I’m not sure why, Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the comic I drew as a 13-year-old was pretty wholesome, I dunno. But that was the immediate sticking point in coming up with a satisfying story. There were some fumbles when I wrote the first three drafts and I later discovered that the problem was that I was trying to make something that would appeal to young readers. What I really I needed to do was to come up with a story that fulfilled ME as an adult writer/artist, first. The trick is, I found, that I had to write a story that was engaging for adults, something that didn’t quite read as a kids book–instead, it would be a worldly, exotic, sophisticated spy book that didn’t contain–nor NEED–any sexual content, graphic violence, or profanity to enhance it or to have it connect with the adult portion of my audience.Continued below
Both “Dark Corridor” and “She Wolf” seemed to draw on a lot of inspiration from their respective genres (noir/crime and 80’s horror). What have you found as inspiration for working on “Spy Seal?”
RT: Well, as a kid, my big inspirations for the comic were things like, Danger Mouse and Thundercats cartoons and comics like “Usagi Yojimbo,” “Critters,” “Threat!,” Mike Mignola’s run on “Rocket Raccoon,” “Groo The Wanderer,” and movies like Buckaroo Banzai and The Road Warrior…but now most of my inspiration comes from The Adventures Of Tintin books, John LeCarré novels, early Hitchcock films, Rocco Vargas and Dungeon comics… and still–“Usagi Yojimbo.”
What makes a good spy story in your opinion?
RT: Like crime stories, I think you need a good mystery in there. Something to keep the reader guessing–and keep the main character exploring. I also think it should contain some amount of political awareness–to give the story some weight. But, I’ll be figuring most of these things out as I go along–this genre is entirely new to me as a professional writer. I haven’t explored it too much beyond the films I’ve seen at this point, so I’ll have a better answer maybe five years from now–that is, if this series lasts longer than a year. Right now, I enjoy that my story is filled with adventure and intrigue–and to keep myself interested, some political ingredients thrown in there as well. There’s not much, just a few conversations to give the reader an idea of what the climate is like for the story’s time period–which is about mid-way through The Cold War period– for this particular volume. The next series could be set in any time period I choose–it IS an anthropomorphic character series, after all. So It could be set the 80s, 50s, 40s–anything goes.
What is the process like for the character development for the series? How do you decide what animal might fight a character in the series? Does a character help shape the animal or does the animal help shape the character?
RT: Sometimes the animal has a role of specific importance for the story (like a bird for air raid missions), but I also like to keep it loose and not be too dead-on with their roles in the story. If there’s a great joke there or a perfect use for their abilities, then I’ll think about the animal for a specific role, but mostly it’s whatever comes to mind and I find fun to draw. This one has A LOT of birds in it because the mission centers somewhat on a mysterious Phoenix the spies are searching for.
Following “She-Wolf” which was a much darker tone and style, what is your goal for the tone and style of “Spy Seal?”
RT: I’m trying to create a story that doesn’t need to win people over (myself included) with extreme or dark themes. Something that is imaginative, colorful, and comprehensive enough to engage a teen, young adult or middle-aged reader.
To follow up on that, one of my favorite aspects of your work over the years in the freshness you seem to bring to each series you work on. Each series has its own unique look and feel that serves the story perfectly. As a creator is that something you try to challenge yourself with each series?
RT: Yes. It was challenging more than ever in this case, as I’m not fond of dumbed-down kids material nor well acquainted with the spy genre.
After successful back to back Image series with “Dark Corridor” and “She-Wolf” what have you learned with those books and are taking into this series?
RT: I’ve learned to be more consistent with the look of an ongoing series–keeping the covers simple and similar in design. But mostly, because I haven’t worked on a monthly in so many years, I began to tighten things up in order to keep the work moving more smoothly. I never used to write scripts or even bother much with thumbnails while working on books in the past, but because I’m on a strict schedule, I’ve made myself do both of those things in order to make sure everything will fit in the page count that I need. Doing those tasks has helped to flesh out my ideas better beforehand too and not leave storylines and plot points up in the air until the last minute. With each new Image series, I’m trying to nail down the scope of these stories tighter and tighter as I go along. Another thing I noticed as I was closing up SHE WOLF was how quickly it took to read some of those last issues. Which is fine, I don’t believe in overwriting anything. I believe some stories need more dialogue than others, but I wanted to make an extra effort with SPY SEAL to write in more dialogue–and with this series it’s natural to do that because it involves people talking about world events and politics, so naturally, it lends itself to more exposition on those fronts.Continued below
What do you hope readers take away from this first issue of “Spy Seal?”
RT: I hope they get a good sense of who “Spy Seal” is and the community that exists around him. I hope they begin to fall in love with these characters and come back for more in the future!