We’ve already given you a hefty preview of ComixTribe’s Tyler James’ new superhero mystery comic, “The Red Ten.” If you haven’t checked it out, then stop what you’re doing right now and click that link!
Tyler has penned a fun, just-dark-enough superhero murder mystery and it’s definitely worth your time. “The Red Ten” will be released through Diamond in comic shops worldwide on December 19.
Tyler was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about finding inspiration, creating more than a handful of brand new heroes, and the origins of comic’s next great super villain. The interview doesn’t spoil the issue, so if you want to know more then go ahead and read on.
Let’s start with an easy one: Who are “The Red Ten” and how does one make the leap from Agatha Christie to capes and tights?
Tyler James: The Red Ten are the nine remaining members of The Alliance, a corporate funded super team, and Daniel Lawrence, the former sidekick of Red, a vigilante style hero, who is violently murdered at the stories open. These ten heroes pursue Red’s killer, presumably her longtime nemesis The Oxymoron, to his island lair…and then it all goes to hell, because let’s face it – nothing good comes from staying on an island too long. (Note: This is coming from a guy who’s three months out from a honeymoon in Jamaica.)
At shows and to retailers, I pitch “THE RED TEN” as how I would kill the Justice League if DC was crazy enough to let me. (I assure you, they’re not.) It’s a superhero re-telling of the classic Agatha Christie whodunit “And Then There Were None.” I’ve always thought the structure of that book – ten people, each with a big skeleton in the closet, go to an island where they are killed off one at a time, and anyone of them might be behind it all – was tailor made for serialized comic book storytelling.
What would you say to readers of our site that may not be familiar with the classic mystery writer Christie and what other non-comic recommendations can you give them? Do you actively look for themes and concepts from other works to transpose into comics, or was this something in your mind that jumped out and took you by surprise?
TJ: Even if you’ve never read Christie’s book (which you all should go and do immediately, it’s amazing), you’re familiar with the tropes she’s established. Whether it’s the great Family Guy episode “And Then There Were Fewer” or the underrated Harper’s Island that was on ABC a few years back, Christie’s influenced is thoroughly infused with pop culture. As a creator, I tend to have genre ADD, and am influenced by a whole range of genres, and more often than not, tend to mash them together and see what comes out the other side.
THE RED TEN is my first attempt at putting together a mystery, and it’s been a real challenge. The key to a good mystery is to plant all the clues people need to solve it on the page, but in the least obvious way. Novelists tend to do this by burying key details in otherwise unimportant paragraphs. It’s a little trickier to do so in comics, a visual medium. So, I spent a long time working this story out in my head, rearranging the puzzle pieces, so that I know exactly how it’ll all play out.
You don’t have to spoil all the nods to the Agatha Christie novel, but which one do you think was the cleverest, or best highlights the way that the ideas from that story translate to a superhero story?
TJ: If you’re familiar with Christie’s story, you’ll get a few of the more obvious nods to it — the “alone on an island” trope, the foreboding poem, in the statues, etc. But it was also important that people picking it up could read it on its face as an enjoyable dark superhero book.
What the Christie structure does is create a hell of a compelling narrative structure for serialized storytelling. Readers know that each issue, one character is going to die and the suspect list of who is behind it all will decrease by one. Speculation about who’s next to get the ax, how it’s going to happen, and who is the killer will hopefully keep them coming back.
As a writer, could you list some of your biggest inspirations (comics or otherwise) and what you take away from them to establish your own voice?
TJ: My comics library is vast, and my inspirations are too numerous to count. It was the Image founders who first inspired me to start creating comics…prior to Image, I think I had assumed most comics characters had always existed, rather than being something that actual people created. So, I definitely absorbed all of the early Image stuff like a sponge in my teens.
Since then, I tend to be drawn to creators who are able to do work that manages to be both commercial in high concept and extremely well-executed from a craft standpoint. Guys like Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman, BKV, and Brian Bendis come to mind. But mostly, I’m trying to have a hand in creating the kind of books I’d want to buy.
Now to possibly impose an inspiration onto you! I noticed panels that seemed like obvious nods to “The Dark Knight Returns”, the seminal Frank Miller classic. Am I on the mark? Was this intentional? What other allusions to classic comics can be found in “The Red Ten”?
TJ: I’m a big fan of Miller’s stuff from the 80’s and early 90s. And in fact, there’s a little panel trick in issue #3 that Cesar and I borrowed from “The Dark Knight Returns”…see if you can spot it when it comes out in March of next year. The opening scene also has a bit of a “Watchmen” feel to it. And I think Jeph Loeb’s Batman work, “Long Halloween” and “Dark Victory”, was also inspired by Christie’s work, so I could see some comparison’s there.
I enjoyed seeing a little bit of each of the members of “The Alliance” team in action. Some were obvious facsimiles of popular Marvel and DC characters, others maybe more original or amalgamations of known heroes. How did you go about designing this team and how much input did you get from your artist, Cesar Feliciano? Who were your favorite characters to create and work with?
TJ: I created the bulk of the characters in “The Red Ten” during the 30 Character’s Challenge event a few years back. #30Characters, now in it’s 4th year, is an online challenge to create 30 brand new characters in just 30 days, one for every day in the month of November. So, I had initial designs for most of the characters that I was able to give to Cesar at the start of the project. Cesar is a very talented artist and has a strong design sense, and he was able to expand on those initial designs to the finished versions you see in the pages of the book. I was also a few characters short of ten, so Cesar created the designs for Magnitude and Mazu, and new characters introduced as the series progresses.
Oxymoron is just a brilliant character design that seems like it would have legs beyond this mini-series. He’s an obvious Joker parallel, but with a great visual design all his own. How much facetime will he get in this story and what can we expect from him down the road? Where else can we see him?
TJ: Oxy has been a hit, no doubt a bout it. Even I was shocked at how positive the reaction to him has been, but once a fan came up to me at a con and said, “Hey, draw me that guy who looks like a cross between Deadpool and The Joker,” I began to understand the visual appeal. Oxymoron is a supercriminal psychopath obsessed with contradiction…and the fact that each of the so called “heroes” in “The Red Ten” are hiding a dark secret drives him bonkers.
For reasons that will be clear once you’ve read the first issue, Oxy is more of a specter casting his devious shadow over the events of “The Red Ten”, rather than a major participant. But it was because of the strong reaction to him that I rallied some of the most talented and hardest working creators in indie comics to put together “Oxymoron Volume I”, an anthology of Oxy stories, which raised $26,000 on Kickstarter last August, and will be available in shops next year. Oxy will also be showing up in a key “The Red Ten” issue that I can’t talk about yet, more than to say it will be in shops everywhere the first weekend in May, at a price too good to pass up. : ) Figure that one out, Detectives!
Collaboration seems to be strong among the tight group at ComixTribe. How much do you and your artist work together to get the end product. There’s actually a lot here on the page that isn’t in the dialogue or exposition. In the opening murder sequence, I immediately saw the skeletal dinosaur looming in the background as RED fell as an ominous bit of imagery. Are these happy accidents or are these flourishes that you’ve specifically planned? Either way, they were a nice touch.
TJ: I tend to right a pretty tight script, but Cesar Feliciano is a talented storyteller in his own right, and brings a ton of flourish to the pages. Cesar and I are trying to put out the best book we can, and each page is a true collaborative process. Editors Steve Forbes and Steve Colle review every page, as well. In general, I deliver Cesar the script after it’s made it through the editorial gauntlet. He then lays out the entire book in thumbs. We’ll all review, make any suggestions, and then Cesar dives into pencils. Thank goodness for Drop Box, keeping us all in synch!
What surprises can we expect in the first few issues of “The Red Ten”? Any teasers you can drop? How deep goes this world you’ve created?
TJ: A character dies in every single issue! Who and how…and ultimately why, are the questions that will ideally keep readers coming back for more. Issue #2 features an incredible hand painted cover by Charles Paul Wilson, III (“Stuff of Legend”) And Issue #3 contains a gorgeous 4-page watercolor sequence by Cesar.
Anything else you want to tell people about “The Red Ten”?
TJ: Cesar and I are having a blast doing it, and we hope you’ll check it out.