By Jeff Walsh
"Pride High" dumps the metaphors. The characters in this comic book aren't 'mutants' just for the sake of indirectly talking about homosexuality. Nope, they are young, gay superheroes.
The comic's creative force, Tommy Roddy, recently (we're stretching the bounds of "recently" here, it was back in December, I think) spoke with me about his comic book (episode 3 of 12 was just released), the process of creating a comic, what's in store for the future of Pride High, as well as some of his own backstory and coming out.
Pride High is out now, so what was the origin and the gestation period for it?
It was probably about five years, I think. It started off as a round-robin fiction group. I forget the exact number of us, but it was over 10 writers. We created all these characters in the same, shared universe in anticipation of the online roleplaying game "City of Heroes." The game was in development for far longer than any of us expected, so we had years to write stories and build up our own little mythos. When the game finally came out, the stories took a backseat to actually playing the game. But I eventually began to miss the stories. I took time out from the game to write a novel-length narrative about teen heroes who would go on to become Pride High. The reaction from friends was very positive. However, the consensus was that the story would make a much better comic book than novel, given the superhero genre. I agreed. So I called up the old team, changed the setting, hired an artist, and launched Pride High.
So the medium was dictated by the characters being superheroes. As I've told you, I'm not really a comic guy. People always keep telling me, 'Oh, you need to read the Watchmen, or Sandman...'
Well, it can be tough, because many comics have such a large background mythology that can leave you pretty lost. That's one advantage of releasing a new comic. People aren't so overwhelmed.
And I haven't ever read the comic version, but it seems people are similarly attracted to the X-Men, where the movies clearly use the mutant angle to refer to homosexuality...
That's the thing. I wanted to drop the metaphor. I'm not saying there isn't value in exploring the issue that way. I really appreciated the bit in X-2 where Bobby "came out" to his parents as a mutant. However, I specifically wanted kids with powers who were also gay.
I'm also curious in that you said fans of the comic get to play a role in the ongoing creation of the comic. Now, when I first talked to you, Issue One wasn't even out and they were already on your message boards talking about it. So, does that indicate there's a huge demand for something like this?
We made the boards public back in July 2006. Though the comic was still months away, the idea of it was enough to gain some fans. The fact that we also offered spots in the comic was icing on the cake for many. I wouldn't say the demand is huge, but it's definitely there. It's not very common beyond "Contests for Cameos" to have a reader creation in a comic book. But that's something I've always wanted when I've read comics. I wanted to give people the opportunity in my work. Obviously, I don't have space for everybody, but it is a school, and that gives me a certain amount of leeway on the number of people that I can add to the storyline.
And how does that work, because I tend to write very insular. A small number of characters, and it's a challenge just how to get them interacting, whether this character talks to this one or whatever. So, with a lot of characters, how do you balance it so people who like a particular character are getting their little hit every time?
Naturally, the storyline revolves around the main cast. But for many of the supporting roles, I've purposely left the character concepts vague. For instance, I knew I wanted a student office assistant. I gave the character dialogue in script drafts, but I never gave the character a name beyond "Office Assistant." A reader submitted his own character for that role. All I had to do was add the name and tweak the dialogue. The storyline of Pride High is full of such open slots. Reader characters won't get as much time as the main cast, but a few will have recurring roles. And for the really popular ones, there's always the Pride High bulletin boards. There, members write their own fan fiction starring their favorite reader characters.
And there are how many issues in the whole arc?
12, tentatively. For the kids in the comic book, it's their sophomore year, but in our time, it will take two years to tell.
And how far ahead of the curve are you?
The outline is complete. I'm working on issue four now.
And even though you're sort of the public face of Pride High, there's a crew of people on board. How many are there?
The main creative team consists of four individuals. Along with Brian Ponce, there's Carl Hippensteel (editor) and Andrew Van Marle (Dutch Translator). Carl and Andrew are also the creators of the main cast members Kid Mischief and Scotch Bonnet, respectively.
And who are yours?
Mindsweeper, Suravi, and Chip Cheetah.
And how does the process work? Is it drawing before writing, writing before drawing...
Consulting and/or tweaking the outline of the story arc is the first step. Next is writing the script for the current issue. Once that's done, I email it to the editor. He sends it back with corrections, and I then forward it to the artist. I don't do storyboards. Brian works directly from the script. I'm pretty flexible and give Brian a lot of leeway. He comes up with a lot of amazing things I would never think to do with the panel layout. I've even changed dialogue to fit his interpretation of a scene. As long as the gist of the story is there, I'm fine. So, after Brian pencils and inks the pages, he sends it back to me. I look them through, letter it, and then give him the green light for the coloring.
I figured you'd be creating this stuff in Illustrator or something, so he's hand-drawing everything and you're hand-lettering everything?
I letter everything in PhotoShop and he draws everything by hand.
I'm just used to the everything-digital world. I figured he'd be creating everything on the computer.
He pens and inks by hand, scans the image, then colors digitally.