PIPELINE CELEBRATES IMAGE: DAY FIVE
Welcome to the grand conclusion of Pipeline Daily's Image Week. So far this week, I've talked to Image's Director of Marketing, Eric Stephenson, looked at Chris Claremont's connection to Image's origins, and flipped through the pages of PREVIEWS for a nostalgic trip back to the earliest days of the upstart company.
Today's column was supposed to review the Image 10th Anniversary hardcover book, fresh with new stories by Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, and Todd McFarlane. This whole series of columns has been planned since Image announced the book in San Diego last summer. When the PREVIEWS solicitation came out for the book, showing it as a last week of February release, I had my final date for this week's columns.
Sadly, the book is late. Insert your own joke here.
What you're getting today, instead, is another column like Tuesday's. In the year 2000, I was approached to write a monthly Image-related column for a prospective print publication. The publication never made it, but that didn't become obvious until after the first few columns were finished.
Today, I'll be printing what would have appeared in the third issue of the magazine. This piece would have seen print just before the final three issues of the regular TELLOS series did in the fall of 2000. The good news is that it means you won't see any spoilers for the series in this column. The bad news is that you'll still get dated Gorilla references.
Nevertheless, I'm quite proud of how well this article came out. I'd like to thank Todd Dezago, in particular, for putting up with all of my questions at the Madison Square Garden Con earlier that year for a column which didn't see print as I had promised. I hope this helps make it up to him, however late it is. Thanks, also, to Mike Wieringo for taking the time to answer some e-mail questions.
Additional material from the interview you see here saw earlier publication in Pipeline on July 25, 2000. It has slightly more spoilers in it for the series.
TELLOS – YEAR ONE
For the past 15 months, fans have been enchanted by the fantasy series TELLOS. Telling the story of a lost boy and his adventurous companion, the reader is transported to a colorful and inventive world. It's filled with all the classic elements of fantasy series, including gnomes, elfin creatures, and griffins; that's combined with a large story arc and deceptively simple characters to form a book that is complex, yet easy to follow. It might not be obvious at first blush, but there's a lot going on that will reward those who chose to read the book a second time.
This whole interconnected world is devised, designed, and compiled by Toy Box Productions, a name used by writer Todd Dezago and artist Mike Wieringo for their joint project. TELLOS, in turn, is published under the Gorilla Comics imprint of Image Comics.
Confused yet? Don't be. It's much simpler than it sounds.
It started with their original partnership at Marvel Comics, where the two came together on "Sensational Spider-Man." When the book was cancelled out from under them, their mutual interests led to the concept behind TELLOS, a fantasy comic that would fit nicely into all demographics. Todd Dezago describes the structure of the series: "The framework of TELLOS was laid out by the two of us during a Sunday afternoon phone conversation; we developed the framework and worked it from beginning to end. Then it was my job to go and come up with a exciting way to 'present' the story, plot out how it would unfold."
The tricky part then became finding a home for the new book. Image was the creators' first choice, particularly since Mike Wieringo had already made a connection with then Image head honcho, Larry Marder. When Gorilla came about, once again it was Wieringo's standing there that brought TELLOS along. Todd Dezago gladly climbed the Gorilla's tree after they answered a couple of questions he had about the setup. Dezago is a self-proclaimed "conservative business man," who didn't want to take too many chances with his creation.
Being a fantasy title, TELLOS has the ability to morph into anything its creators want it to be. Along with that, however, comes the daunting task of creating a consistent universe. How do things work? Do the normal laws of physics apply in a world where magic is in evidence? If you believe a tiger can talk, what's so hard about believing a magic genie lives in an emerald gem? It's a liberating experience for a writer used to working in super-hero comics, where thirty or more years of continuity can prove to be limiting. On the other hand, it requires everything to be designed from the ground up. That is a task Dezago and Wieringo go at with reckless abandon.
"We have always worked well together and much of the nuts and bolts of TELLOS blossoms from conversations that we have," Dezago says. "I call it the 'Yes, and...' process, where we never say 'No' to an idea, but just continually build on it."
This isn't to say some surprises don't happen along the way. "Each issue I plot, I try to surprise Mike with how things happen, trying to catch him off guard with a piece of plot development," Dezago explains. "In turn, he surprises me with the way the characters 'act', usually bringing on an even deeper subtext to what we were both shooting for!"
Mike Wieringo, who describes TELLOS as being about 95% of his workload, explains how such intensive design work can slow up the creative process: " The more characters-- or crowd/city scenes-- the longer the page takes [to draw]. The heavy design demands of the TELLOS world of characters in and of itself take me more time than anything else I've ever drawn. Every character is wearing some fantastic, medieval costume, which is a vast difference from drawing guys in long underwear punching each other out. But I love it."
Wieringo goes on to explain how this could be a great way to keep boredom from setting in. "Visually, TELLOS is set up so that the possibility of… just about anything I/we could ever think up would be possible. Todd and I intentionally created a world that was so vast and varied and full of magic and possibilities that we can take it in any direction to keep it interesting to ourselves as well as the readers. Every time we introduce a new character, that character needs to be designed-- which is my department, so if I want to add anything my imagination can think of, I'm free to do so."
In both the story and the art, the reader can feel the effects of the different influences the creators have. Mike Wieringo credits two primary sources as his inspiration: Disney animation and Japanese anime and manga.
"I've always loved the sense of life, motion and magic in a Disney movie-- and in recent years, the different design directions they've taken with each film has blown my mind," says the Mouse-friendly Wieringo. "I've also discovered Japanese animation and comics in the past 5 or 6 years and I've really had my mind opened wide by the incredible intensity of design and power they infuse in their work."
Dezago cites the work of authors J.R.R. Tolkien, Steven King, Piers Anthony, and Orson Scott Card amongst his influences.
"Mike and I were both huge Tolkien Fans as kids," Dezago says, "and obviously [Tolkein's LORD OF THE RINGS] plays a lot into our world and narrative! Other influences would be the countless Fairytales, Greek Myths, and folk Stories/Legends that we both grew up with. As for other Authors of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I'd hafta name David Eddings and Brian Jaques as two of mine."
There are some other, perhaps surprising, inspirations at work, as well. The character of Thomestharustra – whose name is commonly shortened to 'Tom' – speaks similarly to the way Mel Brooks' Yoda parody character from the movie SPACEBALLS does. The truth is not so far away. Dezago says that Tom is the only character that developed from a certain 'voice' he had in mind. In this case, it's noted film director/actor Garry ("Pretty Woman") Marshall. While Tom may speak with the wizened old sage voice, he just as easily can crack wise with a Bronx accent.
TELLOS OVER TIME
Over the course of time, things change and adapt. There's an old saying about all art not being finished, just abandoned. Dezago says he cringes when he reads the dialogue in the first couple of issues of the series, and will probably cringe again when he sees what he wrote in the most recent issue a couple of months down the line. Wieringo even cites a slowdown of his work pace as time has gone on, in part to help develop his style further.
"To be honest, I've actually started slowing down a little bit as I've gotten further and further into drawing the TELLOS saga," Wieringo says. "I've been in a constant process of refining and revising the way I draw the characters and settings in the comic book. If you look at the way most of the main cast looks in the first few issues to the way they look now, you'll see that their appearance has changed somewhat-- with Koj changing the most in his overall look. Koj has definitely gotten bigger, more massive looking. I've also started using more tiger reference in drawing his head to make him more true to what a real tiger looks like. Drawing ongoing characters is always a constant process of refining and experimenting with how I like to draw them. It's always fluid with me. As a result, I've started to slow down a bit. As far as my style is concerned, I think it has begun to change just a little, as I become a bit more comfortable with the subject matter, I think my work has solidified a little."
Production aspects of the series have changed, as well. With the fourth issue, a new cover logo and lettering style appeared in the book. The decision to move away from the lettering house of the first three issues -- Comicraft -- was done for both aesthetic and creative reasons. The "vanity font" Comicraft created for TELLOS originally was based on Mike Wieringo's own handwriting.
"After a few issues Mike said he didn't like it and we switched to the current font," Dezago says.
It also helped to quicken the production cycle on each issue. The same house, Paul Mounts and Ken Wolak's BongoTone, is now handling both the lettering and the coloring. "It cut down on our production traffic and assured us more attention to detail that we weren't getting previously," Dezago says.
The original TELLOS logo was created by Wieringo and colored by Dave DeVries. Paul Mounts designed the new logo to be easier to see from across the comic shop – something pointed out to Dezago and Wieringo by Image founding father Erik Larsen.
While the look of the book may be open to reinterpretation during its run, the storyline might not be so fluid. TELLOS is working on a definite story arc, which comes to its grand conclusion in the tenth issue, due out in November.
"Yes, there is a Grand Scheme, and a definite progression laid out," Dezago explains. "The current story arc comes to a climax in TELLOS #10, and from there, Mike and I have many, many other stories to tell! 10 will close some doors but open several others!"
THE BUSINESS END OF TELLOS
What's the best way to explore those newly opened doors? Simple: Publish the book more often!
TELLOS has been on a bi-monthly pace for most of its existence. In 2001, however, look for that pace to quicken.
"TELLOS continues on its bimonthly schedule 'til Tellos 10 in November," says Dezago, "and then shifts to monthly with several Tellos specials/minis with art by a few industry favorites! This will give Mike and I time to get ahead on the second chapter of the 'saga', and raise some questions that will be addressed there!"
In addition, a variety of products based on the Tellos universe can be seen at a comics shop near you. A Dynamic Forces Serra vinyl statue made its way to comic shops everywhere in July 1999. A series of action figures is due out in November from both Dynamic Forces and Palisades. While describing the creation of ancillary merchandise as a great publicity vehicle, Dezago still plays the part of the proud father in describing the outside projects. "The first set [of action figures] features Serra, Jarek, Koj, and a Frog Soldier and, in my humble opinion, they look fantastic!! [It looks] just like they walked off of Mike's drawing table and into your hands!"
A series of t-shirts became available in August, with a series of designs to be debuted on the TELLOS web site (http://www.tellos.com) every couple of months.
There's no official word on a video game or animated series, although several companies have made offers in the past. Dezago and Wieringo are waiting for the right deal to come along.
"And while we've had several interested parties regarding video games and animated series, I hate to get anyone's hopes up (including my own) until it's a definite...!"
SIDEBAR: A PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
Most fantasy worlds inevitably give you odd-looking names to pronounce, or concepts and places that might not so easily jump off the tip of your tongue. This is also true with TELLOS. Dezago helped us with a few pronunciations:
TELLOS: /TELL-us/ Think of "Tell us a story."
KOJ: /KAHDJ/ The origins of the man-tiger's name trace back to "King Of the Jungle."
MALESUR: /MAL-eh-sure/ or /MAL-eh-sore/ Take your pick. Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo pronounce it two different ways. Until the blockbuster movie adaptation of the series comes out and puts one pronunciation setting in stone, you'll have to go with what works best for you. In the preview story in the back of SECTION ZERO #1, however, a young Rikk pronounces it "Mal-Shoor."
Todd Dezago: /De-ZAY-go/
Mike Wieringo: /Why-RIN-go/
AND IF YOU WANT TO CATCH UP...
I'm back now.
If you missed the original ten issues of the series, it's extremely easy to catch up. There are two trades available for $17.95 each through Image. The first is called "Reluctant Heroes." The second is "Kindred Spirits," which I reviewed here a month ago. Together, they contain everything produced for the original series, including all the extra covers and short stories produced for various spin-offs. It's impressive. It's thorough. It's well worth reading.
Check out page 132 of the new issue of PREVIEWS for a complete listing of all TELLOS books available from Image.
By the way, THE ART OF HOMAGE STUDIOS book that I asked about in yesterday's column was on the stands at the end of 1993. It seems a large proportion of those reading this column has one in their collection. I heard from all of them. ;-) Thanks for the quick responses, everyone!
Pipeline Daily is now at an end. 5 columns. 11,000 words. (Plus 1200 on a column I abandoned.) 10 years of Image and I've only touched the surface.
This Sunday is my 26th birthday, so I'm going back to the regular twice a week schedule to give myself room to celebrate. Be back here on Tuesday for some previews, including one for Marvel's upcoming DEADLINE series by Bill Rosemann and Guy Davis.
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.