In today's comic market, launching a truly independent comic not based on a movie franchise or pop culture icon isn't just hard – it's damn near impossible. However, writer Mike Raicht and his partners at Th3rd World Studios have found a way to gain some traction in comic shops: giving the first away for free. Last year, after the company teased their "classic toys come to life" fantasy adventure "The Stuff of Legend" on Free Comic Book Day, the first two-issue mini series in the franchise sold well enough to gain the notice of Random House, who will publish the first "Stuff of Legend" trade paperback through their Villard imprint on April 27. And soon after, "The Stuff of Legend" Vol. 2 sees its debut with a preview issue for FCBR 2010 – an issue that also features a look at Raicht and Th3rd World's adaptation of best-selling Young Adult fantasy series "Mortal Instruments."
"I think the big thing for us was that we had enough people check it out that we could continue and do all the stories the way we wanted to tell them," Raicht told CBR of the response to "Stuff of Legend's" opening arc. "Th3rd World always told us we'd get to finish our story regardless, but we never knew how many volumes we'd get to do. The fact that it sold well enough that we can do a bunch of different volumes rather than just two or three is a good thing. Now [co-writer] Brian [Smith], [artist] Charles [Wilson III] and I can expand the universe a bit more than just going in and hitting all the story points we wanted. With Free Comic Book Day we're hoping to pick up even more people who might want to give us a try."
In the first "Stuff of Legend" mini series, readers were introduced to a cast of 1940s-era toy characters including the tin soldier The Colonel, the indecisive piggy bank Percy and the dangerous Jack-in-the-Box clown called Jester. When their owner – known only as the boy – is kidnapped by the Boogeyman and taken into the magical closet realm called The Dark, the toys band together to save him gaining new bodies and abilities within the fantasy realm.
"We've introduced all the characters that are going to have ongoing stories in the book, so now we can expand the stories and dig into the characters. We've seen their personalities, but now you'll see when things get difficult how those personalities start to fray between the group," Raicht explained of how things will change in the second volume, which is subtitled "The Jungle."
"In volume 2, we get to explore a new region of the world. We get to see more of the Knight and Homer as villains, and we get to see how the group of toys has started to work better together. Right now, they're trying to evade the Boogeyman's army, but since their main mission it to find the boy they're going to have to start being more proactive, which leads to more tension in the group."
Raicht hopes that the 12-page preview of the normally 52-page, square formatted series will help raise "The Stuff of Legend's" profile in comics shops that haven't jumped on the bandwaggon yet. "The stores that got it really seemed to order it heavily, but then there were a lot of stores that didn't order any. There's not a lot of middle ground," he explained, adding that the inclusion of preview pages from Th3rd World's "Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" novel by Cassandra Clare should also prove incentive for readers to pick up the Free Comic Book Day offering.
"I heard about ['Mortal Instruments'] from my niece. She reads everything, but she especially loves this series so I think it's a book that will speak to a lot of different readers," the writer said, adding of the cross-gender appeal for the YA tale. "It's got demons and werewolves and everything. The main character is a 15-year-old girl who lives in New York City and is going on with her life when she starts seeing things that other people aren't seeing. These things are called the Shadow Hunters, and they're hunting different demons and monsters around the city. From there, she gets caught up in their world. I think that is definitely something a lot of fans can get into."
Still, adapting someone else work, especially a beloved series, presents unique challenges for Raicht and newcomer artist Nicole Virella. "I think with this book, there's so much information that I don't want to leave anything out. I think our biggest problem is figuring out exactly how much we need in there to do the book justice. We've all read adaptations where you go, 'Wow. They cut a lot' and you only get the surface of it rather than the whole book. But Cassandra Clare is a comic fan and a manga fan, and you can see her influences in the book. This book especially lends itself to being adapted because it's very conversational, and there's action and things that lend itself to comics. It's not pages and pages of prose that you can't easily present visually. It gets right into the story."
While readers wait for the FCBD issue and the summer rollout of "The Stuff of Legend: The Jungle" and "Mortal Instruments," Raicht's work will appear in March 17's "Superman 80-Page Giant" from DC Comics. "I love doing ten-page stories. It's nice to go into a world and out of it," the writer, who also contributed to last years Batman 80-pager, explained. "I love Superman stuff, but it's hard sometimes in a ten-pager to find something compelling for him to do because he's Superman. So my plan was to attack him when he was a boy in Smallville and attack the relationship between a young boy who has super powers and his father – how scary that had to be for a father. I'm a dad, and I think of my son who's almost four. You watch after your kid in case he's playing and pushes someone down, which can happen, but it's a different feeling to think there could be a kid out there who could push someone out of the world. I related to that part of it – not the Superman part but the idea that it's your responsibility to make sure your kid is a good kid."
The story will be drawn by "Stuff of Legend" artist Charles Wilson III, keeping the collaboration tight and making the story stand out from the normal superhero fair, Raicht said. "My editor was great, and he asked me if I thought Charles would be good for the story. I was like, 'Yes please!' The story has an old time feel. Smallville has a quaint feel to it, and the way Charles does his art especially with his characters works really well. I'm excited for people to see it."
And next month, Raicht's long run on Dynamite Entertainment's "Army of Darkness" draws to a close with issue #27 featuring Ash's final confrontation with the League of Light. "It's exciting. I tried to build up this League of Light group kind of like a supernatural super team and tried to make people care about a group of characters they hadn't seen before. We did a bunch of one-issue stories with characters coming out to meet Ash, and I think it worked out because you got to know each one of them. I think the cool thing is that every League of Light over the centuries has been brought together to kill the Chosen One because the Chosen One always ends up getting possessed by a demon. The idea that Ash is bringing together a super team to basically kill him is fun. Like everything with Ash, it looks like something you've seen before, but it ends up going horribly wrong."
Check back to CBR between now and Free Comic Book Day for more looks into all the available offerings including Th3rd World's "Stuff of Legend"/"Mortal Instruments" two-fer!