It's been a little while since the comics scene has had a celebrity-produced genre series hit the stands, but with their August-shipping Archaia miniseries "Lucid," television stars Zachary Quinto and Michael McMillian hope to turn the expectations for such a project around. While Quinto is well known for his dual turns as villainous Sylar and heroic Spock in fanboy favorites "Heroes" and "Star Trek," he's not plastering his face across the covers of "Lucid" in hopes of turning the project (which he's producing under he and his collaborator's Before The Door Pictures banner) into a film role. And though McMillian may be known to some fantasy fans by face if not by name, the "True Blood" actor (who plays the character Steve Newlin) is fully in control as the writer of the four-issue comic which mixes the super spy genre with an urban magic backdrop. Both actors explained their plans for "Lucid" and Archaia in a recent conference call, and CBR News was there to record their thoughts on why Archaia was the publisher to partner with, how politics and magic mix in their new series and why "Lucid" won't be quite like any other fantasy comic on the market.
"I've always sort of been into counter culture - magic and the occult - not so much in practice but in reading about it," McMillian explained. "I grew up loving shows like 'The X-Files' and digging conspiracy theories and that kind of stuff, so when Before The Door approached me [and said] that they wanted to do some comic books, I came in with this idea of a character who would have access to higher levels of consciousness [and] magic who was also working for the government. And that was the very early version of 'Lucid.'"
When the series (drawn by 19-year-old Archaia find Anna Wieszczyk) hits in August, its story will introduce readers to Agent Matthew Dee - a modern "Combat Mage" in service of the government whose personal history traces back to real life 16th Century occultist John Dee and whose current fate gets twisted up with an ancient evil from Arthurian legend. "I think the political element of it, for me, is really exciting. I think the historical element is also really exciting - the ancestry and lineage back to John Dee. I've always been interested in that, and the way they tie history into the storytelling is really exciting," Quinto said of what brought his production company on board for this first of their two Archaia comic releases.
"First of all, the opportunity to work with Michael was something that excited all of us. We'd gone through a lot and known each other for a long time and have a lot of respect for each other. I'm speaking now on behalf of Before The Door and [my partners] Neal [Dodson] and Corey [Moosa] and myself. That was the first point of entry. Michael is such an enthusiast of comic books, and he has such a vivid imagination and such a capacity for storytelling. One of the things that's important to us as a company is giving people we've known for a long time and whose work has inspired us opportunities on a larger platform."
Quinto admitted that while he wasn't a comic enthusiast before landing his breakout role on NBC's recently wrapped superhero drama, the experience opened his eyes to the storytelling potential of genre work. "I've been really lucky, because the comic nature of 'Heroes' and the people involved with it exposed me to a world that is incredibly vivid and incredibly complex, and I grew up a lot as an actor through that process. There's a stylized aspect to comic book storytelling that translates in a very interesting way when you bring it to life."
For his part, McMillian knows plenty about comics, and as a writer, he said he's striving to make "Lucid" stand out amongst a variety of modern fantasy tales told in the form. "I think that the book, without being R-rated, is distinctively adult. I think readers 13 and up will really like it," he explained. "It's a Rock N Roll book, and I think for me part of it is taking these elements of magic and this concept of fantasy, which I think a lot of times gets a bad rap on one hand, and really make it fun and sexy and cool and contemporary. It's different in the sense that I do call these characters Combat Mages, which is a challenge in and of itself. That's a term I think gets knocked on, but I think it's cool and we're really going to make it exciting. But on an immediate level from something like 'Harry Potter,' the characters are older, and it's not a world where centaurs and trolls and elves exist. We're dealing with human people with magical abilities. There are paranormal creatures of sorts, but without saying too much, they're presented in a somewhat different light - in a somewhat less-literal light than fantasy that's come before."
One more literal element that will work its way into the series is a tone that fits well into the current political climate of America while also presenting a clearly alternate world from our own. "It's not totally literal," McMillian said of the most identifiable feature of the comics government. "It's set in a parallel, very fictitious universe, but there are parallels in the sense that the character of Jefferson Monday, who is a recently elected black president, and as he's come into office has promised to be a figure of hope and change like Barack Obama has. It's interesting because when we were first kicking around the idea, it was while the elections were still going on and in the process. So I didn't even know if we were going to have Barack Obama as president, and from that moment on it was a bit of a wish fulfillment. Now, two years in, without getting too political in this interview, I think we're dealing with real frustrations about where this country is headed, and so the book has sort of changed to reflect a bit of that.
"But in terms of magic being brought into the light of day, in the world of 'Lucid' it's still a secret from the general public. A lot of this has been inspired from 20th century folklore and conspiracy theory about secret projects that the government has been doing for years. I will say that this is a sort of optimistic take. In terms of the government keeping magic a secret, they're doing it to keep us safe, not to covet power."
Ultimately, McMillian relished the opportunity to turn on the writing side of his brain in a way he doesn't get to as an actor. "I think a lot of what's been happening for me in this process is that I've been taking 31 years of fantasy and sci-fi fiction that's been placed in front of my eyes in comics and film and TV and books...this is what's been turning around in my brain, and a lot of it's been coming out in 'Lucid.' This is my way of exorcizing my pop cultural demons. But the thing I wanted to do with 'Lucid' was make a comic book that I would want to read, that I would really enjoy and that really captures the heart of stories that I love - everything from H.G. Well to Indiana Jones and James Bond - and at the same time see if I could create a bold new contemporary world to set it in."
Before The Door will launch a second series with Archaia - "Mr. Murderer Is Dead" - in the fall or winter of 2010/2011, and Quinto said the choice to do two projects reflects the easy nature of working with the company's publisher. "I just know that there's a completely different vibe with Stephen [Christy] and with Archaia and knew that what they're doing and how they're doing it just resonated with us on a level that's kind of difficult to articulate. It's just that thing where you know that that's the partnership that's going to serve the story and serve everybody involved...the other comic book we have is with our longtime friend and collaborator Victor Quinaz [called] 'Mr. Murder Is Dead,' and that's very exciting and very different from 'Lucid.'"
For his part, McMillian hopes that this comic will only be his first assignment in the comics realm. "Aside from 'Lucid,' I am working on another very indie book with a friend of mine from back in Kansas City - the great cartoonist named David Keith. And that book is going to be called 'The Indian & The Bandit.' We're really early in the process, and we're still looking for publishers. So that's my next comic project. And then acting-wise, I'm out and auditioning, and we'll see what happens. I can probably hint that there might be some Steve Newlin action in 'True Blood' Season 3."
"Lucid" #1 of four issues will ship to comic shops this August from Archaia and Before The Door Pictures.