"Stuff of Legend," written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith and published by Th3rd World Studios is one of the most recent indie books to break out and become a genuine hit. One part luck and many parts skill, the book, a tale of the toys who come to life in order to save their owner, a small boy, from the Boogyman, is beautifully illustrated by Charles P. Wilson III and first gained notice when the debut issue was released as a part of 2009's Free Comic Book Day program. Random House went on to publish the collection of the first story arc through their Villard imprint, which debuted on the New York Times Graphic Book Bestseller List.
The book's second miniseries, "The Jungle" -- launched on 2010's FCBD -- shows what happens when creators are given the opportunity and the space to tell their story they way they intend, delving deep into the characters and the world in a way that forces the reader to reconsider the meaning of what has come before as the full scope and meaning of the tale becomes clear.
"Stuff of Legend" co-writer, Raicht, is incredibly busy these days. CBR spoke with him about the current arc, his work on Dynamite Entertainment's "Raise the Dead II," writing part of IDW's upcoming "Infestation" crossover, and two new books he has coming out from Th3rd World in 2011.
CBR News: The second volume of the "Stuff of Legend," "The Jungle," has really taken the book and it's central concept to a new level. Was this always your way of thinking, that if you had the chance, the second volume would really reframe what's going on in a way that would expand the story?
Mike Raicht: I think Brian Smith, my co-writer, and I always envisioned "Stuff of Legend" as a long quest with a lot of twists and turns. We had certain landmark moments that we knew would hit readers if they were invested in the characters as much as we were. We just hoped fans would be interested enough for us to get to all of the big moments we were excited about.
Some of the stuff happens organically as we talk more and more about the world, but most everything, character-wise, has been in place since the beginning. The world itself was always going to be its own character and we wanted it to have this rich history. Something that would feel as if it existed before our characters came there -- a real world and place with secrets, chaos and triumphs that have shaped the lives of the toys who have been there for a while, as well as our main toys.
We hope every arc reshapes expectations of our cast, but we did know this specific story would probably shock a few readers.
How long do you envision the story being, ultimately? I would guess that you have an endgame.
The ending is pretty much scripted. We know the fates of everyone involved, as well as some characters who haven't even shown up yet.
As far as length goes, it wouldn't surprise me if we went six or seven arcs. Having room to let the story breathe because sales have been good has been a great thing. We are excited to get to the end, but it is fun being able to tell all of the stories we have ideas for before getting there.
To what level has the artwork influenced where the story is going?
A lot. Charles (P. Wilson III) has give us a ton of stuff to work with. The Knight and Homer have been a pleasant surprise to us. Characters that were meant to be throwaway early on, but intrigued us so much we wanted to give them a history as well.
Charles also added some very cool wall drawings to the zoo scene which ended up being instrumental in how we showed the history of the Dark in "The Jungle" #3. The great thing is, we can all twist and pull things to enhance the story because we know where this is heading. We can use all of the cool things Charles adds in background to flesh out the world. I think that's why working on this book has been so much fun.
What was behind the decision to set the book during World War II?
World War II was a perfect reflection for what was happening in The Dark. It could reflect the turmoil in the real world and amp up the need to grow up in the boy's world. It was also a time period when toys were things that children had to imbue with their own personality. There weren't as many prepackaged personalities that came with the toys. A child's imagination was what made each toy special.
How did the deal with Random House to release the first collection come about, and how successful do you feel it's been as far as getting the book out there and bringing in new readers?
They approached us and Th3rd World Studios pretty early on, just off of an online preview. They loved Charles' art, which is always an amazing selling tool for the book. It is beautiful to look at and different enough that people stop and take a second look. Hopefully after they see the pictures, the story will hook them as well. In this case, it hooked a few people at Random House and they championed it.
The biggest thing it did was get copies out there. I think we were in good shape with the comic shops after the initial issue sold out, but Random House and Villard allowed us get this book into places it might not have been otherwise. Big chain bookstores where kids and adults who might not frequent comic shops would get a chance to see it. It also allowed us to get some recognition on the New York Times Bestseller list, which was awesome. It's tough for an indie book like ours to get that kind of attention right off the bat.
You do a great job of ending each issue with a cliffhanger. What's the fun of crafting that kind of ending and is it a challenge to consistently find the right note to end on?
Thanks! Making sure each issue ends on a cliffhanger is a huge part of writing serialized comics. You do want it to be one big experience -- for it to work as a trade -- but you also want the readers who pick up the issues to want to come back for more. You want people to be excited about coming back. Hopefully, our stories have caused them to need to come back.
The cool thing about "The Jungle," especially from issue two on, is that three or four stories are running at once, so it gives us our choice of endings. Our plan is for each scene to end with a cliffhanger so we just try to pick the best one and go with it. Issue three was pretty easy!
Like you mentioned, we are aware the wait between issues can be a bit of a bummer, especially since we've been running bi-monthly. We're going to be remedying that with the next arc as we go monthly. Hopefully that will give people even more of a reason to pick up the single issues.
Speaking of which, the next issue after this one is the finale of "The Jungle." Tease us with what we can look forward to on the horizon, both in the big wrap-up and beyond.
The finale of "The Jungle" has a ton of stuff going on. A villain from our first arc returns. Our resident traitor deals with the outcome of the group discovering his secret. Max fights for his life and the Knight and Homer settle their differences.
All of that builds up to our next arc which is going to focus on The Jester and a solo-ish adventure he is going to be on. We love him and hope fans do as well. We will be introducing an awesome new villain in that arc. One that will figure majorly into our endgame.
I know you have other projects going on right now beyond your "Legend" work. "Raise the Dead II" was just released, for example, but I'm not sure how much you can say about what else you have coming up.
I actually have a lot of fun stuff coming up. At least I think so!
"Raise the Dead II" is a 4-issue limited series I'm working on with Leah Moore and John Reppion, with art by Guiu Vilanova and cover artist Lucio Parrillo. It's through Dynamite and the first issue just came out. I think it's a great, gory zombie-fest. For anyone who is in the need of more zombie goodness in their lives -- which is all of us, right? This could be that fix.
In March, I'm a part of the awesome "Infestation" storyline running through the IDW titles. I'm working on the "G.I. Joe" arc with the amazingly talented artist Giovanni Timpano. I get to write the Baroness and kill people. What more can I ask for? It's a cool little tale of underwater madness with Joe and Cobra trying to not kill each other long enough to save the world.
I also have two new books coming out through Th3rd World Studios this summer. One of them is a werewolf book that has been a long time coming called "The Pack." It's three issues and I'm working on it with up and coming artist, Daniel Faccilongo. It is about a small high school that is dealing with a bit of a werewolf outbreak.
Imagine teenagers losing all control and going after what they want with animal like intensity...er, uh, well, imagine that to the Nth degree when the moon is full. And they have sharp teeth and claws, too! It has the high school drama of "Friday Night Lights" mixed with kids running around as werewolves. What could go wrong?
And finally, also through Th3rd World, I'm working on the adaptation of the New York Times Bestselling series of books by Cassandra Clare, "The Mortal Instruments." Artist Nicole Virella is kicking butt and doing an amazing job bringing the first book of this series to life. Fans of the books are going to be psyched. I know I've been very impressed.