Steven T. Seagle has written just about everything. From "Uncanny X-Men" to "Superman" with plenty of Vertigo and creator-owned titles in between, he's covered about as wide a spectrum in comics as can be done. He will continue that trend with his next project out from Image Comics along with artist Marco Cinello. The pair previously worked on another kid-oriented one-shot called "Frankie Stein" and will continue down the same road with the 48-page oversized one-shot "Batula" in July.
"Batula" follows the adventures of a fruit bat named Livingston who finds his life gets flipped upside down when he runs afoul of a hungry vampire who turns him into a vampire bat. Taking on the identity of Batula, Livingston discovers a thirst for adventure but also struggles to prove to his friends and family that he's still the same guy on the inside. As the co-creator of "Ben 10" and "Generator Rex" along with fellow comic creators-turned-cartoon empire builders Man of Action, the veteran writer is no stranger to the world of entertainment aimed at children. Seagle spoke to CBR News about the origins of the project, working with Cinello again, and how working on "Ben 10" has facilitated projects like "Batula."
"None of us Man of Action guys had any idea how big 'Ben 10' would be when we created it, but over 150 countries later, we've done all right for ourselves," Seagle said. "Being able to reinvest what we get from the insane merchandising that show does into comics we love making is dream-come-true material to be sure. I love the artwork of Marco Cinello, and I wanted to do 'Batula' with him. Thanks to MOA and the amazingly supportive people at Image, I'm in a place where I can make that happen."
The creator originally intended to make "Batula" as another form of entertainment, but did not want to wait for the much longer process, so he turned to comics.
"I had an idea for an animated feature film version of 'Batula' first," Seagle said. "Marco did a development drawing that was so good, I couldn't stand the thought of waiting the years that film development takes to get to the idea. Since Marco and I had already done a monster-themed kid's book for Image featuring a boy monster, 'Frankie Stein,' it made sense to me to do a storybook version of Livingston the fruit bat's transformation into the avenging force of the fruit grove. I also have a third monster-themed kids book in mind with Marco -- to sort of complete the monster trio -- and then who knows? Maybe we go all 'Avengers' on it and team them up!"
Even though he moved away from the idea of doing "Batula" as an animated film first, Seagle still thinks the character has more potential beyond the world of comic books.
"In this day and age creators have to be mindful of other media possibilities," Seagle said. "'Batula' would make an awesome animated piece to be sure. It has a pedigree in animation -- Marco comes from that world, and I also work in that world. But, make no mistake, the book isn't a proof of concept tool. Writing and drawing for kids books is tricky. It's a very different skill set. So this version of Livingston's story is a kids book through-and-through! If nothing more comes of it, Marco and I are very happy with what we have made here."
Part of what Seagle and Cinello's is about about how things change for young people as they grow up and start developing into the person they will become as an adult.
"Livingston is kind of the bat that nobody in his colony notices," Seagle told CBR News. "All the other bats seem to have special skills or talents that set them apart, but not so much for Livingston. As a result, he makes an impetuous decision that radically alters his life. He comes into contact with a vampire and goes from fruit bat to vampire bat in one fell swoop! Then it's up to him to decide if he will go over to the dark side or use his unexpected new powers for good. We wanted to merge the cute-animal story with the classic super-hero origin episode."
Seagle wanted to focus on these themes while also referring back to the entertainment he was drawn to in his younger days. "That was always the spine of this story," Seagle said. "My favorite cartoons when I was a kid didn't have these perfect, shiny protagonists. They had characters who had a real dark moment and emerged to be something better as a result. I wanted to walk that path with Livingston. Obviously the book is aimed first and foremost at younger readers, so it's not too intense. But kids understand the pull between doing right and doing wrong and this seemed like a cool way to get at that -- not to mention some awesome vampire bat versus vampire action scenes!"
One of the problems Seagle ran into with "Batula" and "Frankie Stein" before it is actually getting the material into the hands of children who aren't found in local comic shops nearly as much as they were in days past.
"It's really tricky. I think that's why I've been sitting more on the storybook form for these projects," Seagle said. Kids love Marco's art, the stories are easy to connect with, and the format is a little more parent/bookstore/library friendly. When I can get the book in a kid's hands -- at a convention or an appearance -- it's usually a home run. But trying to connect the book to that audience is rough. Luckily, there are parents who like the cartoons that Man of Action has created who are starting to ask, 'What else do you guys do that my kids would like?' And I have these books with Marco as a great answer."
Seagle went on to say that the idea of working with Cinello again fits in with the way he looks at teaming up with artists in general. "I've been doing comics for over twenty years and the thing I've learned is that you should hang on to people you work well with," Seagle said. "There are a lot of artists that I'm interested in working with for the rest of my life. The Man of Action guys are in that camp. I've done numerous projects with Teddy Kristiansen. I'd also like to work with Marco for as long as he will put up with me. We did 'Soul Kiss' together at Image, which was definitely not for kids, then these two kids books, and we've already started on a very high-end graphic novel as our next project."
Beyond working with Cinello again on another project and the storytelling experiment called "The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary" with long-time collaborator Kristiansen, Seagle still has more projects lined up.
"The next book I'll have out after that is the long-in-the-works follow up to 'it's a bird...,' another original graphic novel with Teddy called 'Genius.' That comes from first:second right at the top of next year."
"Batula" flies into stores from Image Comics on July 5th.