What do you get when you roll the sorcery of Harry Potter with the high-powered team adventures of the X Men? It's not X Wizards, it's "The Last Bastion," the new miniseries from writer Brandon Jerwa and artist Zeu coming out from Voicebox Comics.
Voicebox Comics is the new imprint being released by Speakeasy Comics. Jerwa, along with co creators Dan Jolley and Marie Croall, created the shared universe as a showcase for their talents and a place to tell some damn cool stories.
Jerwa is best known for his work on the various GI Joe series from Devil's Due, a gig he landed after sending a script to the studio, which eventually lead to him become the primary writer for the line.
"I came out of absolute anonymity in 2001, mailing the first two comic scripts I ever wrote to Dark Horse and Devil's Due Publishing. Dark Horse turned me down, but the Devil's Due submission opened a door for me." explained Jerwa, "That script became a four-part story arc in their anthology series 'G.I. Joe: Frontline.' After that, I was given control of the main 'G.I. Joe' series, starting with a co-writing gig on issues #23-25 and then assuming the mantle of solo writer from issue 26 until the book was cancelled at issue #43 and replaced by a new title with a new writer."
The work on "G.I. Joe" kick started Jerwa's career, but it wasn't entirely a blessing. Because he started out working on a property that began life as a children's toy, he had a hard time being taken seriously when he wanted to move on to other projects, a problem that ultimately led to the creation of Voicebox Comics.
"It was a matter of seeking validity for myself, because I wasn't finding it from other publishers," said Jerwa. "I'm proud of my 'G.I. Joe' work for the most part, but the truth is, I have a hard time being taken seriously. You say 'G.I. Joe' to some editors and you might as well have said 'explosive diarrhea.' You can safely assume that they haven't actually read the material, because they've already made up their minds about the subject. So, how do I prove myself to editors and readers who have that bias? I put my money where my mouth is and try to show what I can really do. I'm finally starting to see some doors open up for me in the industry, but it remains an uphill battle for now and I'll be damned if I'm going to take it lying down."
This do-it-yourself attitude led to him contacting Jolley and Croall about trying something new, something a little different.
"If you want it, you have to go after it, and this was my way of going after it," said Jerwa. "Once that idea was set in stone, I figured I'd find two people that I have great respect and admiration for and drag them down with me! Enter Dan and Marie."
Once Jolley and Croall were in, it was time to do the heavy lifting, creating the shared playground they would all work in. They opted for an approach that was a bit different than the norm, setting their titles in a world where magic is real.
"We had a lot of epic phone conversations, discussing everything we could think of that we didn't want to do and looking at what was left. Modern comics have certainly used up every connection to the atomic age you can think of and if I read one more genetic-manipulation tale, I'll lobotomize myself with an ice-cream scoop. Magic seemed like a very natural thing to use as a center. I honestly can't remember whose idea it was, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't mine."
Although the titles all coexist in the same world, don't expect a complex continuity or three cookie cutter titles from the Voicebox crew.
"We're a shared universe, but 'shared' in the sense that you can accept that these books all exist in the same place and time," explained Jerwa. "Even if a book referenced one of the others, we'd be very careful to make sure that it worked within the context of the story. We want readers to pick up all the books, certainly, but we're not going to alienate people if they choose not to. Even though the three books have a common link, they couldn't be more different in terms of tone. I think we're all scratching our itches creatively, which is always a fulfilling thing.
"For 'The Last Bastion,' I know that things have changed a little since the development stage. It started out as a love letter to the Giffen / DeMatteis 'Justice League' married with a Kevin Smith movie, but as I got into the actual writing, I started to realize that I had characters that I could really care about and relate to. It's not that I didn't think that to begin with, but once I started to really connect with the story, I understood that I had an opportunity to make a book that people could laugh at and have a fulfilling experience with. That's the hope, at least."
While Jolley's "Sawed-Off Mojo" features a hard boiled detective fighting the supernatural and Croall's "Shelter" is a tale of psychological horror, Jerwa is working in a field that, surprising for a comic book writer, he hasn't worked much in; superheroes.
"'The Last Bastion' is one part X-Men meets one part Harry Potter with a touch of twenty-something sitcom overtones. Or not," said Jerwa. "It always comes down to comparing it to something else, leaving one person to yelp with approval and the next person to demonize you for ripping something off through sheer description alone.
"Seriously, though - the book centers around four magic users in their late 20s who end up becoming the first costumed super-heroes in the Voicebox Universe. When a mysterious force starts gathering up low-level magic users worldwide, these four friends decide-- with true comic-book logic-- to 'hide in plain sight' by putting on funky suits and using their magical abilities in public. Naturally, it's not as simple as all that; the hand of fate is strong in this book and the four heroes soon learn that nothing about their lives has been random. DESTINY in capital letters and all that."
The series will be illustrated by the artist Zeu, who Jerwa finally managed to get his hooks into after a number of setbacks and reversals trying to get the book drawn. Zeu's artwork has previously been seen on the title "Genie" from FC9 Publishing.
"His style is clean and crisp, with just enough 'animation' hiding under the realism," said Jerwa. "Zeu is doing some fantastic work on this book and I hope that it helps launch him into the stratosphere - he certainly deserves it.
"Finding an artist was a nightmare. I had an artist confirmed - I won't name him here - and everything was ready to rock. Then, after putting together some promotional materials with his name on them, the guy backed out. Dan made a call and produced a huge talent for our Preview Book that came out last summer-- the great Leonard Kirk kicked ass all over the initial character designs for our four heroes and the main villain Domdaniel. I was grateful beyond words, but I still didn't have an artist for the book!"
"Tilman Goins of FC9 is a friend of all three of us, and he recommended Zeu," continued Jerwa. "After some conversation and negotiation, the Big Z came onboard. The art greatness doesn't stop there, though-- I've been extremely fortunate to have some great cover work as well. Chris Moreno delivered the goods for issue #1, Zeu did #2, Stefano Caselli is on #3 and Eric Wolfe Hanson is covering issue #4. These are all people that I know and love and respect, so I'm absolutely over the moon about it. I don't have cover artists selected for issues #5 and #6 yet, so if anyone wants the gig, give me a yell. The more the merrier. Allan Passelaqua has also been on hand for some cover colors, which is awesome. He's a super-cool guy and I hope to work with him again"
"The Last Bastion," like the entire Voicebox line, is being published by Speakeasy Comics, a publisher who has come under fire recently for decisions on when to drop low performing books and the extremely rapid expansion of their titles, decisions that have caused several creators to move their books elsewhere to avoid getting lost in the crowd. When asked if Voicebox was going to stick with Speakeasy, Jerwa's answer was simple.
"Yes, absolutely. In fact, we're very much making a point of sticking with Speakeasy. A lot of people have made decisions to the contrary, which is something they're entitled to do and we wish them the best of luck. We signed up for this boat ride, and we're going to continue on it until it no longer makes sense to do so. Adam [Fortier, Speakeasy's Chief] and company have certainly had some ups and downs, but who hasn't? We feel that we've been treated well overall and therefore we have no reason to change the course now."
The Voicebox universe starts with three initial titles, but they have no intention of stopping there. There are already plans afoot to continue and expand the line, both with more of the original titles and new titles and creators.
"We've had a lot of discussions and I think that we would ultimately like to expand the Voicebox universe, bringing in some other established creators and maybe uncover a new talent somewhere," said Jerwa. "The next wave of books would have a unifying theme; I think science fiction and technology would be perfect. They'd have to work with what we've established, at least in terms of the 'world' we've created, taking it through a new 'era,' but they'd still be geared for writers who want to tell their stories their way Personally, I'd love to play in this universe as often as possible without putting myself in the poorhouse. Dan and I can certainly continue with 'Sawed-Off Mojo' and 'The Last Bastion'; Marie's tale is a little more open-and-shut, but we've already talked about what she could do next and I think it's brilliant."
Ultimately, Jerwa and the rest of the Voicebox creators feel that the books will speak for themselves.
"We're doing these books for love of the game. It's an honest, sincere creative pursuit. You don't go into a creator-owned situation because you think you're going to get rich, you do it because you have a drive to make your voice heard. If you're lucky enough, and if you work hard to promote yourself, you might just find some people who are willing to plunk down their dough and come along for the ride. That's why we're here."
"The Last Bastion" is a six issue limited series that begins in July, available everywhere. Well, mostly comic shops. But comic shops everywhere.