A few months ago, the Philadelphia Weekly’s Stephen H. Segal introduced me to Jared Axelrod, and incredibly talented local comic book creator (who we nominated for Comic Creator of the Year in this year’s Philly Geek Awards). I was shocked to find out that the guy behind The Battle of Blood & Ink lived here in town.
Unfamiliar? Read an excerpt over on Tor.com. You’ll love it.
We sat down to chat with him for a bit about his project, the Kickstarter, and his webcomic.
So you’ve got a Kickstarter live to support a new project! Tell us a little bit about it.
The Kickstarter is for my short-story THE COCKROACH STRIKES. It’s centered around my webcomic character, Lenin Davidovich Bronshtein, AKA Comrade Cockroach, a D-list super-villain. The story finds him at a low point, having given up the costumed life. But when a bear in a three piece suit surfaces asking him to steal a man’s eye, Comrade Cockroach must reconcile who he is with who he was.
I wrote the story about a year ago, and have struggled to find a market for it—it’s been labeled as “too weird” more than once. But I know there’s an audience not just for that short story, but also for more content in that world. And that’s what the Kickstarter is proving, with every backer who puts down 3 dollars for an ebook.
‘Course, there’s options to get more than just the ebook if you want to back with more money, but the ebook is what the Kickstarter is all about.
The world of THE COCKROACH STRIKES is a combination of my nostalgia for the super-characters of my youth and my cynical adult side.
I was big Captain America fan when I was a kid. If you were reading Captain America comics in the ‘80s, you were treated to this succession of bizarre Soviet-themed villains. The Crimson Dynamo! The Red Guardian! Sputnik the android! And because of the hermetically-sealed nature of comic books, they all seemed to come from the same communist government agency! The same mustached mad scientists, churning out these weird, off-brand versions of the Avengers, month after month. And I couldn’t help but love them. Somebody had to, I suppose.
Comrade Cockroach is one of those guys, made by a Soviet super-solider machine. But my cynical adult side can’t leave it at that. There’s a film, “Little Odessa,” which is a visually and emotionally dark film about Russian gangsters. In my head, that’s where all these weird Soviet supervillains ended up after the fall of communism. They came to America, traded in their brightly colored outfits for black leather jackets, and went about the only thing they knew how to do: solving problems by punching people.
So here’s Comrade Cockroach, no longer wearing a mask, trying to make ends meet as a bruiser. And here’s Major Ursa, a former team-mate of Comrade Cockroach. And Ursa, Ursa has it pretty good. Made money in real estate. Despite looking like a bear, he’s adapted in ways Comrade Cockroach hasn’t. And that difference is the crux of the story.
THE COCKROACH STRIKES has much more detail into that world than the webcomic, which slowly revealed Comrade Cockroach’s history and his world in off-hand lines of dialogue. But it still had that combination of cynicism and nostalgia, that love for costumed characters coupled with an awareness of how damaged that kind of person that would actually be.
What’s been fun is that my wife, J.R. Blackwell, my good friend Chris Morse and my friends Chris Miller, Jason Ramboz, Natalie Metzger and John Cmar have all created supervillian characters, and we’ve allowed each other’s characters to wander in and out of our worlds. We refer to it as “The Nefariverse,” so the world of Comrade Cockroach is much, much bigger than the webcomic.
And how long has the webcomic been going?
The webcomic went on for the better part of 2012 before I put in on hold. I clearly love the character, and I enjoyed making the comic, but I didn’t feel like the comic was a proper narrative platform for the stories I wanted to tell. THE COCKROACH STRIKES and its stretch-goal sequel THE COCKROACH FALLS—which we have achieved, hooray, hooray—are more in that vein. They’re more sci-fi crime stories than the cock-eyed look at superhero culture that the webcomic was.
The character of Comrade Cockroach pre-dates the webcomic. He’s been a character I couldn’t let go of long before I had an actual story to put him in. He’s evolved through years of play, acquiring weight and dimension with every new iteration. He’s this wonderful tragic figure, a Sissiphus, who keeps pushing that boulder up the hill despite a lifetime of watching it roll down.
So why put together a Kickstarter?
More than raising the necessary money–which is important, don’t get me wrong–the point of the Kickstarter was to see if there was an audience for this character and his world. I mean, I love the guy, but I love a lot of things that other people don’t. So Kickstarter is wonderful way to gauge interest, and if that interest isn’t large enough, that saves me the trouble of having to go with through with it.
Luckily, we met my minimum of interest (and money) to make the project worthwhile, so it’s all systems go!
Be honest. That cover photo. Is that you dressed up as the Cockroach?
Yep! I will not deny it! I’ll say it with pride! How many other authors double as their own cover model?
I made a Comrade Cockroach costume to wear to New York Comic Con, just for fun. And fun I had. I spent the whole day posing with patriotic-themed superheroes, having them beat me up. Absolutely fantastic.
The best part was that when I told people who I was, they nodded as if they recognized the character. I had so successfully aped those weird supervillains of my youth that Comrade Cockroach was now indistinguishable from them.
I keep meaning to so a more cartoony version of the suit, so that I would like more like how I draw him in the comic. Those giant arms! I keep eying Hulk-hands in toy stores and thinking “Those would be the perfect size for Comrade Cockroach…”
You sure do love mixing media with these things you call “podcasts”. What got you so into them?
I’ve been doing podcasting in one form or another since 2005. I’ve done three big shows, The Voice of Free Planet X (163 episodes), Aliens You Will Meet (50 episodes) and Fables of the Flying City (44 episodes). I’ve always been a fan of the radio dramas from the 30s, especially Orson Welles’ work on The Shadow, so podcasting is natural draw to me.
I also love podcasting because I’ve always been a performer. But if I wanted to do, say, a stage show or, gods forbid, a film, I’m going to need more people than just me to pull it off. But with just the audio, I can do it all myself. Which is enormously satisfying.
Though, lately I’ve been getting some help with the audio production from my extremely talented friends at Vivid Muse Creations. But I like knowing that I could, if I needed to, get it done by myself.
I also like knowing that I don’t have to.
Any other projects on the horizon? When are we getting a Blood & Ink sequel! Gimme.
Steve and I would love to make a sequel to THE BATTLE OF BLOOD & INK. I’ve got it all plotted out, and Steve’s design sketches for the story would make you weep openly, they’re so beautiful. One day, perhaps. Of course, if THE BATTLE OF BLOOD & INK were to become a runaway hit, then we’d have to move up the timetable, of course…
The biggest project on the horizon—besides all this Comrade Cockroach content I’ll have to make if we keep hitting stretch-goals—is KILL YOUR DARLINGS, and advice book for writers and serial killers. As it turns out, a lot of the advice given to amateur authors also applies to fledgling murders! Who knew?
Jennifer Rodgers, of VELOCIRAPTOR! CANNIBALISM! fame, is providing the interior art, and it is just as adorable and disturbing as you might imagine. I’m not certain when the release date is; we both want to make sure that everything is right with this book, so no rushing forward. But when it is ready, you better believe I’ll let every one know about it.