The Return of the Originals: Summoning the Originals with C.J. Henderson and Mark Sparacio

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This September, Moonstone Books ramps up the action and adventure with a company-wide expansion of their extensive pulp line with the Return of the Originals. Although the publisher plans on launching a succession of Double Shot series featuring iconic pulp characters such as the Black Bat, the Phantom Detective, and the Spider, many modern readers will receive their first introduction to the Originals in September’s one-shot graphic novel The Battle for LA.

Broken Frontier chatted with the creators behind the OGN, writer C.J. Henderson and artist Mark Sparacio, about their experiences bringing these timeless heroes to a new audience.

BROKEN FRONTIER: C.J., could you please tell us who the Originals are and how they come together in The Battle for LA? Is the team a permanent formation?
C.J. HENDERSON: Well, we have the Phantom Detective, Secret Agent X, the Domino Lady, the Black Bat and G-8 and his Battle Aces. The Phantom Detective was your high society boy with a conscience, put on a mask and fight crime kinda guy. "X" was also a master of disguise, but he worked on an international scale like a James Bond. He was always someone different. His thing was that "X" was all there was. He wasn't a playboy in disguise; he was a man with a mission. No identity. A lot of the pulp masks were masters of disguise, but he was unique in that he had no "real" identity.
Now, the Domino Lady and the Black Bat are two favorites of mine. I've actually done stories with them before this, and they were also two of the characters in the big pulp team-up novel I wrote with the Lovecraft estate's blessing, To Battle Beyond. Both of them were fairly simple characters back in the pulps. Especially the Domino Lady. She only starred in six shorts, and was very two-dimensional. I had a great deal of fun filling in a lot of backstory for her. But, to answer the question, the Black Bat was essentially a twin .45 death-dealing crime fighter whose gimmick was that he could see in the dark. The Domino Lady was a young woman who took down gangsters because her DA dad was murdered to keep him from cleaning up their town.

G-8 was the one character I had only heard of before this project, but had never read or worked with before. He's a WWI fighter ace who fought again in WWII (just like a lot of real aviators). He had a lot of experience fighting flying ghosts and monsters and such, so he was a natural for this storyline.
As for the permanence of this team, that would be hard, simply because the characters are based all across the country (with the exception of several being NYC based). Unlike the JLA, non-super-powered crime fighters separated by a couple thousand miles would be hard-pressed to attend weekly meetings. I sure wouldn't mind bringing them together again, but I guess that's going to be up to the wonderful world of fandom.

BF: C.J., The Battle for LA is based on an actual historical event. Could you please elaborate on the story’s historical basis?
CJH: The true part of the story is the stuff that happens in LA on the last night. Something – no one agrees as to what – flew over the city that night. The reports we have come from every level of the average citizenry, as well as the police and the military. They talk of one ship in the sky, fifty of them, one as big as a battleship, et cetera. The military was certain enough that something that shouldn't be in American airspace was up there, that they had artillery batteries fire well over a thousand shells into the air. No one knows the truth, so I say ours is as valid as anyone else's. Of course, I could be prejudiced.

BF: Mark, how important was it to remain true to the era and setting of the story?

MARK SPARACIO: Well, I’d say it was extremely important to remain true to the era and setting of the story because this graphic novel, The Battle for LA, will be the launching point for Moonstones’ new line of pulp heroes, The Return of the Originals. I felt that I had to do my best to capture the look of this time period (the early 1940s) in my artwork. I have done (and as of this interview, I am still doing) an incredible amount of research to make sure everything fits correctly into this “universe”. I really want The Battle for LA to make the reader think, “Wow … if this is what Moonstone’s new universe is going to look like, I am going to give it a chance and check out some more titles.” From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think the readers will be disappointed.
BF: Mark, how does working on a pulp-influenced book differ from drawing a mainstream book? Did you attempt to adjust you style at all?

MS: I have actually adjusted my art style a little bit. After speaking with C.J. and Joe (Joe Gentile, Moonstone's publisher), I am still using my very finished, rendered pencil technique, but now given the time period for The Battle for LA, I am trying to take a “film noir” approach to the art. I have always loved the “film noir” genre and now I can incorporate that look into the artwork. Working on The Battle for LA has been a blast and I hope that the readers will see that excitement in my finished pencils.

BF: This is a question for both of you. Who do you feel will be the break out character of the Originals? That is which hero will fans (re)discover?
CJH: I couldn't say. And, I'm not trying to duck the question. I'm just really rotten at predicting such things. I think it's going to depend on how the individual creators who are handling the characters in comics, and other venues for Moonstone, bring them forward. For instance, the Domino Lady, in her six pulp stories, was not a very exciting or well-rounded character, which I would imagine is why she only lasted for six stories. In To Battle Beyond, I tried to give her a backstory, which didn't clash with any of the previous facts, but which built on them, expanded them. Once I gave her a personal history, I then used that and that which came before to make her a more dynamic character without contradicting the past.

Now, of course, one of the other writers using these characters could take a completely different approach, throw out all that has gone before and take any of these characters in a completely new direction and it could catch on like wild fire. So, my lame ass answer is, any of them could be the next big thing, but it's all going to be up to how they're continued on after this intro.

MS: I think that each character in The Return of the Originals: Battle for LA has his or her own merits, unique qualities and attributes. Without going into too much detail here, the way C.J.’s script has been meticulously written, each character has a chance to be a “break-out” character. The readers will see what I mean when they read the graphic novel. And who knows, there might be other break-out characters that will spin out of The Return of the Originals: Battle for LA, that haven’t been announced or appeared yet …
BF: C.J., some of these characters are cut from similar cloth in terms of backgrounds and abilities. Was it a challenge to find ways to make each character distinctive in a team setting?
CJH: No, not really. And, that's mainly because I cheated. It's only "X" and the Phantom Detective who share a similar ability. So, I used "X" to get the story started, then brought the others in to carry on when "X" is overwhelmed. I don't want to give too much away, but trust me, it all made sense when I was done, and it kept the boys from overlapping each other. 

BF: Mark, how did you approach the individual designs of each of theses characters?
MS: The only designs that I really had to create were the “looks” for “Secret Agent X” and “G-8”. Their “looks” were based on descriptions from the old pulp stories that they had appeared in and discussions with Joe. The other characters had already been designed, so I went from style guides that were supplied to me from Moonstone.
BF: This is another question for both of you. Why do you think pulp fiction remains so enduring our imaginations?

MS: I think that pulp fiction is so enduring because we can more easily identify with non-super-powered heroes. Pulp heroes can be “everyman”. Any one of us can don a mask, costume and a cape and fight crime as a nighttime vigilante, if they so choose (I prefer to do mine during the day and at a drawing board, but I digress). None of us have super powers; we can’t change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in our bare hands or swing around Manhattan from webs that are stuck to buildings high overhead.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love superheroes, they are what inspired me to be a comic book artist in the first place. I just feel that pulp heroes, especially these characters that have been out of the public eye for a long time, are more attainable and can capture our imaginations in brand new and exciting ways that some of the older (tired?) superheroes can’t.    
CJH: It's not so much that people are in love with pulp fiction, but with the ideals much of it embraced. Remember, there are literally thousands of characters that no one is interested in bringing back or hearing about ever again. They were the knockoffs, the guys put together to make a buck.

Doc Savage endures because he not only was a superman-like figure, but because he strove to be an inspiration. He didn't kill if he didn't have to. He would make certain criminals got care after he defeated them. He was a surgeon who would perform brain operations on villains so they could lead happy productive lives afterwards.

The Shadow, the Spider and the Black Bat appeal to the need for justice. They turned from the frivolity and high life their fortunes could have offered them and chose instead to take .45s in hand and clean up the streets. Decades before Charles Bronson or the Punisher, they were mere flesh and blood men who risked their lives to protect the innocent, to battle scum on its own terms, to make the streets safe for those who could not do it themselves, for no more reward than knowing society would be better the next day because of their effort.

The best pulps, like the best comics or movies, endure because they speak to us. There were more stories told around the campfires of ancient times than simply Beowulf and the Iliad, but men learned to repeat them word for word because they did more than entertain. They informed new generations of what it meant to know honor, to earn it for oneself, to do what was right and correct in the eyes of gods and the eyes of men.
All great stories teach moral lessons. There is no work of art, that does not tell a memorable story. This even includes abstract art. That which touches the soul endures. That which is flash and mirrors is exposed and forgotten.
There, you go.

The Return of The Originals debuts from Moonstone this September.


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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 12, 2010 at 5:04pm

    This sounds an intriguing project. The pulp-style art looks gorgeous but investing in a whole new comics universe may be an ambitious sell. I shall certainly investigate in September though.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jul 13, 2010 at 3:13am

    Indeed, I wasn't interested before but after reading the interview in The Frontiersman and this one, I'll definitely check it out.

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Jul 17, 2010 at 11:42am

    Sounds like they're going to try to keep this as reader friendly as possible. More like the shared Image universe, where one doesn't need to pick up every book to feel like they're hooked in to the entire universe. I'll definitely be picking up the OGN at least and probably some of the others as well. Sparacio's art is some of the best of the year for my money.

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