On Wednesday (2/3/10) comics publisher Com.X is releasing a new title “45” by debut writer Andi Ewington. “45” is the story of journalist James Stanley, an expectant father in a world not unlike our own where on rare occasions babies are born with super powers. These individuals have what is known as the super-s gene and the lives they lead vary from the heroic to the infamous. Stanley sets off to interview 45 of these individuals and their families to to find out what life might be like if his unborn child is in fact a super-s.
The format of the book is unique in that every interview is one page in length, done in a transcript style. Each page is accompanied by a one page illustration each done by a different artist. We had a talk with “45” creator Andi Ewington about what it was like writing such a unique book, creating super hero names, and working with 45 different artists on one book.
Where did the idea for 45 come from? What was it like writing your first ‘comic’?
AE: At the time I was conceptualising ideas to pitch to Com.x, my wife was pregnant with our unborn son. We had just returned from a 12-week ultrasound and the whole experience was, to put it succinctly, simply extraordinary. I was trying to find the right project to pitch to Eddie Deighton and Benjamin Shahrabani (of Com.x) and I hit upon the idea of a journalist (James Stanley) who finds himself in a similar position to myself where his partner is with child, but instead of wondering if his unborn is going to be a boy or a girl, he finds himself wondering if the baby will be born with a superpower due to having the all-important Super-S gene that differentiates a super-being from a normal person. It was this leading question that lit the touch paper to the ‘Forty-Five’ universe.
From concept through to the final draft of the book it’s been a steep learning curve, that’s for sure! Forty-Five has been something of a departure from other writing projects I’ve undertaken. With the graphic novel comic medium as the desired format and over 50,000 words across forty-five interviews, it was only at the end that I realised how different and unique this project had been to put together. I owe a debt of gratitude to my editors; Eddie Deighton, Benjamin Shahrabani, Jon Sloan, Rob Patey, Jay Mistry, Natasha Ewington and Dennis Johnson, who all contributed so much of their time to the project.
With so many young superheroes out there, what was it like writing some middle-aged and elderly supers?
AE: Writing about older generations came fairly naturally to me. Maybe it had something to do with the extended family I have; I have aunts and uncles at various ages, not to mention numerous friends via my parents, or older neighbours that I can draw on. I also feel that the older you are, the more interesting you become, (perhaps I’m just saying that more out of hope than anything, as I steadily march towards my forties…). There’s so much depth to your later years, more so than the early stages of life. One of my main inspirations was my Grandmother (sadly, she’s no longer with us). We were very close. She lived in Berlin as a teenager and was there at the fall when the Russians moved in. She was a very strong woman and she had a huge impact on my life.
Was there a giant list of super names / powers somewhere on a blackboard or notebook? Was it a challenge coming up with 45 different interviewees? Care to share any names/powers that didn’t make the cut?
AE: I was a bit unconventional with the way I approached each interview; rather than creating each of the 45 characters first, I scribbled a list of themes I wanted to touch upon, starting with a birth and ending with a death. There were specific emotional ‘motives’ I wanted to find for each interview so once they were locked down, they became my starting points for the creation of my characters. Once I had those in place it was a case of creating the right personas and powers for each interviewee. It seems like a lengthy process but it seemed to work for me. I continued using that approach for the entire book.
For me to say it was a ‘challenge’ is, perhaps, putting it mildly! Generating a minimum of 45 different character names and powers was the hardest part of the entire project. As a ‘nod’ to the problems I encountered, I go as far as having one of the characters joking about how difficult it is to come up with original superhero names in the book itself! I found that, drawing on my extensive Dungeons & Dragons experience helped me generate different approaches to names and abilities when it was required.
There were plenty of instances where I had to go back and re-evaluate the characters I had created. For example, the Super-S character, Residence, initially began life as a character called Foresight, though her powers had nothing to do with precognition! So I had written myself into a corner, especially as she had the power to body-jack people. I reasoned that she could be renamed Whisper, but then I found out that the character name had already been taken, so after much research, she was renamed Residence. This is just a small example of the problems encountered putting this scale of story together.
Those characters and powers that didn’t make the first book are, hopefully, going to appear in future volumes, so I’d like to hold those back for future reference!
You’ve truly created a new comic universe with this title. How long have supers been around in it? Is the catch-all term for super villain, ‘Vader’, a nod to Star Wars?
AE: Well, the oldest recorded Super-S is well into his eighties, so you can gauge a rough history from that, but there are also subtle hints and clues to Super-S dating back beyond the last couple of centuries. I like the idea of mankind’s history being dotted with individuals that may, or may not, have had exceptional gifts and abilities.
Yes, the ‘Vader’ term is a respectful (and cultural) nod to Star Wars. The original film and its subsequent episodes have become such an integrated part of our social and cultural society that they are now accepted as part of contemporary life. When I created the world of Forty-Five I endeavoured to make it as believable as possible, even though it’s set in an alternate reality. I remember watching an episode of the excellent TV series, Spaced (Simon Pegg & Nick Frost) where one of the characters calls his best friend a ‘Lando’. I thought that was a genius way of expressing betrayal. It occurred to me that I could do the same thing with a Super-S who turned bad, or ‘turned to the dark side’. A slang word bandied around by all the characters; a ‘Vader’. I’d like to think of it as a small thank you to George Lucas for the impression he left on my life.
I’ve heard that you’d like to continue with the 45 universe. With such a wealth of characters to choose from can you talk about what’s coming up?
AE: I would definitely love to continue exploring facets of the universe I’ve created. In fact, I’m already working on my second book which is going to be a 40 page one-shot that picks up on one of the threads left open from the first book. I’m writing it with Eddie Deighton of Com.x. We had such a blast editing together and our thought processes and styles complement each other very well. We both agreed that this particular character we’re writing about is just too cool to ignore! The writing on the book is almost complete and we’ve even managed to secure the original artist from the interview to work on the pages. This book is going to be created in the traditional comic format. I’m really excited to be working on this so quickly after Forty-Five.
[ Authors note: The character in question has been announced as the BlueSpear. He's pictured below. ]
What was it like collaborating with 45 different artists? More work than expected? Less?
AE: With the exception of a couple of pages, the majority of artists had very long lead times, so I was able to comfortably handle the production timetable. There were a couple of nail-biting moments, but that was to be expected when faced with such a daunting task as keeping 45 artists on schedule! For someone that had never been published in the comic world before, it was a humbling and amazing experience to be involved with so many respected talents. One that I wouldn’t hesitate do all over again, if given the chance. Each day I would watch over my email inbox, praying for art to come in. When a page of art did appear, it would totally blow me away and I would be on a massive high. A few days later, just as I was coming back down to reality, I would receive another piece and the euphoria would happen all over again! It was a sad day when my last page of art finally did arrive, as I knew there would be no more wonderful surprises hitting my inbox. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve been going cold-turkey ever since!
With so much copy on every other page what will the final dimensions of the book be (I read a digital version)? Hardcover or soft? Final price?
AE: The final dimensions will be standard comicbook format, which are 10.2″ X 6.65″. It’s a softcover, priced at $17.99. I am discussing, with Com.x, the possibility of creating a coffee table format version, whereby we can maximise the artwork. I REALLY hope that comes to fruition – that would look stunning!
When will 45 be hitting store shelves?
AE: It should be available here in the UK at the beginning of February and in US stores mid-February.
[ Authors note: "45" should be in US stores this Wednesday 2/3. ]
Finally, in the closing pages of the book the fictional author of the fictional book makes reference to the title, 45, and its meaning. Care to give us any hints?
AE: I would love to divulge more information but I’d like that to remain a secret at this stage and see what interesting theories come out of people reading it. Let’s just say, the number does have much more relevance than just the cap we put on the number of interviews for the book, but I’d like to expand upon that in future stories – if this one is a success!