We wrap up our weekly look at Action Lab’s first-ever companywide event — Actionverse!
Action Lab celebrated its first five years as a creator-owned label with a wide-ranging adventure that brought together its mainstay titles, such as Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger and Vito Delsante and Sean Izaakse’s Stray. The final issue came out this week.
Every Thursday through the Actionverse event, Vito talked with his fellow creators about the issue that just wrapped, in ACTIONVERSE AFTERMATH.
Now, in this finale, he talks with his collaborator on the last issue of Actionverse, artist Steve Walker. Then, each of Vito’s collaborators will ask him a round of questions. — Dan
For ACTIONVERSE AFTERMATH #1, featuring writer Anthony Ruttgaizer and the F1rst Hero, click here.
For ACTIONVERSE AFTERMATH #2, featuring writer/artist Jamal Igle and Molly Danger, click here.
For ACTIONVERSE AFTERMATH #3, featuring writer Shawn Gabborin, artist Chad Cicconi and Fracture, click here.
For ACTIONVERSE AFTERMATH #4, with writer/artist Ray-Anthony Height and Midnight Tiger, click here.
For ACTIONVERSE AFTERMATH #5, with writer/artist Sean Izaakse and Stray, click here.
By VITO DELSANTE
Steve Walker was, in sports terms, a free-agent pick up. When the original artist of Issue #6 was unable to do it, Steve was there, ready to go. But this is no rookie or minor leaguer; Steve is the artist behind the Sons of Liberty series for Random House and Jamal Igle’s former intern!
Vito Delsante: Steve, you have an interesting pedigree, in terms of this project. Can you explain how you got here?
Steve Walker: Well, in simplest terms, Jamal [Igle] called me up last summer and said that Action Lab was doing a crossover with all of its superhero characters, that it was a 6-issue miniseries and that they needed an artist for Issue #6, and would I be interested in doing it. I hadn’t done a ton of superhero work up to that point, and thought it’d be a ton of fun, so I said yes.
Vito: Without getting into an ego-stroking contest, and I feel like you can be objective since, spoiler alert, Steve is a teacher of sequential art…what did you enjoy about working on Issue #6?
Steve: The thing I enjoyed the most about Issue #6 upon my first reading of the script was how much it evoked comic stories that I grew up with like the Kree/Skrull War, Infinity Gauntlet or Crisis on Infinite Earths. This was something that I would see drawn by George Perez or Walt Simonson, but little old me got a crack at it and I was absolutely giddy about that.
From a story standpoint, Issue #6 does it right. Every character gets a moment to shine, which in an ensemble story is difficult to achieve and keep the plot moving without bogging everything down at the climax. Plus, there is the line, “The atomic connection to the Earth is too strong!” How could I not like this story?
Vito: As an artist…or rather, as a creator with no emotional attachment to any of the characters, how do you find your way into this story?
Steve: For me, it’s the chance to draw what is in my mind a classic superhero story. It’s the challenge of servicing a lot of different cooks, in each character’s creative team or individual creator, and I enjoy that challenge. This was, in a lot of ways, one of the best and easiest jobs I’ve had in that I knew exactly what it was going in, and I was aware of what was being asked of me artistically right from jump. Having that knowledge beforehand takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of you artistically, though like I stated earlier, the challenge comes from honoring each of the creators, and I try to be very respectful of other people’s toys when I’m playing with them.
Vito: Does your approach to the art differ in this respect? In other words, because you’re not emotionally invested in the characters creatively, do you change your approach to the assignment?
Steve: Not really. I try to approach each job the same way with the same attitude, which is to draw the best comic I can. I broke the script down like any other script, by trying to split the story up into three acts, taking note of the “tentpole” moments within the story, and do my best to translate the writer’s ideas into visuals that are clear and well composed. My job first and foremost is to serve the story, and my hope is that by the time I’ve reached the end of the issue, I’ve done that. If I get to draw a few kick-ass fight scenes along the way, hey I’m not complaining!
Vito: That all being said, you and I have known each other for a long time. You and Jamal, even longer, so it’s possible that you aren’t entirely detached. Is that safe to say?
Steve: Putting all the cards on the table, I’ve been around a few of these characters for a while. To give an example, there’s a scene where I got to draw the Molly Danger and Stray of the future. Incredibly cool. On my own, I started to doodle some designs of Molly, and then went and asked Jamal if he had any ideas regarding her future look. He did, and showed me some designs he had done. The two designs, independently done, were very similar, and it took very little time to come to a final design. With Stray, I think it was a few quick messages back and forth between you and I and the future look was pretty much there. I think that kind of stuff doesn’t always happen between collaborators who don’t have a lot of history.
Vito: That’s true. I think trust plays a big part, so yeah, that’s gonna come from a history between creators. Since this is the last issue and it’s all out there for folks to see, I want to play a kind of…fantasy sports type of game. If you were in charge and you were the editor, how would you build the Actionverse? What characters would you have put in there?
Steve: The great thing about doing the last issue was I got to see the other five issues before anyone else, kind of like seeing the movie ahead of time. This story was about as tight a superhero romp as one can get, and as it stands I wouldn’t change a thing. Maybe if Action Lab decides to do another one, they bring in Princeless. That could be a fun tale.
Vito: And if you created a superhero (and who knows, you probably already have), what kind of hero would you add to the Actionverse?
Steve: The one thing I could see fitting into the mix would be a magic user, sorcerer supreme-type character. The Actionverse is very science hero-based; maybe bring some mysticism into the mix. Or maybe some interstellar-traveler type of character with near god-like capabilities. Could be fun either way!
Up until now, Vito’s been asking the questions. Now his Actionverse collaborators turn the tables on him. — Dan
Sean Izaakse: What’s your favourite part of the writing process, and how do you come up with future story arcs?
Vito: As you well know, Sean, my favorite part is getting in art. It could be a character design, and how we go back and forth until we’re both happy (for me, first pass; for you, the fifth, haha). Or getting in an inked page (or a colored one). That moment right before I go through and letter it, where I just sit back, absorb it, and say to myself, “This is the coolest page ever.” And I do that for every page because seeing someone interpret what’s in my brain never gets old.
How I come up with arcs is usually based on snippets of conversation or just something like…for example, we have a future arc in Stray where Pax Mundi goes after Stray, en force. And the idea came from me asking, “How would Grant Morrison write Batman versus the United States Army?”
Ray-Anthony Height: What’s more fun for you? Character-driven stories or plot/event-driven stories?
Vito: I think I’m more comfortable with character-driven stories. They both have their own sense of fun (and I say that in the most masochistic way imaginable), but I like to think of myself as a “people person.” So, personalities and choices that people make mean more to me than the environment around them. Granted, doing Actionverse, especially writing Issue #4 with you, I really tried to make the dialogue focus on each individual personality on the page. Virtue? He’s always going to assume that no matter what, his might makes right. Midnight Tiger? He wants to get to the bottom of “Why?” And that’s important because the one thing we need to remember is that Gavin is new to being a hero. Stray? He’s going to be the devil’s advocate, in some ways. He’s going to push the buttons until he gets his answers. Gavin is younger, but calmer. Rodney is just not willing to settle when he sees something wrong. Those pages in Issue #4 are possibly my best-realized pages of dialogue ever.
Anthony Ruttgaizer: What is your major malfunction, soldier? LOL. OK, seriously though…Are there any other creator-owned characters out there you’d like to see in a crossover with Stray?
Vito: Oh, tons! Cary Kelley’s Dyna Girl, Charlie McElvy’s Watchguard, Tom Stillwell’s Toy Boy, Andrew Lorenz’s Legacy, Fist of Justice, Tom Hutchinson’s Critter (I like the idea of a dog/cat fight). And then there’s just a bunch of my friends, like Ricardo Venancio, Dean Haspiel, Richard Dominguez…I’d love to work with any of them. And then, of course, there’s you guys. Like, if we could figure it out, I’d love to see Jake and Rodney team up again…as logistically impossible as that may be. Same goes for all of my Actionverse guys. I’d always been a little…not hesitant, per se, but…choosy with who I let represent Stray. Even cover artists. My goal is always to curate an experience with the characters that will not only get something out of teaming up with Stray, but characters that will lead to a good, solid Stray story. The end result has to be mutually beneficial.
Jamal Igle: Two questions if I may: You have a long career both as a creator and a former retailer, but now you also find yourself in the role of project manager. How did you find the experience of wrangling such a disparate group of creators?
Vito: It should have been harder. And that’s not to say that it was easy, but…it was easier than I expected. The thing is simple; for the most part, everyone involved, with the exception of you and Ray, have been deemed by the big guys as “not ready for prime time.” Myself included. So, when you take on a project like this, you think that maybe you have to be a little bit more hands on. And while I was certainly hands on, I think that once we had that dinner at New York Comic Con in 2014, it was a little easier than, say, relying on everyone to get along together in an email chain. Skype phone calls, calls on the phone and then the odd convention meeting…I just tried to carry myself as a professional because that’s what I was asked to do. And everyone gave it back. Once we got into the work, there was not one person who was a prima donna, or made demands or made the job difficult. I know that, for me, I leaned on you, Jamal, a bit more than the others, but my core group (you, Ray and Sean), I felt, always had my back and if you guys thought an idea was good, I knew that everyone else would.
Jamal: Was it hard to allow other writers to handle Rodney?
Vito: I thought about this a bit because I asked just about everyone in these interviews the same question and…no. And that’s because of the way the story was structured. If you include Actionverse #0, only three writers wrote any of Rodney’s dialogue; you, Sean and me. (Shawn had Stray appear on the last page of his issue, but he didn’t speak).
So, going back to what I said about my core group, it wasn’t like I had to trust someone I didn’t know to write him. Would I love to see Anthony and Shawn tackle Stray at some point? Absolutely, but it didn’t happen in this story. If we structured the story differently, I might have a different answer, like, “At first, it was hard,” or, “Until X got comfortable with him, I had to walk him/her through Rodney’s cadence,” etc. That didn’t happen, so I was extremely fortunate because I know that when I was writing everyone else’s characters, I stressed out a bit about it. I remember asking Anthony a lot of questions about Jake when I was doing Issue #6.
Steve Walker: This was a big story to tell and you had to service a lot of creators, plus create a story that is engaging and fun. Was there ever a time during the process that you felt like you bit off more than you could chew?
Vito: It’s only now, with the book over and out there, that I can answer, “Yeah, the second I took on the project.” And like I said, this should have been harder, but that’s not to say it didn’t have it’s challenges. Biggest one to come up was coloring. That was a curveball I don’t think any of us expected. I knew that I would letter most of the books (I ended up lettering six out of the seven books, including #0), but there were three issues without a colorist.
I thank the good Lord above for Wilson Ramos Jr. and Nate Lovett. It could have gone really sour really fast without them. But yeah, things like that would pop up every now and again… like, we’re all one-stop shops when it comes to our books. We write, we letter, we draw, we market all on our own. So, there’s a sense of entitlement that we all have. It’s not a bad thing; it just is what it is. And I knew early on that me, as a co-creator of one of the books…I knew my ego had to take a back seat. While that’s not necessarily problematic, it did make me feel like Stray, as a character, might not have been being represented well, in a marketing way. Midnight Tiger, either.
So, I tried to make up for it in Issue #6 by giving Stray, MT and Austin Briggs from Molly Danger this kind of rapport. Since Day One, I’ve called them, “The Three Stooges of the Actionverse,” and if someone told me that Stray was canceled, I would petition to write these three in their own book.
Back to your question, the true struggle, internally, was in trying to balance editorial duties with creative responsibility.
Steve: And a follow up, would you do another one?
Vito: Only if I got to do it with the same six creators. No disrespect to any other creator I may work with, and who knows? I may end up getting asked to do one of these for another company in the future, but Sean, Shawn, Chad, Jamal, Anthony and Ray…and you, Wilson and Nate…if I’m tasked with doing an event comic again, and I have my choice of creators? I just named them.
Ray-Anthony Height: OK, I gotta know. What is with that last page?
Vito: Yeah, I was wondering when someone would get to that. It’s kind of a holdover from the original concept and it was something that I was, as a fan, dying to see. What would a universe where they all exist together look like? These characters are not from the future, per se. They are one of the versions of this team (that has no name) in the Actionverse Metaverse (what I call our multiverse). Will we ever see them again? Only time, and the fans, will tell.