Steven T. Seagle is getting back to basics for his new four-issue Image series “Imperial,” which follows an everyman named Mark who has been selected against all odds to pick up the crown and role of Earth’s superhero, Imperial.
Both parties seem less than thrilled at this latest twist of fate. Mark’s got other things to worry about, like his upcoming wedding. And Imperial isn’t impressed with Mark at all.
Seagle, who will appear at the Long Beach Comic Con this weekend with his writing collective, Man of Action — a quartet that also includes Duncan Rouleau, Joe Kelly and Joe Casey, recently chatted with Hero Complex about his aims with “Imperial.”
The series’ third issue will be released Oct. 8.
Hero Complex: Your last few comic book projects have not been superhero stories. Were you itching to get back to them?
SS: Without killing what happens in the fourth issue, which is the final issue, it’s not a straight superhero story. I’ve written superhero comics before: I wrote “X-Men,” I wrote “Superman” and then I did a lot of genre comics. And I feel like my superhero comics, though I grew up reading them and I like them, I don’t like my own superhero comics. I’d done “It’s a Bird,” which is a book about how much I don’t like Superman, so I wanted to come back and actually try to do a story set in a superhero milieu that I would like myself. That said, it wound up not being a superhero story in the most not-a-superhero-story way possible.
HC: The superhero’s name is Imperial.
SS: I don’t want to say he’s generic, because he’s not. But he’s the epitome of super-powered beings. He’s strong, he can shoot lasers out of his eyes, he can fly. He’s Earth’s only protector in the world we’re building with Mark Dos Santos, the artist. And he’s retiring, that’s the main thing. We gather his powers come from a crown he wears.
HC: Where did you get the idea to give him a crown?
SS: I’ve seen power rings and I’ve seen power staffs and I’ve seen power this, that and the other, but I had never seen a crown. And I was not watching the Miss USA or America pageant. I think it’s because when I was a kid, the Imperial Butter commercials — I love butter, just in general — you’d take a bite of butter and a crown would appear on your head. I ate a lot of butter, but no crown ever appeared on my head. That must have stayed with me and somehow the crown wound up in this book.
HC: Mark, the main character, notices that Imperial speaks in a more stilted fashion than he remembered from the old comic books. Was that observation something you noticed yourself with a comic book character?
SS: Yeah, I’m having, I wouldn’t say a midlife crisis, because I don’t think I’ll live to be 100, but I’m having a late-life crisis or something and I’m rebagging all my old comics. My parents wanted them out of their house. So I put them in the garage. And then a few weeks ago, I was looking at them and thinking, “Oh jeez, the bags they’re in are all stuck together.” So I started rebagging them, and then you’re opening them and moving them, I started reading a couple of them. Two things came to mind: 1. How much vocabulary I got from reading comics. Because there are giant words in these comics that back then were intended for 8-10 year olds. I knew when I started reading Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” comics that I’d need a dictionary and a thesaurus by my side. But I wasn’t aware how much advanced-level vocabulary there was and I wanted the book to reflect that.
And also, the book is very much about the difference between humanity and superhumanity and in a subversive way, the battle between those two things and which one has more value. Mark speaks very simply, his vocabulary is 140 words on a good day. I wanted to show that he was aware there were expectations on him that were not just, do you have giant biceps and can you move a boulder? That Imperial reflected aspects of humanity in other ways.
HC: Are there elements of you in Mark?
SS: It’s very funny to put out a book like this, because it’s a bit of a sucker punch. When the first issue came out, some people wrote about it online and said, “Oh, this is X, Y and Z.” And it’s not. Others said, “I noticed this and this.” Those people are on the same freeway I’m on. So I think what it looks like in the first couple of issues [is] I’m showing Mark trying to process what a superhero means. In that way, it looks like superhero tropes. It really takes a U-turn in the latter half of the story and becomes about the exact opposite of that.
HC: Was it important to you to tell this as a monthly instead of a single graphic novel?
SS: To be honest, I wrote this as a graphic novel. I wanted someone to sit in this and arrive somewhere different by the end of it. Image Comics is doing really well with monthly comics and said, “To the degree that you can, if you can put something out as a monthly comic, please do.” I hadn’t formatted the book for that. That’s why the comic is weird in that it’s a front cover, back cover and then all 30 pages are story. That’s the only way I could have put it out as a monthly. It would have broken very strangely, otherwise. It was an afterthought, but it’s the most comic-book comic I’ve done in awhile. So I’ll give it a shot.
HC: The second issue ends with Imperial perched on Mark’s roof while Mark is intimate with his fiance. The superhero has quite a lecherous look on his face. Are we seeing a changing in Imperial’s attitude toward Mark?
SS: We saw a little bit of that in the second issue. Imperial’s getting worked on. Mark’s obviously getting worked on; Imperial is training him and putting him through a boot camp of how to be a hero. But Mark, with no intention, is working on Imperial and saying “What have you lost touch with? You don’t eat anymore? I like eating and I like eating s’mores.” That’s going to cavity away at everything Imperial is.
HC: Are you planning to collaborate again with Teddy Kristiansen?
SS: Yes, Teddy and I go back and forth between our interests. Teddy likes biographies and I like weird stuff. So we go back and forth between biographies and weird stuff. “It’s a Bird” was biography, then I worked on “Red Diary,” which is the book he put out without me, then I re-scripted it without knowing what it was about, got it all wrong and put out both books as one book. Then we did “Genius,” which was biography. Now we’re back to weird. So how do we out-weird “Red Diary?” What we came up with was something currently called “Mercury.” I say currently because neither of us know what the book is about until it’s done. And by done, I mean the last word is written.
The process is that Teddy is drawing 240 images that tell a story Teddy has in his head, but I know nothing about the story. He’s sending the images to me out of sequence. When they are all done, I’ll put them in sequence and then write a story. He has an order in mind, but I’m never to know that order. I’m going to try to intuit what that order should be. To make this work, we chose a format that was two images per page. I’ve got about 80 pages so far. And there’s at least five story tracks that, to my mind, aren’t in the same time period or genre. So it’s going to be a bear to assemble it all.
HC: When you say you like to read “weird,” what’s weird?
SS: Personally I like to read plays, I read poetry, mostly avant-garde longform from the 1960s, I read experimental short stories. I’ll watch movies, I’ll watch TV. I very rarely read novels because I don’t have time. When you write all day, you start something and you go “I know where this is going.” The trick to remain interested in creativity is to remain surprised. If there’s a Robert Wilson opera in town, I’m going. It could be over and I wouldn’t know what it’s about. But that, to me, is the key that keeps things firing. And years later, I’ll be like, “I think ‘The Black Rider’ was a comedy.” That gets me interested and I’m trying to bring that to comics.
– Patrick Kevin Day | @patrickkevinday
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