NOV, 2010 – TROY HICKMAN, creator of Top Cow’s TWILIGHT GUARDIAN and COMMON GROUNDS, took a whole lot of time from his busy schedule to answer questions about TG’s new miniseries and other incredibly important questions I had. I probed him like TSA Officer or so he claims! TWILIGHT GUARDIAN was a 2008 winner of Top Cow’s PILOT SEASON.
Pilot Season began in 2007 through a dedicated Myspace page. It’s one of the rare times in comics where a publisher has involved the fans in what gets published. Fan participation hasn’t had this much notoriety since 1988’s Death of Jason Todd in DC Comics where fans voted whether Robin would live or die. Top Cow fans got to vote for their favorite out of five or six comics with a promise that the winner would get a four-issue miniseries. Something similar was also done by comics publisher Shadowline; hopefully fan participation will continue to be a regular tool in the industry. If you’re interested in other Top Cow Pilot Season books, you can check your local comic shop or Top Cow’s online store.
Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik said that the fan reaction to Pilot Season has been so fantastic that they would like to continue the project indefinitely. When asked what gave TWILIGHT GUARDIAN the edge, Sablik explained:
It’s hard to say, but my best educated guess is that’s a combination of three key factors. The first is that Troy and Reza put out a top notch comic. It’s exactly what we look for in a pilot issue, a complete story which establishes the character, the world, and entices readers to want to come back and find out more. The second is that Twilight Guardian is a superhero (or at least she sees herself as one). Superheroes definitely resonate with a direct market audience and Troy’s take on a real life superhero was unique and connected with readers. Lastly, Troy Hickman is a marketing machine. He’s incredibly skilled at connecting with fans and that kind of talent pays off in spades in Pilot Season.
Fans have been waiting a really long time to get more of your creation, TWILIGHT GUARDIAN from one of Top Cow’s Pilot Season competitions. How many issues will there be?
It’s initially a four issue series, which is what winning Pilot Season guarantees you. But good lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, sales will be sufficient to facilitate another mini, or even an ongoing series (knock on wood). This arc is called Twilight Guardian: Heroes and Villains. And it contains both, I promise!
Last time I had the chance to interview you about TG back in August of 2008, we only had the teaser issue for the contest. The readers found her character to be either simple and brave or existential and mysterious. How do you describe her?
She’s simply brave and existentially mysterious, I guess. Maybe the best way to categorize Twilight Guardian is to say she tends to defy categorization. Ostensibly she’s a woman who patrols a nine-block area around her neighborhood every night in a mask and a hoodie. She thinks of herself as a crimefighter. Those are the basics, and they’re completely true. What the mini-series is about, though, is what she is, or may be, beyond that, and she might not be what we think. This story will answer some questions, but raise a lot more. She seems to be a character that fans want to like, and it’ll be interesting to see their reaction as we find out more about her. But is she a superhero? What that means, both in her world and in comic fandom, is part of what the book is about.
Oh, no. This isn’t going to be like LOST, is it?
Only in the sense that it involves a fat guy and a smoke monster.
What kind of spoilers are you willing to give? Does TG have a secret cache of high tech gadgets and weaponry? Does the cat have superpowers? Is she really in Purgatory trying to earn her way into Heaven? Enquiring minds want to know!
Let’s see…high tech weapons? She carries a flashlight, a roll of quarters, deer jerky, ninja climbing claws, and a peanut butter & bologna sandwich for a snack. You tell me, Dr. Oppenheimer, is that high tech? Not only does the cat have superpowers, but he’s the Galactus of the TG universe. Make sure you feed him on time. What I CAN tell you is that this particular storyline will include mysterious disappearances, lots of old comic books, Real Life Superheroes, giant monsters in Lapland, Choc-ola, a comic convention, parody, objectivism, three dozen new heroes and villains, and the first appearance of Twilight Guardian’s archfoe, the Dusk Devil!
Since the Guardian Angels were first described as vigilantes back in the late 1970s, the concept of “Real Life Super Heroes” had waned until the late 1990s. Now there are people across the U.S. donning costumes and patrolling their neighborhoods. They’ve garnered media attention and sometimes come into conflict with law enforcement who find people with masks suspicious. How to you feel about taking the idea like Twilight Guardian and seeing people actually putting behavior of comic book characters into real practice?
It’s an interesting thing. I created Twilight Guardian back in the early 90s as part of my mini-comic series, Tales of the Pathetic Club. Back then the concept of Real Life Superheroes was largely limited to folks like Captain Sticky? and his peanut butter gun. It tended to be more of a show than anything else (sort of like Dollar Bill from Watchmen). By the time that Top Cow decided to add Twilight Guardian to the 2008 Pilot Season, though, RL superheroes had really come into their own. In fact, the RLSH community was and is very supportive of TG, and were a big part in helping it win the Pilot Season competition. Because of all this, I’m gotten to know a lot of RLSH folks, and they’re really great people. And storywise, it became immediately clear that TG HAD to come in contact with some of these folks, so you’ll see some of that in the mini-series.
It does make me a little sad, though, that on a couple of comics-oriented message boards I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism of the RLSH types. It’s usually of the “they’re not trained; they should leave it to the cops” variety, a mindset that I just can’t get behind. As great as they are, the police can’t be everywhere, and I think we can use all the help we can get, especially when you consider most of the RLSH work tends to be community outreach type stuff. It’s kind of silly when you have people in comics fandom, some of whom have told me things at conventions such as “I could take out a roomful of guys with guns using my samurai sword” or “tests have proven I’m highly psychic; I may be a mutant,” and they’re criticizing people for h?anding out food and toiletries to the homeless or walking people to their cars in parking lots late at night. I guess it’s a good thing these critics weren’t around when Lenny Skutnik jumped into the Potomac to save Priscilla Tirado, especially if Lenny had been wearing Superman underoos.
Which character or series in the mainstream comics that you have found frustrating, perhaps derailed or stagnant, that deserves better attention from the publishers and creators?
I ?was actually just saying the other day that perhaps the perfect mainstream comic for me would be Dial H for Hero, as it would play to my strengths: there would be tons of new superheroes, it’s the perfect venue for human interest stories, and it lends itself to self-contained stories, which I enjoy doing. My old small press pal Will Pfeifer did a Dial H series a few years ago, and it was very cool, but I think I’d take it back to its original concept, and probably even go with Robby Reed ?as the lead character. Other series I’d like a chance to write would be my beloved Doom Patrol, Ultra the Multi-Alien, Metal Men, Man-Wolf, the 3-D Man, Caleb Hammer, Ant Man, and just about any team book, which would lend itself to my penchant for a lot of dialog.? Major character-wise, I think they should put me to work on Captain America.
Where do you find inspiration?
The trick is not finding inspiration, but recognizing it when it smacks you in the face. People talk about writer’s block all the time, a condition which I have never experienced. If you leave yourself open to what’s going on around you and recognize all the magic, even in the mundane, you’ll always have inspiration. And for gosh sakes don’t sit around waiting for it. Every time I hear someone talk about their “muse,” I want to hit them in the head with a ballpeen hammer.
As a teacher, do you have a favorite assignment that you give to your students?
It depends on the class. In creative writing, we do tons of fun stuff. One of my favorites is having them write a scene with at least four of their fellow classmates in it, and the conflict is that they’re all trapped in an elevator (I can’t share those with the rest of the class, as they would incite fistfights). In my composition classes, when we get to persuasive essays, I do a lot of debates, as well as a sort of “moot court” where I become the defendant, charged with some infraction of university policy, and they hold an mock trial. I’ve had a couple of students change their majors to pre-law after that one.
Do you use comics in the classroom as part of your curriculum?
Given the classes I teach, I don’t get much opportunity to do so. It would be cool sometime to teach a class that’s oriented toward writing comics specifically. I do get a lot of students who bring my comics up to me and ask me to sign ’em. I’ve taken to carrying a silver autographing pen in my bag!
What grades or ages are your students?
One of the cool things about teaching at a community college is t?hat my students run the gamut. I get folks who are sixteen and still in high school but taking some college classes, and I get people who are ready to retire. I had a lady in class one semester who had been out of school for 48 years. I especially like the older students, as they tend to be more focused and serious about the class.
Do you normally come across at least one student each year that you recognize as a real creative talent that should go far with it?
Absolutely, and I’ve had a number of students who have gone on to publish their stuff. My job doesn’t stop when the semester is over; I end up being advisor/editor/sounding board for countless students, sometimes years after they were in my class.
Since you’re such a comedian (okay let’s be honest, you’re a smart ass) if you were offered any super power but had lose your sense of humor in exchange, what power would choose if any?
I? wouldn’t make the deal. With great power should come great comedic sensibility. There are too many people in the world today who just WILL NOT lighten up, and the scary part is that a lot of them control people’s lives. I’ll bet you Pol Pot never asked someone how many commies it takes to change a lightbulb.
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your 13 yr old self?
Well, given how tough my teen-age years were, I’d probably tell him that no matter how bad things get, they’ll eventually get better. It’s the kind of thing that sounds like a platitude, and that you can’t impart to others and really make it “stick,” but it’s so very often true. I’m reminded of seven or eight years ago when my life hit the skids. I divorced my wife after very scary times, I was the sole parent for my son, I had no job, and we were about a week from eating out of a KFC dumpster. It was the worst time of my life. Then, quite literally within six months, I was teaching at a college, I’d met my wonderful girlfriend, and Top Cow signed a contract with me to produce Common Grounds. It was the best time of my life. There may be nothing in this world more wonderful than the next corner.
Which convention appearances do you have planned for 2011 planned?
Nothing planned at the moment, but I’m hoping to do some shows. The main problem is finances, as it’s tough for me to make it to anything out of state because of travel and such. But hey, if anyone wants to put me on a plane, a train, or a pack mule, I’d be glad to come to your show or shop.
Where on the web can people find you now?
Those who know me know that you can pretty much find me ANYWHERE on the web. If you say my name, chances are I’ll take it as an invitation to show up and plug something. No website is safe. And no, I’m NOT kidding. My own personal blog is called “Shut Up and Enjoy the Ozzy” and you can find it at troyhickman.blogspot.com. I also have a blog for Twilight Guardian, and she should have her own Facebook page by the time you’re ?reading this, so check it out and converse with our empress of the evening.