I’m doing something a little different today. Instead of a review, I have an interview with Frank Fradella, President and Editor-in-Chief of “I, Hero” Magazine, which focuses on illustrated prose stories of superheroes.
I first heard about the magazine from Tom Waltz, the writer of the comic featured during GeekDad’s zombie week back in October, and was very impressed by the review copy sent to me last month. The magazine was first founded in 1999 by Fradella as Cyber Age Adventures. Under that name, it won the award for “Best Zine” by in 2000 by Writer’s Digest. After a successful run, the magazine and its creators, which included Fradella, Sean Taylor, Matt Hiebert, and Waltz went on hiatus as the creators pursued other opportunities. But they came back this year with the launch of I, HERO MAGAZINE on December 31st.
Tell us a little about the stories in this and the other volumes.
Our motto has always been, “We tell stories about people. They just happen to be people with superpowers.” That still holds true.
The single greatest thing about writing superheroes is that it’s not a genre unto itself. It’s a setting, like deep space or underwater. Obey the conventions of the setting and you can tell any kind of story you want. Horror, romance, mystery, adventure… we do it all, and we do it every month. You never know what you’ll find in our pages from month to month. Even characters that we revisit time and again will have a different kind of story to tell. One month might see them in a rollicking adventure story and then see them in a heart-breaking tragedy three months down the line. One thing’s for sure… you’re not going to be bored.
Oh, and we’re lucky enough to attract some mighty fine talent from outside the comics field. Dark fantasy author Shane Moore got a whiff of us and sent in a story that just blew our doors off. He sent that to another well-known author friend of his and he sent in a story, too. Suddenly you’ve got top-notch authors writing the stuff they already know how to write, but putting it in a superhero setting. That’s what we’re all about!
Why superhero prose rather than sequential art? What do you see as the advantages?
The best advice I ever got as a writer was to write the stories you’d most like to read.
I’ve been a big fan of superheroes my whole life and I found myself in a place one day where I wanted something beyond the comic book. I wanted stories that had the weight and heft of a good novel. There are things you can do in prose you could never pull off in sequential art.
There’s a love of language that you’ll find in these prose stories that can have as deep an impact on you as the best splash page. In fact, Sean Taylor, one of the returning partners, just turned in a story about a character that can control sound. It’s beautifully written — just a really deft hand there — and I sat there thinking, “You couldn’t do this anywhere else. There’s no way to illustrate this. It had to be told in this medium.”
Tom Waltz has come back, too, who’s made quite the name for himself in comics these past few years. Tom can write the pants off just about anybody in town. He was as green as any of us when we started the first magazine back in 1999, and to see how he’s grown as a wordsmith has been really inspiring.
I’ve always felt that most of the comic readers of today are the same generation of folks who were reading them when I was a kid. We’ve gotten older, the stories have changed to accommodate, and I,Hero provides the next evolutionary step up. This is the more adult fare that naturally follows.
Of course, we do have a sequential story in there from time to time to serve as a kind of gateway drug for the avid comic reader.
What do you think readers will enjoy the most from this book?
One of the strongest features of our universe (and my personal favorite) is the fact that our universe exists in real time.
Our characters age, they have real problems, they retire. Sometimes they even die. What they don’t do is remain static. You’re not going to see one of our characters remain in college for 40+ years. You’re going to read about real human beings that can do some pretty unreal things, but their actions will have consequences. They’ll grow.
We also deal with the world setting in a seriously fun manner. The monthly Anytown Gazette “reprints” a news story focused on the super humans in our world, and there’s a monthly interview we “borrow” from the pages of Toybox that gives you a glimpse behind the masks. It all adds up to something fairly unique.
What goes into the production of a project like this? How many artists/ writers/editors does it take? What’s the time commitment?
It’s pretty intense, to be honest. That’s part of what makes it so exciting.
We’ll usually have three or four writers per issue, myself included, with an equal number of artists to do spot illustrations, or a short sequential tale. Add into that the colorists and inkers, and just for the stories alone, you’ve got a small army of people.
On the production side, our Art Director, Andy Massari and I lay out the book, approve the art, letter the sequential art pages and prepare the book for printing. We’ve just brought our printing process in-house, too, so there’s a whole new level of work we’ve taken on.
Still, it’s inspiring to scour DeviantArt and other sites for new talent. It’s great to work with such gifted people from all over the world and collaborate with a new creative team every time you come to bat.
It would have been a lot easier to do a regular comic book. One writer, one artist. I imagine the folks who go that way get a lot more sleep than I do!
How and where is it available?
Currently, folks can find the magazine in a variety of online outlets, including Amazon, Scribd, and of course, the I,Hero site. We’re currently seeking distribution to get us into the brick and mortar places across the country.
When we all agreed to come back to the universe we loved so much, we all said we’d try it for six months and see how it went. I think it was pretty clear from the outset, though, we were back to stay.
We don’t have any plans for stopping. These are the stories we tell for the pure love of doing it.