THE BIG INTERVIEW: New Lightning Strike Creator Pete Hernandez Speaks Exclusively To ICN
ICN is delighted to present an interview with the latest creator to jump aboard the Lightning Strike Anthology that will get its launch at London’s Kapow Con on May 19th. Pete Hernandez began his Company Man strip in 2009 with the purpose of introducing readers to a diverse world of superheroes. The Brooklyn, New York native kindly gave us a few minutes of his time this evening and spoke exclusively to ICN about what this new oppurtunity means.
David O’Leary: Hi Pete, thanks for speaking with us today. This interview has a long time coming so, here we are.
Pete Hernandez: I was starting to feel unloved, Dave.
DO’L: We are of course here to talk about the great news that your creation Company Man has been included in the opening salvo from Lightning Strike Comics with their upcoming anthology book. Firstly, how did this move come to be?
PH: I’m Facebook friends with Robert Carey whose work I’ve watched evolve for more than a year now. Sometime last year I was creeping through a folder of his latest work and asked if I could color something. He sent me a few samples from his Deviant Art page and this beautiful pic of Banshee from the X-Men jumped out at me. I loved all the work I saw but that one really struck a chord. He agreed and the piece came out amazingly well, generating great feedback.
Some time later Rob contacted me via chat and asked if I could help color some pages for this anthology he was working on. I agreed right away because I love coloring good work and Rob’s a prince of a guy. At the time, freelance was a little slow and I’m always ready to help a friend so it was a no-brainer. In exchange, the Lightening Strike Boys offered to put some Company Man pages in their anthology and the rest is history. From what I’ve been told they couldn’t be happier with what I sent. In fact the reaction overall from whoever’s seen the pages has been glowing. Needless to say I’ve been riding high on the props ever since.
DO’L: What was the attraction of using an Irish comic company to see the book in print for the first time?
PH: Well, for the past few years I’ve noticed my work is always well received from European readers. I guess something about my art sensibilities appeals to them. Maybe it’s the old school meets new school approach and the fact I care enough about the medium to tell a story as opposed to bombarding readers with splash pages. Who knows?
I’d started to focus more on my Irish friends as time went by and ask questions about their views on comics and pick their brains for good shows to track down online. I grew up watching a lot of European television; Red Dwarf, Father Ted, Monty Python, Doctor Who, Black Books, the list goes on and on. Anyway, the more I interacted with the guys the more I realized that could be where my audience lay. They’re fun guys to joke around with and have a really cool, no bullshit, attitude towards life and their work. I always get great feedback from people overseas and it’s really encouraging because in America, fans, I feel, take comics for granted because all the companies are here. Out in Europe there’s a larger respect for the medium I love.
When Rob and Eoin from Lightening Strike offered to place some CM pages in their book I jumped at the chance. I’d been offered the same option once or twice from some guys in England but didn’t really vibe the people too well at the time and passed on it, but Rob’s cool as hell and I have no doubts as to his character. Eoin was also someone who very quickly earns your trust. That was really all it took for me.
DO’L: Had you plans to see the book eventually be in print or was this move somewhat out of the blue?
PH: I’d done a small print run on my own and sold it at some at a few cons last year but over time Digital had the greater appeal. It just feels more progressive. As I read more and more articles from guys like Mark Waid about how bad the print sales of comics have become it seemed to me digital is the future. Once tablets become more affordable I think you’ll see a real surge in digi-comics. I mean, you can carry a hundred comics in your tablet but you’re not gonna drag the same amount around in your bag. And digital comics are the next best thing to having the artist/creator hand you their photoshop files.
The imagery will always be crisp, the colors always sharp and you can store thousands of them effortlessly. I mean, it’s all about looking ahead while remembering where you came from but no matter how nostalgic some people are…everyone has a cell phone, no one’s using a walkman or dusting off a 12 inchdisc to toss onto their phonograph. I don’t see people clamoring for the days of rotary phones and 8-tracks. Things change. It’s life. You either roll with it or get run over.
So in the end, print was fun for a while but it was more trouble than it’s worth when it came to getting material to the convention halls and I can reach the entire world online whereas I am limited to whatever store will take my book and that’s a very small number because Diamond has a stranglehold on the industry and they cater to Marvel and DC before they’d even deign to look at a small indie guy like me. So fuck ‘em, I chose digital and the net to reach people and it’s landed me with the boys at Lightening Strike.
DO’L: Has seeing the book take on this new life in print given you a figurative shot in the arm regarding your hopes for the book?
PH: The reactions from readers at the cons in regards to the printed version of the book was a real “high”. Interacting with fellow comic fans, telling them about my story and watching the interest build in their eyes was a much needed burst of inspiration to keep it going. I do think, however, that the interaction with people through social media and the like has been equaling if not more rewarding in the long run as it’s opened more doors for me and expanded the circle of people aware of Company Man. I have readers from Egypt, Taiwan, Hawaii, Pakistan, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, and all over thr US. The list grows every day and that’s something I could not have accomplished with just making comics for print.
DO’L: Company Man is a series that has been going for a while now. Tell us about its genesis and how long it has been going.
PH: I started the series in 2009 as a web series which grew, unexpectedly, into a comic series with the format changing from a horizontal layout to the more traditional one we know in comics today. I originally thought I’d just do 10 weeks or so for a friend’s site called Comics Nexus and call it a rap after that, but during the process the story grew into something more and I really started to explore the universe in detail. Once I’d written three issues I knew it was something I had to finish and subsequently it’s grown into a three arc series of which I’m working on the second at present.
The idea of Company Man came from multiple plots I’d saved into a doc containing all my screenplay and graphic novel ideas. When a friend asked me to put something together for Comics Nexus’ new web comics section I pulled these three loose ideas together into one big one and Company Man was born.
Being as I do it all on my own it’s taking much longer than any other series would take. I don’t have six other people to help with the process, it’s all me; writing, drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering as well as fielding freelance work to pay the bills, networking and promoting the comic and all the other bits of life that comes my way.
I’m a third of the way into volume two artwise (I’ve written up to issue eleven so far) and have begun writing volume three as a graphic novel to wrap it all up with plans for some spin offs afterward but that’s a bit of a ways down the road. Hopefully by then I can find some reliable help to hand stories to and let them interpret my characters with me overseeing it all. There’s no shortage of material for the Company Man universe.
DO’L: How much of the story so far will see print in Lightning Strike?
PH: In Lightening Strike’s anthology you’ll get the first eight pages of issue one of volume two of the series.
DO’L: Are there plans to continue the series in future issues?
PH: If things pan out well then hopefully we can do all the rest. So I’m counting on Ireland to really like Company Man and make that happen.
DO’L: As a creator who is writer, artist and colourist, how do you structure and divide your work to create an issue?
PH: I write the entire script out first using Final Draft, dialogue and all, then set about to sketching all the pages which are then scanned into Photoshop. I lay the pages out, set the letters and word balloons in place, then move on to inks and finally colors. Some time during all this the cover comes to me and I knock that out in between. I tend to post the concepts on Facebook and go with what people like best. I mean, in the end, it’s all about what the readers like and want over what I like and want. That may saound simple but its draining as all hell. Rewarding, but draining..
DO’L: You made it a point of Company Man to bring diversity as a main thread. Why was this important to you?
PH: Growing up I never saw latin or black or asian characters in comics as anything more than sidekicks or cheap plot devices. They were always gangbangers or living in poverty and what not. I set out to show white readers that we can be as diverse and useful and heroic and the white characters I grew up with and skin color didn’t have to be the decided factor. We’re not criminals and lowlives, we’re people who feel and love and hate and laugh and cry just like everyone else. Skin color has no effect on how you feel and act, at least it shouldn’t.
If anything people from ethnic backgrounds are more community / family minded so it only makes sense if some of them wound up with powers they’d go out and try to help others. Corporate media paints us as the scum of the earth but that’s just not so and mainstream comics, as much as I love them, has done little to elevate our image. And frankly, I don’t expect them to. That’s the responsibility of people like me to do. I never saw a Puerto Rican superhero so I made one. Then I went and created an African one, an Indian one, a Mexican one and so on.
I wanted to raise awareness and understanding without being preachy. That’s the tricky part. My characters are ethnically diverse but it’s not about their skin color that makes them great, it’s the great things they try and accomplish that makes it so.
DO’L: How far do plan on taking Company Man, have you an end point in mind?
PH: I have an end for the main character Nick Reyes and some of the main cast will be dead by the time series three is over but some threads will be open for the spinoffs I’ve been making notes for. However everyone’s core plots will be resolved by series end. I’m not trying to pull a LOST and copout with some lame ending in a church in limbo.
DO’L: If folks want to continue reading Company Man beyond Lightning Strike, where is the best place to find it?
DO’L: Pete, thanks for your time. Take care.
PH: Cheers man. Hope to be drinking with you in Ireland sometime VERY soon!
Our thanks to Pete for his tme. You can see Company Man nmake its Irish print debut when the new Lightning Strike Anthology gets its premiere at Kapow Con in London on May 19th with an Irish launch shortly after.