At any comic book convention, the exhibition floor is normally dominated by Artist Alley.
Artist Alley is a series of booths, not unlike a flea market, with artists displaying their wares. Generally, there will be tables where you can meet your favorite comic writer, artist, inkers, and letters. Also, there are a lot of visual artists selling prints with their interpretations of various comic, anime, and gaming characters. Most interesting to me are the small independent titles looking for their lane on the comic highway.
After a period of domination by the two larger publishers Marvel and DC, the independent market has made a resurgence. Smaller houses are putting forth titles, which are receiving great acclaim. At Heroes Convention, BGN ran across a local up-and-coming publisher, Van “Coach” Monroe. Coach Monroe is leading a group of artists under the Essential Comics banner. BGN sat down with the Coach to take a peek into the Essential Comics universe:
So Coach, can you tell us a little bit about Essential Comics and what got you started?
Essential Comics is a dream of mine. I’ve been reading comic books ever since I was eight years old. I’ve always designed and created my own characters. Once I found the time to actually put things down on paper and evolve the characters that I have from my youth, I was able to put Essential Comics and bring it to reality.
So, you have several titles that you’re about to launch?
The first title is Quantum. Quantum is a story about a Jamaican born ex-Navy seal who was hired to protect the city of Detroit. Let me stop for a minute. To tell you the storyline, I have to tell you where we are in the world. During World War II, at the end of it, the world found out that the United States had alien technology to help create the atom bomb. Instead of a Cold War (where they were fighting for armament), that launched a technological war. People were looking for alien technology and just trying to advance their own. So, as we venture forward to today, we actually have super-powered beings hired to not only fight crime, but to protect the technology for certain regions.
Now, going back to Quantum. Quantum [the character] was hired to protect the tech technology of the city of Detroit. She has the ability to draw energy from quantum energy. Quantum energy is in everything that is alive. So, she is very powerful. That’s why she wears the body armor — to regulate the power that she has.
The second book we did was Sizzle and Boom. Sizzle and Boom was created by my two daughters, Malia and Savannah. When they were eight and nine, they came to me and said, “Daddy, we have ideas for some superheroes.” They actually designed the costumes, developed the names, and helped write the book. Sizzle and Boom was a very fast-paced and fun book because, you see, it has the youthfulness of teenagers who have superpowers, and they have the support of their mother to use those abilities.
Benchmark 5 is based out of New York City. It’s a group of five young adults who were brought together to be the perfect superhero group. Unfortunately, nothing in life is perfect. So they’re learning how to be superheroes, instead of just being people who have superpowers. And it’s a fun book to write.
Now, my favorite is probably Rough Justice. Rough Justice is set in Research Triangle Park of North Carolina. There again, you have to remember that technological advancement is extremely important in the world. So the Raleigh-Durham area has transformed into one of the most highly sought-after areas for technology development, but also for attacks on their technology. Rough Justice is about a group; the name of the group is Team Justice. It’s a group that is just learning how important it is to be a team and work through the issues that they have to work through.
The one thing I did with all of the titles is I tried to make them fast-paced. And, I tried to remove all the politics and just make them a fun read.
Are all your books in the same Essential Comics world? Are all your superheroes powered by technology? Or do we have some aliens or some accidents or…
We have everything — aliens, accidents, symbionts (which actually become very prominent within the storylines). You have some beings who actually believe that they were heaven sent. You have some beings who are based off mythological magic. So there’s a lot of different aspects that we came from. The biggest thing is, as long as it’s fun, we want to include it in the Essential Comics world.
But all of the teams are in the same universe.
That is correct.
What are the ages for the books?
Well, that’s the fun part about it. I just write the stories, and I create the characters and I create the world. But I have an experienced editor, Ken Hunt, who has been inking and drawing Batman covers for DC for at least 25 years. He brings the experience to touch all of our books so that they are they’re easy to read and suitable for just about anybody.
Definitely, Sizzle and Boom is a kids’ specialty book. I think teenagers are able to relate because, I mean, I take the writing directly from my daughters, and I embellish upon that.
So is it teenage or younger? My niece is eight.
Right now my daughters are 11, 12, and 14 now. But because the characters themselves within the book are freshmen and sophomores in high school, even though my daughters are younger than that, they’re mature enough to touch on the higher age and still be fun. I think that you won’t find the foul language. You won’t find the more mature conversations or situations. That book is probably the youngest. But the other three books are suitable for anybody language-wise. Some situations may be a little bit off-limits for the younger group, just because even though we don’t have the needless shootings, killings, violence, and stuff like that, these books do have violence with a purpose. That definitely fits within the story.
You mentioned Detroit and said you removed all the politics out. We’re not going to have some sub-story about the water and the conditions?
No. It’s in Detroit because of the struggles economically throughout history that Detroit has experienced. Part of my family lived in Ann Arbor. When you have those bands of desolate, empty buildings and stuff like that, Detroit became a haven for technology to grow because they had all that available space, in a metropolis. So now, if you want to call it New Detroit, it is a technology-based community that’s thriving. It’s extremely important for someone with the power of Quantum to be there. I wanted to use Detroit because I think that there are a lot of places that are not represented properly in comic books. Detroit is a beautiful city. Every city goes through struggles. But I think that showing Detroit in a higher light is very important.
So who is the most powerful individual in the Essential Comic’s universe?
Oh easy. Quantum is. It’s nice, because, #1, she is a woman. And she’s a woman of color. [In the comic book world,] you have extremes, where minorities are not highlighted. And, you have the opposite end of that, where there’s nothing but minorities in the book. Well, neither side of that is real. What I wanted to do is put together individuals where it didn’t matter of the color of their heritage, but that they could lead no matter who they were or who was there.
Quantum has the largest range of power because she can pull energy from every living item. Quantum energy is a part of every cell in existence. So her ability to pull energy is endless. When you talk about Superman, when he originally came out, and he can move worlds and everything — she’s not that powerful, but she’s almost there. No one knows what’s going to happen when she cuts loose with all of that energy. That’s why the armament that she wears, the training that she gets, primarily initially is based on just controlling what power you have. But once she’s able to manipulate that power freely, the way I have it written, there’s no limit to what she can deliver.
Can you talk to us a little bit about the artists who are working on each of them?
Quantum and Sizzle and Boom are illustrated by Harold Edge. Harold is a powerful artist. He’s probably one of our top, if not our top, [artist]. I can tell Harold the type of feel that I want to come from a book and the pages, and that’s it. He can just hit whatever I want automatically, because of the way that we’ve talked about the book and the connection we have.
Benchmark 5 is Jeff Edwards. Now, Jeff’s from Missouri. I’m sorry, Harold is from New York. Jeff was from Missouri. Jeff comes from a land where I guess everything is possible. Because anything that I asked Jeff to do with Benchmark 5, he does it almost effortlessly. Sometimes you get an artist and you have to send them back to the drawing board. With Jeff, there’s not any of that., Jeff is able to bring out the liveliness and energy of Benchmark 5 and what it needs.
And then there’s Enrique Savory. Enrique does Rough Justice. And Rough Justice is a hard book to draw. Because when you talk about the darker books like the Batman — or I shouldn’t say Batman…
No, Batman has gotten very dark.
Well, to use somebody like that. You have to have more realistic touch to the artwork, Benchmark 5, if you want to compare it to anything, it is like Justice League is bright. When you compare Superman to Batman, you see brightness in Superman and darkness. What you see is more of animation in Superman and more realism in the illustration of Batman. That’s what Enrique brings to Rough Justice. It was a challenge for him not because he didn’t have the ability, but because the darkness that I wanted needed to be expressed powerfully. He hit it; he hits it perfectly. Even though I’m challenging him every time, he always comes back with something that just says, “Wow, I can’t believe that he did it.”
Every great hero needs a good villain. Who is Quantum’s villain?
When they first figured out the Quantum had powers, they did not know where the powers originated. Quantum’s main villain actually is a mirror image of Quantum. She uses electrical-based powers instead of quantum-based. And she uses the armor, and that’s where the powers originate from. And her name…I can’t say.
What about Rough Justice? Who are their villains?
I will say this: Rough Justice, initially, is fighting. In the first book, they’re fighting a group that has been with me for years. It’s called the Death Squad. They’re a group of rollerblading women who are dressed in hockey suits. Their secret power originates from when we started talking about those other means of power besides technology. That’s kind of where extremes and the different sources of power originate. They are a group that is very formidable. But they are only a finger of the five forces of justice that are coming for Rough Justice and everybody at Essential.
Where can people pick up your books or see what you’re proposing going forward?
Currently, they can get them on our website, which is Essentialmedia1.org. After that, the plan is to have them in stores no later than December 2019. We’re actually going to self-distribute. We’re going to use a grassroots effort to get the word out and to start going from store to store.
Are we going to see you at any other convention?
We will be in Baltimore later this year, and we will also be in the Bull City Comic Con here in Durham, North Carolina.
You can catch Van Monroe at Baltimore Comic Con in October and Bull City in November.