After funding a miniseries featuring their independent superhero character in 2013, Stray co-creators Vito Delsante and Sean Izaakse returned to Kickstarter this month to raise money for an ongoing series. They reached their goal fairly quickly, which is when the real work began.
The story focuses on Rodney Weller, the former teen sidekick to the superhero known as Doberman. When his mentor is killed, Rodney returns to action after five years to solve the murder as Stray. In addition to the miniseries, Stray also appeared in Action Lab‘s Actionverse crossover series with Molly Danger and Midnight Tiger. Joining the creative team for the first arc is artist Phil Cho. As the first arc takes place in both the past and present, Cho will draw the flashback sequences while Izaakse will draw the present-day story.
I spoke with Vito and Sean about their plans for the series and how the Kickstarter campaign is going.
Smash Pages: For those who may not be familiar with Stray, can you share more about the character and what he’s been up to thus far?
Vito: You think this would be easier as we go a long, but I sometimes think it’s the hardest question. Stray is Rodney Weller, the former Rottweiler. The Rottweiler was the sidekick of the Doberman, who also happened to be his father. Rodney quite five years ago because of a disagreement with his father, and he went from being a hero to being a…not heroic person. After the murder of the Doberman at the hands of Duette (which, I really don’t want to spoil Duette for anyone that hasn’t read the book…it’s worth it, trust me), Rodney comes back to the world of capes and masks, but he decides that he’s going to make his own way and instead of being Rottweiler again…instead of being the new Doberman…he chooses a new path and becomes the Stray.
Smash Pages: What’s Stray’s state of mind at the beginning of the ongoing series?
Vito: I think he’s kind of realizing his place in the world a little bit more. He realizes that, after Actionverse, he’s meant to be a street-level hands-on hero. What I mean is, he’s not meant to fight supervillain despots from other dimensions. He says, “I can’t do cosmic.” And what we do to him…it’s kind of unfair, but we are basically telling him that the universe has other plans for him. He can run, but he can’t hide.
Sean: I see his story as a story about finding your place in the world, growing up and making peace with the past. None of those things are easy and hopefully will make for some interesting stories going forward. Like finding friends, losing some old ones and making some new ones along the way.
Rodney is still a little angry and cocky being back in the tights and taking on bad guys, but at the same time he’s going to learn more about himself with each new obstacle in his way that he has to overcome.
Smash Pages: And are you guys doing anything different, in terms of the writing or art, in your approach to the ongoing?
Vito: For me, I’m leaning heavier on Sean as a co-plotter. The focus of the book is always about one guy, but how do you make that epic? How do you make Stray into Odysseus or Beowulf…men that were, according to legend, mortal but involved in these huge stories. Sean is very good at seeing the bigger picture, better than I am, because I tend to focus on the personal, the smaller moments.
Sean: What Vito said. I think aside from that we work the same. We hash out an idea and the go back and forth tweaking each others ideas till we’re happy. It’s a truly collaborative effort. The cool thing is that we’re almost always on the same page with what we want for the character of Rodney and Stray.
Smash Pages: In addition to Stray, who else should we expect to see in the new series?
Vito: I think first and foremost, the one character you’re going to see more of is the Rottweiler. That sounds almost like double talk, but Stray (in the present) has a much smaller (but no less important) role in the first story arc (which is called, The Rottweiler Years). So, there’s more of the Doberman, more Aegis and we introduce the TeenAegis (or TeenAgents) for the first time. We saw them briefly in the first mini, but we’re going to show how they got together.
So, you’ll see:
Quarrel – aka Orion (in the present). One of the things we say from the start is that Will is a natural and needs no additional training, but Will is so happy to meet Rotty and the Doberman and get out of his small town.
Heavy Metal – Matt Reilly is the “blunt instrument” where Will is the precision tool. Some of that comes from the fact that Will, as Quarrel, uses crossbows and Reilly is made of organic metal and just punches things hard. Heavy Metal has a very interesting character arc coming, and we wanted to introduce him sooner rather than later.
Ingenue – Anya Reddick is the main villain of the piece, and she is a part of Stray’s past that has come back to haunt him at a very inconvenient time. So, a lot of the story is seeing how their relationship started and then where it is now.
The Principal – A lot of readers liked the flashback that began Issue 2, with the Rottweiler saving the Doberman from the Academy of Evil. We figured let’s expand that villain, the Principal, and give him a little bit more in the way of motivation.
The Intolerance – I don’t want to give much more away about the Intolerance, except to say that they are a “hostile alien force.” You can call them a cult, but I think they’re bigger than that. I think their philosophy and their motivation is one that is going to shape Stray (the book) a lot more than you might think.
Midnight Tiger – You’re going to see Midnight Tiger pop up more than a few times in the first year of Stray. Ray-Anthony Height, Sean and myself…we’re a small tight knit family (include Molly Danger‘s Jamal Igle in there) and Ray and I have this agreement that because they’re friends, there shouldn’t be a reason why they aren’t in the other’s supporting cast. So, expect to see Stray pop up in Midnight Tiger when it returns and definitely expect Midnight Tiger in our book.
Sean: Adding to what Vito said, there are tons more characters that are gonna show up. Vito has plotted out about 20 issues (probably more by now) and in almost every one we introduce new rivals or villains or people from Rodney’s past. There are a few in particular I cannot wait to bring out and see what people think of them. We also try to make sure that the characters are diverse and that everyone gets represented. I’ve always felt that everyone should be able to have heroes that they can identify or see themselves in in some way or form. And we’d like to give them that.
Smash Pages: What’s the collaboration on Stray like between the two of you, given the difference in time zones? How do you guys work together?
Vito: Predominantly via email. Sean is either six (during Daylight Savings Time) or seven hours ahead of me, so I’m fairly conscious of the time difference (I have it on my home screen on my phone). I try not to email anything I need an immediate answer for when I think he’s sleeping. What’s funny is, I usually get a response on the frivolous stuff quicker than I get on the important stuff! (haha) We try to Skype once a month, more if we need to. And I write the scripts in Google Docs, which makes it easier to share and get edits on when his schedule is totally different than mine.
Sean: Pretty much what Vito said. Usually I’m too tired when I get the important stuff and my brain is fried so I need some time to think it over. But we chat often yeah.
Smash Pages: Tell me about Phil Cho. How did he come aboard for the first arc, and what will he be drawing?
Vito: Just like Sean, I met Phil through DeviantArt. And as we were trying to figure out what we would do next, with the book, I realized that Sean has worked almost exclusively on Stray for about three years…he deserves a break. So, quietly, we did an artist search and we landed on Phil. After we asked him if he was interested, and after he said yes, we actually moved our planned storyline to later and came up with one that would really benefit from Phil’s art (The Rottweiler Years).
Sean: Vito pointed me to Phil while we were looking around, and for the story we wanted to tell I really liked Phil’s clean, almost animated style and think he will bring a lot of energy to the book. We’re very happy to have him on board.
Smash Pages: Let’s talk about the Kickstarter. First off, congrats on reaching your funding level! As far as the ongoing goes, what does that mean for you guys in terms of what you can produce now?
Vito: The hope is that we have new readers, first and foremost, and that looks to be the case because I see a lot of new names on this Kickstarter. New readers means that hopefully, they will follow the book as it goes to retail and I say that because the answer to the question is…we’ve funded one issue. The hope is that the sales of this issue will fund the next issue, and so on and so on. Which is why the goal was always to overfund. Sure, we put $5000 as the goal, but internally, we want $15K so we can 1) match or beat our last Kickstarter and 2) fund three full issues without having to rely on sales. Because honestly, we’re pulling away from our retail sales already. As of this writing, we have 181 people who will probably not go to their local comic shop to buy the book. We can only hope that they go in to pre-order Issue Two, Three, etc.
Smash Pages: As the campaign goes on, I know you’ve been adding stretch goals. As you reach different milestones, does that mean you can add more issues?
Vito: Yep. That’s the true goal of the whole thing. Every $5000 increment adds another book. Right now, we’re creeping up on $10K (very slowly), so if we get that, we add as second issue.
Smash Pages: Vito, on Facebook you’ve brought up a couple of interesting topics that I thought I’d ask about. First, you hit your goal really quickly in the first few days of the campaign, and you mentioned how the campaign has “plateaued” and doesn’t seem to have the same momentum as it did at first. What do you think is driving that, and what can you do to combat it?
Vito: I wish I could…you know, point a finger at exactly what it is. I know that some people, fans…I know they’re fatigued by superhero comics. I certainly can’t fault that, but I fear that what they are tired of is corporate-run books, as good or as bad as they are on their own merit, and taking our book and lumping it in with that. We’re a creator-owned book (in this case, two creators) and we do the stories that we find interesting. There is no editorial mandate, so it goes without saying that we don’t function like the others. But…and again, I can’t really put my finger on it, but I think that’s part of it. The other part is that they could be waiting for the book to come out in comic stores. It’s a hard call.
To combat it…that’s the question. I really haven’t figured it out, and it might be this campaign that pays for me not knowing.
Smash Pages: Second, I know you’ve been doing some outreach to people who contributed to the the first Kickstarter. What drove that, and what sort of response have you gotten from prior backers?
Vito: Throughout the first campaign, I would always close just about every update with, “This wouldn’t happen without you,” meaning our backers. And as much as Sean and I acknowledge that now and always, I think our backers forget how important they are to the success and continued, ongoing success of the book. Without them, there would have been no series. We have a small core audience, in terms of the greater comic book fanbase, and I will never let it go unsaid that they are extremely important to us. So, we gave them an incentive to come back, and so far, they have been supportive. Incredibly supportive, as I knew and know they are.
Smash Pages:Recently you announced that some issues will contain back-up stories by different teams. Can you share some details on your plans there?
Vito: We had a letters page for the first mini that just never caught on. And I knew that at some point, I wanted to do back-ups. One iteration had Charlie McElvy doing “Watchguard” back-ups, and that led to us creating “The Golden Guard.” And what happened was…Carlos Cabaleiro (who is the artist of “The Golden Guard”) did this George Perez/Teen Titans homage piece and donated it to the campaign. After he was done he said something like, “I really love these characters. Let me know if you need a back-up story.” Hearing that brought the idea of back-ups back to me, and as I was thinking about it, I saw John Broglia had just posted a piece on Facebook. John has a very heavy ink style, reminiscent of Mignola by way of Darwyn Cooke. It made me think, “Black and white back-up stories would be incredibly cool.” I just took that idea, emailed about 20 friends or so, and asked them if they would be interested. All said yes. That blew me away and made me think, “We might have something here.” And the best part is, they’re all doing stories about characters that may or may never show up in the book. So far, I think only one team is doing one with Stray, and that’s technically a Rottweiler story.
Sean: Those stories are going to be epic, Vito managed to get some super talented folks to work on these backups and I’m so ridiculously excited to see what these creators can do with our playground and put their stamp on them.
For more information on Stray, visit the Kickstarter page or Facebook. Also don’t forget that in addition to the campaign, Delsante and Izaakse have also created a shirt featuring the character to benefit the StubbyDog organization.