Smash Pages Q&A | Nate Cosby on ‘Alter Ego’

The writer and editor discusses his latest graphic novel, which is now being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

Nate Cosby has been writing and editing comics for years His work has included from Cow Boy, Pigs and other projects, including his latest graphic novel, Alter Ego.

Alter Ego stars Hollywood stuntman Ace Adams as two different superheroes. Cosby mentioned the late great Gene Kelly as one inspiration for their hero, and it’s easy to see the balletic acrobatics of Kelly’s The Three Musketeers in Ace Adams’ moves as artist Jacob Edgar depicts the character’s double duty as the heroes Whiz-Bang and The Black Dog.

The graphic novel is currently being kickstarted and Cosby answered a few questions about the book and his inspirations.

Nate, to start, where did this idea behind Alter Ego begin?

A love of comics and movies. Both Jacob Edgar and I are classic movie buffs, and our shared love of all things Gene Kelly was the starting point for what would become our main character, Ace Adams, and his two superhero personas. 

Whiz-Bang and The Black Dog very much fit those Superman/Doc Savage and Batman/Shadow/Daredevil hero archetypes. You’ve worked on superheroes and I’m curious about what you think of these superhero archetype and why they endure?

I’ve actually never “officially” written a superhero comic before – this is my first one! I’ve edited thousands, but this is the first time I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

I’m a superhero classicist, by nature. By far, my favorite superhero is the original Siegel/Shuster version of Superman, who was just a little bit stronger than everybody, could leap just a little higher, and didn’t take shit from anybody. It’s so brilliant and basic, and I admire other heroes, but they all feel like variation on what Siegel and Shuster created. 

I couldn’t say why the superhero archetype has endured so long for everybody else, but for me, I like the idea that there are people that have an ability to help, and an inclination to do so. It shouldn’t be such a unique thing, for people to want to lend a hand, but it kinda is. Some help from the shadow and some from the light, but it all stems from an urge to help.

The book is set in “the Golden Age of Hollywood” and what does that mean for you and for the book?

I really wanted to tell a story about identity, about who we are when we want to show off, when we’re walking down the street, when no one’s watching. There’s an inherent performative aspect to being a superhero, and I figured what better time or place to examine performance than the time and place where my favorite entertainments come from?

There’s a great bit in Grant Morrison & Frank Quietly’s Batman & Robin, where Dick Grayson’s feeling trepidation about being Batman. And Alfred tells him to think of Batman as a performance, as going onto a stage. That’s really stuck with me, and is a key inspiration into how Ace thinks about his different personas. Ace is a performer, an actor, and he carries that through when he’s Whiz-Bang or The Black Dog. They seem like totally different people to the public, because Ace is giving two totally different performances.

The book definitely captures that swashbuckling adventure feel of many old movies (many of which were made in the Golden Age of Hollywood). What about those films do you love? And what were some of the inspirations for the tone and feel that you wanted for Alter Ego?

I just like the vibe of old movies. Always have. They’re unabashedly, unashamedly brimming with “Let’s put on a show!” energy. Jacob and I are classic film nuts, and our first touchstone for cracking Alter Ego was our mutual adoration of Singin’ In The Rain. That’s where we found the inspiration to set our story behind-the-scenes of movie-making – on busy movie lots, at bars after filming’s wrapped, at the swanky restaurants where stars go to get seen. Eagle-eyed readers will also be able to spot nods to The Rocketeer, LA Confidential, The Bad And The Beautiful and LOTS more.

Singin’ was also where we came up with Ace Adams carrying himself like Gene Kelly, muscled but smooth-moving. Elegant but physical. You can see that in his performance as Don Lockwood, and in An American In Paris, and Brigadoon. But we wanted gravitas and quiet strength as well, which is where Sidney Poitier’s performance in In The Heat Of The Night came in. We wanted Ace to own a room, to be cool but strong, reserved but not afraid to fight back.

Talk a little about working with Jacob Edgar, who you’ve worked with and whose work on these pages is stunning.

It’s a complete pleasure to collaborate with Jacob. I glow with joy every time a new layout or finished page rolls in. We’ve worked for several years together, and I’ve been lucky enough to see him grow as an artist and a storyteller in leaps and bounds. He’s the true co-creator of Alter Ego; there’s no way that this story is what it is without the thought and creativity and care that he brings to everything. His abilities inspire me to make the story bigger and more layered than I’d originally conceived.

In recent years you’ve really focused on making creator owned work and trying to make work that feels like your own and this feels like a book that you wanted to read but no one was making it, so you made it.

I just have particular tastes. They’re not for everyone, but they are mine. So when I think about what I like, what inspires me, what I want to make, I really try to press myself and consider what would excite me, if I were to see it sitting on a shelf, or available for download. I definitely want other people to enjoy it, and I hope the love and thought and care that my collaborators and I put into the work shows on every panel of every page. But at the end of the day, I think you’re right. There’s a LOT of superhero stories out there, but there’s not THIS one. So I made it. 

Kickstarter has come under a lot of well deserved criticism lately. Why did you decide to use them to help publish the book?

I’ve been a part of several Kickstarter projects now, and the Kickstarter community has been really supportive of me and my collaborators, so it made sense to continue that with Alter Ego. And it’s my understanding that Kickstarter’s only just begun figuring out how blockchain might figure into how their platform runs, so there’s not been any noticeable change from past campaigns and this one.

Just as a last question, what’s your sales pitch for Alter Ego?

What if one man was two heroes? By day, the crime-fighting WHIZ-BANG bounds around the Golden Age of Hollywood, battling giant robots and super-powered bank robbers. When the sun sets, the brooding vigilante THE BLACK DOG prowls Los Angeles’ grimy underworld. But no one suspects that these guys are the same person! 

My hope is that fans of comics and classic films enjoy 100 pages of high adventure, chocked full of heart and humor and drama and double-crosses and robots and haggard magicians and old-school airplane dogfights and conflicted superheroes of all shapes and sizes! 

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