By Steve Weddle
Anthony Schiavino is a busy guy--Sergeant Zero, PulpTone and so much more. His Sergeant Zero is a pulp hunk of comic goodness fresh out of the gate -- and has received huge praise.
For a solid taste of what this is all about, you'll want to check out TRENCHES IN HELL, a complete five-page story.
We flew Anthony down to the DoSomeDamage HQ last week and spent a few days by the pool talking about what's going on with pulp, noir, comics, and the iPad.
SW: Why comics? Wouldn’t it be easier to just write fiction?
AS: One would think, and that’s how it’s originally started, but I come from a visual field. I’m a graphic designer by trade with a love of comics. The book store is like my second home but comics are where my roots are, so to speak, in terms of a hobby.
So when I sat down to write this thing I just thought I could do more with it. When I write I think in visual terms. The story is flowing through my thoughts like a movie and I’ve got the whole thing choreographed right down to the reporter taking a drag of his cigarette in dramatic pause.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a book series out of this thing.
SW: What/Who is Sergeant Zero? How did you get started with this?
AS: Sergeant Zero is a patriotic pulp hero during World War II. He’s not a super hero although he does some things beyond the realm of thinking. Zero is more like a heightened athlete. His origin is more like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein than radioactive rays. But the comic takes place between time periods.
On one hand we’ve got the weird war tales and what people have told me is a "Band of Brothers" meets "Inglorious Bastereds" type situation.
On the other we’ve got the early 1950s. This guy Joe Sinclair is living downtown in the Lower East End. He’s a vet with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s his life and how he deals with living in a shit hole and the people therein. He’s having all these flashes he thinks is just the PTD but it could be more.
How I got started? I’ve been in comics for I can’t even tell you how long. I’m considered a vet at this point doing design work and lettering. But I’ve always wanted to write something. I’m an avid collector and have been for years but, like anyone else, there’s always been that story I’ve wanted to tell that just wasn’t on the racks.
That’s not a slight to any book or anyone. But when I walk in the store there are times I leave without buying anything. I’ve got that feeling pulling at the back of my subconscious that something is missing.
For me, right now, that’s what Sergeant Zero is. Everyone thinks it’s all WWII because that’s what the first issue is. That maybe they wouldn’t like it because they’re not into war movies or the time period. But going further I can tell you there’s much more. I’m 23 issues -- or parts or whatever you want to call them -- in. Most people pitch a four-part story. I’m pitching a story.
But maybe it’s meant to be something else. Maybe it works better as something that isn’t a comic. Perhaps a comic but maybe a movie or serialized show on the net like what Crackle.com did with Angel of Death. This is one of those stories where you see SERGEANT ZERO WANTS YOU! poster littering the backgrounds. He’s on the news reels, in the papers...everywhere.
SW: Your Sergeant Zero comic has a pretty solid “noir” feel with a good dose of “pulp.” What sort of tone are you trying to set with the stories?
AS: It’s all I said and if you throw in some secret agent aspects, some more dark pulp heroics, a little bit of Kung-Fu, and yes space action...you’ve got the general mix of what this comic is.
This has something for everyone. But it all boils down to going back to the days of classic black and white Hollywood. Those Humphrey Bogart movies with Lauren Bacall are a huge influence on me and how I write.
So, yes folks, there is even a little bit of romance in this thing.
The tone differs depending on what the story is. I mean we go from dyed-in-the-wool classic Hollywood romance to gorillas with machine guns racing through the African desert to bar room brawls. That’s the lighter fare.
SW: Your site PulpTone.com has grown into something huge over the past few months. Uh, what’s that about?
AS: It’s all about marketing. It differs for everyone really but Pulp Tone is a good mix of everything I love about life. It was originally my personal site to post work on a blog much like what everyone else is doing. Then I started doing some reviews and people seemed to like them. So I put the word out for reviewers and it’s grown into what it is today.
Now we write our reviews, answering to nobody but ourselves and the fans, and in the middle of it all I post some of my own work, like "Hey, my comic is now on sale," and everyone funneling into the site sees it. Our fans come from everywhere. We’ve got the 16 year old going to see "Kick-Ass" to the 40-something-year-old housewife. It’s just fantastic.
I keep trying to get more people to do reviews. I’d love to review books, more movies, more comics, television shows and box sets. Look, nobody gets paid. We’re just doing this because we love it and in the process link to each other’s sites, hoping we’ll get some crossover readers.
It’s not a secret. It’s just that few people are doing it.
SW: Is there ever any excuse to drink light beer?
AS: Hell no. Unless you have a medical condition where you physically can’t, and even then I want to see the doctor’s note...what’s the point?
You can drink toilet water out of the tank. Not the bowl. The tank. It’d taste the same.
SW: Do you see comics moving away from paper, especially with the release of the iPad? Will Sergeant Zero go digital?
AS: It’s inevitable but print will always be around. There are different mindsets out there right now. One only wants print. They are the collectors and the avid readers. Another wants only digital. They want some kind of experience I for one just don’t get.
I’m a reader. I want my content. The only difference should be that the words are not on the printed page. That’s it. So I’m somewhere in the middle.
Up until the iPad I didn’t really like the format of digital comics. I’ve got an iPod and I read them panel to panel and it’s just not the same reading experience. But then the iPad comes along and you get full pages. Perfect. They finally got it right and I think you’re going to see more of it.
The only thing I don’t like is that you have twenty different apps out there. Some companies make publisher specific apps. Which is fine except if you have their main app your purchases aren’t linked. I’m a collector. I want my comics all in one spot. So I think they have to fix that but it’s another topic entirely.
Yes, Sergeant Zero is in fact going digital. People are worried that the print product is going away. Right now I’m self publishing so this could change in the future but I still plan on doing print.
But I’d be a fool not to have a digital arm. At the drop of a dime I’ve just reached countless thousands. I don’t think many comics are going to survive at the independent level if they don’t go digital.
SW: What is the production of Sergeant Zero like? How does it happen?
AS: I do the writing, coloring and lettering. I have a script which I sent to Simone. He’d in turn draw up a rough of the page and email it to me. 99% of the time it was perfect, if not better than what I wrote. But if there were any changes I’d send it back and if not he’d progress on finishing the page. He did most of his detail work in the inks because he was doing all of the illustration but that varies from book to book.
As he was doing that I would letter the roughs. Finished pages arrived and I’d, at least for the first issue, lay in the dot pattern that you’d see quite a bit of in the old comics. Then I’d go to color.
I tried to keep this book as close as possible to an older comic. There’s just so much charm in those old publications. My style is a mix of old and new so you have the technology of today trying to emulate what those books of the past look like. Just not as garish. I’d mix in the look of film, like that heightened blue tone in movies like Saving Private Ryan, and just experimented.
From there I’d finish off the lettering, adjust what I needed to including rewrites and that is about it.
Throughout this whole process people absolutely loved seeing the progression of the work. I posted every step of the way for a particular panel on Pulp Tone so that readers could see how a comic was made.
Fans are a part of the process. They’re buying your book. They don’t need to have the final say on your property but treat them like they should be treated. My fans and readers are just amazing.
SW: How is Sergeant Zero distributed and how can folks get copies?
AS: Right now there are on IndyPlanet but comic book shops can also specially order in bulk through a website called ComicsMonkey. Details, including a trailer, are here.
The ten-thousand pound gorilla is the price of this thing and ultimately how much shipping cost. Nobody wants to talk about it. All I can say is that it’s completely out of my hands. You’d cry if you knew how much the creator actually made off of each issue. We’ve all heard that story before.
There are very few options out there right now which is why I looked into digital distribution, and I hope to eventually grow that into other apps and platforms.
It’s nobody’s fault really, and there’s no real way to change it, but very few people talk about it. Again it’s that connection with the fans and just being honest about it. I want people to buy Sergeant Zero and take a chance on the story. ESPECIALLY if you’e never read comics before. You buy for one thing and I’ll hook you into another that you never thought you’d like in a medium you never thought you’d read.
SW: Favorite room in your house and why?
AS: Anywhere I can open the windows and write. Yesterday in fact I’m sitting in my living room writing to a light rain that sounded like the ocean and thunder rumbling. Yeah I know it’s not very pulp but the thunder cracks sounded like mortars going off in the sky. It’s not all about fluffy bunnies and rainbows afterward. It’s about being in the middle of the action as I pound on the keyboard.
Want more pulpy goodness from Sergeant Zero? Check out the info here, or just head over and drop $4.50 for a little slice of comic awesome that will make you the coolest kid on your block.
And here's some sweet teaser action to get you in the mood: