Can you sign my book, Mr. Tucci?”

Billy Tucci looks up from the table where he’s sitting and is confronted by a long-haired college kid wearing sandals, shorts, and a faded green LaCoste shirt, the shirt’s alligator obscured by a “Kerry for President” button. The kid places a copy of Shi on the table and slides it towards the creator.

Billy looks down and smiles at his work. “Happy to,” he says. “As soon as you take off that ridiculous button.”

I’ll admit it. I like this guy a lot. America loves a winner and Billy’s got it going on. He’s in San Diego, home of the largest zoo on the western seaboard, and that perfect weather is calling to anyone who can hear, but Billy’s stuck inside the Convention Center because ComicCon is the real zoo this week. Wall-to-wall people. Gaggles of Hollywood execs. Some of them are people, too, I suspect, but it’s hard to tell. They approach Billy all weekend long?one producer for every seventy-five fans. They can smell a winner, too.

Billy’s booth, Crusade Fine Arts?the company he founded a decade ago?is centrally located and the artist-writer is flanked at various times by his beautiful sister and wife and young son William. Billy would rather be walking about chatting with his buds, but he’s locked down tight signing autographs for a line of fans that starts on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. when the doors first swing open and never lets up until Sunday night when the lights do down.

“It’s been a good year,” Billy tells me. He ain’t kidding. In the last 18 month’s his bold and creative crusade have put him in the driver’s seat, allowing him to call the shots on his intellectual property?an enviable position to say the least. After Shi was optioned by Mimi Gitlan (EP of “Thelma and Louise”) for Lion Eyes Entertainment, Billy was contracted to script the project.

Kevin Bernhardt and I are actually writing Shi together,” Billy told me. “Several high-profile directors and actresses are really interested in the project, but we’re not ready to talk about that yet. You know how it is.” Sure enough. The road to Development Hell is paved with good intentions. And after his past problems with Franchise Pictures, Billy has learned the better part of valor. “Franchise was a disaster,” Billy laments. “I couldn’t wait for that option to expire!” I admit to being disappointed with the outcome, too?and I wasn’t the only red-blooded American boy hot to see Tia Carrere take off the kimono when word got out in ’99 that she was attached as star and co-producer. “Tia was nice and sweet and beautiful,” Billy recalls. “It wasn’t her fault. But I’m just glad we’ve moved on.”

For those of you still in the dark, Shi is a modern samurai tale, reminiscent of the Montagues and Capulets. Our hero-chick descends from the warrior monks of feudal Japan and lives out the dangers?both real and existential?of a gorgeous gal (who can fight like a sonuvabitch) in modern New York City and Japan. Not exactly someone you’d want to bring home to Mom. But you’d sure as hell want to bring her home.

Indeed, since the character’s 1994 debut, over 4 million books have been brought home (Shi kept pace with Superman via Diamond Distribution in 1997). And now, with the new costumes based on the creations of fashion designer Anna Sui, the major media is taking Shi home, too. Recent articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have brought the sexy samurai into a whole new light.

“For the past decade, Crusade was all me,” says Billy. “We got so big that people didn’t know how small we were. It was a lot of work. So when my wife gave birth to my son two years ago, I decided that I wanted to make movies and concentrate on art.” The result was not only great art but also a great deal with Dark Horse that brings Shi under the larger imprint beginning with the new four-issue mini-series, “Shi-Ju-Nen.” Billy wrote and penciled the first issue, and he’s joined by J.C. Vaughn on writing chores with issue #2.
Billy’s no one-trick Republican though. His partnership with Vaughn extends to “The Magnificent Seventh Graders,” another Crusade property that we expect to have legs. The story is essentially “Seven Samurai” meets “The Bad News Bears,” where sixth graders just say no to the ancient hazing tradition. Tucci and Vaughn are joined by Mark Haynes (“Twenty-Four”) and Steven Peros (who wrote “The Cat’s Meow”).

As for his politics, Billy represents a small cadre of creators willing to vocalize his support for W. “I don’t want people thinking of me as a far right-wing nut,” he says. “I’ve voted for Democrats.” Sure Billy. Some of my best friends are Democrats, too. It’s what makes me believe in abortion. Of Democrats.

“I’m in the majority of the American people,” says Billy. “I think our president is doing an incredible job and we’re lucky to have him. For the most part, he’s acting on things that our past president initiated; even the unemployment rate is lower than when Bill Clinton ran for re-election. And Bush is bringing this country through the worst time in our history?the War on Terror. I’ve yet to see a strong argument against him. The Left are just misinformed?they take Moore’s film for gospel and spout off that Bush lost the election when every major newspaper in the country went down to Florida and independently recounted votes. Hollywood should be more informed because their hair is threatening to be more interesting than they are.”

You’ve gotta like this guy. I mean really. Even if he did end up signing that kid’s book.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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