In September a new superhero sporting a magical afro will hit store shelves. Recently, Andre Lamar go the chance to sit down with the man behind The Fro, Chris Harden. In this interview Chris gives us the inside scoop.
Andre Lamar: The Fro is a bizarre but intriguing story about an afro wearing superhero, named Tom Dull, who must find himself. Can you explain who The Fro is, for those who are unfamiliar?
Chris Harden: The Fro is what I would consider, hopefully, a modern day superhero. Essentially his hair will start absorbing the music and grow into this afro that gets crazy and that sort of stuff — as it absorbs the music. And he can use those powers to throw guitar picks, ride an air guitar, and create anything from that energy he needs.
The concept of his powers in the story is fundamentally a guy who can’t find his place in the world. He ends up saving a Tibetan Monk who happens to be selling rugs on the side of the street, and he’s gonna die as a result of having saved the Monk. So the Monks in turn save his life by making him the next “Hair Walker” which is what The Fro is.
AL: How did you dream up this unique character and story?
CH: Well it actually started many years ago…I write music and make music albums. I created this character Ralo which was more of a 70s throwback. He is a character I came up with for making music albums and, after a couple years of that, I revamped the character into The Fro, basically to make him more user friendly and marketable.
AL: I didn’t recall Tom mentioning his biological parents in TF, however I do believe Tom’s godfather Pumpajack raised him. Tell us what happened to Tom’s birth parents and why Pumpajack raised him?
CH: That’s a fabulous question…I don’t have an answer yet. [Chuckles] I hope one day in the future to write the story where we learn about Tom’s real parents. But your right, it’s a complete mystery as to what his real parents are doing, did, where they went, and what happened to them.
He has a tight relationship with his godfather Pumpajack and he’s one of the most key characters in the book. But your right and, right now, it’s a complete mystery to me. [Chuckles]
AL: [Laughs] Explain how Arcana came to publish this book? How have they supported you in writing your first comic?
CH: I had written a comic before and we went through the whole production process, and we took the book to completion before we approached any comic book companies. Then we submitted submission letters, packets if u will, of the book and everything to a variety of publishers. One of the guys at a Comic Con his name is Mark [Poulton] Vice President over there…read it…and he recommended it to Shawn [O‘Reilly] who is CEO of Arcana Comics. He said to give the book a shot. After that Shawn and I’ve been working close together, as well as Mark. Really Mark was the guy…he helped me out. He opened the door for me at Arcana and, after that Shawn has really been mentoring me.
For example, the cover of the book was a little different then what we have now. The front main color was white, now it’s this orange. He felt this would sell better if we changed the color scheme a little. And on the back the artwork completely changed, from something similar to a chapter four cover, to a much more interesting discussion of the story before the villains appeared in the book.
Shawn’s been good about that he’s guided me to use Transcontinental publishing…those are the guys who print for Marvel, DC, and Image. And I was considering going with a cheaper publisher but he encouraged me to go with those. They [Transcontinental] were really tight and he [Shawn] had no problems with them. He’s been really good about directing me on good printing, making sure I have a product that sells.
AL: The artwork in your story has a vibrant and upbeat appeal. Can you describe the members of TF’s art staff, and did you get to hand pick them for this book?
CH: I wouldn’t say handpicked per say but here’s what we did. They’re a team out of Indonesia I hired four teams in January of last year to do one page pencils, inks, and colors. And then I put that same page with the four teams creations of that page on my website, and I did a survey through some friends, family, and extended people who I don’t know and asked them to look at the page and tell me what they thought best represented The Fro.
And I actually had my eye on this more cartoony style that was from one of the three teams and every one pretty much overwhelmingly chose the team I used. So that was a great way to feel out what people expected the team to be like.
Alfa Robbi — He’s the penciller. He is also sort of the studio manager, if you will; he had a turnkey studio that I went with.
Anang Setyawan — Is the inker.
Is Jang — Colorist.
And they all worked with various projects. Alfa worked for Tokyo Pop for example and did some work for those guys. So anyway we set out in February to start creating the book. They were great about communication and their talent was awesome, I rarely had to be Mr. Editor and ask them to change things. They were very consistent with their styles and colors from the beginning. Once we laid down all the characters it was pretty much those guys moving forward.
AL: So you didn’t have much of a problem communicating to them what you wanted your story to look like in terms of the characters and environments?
CH: Not really. What we would do is, I would draw because I’m an artist… a penciler and I actually have a lot of experience as an inker from a few years ago. I drew the characters, made character references, and I also designed all the characters outfits and such so they could be created by people that they wanted to wear. If they wanted to become The Fro they could do that.
AL: Although today’s top-selling comics are usually violent and edgy, The Fro doesn’t appear to have a single swear word in it. Why did you eliminate cursing in this book?
CH: That’s a very good question. Not only did I eliminate cursing…I think there’s only one spot in the book that has blood showing, and we may have removed that. We wanted to make it PG-13, and as far as the action and swear words and all that were concerned; we wanted to make it friendlier for a younger audience. Part of the process of marketing a new book is finding out who your audience is. You might think you know who your audience is, but what I wanted to do is make it so that children can read it. Because, at the conventions I’ve been to as The Fro, children really love the outfit. At the same time older people do too. This book is my chance to understand who’s going to get excited about the story.
I didn’t want to sell a book to a child at a convention and then have the parent read it and be offended if I put in too many curse words. So we just sort of went with a nice clean story and as you said tried to keep it upbeat, s
o everyone could enjoy it.
AL: Do you feel there’s a bias in the comic industry towards writers whom stray away from vulgarity and violent titles?
CH: I don’t know, I have never thought about that. In my opinion, I think that some of the most moving stories can have edginess to them; you know…they can have a darkness. For example 30 Days of Night — one of my favorite comic book stories ever — was very edgy and very dark. So I felt moved to see the movie too. At the same time I love a very good young Spider-man book or a Buffy book. So I don’t necessarily know that there’s a bias. Perhaps as I get more experienced in the industry as a writer I might learn something, but at this point I don’t know what.
CH: Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say so. The way I did that is I had training writing novels, and so what I did was essentially used some rules. And one of the rules I tried to follow religiously was at the end of every chapter. I would fire off the book to some reviewers I had available. They were friends of mine that read a lot of novels. You may have friends like this, and they all read very fast. I also have a writer friend I sent this to as well. And so I asked them questions at the end of every chapter. Anything you hated? Anything that didn’t make sense? Do you understand that I intended to tell you this, this, this, and this? And do you like the characters? This was very important for me — that people liked all the characters and didn’t find them to be two dimensional, or perhaps just goofy. I think by getting that feedback throughout the book as I developed it from beginning to end, and making changes based on that feedback, I was able to hopefully build characters people would like.
AL: Your Myspace page showcases photos of you wearing The Fro’s costume, and you look identical to Tom when he‘s suited up. Despite looking similar in costume, what differences separate you and Tom?
CH: Oh wow, that’s interesting. I guess we should first establish what Tom is. Right…Tom does look like me, that’s true, I didn’t want to use my name in the book because I want to create something that exists when I’m dead. I don’t want it to be about Chris Harden, I want it to be about The Fro. I did create a character similar to me mainly so I could wear the super suit and help promote the book at shows. So that’s sort of the order, the super suit came before the book did. Those are similar on purpose for those reasons.
Tom can’t find his place in the world and that’s true. He’s tried everything and now he’s just a waiter in a karaoke bar. He tried college, he tried doing other things, and he’s now trying to be a singer with his guitar on stage. So while those do come from me, perhaps the only difference is that I’m an engineer and I have an MBA.
So life has been nice. I have a good wife; we don’t have kids yet, but maybe someday. As far as the way things are working out, I’m slightly different than Tom in that respect. Although I have to be honest, if push came to shove, I would love to be a superhero or a rock star. And what else…I do have parents, I do know where they are, and I don’t have a Godfather named Pumpajack for sure. [Chuckles] We do have some subtle but fun differences.
AL: Is there a chance we’ll see any of your friends you met at Who Wants to be a Superhero in upcoming issues? Have you considered doing so?
CH: It’s fun that you say that actually because at the second audition for Who Wants To Be a Superhero which I went to Washington D.C. for, I met a guy who I think is going to be a lifelong friend…his name is John Healy. It just so happens that Healy made it on to the 1st TV show. He was this large radioactive guy which had this large powerful yell that could last for what seemed like a minute. Anyway he and I struck it off and we happened to hang out at the airport afterwards and talked a lot.
He became the reference person for The Mange in the book. I took his profile, he has that very masculine face, strong nose…he has the goatee. He’s a bigger guy and so he’s actually the physical reference art for The Mange. He was one of the people who reviewed the book for me actually. We stayed in contact and he also does air guitar competitions.
I have stayed in contact with Chris Waters, he is Major Victory, do you know who that is? And I’m trying to get a novel together with him because I think that would be awesome. I wrote up a short story treatment and he just got married like a month ago. And then I kicked off with this book so I haven’t got back with him. But if lord is willing maybe by the end of summer he could work out something with me, and we could have a Fro vs. Major Victory book and that would be awesome.
AL: If this comic receives commercial success, would you find it peculiar that Tom Dull may become more popular than yourself? How would you cope with this?
CH: Oh no, I would love it! [Laughs] That would be awesome! I would be so happy to see The Fro become much bigger and no one even know who Chris Harden is. I don’t care too much about that. I would always ask in contracts that it say created by Chris Harden. If Tom Dull became the next Peter Parker…that would be a win.
AL: Finally, after The Fro what else can we expect from you?
CH: If The Fro goes well we’ll do another round of books on that. I have two other story ideas that I’m going to put together in film fashion, either as a real novel, a graphic novel, or a series of comics, and I did have some other stories that I’m stewing on, but I have yet to really crystallize them.
AL: It was a pleasure Chris and I look forward to doing this again with you.
*Visit The Fro’s website for more information at: www.the-Fro.com.
**Chris Harden pictured by Brian Reynolds.