Sometimes the coolest projects gain traction on Kickstarter and never lose their energy. Apama: the Undiscovered Animal is one of them. As you’ll read in this interview, Apama is a unique mix of humor and working-class heroics that I loved.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: So you went live with the Kickstarter how long ago now?
CB: And within a week you are already over the top. That’s kind of thrilling.
Sikora: Yes, indeed.
CB: But Apama seems to be resonating with people. What do you think? Well, first of all, for someone who doesn’t know about the multimedia presence that is Apama, what’s it all about?
Sikora: I co-write the series with a long time friend Milo Miller. We thought that with so many of the great heroes being based on creatures of nature like a bat or spider or wolverine – what if there was another animal that so powerful and stealth that it was never discovered by modern man? How cool would it be for someone to get the spirit strength of that creature? So that is what Apama: The Undiscovered Animal is.
CB: It’s got this kind of fun, ground level feel to it.
Sikora: Thank you. We have tried to make our main character, Ilyia Zjarsky, much more of an every day kind of a person. I grew up being a huge fan of Peter Parker – still love the character. He’s so relatable, yet I’ve never known anyone that was nearly the genius that Peter Parker is. So Ilyia isn’t exactly brilliant. He’s loosely based on the guys I used to change tires with at my father’s service garage. He’s a bowling-on-the-weekends Hungarian ice cream truck driver who stumbles into this incredible gift of the Apama spirit.
CB: Because after all, if any of us had powers, first of all we wouldn’t know what to do and second of all we aren’t Peter Parker or Reed Richards. We’re all just a bunch of guys trying to do what we can.
Sikora: Yes, that’s Ilyia.
CB: Who have kind of messed up relationships with their friends and family, too.
Sikora: Exactly. We’re attempting to pay tribute to what Stan Lee did in the 1960s by taking the genre down to a much more human level.
CB: That’s a good analogy to bring into it because the art is very kind of classic Marvel feeling too.
Sikora: Milo and I, we grew up reading comics in the seventies. The Bronze Age is something that is just in our blood. When we were looking at artists, we put this call out on DeviantArt.com and got over 100 submissions from all over the world. When we saw Benito Gallego’s art, it just immediately gave us that feeling of ‘Wow, this guy is classic! His page layouts are gorgeous. He seems like a long lost sibling. All three of us can make a book that looks like it belongs next to our all time favorite stuff.’
Then with the writing and lettering we said, ‘F$#*K it! Let’s bring back the thought clouds too!’ I guess comics got away from it because it was deemed cheesy or something, but from a writing standpoint you can have, in the same panel, narration, a character’s thoughts, and what the character is saying. That’s a powerful tool. You can’t do in any other medium. So we picked up on the classic stuff we love, but tried to implement it in a modern way.
CB: That gives comics a whole different feel, especially when you are doing comedy because you can have all these different ideas contrasting with each other.
Sikora: I’m glad that’s coming through. We kind of wanted this to be offbeat, so it does go from comedy to horror on a dime.
CB: So someone who gets the full train of it is going to get to see it go all over the place it sounds like, both physically and kind of emotionally in terms of character arc, in terms of setting, etc.
Sikora: Yes. We’re trying to, in these first issues, build up and plant the seeds to a really unique rogues gallery. We look at, again, what Lee, Ditko, and Kirby did, and how in so many of those first issues of Amazing Spider-man and Fantastic Four they just nailed the rogues gallery. Those characters are so iconic with powers so unique. We’re really cognizant of how important that rogues gallery is. We’re introducing a wild psycho-delic villain in our fifth issue that will be Apama’s arch nemesis.
CB: So you got long term plans with this. This isn’t just a one time book.
Sikora: Exactly, Benito is about to start issue nine. We’ve got an arc outline that goes well into the twenties.
CB: That’s exciting. You’re going to be a presence. You going to actually get on the newsstands more than you already are? Or are you hoping to keep going with Kickstarter and (Comixology?)
Sikora: We started doing this because we just wanted to make a comic book, almost for ourselves. It’s related to a feature film we did, but it’s not really a traditional spin-off. We found that we liked making this comic book so much that we just kept doing it – even though we didn’t have a means to distribute it. We kept making issues knowing eventually we were going to do something with them. So ComiXology Submit came around and we started getting seen and reviewed. Now with issue five just about done we thought it was a perfect chapter point to compile them and go to print for the first time. Circling back to your original question – we would love it if a publisher would pick us up and help us get books out monthly in the shops.
CB: So you are already at nearly [eight] thousand dollars, which puts you [two thousand] above your original goal. What do you think has kind of resonated with people? Why do you think this has taken off as much as it has?
Sikora: I dunno. I’m still a huge collector, and love a lot of what’s going on today, but in the superhero books, specifically, there’s no shortage of big loud epics. We wanted to do something smaller, more intimate. We set Ilyia up in our hometown of Cleveland. There’s a lot of rich texture in C-town, and it’s a wonderful blank canvas for this kind of tale. The citizens are experiencing all this supernatural stuff for the first time. Hopefully there’s a fresh feeling to all that.
CB: Well that’s how it feels. It’s just got this, first of all, enthusiasm to it, and second of all, just this kind of clever energy to it that is really enjoyable, to me at least as a reader. You just feel on the page. And the artwork, which I think I mentioned in my review, reminded of John Buscema, just had this wonderful element that got me happy honestly.
CB: Do you see an ending to this series, or do you just want to keep going and have it be what it ends up being so to speak?
Sikora: Milo and I have notions about how it will end, but we really would love it to do this for many years.
Anything else you want to mention?
Sikora: Well, this really tends to confuse things, but it seems wrong to not mention it. This project was a strangely tangential spinoff of an indie dark comedy film we did called Hero Tomorrow. In the movie, there is a guy named David who has an idea for a superhero series named Apama: The Undiscovered Animal. He want’s to find a publisher, but the publishers are like, ‘Why do people care about an apama? What’s an apama?’ That’s kind of the humor in the movie – an intentionally hard to explain idea. So his girlfriend makes him a costume of Apama for Halloween. Then when the he has the costume he goes nuts trying to be a superhero.
So we thought it would be cool to do the book that was in our main character’s head as a stand-alone series. The strangest thing to me is had we not made that movie, we would have surely never put any stock into this Apama idea.
CB: How interesting.
Sikora: So it forced us to think about what that series would possibly be, and it became this really weird idea. And there were so many layers to it once we started to peel it, and it was just like, “Wow, we really have something here that feels unique to us. Let’s see if it feels unique to an audience.”
CB: That is very unique. What sort of incentives do you have available [with the Kickstarter] and can people actually see the movie now?
Sikora: Yes, we have the hardcover anthology that is over 160 pages – loaded with extras including a pinup by Ron Frenz and inked by Sal Buscema. Then at other levels we have it bundled with the 90 minute film Hero Tomorrow on DVD or blu-ray. Getting back to the villain in issue five – when I was thinking about her origin I thought it would be a really cool stand-alone movie – untold in the comic series. So there is now a screenplay for that film, and we do offer that for one of our rewards if someone wanted to get a sneak peak at something before it is produced. That is titled Bloom.
CB: This is going to turn into a big multimedia thing for you I can tell.
Sikora: Ha! We’re trying.