Of Polar Bears And Barenaked Ladies

“UNGROUNDED is brimming with imagination, wit, and beautiful artwork! Patrick and Eryck’s fantastical world features some of the most original characters I’ve seen in ages, all of them clashing in a fascinating (and seemingly limitless) new universe! You need this book, you just don’t know it yet.”

- Sterling Gates (writer, JLA: VIBE, SUPERGIRL, SUPERMAN: WAR OF THE SUPERMEN)

“Ungrounded is a heck of a lot of fun! Gerard and Webb have put together a big crazy story, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. Here s hoping there s more to come!”

- Chris Roberson (writer: EDISON REX, DOC SAVAGE, CODENAME: ACTION, SUPERMAN: GROUNDED)

“Like Kirby and Morrison before them, Gerard and Webb share a dream of super-heroes with a practical use in reality: to alter our minds so our minds can alter the world.”

-Tom Peyer (writer: BATMAN ’66, DEADPOOL TEAM-UP, assistant editor: THE SANDMAN, DOOM PATROL)

bnlPatrick Gerard writes;

A super-hero who doesn’t fly. A polar bear who does. A globetrotting treasure hunter and her genre savvy geek brother.

These four make up the core cast of a book called UNGROUNDED, a “graphic novella” which comes out Friday the 22nd.

UNGROUNDED is a comic I first envisioned five years ago. It came about in response to what I perceived as super-hero comics that were embarrassed of what they were, a wild bit of whimsy that gives the reader a whirlwind tour of a universe where the costumed heroes and stranger aspects of comics are celebrated. It’s not that I have an issue with deconstructing archetypes but I felt we’d mined that direction as far as we could.

I wanted to do something primal and splashy, what Monkeybrain Comics’ Chris Roberson would call an “unconstructed” story. It’s a term he uses to describe ADVENTURE TIME and the VENTURE BROS, as well as his own EDISON REX. Whereas the post-Watchmen default take has been to mine super-heroes for new depth, an “unconstructed” work takes gleeful delight in the breadth available to genre fiction. In many respects, I wanted to venture back through the Silver and Golden Age while creating something new.

My hero, Mister Solenoid, is familiar but different. He has absolute mastery over electricity and magnetism but unlike virtually everyone else you’ve seen with those powers, he doesn’t fly. He’s a man of science and a bit more of a social crusader than I think the average comic book fan is used to. Moreover, whereas there is often a very forced divide between magic and science in super-hero stories, Mister Solenoid stands at the quantum intersection of the scientific and the sacred, aided by a flying, talking polar bear.

This book happened because of a Kickstarter. Right now, I have a box full of posters, T-shirts and trading cards. I have printer proofs of this comic at various phases of development around my living room and I’m checking the mail eagerly every day for the large bundle of books that I’ll be mailing out and autographing I woke up this morning to find my book charting in the top 100 bestsellers for sci-fi graphic novels.

Cover_A copyOver ten years ago, I was a kid solicited to pitch at several major publishers based largely on message boards and letter columns. It was just after my grandmother’s death (on my birthday) when I got an e-mail from Jeph Loeb telling me it would be “a very good thing” if I could make it to San Diego Comic-Con to pitch. I went out there on an insurance check from a woman who helped raise me to chase my dream of writing comics… on a trip that was planned and thrown together in less than a month… and it was at my first Comic-Con that I got to meet my idols like Grant Morrison and Paul Levitz. In the end, my pitches didn’t go much of anywhere (Dan DiDio would later jokingly thank me for giving him a list of characters to kill). But one idea was enough to get me a “Special Thanks” in a copy of SUPERMAN #178.

culvertextbaumann(Perhaps I should note that I completely blew a personal introduction to Joss Whedon because I didn’t know who he was. Re-runs and DVDs would later teach me the error of my ways.)

Loeb, who wrote the book, sent me copies of script and art in progress and for a couple of months, I sat on the big secret that, in that issue, Lex Luthor would learn Superman’s secret identity. That story eventually lost steam due to editorial changes but I would enthusiastically listen whenever Jeph would talk about how Elliot Maggin had sculpted an idea of his into the classic “Must There Be a Superman?” when Loeb was in college. He was paying it forward for me by giving me the same chance and putting my name in the credits. I may not have gotten any pitches greenlit but I felt like Jeph’s gesture made me part of a lineage: from me to Jeph Loeb, from Jeph to Elliot Maggin. It may not have led to paying work but it made me part of something bigger.

But through Kickstarter and the artists I’ve networked now, I got to be a part of something bigger once again this year: a team.

I’ve bee floored through the whole process by the energetic style of our artist, Eryck Webb. Eryck has a style that reminds me a lot of the late Mike Wieringo with a dash of Scott McDaniel. That’s an energy I couldn’t get enough of as a reader and it’s a pleasure to see an artist who brings that kind of kinetic approach to comics.

In addition to Eryck, we’re incredibly fortunate to have some real seasoned pros contributing pieces to the book. We have Jim Ritchey, who provided a pulp-y piece in keeping with his recent efforts such as the GREEN LAMA: MAN OF STRENGTH book at AC.

We have EDISON REX’s co-creator, Dennis Culver, teamed with the outspoken GREEN LANTERN and X-O: MANOWAR colorist Moose Baumann for our cover. Both Moose and Dennis were creators whose work I’ve been following for years now and working together with them on my first full length comic is the kind of experience I never thought I’d have on my first comic.

Solenoid Pitch_ColorsThe bigger surprises may be what lie between the book’s covers though. In today’s age of everything getting spoiled three months in advance in PREVIEWS, we’ve managed to guard our book’s secrets closely.

There’s an appearance by Grammy-nominated band Barenaked Ladies that I worked out after getting in touch with one of their members. I get the impression that the guys in the band are definitely comic book fans and I’m excited to see the response to their brief walk-on. It’s a rapid-fire appearance that I think is very much in keeping with the tradition of Superman meeting Orson Welles or Spider-man’s team-up with the 1970s SNL cast. It’s a quick moment. I wish I’d been able to comment about it during the Kickstarter itself, especially when I saw the later Jonathan Coulton book skyrocket in terms of support. However,I’d briefly lost contact with my initial contact from the band, singer/songwriter Kevin Hearn. It was after the campaign ended that we hammered out the specifics of their appearance.

I sit here now, waiting for a massive bundle of my own books to ship out and thinking of all the people who have made it a reality.

Thank you, Kickstarter and thank you to everyone raising our profile on Amazon right now. Thank you, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart, and Jim Creeggan. Thank you, Tom Peyer, Sterling Gates, and Chris Roberson for your kindness, forgiveness, and inspiration – and specially for the praise from all of you which is stamped on the back cover of every book.

A very special thank you to Eryck, Moose, Stephen, Jim, and Dennis.

Thanks to Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Mark Waid, and Grant Morrison for stuffing a kid’s head with dreams.

And thanks, Jeph, for making a kid believe he could write comics. You remain an inspiration.

UNGROUNDED is now available through Barnes & Noble’s website and Amazon.com. It will be rolling out to more retailers online over the next six weeks. A direct market edition is planned for next year.