Bill Meeks, our Senior Dragon Conrespondent writes;
“What divides America? Can we overcome our differences? This Fall on ABN, find out! 10 Americans, from all walks of life–, from different backgrounds– different viewpoints- forced to live together in a self-sufficient biodome, cut off from the rest of the world. They’ll strive to meet the challenges of working together AND Survive the Challenges of –THE COMMITTEE. Will they stand united or Fall… Divided. THE TEN. This FALL Only on ABN…”
So begins TenState, a new comic book from freshman comic book writer Tom Merritt and artist Len Peralta. The series received over $17,000 (of it’s $11,350 goal) on Kickstarter back in April and three issues are already in backer’s hands.
The series revolves around a reality TV series called “The Ten” produced by the fictional TV network ABN. The show-within-a-comic selects 10 people that are representitive of America’s demographics and puts them in an enclosed arena where they compete for fun and prizes. It’s part Hunger Games, part Under the Dome, but a dramatic reveal in the first issues turns it into another kind of story entirely.
I got to talk to Merritt and Peralta about the series which they are talking about in detail at Dragon Con during the Comics Coast to Coast Live panel this Saturday August 31st in Hilton 203. Find out what they had to say about TenState and Kickstarting a comic, then read the free preview below.
BILL: Tom, the reality show in the series is set around “rebuilding America with 10 people”. In the book there’s a set of challenges to qualify as one of “The 10”, but how did you as the writer decide what characters would fill out the roster?
TOM: The premise of the reality show is they’re guided by an algorithm that makes sure the Ten have the general demographics of the US. To create the characters I broke out those demographics to see how many women, how many of ethinic groups, religious and political beliefs there should be then assigned them to people and placed them in parts of the US that seemed most fitting for that type of person. Then I wrote up character sketches for each character with proposed names and ran them by Len, who gave feedback and drew character sketches of each person.
BILL: Tell me about the origin of TenState.
TOM: Len and I had been looking for a project for awhile and tried one attempt at a comic that fizzled out as we both got busy. Len called me in November after the election inspired to tell a story about how divided the country was. I had an idea kicking around in my head for decades, literally since I was in high school, about a TV show where the characters were representative of the population of the world. We merged those two ideas, made it US-only and focused on the division between people and voila. TenState.
LEN: I was really impressed with how quickly it all came together once Tom and I started talking. It made complete sense and I couldn’t stop thinking about the premise and how we could play with these characters. It just felt right.
BILL: Len, who are some of you influences in terms of page layout and style?
LEN: When I first starting drawing the comic, I was reading a lot of AxeCop and looking at Ethan Nicolle’s webcomic Bearmageddon. I was referencing that comic in particular because I was also working on the graphic novel “Super Powered Revenge Christmas” with Bill Corbett (of Rifftrax). I love the way Ethan balances a cartoony look and fuses it in a realistic setting. I think the first teaser issue of TenState reflected that look back. As I started to work more and more on the issues, I started to look at other artists like Greg Capullo, Bryan Hitch and Leinil Yu, I started to pick up bits and pieces from their styles as well. At this point, I’m really digging Leinil’s work, especially his stuff from Superman: Birthright and Superior. That is really informing my work at this point, especially my pencils.
BILL: Was black and white a practical choice or an artistic one? Does using black and white influence how you lay out your scenes?
LEN: It was mostly an artistic one. For one, I was really working heavily on “Super Powered” and I knew I couldn’t take on two full fledged graphic novels at the same time. Doing the pages black and white allow me to do them a little bit quicker. Pushing a black and white wash on a page is a lot different than doing full color. Sometimes you’ll leave details out at the ink stage because you know you can fill in the blanks during the color stage. On black and white, it’s more immediate. Your inks are more complete and it really changes how the rest of the page will look. I was also a big fan of Tony Moore’s work in the first few issues of Walking Dead and always wanted to do that kind of linework on a book. Black and white seemed like a perfect stylistic choice, but also a great experiment too. Sometimes I wish it were in color though. Maybe we’ll release a full color version eventually.
BILL: Tom, you’re pretty new at the whole comic book writing gig. How are you scripting? Screenplay? Panel/Page breakdown? Marvel method?
TOM: I’m so knew I’m not even sure what all those mean, heh heh. But Panel/Page is closest to what we’re doing with a little flavor of scripting which I’m more familiar with.
BILL: How did you guys handle the character design?
TOM:I answered that a little already, but the look was all Len and the personalities mostly me based on the demographics. WE gave each other feedback of course.
LEN: Yeah, Tom had some really great notes about the characters and I sort of ran with it from there. The characters have changed a little bit from my earlier drawings especially since I am learning these characters intently when I am working on a book that deals with them exclusively (like Rob in the current issue I am working on.) But we really ran with my concepts from the start.
BILL: You funded TenState through Kickstarter. Have you recieved much engagement from backers as the issues have come out? Any chance of getting a Letters page?
TOM: We’ve got a little engagement but not as much as maybe we would like. I think we need to provide a better venue for it.
LEN: Yeah, the community has been a little quiet, which is good because silence= approval, right? But I think as we get closer to the end, I hope people will really want to see more and be more vocal about it. We got some incredible feedback from Issue 1 and from the original teaser and that encouragement has really helped us Tom and I a lot.
BILL:The book has a lot of sociological overtones, from the reality show setting to commentary on the educational system. Was Antwon, also known as Superjanitor, inspired by the mall cop from several months ago? He’s even from Atlanta.
TOM: Antwon was not inspired by the mall cop. And he’s not even a janitor, he works in facilities, but reality shows tend to oversimplify things, so that’s what happened to him. He’s just a really smart guy who thinks he’s come a long way but if he had been born rich, he would probably be more like Michelle. Len has always seen him as a sort of a powerful superhero character, so that’s where superjanitor arose from.
LEN: Incidentally, I love that mall cop story. But Antwon is a lot more than that. I think we’ll see more of it in future issues.
BILL: Is the book available to people who didn’t back the project yet? If not, when and where will it be?
TOM: Not yet, but we submitted to Comixology, and have our fingers crossed it will get approved their soon. We’re also exploring publishing.
LEN: Comixology has us in queue. So hopefully after DragonCon, we’ll get some good news about us being approved. Fingers crossed indeed.
BILL: I’m two issues in and I’m already trying to figure out what happened outside the dome or if anything actually happened at all. It’s a good mystery and really helps drive the story. You also use flashbacks to fill us in on the character’s backgrounds. Are these just exercises in character building, or does where they were before tie into where the story’s going?
TOM: Spoilers! But both. The flashbacks definitely serve to help you get to know the characters, but there’s also a lot of info in those flashbacks that will likely be good to know in the future. That’s all I’m saying.
LEN: I’ve always seen the flashbacks as an homage to Lost. I love that delicate building of story. It’s so intricate. Hopefully we’ll get to tell more of the intricate story.
BILL: What else are you guys up to at Dragon Con this year?
TOM: As always I’ll be doing 1 million podcasts and popping in on panels in the podcasting and skeptrack rooms. Also beer.
LEN: I’ll be selling some items like my books and Geek A week cards. And I’ll be chatting people up about my two comics. I’m really excited to talk to fans about my projects. I’m at a point where I need a little fan boost to get me over the hump. I’m almost done inking, coloring and lettering Issue 4 and then I roll right into Issue 5. We’ve been working nose down for nearly a year on TenState. Now more than ever would be a great time to talk to people who have been reading the comic and backed us on Kickstarter.