Wattle Publishing recently sent me a new novel by writer Rick Schindler. Its the story of a comic writer who had risen to the heights of popularity only to have it all come crashing down. But he keeps going and just when he might be able to regain some of his former glory, greedy corporate types do the worst thing possible… they kill his creation.
Fandemonium is an interesting trip through the fictionalized comic industry that feels a lot like the late 80s/early 90s while other parts are definitely more modern. Its not a true story, but if you know the industry well enough, some of the events will have a familiar feel to them.
I had a chance to sit down and ask author Schindler a few questions about his new novel, the inspiration behind it and about his thoughts on the industry today.
BLEEDING COOL: Fandemonium is a novel set in and about the comic industry with comic writer Ray Sirico trying to regain his former glory for himself and his character Skylord in spite of the changing industry and his new corporate masters. But Ray doesn’t come across as your typical heroic protagonist, if anything most of where his life has gone is by his own doing. How do you see Ray as he writes Skylord’s imminent demise and where do you see him growing as a character along his journey?
RICK SCHINDLER: Ray is not a hero; he’s an antihero. But he has heroic potential, which manifests in Skylord, the superhero he writes.
Ray doesn’t grow; that’s what makes him an antihero. Ray is a catalyst: He causes change, yet remains unchanged himself. But everyone around him does.
BC: In the novel the reason Skylord is on the chopping block is because no one believes he would ever be killed nor are they comfortable with the idea. Nebula has done focus groups to figure this out. Do you think it’s possible in today’s corporate run world for any character to reach such iconic status?
SCHINDLER: Yes, I think characters can still become iconic, but it takes time. In Fandemonium, Skylord has been around for more than 50 years; several generations have grown up with him, which is why the idea of him dying seems so shocking, much as the death of Superman stunt back in 1992 was startling enough to prompt an editorial in The New York Times.
In the novel Ray Sirico rants about how superheroes are modern-day mythology, and I think he’s right. The ones that most successfully embody primal human fantasies — that you could fly like a bird, or burst out of your clothes and smash your oppressors — persist, cross over to other media, pass from generation to generation.
Corporations manufacture idols every day; they come and go virtually overnight, especially now that they’re accelerated by social media. But icons take time. Twitter provides instant gratification, but for staying power, you still can’t beat oral tradition.
BC: Most comic fans would recognize some of the things in the book as being parodies of people or events in comic history. Henry Cole acts a lot like Stan Lee. Tad Carlyle and Fireburst feel similar to Todd McFarlane and the founding of Image Comics and Fandemonium shares a lot of similarities to the San Diego Comic Con. Plus of course, the Death of Superman. As a writer, what do you gain by using these types familiar connections and how crucial do you feel they are to the story for readers who aren’t as familiar with the comic world?
SCHINDLER: Fandemonium is a work of fiction; it says so right up front. It’s set around the comics industry and a comic-con, but if I’ve done my job right, the story is relatable whether you’re a hardcore fan or you don’t know Green Lantern from the Green Goblin.
Mind you, I’ve been to a number of cons, including San Diego. But when I was first writing the book I was going to half a dozen trade shows a year as the editor of a business magazine. The con in the novel owes as much to them as to San Diego.
The corporate shenanigans in Fandemonium could happen in any industry; I just happened to pick the comics biz. And I’ve had favorable reactions to the book from readers who know little about comics.
BC: Your background is as a journalist having worked for HBO, TV Guide, NBC News Digital and Today.com. What made you decide to do your first novel based in the comic book industry and not the news industry which could potentially connect with a larger audience? Where does your knowledge of the comic industry come from?
SCHINDLER: A larger audience? Wait, why didn’t I think of that? Oh well, too late now.
The simple answer is that I love comic books and always have. I taught myself to read from them, collected them for years, indexed them, amassed 12,000 of them. Along the way I collected lore about the industry and about comics history and culture along with the comics themselves.
Nowadays comics culture is going mainstream; superhero movies earn hundreds of millions of dollars, The Big Bang Theory gets high ratings, cosplay at cons makes the evening news. But at the core of it all is still a kid with his or her runny nose buried in a comic book.
And just like comic book heroes, Fandemonium’s main characters have dual identities, idealized alter egos. Tad Carlyle writes and draws a character called Laserblade who is flamboyant and bold, whereas Tad is closeted and insecure. There’s a volatile, oversexed actress who plays a serene, sensitive android; her name, Harmony Storm, conveys the duality. And Ray Sirico’s alter ego is Skylord, who is as selfless and heroic as Ray is selfish and antiheroic.
In Fandemonium the superheroic transformation — the gamma bomb explosion, the radioactive spider bite, the shedding of mundane outer clothing in a convenient storeroom or phone booth to reveal the spectacular champion hidden underneath — is a metaphor for growing up. All the characters need to transcend unevolved versions of themselves and transform into the superheroes of their own lives. All of them are in trouble of one kind or another, yet the only ones who can rescue them are themselves. But they can try to help each other, like Skylord’s superhero team, whose motto is: Where one might fail, many shall prevail.
And anyway, who wants to read a novel about the news industry? People despise journalists. Comics are much more fun.
BC: One of the unique things about Fandemonium is how your break the normal narrative with the insertion of various ‘documents’ to be read as exposition. Everything from television transcripts, corporate memos, newspaper reports and even pages from a comic script. Where did the inspiration for doing this mixed format come from?
SCHINDLER: The documents are kind of a tour of my career in media: newspapers, magazines, TV, press releases, corporate communications, the Internet. They’re a bit of a gimmick. I’m not above employing gimmicks, so long as they work.
6. What is next for Rick Schindler? Are you planning more novels? Would you want to try scripting a comic book?
SCHINDLER: I’ve been planning the next one ever since you asked why I hadn’t written a novel about the news business.
And yes, I’d try scripting a comic book. As you know, there’s no Marvel or DC in Fandemonium; the comics publishers in it are completely made up, which means I had to make up all the characters they publish too. Just for fun, after I completed the novel, I decided to try coming up with origins and back stories for all those hundreds of characters, and as I did, many of them interconnected and formed a kind of secondary novel. You can check it out at rickschindlerbooks.com.
I just realized: my website is rickschindlerbooks.com, not rickschindlerbook.com. So I guess I’m going to have to write another book.
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