Do we have a treat for you today. We got to talk with former Malibu Comics editor as well as Marvel Comics editor Roland Mann. Roland was the editor on Malibu’s Ultraverse line which included Prototype, Sludge, Mantra, Strangers, and Night Man and he continued editing the line at Marvel Comics into the mid ’90s. Along with editing the Ultraverse line, he’s also written his fair share of comics including Planet of the Apes: Blood of the Apes, Miss Fury, and Rocket Ranger. He’s working on a brand new project, Cat & Mouse, and is currently running a KickStarter for it. He’s working with some old school Malibu Comics creators including Dean Zachary, Barb Kaalberg, and Kevin Gallegly. We got to chat with Roland about the project as well as get his opinion on where the comic book industry stands today.
Cat & Mouse is a crime action drama that features Brett, his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend’s sister Bobbi, Jesse, and The Widowmaker, who runs a human trafficking operation in New Orleans. Brett is fresh out of the police academy and he’s been asked by his ex-girlfriend to track down her sister Bobbi, who has run away. While tracking down Bobbi, he runs across The Widowmaker’s operation and seeks the help of his friend and New Orleans police officer Jesse.
Bounding Into Comics (BIC): First off, I’ve got to say this new story you are working on, Cat & Mouse, looks like a lot of fun.The way you describe it on KickStarter it has a very Tom Clancy Without Remorse vibe not to mention Liam Neeson’s Taken. What were your inspirations for the story?
Roland Mann (RM): I think my inspirations might actually come from being a father. As goofy as that might sound, we live in a day and age where kids aren’t as safe as they were when I was a kid; and I don’t mean from toys and gadgets and such…I mean from actually being kidnapped. I saw some documentary, of which I’ve forgotten the name, about human trafficking and how it’s happening in large amounts in cities all over the US—and I was shocked at how much was happening. I mean, here we are, living in a day when people are mad about statues from an era in America’s history…but they don’t seem to care about the slavery that’s happening RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES!
BIC: You’ve got a colorful cast of characters in this new series, what can you tell us about Brett, Bobbi, and The Widowmaker? There also appear to be a number of other female characters – who are they?
RM: Brett is Brett Huffman, who will eventually come to be known as Cat. He’s a recent high school and police academy graduate and who is in New Orleans looking for the runaway sister of his ex-girlfriend at the start of our story. That runaway sister is 16 year old Bobbi Vasquez, who will eventually come to be known as Mouse. The Widowmaker is the villain of the story. Without giving too much away, let’s just say she’s involved in human trafficking. Another of the prominent female characters is Kunoichi, who will be a teacher of sorts for Brett and Bobbi.
BIC: You’ve also released some preview pages and there looks to be a focus on martial arts – is that something you are interested in personally?
RM: Dean Zachary, the penciller, is very interested in martial arts. In fact…he holds a belt of…some degree, I believe. I’m not so interested in martial arts as I am in the Japanese culture. In college, I had a Japanese roommate for a time, and we talked about a lot of things—and thus my interest in the culture was born, even though I’d already had an interest from an historical aspect. When I started teaching, I taught ESL (English as a Second Language), and one of the primary people groups that were my students were Japanese. My wife and I watch a LOT of Japanese movies, one of my favorites being the series of black and white films called Zatoichi, the Blind Samurai. And, of course, Seven Samurai is one of my all-time favorite films.
BIC: The story looks to take place primarily in New Orleans, will you be tapping into the Voodoo culture associated with the city?
RM: Absolutely. It won’t be a focus in this story—human trafficking will be at the forefront—but I also enjoy the Voodoo culture and have read a lot about it. Have a bunch of stories I’d love to tell! ha
BIC: You previously wrote a Cat & Mouse series back in the late 80s and the early 90s at Malibu Comics, is this story in anyway related to that one?
RM: It is…and it isn’t. Readers of the old series might remember that C&M was Jarod O’Neil and Amanda Paige…their story ended when the series did and they were in Japan. So our new C&M is not them. There are a handful of secondary characters from the original series that will show up, the one already mentioned is Kunoichi. There will be others—but I’ll hang off on revealing them just yet. My intention, too, is to make sure I work to maintain the mood and tone and spirit that Mitch Byrd and I had with the original series.
BIC: You already met your KickStarter goal in less than 48 hours, do you plan to include any stretch goals?
RM: Yes. The speed of achieving the goal caught us a bit by surprise. We’ve just announced a handful of stretch goals that we hope will get folks excited in sharing the project and trying to get more folks onboard.
BIC: What are some of those stretch goals?
RM: Most people make dollars their stretch goals, but we decided to make our’s the number of backers. I’ve had several people tell me that was a mistake, but after talking with the creative team, we’re all on board. Our idea–at least for this first issue–is that we’ve got the funding to cover the costs of printing/shipping the book, which was what we were after…now what we really want are more eyes, more READERS! We believe in our comic so much that we’d rather try to get more readers than more money–don’t get me wrong, more money would be nice; we’d all be able to make a little something actually DOING this. But what we’re really hoping is that we’ll get more readers so that can carry over into the remainder of the mini-series, which, by the way, Dean is already penciling issue #2!
130 backers (HIT THIS!): ALL PLEDGE LEVELS get a pdf copy of DEMON’S TAILS graphic novel, the spin-off of the original Cat & Mouse done by me, penciller Paul Pelletier, inked by Thomas Florimonte
150 backers: ALL PRINT LEVELS. Bookmark. Everyone loves a bookmark–these will be adorned with Cat on one side, Mouse on the other.
170 backers: $20 and UP PLEDGE LEVELS: A Cat & Mouse sticker: put it on your car or on your laptop!
190 backers: $20 and UP PLEDGE LEVELS: A WidowMaker (she’s the story’s villain) trading card. This is the first in a set we’ll be producing while finishing the mini-series. Collect them all!
210 backers: $20 and UP PLEDGE LEVELS: A print of the STANDARD COVER to C&M #1. Roughly the size of a comic backing board.
230 backers: ALL PLEDGE LEVELS: An audio version of C&M #1. Anyone remember POWER RECORDS? Yep! Follow along in your comic as voice actors read the comic–along with sound effects!
250 backers: $20 and UP PLEDGE LEVELS: An enamel pin. These are all the rage these days…would love to see one of C&M made!
BIC: This KickStarter is for the first of four issues, do you plan on doing KickStarters for the other 3 issues?
RM: That is the current plan, yes. We’re hoping that a successful campaign for #1 will lead to a slightly more successful campaign for #2…etc. One of the things we’ll be doing—and that I haven’t said anywhere else—is to create a “set” of trading cards over the series. We’ve got one trading card as a stretch goal for this issue; we plan to have at least one for each campaign/issue. That way, when the entire mini-series is complete, fans will have a complete set of C&M trading cards!
BIC: Do you have any plans to pitch the series to any publishers or will you continue to self-publish?
RM: That’s still a bit up in the air, but the entire creative team is leaning to just do this thing ourselves. If you look at the state of the industry through the traditional distribution system, many comics just aren’t selling that well. We’re having a hard time trying to see what real advantage a publisher can bring us that we can’t actually do ourselves. Like I say, it’s not a definite yet, and we’d certainly like to get maybe at least one more issue done before we really make some decision…but one of the things we like about Kickstarter is the ability to go direct from us to the fan. The thing we do not like about it is that many kickstarters bypass the comic shops. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make sure we at least had a retailer option, even if that many stores don’t take us up on it. Retail stores hold a special place for all of us, so we’re hoping they’ll jump on.
BIC: Can you explain the retailer option? What does that entail?
RM: We’ve heard several retailers complain about KickStarter and how it bypasses them. As a creative team, we LOVE Local Comic Shops (LCS) and are thankful for all the support they’ve shown us individually over the years. We do NOT want them bypassed. SO…we’ve created a pledge JUST for retailers and even with a RETAILER ONLY cover…It’s basically the same sort of thing they’re offered through traditional distribution outlets–only it’s coming direct from us. Essentially, they buy an assortment of books at a price they can then resell them. As of my answering you now, no retailers have taken us up on the offer–which is a bit surprising–but we’re hoping maybe they’re just waiting until closer to the end of the campaign.
BIC: You were previously an editor at Marvel Comics, do you have any desires to return to the company? Is there a specific character you would want to work on?
RM: No. Not a bit. Marvel is practically unrecognizable to me as a publishing entity. I know they made a move recently to “return” to some classic concepts—the Legacy Line? Something like that. But, no, I don’t have a desire to go back.
There are classic characters I love, one of those being The Vision. I’m a huge fan of the Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart versions of the character. I think it would be fun to work on some of the classic versions of the Avengers (I was a fan long before the movies!) and that whole family of characters…but it would have to be the classic characters. Maybe Moon Knight. But, truthfully, I’m pretty content to be telling my own stories my own way…with some incredible artists!
BIC: What do you make of the current comics landscape? Print distribution to retailers was down 10% in 2017 and we’ve seen comic pros like Jimmy Palmiotti trying to reinvigorate the industry with celebrity endorsements from the Hollywood actors and directors who have become megastars thanks to the success of the superhero genre. Are comic books dying or is this a period of transition?
RM: Boy, that’s a biggie! Comic singles or floppies are really hurting. While I have no scientific data to back this up, I put a lot of the blame on Marvel and DC. I don’t think anyone would argue they are called the Big 2 for a reason. But, as I indicated earlier, I don’t recognize the characters they publish anymore, and a good number of them have gone off on political tangents where they’ve just become mean and have ostracized more than half of their audience. Marvel and DC are generally the ones who “build” the audience by bringing in younger readers, but they’re catering to a select few, and they’ve ceased to be accessible to younger readers. I’m not saying they should “dumb” down the stories. Comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s weren’t “dumb,” they were just accessible to a larger reading audience, and they brought in young readers each year. As readers matured, they could seek more adult content in the independent market, or even lines like DC’s Vertigo. It seems like most of the comic publishing market wants Deadpool’s R-rating…the problem with that line is that there are no NEW readers being brought in.
I think people still like comics, but I do think we might be in a period of transition where people are less interested in an individual 22 page comic, and are more interested in the finished arc. They want to “binge” read a comic story in the same way they binge watch television. You can do that with a graphic novel or compilation in a way you can’t with a single issue.
BIC: Thanks your time Roland!
RM: Thank YOU!