I’ve got a confession to make – up until recently I’d never heard of the Black Coat. Two mini series and two one shots from 2006 till 2009 and it hadn’t popped up on my radar and that’s what I love about Kickstarter. Yes it’s the crowd funding website which people use for many different types of creative products to get it from idea to completion or to finish existing works but it also gives it free advertising and that’s how I came across The Black Coat and whilst preparing for my interview with Ben Lichius the creator of the Black Coat, along side Francesco Francavilla, I felt like giving myself a real kick as I discovered the high praise of the existing comics by Chuck Dixon “Black Coat is an awesome book. You guys present an earnest, period adventure with everything I like and no “decompressed” padding. My kind of comics!” and Mike Oeming “Black Coat has both feet firmly planted in traditional swashbuckling adventure and original vision- a great looking book!”
Geeks Unleashed: Can you tell us about your own background as a writer and illustrator?
Ben Lichius: I started out drawing comics as a hobby and only writing as a necessity so that I would have something to draw. I was making my own comics (saddle stitched with photocopied ads) but what I was really doing was learning how to draw. I never had any formal training or anything except for a few books some friends gave me. After high school, I studied graphic design and still kicked around my own ideas for comics but wasn’t drawing as much anymore. Once I started working in games, the idea of having enough time to actually DRAW an entire book seemed too far out of reach (a career in video games can mean A LOT of overtime…), but I really wanted it to happen so I decided to start writing.
Geeks Unleashed: You’ve got a strong gaming background being the Art Director at Spark Plug, what made you want to breakaway from games to create both The Black Coat and Hero of Alexandria?
Ben Lichius: Well, I’ve never really broken away from games. It’s still my main job and it still influences a lot of what I do in comics, but I’ve always had that urge to create a story or new characters. You get a chance to do that in games of course, but it’s the kind of itch that comics are just perfectly suited to scratch. For The Black Coat, he was just the kind of character that really encapsulated all of my ideas and influences. He was just too fun to put down. After the second BC series, though, demands at work and the expense of publishing kind of took over and so I wasn’t doing a lot with comics even though I still wanted to. In the last year and a half however, the guys at Ape Entertainment have really given me a chance to get back into doing comics on a more regular basis. They were really interested in another title from me (Hero of Alexandria) and I also got to do some writing for other properties like ‘Rise of the Guardians’ and ‘Temple Run’. I’m returning to The Black Coat because… like I said… he’s too fun to put down.
Geeks Unleashed: You’ve described The Black Coat as a cross between Batman and James Bond. What led to the creation of The Black Coat and his world?
Ben Lichius: I’ve always been a fan of pulp-style action and adventure stories. I love those old matinee serials from the 1930s and 40s. I’m also a History Channel kind of guy, so you can see where this is going. The Black Coat came about on a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I had just seen The Mask of Zorro and I spent the whole time wandering around asking myself “Why is there no Zorro for Colonial America?”. As I started doing more research on the time period and what was happening right before the war, The Black Coat started to become more than just a ‘Zorro’ character. There was a definite espionage element that needed to be explored and so The Black Coat goes about that with a James Bond-ian kind of flare. He’s also an inventor and a scientist as well as a fighter and a protector – and in those ways he’s kind of like Batman. All 3 of these characters are definite influences, but I’ve always tried to make him his own character. If you can make it work then you get to have something new but something familiar at the same time.
Geeks Unleashed: The Black Coat is currently going through a Kickstarter campaign to return in a graphic novel format. You said you’re constantly asked when the next one will be available. Being an indie comic creator would mean less availability on adverting are you hoping the Kickstarter could also be a way for The Black Coat to continue on a more regular basis?
Ben Lichius: I think one of the reasons that indie comics are really drawn to places like Kickstarter is that it’s kind of familiar territory. As an independent comic creator, you already know that your projects live or die with the support of your fans. Being able to come directly to your readers and have them give you the support you need is quite a privilege and a great opportunity that indie creators need, but at the same time, would never get through traditional publishing methods. So for The Black Coat, as before, whatever we can achieve with this campaign will be up to our fans and supporters. I’d LOVE to see it be something we could publish on a regular basis. Our team would love to do that too, but it’s the practical limitations – namely funding – that stands in the way of that. I see this first campaign as a way to hopefully get more comics out to our readers, but also raise some awareness about The Black Coat and perhaps make some new fans along the way.
Geeks Unleashed: Tell us about the Kickstarter – have you learnt a lot from this and would you be encouraged to do it again?
Ben Lichius: Heh! You might have to ask me this again when the campaign is over. Right now, I’m learning a lot. One of the bigger challenges is all the different hats you have to wear. I feel like a creator, web designer, business manager, marketing director, editor, and production designer all at the same time… which I am right now. But the tricky part has been switching between them all on the fly and trying not to overlook anything or let details fall through the cracks. Luckily I’ve got a lot of friends and some helpful backers that want me to succeed and are looking out for me, catching my mistakes, and contributing ideas. It’s great to have so much access to your supporters, but it’s very humbling at the same time.
Geeks Unleashed: What kind of incentives are available?
Ben Lichius: Along the lines of bringing in new readers we wanted to make sure our back catalogue was available so that’s what we’ve done. If this campaign is successful, I’ll pretty much be cleaning out my closets of all my Black Coat comics (something my wife is very excited to see happen). We’ve also got a lot of options for original artwork from series artist Dean Kotz, t-shirts, sketch cards, an exclusive sketchbook, a chance to be in the book, and other goodies too. There’s even a chance for one generous backer to have lunch with me and Dean in New York City!
Geeks Unleashed: Let’s get down the to serious questions – could the Black Coat get the video game treatment?
Ben Lichius: Ha! Of course! There’s no license out there that someone couldn’t make a video game out of it – or hasn’t already. So when I look at it, to me the real question is ‘would anyone buy it?’ because you have to ask that question in order to answer another, more important question: “Who’s going to pay for it?”
I think the answer is still ‘yes’ people might buy it, but if we are talking about a console-based AAA title, then it really needs to hit a broader market first to justify the investment you’d need to make a game like that a reality. I haven’t played it yet, but I’m guessing the folks that worked on Assassin’s Creed 3 know what I mean. If we’re talking about something smaller – maybe a more casual game – then yeah, it could happen sooner since the amount of money needed to make it happen would be smaller.
Geeks Unleashed: And dream comicbook crossover, any characters on the table, who would The Black Coat crossover with and why?
Ben Lichius: Hmmm… I don’t think much about it honestly. Maybe it’s because we have a lot of appearances by actual historical characters in the book and so those are kind of like crossovers in a sense. I’ve also already done a “crossover” of sorts with Steve Bryant’s Athena Voltaire. We took one story about water from the fountain of youth and made it span almost 2 centuries. But to put them on the same page? I guess a Black Coat/Zorro crossover *might* work out with a little time-bending. I think those two would probably butt heads a bit. That would be pretty cool to see!
Geeks Unleashed: Thanks for your time today Ben and good luck with your Kickstarter.
Ben Lichius: Thanks, Mark!
To visit the Kickstarter homepage click here.