I may not always have my finger on the pulse of American pulp culture, but there is one thing that is true about me that I think is also true of most other people in the world. We love to root for the underdog. Maybe not always in every situation, but when it comes to characters that exist in the fictional world (and also in sports, apparently), the underdog always seems to have our love and affection. Seriously, who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Nobody I want to be friends with, that’s who.
Bryan Ginn and Marco Lopez, co-founders of Atomic Rex Entertainment, are also big fans of the underdog. They also love buddy stories and Saturday morning cartoons. A few years ago they embarked on a mission to combine this trifecta into one entertaining graphic novel. They succeeded, and the product is the new graphic novel series Massively Effective.
Massively Effective is the story of two friends, Marco (Mass) and Bryan (Effect), who were the two best B-List superheroes the world had never heard of. The A-list caped crusaders hated them because, well, at this point I’m not entirely sure why they were hated so much. It could be because of the A-lister ego, or because Mass and Effect would often come in and muck up their plans, although overall things seemed to have worked out okay. Regardless of the reason, it’s clear the A-listers view Mass and Effect like their embarrassingly challenged little brothers. What remains to be seen is whether that assessment is accurate or not. I mean, Mass and Effect have the best of intentions and they seem to be capable superheroes, but they are also misguided, brash, and young. And they have messed up enough times that a super secret superhero tribunal has banned them from being superheroes anymore. So they go home and open a comic book shop, call it Massively Effective, and try to live a normalish Kevin Smith-style life. But the world still needs heroes, doesn’t it? And Mass and Effect have their own destiny to live out, whether they like it or not.
The current state of Massively Effective is this: the first two issues are done and the last two are being colored as we speak. They are to be combined in to one 90 page graphic novel. But right now they have no publisher, which is not so surprising for new names in the industry. Like so many others before them, Bryan and Marco have begun a Kickstarter campaign in order to self publish the first issue and drum up some interest. The first 23 pages are available for free on their Kickstarter page and their production company page, Atomic Rex Entertainment. I recently was able to sit down with them and discuss the series and how they created Atomic Rex.
Nerdlocker (NL): First off, what is Atomic Rex Entertainment?
Bryan Ginn (BG): Atomic Rex is the media company we started when we began thinking of releasing comics. Hopefully it will become a brand that is recognizable in the world of comics.
Marco Lopez (ML): It’s basically like our own independent label that we’ll be able to use for any project whether it be our comic books or short films that we hope to do in the near future. Anything we put out will be branded Atomic Rex. It’s like what Joss Whedon does with Mutant Enemy. It helps create brand awareness.
NL: Who is involved in Atomic Rex?
BG: Right now it is me, Marco, Eugene Selassie and Walt Barna. Eugene has the first 5 pages of his latest comic up on the site right now. It’s called Rock, Paper, Scissors. And Walt is our colorist on Massively Effective and just a great artist all around.
NL: So tell me about your new project, Massively Effective.
BG: Back in 2010, Marco and I were living in Austin and working together at Blizzard Entertainment. The three of us (including Eugene) were really good friends and were constantly coming up with ideas for projects. I took an idea that we had previously come up with for a comedic video short and thought if we made it a little more serious we could do it as a comic book or graphic novel. It started out as a superhero idea but it took off from there. We wanted to have the superhero backdrop but still be able to do whatever kind of genre we wanted. It’s a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of comic book.
ML: Back then it was still called Mass and Effect, after the main characters.
NL: Can you summarize what the story is about?
BG: Well, it’s mainly a buddy comic. It’s about two best friends who were superheroes back in the late ’90s but they ended up licensing away the rights to their identities and getting out of the superhero business. Then they opened their own comic book store. But retirement doesn’t really suit them so when we pick up the story they are just getting back into it.
ML: I think it has a kind of Abbot and Costello feel to it. Abbot and Costello in tights. Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein and all that.
BG: Except they DON’T wear tights.
BG: Mass wears a trench coat, like the old pulp heroes. And the Effect character wears goggles and has a bunch of gadgets and stuff. So it IS superhero stuff, but no one actually wears tights.
ML: They exist in a superhero world but it’s also a place where different genres happen. But it’s very much a funny action adventure book. It’s not like you’re reading Superman or The X-Men. It’s more like you’re reading Ghostbusters or The Tick. That type of thing.
BG: The first issue is a representation of all the superhero comics that have come before. And that’s the jumping off point. An introduction to the universe and the characters. It shows how back in the day they were in this very happy-go-lucky Saturday morning cartoon type of world, and it was all fun but now things are different. The world has become a more serious place. So Mass and Effect are still trying to do their thing. It’s not a cynical comic by any means. It’s definitely an all-ages book. A kid could pick it up and read it, there’s nothing too far out in it. We basically started it off with their final fight as superheroes, right before they retired. Like the last chapter of their superhero lives.
ML: I like to compare it to From Dusk Til Dawn in that if you had never seen a trailer and you start watching it you’re like, “Oh, this is a pretty good heist/kidnapping film.” but then once they hit the club you realize it has suddenly become a vampire movie. Massively Effective starts off like that, in a comfortable space we are all familiar with and then becomes something totally different.
BG: I think that is the main problem in trying to get a publisher right now, actually. It’s because we made them superheroes and the market is over-saturated with superhero stuff at the moment.
ML: But they’re like, C-list superheroes. All the A-list superheroes hate them. They’re considered a joke in the superhero community. But the truth is that they’re not jokes.
BG: Unfortunately the publishers don’t look past that initial section to see what it becomes. To them it’s just another superhero story and if you’re not part of the big two, or Robert Kirkman, as far as publishing goes they are just very wary of anything that is brightly colored or has superheroes. They think the fans don’t want it unless it’s from Marvel or DC.
NL: So you decided to go the Kickstarter route and self publish?
ML: Well, last year we took the first issue to the cons (Image-Con, Wonder-Con, etc) and handed out previews to people. We got a lot of interest but no bites. We ended up getting a lot of great quotes though. We even got a quote from Boom! Studios, a comic publisher. They really liked it but basically said they were doing a lot of superhero comics this year and next year. So they passed.
BG: The implication was, I thought, that they were doing too many. But they gave us a quote and said we could use it. So to us it just seemed like people liked it but were unwilling at the time to take a risk. So that’s when we decided to use Kickstarter.
NL: How much are you trying to raise on Kickstarter?
BG: $6000. We’re hovering around $750 right now.
ML: We just put up a teaser video for the comic and you can download the first issue for free in PDF format. We also have all the quotes up there as well as a podcast we recently did.
NL: And what’s the deadline?
ML: July 21st, 3:30 pm. So we have about two weeks left. And all the money is going to the comic. If the Kickstarter campaign is a success then first we print up comics for all the people who donated and all their rewards and all that. And the rest goes into printing up more comics so we can send them out to comic book shops. None of the money is going into our pockets. I mean, we both have day jobs. We just want to get our comic out there. That’s the most important thing.
And we hope to get some attention. If it’s successful we can show publishers that people like it and it’s a viable product. If publishers don’t want to take a chance, I don’t want to say we are going to prove them wrong but in a way it would.
BG: It’s the same in the comic book industry as it is in the film industry right now. People just don’t want to take risks. Money is tight so unless you are The Walking Dead no one is throwing money at you. If you are a no-name, which we are, we have to show them it’s viable.
NL: Who are the artists involved?
ML: Well, our colorist, Walt Barna, is a member of Atomic Rex Entertainment. He’s a great artist and works on a lot of different projects. We initially found him on Deviant Art but he saw an ad we placed on Digital Webbing and contacted us.
BG: He had such the attitude that he wanted to help out and we all got along really well so we ended up bringing him on as part of Atomic Rex.
ML: He actually doesn’t live in Austin. He lives in Zimbabwe. We were trying to get him over here, we were writing a letter to the embassy and everything, but it turns out he has family in England so we think he will end up there eventually.
BG: Our artist is a guy named Michael Mayne. He has a comic called Bonnie Lass that is put out by Red5. It’s kind of like a modern day pirate story about a chick who is a pirate. It’s like a fantastical version of modern day where pirates sail the high seas but with cell phones and such. It’s a really cool book and his artwork is phenomenal.
NL: How did you find him?
BG: We put an ad on Digital Webbing actually. That’s a really good place to go if you are looking for an artist. He responded and we fell in love with his work immediately.
ML: We also found our letterer, Josh Krach, on that site. He’s also a writer and has a book you can get on Amazon right now as well as his own web comic series. His style really compliments the art.
BG: Yeah, our first issue is very dialogue heavy and Michael was worried the lettering would cover too much of the art but when we brought Josh in his style complimented it so well. Michael ended up being really happy with it.
NL: Is this going to end up being a limited series or is it open ended enough for you to keep coming out with issues?
BG: It has an ending but it won’t be the kind of thing where the universe has ended and everyone’s dead. It will probably be about eight or nine issues. I like some series that go on for a while, like Spiderman, but if you look at Spiderman you don’t want to sit down and read every issue of it. You like certain runs or certain issues. Same thing with The X-men. It’s really hard to be a die hard fan of something that has 500 issues. So I think we are going to cap it around eight or nine graphic novels. We know the stories we want to tell but we’ll give it a nice send off. Maybe 10 years after it’s done we’ll decide to write a Mass and Effect in their forties story.
ML: And there is definitely room for spin-offs. There are a lot of characters that don’t even show up in the first issue and we come up with new characters all the time. We have a good idea where everything is going and what each issue is going to be. But there is always potential for more depending on how the story develops.
NL: Can you tell me a little about who your influences are or who inspired you to do this book?
BG:The Justice League International is a big one. Peter David, Kevin McGuire, Robert Kirkman. He does super hero comics but has a much different take on them. Jay Faerber. He has this great series called Noble Causes. It’s a lot of different writers that take a concept and look at it differently instead of writing it right down the middle. A comfortable genre with new kinds of things instilled into it.
ML: Basically I’ll read or watch anything, but I like stuff that mixes comedy with another genre: comedy-horror, comedy sci-fi… John Hughes, Peter David. I like stuff that has a lot of heart to it, like Joss Whedon or Chris Claremont’s X-men. So I mean even though this is a comic book there is still a lot of heart to it.
BG: Yeah, it does have some emotional moments too.
ML: Right, you’ll read it and you’ll laugh and there can be silly moments but there are some heartbreaking moments too. Like all that stuff I watched while growing up, like Ghostbusters and John Hughes. Or cult films like Evil Dead or Big Trouble in Little China, Gremlins, Joe Dante films. I’m a huge fan of E.T. I also love The Lost Boys, you know, that perfect blend of comedy and horror with some serious moments.
BG: Because no one would ever classify that movie as a comedy but it has all those elements. And the vampires are vicious, but the movie itself is a fun ride.
ML: And that is basically what Massively Effective is. A fun ride. The whole idea is that “the more things change the more things stay the same.” There is this point where Mass basically contracts their life story rights to an ’80s style Saturday morning cartoon. And the whole idea is when you were a kid and you watched those cartoons it was always the same thing every episode and there really wasn’t much plot development until they brought in new characters to sell more toys. That’s when somebody always died. So that’s what he kind of feels like now because everything is changing and becoming a little more serious. Those are the times when characters can have those serious moments. There’s comedy, tragedy, sci-fi and there’s lots of stuff that elude to the stuff we grew up with in the ’80s, like when Bill and Ted have their evil robot counterparts.
BG: Basically this comic book is a love letter to everything we love about comic books. So we put everything in there. All of our influences. If we couldn’t get it into the first issue we are figuring out how to put it in later.
Well Nerdlocker wishes you guys all the best. Go check out the free 23 page preview and see if you would like to help get Massively Effective onto some comic book store shelves as well as score yourself your own copy. Their goal is $6000 and the deadline is Saturday July 21st, 3:30pm. Atomic Rex also has a Facebook page that will keep you up to date on all their projects. Go like them!