TAEM interviews Comic Book author Steven A. Roman

Steven A. RomanTAEM- With the recent visit to the Baltimore Comic-Con, The Arts and Entertainment Magazine & THE EERIE DIGEST has delved into a brand new genre of writing for our readers to learn about, and enjoy. In our foray there we ran into the well-known author, Steven A. Roman, who has written some of the most noted works in his field. Like our publisher he was born in the Bronx, in New York City.

Steven, what first inspired you to take up your line of work, and what educational background did you pursue to do so?

SAR- Originally, it was reading comic books as a child that made me want to become a writer. To be honest, my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree hasn’t really gotten my any work, either as a writer or editor. (I was a fiction editor for ten years at a publishing house called ibooks, inc.. I was hired because at the time I was self-publishing comics and they thought that meant I knew all stages of book production. It was a learning experience for us both…) The writing has always come fairly naturally, though. Self-publishing through StarWarp Concepts came about when I couldn’t find anyone to publish my work.

TAEM- Who was your greatest inspiration for your writing?

SAR- When I was a kid, it was Stan Lee, who always knew how to balance action with soap opera characterization in his comics. Later on, the influences became an eclectic mix: comic writers like Alan Moore, Steve Gerber, and J. M. DeMatteis; horror writers like Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft; even mystery writer Robert B. Parker!

But the one author who caused the switch to turn on in my head, in terms of handling characterization, was Giorman Bechard, whose 1991 novel The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (about God sending his baseball-loving daughter, Ilona, to modern-day Earth) was a revelation—pardon the pun—to me. Until then, I didn’t really understand that it was okay for a writer to place aspects of themselves into their characters, and I learned that from Bechard—he was a New York Mets fan, so was Ilona; he liked to drink Tab, and so did she. Following his example has continued to bring greater depth to my characters.

TAEM- Tell our readers about the many titles that you worked on and some of the main protagonists in them.

SAR- For StarWarp Concepts, I’m the author of The Saga of Pandora Zwieback—a young adult novel and comic series about a teenaged Goth who fights monsters with the help of an immortal, shape-shifting huntress named Annie. There’s also Lorelei: Sects and the City, an adult graphic novel about a succubus—a female sexual demon—fighting a cult of Elder Gods worshipers.

I’m also the editor of StarWarp’s other releases: the graphic novel Troubleshooters, Incorporated: Night Stalkings, by writers Richard C. White and Joni M. White, with pencil art by Reggie Golden, involving a team of supernatural superheroes for hire; The Chronicles of the Sea Dragon Special, also by Richard C. White, with art by Bill Bryan, which is a pirate-fantasy e-comic; The Bob Larkin Sketchbook, which showcases the pencil art of one of the industry’s greatest cover painters; and our illustrated classics line, which includes Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars (the basis for Disney’s 2012 film, John Carter), J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (a female vampire novella that influenced Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula), and the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White.

TAEM- How did you conceive the characters, and their stories, for your writing?

LoreleiSAR- Pan was first introduced as Annie’s sidekick in a 1998 book proposal titled Heartstopper, which was pitched to R. L. (Goosebumps) Stine’s company, Parachute Press; I pitched it as a supernatural Doctor Who, with Annie standing in for The Doctor and Pan as the trusty companion. Unfortunately, they passed on it. I then revived the project in 2005, this time with Pan as the lead, after I’d spoken to people in the book industry who thought it’d make a terrific young adult series. Turned out they were right!

Lorelei is a tribute of sorts to 1970s horror comic characters like Vampirella and Marvel Comics’ Satana the Devil’s Daughter (a succubus), but with her own look and personality. I created her in 1988, and drew her first stories in digest-sized, photocopied comics. Because she’s a succubus, Lori’s adventures are meant to be more adult-oriented, so in the graphic novel Lorelei: Sects and the City I leaned more toward including sex and nudity and four-letter curse words—the complete opposite of Pan’s stories.

TAEM- How did you first get started and who was the first character that you worked on?

SAR- Well, professionally I started out as a self-publisher, launching StarWarp Concepts in 1993 with Lorelei as a full-size comic series. So, Lorelei was the first character I worked on, both in the small press and as an independent publisher.

As an author, my first work was cowriting a short story, “The Ballad of Fancy Dan,” for the anthology Untold Tales of Spider-Man, followed by cowriting “Assault on Avengers Mansion” for the anthology The Ultimate Hulk. Those stories led to me first ghostwriting (for author Neal Barrett Jr.) the young adult novel Spider-Man Super-Thriller: Warrior’s Revenge, and then getting the assignment to write X-Men: The Chaos Engine Trilogy—original novels starring the Marvel Comics characters—under my own byline.

TAEM-  Tell us about the awards that you received thus far in your career.

SAR- No awards so far. Never even been nominated for one. But my work gets lots of critical acclaim, readers enjoy my stories, and I’ll always take good sales figures over awards. And because the X-Men novels sold close to a quarter-million copies, I can even call myself a bestselling author!

TAEM- Tell us about The Saga of Pandora Zwieback and the story behind it.

SAR- It’s the story of Pandora Zwieback, a 16-year-old Goth who’s a major horror fangirl—and a psychiatric patient.

Blood FeudAs I explain in the first novel, Blood Feud, for the past decade she’s been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic because she’s been seeing monsters since the age of six. Coupled with her parents’ recent divorce (which had nothing to do with Pan’s problems) and the struggles of fitting in at a new school, you’d expect her to be a sullen loner…but she perseveres. She’s a happy Goth. Her parents both love her, her friends back in New York City support her—and then she meets Sebastienne “Annie” Mazarin, a 400-year-old, shape-shifting monster hunter who shows Pan that there’s nothing wrong with her, and that her “monstervision” (as Pan calls it) is a gift, not a curse. It allows her to see past the disguises worn by the monsters that have always existed in the world. And then Annie and Pan and Pan’s parents get caught in the middle of a war among rival vampire clans looking for an ultimate weapon—that just so happens to have been delivered to the horror museum that Pan’s father owns…

The series, which includes novels and an annual comic book, is what Heartstopper, that book proposal I mentioned earlier, turned into when I started reinventing the project for YA readers. It’s a character-driven but fast-paced storyline, with what I think is an unconventional heroine.

For one thing, Pan is a little short and fairly tomboyish—she’s not some Amazonian supermodel like you’d find in comics or movies. For another, she’s not a damsel in distress, or someone who has to rely on the boy to make decisions, and she bucks the current trend among YA novels of knocking off Twilight’s love triangle setup (an overused cliché that really needs to be put to rest at this point).

She’s between boyfriends when Blood Feud opens—there are hints of a bad relationship with the last one—and meets a boy named Javier during her adventures. But he’s not a vampire or a werewolf or a time traveler or whatever—he’s a kid from the Bronx who plays shortstop on his high school baseball team, loves the Yankees, and is a major X-Men fan. (Pan, on the other hand, is a Mets fan, so there’s the conflict in their budding romance!) He’s also somewhat chivalrous, so he tries to protect Pan from the monsters…almost as much as she protects him from them.

TAEM- Earlier this year the graphic novel Lorelei: Sects and the City was released to the public. Tell our readership about this work and how it has been received by your readers.

SAR- As I said before, Lorelei dates back to 1993, so she’s had fans for the past twenty years. Writing the graphic novel (with fantastic art by Eliseu Gouveia, Steve Geiger, and Neil Vokes) is my way of introducing her to today’s comic audience while giving longtime fans the kind of adventure story they’ve been looking forward to.

Basically, the story involves Lorelei clashing with a religious group not too dissimilar from H. P. Lovecraft’s Cult of C’thulu—only in this story, there’s a level of adult language and nudity that would probably make Lovecraft run away screaming! There’s an intentional seventies’ horror-comics-and-movies vibe to the graphic novel, even though it’s set in modern-day New York.

Fans have definitely enjoyed it, and the book has received a great deal of critical acclaim, so I’m extremely happy with how it all turned out.

TAEM- Please tell us about the illustrators who work on these titles and how you are connected to StarWarp Concepts.

SAR- Well, my connection is that I’m the owner/publisher of the company. I’m also its main author, which means I’m extremely easy to afford!

As for the artists involved in StarWarp’s projects, some of them have been working in the comics industry for decades, while others I met through DeviantArt, the online artists’ community. Some background on a few of them:

Eliseu Gouveia (also known as “Zeu” to his fans) is the main artist for the Saga of Pandora Zwieback comics and the graphic novel Lorelei: Sects and the City, but he’s also drawn (among many other titles) The Phantom and Vengeance of the Mummy for Moonstone Books, and the graphic novel Cloudburst for Image.

Bob Larkin, the cover artist for the Pandora Zwieback novels, has been painting book and comic covers, and movie posters, for close to forty years. He’s most known for his work on Doc Savage, Hulk magazine, and The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, and has been an inspiration to artists like Alex Ross and Joe Jusko.

Steve Geiger contributed to Lorelei: Sects and the City. He’s a former Marvel Comics art director, and drew such titles as Web of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk.

Sholly Fisch—who’s not an illustrator but a writer—contributed a short tale to The Saga of Pandora Zwieback Annual #1. He’s been a writer for DC Comics on the titles Superfriends and All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold, currently has two one-shot comics (Metallo and Bizarro) in DC’s “Forever Evil” crossover event, and is about to launch the kids’ comic Scooby-Doo Team-Up for them.

And Ernie Colon—who drew Sholly’s story—is a comic-art legend who co-created the popular DC character Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, but he’s worked for just about every comic book publisher. He’s also the artist of the bestselling The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation and its sequel After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001–  ).

TAEM- Where can our readers purchase your titles?

SAR- Novels and graphic novels are generally available from online retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Brick-and-mortar bookstores can also order them—our distributor is Ingram Books. Lorelei: Sects and the City and Troubleshooters, Incorporated can also be purchased in comic shops.

Digital editions of the novels are available for download from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and DriveThru Fiction. Digital editions of comics and graphic novels are available from DriveThru Comics, and soon Comixology.

Mainly, though, folks can order both print and digital editions directly from the StarWarp Concepts webstore, by visiting www.starwarpconcepts.com.

TAEM- What new concepts are you working on, and when can our readers see them?

SAR- The next two Pandora Zwieback novels, Blood Reign and Stalkers, are in the works. In 2014, StarWarp Concepts will publish Silver Sparrow, a teen superheroine graphic novel written and drawn by Eliseu Gouveia; Lorelei Presents: House Macabre, a one-off comic book anthology in the style of Creepy and Eerie; and The Saga of Pandora Zwieback Annual #2, with new comic book adventures of Pan and her friends.

I’m also writing a science fiction novel, for publisher Black Coat Press: Doctor Omega and the Megiddo Factor. It’s a sequel to Doctor Omega, a French novel published in 1906 that has really strange similarities to Doctor Who—not least of which is they’re both old, white-haired men who travel through time and space—even though it came out almost sixty years before the TV show aired.

TAEM- Steven, it has been an honor to have met you at the Baltimore Comic-Con, and we want to thank you for participating in our interview. We want to wish you luck in all your future endeavors and ask that you keep us, and our readers, informed about your future projects.

SAR- Thanks, Joe!

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