That’s the Spirit (Animal)!
From Comic Shop News by Cliff Biggers
Comics are filled with superheroes whose abilities are inspired by various animals—hawks, bats, wolverines, tigers, even spiders…the list goes on. But Ted Sikora, Milo Miller, & Benito Gallego venture from zoology to cryptozoology for their new series Apama: The Undiscovered Animal: Their new superhero gets his powers from a spirit animal that is totally unknown to mankind.
“Apama is about Ilyia Zjarsky, a Hungarian ice cream truck driver in Cleveland who discovers the spirit force of the most savage creature mankind has never known,” Ted Sikora said. “In the origin issue, Ilyia goes hiking and comes upon a cave where he uncovers the secret history of a legendary beast so powerful and stealthy that it has remained undiscovered—hidden to the eyes of man but forever lurking in civilization’s shadow. Ilyia finds a strange scroll that shows him the very specific pose he must create to unlock the strength, speed, and agility of this mythical creature—the Apama!”
Sikora has heard all the warnings that start-up independent comics creators should leave superheroes to the big publishers, but he is optimistic that Apama’s tone will distinguish it from the superpowered mainstream. “We felt like we had something new to say in the perhaps insanely overpopulated superhero genre,” Sikora said. “It starts with our protagonist Ilyia. He’s not brilliant like Peter Parker. He’s not wealthy like Bruce Wayne, and he’s not some honed, trained warrior. And did I mention his parents are both alive? Where does that ever happen?
“Ilyia is loosely based on guys I used to change tires with in my father’s shop. His decisions will sometimes make you shake your head in dumbstruck awe. All of this feeds into his offbeat brand of crimefighting…”
Why, of all cities, did Sikora and crew choose to set Apama in Cleveland? “Milo and I are both Clevelanders, so it was a bit of a nobrainer—but once we got into it, we realized the great opportunity Cleveland presented us with: a sort of blank canvas for this kind of tale. When our series begins, there are no superheroes. Apama becomes the first one. The people are reacting to all of this like it’s brand new, which also harkens back to how comics felt when we were growing up. All the villains are born before your eyes, too, so it gives readers a chance to truly step in on the ground floor.
“And Cleveland is, of course, where the whole superhero thing started in 1938 with Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster—and though Superman was born in Cleveland, he never called it home, so we wear the moniker of ‘Cleveland’s Resident Superhero’ as a badge of honor.”
Apama is illustrated by Benito Gallego, an artist whose work conveys the look and feel of classic Silver and Bronze Age Marvel Comics. How did Sikora and Miller cross paths with this talented illustrator? “We placed an ad on DeviantArt.com and received hundreds of submissions from artists all over the world. When we saw Gallego’s art we stopped dead in our tracks—the search was over,” Sikora said. “He’s got meticulous storytelling skills, and his style feels instantly classic. Benito lives in Spain and had been known primarily for his pinup fanzine work, along with some indie projects he did with the great Roy Thomas on a series titled Anthem and Captain Thunder & Blue Bolt.”
And that aforementioned similarity to Silver and Bronze Age Marvel?… it’s no accident! “All three of us are kind of crazy for the bronze age. We liked guys like Steve Gerber, Doug Moench, and Gerry Conway. The stories were often a bit more out there—took more chances, were almost experimental and a ton of fun while being deadly serious on the flip of a dime. Then going back further we love what Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby did in creating those astounding rogues galleries in those early Marvel comics. So we’re attempting to do the same kind of thing in Apama.
“Stylistically we also love some of those classic conventions like the thought clouds, the heavy melodrama, the general textual density of the page. I think many comics today approach the medium with a heavily cinematic-influenced style, which is perfectly fine—but that also casts aside some of what makes comics so unique as a medium. We wanted a book that was more of a modern spin on the style that was set forth by the masters.”
Apama launches with a 176-page graphic novel; what are the longterm plans for the character? “Apama is an ongoing series,” Sikora said. “Apama Volume 1 contains the first five issues’ worth of stories, and Benito Gallego is well ahead, having just finished Apama #10. In addition, we have plans for a spinoff series with the psycho-delic villain Regina, who shows up in Apama #5.” Apama: The Undiscovered Animal Volume 1 TP, is scheduled for January 2016 release.