‘Hero House’: Massive 50-Page Preview and an Interview with Justin Aclin!
This week, the original graphic novel “Hero House,” hits comic shop shelves. Written by “ToyFare” editor Justin Aclin with art by “Colt Noble and the Megalords” artist Mike Dimayuga, “Hero House” tells the story of Epsilon Epsilon Psi, a college fraternity for super-powered students, and we love it.
We love it so much, in fact, that we’ve got a fifty-page — that’s right, fifty-page! — preview of the graphic novel today! But first, ComicsAlliance senior writer Chris Sims sat down with Aclin for an interview about Hero House, “Twisted Toyfare Theater” and why you should always keep your childhood drawings.Preview:
CA: You’ve been working on “Hero House” for a while, right? I assume so, because I’m pretty sure I saw an original XBox in there.
JA: I started it in January 2004. Not just poking around with it, either. I had Mike working on it in early 2004, and by the end of the year Arcana had agreed to publish it.
CA: Wow. So what took so long?
JA: Getting it drawn took a while — this was pretty much the first thing Mike Dimayuga ever did, and he was learning on the job. Then it was very hard to find an inker and colorist who would stick around to get the job done, but we eventually found Frank Stone and Brian Gabrillo, who did a great job. So we had a soft launch at San Diego last year, but it didn’t really come out until this year. Bear in mind, I went from junior staffer to head “ToyFare” honcho and had two kids during this time.
Mike recently did a great book from Image with called “Colt Noble and the Megalords” with Tim Seeley. He’s bigtime now.
CA: How long have you been with “ToyFare?”
JA: I started in May 2002, one week before I graduated from college.
CA: Nice. So I assume you were majoring in action figures and that your thesis on what V2 Snake Eyes can tell us about the human condition caught their eye?
JA: [Laughs] Actually, I started as an intern the summer before my senior year at “Wizard,” but my comic sensibility helped me get some freelance with “ToyFare” during the school year. And I actually did use the knowledge I gained at “ToyFare” to drop a knowledge bomb on my U.S. History 1968-Present class. I won a signed copy of the teacher’s book for it.
CA: So if you were already a comics guy, did the desire to write your own comics come before being involved with magazines, or did they just dovetail nicely together?
JA: Oh yeah, I’ve wanted to write my own comics forever. When I was a kid I invented a whole superhero universe full of great 90s Image rip-offs with names like Hellweb and Deathclaw. Poltergeist was actually a character I drew back then, and I stole his look for Hero House. Also, my dad was an artist for Marvel, briefly, in the 70s before I was born. Which is ironic, because I draw like a four year old.
My dad was actually an artist for Marvel, briefly, in the 70s before I was born. Which is ironic, because I draw like a four year old.
CA: Yeah, I read on your site about how he and your brother are both artists.
JA: Yup. My brother did a pin-up in Hero House, and my dad inked some art that appears in a gallery in the back, so all the Aclin men are present and accounted for
CA: So did writing for the magazine give you the opportunity to write for your own project, or was it just something that you’d had in the back of your mind for a while?
JA: I don’t think I would have been able to get it off the ground if it weren’t for “Twisted ToyFare.” First of all, even though TTT isn’t exactly densely plotted, working on it gave me my first taste of writing for sequential storytelling. Plus, having that credit to my name I think helped convince a bunch of people along the way to at least take a look at the project. And when we did the signing at the San Diego Comic-Con last year, obviously no one had really heard of “Hero House.” But when I had a sign out that said I wrote TTT, we had a bunch of people who picked the book up and were willing to give it a chance just based on that.
I think people who read it get a little surprised it’s not wall-to-wall dumb comedy based on the concept and based on my work on TTT, but I do pure satire every month. This was a chance to stretch my superhero muscles without having to worry about crafting a plot that wouldn’t be out of character for Mego Spidey.
CA: Yeah, I think the inspiration for it — “Animal House” meets the X-Men — comes through pretty clearly in the way that it’s set up, complete with a maybe-evil University President to stand in for Dean Wormer, but the interplay between the characters moves into a more serious area, especially with Turbine’s conflict. Did you ever feel like you had to make it more serious to get away from what you were doing at “ToyFare?” Or that you had to make it funnier to play to your strengths?
JA: Definitely the latter. The concept came to me like this: Super-hero teams live together and call each other by code names. Frats–at least as I understood them based on “Animal House”–live together and call each other code names. In college, I was in a sketch comedy group, we called each other by code names and I lived with several of the members. I figured I could combine the superheroes with the frat, and use my own college experiences to inform it. And when I first started coming up with the story ideas, I was getting way too serious. It was all, like, murder and death. I had to remind myself, “If anyone knows you for anything, it’s for being funny. You have to make this at least a little bit funny.”
The interplay between the characters is the most realistic thing, because it was important for me to try to make it relatable. Even if you haven’t been in a frat. Which, of course, I haven’t, I think almost everyone has found themselves in Nate’s position at the beginning of the book at some point in their life.
CA: As far as their super-powers, were all of the characters based on things you came up with as a kid? Because I had a sneaking suspicion that Pseudopod was totally you thinking of what would make a cool action feature on a figure.
JA: Oh man, I wish the origin behind him was that clever. When I sat down to write the first draft, I didn’t know who any of the members were, so when I got to that scene where they’re being introduced, I just started free-associating, and Psuedopod just rolled out of my brain. So did a “Brother Nozzle,” who could shoot any liquid out of his fingers. He was gone I think before the first draft was even finished.
I think pretty much all the Eps’ names were free-associated like that – Brutal, Backtrack, Pseudopod and Oz, at least, although Oz was originally called Nero for no discernible reason.
I think Animale was created like that, as well, although he certainly has elements of Bluto about him, as you said. Though he was more based on a member of the comedy group I mentioned, who sported the same chin beard, and who also tended to creep the freshmen out in the same way Animale tries to.
CA: Which moment in “Animal House” was it where you decided Bluto should be able to turn into a monkey? It was the ladder scene, wasn’t it?
JA: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Ook ook?”
CA: What’s next for you now that Hero House is out?
JA: I’m still doing “Twisted ToyFare” every month, of course, and I’m deliriously excited to have a project coming up with Dark Horse. I’ve got a story that will appear in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #35 in June, and it’s very different from what people would expect based on either “TTT” or “Hero House.” I just found out I’m going to be in the issue with Levar Burton, so I’m feeling glad we let Geordi off pretty easy in the Next Generation “TTT” we did a few years back.