Shawn Richison and Dino Caruso Assign a New Mission for ‘Fisk: The S.U.B.S.T.I.T.U.T.E.’ [Back Pages]
Teachers are the greatest heroes in the world --- we all know it. From Indiana Jones to the person who taught you geography, teachers are some of the hardest-working, most important people in all of our lives. Writer Dino Caruso, artist Shawn Richison and colorist Dijjo pay tribute to just such a heroic teacher with their latest, Fisk: the S.U.B.S.T.I.T.U.T.E..
An agent of the secretive S.U.B.S.T.I.T.U.T.E. organisation, Fisk's job is to protect schools from supernatural risks like alien attacks, temporal rifts, supervillain plots --- all in the guise of a substitute teacher. It's a fun idea for a series, and one that the team has launched on Kickstarter to help fund a print edition of the story. To find out more about Fisk and the heroic world of substitute teaching, ComicsAlliance spoke to the team.
ComicsAlliance: What’s the basic premise of your story?
Shawn Richison: I always say it's Men in Black meets Dangerous Minds. Mr Fisk is the best at what he does, but nobody knows it... He's an agent in the S.U.B.S.T.I.T.U.T.E. department at the Board of Education. As a Specialist Utilized By Schools To Immediately Terminate Unexplained Tactical Emergencies, he's called in to deal with x-files (another touchstone of the series) that a principal might become aware of, be it a zombie invasion in the cafeteria --- what was in that lunch special?!? --- an alien crash-landing in the playground or a science teacher gone mad trying to clone himself to lighten his workload!
And he'll have it all taken care of by the time the bell rings (to avoid panicking the parents, staff and students!). There's nothing he hasn't been able to handle, until now...
Without spoiling too much, some very deadly forces from his past are coming back to haunt him and it's going to have some very interesting ramification on his future if he doesn't deal with the situation properly. He's got some learning to do... you might say it's time for Mr. Fisk to go back to school!
Dino Caruso: I'm going to approach my answer from a different direction. What Shawn says is true, and in the first issue of Fisk (the "pilot" episode), Mr. Fisk is shown to have a very special tool in his possession. And it's a very powerful one. So, for me. the purpose of the following three issues was to find a story-based, character-based way to challenge Mr. Fisk by having that tool become a target of a wide-variety of antagonists.
Now, we're going to see how Mr. Fisk reacts to potentially losing that tool. Is it going to make him stronger? Or will he shrivel up and hide? Will he step outside of his comfort zone, or will he rely on his tried-and-true methods of getting his job done? I think Mr. Fisk is up for a huge challenge in these tales that Shawn and I have created for him. I think some interesting things happen to him, and he takes very interesting actions to come up with his solution.
CA: What was the genesis of the project? How long have you wanted to get this up and running?
DC: The original tale was a fun, over-the-top action tale that I had a great time writing and Shawn knocked out of the artistic park. But the reason for doing the three issues that followed were different. For me, the only way to tell meaningful tales about the character was to remove (or attempt to remove) that tool that I mentioned above, and see how he reacts. That tool was a bit of a deus ex machina, in that it was a safety net that could potentially solve any problem that Mr. Fisk would encounter. So, the natural thing to do was to put it in jeopardy.
SR: Dino came to me with the character, and I loved the concept --- I really saw the potential of the character, and it wasn't like anything I'd seen done in comics, really. Obviously, there were the homages to the previously mentioned properties, but blended in a unique and really amusing way. I was immediately on board, especially knowing the storytelling prowess that Dino can bring to bear, having worked with him previously on Against the Wall, the baseball drama we self-published in 2009.
CA: What was it about this story which made you want to tell it?
SR: For me, I love that Fisk is a man of action --- and he goes up against all these bizarre otherworldly threats! Who wouldn't want to draw that? Also, it was an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a character and a concept that could really go anywhere and do anything --- sort of like being Harrison Ford and given the opportunity to be Indiana Jones. I couldn't pass it up!
DC: For me, it was the challenge of expanding Mr. Fisk's world and introducing new characters, along with trying to flesh him out and make him a more three dimensional character. We needed to give him a big problem, and see how he went about trying to solve it. And also, of course, I was super eager to work with Shawn again. I was tickled to revisit this character with him again, after so many years.
CA: Was it important for you both that this be an all-ages story? Did that change the way you approached writing and penciling?
SR: Yeah, it really was. Although, in this arc, we don't focus on the students as much (keeping in mind, Mr. Fisk does most of his work out of the public eye) I felt that the setting merited it being a less "graphic violence" type of story. Also, the tone of the story, to me, while it definitely has consequences, is a little lighter.
It's an interesting blend of seriousness and fun. Some of the stuff Fisk goes through is pretty heavy, but he's really got such an optimistic point of view that he sort of jokes his way through it. In terms of penciling, what that meant was to tone down on anything graphic --- no real severed limbs or eviscerated corpses --- nothing that I would think would give 7-year-old me nightmares.
Okay, there is one great panel with some animated skeletons, but you know, sort of the Ray Harryhausen persuasion. I loved that movie as a kid, so I thought I could probably get away with it!
DC: I'm so eager to unleash issue #2 onto the world. You'll see how Shawn and I approach a batch of short stories ... using different art styles and storytelling techniques. I think that issue was the most fun I've ever had writing a script. A story like that, I think, is a direct result of us trying new things and experimenting, while keeping it all-ages.
CA: How did you first meet?
SR: Dino and I met when he contacted me to draw an earlier story for him. And as I say, he brought this story to me, at that time it was just the first issue. I think we've really collaborated in the best sense of the word on 75% or more of it. He's definitely the writer, but he's great in that he gives me tons of input, not only into the character design, and the art, but also if I think that story elements could work differently; he lets me suggests alternatives if something occurs to me that I think could be another direction to take the plot, or bits of dialogue or what have you. Sometimes you just really want to draw an explosion, you know?
DC: In the middle of working on Against The Wall, I showed Shawn the first Mr. Fisk story, and he dug it, and we were off to the races. But I think the strength of our collaboration on ATW was what prompted me to show him what I'd come up with. And it's been tons of fun ever since!
CA: How have you found the creative process? What's it been like to work with each other?
DC: Shawn's a great collaborator and a great friend. Working together on ATW and Fisk has directly led to the two of us co-writing and co-creating even more new projects. We're making great progress on several projects that will hopefully be ready by next year.
SR: Oh, it's been hellish. What a cruel taskmaster! No, I'm kidding, it's fantastic. One of the things we can do, which is great, because we live only a few blocks away from each other, is meet up on the regular. Which is fantastic, since we can actually go over the story and art in minute detail. Really get into the nuts and bolts of it, and figure out what's working, if if necessary, what needs to be changed.
CA: Why take this to Kickstarter?
SR: I love how democratic Kickstarter is. I mean, in this case, the book is done, essentially. It's written, all the art is turned in, and we're just waiting on some coloring to come back.
We've joined up with some other, fantastic collaborators, including a guy named Dijjo who is doing the coloring, and Jason Copland (Daredevil, Kill all Monsters, POP) who is knocking out some incredible covers. So, essentially, we have the whole story, complete, and we're sharing that with people and asking them to take a look at it, and if they like it, give us some support.
And the response has been incredible. As I write this, we're about 85% of the way there, with almost half the campaign left to go, so I feel like it's something that people are digging. That's a lot different than the experience I've had submitting to Diamond, and seeing a tiny line of print in a phonebook-sized catalog, and no idea how the book is going to do until FOC. And then finding out that, oh yeah, you didn't have enough pre-sales, so we've cancelled the project and the people who did support your work aren't getting a copy.
With Kickstarter, it's guaranteed that if the work is funded, I can get that story out to the people who want one. I love that about it.
Of course, being able to see the progress in real time is a bit addictive too. I find I've been checking the website repeatedly, to see if the message is getting out there, and if people are signing up! It's a bit of a roller coaster ride. I am really, really grateful that folks have responded the way they have, and I'm taking copious notes to make sure that everyone gets all the stuff that they signed up for, in as timely a fashion as possible!
CA: If you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
SR: As soon as the deadline for the Kickstarter ends, I'm hoping to get the book out to the printers ASAP --- but of course that does depend on if we meet our funding goal early, and have stretch goals to complete. We'll see. I expect it should be in people's hands by Christmas, although we've put a hard date of January 2016 on the site. I'm gonna do my utmost to get the story and other rewards to people early though, so it can be a holiday gift for that comic lover in the family, should they so desire.
FISK: the S.U.B.S.T.I.T.U.T.E. will run on Kickstarter until Saturday 17th October 2015, looking for a target of $3,000. To find out more, check out the Kickstarter here!