Ted Sikora is a Cleveland-based filmmaker and comics writer. His current project, APAMA, is a spinoff of his film, HERO TOMORROW, a story about a man who struggles to live out his superhero fantasies and gets the opportunity to do so when his girlfriend makes him a costume based on his original character, Apama. Trouble, of course, is just around the corner.

APAMA is the book the main character in HERO TOMORROW would have written—the story of a Hungarian ice cream truck driver who stumbles upon the ancient secret and power of an undiscovered animal, the Apama. I sat down with Ted over Skype to talk about the Bronze Age of comics, Peter Parker’s everyman status, and his origin story as a writer and filmmaker.

ComicsVerse: When did you first know you were going to write comics?

Ted Sikora: I’ve always enjoyed comics all my life. I grew up reading back in the 70’s, all through high school wanting to be a comic book artist. I spent a lot of time creating my own characters and doing these little illustrations.

Out of high school I got a lot advice, you know, “Nobody makes a good living as a comic book artist, and you’re good with numbers. Go into accounting.” I started out in accounting and didn’t like it. I ended up getting this advertising degree. I did some theater projects. When those were done, I was kind of sad because they were gone, you know. I thought, “If we make a movie, it’ll always be there just the way we left it.”

So that’s when we decided to make the movie HERO TOMORROW. For those who don’t know, HERO TOMORROW is about a guy who’s a trying to create a superhero, a struggling comic creator, which I certainly relate to thinking about my high school days. It’s a dark comedy. His premise is that a lot of superheroes are creature-themed but all the good ones have already been taken, like the spider, the bat, the wolverine, etc. He makes up a new kind of animal called the Apama. He explains this to publishers, saying, “Apama is like Wolverine,”and they say, “No, it’s not, because there’s no such thing as an Apama.” His girlfriend is an aspiring fashion designer. For Halloween, she decides to make him a costume of his own character because she’s got this networking party coming up. So then he starts running around in this costume after the Halloween party trying to understand his character better and trying to fight crime.

The movie stemmed out of our love for comics, but one of the funny side things that happened was that people who saw the movie kept saying, “This Apama idea is so unusual, there really is nothing like it in comics, you ought to think about doing it in comics.” So Milo Miller, who co-wrote HERO TOMORROW with me, he and I decided, “Let’s try to do this as a comic book.” I know that’s a long way to answer your question. But the short answer is, I guess, 2010.

CV: What’s it like working with the same characters in different mediums? They seem to share the same universe. 

TS: They really are different universes. The best way to understand the difference is if Stan Lee’s girlfriend made him a Spider-Man costume before Spider-Man was ever published. And Stan Lee started running around dressed like Spider-Man.  The Apama is like Spider-Man in that analogy. They don’t cross over in any way, shape, or form.

To your question, it’s an interesting challenge. It’s kind of fun, we were just able to start over. The book is not about a struggling comic book creator, it’s about an ice cream truck driver in Cleveland that discovers the Apama spirit force. It’s the idea that our main character in the movie explains over and over. They do share this costumed hero, but that’s about it.

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CV: Which did you have more fun with, the movie or the comic?

TS: From a writer’s perspective I would say the comic. What we really have come to appreciate with the film background is how comics are so pure. Whatever you dream up goes right into the page. You don’t think about, “We could never shoot this because the budget would be too high.” In the comic, we have scenes that take place on the moon. We don’t have to censor ourselves. I enjoyed both projects immensely, but the comic even more so.

CV: Who are some of your influences as both a comic book writer and a filmmaker?

TS: On the comic book side, there was a run on MOON KNIGHT, Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz. That, for my money, that’s some of the best stuff ever and you can pick it up in the dollar bins. I liked, of course, Stan Lee. Anything he did. I loved the first 32 issues of SPIDER-MAN. Really anything he did on SPIDER-MAN. He and Steve Ditko created that genre and took the reins. There’s so much great stuff there. I can re-read those today and they feel timeless to me. I love the supporting cast they put together and, likewise, he was doing this with the FANTASTIC FOUR and Jack Kirby. They were creating these worlds and I can’t believe what they were able to do. Especially Stan. I mean, all these guys were amazing but Stan was juggling all these balls. Ultimately, he’s my biggest influence.

On the movie side, I’d say also Steve Gerber. He’s somebody that Milo, being the co-writer, I know that he’s a huge Steve Gerber fan. Decades ago, he turned me on to Steve Gerber stuff like the MAN-THING and HOWARD THE DUCK. I do like that quite a bit. And there’s definitely a vibe of Steve Gerber in our book, I think.

I’ll also talk about Benito Gallego, our artist. He’s a huge John Buscema fan. You can see the sort of influence in his artwork.

Speaking about these influences though, we wanted to do a sort of modern take on what a 70’s book could have evolved into. There’s so much good stuff about that era. I think people really tend to love the era when they started reading comics, and for us it was the 70’s.

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Even going through these decades, I feel like the Bronze Age was so special. I think it was a Gerry Conway interview, who was the writer who did “The Death of Gwen Stacy.” He said that the Bronze Age was the first time the fanboys got to take over the characters as writers. Stan Lee, for instance, was never a big fan of comic superheroes growing up. That wasn’t his thing. He was like a romance kind of writer background, which is why his side characters are so great. But at the same time, he was never this huge superhero fan. So you had these guys who were working as apprentices under them. Then, the Bronze Age, they took over in the 70’s. I think things kind of exploded and got really crazy. We wanted to recapture that in a modern way.

CV: Speaking of Benito Gallego, what’s it like working with him? What do you like about his art and what do you think it does to help tell the story that you wrote?

TS: Benito, first of all, when we got involved with him, we put an ad out on deviantart.com because it was a spinoff of this HERO TOMORROW movie. We got submissions from all over the world, we got 100 people that submitted. We just stopped in our tracks when we saw his stuff. It was just like, “Oh my gosh, this stuff is timeless. It’s exactly what we imagined.” Even without any dialogue, I think he tells really great stories visually. He just gets it, the whole thing about what I call cinematography or camera angles. He keeps it varied in a way that does such a nice job of establishing the setting, getting to the mood of the expression at the right time. It’s wonderful working with Benito, and we hope we’re working with him for a long, long time.

CV: How would you describe your writing process?

TS: Milo and I will have a bunch of phone calls to brainstorm. We’ve been working on this for such a long time that we have a ton of ideas just sort of waiting. It’s about which idea we want to explore now.

We start kicking things around, based on what we’ve gone through and where we want to end up, what story feels right. At the same time, we are trying to break the convention a little bit. We’re really trying to tell different kinds of stories. That always takes precedent. Comics are really tough to produce, and it takes a lot of effort, so if we don’t feel we’ve got an idea that is really good, it gets set aside for the once that we think is gonna be dynamite. We’ll kick ideas around back and forth and one of us will shoot the other an outline.

And then the outline goes back and forth between us. For instance, an outline will say on page three, Ilyia and the guys are going to the baseball game, and we expect this to take five panels, and basically what we need to understand is that something is going wrong at this baseball game. We kind of block things out as a page, and once we feel like this outline is right, then we actually script out the panels. In our book, we have a “making of” section showing what a scripted page looks like for us, then takes it through pencils, inks, color, and all that. I think two writers is kind of a unique thing. Milo and I have been through so much together that we are very comfortable with this passing of things back and forth, and we don’t really take things personally when one of us goes in a different direction. We talk it out and ultimately come out with something we both like.

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CV: What was it like working on a book that was funded through Kickstarter?

TS: Well, we were producing the single issues completely out of pocket for a while. The first issue was done as a freebie on our website to just go along with the HERO TOMORROW movie. We were hoping that people would come read the comic and then buy the movie. We were getting lots of really good reviews on this first issue. Lots of people were reading it, but it wasn’t compelling anybody to buy the movie. We really loved working with Benito, and we decided to do another issue. We thought maybe we’d build this up. So we had two issues up, again a lot of good reviews, no sales really were happening. So we thought, “Alright, ultimately, we’re going to go to print of some sort.”

WATCH: Want to hear more about self-funded comics? Check out our interview with Sarah Bitely!

I think it was around the time we finished issue three that Comixology Submit came around. We got into that. We thought it was a great way to sell our book. That brought us in front of a whole new audience. When we got to issue five, we thought, “This is an end of an arc, we’re introducing the nemesis of the series, Regina, and we’ll go to print.” It was really the Kickstarter that funded the printing, but we had done most of the work and funded out of pocket. It was wonderful to do the Kickstarter. We raised about $13,500. We were able to do a nice hardcover. We were able to bundle the movie with that in some of the rewards. It really was that kick start thing we absolutely needed. From there we submitted our book to Diamond; they liked it so much they gave it a staff pick in the preview guide. It came out nationally in February.

CV: What kinds of stories do you like to tell, and what motivates you to tell them?

TS: I think we’re looking to do something different in this genre. I’ve read comic books my whole life, I’ve kind of seen many attempts at that. I thought if we’re going to do this, we’re really going to have to be adamant that this is something people haven’t seen before. Every element, we try to go against the convention. Our guy’s a Hungarian ice cream truck driver in Cleveland, he’s not brilliant like Peter Parker, he’s not wealthy like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, he’s certainly not a honed warrior. He’s got this dogged determination, but he’s not the smartest guy. I think Peter Parker is branded as sort of an everyman, but he’s so brilliant, he’s not quite the everyman in my circle of friends. This guy is.

My father used to have a tire store and I used to change tires with these guys when I was sixteen years old, and Ilyia is based on that kind of guy. He goes bowling, he makes really bad decisions once he gets the powers. I guess that’s what we’re striving to do and we want to do something people haven’t seen before. Even with the villain, I think Regina, who we’ve only just gotten into in issue five in the book, but we’ve got such huge plans for her. You picture these spirit characters in the woods, mostly ancient, but she’s a hippie. She’s a 1960’s flower child gone wrong. Her M.O. is that we tried to change the world peacefully in the 60’s and it didn’t stick, now we’re gonna do it on my terms.

WATCH: Were you at Wizard World Cleveland 2016? We were! Check out our con interview with Dirk Manning! 

CV: What’s next for you?

TS: The collection that’s out for now is issues one through five. Benito is already done with issue ten’s art. We haven’t put up any issues since issue five and we’re trying to figure out the best way to release these now that we’re with Diamond. We don’t want to release issue six as the only single issue; that wouldn’t make sense. And we’re old-school guys. We don’t want to do a reboot where issue six is a new issue one, bullshit like that.

What we’re probably going to do is find a way to release single issues where we could just release one a month for ten months. We’d love to do something like that. In any case, we’ll do a Kickstarter when issue eleven is done, I think for the next collection. We’re developing the Apama story that’s in our book into a feature film. That’s something we announced at Wizard Con in Cleveland. The villain is going to be Regina. I think as strange and bizarre as our book is, the movie is going to be that, as well.

We’d like to thank Ted for taking the time to talk with us! Keep an eye on him and his work on APAMA in film and comic book form. If you want to pick up a copy yourself, check it out here, where you can find all things APAMA!

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