As you all know the purpose of You've Never Heard Of… is to shine a spotlight on self-published creators who release their work in print or digital and creators who work for publishers that don't rank in the top 10.
We're in a golden age of comics right now and in an age of geek none of us could have ever imagined, but with the good comes the bad. As our geek news sites become more corporate they tend to focus less on comics and in some cases less on independent creators. Which is why this series was created. As you all know Bleeding Cool is a popular site and has never shied away from giving a soap box to those starting out and trying to carve a niche for themselves.
With that out of the way let's get on with the show. Today I'm going to be interviewing Robert Jeffrey. He is writer/creator of Route 3, Editor in Chief of BlackSci-Fi.com, and a writer at Tesseraguild.com.
But before you start reading that, how about a little summary for Route 3?
Robert: Route 3 is a super-powered road trip from hell. A Stone Mountain, GA teen finds out he's been granted with a set of spectacular abilities, that he knows nothing about. He's now on the run from a wide array of folks in a sort of superpowered arms race across the Southeast.
Explosions, gunfights, telekinetic feats of awesomeness, and a little personal growth are all thrown into the mix.
Marco: That sounds like everything I want and more in a comic. It has all the ingredients need for action-packed excitement. Now generally the way I always like to start off my interviews and especially this series is with a little introduction. So why don't you tell us how you fell in love with comics and what your journey was like getting into this ever changing and illustrious and sometimes (or a lot depending on who you ask) heartbreaking industry?
Robert: My love of comics is sort of an extension/ branching off from my love of reading. I grew up reading whatever I could get my hands on, and it didn't matter what it was. The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Choose Your Own Adventures, Encyclopedia Brown, and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner were some of the books/ titles that I devoured. Some of my favorite authors growing up included Bruce Coville, Walter Dean Myers, Peter David, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Octavia Butler. Whatever was within my reach at the library growing up, I consumed the heck out of it.
When my mom started picking up copies of The Amazing Spiderman at the local grocery store, it sort of further fueled my love of reading.
Except these books had the purdy pictures.
The Amazing Spiderman parlayed into me jumping into the world of X-Men, and I was friggin' done. A super powered team of outcasts who could kick ass on epic two-page spreads drawn by Jim Lee, with awesome tales of super heroics being written by Chris Claremont?
And they played super-powered volleyball, and had BBQ's at the mansion in their spare time?
I was hooked.
Let's say my jump into Marvel Comics was my infancy stage of being a comic book crack head. Milestone Media was me growing up.
Everything that Milestone put out was like what Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns was for everyone else when they both dropped in the 80's. Here I saw comics featuring folks who looked like everyone I saw in my hometown of Chicago. Sure, Marvel had Storm, Black Panther, The Falcon, and Bishop (in all his jerry curl glory). But for me, there was something much more special about Milestone. Add to that there was just as much diversity behind the scenes of the comics as on the pages, and I was done.
Rocket. Icon. Static. Blood Syndicate. Hardware. These are the characters that made me realize I could have a shot at writing comics. These were the titles that made me WANT to write comics or just write period.
Those books have had more of a lasting impact on me as a creator than a lot of other comics.
Now as far as my journey within the industry, it's been fun, but there have been some down times. That's life in general. You have your crappy days, and then you have your kick ass take over the world Pinky and The Brain style days. The only thing that I keep telling myself is to keep moving forward and keep creating.
I guess I could stop, but where's the fun in that?
Marco: I always had a love-hate relationship with the choose your own adventure books. I always ended up dead about halfway through and would then cheat from there on out to make it to the end of the book. I mean honestly, I don't know any kid who probably said okay well I guess I finished that book early. HA HA HA
Now before we move onto talking about Route 3 how about you tell us about your gig atBlack Sci-F as Editor in Chief. How did that come about and from checking out your bio there you're also a contributor for the Tessera Guild and an award-winning journalist? So, I'm guessing in between writing comics you're out getting the scoop Lois Lane style? Tell us about these interesting jobs of yours (what you do and how they all began) considering most of them feed back into comics in one way or another.
Robert: I started writing for BlackSci-Fi.com about 4-5 years ago, and just started my EIC position with the website last year. Our goal with the website is to highlight the contributions of an often-overlooked group of creators (black/African American creators) who have provided works to the worlds of speculative fiction, cinema, novels, comics, the STEM arenas, and a host of other areas. I'm extremely proud of all the work that we've done with the website over the past year, and there's much more to come.
With the Tessera Guild, we're a collective of artists, writers, filmmakers, and creative types who blog about pop culture and whatever else is on our minds. As with BlackSci-Fi.com, I work with a talented group of folks on the website, and I always suggest that people check out all the work featured on the website. For Tessera I've written about the process of creating comics, my love of the Sliders television series (Don't laugh. I'm so ready to write the comic book series for that property), and favorite movies that feature folks with super abilities that don't necessarily fall within the realm of your typical comic book films.
When I graduated college back in 2005 (Go Georgia State University Panthers!) my goal was to put my love of writing to use, while also making a little bit of cash with it. Dude's got to eat and buy used dvds.
I began freelancing with The Atlanta Voice newspaper, and found myself covering red carpet premieres, interviewing scientists about the effects of stem cell research on the African American community, and interviewing comic book creators about the role of black comic book creators in the industry.
While working at the Atlanta Voice Newspaper I picked up the 2008 Miller Brewing Company a Philip Randolph Messenger Award"/ Journalism Award of Excellence in the field of "AIDS/Health".
I basically sought out opportunities to report on a wide variety of topics, and I feel that's gone a long way in building up my career as a comic book writer. Working within the field of journalism has always been a further extension of my love of writing, and I'm grateful for the opportunities that it's provided.
Marco: Now let's talk about Route 3.
One of the things that intrigued me with Route 3 is the reflective nature of what's going on in the real world mixed in with these fantastic elements. So tell us a bit about the comic, how it came to be, your team, and what inspired it (I feel there's some love for Milestone's Static in the comic).
Robert: Before I jump into Route 3, I wanted to show some love for my creative team on the book. Sean Hill is a beast on the pencils and inks, and all of his work for Terminus Media and Zenescope Comics needs to be checked out. Omi Remalante (also a shining star at Zenescope) and Ann Siri are extremely talented colorists and have contributed to this book in a very positive way. Khari Sampson as usual kicks butt on the letters, and I consider him to be one of the best in the business. And on the covers, we have Anthony "Antboi" Piper, of Trill League fame, and now a Marvel Comics artist/ writer. He won us the Glyph Comics Award for Best Cover for his work on the Route 3 # 2 cover. Much love also to John McGuire (www.johnrmcguire.com), Tony Cade, Mark Stancil, Vincent Christie, and Terminus Media as a whole for helping to get this book edited, laid out and published.
Now to your question. There's definitely a lot of love for Static, Icon, Rocket, Blood Syndicate, and a lot of other Milestone titles in Route 3. Milestone was the first company that showed me that I could have a shot at creating comics period. In addition to that, outside of Marvel staples like Spiderman a.k.a the hard luck hero, Milestone's characters were some of the first set of characters that I felt represented folks in my everyday life. Of course, I'm not saying I was surrounded by people with super abilities lol, but there was a great sense of relatability with characters like Raquel Ervin (Rocket) and Virgil Hawkins (Static) who just seemed real to me.
That's what I've mainly taken from the example of characters like Rocket and Static from the Milestone roster: write characters with which folks can relate, while also throwing them into the deep end of some fairly outlandish situations, and see how they tackle such obstacles.
I've definitely heard the comparisons to Static, which don't really perturb me. At the end of the day, we are dealing with two stories of nerdy black teens who are saving the day in their own ways. In Sean's case, the responsibility is sort of thrust on him, and even in the series, he's not really a crime fighter. He's trying to survive this situation he's been tossed into, with the assistance of someone he barely knows. Along the lines of what I mentioned before, I call this the super-powered road trip from hell.
This kid gets these abilities because of a centuries old prophecy, and is more "WTF has happened" rather than "wow, I have super abilities, let's go fight crime". Maybe he'll get to that point, but it's going to be after a bit of a journey takes place.
Not that there's anything wrong with telling those types of stories, because they're done really well, and I enjoy reading them Heck, if I could get a freelance gig writing a series like that for a publisher, small or large, sign me up. I've got bills to pay, and I love to write just about anything. My website is www.robertkjeffrey.com. Hit me up.
It's just that for my own series, I just wanted to have something to separate my story in an arena where there are a lot of other options to choose from in terms of books to buy.
For me being able to meld the "real world" aspects of everyday life and the fantastic over the top aspects of speculative fiction can be fun, and challenging. I just saw an opportunity in post 9-11 America to tell a story about a superpowered arms race with a teenager from Stone Mountain, GA caught up in the middle. Toss in a little social commentary, some humor, drama (not the fake a%$ reality show kind of drama), and some awesome action. How cool is that?
Marco: What does the future hold for Sean Anderson? Cause the first volume I read isn't a done in one story. It ends on a very blatant to be continued. I also noticed on your Facebook page the mention of you working on your Kickstarter video for Route 3.
Is Route 3 ongoing? Miniseries? Series of miniseries? Is Sean Anderson's story the only one you want to tell in this world you've created? Or could this lead to spin-offs and or your own bigger superheroesque universe?
To sum it all up what is the grand vision (without going into spoiler territory of course) for Route 3?
Robert: Right now we're gearing up to put together a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to get the collected trade for Route 3 Vol 1. out to audiences. That should be dropping around March/ April. You can follow updates about the comic and the upcoming Kickstarter here.
The first trade paperback is completed, and all we're trying to do is now get it in readers hands. We've collected the first three issues of the series into a nice collected edition with some nice extra content, that we did a small print run for conventions. Our goal now is to raise enough funds to cover printing costs for a larger run and get the trades out to new readers, in stores, and libraries.
We're going to also use any additional funds raised to go towards work on the second volume of Route 3. Route 3 is currently a mini-series, that will focus now on Sean Anderson.
In my head I have this story growing bigger, and a bit more epic in future installments while keeping it as grounded as possible. For right now, I'm going to tackle Sean's journey, and we'll see where that leads. We're going to watch this kid grow. Into what, I don't want to spill the beans for you yet, but by the end of this arc, we're going to have a guy who has undergone a trial of sorts, and he's not going to be the same coming out the other end. You'll still have awesome action, solid storytelling, and great artwork to have fun with, so stay tuned.
Marco: Now comes the time where I let you talk to the Bleeding Cool audience and let them know why they should check out your comic and other work. So, for the readers out there explain to them why they should check out Route 3 and anything else you have done or are up to. Feel free to talk about past present and future work. Have at it!
Robert: First Marco, thanks for the opportunity to speak with you and your readers. Having this platform to discuss my current and past work is a blessing, and its much appreciated.
As far as a final pitch, I'm really trying my best to avoid the clichéd phrase of "you haven't experienced anything like this before" when it comes to Route 3.
All that I can say is my story is set against the backdrop of historical prophecies. It's a page-turning espionage thriller. An epic tale with heart, about a black kid wearing a hoodie who saves the day.
This is not your normal coming of age superhero story. So at the end of the day, all that I ask is that you give us a shot, and if you like the story, delve a little deeper in subsequent issues.
On a side note I want to give folks a heads up about another comic I'm working on with the talented artist Takeia Marie called The Okun. Imagine Star Wars: Rogue One meets Resident Evil, where you have a suspenseful horror story, set against the backdrop of a space wartime drama. We're shooting for a spring release for the story, and fans can follow along by liking our FB page for the project.
Lastly, I have a short story featured in the upcoming sci-fi anthology The Scribes of Nyota, titled "The Crossing: Moonlit Skies" which will be released on 2/24. I also write on the regular for both Tessera Guild and BlackSci-Fi.com so definitely check out those websites.
I have a few more things dropping throughout the year, so please follow me at www.robertkjeffrey.com to stay posted. Thanks again for giving Route 3 a look, and its much appreciated.
And that's all she wrote everyone. I want to thank Robert Jeffrey for letting me interview him and please check out his stuff. I think he's a voice we're going to be hearing more from in the future.