By Nikolai Fomich
Lightning Rod! Onyx! Glitch! Lady Baskerville! You may not know these names now – but creators Damion Gonzales, Zak Farmer, and Sean Izaakse are determined that you soon will. Together they've combined their talents to create T.A.S.K., "an animated superhero action adventure series set in our truly global reality." Though still in the early stages, things for T.A.S.K. are heating up, and I spoke to Damion about what makes this project truly unique.
Nikolai Fomich: Damion, what is T.A.S.K.?
Damion Gonzales: First of all let me just say thank you for this opportunity to shine some light on this project. T.A.S.K. is an in development action adventure animated series featuring a diverse cast of all new super-powered individuals. Engaging characters thrown into incredible situations, young super-humans learning what it means to be heroes in the midst of learning how to just … be. All the BIFF! BAM! POW! you expect from good superhero fare. It's our goal that T.A.S.K. follow in the footsteps of such great shows as Static Shock, Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice and bring that sense of wonder and excitement back to the kids' viewing space. We're trying to bring that Saturday morning cartoon rush back. The excitement that kids used to get from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Transformers, He-Man and ThunderCats.
Now, in the world of series itself, T.A.S.K. is a UN sanctioned intergovernmental organization that enables international police cooperation and action in superhuman matters…which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying that they are like a superhuman version of Interpol. If a guy shooting laser beams out of the top of his head shows up in Quito, Ecuador, and the police and military can't stop him? T.A.S.K. gets the call. If they don't have a member in Ecuador, chances are that they'll have someone close by.
NF: What's the secret origin of this project? When did you start developing T.A.S.K.?
DG: T.A.S.K. was born out of another concept that I was developing around 2008-2009. My daughter was showing some interest in comics and cartoons but frankly there was a drought of characters that looked like her, so I set out to give her some. Simple right? I was planning to do the whole indie comic thing, but I have to admit that my initial concept had too many flaws in its internal logic. I think I was trying to make it too radical. I wasn't creating characters, I was creating mouthpieces. What can I say, not everyone can hope to be Milestone Comics first time at bat. So I put it down. The push to pick up some of those ideas and move on with something new came out of a JLU marathon at my buddy/business partner Matthew's house. I think he said "You know, we should take your characters and make a cartoon." Ha! Unless you're in the animation business you probably have absolutely no idea how an animated show makes it to your TV screens.
However the idea just wouldn't go away. Could a regular Joe put together a concept strong enough, exciting enough, good enough to be considered TV worthy? To get this thing anywhere we were going to have to successfully pitch it to a network, distributor or co-producer….or win the lottery. So I spent a year doing the research, the homework and meeting people who had insight into the industry. Then I went to work. I threw out 90% of the stuff from the other idea and decided to focus on "What's fun? What's cool? What's incredible?" I shanghaied my best friend Zak Farmer along the way as co-creator and co-writer. He works in film and television back in Trinidad and Tobago where I'm originally from, and we really smacked the crap out of each other to create the best characters and tell the best story possible. With his background in film and my ten plus years in theater as a director in Trinidad I was pretty confident that we could create something fantastic. Now all we needed was art right?
Sometimes you get lucky, and boy did we hit the jackpot with Sean Izaakse! I found Sean after a couple months of perusing artists' galleries on DeviantArt. His work just did it for me. I just had that feeling. The timing was right too, as Sean was really coming into his own and getting his name up. You can see some of his work in Pathfinder for Dynamite Entertainment and Stray, the comic he co-created with Vito Delsante, just got picked up by Action Lab. Sean is from South Africa and that just added to the "outsider" vibe we have going on. His artwork really pushed us over the top in terms of getting people to notice the characters and wanting to learn more.
Now in terms of the trailer that we're working on – some conventional wisdom says that it's best not to pitch with a trailer. I just thought that with a project as racially diverse as the one we were creating, we just had to blow the doors off the hinges. Make something that looked so good that it would be undeniable. My friends Chuck Collins and Keith Miller from Rat Ronin Studios told me that if that was my plan then I had no other choice but to go with their peeps down to Echo Bridge Pictures down in Florida. Boy, were they right. I owe those guys big time!
NF: The star of T.A.S.K. is Lightning Rod, a teenager who comes across a super-powered staff and becomes a reluctant hero. Who is Lightning Rod? Why has he chosen to follow this dangerous path?
DG: Lightning Rod, aka Leon Rodney, is a kid who's dealing with some of life's tougher situations the best way he knows how. His father is an NYPD detective and his mother's a nurse, so we're dealing with a pretty typical boy next door. He's OK at basketball, he's nervous around girls, he likes to cook. The family unit has taken a serious hit because of the tragic (and heroic) death of Leon's older brother, so the last thing they want is for Leon to be putting himself in dangerous situations in some misguided attempt to live up to his brother's memory. However, once he comes into possession of the staff, the world gets topsy-turvy. The staff is one of the most desired and feared artifacts in the entire universe. It's immensely powerful and it's bonded itself to him. The villains of our piece must possess the staff and will stop at nothing to attain it, so Leon is ultimately forced into the world of super-humans and the world of T.A.S.K. for his own protection. His path to becoming a hero really starts from there.
NF: Talk a bit about the design process between you, Zak, and Sean. Did you and your co-creators typically come up with a character idea first or did you have some designs characters grew out of?
DG: Oh it's always character first. It's nice to have cool stuff to look at, but it's character that makes you care. You invest in characters and their progression. Zak and I would work on character and then I'd piece together things that fit the character and their particular circumstance. Lightning Rod, for instance, is wearing street clothes over this golden armor that the staff manifests over his body – but he's a regular fifteen year old kid. He's not ripped. So running around in skintight metallic armor is a pretty horrific thought to him, just from a body confidence perspective. So he keeps on his street clothes over the armor. Of course as the character grows and develops things may change. Then I'd send Sean these ridiculously detailed character description E-mails and he'd pluck the images right out of my head. I think he's a wizard or something.
NF: Many of T.A.S.K.'s characters seemed steeped in or inspired by myth and religion – such as Mongoose Khan, Django, and Longhorn. Was that a conscious decision?
DG: It was rather unconscious actually. A lot of it has to do with where and how I grew up. When the population of your country is a hodgepodge of all the races, cultures and religions that came or were brought to the New World in the time when sugar was king, who through some miracle end up forging a nation that really attempts to celebrate everyone's diversity as part of a glorious whole, a place where my Muslim and Hindu neighbors would come over to our house for Christmas? Well then you have a wealth of cultural influences and stories to pull stuff from.
Plus myth and religion have power man! That's why they endure. Superheroes and their adventures have become the new mythology right? Isn't that why the death of Gwen Stacy is still relevant? That story was written in 1973!! Who doesn't know what happened in Crime Alley in Gotham that fateful night? These are our new myths. So I guess it's fitting that some of the old myth that's so far been passed over gets a new can of paint as it were. A lot of the mythological characters that appear in T.A.S.K. aren't the type that have been at the fore of American mainstream comics or animation and I think that's one of the things that makes it such a unique concept. I mean come on, Django's father is the Yoruba god Shango and his mother is the daughter of Quetzalcoatl for goodness sake!
[Lonestar and Longhorn]
NF: One of the great things about T.A.S.K. is the sheer diversity – your cast of characters is a global one. You touched on this earlier, but talk a bit more about why diversity was important to you in creating this project.
DG: Doesn't everyone deserve to "see" themselves as the hero? Not just the Black kids in the U.S., what about the little Indonesian kids? The Brazilian kids in the favelas? Kids in Tanzania or Taiwan? Fictional heroism shouldn't just belong to one country, or to one race. You want every kid to believe that when they tie a towel around their neck as a cape and run around their house pretending to fly that the face of the hero could be one that looks like theirs. As I said before, super heroes are the new mythology. Are we just going to exclude most of the population of the planet in our exploration and creation of that? I don't see how that makes sense from a creative or even a business standpoint. The fans of comics and superhero cartoons and movies are global and they are diverse. To ignore that reality is doing everyone a huge disservice.
NF: Finally, what's next for T.A.S.K.? When can we expect to see more new animation?
DG: Well, let's see. I recently became a part of Hannibal Tabu's Operative Network, which is a creative studio that's home to some incredibly talented individuals. I'm talking about Glyph Rising Star Award winners Jason Reeves and Alverne Ball (for One Nation), Wildfire creator Quinn McGowan, and of course Mr. Tabu. We dropped an ashcan at San Diego Comic Con that featured everyone's work and characters and got some really great feedback. Some really exciting things are happening over there, so more on that as things develop.
Next up for T.A.S.K. is a whole lot of pushing and networking in advance of the completed trailer debut, which will be around the time of New York Comic Con. As I mentioned, the animation is being done by Echo Bridge Pictures down in St. Petersburg, Florida. I can't say enough good things about the quality of the work and the effort they're putting into this project. They believe in T.A.S.K. as much as we do and it really shows. The dedication to detail and the care they've given to a bunch of noobs bum-rushing blindly into the world of animation is simply fantastic. I really have to thank Esteban Valdez and his team for just being phenomenal. They are trying to leave us all stunned.
Once the trailer is done it will be time to hit the road with the pitch. Meeting with prospective investors, distributors, co-producers, animation trade shows, showcases, huge entertainment marketplaces…the whole shebang. We're hoping that enough people will have viewed the trailer by the time we get to those things to give us a strong buzz going in. Numbers matter people, so watch and share…often. That's your part. Our part will be all the behind the scenes stuff that it will take to bring T.A.S.K. to a TV near you.
Keep your eyes peeled for the completed T.A.S.K trailer in October. Thanks for coming out and goodnight. T.A.S.K. is coming!
Nikolai Fomich is a teacher and writer in Philadelphia. Follow him @brokenquiver