John Helmer Red Leaf Comics interview

In 2005, John Helmer published […]

In 2005, John Helmer published a comic book with a Canadian superhero theme, entitled Summer Slam The Leaf Issue # 1.  Its’ distribution was very limited.

Recently, while perusing various Canadian comic books on ebay, I discovered, not the one-shot comic book mentioned above, but rather, Surprising Theater # 1 and # 2, also (only recently) published by John Helmer, and also containing new adventures of Canadian superhero The Leaf and his fellow Canuck heroes, which I then purchased online under the ebay ‘Buy It Now’ option. Upon receiving these two comics in the mail, I noticed that Mr. Helmer had been kind enough to also include a third comic with the other two, the aforementioned The Leaf Summer Slam Issue # 1, from 2005 – free!

I quite enjoyed the three Canadian-themed comic books I had received, read, and quite enjoyed. Surprising Theater # 1 and # 2 are published by John Helmer’s Surprising Comics, a new company. And, as a Canadian myself, interested in Canadian heroes and Canadian comic books, I’ll be keeping a close watch on this company!

Mr. Helmer already has plans to soon release The Leaf # 1 and # 2, the newest Canadian superhero in his own title, with all-new adventures!

Having read Surprising Theater # 1 and # 2, and having been quite intrigued, I emailed John Helmer back, thanked him, and then offered him the opportunity of being  interviewed by myself,  for First Comics News.

He was instantly interested in that option, and the rest, as they say, is history!

For those interested in  obtaining Surprising Comics’  ‘Surprising Theater’ # 1 and # 2 for yourself, like I did, go to ebay on the net, plug in keywords ‘Canadian Comics’, without the parenthesis, and look at what is offered there. You should be able to purchase copies of these unique comic books, right there, like I did. For the reason that I’ve seen other copies offered there almost daily, since!

Phil Latter: How old were you when you first became interested in art, comic books, and illustration, and started drawing?

John Michael Helmer: I first became interested in art at a very early age. I won 2nd place in an art contest at the age of seven,  for a montage I created during art time. It was a picture of a city skyline with hundreds of planes and helicopters buzzing around.

PL: Did your parents or siblings encourage you to draw?

JMH: I was always encouraged to draw, except I never really dedicated myself. I soon realized that I was a better writer, than an artist.  My drawings, although carrying a certain style, were better used to represent my writings.  So when I wrote, I always attached a crude picture on the page to help solidify the concept.

PL: Did you read and/ or collect comic books as a child? If so, what were some of your favourite comics titles, and characters?

JMH: At summer camp around the age of ten, my very first comic that I was introduced to was “The Unknown Soldier” by DC Comics, Inc. I thought the battle scenes, the tanks, and the atmosphere were really cool. Besides comics, that story also sparked my interest in World War Two.

PL: Have you read and / or collected comic books all of your life?

JMH: Of course. How else could a comic book creator excel, unless he has resource material? I have collected the Flash, Batman, Detective Comics, and the Amazing Spider-man for over twenty years. I also buy various mini-series’ with World War Two characters and stories. It helps launch me in the mood when writing heroes from that era.

PL: Did you have professional art training? If so, where did you go to school for art training, and how long was the program?

JMH: No, all my drawings are home-grown. Though, I have taken writing classes and even taught writing to students of all ages. Helping spark the imagination centers of someone else’s brain is exciting. There’s a moment that occurs right before a student commits an idea to paper. That’s what teaching writing is all about…

PL: What artists, if any, were you influenced by, in the development of your own style?

JMH: When I drew, I would look at the pages of Jim Aparo, who drew Batman for years. His clean, uncluttered lines helped me learn anatomy. I thought his Batman was amazing, considering the coloring techniques of the time.

PL: I agree. I grew up rather impressed by the late Mr. Aparo’s illustrated Batman stories, both in the Batman title, Detective Comics, and also The Brave And The Bold. Prior to that, I was equally impressed with his depiction of Lee Falk’s The Phantom, over at the late, lamented Charlton Comics, out of Derby, Connecticut.

PL: What was your first published comics story, and in what publication? Who published it, and when did it come out?

JMH: For years, I self-published stories the old-fashioned way — with a copy machine.

I have a superhero team called “The Unknowns”, who fought a bad guy named “Major Malevolent”, and then I created a back-up team called “The Unbinders,” who traveled the world searching for bad guys to recruit.  I would write and draw these issues, copy and package them up, then sell them to a local comic store. The owner thought it was great!

As for actually publishing a real comic, well, my university buddy Brad Eastburn and I collaborated on a four page comic titled “The Leaf Summer Slam” in 2005. It was the culmination of years of developing The Leaf – Canada’s Greatest Hero, and his back story. We published 500 copies of that thin comic, and distributed them to anyone who was interested, at The 2005 San Diego Comic Con. People gobbled them up, mostly because it was free, of course.

JMH: The self-published pamphlet told the simple tale of a mugging gone wrong. The Leaf uses his skill and equipment to subdue the perpetrator. We were very proud of that crude, yet entertaining story and art. Here’s a re-colored version of the cover from 2005.

The Leaf was created in 1987 as an answer to my desire to read more Captain Canuck comics stories. After I created The Leaf, I then had to fill in the character’s back story. I gave him a father who was The Leaf in the 1970’s, and then a grandfather who fought the Axis powers in the 1940’s. His father helped keep Canada from splitting apart from Quebec Separatists. From there, I created The Imperials. The Imperials were Winston Churchill’s desperate attempt to stem the tide of war.

The Imperials are a superhero group with a character from every corner of the British Empire.

The Imperials appear in The Leaf # 1, due out in October of 2010. The other Canadian heroes are The Mountie and the Golden Age Leaf’s sidekick, Jill Canada. The Modern Leaf has a young female sidekick named Sapling. The Sapling and Jill Canada appear in Surprising Theater # 2, in different stories, as they are from different eras.

PL:  Interesting. The name Jill Canada reminds me of the Quebec comics scene’s long-running Jim Canada comic book series about a Canadian Mountie in Quebec. The long-running comic book title was very popular in Quebec, especially in the 1970’s. Sadly, I don’t believe that they have ever been translated into English, as I love stories about Canadian RCMP Mounties!

JMH: I am launching my own title from my own company, Red Leaf Comics, within the next sixty days. It contains an anthology series titled The Leaf,  Issue # 1 will have one Leaf story as well as other supporting character stories. Here’s a sample of the Golden Age Leaf story, “Terror from the sky.” It’s set in France in 1944, and it appears in issue # 2.

PL: While I realize that your interest in creating, writing, publishing and entertaining folks with your Canadian-themed new heroes is partially, at least, inspired by your early interest in Canada’s Captain Canuck, I’m also curious about something kind of related. I’m wondering if you were born a Canadian? And if so, where? Also, where did you go to school and grow up?

JMH: My mother and her relatives are from Rimouski and Trois Rivieres. I was born in the United States. I went to university in Arizona.

PL: What are all of the comics titles that you have published thus far, how many issues have you put out so far, and what can we expect to see put out in the future from you?


JMH
: Red Leaf Comics, which is the company I own, launches its first independent title named “The Leaf” in October of 2010. All the inside art is complete,  and we are waiting for the cover to be completed. The artist, Jacob Darq,  is coloring the piece, now. Issue two is also complete with both inside art and the cover. The cover is by Jakob Darq. Here’s a sample of his color treatments. The final version is still unreleased.

I have supplied three stories for a company called Surprising Comics out of Phoenix, Arizona. Mark F. Davis was very gracious, and he reprinted The Leaf Summer Slam 2005 story in Surprising Theater #1. I had the pages re-lettered by George E. Warner of Superggraphics, and he really made the old lady look great! Lipstick on a Pig is the saying, I believe. Brad and I were proud to get that short story back out into the hands of the public. We believe in Michael MacSorly, The Leaf. He’s a guy everyone can relate to:  responsibility thrust upon the shoulders of a common man!

While helping Mark get issue one to the printer, Mark called me up and said he needed more Leaf stories. I then penned the Golden Age Leaf tale entitled “D-Day,” with art by Stuart Berryhill and Brad Eastburn. Brad and I also teamed up for another Modern Leaf tale, “Sapling,” which he drew again. His art has come a long way. I am very proud of his work.

PL: What, if anything, was your inspiration to create the Canadian superhero The Leaf?

JMH: It goes without saying that I am a huge Captain Canuck fan. Huge! I had always wished those books had come out with more frequency. A hero against all odds saving Canada from aliens and evil-doers…

I was inspired to create my own hero…my own legend that Canada needed! I used the maple leaf as a starting point, and designed a robot with glider wings on his back —sewn into the costume, so that when a bad guy was caught in the act, the silhouette of the Canadian maple leaf would cast a shadow onto the street. It was a take on the bat signal for the Batman comics. The robot storyline was just the beginning. I created a dying scientist who had designed the robot to replace the aging Leaf when his son refused to take on the mantle.

PL: I’ve always been a major fan of Captain Canuck myself, and the backup character stories in those Canadian comic books, characters including Jonn, The Catman, and Chaos Corps! Especially when illustrated by Canadian talent George Freeman, or Jean-Claude St. Aubin.

What can you tell us about The Leaf,  his character, and supporting characters?

JMH: For three generations, The Leaf has been Canada’s Greatest Hero, a heritage passed from father to son, until Michael MacSorly breaks that tradition. When a killer robot assumes the guise of  The Leaf in its brutal campaign against crime, a reluctant Michael must take on the mantle of The Leaf from his deceased father and redeem the hero’s now tarnished legacy.

Michael MacSorly’s father fought separatists in the 1960’s, and his grandfather helped free Europe from the Nazi scourge. Now, following his father’s death, Michael has donned the Leaf flight suit, in order to protect the streets of Canada and his father’s good name, from a band of out-of-control robots created by his desperate father,  in the waning days of his life.
A Mari Usque ad Mare!

Michael MacSorly has a caring, yet controlling girlfriend, Susan Ferros. She’s his backbone,  and she gives him the pep talks to get through his challenging days and nights. In issue #2 of Surprising Theater, we gave him a sidekick called “The Sapling”. My daughter, Cassidy, created the character. She’s an intelligent twelve year old who seems smarter that the adults around her, including Michael!

PL: Will your comics have letters pages?

JMH: We have a website: www.redleafcomics.com and also a message board to read more about the characters, concepts, and news items. Fans can post comments there. I post teasers, concept art, and there is even a Red Leaf Comics wikipedia article attached to our website,  so that you get to learn more about The Leaf, THE IMPERIALS, or any of Red Leaf’s characters. I plan on dedicating a letters page, once The Leaf rolls through its first several issues!

PL: Will subscriptions be available?

JMH: We sell the issues on the web,  and at local shops in Phoenix, right now. Mark Davis helped set up the distribution. Subscription service is available;  just send us an email to: Redleafcomics@gmail.com

PL: Are you doing advertising for your comic book titles and company?

JMH: We have several ads running inside CE Publishing,  and Surprising Comics. Mike Rickaby at CE Publishing has run several ads, and this has increased sales of Suprising Theater. I’m a big fan of an ad that tells a story like a movie trailer. A splash page of a character flying is not enough for me. I need to be able to read something,  to understand the concepts better. We have produced four different ads so far, with another half-dozen commissioned. I have ads for The Modern Leaf, NightRunner, Dracula–The Gift, The Golden Age Leaf, and North ForceRed Leaf Comics‘  new web comic.

Dracula – the Gift is a five page story set in the final days of World War Two. A German Major is dispatched to retrieve some of Hermann Goering’s stolen artwork.

Too bad Count Caldura has other plans and will bite — I mean fight, to the death, in order  to keep his prized possessions. The ad was drawn by Stuart Berryhill. The actual story appears in The Leaf #3, and is drawn by Paul Moore. He’s a fantastic artist from Scotland. He also drew a six page tale for Red Leaf Comics about a British spy named Victoria Cross in occupied France, that is scheduled for  The Leaf #2.

PL:  I’m looking forward to seeing all of that, John, as soon as they are published, and I will  purchase copies! Sounds exciting!

On another note, I’m very interested in seeing a new Modern Leaf story, and other stories, illustrated by the artist who did the cover of Surprising Theater # 1, Stuart Berryhill.  I particularly like how he delineates the Modern Leaf’s headgear and leaf-shaped wings, to better instill fear into the bad guys!

JMH:  Stuart has drawn the Modern Leaf a few times. He has a clean, realistic style, and he is able to impress emotion in the poses of his figures. We have an, as yet, unannounced Stuart Berryhill modern Leaf project in the works for 2011, and the villain is truly evil!

PL: How did you originally meet or get in contact with Surprising Comics # 1 and # 2’s  Stuart Berryhill, Steve Williams, Randy Valiente,  Brad Eastburn, and fellow Surprising Comics’ and Red Leaf Comics’ writers Mark F. Davis, Lloyd Smith, and Chris Sheehan?

JMH: Many of the artists I met on an online message board www.valiantfans.com It’s a place where passionate comic book fans, readers and collectors chat and discuss all sorts of subjects.

I met Mark F. Davis in 2009, and he hired me as his Senior Editor. I help coordinate artists and writers, I edit stories, and I put the files together for printing.  Senior editors for small companies are jack-of-all-trades types in the industry now, with the advent of online publishing.

Stuart Berryhill and I had worked on an unpublished fan project in 2007 with a gaggle of other creators. We were teamed together to do a small, five page section of that story. When I began to develop The Leaf character in 2009, I contacted him for additional stories.

He really, I mean REALLY understands the Golden Age Leaf, Walter MacSorly. It’s almost as though they had met in real life!

Steve Williams drew the cover for Surprising Theater number two, and he crafted a two page short story for a character called Depthon, Son Of The Ocean. I edited the drafts, and Steve drew the tale. It’s short, but it packs a powerful message about the resources of the ocean, and how we need to protect all species.

Mark introduced me to Randy Valiente. Randy is a hard-working artist who resides in the Phillipines. Randy put a lot of effort into the 26 page Modern Leaf origin story in issue number two of Surprising Theater, due out in October of 2010. His rendition of Susan Ferros and Inspector Stanley are amazing. Susan is brought to life with his pencils and inks, and the RCMPs, well, what I say? Mounties to the rescue!

Brad and I go back — way back. We met in university, and we have been best friends, ever since. We have a property named Max Victory, and this is a story about a man flung too far into the future, and now he has to work his way back to where he belongs. It seems that fighting NAZIs as a propoganda piece for the U.S. government during World War Two, is much easier than surviving in 2010 Chicago! Only one problem – his arch villain is still alive in the future, and is hiding inside of a comic book convention! Max has to find and capture his arch villain, Baron Von Fitzer, with the aid of a twenty-something grand daughter of the man who accidentally flung him sixty-five years too far into the future! It’s a web comic that has a gag of the week from the real life stories and tales that Brad and I have experienced at ALL of the San Diego Comic Cons over the past fifteen years! It’s more humor than action.

Max Victory, the web comic! “Con Wars” will be appearing soon on the main webpage at http://www.redleafcomics.com

Unfortunately, I have only edited Lloyd’s final stories. His work in the industry for Blue Moon Comics, is legendary. I hope one day to co-write something with him. His experience and creativity are boundless.

Chris Sheehan is a veteran partner who has worked for Mark F. Davis over the years. They have collaborated on several stories for an imprint which Chris owns, and Mark’s previous company, Land Mark Comics.  He published an issue titled Suddenly Landmark, which is still available from Ka-Blam.

Chris is a true professional, and he is skilled in several areas in the industry. He letters and writes; he’s got fantastic ideas and vision.

PL: Who illustrated the backup pinup of  The Leaf, at the end of Surprising Comics # 2? I rather like the use of heavy inks, there.

JMH: The pin-up was illustrated by Ron Lim, and I obtained the commission in 2004 at the Las Vegas Comic Con. When I ask famous artists to draw The Leaf, many are shy and hesitant to draw a character who they have few references for. Ron jumped in. When I asked George Warner of Supergraphics to ink the pin-up. He did an amazing job on the piece. It really pops from the page, now. George was instrumental in helping bring Surprising Theater to print, both issues. His dedication and attention to detail made the books what they are. George has since moved on to his own imprint, and we sorely miss him at Surprising Comics.

We could surely use his talents at my new company, Red Leaf Comics. He was the glue that kept things together.

PL: John, I was taking a look tonight, on the Red Leaf Comics website, specifically, at the NorthForce web comics story there, and I was quite impressed with it, as well! http://www.redleafcomics.com/

JMH: Thanks for the Thumbs Up for NorthForce! I appreciate the kindness. The storyline is plotted out for eighty pages. The artist on board for the duration is Antonio Lamas. He lives in Spain, and he sends the files in, via the internet. Mike Rickaby letters the pages, and I post them up on the website, as each strip is complete.

We plan to post a strip a week, some sooner, if Antonio gets ahead. Publisher crosses his fingers! Northforce is another property that is ages old, and a feature that is finally seeing the light of day. It stars a team of veteran heroes: The Modern Leaf, Gadget Girl, The Mountie, and Neutralator. Later, Mr. Orbit will apear.

Northforce is the story of a team of Canadian superheroes who battle a family of four blood-thirsty brothers who are draining a town in Northern Alberta, of all of its’ inhabitants blood, only to find that their fiercest enemy is not the rogue vampire brother on a murderous rampage, but the battles between themselves!

The team is led by The Mountie. He’s a square-jawed do-gooder with the propensity to follow the book — to the letter! This gets him in a lot of trouble, and causes the team to improvise. Luckily, The Modern Leaf is second in command. Michael MacSorly is more level-headed and grounded. His youth and street experience usually saves the day. The third member is Neutralator. He is secretly  Bob Serchuk. and he  can channel energy through his body. He’s a human lightning rod – for trouble, as well! he’s the comedic element of the team. Joking, laughing, complaining, Neutralator is the focus of every argument, no matter what side he’s on. The looks and the brains of the team is Gadget Girl. She’s a First Nations woman of extraordinatry  intelligence, and she possesses a dynamic beauty that captivates most men. She graduated from McGill University with a degree in advanced electronics. She can create almost anything electronic – if she doesn’t already have it in her pocket!

When Antonio gets to twenty pages, we’ll commission a cover and print issue number one of four. When he makes it to eighty pages, we’ll commission a  special cover for the trade paperback edition, add some concept art, and a script page, and offer an eighty-eight page trade paperback edition of  NorthForce “Village of the Dead” for sale at conventions and at the company website.

Strip one of two of Northforce are up on the main page of our website www.readleafcomics.com

PL:  John, thank you for talking to me today, and for agreeing to do this interview for FIRST COMICS NEWS!

For fans, readers and collectors of  uniquely ‘Home Grown’ Canadian comic books, Canuck-motifed heroes – including superheroes – be sure to also visit and join my ‘Canadian Comics’ website, on the world-wide web! Join the hundreds of fans and collectors there, and learn all about the history of Canadian comic books in Canada, a rich history of unique-to-Canada comic books, a history which still continues today; the history of which dates back to World War Two, to the so-called ‘Canadian Whites’!   Many of these ‘Canadian Whites’ in the 1940’s contained Unique-To-Canada Fawcett comic books, the same company which published Captain ‘Shazam’ Marvel and Spysmasher, to name just some!  But, these Unique To Canada Fawcett comic books versions, containing Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Captain Marvel Junior, etc,etc, contained Canadian artists-drawn art, and these were NOT distributed south of the Canadian border!You can read about those very RARE Canadian comic books and their history, at the weblink below, also! Membership, of course, is free! So stop by (url link below), and join now!

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/canadiancomics/

And, should we have any Pulp magazine fans, Johnston McCulley and/ or Zorro fans, readers and collectors here, reading this interview, then be sure to also stop by:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/johnstonmcculleyzorro/

Phil Latter

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
For FIRST COMICS NEWS!

About CHROMIUMFOIL

Phil Latter is a Canadian Comic Book Historian, and the First Comics News Canadian Bureau Chief. He has collected, read and enjoyed comic books, collecting prolifically, his entire life. He says, "Comics keep me young at heart!" Phil's personal comics collection features over 70,000 comic books, (not a typo), mostly U.S. and Canadian comics; but further, comic books and related memorandum from all over the world, dating from the early 1920's, right up to the present. Phil Latter is recognized as being one of the foremost world authorities on Johnston McCulley's Zorro. He is an artist and published writer, and he collects anything and everything to do with the Zorro character. His well-known Pulp magazine website for this character is at Yahoo Groups: Johnston McCulley's Zorro To join us on this popular group, membership at this busy website is free! Phil has been published in Roy Thomas' 'Alter Ego' magazine, and (in prose fiction, reviews, articles, and his artwork), in numerous issues of the Canadian English language (from Quebec) Batman fanzine, 'The Midnight Conference.' Additionally, he has conducted numerous interviews of comics pros, columns and articles, on the website Comic Bulletin.com, and at First Comics News.com, and also in these fanzines: 'The Maine Comics Club Newsletter', and in numerous issues of both 'The Dragon Lady Dispatch' (from Toronto's 'Dragon Lady Comics Shop'), and in the fanzine Gene Kehoe's "It's A Fanzine." Born in the village of Herring Cove, right on the Atlantic Ocean, Phil currently lives in The Halifax Regional Municipality, in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, with his four felines: Jasper, Pearl, Maizey, and...Zorro-!