Winning awards and attention is no small feat for an independent comic company. Even harder your publishing superhero comics. Your comics really have to stand out and shine to be noticed by the towering might of Marvel and DC. Ted Sikora has been doing exactly that from the very start of his company, Hero Tomorrow.
With Hero Tomorrows first two series, Apama and Tap Dance Killer, Sikora has everything needed for an exciting superhero read plus a lot more!
One of the reasons Hero Tomorrow stands out and shines is in its characters. They’re not Superman or Iron Man. I love reading those comics, but I know my limits. I’ll never be those characters. Apama on the other hand….Yeah! I could see that! Mind you, I don’t see myself as Tap Dance Killer! But I have friends that I can see taking that role!
The point being, these are superhero stories that are just as exciting as any comic from Marvel or DC. The difference is: they are more relatable and a lot more fun!
With that, let’s get to the interview!
You are a natural ringmaster to spearhead your company. I can not do better than you so I’m not going to try. Introduce Apama and your second series Tap Dance Killer:
Apama The Undiscovered Animal is the story of a Hungarian ice cream truck driver in Cleveland who becomes a superhero by unlocking the spirit-force of the most savage beast mankind has never known.
Tap Dance Killer is about a mega-talented actress who is cast in a horror show musical as the Tap Dance Killer, but she cannot shake the role and starts taking it to the streets thinking she’s this 1920s Vaudeville styled assassin.
I’ve read both and I’m impressed. I have somewhat of a long yet some reason why. But I wanted to place it into a historical context of our industry:
We are living in an incredible new phase in comics. I got into comics during the early 70s. This was during a time when comics were still populating newsstands and the industry was really collecting itself, reeling from the turbulence of the previous three decades. A lot has happened since!
The first thing that I feel when I finish reading any Hero Tomorrow issue is refreshed. I feel a kinship with what made me want to read comics in the 70s and 80s. The energy and vibe -A feel that comes naturally instead of forced.
At the same time it is through the lens of team Hero Tomorrow -you and the talents you surround yourself with. In my opinion, you’re creating something from an entirely new fabric yet using the tools available to you.
I’m curious, because, often, a creator in the “moment”, only sees the “creating”. What are your thoughts on the above?
I find that the Marvel Bronze Age is my favorite stuff. It’s been pointed out that this is the first time Stan Lee stopped scripting as much, and the writers who were fans-first got the keys to the car. I should say I absolutely adore Stan Lee, but in the 70s things just got wonderfully strange and unpredictable. The comics of that era were also largely unto themselves. The modern-age crossover events tend to make everyone feel like they are part of this big team. I loved it in the earlier years when Spider-Man would appear alongside the Avengers for an issue or two and they’d realize they don’t particularly get along. I much prefer Spidey as a loaner. Another series I really dug was the 80s Moon Knight. I think in that entire run you had maybe three guest appearances. They weren’t needed.
I’m always thinking about that in our comics. Can we fill some gap that has been left behind by the modern age evolutions? When Apama #1 begins there are no superheroes in the world. The reader is on board from the absolute beginning with a classic origin story; and then all the villains are brought in very organically one at a time. You’re not trying to catch up with 60 years of history. That’s no longer an experience you can get from the big two.
I remember managing a comic store during the Black & White Explosion. There was a tremendous amount of material coming out which was exciting but there was an incredible lack of oversight. Mistakes were made. Mistakes that led to the Implosion.
Stores welcomed the new comics but soured by the eventual slowing of sales, late comics, publishers that failed to deliver. It during this great time of productivity that led to the implosion. Even today, decades later, this lack of oversight continues to harm the industry. Even now we see stores unable to carry everything being released.
You, thankfully, are the reverse of this. You make measured choices.
One of the immediate things you learn when looking into what goes behind publishing comics successfully is it is not easy.
I’m sure every publisher wants to release every cool thing they come across, but that’s just not possible. No publisher is an island upon themselves. It might sound strange, but publishers have to be considerate of not only themselves and their creators and fans, but also of other publishers and retail.
You are in that enviable position where others can learn from what advice might you have for others in the industry. What comes to mind?
I’ve found it helpful to be selling and promoting ‘characters.’ Coming back to my biggest influences Stan, Jack, and Steve, they were all about creating likable characters. When I’m on the convention floors that’s what I’m promoting.
There are so many paths in the indie comic game, and not many of them are profitable. The best advice I can give is make the comic you absolutely love like your life depends on it. Before you go to print get feedback – not from your friends either – people who will hammer you. We all have blind spots as artists, and it’s better to be called out earlier than later.
Your background revolves around being creative. Film, theater, music, acting and more. Where the comic industries Black & White Explosion happened due to the financial ease of black and white comics, theatre and film is no joke. They are super serious when it comes to finances and dealing with others. Do you think this experience helped you with publishing comic books?
Absolutely. Especially the film side of things. With a film you’re needing to raise much bigger budgets for equipment, locations, cast & crew, meals, lighting, sound, etc. Making a film was life changing to be sure, but when we set out to make our first comic it was so liberating because whatever we dreamed up when on the page and there was no comprise. I find comics to be a much purer art form.
With film one could spend years working on a script, and the years shopping it around, and then it might never get made. Every time I finish an issue I’m aware of that, and really proud that another one is done, and it’s on to the next.
I mentioned earlier about your other creative outlets. Not only do the experiences inform your business acumen, but they also help you as a creator.
Before Apama there was the movie, by no coincidence sharing the name of your company, Hero Tomorrow. What led you to create a superhero movie? The movie came out in 2004, several years before Marvels MCU. What led you to create a comic series after the movie and then after, a superhero comic universe?
Hero Tomorrow is about a struggling comic book creator whose idea for a superhero is based on the premise that so many heroes are creature themed, but all the good ones were taken. So he makes up an animal that’s so powerful yet stealth it was never yet discovered by mankind. This makes no sense to publishers which is part of the humor of the film, but his girlfriend makes him a costume of his own character for Halloween and then he tries to be his own creation. The movie debuted and Comic Con International and played film festivals all over the world. We heard over and over that our character’s creation Apama was unlike anything in comics and would make an interesting series. That’s all Milo and I needed to hear, and we were off and running with Apama The Undiscovered Animal. The difference is the comic is the book that our main character would have published. From there it was fun creating new villains for Apama to face, and now two of those villains are being spun off. Tap Dance Killer is one, and Regina, Apama’s arch nemesis is getting her own series later this year.
Just as movie making led to Apama, your second series, Tap Dance Killer is informed by your time in theatre.
From the ice cream truck driving superhero in Apama to the entire cast in Tap Dance Killer, everyone in your comics are unconventional (for your average comic book!), yet relatable. I know you utilize Cleveland, Ohio as a backdrop to many of your adventures. Do you base your characters on people that you know? And if so, do they actually live in Cleveland?
Milo and I are both from Northeast Ohio so it was really never a choice about where these adventures would take place. Our main character in Apama, Ilyia Zjarsky, is based loosely on guys I used to change tires with in my Dad’s shop when I was in my mid-teens. We didn’t feel like that kind of dude was represented in the comic universe. Some of the characters in Apama are based visually on the actors from the Hero Tomorrow film.
Right now you have a Kickstarter going on for the collected version of Tap Dance Killer. One of the interesting parts to your current Kickstarter introductory video is when you mention how comic fans at conventions ask you about why Tap Dance Killer is Black and your joyful expression in relating how your wife happens to be Black. This is another example of how your life crosses over to your comics but it’s also interesting that people inquire about that.
Without context it seems like a strange question to be asked, but it’s largely from people who are excited about the look of the character, and they want to understand why a geeky looking white guy did this. Last month at a convention a family came to the booth and the kids were talking to each other. ‘You should cosplay Tap Dance Killer and I’ll be Punchline.” The kids walked away, and a parent thanked me for making characters in which they can see themselves. I just melted. That’s everything.
No doubt creativity is as unique as a fingerprint. One can also say that about one’s life experience. Your comics combine both – creating a merging of two unique points that combine with that of your collaborators.
You are not only the ringmaster and the writer, but you also participate in all other aspects of creating your comics. You also don’t do this alone. Team Hero Tomorrow is you along with your collaborators. Publishers need to be respectful of their creators, your comics weave into a whole piece by its individual threads. What’s cool is you do this! Team Hero Tomorrow is exactly that, a team. You didn’t go out and hire the latest hot artist. Instead, you opted to find not only talent that complemented and reinforced Apama and Tap Dance Killer, but your collaborators also brought their own uniqueness to the titles.
People should be excited about your comics as a whole. Talk about your team at Hero Tomorrow.
On Tap Dance Killer the artists is Donny Hadiwidjaja. When the series started he was using a pseudonym Nikolaus Harrison, but his agency suggested he go with his actual name. I had over 200 artists apply for the series. He is extremely attentive to detail, and I love his action work. Starting with issue 3 I brought on Chis Arieswenda to do inks which helped us speed up the process. Chis is tremendous.
On Apama, Milo and I looked at over one-hundred artists, and Benito Gallego stopped us in our tracks. He has such a classic look. We thought, ‘Wow, we can actually make a comic that looks like the bronze age classics that formed us!” He’s such a strong storyteller, super nice guy too.
Everybody has been amazing to work with. I’ve been blessed.
Check out Tomorrow Heroes for more on Apama and Tap Dance Killer!
Hero Tomorrow has already completed two successful Kickstarters. The current one for Tap Dance Killer lets those who need to, catch up to not only Tap Dance Killer, but comic fans can also order other Hero Tomorrow comic series and collections + the movie and merchandise if they want. Cool bonus material and opportunities await with one week left! Signed and numbered copies, prints and more are a click away! The Kickstarter has already met its goal and is rounding up its stretch rewards.
Tap Dance Killer is on Kickstarter right now and ends May 31st.
Tap Dance Killer The Greatest Show In Comics Kickstarter