M. Zachary Sherman talks about AMERICA’S ARMY

zack-shermanFirst Comics News: Most people would assume that there is no official connection between the actual US Army and “America’s Army” Comics, however the solicitations imply otherwise. Is there any connection with the actual department of the Army?
M. Zachary Sherman: Absolutely. The comics are being developed by the Army Game Studio, an Army organization located at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. This is the same talented group of people who make the America’s Army video game.
1st: What is the connection with the America’s Army video game?
Zack: The America’s Army comics tie into the overarching AA storyline.  The game is a team-based multiplayer experience that introduces the player to the conflict in Czervenia through Army missions, objectives and training.  The comic allows us to delve deeper into the storyline by focusing on the characters and the Soldier stories.  The comic explores the conflict in Czervania in much more detail and really allows the audience to get an over-all sense of the of the America’s Army universe.  We’ve got over 12 million registered players for the game and we want to make sure we write a story that’s crafted for both them, and comic fans alike.
1st: Why would the Army want to be connected with a comic book?
Zack: Comics are a fantastic way to entertain as well as educate and have been a staple in the Military since Will Eisner and Stan Lee’s days in the Army.  I’m just happy to be a part of a long-standing lineage of amazing creators who have been able to work on something both creative and informative.  Plus, it’s a great opportunity to be able to jump into the world of the Army and really explore the lives of Soldiers in a new way.
1st: Is it a propaganda comic book?
Zack: The AA book is meant to be entertaining, fun, and educational, all at the same time.  It gives us the ability to show people a different side of the Army that they may not be aware of, as well as introduce them to opportunities they didn’t know existed, but first and foremost, its entertainment and a kick-ass comic.
1st: What they are trying to convey with the series?
Zack: On the surface, we see the struggles our characters are presented with and how they overcome them while and maintaining their professionalism, honor and integrity in the face of conflict.  All of this is intertwined between military conflicts, interpersonal character development and an over-all arching story about a nation divided.  But the undercurrent plays out a real “Band of Brothers” feel as the story progresses, and we get a real sharp look at what it means to be a Soldier in today’s Army.  We emphasize that everyone in the Army, from riflemen to the motor pool, help to make up a team and without any one of them the machine just stops running smoothly.  Everyone’s important. 
1st: What is your connection with the military?
Zack: Besides my being a former Marine, a Navy Brat and a direct descendent to General Sherman, not much…  HA!  No, since I came from a military background, being a part of the America’s Army team is almost like putting my uniform back on.  Bringing Soldier’s stories to light and promoting their service in a positive light is something I am very proud, and lucky, to be a part of.
1st: Do you use your own experience in the comic?
Zack: Some of it is based on my interactions with people I’ve known as well as events I took part in, yes, but it’s more of a fictionalized retelling of specific incidents and situations that have happened to real Soldiers throughout recent years.  So there is a bit of me in there for sure, but we are really trying to capture the real Army Soldier experience.  We’ve spoken with many Soldiers and listened to their brave and exciting stories. And trust me, they make for great true-to-life comic adventures for sure.
1st: How realistic is the comic?
Zack: We show what the Army experience really is while keeping it suitable for audiences of all ages.  We actually have Soldiers as technical advisors, called SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), that review every part of the comic book, from the script all the way up to the colors, to make sure that the values, the technology and equipment are correct while making sure a story is exciting and realistic and, at the same time, true to the Army mission. 
1st: Who are the main characters?
Zack: When launching a series like this, it’s really important to give each of the characters in the book their own distinct voice as well as an opportunity to shine right away.  Each of the issues that have come out have been based around the conflict from the game, hinting at deeper meanings in the subplot of the evolving arch, but we’ve really been trying to focus on the people and the different roles they play in the story.  Almost like chapters in a novel, the first three issues introduce us to the Soldiers who will become major players in the story as we progress down the line.
As for specific people, I don’t want to give too much away, but they are true to life archetypes based on a conglomeration of real people I’ve met and served with over the years.  One of the best characters in the book for me is SSGT Plaxco.  He’s the big brother, the guy you come to when you have an issue or a problem, not just professionally, but personally as well.  But he’s tough when he needs to be.  That’s my old Staff Sergeant so I’m quite proud of that one.
1st: What is their mission?
Zack: It’s one of military aid to the war-torn region of Czervenia and their neighboring island, the Republic of the Ostregals.  Answering the call for help, the U.S. Army is deployed as part of a coalition of force to provide humanitarian aid and defense to the refugees fleeing from their own oppressive government. 
1st: Do we just see them at war, or do we explore their private lives as well?
Zack: We really do want to focus on people with this series and it’s already starting to show.  In issue 2, we start at home with a young man at a crossroads in his life and follow his rise to Special Forces Medic.  We will get a good sense of their personal lives through deployments and their homecomings as well.  That’s not to say there isn’t some awesome action and intense battle sequences!  I mean, come on!  It’s the Army and they’ve got the best tech toys around!
1st: How can readers find these comics?
Zack: Best part about this series is that it’s free on the web!  Just go to http://www.americasarmy.com/graphicnovel/ and click on the issue you’d like to read.  It’s that easy!  In addition, we have brought these stories to life through our motion comics, complete with music, animations, sound effects and voiceovers.   Currently Issue 1 (Part 1 of 3) is available on the America’s Army website and YouTube channel.
1st: What makes America’s Army so cool no reader would want to miss an issue?
Zack: First of all, there really isn’t anything else like it on Wednesday’s shelves.  Mute ninja forces, laser platforms and color-changing bad guys are what are in most of “military” comics out now.  And trust me, those are fun (I love that book!), but it’s not very realistic to the way the Army actually operates in a warzone.
Plus, this is the perfect blend of an online game and its comic book counterpart working hand-in-hard.  Sure, we’ve had comics that bridge the gap between movies and their game counterparts, or a prequel comic to a game, but we really are creating both at the same time.  Focusing on the intricacies of the story, the characters and how they’ll help to pollinate one another across all levels of media, the all-encompassing feel we’re trying to capture as you read the adventures of these people and then get to fight along side them in the game?  Man, that’s amazing! 
And you’ll glean insight into better ways to play the game based on reading the comic – player hints and advantages and all!  With America’s Army the comic, we’re doing our best to keep it real!

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