At First Comics News we have been big supporters of AC Comics. I have interviewed Bill Black several times. At one point we were syndicating a column from Mark Heike and have interviewed him as well. But I have never had the chance to do a one on one interview with Stephanie Heike until now! Stephanie was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and let our readers know all about 21st Centurions.

First Comics News: Where did 21st Centurions come from?

Stephanie Heike: I’m always looking for what’s out there, what haven’t I seen that’s awesome that the mainstream hasn’t “discovered” yet. Naturally, this leads to obscure books, records VHS tapes, and Golden Age comics.

Originally I had in mind doing a comic book that was a pastiche of Golden Age superheroes. Being too young for that era, I had a few strikes against me in that regard, but hey, I was a typical Gen X-er nerd and stubborn to the point of stupidity.

Anyway, over discussing the concept with other comic book nerds, both in and out of the industry, I came to the conclusion that I would be best off taking the “retro” characters I had come up with and moving them forward to modern times (after a brief consideration of setting them time-wise during the Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm era wars/military actions). But I was stumped with exactly what to do with the characters. I knew I wanted to do something “different” with them, that wouldn’t be the same old superhero thing.

With the 21st Centurions, I have the start of something that’s hopefully different and will surprise readers.

1st: What is the 21st Centurions about?

Stephanie: It ‘s the adventures of six young people who are given power bands that give them artificial superpowers. This team is led by their mentor -Tribune- who’s a former Golden Age hero who’s turned in his cape for a business suit. There are other characters around, including Tigerlily who’s a mysterious lone vigilante.

One of the things I really wanted to do was not pin down the younger characters ages, mainly because I always felt awkward when a character was older/younger than I was. A few years makes a big difference when you’re young. Most comics never stress how old or young the adults are, right?

1st: How much does Mark have to do with 21st Centurions?

Stephanie: Mark is my sounding board and gives me his opinion on things. My worst fault, storytelling, and graphics-wise, is that I’m probably too fascinated with subtlety, which works in novels, paintings or on film or video, but doesn’t carry as well in comics, which need to be big and bold.

So if I want to have a character mysteriously floating in the air in an office as if he’s in a chair, Mark points out that I need to make it more over the top, otherwise people won’t notice and just think that I forgot to draw the chair.

Mark and I bonded over our fondness for weird stuff, talking over the phone and through the mail working with each other over the years on AC books. Admittedly, we have extreme differences of sentimental opinion over things that we loved as kids but we’re pretty much in sync otherwise over what we like/hate.

1st: Why didn’t you publish 21st Centurions through AC Comics earlier?

Stephanie: No, we didn’t want to do 21st Centurions through AC Comics originally. At that point, AC had a strict policy about doing creator-owned properties that weren’t Bill’s characters. That was fine with me. Bill wanted to move forward and do his indie movies and Mark and I wanted to continue to do comic books irregardless.

1st: Did you submit 21st Centurions to other publishers?

Stephanie: Absolutely! But indie pubs weren’t interested in anything that even smelled of “superhero” in the ’00s. You could see at conventions how they were excited that I was a female wanting to do her comic book and how their faces fell when they found out it was a “superhero” sort of thing instead of some “slice of life” book.

When some editors actually were excited about it being a superhero thing, they assumed it was MARK’s idea and he had me along for the ride as marketing it as a “girl” comic. They would write to him saying things like how they wanted something that was “like the 60’s Marvel comics” and wanted something almost exactly ”like Spider-Man.” Seriously, dude?
As a Gen-X-er, when I was itty-bitty, Spider-Man on the Electric Company was okay. But by the time I was reading the comics, I found out that Spider-Man was a whiny little bitch. Hated it.

1st: So how did you get 21st Centurions into print as a comic book?

Stephanie: Mark told me “You are never going to find a publisher who just wants to publish your book IN COLOR –AND you keep all the rights –AND you get any money out of it.” Then we got a fabulous deal –some publisher was willing to print my comic book in color, no strings! They would print the book and get the lion’s share of the money, we would own all the rights. We hurried up and got the book ready over the next couple of months. We saw their first two books and they were spectacular in quality of printing and color–then they shut down. Argh!

So we ending up self-publishing: put a couple of number s in front of three zeros that’s about how much it costs, now put those same two numbers in front of TWO zeros, that’s how many we sold.

At that point, it seemed unlikely that we would do another 21st Centurions issue, but I kept working on it anyway, in the faint hope that some miracle would happen, like the aforementioned “amazing deal”. We were then contacted by a fly-by-night print broker for color books. Since another 21st Centurions book was almost done (and having learned our lesson with the other deal that fell through before publication) we sent it off to the print-broker quickly. We were apparently the sample comic they used to get more people on the hook and ended up scamming people out of lots of money. They offered impossibly-low print deals, collected the costs for same from the creators, and sent the files off to printers to print. Then they (the print brokers) ran off with all the money amassed from the creators and never paid the printers! Our book got printed and delivered before anyone (including us) had any idea it was a scam. Heck, even the FBI got involved.

We got really close to an animation/toy deal on 21st Centurions–really closer than Femforce had ever been ( outside of the 90’s tv show deal that fell through). It was down to us and one animation guy who had completed digital 3D models of his “Pokemon”-like series. Guess who won out?

1st: Why did you stop doing 21st Centurions?

Stephanie: We did another self-published color issue with a local printer, which was kind of a disaster when the ceiling (literally) fell in at our apartment, nearly killing me, but that’s another story. I was a nervous wreck.

About that time, (mid 00’s) we changed format on the Femforce book, making it into a quarterly 80-page book. That meant we were doing as much work as it would be to do a monthly but broken up into quarterly chunks (on Femforce), plus our regular Golden Age reprint books on classic mystery men and cowboys (which are a lot of work). On top of this, we were doing freelance work, both under our own names and “ghosting” work, where we’d fill in (uncredited) for other inkers.

Mark told me stories about ghosting for “Jay” ( a composite of known inkers). “Jay “ would get his penciled pages and might ink an arm or a face on a page or two but would mostly sit around watching porn, playing video games or his guitar until the end of the month when the editor would call asking where the pages were. Then “Jay” because he was making so much money on royalties, he could afford to farm the actual work out to other artists (including Mark) until he had only two or three pages left to ink! You’d think he’d then get to work, right? Heck no! Then “Jay” would go off to a strip club and get totally wasted the whole weekend. On Monday , “Jay” would regale his hardworking “ghost” pals dropping off pages with stories they really didn’t want to hear about his wild weekend and have “only” a couple pages to go and send the rest (that everyone else did over the weekend) off via Fed Ex and that’s how a lot of comics got inked in the ’90s.

By the ’00s, the money wasn’t as plentiful, but it was good enough for Mark and I to burn a lot of weekends working on other people’s stuff. So yeah, I’ve worked on Marvel and DC stuff for years–you just haven’t seen my name on it.

We had some people get sexist to try to get Mark to stop using the wife on his pages since most wives are typically non-comic book people. They would point out details to get nitpicky about, but they would get it reversed: the inks Mark did himself were “terrible” and the stuff that I did was “perfect”.That happened more times than you might think!

Mark was a victim of sexist attitudes himself having dealt with editors and a penciler who hated to have Mark ink her work because he had worked on Femforce.

But at this point we had too much work coming in from all directions and we had to “shelve” 21st Centurions, which I’ve still kept thinking about, even if I couldn’t work on it.

1st: What changed your mind to do more 21st Centurions now?

Stephanie: Bill decided to “retire” to do his movies, so Mark and I took over AC editorial full-time. An editor’s job at AC Comics is, of course, to re-write, re-draw and re-ink as much as we can possibly do when we’re not doing it ourselves. Some things you can’t fix. We’ve had a lot of rough personal years lately with family moving in and living with us but we decided that we should move the AC books back to color.

When that happened, it logically fell to having 21st Centurions as part of this color revival and I couldn’t be happier about it. Issue zero will not be reprinted at this time. The new 21st Centurions will be partially new, partially old material in issues one and two. As of issue three, 21st Centurions will be completely new, never before seen material that we’ll be doing on a quarterly basis in full color!

21st Centurions is a full color 32 page comic book from AC Comics. It can be ordered from the Diamond Previews for September for November shipping:  SEP191342

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At First Comics News we have been big supporters of AC Comics. I have interviewed Bill Black several times. At one point we were syndicating a column from Mark Heike and have interviewed him as well. But I have never had the chance to do a one on one...