Stray is coming back! Vito Delsante released an image of the cover on Facebook and excitement mounted online. We have a long way before Stray reaches comic shops, but for those just discovering Stray now, Vito Delsante stopped by First Comics News to catch our readers up on all things Stray.

First Comics News: Let’s start with the beginning of your journey, when did you first come up with the idea of Stray?

Vito Delsante: It was a weird confluence of events that started with coming up with the villain before there was ever a book, a comical Curb Your Enthusiasm, inspired story about a sidekick, and seeing THE DARK KNIGHT. Jay Faerber had this comic, GEMINI, that came out from Image in the late 2000s and I loved it. I am a Gemini, myself, so I wondered what my version of a Gemini-like character would be. I came up with Duette, the villain from the first Stray mini, and kind of just put him away. Prior to this, I was working on a story that I was calling BAD DOG, and it was about a character named The Doberman who was retiring and handing the keys to his crimefighting kingdom to his sidekick, Rotty. Doberman was married to one of his former foes, Hot Pink P***y. The dynamic was that Rotty was a Larry David type, and Doberman and HPP were Jeff and Suzy. It was incredibly irreverent and meant to be a comic about nothing.

That is until I saw THE DARK KNIGHT. After my second viewing of the movie, I started to wonder what a hero in that kind of world, one that was both real and over dramatized for the sake of telling a story about a flawed hero trying to be perfect. I really can’t point to a specific scene, just this overwhelming feeling of needing to inhabit a world like that.

STRAY, both the comic and the character, came out of all of that.

1st: When did Edi Torres get involved?

Vito: I’d say somewhere between a year or two after? I had been working on a few things at that point, with STRAY being on the back burner. Mayday Trippe actually did the first…I wouldn’t call it a design, but he helped me put my ideas on paper for the first time. Edi and I were friends and he was looking into getting into comics, so we started a banter, and then he started doing designs.

1st: I’ve seen the cover and the first page of the Edi Torres version of Stray online. How much of this comic was produced?

Vito: The whole first issue is on my hard drive. The reason why we had to part ways was Edi took two years to make it. It’s unfortunate, but I think that had I continued with Edi as the artist, I wouldn’t be as far into the story of Rodney as I am. I don’t think I would have continued the story at all. I probably would have just moved on to the next thing.

1st: How much of the original Vito Delsante & Eduardo Torres concepts made it the Vito Delsonte & Sean Izaakse project?

Vito: Probably just character names, and not all of them. When Edi and I parted ways, I told him that he could keep his designs because it wouldn’t be fair to have him do all this work and not have something to show for his “sweat equity.” I also changed the time period from the late ’80s to current day. That was a big change because, originally, I was setting the story in a post-WATCHMEN NYC without acknowledging any part of WATCHMEN. Just a, “What is the natural progression of this world?” When Sean came on board, none of those themes mattered. I was living in New York at the time, so I was…it was apparent that I was living in that world already.

1st: Is it fair to say that the Terres version was similar to Nightwing and the Izaakse version is more autobiographical on your part?

Vito: I think Sean’s version is the combination of both since we both love Nightwing and we both lost our fathers and had those common grounds to work from.

1st: How did you and Sean Izaakse first meet?

Vito: DeviantArt. I think the first piece of his I saw was a “TOY STORY in real life” type of piece. Like a live action version of the movie. And I was involved with Project Rooftop at the time, and Sean submitted one or two pieces for contests we held.

1st: When did Sean get involved with Stray?

Vito: Sean always tells folks that he was a fan of the project before becoming the co-creator. He was actually going to draw the second volume and did some promo art for the character based on Edi’s designs.

1st: Why did you have Sean redesign the character?

Vito: Going back to Edi and the idea that he should keep his designs and maybe be compensated for them. Keep in mind, this was pre-Kickstarter. We were both working for free, with the expectation of getting a bigger gig as a result.

1st: What made Sean the right partner for this project?

Vito: It’s not anything I can put my finger on. I think that the commonalities we shared are a big part (losing our dads, love of a lot of similar characters), but timing was a big factor, as well. He was enthusiastic and ready to dive into it.

1st: You were the store manager at Jim Hanley’s Universe, did you know your customers would support your Kickstarter?

Vito: Oh, of course not! I never expected anyone to support me or my projects. Still don’t. I don’t even expect family to back my projects. My expectations are always on my end, not on anyone supporting me. If I can deliver, everyone can judge based on that and determine for themselves if this is something they want to support.

1st: The comic launched on Kickstarter on October 9, 2013. How long between the start of writing the story until the Kickstarter began?

Vito: Story was written way before the Kickstarter. It was tweaked when Sean came on and then completed before Sean ever committed pencil to paper.

1st: You had an estimated delivery date of June 2014. Why 8 months to deliver 1 issue?

Vito: Because we only had four pages done for the first Kickstarter. We had absolutely no right to crowdfund the book with that little complete. We also should have never funded, but I think we just hit the zeitgeist at the right time.

1st: Did New Paradigm Studios ever release a copy of Stray into the direct market?

Vito: No, but they did assist in the initial editing of the scripts. We were working on a different story (WORLD WAR MOB) and my assistant editor, Zack Rosenberg, asked me what else I was working on, and I showed him, Stray. He encouraged me to put it on KS, helped me run the campaign, and was a huge piece of the Kickstarter’s success. Which is why he gets killed on a beach in Issue 2.

1st: How did Stray move to Action Lab Comics?

Vito: This is where Ray-Anthony Height enters the conversation. Ray and I had been friends for a long time at this point. It began as mutual admiration for two entirely different projects and became something akin to “shadow conspirators.” Ray and I, based on that initial mutual admiration, always said that our comics, no matter who was publishing them, would always be in the “same universe.” Same continuity, same world, everything down to history. At the time, he just completed his first successful Kickstarter for MIDNIGHT TIGER (which I backed) and he asked me if he could put some piece of Stray somewhere in the Free Comic Book Day/Issue 0 of MT. If you look at the very first panel of that issue, you’ll see a cardboard cut out of the Doberman. So, in essence, we didn’t play fair with Action Lab, haha! We almost forced them to publish STRAY! But in all truth, Ray advocated for me and Sean and the book. They were initially hesitant, because both characters have a similar color pattern, but Ray relented, and…voila.

1st: Getting into the comic itself, who is Daniel Weller?

Vito: Daniel Weller is the second man to call himself the Doberman. His father, John, was a German insurrectionist that opposed the Nazis and ended up joining the Golden Guard.

1st: How did he become Doberman?

Vito: I think that, in a very natural way, Daniel becoming the Doberman was just him owning his legacy. While I’ve never written these stories, I feel like Daniel is someone that honored his father and embraced everything about his father’s other career. One of the things that comes up in the volume AFTER this next one is the question, why ISN’T Stray the Doberman?

1st: Who is Rodney Weller?

Vito: Rodney Weller is Daniel’s son and the grandson of John Weller.

1st: How did Rodney become Rottweiler?

Vito: I could very easily say he was forced into it, even if that’s not necessarily the case. Daniel had just lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident (that, if you read Volume 1, you know wasn’t an accident) and as a result, he more or less coerced Rodney into becoming his sidekick, if only to keep him safe.

1st: Why did he stop be Rottweiler?

Vito: That’s the thing, right? If you recall, Rodney and Daniel aren’t the same in the way they choose their paths. Further, I think that Rodney, as a millennial or a Gen Z, has different priorities than his father (a Gen X) did. As a result, justice, as a concept, and as an action, looks differently to both of them, and therein lies the chasm between them. To put it simply, they disagreed on how a criminal was apprehended, how the laws were enforced, and neither would back down from their position.

1st: How long was Rodney retired from super-heroics?

Vito: Roughly five years. Rodney was 15 when he quit and, in comics time, he’s about to turn 20.

1st: Why did he come back?

Vito: On the surface, it was to find out who murdered his father, but there’s a moment in Issue 1, where he’s at a party participating in illegal activities, where he kind of wonders what the point of everything he’s doing is and what it’s leading to. We never have him say it outright, but I think Rodney was ready to move on in his life but needed a jolt; he got two.

1st: How is being Stray different than being Rottweiler?

Vito: I think it comes down to how much responsibility he accepts on his shoulders. As the Rottweiler, he had his team and his father. As Stray, it’s all on him. In this upcoming series, we’re going to see that there’s a limit to how much he can carry.

1st: Who is S.A.M.?

Vito: S.A.M. is Rodney’s dog, Sam. There’s a reason why his name is an acronym, but saying why would ruin the surprise.

1st: Who are the TeenAgents?

Vito: They aren’t the sidekicks of Aegis, the JLA-stand in. I think only Rottweiler is a true sidekick. They go from being protegees to being their own team, under the auspices and authority of Pax Mundi (just like their mentors).

1st: So technically not a teen?

Vito: I mean, who among us is anymore? You’ll see this change in the next volume as well.

1st: You had a 4-year outline for Stray, are we just picking up where we left off, or are you planning an entirely new take on the character for 2022?

Vito: I still have this 4-year outline, but most of it has been jettisoned for arcs, as opposed to a monthly schedule. We still plan on telling these stories in some fashion, but the emphasis will be put on the greater stories over the done-in-ones.

1st: What can you tell me about Runt?

Vito: All I can say is that long time readers have seen her before.

1st: One of my G-Man Comics partners Eric N. Bennett is producing “Indieversity” how did Stray get involved with Indieversity?

Vito: I’d hate to say something as simple as, “He asked,” but honestly, that’s all it took. For the longest time, I tried to avoid things like this, and crossovers with other characters in their books, only because I wanted to keep the “experience” of Stray a pure one. “You wanna know more about him? Read his book.” I think at some point, you try to get more…market saturation, maybe? exposure? and word of mouth will only go so far. The internet, and social networking, being what they are, sometimes…and this is just my opinion…sometimes, you need a good mutually beneficial crossover. Now, do I say yes to every offer? No, but I will weigh the benefits more from a story perspective than a monetary or exposure perspective. If the story makes sense, if it’s something that captures my imagination, I’m more than willing to give it a shot.

1st: What keeps Stray coming back time and again?

Vito: As a series, it’s because I tend to look at that 4-year outline and see a valid, almost necessary, story that I think should be read. That’s probably hubris talking, but I’m about to turn 48. I’ve been reading comics almost my entire life. There is a lot of “let’s see what sticks” in the industry, and a lot of it doesn’t (and maybe STRAY doesn’t, I’m not biased). As a storyteller, though, I see validity in STRAY. I see a way to take what’s happening in the world, or, in the case of this next chapter, what’s happening in life, and make it make sense to readers.

If we’re talking about the character, though, I think he’s just a little bit stupid and doesn’t know how to quit.

1st: We saw the cool cover for Stray: Requiem online, when is that series planned?

Vito: The plan is to run a Kickstarter for just colors and fulfillment (because the art on the first issue is DONE) probably in the fourth quarter of 2021.

1st: Will you come back in the fourth quarter of 2021 and let our readers know what to expect from the new series?

Vito: Without hesitation.

1st: What makes Stray so cool no true comic fan should miss it?

Vito: His costume. His attitude. His ability to be both timeless and timely. When you use a character as an avatar, to be your stand-in and mouthpiece, you can get a lot of mileage, as long as you have something to say. It could be something as simple as, “My friends are my family,” but as long as you can convey that to the reader, and make a compelling discussion that opens it all up for friendly debate, I think you can go far with a character.

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