Vito Delsante talks about STRAY

As the Stray ongoing series starts to get underway, there is a new Kickstarter to launch the project. Readers may remember Stray from the first mini-series or the recent Actionverse. 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: For readers who may just now be joining Stray, who is Rodney Weller?

Vito Delsante: Rodney Weller is the son of Daniel Weller, the hero known as the Doberman. For a short time in his life, he was the Doberman’s sidekick, the Rottweiler. After a disagreement (you’ll have to read Issue 4 of the original mini), Rodney quit and kind of fell in with the wrong crowd. After the Doberman is murdered, Rodney comes back to solve the mystery of his death, but in the end, he takes on a new identity…the Stray.

 1st: The original mini-series was semi-autobiography in that you used events in your life to shape Rodney Weller. To some extent is Rodney Weller still reflective of you?

: I think so, but I think now, as we move him past that first mini, he’s reflective of both Sean (Izaakse, my co-creator and the artist) and me. He’s ever-evolving, still growing up (he’s about 19, going on 20 in the book) and I feel like, even though I’m 43, I’m still growing up, still learning things.

 1st: What’s left for Stray after he solves Doberman’s murder?

: That’s actually interesting to ask because while I know, the character is still figuring it out. After the events of ACTIONVERSE, Rodney feels like he’s a little too…mortal, let’s say. That he’s just a guy with a mask who, yes, can help people, but he’s not the type that can save the world. He wants to help the little guy, the person on the street…basically, you and me. And that sounds boring, but the keyword there is “sounds.” He’s more important than he thinks, and I think that, in that way, he’s reflective of everyone that reads the book.

 1st: What is “The Rottweiler Years” about?

Vito: Going back to the last answer, Stray is back to help the everyman and he’s trying to find justice for a boy who was murdered by a cop. Turns out the cop was also murdered, and now we have NYC on the verge of a full-scale riot. Yes, we’re doing a story that is timely, and actually, it folds into Rodney’s past. So, the first arc is about how this little boy’s death, and specifically, the shooter, ties into Rodney forming the TeenAegis (or the TeenAgents).

 1st: What follows “The Rottweiler Years”?

Vito: I don’t want to be presumptuous and outline 4 years of stories when we have no idea if they will ever come out. The harsh reality of the situation is that this is a superhero comic, done by a small publisher (Action Lab Entertainment) that, while they are getting bigger, they have to contend with at least two companies that are known (that are FOUNDED) on comic books. The book could get canceled by Diamond at some point down the road, so I don’t want to lay everything out and try to convince folks that “If you buy the book, we’ll be able to tell this cool story!” No, that’s…I want folks to discover the book, sure, but I don’t want to ruin it for them either. Let’s just say that there are a lot of changes coming to his life and that the legacy that he represents is vast.

1st: Will we be seeing more of the TeenAgents?

Vito: Absolutely. There has been…again, we don’t know what the future holds for the book, but I have talked to two creators who are ready to jump on and do a TeenAgents/TeenAegis mini-series. It just requires money (because everyone needs to make a living) and timing. We (Sean and I) want to expand this world greatly…we’re both keen on a Sparta mini-series, too…but we can’t just throw these things out there with no kind of strategy. And I would never expect Action Lab to just publish every book I throw at them.

 1st: Now that the Actionvese is a cohesive unit, will there be more guest stars?

Vito: For sure. Ray-Anthony Height (the creator of MIDNIGHT TIGER) and I are…well, we’re convinced we’re brothers, but we’re, at the least, best friends…we have conversations once every few weeks, and they start out really banal (at least to anyone casually listening). The usual pleasantries, the catching up. And then we get into creator mode and we’re…we’re competitive, but not in the “I have to beat you at this” way. We have this one-up-manship thing going on. The problem with that is we’re SO ALIKE in our loves in comics that we just end up laughing and switching things around. That said, Ray paid me the best compliment when he told me that I was one of the only writers that ever wrote Gavin (Shaw, aka Midnight Tiger) and nailed his voice. So, Gavin is going to be a supporting character in STRAY. Not in the sense that he’s the new next-door neighbor or a sidekick (funny enough, people think that Stray is Midnight Tiger’s sidekick, which makes me extremely happy). He’s going to be someone that Rodney calls when he’s down, or when he wants to just check on. Their relationship mirrors my relationship with Ray, and so I want Gavin to be in Rodney’s life. And it’s not a stretch to say that Stray will pop up in MIDNIGHT TIGER every now and again, as well.

 1st: A lot of Stay’s story so far is about death and legacy, will that continue in the ongoing series?

Vito: I’d argue that a lot of the story is about death, but you know…death is a catalyst for a lot of change in the world and in our lives. I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be any more deaths in STRAY; the big one happened and set us on our path. That’s not to say that we won’t come close, or that people won’t get hurt, but that’s not going to be a recurrent theme in the ongoing. That said, legacy is a very big piece of the puzzle and we’re going to slowly reveal that Rodney’s legacy goes back to World War Two.

 1st: You wrote the mini-series, but Sean Izaakse wrote the Actionverse issue. What are each of your roles in the new series?

Vito: Sean is my partner. That should be said upfront. A lot of people contact me about STRAY and assume that because I’m the writer, I’m the guy to talk to, but I don’t do anything without going through Sean. Sean is also an extremely capable writer, which is why he wrote the ACTIONVERSE issue. He truly doesn’t need me to make a comic. But we are both…STRAY is stitched into both of our DNA strands, so we tend to do our best work together. For the ongoing, Sean is taking on a co-plotting role (which he’s always had, but it’s more official now) and he will be doing the covers. There are a few big storylines coming that he will do the art for and, yes…Sean will be writing some issues.

1st: How did Phil Cho join the team?

Vito: We knew that Sean, who is one of the most incredible talents I’ve ever seen…we knew that he’d probably get offers to do other comics after the first mini. And he did. And so, we wanted to give him every opportunity to do these projects because they might get him a bigger audience which would be good for STRAY in the long run. So, we had a few names in mind of who would come on and do art in his stead. Phil was hand-picked by Sean and we tailored the first arc to Phil. Phil has a very bright, almost animated style that lends itself to the flashback nature of the story. And not for nothing, I’m a big fan of breaking new talent into the industry. This isn’t Phil’s first comic work, but his first published work. We’re also working with a new artist, Ares Taveras, who is a graduate of the Kubert School. We’re just trying to pay it forward because this industry can be very insular to outsiders.

 1st: Is Phil Cho just here for the flashback or is he part of the regular team beyond the “The Rottweiler Years”?

Vito: Well, he’s actually…the story is a flashback story, so I don’t want anyone to think that it’s just four pages of Phil’s art and that’s it. Sean is doing about 4 to 5 pages each issue, and Phil gets the rest. As to Phil’s future with the book…I’d love to have him come on and do all of the Rottweiler stories, but it’s really up to Phil and his schedule.

1st: You have the series plotted for 20 issues so far and an ongoing commitment from Action Lab. Why do you need a Kickstarter?

Vito: Well, books aren’t made for free. We’re just raising production funds.

 1st: Your already 100% funded so contributors are guaranteed a reward. What are the cool rewards you have lined up?

Vito: We want to make new readers, so we have packages that include the first issue of the new series, combos with the first trade, and with the ACTIONVERSE trade. We have mini-figures done in a Disney Infinity scale, and one of the best rewards…also the most expensive one…Sean works exclusively digitally. So, for the collection of the first arc, Sean is doing the cover (a wraparound) traditionally; on paper, with inks. It’s going to be stunning, I can assure you.

 1st: I want to talk about some of the more non-traditional rewards…

What do you get in 3 one hour script consultations?

Vito: Well, what I’m hoping to do is for the backer to bring a script in or a concept, and we workshop it. That might be asking for a lot; someone might have just an idea and want to make it into a script. Someone might have no idea how to write or format a script, so I don’t want to dictate exactly what the three hours will entail, but rather, tailor it to the backer.

 1st: Is this in person, via skype, or by phone?

Vito: More than likely Skype or some other teleconferencing method, but if I can do it in person, I will.

 1st: Your offering a billboard, is this a real billboard or one in the comic?

Vito: One in the comic. It’s just an option; the reward is a cameo (whether that be for the actual backer or the backer’s character) and I just thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have someone propose to their loved one in the pages of my comic?”

 1st: What do you get in the 10-hour consultation?

Vito: This is really interesting in that we (Sean, Zack Rosenberg, and I) are going to essentially give full publishing consultation. Character design, script edits, lettering work-ups, colors. What we want to do…again, the idea that the comic industry is sometimes vicious to newcomers. Zack is a former assistant editor, he worked with Jeph Loeb and with CB Cebulski…and he’s really keen on what makes the industry tick. Sean is an amazing art director. And me, I’m a decent editor, I think. I feel like this is the kind of reward that a creative team that wants to pitch, or wants to do a Kickstarter…I think they come to us, as if we’re an agency, and we take them through step by step.

1st: What is the co-creator package?

Vito: We did this last time and it worked out. Similarly to the consultation, someone might have the spark of an idea, but no access to create their own character (writers who can’t draw, let’s say). And this is just a way to breathe life into your creation. Sean draws the character from your description and I help make that character make sense in terms of their origin and powers.

 1st: If you contribute to the Kickstarter, when do supporters get the first issue?

Vito: Since we’re raising production funds, I can’t say for sure, but we’re shooting for February of 2017. I’d love to get it out by December, but I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.

 1st: If you miss the Kickstarter, when does Stray #1 come out from Action Lab?

Vito: See above. What we really want to make sure of is that the backers get their books at roughly the same time as retailers (say within a week or so).

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