Comic creator Tzvi Lebetkin, perhaps best known for his indie project BIBLICAL and his Doctor Who-inspired, fan strip “Ice Warriors” (drawn by Stefano Cardoselli), has just launched a IndieGoGo crowd funding appeal for a new project, The Imperium – a story also drawn by Cardoselli that he describes as his love letter to classic British telefantasy of the 1960s.
downthetubes: You’ve created a number of independent comic projects, of which I think BIBLICAL is the longest-running. How did that book come about?
Tzvi: Well, basically I really just realised I was wasting my life, doing web and graphic design. So, I sat down and thought to myself what’s my strongest skill sets, and what I could do best with them. I’ve always loved comics, and after spending 43 years reading them I thought was as good a grounding as any in what makes the medium tick.
So then I thought if I was to try and break into the industry, what would my first book be about? I wanted something with a bit more depth than your average super hero fare, and also something a bit different – and maybe a bit less commercially viable, as a starting point to learn the craft. I just thought it’d be a good idea to try and develop a unique voice and stand out from the crowd.
I spent about five years in the 1990s in a rabbinical seminary – so the Bible was something I knew very well. I knew the depth of story telling that isn’t that well known, that makes the old testament work as literature.
So that’s the way I thought would be a good way to go – to present the Bible not as a religious document, but rather as a stonking piece of sword and sorcery, supernatural entertainment. It’s very important, then to present the Biblical stories we’re covering accurately, but completely non judgmentally. One can read it as the central characters being delusional, or have a prophetic experience – or both!
That’s one of the things I like about it – the characters are very human and real. Traditionally negative characters are portrayed as they saw themselves according to the text, which was always positive. Traditionally positive characters have human failings and do screw up and make mistakes.
My next step after I scripted the first issue (which became issue three in the running order) was to try and get an artist on board – and I failed, dismally.
I had some small modicum of artistic talent (and I’m not being modest here – it’s genuinely a small amount of artistic talent!) so ended up trying to do the art myself. What made that viable was the advent of digital art – and how far it’s come. Manga Studio is just fantastic, and allows clumping amateurs like myself to go back and fix mistakes easily, and work in layers. So that, along with lots and lots of photo reference is how the book came to be.
As a side note now, if you know me, you’ll almost certainly end up in one of my comics, as I get people to pose for every frame, and then work from the gazillion photos I take.
downthetubes: The book offers quite a varied selection of stories. What kind of reaction have you had to the project, given how “sensitive” any stories based on religious texts can be?
Tzvi: The overwhelming response has been very positive (just check out the reviews!). The general response is always something like the reader didn’t know that the Bible could be so layered and interesting.
The truth is, most people’s Biblical education stops very early in life, say no older than five years old. So as one grows their understanding of all other subjects grows and matures, whilst one’s understanding of the Bible stays at the level of a five year old. So it’s little wonder the Old Testament is looked as children’s stories – and of course, they they can be looked at that way. But, as I’m trying to demonstrate – it can be looked at in a much more adult and mature way as well.
I haven’t really tried to get it to a religious market – but I really should, as there’s gazillion billion of them out there. Even though we are telling quite adult, maybe even controversial stories, they are still very Biblically accurate, and pretty much everything has basis in centuries old Jewish, Muslim and Christian (and surprisingly, a little bit of Hindu as well) texts.
downthetubes: More recently, you started the Ice Warriors, based on the Doctor Who villains created by Brian Hayles. One of your favourite Who aliens?
Tzvi: Oh for sure! They’ve always had this mystique for me – even before I saw them for the first time – which would have been on a dodgy bootleg VHS in the 1980s. You know, sometimes I wish there was a ‘dodgy bootleg VHS’ mode on today’s Blu-Rays and DVDs.
I remember I had a fantastic model kit of one in the late 1980s by Sevans Models, which I built and just loved the level of detail, with the little bits of fur sticking out of the reptilian battle amour… Just so cool!
downthetubes: The story’s quite violent in comparison to how some might think of the Ice Warriors in official stories. Did you consciously decide to go for a more 2000AD-styled approach?
Tzvi: Well, The Ice Warriors was just a little side fan project of mine, and it’s been far more appreciated than I ever thought it would! These are just the sort of stories I like to read, and so these are the sort of stories I like to tell.
Also, don’t we all love it when someone comes in and adds a bit of detail to something we love, and it’s even better when that details doesn’t contradict anything we already know, but then sends you in a different direction you would have thought of.
So, I wanted to make a central character that was interesting – and that’s why he’s got a nice blend of honour and self loathing.
downthetubes: How long will this strip run? Do you have an arc mapped out, or is it open ended?
Tzvi: We just started a mega epic that will run about six month, and take our character into the heart of darkness, and force himself to re-examine and redefine himself. Plus of course, lots of cool Ice Warrior-y hissing and sonic weapons.
After that we’ll see where we are, and work out what to do next.
downthetubes: So, The Imperium. What’s this new project about, exactly?
Tzvi: Essentially it takes iconic characters from 1960s telefantasy and deconstructed them to their roots, reassembles them in modern form – and then dumps them all into a super group with a mind bending action and adventure.
downthetubes: Can you tell us which shows have influenced this project?
Tzvi: Hmm… .lots and lots. The Prisoner, Doctor Who, James Bond, The Avengers, Thunderbirds (actually, I had this idea this morning where Brains and Jeff Tracy are involved in something very nasty on the quiet and want to cover it up – that’d make a great plot arc), Adam Adamant, and of course Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
downtheubes: How did The Imperium come about?
Tzvi: The Ice Warriors was going down very well, and Stef and I wanted to do something a bit more long form, so we thought we’d try and come up with something that’d resonate with the audience we already built up. That part was kinda easy, because that audience by and large matched my own sensibilities.
We wanted to do something very 1960s, as it exists today in the mediasphere. We sat down and thought about what is the 1960s, in essence. For me it’s all about Patrick Troughton charging up and down monotone corridors. It’s monkeys in space suits. It’s sexy cat suited super spies. It’s opening doors to the windows of perception…and just so much more.
I thought, what would an alien ‘cosmic hobo’ be like? What would a womanising government assassin with no conscience be like? Why would a gorgeous and insanely talented woman be a super spy, and what’s with all that tight leather?
And how would that even happen? These are the questions we address and answer in the Imperium – and at the same time stuffing it as full with as many cultural references as could possibly fit on a page.
Tzvi: Great point – because, well…yes, it is. And as someone trying to build up a name as a professional I was (and am) very nervous to be labelled as a fan fiction creator.
But I thought we live in a new era of professional fan fiction. Bryan Fuller’s take on Hannibal Lecter is nearing its end right now, as we speak. Russell T. Davies ripped all our childhood’s wildest imaginings into reality when he breathed new life in to Doctor Who (finally – Daleks and Cybermen fighting each other – but couldn’t the steel giants have taken down at least one pepper pot, I complained to myself?). Guillermo del Toro sat in his bath as a child and played with dinosaur and robot toys, like we all did – but then, thirty years later, spent millions of dollars and made it a celluloid reality with the wonderful Pacific Rim.
(As an aside, the Imperium does have this great part towards the end which echoes something that every child who ever loved James Bond movies did).
Yes, this is fan fiction – and unashamedly so! Almost as much as JJ Abrams take on Star Trek was, and I think (and hope) Star Wars Episode 7 is going to be!
But of course, we want to be saying something new as well. The pilot issue deals a lot with the 1960s sexual revolution, and ancient Lovecraftian entities from beyond reality, and how our characters cope with this. And hope you’ll all be along for the ride.
The pilot will be minimally a standard 22-page comic book (although we are offering standard US sized book, and a bigger magazine size as well).
I say minimally 22-page, because it’ll be as big as we raise money for. If we’re lucky enough to exceed our goal then everything will be ploughed right back into the project, and we’ll make a bigger book. It could be a graphic novel if we raise enough, it could be a series right now, without the need to find a publisher to back it.
But minimally it’ll be a 22-page self contained comic book.
downthetubes: Ice Warriors has gotten you plenty of attention – how can your fans help, and what will they get from the project?
Tzvi: One of the wonderful thing about the age we live in, is the fans have really taken control of the object of their fandom. Gone are the days of knelling by one’s bed side and praying to Lew Grade to green light a new super cool serial.
They can make it happen by just buying the book in the initial Indiegogo campaign. We really wanted to make it affordable to everyone – so we have lower cost ‘vanilla’ standard print and digital editions, or we have more lavish (yet still very reasonably priced) deluxe editions, packed with an extensive making of section, scripts, designs and our Ice warriors strips as a little bonus.
But the really cool thing is with the deluxe version (which is just $20 is you get in early, and then goes up to $25 after that) you’re going to get real time updates of the book being created as it happens. You’re going to see what goes wrong, what gets discarded and what gets changed – and so much changes from concept to page! If we raise enough to get a script editor then you’ll see the scripts being torn apart (which they will be) and put back together, and just how much better it gets because of it.
I had this idea because one of my favourite books in recent years is Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook’s The Writers Tale which gives one access to Davies’s creative process whilst making Doctor Who via constant emails with Benjamin Cook – and it’s just marvellous!
We want our fans with us in every way. We want them with us because it’s their book as much as mine. By buying a copy on Indiegogo, you get to be a producer, quite simply by putting your money down on the table (which, truth be told is the only thing that qualifies anybody to be a producer).
You can do it right now, and make this passion project happen by going to www.biblicalcomix.com. I hope it is successful and finds an audience and eventually becomes a summer tent pole block buster at the multiplexes (oh yes, I wrote a teleplay for a TV version as well! Wouldn’t it be great to get Frazer Hines as to play the time travelling cosmic hobo).
Along with getting all this insider stuff (which backers will continue to get for the life of the project – way, way beyond the pilot), supporters will also have the satisfaction of knowing that they were the one with the foresight to see the potential of this project ahead of everyone else, and it’s here today because of their support.
downthetubes: Tzvi, thank you very much for taking time out to talk to us and the best of luck with Imperium and your other comics works.
• Check out Tzvi’s adult-oriented strip, Stoners, on Comic Book and Movie Reviews (Warning! We mean adults!)