Launching a new comic book IP is as arduous a task as it ever was, but today’s creators have more tools at their disposal to turn their passion projects into a tangible product. With the democratization of crowd-funding platforms, many creative people are circumventing traditional publishing methods and going straight to the grassroots level and communicating directly with the fans. There are scores of projects featured at any one time and finding unique stories worthy of interest is always a fun pursuit. One recent comic project on Kickstarter that caught my attention is a new science fiction/action yarn called The Trust Book One: The Silent Scream. Co-created and written by Bill Anderson (Silver Surfer, Action Comics) & Dennis Webster , with art by Gabriel Rearte (Wonder Woman, Witchblade) and colors by Laurie E. Smith, The Trust Book One centers around the eponymous Trust, a band of heroes led by Thomas Edison who resist an evil organization bent to take control of the world called the Kabale.
The creators summarize the project this way:
A historical fantasy set in the 1920s, featuring The Trust (real-life notables Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Musidora, Amelia Earhart, William S. Hart, and Bull Montana) in conflict with The Kabale (Max Schreck, Werner Krauss, Rudolph Klein-Rogge, Fritz Lang, and an updated version of Maria the robot) over control of The Optimus, a device that could change the world!
I interviewed co-creator Bill Anderson about how The Trust came to be, if Thomas Edison was the Iron Man of the ’20s, and what readers should take away from this new comic escapade!
AJ Frost: On first impression, The Trust Book One: The Silent Scream is a steampunk-imbued amalgam of Roarin’ 20s ephemera and Avengers-style heroics. What primarily inspired this tale of daring-do?
Bill Anderson: The initial inspiration for the story was my co-writer Dennis Webster reading Hollywood Babylon [written by Kenneth Anger about the moral turpitude & opprobrium of early Hollywood] and wondering about the behind-the-scenes machinations that might have occurred around the scandals discussed in the book. We took that germ of an idea, and began kicking it back and forth until we arrived at the story as it is now. The adventure aspect of the story was probably my influence, coming from a superhero background, but it seemed a natural choice, considering the physical abilities of many of the people we were choosing to be our “characters.”
Frost: One of the aspects of the comics I found interesting was the use of real-life historical figures like Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart (as heroes of the Trust) and actor Max Schreck as the leader of the villainous Kabale. What made you choose these particular individuals? What was it about their lives and careers that made you fascinated with them in the first place?
Anderson: Edison was an obvious choice, because there are so many aspects of him to play upon. Since we knew that silent film would be a major focus of the story, Edison’s status as an American film pioneer made him a good fit. From that grew the idea that, now in his later years, he would form The Trust as a way to atone for earlier missteps, including his involvement with the real-life trust that attempted to control the movie industry in its early days. Amelia Earhart was initially just conceived as the pilot for the Trust’s airship, but her role grew as the story developed, and we saw places where she was the best choice to fill certain roles. Her level-headedness is also a good balance for the vampier personality of Musidora.
We conceived the Kabale as an ancient, shadowy organization, with its roots in European history, and out of that grew a focus on the German Expressionism movement in film. Of the options we had to choose from, Max Schreck presented himself as the clear choice for the group’s leader. At 6’4” he was an imposing figure, and easy to imagine as an imperious one as well. Besides, when someone’s name literally means fright, or terror, how can you not pick him for your main villain?
Frost: On that note, the inclusion of a diverse cast that features Fritz Lang as well as Buster Keaton is interesting because they operated on different levels of film and technology, yet both were innovators in their own right. I’m just wondering: What specific works from 1920s media and culture influenced your character choices?
Anderson: Metropolis, of course, would be first and foremost. Three members of the Kabale were a part of the movie, and Schreck is capitalizing on Lang’s desire to make a sequel called Robot God, to use it as a smokescreen to hide his own ulterior motives. The choice of Musidora was due entirely to the images of her in the serial Les Vampires, and in fact, her outfit in our story is an adaptation of what she wore in that film. But of course, once we looked into her history, we found out what a fascinating individual she was, so we were extremely lucky in our choice of her. Other than that, I think it was a more general influence of slapstick, westerns, and adventure and crime serials that led us to pick most of the people in our story. Their bodies of work, rather than one specific film.
Frost: I wonder… I noticed that by making Thomas Edison the main hero, he’s a bit like a ’20s version of Iron Man: a genius inventor and technically savvy, with more than a hint of ego caused by recognizing his own genius. Was this a conscious choice?
Anderson: No, I don’t think that ever occurred to us, but I really like the comparison. In our story, even though he’s now trying to do things for the best of motives, sometimes his egotism will still come through.
Frost: You chose to launch and fund this project on Kickstarter. How did you find the process to be? Did your expectations change during the course of your campaign?
Anderson: Using Kickstarter has been rewarding, but also a lot of work. It would probably be less grueling for someone with more social media savvy than me, as I’m still learning the ropes for the various platforms. The rewarding part has come from all the friends, in real life, the comic industry, and social media, who’ve gone above and beyond to help me spread the word about this project. My expectations did change, by the end end of the first day of the campaign, when we achieved 30% of our funding! Before that, I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not we’d be able to hit our goal. I’d been promoting the project at conventions, and getting a great response from people, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them being willing to plunk down their cash on an unproven creative team. Since then, we’ve been fully funded and are on our way to hitting our stretch goal, which will see the inclusion of an additional print shipped to every backer. It’s a wonderful portrait of western movie star William S. Hart by Joe Sinnott.
Frost: In your opinion, what makes the ’20s the perfect time period to set your adventure?
Anderson: It was a transitional time, between the old world and the new world. Attitudes were boisterous, in the arts and society in general, which makes them relatable to the modern reader, but the trappings were different enough to make them intriguing. From a storytelling standpoint, it’s long ago enough that it gives us some leeway to mess with true history for the purposes of story, without ringing false to the average reader.
Frost: What do you hope readers and supporters of the Kickstarter campaign will get out of reading The Trust?
Anderson: There are a lot of things in the mix in our story, so I hope they’ll enjoy a healthy dose of humor both verbal and visual, to go along with the drama. Perhaps they’ll come across a few informational tidbits of which they weren’t aware. Dennis and I certainly did, during our research, and we’ve tried to pass along the most interesting ones where we could. I hope that readers who are extremely familiar with, or even passionate about, some of the historical figures we’ve “adopted” will feel we’ve done right by them.
Also, it would be great if we could foster a renewed appreciation for some of the classic tools of comics that are starting to fall into disuse: thought balloons, captions, sound effects, and other conventions of the medium, that are being employed less in modern adventure comics are on full display in ours. Mostly though, I hope they will feel that they’re involved in a great adventure story!
You can check out Anderson’s Kickstarter for The Trust right now!