By Henry Barajas
IDW was kind enough to invite me to a see a magic show at their booth at the San Diego Comic Convention as if there wasn’t enough magic in comic con. I have to admit I was a bit leary about attending a magic show. I’m very ignorant of the whole thing. I was afraid they were going to saw me in half and separate me from my nicely shaved legs. I got to the booth and I was greeted by the creators of Smoke and Mirrors, Mike Costa and Jon Armstrong. Jon is an award winning magician that has been performing internationally for over twenty years. Before we started the interview Jon was kind enough to do some card tricks.
Mike and Jon had a lot to say about the last issue of their series coming out in August, the history of magic in comics and what to expect in the trade paper back set to be released in September.
Henry Barajas: What is the process like for translating magic to the comic book medium?
Mike Costa: I leave it to Jon Armstrong to develop and figure all that stuff out from a life time of experience and expertise. That’s what Jon does for the comic. We are co-creators of the comic, we developed the book together. I write the script and he develops the magic.
Jon Armstrong: The magic itself, what we are doing with the book, it’s all interactive. Mike is able to take a lot of these ideas I have about how to an actually do a trick that affects the reader as they read. What he is able to do very seamlessly is not take them out of the story while that’s happening, in fact, but the tricks enhance the story as they read and makes them feel they are a part of this world. The hardest thing is coming up with new and creative ideas every single time because we have done a new trick in every issue. We have made it a big point to do something different every single issue.
HB: Will you eventually run out of tricks?
MC: Who knows, I hope not. If we do I’ll fire him and get another magician! (laughs) Issue five comes out next month and that is our final issue in the first volume but we are going to have time in the second volume to develop new ideas. We have an idea on where we want to go. Jon, what do you think is the ceiling is on that?
JA: We always go back and re explore tricks. What I think can actually work on the page is an infinite amount. If we had to do a book a year, we would be just fine.
HB: So how do you tell Mike your tricks without revealing the secret? Can you trust Mike?
JA: You can’t trust him with anything! (laughs)
MC: I’m also a member of the Magic Castle where Jon and I first met. So I have access to the library as well. I’m always learning and researching on my own but obviously Jon does know way more than I do. Most of the stuff we discussed that’s in the comic is stuff for which I have a good solid understanding. It’s very rare that there is a trick in the book I legitimately don’t know anything about. It’s the magic culture we are trying to capture accurately. I’m in the trust already as a member of the academy of magic arts, I don’t want to expose anything either. The book isn’t trying to expose magic but portray it the way it really is.
HB: Off the top of my head, there are only a few comic books that center on magic or magicians. Was this a story that you were dying to tell or an unexplored demand in the market?
MC: It was more of the latter. It came originally from Jon. He was approached by a publisher that was a big fan of his magic. They knew Jon loves comics and asked him to make a comic book where the reader learns magic. Jon approached me to write it and develop it together and we quickly realized that a comic book that taught magic would be very boring. So it was Jon’s idea for the comic book to do magic, perform magic for you in a way it would be amazing. We put a pitch together and the original publisher couldn’t do it but IDW was interested which was great because I have been working with them for years. It was part of an underserved niche and also we both love magic.
JA: I believe that comics and magic have a parallel history that has had so much overlap. Many scholars believe Mandrake the Magician was the first costumed superhero. You can go on and on about the comics popular in that era and it was the Blackstone comics. (Jim) Steranko was not only a magician, escape artist and of course became one of the greatest comic artists and redefined the medium. Before he went on to do the SHIELD book he was writing Spyman.
HB: What has been the magic community’s response to your comic book?
JA: It’s been highlighted by all the major magic publications. There was a nine page spread i n the oldest magic publicationGenii, The Conjurors’ Magazine. Magicians have told me they have never bought a comic in their entire life but are buying this book and discovering other titles. We have reached out to this whole new audience that wouldn’t normally go in a comic shop.
MC: Maybe a lofty goal but it was our intent to grow both industries. To bring people that had never read comics before and people in to magic who never thought of magic any more than a birthday party clown. They are both art forms that are looked on and seen for kids. Even though comics are getting more getting more relevant and cool all the time, people I know have a misconception that they’re just for kids.
HB: What do you have left in store for Smoke and Mirrors?
Jon: The last issue of the series comes out in August. This will contain 28 pages of story versus our previous issues that had essays.
MC: Each comic book had back up material written by magicians about magic. They were written in a way to give more insight to someone who has no idea about magic. We stole the model from Ed Brubaker’s Criminal and Fatale where those essays won’t be collected in the trade and only in the comic book. We do still have a lot of good stuff that will be in the trade which will be out in September.
JA: I’m very excited about the trade; it’s going to have an annotation that I have been writing that gives all the magic references. There are tons of references outside of the magic tricks. I go through and annotate the entire book.