SECRET PROJECT #2 - Tommie Kelly's ROAD CREW plus a MICE TEMPLAR trailer!

I've never met Tommie Kelly in person but I imagine we'll get along famously. After all we've been Jinxworld chums for years and he's offered to let Sean and myself crash at his house in Ireland next time we're around that way. And without him, who knows if SECRET PROJECT would've ever been conceived?

Tommie Kelly is the creator of ROAD CREW, a online comic about a wayward rock'n'roll roadie. Based partly on Kelly's life, the reality of this story is only outweighed by it's sheer hilarity. I talked to Tommie about Road Crew as well as his contribution to SECRET PROJECT.
Mary E. Brickthrower: How long have you been reading comics?

Tommie Kelly: I started reading comics when I was about eight. I use to sneak into my cousin's room and read his books. He had WATCHMEN, DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, loads of 2000ADs, all the WARRIOR issues with V for Vendetta. I loved it. Being eight i didn't get all of the nuances of watchmen but I got enough to get hooked. I actually have a first edition soft cover of the DARK KNIGHT returns signed by my parents in 1988 which I treasure.

Later I got into comics like CEREBUS and LOVE AND ROCKETS, but I still kept in with Batman and the Justice league and more mainstream stuff. I came back to comics a few years ago and caught up on a lot of things I missed. Promethea is probably the greatest comic ever created, followed by V for Vendetta. But Cerebus will always be my favorite. I am so fond of so many comics that it seems wrong to grade them, but there you go.

Brickthrower: Conversely, when did you decide to become an artist / creator?

Kelly: I did a comic called Justice League Ireland when i was about 14, got it all photocopied and sold it in the local shops. I was all set on spending the rest of my life doing comics but i had a really shitty Art teacher at school and he put me off doing art all together. He had a very low opinion of comics and kept trying to get me into doing Graphics. So instead of encouraging me with life drawing or whatever he would make me do designs for washing up bottles. It turned me right off and I lost complete interest in art. I stopped going to class and didn't draw anymore. In the end I managed to get in the top 5% in the country in my final Art exams that year. I did the Art exams totally in comic style and going against everything my teacher had said. That was a nice victory, but the interest was gone.

This was also around the time that every comic had 18 covers and 400 sealed bags around them, ya know THE DARK AGES in the 90's. So, like everyone else I stopped reading comics.

I spent the next ten years of so in the music business. I was in original bands, cover bands, recorded critically ignored albums, went on tours and finally ended up a soundman. About four years ago I started getting back into drawing. Just messing at first. Then I started doing more and more. I got it together and started doing a comic called THE END, which I published on the web for over a year or so. THE END was the first time that I had drawn since I was 18 or so. It took me awhile to get back into. THE END was a great learning curve, looking back I took on way more than I could handle with a first attempt.

SO i stopped doing THE END, and took a breather. I was still working away as a Sound Engineer, and was beginning to really hate it. It wasn't something I ever wanted to do and it was killing me a little inside everyday. The result of all that was that I ended up hating music. I couldn't listen to it. Any music was instantly put me in a bad mood. I needed out. So I quit.

It probably wasn't the best time to do that as myself and my partner Venessa had just started to build our house and money wasn't growing on any of the trees on our site. But V was very supportive and told me that I was right to quit. I decided that I would give doing comics a serious go. I previously had done a few strips about a soundman called Jim, I added a few more and launched roadcrewcomic.com

It's nearly two years later, the house is built and last year I made more money doing art than I had as a musician or sound engineer. So I guess we made the right decision.

Brickthrower: ROAD CREW is an ongoing series but AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is a decidedly different turn than strip-style. In addition, you draw yourself into the comic. I have seen this device used before (ANIMAL MAN, EX MACHINA, AUTOMATIC KAFKA, ASM); what were you trying to achieve with this?

Kelly: AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is the prologue to the third ROAD CREW book called FOR SALE, after the Beatles album.The previous two books are also named after famous albums, Hendrix's ELECTRIC LADYLAND and JANE'S ADDICTION's NOTHING'S SHOCKING, but I choose this title because, for me, it was at this point that The Beatles started to become something that the world had never seen before. They just moved into a completely different league than everyone else. So i was trying to steal some of that energy.

The raison d'etre for FOR SALE is that I wanted to write a magick book that wasn't about magick. I read an awful lot of self-help/new age/spiritual books and what i notice is that 99% of those are written by people who became successful by writing self help books. Most fiction books on magick are about magick, but i wanted to do something different. I wanted to use all the principles of magick, the law of attraction, the secret, paganism, NLP, Buddhism, wicca but not have the story be about any of them. I wanted to do a magickal working using the story of a sound engineer and his life in the music business. The great magickal comics such as PROMETHEA or the INVISIBLES are essential stories about magick, which is great and they're exceptional works but I wanted to take it one step in a new direction.

In Chaos magick there comes an idea that you can use an image to represent an idea that you want to form in the real or physical world. It's called a SIGIL and practically the whole of MORRISON's INVISIBLES is a sigil. Morrison himself says that he had to start going easier on the characters in the book because events in the book where happening in his daily life. FOR SALE is also a sigil, there are things in it, sometimes obvious, sometimes occult, that are meant to affect my own life. I am 32 pages into the book and already I have seen things coming to life. It's weird and exciting and I don't understand exactly why it works but it does. I want to point out that some of the things are symbols and mean different things to me than they do to the main character JIM. So as my character points out to Jim, I don't wish for my Mother to die because Jim's has.

As to why I put myself into the story. Road Crew up to that point had been a cheeky funny strip about cartoon characters that had adventures and were safe. I wanted FOR SALE to not be safe, I wanted it to be more real but esoteric. I wanted the readers to know that something new and different was going on. I was aware that Morrison had put himself in ANIMALMAN, ALAN MOORE was in Promethea, DAVE SIM pops up in CEREBUS in a scene similar to mine. I love that Idea. I really enjoy when writers start taking themselves seriously and bend the format. I didn't read the Animal Man storyline until after I had my scene done, but I was very aware of it; I was interested to see how similar or dis-similar mine would be. I think I did something different but the comparison is obvious.

Anyway, it's not the first time I was in Road Crew, I appeared in the storyline CROSSROADS.

How did you become involved with SECRET PROJECT? Word on the street is that the whole thing was your idea

Kelly: I had been a member of the OEMING board for awhile and while on Holiday to New York I meet up with McMANUS and ZIGGY. We had a great chat all about different comicy things and I said I had an idea that we should do an anthology. Simply put, the talent that was knocking about the forum was extremely high. I felt it would be a shame not to do something together. Also at that time the forum was very vibrant and lively. It's has died a slow and painful death of late, for many reasons, but as you can attest yourself, there was something magic about it back then. The guys liked the idea and we put it to the rest of the board. People seemed to go for it and it took off.

But yes, I am taking all the credit for it :) Unless it flops... in which case, it was Ziggy's idea.

Brickthrower: What made you contribute ROAD CREW to SECRET PROJECT as opposed to a new / independent story ?

Kelly: Because I am a man on a mission!

I am totally focused on Road Crew. All my energy and attention is on my goal. I want Road Crew to make a massive impact on the comic world and I believe given half a chance it can. So at every opportunity I am going to stuff it down people's throats.

You have to remember that I come from a music background. Ego is a huge event and force in music and it desperately lacking in comics. I love ego, I love it so much that I have cultivated a massive one for myself. I think the comic industry would be a lot healthier if we had few more ROCK STAR type creators. That was one good thing about the early IMAGE era, guys with huge egos that decided to do something huge and different. It all went wrong cos they lost the interest and the hunger and let things slip. What was once all about creative control and ownership became units, units, units and no substance. The basic premise of what those guys did at Image is very sound.

So I am going to stand up and say I think what I am doing with Road Crew is important. I think what all of us working independently in comics is important. I think SECRET PROJECT is important. Webcomics/small press comics are way more exciting to me because people are doing new things, interesting things. Marvel and DC and the rest are great but they're never going to change and they aren't going to save the comic business from going under. If we want comics to survive we have to stand up and do what's in our hearts. Do something new.

We all work or belong to a field of the arts that most of us are embarrassed to talk about unless we are in safe company. Comics are an immense and beautifully complex art-form but collectively we have become meek and shy about our art.

We need more rockstar creators to get us out of this. So that what I plan to be.

Rock On!

Indeed Tommie ! ROCK! Thanks so much!

Kelly's story will appear on www.secretprojectcomic.com beginning Monday January 25th - be sure to check it out!

NOW Please check out the animated trailer for the newest MICE TEMPLAR Hardcover coming soon!

~Till next time kittlings!


SECRET PROJECT launches JAN 11th! Get to know the creators behind our first story

It has been a long time coming. More than 2 years ago the Jinxworld.com based Michael Avon Oeming's message board (http://www.606studios.com/bendisboard/forumdisplay.php?f=9) decided collectively to produce a comic book anthology. I was nominated as the editor of what we began to call "SECRET PROJECT" and gladly took on the task of organizing and putting together the comic. We ran into some hurdles, some missed deadlines, but in the end I couldn't be happier with the finished product. And I'm especially excited to say that come next Monday, JANUARY 11th, WWW.SECRETPROJECTCOMIC.COM will be available to all of the interwebz ! Be sure to check back every 2 weeks for a new story...and check back here for a new interview with the creator(s) ! Up first is NOT THIS TIME, a story by Jeffrey C Burandt and Ronald Salas (with letters by Ben). This is not your typical super-hero story and these aren't your typical creators. Let's talk more with Jeffrey "JEF UK" Burandt and Ron Salas. ==========================================

MEB - How long has AMERICANS UK been around?

Jeffrey Burandt: The first AMERICANS UK show was on midnight, 1/1/02, Austin, TX. We played a back yard New Year's Party at our friends' place. The girls who lived there would throw these huge parties with us in their giant two story house. We'd burn through a 20 minute set, finished by the time the cops came to make us stop playing.

MEB- Conversely, how long have you been a comic book fan?

JB: I've been reading comics for as long as I've been reading.

MEB - Which makes sense, because your band borrows from the comic book genre a bit in your stage presence, i.e., costumes. Was that around from the band's inception? How did it come about?

JB: We had been working the sci-fi and horror themes into the songs since the beginning, but no, the costumes are relatively recent--they debuted July, 2007. We hadn't played in a while, and for our first show back our guitarist at the time, Bryan Bruchman, suggested we dress as super heroes. I loved the idea (and we had already begun work on the comic) and it stuck. I think we're ready to move beyond to bigger and wilder costumes and stage shows, and play up broader science fiction themes in our presence, but everybody looks hot in a domino mask, and capes work great on stage.

MEB: What about you Ron? When did you get into comic books?

Ronald Salas: I pretty much learned how to read from comic books. Comics were pretty cheap and pretty popular in the Philippines so I always had a huge supply growing up.

MEB – And when did you know you wanted to be an artist?

RLS: I've wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I can't remember a time when I was holding a pencil or crayon and wasn't drawing on something: paper, the table, the walls.

MEB - What provoked you to take your band to the comic book from?

JB: Well, I found out my drummer JTR3 was a robot from the future, and the material was just there. Write what you know, Mary. It seemed to me that comics was the best medium by which to represent all the crazy shit we've been through.

MEB - Issue # 2 takes an almost "Anthology" turn; why did you decide to take that direction?

JB: There's no real impetus for me to write AM/UK in 22 page installments. I write the story in chapters as I would write a prose novel, and the page counts of those chapters fall where they may. So, the immensely talented Paul Ciaravino and I got together and figured out how many pages of comics we could make in 2009. I knew that Chapter 2 of our story was 6 pages, but I wanted to have full issues of content to sell as merch at our shows and also use to promote what we're doing in general. I wanted those issues to hit at at least 20 pages, and I wanted to publish 40 pages of AMERICANS UK comics in a 9 month period. I met cartoonist Zees as we were finishing issue 1, and we decided to make "I, Ape-Man," together, using the AM/UK song as the inspiration. "I, Ape-Man" hit at 13 pages, so I thought publishing the short story version of "The Better Head"--which also has a song equivalent--was thematically appropriate, and would knock us over the 20 page count, hurrah! Meanwhile, Paul and I could get ahead of the game on issue 3. We're doing the same thing again now, where we'll be releasing an AMERICANS UK: Mixtape issue (40 pages of AM/UK comics, with a free, previously unreleased song titled, "John Loves Wayne," as represented in comics form by Donal Delay), while Paul and I chug along on issues 4 & 5.

I'm infatuated with the idea of prose and comics and rock posters and songs sharing the same textual space. I hope we're providing unique narrative experiences by tying these several storytelling modes together. For me, there are few things better in life than sitting around and reading comics while listening to rock and roll. So, by producing content that is both comics and rock and roll, I think AMERICANS UK is providing some robust fictions with which readers can interact. It's not often you get to dance to your comic books.

MEB - So how did NOT THIS TIME (from the SECRET PROJECT anthology) come about?

JB: I had had the story's turn in my head for a bit, but I wasn't sure what narrative mode or what length would work best. Several years ago, I decided to write some 4 page comic scripts, and "Not This Time," emerged. When I was presented with the opportunity to pitch for Secret Project, I sent Ron Salas some of my short scripts, predicting that "Not This Time" was the best fit for his talents, and it's the one he wanted to do!

MEB - How did you get in touch with Ronald Salas for NOT THIS TIME?

JB: Ron was always posting amazing pinups on the Oeming message board over at jinxworld.com. His art is brilliant, and I knew his style would fit what I was trying to achieve with "Not This Time." The very moment I heard about Secret Project, I messaged him asking if he wanted to work on something with me, and then we followed up via email. It thrills me to this day that I got the opportunity to tell this story with him. I'm a huge fan of Salas' work. I love how he rendered "Not This Time" with his high-contrast style. It's a different look than in his Image work. It's so cool to be able to walk into a comic shop and pick up Existence 3.0 and see him really let loose with a different style in that book.

MEB: So Ron, what made you decide on NOT THIS TIME?

RLS: I think it was the shortest one. I also liked his take on an archetypical character and I thought it fit what I could do pretty well.

MEB- Well your art really lended itself well to this project! Thank you both for contribution. So Jef, what's up next for AM/UK?

JB: Paul Ciaravino and I are hard at work on issue #4 of the comic book. Our 40 page anthology, Rocktronic Mixtape #1, should be out any week now, and in conjunction with that, we're releasing the single, "John Loves Wayne." Meanwhile, JTR3 and I are about to finish an EP titled Luxuria, which features some crazy ass smooth jazz renditions of some of our favorite AM/UK songs, and we're starting to demo our next LP titled, Where Giants Walk. And we'll be playing around NYC throughout 2010!

MEB- What are some links where I can check out more of your work?

JB: Please visit americans-uk.com! We have an EP titled, I, Ape-man available there for free download, as well as links to the first 3 issues of the comic, also for free. And, be sure to look up AMERICANS UK on iTunes, where you can buy our full-length album titled Rocktronic for under $9! Also, artist Dennis Culver and I are starting work on our graphic novel Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad for Oni Press, so I hope we'll see that completed in 2010. There should be some more announcements about that project soon enough.

Thanks, Mary!

MEB: No problem Jef - thank you! What about you Ron? What else are you working on currently? Anything we can check out on the web?

RLS: I'm currently working on Existence 3.0, which is the sequel to my series, Existence 2.0 that came out in the summer.


There you have it ! Be sure to check out WWW.SECRETPROJECTCOMIC.COM Monday January 11th for NOT THIS TIME!


~Till Next Time Kittlings!