Back to Vegas. An Interview with Erik Hendrix

We’re back and I think I’m already in trouble.

I’m one of the elder statesmen for the block.  How’d that happen?  I mean, seriously, me?  Crap.  I’m supposed to be following the rest of the columns here.

Oh crap.   I shouldn’t be saying “oh crap” so much on my first article.  At least I don’t have to deal with a cubs fan from texas, I’d be doomed.

Nice to see you all again.  Today I’m going to touch briefly on branding before I get to my comic I’m reviewing.

Branding and rebranding is all about capturing the attention of the paying customer.   Big companies tend to do it through their characters and properties so that the average consumer gets a glimpse as to what they are buying.   People know for example what I’m talking about when I say Coca Cola or Britney Spears.   When you have an established brand, people have certain expectations and without trying, you have advertised to your consumer without muttering a single word.

Mcdonalds, Pepsi, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Chase – these words all have meanings and connotations without me uttering anything.  Usually a name or an image is associated with each one.  Big companies spend billions to make sure you have that image in your head.  This is advertising and this is branding.

Smaller companies face the challenge of creating their brand from scratch.  They have to get their name out there.  That perhaps  is the biggest guy to the smaller guy’s suggest.  He who gets his name out there the best, wins.  In comic terms that isn’t just properties like superman or batman, but names like Grant Morrison, Jim Lee and Brian Michael Bendis.  These people are well-known and their names give the impression of their works before you even read page one.

Arcana Comics are one such company trying to get the same recognition DC and Marvel do for comics.  They’ve done a variety of incredible books, including works like 100 Girls, Kade, and Snow Angel to name a few.  This book I’m looking at today is no exception to the high standards of quality and entertainment Arcana provides.

I had a chance to read Sideshows: Book One by Erik Hendrix and Michael David Nelson.

To quote Hendrix:  “SideShows is about a group of former Circus Attractions who are working hand in hand with the mob in 1950’s Las Vegas and when their boss, “Slick” Mick Carpoli, throws them at the wrong adversary, they end up opening a Pandora’s Box of problems.”

Mark Carpoli sends the sideshows after some greasers that are in town.  A simple message turns into all out war and the action escalates fairly quickly from there.  Hendrix weaves a smart, engaging story.  I love the concept of super powered sideshows and am glad that this will only be the beginning.

What makes this story so strong is the art.  It’s not Nelson’s cleanest work, but the style adds to the seedy nature of the story and gives the story a sense of time and adds layers to the story.  It really draws you in from page one.

I had a chance to talk to Erik Hendrix not only about Side Shows but also a bit about his job as VP of Marketing for Arcana.

JP: In your own words what is Sideshows all about?

EH: I’m the writer, they’re all my words! Ha ha… SideShows is about a group of former Circus Attractions who are working hand in hand with the mob in 1950’s Las Vegas and when their boss, “Slick” Mick Carpoli, throws them at the wrong adversary, they end up opening a Pandora’s Box of problems. The original idea had a single sentence that says it best, though, about the world ~ High rollers, lounge singers, cigarettes, alcohol, and superpowers. Welcome to Las Vegas.

JP:   Why the 1950s Las Vegas? Where does your love of this particular period come from?

EH:  1950’s Las Vegas is just plain magic. I had no real appreciation for Vegas when I was younger, because all I knew was the flash of New Vegas, the over the top strip, full of casinos, alcohol, bright lights, and Broadway-style productions. I was introduced to what Old Vegas was about by my grandfather-in-law, who showed me what Vegas once was, by taking me to the Old Strip (Fremont Street), walking me through casinos, and just talking. In some of the older casinos, they have old slot machines to check out. Most you can’t touch, but up until a few years ago, there was one coin-operated machine, which looked like it has seen action for about fifty years. There’s something about the elegance of those old machines and when you look at old pictures of Vegas, the same elegance is there. I’m not saying everyone went around everywhere in a suit and tie or dresses, but there was something more pure about the gambling experience. Throw in a ton of movies set in Vegas where everything really looked slick, and you have the basis for the setting of SideShows. After the initial idea came around, I did a lot of reading about what was going on in the nation and in Las Vegas particularly at the time… It’s fiction, so I took liberties, of course, but I hope the love of the city and the time period really comes through.

JP: As I stated, the art is really cool.  Notice it’s a little different from your normal style?  Where was the evolution of this?

EH:  Most of the artists I worked with before Michael and I really started digging into SideShows, were very realistic. With SideShows, Michael and I wanted to pull the style back to an earlier time to some degree, while modernizing it. What came out of Michael in the end was a somewhat impressionistic style, mashed with something like what Jack Kirby did with the Fantastic Four back in 1961. The moody style works well for the book.

JP:  Will there be sequels to Sideshows?  Are you and Michael working on other things together?

EH: Yes and Yes… SideShows should be at least three books to get through the complete set of ideas I have for the characters and world. Can’t WAIT to get started working through my notes for book two! As for Michael and I, we have been collaborating for about two years now on various ideas. Some of the books I have coming out from Arcana are co-created and/or co-written with him. He’s a talented guy!

JP:   I asked you why Las Vegas, now I’m asking you why the circus?

EH:   I have always been creeped out a bit by “SideShow” attractions but also very fascinated by them. The thing about them, though, is that most of it’s a gag. You see the Lizard Man these days and he’s a self-made SideShow… tattoos, sub-dermal implants, forked tongue, etc… All great, but thinking about it, what if these people had real abilities? What if the strong guy wasn’t just tossing around foam dumbbells, but could really lift tons? What if the “flea circus” actually had real fleas? What if the guy throwing around “stage magic” was actually a real magician? Crossing the attractions with the supernatural and mystical just seemed to fit.


JP:  You’re not just a writer with Arcana.  Can you explain to me what you do for them and how your role has evolved?

EH: Over at Arcana Comics, my involvement with them has evolved from a creator looking to get my books out into the world into something more. After SDCC 2009, I had a bunch of ideas I was wanting to pitch to various publishers. Arcana’s name kept popping up.  Something about their offerings appealed to me, and within several weeks, I sent one of my ideas over to test the waters.

Maybe it was just perfect timing, but I heard back within twenty-four hours that they were interested in the idea and we worked out some details. By the end of the year, before even the first project was finished up, I had three contracts with them.

In early 2010, Arcana was getting their magazine off the ground, which would become Zedura. Initially, I was asked if I would like to help them finish their first issue (then simply called Arcana Magazine), but by the time that issue was finished, Michael David Nelsen (a friend and collaborator of mine) and I were asked to take over the magazine. That’s where things really kicked off. I spoke quite a bit with both Sean O’Reilly, the owner of Arcana, and Mark Poulton, the VP of Operations, and started throwing ideas around for the magazine and the company.

By SDCC 2010, we had a few issues of the magazine finished up, and I was pretty much on the Arcana Team at that point. I helped them run the booth that year and Sean let me know he had some “plans” for me. Well, those “plans” have become, over the last year, being Arcana’s VP of Marketing and Promotions, helping to get the word out about the publisher, running conventions, etc.

Currently, I have eight contracts with the publisher and am very excited to be working with them, especially having a glimpse behind the scenes of what’s going on there.

JP:  Why the name change from Arcana to Zedura?  Were there any challenges in the name change rebranding?

EH:  The name change was mainly to keep anyone from thinking that the magazine was all about Arcana. By changing the name to Zedura, there could be no presumptions about anything and, as a result, people could go in with an open mind. It became not about who published a book, but was it good, and we threw in a lot of other elements of pop culture.

JP:   What is your favorite part of being VP of Marketing?

EH:  I love getting a glimpse behind the scene of what goes on with a publisher and also having the ability to help other creators get their books in front of people. Everything I suggest is taken seriously into consideration and I feel like I’m getting to be a real team player with Arcana.

JP:  Any other books you feel excited about coming out soon that you can tell me about?

EH:   I’m really excited to read Devil’s Island, written by Nik Jajic. It’s debuting at SDCC, so I won’t have to wait long. I’m also looking forward to reading Continuum, which was just optioned by Benderspink (HANGOVER, I AM NUMBER FOUR), and Poe and Phillips, which came out already, but I haven’t picked up a copy yet. For my books, SideShows, of course, but also a bunch of things coming out in 2012 like Deadly Harvest, The Evil Tree, The Book, and Champions of the Wild Weird West… Sci Fi Epic, Horror, Horror/Thriller, and Supernatural Western.

JP:  This is your chance to convince the millions…and millions of people reading this column to buy your book.  So plug it.

EH: SideShows is an action-packed, fast-paced tale of powers, crime, and betrayal, with a few nice “pauses” in between for some drama. Pick up a copy of the Launch Edition at Arcana Comics booth 2415 at SDCC, or keep an eye in the Diamond Solicitations… It should be appearing there in the next few months!


Joshua Pantalleresco

Back to Vegas. An Interview with Erik Hendrix