We’ve had plenty of comic book writers and plenty of comic book artists get reviewed and interviewed (as well as occasionally guest write). There have even been some odd jobs such as story book editors come onto our site. However, unless I’m wrong, Marion George Harmon is the first prose writer we’ve reviewed, and even more so, he’s the first prose writer interviewed.
His debut novel, Wearing the Cape, may not be an adaptation of any comic book out there. In fact, it’s not even a comic book. But it still has a world that’s familiar yet also fresh and new. You may not know Astra, Atlas, or many of the other heroes in the novel, but you’ll feel quite a few similarities to it. Basically, it’s a comic book without the comic. So it was exciting to talk to Mr. Harmon about writing the novel and how comic books may have influenced Wearing the Cape, his decision to publish it on Kindle, and his plans to release it in paperback form (around late June).
Comic Attack: On your website, you talk a great deal about mainstream superheroes. Did you get into superheroes while you were writing Wearing the Cape, or were you into them before you wrote the book?
Marion G. Harmon: Growing up, my main interests were science fiction and fantasy, but I read a few comic-book titles (the X-Men, Teen Titans, The Legion of Super Heroes, mostly team-titles), and I always followed the ongoing dramas of the Marvel and DC heroes. Later on it was the non-traditional superhero stories, like Powers, Wildguard, and Noble Causes that caught my attention.
CA: Were there any major superheroes or comic book story lines that served as inspiration for the book, or was it more of a general look at superheroes?
MGH: With decades of comic history, certainly it’s hard to be original, and some of the characters are intentional reflections of mainstream superheroes. For example, power-wise Atlas is based on the Superman archetype. Character-wise, he is very different of course–for one thing he’s a good deal less idealistic, intentionally so. Artemis sprang from my ideas on how a night-hunting vigilante could actually be made to work (And I just realized that she lost both her parents, operated from an underground lair, and had an “informal relationship” with the police. Hmmm). Blackstone is actually named after his inspiration, Harry Blackstone, a real stage-magician who had his own radio show and and short-lived comic book (Blackstone the Magician Detective). Some parallels snuck up on me; for example, Astra, being Atlas’ young and inexperienced sidekick, in some ways mirrors Supergirl: she’s a young and idealistic hero trying to find her place. Team her up with Artemis, and suddenly you have a whole Superman-Batman vibe going on–something I had Seven happily point up once I became aware of it.
CA: With so many superhero and superpower comic books, films, and even novels (e.g. Soon I Will Be Invincible) out there, was there any kind of fear about the novel being lost among the crowd?
MGH: I have one word: vampires. More words? While I don’t want to speculate, the increasing success of superheroes in the movies, and the demograph maturity of today’s comicbook readers, may mean superheroes are poised to be the new vampires–who are, after all, the ultimate cross-genre characters. Name one genre that doesn’t have the angst-ridden bloodsuckers in it. Alright, maybe Western. As for right now, there is no crowd on the bookstore shelves; most superhero novels currently being written are novelizations of the familiar Marvel and DC superheroes, and the rest are mostly ironic or satirical deconstructions of the superhero genre. Wearing the Cape doesn’t stand completely alone, but there’s no line at the bar.
CA: What influences outside of the superhero/comic genre had an impact on the book (or even on your writing in general)?
MGH: I’ve got no good answer for this one. I have eclectic tastes; I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, but I also enjoy romantic comedies, techno-thrillers, and YA action-adventure (I hugely enjoyed the Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl series).
CA: Are there any books you’d recommend for Comic Attackers to check out (not necessarily superhero or even sci-fi/fantasy; just any book you’d recommend)?
MGH: Too many to name. Check out the Book Reviews page on my blog at marionharmon.wordpress.com.
CA: You cite tvtropes.org quite a bit on your website. Are you a contributor to their site or are you just a fan of it?
MGH: I mine the site for inspiration, and have actually contributed in a small way (look up Abstract Apotheosis–my suggestion when the trope was renamed).
CA: Did writing Wearing the Cape as a “Young Adult” novel restrict what you could/wanted to write, or was there no problem with any kind of self-censorship?
MGH: Funny you should ask, because WtC has gone through two incarnations; in the first completed draft, Astra was 21 and in her senior year of college. But one of my alpha-readers pointed out that the story straddled the line between Adult and YA fiction, and dealt with a lot of YA themes (leaving home, accepting responsibility, taking a different path than one’s parents, etc). So I made Astra younger, which required major rewrites. Did I “change the rating?” No. Some sub-plots changed, but I didn’t have to soften the action or clean up the language in any way.
CA: Did you write Wearing the Cape on the fly of your seat (writing with little or no plotting), or did you plot this out?
MGH: Wearing the Cape was mostly an unmapped road-trip (the ending changed multiple times). I’m getting much better at planning ahead, but plotting remains mostly a matter of knowing the start, knowing the finish, and setting forth with just a compass.
CA: Were there any major changes between the two incarnations of Wearing the Cape (aside from Astra being 21 and alternative endings)?
MGH: The romantic sub-plot had to be rewritten, and Hope at 18 is less self-confident, but the major themes stayed the same. The transition to YA was actually very easy.
CA: Did you do some major Tom Clancy-esque research for the book, or was it more quick referencing as you went along?
MGH: Since there is no reality-check for superpowers, deep research hasn’t been a necessity. Probably the most research I did involved learning about Chicago (streets, neighborhoods, etc), and I’m sure I still got some things wrong.
CA: Did you live in Chicago, take a trip there, or just do research at home?
MGH: I have only ever been to Chicago in my mind, mostly through Andrew M. Greely’s Chicago stories. When I decided to use Chicago, I relied heavily on Wikipedia and Google Maps. To all Chicagoans who read this book, I apologize.
CA: Why did you set the novel itself in Chicago rather than any other major US city?
MGH: Because Metropolis is copyrighted and New York belongs to Marvel.
CA: Marvel or DC (or something else)?
MGH: The Marvel Ultimate Universe is right up there. DC over the regular Marvel universe.
CA: Who’s your favorite superhero?
MGH: That question breaks my brain, there are just so many. Daredevil, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Batman, Thor, Superman… In the hands of great writers, any superhero can be fascinating. Favorite self-creation? Atlas.
CA: While Wearing the Cape certainly isn’t a political book, there are a few chapters about the government in the future, certain aspects of what the law would entail with superhero ethics, and the Teatime Anarchist certainly has his own views. Was there any message you had when writing Wearing the Cape, or were the politics/ideologies in the book simply for the story itself?
MGH: I didn’t come at this story with a political or ideological axe to grind–mainly because I felt it would spoil the experience for anyone who didn’t agree with me. But there are general themes. Just how much personal liberty should be sacrificed to the public good? How much control should a central government have? A story becomes more real when you can have good people on both sides of these questions, and when even bad people are motivated by causes the reader feels might be just.
CA: Any plans on making a comic spinoff/adaptation of Wearing the Cape?
MGH: Plans? No. Dreams? Yes. In my dreams I get noticed by Dark Horse Comics, a company notorious for its book-to-comic adaptations.
CA: Do you have any interest in doing some comic book writing, or are you content with sticking to prose?
MGH: I like prose, but… hmmm.
CA: You say you have two other works, Worst Contact and Tales of Sitka-By-The-Sea, in the making. Can you tell us a little bit about them, and will we be seeing them on the shelves any time soon?
MGH: Worst Contact and Tales from Sitka-By-The-Sea are patiently waiting for me to finish Villains Inc., the sequel to Wearing the Cape. Worst Contact is a humorous space-opera story, in which the crew of a small survey ship finds themselves making contact with the first intelligent and advanced non-human species. Their first real clue is when they nearly get shot out of the sky by a planetary defense system, and it goes downhill from there. Tales from Sitka-By-The-Sea is another YA story, this one set in an alternate-history where Alaska became the Kingdom of Alaska instead of the US’ 50th state. It features a plucky girl-hero, spy-vs-spy action, and a strange “secret society.” For anyone interested, the first 7,000 words of both stories can be found at Youwriteon.com, a writer review site.
CA: Can you tell us a little bit more about Villains Inc. and will we be seeing any familiar faces from the previous title?
MGH: Just about everyone who survived Wearing the Cape is back for the sequel, plus some new faces. Villains Inc. picks up about four months after WtC ended, and deals with the personal, political, and social fallout of events in the first book. It also changes the pace a bit; Wearing the Cape could almost be divided into episodes with an overarching plot, while Villains Inc is much tighter. Its major plot is a murder mystery with a twist; Astra and Artemis are racing to “solve” Blackstone’s murder before it happens. The reader also gets to see a godzilla attack Chicago.
CA: Why did you pick Jorge Velasquez to do the cover, and was the cover your idea, his, or a collaboration between the both of you?
MGH: I was lucky to find Jorge on facebook, and he quoted a price my budget could afford. He is really very good; I insisted on the cape, but the cool style of the title was all his idea.
CA: Did you have an editor for Wearing the Cape, or was it mostly edited by yourself and a few close readers?
MGH: All editing problems are my own.
CA: How has the self-publishing been going so far? Rough waters, or pretty smooth sailing?
MGH: I’m learning as I go, but it’s way too early to tell.
CA: You’ve said that you’re going to be releasing the paperback edition of the book soon. How has the process been different than with Kindle, and are there any differences or extras (e.g. foreword) in the paperback edition?
MGH: Yes. It has page numbers. More seriously, the process is a bit different, but going through Createspace and doing all the work myself (formatting, editing, proof-reading, etc), the experience has been about the same. Which means it’s been tedious and frustrating and I wish I could afford to pay somebody else to do it.
CA: The way you both publish and promote your book has mostly been in the digital world, dealing with Kindle and blogs/sites, rather than the 20th century way of physical publishing and distribution. What have been the ups and downs to doing things online?
MGH: So far I’ve experienced no downside to online publication/promotion. You’re reading the upside. Obviously it’s not all I hope to be doing, but I really believe that the internet and the revolution in ebook readers is a game-changer in the indie-publishing industry. For an example, an English mystery/psychological thriller, Sugar and Spice, was independently e-published last year on Amazon.co.uk (a much smaller market) for the British-pound equivalent of $.99 because no literary agency would consider it. It didn’t fit easily into a specific genre and dealt with some taboo subjects, and so the agents who looked at it considered it unmarketable. Today it has sold more than 75,000 copies (netting the co-authors about $25,000 so far–more than any initial advance to a first-time author would have been) and attracted the serious attention of one of New York’s top literary agencies.
CA: Are you planning to do any type of book or promotional tour?
MGH: There’s that P-word again. Tours take money, but I am producing the POD paperback edition specifically to sell through comic stores; once it’s available I intend to personally contact every comic store on the North American Continent and pitch my book, by email, phone, whatever it takes. I fully expect that the vast majority of my sales will come through ebook sales, but in-store sales will increase the book’s visibility. If the book begins to take off, I’m considering hitting the comic-convention circuit with whole boxes of them.
CA: Were there any lessons you’ve learned while writing Wearing the Cape?
MGH: Have you got an hour? Probably the biggest lesson I learned was that if a scene doesn’t advance the plot, off with its head. The first complete draft was 120,000 words, the final draft 90,000. Whole scenes and some well-loved characters disappeared in the process.
CA: Are there any last words you want to say, or anything you’d like to plug in?
MGH: Yes. If you enjoy Wearing the Cape, gift it through Amazon’s nifty email-delivery to your friends. At $.99 a pop, you can delight or annoy a lot of people for less than the price of a paperback. The first 10 people to put up an Amazon review and forward me the email receipts for 10 gift-copies (forward to mgharmonATembarqmailDOTcom) will receive the shiny paperback copy–great for that summer poolside reading.
If you would like to purchase this book, you can download it onto your Kindle or computer at http://www.amazon.com/Wearing-the-Cape-ebook/dp/B004XRCC1G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1307055781&sr=8-1