It’s not often that two of your favorite things cross paths. Sometimes it never happens. And then sometimes lots of people like to pretend it didn’t happen at all.
I’m referring to sports and comic books.
Athleta Comics, a publishing company started by Israel Idonije is hoping to bring the two together again. Conceived by Israel, and together with Ron Marz (writer) and Bart Sears (illustrator), The Protectors follows a group of major league athletes as they discover and use their powers for the greater good of all humanity.
There is one piece of information we need to get out of the way. For those who do not who Israel Idonije is, he was a Defensive End for the Chicago Bears for ten seasons, but is currently a free agent. He’s everything you imagine physically when meeting a professional football player, yet humble and very approachable. And he’s a a huge fan of comic books, which is refreshingly unexpected.
The Protectors is sure to pique everyone’s interests. The original story line came to Israel during a football training camp in back 2007 and he’s hooked up with Ron (Silver Surfer, Green Lantern) and Bart (who has done work with all the major publishers) to produce a comic that is sure to find it’s way to everyone’s pull lists.
I had the opportunity to meet with all three gentleman and pick their brains about working on The Protectors and more.
First up, I sat down to Bart Sears and one of the first things I asked about was working with a new comic versus something that’s already established. “It’s a lot of fun.” Sears told me. He elaborated stating that it’s great to have control and input into what goes into the comic and it helps that they are creating the way they do the overall finished product.
I had to ask, “You’ve worked for some big name publishers in the past, which do you prefer (big name vs. start-up)?”
Almost before I finished my question, Bart replied, “This.” We shared a laugh and I told him I wouldn’t tell the big guys – he insisted it was fine.
We also discussed something that was mentioned during The Protectors panel earlier in the day. The actual comic athletes are not based on single athletes, but more of a blending of physiques. When I asked him again, he stated that he purposefully didn’t want to base it off of actual people because when a character looks too much like a real person, it can lead to a whole other world of trouble.
“When you got the call from Ron (Marz) about possibly working on this new comic about athletes and their super powers, what were your thoughts?”
“I was pretty interested. I’ve known Ron a long time and he was really excited and it felt like a good idea.”
This lead to the same question for Ron. “When you were approached by Israel about this idea he had, what was your first thought?”
Ron chuckled, “He’s big!” He added that he felt that the idea of athletes possessing super powers was a natural fit and that’s what comics should do, blend reality and fiction, it should be more of a marriage.
Being a fan of both sports and comics myself, I had to ask if Ron thought this would help bring the two worlds together. “I hope there is a lot of crossover.”
Ron (and Bart) have both worked with some pretty large publishers, including DC and Marvel, and I asked Ron the difference in working with something that is already established and something that’s new. He gave me probably the greatest analogy I’ve heard:
“There are a lot of rules and guidelines when you are playing with someone else’s toys…” he paused “But the plus is they’re great toys.” He continued adding that they (himself, Israel, and Bart) are making up the rules as they go, there is no real protocol.
When it was time to sit down with Israel, I had to ask who was the first person he told about the idea for The Protectors. “My little brother, his name is Emmanuel.” Israel said his brother would read through things and tell him “No that’s too far in left field” or “That’s good”, or “That’s garbage.” What about first teammate? “I’m not sure who I told first. I know I talked to Briggs (Lance Briggs) and Nick Roach; he’s a big comics guy.”
And what of using Chicago as the backdrop for the comic? “It’s home. I’ve been here for ten seasons now and it’s a sports city. If you’re going to do a story about sports, what better place?”
Reflecting back to the panel, a mother stood up and thanked the team for putting together something with positive messages, something she doesn’t mind her children reading. I asked Israel about the positive vibe of the comic and he nodded. He’s glad to put that out there, reminiscing that you would have to pull teeth to get him to sit down and read as a child and that comics where a huge interest to him (versus his sister who could read a novel in a day). He has hopes that The Protectors will be both entertaining and a gateway into learning to read for those out there who are struggling.
Israel elaborated more adding that everyone has a decision to make in their life. Are they there for good, for bad, or to sit around and do nothing. Ultimately you have a gift and what you decide to do with it makes the difference. He said that everyone has the ability to join the fight for good and make a change for the better.
Since we were at a comic-con, I had to ask what it was like attending a con. I had assumed that San Diego last year was his first experience. He corrected me, stating that’s he’s gone to quite a few cons as a fan and since starting Athleta Comics, as an exhibitor. However, last year was the first time he’s been to San Diego. We laughed about the amount of people and things going on during the event. He agreed, saying it’s a lot bigger than every other con and a totally different atmosphere, but everyone should do it at least once.
So what’s up next for Athleta Comics? Israel said they have three other concepts they want to roll out, but the main focus for right now is on The Protectors. “One step at a time!”
Be sure to watch for The Protectors to come out later this year and check out the free web-comic prolouge at The Protectors #0