This May Not Seem Like A Typical Autobiographical Story…

So, I have this comic that’s almost over. It’s called STRAY:

Issue One variant cover by Khary Randolph

STRAY is a concept that is about seven years old, give or take. It started out as a comic book comedy that was part Silver Age superheroes and part Curb Your Enthusiasm. My friend, Dean Trippe, actually did the very first design of the Rottweiler, the erstwhile sidekick of the Doberman.

Original Rottweiler concept art by Dean Trippe, circa 2006.

It was perfectly Silver Age and fit the comedic aspects I wanted to achieve in the story.

And then I saw The Dark Knight. Twice.

In hindsight, that movie gets a lot of flack in the comic creative community because it led to, well, pretty much every character (or, at least, every DC/Warner Bros. comic character) getting a “grim and gritty” celluloid treatment, but that’s not what I responded to, even if some of that leaked into my book. What I was responding to was the way the world was constructed. Bale’s Bruce Wayne is human and maybe full of himself; he almost believes he’s superhuman. As a result, he fails. A lot. That was what I was responding to; that fallibility in the lead character. Upon leaving that second viewing, I walked for a while and BAD DOG (which, luckily, I never used) became STRAY.

The first draft was written. Then a second draft (because, look, I’m not delusional enough to think that I can just write something perfect the first time). I met with my team (Eduardo “Edi” Torres and Steven Norman II) and we went over the story beats and it all seemed to work out. A few beats would be fixed, but the most important thing to come out of that meeting was the name of the character. He was always going to be Rotty or the Rottweiler. It would always rankle him a bit that even though he was an adult, folks kept calling him “Rotty,” the way that some adults go from being Billy all their lives to being William. Steven, the youngest of our crew, asked an honest question…

“Why doesn’t he call himself Stray at the end?”

And honestly, it was the smartest question that didn’t have a good answer. So, as a result, Rodney Weller went from being the Rottweiler/Rotty to becoming Stray.

We went to work on a pitch and Edi designed the character and the first cover:

Original cover of STRAY #1, by Edi Torres. Logo by Jeff Powell.
Original Stray design by Edi Torres.

We pitched it to a few publishers at the 2008 New York Comic Con and, before the weekend was over, we had a handshake agreement with Ape Entertainment. A couple of months later, we had a contract. Everything was on track. In fact, we were overacheiving. My friend, Nick Florest, solicited his friends for a project (he’s a hip hop artist with the stage name, Varyus Waise). I gave him the scripts for STRAY and he gave me the theme song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fyrb60cYrxg

We were on track to doing some great multimedia/transmedia things that most comic creators weren’t ambitious enough to try. In fact, Nick’s song made me realize I was putting a lot of myself, and my life, into STRAY. I did another draft and really played up those aspects (more of that shortly). I was creating (or, co-creating, if you will) a masterpiece.

Until it fell apart.

Fast forward to 2013. I was in full swing (such as it was) with New Paradigm Studios doing my World War Two-era drama, WORLD WAR MOB, with Giancarlo Caracuzzo. My friend (and assistant editor), Zack Rosenberg, saw some of the concepts that Sean Izaakse had worked up for STRAY, having just taken over as my creative partner after Edi and I amicably parted ways. Zack was…I don’t want to put words in his mouth and say that he was “floored,” but he was adamant; “Let’s put this on Kickstarter and get it out there.” We quickly put together a campaign (and when I say quick, it took about a month…maybe less) and submitted it, and in October 2013, we ran and funded STRAY…miraculously, and I say that because all we had only one page of art:

STRAY Issue One/Page Five. Art by Sean Izaakse. Colors by Simon Gough. Letters by Vito Delsante.

By all accounts and contradicting every piece of advice anyone has ever received for a Kickstarter campaign, we funded the book with one page of artwork. And we funded a superhero comic in an industry that is pervertedly crowded with superhero comics.

Everything was working out. And even though New Paradigm Studios had to bow out of publishing STRAY, we found a home with Action Lab Entertainment. My wife, who was and is the most important member of our team, literally funded the book post Kickstarter. We had a few hiccups, but here we are, about to cross the finish line.

This book has meant so much to me and even though I know we’ll have more stories, and further adventures, it saddens be, just a bit, to see the first series had ended. And here’s where I tell you about the healing powers of comics.

It gets fairly obvious, in reading the series, that this is basically the story of me dealing with my father’s death. I was 15 when my father was killed in a car accident (he was 38). I became suicidal. Depressed. I turned to drugs and alcohol. I was Rodney. I am still, some days, but the hardest thing I ever had to deal with was (and is) my father’s legacy. I lost my identity somewhere along the way and had to work hard to find myself, but along the way, I got it into my head that I had to reach 39 years of age. I had to know that his legacy (an early death) wasn’t mine. And that’s what STRAY has been for me. It’s been an effort at redemption, for me and Rodney. It’s been an honest attempt at finding out who I am and who I want to be for the rest of my life. I think we (Sean, Simon Gough, Ross Campbell, Jon Morris and me) created something that speaks to all of that. Here. I want to share something with you…

Facebook message received 4/8/2015

I have no idea if this is real or legit, as the person who sent this to me is using a pseudonym. But if it’s even 1% authentic…

…if it’s just 1% real…

…We did our job. I did my job. I shared myself with the world, warts and all, and someone related.

That is why we make these things.

If this story interests you, if you got something from this, and you want to check out the book, you can download the comics on Comixology or you can go to your local comic store and ask for the following books:

*Issue 1 (NOV140915) — Mike Norton/Ben Hunzeker cover
*Issue 1 (NOV140916) — Khary Randolph cover (limited to 1500 copies)
*Issue 2 (DEC141008) — Sean Izaakse/Ross Campbell cover
*Issue 2 (DEC141009) — Shawn McGuan (limited to 1500 copies)
*Issue 3 (JAN150931) — ChrisCross X/Emilio Lopez cover
*Issue 3 (JAN150932) — Paige Pumphrey cover (limited to 1500 copies)
*Issue 4 (FEB150888) — Sean Izaakse/Ross Campbell cover
*Issue 4 (FEB150889) — Julián López/Juan Albarran cover (limited to 1500 copies)
*Trade Paperback (MAR150843) — Dean Haspiel cover

Issue 1 (NOV140915) — Mike Norton/Ben Hunzeker cover

You can also pre-order the trade paperback on Amazon.

Trade Paperback (MAR150843) — Dean Haspiel cover
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