Why we’re kickstarting a racially inclusive, socially conscious, queer friendly comic book franchise.

When you think about graphic novels, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Probably Watchmen, Sin City, Ghost World, Locke & Key, Archie Meets The Punisher…

Okay, so that last one doesn’t count. But still. It came to my mind. (And it actually did happen.)

See?

Cool. All right. Well, what would a graphic novel that highlights the horrors of social injustice through a grindhouse/film noir lens look like?

Oh hey. Actually, it would look a lot like our project — Occult Generation.

Oh really? What’s Occult Generation about?

In essence, Occult Generation is a groundbreaking sci-fi/horror/noir comic book franchise that seeks to make commentary on the social problems that exist today by chronicling their parallels back in the 1920s.

Er, that might sound boring. Did that sound boring?

Okay, how about this.

Occult Generation is graphic novel about magick battles and psychic powers and tommy guns and drag kings and blood and sex.

Better?

Good. Let’s talk about the story.

It’s New York City. 1927. The Harlem Renaissance is in full swing. Speakeasies are all the rage. There’s flappers and tommy guns and jazz and gigolos. Maybe a drunken tap dance number or two. Or, y’know, maybe not. We’ll see.

After witnessing the murder of an underground drag performer, a troubled private detective has a new mission: find the killer, solve the case.

King Rose. She’s kind of like our “Laura Palmer”.

But as Leon looks more closely into King Rose’s unexplained death, he finds himself thrust in the middle of an untold war — a war that’s about to tear the big apple apart at the seams.

This underground war is waged between two mysterious groups that fight with very different kinds of weapons.

The first is the Harlem Secret Society (or HSS for short), a powerful collective of African American magicians, psychics, clairvoyants and necromancers. Their enigmatic organization is responsible for teaching those who have the seeds of unseen potential develop their occult powers. (Think Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but more scary.)

On the left, Arno. On the right, Jack Scarborough — leader of the CIC.

The second group is the Coney Island Confederates (CIC). If you can’t tell by their name, it’s made up of sinister white supremacists. They arm themselves with strange technology that’s virtually unfathomable during the 1920s. We’re talking stuff like recording devices, video monitors, weird guns, funky grenades, you name it.

Under the leadership of Jack Scarborough, the CIC abducts initiates of the HSS to perform experiments on them to find out what the source of their magick powers are.

As Leon gets more and more tangled in this secret war, he discovers thhat there’s more to the world around him — both seen and unseen — than he ever could have imagined.

You’ll like Occult Generation if you enjoy…

H.P. Lovecraft

If you’re a fan of his short stories about the menace of the unseen, this’ll be up your alley. But be warned: there’s no tentacle porn. And we don’t smell like fish. A lot of every day horrors we face in real life can be reflected back at us metaphorically in the dark mirror of this visionary.

Occult detective fiction

This one is pretty obvious. Our aesthetic for the supernatural is rooted in the old weird pulp fiction of yore. Leon, our private investigator, will become a new occult detective in his own right.

Octavia Butler

Most of Butler’s protagonists are disenfranchised individuals who are faced with radical change and all the challenges it brings them. This has been influential for certain character arcs in Occult Generation.

Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

Yes, this movie takes place in the 1940s, not the 1920s. And yes, it ties in with the Lovecraft thing. But if you’ve seen it, you know that it’s shows you how to mash-up noir and witchcraft the right way.

The Wire

The Wire was complicated. Our story is complicated. The Wire was gritty. Our story is gritty. ‘Nuff said.

Blaxploitation Cinema

For a lot of our explosive action sequences between the HSS and the CIC, we’re taking a kind of Tarantino-esque approach and paying homage to classic exploitation movies. (If you haven’t seen Sugar Hill, do so now.)

True Detective (Season 1, of course)

What was so mystifying about the first season of True Detective was how understated the supernatural horror was. Occult Generation will take cues from this in order to make its atmosphere that much more mysterious.

Steampunk

Because our villain’s arsenal is all made up of unusual, “futuristic” technology that shouldn’t and couldn’t exist in the roaring ’20s — there’s some steampunk flavor thrown in there for sure.

X-Men

Ryan has been a huge fan of X-Men for most of his life. Many of the social and political commentary that this iconic franchise world was buit on can be found in the DNA of Occult Generation. And for good reason. X-Men is about the struggle of the outsider, the plight of those who have been ostracized, those who have been oppressed. So is our story.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

One of Ryan’s favorite shows ever, SVU has definitely shaped his storytelling style. The way the each episode’s story shocks and provokes is a texture we tried to copy. Plus, Mariska Hargitay.

Sandman Mystery Theatre

I studied a lot of back issues of this when for inspiration when helping Ryan structure his scripts. It’s difficult to pull off a good mystery comic that juggles so many threads. This series always made it look like a piece of cake.

Vertigo Comics

Aw hell. Let’s just go ahead and throw the rest of the Vertigo imprint in there too. That’s what really gave us a lot of inspiration.

Chinatown

There’s a way that the story of Chinatown twists and turns and becomes more than what you assumed it would be, but at a gradual, subtle pace. The mysteries of the Occult Generation feel more accelerated than that, but we take the time to build an atmosphere that fosters unpredictability just as this classic noir did.

Blade Runner

Come on. We all know that Blade Runner was pretty noir-ish. Deckard’s journey throughout the film can be likened to our character Leon’s in certain ways. Plus, we’re going for that larger than life atmosphere too.

The X-Files

There was this thing that The X-Files did when it was telling the important parts of its story. It showed you how an event unfolded, but it never told you exactly what happened. It never overtly stated anything. It always up to you to interpret things your way. That’s what Occult Generation emulates when it comes to telling its broader story arc.

Twin Peaks (and any David Lynch film for that matter)

This has been a great influence on helping develop a sense of otherworldly mystique in the story.


Serving as the story editor, I’ve tried to help give shape to this franchise using references and homages to what I’ve listed.

The more Occult Generation expands and evolves, the more stories we’re able to tell with it. We have such a collection of diverse and fascinating characters and they all have their own interesting stories to share.

My personal hope is that, eventually, Occult Generation will become a serialized, character driven version of something like Weird Tales Magazine. (Like how The X-Files was to The Twilight Zone.) Through spin-off media and one-shots, we’d be able to focus in on one of our characters and tell their weird, quiet and unsettling stories, each one having a piece of the main narrative embedded within.

One of the ways we’re working towards this expansion is by publishing “light novel” style prequel stories in chapters online. This sub-branding, known as Occult Generation: Apocryphas, help us do some much needed world-building while creating a more enriching experience for our audience. It helps our readers get a sense of who our characters are.

Okay, so who are all these characters? Why should I care about them?

Oh yeah. Good question. Let me introduce you to two of our main characters, Leon and Gladys.

I swear they get along just fine in the story. Really! (Leon’s on the left, Gladys is on the right.)

LEON KLEEMAN

Leon is the private investigator we mentioned in the synopsis. The “dick”, if you will. The anti-hero. He’s basically Raymond Chandler and Bogart and all these other hard-boiled noir male tropes shoved into one character. But we’ve made him pansexual. So he’s kind of like David Duchovny on Caifornication except he swings both ways. And he’s a lot more tougher.

At first, Leon was going to be gay. Just gay, not pan. But working with the model who portrays Leon was eye-opening. During one of our photoshoot sessions in LA, he gave us the idea that we should be much more inclusive and have one of our main characters be more outside of the box.

This idea works so well for Leon’s character because we want him to be unpredictable. He’s the wild card of the storyline, after all. And this helps his character stay in a grey area that’s fuels some of the noir elements.

Leon is a complicated character. He’s quick-witted, confident to the point of cockiness, and well-guarded. He’s also kind of a slut. Not because he’s pan, okay? That’s just who how he is.

He also may or may not have supernatural powers that he learns to use for the better. (I mean, it’s a possibility.)

This also may or may not be Leon’s eye…

As he gets more and more entangled in the secret war between the Harlem Secret Society and the Coney Island Confederates, he undergoes a personal transformation that leads him to a sense of personal destiny and meaning.

The stories that can be told with Leon are mysterious, twisty, cerebral and haunting.

Check out “The Empty Witch”, our ongoing prequel series featuring Leon on Medium.com. Here’s part one, part two and part three.

GLADYS SPENCER

I’ll just come out and say it: Gladys is our Wolverine. She’s tough, unbreakable, and has this “fuck you” no mercy attitude that’s just so incredibly badass. Her skin is literally indestructible. That’s her mystical ability. She’s a survivor. A fallen angel. A warrior in heart and mind.

As a member of the Harlem Secret Society, she helps run the Club de la Croix, one of the group’s many fronts. She also prowls through the city at night, patrolling for evil members of the CIC who are trying to kidnap her friends and family for their cruel tests.

Just as it was important for us to have a non-stereotypical queer male character, it was also important for us to have a fiercely empowered black female figure.

We wanted to design a character that embodies the spirit of the most hardcore, insane action movies we’ve ever seen. We wanted a character that is capable of doing anything, just by being herself. We also wanted a powerful hero that refuses to be labeled or marginalized in the unjust era of ’20s.

The stories that can be told with Gladys are action heavy, fast paced, breathless and shocking.

Check out “Widow Zone”, our ongoing prequel series about Gladys on Medium.com to see what she’s made of. Here’s part one and part two.

Okay, fine. This is kind of interesting. But what makes Occult Generation so special?

Have you ever noticed that when you walk into a comic shop, you are surrounded by all of this dazzling, majestic cover art that adorns every single book sitting on the shelves? And then when you open one, you see that the panel art on the pages looks nothing like the art that grabbed your interest in the first place?

Yeah. Us too.

That’s why we want Occult Generation to be a new kind of comic book. We think it’s time for the kind of cutting edge graphic experience where the cover art matches what’s on the pages. Every square inch of the pages you see of our graphic novel will be visually engaging, lucious and smooth — almost like it’s animated.

How are we doing this? Well, we’re doing something that really hasn’t been done before. We’ve gone out and cast professional actors and models to portray all of the characters you see in the book.

Usually, making a comic book is an isolated experience, where the artist comes up with the character designs on her own. Not in our case. Using models and actors as the basis for everyone you see throughout the graphic novel has turned Occult Generation into a much more collaborative, more high profile project than anyone could have imagined.

Wait, who are you people?

Whoops. I knew I forgot something.

Ryan’s the one typing.

Originally, this whole thing started out with Ryan Fukuda and James Zark.

Ryan Fukuda spent a few years developing the world and story of Occult Generation. It started off as his dream project, his baby. He met James Zark at a psychic school in Chicago a few years back. They both wanted to work on some kind of project together, but they weren’t sure just what yet.

So Ryan spent a few years thinking and writing…and thinking some more, then writing some more…then thinking some more. You know how it goes.

Eventually, he came up with a script for the entire six chapters of a work about 1920s social struggles that would become known as Occult Generation.

(You can read more about his journey as the creator here.)

This past year, 2015, saw both James and Ryan living in the same city again (San Francisco), specifically to begin work on bringing this vision of next-level comic storytelling to the rest of the world.

And that’s where yours truly came in.

I’m the one sparkling.

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.

Actually, no. Just kidding. I’ve just always wanted to say that.

(But, really, I was working in a bar when I met Ryan. As a bouncer, though. Not a waitress. )

We instantly began grilling each other on who our favorite Buffy big bads were and which Lethal Weapon movie was the sexiest. (For me, it will always be 4.) Soon after we had successfully validated one another’s geek cards, Ryan gave me a proposition.

“Would you like to come aboard my comic project as a story editor?”

I’m pretty sure you know the answer. But to hell with spoilers. It was yes.

As this project has grown and evolved over the course of this past year, I think it’s safe to say that it’s becoming much different than we had originally conceived it to be.

So why are you making this queer-friendly, inclusive comic book project again?

Because it’s about time, don’t you think?

We want to open up the possibilities of what kind of stories can be told in the graphic novel medium. We want to follow the stories of characters that most other professional publications would say no to. We want to address some of the real life issues that everyone experiences in one way or another. These include but are not limited to the following: racial injustice, immigration, political corruption, feminism, queer empowerment, bureaucratic hypocrisy, you name it.

We want to make a comic that makes people think without telling them what to think.

We want to open minds and eyes without the use of a soap box.

We want to tell engaging stories that make us excited both in a geeky way and a socially conscious fashion.

And most of all — we want it to look really, really pretty.

What do you want from me?

Your help, support and enthusiasm. We need you to follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Subscribe to our site. And become a backer for our Kickstarter. We want you to be a part of our project. We want it to keep growing. We want it to become the classic queer-horror franchise that it already is. And we can’t really get there without you.

So, I’ve got one more question for you. Are you ready to make comic book history with us?