comic-book publisher Chris Hollmer and artist John Hebert,
being indie and homegrown is just part of the fun
is something decidedly un-superhero about Erik Miller, the
protagonist of Clifton Park publisher Naked Productions’ inaugural
comic-book series, The Wannabe. Maybe it’s his affinity
for playing Poison songs while he reads up on vigilantism,
or the way he spends his 9-to-5 hours spouting corporate buzzwords
during telecommunications meetings. Or maybe, just maybe,
it’s his fondness for pontificating about life over local
large-mouthed glass allows the frothy vapor to rise, priming
the nose, the organ that enhances taste,” muses Miller on
the first page of Wannabe’s first issue, hovering over
a pint of Ommegang Abbey Ale—one of several microbrews to
come out of the nearby Cooperstown brewery.
listens,” the tipsy hero adds.
Sure, Miller’s not your typical comic-book hero, but then,
beer snobbery rarely comes to mind when one considers the
list of standard heroic attributes.
According to Naked Productions founder Chris Hollmer, who
also serves as The Wannabe’s writer and creator, injecting
a little local flavor—whether it’s beers, businesses or workplace
buddies—is all part of the fun of creating comics.
the little details that make it all more enjoyable, both as
a reader who ‘gets’ the inside jokes and as a writer or illustrator
who puts them in there,” says Hollmer, who—like his subject—spends
his days slinging telecom-speak at his AT&T office. “Having
a local connection is far more interesting than having your
story take place in Anytown, U.S.A.”
Although The Wannabe’s tale of an average Joe who longs
to become the next dark avenger—no matter how many blunders
and bruises occur along the way—is actually set in Philadelphia,
where Hollmer lived for several years, he says the Empire
State (and some of its neighbors) will figure prominently
in this series and others. The company’s next series, UniverCity,
is set in a futuristic Boston, while the story for another
title will begin in Syracuse and work its way across New York
to West Point.
I talk to, no matter where I go, has some affiliation here,”
says Hollmer, who grew up in New Hartford, near Utica. “Either
they went to school somewhere around here, or a friend did,
or they went skiing here, or have a family member who lives
in the area. It’s amazing how many people have a connection
to this region.”
Among those people is John Hebert, a North Greenbush native
who walked away from The Punisher, X-Men and
the rest of the comics world in the late 1990s when both the
industry and the joy that came with his regular gig as an
artist at Marvel Comics turned sour. After working his way
up the ladder from small-press, independent comics to a place
among the caretakers of Spider-Man and Captain America,
Hebert says the sudden death of his fiancée made him reevaluate
where he and the industry as a whole were heading.
The decision to leave, he sighs, was “like a marriage breaking
up—sometimes I wanted to come back and they didn’t want me,
sometimes they’d ask me to come back and I’d have to remind
myself not to get into that scene again.”
According to Hebert, comics’ too-big, too-fast growth in the
1990s was at the root of the problems.
of the editors started to think they were Hollywood producers,”
remembers Hebert of the reason behind what became a five-year
hiatus from comics. “There was lots of winking at each other
and ‘That’s great, babe, let’s do lunch’ going on.”
some point, they just stopped actually listening to what people
said or what people really wanted,” he adds, “sort of like
the big-budget film industry today. You don’t see the original
ideas getting the attention they deserve.”
But when a friend convinced him to attend a comics convention
last year in Philadelphia, and attendees lined up to ask where
he’d disappeared to, Hebert says he started to feel that creative
started to wonder if someone could catch lightning in a bottle
twice,” he grins.
That same friend of Hebert’s turned out to be a high-school
classmate of Hollmer, and put the artist in touch with Naked
Productions’ front man. Hollmer had been scouting artists
for the second series in the new comics company he was forming—and
the rest, as they say, is history.
[Hebert] said he lived in Rensselaer County, I had no choice
but to bring him onboard,” laughs Hollmer about the “small
world” nature of their meeting.
The Wannabe’s creative team located just about as far
as possible away from one another in the country (cover artist
Mike Zeck hails from Florida, penciller Courtney Huddleston
from Texas and inker James Taylor from Seattle), the notion
of having a more local collaboration for a series seemed intriguing,
might be something really unique and different about this
arrangement,” he says. “The different contributors to a comic
rarely have this sort of proximity to one another, so I had
to give it a try and see what happens.”
And so began both Hebert’s return to the comics industry and
the next stage in Hollmer’s maiden voyage.
something very visceral about this,” smirks Hebert, rubbing
his hands together intently as he discusses his reasons for
putting pencil to paper again. “It’s very basic again, like
when I first started out.”
Hollmer says the decision to start his own comics company
was really just a matter of impatience. Without any previous
experience in comics or the time to spend shopping his ideas
around to other publishers, he knew his chances for getting
a foot in the door were slim to none—so he decided to start
And he already had his first series lined up.
originally wrote The Wannabe as a 100,000-word novel,”
says Hollmer, adding that he had decided to shelve the story
for a few years after he finished writing it. Trying to adapt
the lengthy novel to script form provided one of the first—of
many—obstacles to his comics debut, says Hollmer.
initially started doing it verbatim, but kept ending up with
these scripts that were the size of phone books,” he laughs.
“That was definitely a learning experience.”
The education didn’t stop there, either. From failed attempts
at self-illustration (“I tried drawing the first issue and
it was horrible,” he says) to adventures in direct selling
(he eventually opted for a distribution deal with industry
giant Diamond Comics Distributors), Hollmer says his decision
to “learn it the hard way” lived up to its frustrating implications.
One thing that turned out to be easier than expected, however,
was communication among the various people who had a role
in producing the comics. While trying to find an artistic
team for The Wannabe, he was able to view samples of
artists’ work, including their takes on many of the series’
characters, via the Internet. The printing company they used
for the series even made proofs of the first issue available
digitally for Hollmer before it went to press, allowing for
some last-minute changes and nearly instantaneous response.
technology and infrastructure is there to do it yourself,”
he explains. “The comic-book marketplace is different from
others. I would never think of self- publishing a novel or
prose, but with comics it’s a bit easier to manage.”
Of course, a catchy name can’t hurt, either. Hollmer says
the concept behind the company’s moniker is pretty simple,
really: In a world where every new company seems to resemble
“avatar” or “icon” or some new arrangement of consonants and
vowels that catch the eye, there’s no competing with the primal
lure of “naked.” Besides, says Hollmer, it’s hard not to draw
attention when you’re being called “the naked guys” everywhere
Still, it’s the growing number of ambitious, creative people—and
the technology to bring them together—that Hebert insists
will allow independent comics to thrive. As many artists and
writers of comics age, their skills tend to improve with time,
so generation after generation of new talent is entering the
marketplace and creating a scenario in which the number of
publishers is finite, but the pool of talented people eager
to produce is growing every year.
So what’s a comic-book creator without a publishing company
to do? The answer, as Hollmer says he’s discovering, just
might be to make your own.
doubt about it, the independent [comics] scene is coming back,”
says Hebert, running his hand over a glossy print on the table
in front of him. The image, planned for a two-page spread
in the first issue of UniverCity, depicts a crowded,
futuristic Boston skyline; a tiny building in the lower-left
corner bears his signature across its roof.
now it’s not going to be chintzy black-and-white books on
bad paper with bad art,” he smirks. “It’s not going to be
a thousand copies of Batman.”
With the first issue of The Wannabe scheduled to go
on sale in comic-book shops across the country this July and
subsequent issues due out every three months, Hollmer says
he’s optimistic about Naked Productions’ future. The company
plans to unveil the first issue of the Hebert-drawn UniverCity
during a convention in Boston this September.
seems appropriate, seeing as how that’s where the series is
set,” explains Hebert, adding that even if things don’t go
as planned, he’ll still feel like his decision to return to
comics was a good one. And like The Wannabe’s hero,
Hebert doesn’t shy away from envisioning the opportunity he’s
been given with Naked Productions as a dramatic change in
his life’s direction.
feel like this might be more than just a one-time reappearance,”
he says, his fingers tracing the border of the illustrated
cityscape. “I really feel like I’m strapping the guns on again.”