Wednesday, September 29, 2010

EGS Speaks to Mike Raicht from "The Stuff of Legend"

Roughly a month ago at Baltimore Comic Con, EGS was fortunate enough to sit down and chat
with “The Stuff of Legend” writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith. All of us are huge fans of the book
and were beyond stoked for the opportunity to speak with the creative minds behind it. We
spoke with Raicht first about the past, present and future of “Stuff of Legend” along with some
information about how he got his start and got hooked up with Th3rd World.

The story behind “The Stuff of Legend” starts in a similar fashion to the book itself: with a boy and his teddy bear. Raicht’s son, Austin, had just been born. Since Austin was too small to have toys in his crib, all of his toys were placed above him.

“There was one teddy bear that looked like he was specifically watching Austin, like he was
guarding him,” said Raicht. “It's not a new idea; it's been done for centuries--stories about
toys protecting their kids. It's what you do with it afterwards that sets it apart,” he added.

Raicht had also been toying with ideas for a story reminiscent of the movies and books he grew
up with, such as Dark Crystal, Watership Down, and X-Men. The stories portrayed in these
series depict darker, more intense situations than current media directed towards younger
viewers. Raicht wanted to write something that didn’t play it safe, but still held the timeless feel
of great children’s story.

Raicht brought all of his ideas to Brian Smith, his co-writer for “Stuff of Legend” which sparked a
very long phone call of conceptualizing.

"That's when we can tell we had hit on something: when we've had a phone call were 2 hours
have gone by and we've mapped out a whole world,” Raicht said.

Raicht met Smith while working as his intern at Marvel. At the time, Smith was an assistant in
the Fantastic Four/Hulk office. Raicht’s internship eventually led to a full-time position, which he
held for almost five years. Raicht and Smith have worked on several projects together included
some X-Men books, a few ideas which were sold to Hallmark, and “Next Door Ninja” for Cookie

When Raicht and Smith originally pitched the idea to Th3rd World, there wasn’t anything
specific in mind for a time period. The decision to set the story during World War II was
influenced by a couple factors. Most toys today are based off of established characters and
content meaning—they have personalities assigned to them before a kid even removes them
from the box. In the past, children had to create a world and personalities for their toys; this
concept was extremely important to Raicht and Smith. Setting the story during WWII helped
establish this idea.

The classic nature of toys from the 1940’s also allowed Raicht and Smith to incorporate themes
that resonated with that time period such as an evil world power, parents being away, children
being separated from their families, and war.

“That time period is so different from now; the whole country didn't mobilize and deal with stuff the same way. Every kid on block would have been affected by the war where, nowadays, it's
just not the same.” Raicht added.

The choices for the types of toys depicted were influenced by the WWII time period as well.
Raicht commented that aside from using a teddy bear, which was an idea for a character from
the get-go, the team imagined what kinds of toys they would be playing with during that time.
The toys that make up the core group in “Stuff of Legend” are the boy’s favorite toys; they were
placed up on his shelf for a reason, Raicht explained. As the story progresses, readers will
learn more about where each toy came from and why they’ve taken on the personalities they

Some toys, such as Harmony the top, were added in to help round out the group. However,
Harmony, much like the other toys—even the toys in the Dark, has her own back story
explaining her actions and reason for being with the group. Readers can also expect some
back story on Homer and the Knight (aka the General), which will shine some light on their pre-
Dark lives and how those experiences effected their decisions in the Dark.

Raicht credited the creation and inspiration of a few characters to the artistic talents of Charles
Paul Wilson, the penciler for “Stuff of Legend”.

“Charles sometimes will surprise us with stuff and we’ll take that and make it a huge part of our
story…Things happen with Charles’ art where we see a character in the background and are
like ‘that character’s cool, that character should be a part of the story more,” stated Raicht.

This is the case for the creation of Homer. Homer was created as a subordinate, lieutenant-like
character to be shown with the Knight. However, after Raicht and Smith saw Wilson’s artwork
for Homer, they decided to delve into Homer’s character and ultimately use him and the Knight
to expand the story further.

Wilson’s artwork and the overall stylistic choices for “Stuff of Legend” have earned the book
a great deal of praise and given the book a clear distinctness among other titles. The book is
monotone in sepia with few other colors used throughout the book.

“I mean, you can see it colored and it’s beautiful, but sometimes you just want to see the lines.
We wanted people to concentrate on that. The other reason was that we always wanted this to
feel like a found storybook,” Raicht elaborated.

Aside from the decisions in color, Raicht also praised “Stuff of Legend”’s colorists and editors,
Michael Devito and Jon Conkling, for their page treatments. The pages in “Stuff of Legend”
often look ripped and worn, a decision made to help reinforce the found-storybook motif and
add to the reader’s immersion in the story. The decisions to not include ads in the book, and
the oversized shape of the book itself were also made in the interest of creating a storybook

With all the extra work being put into the artwork and page treatments, the book sometimes
didn’t come out as quickly as planned. Raicht explained that Wilson pencil’s his art in a very
intricate manner—almost as if he’s painting. After Wilson finishes penciling he renders, which is like he’s painting again. It’s a long process, which has to be performed for all 32 pages in the
current arc (58 and 40 pages in previous issues).

The biggest complaint the “Stuff of Legend” team regards the amount of time between issues.

“…It just feels so long because it's a bi-monthly book and we're trying to get so far ahead,”
Raicht stated.

The team is considering dropping the page count down to 24 pages in the next story arc to help
alleviate these concerns and have the book on shelves more.

“We're hoping the fans dig that the book is coming out as opposed to the size of the issue,”
Raicht added.

When asked about upcoming story events, Raicht—understandably--wasn’t able to divulge too
many specifics. The current story arc revolves around the main characters learning the history
of the Dark. The boy, and the other child trapped in the dark, have their own storyline in this arc
as well. The next arc will focus heavily on Jester.

The decision on whether to reveal story elements to draw new readers in or to leave promotions
vague and hope readers pick it up has been a topic of discussion for the team. The team does
its best to mix the two approaches, but Raicht tends to favor the latter.

“If we said in the first issue one of them dies it would ruin it. There’s no real moment there. The
whole time you’ll be trying to guess who it is,” Raicht elaborated.

The idea is to have the story unfold to the reader as it’s unfolding to the characters;
giving away an important plot twist would severely subtract from the reader’s immersion.
The main characters in “Stuff of Legend” know as much about the Dark as the reader.

The story for “Stuff of Legend” has been outlined and there is an ending written. There are a
number of additional story threads weaved in with the main story—stories that take readers to
different areas of the dark which portray different characters, places, and ideas. The inclusion of all of these side-stories depends on how well readers respond to the book.

Luckily, thanks to the support of Th3rd World’s publishers, Devito and Conkling, “Stuff of
Legend” will have an ending.

“[Th3rd World] said that even if the first two issues didn’t do spectacular they’d let us finish is
even if the next volume had to be the end. But, luckily, we've sold enough that we can spread it
out over six or seven trades,” Raicht said.

Raicht continued declaring that the “Stuff of Legend” story is intended to have a definitive ending.

“We really do want to finish it, because we think it’s important to finish it. We never wanted this
to be a forever thing,” Raicht stated.

Raicht is also very appreciative of the freedom he and Smith are granted working Th3rd World.

While Raicht enjoys working with Marvel and DC, he admitted that “you can do stuff, but you
can’t do stuff.” With “Stuff of Legend”, Raicht can shake things up a bit.

Outside of “Stuff of Legend”, Raicht is working on several other projects including The
Pack for Th3rd World Studios and two yet to be announced projects for IDW and Dynamite!

Raicht described “The Pack” as “Friday Night Lights with werewolves.” The story focuses on
a kid moving to a new town where werewolfism is spreading within the teenage community.
When a teenager turns into a werewolf they lose control of their inhibitions and attack people
they have strong emotions toward; they might attack someone they want to hook up for

Interestingly enough, Raicht’s first encounter with publishers Devito and Conkling came when
he pitched “The Pack” to Th3rd World. Wilson was initially approached to do the art for “The
Pack” and was later contacted for “Stuff of Legend”.

For more information about "The Stuff of Legend" and Mike Raicht go to Th3rd World's website.

Also, be sure to pick up your copy of "The Stuff of Legend: Volume 2 The Jungle #2" (in stores now) at a comic shop near you or through Th3rd World's online store.

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