It all begins here...
Introducing Origin Story.
My name is Jeremy Atkins, and like probably many of you reading this, I grew up with comics. My grandparents looked after me as the Gen X son of two working parents, and so I spent my early years lost in the spinner racks of drug stores where I would obsess over the work of masters like Jim Aparo, John Romita, Bob Hall, and a young artist named Denys Cowan. I started my career as a comic book professional in 2004, and have since worked with many great artists and writers, including some from my own childhood, as well as those redefining the medium today. I am proud to say that I have been fortunate enough to help expose the beauty and wonder of comics to an even larger audience of fans of pop culture through my work as a marketing professional in the medium that taught me to read all those years ago. I have worked directly with visionaries, not to shape or define their creative vision as an editor might, but instead help to find the audience their work deserved. Five years ago, I met one such artist named John Stanisci. John was looking to crowdfund an original graphic novel originally conceived for Vertigo in its heyday. This was in a time before Kickstarter had grown into the kingmaker it is today for comics, and was a much riskier proposition for new ideas in a medium that even in its most progressive moments was still often built around the approval of a sole editor or publisher.
Kickstarters at that time for freelance marketing people like myself also did not offer the assurances of getting paid well or at all, and added another line item to the budget of the people behind them. This was risky business for those living contract to contract like myself in those days, and therefore to sign on for such a task meant you knew you had to not only bring visibility, but real value. That said, from the moment I met with John, whose work I was already very familiar with, along with his business partner Joe Navarra in a Manhattan diner, I was inspired. I signed on to help build what I knew would be a successful campaign based on the strength of the concept, story and John’s art (did I mention he had inked some of the same great artists I had grown up with, including that young artist and later Milestone Media cofounder Denys Cowan?).
This leads us to today, and actually right back to Lifedeath, the very project that first brought us together. Over the years, John and my working relationship evolved, our friendship has deepened, and we decided it was not only time for John to return to Lifedeath in the midst of countless other pilot scripts, treatments, and pitches, but for he and I to create something together; which begins right here, and we’ll come back to that at the end.
So, without further adieu, I give you Lifedeath, as created by my partner, friend, and today’s birthday boy, John Stanisci.
So, why Substack? And why more Lifedeath?
Well, wait, what do you mean ‘more’? Well, for those of you who don’t know ( and mostly people won’t), we launched Lifedeath with a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017. At the time, Kickstarter was really starting to heat up as a legitimate platform for creators such as myself to launch their creator owned projects.
And, for me , the journey to launch my own creator owned series was a real long one. It starts ALLLLLLL the way back (and I mean really back) to the late 90’s and my time under contract at DC working for the Batman office. It was a really great time in my life and career. I was working under a great group of editors, most notably, the legendary writer/editor Denny O’Neil. I had been fortunate enough to get to write a few stories, with Batman, Rha’s A Ghul and Talia. The Bat ‘guys’ liked my writing. At the time, DC was looking to expand it’s universe and were inviting creators to pitch new series. They were having some success with books like Resurrection Man (which I briefly got to work on doing finishes over the AMAZING Jackson Guice) and others. “So,” they said, “if you have a series, something sci fi, pitch us.” I DID have a concept. Something very cool and fun in the sci fi realm. “Great, let’s see it.”, they said. “Well, the thing is, it really is a stand alone kind of thing. Like, batman could never show up in this story”. “It’s ok”, they said, “let’s see it”.
So I went to work developing the concept. I was really fascinated by the notion that, someday, science will catch up to meet the spirit world and we will find out that they are one and the same. Then it hit me: WHAT IF science invented that spirit realm, the afterlife? What if the afterlife was really some kind of super sophisticated program invented as a means to upload our consciousness when we die? And, if the afterlife is an artificial construct, what would happen when that program begins to crash? I was off to the races.
I worked up the story and what would amount to the first arc (roughly six issues) and brought it in to DC. They loved it. “You really have something here”, they said. “BUT, Batman could NEVER show up here in this world. Like, NEVER.” So, they passed. But I was undeterred. I started to write LIFEDEATH as a prose novel, got about 250 pages in…and life happened. Some personal events, some professional…but I put it down. I put it down for 20 years. I had a great acting teacher who used to say, “there are no excuses, but there are reasons”. That being said, for those long 20 years, I would always look to see if some sci fi novelist or comic writer would come out with something like what I dreamt up for Lifedeath. It was always with a sense of dread that I would approach the sci fi section in the bookstore…but I never saw it. And the notion of this epic sci fi story hung over my head.
2017. So, a lot of changes in the world and in my life by this time. For one thing, the world of creator owned comics is exploding and people who have spent most of their career at the ‘big two’ now have a real legitimate opportunity to create their own worlds and stories and make a living at it.
For me, I had gone through a bit of an artistic odyssey of my own. You see, I started out, waaay back in the beginning, to be a penciller. Of course, when I first started, I was a TERRIBLE penciller. Maybe that’s too kind. I think I might have been among the WORST penclliers that ever actually got published at Marvel. But, thanks to finding my mentor, the great Klaus Janson, I had started to learn a bit about inking. I had a decent brush line and I found, after a time, I could get work inking other people’s work. Not a bad gig and it led the way to a career in comics. By the time 2017 had rolled around, I had such an incredible journey and had the honor to work with such great artists as : Jackson Guice, Luke Ross, Sal Buscema, Mike Deodato, Rick Leonardi, Pat Oliffe, Ryan Benjamin, Denys Cowan ( I still occasionally ink Denys’s stuff whenever he asks me because, well, he’s DENYS COWAN and when he asks you to ink his amazing pencils, the only rationale answer is a resounding YES), Alex Ross, and so many more. I had the incredible privilege of being on books like Static at the historic Milestone Comics. I got to be on Spider Man, Batman Beyond and others.
But here’s the thing: I never lost my desire to pencil and ink my own work. So, it’s 2017 and I’m not getting any younger and I’ve been developing my own work for a long time now and…ok, it’s time to make the leap and write and draw my own series. And, I thought: there’s no need to start small here. Let’s just jump in and write and draw a 140 page graphic novel. No big deal and, really, how hard could it be?
I knew that I couldn’t do it all on my own. I needed a partner in this and that’s when I teamed up with Joseph Navarra. Joe and I had been friends for years. Joe and I discussed the series over a lot of conversations. We both shared a vision for what the series could be, the characters, and how it should be done. So, the partnership was a perfect fit. I’ll let Joe tell you a little from his end. Joe?
One day about 7 or 8 years ago I was talking to a long-time friend of mine of 25+ years, and he was discussing a project he had developed and started many years ago. I found the project intriguing and interesting and I wanted to hear more about. Knowing this friend of mine was exceptionally talented and had a successful career in the comic book and acting industry I knew this project must be good. Shortly after that conversation he came to me and asked if I would partner with him in resurrecting his sleeping project and to help give it new life. I immediately said yes!
The friend is John Stanisci, and the project was to bring LifeDeath to the pages and audience that it deserved. We quickly got to work on the story line and John on the drawing. It took a couple of years for us to get to the point of printing and to get the original graphic novel launched on Kickstarter. Along the way we could tell you many funny stories of how the process evolved, the people who helped and places we went to promote the book. But one thing I would like to tell you about is the process that I enjoyed.
I genuinely enjoyed the process of hearing the story develop, how the characters would react and grow. The story at times had a life of its own and moved and changed as the pages were drawn. The pages being drawn was so much a part of the story as the words on the pages and the discussion of the story itself. I would take notes and try to keep an order in my head. But John would draw pages, not necessarily in order, or even in reference to what we talked about, but pages kept coming to me. And we would discuss and talk about the progress. Then more pages would come to me. Then the page would get colored, get lettered and eventually the order just came together.
Maybe some of you reading this would think nothing of this process, but my background is not in art or storytelling, it is in healthcare. Although John did buy me a 64 pack of Crayola to practice with, I'm not sure what he was trying to tell me. But for me, the entire process was amazing and intriguing and very enjoyable to see the final product come together.
So, work began on the first graphic novel of LIFEDEATH…and it turns out that writing and drawing a 140 page original graphic novel is, well, a LOT of work. Like…a LOT. Who knew?
It took a lot longer to complete the original graphic novel than I care to think about but, eventually, we got there and it was time to launch the project. So, we thought Kickstarter would be the exact right platform to get this thing off the ground. Only, we needed someone who could help us get the word out, promote the book and the campaign. someone who knew comics and really got excited about what LIFEDEATH is.
Enter Jeremy Atkins. Jeremy came highly recommended to me as the top publicist in the comics industry, which turned out to be true but what I didn’t know about Jeremy when I first met him is that A: He is THE nicest person I’ve ever met in the comics industry and B: we would become the closest of friends and business partners.
So we launched the Kickstarter, received an amazing announcement in The Hollywood Reporter, drew the attention of Hollywood, and had a fully funded campaign. Happy ending, right? Well, sort of.
Here’s what I learned from doing the book: After writing and drawing a 140 page graphic novel, you REALLY learn how to write and draw a 140 page graphic novel! Creating LIFEDEATH was such a great experience. Yet, I felt that I had learned so much , and improved SO much in my writing drawing as a result of just doing the first book, that I wished I could go back and do it all over again, only better!
Also, I felt that, after 140 pages, there was still SO much more story to tell.
Which brings us to today.
John came to me and said there is so much more that the story can give. Well, I knew this already and was extremely excited to hear what was next to come. John wanted to continue the story and asked me to continue to be a part of it. I immediately said, of course!
So, for those of you discovering LIFEDEATH for the first time, welcome!! We are setting up the ‘new’ series to be a great jumping off point. For those of you who did read the first Graphic novel, welcome back!! For those of you that haven’t, no worry! Just jump right into the new first issue and all will be fine, we promise!! Either way, we pledge to you that the exciting crazy world of LIFEDEATH is just getting started. We will be posting new art and story every month exclusively for our subscribers. I’ll also be posting sneak peeks into my process for creating the art for the series.
Thank you all so much for joining us and becoming a part of our Origin Story!
So, what IS Origin Story? Well, now that you know ours, I’ll do my best to take a big concept and distill it into the final paragraphs of this very newsletter. Origin Story is the new home to collective ideas, concepts, and eventual output to be developed for comics and beyond. John has always had plans to take these ideas from the page to the stage and the screen, and we want to share that journey with you every week. That means that we are inviting you, dear reader, along with us from the very beginning of the creative process through every milestone, whether the perfect pitch meeting or the polite pass, so you can celebrate the successes and learn from the missteps while on your own creative journey.
In addition to sharing the best and the rest of times with you, we will be offering regular live classes to help you perfect your craft both artistically and promotionally. You’ll be the first to hear about new projects with the exclusive first look at art, script, and more with a mix of exclusive written and video content week after week right here in this newsletter.
It seems only fitting that the launch of this venture takes place not only on John’s birthday, but the week of Comic Con International in San Diego; the place where so many careers in the comic book and entertainment business have both found their beginning and reached their apex. Seems a pretty great place for THIS story to begin. Let’s see what happens next...
Jeremy Atkins & John Stanisci, November 2021