Interview: Adam Freeman on ‘Genius’ and Top Cow’s Pilot Season
Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman’s first big comics project, last year’s five-issue miniseries The Highwaymen, was one of last year’s biggest surprises — but not for the reasons you might expect.
Despite a massive marketing push by the series’ publisher, Wildstorm, as well as fairly positive reviews of the first issue, in the end the series was widely regarded as a commercial disappointment. After all was said and done, the series’ performance left many figures in and around the industry, including Bernardin himself, wondering what the difficulties experienced by The Highwaymen say about the industry as a whole.
Nevertheless, the pair has persevered, and this week marks the release of Genius, their original story about a 17-year-old girl in South Central Los Angeles who unites the region’s gangs in a war against the L.A. Police Department.
From the Top Cow solicit for the project:
Alexander, Hannibal, Napoleon, Patton. What if the greatest military mind of OUR generation was born in strife, surrounded by violence and combat since birth? When the gauntlet is dropped, the question isn’t "How did 17-year-old Destiny Ajaye unite the gangs of South Central into a killer army and declare war on the LAPD?" No, the question is, "Can anyone stop her?"
This Wednesday, Genius will hit shelves as one of the titles in Top Cow’s "Pilot Season" program, and readers will eventually be able to vote on which of the "Pilot Season" projects becomes an ongoing series with the publisher.
I spoke with Adam Freeman about Genius, where the idea for the story originated and the Top Cow program that once again puts a story he co-created with Bernardin at the mercy of comics fans everywhere.
COMICMIX: Can you tell me about the genesis of Genius? What was the spark that developed into this story?
ADAM FREEMAN: It was an idea that Marc had swimming in his head for a while, but I responded to instantly. I have always been fascinated with prodigies and savants. I am not a religious or spiritual person by any means, but the idea that someone — regardless of their walk of life — could be "chosen" to be the best at something is incredibly cool to me.
CMix: You’ve mentioned that this will be a "very different kind of comic." What do you mean by that?
AF: Besides the subject matter? A 17-year-old female gangbanger from South Central uses her God-given savant-like military mind to wage war on the Los Angeles police? Besides that? Seems a perfect fit in this Secret Invasion/52/Infinite Earth Crisis comic landscape we live in, don’t you think? Unless she killed Captain America.
CMix: You’re a relative newcomer to the comics scene. How did you get your start writing in the industry?
AF: Marc and I have been comic fans since the womb — different wombs. (We’re close, but not that close.) We have been writing TV and film specs for a few years and oddly enough, never thought of getting into comics. At least, it didn’t cross my mind. Marc is a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly and was instrumental in launching their comic section. He made so many great relationships in the industry, we thought, "Well, why shouldn’t we try to do this?" So we basically stalked Jim Lee until he gave us our first mini, The Highwaymen. (Now available in trade paperback!)
CMix: What is the creative process like for you and Marc? For example, do you physically get together to collaborate on a project these days? How has the creative evolved with each project you two take on?
AF: We both grew up on the East Coast but I moved out to LA about five years ago for a TV gig. Ironically, that is when our productivity quadrupled. For years, we would toil away in the same room, throwing ideas back and forth. It was a lot of fun and we got really good at Halo, but not a lot of of actual work got done. At least, not proportionate to the amount of time we were spending. Once I moved away, we fell into this groove. Constant e-mails, constant IMs and phone calls — very focused and productive with no Xbox demons to sidetrack us. Plus, we are so busy (he with EW, I Executive Produce Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels) that when we put aside the time we almost hyper-focus on a task to get it done. The few times a year we are physically in the same room is spent on the big picture — in the next six months we need to finish this screenplay, pitch these five comics, etc. It is working really well so far.
CMix: For those who aren’t familiar with "Pilot Season," can you explain how it works and what readers who enjoy Genius should do in order to see more of it?
AF: This is Top Cow’s second annual "Pilot Season." Over the course of three months they release six one -hots. Come August 1, the "polls" open on their website and a few others and the readers vote for their favorite book. The Top Two will become Top Cow’s next ongoing series. This is really the time for comic fans who bitch and moan and fill message boards with what publishers should be doing to take an active role. Like the Presidency, if you don’t vote, you lose the right to bitch about who wins and the current state of affairs. Do something about it.
Another great thing about it is that because Top Cow has a lot less to lose, Pilot Season is their opportunity to take a risk on a book like Genius — a book they feel strongly about but are not sure if the readers are ready to embrace. If it were not for Pilot Season, I don’t know if a book like Genius would see the light of day, so this is very cool for everyone involved.
This first (and hopefully not last) issue of Genius is specifically designed to set up the story and hopefully make you want to see where it is going. This a very well thought-out storyline that has a wild ride on deck — so vote for us come August! We will not let you down.
CMix: How does Genius compare to some of your other projects? (The Highwaymen, for example.) What aspects of your previous projects can readers expect to find in Genius?
AF: If you liked the action and gunplay in The Highwaymen then you will love Genius. But for the most part, this is new territory for us and we’re excited to show people what we can do. We love humor and got a great response from the dialogue in Highwaymen and Monster Attack Network but with Genius we really had to serve the story and the "witty banter" just wasn’t appropriate here. This is a different side of us and I think gives a glimpse as to the wider range of stories we are able to tell.
CMix: How did you get connected with Afua Richardson and why is she the right choice for this project?
AF: We stumbled upon her online portfolio while looking for artists for Monster Attack Network and while we thought she was amazing, her style didn’t seem right for that book. When we were doing Genius Top Cow guru Rob Levin suggested her and instantly we were like, "THIS is the book for Afua." A perfect fit. She is going to really impress you with the work she has done here.
CMix: What element of Genius are you most proud of?
AF: I am most proud of the fact the we delivered a quality book. No matter what line of work you do, people always want to tell you what you CAN’T do. "You make ‘widgets’, you couldn’t possibly make ‘thing-a-ma-bobs.’" You have written books about monsters and explosions, not this. We took Genius to a lot of places and were told numerous times, "This is an amazing story. We just don’t think YOU can pull it off." Well, thanks for that.
So I guess what I am most proud of is that we delivered a product that lived up to the great concept we sold. We are always looking to push ourselves and to tell new kinds of stories. I seriously hope the next time we pitch a book that is outside the realm of what we have done before, publishers will look at Genius and say, "Well, maybe they CAN do this."
Genius hits shelves this week, featuring a story by Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin, and art by Afua Richardson. If you like what you see, be sure to make your opinion known in August when Pilot Season opens the polls to decide which project becomes an ongoing series.