When I was growing up, I couldn’t fly or lift a car over my head. I didn’t have a cool piece of armor or a magic ring that could do fantastic things. But I could make a mask. One out of paper. One out of cloth. That’s all it took to be one of the masked heroes I read about.
That stream of thought goes a lot into MAN IN THE MASK. It’s the idea of being very street level. Of being human, and going up and beyond what most think you can do. That is Tommy Franklin’s life. He’s not a masked man pretending to be an ordinary man. Nor is he just a guy that assumes another identity when he puts on a mask.
He’s more than just both.
He’s a man that puts on a mask and does his best to be a servant. A helper to those around him. So in truth, he’s not that much different with or without a mask. He’s a man in a mask. And whether or not he’s hanging out in flannel or a utility belt, he’s the same guy trying his best for whatever situation.
And he does it all with a smile on his face.
Starting June 2, the relaunch of MAN IN THE MASK gives me an opportunity to roll out the future of my stories in a much wider format. From that date and on, I will be “digital first.” Meaning I will be releasing comics on my website before going to print with them. And here, there will be no pay wall or subscription. You can read them for free.
I love print. I love holding a comic in my hand. But the truth of the matter is that print is expensive and with no distribution past cons, very limiting in getting the stories out to potential readers.
Going digital and free access isn’t that big of a stretch. Considering I have been known to give my stuff out on occasion. It’s not that I think my stuff isn’t worth the purchase. I just like to share the work I put into MAN IN THE MASK. I like to show my enthusiasm and love for it. I have so much fun with it. I want to turn around and show the world how proud of them I am. Going digital is an opportunity to reach more readers.
Right now the plan is to release every Tuesday. Originally I was going to put a page count on the releases. But now, I don’t want to limit myself creatively. If I have a 3 page story I want to show, that’s what I’ll do. Same for a 10 page.
Initially, on June 2, I will be releasing the first issue in 8 page increments weekly. This is to make sure everyone is on the same level story wise. Then, the new material will begin. All material will be collected serialized in comic form and will be available from Indyplanet and myself, before the story finishes digitally. If you wish to help support my efforts, please consider purchasing the print offerings.
I plan to experiment as I go with some different things. And, I will be releasing spin off material featuring characters introduced in MAN IN THE MASK and giving them more of a spotlight.
Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you have plans to read the book as it’s released. Thank you so much. My hope is that you can enjoy this book as much as I do.
The “new” costume.
I first designed Tommy’s costume in the mid 90s. When I got to the graphic novel, I did make a new design for Tommy’s grandfather, but very much wanted to keep my original design for him. At least, for a short time, because I had drawn it so much over the years. And for the first issue I kept it for the same reason. Issue 2 was going to be the debut. However, since the backup story in #1 was so special with the story by Michael A. Baron, I thought it was a good place to debut it.
The thinking behind the design? To be honest, it was from a presentation point of view. When you draw a character with an all black shirt and then put him in all black panel you have to cut out his form with a white outline or scallop out white on his outfit like a reflection. I did it a few times and really didn’t like it. So it just made sense to make the white part of his costume to make it look intentional. The added benefit was that it allowed me to add white to his costume and reflect the white that was in his Pop’s suit.
Simple as that.
Hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff this past week. Thought It was about time I showed some unlettered preview pages from “Have you seen Armand Tyler?” Proud of the story and I think it’s a little more indicative of the pace and action I plan with MAN IN THE MASK. I had to start so much off in the first issue. Lots of beats. This one allows me to settle in and show what Tommy’s new masked life entails.
Colors, of course, by Aiden Belcher. I think you’ll see his work is starting to evolve into it’s own thing and less what I suggest to him.
Reminder the series starts digitally for free June 2, with issue #1 for those that don’t have it. Colors by Aiden Belcher.
When you need to anchor your lead in a new city that he initially hates, you gotta find friends for him. When Tommy moves to Millerton, it’s not fun. Change in routine. Homesickness etc.
Enter NATE BRADY
I’ve only had a chance to show you a couple of scenes with Tommy and Nate, but trust me, I try to make it as fun as I can. Nate is a tried and true friend to Tommy and helps him get adjusted to the big city life. Through a kinship of geekiness, Nate is a nice stabilizing force that gets Tommy through the culture shock of moving from Freebourne City.
When the series opens up, after years of being an officer on the street, Nate is a newly minted detective. The latest in a proud line of cops, Nate has his own legacy to live up to. But this new position has a lot of adjustments Nate wasn’t expecting. On top of that, Nate’s thrown another curveball he wasn’t expecting.
As I said before in other posts, I’m a character guy. In my head there is no minor character. If I’m taking the time to introduce a character, I can give you their life history. Nate is no different. In fact, there are times that Nate is probably the co-Star to Tommy’s lead. Seeing how he and Tommy have started new directions in their life roughly at the same time, the next couple of stories should be fun.
Ultimately, MAN IN THE MASK is about a man who lives his life, but wears a mask a night. That means, you have to account for that other time. And the trick is to make it as interesting as the masked part. To do so, you have to populate the world with REAL people. People that have just as much invested in their lives as your main character.
UNCLE FELIX and GWEN
Gwen enters Tommy’s life as he moves next to her during his first year or so of college in Millerton. While initially Gwen might have had her sights set on him, it develops into a sisterly relationship and she becomes quite protective of him. As the years go by, after Tommy leaves the college life, she stays, afraid of entering the real world. After Tommy starts wearing the mask, coincidentally, Gwen gets an offer from her uncle to move into his renovated apartment building and run the bookstore that’s at the bottom. She invites Tommy to move into his own place. Since it’s closer to the city, Tommy sees it as a sign for his new night life.
Now Uncle Felix is an interesting story. He left Millerton for many years traveling the world. When he came back, he found his old neighborhood of Colt Corner in disarray and full of crime. He moves back, buys a building and starts his own mission of bringing this section of Millerton back to health. Sometime after Tommy moves into the apartment, Felix finds out about Tommy’s night life and keeps the secret to himself. He realizes that Tommy and he have similar goals. The two become fast friends as they work to keep the neighborhood safe.
Originally, Uncle Felix was named Milo and he was going to be the owner and operator of the bookstore. But when Michael A. Baron gave me the Doughnuts story for my first issue, it just made sense to use this guy named Felix he put into the story as Gwen’s uncle. It would work for my intent for the uncle as trying to give Tommy as home area and give Felix his own very admirable mission. Truly a meant to happen moment. Uncle Felix may also resemble his source. Maybe. And trust me, when I start producing Uncle Felix merch, I will pass the share to Mike. I use the same honest law firm that the big two use. The reputable firm of Dewey, Cheatum and Howe are currently drawing up contracts.
Seriously though, I can’t stress how Important Uncle Felix and Gwen are to the overall world. I’m a firm believer if you have a masked man running around helping people, you have to have people to help. Too many comics have devolved into just focusing on the masked life and their other masked friends. I used to like to see Dick Grayson hang out with Wally West, but I didn’t want to see it every issue.
Look at this cool Dynama art from Jeremy O'Ryan (Skarekro art). Definitely a great piece from a great guy and it’s very appreciated that he took the time to draw it. In fact, check out his page and, if you can, hit him up for a commission.
We all gotta remember with no cons, a lot of cool artists are sitting in their studios ready to draw something awesome for us despite not being able to see us in person.
Skarekro Cartoon Art- Jeremy ORyan https://www.facebook.com/skarekro.cartoon/
Trying to do a book that features a regular guy living up to a grand legacy, I tend to create the character first and then come up with a masked double identity second. Luckily as I develop the person, it makes it easier to see what type of mask they’d wear.
I wanted Tommy to have a lifelong friend, a soulmate so to speak to grow up with. Bianca Curry became that soulmate. Loosely based on my wonderful and beautiful wife, it was pretty easy coming up with the type of hero I needed. It just made sense she’d be the “super” character of my world without peer. Her secret identity of Dynama is just an extension of Bianca’s natural instinct. She’s smart, positive and beyond witty. And the ability to pick up a building is just a side note. She’s Tommy’s voice of reason and is constantly zipping around the world helping out where she can. She’s more in the mode of “I have these powers, I want to help. It would be a waste of these blessings to do otherwise.” It allows me to give Tommy a real grounding by having a secure relationship.
As I’ve stated many times, MAN IN THE MASK has been with me for 20 years or so. Bianca and Dynama have been around as long. But one new thing I came up with for this version of the book, was the fact that Bianca’s adopted mother was a masked mystery woman herself. The Midnight Rose. And it was through that, We learn before her powers started showing up, Bianca was training to take over for her mom. This allowed me to show that Bianca chose being a selfless protector before she could fly. I had some fun showing some of that in the Halloween special. In doing so, I have gotten the bug to do a little more story on Bianca’s mom. So expect to see a origin story for the Midnight Rose, that will also lean into an origin of Bianca.
Design wise, Bianca has a ponytail. As a husband of a wife that has long hair, I’ve seen first hand how annoying she finds her locks when she’s working around the house. Made sense Bianca would want to put her hair up and out of her face. Costume wise I tried to go simple like I do with all designs. The color scheme just came to me. With the Midnight Rose, I did some research on girls in the 1960s with leather jackets and general clothing. Her costume is kind of thrown together but with a theme. It surprises me how fast I’ve really gotten attached to her and different things I can tell about her.
they really are a fun legacy that snuck up on me and I can’t wait to show you what I’ve worked up for them.
I may not have wanted Tommy to be the relunctant hero, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to use that trope somewhere else.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE COLONEL
I need someone to fit in between the generation of Tommy and his grandfather. I decided on using a silver age type. And the patriotic masked man just seemed right. As such, after arising from a near death experience, the future Colonel finds himself stronger, tougher and faster than those around him. Out of a sense of responsibility, his new reality forces him to take the place of others in danger. As such, he feels the weight of his abilities and finds little comfort in them.
I made his origins based in Vietnam, which creates a different kind of patriot than the one we all think of. Vietnam conjures up a much murkier past than the pride of a nation in WWII. So, the Private (at the time) is in a darker space as he exits the service.
I wanted the Colonel to see his masked life as a job. Nothing glamorous about it. He doesn’t hate it. It’s just something he does. And he’s extremely good at it.
Artistically, I wanted a guy I could do a lot of “heavy” art with. I went with what I thought was the archetypical super hero looks with him. His 80s costume and look is definitely influenced by Byrne work of the same time period. While his modern look of him in his 60s is a nod to Mr Miller. Thick and wide.
Undoubtedly, he was the antagonist of the graphic novel. But I softened him a bit from my original concept many years ago. I saw him in a different light when I finished the GN. We don’t see a lot of him in the early parts of the new series but he will pop up in places.
Another advantage of going digital first, I plan on doing short stories of side characters. the Colonel is definitely at the top of the list.
From day one many years ago, MAN IN THE MASK was designed to feature a willing masked man, ready to take on whatever came into his path. I didn’t want a reluctant guy or one burdened by his choices. Although I used some of those things to craft Tommy, the intention was that once he got past those issues, he’d be the kind of protagonist I was looking for.
As he emerged from someone else’s shadows, he welcomes his role and wants to craft it himself very willingly. I wanted to make a story that included all the cool things I loved about masked comics. One without cynicism about wearing a mask that had become so commonplace since Watchmen. Tommy wears his mask with pride and isn’t out to make the headlines or be the savior. He just wants to do a little good and leave his world a little better than he found it.
A lifelong comics fan, Mike W. Belcher is the writer/artist of MAN IN THE MASK. A story he's had with him for over 20 years.