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Seth Green

Seth Green & Hugh Sterbakov - "Freshmen" Comic Book - Comicon.org Interview

By Jennifer M. Contino

Saturday 8 October 2005, by Webmaster


As if adjusting to college life isn’t tough enough, a group of new students suddenly finds themselves the bearers of superpowers that aren’t all that fantastic or amazing or wonderful in the Hugh Sterbakov and Seth Green created miniseries, Freshmen. Big Men on Campus, Sterbakov and Green give PULSE the rush on these struggling students.

THE PULSE: I like how the title of the comic book doesn’t just relate to their academic standings, but also their standings as people with newfound superhuman abilities. Whose idea was it to call this Freshmen and was there ever another series title in mind?

HUGH STERBAKOV: All of the characters and the title came at the same time, in one burst of creative energy. A lot of people have asked if we’d change the title after a year, when the kids became, y’know, sophomores. But I think, as you pointed out, the title stands for more than their year in school, and I expect we’ll be keeping it for some time.

THE PULSE: About how long have you been working on this comic? How long did it take for you to develop it from a cool idea to the comic that’s in stores now?

STERBAKOV: We came up with the idea in the spring of 2004 and made a deal with Top Cow that fall. So it’s been just about a year and a half, and bit over a year from conception to the shelf.

THE PULSE: Why Top Cow?

STERBAKOV: At the same time Seth and I started thinking about making Freshmen into a comic book, Top Cow contacted me because a couple of their contacts told them they should look at my work. I’d never done comics before, but I have friends in the industry and they’ve read my screenplays. So Top Cow got in touch with me and we started talking about what we could do together at the same time the Freshmen comic proposal started going out to companies. Top Cow jumped at it with a ton of enthusiasm, and Seth and I decided they’d be the best home for us. And I’m thrilled with the relationship— they’ve supported us with everything they’ve got. I’d work with Top Cow again in a second, and, in fact, I just put together my first proposal for a comic book series other than Freshmen and I sent it to Top Cow to give them an exclusive window.

THE PULSE: What were some of the challenges of coming up with a story that has some elements of things we’ve seen before, but is also very unique and quite unpredictable? How did you learn to balance like that?

STERBAKOV: Well that’s all the challenge, actually. Most creative marketplaces offer the most reward for things that are extremely similar to what’s out there and just a little bit different. 99 times out of 100. We knew our goal was to present something familiar, and we knew that we’d get resistance whenever we strayed from the norm. So my goal, as the comic became a reality, was to pick and choose the battles that were really important to me. Like, for example, bleeping curse words instead of using random punctuation or placeholders like "fudge."

SETH GREEN: Top Cow has been incredible about not asking us to change anything. The only advice they’ve had has been constructive and beneficial. We just want to make a really cool comic that we’d like to read. Hopefully the comic buyers out there are interested in reading it with us. The fact that the book is selling out is pretty amazing.

STERBAKOV: I’m not sure how well we’ve balanced it— I don’t think you can please all the people all the time. As a long time comics fan, I hope the other fans can read this and see we were going for something unique while remaining true to our audience.

THE PULSE: How did you come up with each of these Freshmen?

STERBAKOV: All of the characters were created in one night of brainstorming over pizza and ping pong. Seth and myself, as well as Dan Milano (creator of Greg the Bunny) and his brilliant writing partner, Matthew Huffman, sat around talking about goofy super powers. It started because I wished out loud that I had the mutant power to ripen bananas— I had a bunch that was still a few days from ready. Banal, yes, but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t what gave birth to the series. So, anyway, we started tossing around ideas, and some weren’t any good— like a guy with an indestructible foot. But a few of them really seemed interesting, and the team concept we came up with felt like it was worth pursuing, so the next day I set about creating characters around the powers and breaking a story.

GREEN: I still have those, now very rotten bananas as a memento.

STERBAKOV: The kids get their powers when a machine called the Ax-Cell-Erator, which is designed to infiltrate cells and give them instructions to fix themselves, explodes in the science building.

Annalee, our narrator for the first issue, is an introspective girl who comes from a broken home and is at college to study the psychology of relationships. She gains the ability to jump into briefly people’s heads and look around through their memories or even control them, but her body is defenseless while she’s doing it.

Paula, the Seductress, is an overweight, insecure girl who becomes able to make anyone fall in love with her. She uses her power on Jacques, a womanizing french exchange student who becomes The Squirrel and is obsessed with hoarding acorns.

The Drama Twins, Renee and Brady, are in a toxic relationship and constantly bickering. They use their telekeneitc powers in tandem— so when they’re touching, she can pull objects toward them and he can push them away.

Liam is the naive heart of the team— he’s an Amish kid who is very fish out of water, and there’s a lot of comedy to be mined from his fascination with machines in the modern world, but there’s also a lot of heart in his story as he’s trying to fit in with a new crowd. His power is to create earthquakes with his belly, and he’s called Quaker.

Charles Levy, our resident PETA activist, is a die-hard vegetarian who suddenly is able to hear plants speaking. Now his food can talk to him, and that makes it very difficult to eat, so the poor guy is starving. He’s also dealing with the fatal attraction of his obsessed ficus tree. The Intoxicator, our breakout character, starts as a math ingenue named Elwood Johns. When he is intoxicated, he can push the sickness on you with a burp. Which means he’s constantly stumbling into battle and throwing up while the kids are fighting. Hey— this is what college kids do.

The character most people relate to immediately is Wannabe, the comic book-obsessed fanboy who has dreamt of being a superhero his entire life, but left for pizza when the fateful accident occurred that gave our kids their powers. He designs a superhero suit for himself and imagines himself as Batman, but nobody else takes him seriously.

And then we have a talking Beaver, the school mascot, who is ingenious, but obsessed with building dams.

THE PULSE: It seems like the thing that was "most" on their minds became the source of power. Whose ideas was it to "grant" heart’s desires like that?

STERBAKOV: It was mine. When you start working on a story, a series of problems always come up. How do I get character A in position B to start battle C, or to hear plot point D, or to get device E? I had to figure out how to give all of these kids these goofy powers at the same time. We have another kid who is sticky all over his body, so I had him put Post-Its all over himself just before the accident occurred.

THE PULSE: One of the things I was left with after reading the first few issues was the "be careful what you wish for" adage. What are you trying to showcase here? What’s your message?

STERBAKOV: Well, in the first couple issues it was important to establish that there is indeed a looming threat. We have a hardcore character introduction first issue, and the second issue mostly surrounds the kids exploring their powers. We wanted to make sure readers knew we’re going somewhere with this— that there will be a nemesis and serious dramatic stakes.

THE PULSE: Which of these Freshmen was the toughest to develop? Why?

STERBAKOV: The Quaker has been a challenge, because I’m not terribly familiar with Amish people and I very desperately don’t want to misrepresent them. I also dug a hole for myself in that I made Liam a very naive kid to begin with, and I don’t want people to think I feel this way about all Amish people. So his character demands the most attention.

THE PULSE: As a reader, I could see parts of myself in a lot of your protagonists here. How much of yourselves are in these teens?

STERBAKOV: Every one of them is a part of me. I went to this college, I was one of these kids. I know what they’re going through. In fact, it’s a rarely known fact that for six months in my early ’20s I was a talking beaver.

GREEN: I remember those months. Many dams built. The nice thing about characters like these is that there’s some of each of them in each of us. Anyone can relate to something that one of them is going through.

THE PULSE: What I also liked about Freshmen is, if they "received" their powers through some science thing going awry and it affected them because of proximity, we also are left with that thought of not knowing who else might have been "around" and gotten zapped by whatever hit these guys. How much of that "what if" element will be played out in this tale?

STERBAKOV: It’s played out a little bit in that there are kids who go off and do their own thing and don’t become part of the superhero team. And one kid gets caught up into something really diabolical that we only hint at in this first miniseries. But it’s certainly designed to be the gift that can keep on giving.

THE PULSE: You’ve literally got people from all walks of life here ... how did you decide where your main core would come from?

STERBAKOV: After we had the powers, I set about creating personalities that would earn us the most story fodder in conjunction with their abilities and the others. I wanted to diversify, and I wanted kids with opposing viewpoints and backgrounds. We have rich and poor, smart and stupid, worldly and naive, suave and geeky. There’s 100 issues of story just from them learning about each other’s worlds. And isn’t that what college is in real life? Usually high school is populated with kids you grew up with, who are just like you. College is the new world, where you pick your friends.

THE PULSE: Another thing that is so fun about this is that these don’t seem to be "great" powers - or, at least, the stuff we imagine having when we were kids reading comic books and thinking one day we might be bit by a radioactive spider or meet an old wizard who gives us a magic word .... How’d you come up with the powers? Why did you want them to be more than a little ironic?

STERBAKOV: It was very spur of the moment, with ideas flying. After having written is the sixth issue, which features a big fight, I do wish I’d given some more thought to offense. This is not a team with a lot of firepower. But this series is never going to be about giant battles, it’s about emotional struggles and personality conflicts. I think irony is the element that makes a story special, shows that it was thought through and creates the most story fodder. When you’ve got a guy who is humiliated by his powers, like the Squirrel, you’ve gotta put him on a pretty high horse to begin with so you can mine the most out of his fall from grace.

THE PULSE: Why a Beaver? Were you going for a little tongue in cheek with having a talking Beaver be such a key in all this?

STERBAKOV: We talked about a school mascot and a beaver just flew out of someone’s mouth. He could be so sweet and cute, and way too smart for his own good, so that he constantly feels like he’s surrounded by, as he puts it, "mongoloids." The issue of him being obsessed with dams actually came later when I was breaking the story. I wanted to hamstring him in some way, so that he wouldn’t have all the answers all the time, like Professor Xavier.

THE PULSE: If you were at that school, what kind of power do you think you would have gotten or do you think you’d have been chowing down somewhere like Norrin and missed it all?

STERBAKOV: I probably would have gotten the power of flight, I’m always dreaming of flying. But I never pass up a meal, so it’s likely that I would have been eating a burrito somewhere.

GREEN: I wish my private thoughts were so lofty that I’d be saving lives with my new powers, but I’d most likely get some ’Popeye’s drive through’ power.

THE PULSE: How does it feel to have the issues being so well received by the comics reading public? What’s that like to work on something and have it sell out?

STERBAKOV: It’s phenomenal, and yet I feel very disconnected. I’ve really enjoyed talking to the fans at comic cons and my signings, and it’s only when I hear them talking about the characters and reacting to them emotionally that it feels real. I think I have that personality where you sort of can’t believe anything good can happen. But boy am I thrilled that people are reacting well to the book. The first issue’s success was, no doubt, thanks in large part to Seth’s involvement and our exposure on Robot Chicken. But people came back for the second, and have been posting on our message boards and writing to me asking for more, and that’s what’s really made this a wonderful experience for me.

GREEN: It’s so thrilling to get to make this book, and have it come out. The fact that people are reading it, and getting as caught up in these characters as we are- it’s just great.

THE PULSE: For those who haven’t been able to get an issue yet, tell them what they’ve missed with The Freshmen’s first two issues.

STERBAKOV: In the first issue, our kids got to school, found out they’d be living temporarily in the science building instead of the overflowing dorms, and were humiliated by the frat guys before the explosion went off and they awoke with their strange powers. If you’re interested in checking this issue out, the second printing is out now, or you can download the full script for free at our website, www.fatboughl.com .

The second issue sees our heroes exploring their powers for the first time, while being introduced to the professor who created the Ax-Cell-Erator. They spend a lot of their time getting berated by The Beaver, before going on their first mission, to recover a machine part that can help rebuild the Ax-Cell-Erator. The Intoxicator uses his powers on an entire football stadium in this issue, which is a lot of fun. Oh, and subplots start to develop, as Norrin (Wannabe) has an unrequited crush on Annalee (The Puppeteer), and Paula (the Seductress) has used her powers to make Jacques (the Squirrel) fall in love with her.

Issue #3 hits stands on October 5, and it focuses on Liam, our Amish kid who can make the ground shake with his belly. The Freshmen also have their first major battle in this issue, and it’s here where the series takes a turn for the dramatic.

We’re doing these six issues, plus the Yearbook special right in the middle, and we’re going to see how fans react when the dust settles. The first two issues have sold out, and if we keep doing that, we’re bound to continue with either an ongoing or another mini-series. I’m very eager to continue, that’s for sure. But money men with far more lofty goals than simple creative passion have to make that decision. And then there’s also the Hollywood route, which is where we intended to take the story in the first place, either into TV or film. But if our fans continue to support Freshmen the way they already have, the book will go on and I’ll write every issue until it’s canceled or I die.

THE PULSE: What’s the strangest feedback you’ve gotten for the series so far?

STERBAKOV: On our website, there was a thread where on person claimed that Beavers, and I’m quoting him, "chew their nuts off" when pursued by men. Can’t get much stranger than that.

THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?

STERBAKOV: Nothing I’m ready to talk about just yet— there are a bunch of things in the planning stages and a couple companies have started talking to me about writing for them... and some friends and I are even working on shooting one of my screenplays next year, but I know better than to jinx myself. You’ll hear more soon, I promise.

GREEN: Working on an early grave. Producing the second season of Robot Chicken, and acting on an NBC show called 4 Kings, which will be on the air in January.