Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Real-Life Altering Event 'Kickstarts' SOLESTAR


Sometimes even the worst experience can bring a positive light to the way you live. For long-time comics fan Siike Donnelly, after surviving a potentially fatal brain aneurysm he had a new outlook on life and wanted to share that, in comics form. What came out of that is a graphic novel titled Solestar, which follows a near omnipotent superhero who is forced to give a more honest look at life once confronted with his own impending death.

Donnelly is writing Solestar with the help of two editors and over sixty artists, and the support of fellow comics fans thanks to a Kickstarter fundraising drive which ends this weekend. Siike, a former production assistant for television shows such as Dancing With The Stars, now works at California’s Golden Apple Comics and is immersed every day in comics and is proud to tell the Solestar story and his own story which led up to it.

Newsarama: First off Siike, what can you tell us about the concept of Solestar?

Siike Donnelly: Solestar, from a conceptual standpoint, is about legacy. If my aneurysm would have killed me, I'd have left nothing behind. You wouldn't be interviewing me, and this project wouldn't exist. From that, I wanted to explore what a Superman-type character would do with his last day on Earth. He still has villains in the world, and they are just waiting for him to die off so that nothing stands between them and the world. I asked myself, what would be the most difficult thing for a superhero to do? What I landed on was the core of the story; Solestar had to turn his villains into heroes.

Nrama: How did this idea come to you?

Donnelly: Well, like most writers, I always wanted to write a superhero story. The idea for this came from understanding how short life can be. Like myself, Solestar just wants to be remembered for doing what's right, hopefully inspiring others to follow a similar path. The idea seemed like a cool twist on the classic, good versus evil story we usually read about. How does someone good stop evil? My answer; you make evil good. Silly I know. Naive even. But maybe it's time we thought a bit more naively. I told this to Scott Lobdell (name drop) the other day... "It's easier to be cynical in this day and age. That's not a creative road to travel, in my opinion. It doesn't take much thought to be jaded or feel like the world is against you. It takes effort and wasted energy, but no thought. Whereas being a little naive, or looking at things with a more optimistic viewpoint takes no effort at all, and a ton of thought." Thinking like that led me to the idea of what story to tell. The charitable hope and aspect of this story came from seeing DC's “We Can Be Heroes” campaign and being friends with people at the Hero Initiative. Through their actions I saw that art can change the world and save lives.

Nrama: Solestar’s real name is Isamu. So who is he on the inside?

Donnelly: Isamu is named after one of my favorite anime characters, Isamu Dyson from Macross Plus. In fact, the first thing you read in Solestar after opening the book is a quote. "Dedicated to all pioneers." That's the first thing you see in Macross Plus. Isamu has a big heart. He was given his powers during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but instead of flying across the world and killing all of us in America, he realized the value of a life. He stayed to help rebuild his country. At that moment, he became a builder, not a destroyer. I just thought that gave him an interesting and unique perspective on this world. By choosing the path he chose, to me, he became far more noble, and for lack of a better word, "better" than anyone else in a similar situation. That's what our heroes should inspire us to be- "better".

Nrama: How is Solestar hoping to make things “better”?

Donnelly: Well, in the story, he hopes to teach the world how to save itself from now on. Through his actions, he shows ordinary people, super-powered villains, and the rest of the world what it means to be selfless, if even for only a moment. How one small, or grand, act of good and decency can transcend any hateful act one can conjure up. He has villains in the world, some who he tried helping before, and others that may be too far gone to help. He knows they will continue to exist when he's gone, so he tries throughout the story to get each of them to do something truly good. He hopes that by doing that, they'll at least get a fraction of his own perspective on this world, and maybe want to carry that on in Solestar's absence. He understands it's probably not a possible goal to reach, but it doesn't stop him from trying. He's tried everything else to beat them, and nothing has worked. On his last day, he finally figures out a way to pull off something he's never tried.

Nrama: This story revolves around an immortal man falling in love with a woman and seeing her die from a brain aneurysm. Given your own experience as a brain aneurysm survivor, why’d you decide to make something so personal to you?

Donnelly: Honestly? Partly therapy. Because it's something most people don't understand, or something most people didn't even know you could survive, it's next to impossible to talk to anyone about it. I reached out online to talk to other survivors, so I that don't feel alone with it. When I heard some of their stories, and how many of them have it much worse than I do, I decided to tell this story for them. So in the end, it became less personal for me, and more personal for them. I even included some of their stories into the book, with their permission. I wanted this to be about all of us, the ones who survived, and those that didn't. Once I realized I was doing this more for others, it was an easy decision to make.

Nrama: You’re doing this as part of busy life in your day job as a production assistant for shows like Dancing With the Stars and Shark Tank. How do you balance that while acting as creator/editor/writer/organizer of Solestar?

Donnelly: Well, I don't do much PA work these days. Sadly I have physical and mental limits that prevent me from keeping up with the rigorous pace of production life. I can do post PA work and office stuff, but that's it. At the moment, I work at Golden Apple Comics, where I can talk comics all day and help people find something fun to read. And I have a dog now, who I rescued a year ago. The juggling between real life and working on Solestar isn't easy, I'll admit. Luckily I have two amazing editors, helping me make sense of all this as much as possible. Gene Hoyle and Richard Caldwell have been a godsend, and I'm thankful they help making my juggling act easier to handle, while still looking impressive to others.

Nrama: Is this book only going to be available on Kickstarter, or will people be able to buy this in stores at some point?

Donnelly: That actually depends on people. For now, the only way to get this is through Kickstarter. I have been talking to people at Diamond about maybe going further with it once it's printed. But we have to meet that goal first. A gentleman at Diamond actually lost his father to a brain aneurysm. I meet people every day now that know someone who has died from one, and are in shock that not only have I survived one, but experienced a rupture at such a young age. I was 28 when I had mine. I hope we can get this book out there after the Kickstarter. It's certainly my dream to see this on comic shelves. In fact, there are great incentives to retailers that donate, including an exclusive Kevin Eastman cover. So if storeowners donate, you will see this in stores as soon as April.

Nrama: You’ve got some real A-list artists working along side indy artists on this. How’d you organize the creators working on this?

Donnelly: It wasn't easy. I started by going to every convention I could afford, even a few that I couldn't, and strolled down artist alley, which is my favorite place of any convention, to find artists. From there, I'd send out the script, and the character bible, where Paul Barnes designed some amazing characters for us, and asked the artist to pick the page that spoke to them the most. That was our process. From there, we tried to break it into chapters and have Richard handle those artists, and Gene handle another chapter, to even out the workload. It didn't work. Everyone kept emailing me. Still, I went to Gene when I could, but went to Richard a lot to help keep this whole thing making sense. There are a few art continuity mistakes we made between pages, but nothing so major that I felt it would take the reader out of the story. I hope.

Nrama: If Solestar is successful, could you see yourself doing more stories about the characters down the road?

Donnelly: Well, this is Solestar's last day alive. [laughs] But you never know. Gene came up with the idea, since we never really tell Solestar's origin in this book, that we should do two more books after this, going backwards, each one raising awareness and maybe research money for a different cause. A reverse trilogy. I like that idea a lot. If this one gets made and funded, I can see us doing this again next year. There are far too many things that can kill us in this world, its time we start taking a few of those off the list. I like the idea of Solestar saving his world, and helping people in ours. Hopefully others out there like it too and can help us make our dream a reality. Like Christopher Reeve said, "At first, dreams seem impossible, then improbable, and eventually inevitable."

Thanks to all that helped Siike Donnelly make this happen and supporting his project Kickstarter page, thanks Mike.
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