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Interview Today's Date:

Suiting Up With Keith Champagne:
a look at Armor X
Bart Sears' back cover for Armor X #1!

A couple of months ago, we ran a preview of an interesting project coming from Image Comics. Long-time inker Keith Champagne had turned to writing, and begun work on Armor X, a tale of a high school kid getting superpowers that was definitely NOT what we'd seen before. The first issue presents a kid growing up in a very real environment of hazing at school. The fact that the other kids call him "Columbine" should give you a clue as to what Carson Deeds' daily life is like.

Alienated from his peers, rapidly losing touch with his few remaining social connections, he threatens to show them all...until something very strange happens to him on the way.

Champagne is not doing the art chores on the book, despite his noted career as an inker. Instead, he has Andy Smith doing full art, and as you can see from what he has sent us, it's good stuff.

Tomorrow, the first issue will be solicited in Previews. So Keith graciously took the time to answer some questions about the book, which will hopefully open some new career doors for this multi-talented man.

Derek McCaw: What inspired you to write Armor X?

Keith Champagne: Well...let's see. I'd say ARMOR X was inspired by a couple of different things. First amongst those was being creatively frustrated and feeling like I was banging my head against a wall trying to make the transition from being primarily an inker in comics to becoming that strange hybrid creature known as the "writer/inker."

I just feel strongly that, in my heart of hearts, I have more to offer myself than just a life spent inking other people's comics. I can do more, I've been fighting to do more, to be more creatively fulfilled, and ARMOR X is my largest victory in that war so far. Which isn't to say that I don't like to ink because I enjoy it very much. But that's not all I feel I can do (or maybe it is and I'm just too blind to know the truth) and it's frustrating to feel that I'm only tapping into a small portion of myself.

Andy Smith's cover
From a story standpoint, ARMOR X was inspired by the notion of the angry teenager who gains superpowers...only to turn around and immediately start doing good with them. That always rang a little false to me. I mean...if a kid was frustrated and angry and bullied and bitter towards the world--then suddenly gained vast powers, would his or her automatic reaction be to help his fellow man? I don't think so...I know I personally might be tempted to look out for numero uno a bit if it was me. We're all only human, after all.

And from that basic premise, Carson Deeds, comics' most emotionally troubled protagonist, and the world of ARMOR X evolved.

Derek McCaw: We’ve seen armored characters before: Iron Man, obviously, X-O Manowar, Hardware, Prototype...what makes Armor X different?

Keith Champagne: My easy answer for this (and I've used it a couple of times) is that the armor in ARMOR X gets hungry.

Of course, that implies certain things about the nature of the armor that I don't want to spell out but it's safe to say that there's more to our suit of armor than immediately meets the eye.

Thematically and tonally, ARMOR X is also a different kind of beast. This isn't a book about a billionaire industrialist/genius who invents a suit of armor to keep his damaged heart beating.

This is a book about a kid whose heart is damaged in a different way: emotionally, and what he does when he gains the power to live out every revenge fantasy he's ever had against a world he feels has, frankly, pissed on him since the day he was born.

Derek McCaw: Obviously, in having the lead Carson nicknamed Columbine, there’s a different sense about the hell that can be high school. Your portrayal is pretty provocative. What were your high school days like, and what do you think has changed for high school kids since then?

Keith Champagne: My high school days were pretty pleasant, all things considered. I was fairly popular, got along with most everybody, had a few dates here or there...can't say I was much of a student but it was a pretty fun time for me.

As if the day couldn't get any worse for Carson...
I'm certainly no expert about current high school life but I think the stakes are higher for high school kids these days. In many ways, teens seem in some ways to be more mature than they were when I was the same age. By mature, I mean that I think they've seen more and been exposed to more at an earlier age than I was.

Also, society is different. Broken homes are more common, drugs seem to be easier to come by, the Internet has changed the way people communicate and gather information...there are just fundamental differences. I think my childhood was a much more naive time, all things considered.

Plus, fifteen years ago, a high school shooting was virtually unheard of. Today, while there hasn't been a serious incident in a year or two now, at least not that I've heard of, a situation like Columbine is a scary reality of the way of the world. It's just a darker place.

Wow...enough preaching there. I'm stepping off my soapbox.

Derek McCaw: In comics, we used to take it for granted that a misunderstood angry kid would find superpowers and use them for good. If you had written Ultimate Spider-Man, would Peter Parker be that clear cut?

Keith Champagne: Well...short answer, no. The original genesis of this book was to reflect a Peter Parker type of character--the angry, misunderstood, bullied high school kid--through the mirror of today's society.

Kids today seem not as likely to go home and drink a warm glass of milk after getting their head flushed down a toilet at school. The world is a different, in many ways scarier place than it was even fifteen years ago, which is when I was in high school, and I think ARMOR X reflects some of those changes.

Derek McCaw: You’ve had a steady career as an inker. Why turn to writing Armor X and having someone else draw it entirely?

Keith Champagne: The reason I'm writing ARMOR X and not taking any part in the book artistically is simply because I'm trying to draw a distinct line between the projects that I write and the projects that I'm involved in artistically. It's been my experience that editors only choose to see a person in a certain professional category. A person is a writer OR a penciller OR an inker etc. But it's very hard to be known as an inker and then also to be given the time of day as a writer.

I'm not sure why that is...I mean, why can't someone in theory be capable of doing more than one thing? I happen to feel like I'm more qualified to write than I am to pencil or ink but I haven't really had a ton of luck convincing anyone else of that.

So it's my hope that by separating the two, maybe it'll help to show that there's more than one facet to me creatively. And it's a trade off financially. I could in theory generate more income by insisting on inking anything that I write. But I go the other way with it and hopefully, that'll pay off in a different fashion in the future.

Derek McCaw: As an inker, you’re working on JSA with one of the top writers in the business, Geoff Johns. How much influence has he had on you?

Keith Champagne: As far as the craft of writing, very little. I think Geoff is very talented, don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of his work and I've enjoyed watching him grow to become GEOFF JOHNS over the past five years, both in talent and stature in the business. But I think we're different kinds of writers and really...he's miles above me on the food chain.

The way Geoff has influenced me, though...is watching him to build his career. There are a lot of lessons to be learned if one is to watch how he's networked and taken advantage of opportunities and played the game of comics, which is just as important as his talent and out and out professionalism...he's just really good at that aspect of the business. He's very smart and savvy, meets deadlines, is easy to work with...he does everything right.

Champagne's The Legion #34.
I would say that Geoff and I both share one fundamental influence as writers and that influence is JSA editor Peter Tomasi. Peter is very talented in his own right and astoundingly generous when it comes to sharing his knowledge and helping writers find their own voice. He's a true class act and I've been lucky to soak up knowledge from working around him for so many years.

Plus, he processes my checks every week. So thanks, Pete.

Derek McCaw: How did your one-shot writing The Legion come about? Was it your idea to update Qward, or DC’s?

Keith Champagne: Long story short, it was the end result of a lot of begging, pleading, pitching, and maneuvering on my part. It was literally a three year process to pitch that issue, write it, and then have it see print. I'm very proud of it though...I think for my first full writing job, it could have been much worse. I loved working with Steve Lightle, although I wish he would draw faster.

Updating Qward was my idea. I pitched it to the book's editor, thought it was a good place to take the Legion where they had never been, and he signed off on my ideas. The only negative to the experience was that I couldn't use the name "Anti Monitor" for Lord Thalon, which is what he called himself and who he was pretending to be in the first draft of the script. But hopefully, people still figured out what that rascal was up to.

Derek McCaw: In a crowded marketplace, what do you think makes Armor X stand out and be worth buying to the average fan?

Keith Champagne: Wow...that's a tough question. It is a crowded market place and books are expensive these days. The dollar doesn't go as far in comics as it did during my peak collecting years, when it wasn't too hard to buy 90 % of everything.

I guess I'd say because ARMOR X is an attempt to do something different. It'll be judged on its own merits but all of us, from myself to Andy to Rick (the colorist) and Charles (the letterer) to Stephan at ATP STudios and the folks at Image, have really worked their asses off to try to put together a book that, while it's darker and edgier than a typical Marvel or DC book, is still a good, interesting read. It's a book with characters that, while they may not be sympathetic at times, are hopefully still relatable to the reader.

Andy Smith has out and out kicked ass on this book. I really think ARMOR X is among the best work that he's produced in his career and I genuinely couldn't be happier with the way he's interepreted my scripts. So any fan of good art and storytelling should be satisfied with the book on that level.

And finally...buy it because I need you to. This is my biggest foray into writing so far and, while I have other gigs lined up, ARMOR X is nearest and dearest to my heart. I'm proud of it and I want it to be read. It's a book that deserves to find an audience so give it a chance. I hope you won't be disappointed.

Buy this book or I'll disintegrate my head.
Derek McCaw: Do you plan for Armor X to be an ongoing or limited series?

Keith Champagne: ARMOR X is originally planned to be three separate, four-issue limited series. However, as buzz for the book has started to grow louder, there are already rumblings that we'll just roll into issue #5 and go from there. This is something that has just started being discussed over the last few days so it's too early to tell. Ultimately, sales will warrant if the book goes monthly or not; that's always the final indicator of these things. It would be a lot of fun to just keep going, though.

There's a lot of story to tell for these characters and I'd be surprised if you didn't see more of them after the initial four issues, one way or another.

Derek McCaw: You’re doing a convention tour this year, so let’s put it out there: where can fans find you?

Keith Champagne: Well...I'm always here in my basement office in lovely Connecticut so feel free to knock on the door and say hi. Barring that, you can catch me at Megacon down in Florida in February and San Diego next summer. There's also a possibility that I'll be in Chicago but I'm not sure about that one yet.

I also did the Wizard World convention in Texas in November and it was really weird to see people buying bottles of beer at a comic convention. Texas is quite a place.

But if anyone out there is looking for me...as long as you're not serving me court papers, it's a good chance you can find me at one of those conventions.

ARMOR X is listed in the Image section of the January Previews. The first issue "Prom Night" will be in stores March 2, 2005.

Three pages of preview art are also available HERE!


Derek McCaw

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