Up With Keith Champagne:
a look at Armor X
Sears' back cover for Armor X #1!
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.
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.
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
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.
McCaw: What inspired you to write Armor X?
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.
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,
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?
Champagne: My easy answer for this (and I've used
it a couple of times) is that the armor in ARMOR X gets
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
if the day couldn't get any worse for Carson...
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.
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?
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.
McCaw: You’ve had a steady career as an inker.
Why turn to writing Armor X and having someone else draw
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
The Legion #34.
Plus, he processes my checks every week.
So thanks, Pete.
McCaw: How did your one-shot writing The
Legion come about? Was it your idea to update Qward, or
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.
McCaw: In a crowded marketplace, what do you think
makes Armor X stand out and be worth buying to the average
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
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.
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
McCaw: Do you plan for Armor X to be an ongoing
or limited series?
this book or I'll disintegrate my head.
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.
McCaw: You’re doing a convention tour this
year, so let’s put it out there: where can fans find
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
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.
X is listed in the Image section of the January Previews.
The first issue "Prom Night" will be in stores
March 2, 2005.
pages of preview art are also available HERE!