The Big News and The Best Kept Secret In Comics
I knew something was coming, but nothing quite on this scale.
The Mike Wieringo Tellos Tribute book set is available for ordering today. It’s $50 a book, 200+ pages per book, and featuring an amazing cast list of creators.
Just go here and order it now. That’s all you really need to know.
And now I’m going to reprint a bunch of the Tellos stuff I’ve written and recorded (!) over the years in Pipeline.
Flashback to the Podcast
I interviewed Todd Dezago on the Pipeline Podcast back in the day about his career and “Tellos.” This is where the news first broke that the Tellos hardcover was coming:
If that player doesn’t work, click here to listen.
That podcast is from the week of November 15th, 2006. One of the top ten interesting releases for the week was an issue of “Captain Marvel” that Mike Wieringo was doing a fill-in for. It was a two-parter, and I don’t think I’ve ever talked about that one in Pipeline. Maybe I’ll do that this year.
Also: it’s REALLY hard to listen to my own voice, 10 years later. Yikes. A little too radio disc jockey-ish.
Tellos All About It
This comes from Pipeline on June 1, 1999. It’s the first time “Tellos” appeared in Pipeline. I cleaned up a couple of painful typos, like how I misspelled both Todd’s AND Mike’s last names in the same sentence:
Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo’s “Tellos” #1 came out this past week. I can’t tell you how impressed I am by it. If they manage to keep this book on the anticipated schedule and keep up the quality seen in this first issue, it should be outselling “Battle Chasers” and “Danger Girls” by September, if there is any hope for this market.
It’s parts “Battle Chasers” and “Leave it to Chance”. It’s a fantasy story complete with magical glowing gem and a young fair-haired boy, as well as gnomes and sword-wielding talking animals mixing in with humans and pirates and all the rest. The execution here is marvelous.
I’m not entirely sure who colored this, but the hues are bright and well shaded and blended. (Is Comicraft expanding into coloring, maybe?) The computer effects are not overused and fit in well with the rest of the coloring. Mike Wieringo draws what amounts to a 22-page action sequence with as much panache — if not moreso — as J. Scott Campbell does over on “Danger Girls.”
This book appears to be the complete package. It looks incredibly good. It reads well. It’s a whole lot of fun. And it’s very imaginative. It’s everything we keep asking our comics to be, isn’t it?
2016 Notes: Was Paul Mounts’ name not in the credits on the first issue? Ironically, colorist Mounts expanded to be the letterer with the fourth issue. You’ll see why in the next section.
And that last paragraph? I stand by it to this day.
The following is an article I wrote in 2000 for a comic book magazine that never took off. Instead, it became a Pipeline column during my week-long celebration of Image Comics’ 10th Anniversary a couple years later.
The more things change, the more they stay the same (again).
Tellos — Year One
For the past 15 months, fans have been enchanted by the fantasy series “Tellos”. Telling the story of a lost boy and his adventurous companion, the reader is transported to a colorful and inventive world. It’s filled with all the classic elements of fantasy series, including gnomes, elfin creatures, and griffins; that’s combined with a large story arc and deceptively simple characters to form a book that is complex, yet easy to follow. It might not be obvious at first blush, but there’s a lot going on that will reward those who chose to read the book a second time.
This whole interconnected world is devised, designed, and compiled by Toy Box Productions, a name used by writer Todd Dezago and artist Mike Wieringo for their joint project. “Tellos”, in turn, is published under the Gorilla Comics imprint of Image Comics.
Confused yet? Don’t be. It’s much simpler than it sounds.
It started with their original partnership at Marvel Comics, where the two came together on “Sensational Spider-Man.” When the book was cancelled out from under them, their mutual interests led to the concept behind “Tellos”, a fantasy comic that would fit nicely into all demographics. Todd Dezago describes the structure of the series: “The framework of “Tellos” was laid out by the two of us during a Sunday afternoon phone conversation; we developed the framework and worked it from beginning to end. Then it was my job to go and come up with a exciting way to ‘present’ the story, plot out how it would unfold.”
The tricky part then became finding a home for the new book. Image was the creators’ first choice, particularly since Mike Wieringo had already made a connection with then Image head honcho, Larry Marder. When Gorilla came about, once again it was Wieringo’s standing there that brought “Tellos” along. Todd Dezago gladly climbed the Gorilla’s tree after they answered a couple of questions he had about the setup. Dezago is a self-proclaimed “conservative business man,” who didn’t want to take too many chances with his creation.
Fantasy, Disney, and Improv
Being a fantasy title, ‘Tellos’ has the ability to morph into anything its creators want it to be. Along with that, however, comes the daunting task of creating a consistent universe. How do things work? Do the normal laws of physics apply in a world where magic is in evidence? If you believe a tiger can talk, what’s so hard about believing a magic genie lives in an emerald gem? It’s a liberating experience for a writer used to working in super-hero comics, where thirty or more years of continuity can prove to be limiting. On the other hand, it requires everything to be designed from the ground up. That is a task Dezago and Wieringo go at with reckless abandon.
“We have always worked well together and much of the nuts and bolts of ‘Tellos’ blossoms from conversations that we have,” Dezago says. “I call it the ‘Yes, and…’ process, where we never say ‘No’ to an idea, but just continually build on it.”
This isn’t to say some surprises don’t happen along the way. “Each issue I plot, I try to surprise Mike with how things happen, trying to catch him off guard with a piece of plot development,” Dezago explains. “In turn, he surprises me with the way the characters ‘act’, usually bringing on an even deeper subtext to what we were both shooting for!”
Mike Wieringo, who describes ‘Tellos’ as being about 95% of his workload, explains how such intensive design work can slow up the creative process: ” The more characters– or crowd/city scenes– the longer the page takes [to draw]. The heavy design demands of the “Tellos” world of characters in and of itself take me more time than anything else I’ve ever drawn. Every character is wearing some fantastic, medieval costume, which is a vast difference from drawing guys in long underwear punching each other out. But I love it.”
Wieringo goes on to explain how this could be a great way to keep boredom from setting in. “Visually, ‘Tellos’ is set up so that the possibility of… just about anything I/we could ever think up would be possible. Todd and I intentionally created a world that was so vast and varied and full of magic and possibilities that we can take it in any direction to keep it interesting to ourselves as well as the readers. Every time we introduce a new character, that character needs to be designed– which is my department, so if I want to add anything my imagination can think of, I’m free to do so.”
In both the story and the art, the reader can feel the effects of the different influences the creators have. Mike Wieringo credits two primary sources as his inspiration: Disney animation and Japanese anime and manga.
“I’ve always loved the sense of life, motion and magic in a Disney movie– and in recent years, the different design directions they’ve taken with each film has blown my mind,” says the Mouse-friendly Wieringo. “I’ve also discovered Japanese animation and comics in the past 5 or 6 years and I’ve really had my mind opened wide by the incredible intensity of design and power they infuse in their work.”
Dezago cites the work of authors J.R.R. Tolkien, Steven King, Piers Anthony, and Orson Scott Card amongst his influences.
“Mike and I were both huge Tolkien Fans as kids,” Dezago says, “and obviously [Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’] plays a lot into our world and narrative! Other influences would be the countless Fairytales, Greek Myths, and folk Stories/Legends that we both grew up with. As for other Authors of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I’d hafta name David Eddings and Brian Jaques as two of mine.”
There are some other, perhaps surprising, inspirations at work, as well. The character of Thomestharustra – whose name is commonly shortened to ‘Tom’ – speaks similarly to the way Mel Brooks’ Yoda parody character from the movie ‘Spaceballs’ does. The truth is not so far away. Dezago says that Tom is the only character that developed from a certain ‘voice’ he had in mind. In this case, it’s noted film director/actor Garry (“Pretty Woman”) Marshall. While Tom may speak with the wizened old sage voice, he just as easily can crack wise with a Bronx accent.
Tellos Over Time
Over the course of time, things change and adapt. There’s an old saying about all art not being finished, just abandoned. Dezago says he cringes when he reads the dialogue in the first couple of issues of the series, and will probably cringe again when he sees what he wrote in the most recent issue a couple of months down the line. Wieringo even cites a slowdown of his work pace as time has gone on, in part to help develop his style further.
“To be honest, I’ve actually started slowing down a little bit as I’ve gotten further and further into drawing the ‘Tellos’ saga,” Wieringo says. “I’ve been in a constant process of refining and revising the way I draw the characters and settings in the comic book. If you look at the way most of the main cast looks in the first few issues to the way they look now, you’ll see that their appearance has changed somewhat– with Koj changing the most in his overall look. Koj has definitely gotten bigger, more massive looking. I’ve also started using more tiger reference in drawing his head to make him more true to what a real tiger looks like.
“Drawing ongoing characters is always a constant process of refining and experimenting with how I like to draw them. It’s always fluid with me. As a result, I’ve started to slow down a bit. As far as my style is concerned, I think it has begun to change just a little, as I become a bit more comfortable with the subject matter, I think my work has solidified a little.”
Production aspects of the series have changed, as well. With the fourth issue, a new cover logo and lettering style appeared in the book. The decision to move away from the lettering house of the first three issues — Comicraft — was done for both aesthetic and creative reasons. The “vanity font” Comicraft created for TELLOS originally was based on Mike Wieringo’s own handwriting.
“After a few issues Mike said he didn’t like it and we switched to the current font,” Dezago says.
It also helped to quicken the production cycle on each issue. The same house, Paul Mounts and Ken Wolak’s BongoTone, is now handling both the lettering and the coloring. “It cut down on our production traffic and assured us more attention to detail that we weren’t getting previously,” Dezago says.
The original “Tellos” logo was created by Wieringo and colored by Dave DeVries. Paul Mounts designed the new logo to be easier to see from across the comic shop – something pointed out to Dezago and Wieringo by Image founding father Erik Larsen.
While the look of the book may be open to reinterpretation during its run, the storyline might not be so fluid. “Tellos” is working on a definite story arc, which comes to its grand conclusion in the tenth issue, due out in November.
“Yes, there is a Grand Scheme, and a definite progression laid out,” Dezago explains. “The current story arc comes to a climax in “Tellos” #10, and from there, Mike and I have many, many other stories to tell! 10 will close some doors but open several others!”
The Business End of Tellos
What’s the best way to explore those newly opened doors? Simple: Publish the book more often!
“Tellos” has been on a bi-monthly pace for most of its existence. In 2001, however, look for that pace to quicken.
“’Tellos’ continues on its bimonthly schedule ’til Tellos #10 in November,” says Dezago, “and then shifts to monthly with several Tellos specials/minis with art by a few industry favorites! This will give Mike and I time to get ahead on the second chapter of the ‘saga’, and raise some questions that will be addressed there!”
In addition, a variety of products based on the Tellos universe can be seen at a comics shop near you. A Dynamic Forces Serra vinyl statue made its way to comic shops everywhere in July 1999. A series of action figures is due out in November from both Dynamic Forces and Palisades. While describing the creation of ancillary merchandise as a great publicity vehicle, Dezago still plays the part of the proud father in describing the outside projects. “The first set [of action figures] features Serra, Jarek, Koj, and a Frog Soldier and, in my humble opinion, they look fantastic!! [It looks] just like they walked off of Mike’s drawing table and into your hands!”
A series of t-shirts became available in August, with a series of designs to debut on the TELLOS web site (no longer available) every couple of months.
There’s no official word on a video game or animated series, although several companies have made offers in the past. Dezago and Wieringo are waiting for the right deal to come along.
“And while we’ve had several interested parties regarding video games and animated series, I hate to get anyone’s hopes up (including my own) until it’s a definite…!”
Sidebar: A Pronunciation Guide
Most fantasy worlds inevitably give you odd-looking names to pronounce, or concepts and places that might not so easily jump off the tip of your tongue. This is also true with TELLOS. Dezago helped us with a few pronunciations:
Tellos: /TELL-us/ Think of “Tell us a story.”
Koj: /KAHDJ/ The origins of the man-tiger’s name trace back to “King Of the Jungle.”
Malesur: /MAL-eh-sure/ or /MAL-eh-sore/ Take your pick. Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo pronounce it two different ways. Until the blockbuster movie adaptation of the series comes out and puts one pronunciation setting in stone, you’ll have to go with what works best for you. In the preview story in the back of “Section Zero” #1, however, a young Rikk pronounces it “Mal-Shoor.” And after you read issue #10, you’ll probably go with a “sh” sound in there, too…
Todd Dezago: /De-ZAY-go/
Mike Wieringo: /Wuh-RING-oh/
Check out MikeWieringoArt.com for a treasury of the sketches Wieringo did, covering everything from Spider-Man to “Lost” to Harry Potter to Tellos. I borrowed some of them to illustrate this article.
I am sure we’ll be returning to the world of Tellos in the months ahead. If nothing else, I found some notes I took for a HyperAnalysis of “Tellos” #1…