Trevor Fernandes-Lenkiewicz joins Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, in the Yeti Cave to discuss his latest title, a fresh take on superhero narratives called Rise. Check out the Kickstarter campaign finishing the first week of December!
COMIC BOOK YETI: Trevor, thanks for making some time to sit down for an interview in the midst of your busy campaign. Are things heating up or calming down now that you’ve crossed the lined and Rise is funded? What’s next now that you know you’ve got backers expecting a book and more?
TREVOR FERNANDES-LENKIEWIECZ: Honestly, heating up. I’ve been so beyond grateful to build up the audience I have, and fortunately, they’ve made it so that I don’t really have to worry about getting base funding ever again. The big goal now is getting to a place where we have the extra capital to go right into the next issue of RISE without slowing down. This gives us the chance to capture that collaborative energy/flow state from what we’re doing now and carry it into the next chapter. Plus, I get to make sure the homies are able to work and pay their bills. Right now, the big aim is crossing the $10K mark. This gives us that capital space I need to roll right on with the series, but also, I want to prove a point. At no point in my career so far have I been forced into playing by anyone else’s rules. I haven’t told a single story in a single genre that I haven’t wanted to—I have not had to cater to the market or my perception of its preferences. So, I want to take this campaign to that next level and prove that if you work your ass off to hone your craft and tell great stories that the people will come regardless of what any analysis of the sales space might say I should do.
CBY: I always like seeing what sort of perks and rewards creators offer beyond the comic book itself. You’ve got four cover variants for this publication; Ryan Best (the interior artist), Steph C., Raymund Lee, and Ivan Tao all provide some fantastic, iconic artwork. How did you find everyone, and what led to choosing Ryan for the book’s interior illustrations?
TFL: Ryan was an absolute no-brainer. He is one of those artists that captures all of the bombast and energy of traditional genre comics, but what he has that most don’t is the capacity to make his characters FEEL REAL. Don’t mistake that for the ability to draw a realistic face—he can do that too. But his work delivers vitality and life through his characters and the way he allows us to view them. He’s a character actor artist. They, despite being 2D drawings, exist in their own space and experience real conflict, real emotion. That is a skill that I don’t think you can teach, and one that makes him the ideal partner for a book like this that focuses so deeply on the emotional and psychological core of its themes. In regards to the other artists, I really wanted to source a diversity of style that could also capture a core element of this story. For me, a great cover must always be more than a pretty picture. It’s got to distill a piece of the story within down to a single still image, and that’s what Ryan, Steph, Raymund, and Ivan were able to do. In terms of how I managed to convince them to take part, here’s the short and sweet of it: I met Ryan about a year and a half ago at HEROES CON in Charlotte, (North Carolina) and was immediately taken by his expressive line work. I got a Robin commission from him, but little did he know that my commissions at cons are always an inquiry for me to decide whether or not I’d like to pursue working with them further. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but he killed it. And we’d kept in contact ever since. Earlier this year, Ryan and I got to try our hand at working together on a short story in my MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT collection on a little number called THE BEAR MARKET BUSINESSMAN which was a futuristic character drama. That, unbeknownst to him, was my second test before going to a full series together. And unsurprisingly, he brought a poise and thoughtfulness to his interior art that I hadn’t quite seen before. A few months later, there was no one else I could possibly ask to spearhead RISE with me.
Steph and I also got to work together on a short story in that same collection, but on another doozy called THE MARVELOUS MISADVENTURES OF THE MELANCHOLY MAN. You want to talk about versatility? Steph is the spitting image. She can float between a bold minimalist style to a softly rendered realism and everything in between. But aside from her utility belt of style available to any of her whims, Steph knows how to process story, and that is something you can’t buy. She gets how to bring the emotional core of a character to life, and so after the unparalleled experience of working with her on that series, I knew that she would bring something entirely different—and her own—to the the front cover of RISE.
Raymund was a fresh face, and someone I found scouring social media for talent. He’s humble, he’s hard working, and is a master of translating the written word to a gorgeously rendered image. To balance out the stylization of Ryan and Steph, I wanted someone who could deliver a fierce, immortal, and painterly edifice to the climax of this first issue. Raymund is of a similar school to the likes of an Alex Ross, who has conveyed the nature of characters to an iconic degree, so of course, I couldn’t pass that up on my first superhero project. Ivan? Well, he’s one of the foremost cover artists in the industry right now. He delivers energy and excitement through a stylized pop art aesthetic that grabs the viewer by the neck and refuses to let them go. He’s got such a cool design sense that conveys the necessities without over complicating the composition, and given the through line we’ve had for the other covers, I felt like he could play in that sandbox exceedingly well.
CBY: It's good to get the rundown on what everyone brings to the table. I know I first heard about this project on the Cartoonist Kayfabe Ringside Seats page, so I’ve seen you leading up to the campaign launch with your posts. When did this project come about, and how long has it taken to get it to the shape it’s in where it can support a successful print campaign?
TFL: This one was weird and evolved a lot over time. To be honest, it wouldn’t exist in its current form without my friend Richard—an immensely talented and accomplished cartoonist in his own right. I’d had a few infant superhero story concepts floating across google docs for the last few years, but after spitballing with him, one of them really developed into a complex take that I was proud to put my head behind. I’ve said for nearly three years worth of interviews that I didn’t want to do indie superheroes unless I had a wholly original approach that could demarcate itself from what already exists without aiming to be controversial or contrarian. It had to embrace the genre and add to it in a way that felt like me, and that’s where RISE came from. In something resembling its current form, I brought this story up to Ryan at HEROES CON this year, just to float the idea, but it really came into its own in late August, early September after Richard helped me focus into a core story that I wanted to tell. So, especially if you hate it, blame Richard Fairgray. If you like it, you know where to find me.
CBY: This isn’t your first project. You’ve got prior titles; Minutes to Midnight and Area 51: The Helix Project accompanying Rise within the rewards. How was this project different from those two, and what have you done differently with this comic as a consequence of lessons learned from your earlier stories?
TFL: I mean, all of my projects are vastly different from one another, and as a young creator, that’s something I’m immensely proud of to have accomplished so early on. AREA 51: THE HELIX PROJECT was me filtering the insecurity of my own identity through my Molecular and Cellular Biology education that I was struggling to walk away from in order to become a creator. MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT was an entire collection of short stories in different genres I’d never gotten to touch and was me not only trying not to be pigeonholed, but ultimately, was my way of wresting with how short-sighted I found the world. All four of the stories inside were attacking it from a different angle, but largely, they culminate in my attempt to express how important it is to find balance with yourself and the world around you in order to maintain a healthy perspective on life. It was also experimental, insofar as me trying to push my understanding of what myself and my collaborators were able to do creatively, which ultimately resembled a bit of a love letter to what the old school VERTIGO comics meant to me. And finally, we have RISE. Which carries that same desire to push myself and my team emotionally and creatively, but was also an attempt to do all of that AND embrace everything that I love about superhero comics. To bring out what I thought the genre had best to offer stories. The intent of this story is to explore what superheroes could offer beyond tradition while employing the dynamic nature that made me, and the world, love it! I really don’t think I’ve done anything all that differently here, though. If I’m honest, I think this go-around led to me really embracing what I think works in the collaborative process and doubling down on it.
CBY: You’ve enlisted Fabi Marques as Colorist, and Matías Zanetti as Letterer on Rise; how did you end up becoming acquainted with their work and enlisting them for the project?
TFL: Funnily enough, I met Fabi because she hopped on a few Twitter spaces and started busting balls. She’s really clever, which is something that I don’t think is quite appreciated enough. But besides that, she’s a goddamn coloring rockstar. She and I became friends before I brought her onto RISE, but frankly, us being cool had very little to do with her being a part of building this story. It’s a bonus, though, that’s for sure. She’s so clearly versed in the foundation of coloring and color theory, but plays around with the fundamentals in such a way to evoke her own sense of visual personality and style—which I think is something only the generationally talented colorists do. She’s thoughtful about her approach, always considering how colors help a reader’s eyes interpret the story, guiding them from point to point and weaving an atmosphere throughout any scene she tackles. Matías, I met at this past Baltimore Comic Con through a mutual friend of ours and collaborator of his, Tim Fling. I was privy to Matías’s work prior, and liked what I’d seen. He brought a design sense that so clearly matched the style of the stories he was working in. And after talking to him in person, it was so clear that he was passionate about the letterer’s role in developing the visual identity of a comic book, and that, paired with his clear skill meant that working with him was an inevitability. Not to mention, he’s legitimately one of the most genuinely warm people in comics, doing so without a want for anything.
CBY: There’s a nod to T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in the naming of your protagonist, Jonathan A. Prufrock. Should we expect some of the same insecurities and themes to pop up in the course of Rise found within Eliot’s inaugural poem?
TFL: Oh, for sure. My reading of the piece was so much about the ramifications of the male ego being performative, specifically relating to the eponymous persona’s inability to live up to the standards of manhood set before him. Eliot’s ‘Love Song’ is one of my favorite poems of all-time, and might possibly be the greatest outside influence on where this story is going.
CBY: To that end, can you speak to your other creative influences, within comics, and literature more broadly? What does Rise tap into, subvert, and add to the medium to set it apart from other straight-laced superhero comics? What does it do to stand apart from other genre-benders like The Boys or Watchmen?
TFL: Funny you mention those two, because RISE is explicitly trying not to be either of those things. I love WATCHMEN. It might be my favorite story of all-time in any medium. But there have been a handful of writers in comics to explore the deconstruction of the superhero, and frankly, they’ve done it better than I’m presently able to do. What makes this project different is that it toggles through the affectations of the superhero genre and very much narrows in on the core of what I think makes its stories relatable and emotional while completely ignoring some of the other tropes that I think might just be set dressing sometimes. RISE aims at the type of person that it takes to be a superhero and amplifies the human struggles that accompany that responsibility for us right now in contemporary America.
CBY: Rise is coming out through Pocket Watch Press - can you tell us a bit about the formulation of the company, and where you’re planning on taking things in the independent publishing process? If you could pick up one unpublished comic from another creator and put it out after Rise, who would you want to work with, and on what story?
TFL: To be honest, my answer here is pretty anticlimactic. Pocket Watch Press’ inception was simply a ploy to imitate an air of legitimacy for myself as a creative. When it came time to actually publish my first work, I figured that coming up with an entity behind me with a name that sounds like it'd been around would make me look like I knew what I was doing. Now, it's just my label, I guess.
The second half is interesting, however the answer might be even more boring because I have no clue. If I did, I'd want to publish someone with a voice that had a storytelling skill set that's entirely different from mine so that I could learn from them.
CBY: You’ve already had the opportunity to sit down with my predecessor as Interviews Editor here in the Yeti Cave, the inimitable Jimmy Gaspero - was there anything you didn’t get to cover with him that occurred after the interview? What would you like to add that might’ve gotten cut for time?
TFL: Nothing that I can think of in particular, except that Jimmy fucking rocks and that anyone reading this should listen to our podcast episode—it even features the artist of RISE, so it’s not just me babbling on.
CBY: Nice! I've added the link for those who may have missed it. I always leave creators with an opportunity to share some unrelated material they’ve been enjoying across the art & culture landscape. What should our readers check out once they’ve got their order in for Rise?
TFL: Well, I’m finally catching up on the smash hit, SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN, and that’s been a pretty fun ride, but I’m not sure if that needs me to tell people to check it out. Aside from that, I’ve really been digging Ram V & Felipe Andrade’s RARE FLAVOURS, which is currently coming out from Boom Studios. It’s a really fun tale full of exotic spices and a fierce foreboding that speaks to a crazy bit of story still yet to come.
CBY: Trevor, thank you for making time today to discuss your latest title! Please feel free to add any portfolio, publication, and social media links I haven’t captured above.
TFL: Thanks for having me, Andrew. Folks online can find all of my important links via my link tree (https://linktr.ee/pocketwatchpress) but I’d really encourage everyone to subscribe to my substack, at pocketwatchpress.substack.com in order to stay up to date with new projects, convention/signing travel, behind-the-scenes looks at art, and more!