Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Common Grounds-- Graphic Novel Review & Writer Interview!

Paperback, 244 pages
Released: October 15th 2004
Publisher: Top Cow Comics
ISBN 1582404364 (ISBN13: 9781582404363)
Source: Local comic shop

Writer Troy Hickman (City Of Heroes) welcomes you to Common Grounds, a chain of doughnut and coffee shops where both heroes and villains kick back in their off-hours. Hickman delivers a total of 13 tales of triumph and tragedy putting a true-to-life view on archetypes. The stories are lavishly illustrated by a galaxy of star artists, including George Perez (JLA/Avengers), Sam Kieth (The Maxx), Dan Jurgens (52) and Chris Bachalo (Ultimate X-Men)

Common Grounds was my very first experience with graphic novels. A few years ago, I read about it on a message board I used to frequent.
I decided to give it a shot. I took my very first trip to a comic shop and luckily, they had one copy on hand.
I bought it, read it, cried my eyes out, then read it again.

Since I'm not a regular comic reader, I don't feel qualified to write about this book AS a comic.
I don't know anything about artwork or drawing or ink or pencilling. I CAN tell you that the pictures are pretty. I liked looking at them and they did enhance the experience.
Instead, I'm going to talk about the stories.
I love to read, I love books, I love words, and I love stories. That's what I know and that's what I feel comfortable talking about here.

Written by two-time Eisner nominee Troy Hickman, Common Grounds (Top Cow) contains 13 stand-alone stories--although there is a bit of intertwining between some of them.
Each and every one is a delight to read. There are NO weak stories in this book. The characters come alive and the humour will make you laugh out loud.
I especially loved the character names. How Hickman comes up with so many great superhero/supervillain names is beyond me!

This is truly a side of superheroes and supervillains we never get to see. Their innermost thoughts, their weaknesses, their personal lives....Who knew that superheroes deal with the same issues WE do?
The four that I enjoyed the most were 'Elsewhere', 'Glory Days', 'Time Of Their Lives' and 'Loose Ends'.
These stories touched me. Some are heartwarming and some are heartbreaking...but all are wonderfully written and they'll make even the toughest comic book geek tear up.
And the twist in 'Time Of Their Lives' is just brilliant. Well done, Mr. Hickman!

The only complaint I have is that there aren't enough stories, and the stories we do get aren't long enough!
I wish this had been turned into a full series. I have a feeling Troy Hickman is FULL of stories just waiting to be told.

And speaking of Troy Hickman...well, I mentioned above that I found out about Common Grounds through a message board.
Troy just happened to be a frequent poster on that same message board. I'd never spoken to him, but after I read Common Grounds, I sent him a message telling him he'd made me cry and how much I'd enjoyed his book.
He wrote back to thank me and we messaged back and forth a few times until the conversation petered out.
A few years later, I happened across his name on Facebook and sent him a friend request. He accepted and because of that...and Common Grounds... today I consider Troy Hickman a friend.
We often banter back and forth and I can honestly say he's one of the most intelligent and hilarious people I know. I really hope to meet him in person one day!

Don't you LOVE social media? And comic books? ;)

Troy Hickman
Not a vampire, sparkly or otherwise.
When I told Troy I was going to review this book, I asked him if he would mind answering a few questions. Being the nice guy he is, he obliged.

So without further adeiu, here's my interview with Common Grounds writer, Mr. Troy Hickman!

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Who are you and what have you written?

I am the Walrus. I am the man who shot Liberty Valance. I am your father, Luke…

I’m also a Hoosier, a college instructor, the fathers of a professional wrestler, and a comic book writer. Among those comics would be the Eisner-nominated Common Grounds (about a chain of donut shops which cater to superheroes and villains), the Pilot Season-winning Twilight Guardian (which deals with a possibly mentally-ill woman who patrols a nine-block area around her neighborhood each night in a hoodie and mask), City of Heroes (based on the online multi-player game, for which I’ve also done some work), Witchblade, Turok, the Hulk, and enough small press/independent publications to choke a comic-reading horse (and I hate it when they lick their hooves to turn the pages).

Why comics? 

Well, when I was a little kid I had thought about being an astronaut, but I get car sick, so that was right out. A fairly shiftless uncle of mine gave me a small stack of comics when I was about three, and it was because of them that I learned to read on my own before kindergarten. They were probably the best part of my young life, and they grew into my passion. When I was in high school, it became apparent that if I had any talent at anything, it was writing. Flash forward through a BA and an MA in Creative Writing, lots of self-publishing, and more years than I’m willing to admit, and here I am, such a legend in the comics industry that my mom thinks I draw “Marmaduke.”

What was your first published work?

My first self-published work was Yoyo the Dieting Clown, a mini-comic I published under my own Avernus imprint. It was about a bulimic clown who binges and purges, and his romance with Retaino, a lovely clowness with swollen ankles. It was slightly autobiographical, except I never mastered the purging part.

My first big-time “hey, I actually got paid for doing this, the suckers!” comic was a magazine-sized comic called Turok: Adon’s Curse. They’re fairly hard to find now, so if you get your hands on one, hold on to it like grim death. Turok was one of the first comics I got as a kid, so I appreciated the synchronicity of the whole thing.

How do you come up with story ideas?

I do most of my best thinking when I’m either in the shower, or driving my car, as that’s where my mind tends to wander (at least in the shower that tendency won’t cause me to run over anyone…very often). The majority of what I write, comic-wise at least, is superhero type stuff, and what I find is that I do pretty well if I write a short story about normal folks just interacting with each other, and then I “dress it up” with conventions of the superhero genre. So if you read most of the stories in Common Grounds, for example, they could just as easily be about people who are NOT wearing tights and capes.

I love superhero stuff, but I find myself reluctant to do “normal” superhero stories, as I would just feel like I’m churning out the kind of work of which there are already thousands of examples out there. So I do books like Common Grounds, where it’s pretty much all dialog, or Twilight Guardian where there’s NO dialog, but rather it all takes place functionally within the character’s head.

Who are your influences?

Too many to count ‘em all, but in comics it would be folks like Steve Ditko, Harvey Pekar, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart, Mike W. Barr, Mark Gruenwald, Steve Gerber, Arnold Drake, Cary Bates, Elliot S. Maggin, and a ton of other folks that unfortunately far too few of today’s comic readers would know.

If you could write any characters in the current comic universe, who would you choose and why?

If you mean Marvel or DC, I tend to gravitate toward lesser-known characters like Ultra the Multi-Alien, the 3-D Man, etc. If I could write one book for Marvel, I think it might be the Liberty Legion, set in the 40s. At DC, it would be Dial H for Hero. As far as MAJOR characters, probably Captain America or the Thing at Marvel, and maybe the Flash or the Legion of Superheroes at DC.

Who is your favourite superhero? And which superhero are you most like?

My favorites are the ones I’ve created, because I’m an egomaniac (and also have low self-esteem; you work that one out). As far as which ones I’m like, I think I share a lot in common with Captain America, or at least the version of Captain America I have in my head. I’m also very much like such characters as the Thing, or Metamorpho, or my own Strangeness from Common Grounds, in that I’ve also found myself feeling kind of freakish, an outcast of sorts.

What advice would you give to budding comic writers?

The primary advice I always give is PERSISTENCE. At any given moment, there are literally ten thousand comic readers out there who also want to write them. 80% of them will give up that dream within a year or two of trying if they don’t succeed. OUTLAST THEM. Also, write comics because you have a love for the medium. Far too many publishers these days are merely using comic books as a “farm team” for creating movies, TV shows, video games, etc. That’s all fine and dandy, and if they decide to make Twilight Guardian underoos, I’ll be the first in line. But that’s secondary at best. The comics are what’s important, not getting your foot into Hollywood’s door, not being a “rock star,” etc.

Also, if you want to succeed, do a comic for which you have passion. You know which of my comics have been the most successful? The ones that everyone told me COULD NOT possibly work. I had folks telling me that a comic about people talking in a donut shop couldn’t go beyond an issue…right up until it was nominated for a couple of Eisner awards. I had people telling me that a comic about a woman walking around at night with “nothing happening” had no future…until it won its own four-issues series through the Pilot Season competition.

But you know what HASN’T been successful? Those few times that I tried to analyze what was selling well in the comic industry and duplicate it, rather than making the kind of comics that I wanted to read myself.

Any word from Starz about the Common Grounds TV series? 

I don’t know what the status is at the moment. I’m hoping it comes to fruition, as that would almost guarantee a new run of the comic. It’s tough, though, as maybe one in a thousand projects that gets optioned ever makes it to the screen (heck, even the recent Wonder Woman TV project couldn’t make that last step). If it doesn’t come to pass, though, I have some stories that I’ve written for Common Grounds that I can easily retool into stories for something else (it’s just a matter of saying to the artist “supermarket” rather than “coffee shop”…!)

How about the Twilight Guardian movie?

The last I heard there were some folks interested in also bringing that to the small screen, maybe as a weekly show where she gets involved in the lives of people in her neighborhood. If that happens, you’ll be the first to know (perhaps literally, as no one ever tells me anything!).

Any projects in the works now?

I’m working with my pal Stan Timmons on some projects. We had a pitch for a new Night Force book at DC, but it looks like they’re doing something else with that title now, so we may have to mutate it into something else. We’re also about to pitch a VERY unconventional WWII superhero book to some publishers that will either make us both household names or cause publishers to banish us from the funnybook biz for all eternity. I’ve also got some plans for an autobiographical book that I’ve wanted to do for probably thirty years now (ever since the first time I read American Splendor).

And I’m always looking for work, so if any editors are reading this, remember that I’ve got a coupon for 40% off on scripts, but only with participating Troy Hickmans, void where prohibited…

Thank you so much for being my very first interview, Troy, and for writing such phenominal comics!

You can buy Common Grounds here, and Troy's Top Cow Pilot Winning comic, Twilight Guardian here.
And make sure to follow Troy on Twitter at @Troy_Hickman!


  1. Great interview. Paragon City is proud of you, Troy!

  2. As a long time friend of Troy's (we first met via an amateur press association (APA) for the super-hero RPG Champions - in the days before internet and social media), I love to hear what others think of his work. Troy is a great guy and a wonderful writer. Glad to see him getting the success he's work hard to achieve.

    Martin's View

  3. Nice blog. As a lover of words you might be interested in the word play involved in cryptic crosswords. I am doing a series of posts on solving cryptic clues. This was the first one I did. Hope you enjoy.