Stray: Interview with Vito Delsante by Jerry Whitworth
Vito Delsante, writer and creator of Stray and new Associate Director of Marketing at Action Lab Entertainment, spoke with Comic Art Community about his book and new position.
Comic Art Community: Before we begin speaking about Stray itself, I would like to talk about the journey to get to this point. I understand the release of this book was years in the making (including a successful crowd funding initiative)?
Vito Delsante: Well, it was approximately 7 years from inception to release. Maybe close to 8 this year. It was actually, originally, a comedy called, “BAD DOG.” It was a mix between Silver Age corniness and the comedy of shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I didn’t get too far into it, maybe the first four or five plots, but I didn’t have an artist working on it. So, it was kind of there, in the back of my mind, and then I saw The Dark Knight and I knew that I wanted to do something like that. Something that took a character seriously, something that felt real. I went ahead and started rewriting BAD DOG as STRAY right around 2008 or so. I had another artist before Sean Izaakse, and we very quickly put a pitch together. We pitched to a few different publishers and ended up at Ape Entertainment, but it just didn’t work out. I had to replace the original artist, and I was already talking to Sean; we actually worked on two different stories before I asked him to draw STRAY. From there, it went really fast. We barely had any work done on the book; Sean did one page and redesigned all the characters. Suddenly, we put the book on Kickstarter and somehow…somehow…we funded and actually overfunded. When we did the campaign, we had a publisher lined up (I always referred to them as a “sponsor” but after we funded, they wanted to put the book out), but their financials weren’t in order and they couldn’t pay for the rest of the book (we funded one issue). From there, we went to Action Lab Entertainment and here we are.
VD: Well, I don’t want to give too much away because it’s a murder mystery; it’s no fun reading a mystery if someone has to tell you who the killer is. But, for the uninitiated, the story revolves around Rodney Weller, who used to be the Rottweiler, the sidekick of the Doberman. Rodney’s life has taken a downslide, and as he hits bottom, his former mentor is killed. From there, it’s a pure character piece. We see Rodney struggle internally with issues of identity…does he want to be a sidekick? Does he want to be the Doberman? And is he worthy of redemption? Again, it’s a murder mystery, and there are clues spread throughout the book, but I think it really is a character piece with some world building.
CAC: Being a fan of both the Mystery and Superhero genres, I certainly appreciate seeing a work that mingles both elements. Stray has done an amazing job building a world in such a short period of time, something enhanced with the use of flashback. It also seems the superhero world lends itself well to a mystery, like a souped-up Agatha Christie novel. However, superhero mysteries in the past have sort of fallen flat in the reveal. While we obviously don’t know the finale yet, how have you approached the process in Stray?
VD: Well, like I said, there are clues in the first three issues. Actually, the killer is revealed at the end of Issue 3, so we have the confrontation in Issue 4. The first rule of mystery is you have to play fair with the reader. If they are to invest in the story, you have to make them feel like detectives. I think the only thing we didn’t give them was the villain’s name, but we saw him on Page Five of Issue 1, and we sprinkled him throughout. Little clues like…if you know the location of the Doberman’s death, there’s a clue. If you pay attention, and again…we play fair. And some might say, “Well, you show us who he is in Issue 3, why bother getting the last book?” Best way to answer is that you need to see the twist. There’s a few revelations in Issue 4 that are worth seeing played out.
I think about superhero comics and mystery, and one of the first things that come to mind is the Hush storyline in BATMAN. They give us the clues and throw us a twist (Jason Todd/Clayface) and yet they still come through. And then, I think about the identity of the Red Hulk (which was also written by Jeph Loeb) and that one is not as good. People were saying it’s Thunderbolt Ross from the beginning, and Loeb kept saying, “Nope! Keep reading,” which isn’t fair to the reader. They solved it, they get to enjoy the revelation; you can’t put it back in the bottle. What we did is…look, we know it’s a new comic and there are archetypes and familiar “feeling” characters. And a lot of that is supposed to give you recognition into the world. From there, if you just use what you know, and what we give you, it’s easily figured out, but at the same time, we know this is a new world for readers.
CAC: In addition to your experience seeing Stray come to publication, you’ve also become the new Associate Director of Marketing at Action Lab Entertainment. Could you tell us a little bit about how that came about and what the role will mean within the company?
VD: It really is as simple as this: Jamal Igle, the VP of Marketing, asked me for help. He and I have known each other for over 10 years, and I think he knew he could trust me to do the job well and also, he knew what my responsibilities were at Jim Hanley’s Universe and saw that they were comparable. As far as my responsibilities, I’m really a creator liaison more than anything. My job is to work with them to make sure their books are getting the right amount of exposure at the retail level.
CAC: With the final issue of Stray only a couple weeks away from being released, what does the future hold for Vito Delsante? Will there be any more Stray on the horizon?
VD: Who knows? I mean, I would love to write STRAY forever, or until I run out of stories, but the most important thing in the world is to be able to do these stories with Sean and Ross [Campbell, colorist]. They are so important to the creative process, that I can’t see replacing them with another art team. I’ll put it this way; we have another four story arcs that we’d like to do. I hope we get to do them. Before we do, in the immediate future, you will see a STRAY/MOLLY DANGER/MIDNIGHT TIGER crossover. You will see Stray pop up in another book, as well. After that, we’ll have to see. Again, it is really dependent on doing these stories with Sean and Ross. If we had to get another art team, say, to alternate with them, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t go into it without the guys that have been the backbone of the book. I’ll let them dictate the future of STRAY, and I mean that. I will not do it without their participation.
I know that sounds like double talk. To be clearer…Sean is the co-creator. If we decide to take the “dog out for a walk” again, and Sean can’t draw it, I need Sean to be ok with me using another artist. Sean, literally, is irreplaceable. We are tied to each other with this character in the middle. In many ways, we’re “married” and STRAY is our “kid.” Same with Ross, to a lesser, but still important, degree. These guys are the creators of the look of the series (with Simon Gough). I might know what Stray is going to say before he says it, but the nature of our collaboration…we’re the Musketeers. All for one, and all that. The future of STRAY will be decided by three men, not one.
The fourth and final issue of Stray will be released this May and the trade paperback Stray: Who Killed the Doberman? collecting the series will see print June 2, 2015. You can find Vito Delsante online on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and his website.