So thanks to Instagram, I was able to connect with the writers at Think Alike Productions – Ruben Romero, Roger Cabrera and Bethany Romero. Their current comic book is called “The Agency,” which is available on Comixology. This was also the first time that I’ve ever had a digital comic book.
In “The Agency,” fifteen year old Riley Dean discovers that he has magical powers. Did we mention the secret government agency of mages that has detained Riley for questioning? It’s really an interesting story of a teenage mage with the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is also some great artwork by Eric Koda, lettering by Jaymes Reed and color by Ross Hughes.Personally, I cannot wait to read the third issue.You can buy your own copy here.
1. How did you guys start your comic book?
Ruben: It really started three or four years ago, Roger and I were doing some screenwriting. We decided to change the medium over to comic books. We were just looking for the content – what to write about. We didn’t want to do superheroes or anything like that. He explained to me exactly what a mage was. That got the creative juices flowing. So we laid the background of a government agency and a 15 year old boy being thrust into that kind of world. And “The Agency” was born.
2. Did you guys play Dungeons and Dragons?
Roger: I did. I played Dungeons and Dragons when I was younger. I was a dungeon master back in the day.
3. Do you each have your own assignments?
Roger: We’re not the artists by but we do sit in the office and come up with ideas. Ruben will work on the blueprint. I will work on fight scenes. Bethany will edit at the end of the day.
4. What do you think about the popularity of females in comic books lately?
Ruben: It’s a huge movement. I think that girls and women, especially – for lack of a better term- nerdy girls and women have been fighting for their spot in fandom for a long time. The word is ‘fanboy’ but it kind of alienates women and girls. I think that “She-Hulk,” “Ms. Marvel” and “Agent Carter” – that is going to be premiering on television in the fall – these characters are necessary. Females are just as big of readers and fans as boys and men.
Bethany: To chime in on that – I go to all of these conventions – people will see a woman’s name on the cover. They are always very surprised that a female has anything to do with this industry. So I think that all of these female characters are getting leading roles rather than supporting roles in these upcoming movies is incredible. I think we are bridging the gap. We’re breaking the gender stereotypes. We’re opening the floodgates for young girls to read comics as well. It’s not just a boy thing. It really never has been. As a kid, I maybe didn’t read superhero comics but I did read “Archie” comics religiously. I think that it’s very important for little girls to feel like they are not alienated in that industry because there are a lot of kickass characters out there that anybody at any age can identify with.
Ruben: That’s why we decided to add a female leader to our group of strong male characters. We felt that the trend was coming. Having Victoria as the head of the group would be beneficial, not only to young girls but to the series itself. That is why Victoria is the leader.
Destino: I’m always glad to see female characters. But I’m a fangirl. On a side note: I took my boyfriend to a comic book convention last year. I asked him, “Why aren’t you as excited as I am?” He said, “Well, these are your people.”
Bethany: We get that a lot. We’re Hispanic. We’re from Miami, which is not a comic book city at all. A lot of our friends were like “Really? Comic books?” Now four years have elapsed and more people are aware that we’re doing this. It’s becoming more to be in comics especially with the Marvel movie over the last couple of years.
My boss actually just asked us to write a comic book based on the industry that I work for. A couple of years ago, he used to say, “Oh you and your little cartoon.”
So I think that it’s more socially accepted as time goes by but you still get people that say “Oh, you’re going out to a convention – you’ll be around your people.” We get that all of the time.
5. Do you have any favorite comic books?
Ruben: Right now, yes. I’m a religious reader of “The Walking Dead” and a lot of Joshua Williamson books like “Birthright” and “Nailbiter.” Those guys really strike a chord with me. Of course, I read a lot of mainstream stuff as well – “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Nova” and “The Amazing Spiderman.”
Roger: Me personally, I like “Five Ghosts,” and “Artifacts.” I’m also big on Manga Reader – “Naruto” and “Bleach.”
Bethany: I only read “The Walking Dead.” That’s probably the only one unfortunately. I love to read comic books, I really do. “The Walking Dead” is the only thing I make myself have the time for because I’m such a huge fan of the comic, the show and Robert Kirkman. The concept for our comic came from us brainstorming. But “The Walking Dead” graphic novel really pushed us into having the balls to do something like this. It made us feel like – Wow, somebody ten years ago sat down and came up with this concept and now it’s a global phenomenon. We loved it and the books were great. “The Walking Dead” is the only thing worth reading for me. Not that there aren’t great titles out there but I’ve been so busy with the business side of our company that I really only make time for “The Walking Dead.” But I’m hoping to change that.
6. What conventions have you been to this year?
Roger: We just wrapped up at New York Comic Con. After that we’re taking a break until January. Then we’re going to Wizard World in New Orleans and Mega Con in Orlando.
Bethany: We’ll also be at a couple local conventions. We’re from Florida so we try to do all of the Florida conventions.
7. Are there any artists that you would like to have make a guest appearance?
Ruben: We’re pretty loyal to our artist, Eric Koda. Don’t get me wrong. There are people that we do admire.
Sajad Shah – he’s very prominent on Instagram. If I could pluck someone from the Marvel world, it would probably be Nick Bradshaw. He’s just masterful at what he does. If you’ve been reading, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it’s just beautiful artwork. He’s really got a grasp on teen books so I would love to be able to work with him.
Or maybe Tony Moore, the original artist for “The Walking Dead.” He’s got a great way of doing things as well.
8. What are the pros and cons of starting your own publishing company?
Bethany: I’ll start with the pros. We actually had another publisher publish us and we did not have a good experience with them. It was something that led us to open our own publishing studio. We did try to submit to the bigger name publishes. After not receiving feedback soon enough, we just decided what better way than to have your own. The pros of that are really nobody cares about your project the way that you do. It is literally the most important thing in our lives. There’s nobody better to promote that. It’s like a baby. Parents take care of their babies better than any nanny or babysitter ever could because it is their baby. You know? The pros of that are having your own creative liberty, your own free will to do whatever you want.
A lot of publishing companies will tell you “Don’t use those colors. Don’t name the character that. I don’t like that title. I don’t like your artist.”
You lose a sense of control because you are caught in a corner where you feel like “I want to be able to do this. This is my creation.”
The cons are definitely people don’t put the promotion behind your story. The great thing that we do is that we heavily promote our own title through all social media channels, word of mouth, traveling to different conventions. Any kind of promotional material that we can create to support the book. We definitely put all of our effort into that. Where sometimes with a publisher, you can find yourself one of many titles. Especially newcomers to this industry, you find yourself mixed in with people that have been around for years and have a lot of experience in the game. They tend to be favored more than an up and coming title. It just sits there on the website. It can hinder the word of mouth getting spread in the community which you definitely need.
Another con is all of the hard work that is required in self-publishing. You know we do all of the business operations. We also pay for everything. Pay to distribute it and create it. Everything is done by us for us. So it is a lot of time and effort. But at the end of the day it’s worth it. It’s almost like a con that is within itself a pro. It’s very rewarding to see something that you try so hard to do come to fruition.
9. Do you think that eventually you’ll produce another series?
Ruben: We’re currently working on some other books. Like Bethany mentioned before, her day job has hired her to create a comic book based on their industry. Roger has a title called “Camelot,” which is a retelling of the King Arthur story. Told in the dystopia future kind of setup.
I’ve got a couple books that I’m working on as well. One is a cult serial killer book called “52” and another space age kind of sci-fi Indiana Jones meets Star Wars kind of story called “Rex Storm.” So we’re slowly but surely working on things. We’re independent. We’re by us for us so everything takes its sweet time. Nobody wants to work for free. It’s hard to find artists that want to work on projects strictly for royalties. So we have to pick and choose what we do right now. “The Agency” is very much our baby. It is our flagship book. It gets the most attention.
Bethany: Understandably so. It’s the bridge, if you will, to future projects. It’s the gateway. So we need to make sure it’s successful in order to have the opportunity financially to make other titles and to make these other things happen.
Ruben: Yeah, what she said.
Destino: I have a teenager so the idea of the world being in her hands – not that she’s not smart and awesome- but she’s so emotional. It’s a scary thought.
Ruben: Riley is the average teenager. I just turned 33. I can vividly recall my 15 year old self. If someone gave me magical powers at 15, I don’t know how I’d deal with it. Puberty is hard enough. It is a pretty scary thought. I think as the series goes on we’re going to see that Riley is very capable. He grows into those powers very well.
Bethany: Not to mention that we have a 12 year old son, Ruben and I. We have creative inspiration sitting in front of us on a daily basis. Preteens and teens think they run the world anyway so it’s not that different.
Destino: I’m going to Ohio Comic Con this weekend. The cost of photo ops at a comic book convention is kind of ridiculous. It’s like $80 for a Norman Reedus autograph.
Bethany: You know what, I agree. We went to New York Comic Con. It’s crazy is that it’s by level of popularity. So we’ve actually met cast members from “The Walking Dead.” We met Laurie Holden, who played Andrea. We met Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl. They were like $40.
Steven Amell, who plays Arrow was $100. I don’t want to say that they take advantage of their position and level of stardom. For $70, it’s not that bad to experience something that I promise you will never forget meeting Norman Reedus.
I think that if we ever got to that level of popularity, I would have a difficult time charging that kind of money. Fans, if you’re a teenager, you are not rolling in the dough. You’re going to spend money on things that you love. For you to spend a big bulk of your money for collectibles and souvenirs on meeting celebrities. But can I tell you that it’s worth it? Yes, we’ve dropped a pretty penny on meeting them. I forgot the money to meet Andrew Lincoln. If it was Rick Grimes, I would be like “Here is my debit card. Charge whatever you want.”
Ruben: To let the actors off of the hook a little bit. They are managed. They’ve got a company that kind of handles them.
Bethany: Yeah, like Hershel.
Ruben: They set the tone. They set the price margin. Some of those actors that we’ve been privy to speaking with at Cons, they really don’t want to charge that kind of money. But again, they are managed. They are part of a company. They are part of a well-oiled machine. They are just another cog in the machine. They’ve got to play their part.
Bethany: Absolutely. We met Hershel, Scott Wilson, from “The Walking Dead,” recently and his manager would not even let us approach him without paying $50 for his autograph. We’re talking about $100 for an autograph and a photo with Hershel. Our son was with us. It was his birthday weekend so we ended up paying to do this camera phone photo. So we’re talking about $50 for an iPhone picture. It’s a little crazy. But their managers are saying “We paid for a flight to get out to this convention. Are we seeing the return to even be here?” Norman Reedus is a huge celebrity. $80. I would pay it. Is it a lot of money. Yes, it is. It’s up there. It’s twice the cost of the other cast members. But again, it’s Daryl. Rick and Daryl are the stars of the show.
Now I’m going to turn the tables on you. Who is your favorite actor in the whole world?
Destino: I wanted to go see Manu Bennett. He’s in “Arrow.” And he was in “Spartacus.” I think he’s in “The Hobbit” movies. I haven’t seen “The Hobbit” yet.
Ruben: He’s the fighter. He’s the big white orc.
Destino: So I’m trying to decide if I want to do the autograph or the picture. Or do both. So that’s my dilemma.
Ruben: I wanted to go see Steven Amell. He is like my hero of heroes right now. He means a lot to me. My mom passed away. The “Arrow,” the show itself and his acting, really gave me a lot of hope and inspiration to get through that crucible. I was too busy at NY comic con to stand in line for the autograph table. For my birthday, my wife bought me the photo op and really quick before we took the picture I told him “Look, you mean a lot to me. Everything that you’re doing for the cancer movement and cancer organizations, mean so much to me because my mother passed away from cancer. He was able to look me in the eye and tell me how much that meant to him. Then we turned around, smiled and took the picture.
So you could take a brief moment to tell Manu how much you do love him and how much you do appreciate him. Then you can take the picture. It’s kind of killing two birds with one stone. Because you’re not going to get in there and they’ll tell you “Ok, smile.” If you walk in there and you give him a hug, and you tell him “Hey Manu, I watched you on ‘Arrow.’ I love your performance in ‘The Hobbit’ and so on and so forth. It’s crazy that I’m meeting you, I’m one of your biggest fans. He will reciprocate that and then you’ll take a picture. You know? I would definitely pay for the picture. You will take that brief moment right as you’re walking up to express your love for them. Believe me, you’ll never forget it. We actually got to take a picture with Andrea and Carl at the same time. That was mind-blowing.”
Bethany: Yeah, that was awesome. It really was.
Destino: I’m so glad that you guys could call today.
Roger: Thank you for the opportunity. We can go back and forth on Twitter. Besides Instagram, Twitter is my favorite social media just because you get to have these real quick conversations and be able to establish relationships.
So if you would like to start your own relationship with Think Alike Productions, you can follow them at any of the links posted at the bottom. You won’t be sorry. They are all such great people. I look forward to talking to them again in the near future.