Guest Blog: Anthony Montgomery's Graphic Novel Trek
A few months ago I was contacted by StarTrek.com and invited to write a first-person blog about my graphic novel and sci-fi franchise, Miles Away. Honestly, I was initially intimidated because I’ve never done a blog and the idea seemed a little daunting. The editor told me that Star Trek fans around the world would love to know about this journey I’m on and they would love to hear about it in my own words. That insight gave me the confidence to tell my tale.
I came up with the concept for Miles Away (which I originally called M5) back in 2001 while I was still filming Star Trek: Enterprise. I’m a huge fan of science fiction and, growing up a fan of cartoons, I really wanted to create an “epic” animated television series for our unbelievably supportive Star Trek fans, all the “Trekkers” around the world, that I could one day turn into a live-action feature film franchise, much like Harry Potter. The idea for the graphic novel came later. But I wanted much more than that. I wanted to create my own superhero. One who would not only battle evil on his home world, but would also travel the universe and meet extraordinary beings with phenomenal abilities and learn valuable life lessons along the way. I used to love how the old SuperFriends and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoons would have moral messages at the end of each episode and I wanted a subconscious moral fiber weaved throughout my series. My desire was for it to help, in some way, guide the consciousness of all the viewers, especially children. I also knew I wanted my animation and films to be more like a Star Wars adventure, with an amazing kid who goes on a life-altering quest aided by trusted companions, rather than being like Star Trek with a captain and his or her crew and their adventures. I can’t draw stick figures, so my work was cut out for me. I knew what I wanted, but I wasn’t a writer at the time, so I had no idea how I would get there. So I put the idea away to develop later.
In 2002, I was introduced to Ugly Dolls co-creator, David Horvath, by my former website designer/manager, Catherine Monson. After explaining the idea to David, he created the first renditions of what my animated series would look like. I thought David’s drawings were great, but felt the style didn’t complement the vision I had in my head, so again I shelved the project until later.
Fast forward to 2006, when I filmed the lead role in the indie feature, I’m Through with White Girls (for the record, the movie is a romantic comedy and much better than the title implies.) The production designer for the film is an exceptionally talented artist named Phillip Boute, Jr., who was still a student at Cal State Long Beach at the time. I talked to Phillip about Miles Away to determine if he would be able to help bring my vision to fruition. He loved the concept and immediately started drawing. Because of Phillip’s hectic school/work schedule and me having a very specific idea of how I wanted the series to look, it took more than a year for us to carve out the 20 concept characters that would be the cornerstones of my franchise.
In 2007, I contacted my friend Eric Vale about writing the pilot episode for my animated series. Eric was (and is) an animation voice actor who had worked on numerous projects for FUNimation Entertainment, including “Trunks” from Dragon Ball Z. In addition to being an accomplished voice actor, Eric had also been head writer for several dozen anime programs. Eric wrote the M5 Spec script (meaning a “speculative” screenplay to get the feel of the show) that I was able to use to help convey what my show would look like.
After getting all my artwork, designs, treatments and scripts registered with the US Copyrights Office and Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) in 2007, I put together a pitch book and began scheduling meetings with animation houses to see my dream come to life. With no representation, based on my affiliation with Star Trek: Enterprise, I was able to meet with Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network. Both companies thought I had a great idea and they liked my presentation, but neither moved forward with a development deal. WB was concentrating on the in-house properties they already owned and the exec at CN told me my story was too similar to their existing hit show Ben 10 (about a kid who finds an alien watch and can change into superhero alien characters). He said even the name of my show was too parallel, M5. I explained that granted, the title of my show was derived from my main character’s name, Max, and an aspect of his super-ability (it takes 5 minutes for his power to manifest), hence, M5, my premise was nothing like their show and that it was just coincidental that there were similarities. My series was about a kid who develops a super power and along with two aliens with super abilities, unlocks keys to his family’s dark and mysterious past while repeatedly saving the world as the top agent for a shadowy organization. My hero owned a watch, of course, but he can’t turn into aliens. My rebuttals didn’t matter. He still passed, but left the door open for me to pitch in the future if I created a show I thought would work for their network.
I didn’t want too many companies saying “no” to my idea because in Hollywood that can spell doom for a project before it even gets off the ground. So, once again I put the project aside to revisit later. But before I did, I made a significant change to the material. I changed the title from M5 to Miles Away. My meeting with CN left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t want any future companies to have the same feelings about my show in comparison to any others. The new title was justified: my main character is “Maxwell Miles” and since he would be traveling the universe, going light years from his home… MILES AWAY was born. This is also when I began thinking about Miles Away as a graphic novel. If I couldn’t get people to see my vision of an animated series from a pitch, I figured seeing a comic might be easier to digest.
Several years before, I met an extremely talented hip hop artist named J.Naugh-T! on the convention circuit and we stayed in contact. In 2009, I went to San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) to show support for an animated project he was attached to as a voice artist. J.Naugh-T! knew about my animated series and introduced me to Hollywood industry veteran, Ralph Farquhar. Ralph immediately saw my show’s potential and gravitated to the story. Since I didn’t have any representation at the time, Ralph agreed to introduce me to his literary agent, James Kellem. James signed me to champion my animated television series and told me, very bluntly, that he loved my idea but that I “suck at pitching.” I didn’t take it personally. I wanted to get better. He showed me the fundamental elements that go into a “good pitch” and I started practicing. For the next year I honed my pitching skills on my own and would periodically practice on Ralph and James.
While attending Dragon Con in Atlanta in 2009, during a chance encounter, I met a professional artist named Brian Denham. After a short chat on our initial meeting, Brian and I talked the next day and after another brief conversation, exchanged contact information to keep in touch. Brian, who had worked for numerous powerhouse companies (including Image, DC and Marvel), gave me advice on turning Miles Away into a graphic novel. He told me the realities of getting into the comic industry, about page rates, Twitter and a lot of general knowledge that was foreign to me regarding comics, marketing and sales. I thanked him for his candor and we didn't talk again until for a couple more years.
I attended SDCC 2010 as a guest for the first time (because of Star Trek: Enterprise) and as I was leaving, I met Brandon Easton, who was a fan of my work, including I’m Through with White Girls. Brandon, who went on to become a writer for WB’s new Thundercats series and Transformers: Rescue Bots, related to the film because he was (and is) a graphic novelist and so is my character in the film. After chatting about the film, we discussed a possible opportunity for me to participate in a graphic novel project he created. He wanted to send information about the project to my Facebook message folder. I explained that I didn’t check my FB mail often, but he was welcome to shoot something there and I would get back to him. Brandon emailed me after the Comic Con but I didn’t check my FB messages for nearly six months.
Once I felt I was ready, James set a meeting with Maggie Murphy, former Senior Vice President in charge of development at Cookie Jar Entertainment. I gave the best pitch of my life and Cookie Jar kept Miles Away for six weeks before finally passing. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that the company targeted a younger demographic. Even though I got another rejection, I was encouraged because the feedback Maggie gave James was that I had given “one of the best pitches she had ever heard.” With that positive momentum, we worked to set a meeting with Disney to see if Miles Away would be a good fit on one of their networks. While we waited for the appointment, I continued to refine my pitch. I was also more determined to turn the project into a graphic novel.
Early in 2011, I checked my Facebook messages and came across the email Brandon had sent many months prior. I replied to his message and said I was interested in talking about his project and that I wanted to talk about another possible collaboration. When we finally reconnected, Brandon told me about a fantastic sci-fi adventure he had created and planned to do as a graphic novel. He wanted to base the main character on me. I said yes and questioned how far along he was with its development. He was still in the early stages of working out his concept, so I suggested that we work on turning my source material for Miles Away into a graphic novel since I was already so far along with its development. After reviewing the material, Brandon agreed and we became writing partners. Brandon was already close to launching his first graphic novel, Shadowlaw, and told me about a talented artist named Jeff Stokely who he had worked with in the past and wanted me to meet about drawing Miles Away. Brandon, Jeff and I met one afternoon at The Grove in Hollywood and Jeff showed me some of his artwork. I liked his work and his drive and we finalized the strategy for Jeff to draw the whole book. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t pan out. Jeff worked on Miles Away for about 5 months and finished the first 25 pages of the 96 total pages, but then took other work, so I was forced to find another artist to complete the remaining pages.
The Disney meeting finally came. Ralph and I went (our agent was unavailable) and I gave an even better pitch. However, although they agreed that I had a solid project, I was informed that Disney had just spent more than four billion dollars acquiring the Marvel Universe catalogue. Even though my story may be different, there was certainly some similar character, with similar abilities, within the 5000+ characters in their new database. I had to agree. I didn’t meet with an exec, but the exec assistant we met gave me a couple notes to help me target my pitch even more: 1) Play up the “impending invasion” I mentioned during my presentation because it would enhance the sense of urgency for the hero to have to go to the alien world to stop the invasion before it got to his home world and 2) Specifically target 9-12 year old boys, because all of the networks were trying to reach that demographic with minimal success. His suggestions were things that were already part of my overall package, so his notes were easy to implement. I didn’t have to change what I had already created; I just had to highlight particular elements differently in my pitch.
I told Brandon about my meeting with Disney and said we were going to make some adjustments to Miles Away. To reach the 9-12 year old male demographic, we would play up the invasion more and instead of Max going on his quest with only the two alien refugees (which the representative thought was a fun element for sci-fi fans, in general), we would add his best friend (who was already part of the original story) to the mix, and make it more of a “superhero buddy adventure.” These adjustments were easy to make and the writing continued.
As I was looking for an artist to help finish the graphic novel, Brian Denham happened to tweet congratulations to me for the 10th anniversary of Star Trek: Enterprise. So much time had passed, I didn’t immediately remember him, but I checked out his web page and asked if he would be willing and able to help me complete my book. Brian reminded me of our previous correspondence and I remembered him instantly. He informed me that with his schedule and workload he didn't have time to work on my book, but that he had the perfect person to help. He made an email introduction with Jonathan Mullins, a talented artist who was in college in Savannah, Georgia. Even though he was still a student, Jonathan had completed his own graphic novel, Chicken Fighter, distributed by Antarctic Press under the pseudonym “Jey Odin.” Jonathan had a great drawing style that complemented my existing pages for Miles Away. I didn’t want to have to start over, so after a lot of back and forth with Jonathan, we found a solid “Americanized” drawing style that worked perfectly. Because I needed a colorist also (having lost my previous colorist to other assignments) Jonathan introduced me to his roommate/best friend, Rashad Doucet, who is a SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) graduate and who has colored for the likes of DC and Oni Press. It was divine intervention how it all came together.
I told Brandon that I wanted to put together a “preview book” before my next pitch meeting. This book would also serve as an introduction to publishing houses to see if I could get them to publish my full graphic novel. I tasked my agent with getting me into the publishing companies. I really wanted Image Comics to publish Miles Away and their requirement when a project changes artists is there needs to be at least 5 pages of artwork from the new artists included with the submission. Brandon and I gave Jonathan the next round of pages to draw and had him concentrate on pages 23-28 of the book so I could have my preview book generated. While the pencils, inks and colors were being done, Brandon told me about a website to find a person to letter the book. After receiving proposals from several prospects, I was fortunate to find a letterer named Adam Pruett, who had already worked professionally for many companies including Image Comics.
After several more months, feeling certain I had all the elements for my series to be embraced, and with my preview book in hand I had my agent schedule another meeting with CN. It had been more than four years since I pitched to their network and I believed I would be able to get them to take on Miles Away. I learned that the exec I met with originally was still at the company, but a new person was in charge of securing properties. My agent and I met with the Manager in charge of Action/Adventure Original Series and his associate. The meeting went great. The CN exec confirmed that the big animation houses were trying to tap the 9-12 year old male audience and Miles Away could be a great fit. There was one hitch though. CN had already done an adventure series called Generator Rex that didn’t do as well as they had hoped, so they were looking for shows that were more like Phineas and Ferb or Danny Phantom, shows that began with a scenario that sends the heroes (and audience) on an adventure that concludes by the end of the show. Miles Away is more of an epic adventure that will play out over a long period of time, more like Star Wars: The Clone Wars. After keeping the preview book for two weeks and talking to the various decision makers at CN, the CN exec got back to me and said they would pass, but (since the animation industry is cyclical) wanted to revisit the idea in nine months to a year.
Eternally optimistic yet discouraged that CN had passed again and frustrated that my agent wasn’t able to secure some sort of distribution deal for my graphic novel, I decided to take Miles Away out on my own and find a literary agent who specialized in my form of book. I thanked James for all his efforts and took my material to continue the journey by myself.
I continued to promote the Miles Away graphic novel and franchise by attending WonderCon in Anaheim, where I did a “soft launch” to introduce the general public to Miles Away. I also attended SDCC 2012, where I met Madison Jones, Co-Chairman of de Passe Jones Entertainment Group. After seeing the potential for Miles Away, Madison offered to help me see my vision to completion. The last convention I attended was Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Las Vegas event in 2012. I got fantastic feedback from the fans, who loved the preview book and were all amazingly supportive and eager for the full book to be released.
Shortly after leaving my agency, with no representation, I prayed that the right opportunities for Miles Away would continue to present themselves. I wasn’t getting any responses from the major distributors I had solicited, so I reached out to people I knew in the comic industry. My prayer was soon answered. Brian revealed to me that he worked for Antarctic Press and would present my preview book to his publisher. He also reached out to one of his contacts at IDW on my behalf and the response was that they couldn’t even take a look at Miles Away for more than a year because they were overbooked with projects for a couple years. Brian then told me that his publisher at Antarctic Press liked Miles Away and agreed to distribute it for me. Brian wrote me that Antarctic Press was a rarity in comics because they could get a project on the stands within months of thinking of it. That kind of flexibility allowed them the opportunity to navigate to the impulses of the comic audiences. The only catch was that they didn’t have any money for marketing or promotion, so that would be left up to me. I knew getting the word out would be a challenge, but I wanted to take advantage of the blessing I had received, so I accepted the offer from Antarctic Press.
The Antarctic Press publisher suggested doing a Limited Edition cover for the book. I agreed that doing 100 Limited Edition, numbered and signed covers would be a wonderful collector’s item for any enthusiasts out there. And for all collectors out there, the Miles Away Previews ad can be seen in PREVIEWS issue 293, Page 241.
Miles Away will debut this April, and is available for pre-order directly through Antarctic Press: http://www.antarctic-press.com/html/version_01/store.php?id=Miles+Away.
Fans can also order Miles Away from their local comic stores by using the Diamond code: FEB130698 J to order the Signed Limited Edition or Diamond code: FEB130697 E to order the Regular Edition Cover.
I’d like to thank all the readers of StarTrek.com for their unending devotion while I helmed the ship as Starfleet’s resident “space boomer.” And I thank you for your continued support of my career and endeavors.