Hero of Alexandria! it’s “The Amazing Race meets industrialized ancient Rome.”
It gives me great pleasure to announce Ape’s newest project in the works “Hero of Alexandria” by creator and writer Ben Lichius of “The Black Coat” fame. Please take a few moments and check out this micro-interview with Ben as we chat with him about his new project here at Ape Entertainment. “Hero of Alexandria” (HOA) will be available later this year from Ape with a release date to be announced. Be sure and friend Hero of Alexandria on Facebook at HOAComic!
Hey Ben, thanks for taking the time to chat about “Hero of Alexandria”, for all the Ape fans here on our site. We are very excited to be working with you on HOA so let’s jump right into the questions.
APE: Can you give a brief history about yourself and the previous projects that you have created and worked on for those folks who may not know?
BEN: Sure. I went to school for Graphic Design, I’ve been working as an artist in the video game industry for the last 14 years, and I love telling cool stories! I’ve read comics since I was a kid and created my own characters for as long as I can remember, but my first real foray into independent comics was with “The Black Coat.” I always summarize it by telling people that he’s America’s first Super Spy or that he’s kind of a cross between James Bond and Batman but set during the American Revolution. That book was my first exposure to the comic book industry and the ups and downs that come with it. BC was a lot of fun to work on but very challenging as well. I hope to work on it again at some point.
For projects outside of comics, I’ve worked on some pretty cool games like Robotech, Spy vs Spy, Flushed Away, Curious George, Puzzle Quest, Marvel Trading Card Game, Dead Head Fred, and a bunch more.
APE: Tell us what HOA is about.
BEN: Hero of Alexandria is a story about an orphan named Hero, now a young man, who’s trying to find out where he came from and, in turn, who he is. It just so happens that the story is being told in an alternate reality where the ancient Roman world is becoming industrialized and expanding at an amazing rate. You’ll see things in this book that you’ve probably never seen before which is pretty exciting. It’s a really rich and diverse world to run around in, but at its heart, HOA is a story about characters and the incredible journeys they take. Oh, and action. There’s lots and lots of action!
APE: How did you come up with the idea for HOA?
BEN: I’m not the first person to speculate on this concept for sure, but when I read about Heron of Alexandria (a real person) inventing the steam engine in the first century AD (or thereabout), I couldn’t get the idea of Roman trains criss-crossing Europe out of my head. Specifically, I had this image of a Roman hero fighting Viking-esque train robbers on top of a speeding locomotive and that really stuck with me. So I spent a few years juggling that idea around and ways to expand on it. I thought about what kind of stories to tell and what kind of characters I wanted to use to tell them. I think the results so far do a good job of paying homage to that initial “what if” question, but take you on a fun ride at the same time.
APE: What is it about creating “period” comic work that you enjoy so much?
BEN: I’m not sure. I guess I try to write stuff that I would enjoy reading.
I also suppose that there’s a lot to be cynical about in modern times, so I find fun to look back and romanticize history into my own personal Errol Flynn movie. I’m really drawn to the swashbucklers, the pirates, the Robin Hoods of the past – fictional or not. I’m also a bit of a conspiracy guy, so I like asking the questions of “why did this happen” or “why couldn’t it have been this way”.
I think there’s also something “familiar” about period stories. I think because it deals with past events, you feel like you have an immediate understand of at least some part of what’s going on. Even if you know nothing about the time period or the history you can say “Well, I know that this happened in the past, and I know that the world is still here, so I guess things must turn out OK”, and that frees you up as a reader to just have fun with what’s going on.
APE: I get a little bit of a Steam Punk vibe from HOA was that intentional?
BEN: It wasn’t my first goal in writing HOA, but I like steampunk a lot. As I started fleshing the book out, I realized that I was writing what could be considered the first steampunk story, historically speaking – which is cool. So I try to get as many machines and gadgets into the stories as I can to keep it fun and keep that ‘wow’ factor going. What I like about the steampunk aesthetic is that it piques my imagination. I certainly hope HOA will do that for our readers.
APE: Tell us about the main characters in HOA.
BEN: Hero is young, impulsive, and knows there’s more to his story than simply growing up an orphan in the Roman province of Denmark. He works in one of the frontier factories but dreams of a bigger life with a bigger purpose. He finds that partly through his relationship with Gallus – the local engineer. Gallus always has some new invention he’s working on or some crazy errand he needs Hero to run for him. Gallus is kind of like a father figure for Hero, but he’s more of a good friend. He’s Doc Brown to Hero’s Marty McFly.
We’ll also meet one of the driving forces behind the industrialization that’s taking place. Julius Lucius is a cutthroat businessman and heir to the industrial empire that his father, Gaius, left for him. Julius is our bad guy, but we’ll find along the way that he’s not the only one profiting from the changes and he has his own enemies as well.
We do flashbacks to the birth of the steam engine itself and learn how the industrialization happened, so we’ll meet key people like Heron and his secret love, Plinia.
Plus, there are a lot of other characters that cross Hero’s path as he escapes Denmark and heads to Rome. There are spies, barbarians, explorers, merchants, slaves, inventors, black market traders, and even a princess. The one constant is that Hero and Gallus are always in over their heads, and always on the run.
APE: What do you think about the work of Roberto Ali and Diego Rodriguez on the series?
BEN: I learned from the Black Coat that period books are just flat-out hard to draw. You have to be able to draw everything. But this book is just as complex as BC was and maybe even more so, so I was nervous about who we would get to do the art chores. With that in mind: I can’t say enough about Roberto’s work on this book! He’s turned in page after page of the most detailed, amazing comic pages you might ever see. That might sound like an exaggeration, but when he started turning in his pencils, my jaw just dropped and all I could do was stare at them. Roberto has been creating an entire world full of things that never existed and it’s really fun to see what he comes up with. He’s a great problem solver and an incredible artist. The machines, the characters, the action are all very complicated, but he makes it look easy.
And the scenery! Man! I’ve seen Hollywood movies with less impressive aerial shots than the ones Roberto puts together. He’s an amazing talent and I’m sure that as soon as this book hits the stands, he’s going to be drowning in work. He’s a perfect fit for HOA and a terrific artist to boot.
And if that wasn’t enough to satisfy me, Diego’s colors have been nothing short of breathtaking. Every new page I get just amazes me. He adds the depth and drama that gives the story that perfect feel – that sense that it’s all real and you can almost touch it. I’m soaking it all in right now because I know that art teams like this don’t happen very often. I hope our readers are just as impressed as I am. I mean, really, you don’t see comics that look like this every day… not even every year. I’m loving it.
APE: How big is the overall story? Are there multiple arches we can look forward to?
BEN: It’s big. If we get the chance to tell it, it’s a story that goes around the world and back again. Without giving too much away, I’m planning for multiple story arcs, and in each one Hero will find similar advances being made in other places around the globe. But since all roads lead to Rome, that’s where we’re starting.
You can follow the progress of this project on the Hero of Alexandria Facebook page at HOAComic ,we will be posting more samples of Roberto and Diego’s amazing art very soon.
APE: After this first story arch where can we look forward to going next with HOA?
BEN: This first arc is all about getting to know Hero and the story of Heron and the challenges they face, but the adventure quickly escalates to the point where the future of the entire Roman Empire is at stake – even though they don’t know it yet. From there we’ll branch out and see more and more of the world at large. I’ve described the overall story as “The Amazing Race meets industrialized ancient Rome.” I’m hoping to keep things as fun and exciting as that description might imply.
APE: Do you have any other projects on your plate at the moment?
BEN: I do have an unannounced book I’ll be writing for Ape in the coming months which should be a lot of fun. But outside of that, and outside of games, I’ve just been keeping busy with HOA. I’ve always got a few things on the back burner, but I like giving them time to boil.