Superheroes and Villains, Oh My!

by Alyssa Quintero on January 1, 2006 - 2:49pm

QUEST Vol. 13, No. 1

Imagine a place where superheroes and villains rule the world. It’s a world where high-powered action meets political intrigue, and conspiracy theories abound.

You’ve entered the world of Helios, a comic book co-created by editor Mike Penny.

Penny, 29, lives in Somerdale, N.J., and received a diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy at age 5. Penny uses a power wheelchair and requires 24-hour-a-day assisted ventilation through a tracheostomy.

Penny, who’s enjoyed reading comic books since sixth grade, said, “Once I got started reading comics, there was no turning back. I simply got hooked on them.”

From reading comic books in sixth grade to creating his own, Penny has come a long way. After months of self-publishing, Helios was picked up by a nationally recognized comic book publishing house last year.

From the beginning

Penny may have gotten hooked on reading comic booksat an early age, but when he decided to publish his own comic book, he knew it wasn’t a venture to be entered into lightly. Penny began by doing research, research and more research.

Mike Penny
Mike Penny

He then devised the story lines and created the characters. Penny gathered a great deal of information about self-publishing from books and the Internet.

In 2002, with a script in hand, Penny embarked on a long journey that lasted two years. He went through the arduous process of selecting his team — writer, penciller, inker and colorist. Once he found his writer, Jason Rand, they collaborated on rewriting certain aspects of the original comic book script. Then, the graphics team went to work on bringing the characters to life.

With his writing and graphics team in place, Penny needed a publisher to get his comic book on the market. He wasn’t willing to put his dream on hold and wait for a publisher to come calling. So, Penny’s father, J. Michael Penny, started out as the comic’s publisher, spending between $5,000 and $9,000 per issue. They named their publishing company Dakuwaka Productions.

What is Helios?

Penny, who graduated from Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, describes his comic book creation as a combination of the superhero genre and a political thriller, blending superpowered action and political intrigue.

“In college, I thought about the story a lot, and I was always throwing out ideas,” Penny said. “I really got into it, and it became much more than just a passing idea. I just couldn’t let go of it. I could see this as something that should be on the shelf next to all of the other famous comic books.”

With a complex mix of political corruption and conspiracy theories, the comic book’s characters are carefully developed and enmeshed in all of the action.

“Imagine ‘24’ [the Fox television show] meets the X-Men,” Penny explained.

There are six main characters; three are part of the superhero team, and three are political figures. The three political characters “pull the strings” in each issue, Penny said.

Originally, Helios was supposed to be the name of the main character, now known as Sunstrike, but Penny opted instead to use it as an abstract title for the series.

In fact, Penny’s favorite character is Sunstrike, or Captain Jason O’Connor, because as the protagonist, he’s not perfect, just human.

Facade Sunstrike Blur
With his code name Facade, field commander and major Kyle Redding morphs into animal form in order to battle the forces of evil. Captain Jason O’Connor, or Sunstrike, leads the superhero team with his ability to channel solar energy into powerful force blasts. Captain Ashley Blair, or Blur, is the strongest member of the team and uses her super speed to outwit Hate, one of the team’s enemies who gains his strength from hurting others.

“He has character flaws, but he is a multifaceted character that is always changing, evolving,” Penny said. “You’re never really sure in what direction he is going next. Since he is not perfect, that makes him interesting as he struggles to cope with his powers.”

Penny and his writing team try to maintain a balance between character-driven and action-driven story lines.

“We want to have some variety with several plot twists so we can keep the readers guessing and keep them coming back for more,” Penny added.

Hurr! Hurr! Hurr!

Reader response

The first issue of Helios was released Nov. 10, 2004, at the Echelon Mall in Voorhees, N.J. Helios became one of the top 300 comic books sold in the country. Penny sold 266 books from the first issue.

While his father started out as the publisher, Speakeasy Comics began publishing Helios in September. The first issue under the Speakeasy label is titled Helios: In with the New and picks up right where the fourth issue left off.

The company, which publishes over two dozen comics, was formed in 2004 by Adam Fortier, who is considered a mainstay in the comic book industry. With its growing list of projects, the company is the new premier publishing house for graphic literature.

The bimonthly publication currently has 3,000 subscribers, and the list keeps growing. And, since its debut, Penny has sold over 10,000 copies.

“Being signed by a publisher is huge,” Penny exclaimed.

The publisher will take over the business and promotional aspects, freeing up Penny to focus on the creative side of the comic. Having Speakeasy as its publisher will enable Helios to gain access to many more stores across the country, he said.

“I am really excited about being signed by a publisher like Speakeasy,” Penny said. “This will give Helios a huge boost in exposure and the best chance for future success.”

Penny followed his dream, and now he’s sharing his vision with the world. After years of hard work and months of self-publishing challenges, Penny achieved a remarkable feat: He found a nationally recognized publisher and proved that dreams really do come true, with determination and perseverance.

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