Book Week: Psy Comm, and interview with the Author [Gamer by Design] [Book Week II]

My regular readers know, I write about video game design, business, and sometimes the mobile app scene. For Book Week, I decided to read something equally nerdy. That would be the graphic novel Psy-Comm. I have the privilege of knowing the author, Tony Salvaggio. As you’ll see below, he is one of those mad scientist personalities. He is a member of two bands, an author, a video game artist, and if there is any time left, I’m sure he eats and sleeps like the rest of us. So its been one of my blogging goals to score an interview.

As for Psy-Comm, this thing is a 188 page graphic novel. But it moves really fast. I think I read the whole thing in about 1.5 hours. Part of that is the quick plot movement, but part of it is that it’s drawn in a very cinematic style. The frames are large and action oriented, with some pages only having about one sentence of text. The experience is more like watching a movie sometimes.

Here’s my quick summary, without spoilers. The Psy-Comms are a group of psychic troopers, who each have really unique powers. I’d say it’s like the Matrix meets Harry Potter meets X-Men. But there is an interesting socio-political commentary, in which war is entertainment, and the media is woven into the whole battlefield environment.

If you had psychic powers, would you hide behind this awesome tree, or become a Psy-Comm?

Somehow, with all this grand fare, the book also has a really tight interpersonal story that deals with young people coping with the loss of their loved ones in wartime. I’m honestly very surprised this isn’t a movie.  I’d see it. To be honest, I’m not a big graphic novel fan, but this one grabbed me.

So here we go, the interview with author Tony Salvaggio:

Matt: Psy-Comm could be classified in the genre of “teams of kids who have powers or magic” that contains classics like Harry Potter, X-men, Goonies or even (ok this is a stretch) Space Camp. What are some of your influences in the genre, and how did you adapt or change them?

Tony Salvaggio: I read a LOT of comics and manga so it would be hard to pin down just one. I grew up reading Power Pack, X-Men, Micronauts, Justice League etc. (way too many to mention!!) On the manga side I would say Akira, Battle Angel, Cyborg 009 (and many many others) all played into the writing of the book. In reality it is also satirical so we usually list Robocop, Rollerball (1975), and Logan’s run as big influences on the tone of Psy-Comm.

Jason and I wanted to write a comic that takes place in the future that is action packed and character based. I wanted to use my manga influences to tell the story and Tokyopop allowed us to do just that. As far as adapting and changing, the setting we chose where war is reality TV and the corporations had replaced nations seemed much more far-fetched (but still believable) when we first started plotting it. The plot points like these and the GMO-crop Corp State Saul/David’s have progressed closer to reality in a shorter time that we had imaged I am afraid. We went with a little less light hearted or fantasy approach than most of the examples you listed (other than X-men) but we still wanted adventure to be a major component.

Matt: How many people work on a team to create a book like this? What is the pipeline between you and the visual artists?  I’m sure aspiring comic book authors would want to know…

Tony Salvaggio: We are not a typical manga team where one creator and perhaps a few assistants do all the plotting, pencils, inks tones and lettering. Jason Henderson and I would write the script in long form comics format (closer to a screenplay format) and that got passed on to the penciler (Shane Granger in book 1 and Ramanda Karmaga in books 2 and 3). Jeremy Freeman handled inks, and Chi Wang handled toning on all 3 books. We had Bryce P. Coleman and Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl (at the end of book 3) as editors and many cool people on the Tokyopop production staff were invaluable in putting the book together.

Overall the pipeline was fairly fluid. Jason and I would write the entire script and get it approved through our editors. We have been collaborating for a while, so that part went smoothly. While the script was going through its paces, we would also have a design bible and character notes going so that the artists could start working on character designs. This was awesome every time and I think Shane and Ramanda really did great work on all the books. Often times the designs were even cooler than I imagined. I try to give very visual descriptions of the characters, so on most them we had very few revisions. We even ended up with some ancillary characters I didn’t anticipate that were really awesome.

If they had written Psy-Comm 30 years ago, they could be part of this awesomeness.

These books are around 160 pages so as soon as we could get the script to the artists to do thumbnails (basic fast layouts of every panel in the book) the better. Sometimes we would send out individual chapters just to make sure we were moving at pace and the artists weren’t just waiting on us. We would usually get to review the thumbnails to make sure we were all on the same page and then penciling the whole thing would begin. I really like collaboration and I am an artist myself (it helped immensely being able to speak “artist”), so we usually welcomed any changes or improvements the artists wanted to make. Many times we would get a changed panel back and it would be even cooler than I had imagined.

Matt: People say most authors identify with a character in each book. Do you have one in Psy-Comm?

Tony Salvaggio: I think I started out really getting into our protagonist Mark at first, but in the end I think Snow is my favorite character in the book. I would dig writing even more about her in the future.

Matt: As a game designer, I tend to see adaptations in everything. And Psy-Comm kind of seems like a softball to me. It has varying powers and weaknesses per character and an interesting world. Do you see a game in this book?  Or were you inspired by games?

Tony Salvaggio: Oh yeah! I’ve worked in the games industry since 1996 so that certainly colors what I write. Even if it doesn’t make it into the story, there are things we planned out to make it easy to adapt into a game. I would still like to do a shooter based on chapter 1 as a simple game to promote the book, along with a third person game based on the storyline laid out in the books (hopefully with some of the stuff we wanted to put into the books that didn’t make it into the initial run). I think a turn based Corp Wars game in the vein of X-Com would pretty awesome as well.

As a long time gamer, everything I do is colored by my love of games, comics and music. So when I am creating worlds and plotting scripts, I have that stuff in the back of my head. It helps with the way media works these days. This isn’t to say that everything I write is supposed be a product with a business and intellectual property buzzwords. I have stories that don’t fit that mold. However, when I am planning I certainly take these things into account. I even had a really great plan for adapting our steampunk book Clockwerx into a team based 3rd person actioner.

Matt: I read volume one. How many volumes are there? Can you give a one sentence summary to characterize the themes of each one?

Tony Salvaggio: There are 3 volumes in total for now, although I would like to do more in the future.

Sure, one sentence may be hard but I will try. In general I try to leave that up to the reader, and I feel that they are ultimately the ones who should decide what the story and each book means to them. I’m sure Jason (and the rest of the Psy-Comm team) all have their own takes on this question. After contemplating this, my take on each book is this:

Book 1: The past may lead to salvation it is never too late to change.

Book 2: Building and breaking trust between all of us as well as those around us.

Book 3: The nature of and rehabilitation from War and how we should seek out what we are truly searching for in life.

Matt: I heard the publishing avenues of Psy Comm changed?  Where can people get it?

Tony Salvaggio: People who are interested can find books 1 and 2 in stores all over the country (in Austin, Austin Books and Dragon’s Lair have both been HUGE supporters), on Amazon, and various other outlets. Book 3 is pretty much exclusive to Righstuf at this point. A lot of people prefer digital these days and we are on several digital formats (including Graphicly, iTunes, and Kindle). All of these links are provide as well.

The best place to get all the news on these things is still our Facebook page:

Book links:


Matt: As an author, what’s next?

I took some time off to concentrate on other things like my band Deserts of Mars (and more recently also playing bass for the Austin based Japanese rock cover band Pocari Shred). However, I got back into writing when I did a prose story for the charity anthology Fables for Japan (where many artists contributed their time and talent to donate to the cause of helping the post-disaster relief efforts in Japan).

I want to get back in the comics scene in 2013 with a few projects I am really passionate about that I think readers will really enjoy. I enjoy collaboration and I have a couple of pitches I want to collaborate on with some really talented friends. I’m also trying to figure out the best way to revive my Calling Manga Island column that used to write for Comic Book Resources. I’ve met a lot of people who really dug it and would like to see more of that. That is always cool to hear, so I might have to do that sooner rather than later. I would love to continue writing the stuff that people are entertained by and that they enjoy for as long as I possibly can.

Matt: So there you have it! I recommend you check out Psy Comm if you like: Sci Fi, Super Powers, Video Games and strong interpersonal stories in an otherwise action-oriented genre. And keep an eye on Tony!

If you liked this post, please do us the further boon of Liking the Fierce and Nerdy page on FaceBook. Also, we’re giving great stream on Twitter, so do give us follow.

Image Credits: marxchivist, bjornmeansbear