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Thoughts From The Land Of Frost:
A Discussion With Billy Tucci By Alexander Ness
Crusade Entertainment founder Billy Tucci is the man behind the hugely successful comic series, Shi. At times outselling Batman and Superman, over 4 million Shi comics have been sold worldwide. Shi's success inspired Tucci to create and publish numerous Shi offshoots and properties such as Victoria Cross, Angle Fire, Undaunted, Battlebooks and Atomik ANGELS (with Peter Gutierrez).
Tucci is also hard at work on numerous film projects, all of which he'll discuss here, along with his current and future comic work. So without further ado, our man of the hour: Billy Tucci.
AN: Tell my readers, if you will, a bit about you: where are you from, and are you married? Any children? And where do you live and where did you go to school?
BT: Well Mr. Ness, I was born and raised on Long Island, NY and moved to Manhattan while attending The Fashion Institute of Technology. I lived in Forest Hills, Queens for about 6 years afterwards, and then moved back out to Long Island about 6 years ago, married my college sweet-heart Deborah who gave birth to my darling baby boy William Alexander this past July.
AN: What was the first comic book that you read or owned?
BT: The first comic I owned was a giant-sized Spider-Man which starred "The Orb," "Werewolf By Night," "Ghost Riders," and a bunch of others. I still have it buried somewhere in a closet.
AN: Who are your artistic influences?
BT: Most of the master illustrators: Mucha, Rockwell, Wyeth. But I've been working towards a more expressionistic and abstract way of storytelling.
AN: Who are your personal influences?
BT: As in life? Well, I'd have to say that Theodore Roosevelt, Good Ol' Abe Lincoln, and a bunch of conquerors and military chaps.
AN: And who are your friends within the comics industry?
BT: I really don't have any friends in the industry.
BT: Seriously though, I've got a bunch. Like everyone else, I'm friends with Jimmy Palmiotti. But I also hold CrossGen's Tony Bedard, Ian Feller, Amanda Conner, John Nee, Joe Jusko, and too many to list very close to my heart.
AN: You were a US Army Ranger. When were you in the military and did you serve in the Gulf War? Any comments about the current world situation?
BT: I was very fortunate to have been apart of a Test Company when I enlisted in the Army National Guard after college. After Basic I received Ranger-type training in the vein of Ranger Indoctrination Training program and I also got my jump wings while on active duty. I served in the NYARNG 42nd Airborne and later in the RIARNG 19th Special Forces Group. During the Gulf War I was stuck out at the National Training Center, training to hunt mobile SCUD launchers when the war ended.
As for our current situation, I have no doubts that we are experiencing World War III and am very proud of our President and Military. Bush is a very wonderful and refreshing change from the lying, cheating, Emperor's New Clothes-style of Government of the last administration.
And I personally would rather have a "cow-boy" for a president than a"cow-ard"
AN: How did you get into the comics industry?
BT: I read Frank Miller's run of Daredevil (much after the fact) and Arkham Asylum and was hooked. For about 3 years I tried getting work for Marvel, DC, Harris and Image you name it and finally decided to go out on my own and publish. I had no money but figured what can those guys do that I can't!
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AN: Shi was your first huge hit. What was your inspiration for the character, and what is your background in Martial Arts and Asia?
BT: I practiced Iaido for a couple of years. That's really about it. Japanese art, history and film are just huge influences on my storytelling style.
AN: Have you a master plot for the tales of Shi, and if so, have you envisioned the final end of the tale? And to that end, how did Shi end up at Avatar Press?
BT: There is a master plot for the tales of Shi, but it will take about 30 years to tell it. As for the Avatar deal, it was just for four two-issue miniseries' while I was working on my short film "Some Trouble of a SeRRious Nature" and the Shi movie script. I'll have some big news on our next move in the coming weeks!
AN: Could you see yourself working for Marvel or DC on a monthly title, and if yes, what title would most interest you?
BT: I couldn't draw a monthly book if I was to maintain the quality people seem to associate with Shi. I could write a couple of books and would love to write a Captain America and Daredevil miniseries. I've got so many stories for Batman and Superman too. I just really never had the time to ask. Or approach them with a pitch.
AN: What inspired you to do Battlebooks and are you still doing them?
BT: I loved the idea of actually stepping into a comic book and determining the outcome of these mythical and legendary battles. Actually, we're thinking of revamping Battlebooks because of the huge success that Whiz Kids is going though. I told you comic book character games would work!
AN: Tell my readers about your film work if you would.
BT: Whew! I really loved making my film. It's a short but has gotten some great reviews and has shown all over the country. Here's the basic plot: "You will believe a moron can fly... Based on the 1940's hoax letter addressed to Vought Aviation, this "live action cartoon" hysterically chronicles the Second World War's final days, an unfortunate F4U Corsair fighter plane and the Arkansas hillbillies who are determined to fly it."
I am currently working on two treatments (one with Gemstone's JC Vaughn) that my agent has garnered lots of attention for, the Shi film script and the script for my first feature, The Burning Blue. I hope to bring Burning before the cameras this August/September. But that depends on my other screenplay schedules.
AN: What are your favorite films?
BT: Seven Samurai, Empire of the Sun, and The Rough Riders. You can check out my favorite along with others on "Your Movie Data Base."
AN: So then you are a triple threat: Writer, Artist and Filmmaker: How does each talent help or inform the other?
BT: Well, I truly believe that my comics background has really helped me tell a story when it comes to film. You have a certain amount of pages to get your point across and I've had lots of practice with all the comics I've drawn, wrote or laid out.
AN: Who is Victoria Cross, and when will readers get a chance to meet her?
BT: Victoria Elizabeth Cross is a pre-WW2 British Pilot/Spy. Think of a female James Bond in the era of Indiana Jones. She's a character that I've been developing and her first story arc takes place during the Spanish Civil War. We plan on having her new miniseries out early 2004.
AN: What is Burning Blue?
BT: As a student pilot and fanatical aviation buff, I wanted my first feature to be a close to my heart as possible. Burning Blue is a modern day take on "Don Quixote." It is the summer in the life of a former WW2 fighter pilot, now in his 80's, and the 16 year-old girl he teaches to fly an old biplane. It's a very moving human interest story where I envision great flying sequences and flash backs of Spitfires in battle. Of course there's a twist but the story has a great Rocky-like quality.
AN: The Undaunted is on the way to the store shelves first as a preview, and then as...?
BT: My agent has gotten great interest in The Undaunted. I'm actually hoping to produce that as the first story arc in a new series of war comics and me and a very famous movie director are planning with a major publisher. Hopefully that will come to pass late 2003. I don't want to jinx it.
BT: CrusadeFineArts.com and WilliamTucci.com are one and the same. Just two names for our official website where you can get all your up to date info on me, Shi and other Crusade projects. We've also got the best message board around!
AN: In an imaginary place, you and Beau Smith are a famous superhero duo: who are you and who is Beau?
BT: Who is Beau Smith?
AN: On that note we must say thanks to Billy and look forward to his many projects coming this way.
Comic publishers and talent may send products for review to:
Alexander Ness Land Of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142