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A Slush Feature:
Fandom Has Its Privileges
By Evan Cantrell


Shipping later this month will be the landmark 50th issue of Mark Crilley’s critically acclaimed book, Akiko. Akiko tells the story of a ‘spunky 10 year-old girl who has adventures in outer space and on the planet Smoo.’ What makes this issue even more special is that some fans were able to participate in its creation. One of those fans is Dan T. Davis, the writer of the 13-page back-up which is featured in the issue. Just how he and artist Matthew Armstrong became involved in the project is a story in and of itself.

Both members of the ‘Akiko fan club’ at Yahoo, Dan and Matthew were brought together when a fan club ‘round robin’ story was proposed on the web site.

Misunderstanding the premise that one person would write a page and pass it onto another fan, Dan wrote an entire story titled “An Evening on the Moonguzzit Sea” and posted it for the forum members to read. Impressed with the script, Matthew drew the first four pages of the 17-page story and sent them to Dan. (The original story and art can be seen at http://www.akikocomic.homestead.com.)

As fate would have it, Mark Crilley, Akiko’s creator, saw the art and story and was impressed. To Davis’ surprise, he was contacted by Crilley and asked whether he could publish it in Akiko.

“Mark Crilley contacted Sirius,” says Davis, “and in August 2001, I received an email message from Mark Bellis, editor-in-chief at Sirius, that said, ‘Dan, Matthew, this is one of the best fan stories I’ve ever read. However, it is still a fan story. I have a few comments…’ Mark then listed about 10-12 suggested changes, finishing with ‘I guess I am asking for a complete rewrite.’”

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Rising to the challenge, Dan rewrote the story in August 2001 before taking a month off for a long-planned trip to Africa. Mark Bellis approved the revised script, mentioning he was impressed that ‘no further changes needed to be made.’ Matthew drew the thumbnails for the new story, and sent them to Dan in Johannesburg, South Africa, as well as Sirius Comics on September 10, 2001.

“Time passed once again,” Davis says. “Matthew and I probed Sirius about once a month, only to learn that the publishing business requires patience. Finally, in March 2002, [we] received the ‘go-ahead’ to draw the entire comic. Matthew then went to work. He had a full-time job, so it took time, but luckily, issue 50 of Akiko was slated for the fall of 2002. Matthew and I worked closely during that period; I pointed out ways I felt the story should be drawn, Matthew, the artist, would often surprise me with wonderful features that I had not thought about. The synergy between [us] was quite amazing, especially considering the two of us had never met (and still have only shared pictures of each other over the internet).”

During that period, given Matthew’s time schedule, he recruited his younger brother Michael to do the backgrounds and shading. Everyone contributed – even the spouses. In recognition of that, Matthew drew cameos of his wife Isabelle, Davis and his wife, Jan, and Michael on the full-page climax of the story. He didn’t need to include himself – he had already decided to draw a likeness of himself as Jardan, one of the guest characters in the story.

Finally, the finished 13-page story, along with a watercolor, was submitted to Sirius and Mark Crilley in Fall, 2002. Mark Crilley’s own schedule caused Akiko #50 to be delayed to January, then to April of 2003, so the timing worked out. Only two minor changes were requested after all the work and effort. Then, the wait began.

“Both Matthew and I are looking forward to getting our own copies of Akiko #50,” Davis says.”

EC: What was it like collaborating with Matthew?

DD: Matthew and I felt that working together was a ‘rush.’ In fact, I have asked Matthew to design the book covers for two books I plan to publish in the near future. This, of course, between two people who have never met. The power of the Internet at work!

EC: What’s the back-up story about?

DD: Well, Akiko #50 is coming out near the end of April 2003. The particular story Matthew and I created is quite serious. In fact, Mark Crilley told us that the story takes Akiko and her friends into “emotional territory that they’ve never been before.” In response, Mark’s own story is a rip-roaring, funny tale to offset the serious story that I wrote and Matthew drew. The result should be truly worthy of an anniversary issue. Akiko has always been comedy, drama, and just plain fun. The combination of Mark Crilley’s story, our story, and the extras thrown in as a bonus should really show even new readers that Akiko is a girl (and a comic) to be truly appreciated.

EC: Can we expect to see more comic book work from you or Matthew?

DD: Actually, I hope so, at least from one of us. Matthew has created a comic called “Natasha,” about a young girl witch, her talking broom, and her spider familiar. He has often said he’d be interested in doing comics, which was one reason he started drawing the Akiko story. I have written a few comic stories as well, but this is the first one that has gotten to the publication stage. As for both of us together, I hope that you will see an illustrated book collaboration from the two of us called “The Blacksmith’s Gift” sometime in 2004. (The publishing business requires patience, we’ve learned!)

EC: Aside from Akiko, what are some of the other books you enjoy reading?

DD: I’ve enjoyed reading comics since I was a kid. That takes me back to very early Spider-Man as well as Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure comics. I tend to prefer stories that have character development vs. “fight scene of the month”. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed Akiko (big surprise), Bone, Spectre, Hunter: The Age of Magic, and manga such as Maison Ikkoku. I’m a big fan of silver age revamps -- I loved Crisis, the recent Supergirl stories, and I’m a sucker for something like Generations (by Slush columnist John Byrne) -- and I really enjoy movies by Studio Ghibli.

Dan T. Davis is a senior manager in I.T. who builds new technology businesses. He is also the founder of Second Star Creations, a consulting and publishing business. Matthew Armstrong handles conceptual character and world design, illustration, animation, 3D and Computer Graphics for various video game and multi-media companies.

Slush would like to thank Dan for taking the time to speak with us and wish he and Matthew the best of luck in any future endeavors. Be sure to pick up Akiko #50 when it is released later this month.


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