Exclusive: Pab Sungenis Talks SIDEKICK: The Misadventures Of The New Scarlet Knight Inspirations And Sequel
Last week we featured a review for a new young adult series called Sidekick: The Misadventures Of The New Scarlet Knight (you can read our take on it right here). The series looks at Bobby Baines, a High School kid dealing with all the usual teenage fare as well as juggling his job as a superhero’s sidekick. His mentor, the Scarlet Knight, is murdered and it falls to Bobby to take up his mantle. The book is written by Pab Sungenis and released through Month9Books. I got a chance to get a few questions in front of Mr. Sugenis about Sidekick and how the whole world came about. We also learned some plot details about the sequel coming out this time next year, Brothers in Arms.
Let’s start off with a fun, but obvious question: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why? Would you take a note from your book and have a sidekick?
I’d either want super-speed or a Green Lantern ring. And I’m not sure I’d want a sidekick.
Let’s dive right in to talking about the book. You make a world that feels real in Sidekick while still making it feel like a comic book universe. You can get a sense there’s a little Marvel, but maybe a little more DC. Is that fair to say?
More than fair. I was a DC kid growing up. The Flash and Green Lantern were my favorite heroes, and of course I loved Superman and Batman. Naturally, I still think of DC when I think “superhero.” Nothing against Marvel, which honestly has a track record of creating more interesting and well-developed heroes, but that just wasn’t what I was exposed to during my formative years.
Since you clearly love comics and pay tribute to that love in the book, do you have plans to write your own comic series set in the world of Sidekick?
I would love to. I’ve always wanted to write comic books. It would have to take place in the middle of the book, for obvious reasons, and there would be a couple of hurdles to be overcome, but it would be a blast. Of course, I’d have to find a company willing to take a chance on a bunch of unknown characters; if any publisher out there is interested, they should contact Georgia at Month9Books.
Sidekick is one of those rare things that could work well as a novel or a comic book. What made you want to write the novelization of the comic prior to the actual comic?
It wasn’t meant to be a comic. It was designed to be a novel from the beginning. Prose novels and graphic novels are two completely different beasts with different conventions and methods of storytelling. Not that one is better than the other; I would never want to read a prose Sandman novel, for example, and think that someone like Tom Robbins would fall flat if you swapped out his words for pictures.
If I had written Sidekick as a comic, the pacing would have been different, some of the characterizations would have changed, and I think Bobby’s voice would have probably been lost since you can’t do as much with internal monologue as you can in prose.
A novel does allow some great things you can’t get across completely in a comic book. As you created this world, you filled it with some unique superheroes. Can you talk a little about them? Did you find yourself drawing inspiration from certain comic book storylines or characters for Sidekick?
The story itself was pretty much inspired by Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ treatment of the teen sidekicks in The New Teen Titans,and Wally West’s taking on the mantle of the fallen Barry Allen during Crisis on Infinite Earths. A lot of Bobby’s mannerisms come from Mark Waid’s interpretation of Wally in The Flash and from Kyle Rayner during Ron Marz’ Green Lantern run. And, naturally, there are pretty direct parallels between the other members of the Justice Federation and the Justice League of America, since the original lineup was essentially the most balanced team ever. You’ve got the Strong Guy, the Creepy Guy, the Fast Guy, the Warrior Woman, the hero with the Magic Jewelry, the Gadgeteer, and so on. Plus, because I love Zatanna, I had to give the team a magic user instead of Aquaman.
Life usually has a way of imitating art. Are there any characters in Sidekick you based on people you know in real life?
There are bits and pieces of a lot of different people sprinkled among the characters, but there are no direct parallels. I had some people’s voices in my head as I was writing specific characters, some physical aspects of others when I was envisioning them, a few names, and so on. There’s one character in there, a minor character, who is a direct lift from someone I knew years ago in there as a homage, but I’m not going to say who.
You’ve been able to get our work published. There’s a lot of aspiring writers out there trying to do just that. What advice would you give them?
Keep at it. Don’t let anyone tell you that your stuff isn’t good enough. Of course, it probably isn’t but if you keep churning away your skills will improve and eventually it will be good enough. Don’t be afraid to fail. Also, don’t take rejection too hard; this book was rejected by 112 literary agents before it found its home.
We don’t want to give away the ending to the first book, but it’s safe to say there’s a lot of things set up for future installments. Now I hear that the second book is scheduled for this time next year. Is there anything you can tell us about that? Anything you can tease us with?
It’s called Brothers in Arms, and picks up two years after the death of the original Scarlet Knight. Bobby is back from an accelerated degree program at college and putting his life back together after the events of the first book. He’s pretty damaged and vulnerable. Then, out of nowhere, this homeless kid stumbles onto the scene. The question then becomes: is the Sidekick ready for a sidekick of his own? Just as the first book was about a boy growing up and trying to find his place in the adult world, the second book is about dealing with adult responsibilities and, essentially, fatherhood.
There are some new heroes on the team of course. My favorites are a guy wearing a lab coat who gets his powers from a silver hammer and calls himself Maxwell Edison, and a sentient gay artificial intelligence that calls himself Turing. Go to Google if you don’t get the jokes.
Oh, and the weird supervillains are back, too. Can’t have a superhero story without battles with villains, can we? Wait until you meet Doc Bollywood.
Ok, we have to ask. With Hollywood going super hero crazy, who would you cast to play Bobby Baines in a movie if one is made?
When I started writing the book in 2009, Bobby was modeled after Bradley James from the TV show Merlin. Of course, now that he’s 30 I doubt he’d want to play a teenage superhero. I’d probably say Josh Hutcherson if he didn’t mind staying blonde after he’s done with the Hunger Games films.
We want to thank Pab Sungenis for his time. If you want to read Sidekick for yourself, you can check out the Amazon page here. The first one was a really good read, so I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel. And I do encourage you to look up the Maxwell Edison and Turing jokes if you don’t get them. Sugenis certainly knows his comics and pulled out some great inspirations. One thing he didn’t mention that I could pick up on while reading the book was some slight hints of Watchmen and a little Tower of Babel, another Mark Waid masterpiece. What do you think about Sidekicks? Are you looking forward to Brothers in Arms?