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Building a diverse superhero universe with Joe Illidge

Joseph Illidge, writer and editor, has had a long, storied career working with DC Comics and Warner Bros, beginning atMilestone Media, Inc. He later became…

Joseph Illidge, writer and editor, has had a long, storied career working with DC Comics and Warner Bros, beginning atMilestone Media, Inc. He later became a regular editor of the Batman titles — the first African American to do so — during the extended event No Man’s Land. Various characters from his editorial run have been seen in the production of numerous DC TV shows including Batman Beyond, Arrow, Gotham and others. With such solid comic-book industry cred, it’s a given that fans are excited at the impending birth of the new shared universe he’s helped shape together with a number ofother seasoned creators. Lion Forge Comics is set to launch a new superhero shared universe this May, with a one-shot special before branching off into seven new titles. The Senior Editor dished to Comic-Book101 exclusively on the upcoming books, how the creators were handpicked, and more. Herewith, are excerpts: 

There’s a rise in diversity in comic-books, even though there’s room for much more. What fresh angle will your characters offer, in order to add to what’s out there already?
Joe Illidge: The diversity within the Catalyst Prime superhero universe is organic and authentic. It’s not a PR play or a gimmick. 
Our characters are new, so the discovery of their lives and layers, their goals and journeys, is the unique adventure we can take you on, which you won’t find with a number of larger universes with decades-old legacies and confusing, contradictory continuities.
How did the ideas for Catalyst Prime come together?
Illidge: The nucleus for the Catalyst Prime superhero universe was primarily created by Lion Forge’s Managing Member/CEO David Steward II and Chief Creative Officer Carl Reed. When Lion Forge Comics’ President Geoff Gerber brought me on board as Senior Editor, he tasked me with putting together the best group of creators to take the nucleus and expand it into a full-fledged superhero universe of quality, with a rich mythology and the legs to stand the test of time.
You have a stellar roster of talent on board. How did you choose them?
Illidge: Thank you! I’ve worked as an editor in comic books with some of the best publishers, from Milestone Media, Inc. to DC Comics to Archaia, so I have an extensive list of creators. I know which ones are impactful to the industry in a variety of ways, and I wanted to bring together a group which reflects the variety of talents in the comic book medium.
Getting Christopher J. Priest on board was especially important to me, because of his wealth of knowledge and his real-world approach to writing superhero fiction. That perspective is crucial to the makeup of the Catalyst Prime line of books.
Starting with a sprawling shared universe can’t be easy. How do you guys all stay on the same page?
Illidge: It started with a creative retreat last August, in which I assembled the Catalyst Prime Writers’ Room of Christopher J. Priest, Joe Casey, Ramon Govea, Brandon Thomas, David F. Walker, Sheena C. Howard, and Amy Chu, with Alex de Campi being the final piece of the idea machine. From that retreat, I developed the Catalyst Prime Universe Bible, which is a 100-page document outlining the characters, world, relationships, and titles of the Catalyst Prime line of books. The creators have the CPU bible as a point of reference.
With the invaluable aid of Editorial Assistant Desiree Rodriguez, the Editorial department has a bird’s eye view of the line. I communicate with the writers regularly on scripts and connections between titles.
A 100-page Catalyst Prime ‘bible’ does sound intriguing. Any plans to someday share some of it with fans?
Illidge: Hell, it’s still growing! In time, we certainly plan to share some tidbits, but we’ll have to leave some content redacted, because we don’t want to give away all the goodies at the beginning of the movie.
Speaking of movies, some comic-book universes are created with Hollywood in mind. Do you have live-action or animation plans? 
Illidge: Our goal is to make the best superhero comic-books, with the best stories and compelling characters. Such a landscape will naturally be ideal for translation into other media, and it will all start with staying focused on quality books with on-time delivery.
What, do you think, will make readers care about the characters?
Illidge: The story crafted by Christopher J. Priest and myself provides insight into the lives of the astronauts on the suicide mission to save Earth from an asteroid on a collision course. Those astronauts, what they have to gain, what they have to lose, why they have to do this…those revelations, will make you see them as people, not just as archetypes.
You have said the superheroes in the Catalyst Prime universe will be based on science. Does that mean absolutely no plans for magic-based ones?
Illidge: Not today, but never say never.
How do you begin your creative process for creating comic-books?
Illidge: As a Senior Editor, it’s get a good night’s sleep, have a protein shake and a shower in the morning, go to Pandora and choose from The Roots, Ben Westbeech, or Dr. Dre stations, and open the e-mail in box ready to go. Also, have an open mind to new ideas, and be committed to surprising the readers, and yourself.


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