Review Fix chats with Joe R. Khachadourian, the writer/creator of Identity Stunt from Markosia Publishing, who discusses the origin of the series, as well as his creative process and goals for the future. A budding star in indie comics, Khachadourian has created quite a vivid world in this comic series.
Review Fix: What inspired this series?
Joe R. Khachadourian: The creation of Identity Stunt was inspired by my burning desire to be the man who sends a shock through the system of the indie comics industry and brings back that element of over-the-top, grindhouse action! As for the story of Identity Stunt…it’s hard to narrow it down to just one influence. It’s primarily, and in many ways obviously, my love letter to ’80s and ’90s action cinema. I also wanted to tell a story that featured a Middle-Eastern American lead as a hero, versus as a villain or supporting character. And finally, despite being advised otherwise, I had to include a street-level, costumed vigilante, because the real-world psychology behind that sort of off-tilt drive fascinates me (I’m of the belief that a costumed vigilante actually appearing on our streets is a matter of “when”, not “if”). And hey, I’m also a sucker for the “ordinary person thrown into an extraordinary situation” narrative. Toss those ingredients together in a copper mixer and you’ve got the Identity Stunt cocktail.
Review Fix: What was the research process like?
Khachadourian: Man, there was far more research involved in this process than I ever realized, and on multiple layers. I learned so much, it’s pretty amazing. When I settled on a four-issue mini-series format, I dove into a few of Mark Millar’s independent works, like Nemesis. Mark is able to condense clear pacing, action, and characterization into four issues like almost no other, and keep you coming back for more, month after month. So, from a story construction perspective, his Image works proved invaluable. I also sat through a movie-watching gauntlet of some of the best buddy action films that Hollywood had to offer, like Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash, and 48 Hours. For the mentally unhinged Beatdown’s dialogue, I perused “Dirty Harry’s Greatest Hits,” and found them rather fitting. As far as “real world” elements go, I read up on the duties of the National Guard when engaged in international combat, specifically in Afghanistan, and spoke to a few Guardsmen; I researched and reached out to director Lexi Alexander, who started her career as a stuntperformer…and I also kept a map of Los Angeles open at all times.
And don’t get me started on what it took to understand the digital production aspect of this industry…yeesh.
Review Fix: Was it difficult to put together?
Khachadourian: Yes. Oh God, YES! And anyone who tells you different is a stinkin’ liar. But never had I been so determined to see a tough process through to completion, and I would absolutely do it all again if I had to. Luckily, I have a very supportive — and patient — wife and family who helped me through those trying moments and kept me energized and motivated. When you love something, you need to be prepared for some heartbreak.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself as a writer through this?
Khachadourian: That I’m not as clever as I think I am?
In all seriousness, much like the research process, I discovered a ton. I learned about patience and letting ideas sit and breathe before proceeding. I learned that, even though you always want your first pass to be perfect, it’s more often than not crap. And you need to be okay with chipping away at crap until it becomes something wonderful (how’s that for an analogy?). It’s an ever-evolving process. Even now, there’s no Identity Stunt script that I feel is 100% done, that I couldn’t go back and make changes to on any given day. The collaborative process alone requires disciplined levels of patience in order to keep a harmonious balance between creators. I learned that just because you love a line or sequence if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, it needs to go. Final lesson: The pitch is harder to write than the script! I think I bothered way more people for feedback on the pitch than any other aspect of the story.
Review Fix: Who’s your target audience for this?
Khachadourian: I’m inclined to say “everyone,” but the book’s got a “15+” tag on it for a reason. It’s basically written for action junkies who want a little “heart” mixed in with their big boom story-telling, like that one scene in The Temple of Doom. I kid! It was important to me that the series progress at a breakneck pace, with little or no room for the readers or characters to catch their breath. But in order for that to matter, we need to love the lead players, or else what’s the point? If your lead is unlikable, the peril becomes less of an emotional threat. So I tried very hard to make Sami (“Sam”), Mason, Tracy, et al, feel like people you’d hang out with on a daily basis, kind of like the cast of Saved by the Bell…ahem. Though, my hope is also that if you don’t revere action sequences the way I do, but simply enjoy humor, or romance, or comic book silliness, that there’s enough of all that in here to keep you entertained.
Review Fix: How is it different from other comic books in the genre?
Khachadourian: Good question. One of the first pieces of advice I received when entering this en devour was “give them something they haven’t seen.” And that’s where I started. It wasn’t easy, especially since so much of my story relied on homaging tropes we’re all familiar with, as that was kind of the point. But that in-and-of-itself makes Identity Stunt different than what’s already out there. There are action comic books referencing action movies. That are superhero movies homaging superhero comic books. But I can’t think of one that unapologetically does both. And while there have been a number of “mistaken identity” or “identity revealed” tales out there, none have been approached from the “accidental accusation” angle, wherein it’s very clear from the beginning (hopefully) that the accused is not the perpetrator. I also want to call out the fully multi-cultural cast. I’m a Middle-Eastern immigrant, and telling an inclusive story that showed a bit of the reality of family life in America today was important to me.
Review Fix: What do you want people to get out of this series?
Khachadourian: At the end of the day, I want everyone to walk away from one of my stories, or these individual issues, with a smile on their face. That’s my “win.” But, if I allow myself to get philosophical here, my hope is that readers really “feel” Sami’s plight throughout the series, that they go on this emotional journey with him, facing the unknown together. That’s another reason why I wanted it clear from the beginning that Sami is not Beatdown. Because even allowing for the possibility that he’s actually the costumed vigilante lowers the threat levels significantly. If he’s not Beatdown, there’s a very good chance he and his loved ones won’t make it out of this alive. Tangentially to that is the idea that “perception is reality,” for everyone. You can’t trust everything you hear…Hell, you can’t trust what you see with your own eyes sometimes these days, so knowing that, it becomes hard to judge people, and nor should you. In Identity Stunt, everyone thinks Sami is Beatdown, even those closest to him. Therefore, Sami is forced to live that reality — violently — despite his intentions, and it’s not fair. I hope my readers take that lesson with them into their world…
Review Fix: How would you describe it to someone who has never read it?
Khachadourian: Identity Stunt is a four-issue action-thriller. It’s fast-paced, street-level vigilante action. It’s Lethal Weapon meets Unbreakable in an era of viral media and “fake news.” It’s a relentless odyssey involving complex characters, a touch of romance, and a fistful of masked lunatics.
It’s my everything story.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Khachadourian: Well, I’ve got a couple of projects on the burner right now, but a lot of that depends on my readers! I want nothing more than to keep putting out volumes of Identity Stunt, but I need all of my fans out there to make their voices heard online and in-stores, and let Markosia know how much they’re digging the book. Feedback thus far has been pretty stellar, so let’s keep it up! If all goes well and the stars align, Identity Stunt is currently planned out as a trilogy (just like everyone else’s ideas!), and I’m hoping to release one volume every year or two. I’m scripting volume two right now, which feels a little bit like James Cameron’s Aliens…
Outside of Identity Stunt, I’m working on two other projects: One is a large, world-hopping sub-aquatic saga that’s like The A-Team underwater. Stay tuned for more there. The other is something a bit more personal, a one-shot I plan on both writing and drawing myself, probably out in 2020. We’ll see how that goes!
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Khachadourian: I wanted to say, “Thank You.” To my readers and retailers: your support and feedback have been overwhelming. The books are performing fairly well and we could not have done that without the help of my village (don’t stop now!). And I’m elated that so many people are enjoying it. To my family: for being there for me and loving me despite my craziness; for being patient, for letting me run with this wild ride that only I seem to really understand. To my publishers at Markosia, pushing hard behind the scenes, trying to get the book into as many hands as possible…and out into the world in other formats. And finally, to my current creative team: J. Briscoe Allison, Juancho Velez, Tone Rodriguez, and A. J. Scherkenbach – This book is a visual spectacle, and I’d be a fool to deny that that is the main draw (no pun intended) for readers. I guarantee you the artwork here stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any from the major publishers and fits right in. For an indie book, that is quite an achievement.
And due to that, my only ask of you, our readers, is to spread the word if you like it. Leave us a rating on comiXology, a review on DriveThruComics, or a review on our Facebook Page. Send us some social media love, along with your political posts and food porn. It goes a long way. ONE positive review can lead to dozens of new readers, please keep that in mind.
Also don’t forget that #3 is out now, #4 will debut in August, followed by the trade paperback in September! Identity Stunt is available digitally on ComiXology and DriveThruComics, and in print at The Identity Stunt Store.