Mark Wincott finds out the backstory behind the comic book series The Secret Protectors from author Adam Wheeler
Thank you for doing this, first of all. How are you doing? And how are you finding this unusual experience at the moment?
I’m an essential worker so my actual day-to-day hasn’t shifted massively. I think I’ve been incredibly fortunate because, unlike so many other people who are struggling, so far, I have been getting by. Like many of your readers though, I do have family who I am concerned about. I don’t know if I’m necessarily religious but I have definitely prayed to a higher power to keep them safe more than a few times. I think knowing that you have to keep your distance and not visit them, that’s the hardest part. This whole thing is equal parts terrifying and humbling but also there’s been glimpses of beauty that have been truly heart-warming. The togetherness, whilst social-distancing of course, that everyone is showing gives me hope for the future.
Tell our readers a little about yourself.
I’m the writer and creator of the comic book series The Secret Protectors along with artist and co-creator Benjamin Nunn. Apart from the comic, I’m actually pretty uninteresting to be honest. I grew up in Ilford and I now live just a few miles down the road in Hornchurch. I got married last year to my beautiful wife Kate and we have an old rescue Staffie called Archie.
Let us know how this idea for The Secret Protectors comic book began and how you found artist extraordinaire Ben Nunn?
Though the outline for what would become The Secret Protectors began decades ago, the series only truly became a thing when I decided to actually get serious and go about trying to get it made. I had no idea where to start, all I had was a bunch of ideas and zero artistic talent. I googled and researched a fair bit and eventually found Ben Nunn on a website. I thought his art style would be great for the series so I contacted him and, I couldn’t make this up, turns out Ben only lived about five minutes away from where I now live. It was some crazy luck and really made me believe that this was meant to be; like to some extent the universe had made this happen. Thankfully, Ben agreed and we got to work. Fast forward a few years and here we are with our fourth issue about to be released.
What is your creative process and how long did it take you to invent these characters? Are they based on anyone?
In 2017, when Ben and I began meeting regularly to build this comic world, we tried to differentiate our cast of characters from already established characters. Obviously, we wanted to be as original as possible but we certainly have some influences. I can’t talk for Ben but certainly for me, Chris Claremont’s legendary run on X-Men is definitely of significant mention. That team created some amazing stories.
Explain why The Secret Protectors is different from what is out there today?
I wanted to tell a narrative that has the reader questioning the actions of not just the villains but the heroes as well. Our story is as much a drama as it is a superhero fantasy-themed story. Our heroes, despite noble intentions, are only human, and all humans have flaws. They’re out-financed, out-gunned and running out of time. They have to cut corners; sometimes this means that lines get blurred. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but secrets are going to be coming out, in fact if you pay special attention you will pick up on things that we’ve hidden in plain sight in our issues thus far.
What made you want to dive into the comic book world – and what comics/writers and characters influenced you?
I grew up in the 80s, which was an incredible era for cartoons; He-Man, Transformers, TMNT, Thundercats, the list goes on. Then, roll round the 90s and we got animated series of Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man. These shows, especially the X-Men series, had a real lasting impact on me, which even to this day more than holds up. These shows really lit my own imagination and left me with a real love of comic book characters. Fast forward to 2004 and the release of City of Heroes. COH was a MMORPG (like World of Warcraft) but instead of wizards and elves you could create, design and play with your very own superheroes and later supervillains too. Now, I know it probably sounds a bit silly but I couldn’t play as a character without giving them a full backstory and a personality. Over time my interest in the game waned but I had all these ideas and stories for these characters. That was probably the true, earliest birth point. Over the years, when it comes to writing, I’ve drawn on a lot of different influences from comics; Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller to name but a few. Away from comics, I also love the work of David Simon (The Wire) and David Chase (The Sopranos) and of course Christopher Nolan. All these creators and many more have all, in some way, contributed to my storytelling style. The Secret Protectors in my mind is very much a superhero tale. Telling this story via comics was the only true option.
How have storytelling and the artistry evolved over the years?
I think one of the biggest changes in comics themselves is the way that crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made it possible for nobodies like us to create and sell our comic direct to the market. Years ago, the only option available would have been to tour the comic con circuit, which of course we still do but the ability to reach a larger audience is now massive. The storytelling in a lot of modern comics I’ve actually found to be a little too on the nose for me. I think the same can be said of a lot of the media really, which is why we’re trying to focus so much on allowing the reader to make up their own minds. We don’t want to preach about what you should and shouldn’t think.
What is the first story you remember writing?
Good question. Funnily enough, I remember quite vividly writing a story when I was in primary school about this female sword-wielding warrior on an adventure. I can’t really recall much more than that but I remember my teacher being quite impressed with my story, maybe not so much the violence in it though! It wasn’t particularly original from what I can recall, very Red Sonja-ish.
What is the biggest challenge you have come up against while creating The Secret Protectors and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is and continues to be exposure. Gaining traction and a following is easily the hardest part, especially in the throwaway culture we now have where people have shorter attention spans. We can’t pump out an issue every month because we’re just a two-man team. Each page for instance probably takes about 8-10hrs of work.
Since starting this venture what advice would you offer to someone who wishes to create their own story?
Storywise, build your world from the ground up. Be sure it makes sense. Understand everything about it and build outwards from there even down to the economy of the world itself. I know that may seem a bit over the top but you want your audience to be able to be completely immersed in your universe, no matter how bizarre it is. It needs to have a structure to it; even if you aren’t going to show that structure to begin with, you still need to know it yourself.
A bit away from comic books and as we are LoveEast magazine, what do you love about East London?
It’s easy to get complacent and take East London for granted, having lived here all my life. Even though the grind can get you down it’s so important to remember where you came from and how lucky we are to live in this incredible, diverse and colourful city, full to the brim of opportunity and amazing people.
Name three things you would tell a tourist to check out when they come to this area?
I’d definitely say there’s some amazing, underrated, parks for those who enjoy nature. Where I live in Havering, we have an abundance of them. When I met my wife, she lived in Hackney, and had done for years. It’s an eclectic area of hustle bustle and life with some incredible bars and restaurants, which we still go back to visit. It may be a little clichéd but, if I was a tourist, I wouldn’t want to miss a wander through Columbia Road flower market followed by a bagel on Brick Lane.
With three issues already completed, what is the future for the Wheeler Nunn partnership?
Well, issue 4 is very much on the horizon. With issue 4 we’re planning to release it as part of an issues 1-4 volume, via a Kickstarter campaign, which I’m really excited about. In fact, we planned to launch it earlier this year but now, with Covid-19, we’re in discussions over when to pull the trigger and just go for it!
Mark Wincott is a born and bred East Londoner. A recovering grunger, music gives him peace of mind. He’s a lover of pie mash liquor, likes the smell of rain and has written articles on music, MMA, Pro Wrestling and dealing with anxiety. “I’m unique and different just like everyone else”.
Images courtesy of Adam Wheeler