Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pheaturing Phile Alumni Ben Filipiak & Rob Rhine From Fierce Comics

Happy Father's Day! Welcome to the Phile, kids, how are you? I have to say I had a really cool, fun, and a successful father. Logan has... me. We can't all be lucky.  The big story continues to be 29-year-old Edward Snowden, the man behind the leaking of the NSA spy scandal. Speculation is that Snowden is hiding in Hong Kong and could be working for China. Hey, let's get real. Aren't we all pretty much working for China? Some experts believe the privacy scandal will hurt the NSA. Are they crazy? Do you know how many people want to join now that they've heard the guy who blew the whistle is a high school dropout, making almost $200,000 a year, with a pole dancer girlfriend, and he’s living in Hawaii? People are lining up to get this job.  According to a Gallup poll, President Obama's approval rating has dropped to 45 percent. Luckily for Obama, he has "impeachment insurance." It's called "Joe Biden."  The world's oldest human tumor has been found on the rib of a Neanderthal skeleton in Croatia. The tumor would have been discovered sooner, but they have government healthcare over there.  Today for Father's Day my son and I are gonna go see Man of Steel. Superman. I'm so excited because a superhero movie hasn't opened since Friday. For my money, the best Superman was Sean Connery. The whole movie, if you go to see it... this is a spoiler alert... is Superman complaining about having to fly friends to the airport.  In case you didn't know, the first Father's Day was celebrated in 1910. Before that, there were no fathers. If you're looking for a thoughtful, inexpensive gift for dad, here is an idea: try not to roll your eyes when he says something. There's a lot of sales for Father's Day. Check out this ad...

I have no idea where 1015 Olive Drive is in Davis. Or where Davis is in fact.  So, who got the new Xbox One? I am not sure they have the right promotions going on to help sales.

I think I'll get the brick.  I am a huge Beatles fan, as you might know, and I always wondered where they got the idea for the "Abbey Road" album cover. Well, I think I know.

That's so stupid.  Well, the great company I work for which is Disney is releasing some of their classic movies with their original titles. I have no idea what the reason behind this is, but go along with it. Yesterday I revealed Beauty & the Beast was originally called Stockholm Syndrome which I do not understand. Today's one is a bit more easy to figure out.

It's true.  On June 3rd it was Bad Wolf Day... and if you don't know whnat Bad Wolf means you haven't seen "Doctor Who". Anyway, it was asked of you to write or create the words Bad Wolf and send them in to me and other websites and you kids did it. So, here's another Bad Wolf entry.

LOL. That's my favorite one I think. Baaad Wolf. Do goats say baa or only sheep? I don't know.  Well, it is Father's Day, and for today I thought I would start a new annual pheature. It's time for...

Well done, stupid father who wore an inappropriate t-shirt. You are the Phather of the Year!  You know, today's guests on the Phile have created some really cool characters. And here on the Phile, I have as well. Everyone knows and has heard of Winnie the Pooh, but did you know Winnie the Pooh has a brother? Winnie was all full of insight, and his brother is as well. So, please welcome to the Phile again...

Me: Hello, Vinnie, welcome back to the Phile. How are you?

Vinnie: I stubbed my toe.

Me: I am sorry to hear that, Vinnie.

Vinnie: It's okay. Do you know what's worse than stabbing your toe?

Me: No, what?

Vinnie: Breaking your spine and being unable to walk for the rest of your life.

Me: Yeah, that would suck.

Vinnie: Do you want to hear a joke?

Me: Sure.

Vinnie: What does a gay horse eat?

Me: I don't know, what does a gay horse eat?

Vinnie: Carrots.

Me: Um... I don't get it.

Vinnie: Oh. Okay.

Me: Did you see your brother was in the news recently, Vinnie?

Vinnie: Yes. Chinese internet censors target Winnie the Pooh and Tigger after Xi-Obama comparison. Winnie should be banned in China, that way I can be popular.

Me: Did you see the picture of why Winnie was banned?

Vinnie: No. Me: Good, I'll show it here.

Me: Anything else you wanna say before you go, Vinnie?

Vinnie: There's absentee father's in all cultures, races and even animal breeds! Where was Bambi's father? Where was Dumbo's dad? Winnie the Pooh? Happy Father's Day.

That was so stupid. Anyway, here's a new Mindphuck. If you see it, email me at

Today's guests are Phile Alum and the author and artist of the 26th book to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Book Club... "The Maniacal Smile Omnibus". Please welcome back to the Phile from Fierce Comics... Ben Filipiak and Rob Rhine.

Me: Hey, guys, welcome back to the Phile. How have you been?

Ben: Awesome, Jason. Couldn’t be happier.

Rob: Hidee hoo!

Me: It's been years since you were here last, I am am glad Fierce Comics is still going strong. The Phile is as well, but looks different now, right?

Ben: Yeah man, looking great!

Me: Like the Phile which has gotten better in the years, do you think Fierce has gotten better?

Ben: Without a doubt. Our titles are getting more and more exposure and becoming pretty well known.

Rob: In every way. With each passing year we learn and apply something new and better to our respective crafts.

Me: I saw you guys at MegaCon this year, and was glad to see that you are still doing the Maniacal Smile. He's Fierces' main character, am I right?

Ben: Smiley has been around longest, so there’s more material for that title, and we’ve been putting extra effort behind Smiley lately to showcase his marketability, but we have an equal focus across all three titles. Redneck Red, for example was wildly popular both at MegaCon and at the last Tampa Bay Comic Con. So much so, that we’re seriously thinking of rescheduling a previously planned new release to do a follow-up story arc to "Roar of the Swamp".

Rob: Right. Smiley is a piece of a much larger puzzle of awesome that is the Fierce brand! He is my favorite by default.

Me: He has his own board game. I have a picture of it here to show...

Me: Who came up with the concept of the game, guys?

Ben: I have a tremendous amount of faith in the marketability of The Maniacal Smile. I seriously believe it’s only a matter of time before we see his face licensed on all kinds of products and I wanted to start demonstrating that with products other than comics. After some research, I decided a game would be the best way to start. I brought the idea to make a game forward, and solicited concepts from the team. Rob shot back a few ideas and one was to play off the Guts of a Hero theme and have the players moving through Smiley’s intestines. It was one of those “that’s perfect” moments that make this kind of work so rewarding for all of us. And believe me, it was work! We invested an enormous amount of time into developing the game. Everything from the board design to the nuances of the game play, and even how the game play experience can be changed through expansion packs was painstakingly tested and reworked countless times to get it just right. I couldn’t be more proud of the end result, and hearing people play it at MegaCon was extremely fulfilling. They were cheering and laughing like they were in Vegas or something. It was awesome.

Rob: It is quite an amazing achievement when you look at it. I will be honest, redrawing the board and tweaking it was the hardest part. But once we knew we had it locked in and perfect, we could not have been happier!

Me: I looked to see if there was a Maniacal Smile action figure. Is that something you see being made any time?

Ben: Dude, I can see an entire line of Fierce related action figures! We’ve explored the idea, but it’s probably not going to happen this year. However, if any of your readers are in the injection molding/action figure manufacturing business, we could always use a competitive quote. For that matter, we’re open to licensing for almost any product and this is a great time for a manufacturer to build a relationship with an emerging national brand.

Rob: This is one of my personal dreams and goals that I want to achieve with Smiley! Press a button and he makes a wonderful nimbus sound! I also think a Midwalker figure that is clear blue with a way to light him up would rule… and of course a GIANT Swamp Ape would be sweet as well. Maybe do it like other action figure lines and have a piece of him with every figure to build him... I could go on and on with this topic, but I digress, LOL!

Me: Last time you were here you were part of Artist Month or something, but Rob, you're the artist and Ben, you're the founder and writer at Fierce, did I get that right?

Ben: Yep, you pretty much nailed it. I founded Fierce Comics back in 2005 with Pat Batton. We met Rob and Mike a couple years into it when we teamed up to produce a Free Comic Book Day book featuring the best of Tampa Bay’s independent comic creators. We’ve been a fearsome foursome ever since. Nowadays Rob is the artist behind Smiley, Mike writes Smiley, Pat is our web master, letterer on Smiley, and co-writer on "Redneck Red", and I write "Midwalker" and manage the business. We have a lot of complimentary skills, so it works well.

Rob: We have found balance to the force to be sure.

Me: Well, this time you are part of The Peverett Phile Book Club, and I made the trade "The Maniacal Smile Omnibus" the pheatured book. Who wrote the stories, and Rob, you drew the book, right?

Rob: I produced the majority of that book from high school until my early 20’s. I wrote and illustrated most of it alone. I had some friends that assisted along the way on various things like writing or lettering. But the big change happened when Foss came on board. Since 2006 we have been making Smiley together and better with each issue!

Me: What is in the Omnibus? Does it have any new material?

Rob: The Omnibus serves as the foundation or origin of where Smiley came from and how he became the coolest indie comic today! There is a lost issue 13 and a few ashcan issues in there that either were never printed or if they were, only a few were made. I would say the majority of the Omnibus is full of rarity!

Ben: I’ve got to say, the Omnibus is a very unique book. It isn’t often you find an artist who is willing to open his kimono and expose all his art from back when he was one step away from stone knives and bearskins. It’s really cool to flip through it and actually see his progress. It’s a great example for aspiring young artists who don’t think they can stick with it to get good enough for print.

Me: This is not the only trade Fierce put out, is it? There's another Smiley trade and a Redneck Red book.

Ben: That’s right, there are also the "Maniacal Smile: Guts of a Hero" and "Redneck Red: Roar of the Swamp" books.

Me: How many artists do you have on staff, Ben?

Ben: Technically, all work not done by Rob is done by freelance artists. We try to work with industry professionals whenever possible, and we’ve been fortunate to work with the likes of Scott Reed, Mike Shoyket, Don Hillsman, and Tony Kordos. That doesn’t mean we won’t work with others, we just want to maintain a high-quality, professional-level product. In fact, we frequently receive freelance and journeyman artist submissions from all over the world and there’s a good probability that we will be working with some of them on books in our production plan. The bottom line is if the caliber of the work is at a level we feel comfortable putting the Fierce brand on, we can explore opportunities. All an artist has to do is follow the submission guidelines on our website. When we get the submission, it’s reviewed for quality, fit and value. Does the quality meet our standards? Does the style fit the project in question? And finally, does the anticipated page rate work within our budget as an independent publisher and not a massive global organization bent on owning every piece of pop culture ever created.

Me: If I remember Fierce was based in St. Pete in Florida... not Russia. Is it still?

Ben: Yep, still in St. Petersburg, Florida, God’s gift to Tampa Bay.

Rob: ... and making I-275 through Tampa basically the devil's skidmark!!

Me: Alright, for readers that don't know, tell them who Smiley is. Is he a good guy?

Rob: Smiley is a good guy to be sure! He is in actuality a young man named Alex McClendon. Kind of a slacker, but he has a good heart! He was blessed with super IBS and his uncle Rich is working to mold him into the hero he could no longer be. Rich used to be a hero named Limbs, but his arms and legs were cut off by a bad guy, taking away his namesake. As Alex tries to become the hero of the city, he adopts a new alter ego... that of Quadriplegic Man to assist Smiley in his heroic duties! This book is like "South Park" meets "The Tick". We work to make it funny, but we can do anything with it... and have LOTS of plans to keep it going at full steam!

Me: If they were going to make a movie based on him, who would you want to play him?

Rob: Hmm... I think he would be better suited for animation than a movie... but the voice would definitely have to be done by Jason Lee. Perfect for Alex and Smiley!!

Me: I see you based a character based on me... Super Irritable Bowel Syndrome.. What does he look like? He doesn't have strawberry blonde hair and wear Foghat t-shirts, does he?

Rob: HA! Nope! He's Alex. Alex is based a lot off my own experiences with... stomach issues. That and my very own brother who does not have IBS, but does suffer from lactose intolerance. Makes for funny stories! I think we ALL have IBS in us... just depends on how much Taco Bell you eat.

Me: Since you were here last you started a third series... "Midwalker". Who came up with that concept?

Ben: That was my little light bulb.

Rob: Ummm... judging by the feedback, it was more of like a lighthouse then a bulb...

Me: What is "Midwalker" about?

Ben: Okay, get ready for it, and cue sales pitch: It’s about a guy who can exist midway between life and the afterlife. He can literally exist partly as a typical human and partly as an ethereal being. But the catch is that it feels like an amazing drug trip to him. It’s the biggest high you can imagine. He describes it as feeling like he’s being immersed in love. So all he wants to do is cross over all the time and feel this incredible feeling. He basically becomes a power junky in a very unproductive way and wrecks most of his personal relationships. And what’s worse, when he’s in that state, he draws the attention of the underworld who set out to hunt him down. We’ve received a lot of vey positive responses to this title. Whenever someone buys issue one, they pretty much always come right back for the other issues raving about it. It’s been a very personally rewarding experience.

Rob: Also drawn by DC Comics artist Mike Shoyket... how did you miss that in the pitch?! HAHAHAHAHA!!

Ben: It’s true, I’m a big fan of Mike’s and I do mark out to him and Scott every time I explain the book to someone. Have you seen the way Mike renders emotions on the characters? It’s perfect. And I believe Scott is one of, if not the best colorists in the industry. Both of them together result in what I feel is award winning quality. I guess I could say that I feel like I’ve got the perfect team to tell this story and that doesn’t always happen in life. When it does, you’ve got to take a step back and appreciate it. 

Rob: All ball busting aside, I agree. "Midwalker" is a HUGE notch in our company’s collective belt. The art is pretty damned good and colors as well. I pitch a tent at the thought of a hard cover collected edition!

Me: A few people are doing Satan themed books lately, Ben. I think Stan Lee has one coming out. But in your book Satan is not the main character, right?

Ben: Stan who? Just kidding! Gosh I love his Silver Age work. When you think about the number of people he must have inspired and entertained it kind of blows you away, you know? I wouldn’t say that "Midwalker" is about Satan. It’s really more about exploring what a human being would do if they could get a little taste of the ultimate euphoria. Think about it, if you could get a taste of heaven and it was the most amazing thing you’ve ever felt, how would you handle that? Would you care about going to work? Would you care about your friends or your girlfriend? Would you tell people about it? Or would you want to keep it to yourself and get back to that feeling as often as possible? And what if that “feeling” came with some amazing abilities? Would you care? I think everyone would answer those questions differently and you might be surprised by how Josh handles it in the book.

Rob: One of my favorite things about "Midwalker" is that it does sort of go into religious undertones, but it's not preachy. It allows the reader to become immersed in the character without forcing any messages down your throat. Ben has done a great job writing it to be palatable to anyone.

Me: I have to ask, as I don't know, do all your characters share the same Universe like DC characters and Marvel characters do?

Ben: I wish, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. The Smiley universe is in the fictional city of Utopia, whereas "Redneck Red", "Midwalker", and most of our upcoming (non-Smiley related) titles are based in real-world Florida. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t ever have a universal crossover fix at some point. I see all the current titles as being “Fierce Heroes”, but they do occupy two different universes. That’s mostly because all the characters in the Smiley universe have four freaking fingers on each hand. Why Rob, why couldn’t they have been given normal human hands and feet??? We could have probably gotten around the Utopia thing easily enough, but when all the characters have a unique anatomical trait like freak show hands and feet, we’re pretty much stuck. It’s sort of like the DC challenge when they try to incorporate other characters into the DC universe, except those characters have humanoid appendages.

Rob: Because I HATE drawing pinkies!!! ... No, I don't know. I like the feel of the style to it. Kind of a throwback to old Looney Tunes or "Ren and Stimpy". Plus, even if he had all four fingers and all, I don't see the super IBS guy doing too well in the real world. It is meant to be silly and cartoony. BUT, I am sure there will be a Fierce crossover event one day... and maybe OUR Smiley can... jump... out of his own comic into the "real world" I'll be sure there isn't any annoying talking stars on him though. That would be lame!

Ben: I agree. Smiley is what he is and he’s perfect that way. It’s what makes him so successful. Ultimately, when I refer to the “Fierce Universe”, I include "The Maniacal Smile"; even if he is in another reality. When we get to the point where the Earth faces a threat so large, no single hero can do the job, The Maniacal Smile will be among the Fierce Heroes defending us.

Rob: Amen! I can't wait to really see him and Red interact. It should prove to be hilarious!

Me: I am a big Marvel fan, and one of the reasons is that it takes place in the real world. Spidey lives in New York, Iron Man lives in Malibu. Your characters take place in made up places. Why is this?

Ben: I’ll let R2 answer this one, since Red and Middy are in the Sunshine Stizzate.

Rob: I did it because of the absolute silliness of the book. I figured why be tied down to real world locales. The background is just as important as the title character as well. I want Utopia to be like that... Also, it's an oxymoron. The city is far from perfect... I like to have as much originality and humor as I can in the book.

Me: How long has Fierce been going, you guys?

Ben: Fierce Comics was founded in 2005, however, Rob started working on Smiley when he was in diapers back in 1998. We reorganized the company as Fierce Media LLC in 2011 and publish under the brand Fierce Comics.

Me: And I don't think I asked last time, but where does the name Fierce come from?

Ben: That’s an interesting story and one worthy of a bigger discussion. Suffice it to say that I wanted a brand that reflected the intense, cutting edge characters and stories that I had in mind and was already working on with Pat. I went through a lot of possible names, but when I landed on Fierce, I just knew it was right. Pat and I were running things online at the time and we quickly learned that if you are going to get into this business, you’d better be prepared to fight for your intellectual property rights. Long story short, I eventually trademarked it and the name has gained a significant amount of recognition ever since. Plus, it’s also a little more marketable than Filipiak’s Comics. Most people can’t even pronounce that.

Rob: I second that notion wholeheartedly. One of the best moves I have ever made was to copyright Smiley.

Ben: I’d have to second Rob’s second. His copyright filing unquestionably validates Smiley’s tagline as The Worlds First Smiley-Faced Comic Book Hero!

Me: I heard you were on the show "Being Human". I take it that was the American version. What did you guys play and was it fun?

Ben: Yep, it’s the awesome American version. Some of our books were used on set in an episode during season three.

Me: Did they feature your characters?

Ben: They actually had the books on screen. The final result is a brief scene where the character Kenny, who is essentially a bubble-boy, is explaining to Aiden what he received in his weekly pull list of sterilized comics. He’s holding two stacks of Fierce Comics, including "Redneck Red" and the "Maniacal Smile"... and the Omnibus in sitting on his desk. It’s only a few seconds on-screen, but to fan boys like us, it’s awesome.

Me: How did you get involved with this?

Ben: Last year, the production company reached out to us to see if we would be interested in having our books used in the production of an episode in season three. They were great people to work with and we were honored to be asked. I’m hoping to see our titles get more exposure with television and/or movie production companies. We receive a lot of feedback about how our titles would make either a great cartoon or movie. It’s consistent too, so I feel like the opportunity is really there. We consistently hear that "The Maniacal Smile" should be on Cartoon Network, and several people have approached us about writing a screenplay to pitch a "Redneck Red" film. I’d dismiss those comments a lot more easily if they weren’t so frequent and so consistent. There really must be some genuine market appeal there and I’d like to explore it.

Rob: Red would make a great low budget movie... Redneck ultra violence on a B scale. Think Troma-esque. The best part is Red is already a sort of cult favorite comic, the movie would transition to be the same.

Me: One of the newest mediums in comics is... shit, I forgot the name... digital moving comics. They have voices, music, sound effects, but with limited movement. Do you know what I'm talking about? Is this something you see yourselves doing?

Ben: Yes and no. We have the technical ability and the internal team skill set, but we lack the time resources we’d need to make it happen. We’ve talked about it several times, but it always comes back to the fact that we only have so much time.

Me: That makes sense. Motion comic is what I was thinking of. Thanks so much for being on the Phile. Please come back again, and I will look for you next year at MegaCon, and Rob, I'll get you to draw a picture of me. Go ahead and mention your website. Also, you have a new on-line store, right?

Ben: Thank YOU, Jason. Glad to see the Phile growing! If any of your readers want to see the things we talked about, they can head on over to and make sure they friend us over at

Rob: Thanks, Jay!! We really appreciate it! BEN!! How could you be so thoughtless... this is about MONEY baby!! Plug the STORE!!! 


Me: Oh, this year I am asking random questions thanks to Tabletopics. Are you guys ready? Oh, this dumb. What amendments should be made to the U.S. Constitution? 

Ben: I think I’ll let Rob handle this one... 

Rob: Hmmm... I don't know what amendment to add, but I would like a petition drafted to get me in the same room as Lauren Cohen (Maggie from "Walking Dead"). If I only had about 7 minutes alone... wait... that was dumb! 

Me: No, it wasn't. She's hot. Thanks again, guys, and please come back soon. 

Ben: Anytime! 

Rob: Punch and pie.

That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to Ben and Rob for a great interview. I'd love to have them back on the Phile again soon. The Phile will be back tomorrow with Melissa Marchese, the hot singer from the band Weekend Riot Club. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Strawberry Blondes Forever! Happy Father's Day!

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