Faster than Kenny Lofton, more powerful than a keg of Great Lakes Blackout Stout, able to leap Terminal Tower in a single bound—it’s man, it’s beast, it is Apama! After an ice cream truck driver dons an ancient and talismanic costume he finds in the woods, he unleashes the savage and mysterious powers of the mythic cryptozoological beast, the Apama. What follows is a spirited trial of errors and an engaging coming of age for a hero in training set in our own backyard. With immense prints scaling the window fronts along Superior and Prospect avenues, local writers, Ted Sikora and Milo Miller, introduced this cryptic creation to many downtown commuters after they teamed with artist Benito Gallego to create the legend of Cleveland’s resident superhero.
One does not have to turn many pages in Apama: The Undis – covered Animal, an anthology which collects the first five issues of the comic in a single paperback, to spot the numer – ous shoutouts to The Land. Whether it’s someone grousing about the “punks on Tremont,” a panel featuring a “stately Rocky River manor,” or a character in the background of a diner lamenting LeBron’s shooting performance, Apama owns its hometown love. “I never wanted this to be a ‘rah-rah Cleveland’ book,” Sikora explained. “I think The Drew Carey Show did that. Cleveland has a brand. There is an authenticity to it. It’s a hard working mentality that is just woven into everything I’ve known growing up.”
Apama was first conceived in 2001 during the writing of Miller’s and Sikora’s independent film, Hero Tomorrow. Apama was originally the fictional creation of film’s protagonist, also a comic creator. After failing to get his work published, the film’s protagonist assumes his own character’s identity after his girlfriend fashions him a costume. As Sikora explained over the phone, “It’s if like Stan Lee’s girlfriend made him a Spider-Man costume and Stan Lee, in trying to understand his creation, decided to run around as Spider-Man at night and starts fighting crime himself.” Hero Tomorrow was well-received and selected for screening at multiple film festivals including the Cleveland International, Fanstasia, and Montreal. The film’s success would prove the inspiration for Sikora’s next project.
In a very meta moment, Sikora and Miller did in real life what their cinematic counterpart could not when they created the very comic that failed to gain publishing in their film. “We spent so much time thinking about that idea in the film,” Sikora explained, “that we realized there was a lot of layers that we could riff on. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do the book that was just in his head, if our main character could have just got his book published?’”
After the first volume was well received, it did not take long for Sikora to realize the advantages of keeping his ideas on the page rather than the screen. “We had so much fun making the comic,” he admitted, “as much or more so than the movie, that we just kept going and found the comic book experience to be so liberating because whatever you dream up goes right on the page and you don’t have to worry about budget or location and actors and all the headaches that come with making a movie. This is just a total joy.”
Joined in art by Benito Gallego, Sikora made a conscious decision to draw a parallel between his works and that of the pulps he read as a child. A trained eye will note the similarities in Apama’s art to that of comic legends like John and Sal Buscema and John Romita. To this end, Sikora was sure to offer credit where it was due during our interview. “What I like about Benito,” he gushed, “is that he is so pure to the story. There’s humor to it and authenticity. People don’t look like fashion models, they look like real folks.” When asked how he balanced honoring the nostalgia that inspired him as a child while still remaining relevant to modern readers, Sikora responded, “We wanted to take what was the best of the old comics, but we felt we had something different to say in the superhero genre. We didn’t want to do something that people had seen before.”
If the evolution from a fictional comic portrayed in the film to an actual comic in our reality had not enough layers to unravel, Sikora and Miller have just begun the process of securing financing for the creation of their next feature film. This one based on the larger-than-life exploits of Apama. For those keeping score at home, that will make Apama a feature film character based on a comic character that is based off a comic that is featured in a movie based on that same comic that never existed in the first place. Still with me?
Sikora and Miller are just coming off of a fun and successful residence at Cleveland’s recent Wizard World Comic Convention where they signed copies of their comic and film and hosted a feature panel spotlighting the process of bringing their creations to the silver screen. Currently, they are busy finishing the colors on issue seven of the ongoing Apama comic series, while Gallego works the pencils on issue ten, both of which will be included in the next collection, soon to be released. To get a copy of the film, Hero Tomorrow, or your own edition of Apama: The Undiscovered Animal, which collects the first five issues, visit www.apamanation.com as well as their Facebook page. Check in regularly for updates on the release of the comic’s second collection of issues coming soon and the forthcoming Apama motion picture as well!