A few years ago at East Coast Comic Con, Dimitrios Zaharakis happened to sit next to Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s younger brother) at a signing and struck up a conversation. Zaharakis wanted to create a series of comics and took the opportunity to ask the Marvel comics co-founder for his take on a few story ideas. “What about making something fun to make people smile and laugh?” Lieber asked. That idea inspired the indie publisher to create one of his newest projects, Bigs 'N Tiny, through his imprint Blackbox Comics.
Zaharakis founded Blackbox in 2016 and serves as editor, writer, and producer. He has five published titles and eight more currently in production at the small company, including Psycho List, a horror mystery comic by writer-actor-producer Kevin Grevioux (Underworld, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) and artist Johnathan Lau (Red Sonja, Xena: Warrior Princess). Bigs ‘N Tiny, written by Ramel Hill (Pinkwing and the Prime Controller) and drawn by Federico Sabbatini (Angelica Reigns), is much lighter. The new series, funded through a successful Kickstarter earlier this year, launched in July during a challenging season for both fans and publishers. “With everything going on in the world, I’m hoping we’re entertaining the fans and making them laugh a little during these tough times,” Zaharakis says.
In the story, Santino Lugo and Bryan Clay are both from Queens, New York, both have been experimented on by a mysterious syndicate, and both are investigating a series of disappearances. But they don’t meet until the night Bryan is abducted by said syndicate (again) and Santino shows up to save him. Santino (aka Tiny) can change size at will and becomes incredibly strong as he shrinks. In contrast, Bryan (aka Bigs) has developed both pyrokinetic and electromagnetic abilities. It's Lethal Weapon meets the X-Men as this pair bicker with each other almost as much as they fight bad guys.
SYFY WIRE spoke to the creative team via email and discussed the story's inspiration and why “battle art” is excellent comics training.
Which “buddy comedies” or comics did you look to for inspiration?
Ramel Hill: The two main characters’ relationships had to feel authentic to make the story work, in my opinion. I spent time building how they would interact and communicate with each other, and once it felt natural everything else fell into place. Lethal Weapon franchise and Beverly Hills Cop honestly are what sparked my drive on the series. After starting on it, however, this project had a life of its own.
Did you physically pattern any of the characters after anyone you know?
Federico Sabbatini: All the main characters are inspired by real people, while the secondary ones are fictional, except for a few who were inspired by the Kickstarter supporters.
Santino, I must confess, is a self-insert, and I have particularly fun drawing him wearing my same style of clothing. Bryan is inspired by a young Kevin Bacon, Ms. Weaver is inspired by Brody Dalle of The Distillers, and Lieutenant Chalmers is inspired by Brandan Schieppati of Bleeding Through. Karen’s inspired by Lili Reinhart, Detective Nolan Kelly is inspired by Charlie Hunnam, and Detective Olivia Silva is inspired by Martina Fari, my beloved girlfriend.
The perspective in this story doesn’t just stick with Bryan and Santino, it shifts to other characters. Is it easier or more difficult telling a story that way?
Hill: I find it refreshing to bring the reader along narratively with other characters. This way we can see the larger world and not rely on the main characters to always be around to reveal what’s going on plot-wise. It’s not any harder or easier; it’s really just what works for this type of story. There are three major forces coming together eventually. We have the main characters in Santino and Bryan, the crime syndicate, and the police force led by Detective Silva and Detective Kelly.
Ramel, we heard you were a DeviantArt “battle artist” before you got into comics. Can you explain what that is about?
Hill: Yes! Battle Artist is a great group for any artist who needs an extra shot of motivation to push their creativity. You are given a theme to work from and pitted against another artist, with a panel of judges picking the winner. There is a real rush when you have an artistic “opponent,” and you also want to just stand out in general amongst your peers. So yes, it definitely helped me before jumping into the world of comics. It also helped me build great relationships with artists in which I have commissioned for paid gigs.
You did not draw Bigs ‘N Tiny, however. What made you switch to writing on this one?
Hill: Timing. I have an all-ages series I’m writing and illustrating at the moment (Pinkwing and the Prime-Controller), and I’ve worked with Federico before and felt he would be a great artist for this project as well. As an artist, I know some styles just work better story-wise, and Federico is perfect for this series.
What was it like seeing those first panels back from Federico?
Hill: Federico and I have a connection. As a writer, I wanted him to not only complete the pages but have a good time working on them. So there are areas where I write what I need in the story and there are areas where I leave it open so he can add his punch. The collaborative approach is what makes our working relationship great. Seeing those panels felt like we hit gold on a wonderful series.
What is your collaboration process with Ramel?
Sabbatini: Ramel is a great friend, he's almost like a brother to me! My first publication for the United States was a comic book scripted by him. Over the years, we've always kept in touch and worked together on other projects. I love his way of writing and professionalism.
Did you suggest the warm/cool noir palette to your colorist?
Sabbatini: The colors are all picked by my great friend and colleague Andrea Celestini. We've known each other for several years and have worked side by side in the past. He always manages to enhance my pages with amazing and vibrant colors, so I totally trust his instincts.
What’s your favorite scene or panel so far to write?
Hill: Each issue actually has a favorite moment for me. I can’t reveal each one, but they usually involve the interactions between Santino and Bryan. I tried my best to have their conversations be organic and feel natural.
Your action scenes are very dynamic. What’s your inspiration?
Sabbatini: There are so many scenes that I love in Bigs ‘N Tiny, especially the fighting parts or the comic skits between Santino and Bryan. Perhaps one of the scenes I'm most proud of is the car chase in Issue #3. [I had fun] watching the Fast and Furious franchise over and over again to reproduce the dynamism and madness that convey the same kind of scenes featured in those movies.
Issue #4 drops next month, but what else are you working on?
Hill: I’m currently wrapping up a 10-page short zombie story for an anthology with (Zombies Were Human Too Volume 3). I’m also wrapping up my Kickstarter campaign, which will have all four issues of my original series Pinkwing and the Prime-Controller.
Sabbatini: I'm currently working on four different projects at the same time!