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Hero Tomorrow: Ted Sikora & the Modern Age of Cleveland Superheroes

Updated: Apr 29



You know that moment in End Game when Cap picks up Thor's hammer and the whole world stood up and cheered? We owe that spectacular collective moment to two Cleveland teenagers back in 1938. The concept of a "superhero" did not exist until two Jewish immigrants, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, dreamed it up right here in Cleveland on the cusp of World War II. Superman's complicated relationship with his adopted home, his struggles to fit in, his daily battles against injustice became the blueprint for every single superhero that followed. Superhero stories are America's story writ large, a colorful animation of the struggle minorities face to fit into a foreign culture while at the same time, retaining their own. In many ways, comic books illustrate where we are as a people, documenting inequality, immigration, and political movements. With their perfect balance of words and pictures, comic books and their creators have created a vast archive of humanity's greatest hopes and our worst fears.



Ted Sikora is the latest native son to take up the mantle of Cleveland superheros and carry it into the modern age. His characters and their origin stories are instantly familiar; nostalgic yet thoroughly modern. With locations dotted throughout the grittier parts of Cleveland and the Metroparks, you can quickly lose yourself in a colorful, over-the-top version of your own hometown. The beautifully drawn and scripted stories feature complicated anti-heroes, memorable supporting casts, and intertwining plot lines that will leave you thinking Sikora has created his own Rust Belt Justice League. But don't worry: each story is original, so no embarrassing questions at the comic book store or lengthy wikis and back catalogues to study.


Where to start? Start anywhere you like, you can't go wrong. Tapdance Killer, named Best Series of the Year by Critical Blast, has been described as "Punisher meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Nikki St. Clair is an absolute jewel in this 1920's-meets-modern-day tale of underdogs, redemption and revenge. Her 0-60 contemporary Vaudeville origin story is a delight. In St. Clair, Sikora has created a stunning Black female superhero that could literally be the woman next door. Her sidekicks, Punchline and Lizzy, will pull at your heartstrings with their own tragic backstories, and you will find yourself rooting for Sikora's Vaude-Villians as they clean up the mobster-ridden streets of Cleveland.




Or you could start with Apama: The Undiscovered Animal, which introduces Hungarian ice cream truck driver Ilyia Zjarsky (you know you're from Cleveland if that name rolls off your tongue, bonus points if you can spell it without looking) who stumbles upon the spirit of an ancient apex predator hiding deep in the Emerald Necklace. Ilyia is another great characterization of a Cleveland Everyman, the guy behind you in line at Marc's who wants nothing more than to be somebody special, to step outside of the meager hand life dealt him.




Sikora's newest title, Bloom, tells the story of Ramsey, auto mechanic by day, struggling comic book creator by night, whose artwork manifests a supernatural reality when he meets a mysterious dancer named Regina at the Hessler Street Fair in 1969. The artwork is gorgeous, classic 70's comic book line art paired with vibrant 60's coloration. Each page of Bloom draws you deeper into a brand new mythology that ties all of Sikora's titles together in a technicolor bow.





Interviewer

Tell us about your newest comic book.


Ted Sikora

Bloom - The Origin of a Prophet #1 debuted nationally April 7, 2021.


Interviewer

How does Bloom open?


Ted Sikora

“Sonuva—” Ha. Maybe some context would help:



Interviewer

Let's hear the elevator pitch.


Ted Sikora

The year is 1969. Ramsey is an aspiring comic book artist who is trying to find inspiration for his femme fatale. When he meets wild dancer, Regina, at a street fair he invites her into the woods for a character photoshoot where she begins to break on through to the other side. Witness the psycho-delic origin of the most powerful character in the Hero Tomorrow Comics universe. Issue 1 of a mind-bending 4 issue journey to reshape your reality!




Interviewer

What inspired you to create Bloom?


Ted Sikora

This particular story is so meta it’s crazy. I was looking for inspiration for a villain in our Apama series. I had wanted to do something with the Northeast Ohio Helltown legends that I grew up hearing about. I wanted a hippie woman to be the leader of a Helltown Cult. I was shooting an event and Cleveland Public Theatre and met a dancer who seemed a potentially great inspiration for this character. I asked her to do a photoshoot, but we could never get our schedules together. In the meantime this Bloom tale popped into my head. I wrote an entire screenplay about it before deciding to turn it into a comic series.


Interviewer

What is your connection to Cleveland?


Ted Sikora

I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio my entire life. I grew up in Broadview Heights, and spent many years in the Cleveland music scene. I was a blood courier in college and drove from the Cleveland Red Cross to darn near every hospital in Northeast Ohio which is when I really learned the lay of the land.


Interviewer

How long have you been writing comic books?


Ted Sikora

My longtime friend Milo Miller and I made a feature film about a struggling comic book creator in 2006 titled Hero Tomorrow. In 2010 we made our first comic, Apama The Undiscovered Animal, which was intended to be a hook for the movie as it was the comic the main character from the film would have published.


Interviewer

How long on average does it take you to produce a comic book, from conception to completion?


Ted Sikora

It varies widely, but four months is probably average.


Interviewer

What kind of research did you do, and how long do you spend researching, before beginning a comic book?


Ted Sikora

All of our artists live outside of the U.S., so it’s important to provide them with references for the city, neighborhoods, and even the wilderness. For Bloom there was another level of research because it’s a 1969 story. I was thrilled to find out, for example, that ’69 was the first year of the Hessler Street Fair, so it became the setting for Ramsey to meet Regina.


Interviewer

What does success look like for you?


Ted Sikora

I’m thrilled that both our national orders and our crowdfunding numbers on Bloom are higher than any comic we’ve done to date because the work needs to be seen first and foremost. On a deeper level, I had a women of color come up to my booth at New York Comic Con and say she felt seen in our Nikki St Clair/Tap Dance Killer character. I just melted. It doesn’t get better than that.



Interviewer

Do you want each comic book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each comic book?


Ted Sikora

Both. A few decades ago there was an adage that every comic book is somebody’s first comic, so there was an effort by publishers to recap or structure in ways that were more inviting to readers who might stumble upon a comic at the drug store. We LOVE that, so our work has a more than a nod to the 70s Bronze Age of comics. We have four different titles, and they are connected in the same universe, but you can start with any one of them. Bloom in particular is a very easy entry because it is the starting point of our entire world.



Interviewer

What is a common trap for aspiring comic book creators?


Ted Sikora

Perhaps rushing to put their comics out before it’s ready. They might skip the crucial step of getting honest feedback from people who are willing to give them that tough love critique. It’s so much better to wait a couple months and improve things. A great comic can be sold for years and years at conventions.


Interviewer

What are the challenges and benefits specific to living and working in Cleveland?


Ted Sikora

I don’t see it as challenges. I love setting our comic world in Cleveland because it feels like a blank slate for this kind of story. I’ve had Cleveland-based Apama readers tell me, “This must be what it was like for people of New York to read Spider-Man.” We have a real home field advantage at the local comic conventions.


Interviewer

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?


Ted Sikora

Not quite a pilgrimage, but I got to meet Stan Lee in LA. I handed him a copy of our Apama Vol. 1 collection, and he looked at it and said, “I gotta tell ya, I can’t see this. My eyes are pretty much, gone.” It was a crushing, but almost a perfect Cleveland ending to a story where the budding apprentice journeys to meet the great master. A year later, however, at New York Comic Con a friend introduced me to a former editor of Amazing Spider-Man named Jim Salicrup. I gave him a copy of Apama, and he read it overnight, then came back to my booth the next day and sat with me for two hours giving me the “Marvel critique.” It was one of, if not the, most valuable lessons I’ve ever had.


Interviewer

Do you believe in writer’s block?


Ted Sikora

My advice is find a way to capture every idea, every quirky line of dialogue that pops into your circle. As a result, I have so many ideas stockpiled that block doesn’t happen very often. I DO have a trouble sometimes with writing fight scenes. It’s kind of crazy to write dialogue as people are beating each other’s brains in. (Laughs) We try to find other climax moments though.


Interviewer

Does writing energize or exhaust you?


Ted Sikora

The plotting of a story can come in an energetic fury. It’s the detailing of the plot into a workable script that can get exhausting.


Interviewer

What is your favorite childhood book?


Ted Sikora

Amazing Spider-man


Interviewer

What does a typical day look like for you?


Ted Sikora

Hero Tomorrow Comics is a pretty lean operation. On any given day I could be writing, coloring, lettering, laying out pages, or writing ads. It’s kind of figuring out what needs to happen this week, and getting it knocked out.



Interviewer

What is the title of a book that has really stayed with you?


Ted Sikora

The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook


Interviewer

What is the title of the book you wish everyone would read?


Ted Sikora

Ha! Bloom. Did I mention it will change the way you view reality?





Ted Sikora is a Cleveland/Akron based comic book writer and filmmaker. He is the president of Hero Tomorrow Comics, and the creator/writer/letterer of Tap Dance Killer, Punchline & the Vaude-Villains, Bloom, and creator/co-writer/colorist/letterer of Apama The Undiscovered Animal. You can follow him on Instagram and Facebook. Click here to support Hero Tomorrow's Kickstarter for Bloom: The Origin of a Prophet #1 and #2.




Dana McSwain is a bestselling author and principal at Webb House Publishing. @writersofcleveland is a project dedicated to amplifying the voices of Cleveland writers. 2021 All rights reserved.

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