The recent Oscars ceremony highlighted some basic truths. Not only is Everything Everywhere All at Once a truly great movie, but being a working actor is often a hard and thankless job. Yet no real person has it perhaps quite as bad as the thespians in Impostor Syndicate.
The brainchild of writer Matt D. Wilson and artist Rodrigo Vargas, the book follows a down-on-his luck actor who gets hired for a challenging new job: replacement supervillain. Yes, in this world, every time a big baddie dies, some loser is plucked from obscurity to help feed the multimedia conglomerate surrounding world-conquering ne’er-do-wells. Described as basically The Tick meets X-Statix, it’s set to be an irreverent and deeply compelling look at how far people will go to live their dreams.
With the book currently being funded via a Zoop campaign, Wilson was kind enough to talk us all about Impostor Syndicate. That includes the book’s long gestation period, the larger themes and motifs, and whether or not you too should make fast cash as a supervillain.
The campaign ends April 13, and has already raised (as of press time) greater than $4,600 of its $6,000 goal. To contribute, head here.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Impostor Syndicate?
Matt D. Wilson: Supervillains seem to die or get grievously hurt all the time, right? And yet they somehow always come back. What if, instead of somehow magically escaping death or career-ending injury, they’re replaced by actors who take on the role, and that’s how they always manage to come back unscathed? And who would have the financial interest in making sure superheroes and supervillains keep fighting forever? That’s the idea.
AIPT: I was told this book’s some 20 years in the making. Can you weave us a little tale about that journey?
MDW: Certainly. In 2003, when I was in college, Marvel unveiled its plan for a new Epic line of comics. Without getting too deep into what that was and what happened with it, basically, they said they’d take pitches from anyone for new series. So this was initially my Epic pitch.
After Marvel rejected it, I reworked it into an indie book and tried for a very long time to find an artist who would work with me on it. But I didn’t have money to pay, and Zoop didn’t exist then, so a lot of potential partnerships fell through. By the time crowdfunding did come around, I was busy with other projects and this one just got back-burnered.
After something I had been working on for a long time fell through last year, I realized I was nearly at the 20-year mark, and this idea had been stuck in my head that whole time. I had worked with Rodrigo Vargas on Everything Will Be Okay, and knew he’d be great for this. Luckily, he wanted to do it.
AIPT: Similar to the last question: is this book maybe about your own process, or anyone’s really, and the endless labor that comes with trying to forge a career in the arts?
MDW: I think it’s more about my fears than my actual experiences. When the book starts, John Weston is so far down the food chain of acting that he’s working at kids’ birthday parties. So when a contract for some decent money gets shoved in front of him, he signs without considering the consequences. Failure is awful, but success can be a curse, too, if you get duped into it. That’s especially true in any entertainment industry, where lots of people allow themselves to be treated horribly to do a dream job. I definitely don’t want that to happen to me.
AIPT: What’s the interest in trying to make superheroes more real and grounded, or placing them in “our world?” What does that offer to our understanding and appreciation of the “genre”?
MDW: That’s a great question. The truth is I don’t really know. Honestly, I hope it’s a trend that is kind of dying out, because a lot of the superhero comics that deal with “real world” issues are the ones that interest me the least.
What I am interested in, though, is the sort of infrastructure and world that gets built up around superheroes, you know? I feel like superhero worlds are fundamentally different from ours, so what does acting look like in that place? Who’s trying to capitalize on superheroes as a phenomenon? Stuff like that. Books like Marvels and Astro City, that focus on the regular people who live in superhero worlds, are what I’m really into.
AIPT: Is this at all a commentary on the proliferation of comic heroes, especially in movies? Are we putting too much time and energy into these at all?
MDW: It’s absolutely a commentary on that, yeah. It was about that to a degree all the way back in 2003, when we just had a handful of movies to talk about. So the relevance has only become that much greater over time. I think that’s a big part of why it’s been so hard to get this idea out of my head.
I’m not sure it’s my place to say if people put too much time and energy into superhero movies, but huge media conglomerates probably don’t need anyone defending them online.
AIPT: Finish this sentence: Impostor Syndicate is like (action movie) + (comic book) with a heaping helping of (TV show).
MDW: Impostor Syndicate is like The Suicide Squad and Mark Russell and Steve Lieber’s One-Star Squadron with a heaping helping of The Tick.
AIPT: Is the larger reality of superheroes in this book closer to, say, The Boys or Powerless (and why)?
MDW: There are some similarities, yeah. The Boys is definitely darker in tone, but there’s a shared idea of superheroes being the biggest celebrities in the world. I mean, if they existed, how could they not be?
And it’s like Powerless in that it explores the industries and mini-economies that pop up because superheroes exist, much like Damage Control did before it.
AIPT: This book feels akin to Minor Threats from Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum. By that, I mean it’s about finding something monotonous and unwaveringly human about heroes. Are there key books/titles you drew from for this larger cultural dissection?
MDW: I loved Minor Threats, so I really appreciate that comparison. I think it does a great job of making these horrible people who are also absolute losers, as all supervillains really are, into characters you really wanted to spend time exploring.
As for inspiration, there are lots of comics I’ve synthesized over the years, including Astro City and The Tick. But honestly, the biggest influence might have been those old Looney Tunes cartoons where the sheep dog and the wolf spend all day trying to kill each other, only to clock out at night while they have a cordial chat. It’s just a job. That has stuck with me my whole life.
AIPT: Tell us about the art of Rodrigo Vargas. What did that bring to the story at-large?
MDW: So much! I honestly don’t know how Rodrigo isn’t a superstar artist. There’s a dynamism and expressiveness to his art that just makes everything pop. Scenes where it’s just two people talking about a contract in a hotel room are exciting if he’s drawing them.
AIPT: In this world, what makes a good villain? And is making that a lucrative job also maybe some commentary about capitalism? Or maybe something larger about class?
MDW: Years ago, when I was writing The Supervillain Handbook, I jokingly instructed that the key to really succeeding as a supervillain was all in how you performed the role: the costume, the laugh, the speeches, the ego, the needlessly complicated master plans.
And I was kidding, but it’s true! Supervillains are destined to lose, whether they know it or not, so a memorable performance is way more important than getting away with some ridiculous crime. That same line of thinking feeds right into Impostor Syndicate.
And not to be too coy, but there’s definitely some commentary on capitalism and class in the book as we go.
AIPT: Would you ever hop into a supervillain’s costume to make some fast cash? Either way, why?
MDW: I think I’d probably pass. I talked my way out of fights all through high school, so I probably wouldn’t start taking paychecks to get beaten up now.
AIPT: Why should anyone support this book/campaign?
MDW: First and foremost, Rodrigo’s art. It’s just the best. And I think the story is a pretty unique take on some very well-worn tropes. I have had so many ideas for stories come and go from my brain over the years, but this one stuck.
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