“Stealth Hammer” Creator Ryan Drost Talks Tech, Elves, and Nicknames for His Wife (Interview)
Independent comic book creator Ryan Drost recently completed a crowdfunding campaign for the second issue of Stealth Hammer, a sci-fi fantasy superhero book starring a spunky teenage heroine. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to discuss his Stealth Hammer campaigns, and his plans for the future of the series.
As always, the answers below are represented as closely to “as written” as possible with only minimal edits.
The Splintering: First off, I’ve never known any hammers that I would describe as “stealthy”. Was the title Stealth Hammer intended to be ironic in any way, or did it just resonate with you?
Ryan Drost: The name Stealth Hammer was originally my wife’s nickname. She works as a graphic designer. At an ad agency she once worked at, she had a design option she submitted selected when many others submitted several ideas. The next time the opportunity arose to submit ideas, her boss said “watch out for Stealth.” That was her nickname for a while. Then she had another job where she was in charge of brand compliance, ensuring that the proper colors were used, the logo wasn’t manipulated, etc. Her boss there said she was the one who had to bring the hammer down. So she blended the two nicknames together and she became known as “Stealth Hammer.”
We always joked that would make for a great superhero name. Then years later I had her drawn as a superhero for a birthday surprise. She loved it, but once I saw a physical representation of Stealth Hammer as a possible character, the ideas flooded my mind. I thought about what her powers were, how she got them, who her allies were, who her villains were, and the lists went on and on. The dichotomy of the name leant itself to the powers she would have, fists like sledgehammers and the ability to turn invisible. Definitely powers that one typically wouldn’t blend together, but for this character, they worked.
TS: Who would you say is the target audience for Stealth Hammer?
RD: I made Stealth Hammer to be a true all-ages comic, so ideally it’s something anyone at any age could read and get enjoyment out of it. We’ve had people from age 6 to age 94 read it and have a lot of fun doing so. The market that I think this would most appeal to would likely be the age range of 6 to 12. Those ages where we have our greatest sense of wonder and a willingness to dive head first into a story.
TS: To someone who has not yet read the book, how would you describe Jami Taylor’s (aka Stealth Hammer) character?
RD: She has the spirit of adventure and a drive to never give up. Both of these are great motivators for her in the story we’re telling. She’s upbeat and optimistic and believes every problem has a solution. This core of who she is will be tested as she ventures out more. She’ll learn more of who she is and where her family comes from. A big theme in this story is family and legacy, and she is open to taking it all in as best as she can. She gets her sense of adventure and never give-up spirit from her grandmother, who was a world adventurer. She gets her problem solving mentality from her father. And while we have not met her yet in the story, she gets her love and acceptance of life and others around her from her mother.
TS: Similar to the tradition of Golden and Silver Age comics, the first issue of Stealth Hammer takes off doesn’t waste any time getting on to the hero vs. villain conflict. How important was it to you to “hit the ground running,” so to speak?
RD: I wanted the first issue to take the reader on a high-energy ride. Yes, I could have done the deconstructing thing of building on the character and bringing the reader into who she is as a person, then 3 or 4 issues later have her actually gain her powers and fight the enemy in issue 6. This was not that story.
The focus of this story is not how she got her powers, but rather why she got them. I put small hints in the first issue that there’s something more to all of this for the reader to uncover. In issue 2, we get to slow down a bit, but we also get a glimpse into the much broader world she is about to enter. I refer to Stealth Hammer as a superhero adventure in a world of high-tech gadgetry and supernatural mythology. The superhero aspect is only one part of the bigger story being told. So it was important to set the reader up with her origin of gaining her powers and learning to use them right away. We’ll have much more of a world to explore as to why she has them, where they come from, and yes, we’ll still expand upon them and who she is as we go on this quest.
TS: Other than the titular character’s super power set, she also has a quite of bit of high-tech gear as part of her loadout. Can we expect for her arsenal to expand as the series goes on?
RD: We absolutely can. I have always been a fan of science fiction and larger-than-life technology. That was important in building this world. It was important to me that the reader sees what she has available to her, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build and add to it. Technology and mythology are two big aspects of this story. For the heroes, it’s a matter of these two elements learning to work together for a greater good. For the villains, it’s forcing these two aspects together for greater power. The character of her father was created with the idea that he could be a source for the positive technology we see. The uncle was created to show how technology can be manipulated in a negative way. These ideas were not originally part of the plan. I didn’t go into telling this story with those as themes. They just happened organically as I developed where things would be going with the characters. Story always comes first, and when done well, various themes will reveal themselves.
TS: How do you generally approach the balance between the humor and action in Stealth Hammer?
RD: Humor and action both have to happen naturally in the story. The story has to take you to those places. When it comes to humor, you have to create characters with personalities that feel authentic. You can’t force a character to be something they are not or else the humor won’t land. In my story, I have Jami being a quippy positive character, and her humor comes from taking that positive approach to life. Ari the Elf is a sarcastic character that thinks he knows best, so his interactions reflect that. The boyfriend Kyle uses comedy as a defense mechanism to deal with stressful situations. The neighbor, Mr. Fredericks, is a grouchy, angry man so the humor from him is laughing at him rather than with him. We all know people with these types of personalities, and they can all be humorous at times. The trick is to let them be who they are and the humor will feel natural.
When it comes to action, it’s very much the same thing. Let the story dictate when action makes the most sense. When your hero finds themselves in a warehouse facing a giant robotic menace, this is not the time to sit down and have a chat. Let the action play out and give the reader enough to feel part of the fray. You also want it to be a conflict, so rarely do you want the hero to easily win the day. There’s no drama in that, and the reader loses connection to feeling the danger in the situation.
TS: The first issue of Stealth Hammer started out as very much sci-fi, but before issue 2 ends, there are more fantasy/mythological elements inserted into the story. What is your approach to Stealth Hammer when it comes to genre?
RD: I have grown up my whole life with a wide variety of interests. I love technology, but I can just as easily devour get engrossed in mythology. One day I may be watching Star Wars, and the next movie I watch is Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, or Harry Potter. I grew up with so many different licensed properties as a kid and loved them all. I would play with G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, and Lego all at once. I would create stories where it all worked together. I loved things like Masters of the Universe and Thundarr the Barbarian because you would get that super science and sorcery. I would love playing video games like Mega Man and then pop in Legend of Zelda.
When creating Stealth Hammer, I wanted to blend all of these loves together into a story, but I always wanted it to make sense that these elements would come together. Story is first over everything. If I had to nail down a genre for Stealth Hammer I would put it simply in the adventure genre. It absolutely has elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and super heroics, but when you strip those things away, Stealth Hammer is a hero’s journey. I just get to play in many sandboxes to tell the tale.
TS: Now that Norse mythology has been introduced, can we expect to see the book go deeper into that heritage, or might we see other mythological traditions woven into Stealth Hammer?
RD: We absolutely will see Norse mythology play a factor into the lineage of the character, but I’m not stopping with just Norse mythology. Much like I’m bringing technology and mythology together, I’m also bringing in mythology from all parts of the globe. You’ll see in the first issue the judo studio’s name is Kodama Judo. Kodama is from Japanese folklore. This will be explored in the future. We also see a couple Kitsune in a pin-up image, which is also from Japanese mythology. We have the character Marzanna as an opponent, and she is a Polish deity of death. We have Baba Yaga in a pin-up for hints of future adventures, and she is from Slavic folklore. In that same scene she has brought on an army of Tokoloshe, which are goblin-like creatures from African mythology. We also see glimpses of Arthurian legend, more creatures like the Leshy (Slavic) & Cernunnos (Celtic), and I even make up some of my own mythological beings with the wolfrats and Szhansi. I’m pulling from a wide variety of sources to help tell this story, and yes, if you are wondering, there is a reason so many of these come together in this story.
TS: How would you describe your working relationship with Stealth Hammer artist Joel Jackson?
RD: Joel is an incredible creator and I’m very fortunate to be working with him. I was looking for someone who could draw a cartoony style, but also add a great amount of detail to the characters and backgrounds. Joel encompasses that and more. It’s also a true collaboration between the two of us. I have often said that nothing is left to chance in these issues. Everything means something and has a story to tell. I’ll let Joel know an idea of something I’m looking for and he’ll come back to me with so much more. Often he’ll draw something in the background or an extra character in a scene to just be part of the world, and that will spark whole ideas for me of story elements. That happened with the Lab-Bytes They started as one little robot on Dr. Everett’s shoulder because Joel thought the doctor would need an assistant. I told him I loved that idea so run with it. Next thing I know, I have a cover with not one, but eight various robots around Dr. Everett. I told Joel jokingly, “you know I have to come up with names and personalities for all of them now.” And after a lot of thought and jotting down ideas, the Lab-Bytes were born. We meet three of them in issue two. There is another example of a character he drew at the end of issue two, that is now a fully formed character who you all will get to meet in issue three.
TS: You’ve now done two Stealth Hammer books, each with two covers. Which of the four variant covers is your favorite?
RD: That is really like asking someone to pick their favorite child. I really do love each one. If I had to pick just one, I think I would pick the Cover B for issue two done by Chrissie Zullo. I would pick that one solely because I have been a fan of Chrissie’s work for several years, so to have her create an art piece of my own character is like a dream come true. But another of my favorites is Joel’s cover for number one because it’s such a great detailed cast of characters. It is a great introduction to the characters for someone new to the title.
TS: Now that you’ve crowdfunded multiple campaigns, how did these experiences inform what you are doing moving forward? Any “lessons learned?”
RD: The biggest lesson I have learned is to put the focus on the story and the characters. Let the audience feel like this is a story they want to know more about. I also learned that you have to work twice as hard on the second campaign as you did on the first one. If we decide to do a third one for issue three, then I may just give up sleep for 30 days so I can do nothing but campaign.
TS: How long do you intend for the Stealth Hammer story to be? Is there an endgame in sight, or do you view it as an ongoing series?
RD: I can assure everyone that there is an ending planned for the overall story. I know exactly how it will end and how that ending will tie everything together. However, the story has potential to be a long, enjoyable road to get there. Ideally, I would love to have this picked up by a publisher so we can focus on telling the story on a more regular basis and really open up this world more and more for the reader.
TS: Other than a third issue, are there chances of Stealth Hammer spin-offs down the line?
RD: I would absolutely love to have spin-off stories branch out from this main title. In an ideal world, I would even open it up for others to tell stories in this world for a Tales from the Stealth Hammer Universe title. But as far as actual plans in the title, I can tell you there are plans for spin-off stories to occur. Issue three will focus on Ari the Elf and his journey from his village to his current place in the timeline. With this story, we’ll learn more about the mythology filled village he comes from and gives the readers of the first two issues some answers and pay-offs. Issue five is planned to be a flashback tale of Jami’s grandmother’s first adventure. Plenty of room to grow and expand the world for the reader.
TS: A year from now, how would you describe success for the Stealth Hammer project?
RD: It’s really very difficult for me to determine success. I always feel like success is determined by others and not the creators. All I want to do is to have the opportunity to tell more of this story, so if I’m still doing that a year from now, then I’ll see that as a success.
TS: What would you do with the power of the Beyonder?
RD: All I ever want for anyone is for them to be happy, so if I had the power of the Beyonder, I would create pocket universes for everyone where they would have their greatest wishes come true. What is that for me and Stealth Hammer? My greatest dream would be that this story just took off. That people truly enjoy it and want to see more of it. There would be a Netflix animated series, toys, and most importantly, a long comic run for the character. What that would mean to me is that a ton of people that enjoying this world I created. That would mean more to me that any fame or money could ever bring. To know this story was something special for as many people as possible would just be the most incredible thing ever.
We would like to once again thank Ryan Drost for taking the time to answer our questions and to have some fun with us. And of course…
Thanks for reading!
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