State of the Arts: Local Comic Book Series Brings Cleveland to Life

May 18, 2018

Northeast Ohio has a rich comic book history. Superman was conceived in Cleveland in the 1930s. In the 70s, it was Black Lightning. But both stories are not set here.

It was just a few years ago that Northeast Ohio got its own locally based superhero. On this week’s State of the Arts, we delve into the world of Hero Tomorrow Comics.

The shelves of Akron’s Rubber City Comics are stocked with everything from the latest Marvel and DC stories to others that are lesser known, but no less interesting, like “Apama: The Undiscovered Animal.”

What the heck is an Apama?

"Well it’s like this giant spiky hyena-monster-looking hybrid," Ted Sikora explains. He's the head of Hero Tomorrow Comics and co-wrote the Apama series with Milo Miller. 

Their main character is Illya Zjarsky: Think Peter Parker in Spiderman. Zjarsky stumbles upon an ancient description of the Apama, an animal so cunning it’s never been seen by modern humans.

"And when our character in the comic discovers a way to unlock the spirit force of the Apama, he is given the ferocity, the strength, speed and the agility of the spirit force."

So naturally he gets a suit that looks kind of like a long-haired, cheetah/hedgehog hybrid and starts fighting crime.

"And there are no superheroes in our world, he’s the first one. He’s not like Peter Parker; he’s not brilliant. He’s not wealthy like a Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne. He’s not a honed warrior, but he does have this dogged determination."

Creating the Character
But unlike other comics that take place in mythic meccas like Gotham or Metropolis, this story is set in Northeast Ohio.

"Apama: The Undiscovered Animal" Issue 1
Credit Courtesy of Ted Sikora / Hero Tomorrow Comics

"The thing that is unique about our book is our guy drives an ice-cream truck for a living and he’s in Cleveland," Sikora said. 

He said the inspiration for the comics actually came from a low-budget movie he directed called "Hero Tomorrow," which is where he got the name for the comic-book company.

"It’s about a guy who had an idea for a super hero and his idea was based on the premise that so many heroes are creature-themed but all the good ones have already been taken: spiders and bats and wolverines."

But if a movie that spawned the name of a comic-book company (that then produced a series based on that film) is a little confusing to you, you’re not alone.

"If Stan Lee instead of publishing Spiderman got a costume of Spiderman and ran around dressed like Spiderman -- that would be sort of like what our Hero Tomorrow movie is. And then Apama in that analogy, which I’m so not worthy of, would be like a Spiderman comic," Sikora said.

The New Baddie
Every superhero needs a villain or two or six. And that’s where we get to the newest antihero in this Cleveland-comic universe: Nikki St. Clair, also know as the Tap Dance Killer.

"Tap Dance Killer" Issue 1
Credit Courtesy of Ted Sikora / Hero Tomorrow Comics

"It’s about a mega-talented actress who gets cast in a horror show musical as the Tap Dance Killer and then she can’t shake the role and starts taking it to the streets thinking she’s a 1920s vaudeville assassin."

After terrorizing Apama for a few issues, she now has her own series. The first issue published this spring.

Just  as the Apama comic was based on a film Sikora made, the Tap Dance Killer is actually based on a musical he wrote a number of years ago.

"I think it’s best summed up as the Punisher meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Cleveland is it's Own Character
Sikora says it was important to make both comics in this world revolve around Cleveland’s many neighborhoods. There are scenes in the Metroparks, the Westside Market and throughout downtown.

Even the Tap Dance Killer’s real name, Nikki St. Clair, is a nod the famous thoroughfare that runs through the city. Sikora said it was important to make Cleveland a character in the story.

Readers can recognize streets, shops and buildings throughout the pages. It started for Sikora with the first Apama comic, when he was learning how to get the series off the ground with artist Benito Gallego.

"He’s in Spain. But what we did was took a lot of photos of Cleveland so that he would have the look of it and the vibe. And he brought this kind of this European sensibility to the art, which I think fits Cleveland perfectly. Cleveland’s got such a rich architectural palette."

Hero Tomorrow Comics went from online-only to being carried in comic shops across Ohio and the country --giving Cleveland the resident antihero and superhero it has long deserved.