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Comic Book Guys Try to Knock Judges ‘Dead’ in Competition

 Dave (left) and John Milstein have been reading and writing comics since their youth, but now find themselves on the precipice of a professional contract. (Photo: News-Press)The witty banter and casual mannerisms of Jon and Dave Milstein as they jokingly bicker and chow down at an Armenian coffeehouse is hardly consistent with what is expected from the creators of the dark, brooding superhero of their comic book “The Assembly of the Dead.” But it is this character — and their comic book — that has these two regular guys from Falls Church on the brink of a life-changing opportunity.

Jon and Dave’s entry has been selected as one of 50 finalists in Platinum Studios’ Comic Book Challenge, an international comic talent search.

“We’ve been drawing comics together for a long time,” Jon, who has been drawing comics since the fifth grade, said. “Most of them bad.”

“I think we’re finally trying to graduate from complete amateurs to semi-pro,” Dave, who learned to read from “The Incredible Hulk,” added. “And hopefully pro, if we win.”

Jon first heard of the competition from his dad’s girlfriend, who forwarded him a link about the competition. Jon and Dave, who say they have been developing “Assembly” for approximately two years, decided to enter the one-page comic book entry and synopsis. Two weeks ago, they were notified that they made it to the finalists’ round of 50. Dave, who was at first very confident that they would be selected, said he has come to appreciate the depth of their accomplishment.

“We realized that there’s got to be a lot of comic nerds worldwide, and that it was pretty cool that we made that level of achievement,” Dave said.

Next stop for the duo is San Diego, Calif., where Jon will pitch their comic to a panel of judges, including the winner from last year’s competition and the president of Platinum Studios.

As the one who emailed the submission, Jon became the official entrant to the competition, with Dave relegated to the title of “Team Member.” Dave said that he is fine with Jon being the one who is the official entrant and, as a result, the one who will make the pitch. Although he added with a laugh that, “He was elevated to top gun without any discussion whatsoever.”

Jon, who has watched YouTube videos of some of last year’s pitches, said he feels pretty good about making his own pitch.

“I’m a little nervous,” Jon said. “But I think I’ll be all right. We think we have a good product on our hands. We think we have a story to tell. We think America is ready for our kind of entertainment.”

The competition coincides with Comic-Con International, billed on its website as “the largest comic book and popular arts convention in the world.” Dave described it as “150,000 people that descend on San Diego, many of them dressed as Captain Kirk.”

“Not us, though,” Jon added reassuringly. “[We dress as] Spock.”

Jon and Dave work as a team, with Jon handling the drawing element and Dave the writing element of the comic. Jon had been making his own comics for a while, at which point Dave, who has written a novel and is currently writing short fiction, said he noticed “[Jon’s] plots sucked. And I was like, ‘Jon, maybe we should do something together.’”

Citing an example of his early work, Jon showed off the cover of a comic that featured Abraham Lincoln engaged in a tussle. Jon described it as, “Just another mindless fight comic with some silliness. There’s stenchmen instead of henchmen. There’s a chick with hairy armpits and a guy who [defecates].”

“That’s an example of why he needed some writing help,” Dave said, pointing at the cover. “To channel his energies.”

Jon described comic book writing for him and Dave as “a collaborative hobby.” Jon, who is 31 years old, is a government contractor by trade, and Dave, 36, is an information technology specialist. Each longs for the opportunity to work creatively and independently.

Due to contest rules, Jon and Dave are not allowed to describe their comic or else they will be disqualified. They are, however, allowed to refer interested readers to www.assemblyofthedead.com. The site features six pages of the beginning of the story, with a mysterious lead character that resembles a pulp fiction private eye resurrecting a recently-deceased man.

“Let’s tell you what it’s not about,” Jon said. “It’s not about time traveling, people in tights — ”

“Richie Rich,” Dave interjected.

“It has nothing to do with Richie Rich or Casper the Ghost,” Jon said. “It’s not about office politics.”

Jon said that much of the preparation for the competition now lies with him, as he needs to finish drawing and coloring the comic, as well as preparing for the pitch.

“My role is to critique,” Dave said.

Once the 50 finalists make their pitches July 26, the judges will narrow the field to 10 by July 28. Two weeks of internet voting follows that, at which point the field will be reduced to three. There is then one more week of voting before a winner is named. The winner will receive a contract with Platinum Studios to have their comic produced, and possibly expanded to other forms of media.

While they appreciate the magnitude of the opportunity that lies before them, the brothers feel good about their chances.

“I think [‘Assembly’] is a really good story,” Dave said. “I probably don’t have the proper amount of modesty about that, but I really think my story’s great. So I don’t see why we shouldn’t win.”