Note: Project: Rooftop is no stranger to controversy and we’ve always been ambitious. That’s why, today, we’re taking on a Simon & Kirby creation…get ready for Stuntman! Joining us is artist, Todd Loessy. – Vito Delsante
Who Is Stuntman?
Fred Drake was a member of a group of circus acrobats called the Flying Apollos, but his two teammates are murdered. He decides to investigate, but while he was investigating he was hired by Don Daring to be his secret stunt double. Deciding to go undercover, Fred Drake becomes the costumed crime fighter Stuntman. He had a crush on an actress named Sandra Sylvan, but she did not even know who Fred Drake was because of Daring and Drake’s secret agreement. Stuntman had no superpowers, but he had The Stunt-car and was an expert acrobat.
from the Public Domain Super Heroes Wiki
Vito: There are a couple reasons why I wanted to attempt this. First, whenever anyone thinks Kirby, they think about the Marvel and DC characters first, which is natural. But I like looking at his catalog and pulling from further back…if only to spotlight something someone might have never heard of. Stuntman is, without a doubt, a very fun character. You can see where a lot of S&K’s Golden Age work influenced this character and also, you can see where Kirby would end up going with characters like Mr. Miracle.
Second, I met Joe Simon before he passed and I feel like I owe it to him. Great guy, a lot of fun to talk to, so I wanted to dedicate this to him.
Note that this is the first time we’ve done a RetroFix of a character that isn’t purely in the public domain. Technically, Stuntman is a PD character (due to the amount of time that has passed since his last publication), but for the sake of erring on the side of caution, we’re calling this an homage to Simon and Kirby.
Vito: Ok, in today’s modern world, circus acrobats and stuntmen don’t really mesh. You’re either Stuntman Mike from Death Proof, or you’re a member of Cirque Du Soleil and ne’er the twain shall meet. But that’s really what Stuntman is; he’s the best of both worlds. Also, I think the best way to play with Simon and Kirby’s character is to leave him be, because there’s really nothing wrong with him. So, treating him as a new character…
Fred Drake has grown old and is exhausted. The former Stuntman retired the cape and became Hollywood’s greatest stuntmaster, working with director’s like Tarantino, Bay, Woo and all of the top action directors. During a routine bungee jump stunt, Fred suffers a near fatal heart attack and is forced into retirement. After his recovery, he sets out to find a true successor, the next great Stuntman and finds him; Derek Tracey, a soap opera actor who is stuck on the small screen looking for his big breakout role. Fred and his team set the stage and lure Tracey to a phoney audition and “kidnap” him, manipulating him to use his wits and skill to come out on top. That is, until his “leading lady,” Ava Sylvan, is kidnapped by a fringe terrorist cell. Fred has one more stunt in him, and it will take all of his skills, and Derek’s, to rescue her.
Right away, you’ll notice that I didn’t want to scrap anything from the past. It might be silly, or it might be genius, but either way, I wanted the character to just stay the same and evolve naturally. So, we aged him, but gave him a purpose (his legacy in costume and out). So the focus then becomes Derek Tracey, the new Stuntman.
The costume itself doesn’t lend itself to a modern comic reading audience. So, looks like we’re going to have to ditch that cape, but the clasp looks like a stylized “S,” so we can use that, maybe as a badge. A motorcycle outfit could be a good start. I really think the colors could work, if we dirtied them up a bit, but stylistically, maybe something like this…not so…gaudy. What are you thinking, Todd?
Artist’s Initial Sketches & Notes
Todd: The motorcycle leathers make perfect sense. It offers protection while not restricting his mobility. Visually, it could be a terrific nod to the original character.
Being a soap opera actor, Derek could be recognized by the public unless his face is partially or fully obscured. But since Derek is looking for his breakout role, does he sacrifice privacy for fame? Perhaps he keeps the mask off and showboats to the crowdsourced paparazzi world we live in.
Vito: I like that idea because it gives him a fatal flaw…like how Spidey got his head all full of ego, and the thief got away.
Todd: Right. Being a superhero with an exposed identity could backfire on him, since nobody would take a soap opera star seriously. The bad guys would be more brazen around him. He’s Batman without the superstition and fear. He has to work harder.
Vito: I just watched the Scooby-Doo/Blue Falcon movie, and in it, they show this new…the best way to put it is “razor sharp” BF and Dynomutt and when you put him up against the original, it’s a drastic difference. It’s the difference between how generations see what a hero is or could be. And that’s sort of what we’re looking at here. To nail the point on the head with a sledgehammer, this is Bullitt vs Fast & Furious 6.
Todd: Those are two great examples for me to use when building this character’s look. What else can you tell me about this guy?
Vito: Aside from the obvious (young, in good shape), Derek is pretty much an open book. I think as we get to see him “develop” in the art, we’ll get a good idea of what his personality is, but I think we’ve got it. He may not be the best fighter in the world, or even in Hollywood, but as a stuntman in training, he can at least take a punch. That’s the difference between Fred and him; Fred is the ideal, even at 60, 70 years old, and he knows the tricks of the trade in front of and beyond the camera. Derek, at 25-30, is kind of…I hate to say soft, but the costume is going to do some of the heavy lifting, so to speak. If he falls off of his bike or jumps from a flaming car, he’ll tuck and roll, but without the suit on, it would hurt like hell and might cause irreparable damage. The costume is going to be the learning curve.
Todd: Let’s start with the color palette and the motorcycle jacket design.
Working in Adobe Illustrator, I took the original image of Stuntman and to grab his costume colors: red, blue and yellow. No surprises there. To dirty them up, I converted them to CMYK and added 20 to 25% black to each, and tweaked the yellow to move it closer to gold. I also added black and white to the mix, as a neutral base for the color.
Next, I took your motorcycle jacket reference to create a base that I could quickly apply colors and designs to. I also created a quick “S” clasp based on your idea.
I think this is a great place to start, as I can see the jacket being the focal point of the character’s design. I think #1 ties directly into the original character’s costume. down to the cuffs. From there I moved into variations that are more in line with your idea of a “sharper” look.
Vito: Initially, I was drawn to #7, for those same reasons, but the way you connected the original to #1, I think that HAS to be his jacket. You can move the concept further, add more embellishments and such, but then you might fall into Smallville Clark Kent territory, and that’s not to say that he was the first one to ever have a leather jacket-as-a-costume identifier, but the further we are from that connection, the better.
Todd: What are your thoughts on the mask vs no mask debate?
Vito: I think he has to go with no mask, for all the reasons we discussed, but maybe some kind of modified motorcycle helmet? I put a question there because the first thing I think of is the old Reb Brown Captain America helmet and that’s just not a good look. The word “modified” is a tough one to quantify because it comes down to…how? I think something lightweight, smaller…maybe something akin to Bale’s Batman cowl. It was made of graphite, which doesn’t seem very strong to me, but maybe some other light, pliable metal could work.
Todd: Maybe it’s a hybrid metal and leather design. I can see the connection to the original costume mask already.
Vito: However, one thing I want to “steal” from Reb Brown…goggles. I think they make a great alternate to a domino mask, and we want to keep this as a superhero tale, and use some of the tropes. Plus, they look cool hanging on a neck.
Todd: I jumped back into Illustrator and grabbed a face from a previous superhero drawing to use as a template for helmet designs. I like the idea of an all-in-one helmet, half mask and goggles combo. It stays true to the original design. However, some of them started to look like the Flash. I think #9 would look awesome with jacket #7.
Vito: I’m partial to 6 and 4 because they seem closer to the original. If we’re going with jacket #1, they both work…#7 is also very interesting. Where’d that design (on 2 and 7) come from?
Todd: I picked up that element from jackets 4 through 7, which came from your “sharp” idea. The stripes would curve to the sides of the helmet. I really like the wide V shape element.
Vito: Then let’s say helmet 7 with jacket 4; helmet 9 with jacket 7. Those are our finalists.
Todd: Here they are. I have a clear favorite, what about you?
Vito: Wow. Seriously, I’m at a loss. I’m really drawn to #1 here, but the dark elements of 2 are really something special.
Vito: I think that some of the charm of the original is taken out of it, but that’s kind of what I was going for. I wanted the original to stand as it’s own entity, and in that sense, I think we accomplished that. And by the same token, this new one is an update of that original costume. And I think it accomplishes that as well, without being so obnoxious that you can’t see the original’s influence. To me, this is perfect. Fred and Derek could literally stand in the same panel and look totally different, but completely related. I’m sure there were…geez, a ton of different directions we could take Stuntman into, but ultimately, that second costume is functional, modern and looks great. That’s it! Hit me with the final!
Vito: Love it. Would love to see him in action. And that final helmet/goggle/mask is perfect because he could take it off and still be recognized as both Derek AND Stuntman. Any final thoughts, Todd?
Todd: Only that it was great working with you, and I can’t wait to get started on another collaboration. Stay tuned!