A City Masterplan

For me, A City Masquerade has been a decade in the making. A process that started with one idea then became another, then another after that. A process full of excitement, like moments where I came up with solutions to storyboard problems, names for characters, or ideas for visuals. And always a process of second guessing those excitements. But it’s the second guessing that has made ACM what it is today. It’s the self-questioning that will shape its future. All so that Nick and I can feel good about the product we put out. We are both creatives who get stuck on tangents or get ahead of ourselves—thinking about the second, third, or fourth thing before we finish the first—but above all else, what has brought us back to focus is our one and only rule: to put the quality of the story first. We often talk about how despite the length it has taken us to release our first issue, we should feel proud of our resilience, our devotion to the project and to one another. We have overcome numerous obstacles these past seven years of collaboration. In that time, we’ve built more than a unique world, we’ve built a foundation of trust.

Since we teamed up in 2015, we’ve wanted to release something to the public without regret. The readers will decide if our first little comic book was worth the time taken to complete it. But critical reception pales in comparison to the fact that no matter where we’re headed, we stuck to our artistic principles and poured our hearts into every page of this thing. The first ACM fans were me and Nick, and if we end up being the only two (apart from our loyal families) then we’re not going to lose any sleep. At the end of the day, any creative project is a sensitive undertaking and you as an artist must love what you’re doing because the reality is that your work won’t speak to everyone. The amount of passion Nick and I have invested into this first issue is an excitement we’re not second guessing.

In 2012, I was an undergraduate with a bubbling thought I wanted to be a writer, even though I was studying psychology at the time. I was deep into my love for Batman. The cinematic Nolan Trilogy had just concluded on the big screen and so I found my fix of Bruce Wayne in the pages of the Dark Knight’s most acclaimed graphic novels. While reading, I struggled to consume the brilliant stories of minds I admired—like Miller, Morrison, and Moore—because my own ideas were forming. I believe I understood what those legendary writers had realized long before me: that Batman’s ability to be larger than life and yet somehow plausibly exist in our world was a bottomless well of creative inspiration. I don’t remember ACM’s first title—I’m sure if I looked hard enough it exists among all the other notes I’ll never throw away—but I know that it started as Batman fan fiction. It turns out that a handful of ideas I had come up with were pretty good. So good in fact, that they’d already been developed. After putting almost a year’s time into a naïve Dark Knight project, I felt defeated. Somehow convinced I still had something, I shelved the caped-crusader dream indefinitely. Over the course of the next year, that bubbling thought to become a writer had surfaced and in my study of craft, I began to see my ideas differently, as though any time invested needed to be spent on authentic visions. I no longer saw a point in revamping tired stories and thought even less of capitalizing off of someone else’s intellectual property. Any project pursued had to consist of my conceptual DNA. All of it.

One of my original ideas was to present a character who wore a mask. Not so original you might say, especially considering batman and many of his rogues gallery hide their faces. But I thought I’d figured out how to separate my masked bad guy’s attire from everyone else’s masked bad guy. Something fresh. Wanting an enigmatic villain in my story never changed. What did change, however, was the story itself. As I unpacked the Gotham-esque idea from its dusty shelf, I began sculpting the world that would become A City Masquerade. Spending time on story development eventually led to masking every single character in the world. Then of course, all the pieces needed to make sense. The plot had to fit around a universal masking concept. I came up with numerous storylines, some better than others. Sometimes those threads were compatible with one another and sometimes they proved incongruent. That’s where Nick came in. I became we.

When I first met Nick, I quickly discovered he was an artist. We were at a holiday party and I’d worked up enough liquid courage to start talking to him about comic books. I went on to explain that I was a writer and had been looking for an artist to collaborate with, even though I could tell he’d met a hundred chumps like me before, and even though I still wasn’t convinced that ACM should be a visual narrative. In my mind, it could work as a novel. We exchanged info and I told him I’d be in touch. I emailed him the next week and said that we should meet to discuss ideas and to find out if he’d be interested in working together. I also told him that my vision for a project wasn’t to have him illustrate my work, but rather, to illustrate OUR work. Most writers, I figured, were often looking for an artist to draw what they had already written. My sales pitch to Nick was that our project would be a joint effort, in which he could influence the writing, and in turn I could influence his illustrations. To me, the most inspired collaborative efforts came from trust and shared responsibility. This meant that the concept would need to be something we could buy into collectively.

Nick agreed to meet and seeing how we were both beer enthusiasts, based on our initial encounter, drinks were an easy incentive to offer in exchange for his time. Lucky for me, that first meeting was a success. I pitched a few different ideas, all of which we agreed would be cool, but by far the one that made the most sense was A City Masquerade. It required the most undertaking because the world had yet to be fully realized. This was a great opportunity for us to come together as partners and see what we could come up with. After that first meeting, Nick and I met again at a bar (are you seeing a pattern?) this time with a story already chosen. I was both nervous and excited to see what he’d drawn up with what little he had to go off of, and it was exactly the time he flipped open his sketchbook I realized that ACM was always meant to be a comic book. I knew I had made the right choice—no, WE had made the right choice in pursuing our story as an illustrated one.

Since then, time’s gone by and ACM’s characters and themes have emerged and storylines have woven into a tightknit fabric. Now in 2022, traces of my original idea can be found in ACM. But it’s become something different entirely. I couldn’t be more thankful to Nick for helping me realize the project’s potential, let alone for bringing it to life. We’ve gone seven years without releasing an issue. At times thoughts of failure weighed on us, especially when life’s more pressing responsibilities came between us and our work. But we didn’t give up. At this point—and even amidst stale creative periods—we know that no matter how long it takes we aren’t going to waste this opportunity. I can also profess with confidence that we went into this thing as partners and have come along as friends. Our similar interests, which started with hopped beverages and moved onto vinyl records (our 3rd and 4th partners respectively), have affirmed my belief that inspired work takes everyone involved. Better yet, it takes trust.

From Gotham to Fort Veil and onto the unexplored corners of the world of A City Masquerade, I speak for the both of us when I say we can’t wait to explore them with you.

-Will Pellett