By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
On a Tuesday night in a townhome behind the Dadeland Mall, comic book history is being made. Maybe. "Some might consider it a comic book mistake," says Eric Da Silva, the co-creator of Outcross,a maverick magazine that hopes to be to comic books what Blenderis to music: a periodical that feeds readers' taste for comics while it explores other topics.
At 25, Da Silva, who sports a black circle beard and just the hint of a belly, has already made a name for himself as a mainstay of the South Florida standup circuit. He performs regularly at the Improvs in Miami and West Palm, at Uncle Funny's in Fort Lauderdale, and at Coconuts in Gainesville and St. Petersburg. Tonight, though, the spotlight is on his foray, haphazard though it has proved, into the realm of publishing.
The townhouse belongs to Oscar Jimenez, 29, and his girlfriend, Michelle Rodriguez, 25, who are also partners in the Outcross venture. The fourth co-founder, 26-year-old Ruben Echeverry, couldn't make this meeting.
"Outcross is another way of saying 'hybrid,'" explains Jimenez, who, like Rodriguez, earns a steady paycheck as a Web editor for the Score Group, which bills itself as an adult entertainment site. "In biology, it's about taking two different strains of two different animals and crossbreeding them, like a dingo with a shih tzu." In terms of Outcross, "it's about crossbreeding anything entertainment and making it into one cool thing -- with an emphasis on comic books."
In the past two and a half years, however, the group has produced just two issues of the magazine, a substantial decrease from the original plan for a "quarterly anthology magazine." An unfinished Website (www.outcross.com) promises links to comics, games, reviews, interviews, and rants, as well as a streaming headline, "Coming March 10. New Store." Some of the links still aren't functional, though there are plans to relaunch the site in June.
"At the very least, Outcross is an experiment," says Da Silva, who appears to be a professional optimist, the kind of individual who might watch his car roll off a cliff and say, "I didn't want to wash it this weekend anyway." Talking to him, you'd think that everything has happened right on schedule. In fact, if this night were a segment of VH1's Behind the Music, he says, "this would be the part where everything turns around and all the struggle starts to pay off. In a few years, I will have developed a drug problem. Oscar will have come out of the closet. Ruben will have become paralyzed from a car accident. And Michelle will have left Oscar for a traveling musician. But right now is the part when things come together."
So what exactly is coming together?
The Outcross masthead is populated entirely by twentysomethings, this foursome and a number of their friends, all of whom work on the magazine for free and some of whom have already bailed out, discouraged when the final product wasn't what they expected or when the magazine didn't become an immediate sensation. "A lot of people lost heart," says Da Silva, "because our hopes and dreams weren't actualized right there, and that affected the drive to produce the magazine."
The hard-core inner group, however, remains undaunted. "Because we never published a magazine before," says Jimenez, "and none of us come from a publishing background, it's been a labor of love, more like a hobby with the potential to be something bigger."
Each issue of Outcrosshas been designed in two distinct sections. The front of the book features film and music reviews; interviews with local bands; and funny, pointless stories like the regular action-figure showdown, complete with photo-illustrations. In the debut issue, which appeared in the summer of 2002, a "movable" Jesus Christ action figure faced off against an "immobile" Buddy Christ in a contest to determine who was the true Savior. Buddy Christ won, Da Silva explains, because he didn't fight. "The opposable Jesus figure was too victory-hungry. Only the true Lord and Savior wouldn't raise his hand against an enemy." For the second issue -- which came out last summer -- 20th Century He-Man found himself in battle with 21st Century He-Man. Old He-Man won because of his greater "years of experience."
Issue two also featured an article on "Comic Movie Madness," co-written by Echeverry and Anna Christie Fuentes, plus an editorial by Da Silva called "Why Comics Are Cool Again" that cited notable titles from DC, Marvel, and Image comics. The cover story was an interview with Brian Michael Bendis, whom Da Silva credits as "the main writer for practically every other book for Marvel right now," including Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Secret Wars. A photo of Bendis appears alongside the tease "The Man, The Myth, The Bald." Outcross editors know that anyone who knows anything about comics will recognize him with no introduction. Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-Man are two of the most popular comics in print; that Outcrosshas interviewed him gives the fledgling publication credibility. For Da Silva, who had conducted just two previous interviews, meeting his idol was a bit of a coup. Bendis was "fantastically humble," he says, and writes just the way he speaks. "If you ever watch those old 1950s movies where everybody has a quip, with deadpanned one-liners -- like the old Ocean's Eleven -- that's exactly how he talks."