Smoke and Mirrors #3 by Ryan BrowneSmoke and Mirrors is a new comic book from IDW melding magic and illusion with the comic book page. Written by Mike Costa (G.I.Joe: Cobra, Transformers) and magician Jon Armstrong, the creator owned book incorporates magic tricks into the page for a new and wonderful experience never before attempted in the comic book medium. Smoke and Mirrors Issue #4 is out today, with a trade paperback solicited for September. Mike and Jon join us for some sleight of hand.

Care to tell us your elevator pitch for the book?
Mike: Smoke and Mirrors is about a stage magician who wakes up one day in a world where magic is real. It looks a lot like our world but all technology runs on sorcery instead of science. He can’t do real magic, he can do sleight of hand and stage illusion magic. He fakes his way through the world using stage illusion techniques which no one has seen before. A young boy discovers his secret and blackmails him into teaching the boy how to do what he does. Meanwhile, they both catch the attention of one of the leaders of magic industry in this world, the boy and the magician have to outwit him so that the magician’s secret is not discovered.

So the main villain is a Steve Jobs type character. He’s the head of industry and technology in the ‘magic’ world. Was he based on Steve Jobs?
Mike: He’s sort of a Steve Jobs or Lee Iacocca — a celebrity industrialist. That’s an interesting figure to me, particularly Steve Jobs. For our generation there is a suspicion cast on industry and on capitalists. Obviously with the collapse of the economy there is a lot of blame laid on the feet of those people.

Then you have guys like Steve Jobs who are everyone’s hero. He’s an incredibly successful business person who changed the world but his hands aren’t any more clean than anyone else that’s been in his scenario. He marketed himself as a genius and became a cultural icon. That’s interesting.

Just so everyone knows, I’m not writing this as a direct parallel to expose satirically that Steve Jobs is an evil guy. Our character is a legitimately bad person! I am really fascinated by the businessman that has made himself a celebrity based on his business—and is beloved for it.

Jon, have you known Mike for a while? How did you end up collaborating with him, you are a magician.
Jon: Everyone knows the easiest way to work in comics is to do magic tricks! I met Mike at a place called the Magic Castle in LA.

I was talking with another comic book publisher that had an idea to have a comic book that taught magic. I started talking to Mike about that idea and we thought of a comic book that could do magic for the reader—if that was possible. I drew a bunch of ideas that would work and what would eventually become Smoke and Mirrors. We pitched this to the original publisher and didn’t hear anything back. Some time later at WonderCon,  Mike brought this to Andy Schmidt at IDW and he thought it was a great idea.

Mike: This was the last project that Andy green-lit before being poached by Hasbro. He was the guy to hire me for G.I.Joe over there.

It was great that my first creator owned book I could do with all of my friends. I’ve known Ryan Browne, the artist, since the fifth grade.

We’re impressed with what smaller publishers like BOOM! and IDW are doing with their rosters of talent. We can pick up a book like yours which is a little different and are psyched to get our hands on a book like Smoke and Mirrors. So cheers to you for that.

Smoke and Mirrors Issue #1 - Ryan Browne


How do you go about putting actual magic tricks into the book? That’s unique, I’ve never seen that before! In issue #1, I was fooled by the trick you put in the book. Maybe I don’t want to know how!
Mike: We knew from the beginning that the book doing magic was going to be our secret weapon. I had been writing Transformers and Cobra for IDW, and Transformers is a really big property for them. I felt entitled to get a creator owned book through them. I pitched books all of the time and they said no to everything. If they said no to Smoke and Mirrors, I would have given up and not pitched anything again. For the pitch, we had Ryan draw out the two pages that did the card trick that appears in Issue #1.

You pick a card on one page and on the next page the card is vanished. We showed Andy the trick at Wondercon and he loved it, brought it to IDW. Everyone was fooled, and everyone said “Yes” based on that trick.

Jon: As far as ideas for the page, I’m using techniques that are used in other sort of ways normally. Interactive magic on the radio, the internet or before radio even, something called remote viewing.

A lot of what we have in the book is what I’ve researched or come up with on my own using mathematical principles. We incorporate that into the page or panel breakouts.

The first thing I thought of to put magic into comics were to use the panels like playing cards.
Each issue has a different trick. In issue #4, I’m proud of what we did. It’s very subtle and we hope that people will go back and read the book again to see what we did.

All of the tricks are woven into the actual narrative, so the tricks don’t take you out of the story.

Are you guys working the parallel with the history of comics and the history of performing magic in a theatre setting over say the past hundred years or so?
Mike: Every issue of Smoke and Mirrors has an essay from a magician, and the first issue has an essay by Jon. Comic books service a community that is preoccupied with it’s own history. And magic does something very similar.
Jon: The only thing I’d add is that the parallels are very strong and the strongest is that these art forms are amazing mediums for telling stories. And in the grand scheme of things, both forms are thought of as being just for children. We all know that’s not the case for either. In my opinion, there is so much that we can do to educate the public on that.

As much as I love superhero comics, there are so many more interesting stories you can tell with this medium.

Smoke and Mirrors Issue #1 - Ryan Browne

Cats used as retina displays and crystals are your carrier in the magic world. No DRM.

And Ryan is doing some heavy lifting here, you are giving him the scripts and the tricks and he has to make it happen or the illusion isn’t going to work.
Jon: Oh yeah, Ryan is amazing and incredible at what he does. I draw out these crappy diagrams of what I need him to do, or film myself doing the trick. He takes this gobbledygook that I give him and he makes it work on the page.
Mike: Ryan doesn’t know a lot about magic, so he’s our first audience. We have to explain the trick and surprise to Ryan, so there is no surprise to him. A couple times he’s called me and said “I don’t think this is going to work, I don’t think this is going to fool anybody.” He’ll show the trick to his friends to try it out before realizing “this will work”.

Jon, it sounds like now you have an apprentice!
Jon: I wish he would apprentice me in art! I think it would take a long time though. I can’t draw. I got nothing!

Let’s talk about the comic market -- a popular hashtag and subject for our interviews. This is a creator owned book and you’ve done some unique things posting videos and contests to promote your book. What have you found to be effective promotion techniques unique to your book?
Mike: Jon has really rallied the magic community. We both live in Los Angeles, we had our release party for issue #1 at the Magic Castle. We’ve been covered in Magic Magazine and Genii Magazine. It’s really tough getting the word out about a creator owned book because for retailers it’s a risk. Some customers only pay attention to the Marvel or DC events. Jon’s wife heads up our social media to raise awareness.

I’m really bad at this stuff. I know how to write comic books but I don’t necessarily know how to sell them. Jon, as a magician, self promotion is a big part of that.

Jon: Before the book came out, we did a magic trick at Comic Book Resources on their boat at SDCC.
At all of the conventions we’ve attended, we’ve done some magic on the panels or with interactive tricks with the audience.
On the Thursday of SDCC we’ll be doing a panel and a comic book about illusions and comics and how those worlds come together. We’ll have some live magic performances as well. That will be a first for SDCC to have any sort of magic at a panel.

Mike: It’s really things like this and people like you that are fans, writers and podcasters talking about it — that’s how we are going to get this book read. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this.

It’s my pleasure and any time you guys want to shoot it about comics you are welcome on the show any time!

Issue #4 is out today and look forward to the collected edition in September that will have an entire magic bibliography and more! Of course all issues are or will be available digitally on ComiXology. Trick your friends with a portable comic book magic trick!




Here is the audio version of the interview over at LeaguePodcast!



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  3. ERRATA: Issue #4 ships next week, Wed. July 4.! Trade in September! All issues on ComiXology.