Before he was a comic book editor, Moe Suliman was Pfc. Moe Suliman in the U.S. Marine Corps.
It was 1998 then, just around the time Heroes Die, the first novel in a science fiction series about a famous actor's adventures in a parallel universe, hit the shelves.
Suliman couldn't put it down. And officers aboard the USS Belleau Wood began to notice changes the Corps didn't appreciate.
He was talking back. Insubordinate. Starting food fights.
As officers noted in his file, he was also doing a lot of "non-manual reading."
"People didn't connect the dots," he said.
But connections came a bit more easily after Suliman, now 32, voluntarily parted ways with the Marines. In civilian life, he would meet the book's author, Matthew Stover, who said Heroes Die was the story he "became a writer to tell."
After attending film school on the G.I. Bill from 2000 to 2002, the mission of putting the story on screen was Suliman's to sell.
As it turned out, the story that got to Suliman's head was already playing in Stover's.
"I'm a very visual writer," he said. "When I'm writing something, it's like I'm watching a movie in my head and just writing down what I see."
That approach would prove invaluable to the project once Suliman, of St. Petersburg, invested his life savings to move to Los Angeles in 2009 and learned through trial and error that "no one wants to read a 7,000-page book or series of books."
"We realized that a comic book was the best visual representation for this," he said.
They named the comic book OverWorld, The Chronicles of Ankhana after the parallel universe in which Caine, the main character, kills for the entertainment of billions back on Earth. But they didn't have the skills necessary to bring the assassin to life in that medium.
So they went looking for an illustrator.
Again, connections would land in Suliman's lap, this time in the chair at Foolish Pride Tattoo Co. in St. Petersburg.
T.J. Halvorsen had been Suliman's tattoo artist for more than a year when, in 2010, the OverWorld project finally came up.
"Just like you talk to your barber, I talk to him in the chair," Suliman said. "One day, he's like, 'What are you up to?' and I'm like, 'Well, I'm putting this comic book together,' and he says, 'I used to work at DC and Marvel.' "
Suliman, Halvorsen and Stover, who then lived outside Chicago, negotiated mock-ups of the book's antihero, Caine, over three-way conference calls, shaving the character down from Halvorsen's Hulk and Batman to Stover's stealthy, sleek assassin.
"It's not the big guns, big boobs, big muscles package," Halvorsen said, joking that he just wants all of his characters to "look like Moe."
The OverWorld package began as a means to a Hollywood end. But in a mere 72 hours, Caine's fan base took to the arts funding site Kickstarter.com to inject $10,000 into the project — and inspiration into Stover.
"As I got more invested in writing the comic and saw what T.J. was doing with the art, I thought to myself, 'This is going to be a really good comic,' " Stover said. "Why don't we just do the comic?"
To have the comic book lettered and colored by next month, Halvorsen turned down an offer to illustrate upcoming issues of Wonder Woman, siding instead with a freelance project he said has "so much potential, there's no way I'll back out."
On a recent Thursday, a comic book editor agreed. That morning, Halvorsen was exchanging e-mails with a Marvel editor, explaining why he rejected an offer to illustrate an established superhero for a freelance job on an unknown antihero whose name conjures up images of a walking stick or Adam and Eve's eldest son.
The editor answered quickly with a simple response:
"I want to see it on my desk as soon as it's done."
C. Ryan Barber can be reached at (727) 893-8505 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/cryanbarber.