By Cliff Biggers, Comic Shop News
For many years, comics have had a fascination with steampunk, with its blend of fantasy milieu, retro-high-tech, and appealing stylistic elements. And no comic more thoroughly captured the look and feel of the genre than Joe Benitez’ Lady Mechanika… a series that has remained sadly incomplete for a few years now.
That situation is about to change, however, as Lady Mechanika prepares to make a triumphant return to comic shops, both in reprint volumes collecting the out-of-print early issues and in two all-new issues that complete the first Lady Mechanika story arc. And that’s only the beginning!
Lady Mechanika, created, written, and drawn by Joe Benitez with colors by Peter Steigerwald, was originally published by Aspen Entertainment. “The series started in late 2010; the last book was Lady Mechanika #3, which came out in December of 2011,” Benitez said. “In 2012, Aspen and I decided to part ways, and now I am publishing the book myself under my new imprint, Benitez Productions.”
“We want to have a new Lady Mechanika product on the shelves every month in 2015,” Benitez said. “The artwork for three issues of the next story arc is already completed and additional stories are in development. We hope that this will allow us to produce a monthly book without sacrificing quality. Quality remains our top priority.”
To ensure that all readers can get up to speed on the story, Benitez plans to issue two two-in-one volumes. “Lady Mechanika 0-1 Collected Edition is scheduled for release on February 4th, 2015,” Benitez said. “Lady Mechanika 2-3 Collected Edition will ship on February 11th. And Lady Mechanika #4 will be out the following week, on February 18th. Lady Mechanika #5, the conclusion of the Mechanical Corpse story, is scheduled for release in March, with the second story arc, ‘The Tablet of Destinies,’ debuting the following month in April.”
For readers who missed out on the earlier editions of Lady Mechanika, Benitez offered a synopsis of the acclaimed series. “Lady Mechanika is a private investigator in a steampunk turn-of-the-century England. She was found in a facility with a strange combination of organic and mechanical parts, the only known survivor of some madman’s experiments. We don’t know who he is or why he did this. She has no memory of him or of her past. She’s on a quest to find this individual and discover what happened to her.
“In her search, she’s come across several strange cases, some of them supernatural or simply unexplainable, and become somewhat of an expert in such things and is now occasionally called upon by various agencies, as well as hired by private individuals, to help on cases they aren’t equipped to handle. She is continually searching, however, for the secrets to her past.”
Benitez admits that he was surprised by the overwhelming popularity of the series. “I was confident in the concept, but I wasn’t happy with my execution, so I wasn’t expecting such a favorable response. I wasn’t happy with any of the books I put out—they weren’t good enough in my mind. I always wanted to make them better, so when I was getting favorable reviews I was definitely surprised!”
Many were surprised when Aspen announced that the series would not continue with them; how did that come about? “Lady Mechanika was always a creator-owned project, so I owned all the rights from the beginning,” Benitez said. “When Aspen and I agreed that our arrangement wasn’t working for either of us, we decided to part ways amicably. There was never any conflict over the rights to Lady Mechanika.”
Benitez explained that a number of factors led to the lengthy delay between the end of the Aspen run and the launch of the Benitez Productions series. “ A big part of the delay was definitely due to personal issues. I had several problems come up, one after the other, and it was all very overwhelming and difficult for me to deal with, making it impossible to create and launch a business. Now, I still have issues I’m dealing with, but I have a great team helping me and we’re ready to make this work.”
During the hiatus, Benitez and his team were putting a great deal of work, both editorially and creatively, to ensure that the book would continue on a regular schedule once it launched. “Lady Mechanika #4 is 100% done and ready to go—colors and lettering and all. Lady Mechanika #5 I’m doing finishing touches on the pencils, and it need to be colored and lettered. I keep going back and tweaking things because I still have time to do so. If I could go back and tweak all the other books, I would. But my editor says I’m not allowed to do any more changes to #5 after this month, so whatever I want to do I need to do it now. She’s tough and keeping me in check!” Benitez said with a smile.
Part of the appeal of Lady Mechanika is the stunning fine-line art that Benitez produces for every page of the series. How long does it take him to complete the art for each issue! “First, thanks for the compliment!” Benitez said. “The art does take a long time—longer than it should. I usually spend about two days, sometimes more, just to lay out the page. And I often draw three or four versions of the same page. I tend to overthink things,—what path to take among the infinite possibilities. If I just go with my gut, that’s best but it rarely works out that way. And also, like I said earlier, I’ll keep tweaking things and changing things for as long as I can, trying to get it perfect.”
Once Lady Mechanika #5 wraps up “The Mechanical Corpse” storyline, readers can look forward to the next story arc to premiere on schedule one month later. “The second story, The Tablet of Destinies, will debut in April. We already have the artwork completed for three issues of Tablet of Destinies, and we’re currently working on the fourth issue as well as developing future story arcs. We are hoping to have a new Lady Mechanika product on the shelves every month once we launch in February.”
Don’t look for a whole line of titles from Benitez Productions in the immediate future. “At this point we’re focusing all our energy on Lady Mechanika,” Benitez said. “We’re new to publishing so we want to make sure we’re doing everything properly and we don’t overextend ourselves. But ideally in the future, yes, I have lots of other stories and characters I’m dying to bring to life. Hopefully if everything works well, maybe later down the line we’ll launch more projects that people will hopefully pick up and enjoy.”
Further down the line, “We’d definitely like to do a trade of Lady Mechanika, but we haven’t scheduled it yet,” Benitez said. When a trade is scheduled, however, Benitez said that it may include all the eye-catching variant covers done for the various Aspen editions. “We’re not including them in the reprints we’re doing for February,” Benitez said, “because we wanted to get those printed as cheaply as possible to make them more accessible to new readers. We may include them later in a trade paperback or hardcover that collects the entire miniseries but we don’t know for certain yet.”
Lady Mechanika #4, as well as Lady Mechanika Collected Editions #s 0-1 and 2-3, are slated for February release.