Nine years ago, a mysterious explosion plunged a city into a seemingly endless blackout. That is, until a Mark Zuckerburg-like tech billionaire rebuilt it into a futuristic metropolis – but to Journalism student Alex, this shady figure’s motivations don’t quite ring true. Alex’s hunch soon thrusts him into a world of superheroes and monsters in Henshin, a new series from Notts-based artist Mitch Proctor, a.k.a. Bon Idle...
This isn’t Bon Idle’s first foray into comics. Alongside his job as a graphic designer, Mitch runs the small-press publisher Koguchi Press, through which he’s published a number of his own comic books including the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy adventure Sword Hunt. But with Henshin, Mitch’s work joins the ranks of Saturday Brunch, a new digital manga magazine committed to championing LGBTQ+ stories from around the globe.
Saturday Brunch published a teaser issue in June to celebrate Pride Month, containing the first installment of Henshin ahead of its official debut in September, which includes the first two chapters alongside a range of comics from other creators. As Brunch is set to be a quarterly magazine, it’s up to Mitch to craft a story that rewards readers’ patience. “I want people to be able to read it and not feel like they've waited three months for nothing,” he says. “You see it with some quarterly manga – and some Western comics as well – when they don't come out very often, and you're like: ‘I'm not very satisfied, it wasn't really enough’.”
Both in content and structure, Henshin is inspired by Japanese tokusatsu (special effects) shows such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai – the basis for Power Rangers – which see colourful costume-clad heroes duke it out with different monsters in each episode. “There's a lot of room to have smaller self-contained adventures and fun little asides, but I do have a beginning, middle and end planned for all of the characters,” Mitch explains. “I have plans to introduce a lot more heroes – you should see the Word Doc I've got, it's huge.”
The series also draws inspiration from a number of other anime titles. “I firmly believe that nothing is original any more, but what makes something original is how you re-contextualise your influences and inspirations,” the creator explains. “We are products of our environments and as such, the art we create is a product of our influences and what we consume.” Among these are nineties classics Neon Genesis Evangelion and Sailor Moon, as well as the more recent Kiznaiver; each praised for bringing authentic character drama to typically action-heavy genres.
I firmly believe that nothing is original any more, but what makes something original is how you re-contextualise your influences and inspirations
Writing romance is new to Mitch, but it’s something he’s determined to get right in Henshin in order to demonstrate that anyone can be a hero regardless of their sexuality. “This is a tokusatsu-style comic, and the main character happens to be gay,” says Mitch. “That doesn't change how he is as a hero, it doesn't make him less of a hero, it doesn't make him a different kind of hero – he just is a hero, who is gay.” While the first few issues prioritise setting up Alex’s world, what it means to be gay in the world of Henshin will be explored as the story progresses.
“It's definitely something that I feel is important and is something that I want to do justice to, so it's also something I don't want to rush… I want it to be meaningful to people who read it.” Mitch notes that this is an area in which mainstream fiction is largely lacking, with many attempts at diversity being performative at best. A perspective shared by Mitch and the company behind Saturday Brunch, MyFutprint Entertainment, is that real diversity is something that can only be achieved by actually hiring creators from different backgrounds.
“We're seeing a big groundswell of more independent businesses actually broadcasting minority voices,” Mitch elaborates. “So I think, on the independent side, it's very exciting, and my hope is that will continue to grow, and then that will influence the Disneys of the world to actually follow through on what they say they're going to do instead of putting a black square up during June or a rainbow flag on their profile picture. It's actually committing to those things.”
Saturday Brunch’s sister magazines, Saturday AM and PM, are proof that this is a sustainable philosophy. The former was launched in 2013 and has released over a hundred issues sourcing comics from all over the world, and there’s even a print edition titled Super Saturday launching later this year that Mitch helped design the logo and cover for.
Henshin isn’t set to join the print line-up just yet, but he says the future of the series is looking bright: “I'm trying not to count my chickens yet, in a way – Henshin has only had one issue out – but the response so far has been really, really positive, and I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to continue making this comic and hopefully people continue to enjoy it. We are trying to bring a little joy to some quite dark times – so download the app, read some comics and hopefully have some fun.”
Henshin is available now on the Saturday AM app