Cleveland, Ohio — From the creator of fellow Cleveland-based superhero Apama comes a new character to debut in her own comic series, and — for readers with a flair for the dramatic — there are few things that provide bombastic quite like the Tap Dance Killer. On July 11, Tap Dance Killer premiered at local comic book shops to critical fanfare.
Written by Ted Sikora, drawn by Nikolaus Harrison and colored by David Baf Gallart and Sikora, the book stars Nikki St. Clair, a talented actress and singer who gets caught in some bad luck. Brainwashed by a mysterious woman during the production of a vaudeville stage play, her and two of her castmates are influenced to infiltrate and thwart plans of the Cleveland mafia.
When the mafia discovers who the strangely-dressed saboteurs are, they attempt to hold a crowd hostage during a show. St. Clair shoots and kills a few of the mobsters to protect the crowd, but instead of being labeled a hero, she is sent to prison. The first issue follows her inevitable escape from the joint and subsequent plot for revenge, reconnecting with her family and perhaps even discovering some interesting powers of influence that may possess in the form of song.
Her crusade leads her to team again with her castmate Vincent Reed, who has fully embraced the Vaudeville character he portrayed on stage to front a team of circus freaks and strongmen. None of Reed’s thugs are more dangerous than Drayton Hayes, a disgraced boxer influenced to become by Reed to become the brightly-colored, fisticuffs brute Punchline.
Ever the jack of all trades, the initial inspiration for the Tap Dance Killer Sikora says came more than 20 years ago when he was a songwriter.
The Reserve contacted Sikora on the Tap Dance Killer and other ventures he has had that led to the new series.
“Back in the early nineties, I was writing songs for a rock concept album titled Nothing Like Vaudeville [the name of the play in which Nikki St. Clair stars in the book] which told the story of a ‘runaway freak in the 1920s who clashed with bizarre mob violence and a diabolical ringmaster,”’ Sikora said. “The villains all had songs; and one of them was Tap Dance Killer.”
Sikora then re-wrote the album in 1994 into a two-act musical horror show which was to be staged at the Phantasy Theater in Lakewood, and then released as a cast album.
Original cast recording of “Nothing Like Vaudeville”
“Years later, [my colleague] Milo Miller and I thought it would be fun to have our main character Ilyia Zjarsky [aka Apama] join the cast at Near West Theatre to get away from the intense stress of being Cleveland’s resident superhero,” Sikora elaborated. “Nothing Like Vaudeville was to be the performed musical, and it spawned a crazy story where the three villain-actors went permanently ‘method,’ and started taking down the local mafia.”
For those out of the loop, the creation of Apama started as a film by Sikora entitled “Hero Tomorrow.” After the film made the rounds at film festivals and screenings, Sikora decided to transform the original screenplay — in which an avid comic book fan decides to don a costume of his own creation despite not having powers — into a pop art-style venture into the strange in the (actual) adventures of the Apama as a hero cleaning up Cleveland streets to oftentimes a mixed reaction by the people he saves.
The Tap Dance Killer appeared a supporting character in Apama and — upon popular demand — has led to staring in her own series.
“Hero Tomorrow” Trailer
Sikora states that he hasn’t ruled out plans for a Tap Dance Killer film to add to his comic-influenced filmography.
“Making comics has stolen my heart. It’s so liberating and pure from a writing standpoint,” Sikora explained. “A year ago, we were pushing hard to get an Apama movie script going, but realized it was taking away from creating new stories in our comic book universe. We’re going to be focused on comics for now while staying open to other opportunities.”
As for the comic itself, similar to the “Apama” series, the banter, art style and character backgrounds harken back to a classic 70’s comic vibe while still showing a sleek modern polish with a quintessentially Cleveland backdrop. Inspired by Jim Lee and Paulo Siqueira, Harrison draws the characters with a flair for the circus and the grit of the city.
“With this series we’re aiming to do something that feels like it belongs alongside both the old classics and the modern,” Sikora said. “We’ve been looking at a lot of old circus poster art, and Bob Fosse choreography. When Tap Dance Killer kicks someone, it can look like a slick dance move. That’s been a lot of fun to explore.”
Sikora also injects a lot of Cleveland into his comics, from landmarks to character bios, including Cleveland area institutions and name-dropping places and people that will bring a smile to anyone familiar with Northeast Ohio. According to Sikora, it adds a personal touch to his work, saying that the reference photos he’s taken for Harrison and fellow artist Benito Gallego have been ‘taken to another level’ once placed on the page.
“I think it’s important for any writer to consider their roots when telling a story,” Sikora said. “I’ve lived in this region my whole life, and I love it here. In the 90’s I spent a couple years as a blood courier for hospitals, and [I] got to know pretty well the lay of the land. Cleveland has just about any type of backdrop or neighborhood you could want. There’s an authenticity to this region and the residents that we want to represent.”
When asked what Cleveland landmark would pop up in a comic next, Sikora said that they might have to do something with ‘that gargantuan chandelier’ near Playhouse Square.
The book also boasts some zany ideas and visuals. Sikora says that they never try to stray away from the crazy to give his audience an entertaining and whimsical tale.
“The wilder the better for us, so I tend to think those ideas are the ones we end up developing,” Sikora said.
One good example of this is in Sikora’s film “Hero Tomorrow,” where they illustrate an odd tale with a giant squid.
“Hero Tomorrow” Squid Scene
Sikora added that Tap Dance Killer has found new readers with the timely re-release of single issues of Apama also hitting shelves around the same time.
“There was a shop owner that told me he felt comics that went straight to collected trades are like movies that go straight to DVD,” Sikora said. “Where the films miss out on the theatre-going experience, the comics miss out on that shop community element. We’ve been getting new reviews and notes from folks who likely wouldn’t have experienced it otherwise.”
Those looking to pick up a copy of Tap Dance Killer or Apama can visit their local comic book store (Click here to find one nearest you) or visit Sikora’s online store via Hero Tomorrow Comics. Interested readers can also check out Hero Tomorrow’s Facebook page.
Photos Courtesy Ted Sikora