CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Throughout his 20-year career as a film and TV producer, Jeff Kline has worked with some of the most beloved brands and characters in animation history, including Transformers, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters and Winnie the Pooh.
Last month, Kline, who splits his time between Cape Elizabeth and Los Angeles, launched his first foray into the world of comic books with “Indestructible,” the debut title from his Darby Pop publishing company. And for the first time in a long time, he’s working with properties that are all his own.
“It’s been a blast writing these classic characters, but one of the really appealing things about creating comic books is I get to make up the rules,” said Kline, who will be signing copies of “Indestructible” at 3 p.m. January 25, at Coast City Comics in Portland. “I get to make up the mythology, I don’t have to try to fit it into preexisting stories or make sure I’m coordinating with another division.
“It really does, for better or for worse, begin and end with me.”
So far, it’s been for the better. Through two issues, fanboys across the Internet have praised the comic for its humor and art — courtesy of Javier Garron and Chris Johnson. They also love the comic’s vision of an L.A. populated by celebrity superheroes and the unwashed masses clamoring for a piece of their fame.
“In a world where superheroes exist and are real, it stands to reason that they’d be celebrities and be treated like sports stars and music stars,” Kline said. “But what would that mean? That also means they’re getting paternity suits, and they’re getting sued by people they’ve hurt in the line of duty.
“They have to make a living. And superheroes don’t get a paycheck, so they’re going to need licensing deals, and they’re going to need to do appearances at children’s hospitals.”
At the heart of “Indestructible” is protagonist Greg Pincus, a lovable, underemployed everyman struggling to juggle family, girlfriends and a bromance with roommate Barry, an overweight schlub who plays Xbox in his underwear.
Greg is no superhero. But when a freak occurrence gives him the appearance of having extraordinary powers, he’s swept up into a world of superheroes and villains, afraid of being outed as an impostor but unwilling to relinquish the perks of his new life. That’s where the story kicks off, and Kline taps into the zeitgeist.
“I’m fascinated by the Kardashians, to use a shorthand,” Kline said. “This idea that’s so prevalent in our society today, where you can become a celebrity, not because you’re incredible at sports, or because you’re a famous actor or singer. You kind of become a celebrity … because you’re a celebrity.
“Maintaining that, to me, always seemed like it would be exhausting. How do you stay in the public eye when you’re not hitting a home run and you don’t have a hit record? You’re just creating buzz around yourself constantly to remain famous.”
Kline has been toying with the concept for “Indestructible,” and the idea of getting into the comic book business, for a long time. About a year ago, he decided to finally take a stab at it and used his animation contacts to get him some meetings.
He met with David Wohl, a former editor at Marvel and Top Cow who helped create blockbuster comics like “Witchblade” and “The Darkness.” The two hit it off, and Wohl signed on as editor-in-chief of Kline’s new publishing company.
Six months ago, Wohl helped the company ink a distribution deal with IDW Publishing to put Darby Pop comics in stores across the U.S.
“All of a sudden, that made us very, very real,” Kline said. “And ever since then, it’s been a rush to monthly deadlines.”
Next month, Darby Pop will roll out its second title, “City: The Mind and the Machine,” from Eric Garcia, author of the novel “Matchstick Men.” A science fiction story set in San Francisco, “City” follows a cyborg crime-fighter in a world defined by surveillance. Then in April, a third series, “The 7th Sword,” from writer John Raffo, will debut. A pure action comic, it details the exploits of a samurai in outer space, with nods to “Rio Bravo” and “Star Wars.”
By year’s end, Kline hopes to have five or six series running and more than 30 individual issues in print.
He has plenty of TV left in him, too. Kline, whose work has won numerous Daytime Emmy Awards, is currently developing a new Transformers cartoon for Hasbro.
But as he gets older, Kline, 47, would like to spend less time on the West Coast. The Boston native and his wife relocated from L.A. to Cape Elizabeth in 2008 to keep their daughter, Darby, now 10, “a little younger a little longer,” he said. Darby Pop Publishing could help bring him home.
“You can’t really run an animation studio or produce a TV series from Maine,” he said, “but comic books are something I can actually do from anywhere.”
In the coming months, Darby Pop stands to extend its Maine ties. Portland-based author Alex Irvine will take over a title, and local artist collective Out for Justice is also set to get involved. Kline also met one of his cover artists at Coast City Comicon, a local comic convention.
“My desire, honestly, is to make this even more Maine-centric or New England-centric as time goes on,” Kline said, “so I can spend more and more time at home.”