February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Frenemies: Jack D. Ferraiolo’s hilarious new novel features dueling superhero sidekicks | Under Cover

Jack D. Ferraiolo
Sidekicks opens with Bright Boy, aka Scott Hutchinson, the teen sidekick of superhero Phantom Justice, getting aroused as he’s rescuing a hot young woman. The bulge in his bright yellow tights is caught on camera, and now everyone’s cracking jokes at Bright Boy’s expense. Is any of this autobiographical?

[Laughs] The whole thing is autobiographical, right down to saving a woman from falling off a building. Everything! No, actually, I mean like any young boy, there was the inappropriate hard-on.

How’d you come up with that idea?

As a young kid, I was a huge fan of Batman comics, and I actually liked Robin a lot. However, in the mid- to late-’70s, when they started aging up Dick Grayson and sending him off to college, there’d be those pages where Robin would be standing there, in his mid-teens, in that green set of jockey shorts and bare legs. Even as a 10-year-old, I’m thinking, that can’t be comfortable. That was one of the first images that came to mind as I was thinking about the premise of Sidekicks.

You’ve got so many unexpected twists, including Scott’s discovery that his archenemy, Monkeywrench, the sidekick of a supervillain, is a classmate—and a girl. Care to summarize the story for us?

It’s a story about two sidekicks on opposite sides of the law who find out they have more in common with each other than they do with their mentors. And it comes at a time when Scott starts to realize that he’s outgrowing his role figuratively and quite literally. It’s that time period, adolescence, when you start to question the motives of people around you: Who really understands me? Who’s looking out for me? And it’s not always the people you thought were supporting you.

Any reason why both your novels take place in middle school?

We all have turning points in our lives that shape who we are. For me, it was middle school. It was the first time I had to rely on myself and find inner courage. It was a really tough time because I was bullied. I think I was bullied because I was kind of quiet and reflective, and I had a sense of humor.

What did you gain from that experience?

It gave me empathy. It gave me this ability to kind of look into other people’s eyes, and I’ve used that.

How did you make the leap from being a bartender for five years to an Emmy Award–winning writer for the animated PBS series WordGirl?

There was another bartender, and we’d spend most of our shifts goofing around and laughing. He ended up working at this production company and then called me out of the blue a year later and said, “There’s an opening here, and I think you’d be really good at this. How about editing audio for Saturday morning comics?” This was ’98, ’99, and I didn’t have a home computer. And so I said, “Yes, I know how to work a computer machine.” But he said, “We’ll teach you that. Don’t worry. You have the humor that we’re looking for.”

Your website says the key to becoming a successful writer is to wear a turtleneck, build a time machine, and make a movie trailer. Got any other helpful tips?

I don’t want to give away the theme to my next helpful advice video, because I hope to package it and sell it as a DVD. But it helps to have a rocking theme song.

Rick Margolis About Rick Margolis

Rick Margolis was executive editor for SLJ.