C2E2 '13: Israel Idonije Is Premiering The Protectors

Longtime Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije knows a lot about heroics on the football field. Now he's bringing that sense of heroism to his first comic project, titled The Protectors, and he has the acclaimed creative team of writer Ron Marz and artist Bart Sears with him.

C2E2, held at Chicago's McCormick Place April 26-28, will mark the official release of the limited edition The Protectors issue #0, which is sure to be a collector’s item. Sears has created two covers for the launch, one featuring the heroes of the Protectors, and the other an extremely limited sketch cover of Idonije in his #71 jersey. Copies of issue #0 will be available for $10. Known widely for his charitable efforts, Idonije’s comic project will be no exception. Athleta Comics is donating a percentage of net sales to public libraries and to HERO Initiative, a charity providing assistance to comics professionals in need. 

Athleta Comics will be located at Booth #903, and The Protectors team, including Idonije, Marz, Sears and Troy Peteri, will host a panel on Friday, April 26 from 2-3 p.m. in room W474. John Siuntres, Chicago radio host and the mastermind behind the acclaimed Word Balloon podcast, will moderate the panel. Also, Idonije, Marz and Sears will be available at the booth at various times throughout the show to sign issue #0, Protectors T-shirts and other items.

A fan of comic books since childhood, Idonije began creating The Protectors at Bears training camp in 2007, and went on to start Athleta Comics, a publishing company to appeal to sports fans and comic book fans alike. First announced at the 2012 New York Comic Con, The Protectors is Athleta’s first project – a comic series combining the worlds of sports and superhero adventure.

The Protectors are a chosen handful of athletes who learn they are blessed with more than elite athletic ability.  The narrative will grow into an epic story of cosmic proportions, with the world at stake. It’s no coincidence that Idonije is launching The Protectors in Chicago – it’s the city he loves and calls home and it is also the backdrop for The Protectors.

In March Athleta introduced The Protectors through a 20-day web rollout where the website featured a new comic panel each day.  The webcomic and many of the character bios can still be viewed free of charge at athletacomics.com.

“This is a project of love and one of the most exciting things in which I’ve been involved,” Idonije said. “To hold the actual graphic novel in my hands has been my dream since 2007 when I literally sat down with the concept in my head and began writing it on my notepad.  It’s been a long journey and I’m excited to be sharing it with the world.”

Sports and superheroes are a combination that has not always been successful in comics. But Marz believes this is the right creative team to make it work.

"Before I wrote comics, my first 'real' job was a sportswriter, so I'm familiar with both of these worlds," said Marz, whose long list of comics credits includes lengthy runs on Green Lantern, Silver Surfer and Witchblade. "I don't think The Protectors could have been written by someone who wasn't at the very least a sports fan. We intend to get all the details right, which is not something you see very often when sports appear in comics. Having spent a number of years as a sports reporter gives me insight into the sports themselves, as well as the reporter character in the series, Silas Simms. We want sports fans to feel like the sports action is genuine, and we want superhero fans to feel like they're getting a classic superhero story.

Artist Sears, who is known for his work on "Justice League Europe" and "X-O Manowar," among many others had turned much of his artistic attention toward video games and commercial art, but was lured back to comics for The Protectors.  "When you think about the statement, ‘pro athletes as superheroes’ that makes a whole lot of sense. The athleticism of the superstars in every sport is unbelievable, human beings with powers far above and beyond normal man. Every single time a pro athlete takes to the playing field he or she is ‘in it to win it’, exactly like every hero who stands up to evil,” said Sears. “We call our athletes ‘gladiators’ and ‘warriors.’ It’s not a stretch to think of them as superheroes. It’s very exciting to be involved in a project like this."

Idonije said, “First and foremost, I believe we did the story right. People from a variety of backgrounds will connect and enjoy the core elements of the amazing story of The Protectors. Also, the artwork is fantastic. We have a great team! To me, comics and sports should be a perfect union. In both worlds, we find characters we can live through, characters we love and support and with whom we connect.”

Rounding out The Protectors creative team are inker Mark Pennington, colorist Neeraj Menon and letterer Troy Peteri.

“I know the messages contained in The Protectors will really connect with people, as well as entertain them,” said Idonije. “I also hope this project will serve as an inspiration to anyone who desires to achieve something. Regardless of who you are, if you have an idea, you can achieve it.”

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