-Written by Kevin de Vlaming
‘Janitorial espionage’ may initially strike you as an odd niche to write a comic about.
I mean, who wants to read about lowly cleaners, when everyone knows that full-fledged spies are the proverbial meat and potatoes of the covert action world?
This is, sadly, a misconception that many individuals share. Individuals not familiar with the Intelligence Cleaner Agency (I.C.A.), and everything that it stands for. Individuals who have yet to read about the adventures of one Eben07.
This is the first in a series of profiles we’ll be doing on comic creators affiliated with the growing Fabler comic community. Mr. Burgoon, you sir are a lucky man indeed!
Now, let’s look at exactly what the role of an Assigned Cleaner Agent (A.C.A.) such as Eben07 actually entails.
The I.C.A. was founded to keep super-secret government missions from being exposed to the general public. Every time a Secret Agent is assigned to a new operation, an A.C.A. is also assigned to clean up whatever mess might be left behind and prevent any possible future complications.
Eben Burgoon’s comic Eben07 focuses primarily on chronicling the adventures of the titular I.C.A. Agent and his stealthy cohort, Ninja Dan. The comic was originally created by Eben himself, who writes the scripts for the episodic I.C.A. operations, alongside artist and long-time collaborator Dan Bethel.
“We created the characters a long time ago,” says Burgoon, “back when we were in high school. For sentimental reasons we kept them with the names that we originally gave them. It kind of gets confusing, because my name’s Eben and the main character’s name is Eben, but we’re really nothing alike. People often wonder if there’s really an Eben Burgoon or if it’s just Dan doing both roles.”
Eben, who is based in Sacramento, California, doesn’t seem to mind the confusion surrounding the comic – actually, you’d swear he enjoys it. After all, Eben and Dan did decide to build the entire Eben07 website ‘in character’, complete with dossiers about the not-so-secret government organization and a blog with postings by Eben07 himself.
“We thought it would be a lot more fun for readers to do it this way,” says Burgoon, “In terms of interviews and media stuff, we’ve decided to break our fourth wall, but in terms of fans – well, fans can email Eben07, and actually get a reply from that character. They can read his tweets.”
The story of how Burgoon and Bethel came to be producing comics about Eben07 and Ninja Dan is an interesting one itself. According to Eben, they met in a high school chemistry class when boredom with the content of the class drove them to talking and finding common ground in their interests.
“Dan drew my likeness for the first time for a band that I was in called Water Closet,” Eben says, “That was ages ago. We’re both out of college now and Dan’s working on his Master’s degree and I’m basically writing this comic and kind of getting health insurance through doing a grocery store gig.”
Eben himself has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, where he took classes on intelligence work and terrorism to explore is own interests in espionage.
“Spy stuff has always appealed to me,” says Eben, ” My Dad fed me a lot of James Bond when I was younger, so I was really into the Connery Bond films growing up. Actually, to this day, I haven’t seen Titanic because it came out the same week as Golden Eye and I boycotted it, and I stuck to that.” (he laughs)
When asked about his favorite Bond movie, Eben is hesitant to single just one out.
“You could ask me any day, and I’d probably change my mind… But usually it’s either Goldfinger or From Russia with Love. I really do like Casino Royale a lot, that was really well done. ”
Outside of spy films and the original Ian Fleming Bond novels, Eben credits Tin Tin books as being a significant influence on his work:
“…because though they aren’t really about spies, they still have that unique ‘adventure’ quality about them.”
And as for Dan’s influences?
“Dan’s background is in animation,” says Burgoon, “He was really inspired by people like Bruce Timm and I know that he really got his fingers wet drawing Jim Lee and his nineties X-Men when he was younger. He’s really found his own style over the years, but his background is definitely in that sort of stuff. That’s kind of what we try to do with Eben07, is try to make it look animated.”
It’s relevant to note that while Eben07 is, indisputably, the central protagonist in Burgoon and Bethel’s ongoing series of comics, every now and then a story pops up featuring the character of Abel – founder of the I.C.A. and Eben07’s great (insert nine more ‘great’s) grandfather. The latest Eben07 collected release, Operation: Mongoose, is one such story.
“Abel was first featured in this series we did called ‘Clean the Cleaners‘,” says Burgoon, “which takes place after Metal Gear: Solid, and as they’re running around in this jungle and losing track of everything it becomes apparent that Abel is a very over-arching character in the story we’re trying to tell.”
Operation: Mongoose, which follows Abel as he attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and (in the process of doing so) uncovers a shadow conspiracy, was inspired by a scene in one of the previous Eben07 comics.
“There’s a point in For the Love of Russia where he’s confronted by this anorexic vampire queen Vamprexia, who says ‘I haven’t seen you this rattled since Cuba’. As the writer, I always wanted to tell this story about Abel trying to assassinate Castro, and as the world’s most elite janitor, he’s just miserable at actually killing someone. Also, during the 1960’s, there was an actual Operation: Mongoose, and they did try to kill Castro in all of these really absurd ways. Some of the pictures that are in the book are based on actual C.I.A. attempts.”
Operation: Mongoose is geared to be able to bring in readers unfamiliar with Eben07, since not only does it have a neat hook, it doesn’t require a lot of knowledge about the character of Abel to jump right in. In addition, it serves to prep readers for the most recent Eben07 adventure currently being posted on eben07.com, Operation: Three Ring Bound.
That being said, Eben does admit that there is a bit of a learning curve to the Eben07 titles, and for a reader looking to get the most out of them, they would be best off reading through some of the older missions before starting on the newer ones.
Operation: Mongoose also features some new approaches to the regular art of the series, including a decision to do most of the strips in black and white to represent the nature of the story as a flashback.
“I think it turned out really great,” says Eben, “the part where Abel’s at the Abraham Lincoln assassination that Dan did all in pencil I think is also really cool. It was mostly Dan wanting to experiment with his art and wanting to really hone his inking without focusing on coloring. I think it really helped set the mood of a 1960’s covert ops mission.”
The latest Eben07 adventure, Operation: Three Ring Bound, returns the focus to Ninja Dan and Eben07 himself.
“We had talked a lot about how to present Eben07 and Ninja Dan’s backstory,” Burgoon says, “and one thing we’ve always talked about and maintained is that they went through janitor school together and there was a rivalry there. There’s that, and there’s just a lot of other stories there that we wanted to tell, and we thought, ‘what better place to set it than have these older guys go back to try and pose as high school students in a sort of 21 Jump Street homage’.”
Steadfast fans of Eben07 will notice another different element to this operation; a real focus on a villain character.
“We kind of have this bible, where we say we only write scenes where Eben07 or another main I.C.A. character is in the scene. So completely writing the villain without having them around is fun, and though it violates that rule, we’re enjoying it too much to stop yet.”