Delsante & Izaaske return to Kickstarter to give you more ‘Stray’

The duo discuss how the Kickstarter campaign is going, what to expect from the series, some news on back-ups and more.

After funding a miniseries featuring their independent superhero character in 2013, Stray co-creators Vito Delsante and Sean Izaakse returned to Kickstarter this month to raise money for an ongoing series. They reached their goal fairly quickly, which is when the real work began.

The story focuses on Rodney Weller, the former teen sidekick to the superhero known as Doberman. When his mentor is killed, Rodney returns to action after five years to solve the murder as Stray. In addition to the miniseries, Stray also appeared in Action Lab‘s Actionverse crossover series with Molly Danger and Midnight Tiger. Joining the creative team for the first arc is artist Phil Cho. As the first arc takes place in both the past and present, Cho will draw the flashback sequences while Izaakse will draw the present-day story.

Continue reading “Delsante & Izaaske return to Kickstarter to give you more ‘Stray’”

Smash Pages Q&A: Wade von Grawbadger

Over the years Wade von Grawbadger has made a name for himself by bringing out the best of whoever’s work he happens to be inking. The Eisner, Harvey and Inkwell award-winning artist/inker’s most recent work includes Batman/Superman with Robson Rocha and Astro City with Gary Chaloner. Always of note, though, is his work with Stuart Immonen. The duo have worked together on New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, All-New Captain America and Star Wars, just to name a few titles, and as von Grawbadger describes below, their tight collaboration has helped the inker become more versatile. The duo will work together again on the upcoming Empress, written by Mark Millar.

A year ago you were reintroduced to the awesomeness that is Matthew Clark. What makes his art so great?

There is a life and character to his art that is infectious to me. Many can draw a cool face, but Matthew’s have the depth of thought behind them. Subtle information about the personality is evoked that many can’t quite accomplish … and it’s cool! He also has a great graphic sense; his use of blacks really crank up the drama.

What do you most enjoy about inking the recent issue of Astro City?

Inking over Gary Chaloner was great fun, mostly because it was a challenge for me. He’s out of my usual wheelhouse, forcing me to stretch and use inking muscles I don’t often use. His characters have so much life to them. It was simply a lot of fun.

How gratifying is it to be inking Star Wars prior to the film’s release?

How do you quantify something like that? To be in the conversation when one of the more heralded films in a long time is about to hit the scene is an honor, to say the least. There are so many people getting attention for their work on Star Wars-related books right now, I can only say that I am extremely proud to be among them!

A few days ago you ran some of your work from 2009. How has your work evolved over the years?

Thanks in no small part to Stuart Immonen, I have become more versatile. He changes his approach often to fit how he sees a particular project. So if you look at Ultimate Spider-Man, Next Wave and Star Wars, you will see a strikingly different take on each. This forces me to keep up! We have long email conversations about ideas for the the take on a given project, and then it’s an evolution. I may think I know what he means but don’t, and make adjustments based on his suggestions, or I may do something slightly different that he feels fit the situation and he adjusts. Other changes have come as tools or inks change or are discontinued. It’s a never-ending battle to keep current!

Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask?

I recently did part of issue 28 of Batman/Superman over Robson Rocha that’s due out in January that was a blast. Intense detail and fun figure work. I love that sort of style and don’t get to do it that often. Check it out!

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McNamara, Hinkle slither over to Image for new edition of ‘The Rattler’

Creators Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle discuss the new edition of their crowdfunded graphic novel, coming from Image Comics in May.

Late last year Jason McNamara (The Martian Confederacy, First Moon, Continuity) and Greg Hinkle (Airboy) announced their crowdfunded horror graphic novel The Rattler had found a new home at Image Comics.

Inspired by true events from McNamara’s own life, the graphic novel will hit stores in March with a new cover and one new page. I spoke with McNamara and Hinkle about the new edition, how the Kickstarter campaign went and the potential for a sequel.

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Smash Pages: For those who don’t already know, can you share what The Rattler is about?

Jason McNamara: Ten years ago Stephen Thorn watched helplessly as Catherine, the love of his life, was kidnapped, never to be seen again. In the years since, Stephen has reinvented himself as a passionate and bitter victims rights advocate. But when Stephen receives a message that may or may not be from Catherine, he embarks on a grisly journey to be reunited with his lost love.

In a nutshell, it’s John Carpenter meets Americas Most Wanted.

Smash Pages: It’s been almost two years now since you launched the Kickstarter campaign for The Rattler. We spoke about it during the campaign, but let’s talk a little bit about what happened next. The campaign was obviously successful; how did fulfillment go? What did you learn along the way?

Greg: Jason had the campaign planned out backwards and forwards, with redundancies and contingencies. It was really something to see. By the time we finished the campaign, there was very little left for us to do aside from writing a check and uploading files to the respective printers. Jason already had the packaging and postage calculated by the time the books actually arrived.

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Jason knows exactly, but I think we got the book to our backers a couple of months ahead of schedule. It was really satisfying to connect with our backers on this book. Connecting directly to the people willing to give our story a chance was amazing.

Jason: What I hadn’t anticipated was how emotional running a Kickstarter would be. We were asking people to assign a perceived value to our work. To see it play out in real time with all the analytical tools inspired a lot of ups and downs. The middle part of the campaign, where nothing happens, was especially depressing.

I understand why campaigns offer more stretch goals, sometimes more than they can deliver, to keep excitement going. But I refused to introduce any goals that could delay fulfillment. Our campaign was very cut and dry, which is what I thought a comic book Kickstarter needed to be at that time.

Smash Pages: Would you do a Kickstarter again, if you had the right project?

Greg: I won’t rule anything out, but I’d probably only do something like this again with Jason. I like the idea of having an entire project ready before funding it, in order to get it in the hands of backers as soon as possible. But completing an entire story before even launching a campaign has the potential to stress out a relationship. If Jason and I hadn’t already known each other I don’t imagine it would’ve turned out the way it did.

Jason: I would do another one because I really valued the interactions I had with backers. I also love project managing and solving production problems, I geek out on that stuff. But to do another Kickstarter, the way I want to do it, to create the experience I want backers to have, would take at least a year of planning and pre-production before we launched. And it would all have to be self financed on the gamble that it would be worth it in the end. That’s a lot of external pressure to put on a writer/artist partnership.

Smash Pages: How did the deal with Image come about?

Jason: Within two months of the Kickstarting concluding we were completely sold out of copies and demand was increasing. So, it was clear we needed someone else to pick up the book and introduce it to a larger audience. Image was our first choice for obvious reasons; we created the book completely on our own, just the two of us and we were adamant about retaining 100 percent ownership.

After completing The Rattler Greg immediately jumped onto Airboy with the great James Robinson. Not a bad career trajectory right? Anyway, Greg enjoyed his relationship with image enough to put The Rattler in front of them and a deal was struck. We asked Joel Enos to join us as an editor and he’s been critical in preparing the new edition for print.

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Smash Pages: What will be different about the Image release compared to the Kickstarter edition?

Greg: There’s a new cover, and I got to go back and draw a deleted page that didn’t make the original cut, which was a blast. It’d been more than a few months since I’d finished The Rattler, so it was cool getting to revisit some familiar faces with more practice under my belt.

Jason: I made some small dialogue tweaks, nothing major.

Smash Pages: Jason, you mentioned plans for a sequel in a recent message to your Kickstarter backers. Do you already have a story mapped out, and if so, can you tell us in broad terms what it might look like?

Jason: Working with Greg inspired me to keep writing and creating characters for this world (editor Joel Enos and I call it the Hinkle-Verse). The next book in the series is a period piece taking place in 1993 and follows Emma, a 15 year old prodigy with a unique medical condition who becomes the target of a serial killer. Like The Rattler it has a lot of twists and turns and deals with some pretty dark situations but it will be more of a detective story. It will connect with, and compliment, The Rattler but will also be its own thing. Similar to how Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul co-exist.

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Smash Pages: For one of the prize tiers for the Kickstarter, you offered fans the chance to have dinner at your house, Jason. How did that go?

Jason: It was kind of a strange actually. We confirmed a date, sent a reminder and cooked up a feast. But they never showed up.

I hope they’re okay.

The Rattler arrives in March from Image Comics. Check out the cover for the new edition below:

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Smash Pages Q&A: Beukes and Halvorsen on Vertigo’s ‘Survivors’ Club’

In Survivors’ Club, writers Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen and artist Ryan Kelly set up a very modern story about the child protagonists of 1980s horror movies. It begins with a meeting of six people, each of whom had a horrific experience in 1987. Chenzira, who called the group together, played a video game that created a catastrophe and is finding evidence that the game is making a comeback. This is the first clue that the dark forces of the past are returning to the present, and the six main characters of this book, the only survivors of the horrors of 1987, are being drawn together not just to solve the mysteries of their past but also to face a new threat in the present day.

strBrigid Alverson: You have described Survivors’ Club as sort of a “what happened next” to the protagonists of the great horror films of the 1980s. How did you decide which tropes and characters to use, and how did you refine them to make them work together into a unified story?

Halvorsen: We wanted each character to be representative of a genre of horror: slasher, J-horror, haunted house, creepy neighbor, cursed artefact, gates of hell. You don’t often get to see these interacting, like, Freddy vs Exorcist, for example. That’s what interested us, how we could play around with this.

Beukes: I think we’re both big fans of the mash-up and I’m known for genre-blending in my novels. It makes things fresh and interesting and subversive. We looked at what films we loved and how we could match up those different genres with our characters; what would suit them, what would be hideously uncomfortable for them.

Given that horror films are your biggest influence here, what parts of the story are pure Lauren and Dale—what makes it unique to you as a creative team?

Halvorsen: We both share a love of horror films. Lauren is more of a horror connoisseur, but I’ll watch anything. Part of what I bring to the storytelling is my encyclopedic bad film appreciation, throwing in suggestions from Basket Case or EvilSpeak.

Beukes: I don’t think you can separate us out. Our brains have commingled into one evil story-telling sentience. We riff off each other, the collaboration becomes play. We act out dialogue or stage block action. Dale says I’m the dialogue queen, but I can tell you that the wittiest and punniest lines are all him. I sometimes have to rein him in.

I’ve really been enjoying the collaboration and the way our minds work together. We’re always leveling up. It’s very different to the loneliness of solo novel writing.

Being from South Africa (although I know you have traveled to the U.S.), how did you perceive these films at the time you were first watching them, and how do you see them now? Did you think of them as foreign films or just part of the mass culture? How do you think the fact that you are viewing them in South Africa changes your point of view—are there particular things that resonate with your own world view?

Beukes: In pop-culture, we all grow up American. (Especially if you’ve been deprived of British television as a kid because of the UK’s sanctions against the apartheid government). We both have a very low tolerance for torture porn because the reality of violence in South Africa is so horrific, especially against women, those films demean what real people go through.

Halvorsen: Horror films are our generation’s fairytales. We all grew up with them, we all know those monsters. The good horror films are social commentary, like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Beukes: Oh yes! A lot of good horror is really about the monster within.

Why is Vertigo the right home for this comic? How do you think it fits with their line?

Beukes: [Vertigo editor in chief] Shelly Bond is a genius. She’s an amazing editor who has pushed for me to develop my own original title at Vertigo for years. But she also sees to the heart of the work, she knows how to push the story further and deeper, in the writing and the art. Vertigo has published some of my favorite adult comics and many of my favorite creators including Ed Brubaker, Paul Pope, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, G Willow Wilson, David Lapham, Pia Guerra, Tara McPherson, came up through Vertigo.

Halvorsen: We’re like the vampires who needed to be invited in by the publisher who saw the potential in our story. Hopefully they Let The Right One In.

Once you pitched the concept to Vertigo, how did Shelly Bond (or any other editor) help you refine it? Did you just go ahead on your own, or did they have any suggestions or guidance for you?

Beukes: Oh, Shelly had suggestions. So did our associate editor, Rowena Yow. 96% of the time, they’re absolutely right. The other 4% it’s because we haven’t explained our long game properly and they come round to why we’re doing a particular thing this way. We regularly have hour long Skype chats and they both push the story. We’re relative rookies (I’ve written one six issue comic arc before, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom with Inaki Miranda) so their experience in the best ways how to tell the story are invaluable.

Halvorsen: They’re our first readers and they have a lot of questions that we take seriously.

Your writing process is very collaborative. What unique attributes do each of you bring to the team—does one of you sort of specialize in humor, action, snappy comebacks, creepy details?

Beukes: We’re both witty but Dale dials it up to eleven. Sometimes I have to reach in and dial him right back. The creep factor comes from both of us. What’s exciting is when we elaborate on each other’s ideas. “Yes! That’s so horrible and awful and twisted and what if we also did this?” Dale’s more visual so he thinks about what the panel looks like to better brief Ryan Kelly, our amazing artist, so we don’t drive him to distraction with conflicting actions or impossible camera angles. Dale does a crazy amount of research and brings all these weird articles or true crime podcasts to the table that we can feed into the story. He’s also a horror trope master. He’ll say things like “We need to bring in the prophet of doom”. Not forgetting that he’s the one who came up with the concept in the first place.

Halvorsen: We’re good at all of those things, dark humor, creepy details, snappy comebacks. I’m good at plotting. Lauren is the alien queen of dialogue and is an actual award-winning novelist, which means that words are her power. I’m learning a lot working with her.

Smash Pages Q&A: Neil Kleid on ‘King and Canvas’

Kings and Canvas is a monthly, ongoing digital comic by Neil Kleid, Jake Allen and Frank Reynoso, published by Monkeybrain Comics and released via Comixology. It explores the lengths a man will go to find purpose after liberty and career have passed him by. I was pleased to interview Kleid.

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Tim O’Shea: What were the vital criteria were there for assembling the creative team?

Neil Kleid: Generally, when partnering with an artist, I like to make sure of three things: 1) That the artist is open to a collaborative partnership which allows for push and pull from both sides of the creative table. 2) That the artist is passionate about the material to not only invest his or her time and energy into the work, but also feel strongly enough about it to embellish on it, add his or her own signature touches, and 3) Finally, that my partner on the piece is dedicated, communicative, open and honest enough to tell me when something needs to be rewritten or whether or not the process is breaking down. Obviously fast, good, talented and savvy all help — but those three points always serve as the mark for whether or not the team can and will survive.

It’s funny, with KaC, I actually went through two creative partners before Jake and Frank. The series has been in the works for over three years now, ever since I began banging out a series bible in the wee hours of the night. There were starts and then stops, and though at the time I feel downhearted when a partnership fell apart, it helps now to know it was all leading to the right team. Jake’s linework has evolved in leaps and bounds since we collaborated together on BROWNSVILLE, our first graphic novel for NBM Publishing. Back then we were both learning what it meant to simply make comics. Diving into Mammoth’s world, allowing your eyes to roam over the landscape and linger on backgrounds and character details, it’s clear that this is the work of a mature, educated illustrator who has spent the intervening years honing his craft and process. And Frank, friend of a mutual friend, came along at the right time when we had lost a colorist and were casting about for the correct palette that would bring life to the bleak, gray wastes of Gaol and then the vast, lush, verdant environs of the Training Grounds. I couldn’t be happier and more privileged than I am to be working with them both…I imagine one day they’ll both be too famous for the likes of a young, humble writer from New Jersey.

Would you say Mammoth and Nik have a buddy picture vibe?

Oh, sure. There are elements from Bing and Bob (“on the road to Queensbury”) and more importantly, classic trainer-fighter matchups most vividly brought into focus by Balboa and Creed… or maybe more specifically if you’re referring to Stallone’s filmography, because of the age gap, Lincoln and Michael Hawk. But then, you can get that vibe from a great number of fantasy or action stories with dueling personalities tossed at some point within an epic journey or adventure. Hell, you’ve got Star Wars’ Han and Luke (and Leia and Chewie, et al), or Game of Thrones’ Brienne and Podrick (or Jon and Sam, or Tyrion and Varys, or…). Of course the Fellowship of the Ring could be the most classical of buddy pictures (Sam! Frodo! Sam! Frodo!) and if you hearken even further back, good ol’ Moses and Aaron, wandering in the desert for forty years with thousands and thousands of their closest, biblical buddies. Look, you get two disparate individuals whose fates have been joined together (Riggs and Murtaugh, Cagney and Lacey, Fred and Barney, so on and so forth…you’re gonna get that buddy vibe at some point.

But let’s not forget—Mammoth and Nik are only the first of our boon traveling companions we meet on the road to Queensbury (or wherever they should finally, inevitably alight). Issue #2 introduced us to Milla, our would-be polar bear boxer from the North, and I daresay even more stalwart associates will join the cast as we wind down the first arc of our series. When we say “buddy picture,” it suggests give and take, comedy and a bit of friction. There’ll be plenty of that to spare, but also a great deal of emotional turmoil and perhaps a tragedy or two. Here’s looking forward to walking down that road together.

When you take characters to a new town, do you give a glimpse into your world building process?

Generally, we start with the idea — whether it’s larger or small, a hook or place or line or in this case, a visual that inspires. For Kings and Canvas, the world began with an image. Someone, somewhere on our wonderful world wide web tossed out two subjects in tangential relation to one another: “Frank Miller” and “dinosaur.” I believe it was in discussion of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the graphic novel in which the Atom fights a dinosaur. Those two phrases made me think of “Frank Miller’s Dinosaur,” as a story concept which immediately put me in in the mind of an aging brawler, past his prime, bandaged and bruised with hands like cinderblocks and lonely, wounded eyes. That was my first-ever picture of Mammoth, the lead character in Kings and Canvas, and simply typing out a character description led to my winding an entire world and history around his desperate, despairing, yet-to-be-molded form.

After the character, I needed a reason for him to exist. So I started fashioning the place that he was —a hole, a cell (physical or metaphysical) from which he needed to be released, and started painting outward. The room outside his cell. Then the town, then the nation. I knew I wanted it to be in some version of America—having been influenced at the time of the bible’s creation by the landscape of Millar’s Old Man Logan —and so I grabbed a map and started naming towns and charting the path Mammoth might take once he escaped that dreary little cell…and more importantly, the reason for why he would take that path. And were there other paths, paths with which Mammoth’s might cross? And if so, why? Did it have anything to do with the vast history I was spinning for my beloved, broken lead character? And what did the world look like ten years ago? Twenty? Thirty? What would it look like in fifteen?

The bible became a tool I’ve adopted on other projects since finalizing the one for Kings and Canvas, because it serves as a map to not only place and location, but also time and space. It allows me to flesh out social norms, currency, etiquette for a particular town or watchtown on the edge of the Western Kingdoms, for example. The bible charts ties between every settlement in the Training Grounds, and connects the dots from one point of Mammoth’s journey to the next…stretching back to the cell from which he’d escaped at the beginning, even farther than that—ten years, twenty, thirty…the steps and dots that led him to the cell in the first place.

A proper history—a fleshed out map—is key to understanding where your characters stand, where they’ve been, where they might be going. I’d get lost without it, especially on a journey of such scale. And my partners—Jake and Frank— help ground me to where I’m standing with amazing visual landmarks, intimate and culturally specific color tones and architecture (the town of Southporte in issue #2, for example, is much different than the town of Westgate mere pages later). Merging all of that—the history, the factoids, the map of culture, progress and society along with incredibly diverse and yet completely relatable illustration—helps bring a vivid, unique and exciting world to life not only for our readers, but also for the creative team as we navigate the journey at Mammoth’s side.

What do you most enjoy about being published by Chris Roberson?

Chris —and Allison—really have amazing taste. Not saying that as a brag, honestly, but merely as fact when looking at the wealth of truly incredible stories they’ve shepherded under the Monkeybrain banner. I’ll be blunt: many of the creators working with Chris are friends or tangential colleagues of mine, and each of them have produced a library of work that I love, consume and respect. That includes Chris, by the way, a writer and creator whom I’ve followed even before Monkeybrain came into being.

I always knew that I wanted to do something with Monkeybrain after digging through some of the titles in their stable…and because I knew I wanted to do something specific for a digital audience. But I didn’t want to self-publish—I’d been down that road before and quite loathed the idea of taking that path again. Working with Monkeybrain seemed like an ideal scenario: fit a project I was passionate about into a family of books and creators I admired, generally be able to chart my own course and focus on making the story sing while not having to worry about the distribution, and get to work with and know publishers I dug and partner with them on a project that not only I, but they felt extremely passionate. I couldn’t be prouder to put Kings and Canvas out under the Monkeybrain label. I respect what Chris and Allison have done with the company, and hope to continue providing more great issues for them to publish in the future.

In what ways have you most improved as a storyteller in the past 3 years?

Rewriting, trust and consuming more than my usual fare.

The first is obvious: your first draft is never your best. I developed a method in which I allowed myself time to backtrack before driving forward—write 4 pages one night, and on the second night I polished those pages before writing 4 more. Then the third night I polish pages 1-8 and then write 9-12. And so on. Overlap, backtrack, tighten and polish. Your first instinct might not be your best. Edit the fat, trim the superfluous dialogue. Rewrite until it’s ready — even if the deadline looms. Rewrite all the way until it has to get delivered.

Trust. So, I realized this last year and a half that my LARGEST fault when working with a collaborator was having the tendency to give too many notes. I’m talking about art and attempting to micro-manage an artist/partner to the point where I was focused on getting a specific picture or angle in my head down there on the paper. I didn’t trust my partner enough to let them get their vision on the page—I wanted what was in my panel descriptions (and in my head) down there on paper. I know I lost one collaborator on Kings and Canvas that way, and I nearly lost Jake as well. The email I got from Jake, explaining that the pages he was working on would be his last, really gave me a wake up call and made me realize that I needed to let go of the red pen. And I couldn’t be happier (and, I hope, Jake feels the same way). We have our own great process now — I writer the script, doing my best to get as much character/location description into the document without obsessing about angles and layout. Then we discuss the script on the phone, walking through it together to make sure we’re on the same page. Jake sends thumbnail layouts which I review and discuss with him, as well. Then he takes it to pencils and inks, which are usually stellar. I’ve learned the last two years really to let my partner breathe. And, well, you can see the results, right?

Finally, consuming more than my usual fare. Books I would have never read—many non-fiction, mostly in worlds through which I’d never traveled. Movies, comics, music, television…I exposed myself to challenging topics, interesting opinions and often, somewhat tedious research and legwork designed to expand my horizons. Writers write, but writers also read. And they experience — if you don’t have the funds to travel, then travel inside a book to a land you’ve never known. Politics not your thing? Force yourself to make sense of the front page news. Study up on what exactly happened to Lehman Brothers in 2008—not the sound bytes, but the economics involved. Writers read, but just as the greatest challenge is to write something out of your comfort zone, so too must writers consume. Because only then do you learn and grow…and that’s what I’ve been doing the last few years.

What characters if any grew beyond their original scope because you saw untapped potential?

The character of Argos Dane, who appears in issue #2 for the first time, went from being a kind of tall tale character to someone who could be a fan favorite should the series skyrocket in popularity. He was really a one-note character who served a specific purpose but as Jake, Frank and I started fleshing out the series we all kind of took a shine to him…and I realized how much more he had to offer to Mammoth’s past and future. If we compared this to Rocky, Argos might be Mammoth’s Apollo Creed. Or more to the point, if Mammoth were my Ned Stark, Argos might be his Robert Baratheon. Loud, boisterous, coarse…but wise, loyal and takes no bullshit, if you please.

The other character that surprised me was that of Milla, our polar bear apprentice boxer from the North. I had originally plotted other students for Mammoth to train on his road into the West…but I knew we were heading toward a specific direction by the end of the first arc, and the idea of a boxing polar bear was a notion that had survived from the bible’s very first paragraph—the pitch document. What I didn’t know was how much I really wanted to bring that concept forward, to diversify Mammoth’s world and make it plain as day that this journey would be something special…and that we might see it through a few different eyes. Mammoth’s, tired and jaded and weary; Nik’s, idealistic, spunky and youthful; and Milla’s…wary, more unsure of herself than anyone else in the band of would-be champions. There’s a reason that MIlla wants to become a boxer, and a reason she’s so out of her element—she’s a polar bear traveling and living in what is essentially the American south, a mite warmer than a locale she is used to. All of that will open up and get explored in our second arc, sure, but as I started adding her story to the original I realized that her relationships with the others—Mammoth and, more specifically, Nik—gave me an entirely new view as to what she could not only offer the trajectory of the story, but also the growth of the character with whom she would study, fight and travel. I’m intrigued by how much more I’ll learn about Milla as we head further down Mammoth’s path. For now, though, I’m pretty excited by the notes I’ve taken along the way

Anything we neglected to discuss?

Kings and Canvas is a monthly, ongoing digital comic by myself Jake Allen and Frank Reynoso, published by Monkeybrain Comics and released via Comixology. It explores the lengths a man will go to find purpose after liberty and career have passed him by. Punching his way out of prison, Mammoth journeys across a changed frontier in which honor is gained not by using weapons but rather fists and wits, to dethrone an unjust monarch and win back both title and family stolen from him years before. “Game of Thrones meets Rocky Balboa,” but with sea dwarves, rhinoceros-mounted kings, boxing polar bears and a healthy dose of revenge, Kings and Canvas journeys across the frontier of a changed America in which honor is gained not by using guns or swords. but rather fist, wits and the courage to change.

The comics can be purchased here (issues #0-2 are currently for sale. Issue #3 comes out on January 13th, 2016):
http://www.comixology.com/Kings-and-Canvas/comics-series/54355

We’re on Tumblr and Twitter:
http://kingsandcanvas.tumblr.com/
https://twitter.com/kingsandcanvas

Smash Pages Q&A: Peter Milligan on ‘The New Romancer’

Last week saw the release of the first issue for Peter Milligan’s latest Vertigo project, The New Romancer. Fired from a cushy job in Silicon Valley, Lexy becomes a coder for New Romancer, an Internet-dating app that’s seen better days. To create fake profiles, she plunders characteristics from history’s most notorious lovers. Using little-known writings by Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, Lexy pushes the boundaries of coding and accidentally unleashes history’s greatest lover: Lord Byron. Online dating meets courtly love in this paranormal rom-com by Vertigo veteran writer Peter Milligan and rising art-star Brett Parson. Milligan made some time for a Q&A.

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Tim O’Shea: The use of Ada Lovelace seems like such an inspired choice how did you arrive at that character in particular?

Peter Millgan: I’ve always been fascinated by Ada Lovelace: the fact that father (Byron) and daughter (Ada) were so stellar in their fields. On the face of it their disciplines – poetry and mathematics/computer programming – seem poles apart but maybe there is a kind of unexpected connection: Byron used a number of poetic forms, often Spenserian stanzas of 8 lines in iambic pentameter, and one iambic hexameter. In other words numbers and patterns were at the centre of his work. And Ada Lovelace‘s programming breakthroughs surely required a kind of remarkable creative genius. So perhaps, though ostensibly very different, this father and daughter did share some important traits. I was also fascinated by the fact they Byron and Ada never met as adults. That distance – and the longing it occasionally caused in Byron – seemed a telling metaphor for Lexy’s own longing for Byron, who was separated by the greater – or so you would think – distance of time itself. Byron was proud of Ada but never – for a whole series of reasons – conspired to meet her. In NEW ROMANCER we put that right and poet and computer genius, father and daughter DO meet.

Did you ever consider anyone other than Lord Byron for this story?

Byron was always at the heart of this story. A few years back I was working up an idea called BYRON IS DEAD. That never progressed beyond some first pages and ideas but I’ve always been intrigued by him and his story potential. NEW ROMANCER was born out of the memory of that earlier unfinished germ of an idea and several e-meetings with editor Shelly Bond. Of course, the moment I saw Brett Parson’s drawings of Byron I knew our hero could never have been anyone but that complex compelling romantic poet.

How important was it creatively for you that this be a 12 issue maxi series?

It’s a six part series to begin with. I like this. I think some fine Vertigo series and ideas have first expressed themselves in this length. It gives you the room to establish a new and possible outlandish idea and see if it works in the real world.

What makes Lexy such an enriching character to tackle?

She is both an enriching and a difficult character to tackle: I’m neither 23, female, American nor a loveable computer nerd. But that’s what made her so interesting for me. She is also at once an incredibly modern young woman, working on programs for a computer dating site, but also something of an outsidera throwback almost, being such a romantic and obsessing about long dead poets. She had a strange upbringing – which we find out about in the story – which goes a long way to explaining why she is the way she is.

How much did you research Silicon Valley for the story?

Enough so I felt fairly comfortable. I read, and I watched some documentaries and spoke to someone who uses the same hairdresser as I do – Jimmy Memphis! – who has worked there. Luckily I’d already immersed myself in quite a bit of Byron before I started writing this. But I had to ask around about the whole internet dating, Tinder thing. Ashley Madison has been quite in the news and that’s been a useful insight. This is a new world and it’s probably the future.

What elements of Brett Parson’s art has you most enthusiastic.

So much of it. First, his art has that almost indefinable thing: charm. A lot of people who go for charm just get saccharine and self-consciously cute, which I hate. Brett is way beyond that. He can really get across a sense of character and humour, but he can also pull off those moments when the story veers towards the more twisted or dark. You get the idea: I think he’s great.

Smash Pages Q&A: Hardman & Bechko on ‘Invisible Republic’

irThis interview, as always with Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko (this time about Invisible Republic) has several gems of insight. In this Hardman notes “I want to point out how lucky we are at this point in time that the comic book industry is a place where we can tell a long form story like Invisible Republic that’s aimed at adults. That’s no small thing.”

Tim O’Shea: First off, how early in the development of the story did you realize that was easiest to mark the passage of time by making Maia’s hair red?

Gabriel Hardman: I’m always looking for simple visual signifiers like that because the content of the story we’re trying to tell is fairly complex. At least it’s heavily serialized and there’s a lot for readers to keep up with. A character having red hair in the past, then gray hair 40 years later, is money in the bank for clarity.

What were the other biggest challenges when denoting the passage of time in this time-sensitive story?

Corinna Sara Bechko: The most apparent challenge is making certain that both time lines look distinct enough for the reader to immediately tell them apart. But there’s another side to this that visuals can’t help with at all. I’m referring to the internal logic of the story, and making certain that both timelines match up when they refer to the same event, or when one event informs another. That’s an aspect that we’ve been meticulous about crafting, even though it gets more complex the further we get into the narrative. I’ve read about authors who devote whole rooms of their house to drawing out timelines on the walls for complicated stories, but I never quite believed it. Well, I’m starting to think we should do the same!

Hardman: Agreed. The relatively simple part is distinguishing the time periods visually. Keeping the content straight is the massive undertaking.

How critical was Jordan Boyd’s coloring in terms of the success of the story?

Bechko: Jordan shoulders a tremendous burden in terms of the storytelling in this book since his colors are the most immediate way that readers can tell the two timelines apart. It was immensely important to us that we work with a colorist who understood this, and who really “got” the mood we were going for.

I cannot praise Dylan Todd’s overall design sense on this book enough. What kind of instructions did Gabriel and Corinna give Dylan?

Hardman: It was actually a very painless process. Dylan had designed the print collection for my solo book KINSKI so when he came onboard for IR, there was already a relationship there. I gave him some references for the kind of thing we were looking for in the design of the supplementary pages and logo and he nailed it with few revisions. I like it what creative work goes easily.

Which supporting characters have exceeded your initial expectations?

Bechko: Definitely Woronov, the female reporter in the present. She wasn’t going to have a large role at first, but she just insisted on it. And Henry’s role has become a lot more important as we’ve scripted the second arc. It’s always interesting when characters go places you don’t expect.

Hardman: Woronov is definitely a favorite character to write. And it will be fun to show that Henry isn’t just Maia’s henchman as we move forward.

With an iconic character like McBride how hard was it write him in a manner that gave him depth versus the caricature of merely a charismatic leader?

Bechko: It’s almost a cliché to say that everyone is the hero of their own story, but Arthur McBride definitely things of himself in that way. As long as we remember that, it’s not hard to make sure that he’s got some dimension to him.

Hardman: Also, we are strictly operating under the idea that characters are defined by their actions. If there are conflicts and contradictions in Arthur’s behavior, that’s how he keeps from becoming a cliché. But at that, Arthur isn’t the main character, Maia is. She’s the one we have to worry about the most.

What was the key to getting the right voice for Croger Babb?

Bechko: I think we’ve all met people like Croger. He means well, most of the time, but he’s a bit myopic about certain subjects. He’s kind of an amalgam of several people, and we try to keep in mind what an actual person in his position would care about and do. He’s not a super hero, he’s just a really stubborn guy with a bit of an overblown sense of his own importance.

Hardman: There is one specific person that Babb is based on but I’m not saying who.

Gabriel, I love your use of white space to let some of the panel layouts breath. Can you share your thoughts on that front.

Hardman: In part, the lack of panel boarders are one of the simple ways we define the pages set in the present. It gives the impression of more white on the page. But more broadly, I tend to use a lot of texture and detail so you need some negative space so the art doesn’t become busy and overwhelming.

Anything we should discuss that I neglected?

Bechko: I want to take a moment to point out the fauna and flora of Avalon. A lot of this will become important later, but so far it’s been a bit in the background. Even so, Gabriel is designing some really cool creatures. We’ll learn a lot more soon about Jo the “dog,” for instance.

Hardman: I want to point out how lucky we are at this point in time that the comic book industry is a place where we can tell a long form story like Invisible Republic that’s aimed at adults. That’s no small thing.

Thanks for giving us this chance to chat about our book, Tim!

Smash Pages Q&A: Tim O’Shea on Dealing with Depression

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Every life has its challenges, but few people are as aware of them as our SmashPages contributor Tim O’Shea. Tim was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, and he has been chronicling his treatment and recovery for friends and family on Facebook. Overlaid on that, however, is his struggle with depression–depression that often manifests itself as anger.

After Tim’s cancer diagnosis, he asked me to interview him. I was honored. We had several lengthy phone conversations, out of which came the interview we posted earlier. But there was one question I asked that unleashed a flood of reminiscence and reflection about Tim’s depression and the effect it has had on his life. Because Tim has been so brutally honest about this experience, I felt this was important to post on its own. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that answer.

What would you say were the big turning points in your life so far?

The first one happened before I was born, when my 14-year-old brother died 10 days before I was born. The next was when I started realizing in my teen years that my mom and my dad loved each other but it was not a happy love and I never got love from them. There were 7-10 surrogate families at my church who would support me and support me to this day, and my sister who is 10 years older than me

Realizing, in 2004, that anger management was a major problem for me and trying to get help for it to save my marriage, only to realize my marriage could not be saved for other reasons. I actually went to anger management counseling sessions that were court ordered by everyone who was in attendance except one person—me. I went voluntarily, and every other person in that class said “What the fuck are you doing here?” One guy was in anger management because he had thrown a bowl of Spaghetti-Os on his sister while she was driving. Another guy at Blockbuster been fired—someone said “How is it going buddy?” and he cold cocked them. They were probation violators who could not get a job. I had no reason to be there other than I loved my son and wanted to get better.

The first lesson I learned is you should catalog the moments when you realize you are about to get angry. Every time it was because I had unrealistic expectations. Say you are in traffic and you let the person in front of you go as a courtesy. Do you have an expectation that they might wave “Thank you” to you, or do you not care? I always expected them to wave, and when they did not wave I would get angry. So I set myself up for disappointment and I got angry.

Years ago I was working at my first job with a magazine called National Real Estate Investor. I was supposed to have a day off from work, as was another co-worker of mine. There wasn’t a problem. All of a sudden my boss said “M can get off but you can’t.” Rather than say “Can we work this out?” or somehow make it clear that I really needed to get off, I walked out of the cube and–I was in a cube farm with 3 other co-workers and there was a spare chair–I literally smashed the chair against the cube wall. Didn’t break it, just smashed it, walked out, came back 10 minutes later and my boss said “You can have the day off now.” And at that moment I was proud as hell that I was able to do that, never realizing the chilling effect I had on the entire floor and that woman, not realizing that woman from then on probably felt physically threatened by me, even though I had never physically threatened her. I had threatened the chair, but it was clear to everybody that the chair was intended to be her. It took me decades to realize that.

My son and my wife gave me a gift that I fully accepted two weeks ago when they finally got me to hear that yes, you are in incredibly angry person and without medication you cannot manage the depression that manifests itself as anger, but no matter what, every day and in every action that you overreact, there is never a doubt that you will come back to the center and you will be the father or the husband that you needed to be. And the fact that my son and my wife combined to let me hear that for the first time means that for the rest of my life I have a confidence that I had not had before two weeks ago.

Everybody in the world intellectually intimidated me. I felt inferior to every single person I meet. I no longer feel that, but I did then. I now feel I am an equal or at least somebody that you can have a conversation that will be of substance, and I have never had that before two weeks ago. That is a gift I will have for the rest of my life, and I hope it is a long life.

Smash Pages Q&A: Alex Robinson on Top Shelf’s ‘Our Expanding Universe’

cvrThis week marks the release of Alex Robinson’s Our Expanding Universe. The master cartoonist behind Box Office Poison, Tricked, and Too Cool to Be Forgottenis back! Our Expanding Universe, the new graphic novel from Alex Robinson, is available now. Click here for a preview by Top Shelf, to mark the release I interviewed him.

Tim O’Shea: Box Office Poison is a classic; that being said do you ever tire of people measuring your work against BOP.

Alex Robinson: I’ve come to accept the fact that if anything is going to be on my tombstone it will be that book. Of course it’s a mixed bag having your oldest work be the one people are most familiar with but I’m going with the more positive interpretation that I’m fortunate that something I created stuck a chord with readers.

In many ways it feels like Box Office Poison was done by a different guy, which, in a way, it was since it’s been 15 years since I completed it. When I look at it now one thing I appreciate is my enthusiasm. It was like I said “I finally got a comic book of my very own and this might be my only shot at it so I’m going to squeeze in as much stuff and try as many storytelling tricks as I can.” I’m amazed at the ambitiousness of it but I guess that’s the nature of being young.

What inspired the development of Our Expanding Universe?

The new book is about three guys and how various adult concerns–whether to have children, being in long term relationships (or being an adult who is very much not in a relationship), etc–affect their friendship. It’s not autobiography but it’s definitely inspired by events in my own life, much in the same way Box Office Poison was inspired by stuff I was going through when I was in my 20s.

Prior to this I’d been working on a few projects that, for various reasons, didn’t work out so my confidence was a little rattled. I was really wrestling with what to do next–I even briefly entertained the idea of putting comics aside and writing a proper novel–when the story pretty much came to me fully formed. I remember because I was walking my dog and rushed home to write down the ideas before they disappeared into the ether.

Would you say dialogue is your greatest storytelling asset or is it something else?

It’s definitely one of the stronger tools in my box of comics tricks. I always say I think of myself as a writer who draws, as opposed to an artist who writes and characterization tends to drive the story (as it does in real life, I think). It’s something I’ve really been struggling with because the stuff I like to write–relationships, the give and take of conversation and so on–isn’t neccessarily the stuff I like to draw. If I had my druthers I’d be drawing stuff like my Lower Regions book: pretty lady barbarian fighting monsters, but when I’ve tried writing fantasy stories it’s never worked.

There are definitely some sections of the new book where I tried to accommodate both halves of my brain. I’m toying with the idea of radically our expanchanging my working method and going more “Marvel” style–plotting and drawing the book before I do the dialogue. We’ll see if I have the guts to go through with it or if the results are any good. Would a book not driven by dialogue still have that patented “Alex Robinson feeling?”

Who designed the great cover?

I kicked around some ideas with Chris Ross at Top Shelf. I think I gave him a crude rendering of what I had in mind and he spun it into gold. He did a great job with this and the new cover to Box Office Poison.

full uivDid you ever consider doing this book in full color?

It hadn’t really occurred to me, since I’ve always worked in black and white but you’re actually the second person to ask me that which makes me wonder if there’s been a shift in the industry. In olden times the economics made it pretty much impossible to do an indy color book but that seems to have changed. I can see I’m out of step with today’s comics industry–I still do all my books in old fashioned pen and ink on paper and I think in terms of graphic novels as opposed to the web comics the kids love. If it helps the next story I’m working on would be well-suited to color so maybe I’ll finally make the transition.

I’m not a good colorist but I do love seeing my stuff in color, particularly on a computer screen.

Seeing as you want to draw different material would you ever consider collaborating with someone else?

I’ve collaborated on short stories, usually with someone else writing and me drawing, but the idea of a more serious, long term commitment hasn’t really come up. For one thing, the money in comics is so bad that the idea of splitting what little you do get with someone becomes a practical concern. I also think I might just be too controlling and selfish to really make it viable. I think one of the big appeals of working in the comics medium, especially when I first started, was that one person really could do everything if they wanted or needed to. You could tell the story you wanted to tell and explore ideas you wanted to examine without having to run it by some boss. But who knows, if the right offer came along I would consider it.