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.

dd2w

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.

nron

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

tjo2
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.

Smash Pages Q&A: Paul Jenkins on AfterShock Comics’ ‘Replica’

replicaToday truly marks the beginning of the AfterShock Comics era as comics hit the shelves. Included in this collection is Paul Jenkins and Andy Clarke’s Replica. “Meet Trevor Carter, an Earth-born peacekeeping agent on the intergalactic hub known as The Transfer. When Trevor’s already near impossible assignment becomes a bit too much for the errant detective, he turns to the only logical ap-proach, Replication. More of a good thing can’t hurt, right? A single clone could be helpful; unfortunately the replication process doesn’t go as planned!”

Tim O’Shea: From the initial planning of the series did you always intend to have an element of comedy to it?

Paul Jenkins: Yes. I love dark humor/black comedies. I think there is an autobiographical element to everything a creator makes, and I realized in hindsight this series reflected my crazy workload these days. I wish I could  clone myself sometimes, and I know without a doubt I would hate my clone. The idea that a guy has to interact with aliens species in order to police a giant spaceship is rife with comedic possibilities, and it’s something I had wanted to build out for a long time. In fact, you can see elements of the “Buddy Cop” humor concept in the series I recently did with Boom, Fiction Squad. I love the  idea of a detective paired with someone that he cannot possibly stand – in this case, our main character’s partner is a rather dimwitted alien called Vorgas. 

In terms of the creator-owned aspect what drew you in yourself to new outfit like Aftershock vs some veteran group.

I have known Joe Pruett for many years, and in fact Joe and I had been talking about his new company long before its existence was announced. I really feel supported by everyone at Aftershock, and having been through a number of startup comic companies, i know the real key is to deliver quality books on time for a long time. Adding Mike Marts has really solidified the editorial team – he brings a wealth of contacts and experience. My own experiences here are already amazing, and since I know I am already through issue #6, i know that the series is here for the long haul, and will arrive on time every month. These are the types of details that bode well for the company’s longevity, and the lineup of creators and titles just keeps getting better and better.

clarkeFrom an artistic standpoint what made Andy Clarke a good fit on the series?

Andy is perfect. For one thing, I am guessing his experiences with 2000AD probably helped a lot. He really gets the nuances of the humor, mostly. Andy is fully engaged in terms of the creative, and so I feel like it’s Christmas every time he hands in a page. He’s a great collaborator – perfect choice for this series.

What makes Trevor (Churchill) tick and how hard was it for you to realize the core of the character’s appeal 

As I said above, this series is autobiographical in that I am so overmatched sometimes at my film studio job (plus I work with aliens). Unlike me, he’s a lovable loser. Trevor is constantly on the verge of having the entire thing just go sideways and explode, and he deals with it using humor and tenacity. Trevor keeps trying and trying, no matter what life throws at him (and usually, life throws a lot of stuff that does not smell pleasant). He’s a simple kind of guy who believes in generally being a good guy, though he is willing to bend the rules for a good cause.)

Rather than being an unlimited series it is an ongoing liberating is that for you?

Absolutely, yes. First of all, I love doing this book. Secondly, we are allowed to develop the character instead of just throwing him out there for a little bit and moving onto something else.. I haven’t been on an ongoing in years – I miss it.

As an Atlanta native my ears perked up when I learned you were gonna be teaching at the growing campus that is Kennesaw. While educating your students do you also see it as a chance to improve your creative process as well?

I think that anyone who teaches will only do it properly if they are also willing to learn. I am a sponge for knowledge – I particularly love to do research. So yes, I am learning all the time from my students.

What should we discuss that I neglected to ask about?

Why do bad things happen to good people? (A: because they deserve it).

Smash Pages Q&A: Dan Parent on ‘Kevin Keller’

KevinKeller_01-1nDan Parent is currently in the midst of stage of his long career where his hard work is reaping substantial reward. In addition to his great gains in the Archie Universe, Dan has a Kickstarter (Die Kitty Die) along with Fernando Ruiz that asks: “What happens when a longtime comic book character has come to the end of her run? You kill her! But how? That’s where the fun begins…”

Tim O’Shea: After a couple of years is it good to no longer be pigeonholed as the resident expert writing GLBT characters?

Dan Parent: Well, I don’t really mind. I mean, I do a lot of other work, but my work with Kevin Keller is probably my most important, so I’m happy to be pigeonholed there!

What are you most proud of in terms of your storytelling dynamics for the Archie Universe?

In addition to Kevin, my Archie/Valerie storyline was something I was proud of. And I’m happy that I’ve been allowed to take the Archie characters into more progressive territory than was allowed in the past.

Who do you regard as rising stars among the current roster of Archie creative talent?

Arch_K_A015nWell, Gisele Lagace is great, but she’s a rising star with her own webcomics.  And Fernando Ruiz is doing the best work of his career!

In what ways have you honed your storytelling skills in recent years?

More realistic dialogue, less slapsticky.

Am I right in thinking you take a great amount of effort in fostering a rapport with fans at cons. How critical has that been for your long-term success?

I have a great relationship with the fans at cons.  They give me a lot of insight about what they like and what they don’t like.  And they’re the people you want to listen to, because they’re the real fans and they know what they’re talking about.

Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask you about?

Hmm.. you didn’t ask me…Betty or Veronica….and of course, it’s Veronica!

 KK_Jughead=n

Smash Pages Q&A: Bruce McCorkindale on Inking & ‘The Falling Man’

tfm

What I always hope is an interview grows organically and in this case it did. I went into this interview with inker and artist Bruce McCorkindale thinking we would discuss one thing when in fact I discovered he’d been an inker for Malibu for a number of years and I launched a whole separate discussion before all is said and done. We of course got around to also discussing his upcoming graphic novel The Falling Man.

My thanks to Bruce for his time.

Tim O’Shea: How did you start inking in the first place?

Bruce McCorkindale: I pretty much knew I wanted to work in comics since age 9, so I spent a lot of time practicing. My first published work was an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Festival” for New Media Irjax’s FANTASY ILLUSTRATED way back in ’84. The editor told me that the company went out of business before it saw print, but it turns out that it squeaked through! However, I didn’t find this out ’til about 15 years later! Around the same time, I went to a lot of comic cons, and got a lot of good response to my inking samples. Thus, I focused on inks, and got my first steady work from Malibu Comics in late 80s. They kept me busy for a good 10 years or so!

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

These days, the most challenging aspect of my work is finding time and energy to focus on creator-owned works. That’s really the most satisfying aspect of comics creation, but it’s not the most profitable. So, I divide my time between doing inking work, re-creations of classic comic covers, advertising/editorial work, and try to sneak in my own work whenever I can. Aside from finding time for this work, the other challenging aspect is trying to grow and improve. I never think I’m good enough, and I think I’m right!

Has there ever been one you could not successfully finish?

I’ve always been able to finish out comics work assigned to me. In terms of my own works, there are quite a few unfinished ones. However, I’m an absurdly patient guy (probably to a fault), and never give up on the ones I believe in. I’m currently working here and there on projects that have been in the works a long time…like, a decade long!

What do you find to be the most creatively satisfying aspect of the experience.

The most satisfying aspect is when I finish a piece of work that I’m really happy about (rare) and that other people enjoy as well. Those two things often happen, but not always at the same time! I also like when I tackle something I really think I can’t handle, and pull it off. That’s a great feeling.

Who are your influences?

My biggest influences, in order of appearance, are Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Marvel comics from the 1960s-70s, and Bernie Wrightson. In the 80s, THE COMICS JOURNAL was a big influence in terms of exposing me to a lot of different creators trying to push the envelope in comics storytelling.

A lot of great folks worked with Malibu. Were there certain creators that stuck out from that era in terms of creators you inked?

My first gig with Malibu was TWILIGHT AVENGER, inking Terry Tidwell. Years later, Terry and I worked together in an illustration studio doing comic-style artwork for the editorial/advertising market, and we even did some animation work. We still keep in touch, and do freelance work together! I inked a lot of guys at Malibu – some of my favorites were Leonard Kirk, Mitch Byrd, and Gabriel Gecko (Hardman). A particularly fun job was inking a short DINOSAURS FOR HIRE story by Curt Swan. Curt’s Superman books were probably some the very first comics I ever read, so that felt very special. I met Curt at an Iowa con not long after the book came out, and he was extremely nice. He said a lot of newer guys weren’t very faithful to his pencils, and he appreciated the work I did. That meant a lot.

I am curious to learn more about in ways Bernie Wrightson influenced you. Also could you please give examples of The Comic Journal talent you found of worth.

I just fell in love with Bernie’s artwork right away. I went through a phase in the mid 70s where I was a little discouraged with mainstream comics, and Bernie’s work on SWAMP THING and in Warren magazines like CREEPY and EERIE just felt like a breath of fresh air. His illustration style was immaculate, but he also had a great sense of storytelling – a quality that I’m not sure he always gets as much credit for. THE COMICS JOURNAL exposed me to a the burgeoning indie scene that was happening in the mid-to-late 80s. That’s how I found out about people like the Hernandez bros., Daniel Clowes, and Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine.

What can you tell folks about your Original Graphic Novel, THE FALLING MAN.

For the past few years, I’ve been doing a complete re-vamp of my graphic novel THE FALLING MAN. This is a book that I wrote and illustrated, with Phil Hester doing layouts. The book has has a complicated history. Back in 1997, it was planned as a 4-issue series for Jim Valentino’s Shadowline division of Image Comics. They put out one issue, then decided they didn’t want to take a chance on the other 3. The sales were actually pretty good for a somewhat unconventional indie (around 4500, I believe), but this was also around the time when the market, in general, was having an implosion. I eventually put the entire thing together as a single graphic novel for Caliber Comics in 1999, but wasn’t happy with the work I did. Around 2012, I decided that the only things I liked from the original were the script and Phil’s layouts, so I decided to take on the daunting task of re-pencilng/inking the entire thing, and adding color. As much as I love pure black and white art, this particular project really needs color to work. It has kind of an existential WIZARD OF OZ vibe, and color is a necessary element. I’m having to fit the work in between paying gigs, but my main goal is to not rush it, and do the best work I can. I’ve put a couple feelers out about it, but I’m really not even worrying about a publisher at this point. My hope is to finish up the entire book, and then think about where it should (or could) go. I have a few other brand-new projects I’m playing with too, but I feel like I need to get THE FALLING MAN out of my system first. I’m hoping to finally have closure with it sometime next year.

While brief what was it like to work with Hester?

Actually, Phil’s another guy I’ve kept in touch with for a long time, now! We’ve done a lot of work together. Our first team-up was on a story for DC’s BLACK ORCHID ANNUAL #1. I’ve also inked him on THE WRETCH, THE NAMELESS, FOOT SOLDIERS, and FOUR LETTER WORLDS. Most recently, I inked Phil on IDW’s GODZILLA: KINGDOM OF MONSTERS. I also did the inks and colors on a number of his covers for Dynamite’s GREEN HORNET series. He’s a phenomenal artist and storyteller, and very easy to work with. We have very similar sensiibilites, and get along great.

Smash Pages Q&A: Eric Corbeyran on Delcourt-Soleil’s ‘The Call of the Stryx’

Screenshot 2015-11-13 at 6.59.54 PM - Edited

This week saw the release of The Call of the Stryx Vol. 1, which features a dash of conspiracy, action, and unknown creatures. Kevin Nivek, an ex-head of the Secret Service, and Debrah, a mysterious young agent working for a secret organization must confront horde of beings named Stryx, who have infiltrated the highest levels of government and the military.

To mark the release I was lucky enough to interview writer Eric Corbeyran.

Tim O’Shea: How early in the development of The Call of the Stryx did the creative team decide upon setting the plot in the Mojave Desert?

Eric Corbeyran: Setting The Call of the Stryx in the Mojave Desert came naturally. It was a very explicit reference to the infamous “Area 51,” airbase. We loved the idea of a setting filled with paranoia, claims of hidden UFO wreckage, and secret alien communications. Though in our story it’s not about aliens, but Stryx! To go along with the setting we’ve appropriated the mythology about “the little gray men” and UFOs to create our own mythos for the Stryx.

Were there certain characters that grew on the creative team more over the evolution of the story?

From the beginning of the project we had actually established a strict narrative path for each character and we tried not to deviate from that line. However there was one exception: Jill’s character was born from our imaginations after we had already started The Call of the Stryx when she appeared in a short story published in Pavillon Rouge (a magazine published by Delcourt). We were so excited by what we created in these few pages, while also frustrated we couldn’t tell more stories about her, that we decided to integrate Jill into The Call of the Stryx beginning in the second arc.  

Each page is jam-packed with panels, is that due to the script or more of a function of the art team?

The traditional format for European BD is very limited in volume and the release schedule is very long – by that we mean that every year we deliver a 46-page book to readers. Since the first issue (in 1997) we decided to increase the impact of our issues by giving them a greater “density” than the average BD – more panels per page, more text and richer colors. This move was really appreciated by readers who were surprised by how much we packed into each issue. I think this choice was critical to the success of the series from its inception.

In constructing a story like this, what is the key to striking the proper balance between conspiracy and action?

The conspiracy plays a big role to the mystery surrounding the entire series, from the first panel to the last. With that in mind, I think of the conspiracy in The Call of the Stryx as a kind of fog that keeps the reader from knowing the entire story at once. The action however is more like a car – it’s possible to drive fast, certainly, but we pick-up the speed only when it’s necessary. Knowing how to drive fast through the fog, we think, is what’s been the key to The Call of the Stryxs success (laughs).