Smash Pages Q&A: Fabian Rangel Jr. on ‘Blood Brothers’

The prolific writer of ‘Doc Unknown’ talks about his newest Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel with artist Javier Caba.

Fabian Rangel Jr. has been building up a strong portfolio of comics work over the last few years, both as a self publisher and for various companies. In addition to working with places like Stela and Black Mask Studios, he’s taken crowdfunding to heart, and recently kicked off his fifth campaign to fund a new graphic novel called Blood Brothers.

Rangel is working with artist Javier Caba, letterer Ryan Ferrier and editor Jim Gibbons on the new supernatural/pulp story, which features two brothers solving mysteries in a city populated by monsters from myth and fantasy. Oh, and one of the brothers is a glow-in-the-dark luchador, which was enough to win me over.

I spoke to Rangel about the project, the appeal of Kickstarter and the recently formed Two Headed Press, an imprint he helped found with Ferrier, Chris Sebela, Ed Brisson, Curt Pires and Tini Howard.

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Ray-Anthony Height and Vito Delsante reunite for the return of Midnight Tiger

Announced at the recent Long Beach Comic-Con, artist Ray-Anthony Height and writer Vito Delsante revealed that the two will be teaming up to bring back Height’s superhero creation Midnight Tiger. The character’s comic book series was initially self-published before attracting the attention of Action Lab Entertainment, resulting in the publication of three issues in 2014.

Height and Delsante previously worked together on the Actionverse mini-series, which brought together a number of Action Lab’s creator-owned superhero series into one big collaborative story, including Height’s Midnight Tiger and Delsante’s Stray.

I reached out to both creators to find out more about the upcoming return of Midnight Tiger.

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Interview | 5 Minutes with Emi Gennis

The creator talks about her SPX debut from last year, “Baseline Boulevard,” and more in an interview from last year’s show.

Emi Gennis does short comics on fascinating topics, usually quirky stories from history. I first discovered her work when I picked up her minicomic on trepanation (warning: includes graphic images of people drilling holes in their skulls) at TCAF last year. Her other work includes The Radium Girls, about women who were exposed to radium while working in a watch factory in the 1930s; and Franz Reichelt: The Flying Tailor, the story of a man who invented a parachute suit and died testing it on himself. The latter is one of Gennis’s comic adaptations of stories from Wikipedia’s list of unusual deaths.

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Interview | Sophia Foster-Dimino

Multiple Ignatz Award winner Sophia Foster-Dimino says Small Press Expo is “like a summer camp for cartoonists.”

With Small Press Expo just over a month away, I thought it would be a good time to post this interview, which was done at last year’s SPX.

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Sophia Foster-Dimino was one-third of the reason that women creators swept the 2015 Ignatz Awards: She won three out of the nine awards, taking the Outstanding Series award for Sex Fantasy, Outstanding Minicomic for Sex Fantasy #4, and the Promising New Talent Award. I spoke to her on the exhibit floor the day after the Harveys.

Can you tell us a bit about Sex Fantasy?

Sex Fantasy is a series that I have been doing for about two years now. They are small format zines, 4 x 4 inches. The first three were kind of like a stream of consciousness explanation of different ideas, and then the next three, 4 through 6, have been more structured narratives. I’m trying to explore things in this series that I wouldn’t want to tackle in a larger book. Like kind of a safer space to play around with new ideas in a small format.

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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.

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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

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