Smash Pages Q&A: Jimmy Palmiotti, Comics Advocate


For my money, Jimmy Palmiotti is one of the smartest and hardest working creators currently in comics. In this new Q&A, he and I discuss a range of ideas and projects, including updates to the PaperFilms site; the company’s new Threadless presence; Starfire; and Harley Quinn Road Trip Special #1, the latter of which goes on sale September 9.

As always you continue to make improvements to the PaperFilms site, how important is that site to maintaining a rapport with your fan base.

The PaperFilms site is our hub where we keep people up to date on our work, offer our services, offer downloadable books, limited signed prints, book conventions and sell just about anything we do produce these days. I think it’s very important for any creator to create a brand and offer their work to the public because with dozens of companies selling hundreds of books a week, a lot of product never makes it to a comic shop. Amanda Conner, for example, can only do about 12 shows a year, and at these shows she sells signed prints. It just isn’t fair or realistic that she can be everywhere, so we like to look at it as a service that people can buy her signed prints at our site and not miss out. Things like this are super important to building and then keeping a fan base happy. I’m a consumer like everyone else and buy product right from creators. I like to think with no middleman involved, I am supporting that creator and giving them some support to continue their craft.

Is there any thing better than getting to be able to feature art from Amanda, Phil Noto, Dave Johnson, Paul Mounts, and others via Threadless?

There is nothing better than seeing a lot of hard work presented on something besides a comic book.  We have a small interview about it here and I have to say that although it took some time for Bill Tortellini and I to put it together, we are both super proud how everything came out. The phone cases are top quality and the printing on them is stunning. The T-shirts and canvas art are also very cool and seeing these on people is just amazing. For Dragon Con and Baltimore, if you show me a case or a wear one of these t-shirts, I will do that person a free quick sketch. Yeah, I’m not the best artist, but I can draw a pretty good Daredevil or Jonah Hex. Threadless and the crew up there have been amazing at promoting our section, so we hope to see some sales soon.

You are advocate for good comics be it they corporate or creator-owned, you are squarely an advocate, not an apologist. Look no further than earlier this week and the FB post. “Opinion pieces are not facts. DC is doing great and as anyone that has worked as a boss in publishing, you constantly have to experiment and shake things up all the time. Harley and Starfire both came from that. Marvel Knights came from that. The press trying to make DC look weak should spend the same time pointing out how the company makes sure we are compensated for our creations in all media, how they give us a % of foreign royalties for our books and digital sales and how they include us in their PR for the projects we work on.“

Where do I start. How critical are foreign royalties for you? How important is it for you to be be plugged in terms of PR?

This post was my reaction of seeing a couple of days worth of press attacking D.C. comics, which by the way, is one of the best companies to work for in comics, and I have worked for them all. I’ve been called a company man because I stick up for them, and I totally am… but I am a company man for about 8 different companies I’ve been working for, including DC, Marvel, Image, After Shock, Boom, Dark Horse, Action Lab, Jet City, Adaptive, and including my own company Paperfilms. Anyone that knows me knows I push and talk up every company I work for and it’s part of what you get when you hire me.  I think it’s the smart and professional thing to do and will not make excuses for it.

What I hate seeing is everyone joining in on bashing a company that is constantly trying new things and really does go the extra mile with creators on a daily basis. This is one of the few companies that pay us for foreign royalties on our books, which is a big deal when you have been working for over 20 years in the business and start doing shows overseas and get to see all of your work in giant collections and collected editions. This is a decent amount of money and I am sure all the retired artists and writers that have worked for them in the past are happy to receive these well-deserved checks. The comic book business is global, with books being printed all over the world and the idea that a company limits their royalties to only English editions, or just to print is just not playing fair with their talent anymore.

No matter who I work for, I can always find faults in the company, and DC is no different, though I will say I find much less in them than others. Companies shake up their lines each year, sometimes twice a year and that is just normal business…something is not working, try something new. Marvel and DC do this all the time. Have been for a long time. Marvel Knights did it and I was part of that. I guess what I am trying to say is that in the end, everyone bashing these companies publically have to remember that as this negativity leaks out to other media , it paints a pretty crappy picture of the business, so I rather remain positive and celebrate what IS done right, promote the good work and keep the negative vibes away.

Yeah, not as interesting as being negative, and I understand that, but we are working in a time where we have some of the greatest comic artists in the world creating things of beauty each and every month. I would much rather celebrate the art form. It’s how I roll.

With Starfire #3 there were a few subtitles like “Cruise Out of Control” are those narrative elements than an home back to the 1970s DC comics, or something else?

They are a fun way of cutting scenes and locations and pushing the book further along than a regular format. It has been done in film for years and we have done it many times in the Jonah Hex series so it seemed like a fun place to do it, and a challenge with the titles working with the set up scenes. The chapter thing is very retro, but it still works well today.

In Harley Quinn 19, did you or Amanda write that great “I built Beaver Dam in my pants.” speech?

That was all me with her editing it because I might have gone totally overboard. There are times when writing parts of the book, all I really want to do is entertain Amanda and she just loves bathroom humor…so the two rants in the book are me sending a love letter to her. I read one review where they said it was too much and over the top and that also made me happy as well. We pride ourselves in going where no others would even think of going and at the same time keeping it all fun. You would think after writing over 25 of these books we would run out of this silly stuff, but far from it. Amanda’s brain is a fun house of madness and with the two of us working on this at once, it is rather insane at times. Thank God it fits the character.

What made you want to get involved with Mike Marts new After Shock. He clearly respects you and Amanda?

Mike and Joe Pruett are close friends and I have a history with both. Their partners are smart and lovely people and together, we saw an opportunity to have some fun and try something different with the character we are presenting. Mike gave me one of my first writing gigs for a major comic book company and that was my run on Deadpool many years ago at Marvel. He asked and we answered. As well, they are both big fans of Amanda’s work and that just made the entire process that much sweeter.

What can you tell about the new Harley Quinn annual road trip?

This double sized special was a fun idea Amanda and I were tossing around for a bit, putting Harley, Catwoman and Ivy together on a road trip across country. We honestly only had one problem doing this book and it was that we needed about 60 more pages to tell the entire story we wanted to tell…not a bad problem though. We get to follow these three as they party, play Truth or Dare and pick up some unlikely hitchhikers. We also learn a little about Harley’s childhood and family in the process. We custom wrote this special to be illustrated by Bret Blevins and with the help of some other guest artists like Moritat , Mike Manly and a few others, it’s a pretty fun over the top story.


Smash Pages Q&A: Chris Schweizer on ‘555 Character Drawings’


Let me be clear, writer/artist Chris Schweizer [aka schweizercomics] never does anything in a halfass manner. For proof of this look no further than his latest project, 555 Character Drawings. Or more exactly gander at the nuanced answers he provided for my interview of him about the book. Thanks to Chris for his time and thoughts.

Tim O’Shea: More impressive then the ability to get 555 characters into 91 pages, is the amount of text you produce. How many words does this clock in? Did you have to cut some text for space?

Chris Schweizer: I don’t really have to cut text because I don’t write it independently (and as such I don’t know the word count).  Though I sometimes crib from the commentary on the original blog posts should they be pieces I’d posted online, usually what I do is lay out all of the pages with the drawings, guessing as to how much space I’ll need for each write-up, then write until that space is full.

I feel the same about books as I do meals.  However tasty a dinner at a fancy restaurant may be, small portions leave me feeling like I’m not getting my money’s worth.  Rural frugality, I guess.  With art books I feel the same way.  It’s hard for me to justify spending twenty-five bucks on a fancy sketchbook that has only a handful of drawings in it, though I’ll grudgingly bite the bullet when it’s an artist that I really like.  But I assume that there are plenty of cartooning fans who feel the same way that I do, and so I want anything that I put out to be calorie-heavy.  So cramming as much as humanly possible into any sketchbook or art book is always a priority for me.  I want people to get their money’s worth.  I did the math, and I think it costs less than a nickel per drawing.

Sometimes I’d have a quarter of a page in a particular section left, so I’d just draw more characters.  That happened with The Three Musketeers.  I added three incredibly minor characters because I had page space.

So, yeah, I’d write around the images and do my best to not overdo it.  The only place where I let myself be too self-indulgent was in the Crogan Adventures section, where commentary from one page ran to another.  I just found the research info too neat not to share.  Or I wanted to show off with that info.  It’s easy to let ego take a heavy hand, and though I’ve gotten better about it I’m certainly still susceptible.

The layout is exquisite, particularly given your economic utilization of space. Nothing seems crowded. How hard was it to maintain such a balance?

Thanks, Tim.  It is a balance.  I get flummoxed by sparsity of content, but I’m also turned off when there are too many drawings collaged together with no easy way to process and take them in.  A lot of it is gut reaction to composition for each page.  As soon as something goes into a book, the individual piece on a page stops being the art and the page itself becomes the art, however many pieces are on it.  So I try to make each page appealing aesthetically.  Sometimes I’m more successful than others.

Two extremes: which character almost threw themselves on the page, it flowed out of you; and which character proved to be the most challenging to execute?

The drawings themselves almost always came quick.  Sometimes I’d be unhappy with the result, and I redraw it from scratch, and there are probably ten or twenty pieces in the book that got this treatment.  Some I hit three times.  But the drawings themselves were always done lickity-split.  I spend so much time refining designs for my books, and I wanted to tackle these straight-to-paper.  They were meant to be fun something-to-do-instead-of-comic-pages pieces, so I never labored over them, or tried not to.

But the research leading up to some would take a while.  The Zapatistas in the black history section took about a full day or more of nothing but research, because while I found plenty of photos of Afro-Mex solderas I couldn’t find any documentation about names, and what documentation I found was often erroneous upon deeper digging.  Actually, most of the black history section took a while, because I was narrowing stuff down, trying to find historical figures that fit into popular historical periods that have their own adventure genres (western, medieval, samurai, etc).  Since I’m not in Atlanta anymore I couldn’t utilize the Auburn Avenue library collections, and since I’m no longer affiliated with a college I’ve lost ready access to most online academic journals, so finding credible source material was tricky for pre-1920s black fighting women, especially; much of what’s floating around the internet stems from a single publication from the 70s that cites no primary sources.  I’m not a historian, but when I put up historical stuff (which is a pretty substantial percentage of the work) I want it to be solid and beyond reproach, especially when trying to highlight things that go at odds with the popular perception of history.

But really, everything was researched.  The monsters, French clothing in the 1600s for the Three Musketeers set, book descriptions of characters… I even had to track down pictures of young Wilford Brimley in order to conceive a younger version of his character from a made-for-TV Ewoks movie.  Found an episode of Kung-Fu that he was in in the early 70s.  And guess what?  Young Wilford Brimley looks pretty much the exact same as old Wilford Brimley, just with slightly redder hair.

When you look back at your work, do you ever surprise yourself with an emotional response that it may have not elicited originally. For me (as an observer, not the creator), I crack up every time my eyes fix upon Olympia Maxime.

Not really.  My feeling towards a given drawing usually remains consistent from whenever I finish them.  Most of these I was generally happy with, and the ones that I wasn’t I redrew.  I was really pleased with how the “Ghost Rider in the Sky” in the monster section turned out.  It might be my favorite piece in the book.


When you release projects like this, how often do fans offer suggestions of characters they would like to see?

Fairly often, via platforms like Twitter and Tumblr.  Usually it’s folks offering suggestions to add to a series that I’ve posted, calling me out on something they see as an absence.  Usually, not always but usually, that omission is intentional.  On the black history series I got more than a hundred notes about how it’s a shame I forgot to include Thomas Alexandre Dumas.  I didn’t.  I was limiting myself to only one figure per historical era, and I opted to include the Chevalier de Saint-Georges for my Regency swashbuckler because I feel like he’s less well-known than Dumas, whose recent biography was pretty high-profile.

It would probably behoove me to ask for suggestions when doing a big section, but I never think to.  Mostly because these are things I’m doing for fun, and I know what I want to draw.

Has Francesco Francavilla seen your version of The Black Beetle? If so, care to share his reaction?

He has seen it.  He’s got the original art for it.


I ended up scrapping most of the pulp heroes from the book.  There were originally another ten or so, but most of them weren’t really redesigns or fresh interpretations or anything, they were just drawings of Lobster Johnson or the Rocketeer or the Phantom or whomever.  Though I got permission from most of the copyright holders I ended up leaving them out of the book because I felt like they weren’t in keeping with the rest of it, which were redesigns are new interpretations.  But I left the Black Beetle (I didn’t do any design on that one, either, it’s just a drawing of Francesco’s version) in there partially because I figured that on the off chance that there’s someone who likes my stuff that doesn’t know Francesco’s (unlikely!) it could steer that reader his way.


Above are pulp heroes that Schweizer left out of the book, but happily shared with Smash Pages.

That’s something I wanted to do with most of these pieces.  Introduce characters or figures that I like or find fascinating to people who may not know them, or make them take a fresh look at a character that previous film or TV or illustrated interpretations have made too familiar.   I became interested in Sherlock Holmes when I was in high school because of a manic interpretation vastly different from the Basil Rathbone I’d grown up with; it made the familiar unfamiliar and was a jarring reminder that we can let one interpretation color our perception of something meant to be interpreted individually.   If I can get someone to take a fresh look at a character that they know, that’s very exciting to me.

Do you intend to keep producing these kinds of projects or these types of character sketches?

I put together 555 Character Drawings as a means by which to hopefully put a cap on these drawings.  I was kind of getting obsessive with doing them.  I might do things like these in the future, but I’ll handle them much differently, or try to.

I have been pecking away on similar project – I’ve worked up pencils based on a long stint of research for about two hundred fifty New York street gang members from the 1840s-1860s.  Once I do the 7thRegiment, 11th Artillery, and other militia and army units that actively fought the gangs during the Shakespeare Riot, the Draft Riots, etc, and civilians, it’ll top three hundred figures, easy, and I’ll likely do buildings, too.  But I don’t know what the best way to present it will be.  Maybe as an absurdly large diorama set, maybe as some kind of game, a miniatures game.  I’m thinking that I might do a kickstarter for whatever I do with it.  I’ve never done one for a variety of reasons but if I did it would probably be for something giant and nutty like this.

Smash Pages Q&A: Miss Lasko-Gross on Z2 Comics’ ‘Henni’


Smash Pages is pleased to chat with Miss Lasko-Gross regarding her latest graphic novel, Henni, released by Z2 Comics earlier this year. misslaskogross tale about Henni, a young cat-like woman who hails from a community dominated by a harsh faith as well as an even more strict dogmatic mother, entered the comics industry in January at the exact same time the Charlie Hebdo terror strikes occurred. Essays such as this one helps remind readers what misguided people will do just out of fear for ideas, a concept explored in Henni as well.

Lasko-Gross’ earlier award-winning semi-autobiographical work, such as A Mess of Everything, might not come to mind when reading Henni, and yet both works share a bluntness and raw honesty that fuel Lasko-Gross’ narrative approach. The writer-artist’s newest work, which stars a character who faces stigmatization and far worse for daring to question her family’s faith, clearly strikes a chord with audiences. In a wide-ranging Q&A in which Lasko-Gross aptly notes “honor killings, attacks on school girls and artists not only occur, but are acceptable to some” brings home the point that this escapist story unfortunately has the means to speak to present-day atrocities. [Please note, this interview was conducted in early 2015, but logistics on Smash Pages’ end caused a delay.]

Tim O’Shea: No one could have envisioned the subplot of art as a form of protest against religious fanaticism would seem like such a prescient element in the wake of the Paris attack. As a creator, how satisfying was it you to see people use Henni as a conversation starter in a way about the senseless violence?

Miss Lasko-Gross: I think, unfortunately, whenever Henni was released, contemporary censorship and repression might have made it seem timely. Certainly when I was working on the book I had in mind the heavy sexism/racism/classism in the foundation of nearly every world culture and religion. I live in a lucky geographical/historical pocket of freedom and tolerance but that doesn’t change the tragic and violent truth.

We still live in a world where honor killings, attacks on school girls and artists not only occur, but are acceptable to some. Where otherwise “normal” modern people scoff at provable scientific facts and demand equal weight be given to their personal beliefs. Where people allow fear and hatred to erect artificial borders between groups of people. Henni certainly wasn’t intended as a didactic work, but I feel flattered that anyone would include it in an ongoing conversation that I feel passionately about.

What kind of religious or philosophical upbringing did you have? What kind of research did you to inform the religious/patriarchal elements of Henni?

I’d describe my family as politically progressive low-intensity Jewish. Even so, as a little girl, I still gave them a very hard time about the minimal level of religion they wanted me to practice. At the same time I was supposed to be learning about my own “true” faith, I was deeply into Folklore, Fairytales, Greek & Egyptian Mythology. I think I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in the underlying questions being answered. The world exists because…terrible things happen because… you must behave and nothing must ever change because…we’re better than other groups because… women are inferior because… I was young and unable to articulate why I didn’t want to participate, but knew I deeply mistrusted anyone who offered to do my thinking for me.

When writing Henni I did some general brushing up on comparative religion as well as reading “Guns Germs and Steel” for a bit of help with geological/geographic world building.

How early in developing this story did you realize you wanted it framed around a strong female lead–from the beginning?

I think a young girl was the only appropriate choice to serve the narrative. In the kind of isolated religiously fundamentalist village in which she lives, a male protagonist would have too many options in life. His opinions might be listened to, he’d have career/education choices etc… Only someone truly trapped and lowly in status would make sense.

At points in the stories you have Henni observe differences in housing structures/architecture in her journey, what prompted you to address cultural differences in such a unique (and great) manner?

The first “outsiders” Henni encounters, proceed to claim her as a trophy and take her to their village. A village that (to our eyes) differs from hers in only the most superficial ways. But because she has seen nothing of the world beyond her home, even the subtlest deviations seem other-wordily and significant. It’s a reminder that her naivete is not in sync with the readers perceptions.

Beyond Henni, who were your favorite characters to write in this first installment? Did you ever fight a temptation to make Henni’s mother a more sympathetic character?

I really enjoyed writing Henni’s mother, who does seem hateful and unfeeling. She is a fanatical devotee of the temple, who appears unmoved by the suffering of her family. I would argue however that she’s anything but indifferent, in her mind the only way she can “save” her daughters is to eliminate the subversive influence of her husband who (from her perspective) endangers their souls and pollutes their minds. I think, in the heavy pie incident you also sense her exhaustion after years of dealing with a “troublesome” daughter. She loves Henni (in her own rigid way) and wishes to “fix” and protect her. I think if I had made her softer or more willing to compromise her beliefs, henna’s prospects would be neither grim, nor the stakes high enough to further the narrative.

Is it fair to say outsiders are a character trait you like to explore in some of your stories (not just Henni)? If so, what is the appeal for you?

I try to always write characters that I’d want to read about (Preferably a virtuous freak over a dull golden boy) After all, how excited can you really be about the inevitable triumph of a powerful heroic figure? That’s also probably why, early on, indie comics seduced me away from the tights and benevolent fascism stuff. How can I care about a character who can’t really lose or doubt or fail?

What made you want to release Henni through Z2 Comics in particular?

Josh (Frankel) had a level of understanding and enthusiasm for Henni that made Z2 a great fit from the start. As an author/artist you give years of your life to the creation of a graphic novel so it’s ideal to work with someone full of great ideas and passion to match your own.

How much do you and fellow creator/spouse Kevin Colden bounce story elements off of each other while they are in process?

We lean on each other in the editing process, more so than during initial creation of our respective work. Quick questions fly back and forth, such as: “does this read visually?” or “would you see the dead hooker’s shadow from this angle? etc.. it’s a massive asset to have another set of eyes handy, especially someone well trained and honest and who’s ego can withstand a brutal critique. I’ve inserted connective panels because Kevin pointed out where a reader might get lost,. Some of his characters have spoken more naturalistically when I’ve pointed out a bit of clunky dialog. We are both better artists / writers because we never let each other get away with lame hacky shit.

Can you talk about the color choices you made with this project?

In the past I’ve also used a limited palette (“Escape From ‘Special’”, “A Mess Of Everything”). For Henni I focused on cool lilac, turquoise and black. It signifies to the reader that this is an enclosed world, not meant to represent literal reality. It helps create an atmosphere that feels “other.”

Is it true that some of the development of Henni was on a digital platform?

Henni started as a side project on the Comixology House of Twelve App. At the time I was working primarily on a nonfiction graphic novel, but Henni was too enjoyable and exciting a project to keep on the side. The story quickly unfolded faster than I could draw and the other book was abandoned to concentrate on Henni.

Smash Pages Q&A: Paul Cornell on Creator-Owned ‘This Damned Band’ from Dark Horse


To say writer Paul Cornell executed the modern day equivalent of Jimi Hendrix setting a guitar on fire with his new creator-owned miniseries This Damned Band is an understatement. Cornell has teamed with artist Tony Parker and colorist Lovern Kindzierski on this one-of-a-kind mockumentary 1970s era period piece where a rock and roll band which acts like they worship the devil–only to realize they really do.

Thanks to Cornell for chatting with me about this Dark Horse published six-issue miniseries. Issue #1 was released on August 5, while issue #2 comes out on September 2. Part of me hopes to chat with Cornell after the miniseries wraps to find out more in terms of the Bowie and the Kinks anecdotes.

Tim O’Shea: Which came first the idea to tackle the 1960s/1970s era of music or the storytelling device do it as a mockumentary?

Paul Cornell: I think the band encountering the occult for real was the first thought, and the mockumentary style just felt like a good way to do that.

I don’t want you to spoil the story but am I right in thinking despite the death of Robert Starkey he plays a role of some kind in this miniseries?

It’s indicative of something, but it’s not going to be referred to in the strip.  By the time we get to the end, I think readers will have gotten something extra out of it.

Did anyone on the creative team or an editor push back on the double entendre of Cunning Linguists?

Not at all.

With a period piece like this I would think half the fun for an artist would be the costumes he gets to draw. Did Tony Parker seek out references for costumes or did you provide him with reference material?

He’s been finding so much reference of his own.  He’s kind of immersed himself in it.  It’s wonderful to see.

Given the rich supporting cast you developed for this miniseries I was wondering if there’s one or two characters that stand out for you upon reflection?

I very much like Justin’s complicated mix of motivations.  I identify with how lost he is.  And I love writing Browley dialogue.

In a psychedelic romp like this project I would be remiss not to give you a chance to sing the praises of colorist Lovern Kindzierski?

Isn’t he amazing?  When the ‘local artist’ who draws the recounted stuff is French, in #3 and #4, he brings a Tintin palate that’s just perfect.

Will each issue feature juicy bonus material like discography from issue 1?

Just #2, which has a rock family tree for the band.  After that, we fill those pages with story.

Care to name two or three bands from the 1960s/1970s era that helped inform or inspire elements of the story?

Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and oddly, in terms of anecdotes referenced, Bowie and the Kinks.

Smash Pages Q&A: Ruth Fletcher Gage/Jackie Lewis on Oni’s ‘The Lion of Rora’


To mark the recent release of co-writers Ruth Fletcher Gage and Christos Gage and artist Jackie Lewis’ original graphic novel, The Lion Of Rora (published by Oni Press), Fletcher Gage and jackiemakescomics were kind enough to grant me an interview.

Based on true events, the graphic novel tells the story of Joshua Janavel and the Waldensians, the first people in European history to rebel against their ruler for the purpose of religious freedom.

Tim O’Shea: As noted in the book text “The Waldensian uprising was the first case in European history in which the subjects of a ruler rebelled to defend their religious freedom. These actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, The French Revolution and the American Revolution” How is it, Ruth, that this story has not been more widely known?

Ruth Fletcher Gage: Interestingly, much of what we know comes from outside sources – both those who were fighting the Waldenses, but couldn’t help respecting their bravery, and other Protestants who recorded their deeds. I would guess the lack of primary sources from the Waldenses themselves comes from the fact that they were more concerned with simply surviving. Also, the Waldensian Church has always been a small church (they are a part of the Methodist Church in Italy and the Presbyterian Church in the United States); from the beginning, they were much smaller than other Protestant groups like the Huguenots in France or the Lutherans in Germany. I’m Waldensian myself, and grew up going to a Waldensian Church, and even I didn’t realize their significance until I took a world history class in college and was shocked to realize the professor was teaching a chapter about my people! I realized that if I didn’t know much about this story, very few others probably knew it either, and I felt it was important to get it to a wider audience, especially young people. They freedoms the Waldenses fought for in Europe became a part of the founding principles of America, so it has relevance to a broader audience.

After a number of artists tackled this ambitious project, only to abandon it, how gratifying was it to succeed on illustrating this story, Jackie?

Jackie Lewis: I’ll be honest, it was a bit daunting at first. My main concern was that I produce something that Ruth and Christos would like, especially since the project had been up in the air for a while. I tried to keep focus on the project at hand rather than linger on the other artists who had been on this book, really. And, honestly, it felt great to complete Rora, but not in the context of being “the artist to finish it.” It was just great to have this story complete and ready for people to read. This is such a personal story for Ruth’s family, and I came into the project fully aware of that fact. I wanted this book to look good, and working from Ruth and Christos’s script made my end of the production much easier.

Ruth, given the obstacles, did you ever consider abandoning this project.

Fletcher Gage: No, never. I figured we’d taken so much time to get it right, we’d better get it done. Chris and I had been researching and writing on the project since we were in graduate school. We had three artists drop out of the project because it was so difficult – one after doing about a hundred pages of layouts – before Jackie came along. That process had taken five years. But I am actually glad it worked out that way, because Jackie was definitely the perfect choice for this book. I think by the time we were done, all of us were spent—Jackie actually posted that she cried at the end and I asked if it was because the story made her cry or the relief at finishing such a bear of a job. Jackie brought an incredible energy to the project. She just amazed us with every page and we were thrilled with her work, but it was her tenacity that carried us to the end.

For both Ruth and Jackie, how much did James Lucas Jones help you both in editing in a manner that tackle the project?

Fletcher Gage: James was terrific in finding Jackie, and guiding the production process. He always pushed for a high-end, beautiful presentation – the one you see on the final book. In terms of the creative side, he was incredibly respectful about wanting us to tell the story the way we believed it should be told. There were never any notes like “can you ease up on the religion” or “can you tone down the persecution.” He believed in the story and wanted it done to the best of all our abilities. He was really the most awesome editor we could ever ask for—especially on a project as personal as this one.

Lewis: James is a great editor. He knows when to be a hard ass, and when to ease up and give you those extra couple of days to finish some inks. His notes are always precise, his attitude is good, and he’s sharp as hell. I’ve known him for several years now, and we have a really good working relationship. I’d work on twenty more projects with James if I could.

What is it about history that makes it appeal to you, Ruth?

Fletcher Gage: I love to see how ideas come to fruition…of how the fight for freedom of religion (or belief) evolved into freedom of thought (which included everything from literature to politics). And how that went through the Protestant Reformation into the French Revolution and then into the American Revolution.

Jackie, I love your use of sound effects in the story. Were these elements you pursued or were those in the script?

Lewis: Thanks, Tim! The sound effects were included in the script, so I had good stuff to work from. I hadn’t really tried drawing sound effects before (I don’t think I drew any in Play Ball), so I took this opportunity to do so. I used to shy away from it, because I have pretty terrible handwriting. For me, it was about coming to the fact that drawing sound effects has little to do with handwriting and everything to do with creating a complete image. I’m a big fan of well done sound effects in comics, so I’m trying to push myself to do better on that front.

You had some complex battle scenes to choreograph, Jackie. Did one really vex you more than others?

Lewis: Oh, man. The main thing that I always start with was establishing space. I’d draw out little blueprints of the environment, figure out who was where, and when, camera movements, etc. If I set up that an environmental element was to the left, I’d do my best to keep it there. Then you have the moving parts, the characters, the armies, the horses, all of that stuff moves and emotes and you have to keep it clear and readable. Once I’d figured that out, it wasn’t too bad. I approach the planning of the choreography for every single scene in pretty much the same way, it’s just that battles are on a bigger scale. The scene that I revised the most was probably the one where Dauphine leads the Waldensians to the box canyon near Angrogna. It wasn’t the biggest scene, numbers-wise, but it had a lot of small parts coming in to it that I had to keep an eye on as the scene–and the scenes directly after it–progressed.

Ruth, am I right in thinking Jenny Vy Tran has a unique lettering style that is an asset for the story?

Fletcher Gage: Absolutely. Good lettering is like good cinematography: it’s very hard to do well, but if it’s done right, you don’t notice it, because you’re absorbed in the story. Jenny was terrific in matching the lettering to the art so it tells the story without undermining the visuals or getting in the way. And it fits the overall aesthetic, which we agreed early on should call to mind the woodcuts and etchings you see as illustrations in the contemporary accounts of the time. I also have to praise Jackie’s inclusion of the sound effects – many of which she drew in herself – to make them a seamless part of the artwork.

Ruth, were there any characters that were tougher to dialogue than others?

Fletcher Gage: We didn’t have a ton of space to get into the antagonists of the story, like the Duke and Duchess of Savoy, and I wanted to make sure they didn’t come off as one-note, mustache-twirling villains, so that was something of a challenge…using the limited space we had to get across that they were really afraid of the larger implications of their citizens having the freedoms the Waldensians demanded, because these freedoms could end their rule. The threat was to their very way of life, to the monarchy and class system itself. And they were right to be afraid, because the end result is a country like ours, with no royal family whatsoever.

Ruth, is your mother Rheta Micol Robinson still with us? If so, how pleased is she with the book?

Fletcher Gage: Yes, she is! And she loved the book. She got to the end and said, “There were things in that book even I didn’t know.” I’m pretty sure that was a compliment since she’s kind of a bastion of Waldensian history.

In terms of Netflixs Daredevil I would be remiss if I did not ask about one of the episodes you and Christos [episode 9], your wonderfully, brutally written Speak Of The Devil, seeing the episode in its final version, do you have a favorite scene? 

Fletcher Gage: Yes. The Father Lantom scene where he talks about how religion can be used for good or evil by men. That’s a favorite theme of mine in general, whether it’s in bigger arenas like politics or everyday life.

Anything we need to discuss that I did not mention? 

Fletcher Gage: Well, a significant note to The Lion of Rora story is that (just ahead of the 500thAnniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017) Pope Francis recently visited a Waldensian Church in Italy, the first visit by a Pope in the history of either church. He offered an amazing apology for the oppression committed by the Catholic Church against the Waldenses, and he asked for forgiveness of behalf of the Church. It was a beautiful gesture in a shared history that had been devastating to my people. And it is very much a part of who the Waldensian people are to welcome forgiveness and unity. Of course, the first thing that popped into my mind was that I had to figure out a way to write about it…   

Also, we’ve set up a web site at with more information about the book, and it contains a complete study guide for teachers based on the H.O.T.S. (Higher Order Thinking Skills) guidelines, written by an educator. We’ve spoken to many teachers and librarians who said that this book is a perfect way for their students to become interested in history, religious studies and other topics introduced in the story, so we want to make sure they know there are resources to help them.

And lastly, THANK YOU for taking the time to talk to us about this. We really appreciate you talking to us about the book!!


Smash Pages Q&A: Eric-Nolen Weathington on ‘Modern Masters: Paolo Rivera’

While Eric Nolen-Weathington’s Modern Masters Volume 30: Paolo Rivera was released late in 2014, this has been my first opportunity to chat with one of my favorite interviewers in the comics industry about his latest projects. Added bonus, I had no idea that Rivera was mentored by David Mazzucchelli, so that added another layer of enjoyment for this interview.

For fans of Jim Aparo, there is good news about the long-awaited Modern Masters edition. More immediately though the next Modern Masters subject will be J.H. Williams III.

Thanks to Eric for the interview.

Tim O’Shea: Who picked the cover choice and how was it selected?

Eric-Nolen Weathington: Paolo unfortunately did not have time to do a new piece for the cover. He was in the early stages of working on a commission at the time that we were hoping could double as the cover, a really nice Spider-Man piece. But it soon became apparent that the painting wouldn’t get done in time for the book solicitation. So, Paolo went through some of his previous commissions and found three that he liked enough to use for the cover. I did some sample layouts with each of the images, and it was clear that the FF painting worked the best, so that’s what we went with. Paolo’s wife, April, who is a graphic designer, then did the revised final cover that ended up on the book.

Did you know David Mazzucchelli taught him before starting research on this book. Am I right in thinking it proved to an enlightening topic?

Yes, I discovered in my research that Paolo had taken Mazzucchelli’s class at RISD, but I didn’t know the story of Mazzucchelli letting Paolo use his first job for Marvel as a class project, or that Mazzucchelli was critiquing the job as Paolo was working on it. I was just hoping for a little insight into Mazzucchelli’s teaching style, so that was a great bonus.

I would love to do a Modern Masters book on Mazzucchelli. I tried approaching him through a mutual acquaintance a few years ago, but I had no luck. He seems to be one of those guys who doesn’t like to talk about his work, at least not in that type of forum. I’ve run into that roadblock a few times unfortunately.

What Rivera treasures did he unearth that thrilled you?

I love looking at artists’ sketchbooks and thumbnails—the preliminary work where they’re either playing around with ideas, or fine-tuning a concept. There’s usually more energy in those drawings that what ends up on the printed page, plus it’s a look inside their creative process. I mean, that what the Modern Masters books are all about, really. For whatever reason, I really loved this silly Punisher sketch he did as a warm-up to a Spider-Man story. But I think my favorite of that stuff was this page of sketches he did for a Spider-Man/Sandman story he ended up not being able to do. His Sandman was soooo Ditko, and there was this little sketch where Sandman is sitting on a tiny deserted island, and he’s part of the island. The pose is both funny and sad, and it made me wish he could have drawn that story.

Also, being able to zoom in on a high-res scan of Paolo’s cover for Daredevil #10 was worth the price of admission alone.

Who looked more forward to chatting about H.J. Ward, you or Rivera?

Well, we hadn’t talked about him beforehand, so I don’t think Paolo knew we’d be talking about him. I’m a fan of the old pulp magazine artists, and Ward is one of my favorites, so I was very interested in what drew Paolo to his work. We probably could have gone at least a couple of pages talking about Ward, but I had to keep things rolling.

Were there any topics he was reluctant to talk about or was he open to any topic?

No, he was very open. He’s the one who brought up his breakup with his then-girl, now-wife, and how it affected his work and deadlines. Maybe that was easier to talk about since it all ended up positively, but no, there were no issues at all. Of course, I’m not digging for dirt in these books—that’s not what they’re about. But I do like to discuss emotional topics when they affect, either positively or negatively, the artist’s creative process, so I was very happy that Paolo didn’t downplay any of that.

Was it more critical to talk to him about the collaborative dynamics on DD with Waid or Wacker?

I think they’re equally important. I mean, when an artist is doing work-for-hire with Marvel or DC, they’re going to be working with both writers and editors—it’s unavoidable. And both can require the artist to make compromises in their work on some level. So, I think it’s worth discussing when those dynamics break down, and when those dynamics create a book as wonderful as Daredevil.

Did you dictate what topics that were covered or did Rivera have a say?

Paolo was familiar with the books, already owning a few, so he knew going in my general approach to the interviews, and we didn’t really need to discuss any of that beforehand. But I knew from his blog that Paolo is a process guy and likes to talk about that stuff, so I thought it would be great to take advantage of that and break down one cover in detail. I talked that over with Paolo before we started the interviews, so that he’d have time to document something if he didn’t have enough material like that on hand. Paolo was on board for it, and he picked the cover we used and wrote the text to go along with it, and it worked out pretty well, I think.

Any chance you know the backstory on the Madman (pg 125)?

That was a pin-up for Mike Allred’s Madman in Your Face 3-D Special that came out last November. Mike, another Modern Master subject by the way, likes to have other artists whose work he likes participate when he does projects like this. Mike asked Paolo if he could do something, Paolo was honored to be asked and said yes, and this was the result. Paolo also colored it, and for the Madmanbook, Christian LeBlanc converted it to a 3-D image. I don’t know if you’ve seen the book, but it was a cool little project. I thought it was a nice touch that Mike had Marcos Martin’s pin-up on the opposite page from Paolo’s.

Care to discuss your current design work, or whatever you work you have on the horizon?

I’ve always got more Modern Masters books in the pipeline, but none at the design stage yet. J.H. Williams III should be the next one up though. I’ve got two design jobs on my desk at the moment. One is issue #31 of DRAW! magazine. I’ve been the designer for several years now, and it’s been nice to work with so many different artists there.

The other project is a book written by my good buddy and sometimes collaborator, George Khoury, called Comic Book Fever. On the surface, it’s a love letter to George’s golden age, the mid-’70s to mid-’80s. He covers all, and I mean all, the things that made comics great during that period—the top artists, the coolest stories, and even the best of the ads, like Jack Davis’ “Street Ball” ad for Spalding basketballs. But when you look a little closer, the book is more than just a trip down memory lane. Although it’s not directly addressed, the book is also about how much the comic book industry changed in the ten years between 1976 and 1986. It’s been a blast to work on, but it’s labor-intensive. It’ll be out next spring, and I can hardly wait to get some reader feedback on it. I think people are going to love it.

And the long-awaited Jim Aparo book is getting closer to completion. We won’t be announcing a release date until the book is completely done, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the end is within sight now.

If you were to settle on a percentage would you say the Aparo book is 75% done? 

I’d say the text is about 80% done, but there’s also the design to do. I had done some design work for the two previous false starts, but I’ll probably end up having to scrap almost all of that.

Refresh my memory, why has the book had such a long journey.

For those that don’t know, the book is ten years in the making. It was started back when Jim was still alive, but he passed away just a couple of weeks before we were set to start the interviews. Needless to say, this required a complete retooling of the book. And during the process of figuring out what the book should become and how we could achieve that, more obstacles arose. I won’t go into all the details, but both myself and my then co-author were thrown into situations where we had no time to work on the book. It was through no fault of our own or of anyone else. It was just a couple of those curveballs life throws at you from time to time—the type of curveballs that get away from the pitcher and bean you in the elbow, and you’re not sure you can stay in the game. I think you’re familiar with those.

Anyway, long story short, for many years and a few different partners, we’ve had trouble wrangling the time and the material we needed to make a book worthy of Jim Aparo. But over the past two or three years, we’ve been able to get the book back on track, and we’ve been making slow and fairly steady progress, and now we’re finally to the point where the monkey I’ve been carrying on my back these past ten years is starting to loosen his grip and feel a little lighter.

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