The next Image Comics ongoing series from writer Joe Keatinge (SHUTTER, Adventures of Superman), RINGSIDE, introduces artist and co-creator Nick Barber for an ensemble drama set around the world of professional wrestling. An exclusive teaser trailer featuring all-new material from RINGSIDE #1 will debut in THE WALKING DEAD #147 in stores on October 14th and will outline the new series’ characters and storyline for the very first time. To mark the upcoming release Smash Pages Tim O’Shea spoke with Keatinge, Barber as well as colorist Gough and letterer Maher.
Simon please discuss the muted coloring approach to the series?
Simon Gough: Well, the colouring process is very simple compared to a lot of other work I’ve done, and I’m trying to get that balance of not over rendering like i’m used to, which in turn is letting me play around with the colours a lot more. Its great to get a job where I have time to experiment with the palettes, and put more effort into that side of colouring, as usually its quite technical and can be repetitive. Its hugely important for me to work ‘with’ Nick lines for this book too, and Nick has been nudging me in the right direction, so its been great collaboration as well. The whole team have been working hand in hand throughout to get the pages where we want them.
The issues so far all go through a fairly broad spectrum, where I’m trying my best to give a distinction for each scene.The emphasis on the muted colours will change depending on the mood or action that’s going on, so hopefully you’ll see some noticeable changes in emotion throughout as the story unfolds.
Ariana care to discuss lettering approach?
Ariana Maher: There’s a slightly uneven aspect to the word balloons to reflect the content of both the script and art. A clean, uniform style in the balloons and the text – the sort of style that could work for a different series – would look too sterilized and out-of-place in Ringside’s world. Imperfect works best here. I have to put thought into making mistakes in a mindful way. Though, hopefully, no one will give those details any notice. If readers get drawn into the book without distraction, then I’ll know the lettering works.
I’m looking forward to working on sound effects in Ringside. It’s a bold, harsh world. There are some very loud moments, so accentuating those scenes gives me some very enjoyable challenges to work with. I’ve already had some fun with the very first page of issue #1 because I’m bilingual and the guys didn’t stop me from goofing off with some of the fliers and signs.
What goes into your philosophy for the art Nick?
I’m a fan of high contrast, noir style artwork so that’s definitely the design philosophy I use. On RINGSIDE the art is literally rough around the edges, I’ve been tweaking exactly how rough to go with it – but wanted something that conveyed the tone of the story. Less-is-more is definitely the rule I go by with my stuff – I hate reading comics where the energy has been suffocated by overworked art. But yeah, pretty much my philosophy is how can I tell the story and convey the acting simply and clearly.
Can both of you single out characters that are really growing on you in the creative process?
Nick: All of the characters have become really special to me. Everytime there’s a new script I’m anxious to see what’s happening with each of them. As far as a creative process, I definitely have a sliding scale or how I want a character to look in a certain panel depending on what they’re feeling or conveying. So that’s part of a growth process too – I will push faces into a pretty cartoony area if it feels right, other times maybe go more ‘realistic’ I like having the freedom to do that. Sometimes it’s trial and error of what is more appealing or what might have been too far (either side of the scale). I think playing around with their design like that has made me really fond of the whole cast, I feel like I know their faces, their clothes, their environments etc pretty intimately now that I’m heading towards finishing the first arc of the story.
What are the biggest advantages to publishing with Image?
Nick: I’m new to comics, so Image is the only publisher I’ve worked for so far. In that regard it’s pretty hard to compare it to any other publishers. But one of the things I really like about Image is the freedom you get to create your own book. Our team is small, but we’re all on the same page with the look and feel of this book. There isn’t any meetings going on elsewhere about what should be happening in RINGSIDE – it’s completely up to us. Ownership is obviously a huge advantage – it feels really nice to be creating something with Joe that we own. Another advantage of working with Image is how good everyone there has been on the publisher end of things – a really great team, they’ve helped get the word out about RINGSIDE – obviously first announcing it at Image Expo which led to a lot of excitement.
Can both of you single out characters that are really growing on you in the creative process
Joe: It’s a bit of a cheap answer to say, “all of them,” but that’s part of the point of the series. How all these different characters from all these different perspectives and backgrounds interact. What one’s actions has an effect on someone they otherwise never knew. As it builds, it’ll become more evident.
What are the biggest advantages to publishing with image
Joe: Everything. There’s no better place to have total control over your own work. No one gives the same level of ownership as they do. Other companies will claim you keep 100% of your copyright, sure, but then they tie you in forever on print rights or digital rights or foreign rights or media rights. There’s always something. And some of those companies do a great job of making sure they earn their cut, but I find that Image just works best for me. If you want total freedom without anyone else, they’re great. If you want the support of a huge team who knows their shit, they’re perfect. I choose for something in the middle, where I regularly talk sales with Corey Murphy, publishing with Eric Stephenson, marketing strategy with Kat Salazar, production with Addison Duke, design with Drew Gill and so on and so on. They have been a major help on every single level. They’re an essential part of the team behind Ringside.
And even still, Nick and I choose everything. Our paper stock. Our pagination. What ads go in the book, if anything. Who represents our media rights, what kind of cut they get, who we bring on for editorial (because I love working with a good, simpatico editor), who does our logo, who colors the book, who letters the book. You don’t get to do that to such a degree anywhere else. Plus it helps their brand is so damn strong right now. My weird world explorer book can thrive in tradepaperbacks. I’m looking forward to what they do with this wrestling ensemble drama. No one’s able to compete on the same level with creator-owned work; the numbers speak for themselves.
Look, I’ve worked with other companies, loved doing it and will likely do it again, but for the type of work I’m doing now, which is largely creator-owned, original series, Image and their subsidiary, Skybound, have been amazing to work with.
Has anyone ever said there was a Tintin quality to your art Nick?
Nick: No! But I’ll take it. Personally I don’t see it, but I love Hergé. The big influences on this book (and my work in general) were Jose Munoz, Hugo Pratt, Eduardo Risso, Gabriel Ba, Taiyou Matsumoto, Rueben Pellejero, Toth… a lot more, just that high contrast school of cartooning. I don’t think I could ever work as cleanly as Hergé!
Has anyone ever said there was a Tintin quality to Nick’s art?
Joe: That’s funny, even as big a Hergé fan as I am, I didn’t pick up on it until you mention it, but you’re totally right. I can see it in Nick’s character’s facial expression especially. Interesting call, even if it’s unintentional.
What did both of you most enjoy about that two page spread wrestling scene?
Nick: For me that was just about making a really BIG page turn. The moonsault is a really dramatic move, it sort of slows down time. The opening pages of issue one really ramp up this spread beautifully so I wanted to hit the right note. It places the reader right there at ringside too. It’s a cinematic opening to what is going to be a really epic ongoing series.
What did both of you most enjoy about that two page spread wrestling scene
Joe: I’ve been thinking more and more in how to keep a reader’s attention. There’s more distractions than ever or, at least, more ways for the things in our lives to distract us. With Shutter, I started writing on the Inside Front Cover, so you’re instantly immersed in the comic book. You are in the world without a beat of a credits page or ad to distract you from it. With Ringside, we’re largely a slow burn book, but I wanted to work in something which similarly immersed you in the world, but also gave a rough idea of the different perspectives we’d be seeing it from through the first arc. As readers will see, we have a slow burn, somewhat dense with panels, until a huge kick in the ass of a double page spread, made beautiful by Nick and Simon, with Brandon’s massive logo and Ariana’s design completely selling it.
Tim O’Shea: You’re very precise with your language consider this advice you give the reviewers Quick tips for people reviewing Tet: Marines should be called Marines, not soldiers. Also, not all opposing forces in Vietnam were Viet Cong Why are these details so vital to you?
Paul Allor: Honestly, those kinds of small-ish errors in reviews don’t really bother me, but I was seeing them a lot, so I thought it might be worth mentioning. I debated it, but my thinking was, if I was writing a review, I’d want to know. But yeah, no one expects a comics reviewer to be a historian.
For the book itself, though, accuracy was extremely important, and both Paul Tucker and I did a fairly massive amount of research to make sure our story had a sense of verisimilitude, out of respect for the men and women who lived through this conflict.
What is the significance that Paul Tucker gets top billing on the cover?
My personal feeling is that artists should always get top billing in comics. They’re equal storytelling partners, but put in far more time and effort on an individual book. So on my creator-owned books, I always ask my artistic collaborators if they’re cool with their name being first. And in this book in particular, a ridiculous amount of its storytelling success is due to Paul, from his extraordinary covers to his fantastic character work to his amazing use of color as a storytelling tool.
How important were the consulting editors to your creative process?
Pretty vital. The “consulting” modifier is pretty much just there to indicate that it’s a creator-owned book, and Paul and I have final say over it. But in every other respect, they were like any other editors, offering feedback on scripts and art, serving as sounding boards for any issues we might have, and generally shepherding the project through. I love working with editors. I don’t really understand creators who don’t.
All of the scripts in this book were also workshopped through Comics Experience, which was tremendously helpful, and provided me with a lot of great insight on what was working and what maybe needed a second look.
Did you ever consider delaying the 1984 flashback to a second issue or was it a critical that have occurred in the first issue?
No, it was always planned for that first issue. The dual timeline structure becomes more important as we go on. And since a big part of the book is about the decades-long journey these three characters take, it was important to establish that scope early in the book. Plus, it fit really well narratively, providing a nice sense of dramatic irony, following Eugene and Ha’s conversation about their future plans, followed immediately by what actually happened. It deepens the mystery, and adds some tension to the story as we launch into the second half of the issue.
How much does social media help you build your audience?
Boy, I wish I had a decent answer for this. I don’t really know. I blab on Twitter a lot – a LOT – but I don’t know how effective it is. I don’t feel like I’m good at building a brand or developing a Twitter persona, or going about it in a deliberate way. It’s just me blabbing. So if it’s helping me build an audience, it’s probably happening despite my efforts, not because of them.
What prompted you to take this creator-owned project to IDW?
I had a really good relationship with both IDW, through my work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and GI Joe, and with Andy Schmidt, who’s overseeing the Comics Experience imprint. So it seemed like a good fit. Plus, I don’t think anyone else would have published this book. That’s not a dig on Comics Experience/IDW – it’s a compliment. This is a very niche, difficult-to-market book, and they’re very dedicated to putting out good comics, regardless of factors like market accessibility or multimedia potential. I think Andy’s philosophy is that there is a healthy market for great comics, so if you put out great comics, and you work hard to get the word out, the readers will find you. Even if, on paper, it doesn’t seem like a slam-dunk.
Care to discuss Tucker’s coloring style as well as your lettering style?
Paul’s colors in this book are so amazing. He’s doing so many things with them – using them to set the mood; to establish the different timelines; to get us inside the characters’ heads. He’s using them as an incredibly storytelling device – and honestly, I don’t have the proper vocabulary to discuss it as well as I’d like, or give him the credit he truly deserves.
On the lettering side, I’ve always lettered my own creator-owned books, but I really tried to step up my game on this book, in terms of designing lettering that would mesh well with Paul’s art and advance the storytelling. So that’s how we came up with the rough, off-center narration boxes for our main character, and the text-only boxes, which hopefully give the feeling that you’re inside his head, as the visuals drop away for a moment. You shouldn’t consciously think that, of course, but that’s the mood we’re going for. It was very important to us that the writing, art, coloring and lettering all feel extremely cohesive in this book, that they all work together towards our common storytelling goals. To that end, we designed the visual vocabulary of our story before I’d begun scripting issue #1. And I think it paid off.
Anything else we should discuss
Probably! But my lunch hour is ending at the ole’ day job. And thank you for taking the time to discuss it with me. It’s been such a joy to see media, readers and retailers discover and embrace this book. Paul and I are so incredibly proud of it. I hope folks check it out, and if they do, I hope they enjoy it.
Written by: Ed Brisson\Illustrated by: Damian Couceiro\Coloured by: Cassie Kelly
Midlothian is on the brink of a full-scale war between GOE and the rebels led by Samara and Grace.
Tim O’Shea: While the bulk of this interview pertains to issue 7, I would love focus on the opening of issue #1 with Samara Simmons’ arrest. How did you decide on that for your open?
Ed Brisson: It felt like a good place to seed the initial mystery of WHY Samara had ended up in prison, which eventually leads her to Midlothian. Love giving the reader just enough info so that we can get on with the story and then slowly doling out details as we go.
Also I love in issue #1, the story beat shown here.
What prompted you to play it that way?
Samara has a lot of baggage and she’s trying to deal with it in her own way, without any help from others. She could have easily turned to her father and NOT ended up on Midlothian. She could try to make friends in Tranent to make her time easier, but she didn’t. She’s in a self-imposed exile to pay penance for her crime.
What made you want to tell this original series at BOOM?
It was an idea that I’d been batting around in one form or another since high school. At one point, in early 2014, I’d picked it back up and was working on it and thought that Damian would be an amazing collaborator for it (He and I had done SONS of ANARCHY for BOOM, but had also done a few indie things together, going back to 2004). I was about to draft him an email and, I shit you not, as I was writing it, an email from Eric Harburn (my editor at BOOM) arrived in my inbox asking if I had any interest in doing a creator owned book with Damian at BOOM. It was fate! I told him that I was 100% interested and sent the short pitch for CLUSTER and, well, here we are now.
Who are some of the old-school, hard-boiled action storytellers that inspire you?
I’m a huge crime fan. My favourite authors are Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, Richard Stark, Charles Willeford, Richard Price, etc, etc.
I’m also a kid of the VHS generation and am a fan of 80s horror and sci-fi films. I tried to bring a lot of that influence into this book – movies like ALIENS (of course), DEADLOCK (rereleased as WEDLOCK), ROBOCOP, ENEMY MINE, THE BLOOD OF HEROES (basically any sci-fi with Rutger Hauer!). While CLUSTER is, of course, a comic first and foremost, giving it the flavour and feel of an 80s sci-fi flick was important to me.
Damian designed everything you see in the book. He’s responsible for bringing that feel to it. CLUSTER would be nothing without that.
Were there other names you considered or was the Punch always the Punch?
It was always The Punch. I like that it works two ways: that it’s your punch/time card and that if you mess with it, you’re gonna get hurt.
Compare the early issues to issue 7, which characters have grown on you?
McHenry is a character that really grew on me. He’s an awesome unstoppable force. If we were ever to do more CLUSTER, I’d love to do his origin story. Milton, one of the Pagurani, was a lot of fun to write, mostly because he doesn’t talk. His primary mode of communication is a big thumbs up.
I was struck at the scene were multiple dead bodies are draped next to active soldiers. Can you talk about not shying away from the casualties of war.
In that scene in particular, I just wanted to get across the idea that McHenry was this deadly bad ass that is not to be messed with. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to try and escape by sneaking around, he’s going to escape by cutting a path through anything (and anyone) that stands in his way.
I think it’s also important to pull back and show scenes like this sometimes to show what the actual devastation looks like. I mean, you can have a spaceship dog fight and ships explode and it becomes almost like a videogame, where once an avatar is killed, they just vanish. We really wanted to show that there are victims. There are bodies. People who once were are no longer. There’s a real devastation to this level of war and that should always be something that we think about – otherwise, why does the rest of it matter?
Do have anything else on the creator-owned horizon?
Well, although I can’t say much about it just yet, CLUSTER isn’t it for me and BOOM. Not long after it wraps, I’ll be writing a new creator owned book with them, due out in very early 2016, I believe. In fact, after this interview, I’m back onto writing the script for it. I’m very excited to get down to work on it and I think people are going to really dig it.
BUT, I can’t get into details! Just keep your peepers peeled.C
Nine days ago Mike Dawson started a Kickstarter campaign to publish Rules For Dating My Daughter: Cartoon Dispatches from the Front-Lines of Modern Fatherhood
Five days later he met his goal.
Rules For Dating My Daughter is a new book of comics about marriage, parenthood, politics, and raising two small children in present day America. The comics in this collection examine a wide variety of topics, from after-school pickup and Disney’s Sofia the First, to gun control issues and impending environmental collapse. Simultaneously political, philosophical, and humorous, these first-person cartoon essays all seek to answer the book’s central question, Am I Good?
My thanks to Dawson for this interview.
Tim O’Shea: How did the Lisa Hanawalt, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, BoJack Horseman blurb come to happen?
Mike Dawson: Lisa emailed me in response to the Cartoonist’s Diary strips I did for The Comics Journal. When I started putting the Kickstarter together, I asked her if I could use her comments as a blurb for the project and she graciously said yes. There was a teensy bit of a learning-process there, as when I was initially looking to gather up some quotes, I wasn’t sure if it was necessary to ask for permission. I quickly realized that it’s best to get permission. I also reached out to Kim O’Connor who’d provided the negative blurb on the Hooded Utilitarian in response to what is probably the darkest strip in the book, Overcompensating.
I wanted to include Kim’s quote in part as kind of a little bit of dark humor, but also because that comic is disturbing by design. I am conscious of the fact that with this book I could easily go down a road where I present myself always as this very engaged, always progressive and well-intentioned “good guy”. And that’s not reality. Kim got what was funny about me using the quote, and gave me the go-ahead to put the comment on the page.
Given that the book covers a range of topics did you consider any other titles?
For a while I had it in my head to call the book “Tom Cruise Fights The War of the Worlds”, after one of the strips talking about the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds movie in relation to climate change.
I think Rules For Dating My Daughter is a much stronger title though. People picking up a book called “Tom Cruise Fights The War of the Worlds” might have been disappointed to see all these comics about my family. And Rules For Dating My Daughter makes a lot of sense for the book. The eponymous strip appears early on in the collection and establishes the difficulty of setting hard and fast rules with parenting. Then the comics move on to keep asking questions about different aspects of our lives, always trying to look for the “good” way to engage with the world, but not often finding answers. So, in that way, the word “Rules” works as kind of a little joke, because it’s tough to figure out what the “rules” really are.
What does your daughter think about all this attention?
One of the comics, My Dad Gets Rele Fostated, ran on Slate on Father’s Day, and it actually used some of my daughter’s drawings in the comic. I had them list her name as a co-author, because I thought she’d get a huge kick out of that.
She seems to like drawing, and making her own books. I don’t push her on it too much. But, she has one friend who likes doing that too, and they are always writing little comics called the “Orli and Emme Adventures”. Some of them have titles like, Orli and Emme and The New Girl, or Orli and Emme on Thanksgiving, but my absolute favorite one has always been Orli and Emme Get Locked in the Car.
You are likely to reach goal in the next few days (he did), any plans for the extra cash?
I’m shocked and humbled to be getting so close to my goal so quickly. I am not going to count my chickens before they hatch, but in the event that I do surpass my goal, I have got some thoughts on other books I could try to move into production on.
Will any of it be in color, I love your color work
Thank you. Yes, a chunk of the book will be in color. This came about because of the Longstreet Farm comic, which kind of relies on color, and I didn’t think would work so well in black and white.
Since those pages are going to be in color, it’s giving me thoughts on how I might be able to use some coloring in some of the other comics.
What lessons have you learned from your past kickstarters?
This is my first one, and even though it feels like it’s going alright, there are still some lessons I’ve learned. I think I made the mistake in the project video of talking too much about myself and my comics career and not staying focused on the Rules For Dating My Daughter project specifically. If I can find the time to shoot new video, I’d like to put up something talking more directly about the book, and maybe looking at some pages in progress. I do feel good about having tried to give the book the lowest price point possible, $16 with shipping included, because I think that’s increased people’s willingness to take a chance on the comic.
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.
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 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.
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.