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

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

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

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

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

What inspired the development of Our Expanding Universe?

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

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

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

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

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

Who designed the great cover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SmashPages Q&A: Tim O’Shea on Interviewing Comics Creators

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I first got to know Tim O’Shea in 2008, when he interviewed me about a new blog I had started, Good Comics for Kids. Later on, when I joined the Robot 6 team, he welcomed me warmly and was always quick with a kind word.

Tim blogs here at SmashPages now, but you can find his older comics interviews, as well as his music and other pop-culture writing, at his blog Talking with Tim. When he was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, he asked me if I would be interested in interviewing him, and we spent a lot of time on the phone talking about comics and other matters, including his struggle with depression. This Q&A is edited from those transcripts.

I came to know you as a comics blogger. When did you start reading comics?

The first comic I read was in 1975. It was a Fred Flintstone comic. It was a piece of shit. I hated that I read it and I didn’t read another till 1977. I have read comics ever since on a daily basis.

When did you start writing about comics, and what made you make that transition?

Jennifer M. Contino [the writer for the early comics site The Pulse] had no time to interview Geoff Johns about Stars and Stripes so she said “Could you?” I had never done it, but she said “Give it a try!” David LeBlanc of CBEM [Comic Book Electronic Magazine, a now-defunct website] ran it.

When I realized I was good at writing I started doing it.

Did you ever aspire to make your own comics?

No, because I enjoy comics and I enjoy helping people succeed in comics and I enjoy reading comics. I don’t aspire to do my own comic book, I aspire to help promote people and for people to succeed. All I want is for Jeff Parker to write two titles that can make sure he pays his bills and has time to spend time with his family. I want every single person who wants to be active in comics to be active in comics. I don’t want to be the guy who Tom DeFalco can’t get a job because I am competing with him.

You are particularly known for your interviews. How do you approach an interview? How do you prepare for it? Is there a particular balance of questions you are looking for?

I always go back to past interviews I have done, and I look at Tweets where they have talked about aspects of things. I prepare by doing 10 questions. I say “Once I get you the questions, ignore or revise them to satisfy your needs, because if I am asking you about shit that doesn’t matter to you you are going to talk shit and we are both going to be pissed off.”

The way I do an interview that is balanced is I engage the person in a way that gets them to consider something they hadn’t been thinking of before I told them that. I had an interview with Scott Allie about a Dark Horse issue where Kevin Nowlan was drawing 20 different Murder She Wrote-type characters in this book because that was amusing the hell out of Scott, the writer. All of a sudden I said, “Take out Jerry Orbach, who were the best guest stars on Murder She Wrote?” And Scott said “Well, fuck! Thanks for taking out Jerry. Now we can talk about the others.” The number of people in Murder She Wrote who got blacklisted and couldn’t work for years was astounding.

The way I do an interview that is balanced is I engage the person in a way that gets them to consider something they hadn’t been thinking of before I told them that.

What’s the hardest part?

I didn’t do phone interviews until the past year because my depression made it that I thought I was always going to get facts wrong. When I first started doing email interviews, so many people wouldn’t do them. Then there were a lot of years when nobody wanted to do a phone interview. I have gone through waves of never being able to interview anybody, then everybody wanting to interview me, and now I have a balance. If I can figure out a way to auto-transcribe stuff I will probably go to phone interviews by 2016.

The hardest part is people who will not do an interview with me. Gail Simone. [Tom] Spurgeon has been reluctant to be interviewed by me. Kurt Busiek I would interview every week if I could, but he will interview with me once every blue moon.

Is there an interview, or maybe more than one, that you are particularly proud of?

There are numerous ones, but for now the one that will stand out is the one with Joshua Cotter several years ago where he point blank discussed in detail his depression, because of the number of people that recognize themselves in Josh and because of the number of people that reached out to him. The fact that he took that risk, he changed people’s lives—how can you not be proud of that interview?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should we discuss that I neglected to ask about?

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

Vaughan, Martin, Vicente debut new pay-what-you-want series ‘Barrier’

The first issue of the “unconventional drama about violence, language and illegal immigration” is available from the Panel Syndicate site now.

Following the teaser from last week, Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente have launched another pay-what-you-want digital series, the five-part Barrier.

In an email from their Panel Syndicate imprint, the creators described the comic as an “unconventional drama about violence, language and illegal immigration.” The first 53-page issue is available now for download from the Panel Syndicate site.

Barrier follows the award-winning The Private Eye, which the three creators launched in a similar manner back in 2013.

Check out some preview art from Barrier by Martin and Vicente below.

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Valiant partners with publishers in Spain, Italy and France

Comic fans in France and Italy will soon have access to Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger and the rest of Valiant’s comic line in their native tongue.

Comic fans in France and Italy will soon have access to Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger and the rest of Valiant’s comic line in their native tongue.

Today Valiant announced partnerships with Italy’s Star Comics and France’s Bliss Comics for print and digital translations. In addition, they’ve also announced a long-term extension to their partnership with Spain’s Aleta Ediciones. Along with the comics, they’re also planning creator appearances at various conventions in Europe.

More details are available in the press release below.

Press Release

Valiant Entertainment is proud to announce new foreign-language publishing partnerships with three of Europe’s preeminent publishers of comic books and graphic novels – Spain’s Aleta Ediciones, Italy’s Star Comics and France’s Bliss Comics – for print and digital translations of Valiant’s award-winning superhero library.

Valiant and Aleta, whose inaugural line of Spanish-language Valiant titles debuted earlier in 2015, will soon begin a long-term extension to their partnership with an expanded array of series encompassing many of Valiant’s most acclaimed titles.

Meanwhile, Valiant’s newly announced publishing partners in Italy and France will begin publication in both print and digital in early 2016 with new editions of best-selling series including X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Archer & Armstrong, Divinity, Quantum and Woody and many more.

Additionally, each publisher will be introducing Valiant’s line of titles to fans in Spain, Italy and France with appearances and promotions at some of the largest conventions across Europe.

“Valiant has a large, vibrant, and ever-growing fan base throughout Europe. Each of these publishers has been specifically selected for the quality of their foreign-language editions and their extensive knowledge of their respective marketplaces,” said Russell A. Brown, Valiant’s President of Licensing, Promotions & Ad Sales. “In concert with our new publishing partners at Aleta, Star, and Bliss, we look forward to bringing Valiant’s beloved library of characters to fans in print and online in Spain, Italy, France and beyond.”

Aleta Ediciones has already begun to publish 10 of Valiant’s most notable titles, including Archer & Armstrong, Bloodshot, Eternal Warrior and Harbinger. Aleta is an award-winning publisher of comic books, graphic novels and trade paperbacks since 1996, based in Valencia, Spain. Renowned for its diverse catalog of licensed and independent titles, Aleta publishes some of the most successful and popular titles in the industry, including Invincible, Tex, Dylan Dog, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Robocop and Xenozoic by creators like Alan Moore, Tiziano Sclavi, Frank Miller, Robert Kirkman, Mark Schultz, G. R. R. Martin, Michael Avon Oeming, Alfonso Font and Paul Grist.

Star Comics is one of the leading Italian publishers active in the comic field. Since its foundation, Star Comics’ mission has been to encourage the diffusion of comic books as a form of entertainment and as a cultural phenomenon by making comic books available to all readers in Italy. Star Comics was founded in Perugia by publisher Giovanni Bovini in 1987. Its first publications were translations of several Marvel Comics series including Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four. Since that time, Star Comics has gone onto produce foreign-language editions of titles by DC Comics, Image Comics, and Wildstorm, in addition to the first Italian language line of Japanese manga. In just over 25 years, Star Comics has published more than 500 titles including monthly series, limited series and standalone books.

Bliss Comics is a relative newcomer to French publishing. Bliss is dedicated to bringing Valiant’s fan-favorite series to France starting in 2016. With an incredible number of talented creators working on Valiant’s strong, diverse characters and epic stories, Bliss looks forward to introducing Valiant’s award-winning universe to new French readers as well as longtime comics fans.

Bliss Comics, Star Comics, and Aleta Ediciones are just the latest additions to Valiant’s growing roster of international publishing partners. They join OVNI Press Editorial in Argentina, HQM Editora in Brazil, Tencent in China, ShoPro in Japan, Kamite in Mexico, Viverra in Russia, and Büyülü Dükkan in Turkey in bringing Valiant’s award-winning library of superhero titles to an international audience.

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Ed Piskor’s Mini-Analysis of Classic X-Men #11

Yesterday Ed Piskor ruminated a bit on Classic X-Men #11.

Chris Claremont injecting some autobiography into X-Men.

 

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I think this guy’s supposed to be Jim Shooter.

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Download Chris Schweizer’s paper Nativity set

The Crogan Adventures creator is offering more than 30 figures with a backdrop you can download from his web store.

Crogan Adventures creator Chris Schweizer has created a paper Nativity set that he’s offering for free via his online store. [EDIT: Actually it’s a “pay what you want” model, as Gumroad does give you the option to send Schweizer some money when you download it).

The expansive set includes more than 30 3-D figures with a pretty awesome backdrop, which you can download and print out on card stock (the heavier the better, Schweizer advises). He’s also selling the original art from the set as well. Growing up my mom collected various Nativity sets, but I don’t remember her having any that went quite this far into Biblical canon — her sets never included the Little Drummer Boy, Salome or ‘lil John the Baptist, for instance, even if they did occasionally receive visits from my Star Wars figures and Hot Wheels.

Throughout December, Schweizer will do a write-up each day on one of the characters on his blog “At our house, we’ll be using the set like an advent calendar with my daughter, introducing one new figure each day,” he writes. “If you’d like to do the same, I welcome you to use these write-ups as your guide for which characters to introduce in which order, with the write-up to give context.”

You can check out images from the set below.

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Holy-Family

Magi

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Not lying: Skybound taking preorders for Lying Cat statue

The breakout character from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga will soon be available in all three dimensions.

Lying Cat will soon leap from the page straight to your shelf, as Robert Kirkman’s Skybound has announced they will produce a Lying Cat statue in early 2016.

Featuring the breakout character from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, the statue will be hand-painted and 8″ tall statue. Skybound began taking pre-orders for the $75 statue on Friday; it will only be available online. You can pre-order it here.

No word yet if it will act as a miniature lie detector.

Lying Cat
Lying Cat

Ok, probably not. Check out a prototype of what it will look like below.

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