Smash Pages Q&A: Chip Mosher on ‘Blacking Out,’ bande dessinée and billboards

The writer of ‘Left on Mission’ returns with a new comic that’s currently up on Kickstarter.

As the Head of Content for comiXology Originals, Chip Mosher already has a pretty great day job, working with creators to bring original content to the digital comics provider.

But before working there and for his previous employer, BOOM! Studios, he wanted to write comics, and in fact wrote Left on Mission, with artist Francesco Francavilla, which was published by BOOM! before he joined them

Now, more than a decade later, he’s returned to the creative side and has written something new, Blacking Out, featuring artwork by Peter Krause, Giulia Brusco and Ed Dukeshire. It’s currently up on Kickstarter, where it blew past its modest $500 goal in the first 8 minutes of the campaign.

I spoke with Mosher at length about the new project, what inspired the format, how he’s promoting it and more.

Thanks for talking with me, Chip. First, a little fact checking: Is this the first comic you’ve written since Left on Mission?

Yep. This the long awaited follow up to Left on Mission…  at least long awaited by me. It’s been 12 years since I’ve had a new book out.

So what’s it been like using those muscles again then after more than a decade? How did you go about assembling the creative team?

Hah!  Well, you know right in the middle of Left on Mission coming out in singles back in mid 2007, I joined BOOM! Studios right at the same time Mark Waid joined as Editor in Chief. And… let me tell you, there’s nothing that kills a comics career quicker than writing your first comic book and then having an office next to Mark Waid. Just realizing, “That guy is so good. I’m never going to be that good.” (Laughs.)  In all seriousness, when I wrote Left on Mission back in the mid-aughts and got it done at BOOM! Studios with co-creator, Francesco Francavilla, I quickly realized that I was the slowest writer I knew, and as I got the marketing gig and was exposed to more writers who were rising in the industry – not to mention watching Mark work up close and personal, I just realized I was never going to be that person that had a prolific comics writing career.  I felt in my bones that the one thing that I could really excel at was marketing and PR for comics—and not to sound too self-congratulatory, I think I’ve made a pretty good mark there. [Laughs]

It’s worked out for you.

I feel good about what I’ve done on that front. So with Blacking Out, I had this story that’s really dark, and I just wanted to do something for fun. Life is a lot about compromising, and when Francesco and I worked on Left on Mission, it was in the early days of BOOM! and my buddy, Martin Thomas, came on to color it. It was a hard comic book to give birth to. I’m still very proud of it, and I think Francesco is too. But I really just wanted to do something where I didn’t have to worry about asking people to work on the book for a super low page rate or asking those same people to work on a tight deadline under that tight of a budget.

In the last decade, I’ve really fallen in love with the French bande dessinée format, the BD format — having the privilege to go to France and attend the Angoulême Comics Festival, which I think I’ve missed the Angoulême Comics Festival once over the last seven years, eight years. And there I was talking to one of the artists and I was like, “What’s your contract like?”

And he said, “Well, I have six months to turn in the first page, and then I have six months to turn in the last page, 48 pages.” So you have six months to draw 48 pages? No wonder these books look amazing.

What’s not really well known is that while the U.S. market’s a billion dollar industry, the Franco-Belgian market is also a billion dollar industry with about the fifth of the people. So you have a society that reads way more comic books per capita than the United States, and they really take the art form seriously as a culture. This past Angoulême, French President Macron came to the show.

Creators really take their time producing the work and it shows. And these albums are just beautifully crafted, beautifully done, and I really just wanted to do something like that. I just really wanted to do something that just had absolutely no compromises.

So, I talked to Pete (Peter Krause) about working on Blacking Out, and Pete told me no, because Blacking Out was so dark. And then I talked to him about it again. I was like, “Come on, Pete, it will be fun… it’s so dark it’s good.” And eventually he relented. (Laughs.)

I think Pete drew the 48 pages over a year or so. The script wasn’t broken down by panels, so I really let the storytelling be artist driven. And I really think it’s the work of Pete’s career. It’s really just gorgeous. I’m not going to say anything about the writing, I think the writing’s pretty good, but holy cow, Pete’s art is amazing.

And then I got in touch with Giulia Brusco, whose work on Scalped, is just the bee’s knees.  I said, “Giulia, look, I just want your best work. Whatever schedule you need to do your best work.” And Giulia replied, “Well, I can work on it in between projects.”

A lot of times you work with people and they’re freelance, and some people just have to have a deadline to deliver, and in this case it was working with a lot of people that have all had full careers of working on deadlines and delivering. So, there was really little to no risk of telling people there really wasn’t a deadline. “Hey, there’s no deadline on this, I want your best work” is basically how I approached everyone.

And then Ed Dukeshire, who I worked at when I was at BOOM!, and who lettered Irredeemable, which Pete drew and Waid wrote, is someone I wanted to letter the book from day one.  Ed is probably one of the greatest letterers in contemporary comics. I know that Ed is routinely given 48 hours to do 22 pages. And he nails it. But having worked with him before, I know that if you can give Ed more time, he can really shine. So I told Ed, “I just want your best work.”

If you look at what Ed was doing with the lettering on Irredeemable, he was changing the fonts and changing the size of the words, and it really struck me. Irredeemable #1 is probably one of my favorite first issues. And so I told Ed, “Look, I have word emphasis in the script, but if you read it and you see something that you think will work better, you’re the letterer, you’re the artist, I’m not a letterer, so just do what you think is best.”

And then he came back to me a couple of days later with the first test page and he was like, “Hey, I’m going to hand draw the word balloons.”

And I was like, “What? What are you doing? You’re nuts!” Usually a digital letterer takes the tool in Illustrator or whatever, and it automatically draws a circle and then slap a tail on it. Ed actually went through with the mouse and, if you’ll notice all through Blacking Out, no two word balloons are the same. And then he’s doing crazy word emphasis stuff. Some of it is stuff that I’ve put in the script, some of it is truly coming from Ed. And so it was just a true creative collaboration throughout the whole thing.  

It would make me sad to go back to my emails and see when this all started, but there’s at least three years for about 54 pages of story. Not to mention Tom Muller. Tom worked on this while he was designing the House of X/X-Men design/redesign for Hickman. My only direction was, “Man, I just want the best cover for this that you could possibly come up with.”

And so over a six-month period of time in between him doing this massive redesign of the X-Men books, I’m getting this stuff from Tom, and then BAM! “I figured out the logo.” And the logo is amazing. The logo is just worth its weight in gold. And then he art-directed the cover and then art-directed Pete’s work on the cover… and the cover is just the icing on the cake.

The thing I like about the cover is the thing I love about Chip Kidd’s covers for a lot of the books. You’ll see a Chip Kidd cover and you’ll read the book and you’ll look at the cover, and you’ll go, “Oh,” because there’s multiple layers to the cover design that’s inspired by the story. And the same thing is true of Tom’s work on Blacking Out, and once you read the book, you’ll get it.

So you’ve had the team working on it then for a while. How long ago did you come up with the story and what was the genesis for the idea?

The basic plot to the story I think I came up with when I was 15 or 16, and have had in my back pocket since. But Blacking Out is something that’s been sitting in a drawer for quite some time.

Okay. And so the timing felt right then to move forward with it at this point?

Yeah. It’s my mid-life crisis. “Wow, I can buy that convertible Trans Am or I could do a comic book.” So, I’ve self-funded this out of my own pocket over those several years. We have a low reserve on the Kickstarter, so there is no doubt in my mind the book’s going to happen. I hope people get as excited about it as I am. I’ve been waiting months to really get … I really just want everyone to see Pete and Giulia and Ed’s work and Tom’s work, especially Pete’s work. He did such great work on Irredeemable but really hasn’t done a ton of comics over the years, after Power of Shazam! He’s been storyboarding, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get him on this is because I really wanted him to direct the pacing and the flow of the story. It’s much more Marvel style—no panel breakdown, process more than anything else. And I knew with Pete, with the decades of doing storyboards, that he could kill it. And he did.

Having already read it, the thing that was hard about coming up with questions was I didn’t really want to talk about the plot too much.

I know, right?

It’s one of those things you don’t want to spoil because it’s better if you go in not knowing anything about it. But put your marketing hat on then. How are you describing and selling the book to people without really giving anything away?

The back-cover copy, I think, says it all, “Bad people doing bad things.” Drunk ex-cop looking for redemption, trying to solve a murder, and I just leave it at that.

I think we touched on this earlier, but you have a lot of contacts in the industry obviously, through your day job. Why did you decide to go with Kickstarter and self-publishing this, versus ComiXology Originals or even some other publisher?

This is a personal project that I did on my own in my off time, and I started doing it before ComiXology Originals really started getting spun up. And so I just wanted to keep a separation between them.

I think you’ll notice all the lobby cards are people that have nothing to do with ComiXology Originals. I have relationships with pretty much every publisher, I just didn’t want to give anyone an ability to say that I was doing anything other than making this book for myself with my own means, if that makes sense.

And this isn’t your first round with Kickstarter, right? You helped your wife out with her book, too.

Yeah, my wife, she gave a pull quote for the book, “Blacking Out is no romance,” Kim Krizan, Before Sunrise. An Easter egg blurb in the Kickstarter. Yeah, so my wife, who is most well known as co-creating the Before Sunrise trilogy, has written a couple of books. She did a book about femme fatales several years ago that we Kickstarted. Which was successful and we fulfilled. So at least I have a track record. (Hah!)

Was that the one where you had billboards up in L.A.? Do you have anything fun like that planned for this?

That was for her book this past fall, not the Kickstarter. My wife’s publisher for that book was able to get some digital billboard around L.A., and lo and behold, I’m taking a page from her publisher. We were able to get a space on 32 digital billboards in and around Los Angeles for the launch and the day after launch. And so we’ll see. You never know with that stuff. It’s during the pandemic, maybe we’ll get more attention because there’s less people driving and they’ll be looking at billboards instead of the traffic in L.A.

Chip with one of the billboards for Blacking Out

What is traffic like right now in LA? Can you actually drive through the city now?

Totally. I have gotten stir crazy and driven back and forth from Palm Springs, an hour-and-a-half each way. No stops. Just sheltering in place, in the car.

Wow. Jeez.

It’s usually a two-and-a-half hour drive. I think I did the whole round trip in three hours.

Speaking of L.A., I saw that one of your rewards is a tour of notorious crime sites that you’re going to take somebody on. Can you talk a little about that and how much that one might cost somebody?

I think I have it at $1000. Yeah, I’m a big crime guy. When I was getting into crime fiction, someone broke into my apartment. I insisted that the cops fingerprint around where the guy broke into the back window of my apartment. Then I did some asking around and I figured out who broke in and stole my stuff. They matched the prints to the guy I suspected. And the cops caught the guy because of that.

Wow.

So, ever since then I’ve been a big crime fiction guy, whether it’s James Ellroy or Charles Willeford or Ross Macdonald or Gary Phillips, who’s local here in L.A. I just read a lot of crime fiction. So one the weekend, I’m like, “Honey, let’s go where the Black Dahlia’s body was last found.” And you’re walking around the neighborhood and all the neighbors are staring at you. Then I’m like “Honey, let’s go to the Biltmore Hotel where the Black Dahlia was last seen.”

When my wife and I bought a house I was looking up stuff about the history of the neighborhood and then it was like, ”Hey honey, The Hillside Strangler dumped bodies right around the corner.” So I just know a lot of crazy crime stuff.

And then recently I found out that a great uncle of mine was murdered in Malibu in 1943, and his murderer turned himself in to the Cornell post office in Malibu, which is now a well-known restaurant called the Old Place. So, we will probably end up where my great uncle’s murderer turned himself in for a lunch if someone goes for it.

What other rewards will you be offering? If people want to get the book, what’s the cost?

Well, the book’s done. So once the Kickstarter is funded and ends, you’re going to get the book. All the reward tiers outside the support tier and retailer tier offer the book digitally, so you’ll get the book immediately once the Kickstarted is funded and ends.

Additionally, I’m offering a photo book of collages and photos I did for Blacking Out. I took a lot of photo reference for this story. I’m fair to middling with Photoshop collaging and I did a lot of collaging to visualize some of the places where the story took place. You can see a lot of these shots in the Kickstarter video. I went out when there was a big fire off of 5, north of L.A., and I took off one day and just drove up and down the 5 taking pictures of the fire. The light is amazing. Whenever the fire season comes in L.A., and you have these gorgeous sunsets, it’s because there’s all this particulate matter from the smoke in the atmosphere. And we just get incredible, incredible sunsets…. Because a fire is destroying something. Quite the dichotomy.   

And then Left on Mission recently reverted to Francesco and me, and Francesco has graciously agreed for us to give that away as one of the rewards.

Cool.

So, for 10 bucks you get the book digitally, and then for 15 bucks you’ll not only get Blacking Out, you’ll get Left on Mission and you’ll get my photo book. And then we have an early bird special, which is 40 bucks, with that you’ll get the digital reward bundle, you’ll get a signed and numbered copy of the book and the lobby card set, with a murderer’s row of creators doing lobby cards. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, lobby cards were a way that they promoted movies, and there’s a lot of film noir lobby cards. So, Francesco did his version. It was fantastic to work with Francesco again. I love his card. And then I reached out to Eduardo Risso, and Risso just killed it. Emma Ríos’ card just knocked my socks off. Dan Panosian’s card is amazing. Mirka Andolfo killed it. So many great lobby cards.

And then we have a tier where you get the lobby cards “naked,” so there’s just no branding, so it’s just the art.

Lobby Card by Francesco Francavilla

That’s nice.

And then we have a tier where you get the live commentary. I think I’m calling it live and naked. So you get the naked tier and you get a live Zoom call with me and Pete, and we do live commentary on the book. The COVID special. And then we have a retailer tier, I think it’s 10 books for 250 bucks. And then the crime tour of L.A.

You’re offering a lot to choose from.

Yeah, I tried to make it substantial but not too complicated. I hate when I go to Kickstarters and I can’t figure out what’s going on. There’s just too many choices. Basically, right now, with any reward tier 40 bucks and over, you’re going to get a signed and numbered book and you’re going to get the base lobby card set. And then it just goes more from there, but everybody’s getting the book.

So, one last question, and you talked about this a little bit already. I was going to ask about some of your crime fiction influences. You listed several local L.A. authors. In terms of crime comics, are there any standouts that you’re a fan of?

Ed Brubaker is the gold standard of crime comics. I love everything that he does. What was the last one, Bad Weekend?

Yeah, the Comic-Con one?

Yeah, holy crap. Holy crap, it was amazing. It was just amazing. And, yeah, my little nod to Ed and Sean Phillips’ stuff is Jacob Phillips, Sean’s son, who’s coloring stuff. I met him at the Lakes Festival a while back. I was just sitting next to this kid. I asked, “What’s your name?”

He replied, “I’m Jacob Phillips.”

“Sean’s son?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you do?”

“Spot illustration.”

And now a couple of years later, Jacobs coloring comics and he’s just so good. I remember the spot illo work he showed me at that dinner during Lakes and thinking to myself – wow, what a talent! So we got him to do a lobby card and then he colored Jamal Igle, Elise McCall, and Patrick Reynolds’s lobby cards and then there’s a special Peter Kraus lobby card that Jacob colored, too.

Wow. It’s amazing to me that you’re just so very well connected.

Thanks for calling me old.

It’s all right. You’re well connected and wise. Does that help?

I’m wise now, JK? I’ll remember that.

I might be pushing it on that one.

Well, when Comic-Con International was going to happen this year, it would have been my 20th consecutive year working with a company exhibiting.

Wow. Really?

Yeah.

Not even going as a fan, actually working the convention.

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think I’ve gone as a fan since 1993. But I had some years off in the 90s. My first year at Comic-Con was 1989. So I’m officially old.

Yeah, I won’t ask you how old you were for your first one.

I was a teenager. Young teenager.

Yeah, under 13, right?

[Laughs]

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