This week saw the release of The Call of the Stryx Vol. 1, which features a dash of conspiracy, action, and unknown creatures. Kevin Nivek, an ex-head of the Secret Service, and Debrah, a mysterious young agent working for a secret organization must confront horde of beings named Stryx, who have infiltrated the highest levels of government and the military.
To mark the release I was lucky enough to interview writer Eric Corbeyran.
Tim O’Shea: How early in the development of The Call of the Stryx did the creative team decide upon setting the plot in the Mojave Desert?
Eric Corbeyran: Setting The Call of the Stryx in the Mojave Desert came naturally. It was a very explicit reference to the infamous “Area 51,” airbase. We loved the idea of a setting filled with paranoia, claims of hidden UFO wreckage, and secret alien communications. Though in our story it’s not about aliens, but Stryx! To go along with the setting we’ve appropriated the mythology about “the little gray men” and UFOs to create our own mythos for the Stryx.
Were there certain characters that grew on the creative team more over the evolution of the story?
From the beginning of the project we had actually established a strict narrative path for each character and we tried not to deviate from that line. However there was one exception: Jill’s character was born from our imaginations after we had already started The Call of the Stryxwhen she appeared in a short story published in Pavillon Rouge (a magazine published by Delcourt). We were so excited by what we created in these few pages, while also frustrated we couldn’t tell more stories about her, that we decided to integrate Jill into The Call of the Stryx beginning in the second arc.
Each page is jam-packed with panels,is that due to the script or more of a function of the art team?
The traditional format for European BD is very limited in volume and the release schedule is very long – by that we mean that every year we deliver a 46-page book to readers. Since the first issue (in 1997) we decided to increase the impact of our issues by giving them a greater “density” than the average BD – more panels per page, more text and richer colors. This move was really appreciated by readers who were surprised by how much we packed into each issue. I think this choice was critical to the success of the series from its inception.
In constructing a story like this, what is the key to striking the proper balance between conspiracy and action?
The conspiracy plays a big role to the mystery surrounding the entire series, from the first panel to the last. With that in mind, I think of the conspiracy in The Call of the Stryx as a kind of fog that keeps the reader from knowing the entire story at once. The action however is more like a car – it’s possible to drive fast, certainly, but we pick-up the speed only when it’s necessary. Knowing how to drive fast through the fog,we think, is what’s been thekey to The Call of the Stryx’s success (laughs).
It is impossible not to root for a new comic when it is pitched by Jimmy Palmiotti. Latest example is the AfterShock Comics creator-owned Superzero: “There is a lot of joy and craziness in Superzero and I think right away you will be rooting for the main character Dru, a teenage girl with a love of comics and everything superheroes.”
To mark the upcoming release, Palmiotti was kind enough to let me interview him.
Tim O’Shea: How important is it to foster a strong relationship with retailers in the run-up to the release of the first issue?
Jimmy Palmiotti: If people do not see the book on their store shelves, then in their mind it doesn’t exist, because a lot of comic fans do not read the internet as much as we think they and rely on their stores to keep them up to date and stock books for them. With any new company, it’s a lot to ask retailers to order heavy on something that is brand new, so its super important for them when ordering to see some familiar names to get a feeling for their initial order. For us, with Harley Quinn and Starfire coming out monthly, they might already have a bit of an idea what to expect with Superzero, but I’m making sure I’m available to them via social media to answer any questions they may have. For my whole career I’ve always been communicating with retailers about the work, and with these trusted relationships have been helping them set their orders as best as I can. With Superzero, we feel this book will appeal to the Harley and Starfire audience as well as the Kick-Ass audience. Look at the other books they have coming and you will see this is a creator-driven launch. So to directly address the question it is key to the success of the company to always work with the retailers. They are our partners in this at all times. Our success is dependent on them.
How enjoyable is there to be known as a part of the creative team with Amanda Conner that is known for creating fun lighthearted stories?
It’s a fantastic time to be working in comics where female leads are becoming normal and working with Amanda, we really are having a blast. This idea for Superzero is something we have had cooking for over six years and its really exciting for us to think we will finally get to entertain and tell the story we wanted to with this project in the initial launch of After Shock comics. There is a lot of joy and craziness in Superzero and I think right away you will be rooting for the main character Dru, a teenage girl with a love of comics and everything superheroes, and hopefully get hooked at the idea we are presenting. The theme is how can a normal person become a superhero and we take it to places that are borderline insane…and at the same time ground the book is in a realistic world that everyone can relate to. I think this book is easily one of our best we have done and we hope everyone else thinks the same. The first issue will surely bring a smile to a lot of faces.
What makes this an attractive property for AfterShock Comics as opposed to some other creator-owned focused company?
We could have gone to many different places with Superzero and each company offers a different deal as far as pay, royalties and ownership. We looked at what was out there and we wanted to partner with another company, rather than just own all of the property, because we just don’t have the time that we would need to self publish, promote, and push it properly. With a lot of companies, you have to do a lot of your own flag waving and with After Shock, they have a team onboard that is going out and doing the things we can’t do, leaving us to tell our story and do what is important to us on our end. As well, outside of the book, After Shock has a crew that can go out and take the property to other media, which is great, but for us, we don’t have any time but to focus on the book. Its great if they do get other media interested, but all we care about is that Superzero is the best comic book we can deliver. The decision to partner with After Shock was made easy because we already had existing relationships with Joe Pruett, Mike Marts and when we met the rest of the gang, we all got along great. This part of the business, the relationships, is key. A lot of time I have worked with publishers that once they get the book from you, you don’t exist anymore unless it’s a big seller. This is not the case with this crew. We are in it together all the way.
Care to elaborate on this gem “What comic creators really need is a brilliant experienced person to go out and sell licenses for creators and their work.”
What I was making note of was there are a lot of license conventions and designer cons and so on where the bigger companies like DC and Marvel license out their characters and art to companies to use for toys, games, statues, t-shirts, posters and a million other things and I wish there was someone that would look , as an example, at my creator owned work at Paperfilms.com and dig in and go out there and sell licenses of the characters to other types of media. For me to do it, which I do most of the time, it takes a lot of effort, connections and time that I just don’t have because of the work I put into the books. I could really use someone that knew what they were doing is all. I feel a lot of the properties are ripe for other media.
You liken Superzero to Harley or Starfire. In what ways do they share common traits?
Aside from the same creators writing them, Superzero is a good person wanting to help the world around her and has a good heart that even though things may go wrong, people can see where she is coming from. I also thing that Dru is also someone that wants better for those around her and is driven to make it happen, so they have that in common.
What can you tell me about the art team for Superzero?
We won the lottery as far as getting the perfect team on the book. On pencils and inks we have Rafael De Latorre who is one of the very few artists that can draw characters in their teens and they actually look their age, not something that is easy to do in comics. His storytelling skills are cinematic, and very telling of someone who has a great sense of set up and delivery and can convey body language. These were the key things we were looking for in the art and his facial expressions are so dead on we hate to cover a single line with dialogue at times. We also scored big time getting colorist Maiolo working with Rafael on this book. He sets a mood and a palette that captures the sun-drenched world that the story is set in, that being Tampa, Florida. He understands story and scene shifts and gives the book a painted feel that is just beautiful to look at. Rounding off the team is designer and letterer John J Hill, our letterer on Harley Quinn and now working with us on Superzero. John has some serious skills and the patience of the Gods working with us again. He simply is the best and we demand him for just about everything we do.
Is it too early to discuss supporting cast?
We meet most of the supporting cast in the first issue. We meet Dru’s mom and dad, sister, best friend and a couple of classmates. These are the important people in her life and a very colorful bunch at that. Her world is a small one that is about to get much bigger as she experiments and throws herself into some pretty insane situations. This book we keep the camera and focus always on Dru as we follow her and I think it works out just great. We get to see the people around her through her critical eyes.
Set in an alternate historical version of 1864, under an imaginary Second Empire, Napoléon III uses his army and his secret service to study certain phenomena relating to the occult and to popular legends. His goal is quite simple: achieving world supremacy. This Delcourt-Soleil series mixes steampunk with espionage. Given that this week saw the release of Hauteville House Vol. 1 , writer Fred Duval obliged me with an interview.
Tim O’Shea: How exactly did the creative team conceive of this imaginary second empire involving Napoleon III using occult in order to achieve world supremacy?
Fred Duval: We were very interested in the idea of Steampunk as it’s one of those English genres based around Queen Victoria’s reign. We wanted to stay in this era but also wanted to reimagine this period with a second empire challenged by Republican forces more than it actually was at the time. Beyond this time period, the principle setting in this story was greatly influenced by civilizations described by Lovecraft.
Can you discuss what you believe is the core appeal of the main cast?
I believe the core appeal is the love story and rivalry between Gavroche, Zelda and Eglantine as well as the comedy and tragedy that surrounds those characters. Eglantine for me is the main character, even if we don’t see her in every issue. The relationship between Gavroche and Zelda lets me have a little fun with US/France relations, while giving me the chance to explore a true and enduring love story that’s somewhat complicated.
What do you most enjoy about working in the steampunk genre?
I loved the world of the Wild Wild West TV series as a child and brining that world closer to French historical events is a dream for me. The steampunk elements of Hauteville House let me play with inventions and technology that Jules Verne predicted in his stories. Hauteville House is a universe where Jules Verne’s inventions would be a reality I think.
How satisfying is it to be able to introduce stories like Hauteville House to an English speaking audience?
I’m very happy that Hauteville House is being published in English. I know that English readers appreciate Jules Verne, who I consider as the founder of French Science fiction and as I mentioned a key influence of Hauteville House. I actually had a chance to share this series in French to students of San Marcos, College station in Texas. They were studying French and they appreciated. So if English speakers studying French liked it, I think that English speakers reading this story in English will also appreciate it (laughs).
Is there an aspect of Hauteville House you would like to discuss that I overlooked?
Yes! There are several allusions to American literature throughout Hauteville House. I mentioned Lovecraft as an influence, but beyond that Ambrose Bierce who wrote AnOccurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and The Devil’s Dictionary can also be seen inHauteville House. Our cartoonist, Thierry Gioux, will tell you that he’s definitely a fan of Bierce.
Otherwise I can say that I’m excited to be in Texas for Thanksgiving this year. I’ll be working with students doing research for an issue that takes place around Fort Alamo!
To say Marguerite Bennett is an up and coming writer would be somewhat of an understatement. Not many people at this early stage of their career could convince someone to let her take the reins of a creator owned-project much less a project that DC and Marvel would not touch with a ten foot pole–due to subject matter. InSeXts is an erotic horror story about a pair of Victorian era lovers who go on a vengeful killing spree. Luckily for Bennett Mike Marts, the Aftershock editor-in-chief, like what he saw in greenlit the project.
Then another fortunate development, Bennett agreed to talk to me about the new series.
Tim O’Shea: InSeXts is an erotic horror story about a pair of Victorian era lovers who go on a vengeful killing spree. Was that the initial pitch you gave AfterShock Editor-in-Chief Mike Marts, or did it evolve to that over time?
Marguerite Bennett: This was the original pitch, yes! I was astonished and delighted and maybe a little bit horrified that of the stories I submitted, this was the one that was approved, because now the whole world would know the awful things I like to read and write about in my downtime, haha.
The story actually began as a 12-page one-shot in the IN THE DARK: A HORROR ANTHOLOGY edited by the magnificent Rachel Deering (drawn and colored, at the time, by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer and Doug Garbark), but I had always had great plans for my lethal ladies. I’ve been thrilled that I’m finally able to continue their story and give them the space to breathe and evolve and commit a LOT of murder.
Am I correct in thinking this is not a creator owned project that Marvel or DC could or would touch with a 10 foot pole. Why do think AfterShock is willing to take the risk?
Hahaha, no, I can’t say many companies would’ve touched it–the brutality and sexuality and time period and relative absence of traditional heroes certainly set a ghastly tone. AfterShock has been wonderful to work with, though, and have given me such freedom. Mike Marts is kind of my comics dad (sorry, Mike) and brought me in to DC and then to Marvel a year later, and I work very hard to make sure the scripts I send him are up to scratch. He can tell you, I actually took a script back because I decided there weren’t enough “Holy #$%&” moments and gutted the whole thing and rebuilt it until I felt it was worthy. I work very hard to make sure that there is nothing like this story and it can be a suitable feather in AfterShock’s hat for all the support they’ve given me in its creation. For everything I’ve seen in my relationship with them, they’re committed to making sure there is nothing like their books on the market. I’ve been very happy.
What can you tell readers about the lead characters as well as some of the supporting cast?
The main protagonists are Lady and Mariah, our titular lovers. Lady is high-strung and anxious, Mariah younger but more mature. Lady, having been caged by her life for so long, takes deadly risks, while Mariah is more calculated, more inclined to wait for her revenge. Both of them are devoted to one another, and long for a family of their own above all else. Beyond that, they are aided by Dr. William Taylor, their beloved friend, and hunted by a variety of foes, from human abusers to Old World horrors to surprising villainesses. One villainess has been shockingly fun to write–Sylvia, Lady’s sister-in-law, a female misogynist who despises everything Lady is and will do anything to see her put in her place.
What creative risks are you able to take with an ambitious artist like Ariela Kristantina especially when teamed with a colorist like Bryan Valenza?
Oh my goodness God, I love Ariela and Bryan to pieces. Ariela takes these horrifying things and adds such loveliness and elegance to them–sincere tenderness that, in the hands of another artist, would be lacking, would turn the entire story into some low pornography. Bryan’s textures are rich and subtle, with soft warmth that suddenly gets slashed through by some hypersaturated neons in moments of outrage and violence. Together, the beauty of their artwork highlights the ghastliness of our story–I couldn’t be happier with any other team.
Patrick Dean is an Athens Georgia-based creator. His comics and illustrations appeared weekly in Athens’ Flagpole Magazine for a decade and have been published in Legal Action Comics, Typhon, The Comic Eye, Vice Magazine, and The Oxford American Magazine Since late May he has worked for Athens Trader Joe’s, where they have put his artistic skills to good use. Dean has been kind enough to share some of the work and explain why it appeals to him.
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.
Early September saw the release of Paul Allor’s creator-owned series Tet from IDW. Allor was kind enough to give me a brief interview. Enjoy.
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.
With issue 7 released of Cluster in early September writer edbrisson was kind enough to grant me an interview for his creator-owned Boom Studios! series.
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
Rules For Dating My Daughteris 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; andHarley 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 hereand 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.
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.