Category Archives: Interviews

We Talk Ricky Rouse Has a Gun with Jörg Tittel

Ricky Rouse has a Gun CoverRick Rouse is a US Army deserter who, after running away to China, gets a job at Fengxian Amusement Park, a family destination heavily “inspired” by Western culture, featuring Rambi (the deer with a red headband), Ratman (the caped crusader with a rat’s tail), Bumbo (small ears, big behind) and other original characters. The park’s general manager is convinced that Rick was destined to greet Fengxian customers dressed as none other than Ricky Rouse. But when American terrorists take the entire park hostage, only Ricky Rouse can save the day. In a furry costume. Introduced by Christopher Sprigman, author of The Knockoff Economy, this original graphic novel is a relentless action comedy, a satire of US-China relations, a parody of Western entertainment and a curious look at China, a country that, once we look past its often outrageous infringements, is a culture ripe with innovation and a unique, courageous spirit.

Ricky Rouse Has a Gun is part action story, part parody, part commentary on intellectual property, and totally entertaining.

We got a chance to chat with writer Jörg Tittel about the graphic novel’s origins, Shanzhai (the Chinese culture of knocking-off the intellectual property of others), and more!

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea of Ricky Rouse Has a Gun come from?

Jörg Tittel: I ripped it off, of course. But seriously, the idea of setting a Die Hard knockoff in a Chinese knockoff theme park first came to me when I was living in Los Angeles a few years ago. As the budding filmmaker I was then, I was probably a bit frustrated with the fact that everything that was actually getting green-lit was based on a brand, a remake of a classic, or an unnecessary sequel. Or preferably all of the above. And then I saw a YouTube video of an actual fake Disneyland in China. Add the fact that Bush was still very much the US president, mix it all together, and you get closer to the dangerous cocktail recipe that infected my brain and refused to get out.

GP: The graphic novel skewers a lot, first Shanzhai. How did you first come across it, and why have a story that revolves around it?

JT: There is something utterly hilarious and bizarre about a drastically and beautifully different culture appropriating Western cultural icons and renaming them to their heart’s content. On the internet, that stuff is called fan art. But in the world of multinational corporations, it’s considered theft. I obviously don’t condone anyone profiting from stolen intellectual property – it’s a disgusting practice – but I’m equally appalled by the “West’s” apparent lack of original ideas and our now standard practice of ripping ourselves off “legally” by buying 20th century ideas and franchises and reheating them ad infinitum. I’m worried we’ll all get cultural salmonella poisoning.

GP: Do you think the book itself both skewers intellectual property and Shanzhai? You take on both with the character of Ricky Rouse, but also action movies too. There was a Die Hard vibe I got from a lot of the story.

JT: I didn’t really set out to “take on” anybody. I see the whole thing as both a warm embrace and a full frontal assault where (hopefully) noone gets spared. A “fuck you hug” if you will for Hollywood, China, plagiarists, US foreign policy and whoever else may get referenced in the book. I’ll leave that to your readers to discover. As far as Die Hard is concerned, I believe it is the perfect action movie still to this day: inventive, funny, suspenseful, violent, with characters you actually care about. People are still desperately trying to make the next Die Hard. Look at Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down for instance… two films that both rip off the Die Hard “formula” and each other, all at the same time. You wouldn’t find such big budget knockoffs in China. You have to go to Hollywood for that. That said, I’m a total hypocrite of course, because despite all its “higher” ideals and satirical tone, Ricky Rouse Has a Gun is my silly attempt to make my own Die Hard. Anything to erase those sequels from my memory! Hah!

GP: The underlying theme of the book to me seems to be about control and co-option, either through pop culture/intellectual property or through military force, soft and hard power. How do you see these two in today’s world stage?

JT: There has been a lot of talk, especially since 9/11 and Bush’s wars, of these being signals of the “fall of an empire” akin to the Roman Empire eventual demise. And in some ways, that may indeed be true. Disney is more powerful than it’s ever been but it took buying the three biggest entertainment brands (Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars) rather than coming up with beautiful, original stories. America, too, has had to expand outwards. American productivity and manufacturing has been going down. Tens of thousands of its kids have been sent to fight dubious wars (many of them for oil etc.) abroad instead of making anything of value at home, and many more foreigners (including, tragically, Chinese children) have been manufacturing America’s biggest “export”, the iPhone. All the while, Apple has hardly paid a single tax dollar in its native country. We are no better here in Europe, of course. At this rate, all this control and co-option could lead to an implosion of our beloved “West.” I’m worried we’ve become a snake eating its own tail. But hey, STOP, what are we talking about? My book is FUNNY and ACTION PACKED!

 

GP: Shanzhai is interesting to me, as it both thumbs its nose at intellectual property, but also is controlled by it, since that’s what it is influenced by.

 

JT: I warmly recommend you read Bianca Bosker’s excellent book Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China and Christopher Sprigman and Kal Raustiala’s The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation on this subject. Incidentally, Chris also wrote the awesome foreword in Ricky Rouse Has a Gun. The foreword is worth the price alone. Heck, don’t read the silly bubbles or look at John Aggs’ awesome art. Just buy the book for the foreword.

GP: There are obviously different opinions between China and the United States about the ownership of culture. War has been fought over physical goods in the past (oil being an obvious example), could you see the cold war over intellectual property ever turning hot like in the book?

JT: In many ways, it already has. Individual artists, authors and creators are making less and less money, while corporations fill their pockets under the guise of anti-piracy measures and technological progress.

GP: Now that the book is out there, have you heard from Disney at all? It seems interesting this is out there, when they’re currently in a fight with DeadMau5 over the mouse logo.

JT: The Deadmau5 story is interesting – and incredibly silly – but there’s a crucial difference: Joel Zimmerman (aka Deadmau5) filed for a trademark which Disney’s lawyers feel might threaten their iconic mouse logo, whereas Ricky Rouse is an obvious parody. I would however love to hear from Disney – Ricky Rouse Has a Gun would be a great Touchstone picture.

GP: There’s the obvious question about Disney’s opinion, but what about the Chinese? Have you gotten any feedback from folks there? Especially those involved in Shanzhai?

JT: I’ve had awesome feedback from Chinese readers so far but I’m hoping that a Chinese publisher will translate the book so I can hear what “they” really think!

GP: What can we expect from you next?

JT: My partner- and wife-in-crime Alex and I will be directing our first feature film next year, an adaptation of György Dragomán’s incredible novel The White King. And I’ve been working on a YA comic book series which I can’t wait to unleash on the world. Both projects are very very different from Ricky Rouse. Perhaps I’ll miss the bugger enough one day to write a bloody sequel. How meta would that be?

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Interview: Sean Astin – ‘The Strain’

the-strain-logo1I had the fortunate opportunity to be involved in a conference call interview with “The Strain” co-star Sean Astin, who plays Jim Kent in the series. Although, I did not get the chance to ask a question, it was still a great experience. Sean Astin is one of my favorite actors and I watch all of his work. To be able to listen to him speak about various topics was a real treat and I wanted to share all of that with the Graphic Policy community. Be sure to check out Brett’s Reviews of each of The Strain’s episodes after they air as they are a great complement to the show.

FX NETWORK: The Strain
September 2, 2014 – 10:00 PDT

SPEAKERS

Tom Ruffner
Sean Astin

PRESENTATION

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen thank you for standing by and welcome to The Strain conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later we will conduct a question and answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. (Operator instructions.) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to our host, Mr. Tom Ruffner. Please go ahead.

Tom: Hello and welcome to The Strain conference call with series star Sean Astin. I’d like to thank everyone for joining us today and remind you that this call is for print purposes only. No audio may be used. The Strain airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on FX, and as always we respectfully request that you do not post spoilers pre-air to help protect our viewing experience for our audience.

Due to the fact that there are so many journalists joining us today, we ask that you limit yourself to one question and a quick follow-up and then go back into queue for any additional questions you may have.

With that said, let’s go ahead and take our first question. I’ll turn it back over to you, Don.

Moderator – (Operator instructions.): And the first question comes from the line of Earl Dittman of Digital Journal.

Earl: Good morning, Sean.

Sean: Good morning, Earl, how are you doing?

Earl: Doing great. I have to say first off you are fantastic in this brilliant series and it’s just wonderful to watch every week.

Sean: Thanks, man.

Earl: You’re no stranger to television. You’ve done 24, things like that and feature films, of course the iconic Lord of the Rings trilogy. How has The Strain been different for you as a actor, in any ways?

Sean: First of all working with Guillermo is a unique experience for most people who are working on these shows, I would say one of the most exciting things about it is spending time with Guillermo. He’s just so full of life and creativity and his imagination and you always feel like he’s both incredibly well prepared and in the moment and able to be spontaneous, so that’s pretty great. And then I have not in my life been a vampire guy really except when I was 16 and I worked in a movie theatre where my friend Corey Feldman’s movie The Lost Boys premiered. That was probably the height of my vampire interest. I sort of missed the rest of the wave of Vampire Diaries and all the way through to the recent Twilight and everything else, so being like learning vampire lore was pretty cool for me, particularly in Guillermo’s—the cosmology of vampires in Guillermo’s mind is really cool.

Earl: Yes, yes, and a quick follow-up, as Jim, we don’t hate him; we don’t love him. We understand he’s empathetic. What do you think about him in a couple sentences?

Sean: Jim is basically a morally compromised guy and I think he has the occasional quips that he has, comedic quips reveals some kind of personality that it might be fun to interact with, but his wife is suffering and so he’s a compromised guy basically the way I see him.

Earl: Again, thanks for your time and thanks for your great work, I love the series and you.

Sean: Thank you so much, Earl.

Earl: I appreciate it.

Moderator: And the next question comes from the line of Hal Boedecker from Orlando Sentinel. Please go ahead.
Hal Thank you, Sean. Congratulations. What does it mean to be part of this series?

Sean: Since being in Lord of the Rings this wave, this pop cultural wave of franchise inclusion has swept the globe where people—these comic book franchises, bestselling book franchises, television reboot franchises, they just come in big waves and it’s almost like being in one particular movie or one particular show isn’t enough anymore. So the fact that Guillermo and Carlton Cuse came along with this new incarnation of a vampire world meant a new franchise and so I feel I’m grateful that Guillermo reached out and swept me up in it. When you go to Comic Con, you have a team.

Hal: I also wondered especially the convenience store episode is so memorable. Can you talk about the challenges of filming that?

Sean: Yes, it aired last night, so you guys are the ones who are responsible not to do any spoilers, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler now. Ironically the biggest challenge of it was how cold it was. Toronto suffered really the coldest winter in most of the crew members’ memory and it’s one thing to sit here in a 75º day in Los Angeles and talk about cold weather, but it was bitter cold. So you look outside at these vampires who were in their post mortem makeup and you just figured that it wasn’t too far off from where they’re going to be if they had to stand outside any longer. But the emotions of it, I was told in my very first meeting with Guillermo and Carlton that this character from the books, who didn’t last that long in the books, wasn’t going to last very long in the series, so they invited me to be a part of this show knowing full well that in episode eight my character is going to get killed off. So there is a little bit of the gallows anticipation that comes knowing we’re in episode five; it’s only a few episodes away now before I get to say good-bye to all my new friends.

And then when you find yourself actually in the convenience store doing the work, there is an emotional responsibility that you have to the relationship between the characters. And so blocking the scene where Eph and Nora discover that he’s been fully infected, it was really kind of cool the first bit where they use the UV ray to see the worm in my face and they go and lay me down and do this sort of butcher surgery or field dressing surgery, that was all kind of cool and relatively straight forward, relatively easy.

But then when we got into blocking, Jim discovers that it’s all through my back and then I realize that the only thing to do is for them to kill me and I’m saying I don’t want to turn out like the rest of them and I don’t want go after my parents and asking Setrakian to basically explain what that is with these vampires go to the ones closest to them. It was pretty powerful emotionally and everybody had this feeling that it was exciting to be doing maybe one of the first big deaths of the show. I guess there had been others, but for me it was the big death because it was me.

And this dual feeling that the show—the characters move on and the show moves on and that was definitely a dynamic, unlike 24 where I never knew from one week to the next what was going to happen and I open the script or sitting in the makeup bus for episode whatever it was 13 and my character has this spectacular Sentox nerve gas death. So you’re like it’s sort of shocking, but you know anything can happen on that show and that is a very heroic death.

This one, Jim’s redemption is kind of petty redemption. He’s—I think the first one to plug in the UV ray lights and is what I think is a kind of for me it’s iconic where I come out of the convenience store and I’m the first one to extend my arm with the thing and burn one of the vamps with this UV light; and then of course everybody does it because Jim did it. But that feeling is yes, I don’t know; it was cool. I was at Disneyland with my wife and kids. I had run a marathon, this Disney half marathon weekend, so we did a 10K on Tuesday and a half marathon.

So I’m walking around and my legs are sore and the kids are having a ball and I realized the episode is airing right now. I hadn’t really been paying any attention to my phone for three days, but we’re sitting on the train going through Fantasy Land and I’m looking at seeing all these messages saying all right, Jim, we’re going to miss you buddy. It was a sad way for you to have to go, Jim, but we tried to have fun with it. What are you going to do?

Hal: Congratulations, it was great.

Sean: Thanks.

Moderator: Thank you and the next question comes from the line of Mike Hughes for TV America. Please go ahead.

Mike: You know what I found really interesting was when you said that you were 16 and you were working in a movie theatre because back then you had already been a successful actor. How did you end up then working in a movie theatre and what’s it like to be a guy who’s an actor working in a movie theatre watching other people act?

Sean: It’s funny I was looking online right before I got on the conference call and there was this article about celebrities who live below their means or something, modest celebrities; and it talked about how Leonardo DiCaprio occasionally takes a commercial flight. When I was 16 my mom and I, I had a car for a little bit and then she wanted or needed the car back, so I basically was doing summer school and night school. I really wanted to graduate with a better GPA than I had earned throughout the rest of my high school year and I would take the bus into Westwood from my dad’s place in west LA. I just worked in a movie theatre. I worked at the Bruin and Mr. Francis was my manager. I started by taking tickets at the door.

The fun story I have is with my buddy Corey. It was his movie. It was the first I guess I worked a couple of days on, it was like the end of Superman’s run. I can’t remember what it was, but anyhow and then it comes in and there’s the big premiere and Corey walks in and I’m wearing my blue blazer with my gray pants and my name tag. I used my middle name and Patrick is my middle name. I used my middle name and all the actors are standing by the concession stand and Mr. Francis, who is I don’t know 147 at that point he’s since passed away and he’s just a known guy; he’s a known figure—character personality and he said “Sean, you got to go pick up that popcorn.” I grabbed the broom and dust pan and I walked over. I was like “Excuse me, Corey,” and he looked and he saw me and he’s like, “Sean, what happened?”

I worked my way up through the ranks. It took all summer, but by the end of it, I was making bank drops from the box office and I cleaned the butter maker and it was fun. I remember my mom sort of being shocked that I would do that job, but I liked it. And that couple hundred buck check meant more to me than the $10,000 check that I got when I was eight because that $10,000 check went into an account that I didn’t see till I was 18 and now I was 16 and I could go spend that money. I don’t know. I count that as one of the good experiences for me.

Mike: That’s great. Thanks a lot.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question is from the line of Brent Hankins from Nerd Repository. Please go ahead.

Brent: Good morning, Sean, how’s it going?

Sean: Good. Good morning.

Brent: I really liked Jim’s arc on this season. I know going from the pilot where they set him up and you think he’s just a bad guy. Then as the season progresses, you see Sylvia and you see his motivation and it peels back this whole other layer of the character. I think that makes Jim one of the more relatable characters on the show because there’s this human element to this struggle—obviously he loves his family very much and would do anything for them. I think that gives just a whole deeper meaning to that character. What was it about Jim for you as an actor that really made you want to invest in that role?

Sean: I didn’t really care. Guillermo wanted me to do it, so I wanted to do it. And then the idea for me was figure out what it was that he saw in me that he wanted me to do it. I think you could take a wide range of actors and put them in that part and it would be a Rorschach test of who that actor is. I think what he liked is that as Samwise Gamgee I’m known for being a friend and loyal and likable, a nice guy; and I think he liked the juxtaposition of somebody doing something morally questionable or wrong, who is likeable at the same time that it would make—like you said it’ll be interesting for people to have to wrestle themselves with it.

There are all these apocalyptic franchises now and the question becomes how accessible, he used the word accessible—how, he used the word relatable, but how authentic if you can really feel like what would it be like if I was in that situation, if the power went out or if the grid went out or if there’s some terrorist event or some plague, the bubonic plague is around now, Ebola or whatever. So if you’re going to use a vampire story as a metaphor for that, you want to find ways into it that feel natural.

So, what I came to like about Jim, was the way that he wanted even though he did the wrong thing, he really wanted to be of service as a CDC guy, as an aide to Eph. He wanted to help and so I liked leaning into that. Then during the autopsy scene and during this scene in the eighth episode and a few other times, something will happen and he just sort of says what everyone else is thinking in a basic way. I think that made him even more entertaining in moments for folks.

Brent: You spoke about making it feel authentic. I think one of the most authentic things was his desire for not only redemption, because you called it earlier you said “petty redemption,” but he wanted so bad to be forgiven by Eph and by Nora and it’s sad that just as he kind of got almost to that point, we had to say good-bye to him.

Sean: Yes, it’s a study on human nature because Eph is reluctantly—Nora is sympathetic to him the whole time it seems like to me. Her compassion meter has a little more sensitively, but Eph finally kind of relaxes his anger towards Jim for a little bit as Jim has acquitted himself in battle really in the moment right before that. But then it’s Jim’s mortality that really provokes Eph’s empathy and he doesn’t want a patient to die, but he doesn’t want his friend to die. You can see it. He says at one point he’s my friend and that as an audience member watching it, I really like that. I really like that he showed something of himself and how he really felt. He would never have been that mad at Jim if he didn’t like him, because that’s what betrayal is. Otherwise it’s just villainy.

Brent: We think it was great and I’m going to miss you on the show.

Sean: Thanks.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Jasmin Alyce from FanBolt. Please go ahead.

Jasmin: Hello, Sean, thanks so much for taking the call today. I wanted to know what is one of your most fun experiences coming from the set and one of your funniest memories? Because the show is dark, how do you guys keep it light?

Sean: First there are lots of things that come to mind, but I always hit this. People don’t seem to remember, they don’t seem to talk about it very much. It was really, really, really cold. It’s a vampire show. Vampires you’re not supposed to be able to see their breath. It was a challenge I think for the effects people to do it how cold it was when there’s outdoor stuff and the vampires. But no, there was a moment where Corey came in on his phone playing this video game, the fighter pilot video game, so I downloaded it and the two of us with our phones or iPad mini’s in between dissecting vampires and bludgeoning the turned captain in the head with a fire extinguisher we were competing, frankly I was no match. Even over the holiday break when I had some time to practice, I showed back up and Corey was just an absolute, he absolutely dominated the game, so that was one fun thing.

And then frankly it was fun coming to work and seeing the different things that they had put together. I keep going back to the autopsy because I don’t think anything like it has ever been shown on television, a vampire autopsy. And they spent so much—it was such an expensive and intricate, I don’t know, was it a prop or special effect. We’ve been working with this actor and now we were dealing with his absolutely lifelike like corpse. It was really disturbing.

Another day we had when we’re at the airport hanger set and we come around, everybody had been filming for a few hours and they were on lunch break or something and my part started late, so I come in and I walk around and there’s nobody there, but a sea of 300 body bags all stuffed with dead bodies with the morning dew, they’d been filming all night long, over it. The lights reflecting off of it and it was really, really creepy and haunting and arresting—you pick the word and that’s the kind of stuff you’d get.

Jasmin: Right. Thank you very much.

Sean: Thank you.

Moderator: The next question comes from the line of Mary Powers from TVGoodness.com. Please go ahead.

Mary: Hello. After I went through my initial stages of grief after watching the episode this past Sunday, I went back and rewatched and one of the things I noticed was that Setrakian I don’t think severed Jim’s head. Now I don’t know how the disease works, but the question is are you quote “maybe alive”? Will we possibly have an opportunity to see a vamped out Jim or was that actually the end, period?

Sean: I’m pretty sure that Fet killed Jim properly.

Mary: Okay, okay.

Sean: He established, I think even in that episode, Setrakian reestablished that severing the head is one thing or injuring his—he goes into some description about how hitting certain bone things can hurt them this way and that way, but I think they’ve gone outside and shot them a lot. Eph and Nora are each shooting guns and killing them and Nora says he’s still coming and it’s like you got to shoot them in the head, so I don’t know how many times he pulled the trigger, but it felt like at least four or five at point blank range. I think Jim, I’m sorry to relate that Jim is—I appreciate the mourning. I feel close to Jim. My favorite thing was people with the hash tag RIPJIM. I kind of wanted to get that blown up and put that on the office wall.

Mary: Now what about Jim’s wife, Sylvia Kent, will we see her again? They just kind of left that storyline in some sense hanging.

Sean: The vampire says to me in the train station that now my wife is consigned to die with the rest of something or other, so it’s kind of a general comment and I suppose that that could mean whatever the normal course of cancer is can take place or as the plague sweeps the world, she doesn’t have any protection from it, but anything can happen. Jim could have an evil brother who wants to come and anything can happen, but I think in terms of the way the story is giving itself to the audience, I kind of think the Jim and Sylvia of it all has moved on.

Mary: Okay. We’ll miss you and thank you.

Sean: Thank you so much. I was surprised to see you doing an interview question because the word geek or nerd didn’t appear in the title of your blog.

Moderator: Thank you. And then next question comes from the line of Preston Barta from Fresh Fiction. Please go ahead.

Preston: Hello, Sean, thanks for taking the call today. I’m curious since you’ve been a part of a few horror affiliated projects like The Strain and Cabin Fever, do you have the capacity to be scared of your own projects?

Sean: When you say of my own projects, it kind of makes me think that you mean of the final product and when I watch it on television.

Preston: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

Sean: I don’t know. I’m sure I do. It just depends on when you see it. If you see it at the premiere maybe it’s fun to get really into it, but then you’re aware of like the cameras outside. I think there are definitely moments beyond the first run of a show when you discover something late at night or if you find some reason to watch your things. Mostly with the horror things, I find myself thinking, man, that’s cool. Like yes, I did that and if somebody else is really scared and I was never like this as a kid. I never liked the idea of watching horror movies. I always thought it was fine for people to do them, but the idea that filmmakers would say they really in a kind of amoral way like to terrorize people and see people scared and make them jump. They love that feeling of like laughing when they could make people scared and I never really liked that idea.

But now that I’ve done it a little bit, I definitely am more connected to the idea that if you do something well, if you really commit like in Cabin Fever to the idea of this horrible disease and of your role in it and the malevolence of it and if somebody responds to it, I don’t know. I get the attraction now, so I think that’s a cousin of retaining the ability to be scared by something I’ve been in, but I’m not sure. I’m more scared in the moment that we do it because I try and be invested in what we’re doing while we’re doing it, but I’m not so sure afterwards.

I find myself when people are really startled by certain things or they’re scared kind of pleasantly surprised. Like I like it when someone says that really freaked me out. I’m like “Really? It did? Wow, that’s cool!”

Preston: And as a quick follow-up, I’m calling on behalf of my university, so if you could teach a college course of your creation, what do you think you would teach?

Sean: I sort of think I am teacher in my disposition. I gave a speech just now at the University of Idaho and afterwards we met with a group of drama students. I really like talking about leadership and I don’t know that I’ve led anything all that great, but I think I understand the anatomy of what it takes to be a leader. And that theme gives you entrée into virtually everything in life and human experience. I was just giving a talk at the Disney, the run Disney Expo for the Disney marathon weekend and I spoke each of the days and I talked a lot about inspiration — so yes. I don’t know. I think leadership and my training is in history and American literature and culture, so maybe English or something. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Moderator: Thank you and next question comes from the line of Jamie Ruby from ScifiVision.com. Please go ahead.

Jamie: Hello, Sean, thanks so much for talking to us today.

Sean: Hello.

Jamie: So you talked about your last scene and everything, but I was curious, how did they do the sort of special effects with the worms and everything? Was it all digital or was some of it practical?

Sean: It was all digital. Basically they would put little orange dots, reference dots, all over the area where the worm would be, but you know what that is totally unfair what I just said. Scrap that. The actual prosthetic of the cut on my—I was immediately thinking of the worm effect, because that was the closest to me because I just saw it the other day for the first time. But no, they had a brilliant piece that they put on my cheek that they could sew and unsew and it was really, really good. People really responded to it on the set and I liked working with it, so it didn’t take very long to put on at all. It was a piece that started at the top of my inner eye at the bridge of my nose and went down right under the eye all the way around the eye basically kind of like in a half moon and then up into the hairline and down around the jaw and kind of underneath the jaw on the top of the neck and then up and around the same side of the mouth. So it almost looked like the Phantom of the Opera’s mask sort of like a miniature version of that or that with a convertible version of the Phantom of the Opera mask.

And then they painted it beautifully and then they added the—it was really cool was they pull the thread through it because if you’ve ever had stitches, I’ve had lots of stitches in my life and it felt the same. When they numb you, they put a long needle in and they numb the area that they’re going to give you a stitch, you can still feel it, but it doesn’t hurt and that’s exactly what it felt like when they’re threading the cut on Jim’s face. The actual worms, though, were orange dots.

Jamie: Okay.

Moderator: Thank you and our next question comes from the line of Angela Dawson from Front Row Features. Please go ahead.

Angela: Hello, Sean.

Sean: Hello.

Angela: I was going to ask you since you did have some fair warning of your character’s demise, have you had an opportunity to look around what you’re going to do next? It sounds like you’re not looking for a franchise, but looking for something unique like this was and so what’s coming up on your agenda?

Sean: I’m sort of the opposite. When a franchise, a really good one, comes along, it’s great to be included. Actually I meant the opposite of that, so I play the voice of Raphael in the Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise and I’m one of the many Raphael’s that there have been, so I kind of like that. Maybe I’m kind of a joiner, I don’t know.

The one thing I would say for everybody is that I knew that I was going to die, but I didn’t know how and when I got the script for it, which was only a few weeks I think beforehand, I loved it. Before that I had been a little bit kind of sullen over the fact that I was just getting to know everybody and enjoy everything and I knew I wasn’t going to be around very long. But when I saw how cool the episode was with this kind of “Butch and Sundance” battle royale out of a convenience store and then like the way that it was discovered on me and how the relationship is resolved and stuff, I absolutely felt like you couldn’t have asked for a better send-off. I was pretty happy with that.

I have an independent film that’s coming up called The Surface with me and Chris Mulkey. It’s a two-hander kind of a meditation on hopelessness and suicide, so there’s that. And then I also have a little animated film that I guess is being released independently called Ribbit about a poisonous tree frog, who believes he’s destined for something more than the life of a poisonous tree frog, so I play Ribbit. That’s coming out I think in September. I don’t know if it’s in wide release or not, but it’s on my radar.

And then I don’t know, I’ve been getting offered lots of fun things in the Sci-fi horror realm, which I haven’t grown too tired of yet, so as long as there’s something to play, I’m willing to keep thinking about that. And then I don’t know, looking for the next thing and the next thing to get excited about.

Moderator: Thank you. The next question comes from the line of Robert Samo from Fanboy Nation. Please go ahead.

Robert: Good morning, Sean. How are you?

Sean: Good, finally somebody with Fan Boy in the title.

Robert: I’m going to fan boy out for you right now. Rudy is one of the only movies that makes me cry.

Sean: That’s good.

Robert: Tell us about the trek through Guillermo del Toro’s mind. We’ve seen him from Pan’s Labyrinth and Hell Boy and everything else that he’s done. And to work with him that closely, there has to be some insight that you gathered to take that little stroll in his mind’s eye.

Sean: Now everybody expects something huge from Guillermo every time he opens the door, so I guess what really impressed me about him is that he continues to deliver in the face of overwhelming expectations and he does it in a way that is calm and fun. He just seemed—I’m not sure if it’s because he lived with this book for the years that he’s lived with it and wanting to make the show the way he’s wanted to make it and then getting to make it the way he wanted to make it, or if this is just the way he is everywhere he goes. But he was just happy, just a happy guy and when it came to giving direction, he was very specific, very detailed. If you had a question, he would relish in being able to elaborate on an answer as though this was the most fun part of the process.

And then you’d see him off to the side having a conversation with a digital effects supervisor about what the movement of the worm was supposed to look like and he would be in this enthralled state of bliss envisioning, making the fantasy of these worms in his mind “real” in the digital space. I guess he both loves the fantastic and the real and so and those things serve each other. Those interests serve each other, so it was fun. Yes, you’re right, it was really a privilege to interact with him.

Robert: Nice. Have you ever taken a look at The Strain comics and also you’re working with Feldman on Ninja Turtles, where he’s voicing Spike, correct?

Sean: Yes. I have seen the comic books. I haven’t read them all, but I think I understood a little of the story a little bit better when I glanced at the comic book the first time. I think I thought I get it now and that’s what that’s supposed to be, but somehow that seemed different. I listened to Ron Perlman read the audio books. That’s how I experienced The Strain the first time. I was riding my fancy bike in the middle of the night. I was in training and I would ride my bike all over the San Fernando Valley, which made me think of Tom Petty’s song about the vampire standing in the shadows freefalling. So the imagery, the ideas, the vocabulary for it was very richly drawn, beautifully performed by Ron Perlman; but when I saw the comic books, it seemed to me like somebody’s interpretation of it not like it was coming from the thing. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong; that’s just the way I came at it.

And yes, Feldman plays Spike. It’s fun to have my buddy Corey be my little turtle who then turns into a monster. It’s pretty fun because obviously he was around in the original time of that franchise, seems to be the word for the interview here, but yes, it’s pretty cool.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Matt Molgaard from Addicted to Horror. Please go ahead.

Matt: Sean, real quick, I just got to say as a father of a soon to be 13 year old girl who absolutely loves the Goonies and really just loves Mikey and a guy who was there himself in 1985, thanks for giving us a real slice of history that just can’t be replaced.

Sean: It was a privilege to be part of it. I have three daughters, 17, 12, and 9 and when you said you have to say on behalf of your daughter, I thought I was going to be in trouble like for [indiscernible] this awful horror stuff that’s going to give her nightmares for the rest of her life.

Matt: No, no, she won’t watch it, but no, she’s not going to bad mouth you. Listen, Jim Kent, he’s a really complex, conflicted character. I know a lot of actors that lean on personal experiences and engrained emotions to bring their characters to life in a believable fashion. Is there any part of Jim Kent that makes you say “I can totally relate to that; let me use my own familiarity to generate a real sense of authenticity.”?

Sean: I’m probably more like Jim Kent than I am Samwise Gamgee in as much as I have to make choices in my life that I’m not an ideal literary character because people always want to know if I was like Sam and I try and embody some of those traits that Samwise has, but for Jim, I guess my technique relies on trying to feel the emotions or the moments as the character would feel it in real time. That’s how I get the closest to manifesting something that’s authentic.

Having said that I don’t think I can help but bring a large part of myself to it. I just try not to draw one to one correlation between something in my life that I’ve experienced and something that it would evoke of an emotion that’s the same or similar to something that Jim would be feeling at that moment. I think that my empathy quotient is high enough that when I see he’s lied on behalf of his wife who’s got cancer or he’s trying to save people by plugging in a UV ray to maybe stave off some vampires or any of those feelings I find it very easy to be empathic for those feelings. And it’s easier for me because on take three and four and five and whatever as you reinvest in it, it might be harder for me to try and transplant emotions that I’ve had in my life a second time and a third time and a fourth time.

I do know a certain music that seems to be able to do things, but anyhow that’s my process.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Robert Fowler from AgentsofGeeks.com. Please go ahead.

Robert F.: Hello, Sean, thank you very much for taking out time this morning. I wanted to touch with you with regards to Jim’s overall role so far in the show and I guess not future. Being one of the senior actors in the show, what did you bring to the show with regards to perhaps adding your character development to the other people on the show?

Sean: I think you’re cutting out a little bit, but I think I get the spirit of your question. We did have these story meetings or not story meetings, but these sort of script sessions where we really try and carve out at least a week or two ahead of time some space for the actors to sit with Guillermo and the writers and maybe whoever was directing that episode just an opportunity to talk about it. It’s hard when you don’t have time to rehearse and particular at the beginning of a series. I think once people’s characters are really established and you’re going towards the end of the first season or into the second season, there might be a greater dexterity for working without—you know it’s sometimes scripts might come in at the last minute and that kind of thing.

But for us they had the scripts largely finished to my knowledge before we started, but they kind of rolled them out slowly at least to me; but I did participate several times in conversations where we would read through some scenes and we would say this makes sense to me or this doesn’t; “I don’t understand this” or “Can I say this this way?” and you really get to hear how each other are thinking about your characters. And they were very responsive to—there was a strong mutual respect between the creators and the actors. Everybody liked what was happening and wanted to make it better, so those were very rewarding conversations to be in.

And then I try and be myself, I try and bring my sense of comfort and confidence to the process and maybe that’s helpful to people, but at the same time I’m not immune from the anxieties of being in a new space and wanting to make sure that new space not just with a show that you’re doing, but knowing that the stakes for—and this is what’s kind of exciting, too. The stakes for a Guillermo del Toro project are high because the expectations are high. People really expect it to be great and that just means you have to try and do something new and interesting and it has to be believable.

I think you asked something about the other actors. I think you said something about the older actors, but David Bradley for example was someone that I had worked with in England on a project. And when he started bringing Setrakian to life it was just a privilege. The guy is indefatigable, just when everyone else, when I’m freezing cold and my jaw is chattering and my fingers won’t bend, he’s smiling and having a laugh and ready to keep going, so he led by example in a way that was quiet and wonderful. I think everybody feels that way about him.

I just watched Corey coming off of his show where he’s just had an incredible turn in House of Cards and it felt like a privilege to be around him. Richard Sammel… I could go through everybody on the show and to-a-person it was a positive interaction. Kevin Durand and I have the same lawyer, so our lawyer really liked the fact that one of his clients was killing the other one of his clients. I just have so much respect for him and I love him so much and Mia is just such a really whip smart, beautiful lady, a talented lady, yes, I could keep going on. I loved everybody; I’m sorry to be full on dead now.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Laura Bofill from EclipseMagazine.com.

Laura: Hello, Sean. This is Laura Bofill. First of all I want to say I’m a huge fan of you and I didn’t get to talk with you at Comic Con, so I’m happy to finally be able to talk with you now, so thank you. This is truly a privilege and I love the show.

Sean: My pleasure.

Laura: Yes, thank you. So I wanted to find out, you’ve had a rich career. What are the things that draws you to certain roles that you accept either on TV or in film?

Sean: I’m pretty promiscuous when it comes to what I do as an actor. Often times it comes down to whether I feel I can do it. If there’s a part of—in an animated thing, there’s a rake. I don’t mean a rake like a guy, I mean like an actual garden rake and I’m like can I see myself as the rake. Can I be the rake? And so if I feel like there’s—like I can do it credibly then I’m most of the way to doing it and it becomes about “Am I available?”

There are times when it’s clear that movies have been written and are getting made for reasons that are other than that are purely financial and people have figured out the formula. They figured out how to get money to make a movie. It’s really hard. I’m incredibly sympathetic to how hard it is to get things made, so there has to be an internal logic within the story. The dialogue has to be credible, but it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare for me to be willing to do it. I’m happy doing lower budget movies. I like doing big budget movies. It’s really just a question of if I’ve done a couple of really big things, things that have really scored, then I like the idea of scrounging around and finding low budget independent film where I can play a drug addict or where I can do something like that. If I’ve done a whole string of independent films that nobody has seen, then I find myself yearning to get back on the grid, so I think my career is very easy to interpret. It’s about working. I’m a working actor; that’s how I see myself.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Robyn Schlau from Moviehole. Please go ahead.

Robyn: Del Toro and Hogan stated that one of the reasons they had went with FX to take the series was because the network wanted the show to reflect the novels. Do you feel that your portrayal of Jim Kent is very similar to the Jim Kent in the novels or did you change him in any way?

Sean: I think that those guys wanted freedom, the freedom to make the books as close to the books that they wanted to or the freedom to move away from them if they wanted to. Understanding the essence of the books and the story of the books and the tone and the spirit of it and not shying away from the violence that’s in it and for all of those reasons, I’m sure is why and more. Creative freedom is why the lads would have chosen it.

But I don’t think that Jim Kent is exactly like the book. I think they wanted to—when I met them they knew exactly what they wanted Jim Kent to be. And when I experienced the book, I didn’t know what to make of how I might play Jim Kent, so I really was relying on the fact that they knew what they wanted and then it was my job to figure that out and give it to them. Jim’s character, I don’t think is that fully rendered in the books, so I hope I’m not telling tales out of school, but no, I think Jim is one of the characters in it that isn’t slavishly close to what’s in the book.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Theresa Argie from America’s Most Haunted. Please go ahead.

Theresa: Hello, Sean, thank you so much for talking to us today. I really enjoyed the series. I’m very sorry to see you go on the series, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out this season and other seasons to come. But on a personal note, I was wondering you’ve done a lot of these horror type movies or supernatural slightly seen science fiction type movies. Have you ever had a supernatural or paranormal experience yourself?

Sean: I am fully prepared to accept the existence of the supernatural, but I don’t—not one that I’m confident enough to relate, but I don’t think it’s fun to live this life without the possibility of the supernatural.

Theresa: So if there was to be any sort of supernatural beings be it ghosts, vampires, any kind of cryptic creatures, what would be your vote for the most likely of these supernatural beings to actually exist?

Sean: I’m sort of boring, so I would kind of think that whatever it is it would be very close to human beings. Some other sensory, some other like mental psychological, psycho-spiritual something or other that could cause sort of group think or collective consciousness I would think is it. I don’t necessarily expect to see apparitions and vampires walking around, but I do know that the mind is a very powerful thing and that people are very suggestible and so I remain open to that and to extraterrestrial potentiality.

Moderator: Thank you. And the next question comes from the line of Bruce Eisen from HereIsTV.com.

Bruce: Good morning.

Sean: Good morning.

Bruce: So having done movies and TV and given what a lot of people think is the golden age of TV, do you have any preference at this point for doing TV over movies or movies over TV?

Sean: I really don’t. I really don’t. I like to change gears, so the rhythms of a television show play to my own—I like the rhythms of television. I like the speed of it. I like the dynamism of it, but I also like the sense of detail and immersion that you get in a film, so to me my work doesn’t radically change based on the medium as much as it does relative to the story and the characters.

I’ll tell you I’d like to do comedies right now. I’ve just been shot in the head by Kevin Durand and one of the great TV franchises of this new decade is leaving me, so I’d love to flip a switch and start working with a laugh track.

Moderator: Thank you. And our last question comes from the line of Angie Barry from CriminalElement.com. Please go ahead.

Angie: Hello, Sean. I’ve been a big fan my whole life. My question is you mentioned earlier that you really liked seeing the hash tag RIPJIM going around, so I was just wondering, do you keep up with fan feedback on your projects or are you the sort of actor that prefers to just let it lie and however it falls, that’s how it falls?

Sean: I like scanning through the Twitter feed now and then, but I don’t have a consistency to it. I think every now and then I’ll get really focused or there’ll be some reason if I’m working on a kick starter campaign or if there’s something that isn’t going to get promoted anywhere else that I really like whether it’s something I’m doing or something somebody else is doing, I get in there. A lot of people have a charitable or other very emotional things that they want or they ask or something like that and I find it really hard to pick and choose at that, so I try and release myself from any obligation to that, but every now and then I’ll find something that I feel like doing it, so a little bit.

I have a talk radio show on TradioV called Vox Populi Radio. It’s a political radio show, so I definitely once a week, find myself digging in and hoping and wanting people that are paying attention to the conversations that we’re having and trying to promote it and stoke people’s interest. During those moments, I’m acutely aware of what people are thinking and saying.

What I noticed is with the people that respond to me or whatever, it’s a very similar thing. It’s very, very rare. I think I might have only blocked one or two people in the entire time I’ve had Twitter because people are just basically decent and have thoughts. Even if somebody is critical, I usually agree with them; they usually have a point that they’re making that I don’t think is too far off, but I don’t live and die by it.

Moderator: Thank you. No more questions in queue.

Tom: Thanks so much to everyone for joining us today and especially Sean Astin. We greatly appreciate your time.

Sean: Thank you. I enjoyed it. I just wonder like when you finish the interview or when the person finishes interviewing if they hang up and jump off, because like they’re just waiting for their question or if people like hang around and they’re waiting to hear what their colleagues are saying or whatever, so it’s weird to be in a vacuum like that, but for anybody who is still listening, I really appreciated it — the questions were so good.

Tom: Great. As a reminder The Strain airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific only on FX. And if anybody has any lingering questions, please feel free to give me a call at 310-369-0917. Thanks again and you may now disconnect.

Interview: Marguerite Bennett Talks Butterfly, Sleepy Hollow & a Preview

sleepy hollow 1 cover  Phil NotoMarguerite Bennett is still relatively new to comic books, but in her short time she’s written for DC, landed two anticipated series from BOOM! and also high profile projects at Marvel, not bad for someone who’s been doing this “professionally” since 2013.

Bennett has two upcoming series from BOOM! Studios, one is the espionage comic Butterfly, the other based on the hit FOX television series Sleepy Hollow.

We got a chance to talk to her about her career so far, and her two new anticipated comics from BOOM!

Graphic Policy: You’re still relatively new in the comics industry. How did you get involved in the industry and start writing comics?

Marguerite Bennett: I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was eleven years old, and have been writing tiny and horrifically misspelled books on stapled computer paper since I was about four. All through middle and high school, I had a rule that I had to fill one page of paper, front and back, each day. In college, I had to write 1,500 words a day. After I graduated, it was 2,000. In grad school, it was 2,500. If the words weren’t worth keeping, they became the compost from which I grew things of value.

On the strength of two novels I wrote after undergrad, I applied to graduate school, where I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Scott Snyder, who was my professor. We kept in touch after I took his class, and in 2013, after about a year, he told me he felt I was ready to do this professionally. (He actually told me he was looking for help on Batman, and when my jaw dropped, he grinned and had the audacity to say, “Really? This is something you’d be interested in??” and for that I am eternally grateful but will also never forgive him.)

Scott introduced me to the wonderful Mike Marts, who was head editor of the Batman Group at DC Comics before his transfer to Marvel as the head of the X-Men Group earlier this year. I formally auditioned at DC, turned in an arc’s worth of spec scripts, wrote inventories, took criticism, made edits, thought on my feet, and worked with an art team, and in the end, they rather enjoyed the stories I told, and I was kept on and hired properly.

GP: You have two series for BOOM! Studios, Sleepy Hollow and Butterfly. How did you come to be involved with those projects?

MB: I was approached for Butterfly on account of Batman Annual #2 and Lobo #1, and Stephen Christy of Archaia reached out to me on behalf of Arash Amel, the screenwriter behind War Games and Grace of Monaco. They sent me a fantastic look-book for this tense story about spycraft, trust, and trauma, and I sort of marched right in and announced that if it was a story about a father and daughter, then we would split the book right down the middle—the first half would be from her perspective, and move forward in the post-9/11 War on Terror present, and the second half would be from his perspective, and move backward, and be set in the Cold War past. I just blundered on in and announced that this was my idea for the comic, spoke as though it was a sure thing—only later did I learn I was a bakeoff and I’m profoundly relieved that they didn’t show me the door for my sheer audacity, ha!

As far as Sleepy Hollow, my brilliant editor Dafna Pleban knew I was a huge fan of the show (and have done my damnedest to infect everyone I know with equal fervor) and asked me to pitch it to the writers of the show. My knees were knocking under my pretty floral sundress but I submitted nine pitches, with three overall arcs. I was over the moon to have been chosen, and working with Noelle Stevenson and Jorge Coehlo is a dream come true. Oh, my fangirl heart!

GP: Sleepy Hollow is based on the hit FOX television series. Were you a fan of the series before coming on board the comic?

MB: I was a huge fan, and the whole thing is Grant Morrison’s fault. Last summer, I was at San Diego Comic Con for the very first time, floundering out of my depth, without a published comic to my name, and puppying about after James Tynion, Scott Snyder, and Tom Taylor like their uncool kid sister. There was a Grant Morrison panel I was crazy to see, with a panel about some TV show I’d never heard of in the same room beforehand. I sat in on the pilot for this wild new show called Sleepy Hollow, and my fangirl heart just on and fell in love—with Abbie, with Ichabod, with the whole mad world. It was still ringing in my head by the time Grant Morrison’s panel started, and those few hours were among my favorites at the entire con.

GP: How connected will the comic series be to the television series? Do you deal with the folks on the show at all?

MB: I do, and they are the loveliest people. It’s such a privilege to be worth with them, and when I met them at this year’s San Diego, I was blushing fit to match my dress, they had such generous things to say. I’m an enormous fan of their stories, and I couldn’t be happier to work with them.

GP: One of the things that’s attributed to the success of the television series is its diversity in cast, something that’s thought of as a struggle in the comic industry. Has that come up at all when planning the series?

MB: One of the pleasures of writing Ichabod is his discovery of the freedoms of the modern world. We have a queer couple who are integral to the first issue, and it was a kind moment, if a moment only, to realize how far we have come, between our time and his—an era in which human beings were hopelessly oppressed and treated as chattel even as they spoke of freedom and equality, to a world that increasingly embraces the values we hoped to reflect. The division between the two worlds also underscores how very far we have yet still to go, but it gives me hope that if there are people with the strength and compassion of Abbie and Ichabod, we may get there yet.

GP: With Butterfly, you’re working with screenwriter Arash Amel. What is each of your roles in creating the series?

MB: Arash created the series, and I was its custodian—if he is its parent, then I am its teacher, showing the story how to be a comic and excel within the comic world.

GP: Butterfly is part of the spy genre, but also is going to focus on the characters. That’s a genre that’s generally known more for its tropes and action, than well rounded characters. Why the focus on the people themselves?

MB: Precisely because so much of the genre is devoted to the action. The people are swallowed by their capacity for violence, disappear in their roles. We sought to draw attention to that aspect—Butterfly is an actress, not a secret agent. Her roles have devoured who she is as a person, have left her struggling to find her true self, her true origin, her true loyalties. We are looking at the cost and trauma of playing this long con, and the brutal consequences of trying to rebuild yourself in a world that denies that you even exist.

GP: The artist on the series Antonio Fuso has had some experience drawing comics in the espionage genre with G.I. Joe: Cobra. How did he come on board to provide the art?

MB: Antonio’s art has a sense of brutality and starkness to it that ideally matched the aesthetic of Butterfly. Frames are stilted and measured, each beat like a checklist when Butterfly is in the guise of whatever part she is to play, but once the violence creeps into her life, the panels explode out, open up, bleed into one another.

GP: What advice do you have for folks who want to break into the industry?

MB: I’m terribly new in the industry, and my entry was fairly unorthodox (though I know Scott would want me to add how independent I’d been from the very first, and every job I’ve received after the Batman Annual has been under my own steam). So, I suppose, forgive me that I’m a bit cautious of giving advice—I don’t want to be appear condescending, since I did not take a conventional route.

I trust that you’ve heard a lot of it before—write every day, don’t make excuses, no one will do this for you. I have those three things written on cards posted over my desk, decorated with little stickers. I’ll add, Take criticism with grace. Writers write. Illustrators illustrate. There’s no getting around that. If you’re not prepared for the sacrifice—staying in to work on your art while your friends are down at the pub or bar or game—then this may not be the best venture for you, I’m genuinely sorry to say.

I would say that it’s important to realize that talent and hard work alone are no guarantee of success, but that without both of them, failure is quite certain. The element that I see most often neglected, though, is the human element—realize that comics is a community, made of people. Editors, writers, artists, administrators—we’re all just people, as complicated and passionate and contradictory as you who are reading this now.

Everyone has their virtues and everyone has their failings. Be patient. Be gracious. Be kind. Half of us have enormous egos and half of us are wildly insecure and there’s a great deal of Venn diagramming going on. Treat others as you hope to be treated. Write thank you notes, even if your project is passed over, and remember that editors pass on projects, not people. Be understanding that the person you are talking to—the congoer, the writer, the retailer, the fan, the artist, the coordinator, the editor–has as much a rich inner life as you do. When you are tempted to become frustrated—this person never e-mailed you back! This person did not glow over your story!—please take a moment and remember this: Comics is people. Each person you meet is tired from travel, excited for the con, stressed about work, hopeful about a forthcoming project, eager to see their friends or favorite creators, pulled in half a hundred directions by family and responsibility and their own needs and happiness—just the same as you. Give them the understanding that you would hope they would have, were your positions changed. Keep making connections. If you can, have fun. I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest secrets of still getting work was to simply be a great person to be around. And if this is what you really and truly want to do—don’t give up.

GP: Those two series are just what you have at BOOM!. What else are you currently working on?

MB: Oh gosh.

I am part of the team on the Earth 2: World’s End weekly, beginning this October at DC Comics, as well as co-writing the monthly Earth 2 with the phenomenal Tom Taylor, also beginning in October. I wrote the forthcoming Injustice Annual, also in October, and am part of Vertigo’s CMYK: Yellow anthology with the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz. At Marvel later this fall, I am part of the Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy with a story about Lady Deathstrike, and am co-writing Angela: Asgard’s Assassin with Kieron Gillen, who I adore. I won’t jinx the other things yet.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead. *blows a kiss*

GP: Thanks Marguerite! Folks can check out the beautiful Phil Noto cover to Butterfly #1 as well as the first three pages below.

Butterfly_001_Noto

10 Questions with Weapon Brown’s Creator Jason Yungbluth

weapon brownJason Yungbluth, Mad Magazine artist and creator of Deep Fried and Clarissa has just given birth to an equally hilarious creation, a full bound volume of Weapon Brown. As the product of one of 2013’s most successful Kickstarter campaigns, Weapon Brown is an epic parody if you will… But no, it’s more than that…. It’s a tale of a man trying to survive in a wasteland of a future, with his dog and his deadly robotic arm. That man is “wishy washy” Chuck Brown with his dog “Snoop.”

Yungbluth’s creation Weapon Brown: Blockhead’s War is littered with the dregs of a dead civilization and the Sunday morning funnies. It is an addictive and compelling read. Graphic Policy caught up with Jason recently for the following Q&A.

“But if I say you’re a dead man, then your future is crossed out asshole.”

-Chuck (Blockhead’s War)

Graphic Policy: There is some very crisp and salty dialogue in Weapon Brown. I am assuming that you weren’t channeling Charles Schultz. Where does the post-apocalyptic Charlie Brown get his voice? Any influences?

Jason Yungbluth: For crisp and salty one-liners, nothing inspires like Nabisco Premium brand saltine crackers. Chomp down on a sleeve of those and the dialogue just trips off your parched tongue!

Chuck is a little bit of Bruce Willis, a little bit of Michael Ironside. I tried not to make Chuck’s machismo too over the top, even though he is cast in the roll of the ultimate bruiser. He simply talks the talk because he’s walked the walk his entire life. I imagine he’s actually a nice guy if you aren’t fucking with him. But of course, everyone fucks with him.

GP: Without giving too much away were there any surprises in the story for yourself as an artist when making Weapon Brown?

JY: I suppose the biggest surprise were the few pages I genuinely liked, where my style seemed to finally snap into place. Most of the book was experimental in one way or another, a lot of on-the-job learning for this more “realistic” style of cartooning. I’m glad that what I was subconsciously aiming for managed to emerge here and there.

GP: What was the most interesting thing about the process of making Weapon Brown as an artist or as a publisher? What did you take away from it that maybe you did not know beforehand?

JY: I enjoyed taking Weapon Brown beyond the gritty cliches that the book itself is shamelessly based off of and developing real situations and people that I was invested in. The writing was a lot of fun, especially when the characters took over.

GP: Have you gotten any cease and desist letters? Has there been any copyright complaints? Any contact at all from the artist of the strips that you parity?

JY: Nope! I did my homework and learned as much about the fuzzy grey line of “parody” as I could. I made sure I tap danced on that line but not over it. Still, I’ve described the book as “a lawsuit on every page!”

deep friedGP: There is a rumor that Deep Fried is coming back. Is there a date for release?

JY: Deep Fried has been growing in its gremlin cocoon for a few years now, and is nearly ready to burst free. Deep Fried will return to become the regular comic feature at Whatisdeepfried.com once the Weapon Brown web strip wraps. It will begin anew before the end of the year.

GP: Where did you get the inspiration for Deep Fried? Are the characters people you know?

JY: Deep Fried is autobiographical in a psychological way, and so I use it as a conduit for all sorts of personal depravity and anti-social attitudes. On the other hand, I also use it to express my misgivings at my own shortcomings. For instance, I’ve decided to let Squints, my airhead/stoner character, cave in and join the corporate agenda. It’s a reflection on my inability to convince myself that my own efforts at being transgressive actually mean anything. (Squints, incidentally, is the only character based on a real person).

GP: Clarissa has gained a lot of momentum on her own, inspiring short films etc. there is something sick and twisted about “the American dream” which Clarissa exposes. Was that on purpose, or just a happy accident?

JY: Clarissa began as a poke in the eye at that sort of 50s era American idyll, but I quickly realized that the 50s are long over, both in time and as an idea of what America is. Most people take Clarissa’s stories on the level that I present them at, which is directly dealing with her abuse by her father. I do maintain an atmosphere of disquiet about the grotesque nature of our society, but it is principally to serve the story and not the other way around. For instance, in Clarissa’s newest story, “Take Me To Work Day”, we learn that Clarissa’s father works at a company that manufactures artificial flavors and colors, which I think says it all about both Clarissa’s home life and the country.

GP: Are you considering another Kickstarter campaign for future projects or have you found other means to finance your new ideas?

JY: I have the feeling that Kickstarter is the only thing holding up our economy at this point. I am planning a new Kickstarter to launch my next mini-comic, which will include the first printing of the above mentioned Clarissa story. I also think that this small scale offering will be a good way to reintroduce Deep Fried‘s style of humor to the world. I want to poison society in small doses so that when the collapse finally comes, no one can trace it back to me!

GP: Your website www.whatisdeepfried.com is more than just comics there is also some political commentary and social commentary as well. So let’s play a little free association… I say “2016 presidential election” you say….

JY: A country more divided than ever, and me loving every fucking minute of it.

GP: What is the best or most interesting conspiracy theory that you have heard recently?

JY: The Jews founded the Nazi party. Gotta love those kooks!

 

www.whatisdeepfried.com has everything a netizen such as yourself needs to pass the time including but not limited to your own personal copy of Weapon Brown, Deep Fried, Clarissa and or associated retail items!!!

Interview: Dungeons & Dragons’ Past, Present, and Future with Mike Mearls

2While crowdsourcing game testing is a long tradition in gaming, Wizards of the Coast took that to the next level with their latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the classic roleplaying game. Attracting 175,000 for their D&D Next project, the company received feedback from the community about the next edition.

Recently, with work complete the company released not only a new starter set, but a free PDF that allows anyone to download the game and get playing, a forward thinking decision that should be praised, and something you tend to not see from large corporations. This all leads up to, and gets people ready for, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline event which begins on August 14th.

To celebrate this new era, we got a chance to chat with D&D Lead Designer Mike Mearls about the past, present, and future of Dungeons & Dragons!

Graphic Policy: Before we get to the new release, it’s probably best to go back to the beginning of the process. What was the RPG and gaming market like when the idea for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons came up?

Mike Mearls: While fourth edition really worked for people who liked detailed combat in D&D, we know that play style does not appeal to everyone. On top of that, the RPG category as a whole was seeing a decline in the number of new people coming into the hobby. Overall, tabletop RPGs were in decline for the past five years.

GP: What actually prompted the idea of a revamp of the system?

MM: We felt that we had to build a version of D&D that could cater to a wider audience. On one hand, veteran players like detailed character options and the ability to change the game to cater to their taste. On the other, the game had to have an easy to learn, central starting point for new players. Those two factors drove the idea of revamping the system.

GP: For the new edition you went the crowd sourcing route, and opened up playtesting to the world, attracting 175,000 playtesters. Where did the idea to go that route come from?

MM: In reviewing how third and fourth edition had been designed, we saw a real gap in understanding what people actually did with D&D. There were assumptions and conventional wisdom built into the game. That led to the idea of doing an open public playtest with rigorous, thorough data collection and documentation. We felt working directly with the D&D community would provide the most accurate picture of what people were looking for.

1GP: Was that also the seed that would lead your decision to releasing the basic rules as a free PDF?

MM: Definitely. The basic rules are both a way to say thanks to everyone who put in the time to playtest the game, and a way we can remove the rules as a barrier to entry to playing the game. D&D is memorable when you get a chance to play it, and nothing beats free and digital for making the first step into a game as easy as possible for new players.

GP: The D&D Next playtest seems like a success, so much so that you’re going to continue to use the feedback loop for new products. What exactly do you have planned for that?

MM: We can’t cite details yet, but we have a limited number of issues we want to address via an open test. That will have to wait for 2015, though.

GP: You’ve released the basic rules as a free PDF, and have mentioned that you have a goal to expand the market. How are you doing that with the PDF?

MM: The great thing about the D&D Basic Rules is that it makes it easy for anyone to check out D&D. If you read about it in The New Yorker or at CNN.com, you can Google D&D and have the game in your hands in a matter of moments. Capitalizing on that initial moment of discovery is huge.

GP: With the advent of technology, gaming is no longer restricted to a room, as many folks are using Skype, or Google Hangouts to host roleplaying sessions. Did that factor in to the game play, and any plans on using that to help “spread the word?”

MM: It factored into the design in the sense that we wanted the game to be very flexible. Since we can’t predict where technology might go in the next few years, it was important to create a game that depended on as few physical components as possible. That lowered the barrier to entry, drove home what makes D&D unique (how many times have you heard it described as a board game that doesn’t use a board?), and brought imagination to the forefront.

Online gaming is definitely an area of growth, and we’re looking into what we can do to enable that.

wallpaper_Illo 2GP: Other than the PDF, you’re embracing digital with a project codenamed “Morningstar.” Can you give us any info on that? Maybe when we can expect an announcement or release?

MM: Sorry, no news on that front yet. We’re really excited about the digital tools they’re working on. I have them loaded on my work iPad, and they’re really easy to use. The entire Trapdoor team is putting tons of work into getting everything right, and I know that they are running a beta test of the tools right now.

GP: Beyond just the game, the D&D brand has to be on your minds. Wizkids is releasing figures as a tie-in. There’s the long talked about movie reboot. What else can we expect?

MM: We’re really looking at ways to make D&D something that you can engage with beyond the gaming table. Tabletop RPGs are awesome, but you can’t play them by yourself, or without a group, and so on. We’re partnering with companies like Wizkids and Gale Force 9 to produce tabletop accessories, but we’re also working on some digital projects that I can’t detail yet. But, the key is we’re looking at how people game these days and working to ensure that you can experience the stories of D&D however you like.

GP: For recent releases, there’s been synergistic releases in comics, books, video games, and more. Can we expect that to continue?

MM: Yes, definitely. The Tyranny of Dragons story line is a great example of this, with the TRPG featuring it as the debut campaign, the Neverwinter MMO using it to fuel their next couple of expansions, and both Gale Force 9 and Wizkids dipping into it to produce miniatures, tabletop games, and game accessories, and a new comic series launching with a Tyranny of Dragons story from IDW.

By focusing on the story, we make it much easier for D&D players to move between different categories. Even better, it means we do our story work early enough to let our partners work in a much more coordinated manner. The Wizkids miniatures match up to the Tyranny of Dragons campaign produced by Kobold Press, as do the Gale Force 9 accessories.

GP: Overall, there seems to be a resurgence of board games, and roleplaying games in recent years. What do you think is fueling that?

MM: I think that face-to-face gaming is a natural next step for many video game players. When you look at the explosive growth of PAX, ComicCon, and so forth, you see that people really like getting together and socializing. Games are a great way to do that. RPGs are some of the best face to face games around. They encourage creativity and bring people together in a really unique, compelling way.

In many ways, the Internet is an awesome tool for discovering and building communities of like-minded gamers and fans, but at the end of the day people still want to get together. Before the Internet, you had to rely on random luck to find other D&D players. These days, it’s so much easier to find like-minded people.

GP: Any hints what we can expect at Gen Con?

MM: We have a lot of fun stuff planned. The Tyranny of Dragons story line kicks off in the Adventurers League, the official D&D organized play program. We’re running plenty of games and a big event on Saturday night to launch things. We’ll have special panels on creating characters and getting started with fifth edition and all sorts of surprises.

The real highlight is on Friday night, when we take over the Georgia Street Pavilion right outside the convention center for a big street party to officially kick off the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. There’s going to be mystery, intrigue, food, drink, and maybe a dragon or five.

GP: D&D has been kept alive and seeing its next step guided by the fans. What have they meant to Dungeons & Dragons through the years?

MM: D&D isn’t a game. It’s a culture. Without people playing the game, spreading it, and keeping it vital, we’d have nothing. Unlike many other games, D&D is uniquely social. It can vary from hilarious to tense to tragic in a heartbeat. I think it’s unique in its ability to bring people together. When you think about it, every D&D session is unique. Each session is shaped by the vagaries of die rolls and the creativity that people bring together. Add in the DM’s ability to make anything happen, and you have a game that’s still going strong after 40 years.

Without the fans, and the great stories they tell around the table, the game would’ve faded away decades ago.

Interview: Frank Barbiere discusses his new series Black Market

BlackMarket01_CoverAThis week sees the launch of Black Market by writer Frank Barbiere and artist Victor Santos and published by BOOM! Studios.

Ray Willis is a broken man, a disgraced medical examiner making ends meet by preparing corpses at a funeral parlor. His scientific genius is being wasted—that is, until his estranged criminal brother Denny shows up on his doorstep, supposedly cleaned up and proposing a once-in-a-lifetime partnership to cure not just cancer, but all disease. The catch? It exists within the DNA of superheroes.

We got a chance to sit down and chat with Frank for what wound up being close to two hours. Below is just the stuff having to do with his new series, expect another interview down the road. Warning, if you haven’t read the first issue, there’s some spoilers.

Graphic Policy: How long have you been working on Black Market?

Frank Barbiere: Almost a year now. I had talked to BOOM! Studio at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. I went out to lunch with them, and we talked about possibly working together. I think I pitched it to them at that point, and they were responsive. And we got really ahead. It was a book I wanted to do years ago before I really got into writing comics. I initially was going to co-write it with my friend. We worked on some script stuff, and it didn’t click. Some friends of mine who are great artists tried to do some stuff, and it just didn’t work. We never even ended up sending it anywhere, because it just didn’t come together. And it just sat in the back of my head. So when I pitched it to BOOM! it was really the loosest concept, I didn’t send them a script or anything, and they really dug the concept. And we reinvented every aspect. I was looking at the original concept from a few years ago and it changed so much, for the better. I’m really with how it ended up. For the longest time, we were just talking about it, and what it would be, and then Victor Santos came on board, and I got really excited because I love his stuff. And we went from there.

Victor is a very fast artist which is amazing. We’re all done already before issue one is even out. BOOM! is really good with planning.

GP: So how did you get hooked up with artist Victor Santos? He’s a hot artist right now with Mice Templar, Polar, and Furious.

FB: That was all BOOM!. I had no idea he’d end up doing it. It’s another case of a book ending up looking better than I expected. I love his Polar. He’s done really awesome stuff. I’ve liked what he’s been doing on Furious too. There’s stuff in Black Market he did a really good job with. He really ramped it up as we went forward. I like working with artists with a good identity and letting them be them. I’d rather artists do their version of the comic, not how I envision them doing the comic.

BlackMarket01_COVER-BGP: When it comes to Victor, the thing I noticed with his art is he has an amazing handle on page layout and the flow. And jumping between the past and present which he had to do in Furious.

FB: Some credit is to the colorist Adam Metcalfe, who gave a specific pallet for the past and present that you pick up if you notice. It’s consistent throughout the series which is nice. This is a book I really paid attention to the page turns on. Every page turn is a cliffhanger with the book. It’s made to be a page turner.

GP: I normally read review copies on my iPad and on this one I read it on my laptop, and reading it panel by panel…

FB: That’s Victor. I write the same way for every artist, a full script. I don’t do shot descriptions most of the time. The point where they get pulled over, it’s such a smart elegant layout, I’d have never thought about it. That’s why working with great artists is amazing. They figure out how to take the beats you lay out and work it into such a… and he’s insane, he’s one of the best artists working right now. When I found out he was working on the book, I started writing more mini-panels.

There’s some stuff in issue three that’s so gnarly, I can’t even believe… yeah… soon. Even his covers are astounding. I tried to do it with a few different artists and could never get the covers I’d like. Then Victor on his first try, nails it, he manages embody a quarter of the book in one image.

One of the things about working with BOOM!, is they’re great at pairing content and artist.

GP: Where did the idea for the series evolve from? You said you were working on it with a friend, but where did the idea come from?

FB: I really didn’t want to pitch a creator owned super hero series, because that was a death-knell. I remember reading an interview with Brian Michael Bendis who said “I never want to try to do my own superhero stuff until I had something unique to say about it.” It’s the genre that’s been done to death in comics. We have people who can sell it, Marvel and DC. I’ve been thrilled to see some other stuff pop up here and there. I feel like there needs to be a unique take.

Breaking Bad was a huge influence. I remember watching it and wondered, “what would this be like as a superhero show. What would the hook be?” And that was the jump off for me. I liked the idea of seeing a man who thought he was being altruistic, but truly really bad. I didn’t want to ape it to hard. The initial pitch was much more like the show, there was a son… I liked the idea of it being normal people who find out there’s a cure in superhero blood, but the superheroes aren’t going to just give it up. I really got into this idea, that this was a world of superheroes, but they’re kind of dicks…

GP: That’s one of the first things that struck me. I read it and was thinking if it’s a known thing their blood cures disease, why haven’t the superheroes just hand it over? It’s got to come up in the story.

FB: It is kind of a secret. We see Ray discover it throughout the series. The time line is very amorphous which helped us get a lot in the four issues. There’s the main narrative is, which is what we start off with. It all makes sense in the end. It’s fun to play with the timeline like that. We had to be very organized and I have to give it up to my editors, who helped put that together. There’s stuff that happens in issue two that technically happens before issue one. So people do need to pay attention. It’s fun to withhold some information. In the beginning of issue two, we don’t know if it’s in the present or past and on the third page we get the time stamp.

GP: That stood out in the first issue, it does stand out a bunch. We have the present where they kidnap a hero, but I still wasn’t 100% sure.

FB: I’ll confirm that is the present.

GP: Then you get to a point and it’s clear it is the present. This isn’t the falling out in the story, that’s something else.

FB: Someone else told me that. They were confused at first, but by the last page it was apparent.

BS: Clearly there was some adventure in the past between the brothers…

FB: We do get to see that… It’s funny I was looking back in the notes, and Ray and Denny are two brothers who grew up in Boston, in sort of the ghetto. Ray studied and wanted to get out, and Denny becomes a criminal. That’s never outright said, but it comes out. We get Ray saying that he’s supposed to be the smart one and things like that. Which is nice because the first time Ray sees Denny, he decks him.

GP: Which is nice, because Ray is supposed to be the smart guy, and Denny the tough guy, and it shakes that up a little.

FB: They took shape nicely. It came down to a lot of the character conflict of Breaking Bad. I thought it’d be great to see that in a super hero story. We have, what are supposed to be the forces of good, what if someone found out they weren’t doing enough, and there really was a cure for all disease. Would it be right to take it from them? How would you approach it? It came together nicely. The sub text of the book, without getting too heavy handed, is really class war. Stuff aligns so nicely underneath the surface. Again we have Ray trying to make a good life for himself, his brother being a criminal. Super heroes as the ultimate 1 percent. It’s a fun metaphor that works out really well in the end. It’s also about living in a gray area where there is no good and bad, and where do those things meet.

GP: You’ve seen that a little in other books. You have people who can literally move planets, but they don’t do anything about disease, or hunger, or end pollution. This takes that idea on. You have beings that look down on humanity, and stop criminals…

FB: And that’s the fun question. Is that enough? At the end of the day, they stop criminals, what is that really doing other than small spot treatment on the bigger problem.

GP: Do we get more of a motivation as to why the super heroes haven’t?

FB: You see them, but it’s not their story. They’re really a texturing piece. There’s a few we spotlight on. We never learn where they came from, they’re a force we don’t understand and are better than us.

GP: Do you focus, or bring up why they don’t cure these diseases?

FB: They don’t even really know. We see Ray discover it. Ray discovers it. Biochem kind of knows, but Ray is the missing piece who figures out how to do the cure…. It’s a good question, and I’m thinking, “did we answer that?” But, it comes down to the supers don’t know. But the other thing we build, they wouldn’t give a shit if they did. They’re really not great people in the sense of caring about humans.

We wanted to put it into the fun conflict of the people who are powerless having to deal with the people who are super powered. The weird disparity between that and how scary it would be. And that’s really something that came to the surface really well. You see that the more they deal with the super humans, they’re scary, and weird, and make people uncomfortable. If superheroes appeared in the real world there’d be some trepidation. People wouldn’t sit there thinking how someone just punched a hole in a car and that’s awesome. They’d be thinking that’s a problem.

GP: Maybe this is my worldview but you have Biochem a giant corporation. They’re not doing this to be altruistic. They’re not going to give it away and make a dime, they’ll patent it. Are they any better than the heroes because of that?

FB: When you stumble upon ideas that are good, they perpetuate themselves. And this part of the reason I never let this go. All these things came together nicely. I’m super happy with it. It’s a loaded concept that keeps spinning. I’m so, so happy, and have had a great experience with everyone at BOOM! and with Victor.

GP: I got through the first issue, there’s a lot you can do on it. You hint as to what came before, what’s currently going on. It can easily be a maxi-series.

FB: We’re psyched. Black Market works really well as four issues, but that’s a nice feeling, because some times that feels short. But Black Market fit really well into that. But, how the market it is, and how difficult it is to bring in new stuff. Plus with scheduling… When you look at something like Five Ghosts, which is an ongoing, we have to take two to three month breaks between arcs and really kind of work because the team needs the time, and we’re all working on other stuff.

If it does really well, and we all liked it, and there’s a big universe to get back to it, but issue four closes it nice and tight. My editors at BOOM! are very collaborative, which is nice. We came into it with the concept, and I talked it over with them as to where I want to see it go, and they gave me really good feedback on that. It was a really nice, tight unit, we wanted it to read really well as one piece. I’m proud that it reads well in four.

GP: You’ve worked for DC, Marvel, Image, BOOM!, Dynamite, done creator owned, editorial driven, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

FB: You can’t blame bad work on anybody but yourself. At the end of the day, if you’re unhappy it’s going to show. Now knowing how the sausage is made, everything comes down to you. There are no bad stories, or bad characters, it’s your job to find them. Don’t blame it on the editor, or other stuff, it’s up to you. I want to keep getting better, and do a better job. I hope the stuff I do this year is better than what I did last year. There’s growing pains for everyone. Five years from now, if my work isn’t better, I shouldn’t be writing comics. I want people to write across the board. People say brand your work, I just want to brand it as good. I’m fortunate in having done a bunch of different stuff.

Interview: Paul Jenkins Talks Fiction Squad and Kickstarter

Ficition_Squad_001_Cover_BachsCrowdfunding has changed the comics landscape, in a way democratizing what gets published, with funders voting with their wallets. While numerous new creators are taking advantage, many well established ones are too, like Paul Jenkins. Jenkins really came on the scene in the mid 90’s with a run on Vertigo’s Hellblazer, and since then has penned some of the most iconic characters out there.

In 2012, he turned to Kickstarter, with artist Humberto Ramos, to launch Fairy Quest, a new series featuring some of the most well known fairy tale characters re-imagined in a whole new way. Almost two years to the day since that first project was funded Jenkins is back with his fourth Kickstater project, Fiction Squad, the third to featured the world of Fablewood.

Like the first two Fairy Quest volumes, Fiction Squad will be licensed by BOOM! Studios, once it’s all funded, and the publisher will produce it for the mass market… but, the Kickstarter project features numerous rewards for backers that you can only get there.

We got a chance to talk to Paul about the new series, Kickstarter, and crowdfunding in general. You can also see some of the interior art below!

Graphic Policy: So this is your third Kickstarter involving the Fairy Quest world, but your fourth overall. What is it about Kickstarter that first drew you to it?

Paul Jenkins: Kickstarter is a very honest form of publishing, I suppose. It revolves around readers and fans getting behind a particular project. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to find. I have found a ton of really interesting stuff there, and now I am starting to cast my net into the gadgets area, where I can back really cool ideas and inventions. Sometimes, I want the cool loot. Sometimes, I just want to help. It’s a very unique environment.

GP: Do you think this will become a regular part of your creator owned projects?

PJ: Yes, probably. I like the fact that I can communicate directly with the audience as the project is being created. It’s a kind of shared experience that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. If you have never tried backing a Kickstarter you should consider it. It’s fun. You feel like some kind of benign overlord, like a rich billionaire overlord (results may vary).

GP: What lessons have you learned over your three previous ones?

PJ: Lesson #1 is about fulfillment. It is difficult, and stressful. We had shipping issues with the first Fairy Quest and I think I gave birth to multiple kittens. Keeping the fans entertained and informed is also a must.

GP: Part of the process is staying in touch with the funders while the fundraising is being done as well as after until the project is delivered. Does this weigh in how you approach putting everything together, knowing you need to keep folks updated?

PJ: Yes, I think so. I mean, the design of the project is very difficult, and it is a fragile environment. I have sometimes added a pledge category, only to realize that addition was a terrible idea. On other occasions I have added something that I didn’t think was a good idea and it went out of the door like there was no tomorrow. People like limited edition stuff, I can tell you that! Some of it we try to predict, and other times we are flying by the seat of our pants after the landing gear has fallen off! It’s nuts.

FictionSquad_01_Cover_Dialynas_CLRGP: So tell us a little about Fablewood, how did you first come up with this world?

PJ: Fablewood actually began life years ago as I was developing IP and ideas for my creator-owned stuff. It is a huge, uncharted forest where all of the stories that have ever been told live near each other, divided by genre borders. The various genres are divided into Realms. The thing I love about this idea is that I can tell a story about a character from one genre trying to interact with characters from a different genre. Fablewood has endless possibilities. The first Fablewood story was actually created as a separate idea by myself and Humberto – Fairy Quest. It’s the story of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf becoming friends and trying to live together outside of their Realm. But in fact, Fiction Squad was the original Fablewood idea.

GP: Remixing and mashing up classic characters in new ways has been very popular over the last decade or so, what did you do to make sure yours stood out from the pack?

PJ: I guess it is all in the implementation. I mean, there are lots of Zombie ideas but only one Walking Dead. I think the uniqueness lies in the potential of taking a character from, say, a song and having them deal with characters from science fiction. How would a horror character interact with a romance character? How would an elf make out in the world of Sherlock Holmes? Like I said: endless possibilities…

GP: How does Fiction Squad fit into the Fablewood world?

PJ: It’s set in the Realm of Children’s Stories, in a city where all of the nursery rhymes live. Our main character, a failed gumshoe detective named Frankie Mack has left the Crime Realm to work here, only to find out children’s characters are all mildly insane. His usual rules do not apply.  The Queens and the Witches are the Mafia, and the mayor is a Crooked Man. It’s all completely mental, and police procedure is optional. So in a way it is a comedy of errors with insane people at the helm.

GP: You’re working with Ramon Bachs on this volume. How did he come on board?

PJ: I asked him because he is amazing, talented, humble, and a really good person. He can flit between many art styles, and he delivers work so quickly and well.

GP: How did the project come to BOOM!?

PJ: Uhm. They asked me. And I love working with those guys, of course. So I said, “Yes, as long as you deliver a fresh aardvark to my door every Tuesday.” They agreed to those terms. I’m beginning to think I got the raw end of the deal as my house is overrun with aardvarks.

GP: This series is scheduled to be six issues, where the first volume of Fairy Quest was just two. What got you to want to expand the series into a longer narrative?

PJ: Well, to be fair Fairy Quest is also six issues, divided into three hardcover books. Fiction Squad is all six of the issues in one massive volume. Which is awesomeness, I feel, considering that readers can immediately get the entire collection for pretty much the same price as one volume of Fairy Quest.

GP: The description of it, it sounds like a good ole mob story. What are some of the classic tales of that genre that might be influencing this one or you consider your favorites?

PJ: I always wonder about influences but I can never really pin them down, it’s strange. I guess Roger Rabbit is an obvious comparison – a gumshoe trying to make sense of crazy cartoon characters. Obviously, any old Marlowe novel fits the bill. But I sometimes struggle to decide where influences may come from, and my usual answer is, “Real life.”

GP: What is it about the noir genre that got you to want to take a shot at that type of story?

PJ: Noir is misunderstood, in my opinion. I think noir is about fatalism, and Fiction Squad is not necessarily about that. It has a fatalistic style of narrative from Frankie, maybe. I would consider Fiction Squad to be more of a mixing of metaphors.

GP: How do you think crowdfunding has changed the comics landscape?

PJ: Changed in the past tense is a little premature. I think it is slowly changing things, and is about to grow and change a lot more. It affords creative freedom to people like myself. But it’s a difficult thing to organize. Let me get back to you on that one in a few years’ time…

GP: What advice would you have with someone going the crowdfunding route?

PJ: Be honest, be transparent, and always wear clean underwear. Not necessarily in that order.

GP: Thanks so much! For folks interested, you can contribute right now! Check out some of the interior art below.

Interview: Women of BOOM! – Stephanie Hocutt

Stephanie_Hocutt_picIt’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 32nd “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it! We’re making sure to include the hard-working folks whose contributions are often overlooked in the process.

BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to their staff, and creative teams, to find out why the publisher is so successful in hiring women and their experiences in the comic industry as women.

Stephanie Hocutt helps with the company’s marketing as the PR Assistant, that means she gets to work on ALL of the comics!

Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?

Stephanie Hocutt: I studied animation in school, but during that time I realized that my real passion was for comics. I was a freelance artist for a while, and when I heard about the internship at Archaia, I packed my bags and moved across the country in one epic road trip. After the internship, I started working at a comic shop, and now I’m here at BOOM! It’s been a wacky, winding road!

GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

SH: I was a voracious reader growing up, but I was kind of a late bloomer when it came to comics. My parents didn’t read them, and I grew up on military bases that didn’t really have comic shops. Instead, I was watching Batman: The Animated Series, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, and the 90s X-Men all the time. I started reading manga late in high school, and in college my friends started inviting me to conventions, which is where I picked up American comics. Around that same time, I studied abroad in France, where I fell in love with bande dessinées. I got hooked on European and American comics around the same time, so now my pull list consists of a wide variety of comics, and I have a library that is quickly outgrowing my apartment!

GP: How did you come to work with BOOM! or one of its imprints?

SH: I interned at Archaia a while back, and once it was over I just sort of dug my claws in and refused to go back to Virginia. I got a job at a comic shop, kept in contact with the Archaia crew, and when I found out that BOOM! was looking for a marketing assistant, I jumped at the opportunity.

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

SH: I pretty much get to talk about how awesome comics are all day! It’s incredibly exciting and I always have to think outside of the box, because there are a lot of awesome comics out there that all want to be noticed. I set up interviews with creators, work closely with press sites, host the Buzz on BOOM! YouTube show, and do everything I can to get people excited about BOOM!

GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?

SH: A big part of working in this industry is knowing the right people, so get out there and mingle! Go to conventions and talk to people face-to-face, and snap up internships if you can. The most important part of an internship is the connections you make, so keep in contact with them. You’re not gonna get your dream job if you’re hiding in the shadows! It is a balancing act, though, because you also don’t want to be harassing industry professionals and come off as overbearing. Just remember to be friendly!

GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?

SH: I’ve had a lot of people in my life who have been incredibly supportive and helpful! One in particular is Mel Caylo, who was the Marketing Manager at Archaia when I was an intern. He taught me a lot about marketing and helped me realize that it’s a pretty rad job! Now, several years later, he’s the Marketing Manager at BOOM! and I get to work with him. Full circle!

GP: Do you think women have a more difficult time breaking in and making it in the comic industry? If so, why? And if yes, how do you think that can be overcome?

SH: Comics have been a male-dominated field for so long that it really can be difficult for women to get involved. There’s this archaic idea that inviting the girls into that treehouse is just gonna ruin it for everybody, and there are a lot of people out there who are just so afraid of change that they don’t even want to recognize it’s already happening. Women are all up in that comics biz!

So that being said, I’m going to look on the bright side and say I think it’s getting a little easier every day. It’s an awesome time to be a woman in the comics industry. Yes, there are a ton of problems that still need to be fixed, but we’re actually talking about them. People are speaking up and recognizing the problems, comic forums and conventions are creating safer spaces for women, and we’ve got awesome campaigns like “We Are Comics” that support equality and diversity in the industry. It’s an open conversation, which is the only way things will actually change.

GP: We notice that when it comes to women in the comic industry, BOOM! and its imprints have a lot of diversity present. Why do you think they have succeeded when so many other publishers struggle with this?

SH: This is actually a really difficult question to answer, because I don’t know why it’s harder for other publishers! BOOM! just works with awesome people, and those awesome people come from all walks of life, so our comics tell a wide variety of stories. It’s a great big world out there, so why would you limit yourself to working with only a specific group of people? Broaden those horizons!

GP: We’ve heard horror stories concerning women in the industry. Have you ever seen or been discriminated/harassed and if so, how did you handle it?

SH: I’ve been pretty lucky in that I haven’t been the target of a lot of harassment. When I worked in a comic shop, I would occasionally get a guy who didn’t think I actually read comics, or was really surprised when I asked if I could help him find something, but that was pretty rare because my LCS is open and inviting. Conventions have traditionally been the worst places for women, so I’m really glad people are stepping up and changing that. If I’m ever bothered by something a guy or gal says, I just call them out on it. They’re either being jerks or they didn’t even realize what they said was offensive, and now they’re learning.

I know there are a lot of women out there who haven’t been so lucky, so the most important thing is to stand together and shut that mess down. Silence kills progress, so speak up and don’t let it slide!

GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?

SH: Figure out what you want to do in comics, and do everything you can to be the best person for that position. Be persistent, friendly, and positive!

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Interview: Max Brooks Discusses Extinction Parade, Harlem Fighters and more!

ExtinctionParade-vol-1-tpb (2)Max Brooks is a busy man. Not only is he penning Avatar PressExtinction Parade and its next volume Extinction Parade: War, but it was announced that the comic series has been optioned by Legendary Television and Digital. On top of his comic book duties, the writer has his recently released graphic novel Harlem Hellfighters making its way through the movie process.

We got a chance to chat with Brooks about Extinction Parade, Harlem Hellfighters, and a certain zombie film based off a best selling book of his.

Graphic Policy: First, congrats on the deal with Legendary. But before we get to that, for those that don’t know, what is Extinction Parade?  

Max Brooks: I’ve written a lot about zombie survival, about what individuals and nations would need to endure. This is also a zombie survival story, but a story about the necessary psychological, mental, and emotional tools. The series is anchored to the philosophy that if a species is fixed at the top of the food chain, its soft, easy existence will rob it of any survival skills. That species is vampires. They are supposed super beings, they have all these amazing physical gifts. But those gifts are actually curses because it has not prepared them to be problem solvers (unlike the ‘weaker’ humans). So when the zombies rise and start eating the vampire’s one food source, they find themselves completely unprepared for a crisis that could wipe them out.

ExtinctionParadeWar1-regGP: Where did the idea come from and why did you decide to do this as a comic as opposed to prose?

MB: I’d already written a short story version and William Christensen of Avatar Press offered me the chance to adapt it. I’d never done a sequential comic series before (G.I. Joe was more a character study), so I looked forward to the challenge.

GP: When did you first get the idea you wanted to turn this into a television series and what was your interest in doing so?

MB: I was about a third of the way into the comic series when I realized that each issue would make a great television show. Everything else I’d seen with vampires never dealt with the notion of privilege (or rather the pitfalls of privilege).  I thought, in the right hands, this could be a meaningful message.

GP: You have had a novel get turned into a movie, a graphic novel turning into a movie, and now this as a television series. How has your involvement been different with each?

MB: I literally had nothing to do with the World War Z movie whereas this process begins with me. We’re still in the earliest phases so I’m not sure how involved I’ll get to be with Extinction Parade. We’ll just have to wait and see how it shakes down.

ExtinctionParadeWar1-EndofSpeciesGP: Are there things you’ve learned as you’ve adapted your works from one medium to another?

MB: I’m always learning. I hope I never stop. There’s nothing healthier than feeling like the dumbest guy in the room. It keeps me sharp and alert and humble. Specifically transitioning from prose to comics has taught me how much effort goes into describing the work and how much research is needed to make a visual work accurate. There’s a lot of extra homework that goes into making a comic book, and, in a way, it makes me grateful for all the extra hours a dyslexic kid like me had to spend trying to get through school.

GP: You’re writing the first episode of the television series, what will your role be after that? The release said you’d be “closely tied” to the development.

MB: At this point, I am contractually obligated to write the pilot (if we ever get to that phase). Who knows what will happen after that. We’re talking about Television so I try to manage my expectations.

GP: What did Legendary bring to the table that had you set on working with them?

MB: There’s nobody else I’d rather work with than Legendary. They are smart, brave, and successful. I love their work. I love that their products have to makes sense as well as be fun to watch. I like that there is a level of depth rarely found in their competition. I’d match their Dark Knight series up against any and all other super hero movies. I’m also in awe of 42. Who doesn’t want to work with the folks that gave us 42?

GP: Extinction Parade in its simplest form is zombies vs vampires, how have you worked to make sure the series has stood out with something new and exciting?

MB: I don’t know if it’s new and exciting. I’ll let the readers make that judgment. For me, the whole point of this series is to expose the weakness of given strengths.  So far, I haven’t seen a vampire or zombie story that focus specifically on that philosophy. As a parent, trying to teach my son to survive out in the world, the notion of paying your dues drives so much of what I do.  Hopefully that will come across in the series.

GP: The series does focus on cultures in decline and the perils of privilege, is that a commentary on today’s society? A bit of a warning in the form of an allegory?

MB: Definitely a warning! Growing up, I saw kids who had to struggle and kids who had everything handed to them (which included physical gifts like strength and beauty). The kids had to struggle are now successful, resilient, and infinitely better off than the kids who never had to overcome great challenges. What scares me now is that emotional coddling has become our national culture. We’re living in a country where both little league teams get trophies, where college students get their parents to call their professors about grade and where 20 something’s are actually going to job interviews with their parents!  I keep hearing this term “epic fail” and I can’t understand why that’s a bad thing. Without epic fails you’ll never have epic lessons or learn epic survival skills!  In a country where the Kardashians are the gold standard for young people, is it so hard to make the jump to vampires?

GP: What else can expect from you over the year?

MB: I’ve still got to wrap up the Extinction Parade comic series and write the screenplay of Harlem Hellfighters.  When EP goes forward as a TV show, it’ll be a very busy year.

Interview: Women of BOOM! – Kris Mukai

kris mukai bleeding cool adventure time coverIt’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 31st “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it! We’re making sure to include the hard-working folks whose contributions are often overlooked in the process.

BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to their staff, and creative teams, to find out why the publisher is so successful in hiring women and their experiences in the comic industry as women.

Kris Mukai is an artist who has contributed a short story to Spera Vol. 2 as well as a cover for KaBOOM!’a popular Adventure Time.

Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?

Kris Mukai: I have been self-publishing comics for about 6 years.

GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

KM: I read a lot of manga scanlations as a kid, mostly shounen stuff that I don’t read so much anymore. My hometown public library had a great selection of journalistic comics, I read a lot of Joe Sacco, Peter Kuper, and Seth Tobocman’s comics. Becky Cloonan’s early works were also hugely inspirational.

GP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?

KM: Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya started writing a comic for BOOM! (Candy Capers), and they suggested me to their art director as someone to draw a cover. Since it was for their book, I was excited to do the piece, although BOOM! ended up printing the image on a different book.

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

KM: Clients pay me to draw anything.

GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?

KM: Draw what you want to draw and clients will seek you out to draw that thing. Be kind to your peers, they are the art directors and editors of the future.

GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?

KM: The ladies of the Love Love Hill collective were my mentors, I was penpals with Kim and Saicoink and everyone drew on the same oekaki board and encouraged each other. They introduced me to self publishing and to getting shit done yourself. Joshua Ray Stephens and my classmate Jane Wu (art direction at LAUNCH) mentored me in college. I got my first big breaks in illustration from Max Bode and Jordan Awan.

GP: Do you think women have a more difficult time breaking in and making it in the comic industry, if so why? And if yes, how do you think that can be overcome?

KM: I work largely in the illustration industry, and there is a huge amount of women creators working in illustration. Many of the illustrators I know also create comics, so they are coming at it from a different direction. There is no one path that leads to your goal.

There are also many women comic artists publishing their work through small press publishers, art book and children’s imprints, and through web publishing. Their work shouldn’t be dismissed simply because they aren’t making work for Marvel or DC.

GP: We notice that when it comes to women in the comic industry, BOOM!/Archaia has a lot of diversity present. Why do you think have they succeeded when so many other publishers struggle with this?

KM: It seems like BOOM! and Archaia are making an effort to hire creators to make new content, whereas other companies are hiring artists to re-hash old content.

GP: We’ve heard horror stories concerning women in the industry, have you ever seen or been discriminated/harassed and if so, how did you handle it?

KM: I was offered a job that wanted to pay me $3000 for a years worth of work, basically $20 per page from sketches to color. The client assumed that I would be jumping for joy at the “opportunity” to create a “real” comic book, even if it meant working for far less than minimum wage.

I have the luxury to decline job offers from rude or inconsiderate clients, but unfortunately many artists don’t have this option.

GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?

KM: Don’t do free work for those that have the ability to pay you

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