Category Archives: Interviews

Marvel heads before the Supreme Court tomorrow. We get the scoop.

Supreme CourtWhile everyone was focused on Marvel‘s possible legal battle before the Supreme Court concerning the rights of Jack Kirby, Marvel had another case that actually is making it before the high court tomorrow.

Marvel and Stephen Kimble are getting their day in court, as Stephen Kimble, et al., Petitioners v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. will be heard before the Supreme Court on March 31. It’s one of two cases before the court that day.

To get the scoop as to what we might expect, we got to talk to Mike Fein of the intellectual property group of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC about the court case.

Marvel ComicsMike Fein is a member of the intellectual property group of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, which is co-chaired by Roberta Jacobs-Meadway. Along with his colleagues, Mr. Fein has extensive experience advising clients about patent scope, validity and enforceability, as well as in obtaining and litigating patents. He is also well versed and experienced in representing licensors and licensees of patents and related antitrust laws, both in the U.S. and internationally. Mr. Fein earned his law degree from Rutgers University School of Law and his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

But, before the actual Q&A, here’s a bit of a disclaimer.

This article is intended to keep readers current about a topic in intellectual property law, and is not intended to be legal advice nor to create an attorney-client relationship. The article expresses the personal opinion and views of the author. If you have questions, please contact the Philadelphia office of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, at 215.851.8400.

Graphic Policy: The court decision that’s being debated is the previous decision in Brulotte v Thys Co. What was that court case? Can you sum up for us what the case is about in layman’s terms?

Mike Fein: Whether this Court should overrule Brulotte v. Thys Co., which held that “a patentee’s use of a royalty agreement that projects beyond the expiration date of the patent is unlawful per se.”

GP: In the description of the case before the Court, they said that decision was “a product of a bygone era” and “the most widely criticized” of the Court’s intellectual property and competition law decisions. How often does this case come up and why is it so criticized?

MF: In the decision being appealed, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals contrasted the Brulotte rule with Aronson v. Quick Point Pencil Co., 440 U.S. 257, 262-66, 99 S.Ct. 1096, 59 L.Ed.2d 296 (1979), in which the Supreme Court found that patent law did not preclude the enforcement of an agreement to provide royalty payments indefinitely where no patent had issued. The Court of Appeals said that “the Brulotte rule in this case arguably deprives Kimble of part of the benefit of his bargain based upon a technical detail that both parties regarded as insignificant at the time of the agreement.” They quoted the following criticism from a 7th Circuit in an earlier opinion which said

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion reasoned that by extracting a promise to continue paying royalties after expiration of the patent, the patentee extends the patent beyond the term fixed in the patent statute and therefore in violation of the law. That is not true. After the patent expires, anyone can make the patented process or product without being guilty of patent infringement. The patent can no longer be used to exclude anybody from such production. Expiration thus accomplishes what it is supposed to accomplish. For a licensee in accordance with a provision in the license agreement to go on paying royalties after the patent expires does not extend the duration of the patent either technically or practically, because … if the licensee agrees to continue paying royalties after the patent expires the royalty rate will be lower. The duration of the patent fixes the limit of the patentee’s power to extract royalties; it is a detail whether he extracts them at a higher rate over a shorter period of time or a lower rate over a longer period of time.

GP: Are there any recent cases the Supreme Court has heard that might give us an idea on how they might rule?

MF: Recent Supreme Court decisions have been anti-patent and have caused tremendous upheaval and invalidation of thousands of previously-thought to be valid patents in the biotech and computer-assisted method fields. They are usually influenced by the Solicitor General’s amicus briefs. The Solicitor filed one in the Kimble v. Marvel urging the court to affirm the decision below and uphold the Brulotte rule since it is not anti-competitive.

GP: What are you expecting from the judges when they hear the case?

MF: They will ask questions as usual, except for Justice Thomas.

GP: There were quite a few amicus curiae filed, some in support of neither party. Have any of them stood out to you?

MF: Just the Solicitor’s, as mentioned above.

GP: How far and wide would the impact be if Marvel were to decide the case for Kimble? Seems like it’d be pretty wide reaching and have a massive impact on things.

MF: I don’t think the impact would be that great. Know how agreements can be in perpetuity. There are other ways around Brulotte if the parties really bargain for post patent expiration royalties.

GP: This is one of two cases Marvel could have had before the court, the other being the lawsuit concerning Jack Kirby. In your opinion, which of the two was more perilous for Marvel?

MF: The Jack Kirby case involved the Spider-Man and X-Man copyrights, much more valuable than the toy involved in the Kimble case.

GP: Any guesses on how they might rule in Kimble v Marvel?

MF: I guess they’ll affirm.

We Talk Jem and the Holograms with Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson might be new to the medium of comics as a writer but she has a lot of experience with both comics and creative writing, having previously worked in reporting on the medium, as well as working on creative writing projects.  She joined us to talk about her new series Jem and the Holograms.

jem001Graphic Policy:  Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the new series?

Kelly Thompson:  I was already talking to IDW about some work for hire and potential creator-owned work and so when Jem got announced my name was put forward as someone that might be interesting for it. I was of course all over it and since Sophie Campbell and I had been looking for something to do together for a few years and I knew she was a super fan of Jem it seemed like the perfect project to do together. We started working on our pitch right away. There were a lot of secret texts…sometimes just an all caps out of nowhere “JEM!” text…we were pretty excited.

GP:  Were you a fan of Jem as a child?

KT:  Yes, I was a big fan of Jem. Original creator Christy Marx did such a great job of making the show all about women. They had screen time and agency in a way that not many other women in cartoons at the time did. I’m sure as a kid I didn’t realize that was what I was responding to, but I knew there was something special about it, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it.

GP:  The original cartoon series often featured (relatively sedate) action sequences to appeal to a wider audience (boys).  Do you think that culture has moved to a place where we don’t need this any more?

jem002KT:  Well, I’m not sure how sedate it was! Right off the bat you have a car chase along a cliffside with The Misfits throwing instruments out of a moving vehicle and running Jem and The Holograms off the road. That’s pretty high-octane. There were also people falling off of cruise ships and getting trapped on deserted islands, volcanoes, people trying to run people over with steamrollers, fighting a bear! Quite a bit of action…I don’t know what kind of action you like but I’m not sure it was sedate!

That said, I think your larger point that the action elements were included in Jem specifically to appeal to boys and that it’s not necessary to do that these days to appeal to boys is interesting. I think for a cartoon in 2015 you’d still probably take that approach – i.e. making sure to include some action, but part of that is just because some action is cool and fun and creates natural drama and stakes. I think for the purposes of our comic there will definitely be less action both because we’re aiming for a slightly older audience that maybe doesn’t need that element as part of its draw and also just because of our medium change. Not that comics can’t handle action of course, some would say it’s what they do best (shameless Wolverine joke) but just that our panel time is extremely limited so having prolonged action sequences means other stuff has to get cut or pared back. There will be some action, but it’s definitely less than the show.

jem003GP:  The idea of an alter ego for a pop star is interesting considering the effects that fame can have on people, but do you think that fame is an unfortunate effect of success in pop culture, or part of the appeal?

KT:  Well, obviously this is a generalization, everyone is different, but I suspect for a lot of people fame may start out as part of the appeal and quickly become a really painful downside. Even people that get into it FOR the fame probably find out that it’s a real monster, a machine that constantly has to be fed and one that ultimately demands very high price for its rewards – like having zero private life. Sophie said at one time in our talks about Jem something like, Jerrica creating Jem is in fact a kind of ingenious solution to the insane demands of celebrity. I love that and think it’s both really accurate and fascinating for our storytelling purposes.

GP:  It can be hard sometimes for writers to switch between mediums, and you kind of have to delve a bit into songwriting.  Did you have a hard time coming up with lyrics for the songs?

KT:  It was definitely the thing I was most afraid of when I took this project on but it turned out to be one of the easier things to do. Like anything, if you’ve built your characters correctly, they’ll do most the work for you. So I just did a lot of research looking at music lyrics and song structures and then got into the head of whatever character was writing the music (mostly Jerrica, Kimber, or Stormer) and thought about what they were trying to say and it just started flowing.  I guess time will tell how well the readers think I handled it, though.

jem004GP:  Part of the appeal of the original series was the music, with each episode delivering new music videos.  Comics obviously can’t do this, but do you feel a need to compensate in some way?

KT:  Yeah, I think music is obviously the biggest hurdle we have in that we just cannot possibly duplicate actually hearing the music like the original show. As you’ve seen from the first issue we’re trying to approach the music in a really visual way, using color, icons, and movement to convey sound as an actual physical thing on the page. We’re also hoping to cut loose with some crazy and hilarious visuals for the videos.

GP:  What some people forget is that while Jem is a story about a young pop star, that there is still a strong science fiction element due to Synergy.  Do you think that writers limit themselves with the use of science fiction in more traditional ways without thinking outside the box?

KT:  Well, I’ve seen and read a lot of great science fiction that blows my mind, so while I’m sure there’s plenty of it out there that’s also uninspired or mines familiar territory, that’s usually not my experience. That said, I think Jem’s take on sci-fi, i.e. as this almost matter of fact element that’s actually incredible and highly influential and sort of crazily dangerous if used with ill intentions is fascinating. I hope we can explore some of that, especially as it pertains to celebrity.

GP:  One notable difference is the depiction of Jem, for instance with a significantly higher hemline than in the cartoons.  Do you think that female stars are empowered or exploited by the need to reveal more?

KT:  I don’t actually find the hemline to be that much higher. Jem’s old skirt was more asymmetrical than the first cover image Sophie did so I guess that gives the impression of ours being shorter, but all those ladies in the cartoons wore pretty short skirts, which as far as I’m concerned is really normal and realistic – they’re pop stars. The same way that superheroines probably shouldn’t be in super impractical unzipped and high-heeled outfits, pop stars kind of SHOULD be in those kind of outfits. It’s all a performance and in Jem’s case it’s literally an illusion and so it can (and should) be almost impossible and ridiculous. I think that female celebrities are held to impossible and frustrating standards. Be thin but not too thin, be sexy but not too sexy, be gorgeous but don’t be too confident, it’s exhausting. That said, I think many of our modern female celebrities have made a real effort to rise above that junk and embrace the power they have and have taken real ownership of their image, which is both impressive and encouraging.

GP:  Can you give us a bit of an idea about where the series is headed?

KT:  Well, for this first arc we’re exploring a fairly classic “battle of the bands” idea but with a modern update. Though some of our stories are obviously going to break further away form the original, the core idea remains to look at some of the classic storylines through a 21st century lens. One of the most fascinating things about Jem is how music, technology, and celebrity have changed since the 1980’s. So that’s the sweet spot to me, figuring out what those original stories would look like in a new context.

We Talk with Min Kim about the Digital Comics Coalition and the future of Digital Comics

digital comics coalitionSeemingly launched out of nowhere in mid-February, the Digital Comics Coalition is the brainchild of Min Kim, the founder of Taptastic. Other members include Mark Waid (Thrillbent), Josh Wilkie (Madefire), Felix Kiner (ComicsFix) and Doug Lefler (Scrollon). The group of comics creators, programmers, businessmen and filmmakers joins together regularly to share ideas on the innovations happening today in digital publishing. But, other than their panel at Meltdown Comics, not much is known about the organization, its purpose, direction etc.

We got a chance to talk to Min Kim about the DCC, and find out more about many of the questions we’ve been waiting to find out the answers to.

Graphic Policy: How did the Digital Comics Coalition come about?

Min Kim: I’ve been living and working in San Francisco Bay Area for about 10 years witnessing all sort of technology innovations in the media and entertainment space. We now stream endless music to our phones. We video-chat with family and friends from anywhere in the world. We consume so much content on mobile including news and books. So, when I walked into San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, I was shocked by how technology, particularly digital comics, was heavily underrepresented. I met Doug Lefler (Scrollon) and Josh Wilkie (Madefire) at the convention and we all just naturally connected because we shared the same frustration. We continued to talk after the convention, and then more of our friends, Mark Waid (Thrillbent) and Felix Kiner (Comicsfix), joined in on the conversation.

GP: What are the goals of the organization?

MK: The coalition is still very new. We’re still in the process of finalizing our manifesto and bylaws. However, the general purpose is to facilitate comic industry’s transition from print to digital. We know that there are other important matters to keep in mind such as content diversity, racial diversity, and gender equality. Mark, Doug, and Josh are all creators themselves. Indie comic creators are an important part of all our companies and the industry. So, we want to make sure that everything we do prioritizes comic creators. Sorry that I cannot provide bullet point answers at this time.

GP: Is the organization going to be formalized as a non-profit or a trade organization?

MK: It’s currently an agreement between the members. We are discussing how we want this group to evolve. If we feel that the group needs to officially register in the future, we will do so.

GP: Are there current coalitions or organizations that the coalition is looking towards as inspiration?

MK: As a group, no specific ones. Personally, I admire organized groups that have been recently fighting for net neutrality. There are also many that are promoting or fighting for advancement of good ideas. Digital comics is a very good idea and very good for the industry and the creators.

GP: There’s a lot of issues facing digital services like broadband expansion, EULA standardization, CISPA, and more. Will the organization get involved in the policy end of things?

MK: We currently do not have plans in place for those issues. Perhaps in the future.

GP: How has the digital landscape shifted since you became involved?

MK: DCC was organized in 2015, and we’ve only done one event at Meltdown, which you can view on Youtube. We’re happy about the turnout and the fact that various organizations like Graphic Policy and creators are contacting us. We’re hoping an accumulation of events will eventually lead to a positive shift in the industry.

GP: One of the major issues I see with digital services is the walled environments, and lack of standardization of formats for the digital goods. Will the coalition work at all together to standardize the digital comic format and make it easier to port comics if a service were to shut down?

MK: This is a tough question because standardization can impede innovation, yet there are also benefits like transferability that you mentioned. Usually free competition determines standards in any industry and the same goes for digital comics. The coalition is a good starting point to discuss how we can work together to minimize bad consumer experience by lowering some of those walls that you mentioned. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that some consumers will feel like losing out when a service shuts down. This reminds me of my HD-DVD that I once purchased that is useless today.

In addition, there is some psychology at play here because the society has hardwired us to think that there’s more value in something physical than digital. For example, consumers associate all the tangible costs such as paper, ink, and delivery into pricing of a book. Although digital books don’t have those tangible costs, there are inherent values such as the ability to instantly download, mobility, and storage that consumer do not think about. Furthermore, purchasing digital comics goes beyond just purchasing a book like we are used to. Digital comics today offer a unique experience that was never available. This unique experience varies based on platforms, but comics today can now support background music, animation, and engagement with other readers. So, we’ve come a long way from purchasing static content. So when something goes away because nothing in life really lasts forever (I’m sure most of your comic books are stashed away in the garage like mine), we should try to stay positive. I hope more people view buying a digital comic as buying a ticket to a movie or a Broadway show.

GP: There’s this founding group for the Digital Comics Coalition, but numerous services that aren’t involved. Will more be joining?

MK: Oh yes, definitely! We already have a few requests and we are in talks. We’ll make an announcement when appropriate.

GP: We’ve already seen one service have a data breach, will the coalition work together to better protect data of the customers?

MK: Security breech happens all the time across all industries. It is very unfortunate that it happened to Comixology, but it’s also a great opportunity for others to learn from such events. So although we did not have a specific discussion around this issue, I can see members of the coalition sharing experiences and resources to protect the consumers.

GP: What do you see as the biggest hurdle for digital comics? What do you see as the biggest advantage for digital comics?

MK: I’ll answer the second question first. I’d say the biggest advantages are accessibility for readers and creative freedom for creators. Accessibility is obvious where anyone with PC or mobile device can instantly read millions of visual stories. In addition, technology has lower the barrier to entry for creators. Anyone can publish and share his or her comics online. Anyone has a chance to display his or talent to the world, so digital has democratized storytelling. As for creative freedom, I think exploring some of the creators’ work on any of our digital comics platforms speaks for itself. In the past, creators were restricted to panels and pages. They had to because economic costs were also factored in – paper quality and ink used for production and printing. Technology has provided more creative freedom. Technology allows unlimited ways for a creators to tell stories. Creators can now add music, transitions, and other animated effects. So many people are doing very cool things out there.

The biggest hurdle? There are so many. Right now, it’s the distribution. How can more people know that these new experiences exist? How can more people learn that digital comics is not just pages scanned for digital viewing? So many people still think of superheroes when they think of comics. No, there is so much that digital comics offers beyond that.

Toronto Comic Con 2015: Celebrity Q&A with J. August Richards

J. August Richards has been working in film for over twenty years and has over forty acting credits to his name between television and cinema.  He is perhaps best known for two characters in particular, Charles Gunn from Angel and Deathlok from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the latter of which inducted him into the select group of actors that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As a celebrity guest at Toronto Comic 2015, he took part in a moderated Q&A period, and got to talk about his experiences on film.

The Moderator:  You used to be a comic collector, but did you have Deathlok comics?

deathlokmarvelJ. August Richards:  What I did have was The Guide to the Marvel Universe [The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe].  So what happened was that all of my old comic books were in my sister’s house back in D.C.  It just so happened that there was a Christmas break so I went home, I got all my comics, and I was like “I’m going to find Deathlok in this comic book collection” because I was not familiar with the character.  So I was looking around and I saw The Guide to the Marvel Universe and I was like “I’m a virgo, if I know me, I completed this set.”  I checked and I had A through Z Guide to the Marvel Universe.  I went to D and found Deathlok and that is where I started doing my research into the character.  Then Marvel was nice enough to make the old comics accessible to me and I read those to a certain point and then I had to stop, because as you may or may not know, there are three incarnations of Deathlok over the history of Marvel.  Maybe even four, it depends on how you are counting … could be five depending on how you are counting.  They had three very different back stories, the three ones that I looked at, and the circumstances were very different and I still wanted to stay true to the character that we created in the first episode, the father with his son, being a single parent.  That meant the world to me and I thought that whatever happens from here on out, that I had to play a father to a son, and that is who that character was going to be.

skyeQuestion From the Floor:  Will Deathlok show up again in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or in a movie?

JAR:  I like the way that you are thinking.  Unfortunately when I started the show, way back when we did the pilot, I had to sign a contract that prohibited me from talking any future things which would happen from the show, so unfortunately I can’t answer that question.  I need to leave that alone but I like that idea [of showing up in a movie.]

QFF:  How did they come up with the name Deathlok?

JAR:  The character was introduced in 1974, which was the year after I was born.  So I don’t know where they came up with the name, but this would be my guess.  One of the interesting things about playing a character that exists in the comic books is that you can do research in the comic books about that character, and one thing that I learned was that although there were three different Deathloks, they had something in common which was that they were trapped, somewhere between life and death.  So I believe that is where they came up with the name.  It is kind of like that he is locked in death.  And it is a little more relevant in the comic books because in one version, the consciousness is in the machine of Deathlok, so he is like a human being but he’s not quite human.

deathlokQFF:  How long before did you find out that you were playing Deathlok?

JAR:  The day before he turned into Deathlok. When I signed up to do the pilot it was just for the one episode, and then they brought me back for episode eight, and then as I was doing eight then asked me to do nine and ten.  And then I did ten and they asked me to do a bunch towards the end of the season.  That’s kind of how Marvel worked, they want to keep everything top secret, and they want to make sure that nothing gets out and want to make sure that nothing spoils it.  Personally I hate being spoiled, sometimes I will go see movies that I know nothing about except the title, because I just like that experience.

TM:  But that brings up a good point.  As an actor do you prefer some notice?

JAR:  I prefer not knowing, because then you just have to play what’s in front of you.

TM:  One part that we haven’t talked about is Angel, and during that series …

JAR:  At least you didn’t say Heroes.  I meet a lot of people that say “you were in Heroes.”  “No, I was not.”  But the actor that was in Heroes, we look a lot alike.  Leonard Roberts doesn’t think we look alike, he used to say that until his girlfriend invited me to his surprise birthday party, and I showed up late, and when I walked in everyone yelled “Surprise!”  And so when he showed up finally I was like “Now do you think that we look alike?”

gunnTM:  Angel was a spin-off but I have heard people say that they started looking forward to Angel more than Buffy.  Have you heard fans say this?

JAR:   Umm … no.  Angel is so synonymous with Buffy and it came out of Buffy.  I don’t hear that very much myself.  They’re together right?

QFF:  How awesome was it to work with David Boreanz?

JAR:  Like this awesome [holds arms wide].  I love David, he’s so much fun.  He’s just a whole character, you know what I mean?  He’s just a super cool guy, he likes to try to make you break character when the camera is on you, which is so unfair.  I feel like now that I could act with this whole building falling down, because having to do very intensive scenes with him laughing at me and pointing at me, you know I feel like I can act through anything.

QFF:  Have you read the Angel comics that came out after the Fall?

jarjarJAR:  I can’t read that for some reason.  I can’t bring myself to.  When we were in that alleyway which was the last shot of Angel, I said goodbye to the character.  Anything else would feel like someone writing an unauthorized biography about you.  Not that it is unauthorized, just that I don’t get to play it, so I don’t want to know about it.  I want to leave him right there, because I found him to be so heroic and he found what he was looking for.

QFF:  As an actor and as a Star Wars fan, if J.J. Abrams was here, which character would you pitch to him to play?

JAR:  Nice!  First of all if you want to see someone fanboy out, or more accurately fangirl out, I would lose it.  Because I love Star Trek too and what he did with it.  What part would I want to play?  Any part.  I would be an extra.  I would do anything.  Put me in a mask, put me in whatever, I don’t care.  I mean maybe like Jar Jar Binks’ nephew?  Ha ha, never!  That’s the the only one I wouldn’t want to play, but really anything.  Stormtrooper number 12!  But if I had my druthers, I would be a dope Jedi, with like, four lightsabers.

Toronto Comic Con 2015: Celebrity Q&A with Dickie Beer

dickiebeerDickie Beer has been in a lot of movies that you have seen, only you probably don’t recognize him.  He is a near legendary stuntman that has performed in some of the biggest series in movie history, most notably in the last two Indiana Jones movies and the Return of the Jedi.  The most recognizable of his role was as the stunt double for Boba Fett, but he has been in many other films including several James Bond, Total Recall and the second Transformers movie.

The question period started out with some technical difficulties with the microphone, so Dickie told a story while people waited.

Dickie Beer:  While we figure out these technical problems, I can tell a funny anecdote.  One day my daughter came home from school, and I could see that she is very excited.  She almost screamed to me “I didn’t know that you are so famous!  You are Boba Fett!”  And I asked “Who is that?” because I played so many characters in the Star Wars movies and forgot who they all were.   [microphone is fixed]

Question From the Floor:  What is the most dangerous stunt that you have done?

gamorDB:  When I was filming Return of the Jedi I was playing a Gamorrean guard.  We were filming in the Yuma Desert, which was very hot, and the costume was so hot and so heavy that I had to take it off every few minutes just to breathe and so that I would not overheat.  At one point there was a scene where Carrie Fisher had to knock me down, and every time that I fell down I needed three people to help me back up, because the suit was too cumbersome to stand up on my own.  During one scene, they called for lunch, and the three people that were supposed to pick me up ran off to lunch without remembering that I had fallen.  When everyone got to the food hall, Carrie noticed that I was not there and she ran back to help me up.  It might sound funny compared to other dangerous stunts, but when she came back, it really saved my life.

QFF:  What is your favourite Star Wars movie?

DB:  It may sound funny but I don’t like watching movies all that much.  I don’t enjoy them as much because I don’t look at a movie as a story being told, I look at it as a job.  I am the worst movie watcher ever because I always see where people make mistakes or when they have done something wrong. So I am afraid that I haven’t seen any of them all the way through.  Don’t tell anybody.

QFF:  Do you have any directors over the course of your career that were easier to work with or harder to work with?

angjolDB:  There are always good people and bad people and I prefer to talk about the good people.  There are three actors that I like to work with – Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie and Geena Davis.  They are my three favourite actors because of who they are.  They don’t behave like stars, they treat you like a human being, with respect.  You treat people how you want to be treated and they are these kind of people.  I like to work with some directors, my favourite is Spielberg.  I like the way that Spielberg operates.  One of the things that I learned from Stephen Spielberg is to not ask him what is next because he will say “you have the call sheet, you have the script, and that’s about it. That should be enough information so don’t come to me asking what is next because you should know if you’ve done your homework.”  He has always been good to me and what I like about him is that he remembers each and everyone’s name, and I am very bad at names.

QFF:  What do you think about the new Star Wars movies?

DB:  I haven’t seen them (laughs).  You mean the new ones coming out?  I hear all kinds of stories, but I don’t know.  Lucas is still involved but it is not produced by Lucas anymore it is Disney.

QFF:  Have you heard anything about them?

DB:  The only thing that I know is that Harrison is in it, Mark Hamill is in it, Carrie Fisher is in it, Peter Mayhew is in it and C3P-0, Anthony Daniels.

QFF:  What is the biggest freefall that you have done?

double impactDB:  The highest one was 150 feet, and I didn’t know that it was 150.  It was for a movie called Double Impact, with Jean-Claude Van Damme which was shot in Hong Kong.  There was a fall off of one of the cranes which picks up the containers off of the ships.  I estimated that it was around 110.  We set the air bag up and got everything set and then at night we had to shoot it.  What happened was that there were two lights, really bright lights, to the side of the air bag which were shining straight up into my face.  I looked down and couldn’t see the air bag because of the light were blinding me.  I asked the director “Do we need those lights?” and he said “Of course we need them otherwise I can’t see you.”  So I said “OK, can you turn them off for a split second to let me get in my position.  You say action and then I will do the fall.”  They turned off the lights and I spotted the air bag so I knew where it was and I knew exactly what I had to do.  Then I told them to turn the lights back on and when they turned them on I closed my eyes and kept them shut until they said action.  I did the fall with my eyes closed and counted off two seconds and knew that I should be through the beam of light.  That is when I opened my eyes Because my eyes were closed I had pushed off too hard and I went over the center of the airbag, which is the ideal place to hit the air bag.  What happens when you are too far forward is that the back side is shot into the air, and I was thrown off into the ground

QFF:  Have you ever looked at a stunt and said “this one is not for me”?

DB:  Not really because when it comes to doing something that looks like it is impossible, I always say “nothing is impossible as long as you give me enough time and money to figure it out.”  I always say that I can do it, but that it will cost a certain amount and will take a certain amount of time, and if they are willing to pay for that, then I can make it happen.  So far I have never said no, but other have turned me down and said that it is too expensive.  I figured out a system where I can crash an airplane for real and walk away from it but nobody has come up with the money to do it yet.

bridgeQFF:  Have you ever been injured in a stunt?

DB:  The only injuries that I have had is a torn ligament in my collarbone and a twisted ankle.  That’s it.

QFF:  Were you involved with the bridge scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

DB:  Yes, I was one of the idiots that fall off of there.  Actually, remember when they end up against the wall when they are climbing the broken bridge?  Every time that you see someone fall it was me, because I was the only one for some reason that was capable of staying close to the actors instead of … when falling you travel both out and down.

QFF:  Harrison was there too?

Film Title: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines.DB:  Yes, he was there hanging on, and so was the actor that played the bad guy.  If Harrison was not an actor, he would be a stuntman.  The stunt coordinator sometimes had to tell Harrison not to take part in stunts because they were too dangerous or too tricky for him.

QFF:  What is the stunt that took the longest preparation on your part?

DB:  The longest that I had was about two to three months.  A lot of rehearsals.  A lot of crashing of cars to get that it was going to happen the right way.  That was for Terminator 3.  That scene where the crane is operated by the T-X.  That took months and months of rehearsals and trying thing out.

QFF:  How many movies have you made?

DB:  On IMDB I have about 110 listed, but in reality I have done about 150.  Some of the movies that were on IMDB, I had to take them off because they were so bad and I didn’t want my name associated with them.

We Talk Alt Control Delete with Ramon Govea

Ramon Govea is new to the field of comics, but his first comic series Alt Control Delete turned some heads with its interesting concept and engaging visuals. We had a chance to talk with him about his new series and some of the inspirations that he drew upon.

Graphic PolicyWhat is your inspiration for the series?  It seems like there is some Matrix in here, as well as some Hunger Games, and maybe a bit of Avatar.

acdRamon Govea: I’ve always been a science fiction fanatic. I grew up watching pretty diverse material ranging from Star Trek and The Twilight Zone to the 80’s and 90’s blockbusters like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Robocop, so you could say that the seeds were planted much earlier.  When I saw The Matrix, I was blown away by the integration of dystopian themes with some of the Ancient Greek philosophies that changed my worldview in High School.

I actually had the idea for this before I was aware of the Hunger Games franchise, but they definitely share some elements of the genre.  The idea behind Alt Control Delete stemmed from the notion that since its inception, digital gaming has increasingly dominated so many aspects of global culture.  I wanted to explore a world that had progressed beyond some of the common tropes of dystopian sci-fi. When I was brainstorming the world, I knew what I did not want it to be: no desert wastelands, no robots, no water crisis, and no aliens. That’s not to say all of that is off the table down the road, but I wanted to create a world that was relevant to what is happening on our planet right now – technology and social interaction seem to go hand in hand these days, and I wanted to take it a notch higher, to see what 11 looks like, so to speak, and this seemed logical.

acd003GP: Part of the subtext of the series is that it is about an alternate way to do warfare. Do you think it is something that we will move beyond, or something that will always be with us as part of the human condition?

RG: I think war is ultimately a misplaced expression of anger and frustration. We have had values like patriotism and religious zeal instilled in us at a young age and here in the US they often motivate our collective desires for freedom of expression. On the flip side, the desire for revenge can be a potent and devastating fuel behind these same ideas. On the microcosmic scale I see competitive sports as a healthier expression of this camaraderie and unified goal, where the stakes are usually far less severe. I think at some point our species will realize that we’ve been going about things all wrong. Something is not working when millions of people are unnecessarily dying every year because of war. I think the survival of our species is dependent on a shift in perspective.

GP: The story is broken into two segments, the somewhat drab dystopian-like real world and the fantastical video game world. Were there any specific games that you drew from to help design the video game world?

RG: I’ve played a lot of video games in my lifetime, so there are a ton of games that I have drawn inspiration from for the series. In the first issue we introduced a classic team deathmatch that takes a surprising twist, but there’s a lot of Halo influence there with some fantasy elements thrown in. In future issues we’ll see puzzle games, racing games and some more war games.

acd002GP: This is set in the far enough future, but the main characters are still using gaming slang. Do you think it is with us to stay?

RG: It’s funny, because just the other day I was remembering how often I got scolded as a kid for using the phrase “my bad” and the other day I think I heard someone say it in a TED talk. Without giving too much of the story away, I will say that the evolution of language has fascinated me for a long time. I was reading at an early age, so for “fun” my parents would have me read from the dictionary for guests for amusement. Eventually, I enjoyed Spelling Bees in grade school. So, somewhere along the way etymology became a cool thing in my book, and I think since gamer culture is such a massive influence on young kids right now, gamer slang is bound to live on.

acd001GP: The main character is Tess, a female player that is pretty good at what she does. Do you see a connection about the future of games and comics and women taking a bigger role in both?

RG: Absolutely. It’s inevitable. I think there’s a huge evolution of consciousness happening right now and women around the world are regaining their power in this patriarchal global culture.  It goes beyond just comics and games, but pretty soon we’ll see more and more women at the forefront of these industries too.  I hope that by focusing on a female protagonist and collaborating with a woman on this book, my production editor was Heather Antos, who has since been hired at Marvel, I can contribute to this evolution.

GP: Part of Tess’ in game design has her donning a costume that incorporates fishnets, a fairly common feature in women’s clothing in comics. Why do you think they remain so popular?

acd004RG: Funny you mention that, there’s a particular look that I wanted Tess to have in this game world, because this story will actually explore the exploitation of the female body in comics and games. It speaks to a larger issue. As much as I absolutely adore this genre, I am sick of seeing homogenized dystopian futures where women are one dimensional and there is a multi-cultural drought. The fishnets were a design that was pitched by the artist, Eddie Nuñez, and because I have this larger theme I want to explore, I thought it was perfect.

GP: Dystopian futures seem to be a common theme for comics in recent years. What do you make of the renewed focus on broken futures?

RG: It just speaks to a generation of people who recognize that many of our systems are just that.  We live in a world where you have obesity on one end of the spectrum and people dying of starvation on the other. There are severe gaps in resource and wealth distribution and a huge opportunity for improvement in education around the world. Oppression, in varied forms, is still a huge problem in many countries, so films like Elysium, District 9, Divergent, and The Hunger Games are so relevant. People want real freedom.

GP: Can you give us an idea about where the series is headed?

RG: At the core, this is a story about a woman who is tired of her confined lot in life.  We’ll follow her and explore a few different parts of the city. It’s a mix of noir inspired thrills, action, and mystery set in a place that’s just familiar enough to get your bearings. Tess is getting ready to go through a gauntlet that will challenge her perspectives. It will be a fun and hopefully unpredictable ride, but I really hope to bury some deeper philosophical ideas into the story and lay the groundwork for the next chapter of the saga when we finally learn the true meaning of the title of the book. This arc is hopefully just the beginning.

Interview: Vince Hernandez Discusses Aspen’s Psycho Bonkers and Aspen’s Future

00a_PSB1-01-CMYKcropIn a past year of major changes as far as diversity of comic characters, one publisher has been flying under the radar, rethinking their past characters, and created new ones as well. Aspen Comics long ago shed the “sexy heroine” stereotype, and instead have been focusing on interesting stories and characters.

For the company, 2015 seems to be all about change, the first of which was the reworking of their character Kiani. Now, the company is focusing on the all-ages crowd with their new series Psycho Bonkers by Vince Hernandez and Adam Archer.

We got a chance to talk to Vince about the new series staring a teenage girl, and what else we can expect from the “new” Aspeb.

Graphic Policy: So tell us about what folks can expect in Psycho Bonkers?

Vince Hernandez: Well, to get rid of all the silly puns right off the bat, I’ll say that readers will be in for one heck of a ride! But, seriously, this is my ode to the fun and thrilling Saturday morning cartoons and video games we used to watch as kids, with big over-the-top concepts and thrilling adventure. I just wanted to have fun with this one.

Readers will be introduced to Shine, a precocious young racer who—along with the help of her sentient Bonk Racer and robotic assistant—is looking to win the race of all races, the Super Bonk Rally. Along the way, we will discover the tragedy that made her the girl she is today, and why it’s so important that she win the big race.

The book will be told over the course of the five legs of the race, and I hope readers will gravitate towards this breakneck style of storytelling as they learn more about our lead heroine and the importance of this one race.

00a_PSB1-02-CMYKcropGP: Where did the idea for the series come from?

VH: I grew up in the eighties, so for me, Knight Rider was an early inspiration that I always wanted to explore more. Primarily, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a sentient vehicle that could communicate with its driver. But while Knight Rider was a more adult-themed story, I thought mine could encompass a more all-ages feel. Another inspiration for this story are the races you find in video games like Mario Kart, where you feel like you live or die with these characters and their fate, and the near-impossibility of the challenges set before them. I thought it would make for an exciting concept.

GP: There are two things that immediately stand out about the announcement for the series, it’s an all-ages series, and it stars a teenage girl. What was the thinking behind the decision for those?

VH: Well, anyone who is a fan of my work knows I’m no stranger to working with a female, teenage lead heroine. My past books, like Trish Out of Water, and my most recent series, Damsels in Excess, have featured teenage lead heroines. The difference here, as you mentioned, is the all-ages factor that is certainly something we’re looking to expand upon at Aspen. I think this series coming out now was a culmination of us looking for something with a broader appeal and the right timing for an all-ages series following our Halloween ComicFest Ernie coloring book. We’ve been trending in that direction for some time now.

GP: I noticed the style of the comic is much more “cartoon” like; it seems to have more of a manga influence. Was there discussion in the art style and how it fits the possible audience?

VH: These types of choices always come down to what will fit the overall feel of the story. For Psycho Bonkers, it was evident that the artist needed to be able to capture the hyper-stylized look of a fictional world while keying in on the story’s vital character moments. Adam Archer became our natural choice at that point, as his work fits the bill and then some!

Aspen_Kiani_4_FinalGP: There’s lots of talk about moving “comics forward.” The big two get lots of coverage when they do something progressive with their characters or series. Aspen has been a company that’s had a lot of female led series, and character-wise has been very female focused from my observation. Why do you think folks overlook what you, indie creators, and other publishers have been doing for years and get so excited when the big two catches up?

VH: I think naturally people keep their attention on the larger publishers and consider us an afterthought when, you’re correct, a lot of these things we’ve been doing for years. We’ve been using female creators and featuring female heroines since 2004. But, I think a lot of people have a misconception that because Michael Turner founded our company, we’re just a company that focuses on sexy heroines. This, of course, is a woefully outdated perception of our line of books.

But, that’s okay. We’re never ones to try and stand on a soapbox about things that should be considered normal in our industry. Gender equality and diversity are not hot topic items to be cashed in on, but real life ideals that should be the basis for how every publisher operates.

GP: You’ve shaken up the character Kiani a bit, there’s this series, is making comics for a broader readership something that’s foremost on your mind now?

VH: Without question! Delving more into what I mentioned above, we had talks about how we could achieve an even broader appeal with our flagship titles, and with Fathom: Kiani starting up again early this year, it was the perfect launching pad for this new appeal and her new design.

KIANI-V4-03c-Garbowska-prevGP: You clearly thought about things with Kiani, are you re-exploring some of your other established characters or properties?

VH: We’re doing so across the board on our lineup of titles, and fans can expect to see more of these changes in the near future. It’s time to accept that with the huge following that comics are bringing in, we need to ensure that we’re making our characters as accessible as possible while staying true to the story and the creator’s vision for the title.

GP: In that talk, there’s discussion of having broad content, but not a lot about how to actually get it out there beyond the current readership. How do you think the industry can improve in expanding the readership?

VH: I think, as publishers, we tend to over-think ourselves and try to turn everything into a news byte or an initiative in order to pull in new readers. But, call me old-fashioned—I still think the only surefire way to keep fans satisfied and grow your readership is to put out compelling stories and quality products. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

GP: Has digital shifted your plans at all?

VH: It hasn’t shifted our plans, but it has offered new avenues for us to explore and capitalize on. Also, digital offers us a great opportunity to reach markets where we might not necessarily be sold, so there are a lot of benefits to that platform.

GP: Are there more exciting plans for Aspen this year you can hint about?

VH: Absolutely – we have two Fathom and Soulfire spinoff titles that will feature all new casts of characters and set a new tone for those two flagship series: Fathom Blue and Eternal Soulfire. We’ll also be debuting new series like Lola XOXO: The Wasteland Madam by Siya Oum, The Four Points by Scott Lobdell and Jordan Gunderson, Psycho Bonkers by myself and Adam Archer, the return of JT Krul’s Jirni, and two exciting new concepts I can’t reveal yet by writers that will surprise some people. Stay tuned!

Interview: Lee Bermejo talks his new Vertigo series Suiciders

suiciders #1 coverIn the post-apocalyptic city of New Angeles, killing isn’t just a crime – it’s entertainment.

When the “big one” finally hit the West Coast, Los Angeles was left in ruins. And when the U.S. government decided to cut the city loose, things went from bad to worse. To survive, L.A. did what it does best: It turned survival into entertainment.

Now, thirty years later, the city of New Angeles is thriving once more thanks to the blood sport known as SUICIDERS – a TV series that combines the spectacle of hand-to-hand combat with elaborate, high-tech obstacles that test each competitor’s ability to survive. But these competitors have an edge: They’ve been freakishly enhanced by drugs and technology. The results are both marvelous and monstrous, as the man called The Saint begins to rise above his fellow Suiciders.

Suiciders is a dark, post-apocalyptic epic that tells the story of a strange, brutal world, written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, with colors by Matt Hollingsworth, the first issue is out from Vertigo this week.

We got a chance to talk to Lee about the series, the evolution of the story, and how the immigrant experience comes into it.

Graphic Policy: I think the best place to always start with is, what is Suiciders to you? How would you describe it?

Lee Bermejo: For me, it’s kind of a cross between a post-apocalyptic/post-disaster story with a L.A. noire. I think it’s on the outside something big and muscular looking, but really what I’m trying to do with it is a very human story inside of that. I play around and have fun at the same time.

suiciders-1-jock-variant-121239GP: Where did the idea of the story come from?

LB: Wow. This is something I’ve been kicking around in one form or another for the better part of ten years… maybe more even. I remember telling the basic idea of a version of this back when I was doing Wildstorm, which at this point was 11 or 12 years ago. So maybe even longer than that. But, it’s something that’s been evolving and changing over the years, only because I didn’t really… I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do, but in 10 years you evolve as a storyteller. Hopefully you get better. So technically, I didn’t really have the chops to pull off what I wanted to do with the story until recently.

But, it’s set in Los Angeles, mainly because I grew up in Southern California, not in Los Angeles but I grew up close. So you’re kind of raised in the specter of this earthquake that’s supposed to demolish the area, and I grew up close to the San Andreas fault. So it’s something that’s a part of Southern California mythology. I wanted to some type of story that centered around the earthquake.

What slowly evolved out of it was “what would happen to the city years after a disaster?” And that became more interesting than the event itself. I wanted to see where I could take the city after such a disastrous event. At the same time I moved out of the United States, so I’m an immigrant, and the immigrant story, having lived it is something that really interests me as well. I wanted to find a way to work that in. So those were the basic germs of where I eventually took the story.

GP: Can you tell us a bit more about the immigrant aspect of the story? From the solicits that’s not something that’s apparent as part of the story.

LB: It’s something that starts in issue two. There’s two main characters of the story. A Suicider in this world is a modern gladiator. There’s these games that are the biggest form of entertainment in New Angeles, which is a medieval citadel. On the other side of that is a more heavily demolished area, which is another part called Lost Angeles. These games are huge in both professional and amateur form on both sides of the wall. One of the main characters is one of the best of the best. He’s at the top of the game. His life starts to fall apart, because he has secrets that are starting to come up and bite him in the ass. At the same time, there’s an immigrant character that comes to the city in hopes to make his dreams come true. He wants to be a Suicider. These are the two main characters and these two stories are being told and at some point they intersect.

SUICIDERS-1-1-b41b9GP: Something that really sticks out is that it’s set in L.A., a huge hub of entertainment. There’s the rise of reality of television. Then there’s the rise of more brutal sports like mixed martial arts. Any of that weigh in on your thoughts while putting this together?

LB: I can’t really say that was a big thing. It’s something that’s kind of now in the picture. It’s just kind of there. I don’t really think it’s a commentary on reality tv or anything like that. Unfortunately, as time has proven, it’s something that’s stuck around. It’s a fixed part of modern entertainment. I’m not trying to make some comment on reality tv, or violence in tv. What I wanted to do was take a city back in time. I wanted to do something more medievel. There’s a wall to keep outsiders out. The games are very gladiatorial and bloody, it’s something, it’s strange, it wasn’t influence by modern entertainment than by older forms of entertainment. There’s also an element of the noir story that I like which is a character who is veiled in secrecy and those secrets come out whether they want them to. That becomes a much bigger part of the story than commentary on violence or the world’s obsession with reality programming.

GP: You’re doing the art and writing. Was this always the plan? Did you think about working with somebody else?

LB: I really always wanted to do it by myself. Before I became a professional, I was doing indie comics on my own way back in high school. Writing and drawing is something I’ve always wanted to do. But, as an artist, I got into comics in the late 90s which was the worst time for a guy to get into comics if you wanted to write and draw. At that point the view of artist/writers was pretty terrible. I knew I was going to get hired based on my drawing skills, not my writing skills. And since I started at Wildstorm, which at the time was part of Image Comics, people forget when I started Image was looked at as a slum. It wasn’t a place where artists become writers. The stigma was still there. They just expected big double page pin-ups, not a story. There was a part of me that knew I had a lot to learn and I was technically not able to tell the story I wanted to literally until now. I always wanted to do it myself, and continue to write and draw as I go forward. That’s not to say I won’t work with writers as well.

GP: How has the story evolved over the years?

LB: The story started out as being something much more mythological and I was able to pair it down to something a lot more familiar. I started to introduce elements, I dramatized elements of me in there, and that’s when things started to gel.

GP: What else can folks expect from you this year that you can talk about?

LB: I’m doing We Are Robin with Rob Haynes and Khary Randolph for DC Comics. The series starts in June, set in the Bat-universe!

We Talk The Empty with Jimmie Robinson

emptyTanoor lives in an empty apocalyptic world of poison and decay. Her village is all that remains of humanity as they struggle against mutant beasts and rotting bones. But Tanoor finds a chance to save her people when a stranger drifts into town. A stranger armed with the power to grow life from death. A stranger who could change the world—if Tanoor can keep them alive in the deadly world of The Empty.

The Empty is the brand new series by writer and artist Jimmie Robinson that introduces us to a world of desolation and decay. The series is a science-fiction tale that instead of far out worlds or technology, instead takes an inward look at our own world and humanity.

We got a chance to talk to Robinson about The Empty including its inspiration, ecological disasters, and more.

Graphic Policy: Can you tell us a little about The Empty and how you came up with the idea?

Jimmie Robinson: The Empty was an idea I had in another form a long time ago. Way back in the 1990s I did an eight page short story based on the same concept— however, it used a classic medieval setting with swords and knights and faeries. It was published in an anthology called Mythography by a guy named Micheal Cohen. Last year I came back to the idea, but I gave it a new spin and a huge twist. I figured it was time to play in the fantasy realm again. I tend to do that a lot. I will hop from superhero, to all-ages, to drama, to sci-fi, to whatever. In fact, I have a crime mystery burning a hole in my pocket right now.

I get ideas from what I don’t see on the comic shelves. Some folks can read the tea leaves and see which genre will be the next flavor of the season. But my trigger is when I don’t see something that others are doing, or when I don’t see a certain story or topic being tackled. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not being done by someone. There are SO many comics being made today in print and online, you can’t keep up.

The Empty is about how diverse worlds collide. We see this through two characters. Tanoor is a fighter and hunter for her village in The Empty — a vast desert wasteland where hardly anything grows and survival is a daily routine. Lila, the second character, is the polar opposite. She comes from a paradise. However, in ways I can’t reveal yet, Lila ends up inside The Empty where she eventually teams up with Tanoor. Lila is frail, she’s not a fighter or a survivor, but she has a gift for growing things in a world where vegetation is very scarce. The story then becomes how Tanoor tries to save her village with the help of Lila’s abilities — but a whole host of problems come up which leads us to a much greater adventure.

Empty01_Page1GP: Why did you choose to tell not only a sci-fi story, but also to mix post-apocalyptic into it?

JR: When it comes to world building it’s a lot easier to say what isn’t in the world than what is. So making a desolate world is remarkably easier to build. The trick comes in explaining how it got that way. Also, sci-fi is fun in that it really explores what is going on NOW, just in a dramatic and exaggerated way. Often it’s the human condition that we cannot escape — no matter how much technology we have. But at a certain point, if we look at this in the long run, technology becomes magic. Just as right now we don’t truly understand all the technology we use around us. It just… works. We are told the magic spells, the buttons to push or whatever, but the basis and existence of that *magic* lives in another realm outside of our understanding.

By using a post-apocalyptic platform I can pin-point my story on the characters and their situation. There’s little to get in the way of the story. Also, the barren wasteland is a great contrast to the different worlds I’ve set up in the series.

GP: Can you talk about the design of the main characters?

JR: This came and went for me. I had plenty of ideas for the character designs, and I did a series of sketches playing with body structure. I didn’t want the characters to look like they just stepped out of a magazine. Often I see comics and the characters are so perfect. Lovely bodies, faces, etc. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want superhero bodies or people who were in great shape or very sexy outfits. I mean, I didn’t make them completely repulsive, but you get the idea. I wanted to break the mold… but not so much that it couldn’t be understood. So, instead of creating a new design I took liberties with existing forms. I lengthened the arms, or the neck. I widened the eyes and moved them apart — like an anime character. I tossed out traditional clothing and went for rags or Renaissance era clothing. I just wanted a mix-up of styles and such.

I did the same thing when it came to the weapon used by Tanoor, the warrior character. At first I had a traditional long sword, but then I tossed that idea when I saw another comic book that had a similar set up. So, out of the blue I came up with shields, but then I put a sharp edge on it, then the shield became more like a weapon. and then I was off to the races. Tanoor’s blades took on a life of their own. In fact, in later issues we will see them used as more than just blades. It’s like her Swiss Army knife.

Empty01_Page5GP: What was your inspiration for the poison?

JR: I have to admit the poison came as an afterthought. I wanted a destroyed wasteland, but often we see an apocalyptic platform built on an event that happened a long time ago. I didn’t want that, so I switched the dire situation to one that is a constant threat, not just a historical note. Otherwise, in my view, mankind would just pick up the pieces and get back to rebuilding what was lost.

Something that effects an environment on a large scale has to be something that doesn’t happen just once. It has to be ongoing. A mere explosion, or a war, or whatever would not be enough to wipe out life on the planet. Also, poison represents a symptom. What makes the poison? Why is something that’s poisonous now here that wasn’t here before? It’s not a simple fix. It’s not like killing the bad guy and the poison is gone. So the poison roots became a great visual for a situation that has gone REALLY wrong.

You might say it’s like the fears we have about radiation leaks at nuclear facilities. Nuclear waste and radiation has to be controlled, otherwise it could destroy our world, not just hurt it, but change it dramatically for generations.

GP: Are there any current events or issues that guided the direction of the story?

JR: A few things rattle around in my head, mutant frogs, Fukushima nuclear plant, oil pipe lines, species extermination and environmental loss — but nothing directly. The many ecological disasters that happen around the world makes me think, but these stories didn’t inspired me into a certain direction. You might say I was leaning on the overall thought of invasive technology gone wrong in a natural world. I admit, some folks might see some similarities with current issues, but in truth these are universal topics. Man has manipulated the planet in one way or another since the dawn of time.

GP: In a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, one of the characters uses religion as a tool to explain the horrible circumstances. Do you think that it is part of human nature to do so?

JR: Yes. But it’s not just religion, it’s basically a position of power. Some people have some real issues when they obtain power or prestige. It affects not only them, but also those in their immediate community. A person cannot have power unless it is given to them, thus it is like a snake eating its tail. However, while I admit I cloaked one particular character with religious phrases I never wanted him to be directly connected to any particular belief. In short, I just wanted to use the phrases of fear — which are often used in a religious context.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against religion. But it’s easy to pick up more than a few extreme examples of those who have distorted the good work and message of religion — often in ways that control entire communities. In my series the village in question is desperate, so divisions are seen between the characters. Dig in and weather the disaster, or move on to the unknown. It’s just human nature. There will always be those who are curious, who want something better than the last generation. There will be those who see traditional values as constriction.

GP: Talking about human nature, why do most loners from the wilderness have a dog-like companion?

JR: It’s funny you ask that. A little unknown fact about dogs, wolves and canines is that they are perhaps one of the most adaptive creatures on the planet. Add that to the near universal appeal people have for dogs and it was a no-brainer. I also wanted a unique creature around the main character to remind the reader that things in this world are not quite right. Likewise, I’m not a big fan of characters talking to themselves, but people will speak openly to an animal.

Also, pet companions are great for hunting. They have abilities that help the characters. They’re also seen as alarm bells, or the canary in the coal mine. We can see several examples of this through mythology in almost every culture. The creature often represents more than just a mere animal. It’s a connection to nature. A partnership that is needed to overcome a problem. Or they are often seen as the herald to adventure. The one that calls a person to follow them into the unknown. It’s a universal trope that people all around the world can recognize.

GP: Your series kind of raises the point, if not directly, that other sentient beings in the universe might be as destructive as we are about where we live. Do you think that it is something that is missed about aliens, that they have more imperfections than is often displayed?

JR: I do believe aliens are given shorthand details when it comes to some background platforms. Any race that can build a spaceship and travel a gazillion miles across the universe has to have some kind of waste issue. It’s not like you can grow spaceships on trees. Even the *organic* type vessels require a structure of some kind — not to mention the possibility of genetic manipulation. So yeah, the whole idea of a superior race other than us in the universe should also include a high probability of ecological damage. Granted, we have seen plenty of alien invasion films where our natural resources are targeted because the aliens are coming from a ruined planet. However, how their situation came about is never really put out in the open. How long did it take to destroy their planet? What did they do and was there any opposition or warning?

The idea that an alien life must be smarter than us just because they conquer another planet should be reconsidered. In fact, WE are the aliens when we explore other planets and I’m pretty sure we have a lot of issues going on among ourselves. In a way I do touch upon that in The Empty — but I can’t give away my plots and twists just yet, haha!

We Talk Fables and more with Chrissie Zullo

Chrissie Zullo was discovered at the San Diego Comic Con in 2008, and since then she has made her mark in comics, especially with covers for the Fables universe.  Recently she turned some heads with a series of sketches with some unconventional pairings of heroes.  We got a chance to talk with her about how to design a cover, the new Batgirl and why Boba Fett is so popular.

Graphic Policy:  Can you describe how you go about putting a cover together?  And what elements you have to choose from the inside to capture the story or to capture the interest of a potential buyer?

cz03Chrissie Zullo:  It’s really a collaborative process between the artist and the editor. I usually read a script and if certain elements really stand out or a scene really captures the tone of the story, then my head starts thinking of what a good image would be based on these things. I usually send in three to five thumbnails to my editor, and it’s process of elimination and back and forth on ideas from there.

GP:  You recently turned some heads with a series of drawings on DeviantArt.  Do you think that modern comic artists need websites like that in order to be able to be seen and get work?

CZ:  I don’t know if it’s necessary but it certainly helps. I heard that editors are looking online at sites like Tumblr and seeing who stands out and had a large following. I guess any exposure to your art can’t hurt, so I try to put my art on a lot of online sites in hopes that more people will see it.

GP:  The last year has seen an influx in comics geared towards younger women, such as Gotham Academy and a refurbished Batgirl.  Is the time right for a shift in outlook when it comes to female characters?

CZ:  I think it’s a smart move, because a young female audience gravitates toward young female characters, and if you are trying to pickup new subscribers, a fresh start to a story is a lot less daunting then one 300 issues in. I personally really like seeing the new take on characters, especially the redesigns.

cz01GP:  One of your recent drawings was of the new design Batgirl and Spider-Gwen.  What is it about the two of them makes them fit together?

CZ:  They both came out around the same time, and I think a lot of people would love to see them be friends, or in a same story arc. It’s fun to mash up two things that don’t necessarily belong together but for some reason would make a lot of sense together. I just love the new wave of young, strong females in comics and the fact that they are becoming so popular is also really reassuring.

GP:  Another one of the drawings which you posted was of Quorra from Tron.  She is a bit of an anomaly, as she was only on screen for about 30 minutes, but the character has a dedicated following.  What do you make of that?

CZ:  Yeah true! She needed more screen time. I just loved her look. I guess it’s like Boba Fett- there are these really great designed characters in films that don’t get a lot of screen time, but get a huge following. For whatever reason, people gravitate toward them. Maybe it’s their mystery that makes them more popular.

cz02GP:  Speaking of new developments in comics, ever since about the past ten years, fairy tales have been more noticeable, and as a Fables veteran, do you think that fairy tales are here to stay or that they will become less popular?

CZ:  I think fairy tales are forever, because they are timeless stories that are usually told to teach a lesson or a moral. No matter what generation or time, fairy tales can be applied or relatable; I think that’s why they have lasted so long.

GP:  A large portion of your published work has been either super heroes or fairy tales.  Are there any other genres that you would like to draw?

CZ:  I’m a huge sci-fi junkie, and I’d love to draw more with futuristic designs or post-apocalyptic settings. I love the idea of the far distant future, so maybe anything like that would be a lot of fun.

Art courtesy of Chrissie Zullo

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