Category Archives: Interviews

Kids Comics Blog Tour Q&A with Colleen AF Venable

KidsComicQuestions TourBannerCelebrate kids comics with Q&As with fantastic children’s cartoonists for Children’s Book Week! We’re helping out as great authors talk about their own creative work and the graphic novel industry throughout April and May. Comics for kids are reaching a time of unprecedented acceptance in the American literary scene, and it’s now true that there are comics for everyone. A tour of Q&As have been set up and we’re proud to participate. You can find the full list here.

CAFV-author-photo-laughToday you can find an interview with Colleen AF Venable by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (Dragons Beware!).

Rafael Rosado/Jorge Aguirre: Hello, old friend, Colleen! Thanks so much for answering our questions.  We should tell everyone first that you designed the cover for Giants Beware and Dragons Beware back when you worked at First Second Books.  You also gave me (Jorge) lots of tips on lettering a comic book, which I had never done before (sorry for all the mistakes and thanks for fixing them).  And most important, you came up with the title of the first book.  Our title was lame. Yours, “Giants Beware” was much better.  So, thanks for that too!

Colleen AF Venable: Aw thanks! It was easy to be inspired by such a fantastic book. I am a HUGE Claudette (and Valiant and Marie and Gaston and River King and the River King’s Mustache…on man I could go on) fan.

RR/JA: Back in August, First Second  blogged about you, “Look in coming seasons for her Kiss Number Eight, a stellar teen project like nothing we’ve ever done before.”  Can you spill any beans on that project?

CV: If given a burrito near the original art pages, it’s very likely I’d spill beans all over them. That’s probably why Leela Wagner (the amazing artist drawing Kiss #8) hasn’t invited me over for Tex-Mex night.

Oh wait! You mean the PROVERBIAL beans.

It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl dealing with a big family secret, a secret of her own, and a whole lotta not-so-secret-because-no-teen-can-keep-it-secret angst. It’s also a comedy about being awkward, minor league baseball, cheese fries, sitting through band bands, and that feeling when you are a teen and you say “this is me!” only to, ten minutes later, say “No wait THIS is me!” and then 30 seconds after that scream “NO! SCRATCH THOSE FIRST TWO. THIS is me!” Leela’s art for is STUNNING and she really gets the whole feeling of uncertainty we’re all plagued with in those crazy hormonal times.

RR/JA: You’re a very visual person – at least we get that impression from all the wonderful covers you’ve designed, but you don’t draw your own books. So when you work with artists on your books how do you approach your scripting? Is it a detailed outline or a script? Thumbnails?

CV: If there’s one thing I love more than Tex-Mex nights (come-on, Leela!) it’s collaboration. I love seeing interpretations of my words—seeing jokes that were half working suddenly be AMAZING with a few simple visual choices, seeing what my characters look like in someone else’s eyes… My scripts tend to be very long and go panel by panel with long descriptions of visual elements and important things to include—since all of my books tend to be mysteries of one sort or another and often the clues are in the art—followed by the lines of dialogue. I don’t thumbnail for the artists, but I try to give a general sense of rhyme and timing and make sure there are quiet moments, beats where we can silently hear the characters grow. I came from a land of playwriting, so I love dialogue and have to keep myself from going on constant banter benders, because it’s those silent panels where the reader really connects with the characters. You breathe in at the same moment. For a moment you are them.

Did I mention I’m wordy?

SasspantsRR/JA: Your Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series seems like a character and world ripe for an animated series.  Any chance Sasspants will get her own show?  Is animation something you’re interested in?

CV: Neal Porter, the legendary picture book editor, once told me I did “the least annoying hamster voice he’s ever heard.” It was high praise. I’ve always been obsessed with cartoons and go crazy anytime I get a chance to hear behind the scenes things about voice actors. I now have an entire gauntlet of voices I do when I do school visits, all the while imagining how great it would sound if someone like Rob Paulsen or Tara Strong were voicing them. If Guinea Pig was ever made into a show I’d like lose my mind with excitement and be found weeks later running down the street and still screaming with glee.

I’d love that on a personal level (cough understatement cough) but on a humanity level I think Sasspants would be such an amazing role model. She’s smart, tough, loyal, a bit flawed like all of us, and totally 100% bad-ass. She’s like MacGuyer with slightly less mullet! She doesn’t wear a giant bow, or heels, or have three huge eyelashes. Her gender doesn’t define her. I wish there were more shows with characters like Sasspants.

RR/JA: Like us and like many other writers and cartoonists, you have a day job. How do you balance your day job with your nights and weekend job?

CV: There’s this thing I’ve heard of. It’s called “sleep.” I’m not sure if it’s real, but it sounds pretty cool. I’m gonna try it some day!

msMarvelIt’s a hard balancing act, and I’m still working to get better at it but the thing that’s been helping me most lately is having a firm calendar. On Tuesday nights I write. On Fridays during lunch break I write. On Saturdays and Sundays I play waaaaay too much Dance Central and then fall down, sweaty and tired, STILL unable to get that one impossible Usher song right…and then remember oh yeah! I’m supposed to write!!! I usually aim for three days a week and put giant red marks on my calendar when I do, so I can look back and see if I’ve been slacking OR if I should buy myself a giant tub of icecream because I am kicking red-colored-in-days butt.

RR/JA: What’s on your nightstand?

CV: Right now? A whole big pile of tissues. HAPPY SPRING, FELLOW ALLERGY SUFFERERS! Luckily I have a big nightstand, so next to the giant pile of my nose DNA (anyone wants to clone me, you know where to look) there’s currently a copy of the new Ms. Marvel trade (so good!), Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales The Donner Dinner Party (best book on cannibalism for kids ever!!!), and the latest fantastic Holly Black novel The Darkest Part of the Forest. Not a day goes by that there isn’t a giant pile of books on my bedstand and two books in my purse. I love reading all sorts of genres, and going anywhere without a book feels so wrong, even going to sleep.

We Talk Harley’s Movie Look With Some Cosplay Experts

Recent pictures have surfaced showing Harley Quinn as she will appear in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.  While others in the movie have created their share of controversy, whether it be the Joker’s new look or the casting choices for other characters, many feel as though it is Harley that everyone needs to get right.  We got a chance to talk to two cosplayers who have gained some recognition for their takes on Harley – Jemocha Cosplay and AwkwardGravityX.

Graphic Policy:  Are you comic fans?

Jemocha Cosplay:  I am a fan of comics! I haven’t read a ton of them but I would definitely prefer a comic over a tv show if given the option.

harley001AwkwardGravityX:  I am a fan of comics. I don’t really get to read nearly as much as I’d like and haven’t really read much of the new 52 or the Suicide Squad.

GP:  What is it about the character that is appealing to so many, even those that don’t read comics?

AGX:  I first fell in love with Harley when watching the animated series which is where she was originally created. Those who know Harley know that she was not originally one of the comic book characters. But I think what is most appealing about her is how absolutely out of her mind she is but she also has very innocent and lovable qualities about her. She can be a bad ass and adorable all at the same time.

JC:  I think Harley is appealing because of her crazy side and her super cool back story and personality, a lot like how people like Jinx from League of Legends or crazy characters and she is bad-ass and sexy, all good things!

harley002GP:  Does the fact that Harley Quinn is in Suicide Squad make the movie more appealing?

JC:  Yes! I only want to see it because Harley is my favorite of the group. I hope they do a good job with her!

AGX:  Yes, Harley is probably my favorite DC character and she hasn’t been featured in a live action film in way too long.

GP:  There are a few leaked pictures floating around the internet dealing with the new Harley from the movie.  What do you think that they got right?

AGX:  From the pictures I’ve seen about the only thing I think they’ve got right is the blonde hair and pig tails.

JC:  The design of the new Harley definitely has attitude to it, and it has been growing on me more as I’ve seen more fan art of it. It’s interesting that the Squad looks more like a gang on the streets than costumed super heros.

GP:  And what did they get wrong?

JC:  Harley looks like a badass girl in the new design, but she doesn’t look like Harley!  I would have loved if they went with the original Suicide Squad design, they did not use the black and red that everyone knows, and honestly it looks more like someone trying to cosplay Harley Quinn in their own way than what I would imagine Harley Quinn to actually look like in a movie!


Don’t expect a comic book crossover of the two.

AGX:  There’s a lot wrong I think. I feel as though they focused way too hard on sexualizing Harley and not enough on capturing her for who she is. Although her outfits do become much more revealing through the years, this costume for her is almost too much. She kind of just looks like a runaway teenager who dipped her hair in Kool-Aid and forgot to grab her pants on the way out. She doesn’t look nearly deranged enough either. I think a lot more could’ve gone into it.

GP:  What is the one thing which they really need to get right?

AGX:  What they really need to get right is Harley’s persona. Everything that is wrong with the outfit won’t matter as much if the character is played right. I feel like Harley’s character is very complex. Her essence is so dynamic which I think is what makes her most appealing. If they can get that right then that’s what matters most. So only time will tell. Judging by the looks of it though, I feel like I’m going to be disappointed.

JC:  They need to make sure she looks like a crazy villian but I am hoping they will do this with her acting in the movie! fingers crossed.

Thanks to our two contributors for taking part.  For more on their cosplay check out their AwkwardGravityX’s youtube page or JemochaCosplay’s facebook page.

We Talk He-Man The Eternity War with Dan Abnett

Dan Abnett’s most prolific works comes from the the series 2000AD in his native UK, but he has made his mark on American comics after working on the likes of Heroes for Hire, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy.  He was recently given the helm for the Eternity War series for He-Man.  We got a chance to talk with about the new series.
eternity001Graphic Policy:  The Masters of the Universe carries with it so much pre-existing stories but also cliches of the characters as being for kids.  How do you approach this series to break through that?
Dan Abnett: I was basically briefed by Mattel and DC to write the series ‘seriously’ and play up the epic sword and sorcery angle. I think they came to me because of my experience working on major fantasy properties like Warhammer. The idea was to make it heroic and dramatic, but without losing the sense of fun and escape. That meant taking even the ‘silliest’ and most unlikely characters and saying ‘no, this isn’t a joke. It’s a part of this world and we treat it with respect’… but still have fun when appropriate.
GP:  Were you a fan of the characters as a child?
DA: it was a little late for me, actually, though I was aware of it, of course. Early in my career as a writer and editor, I worked on many licences (at Marvel UK etc), and over that time wrote for Transformers, Thundercats, Galaxy Rangers, GI Joe… just about every classic property of the era. Except He-Man, so it was very nice to ‘complete the set’ and get a chance to write Masters of the Universe too. And it’s nice to do it in such a high profile way, with a great, glossy monthly DC book, with fantastic art (Pop Mhan is amazing), wonderful color and the support of Mattel and DC. And, of course, being allowed to do massive things, like bringing back She-Ra, is a real treat…
GP:  All-out war has never really taken place for He-Man, rather he is usually depicted foiling some plan from one of his enemies and then moving on.  Has it been hard to change the focus?
DA: I think the scope is absolutely there, given the size of the potential cast and the scale of things. It suits an epic handling. If you tipped out your toybox, you’d have so many warriors ready to assemble into armies and factions…
eternity002GP:  In terms of writing a battle focused story, how do you balance the story so that the battles do not overwhelm the plot?
DA: I’m not sure that there’s a specific technique. I just try to maintain an over all sense of the scale and confusion… lost of things going on, then zoom in onto specific characters to personalize the mayhem.
GP:  Eternity War has featured new takes on some classic characters such as Teela, Skeletor and She-Ra.  Are you worried at all that fans might not accept them?
DA: I hope they do, and they seem to have. Mattel has been brilliantly ‘hands on’ with this, guiding me every step of the way, and suggesting characters to use… and how to use them in cool ways that fit into their lore. They’ve been really great, and I’ve been reassured that I’m not damaging things by doing anything too radical. If the Masters’ ‘masters’ are happy with it, I’m pretty sure the fans will like it too…
GP:  The series has been a balance of of sci-fi and fantasy, true to the characters roots.  How do you approach this as a writer to balance these two genres which are similar but also somewhat different?
DA: I think the mix is really entertaining. The blend of blades and tech reminds me (in a really good way) of classic “Planet Stories” like Robert E Howard’s Almuric and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Mars” and “Venus” sagas, so it’s a very honorable tradition. This is a world of warriors and magic, but it’s also a world of ancient and power civilisations, with sophisticated technology and crafts, so the blend is very comfortable.
eternity005GP:  This series focuses less on the difference between Prince Adam and He-Man.  Is that less important for the character than it has been in the past?
DA: I’d say not, actually, as the difference or ‘split’ between those two sides is becoming increasingly important as the Eternity War unfolds.
GP:  Can you give us an idea of what is ahead for He-Man?
DA: Things are really going to get epic. This is the biggest He-Man story ever,  a saga on a “Lord of the Rings’ type scale, with the fate of worlds in the balance. If you’ve enjoyed it so far, you’re going to love how massive it becomes as all the opposing parties begin to clash.

We Talk Silk With Annapaola Martello

Annapaola Martello is a relative newcomer to the comic industry, but recently got a chance to illustrate an issue of Silk (#4), the first issue which she has drawn for a major publisher. We got a chance to talk with her about her debut issue and what it is like to take on some familiar characters.

silk004Graphic Policy: How did you get a chance to draw this character?

Annapaola Martello: Last year I left some samples of my work at the Marvel stand at the New York Comicon and, to my surprise, I was selected for an interview with one of the editors. I have to thank my travel companions for encouraging me, for I felt really insecure and did not think that I had a chance of being chosen. A couple of weeks later I was contacted by the editor that interviewed me to do eight test pages for a New Miss Marvel story, and he liked them enough to ask me to draw the fourth issue of Silk. I will never stop thanking him for giving me this opportunity.

GP: What do you think of the new wave of young female characters leading their own series?

AM: I think this is a great opportunity to tell stories which are both fresh and different from what we are used to. Female characters think and act differently from the male superheroes, and this is a great opportunity to make the world of comics more appealing to a female audience, also because these new heroines are complex characters, with the same strengths and weaknesses of real people.

GP: How do you draw a female characters as both strong and feminine?

AM: All my friends keep telling me that I have been inspired by myself! :)

Jokes aside, I am surrounded by people like that, for I tend to like that type of character. Also many of my favourite comic artists convey the same traits with their drawings, and I try to follow their style.

silk002GP: The cutest scene in issue #4 was one where Silk and Johnny Storm finish their date. No words are spoken but the picture tells the story by itself. How did you figure out how to show this?

AM: I have to thank the scriptwriter for this. Its script was so perfectly written that by reading this scene I immediately envisioned it in my mind. It almost drew itself. I also think that the colourist did an amazing job in bring it out even more.

GP: Silk is of course very much tied to Spider-Man. What did you do to make sure that she is different enough in appearance and action?

AM: I tried to make her manners more aggressive and whimsical, for she is young and inexperienced, and thus more instinctive in the use of her powers. For her moves I drew inspiration on the eastern ninjas, for the years she spent hidden away left a mark on her: she is always on the alert, always suspicious of what surrounds her. Spider-silk001Man is quite the opposite: always funny, always taking all the situations head-on, so I tried to represent these characteristics even if he was not able conquer Silk.

GP: Was it hard to take on some iconic characters like the Thing or Galactus?

AM: I enjoyed drawing all the characters that appear in the issue. Only Galactus has been a real challenge, for he is so big that it is difficult to keep the right proportions and give him the right expressions.

GP: Are there any other heroes that you would love to get a chance to draw?

AM: I would love to draw other stories about Silk, but she is obviously not the only one I like. There are also Spider Gwen, X-men,Hawk Eye, Nova, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil…

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.

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