Category Archives: Interviews

Kwanza Osajyefo Talks the Kickstarted Comic Black

black_cover01HIRES_by_Khary RandolphTimed to launch with Black History Month, BLACK is one of the hottest comics out there and is currently raising funds through Kickstarter (it already has met its goal). The original science fiction graphic novel by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith III, and Jamal Igle asks the question, “In a world that already fears and hates them – what if only Black people had superpowers?” BLACK follows the story of a young man, Kareem Jenkins, who, having miraculously survived being shot by police, learns that he is part of the biggest lie in history. Kareem must decide whether it’s safer to keep history’s secret, or if the truth will set him free.

Also contributing to the project is Khary Randolph, who will contribute covers and additional artwork, and editor Sarah Litt, formerly of Vertigo and DC Comics.

I got a chance to talk to Kwanza about the project, how it came about, why Kickstarter was the way to go, and a certain guerrilla marketing campaign at New York Comic Con.

Graphic Policy: You’re working on Black with Tim Smith III, Jamal Igle, Khary Randolph, and Sarah Litt. How did this series come about and everyone get involved?

Kwanza Osajyefo

Kwanza Osajyefo

Kwanza Osajyefo: I came up with the idea about 10 years ago, but shelved it while I pursued my editorial career at DC. Tim and I had worked together at Marvel and connected again at MoCCA, I pitched him the idea because I really like his approach to character design. We batted it around off and on for years, until I finally said, let’s just do this.

Jamal worked with me on a project at DC, I was already a fan but the speed and skill he showed during the process made me admire him all the more. I’d made up my mind back then to get him on board, but didn’t approach him until I was well out of the mainstream. Tim and I popped by his place, showed him designs and the story concept – he was in.

Khary and I bonded over being confused for each other by people in the comics industry for years – just gonna leave that there…

I love his work. So at NYCC this year, I showed him the BLACK mobile site. He glanced at the summary and said, “I’m in.” Honestly, I thought it was alcohol talking, and asked him several times after to confirm. I couldn’t believe the team we’d formed but his cover is the real thing and dope as hell.

Sarah and I worked at DC together in NY, and when I moved to LA, I invited her to come as my assistant editor. Knowing I could trust her editorial instincts, she was a natural for this project.

GP: You’re launching the comic through Kickstarter, was that always the plan? Did you approach any publishers with it?

KO: No. The permission-based publishing model would not work for BLACK. We’re open to publishing partners, but didn’t think anyone would greenlight internally. Proving that that project has appeal through Kickstarter was necessary.

Also the comics industry parallels the systematic and cultural biases that still exists in the US, and inspire this story. The comics industry remains heavily influenced by a White-male aesthetic – that has started to change very recently, but not fast enough for BLACK to come out through a traditional comics publisher.

That stated, I think many would be receptive to BLACK but don’t have the internal person who would have seen the opportunity.

Jamal Igle

Jamal Igle

GP: You’re taking a very straight on approach with the story of Black people with powers, getting rid of metaphors. While it might be a simple idea, you haven’t seen this too often. Why do you  think that’s the case?

KO: Because there aren’t enough Black people working in comics with influential positions.

I don’t think many top publishers have a bench that could or would cultivate BLACK. I grouse about that a lot because it clearly impacts content.

Comics is already a small industry, but with output that influences media – how can the content appeal to a diverse audience when internal culture is not diverse.

Marvel has made recent efforts to address that, but got dinged in the press for cadging hip-hop album covers to sell comics. It highlighted that they hadn’t hired many Black creatives. I’ll keep it 100 – in my career I made a point to know as many Black creators as possible (as well as other ethnicities and women).

I did so partially because I’m Black, and partially because it was my job to find talent that will excite various audiences. It’s not difficult.

For the record, I don’t think it is intentional either. Just the result of having a homogenous, and at times exclusionary editorial culture – I lived it for a long time. In my decade-plus career, I never met another Black “full” editor.

I think it is part of why DC struggles with diversity among their core catalog, producing tone deaf characters like Simon Baz or elevating Black characters they’ve haven’t fleshed out enough to be engaging.

I know these are critical statements, but I don’t think they are untrue.

BLACKfunded_promoart_newGP: From the release, the story kicks off with the character Kareem Jenkins surviving being shot by police. That by itself can be a story without the superhero aspect. What issues are you looking to tackle in the series?

KO: Quite a few issues arise in tackling a story like this. Police brutality is a catalyst for this story – a theme that reflects real life. Xenophobia is also drives the narrative. There is also the fear in being a minority. Trying to survive in a world where you’re immediately suspect and under the constant threat of harm.

All with a sci-fi twist, of course.

GP: You helped launch Zuda Comics which was a bit ahead of its time. Did your experience with that help guide this project? Did you consider doing it as a webcomic at all?

KO: I think Zuda was a bit ahead of DC Comics’ time. The reason I landed that role is because worked in online at Marvel, and then a number of other digital companies. Understanding how web content works helped me be a good partner among awesome colleagues in my department.

Webcomics are great but weren’t a consideration for BLACK. I think they’re reaching a similar level to print, where they need a revolution. My thought is that it is mobile, and I considered platforms like Web Toons as means of content distribution. It might still be a little early to explore mobile comics, but I admire companies like ComiXology for being at the right place and time and delivering top class digital service.

GP: In the release you also said you’re “challenging the pop culture status quo, which is dominated by a White male aesthetic.” Can you talk about that a bit?

KO: Sure. I worked between Marvel and DC over the course of a decade and never met another Black editor. Assistants yes, but never one with agency to influence the creative culture. The boys club values that pervades results in a limited and self-perpetuating view of content.

Dwayne McDuffie’s work writing Justice League cartoons DEFINED classic characters that DC continues to lean on. Yet, when they had the opportunity to have him write the comic, he was hamstrung by arbitrary decisions that superseded telling a great story.

He was public about his experience of dealing with the status quo.

BLACK goes into a territory publishers can’t touch without internalizing Black culture. Fully engaging that audience will remain out of reach because they lack Black experiences or must be cautious of producing something offensive.

I think Marvel’s efforts through Netflix may prove easier territory to tell those kinds of stories as the cinematic universe is less established and more palpable.

Black NYCCGP: There were some teasers for this series at New York Comic Con 2015 with text painted on sidewalks sending folks to a website. How long has this series been worked on and who came up with that marketing idea?

KO: Good eye. I originally intended to launch the campaign around NYCC, but after discussing it with Jamal, we thought February (Black History Month) 2016 made the most sense. We knew getting a head start on marketing would be beneficial, but wanted to be subtle in building an audience until then.

I wanted to do a little something during the convention, so I worked with a guerilla market agency to tag areas around the convention, and all the larger parties and events. Only ones I didn’t hit were Marvel’s and DC’s party locations.

GP: The launch of this has had a hell of a response. What’s your take on the reaction to it?

KO: A principle I lived by as an editor, and still do as an author: sincerity is better than pandering.

Be sincere and people will reciprocate ten-fold. I was a popular enough editor at DC because from my core I believed in the talent of people I worked with, told them the truth, and tried to help them bring forth their truths in the stories they wanted to tell.

BLACK has truth in it – that’s part of the secret sauce.

GP: Why do you think we don’t see more projects like this at comic publishers?

KO: I think we touched on that in you previous question, but to reiterate, it’s a lack of diversity among staff. BLACK was created because I have a perspective and experiences that the average comic book editor does not.

That expresses itself as content that may not even register in the mind of the mainstream editors. If it does register, the research needed to accurately tell that story may be too daunting. For example, I have ideas about stories heavily influenced by Asian culture, but I can’t do it yet because I still have a lot of reading to do to get it right.

GP: The Kickstarter is for a graphic novel in six chapters, but have you thought about continuing the world either with more graphic novels or even a monthly ongoing series?

KO: Definitely have a plan for subsequent graphic novels. I’m rather contrary to the traditional approach of serialized periodicals. They had their time and place, are still are a good source of reach and income, but as a storytelling platform they can exhaust general readers by their nature.

It’s tedious to repeat the same plots over and over, or have to fill-in an issue because of publishing schedules. I’d rather tell stories in a way that allows the characters grow. I can’t see Kareem and Juncture dealing with the same opposition every other year when the smarter option is to eliminate a threat.

Waiting every month for the next chapter is also a lot to ask of a general audience. We have so many options for content now, it’s difficult to justify $3-$5 when I can buy and full video game on my phone for less, or read equally good stories for free on Web Toons.

GP: Any other projects you’d like to plug?

KO: Not at the moment. I like to take a Pixar approach to my work rather than distract attention with a whole line of things.

I want people to read BLACK, so that’s my focus. There will be plenty of themes, characters, and places to explore in this world we’ve created.

We’ve had such an amazing reaction to the campaign, and will share some fun stretch goals we’re aiming for.

Please be on the lookout for more from BLACK!

Mark White Talks Comics, and A Philosopher Reads Marvel Comics’ Civil War: Exploring the Moral Judgment of Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man

Marvel Comics Civil WarMark White is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island (CUNY). Mark’s writings represent a labour of love, as he has passionately explored the the intersection of politics, philosophy and the superhero world. A fixture in Blackwell’s Pop Culture and Philosophy series, Mark’s writing credits include, Batman and Philosophy: A Dark Knight of the Soul, The Virtues of Captain America: Modern Day Lessons in Character from a World War II Hero, and Avengers & Philosophy among many others. I am a huge fan and fellow contributor of the Blackwell series, and enjoy all works in this niche-genre. I was very fortunate to have a chat with Mark regarding his newest work.

Graphic Policy: In preparation for this interview, and your upcoming book, I read series editor William Irwin’s Defence on Writing Pop Cultural Philosophy. I loved his use of the Plato’s Cave analogy when describing how one must “adjust to the shadows” when communicating to a particular audience. In your writing do you experience any difficulty in writing academically for specific fandoms? If so, how do you manage this?

Mark White: I’m much more comfortable these days writing for non-academics, after writing all the chapters for Irwin’s series as well as my superhero books and economic policy books for wider audiences. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I like getting to the essence of a concept so I can explain it in the most straightforward and direct way possible (whether I use superheroes along the way or not). It’s when I return to academic writing that I have tend to have problems adjusting, but even then I try to retain some of the lightness from my popular writing — that’s just the way I write now, and I try not to make such a hard and fast distinction between writing for the two different audiences.

GP: You have written quite extensively on the superhero genre at the intersection of Philosophy. What was it specifically about the Civil War event that you felt warranted a stand alone book dedicated to it?

MW: It was the political context, the conflict between liberty and security, that drew me into the story, and that was the original focus of my book as well. But then I realized I was much more interested in how the main characters displayed their moral principles and judgment in supporting of those ideals, so the book changed accordingly. The political context is still there, but now we see it through the lens of the three heroes’ ethical choices rather than as broader political ideals.

GP: Plato was fond of using mythological allegory to punctuate and elaborate his philosophical arguments. Storytelling and folklore in general have been powerful tools to engage in hypothetical thought, would you consider pop cultural themes in today’s comics and other related media the modern day equivalent of this?

MW: Yes, definitely — that’s a large part of the thinking behind Irwin’s series that I’ve carried on in own books. Any story that grabs people, whether from ancient mythology, Star Wars, or comic books, provides a hook that you can use to introduce any number of philosophical ideas. And it’s commonplace these days to hear that superhero stories are part of our modern mythology, so I think they’re a natural stepping stone on the way to deeper discussions.

GP: Adaptations are tricky creatures. The Sokovia accords replace the Super Human Registration Act in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With respect to how the event plays out in comic canon vs the synopsis of the upcoming Civil War Film. Do you expect any changes in terms of what philosophical insights can be drawn from the story?

MW: I don’t think the broad themes will be very different — as in Captain America: Winter Soldier, it’s all about how far you’re willing to go to protect people and where you draw the line. In the comics, both Iron Man and Cap valued liberty and security in general, but they disagreed on where that line should be drawn, and hopefully that will come out in the movie as well. (Spider-Man obviously won’t play the same role as a pivot between the two older heroes, where he functioned as a point-of-view character for the reader, but I assume the movie won’t use that device.)

GP: Marvel Comics is about to embark on a sequel to its classic civil war event. Not too long ago we had the seismic Avengers vs X-Men event, AXIS and soon we will see an Avengers Standoff as well as an Apocalypse War. What is it about super human conflict that has Marvel returning to similar storytelling frameworks?

MW: For as long as superheroes have existed, fans have argued about who would win in a fight between, say, the Hulk and the Thing, or who would win in a race, Superman or the Flash. So I think fights between heroes can be interesting occasionally, but lately it seems they fight each other more than they fight villains, and after a while you forget what heroes are supposed to do: protect people by fighting evil. Civil War was great because the heroes were fighting about ideas, something important and relevant to what we saw in the world we live in. The sequel, about predictive policing, seems to following the same general plan, but most hero-versus-hero stories seem more like editorial contrivances and lowest-common-denominator storytelling to me. (Maybe supervillains simply don’t sell comics anymore — it might be as simple as that.)

GP: Comics have always been an interesting space to explore sensitive political subject matter. Considering the multiplicity of positions and opinions within the fandom do publishers like Marvel owe their consumers a degree of fairness or balance in terms of subject representation?

MW: I don’t know if I would say they “owe” their fans anything, but I do think it’s good business not to alienate any mainstream points of view. Certainly Marvel shouldn’t indulge racists or xenophobes, but showing the representative array of diverse (mainstream) viewpoints in “the world outside your window,” as Marvel likes to say, is valuable — not to mention great for generating story possibilities. They handled this very well in Civil War, because neither liberty nor security is the sole province of one party or the other, so it couldn’t be reduced to a simple left-versus-right story. As far I’m concerned, that’s the way political stories in comics should be done: getting past the simplistic left-right distinction and down to core issues, so they can show where people actually disagree, rather than the labels the media puts on them.

GP: Continuing with the theme of publisher responsibility it was recently announced that Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter donated 1 million to the Donald Trump Foundation, any thoughts on this transaction from an ethical point of view?

MW: That’s too complicated for one quick answer! But Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson laid out the various issues very well in a recent Tumblr post, and I’d recommend everyone read it.

GP: Thank you for your time Mark! all the best with your new publication!

Mark White’s A Philosopher Reads Marvel Comics’ Civil War is available for purchase February 3rd.

Creators Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton Talk 1,001 Knights

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The 1,001 Knights Crest

1,001 Knights is an anthology project that has been making waves in the comic art community for over a year now. It is the brainchild of artists Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton, and features more than 250 artists over three volumes. Earlier this week, 1,001 Knights was posted on Kickstarter. Thirty-six hours later, it had already hit its funding goal of $70,000. (I covered this story for Graphic Policy here.) I had the opportunity to chat with Kevin and Annie on Friday evening about their passion project, and talked about everything from how the anthology grew into a massive undertaking to what they’re most excited for readers to see.

Graphic Policy: First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I actually just learned about your project last night and I was amazed at how popular your project got on Kickstarter so quickly, so congratulations!

Annie Stoll: We’re a little overwhelmed!

GP: Understandably so! But congratulations on raising your goal so quickly.

Kevin Jay Stanton: Thank you.

AS: We honestly didn’t think it would go that fast. I mean, we were confident about it, and we were like, “we need to reach 30% of our goal this week,” but we didn’t expect to reach that in a few hours. It’s ridiculous.

GP: As I was writing my article I kept watching it jump higher and higher, and by the time I finished I already had to go back and make an edit saying it reached its goal.

AS: We had that issue too, where we were trying to make updates to say, “hey guys, we’re at 90 percent….no, 92 percent.”

GP: So I guess that answers my first question, which was, did you guys expect the wide response you got from the Kickstarter? But this project has been a year in the making, as you’ve said. How did you come up with the idea and what pushed you into making it a reality?

AS: I’ll recount it.

KJS: You recount it, because all I remember is babbling about lady knights on Twitter.

AS: How it really started is, Kevin actually followed me on Twitter and was someone I’d talk to as part of the indie comics crowd…and he was talking to me one day about, he said, “It would be really cool if we collaborated on a project.” Kevin had just done Fezzine and I had kind of come off of doing Hana Doki Kira with my Year 85 crew. And we both really like lady knights, it was kind of talking about our different interests, and were like, “Oh man, we should do a cool zine, maybe like a woman warrior or Game of Thrones.” We both really like Arya and Brienne, and we were like, “We should do an Arya/Brienne zine with the lady knights of Game of Thrones.” So we got a rough idea together and put a Twitter call out, basically saying, “Hey, you know, anyone who’s interested in doing a lady knight zine, specifically Arya and Brienne, you know, hit us up.”

KJS: It was so casual, too.

AS: It was super casual, it was just like…we figured we’ll get four or five people, and we’ll ask another two, and we’ll have our zine. But in the course of a day, we got a hundred people saying in various degrees, “We want to be in the project.” And a lot of people were like, “We really like Arya and Brienne, but we like lady knights even more.” This concept was totally beyond liking two Game of Thrones characters. It was really speaking to this need for diverse and cool and kickass women warriors. The other thing I want to say is, everyone who asked to be in it is like, an amazing artist. A lot of people…we were floored. We were like, “You want to be in this?”

It was something bigger than just a little zine. We kind of brainstormed and let everyone in on what we were coming up with. So instead of doing a zine, we were like, let’s do one giant tome that would be super cool, like one of those ancient books that’s leatherbound and maybe we’ll add a couple more people in. So between that and us starting to put it together, even more people got involved. Then we decided to ask some of the people we really wanted to ask and it got even further out of hand, to the point where we were like, this is too big for one book!

KJS: Well, we also joked, when we were coming up with names for it…we were jokingly like, “Oh, ha ha, it could be a thousand and one knights, but how would that work if we weren’t featuring a thousand and one artists or a thousand and one artists?” And then we were both like…maybe we should do that.

AS: It was one of those things where we were like, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right. We’re gonna make this happen. So we divided this book into three, so it wouldn’t be this massive thing that you’d never be able to pick up. It’s three books, three volumes, and then each volume has a sort of house with a different theme—it’s a good way to support the artists, because there’s so much art that you need something to unify it.

Every single person that we asked, none of them were negative…even the people who weren’t able to were like, “Sorry, I’m really busy with work right now, but good luck,” and a lot of people have been retweeting and backing the project. It has really been an organic process, and to us, it was very important that we took the time it needed to happen. It was a massive project, and we can’t throw it together on the fly. Basically, taking our time, doing this right, and listening to our artists has really paid off. It’s a testament to the need for better, diverse characters and for giving artists a platform they can use to express themselves. Sorry, babbling! We’re really passionate!

GP: No, that’s great! That’s what you want to hear from creators! Especially with your dedication to doing everything right in the process and creating diverse characters. So many people I talk to are like, “This is great, but it would be better with more female characters,” et cetera, and it sounds like you guys are doing that.

AS: We will say that it’s not 100 percent binary female characters in the anthology. It’s people-positive. Everyone is welcome regardless of gender, race, et cetera, et cetera, which is really important. We realized it was really important to let people express themselves, and allow the knights themselves to be as diverse as the artists. I think doing that has fostered a really positive environment that is very creative.

It kind of goes back to this thing that Kevin and I talk about, where there’s a lot of negativity in the world, and you can shout at someone as much as you want, but it’s not going to change anything. When you put a gorgeous book down in front of them and say, “read this,” and they get inspired by beautiful images and stories—that plants a seed in their mind. It can uplift someone and inspire someone and change their mind.

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1,001 Knights mock-up

It’s just really important to us to allow these artists to be heard, and we wanted to make this book as gorgeous and beautiful as possible. We were like, let’s dream as big as we can, let’s make it hardcover, let’s make it clothbound. Let’s make this the coolest thing we possibly can and allow this to benefit the artists. Basically, we cover the cost of making the book and everything else goes to the artists.

KJS: It’s great because we got the opportunity to create our ideal scenario. It’s feminist and people-positive and then, on top of that, we get to involve our friends, and new friends, and all these incredible people who wanted to be on board, and hopefully create a platform where they can be accepting themselves but also getting their work out there to people who might not see it, necessarily. We’ve been talking about where we’re giving voices to people who might normally be spoken over.

AS: I think it’s important too, to expose your viewers to all different kinds of art, because there’s not one way to draw, and there shouldn’t be one way to draw “what is a knight.” It’s really interesting because we gave the artists a work-off, which is, “What does it mean to have strength?” and we told them about our message of people positivity, and we didn’t tell anyone, “You have to draw a lady knight, you have to draw armor.” We left it open-ended. The art that we got back was absolutely incredible, like we have some really cool knights in armor, but we also have little kids playing pretend. Someone even drew a water knight, which is a bug.

GP: So you have a diversity of characters, but artists, as well.

AS: And we talk about unexpected art…we can tell you we have an artist who is a puppeteer, who is making a fully decked out lady knight puppet. So that’s really cool, and when he saw all the artists working on their works in progress, he contacted us and was like, “I really love the idea of your project, would it be okay if I made a puppet?” And we were like, “Please be in our book.”

GP: One of my questions was just, how did you amass such a huge lineup of artists, but it sounds like it was partly through a Twitter call, but also through word of mouth and general interest?

AS: At the very beginning, it was very grassroots, and then once we had that momentum, when we already had a hundred people on board and we were like, let’s just fill the extra space we have and ask our dream people. The worst thing they could say to you is “no.” I think the best example is, I’ve been a fan of Loish since I was in high school, and actually, me and Kevin both sent her an email. She wrote back and said, “I’ve been wanting to try a new style so yeah, I’ll give you an illustration.” It was just being honest and saying to people, “this is something we’re trying to do and we think you can help us out.

GP: So what has been the best part of this project for you?

KJS: Oh, boy. We’ve been doing this now since…May of 2014?

AS: We didn’t get super serious until the fall, but yeah.

KJS: That’s a hard question to answer, because there’s been lots of really cool like, waves of stuff happening, like the Kickstarter launching was one of those moments. Making the goal in thirty-six hours was crazy. But then, a lot of it has been little things, like contacting Loish and having her say, “You know, I never get invited to these things and I’d love to contribute something.” It’s been peppered by little successes and happinesses in bringing this project to fruition.

AS: I will say, there are a few moments that come to mind. The people at SPX were really nice and let us have a meetup—they got people at the convention to sign up for it, and it was this first sort of communal coming together of the artists. From that, there are people who have become friends…

KJS: They’ve launched webcomics…

AS: Yeah, and people have gotten work from their works in progress. It’s really cool to see all the artists have these moments. There was another time when we wanted to film the video, and we asked anyone in the area if they wanted to come to the Cloisters and film with us. It was great to have people come to these Medieval Cloisters and just sit and sketch with us.

I think the ultimate best part is really seeing the reactions–not just the artists and the backers, but seeing how many people are touched by the message of what we’re trying to do which is, you know, create a book that’s positive, that uplifts other art and is really, really fun and meaningful and just to see how many people are like-minded and embrace that has just blown us away and is the most meaningful to us. Or, well, to me.

KJS: Recently, we’ve heard a couple things since we launched the Kickstarter from parents who had said, “Oh, I can’t wait to show my daughter this.” We’ve been talking about, if we have a couple extra books, donating them to libraries. The idea now that the project is actually funded and that this is happening, the idea that someone having that physical book, that they could see someone who looks like them potentially…that’s the newest highlight for me.

AS: If we can create a project that has this multitude of cool characters, different kinds of people…that’s inspiring. You can show that to someone and they can feel inspired by it.

GP: Once you realized that it kind of surpassed the boundaries of a zine-type project, did you decide to go all out for the hardback book?

KJS: Annie and I are the same kind of crazy, workaholic dreamers. Which we didn’t realize when we first started talking. As we got to know each other better, we were like…oh boy. We’re both actually crazy. Probably with a normal person, at some point in this process, we would have been like, “that’s a little too much” and instead, Annie and I have been, the whole time, just like, “You know what? I think it’s going to be three volumes now, and it’s going to be hardback, and it’s going to be clothbound.”

AS: It takes all that kind of stuff where it’s finding people who can help strengthen you and help this the project happen.

KJS: Yeah, we never hit a point, really, where—besides the people who have helped us with the video and the music and the PR—with the books themselves, that kind of freed us up to never really get to the point where we were like, “Ooh, I don’t think we can do that.” Annie and I have never gotten to that point because we’re really supportive and we work really well together. All of our working together has been like, “How do we make this happen?” as opposed to “Let’s scale it back a little.”

GP: Based on the Kickstarter, it looks like all this hard work and perseverance has paid off, because it looks like [the anthology] is going to be beautiful.

AS: Thank you!

KJS: Annie is an awesome art director.

AS: Kevin is a kickass illustrator and collaborator, so it’s an easy job to have.

GP: As far as readers go, what are you most excited for readers to see when this project comes out?

KJS: Oh, gosh.

AS: I think one of the most exciting things is…this is kind of an exclusive scoop to you, but instead of doing a biography of each artist, we asked every artist to make a quote, and we asked them to define what it means to have strength. So across the book, there will be 250 quotes about what it means to have strength, what it means to be a knight, along with an avatar that serves as a representation of them—their knight, as it were.

KJS: All of our artists count toward our thousand and one knights.

AS: Asking them to speak about their work, to speak about what strength is, you actually get to peek into what their philosophy is. And I think that’s great if you’re trying to discover new artists to follow, because you see the quote in the back and say, “Who drew this?” and then flip to the page and see, “Oh, she drew this.”

KJS: I think what I’m most looking forward to is…a lot of the comics in particular are about younger characters finding their own strength. A lot of them are really about finding yourself and finding out how important that is.

AS: A lot of why we as a society love the idea of knights is kind of like…if I had the strength I could do this, but a lot of these stories are like, “You really can do this.” And that’s a great message to send to people.

GP: The book is only going to be available through Kickstarter, right?

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1,001 Knights Kickstarter rewards

AS: Correct. If you want to get the books, you have to back the Kickstarter. Part of what we are Kickstarting for is to create a special edition just for the artists, so the only way to possibly get a book after the Kickstarter is to get a book directly from an artist. We’ll make sure after everything is settled that we give links to sellers or artists.

KJS: And they’re gonna have special covers. A big part of what we talked about is it’s not just about making the books but the carry through. We want to do our best to drive people to artists.

AS: Part of this was, “How can we make this better for our artists?” This whole effort has been very grassroots. We haven’t gone to media outlets. It’s been word-of-mouth, artists going to their networks and stuff.

KJS: We hoped we’d kind of get approached to talk about the project. Annie and I talk about the project to each other all the time. The fact that we made the goal so quickly, but also that we have such an energized group of people that want to talk about it, and that are proud to talk about and promote the project is just infectious. To see that work on the level of promoting the Kickstarter that then got funded so quickly has been crazy.


1,001 Knights will be available on Kickstarter until February 26. For a full list of artists, visit the anthology’s website here.

A Historical Evening with Danny Fingeroth

flyerTwo Wednesdays ago, on January 20, the counter guy at Midtown Comics handed me this flyer for an event they were sponsoring. There was a lot of information in it, but what immediately caught my eye was the opportunity to take a selfie with the Batmobile. Sold! Off to the New York Historical Society Museum & Library I went, later that evening.batmobile

I got there a little after six, and as promised, got my selfie; but there was so much more. They had a troupe of cosplayers walking around providing ample photo opportunities, followed by a Parade of Superheroes at 7:00 PM.

There was a fantastic Superheroes in Gotham exhibition that included both Marvel and DC characters (which unfortunately prohibited picture taking, but below is a photo I may or may not have taken of an original art page from Amazing Fantasy #15), originalartworkand a Batman exhibit honoring both Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

Then, at 7:30 PM came the slide show–Superhero New York: Real and Imaginary. I almost skipped out on it (it started at 7:30 PM and ran for an hour, which with my long commute meant I was looking at Midnight for home). I’m happy to say, I stuck it out.

It proved to be a solid presentation by Danny Fingeroth. He made me realize how little I know about the industry I claim to love so much. I knew next to nothing about where Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, and many of the ‘old’ greats hailed from, where they went to school, and where they grew up. He discussed the impact growing up in the gritty streets of New York had on their work; and he talked about their friendships, their falling outs, and more. He took us deep inside their work offices, into the bullpen; and he showcased historic comic book inspired landmarks.

fingerothThen, looking around at the large diverse audience sitting around me, I realized how much things have changed within the short time span I have lived in the comic book world. Here I was at a serious academic lecture, featuring comic books. I’m not sure that this sort of thing would have garnered the audience it did today, twenty odd years ago–not to mention the setting: The NY Historical Society Museum & Library on the Upper West Side. I was totally digging the scene. Danny Fingeroth has encouraged me to seek out more, to read more (I also purchases a signed copy of his Superman on the Couch with a Foreword by Stan Lee), and to learn more about the rich history of the comic book world—and I can start with NYC’s own comic book tour here.

James Patrick Talks To Us About 21 Pulp’s Exciting New Line Of Comics

HERO HOURLY COVERDo you know who one of the best new publishers, and pound for pound one of the best around period, are? If you guessed 21 Pulp, you’d be absolutely right. While I admit that with only two comics published as of the end of January (although I was able to read the first issue of Imposter – it’s great), that may seem like an overly inflated hyperbolic statement, but you tell me if you think I’m wrong after you’ve read the two issues of Hero Hourly that are out right now.

Alex had the opportunity to talk with the man behind 21 Pulp, and the writer of the publisher’s first two comics, James Patrick, about where things stood, and how things have progressed since we last checked in back in September.

Graphic Policy: It’s been a few months since we last spoke; how have things over at 21 Pulp been?

James Patrick: Really good. I guess that’s how to best sum it up. There are good things, and there are things we’re trying to improve as a company.

The good has been reaction to our books. The people who’ve read them genuinely seem to be enjoying them or are ecstatic about them. Hero Hourly‘s reaction, the pre-release reaction to Imposter by the few who’ve read it, and people who are anticipating our other books like Planet of the Dinosaurs.

If I were to say there’s been a disappointment it’s that the quantity of reaction. And that may just be us being impatient. We only have a few books out, we’re slowly getting traction, and that comes with time. Especially when you’re not coming out of the gate with names like Warren Ellis or Jim Lee. When you’re building on the hooks of your products and what we feel is the quality. It’s a mountain to climb. It’s also why we’re not releasing a whole bunch of books at once. We want everyone to read our books whether they’ll love or hate them, though – to give them a shot.

A good example of this has been reviews, which have been stellar, but which there haven’t been a ton of. There’s just so much product out there competing, new companies popping up all the time, and everyone wants to run reviews of books that will get them hits, recognized books, and they honestly don’t trust us yet.

But I’ll also say that when those books get into people’s hands, we see results. In other areas other than just readers.
Like how we’ve seen success with distribution avenues outside of Diamond, how retailers have responded, how our numbers keep growing – it’s all been very fascinating. Every single one of our books has been in one or multiple subscription boxes. We feel like that’s because of their quality and their shelf/box appeal.

So yeah, good things in certain places, improvement needed in others.

GP: How different was funding and publishing the first issue of Hero Hourly through Kickstarter compared with the first issue of Imposter?

JP: Very, since Hero Hourly was successful and Imposter wasn’t. Heh.

Firstly, funding isn’t necessarily the goal of our Kickstarters, and I’m only saying this so I can give the most accurate answer as possible. We see Kickstarters as a way to do some market research, general marketing, a unique way to provide extras for fans with the books, and, yes, partly revenue. And the reason I’m saying this is because if you look at Imposter it wasn’t funded, but it’s still being published. So we don’t rely on the Kickstarters, but they offer a piece to the puzzle, so to speak – and if we can learn to do it effectively, then it’s a great bonus to what we’re doing.

But the two were vastly different from start to finish. Imposter actually went on Kickstarter before Hero Hourly, and we learned from that that we weren’t marketing it properly. We also learned a way not to approach a Kickstarter. Our approach with Imposter turned out to be confusing, not marketing savvy, and was insight maybe to which books work on Kickstarter and which don’t – at least for us.

Now, either we took what we learned from Imposter, or Hero Hourly was just a better candidate for Kickstarter, or a combination of those two things, and we went out and did very well with a Hero Hourly Kickstarter. We had a great hook and we explained it simply and in a way people could relate. The difference was success. None of the means Hero Hourly is a better book, just that different books may have different audiences and different ways to be presented.

HERO HOURLY PREVIEW PAGE 01GP: With two issues of Hero Hourly published, the third on the way, how has the reaction been for the comic?

JP: Stellar, with the disclaimer of what I said above. We hear a lot of “this is what the industry is missing” and “this is the funniest book out.” People are relating to it, too. Connecting with Saul’s trouble, the situations he finds at work, which are basically any job.

The few criticisms are it’s too raunchy, but we understood when you put a book that foul-mouthed out there that’s one of the risks.

New reviews pop up frequently and people are just glad to have discovered it. We really do want to build enough word-of-mouth and momentum to do a sequel, but time will tell.

GP: So what you’re saying is that even though 21 Pulp isn’t focusing on a long running series yet, that doesn’t mean we won’t revisit the world of Hero Hourly for some new stories down the road?

JP: Correct. I’m ready to go if we feel Hero Hourly justifies a sequel. Saul‘s story is done, though – for now. It would be a different character or character with a new story in that world, at that employer.

Imposter has the option to go long-form as well. It all works as both. But Imposter is made so that the long-form continues a more natural arc, if need be.

GP: Yeah, the buzz for Hero Hourly that I’ve seen both online and heard in my local comic shop has been phenomenal. I understand that both issues have sold out at Diamond; are there any plans to do a second printing, or collect the series in a trade paperback down the road?

JP: The trade follows the singles, yes. It’s already been solicited and will come out after Issue 3 sometime, about a month later.

We don’t feel the need to go to second printings yet – partially because there’s a trade coming.

imposter_cover.jpgGP: You have Imposter debuting in a couple of weeks [February 10th]; I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy, and I really enjoyed it. What can you tell us about the comic without verging onto spoiler territory?

JP: Wow. That’s hard. There’s so much I can say about Imposter. The easiest way to describe it is that there a bunch of different archetype characters – a crime vigilante like Batman or the Spirit, a sc-fi character like Buck Rogers, a Dr. Strange-like character, and a jungle adventurer – and they’re all connected by a secret.

I guess I’ll just say that what makes it unique is that it crosses into so many genres. Each issue can be a different genre and story that supports the overall story, or it can seamlessly cut between the genres. That and that it’s a dense story told on a huge canvas – all while being about one thing. How lies can erode a person and the people around them. The consequences of having to tell lies to make the world a safer place.

If you want a crime, sci-fi, sorcery, and jungle adventure all in one, I guess it’s the perfect book for people. Ha.

jetpackjump_cover GP: Jetpack Jump is the next book your releasing, and from the sneak peak we saw in the back of Imposter, it looks like it’s an entirely different setting for the story than the two series released already. I know you said the last time we spoke that you goal was to release excellent comics (and that’s certainly been the case so far), are you also aiming to publish stories in multiple genres as well, or is that a happy coincidence?

JP: We have a brand that we’re inching towards perfecting, but I’m not going to completely reveal what that is yet. All I’ll say for now is that that brand isn’t necessarily a genre or a style. And if you look at Jetpack Jump, it’s a lot of fun and different in tone from Imposter or Hero Hourly. It’s like a suped up Saturday morning cartoon. It’s all out action and high-octane. Right now we’re making the best books we can and chiseling into what we want to be.

Sorry to be so cryptic :) but we really are just about making the best books and building who we are with the parts that add up to it, rather than saying, we are this or that. At least not yet.

GP: There’s actually a lot I want to ask you about Imposter, but I’ll hold off on that so folks can get a chance to read an issue or two… so moving before I slip up and do that; with Imposter #1 hitting the racks on February 10th, and Hero Hourly #3 later that month, when can we expect the debut issues of Jetpack Jump and Planet of the Dinosaurs to hit the physical and digital racks?

JP: Jetpack Jump Issue 1 will be available online when Imposter #1 hits shelves. So by Feb 10th. It’s four issues, It’s a bit of an experiment as the previews in the back of Imposter and Hero Hourly #3 throw back to it. Planet of the Dinosaurs is penciled in to follow Imposter.

We had a far more aggressive approach to publishing, but we’re learning to let people get to know us first rather than releasing books too soon and before we have the potential exposure of our brand.

It’s always an evolving thing as we learn more each day.

GP: The last time we spoke, when given the choice of pirates, ninjas, cowboys and aliens, you went for Frank Miller ninjas. What if vikings replaced ninjas?

JP: Cowboys. Aren’t enough freakin’ cowboys in comics.

GP: I really appreciate your time James, thank you!

Imposter #1 is due to hit shelves February 10th. Do you have your copy reserved?

Mike W. Barr talks Katana and Suicide Squad Most Wanted

SUSQ_MW_DEADSHOTKATANA_1_56240e803028b3.04781561Two of the stars of next year’s highly anticipated action movie break out in their own solo adventures in an extra-sized, 6-issue miniseries! This week sees the release of Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katana #1.

First, in a story by Brian Buccellato, Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend, Deadshot is on the run, taking on a series of new contracts, and re-establishing himself as the world’s most deadly marksman. But things are about to get complicated for Floyd Lawton when a figure from his past threatens to expose a dark secret…and Deadshot gets word of his next target: Lex Luthor!

Then, writer Mike W. Barr returns to the character he co-created in “Katana, Cult of the Kobra,” with art by Diogenes Neves. Katana needs to know more about Soultaker’s origin if she’s going to have any hope of controlling the sword instead of falling under its influence. Dr. Helga Jace, a Markovian astrophysicist, may be able to shed some light—but before Katana can get the info, Kobra’s forces attack!

I got a chance to talk to Mike about how he got involved with the comic, what it’s like to return to his creation, and what it’s like to see her on the big and small screen.

Graphic Policy: So, the easiest place to start is how did you get involved with the new project?

Mike W. Barr: With artist Jim Aparo, I’m the cocreator of Katana back in 1983. It’s been 33 years now. Which is funny because I’ve gotten older and Katana hasn’t, so I’m not sure how that works out. I got a phone call in May of last year from Geoff Johns telling me that Katana was going to be used in the Suicide Squad movie. So I dropped a letter to Dan DiDio to see if there’s any publishing involved in that project, I’d like to be involved in it. And Dan asked me to write this six issue series, and I was glad to take him up on it.

GP: How does it feel to see the character evolve past the printed page in to other media and other folks handling her?

MB: It’s really satisfying, because the character’s being is being used in a consistent manner as she’s used in the comics. They’re making her a samurai, give her the haunted sword, and give her the attitude which is possibly the most important thing with Katana. The way she’s being used in the Suicide Squad looks really good, and the way she was used in Arrow I also liked very much.

GP: It’s one of the characters that doesn’t change much from version to version, she’s very consistent.

MB: That’s very true. Even the version with the DC Super Hero Girls, the younger version also has the haunted sword, which is kind of funny.

GP: Who is Katana to you?

MB: Katana for me is the essence of the noble lone samurai. When I was creating the character back in 83, I thought it’d also be interesting to also to make the character female. I thought it’d give her an added edge, and added level of complexity, and that seems to have worked out well.

GP: Yes it has.

MB: There aren’t that many female Japanese characters in the DC Universe. So, I think that’s one of the reasons for her popularity.

GP:  Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. When she was created, the landscape was very different for female characters, let alone one of Asian decent. It’s much different than today.

MB:: Yeah, it’s an interesting mix of features that seems to have worked out.

GP: How did you come up with creating the character?

MB: Well, I was trying to, I had created a lot of character for the Outsiders, a variety of characters. You want guys who are not just big and strong or with great powers, you want to mix it up a bit. I always had an interest in Japanese culture, so I thought it’d not just be interesting to do a samurai, but a female samurai. And the samurai’s blade is the katana, which is a perfect name for the character with the nice sharp “k” sound, and the feminine “a.” It was almost impossible to misspronounce so it worked out well.

GP: What it was like when she was created to the landscape today. What’s your thoughts on how that’s shifted?

MB: It took a long time for her to take off. There was a long time when there was no merchandising for her, forever. All of the sudden, the past couple of years, she’s all over the place. She’s in the Suicide Squad movie, she was on the tv show Arrow last year, she’s on the DC Super Hero Girls website, and she’s been licensed as part of DC’s Bombshells’ lineup. I guess they were looking for diverse characters, and found Katana as one of them.

GP: As the creator, how does it feel to see the character take on this new life?

MB: I’ve been happy with her, because the take on her, they haven’t changed her. She’s always been the same way she’s been depicted in the comics.

GP: Moving on to the comic. You have her taking on Kobra, which haven’t been in the spotlight lately. Why’d you choose them for the villain?

MB: That was part of the comic when they gave it to me. They wanted her to face Kobra. I can assume this is because I had written Kobra in the past with Batman and the Outsiders and I had a great deal of fun doing it. Kobra was one of the last creations Jack Kirby did while he was still at DC before he went back to Marvel. I always liked the characters a great deal, and had a lot of fun doing it because they’re just so evil. It turns out to be a pretty good match.

GP: What were you presented with for the story?

MB: Basically, the parameters I was given was they wanted to have Katana fighting Kobra, and have her meet the Suicide Squad which happens in issue 2. I gave them everything they wanted and it worked out well. I’m pleased with the story because it sort of expands with each issue. You learn more about Kobra’s plan with each issue, and it almost turns out to be something different.

GP: The setting is Markovia, a fictional country with a long history. Why choose there instead of a real country?

MB: Because I’m used to it. It’s a concept I’m comfortable with. The editor and I were talking about where it was going to be set, and we said a European country, we didn’t know where and we both said Markovia. That works out well because it’s a reference to the old Batman and the Outsiders series too.

GP: You’ve been writing for decades. How has writing changed over the years?

MB: That’s not something I think about a great deal… basically because I don’t want to. The quality control has changed over the years. I came in to comics in 1977, actually I sold my first story back in 1973, and comics were made the same way they did since the 1930s. The actual production and printing methods had not changed much at all. Since then there’s been radical developments in the printing, lettering, and coloring. The lettering and coloring are all being done with computers, which none of us could have conceived of 30 years ago. With the writing, things haven’t changed that much. You’re still dealing with a blank page and 26 letter of the alphabet.

GP: Very good point. It’s been awesome to talk to you. Thanks so much for chatting!

Brian Buccellato talks Deadshot and Suicide Squad Most Wanted

SUSQ_MW_DEADSHOTKATANA_1_56240e803028b3.04781561Two of the stars of next year’s highly anticipated action movie break out in their own solo adventures in an extra-sized, 6-issue miniseries! This week sees the release of Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katana #1.

First, in a story by Brian Buccellato, Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend, Deadshot is on the run, taking on a series of new contracts, and re-establishing himself as the world’s most deadly marksman. But things are about to get complicated for Floyd Lawton when a figure from his past threatens to expose a dark secret…and Deadshot gets word of his next target: Lex Luthor!

Then, writer Mike W. Barr returns to the character he co-created in “Katana, Cult of the Kobra,” with art by Diogenes Neves. Katana needs to know more about Soultaker’s origin if she’s going to have any hope of controlling the sword instead of falling under its influence. Dr. Helga Jace, a Markovian astrophysicist, may be able to shed some light—but before Katana can get the info, Kobra’s forces attack!

I got a chance to talk to Brian about how he got involved with the comic, the influence of Deadshot’s big screen debut, and who Deadshot is to him.

Graphic Policy: How did you get involved with Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katana?

Brian Buccellato: I was talking to DC Comics last year about the next thing I was going to work on and the name Deadshot came up. As part of the conversation, I think Dan (DiDio) was the first to say Deadshot, but once he did, it felt like a natural fit. I tend to like darker material, and he’s definitely that. I jumped at the chance to write Floyd Lawton.

GP: Was the comic always planned as an issue with two characters? Did the project change at all over time?

BB: It was always designed to be a six issue series. Early it was a larger plot, but as I was working on it with my editor, we all moved the story in this direction focusing on Floyd and his personal journey. That became the focus.

GP: Who is Deadshot to you? What do you like about the character?

BB: He’s obviously very good at what he does. He’s an antihero in a lot of ways. What I respond to, is he’s somebody without something to live for. He came with a deficit and he’s very dangerous and very good at what he does because he doesn’t have that fear of dying. So writing the story exploring what type of man is that way was interesting to me. When he have someone who has his own suicidal death wish, giving him something to live for and seeing what he does with that is natural story telling.

GP: Throughout the story it’s clear he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. Having that sort of freedom in the storytelling, you can easily get silly with it. Do you dial back at all to prevent going to that extreme.

BB: I don’t think so, because I don’t consider myself that type of guy who does over the top type of stuff. I try to be grounded in all of my writing. Even when you’re writing characters who can fly, or lift an airplane, I try to be grounded in my approach and it’s not he’s a 90s Deathblow, Killboy type of character where he’s a knockoff version of Wolverine. He’s a troubled guy. He’s a guy that’s dangerous in a real way. He’s dangerous because he isn’t afraid to die. The challenge of a writer is to put him in situations where there’s real threats and taking him through the meat grinder. That’s good storytelling. To me that’s more interesting than seeing how many people he can shoot and what type of body count he can have.

GP: You have him team up with a character named Will Evans, who’s not someone I know. Evans makes a comment that there’s some history. Is that continuity? Something you created?

BB: He’s a new character. He’s a brand new character. He has an important role in the story and he’ll be a big part of all six issues. I don’t want to give spoilers, but he’s important.

GP: The issue is interesting in that it dives in Deadshot’s past. You’re hinting at that and there’s a nice twist at the end. Did you do a lot of research for the character?

BB: Any time you have the honor of writing a character who has had a long and important run you owe it to the character, yourself, and everyone, to understand where that character came from. I read all the major mini-series and tried to understand him as best I could. I do that with any character I write. That’s the right thing to do, it helps inform your choices. And some times it helps inform your choices so that you don’t repeat a story that’s been told. A lot of characters have been around a long time, and there’s been a lot of stories told. If you don’t think to read those, you might accidentally rehash what’s been seen before.

GP: The character is getting some major screen time in the coming months and the profile is increasing. As a writer is that on your mind?

BB: Only when you say “yes.” You know it’s going to be awesome. The Suicide Squad movie comes out, it’s going to be cool. People are going to be talking about him, and Will Smith being Deadshot. You’re excited about it, because you might have more eyeballs on the comic book that you’re writing. When you sit down to write, none of that was in my head. Storytelling is storytelling and it comes character first, not from any kind of external force.

GP: With it being a six issue series, how do you as a writer approach that differently than an ongoing? What about the series also featuring a story with Katana.

BB: Even if it was an ongoing series, you’re probably not going to write a twelve issue story arc. Four to six issues is a great length in terms of story arcs. You want to write something that’s interesting and feels important to yourself. And that’s it. As far as it being piggybacked with Katana. I started writing it, I don’t think they made a final decision in how they were going to package it. Even if they had, I don’t think it’d have impacted how I’d have told the story. At the end of the mini-series, you want to leave it in a place that feels natural and if it’s successful you can spin it out. But, I told the story in six issues because that’s what I knew it’d be.

GP: When writing the character was there something you found you particularly enjoyed that you didn’t think you would?

BB: He’s such an interesting person. He’s tortured. Out of the Suicide Squad members, he’s the one that’s suicidal. There’s some natural things that you can exploit when writing Deadshot. But he’s a cool character. He’s an assassin. He rocks a mustache. Not many people can rock a mustache. I think he’s an interesting character and he has something that’s a real deficit in his life. I think when you have a character that’s really good at something, but also really bad at life, they’re interesting to write about. Being bad at life, he doesn’t care about anything. He’s haunted about his past, which we explore.

GP: For as much of a loner as he is, he’s also the senior member and leader of the Suicide Squad. There’s this weird dichotomy in that.

BB: Yeah, he’s sort of the reluctant leader. I remember in college someone saying the best type of leader is the reluctant leader, the benevolent despot, someone that doesn’t want the job. And I think that totally fits Floyd’s character. Sadly for Floyd, he’s a guy that if he didn’t have the Suicide Squad and didn’t have something else to do, who knows what he’d be doing. He’s not a happy person. I think he needs the Suicide Squad and he’s sort of fell in to being the leader and I think he’s really good at it.

GP: The other thing that strikes me about the character is that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, but he’s also not suicidal, trying to take his own life.

BB: Yes. Right. When I say suicidal I mean he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. And that makes for a very dangerous person because he’ll make choices without regarding for his own safety, which makes him very good at what he does and very dangerous. But, he’s not going to kill himself. Will he go out there and test his mettle and if he dies he dies? Yeah.

GP: Thanks for chatting!

Hellcat Press’ Lindsay Moore Talks About The All-Female Horror Anthology Dark Lady

darklady-color-cover-draft-2-lisa-Pearson-232x300Hellcat Press is a small publishing company devoted solely to producing horror comic anthologies. It was founded in 2014 by Lindsay Moore and Steve Fulghum. Their first anthology, the incredible Dark Lady, was published in October of 2015, and features ten short horror stories written and drawn entirely by female creators. Alex had the opportunity to have a chat with Lindsay about getting the first of many yearly anthologies published, the powerful story she contributed herself (The Procedure) and what’s next for the independent publisher Hellcat Press.

Graphic Policy: Firstly, thank you very much for your time. Dark Lady has been out for a few months now, how has the feedback about the project been from the creative community?

Lindsay Moore: I think feedback’s been positive. I’ve sold Dark Lady at a handful of conventions (Hartford Comic Con and Rock & Shock). The reaction there was very positive — lots of people were intrigued by Dark Lady and the overall idea of an all-female horror comics anthology. Whenever I do a show or convention, I like to meet my neighbors. I like talking to other creative types and see what they’re selling. Who knows, maybe we’ve got a similar product and we can help each other out?

All my neighbors at Rock & Shock were guys who were selling their own horror comics. Everyone there was a die-hard horror fan, and the majority of them were glad to see a woman who was not only interested in horror, but was trying to get something new and different to the masses. Like I said, horror’s a male-dominated genre, and sometimes you have to dig around to find something that wasn’t written by a white guy. (Not to knock white guys — they’ve done a lot for the horror genre — but variety’s a good thing, so let’s see some every now and again.)

Anyway, all the horror fans and creative types I’ve shown Dark Lady to have been enthusiastic about it. The response has been very positive.

GP: I understand that you ran into a bit of misogyny when pitching the project initially. You mention in the forward to the book that that was a crushing experience; is there some satisfaction now that Dark Anthology is out to the masses?

LM: It has been immensely satisfying to see Dark Lady in print. I initially pitched the idea to the Boston Comics Roundtable — which I’d been a member of for nearly seven years — and I was shocked at the misogynistic reaction. What made it even worse was the response when I complained about it. I had both men and women basically telling me that I was over-reacting and blowing everything out of proportion. I also had a lot of people tell me not to talk to anyone about it because it would make the group look bad. The basic response was, “yes, we treated you like garbage, now get over it and don’t you dare tell anyone about it.” So, seeing Dark Lady in print — and seeing a positive response to it — has been amazing.

I’d also like to point out that every other man I have talked to about the anthology has been interested or enthusiastic about it. The only people who trashed the idea were the ones I had known and had thought of as friends.

Excerpt from Aya Rothwell’s “Chickadee!”

Excerpt from Aya Rothwell’s “Chickadee!”

GP: What was your (former?) friends’ reaction  to Dark Lady? Have you spoken to them since that meeting?

LM: I really haven’t talked with any of my former friends since Dark Lady was printed. I talked with one guy who was at that particular meeting (this was Mr. “What If I Write About a Female Character?”); I gave him a copy of Dark Lady in exchange for feeding my cats while I was out of town. He didn’t say much about the anthology itself, but he did mention that “people probably felt excluded” when I pitched the idea as an all-female anthology.

I won’t lie or try to dance around the subject; I’m not going to say, “oh, no, I wasn’t *excluding* anyone, I was just [insert lame excuse here].” Yes, men were excluded from this anthology. Men (especially straight white men) have contributed a lot to the horror genre — and that’s not a bad thing. I took a class in college called “The Literature of Horror” — aside from Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire” and some short stories by Clive Barker and Wildy Petoud, we only read books by straight white men. Don’t get me wrong, we read some very good books, like The Exorcist and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”…but we only experienced horror from one point of view. The purpose of a class like The Literature of Horror is to introduce the students to new perspectives and broaden their horizons and, although I did read some great books, I wasn’t introduced to anything new. I was experiencing horror the way I’d always experienced it: as written by a man.

There are a lot of really amazing horror authors who don’t fall into the “straight white guy” category. They’ve got unique voices, but they aren’t always heard…and sometimes it’s because there’s a guy shouting “MARY SHELLEY” over them as they try to talk.

I didn’t say any of this to Mr. “What If I Write About a Female Character?” I thanked him for feeding my cats, got my keys back, and left.

GP: In terms of the anthology itself, I really love the black and white colouring to the pages; was there a conscious decision to publish black and white stories, or was it more of a happy coincidence?

 LM: It was a conscious decision to do black-and-white. I couldn’t afford color. I still can’t. “Simply Sinful” is also going to be in black-and-white.

Excerpt from Jennifer Lewis’s “Toothless”

Excerpt from Jennifer Lewis’s “Toothless”

GP: The story you contributed to the anthology, The Procedure, can you tell us a little bit about where the inspiration for that came from?

LM: I was writing The Procedure amid the whole Gamergate thing, but there were really a myriad of influences for it. Gamergate was sort of background noise. In fact, when I was workshopping the script, one of my friends told me that I should change the setting from a comic book store to a video game store. She was very adamant and kept telling me that the problem of sexism was so much worse in the video game world. I mentioned that I’d also seen it in the comic book world, but she sort of dismissed it and kept pointing to Gamergate.

I think several things prompted me to write The Procedure I remember someone on Facebook posted about that badly done Milo Manara Spiderwoman cover, asking for opinions on it. I chimed in to say something silly like, “how can she fight crime with an atomic wedgie like that?” and someone else jumped in and told me that I was not allowed to criticize Milo Manara because he’s “an artist.” This guy was very passionate and was telling everyone that Manara was a master and that we therefore weren’t allowed to criticize his artwork. I thought that was a hot load of BS right there. I mean, every “master” produces stinkers. I was miffed (and mildly amused) that I was being explicitly told not to criticize a stranger’s artwork.

Then there was this god-awful Teen Titans cover that drew some well-deserved criticism from Janelle Asselin. I’m no graphic designer, and I know nothing about art, but the cover’s just bad. It’s cluttered. There’s so much random crap crammed onto that cover, I don’t know what to look at. Plus, you have to take into consideration that text will have to be added to the cover. There’s just no space for it. And there’s the elephant in the room — Wonder Girl’s breasts are bigger than her head, they’re prominently on display, and she’s underage. Asselin received rape and death threats for pointing out that the cover was badly drawn. I remember reading an article about it and scrolling through the comments; this one girl had stated, “well, I don’t have a problem with the cover AND I’M A GIRL.” I’ve noticed that you get that a lot when some really sexist artwork pops up — someone’s always saying, “I’m cool with it AND I’M A GIRL,” but what they really mean is, “HEY, LOOK AT ME! I’M THE COOL GIRL! I’M NOT A COMPLAINER! LIKE ME!” It comes across as desperate, and it just reinforces the idea that it’s unacceptable for women to express themselves.

I was at Boston Comic Con years ago and was talking with this guy about (what else) comics. He was talking on and on about how much he loved Frank Miller’s Sin City, and when he finally asked my opinion, I gave it. I said that I thought that the issues were repetitive and that the plot-lines were lackluster. I also threw in a snarky comment about how all the male characters are bundled up in coats, hats, scarves, gloves, etc, and the women are running around nearly-naked — I mean, it’s always nighttime and it’s always raining in Sin City, these women should all have pneumonia because they’re inappropriately dressed.

This comment seemed to set the guy off. He launched into this tirade and flat-out told me that comics are for guys. “It’s a guy thing, a guy fantasy,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘guy,’ “and you know what? Guys like looking at pretty girls. Comics are for guys. If you don’t like it, just get out.” Then he called me a dyke. Up until I’d expressed my opinion, he had been perfectly nice. He’d been polite and charming and had even asked about going out for coffee sometime. Once I opened my mouth and said that I didn’t like something that he happened to like, it was like a switch flipped inside his head. Not only was I not worth talking to anymore, I needed to be berated and yelled at for daring to have the “wrong” opinion.

This happened years ago, but I still see this “comics are for guys, the guys are being very nice by letting you read them, so don’t you dare complain” attitude. And I’ll say right here and now — not every guy does this. It’s a select few of bad apples who ruin the bunch. But those bad apples can be genuinely threatening (just ask Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu).

And lastly, I wanted to do something with body horror and a smidge of gore. All the other horror comics I’d written prior to The Procedure featured implied or off-panel violence. I wanted to try something new.

So, in a very roundabout way, The Procedure came from a couple of bad comics-related experiences and some interesting observations.

Excerpt from Caroline Juang’s “Word of Mouth”

Excerpt from Caroline Juang’s “Word of Mouth”

GP: Switching  I understand you’re planning a second anthology, Simply Sinful, that will be accepting submissions from all genders. Do you have any plans to do another all-female anthology down the road?

LM: Absolutely. I have a few other themes that I’m pretty excited about, but I’d love to do Dark Lady Returns at some point. I’d also like to put together an all-queer horror anthology.

GP: What have you learned from Dark Lady that’ll help make putting Simply Sinful together a bit easier?

LM: I’ve learned a lot. I work in textbook publishing, so I went into Dark Lady with a some knowledge about deadlines and stuff like that. But in putting Dark Lady together, I also learned a lot about communicating with artist-types and providing feedback. In textbooks, you don’t try to alter the content of the book you’re working with. You just tell the author to get it to you on time. With something more creative, though, you’ve got people asking for input and feedback, so you have to make the time to really review their work. Sometimes people want to know if something they’ve drawn is acceptable, or if their story needs improvement. It’s really all about scheduling and time-management.

Also, advertise the hell out of your product. I knew that I’d have to do all the advertising for Dark Lady on my own, so that was a bit of a stumbling block. I can’t just post on Facebook and say, “well, someone will notice that and reach out to me” (although, to be fair, that happened a few times). I’ve got to be the one to reach out and say, “hey, my project is similar to what you talk about on your webshow/podcast/blog — would you be willing to help me promote it?” I have met some really great people while working on Dark Lady, and I’m in the process of building up a little PR network.

GP: Finally, if it came down to a choice; pirates, aliens, ninjas or cowboys?

LM: That’s a tough one. Can I say “samurai” or is that cheating? When you think about it, they’re kind of a combination of cowboys and ninjas…

GP: I really appreciate your time, Lindsay, thanks!

Hellcat Press are currently accepting submissions for the next horror anthology Simply Sinful, and if you’d like to contribute you can do so here. The deadline has been extended until March 1st, so you’ve still got a little over month to get your stories in. Dark Lady  can be purchased directly from Hellcat Press‘ website here.

Jeremy Whitley Discusses His Princeless Anthology

Princeless_V4_01-1We first caught wind of an anthology of stories revolving around the world of Princeless when writer (and Princeless creator) Jeremy Whitley joined us on Graphic Policy Radio. We’ve seen some teasing as to what we can expect out of what sounded like a who’s who of comic creators.

Whitley was kind of enough to take some time out of his schedule to spill the beans about the graphic novel, who’s participating, and the charities it’ll benefit.

Graphic Policy: So tell us about this anthology you’ve put together for Princeless.

Jeremy Whitley: It’s something I’ve been working on for about a year and a half now. It started out as me trying to find a way that Princeless could be of real concrete help to some of the people that I hope it inspires in a less concrete way. I wanted the book to be able to give back to people who supported it.

GP: How’d the idea come about?

JW: Ever since Princeless started out, there have been some amazing top tier writers and artists who have been great supporters. They’ve said great things about the books both to me and in public. I’ve been so grateful for their support.

So, first I asked a couple people that I thought might say yes. And they did. So I asked some more people and, frankly, I was astonished at who said yes. Everybody has time constraints, so we decided to make them all short stories and I gave people the options of using our characters, creating their own within the Princeless world, or writing something completely of their own creation that fit thematically with Princeless.

GP: You mentioned it when you were on our podcast a bit ago, how long has this been in the works?

JW: We had started it up about a year and a half ago and due to some tragic circumstances, it sorta fell apart. The idea hung around in my mind for a while, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Then Action Lab started this year by celebrating its fifth anniversary and I realized that Princeless’s fifth anniversary would be later this year. It seemed like the perfect time to revive the anthology and make something really amazing.

PrincelessVolume5Iss0CoverGP: You’ve teased what sounds like an amazing group of individuals to participate. Who’s involved in the project?

JW: Ahem, so here’s who we have set to participate. Things may change a little bit before the release, but this is more or less our final list:

Kelly Sue Deconnick and Kit Cox are co-writing a story to be illustrated by the Pirate Princess art team of Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt.

Gail Simone, who is recreating classic kick-ass female characters over at Dynamite, is writing a story to be drawn by Princeless artists Emily Martin and Brett Grunig.

Bri Rudd is writing a story to be illustrated by Kyle Latino.

DeWayne Feenstra and Axur Eneas, of Action Lab’s Aero-Girl are teaming up to bring their style to Princeless.

Ivy Noelle Weir and Christina “Steenz” Stewart of Archival Quality are cooking up an awesome story for Princeless fans that you can’t miss.

The amazing Emily Willis and Ann Uland of Arbitrary Muse Comics are bringing us a great tale of Raven the Pirate Princess.

David Pinckney, creator of Action Lab’s Fight Like a Girl is teaming up with Maggie Venable to bring a fresh and exciting story to the world of Princeless.

Katie Cook (from everything) is writing and drawing her own beautiful short story.

Newcomer Alicia Whitley is teaming up with the artist of House of Montresor and Order of Dagonet Jason Strutz.

Writer and horror podcaster Wes Knipe is teaming up with the talented artist Sorah Suhng.

PRINCELESS RAVEN, THE PIRATE PRINCESS #1Kelly Thompson of too many awesome comics to name is working with Tara O’Conner who did Roots, In Your Wake, On the Morrow, and Puddles.

The multitalented Joe Illidge will be working with Marcus Williams who currently is in the process of getting his red-hot Kickstarter project Tuskegee Heirs funded.

Greg Pak, who is currently writing Totally Awesome Hulk for Marvel (among other things), is teaming up with Jules Rivera who has done some Princeless covers.

Bryan Q Miller, whose career spans comics and television, will be spinning up a story with Brenda Hickey who has been handling some of the art duties for various IDW My Little Pony series.

Tini Howard will be bringing her talents and writing a story with writer/artist Tony Fleecs.

Whit Taylor who is a Glyph award winner and Ignatz nominee, will be working with Jenn Blake whose fantastic work you can check out yourself.

Writer and feminist activist, Mikki Kendall will be putting together a story with Ted Naifeh who is the person behind his own kick-ass Pricess series, Princess Ugg.

Tristan J Tarwater who writes The Valley of Ten Crescents series, will be contributing with G Pike.

Jamal Igle, who is no stranger to kick-ass women with his own series Molly Danger, will be contributing a story as writer and artist.

Susan Beneville and Brian Hess, the team behind the series Awake, will be participating.

Kimya Dawson will be working with the amazing Janet Lee.

Gemma Bedeau, the co-creator of the Glyph Award nominated Afroella will be working Telênia Albuquerque, the creator of Amazonomachy.

PRINCELESS THE PIRATE PRINCESS TPBGP: That’s a hell of a lineup. With all of those individuals, is this an oversized single issue? Multiple issues? That’s a lot of talent to fill in one comic!

JW: Definitely an oversized volume. We’ll be looking at something in the trade paperback vicinity.

GP: What Princeless characters can we expect to see in the comic? Is this in “continuity”?

JW: Both the trio of Adrienne, Bedelia and Sparky and the crew of Raven’s pirate ship will feature prominently. You’ll also get to see a few of the supporting cast from previous volumes.

Even more exciting is that we’ll get to see a number of original creations from some of the great creators on this. My only requirement for stories was that they stay thematically in line with Princeless. They’ve made some amazing stuff.

GP: You’re all doing this for charity. What charity is this project benefiting?

JW: We are working together to benefit Girls Leadership Institute and Girls Rock NC here in my home state of North Carolina.

GP: How’d you learn about them and why’d you choose them?

JW: Girls Leadership Institute I learned about via Kelly Sue Deconnick and Matt Fraction who had worked with the group in the past. They’re an amazing group that does great things for girls.

Girls Rock NC was a group I was made aware of because a friend of mine had worked with them. They put together some great camps and teach skills in much the same vein as Girls Leadership, but with rock music here in NC.

GP: What was the reaction from the creators when you approached them about doing a comic for charity?

JW: It was overwhelmingly positive. People have been incredibly giving with their time and even the handful of creators that had to turn me down only did so for scheduling reasons. Everybody seems really excited about making this book as amazing as it can be.

GP: When can we expect this to come out?

JW: We are aiming for a release date in late 2016 (about the time of year the first Princeless volume released). We’re still not 100% on dates as we are working around and in between a lot of schedules, but we are definitely aiming for this year.

Rich Douek Talks About Gutter Magic, His New Comic Series

GUTTER MAGIC_01_COVER_A_FINAL_CREDITS LOGOSGutter Magic is a four part miniseries written by Rich Douek and superbly illustrated by Brett Barkley, and set in a world where World War II was fought with magic instead of technology. The comic is a interesting take on a magical fantasy set in an alternate version of our world, and one that we at Graphic Policy have been enjoying quite a bit. Alex had a chat with the comic’s writer Rich Douek about where the idea for the comic came from and, among other things, just how he envisioned a certain page in the script.

Graphic Policy: Firstly, thank you very much for your time. The first issue of Gutter Magic is fantastic; where did the inspiration strike you for the series?

Rich Douek: I’ve been a longtime fan of fantasy in all it’s forms, and I wanted to write your typical “fantasy epic”, but I think one of the problems I was running into was not having things ring true in terms of the emotional content, and issues I wanted to address within that context – so I decided to look at what it would be like telling the tale someplace closer to home, like New York, where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t know exactly when or where it happened, but I got that picture in my head, of the building split in two and hovering in the air, and things just started clicking from there.

GutterMagic_01-pr_page7_image4GP: In terms of setting the story in New York, what made you decide to set the tale in an alternate history, which personally I think is a great choice, as opposed to “our” world with magic elements? 

RD: One of the reasons I set the story in NYC is because it’s my hometown. I know it’s not exactly virgin territory when it comes to comic settings, but it’s in my bones, so to speak.

The reason I went with an alternate history is because I wanted magic out in the open, an everyday fact of life. A lot of urban fantasy has it all going on secretly, and I do love stories like that, but I wanted to do something different. And I wanted a reason for it all to be out in the open – so looking back through history I thought WWII would make a great incident, so to speak, to allow magic to come to the forefront and create a very different world from the one we live in.

GP: One of the things I enjoyed about the first issue is that the world already feels pretty fleshed out, even if the audience may not know too much about the world (yet). You must have delved into the world building in planning the series, do you have any plans of a prequel type story based around the war (or is there more to come on that in the following three issues)?

RD: Thanks! Fleshing the world out was a huge part of the way I approached the series both in writing and talking to the rest of the creative team. I joke around that it was kind of like writing a D&D sourcebook or something – but all that work really shows through with the way Brett rendered the world – we wanted it to feel huge, immensely detailed, and fully formed – like you could pick a random background character and follow them on their own adventure.

In terms of further stories fleshing out the background, yes, there is quite a bit that gets revealed in this series, and plenty more for potential future series – a prequel set in World War 2 is something we were definitely considering – but any and all of that will come out down the road. It was a choice of mine, not to reveal everything about why things are the way they are all up front – it’s something I’d like to reveal bit by bit as I work on stories set within the world – I’m not a huge fan of info-dump expositions that just lay it all out there. I try to instill a sense of discovery, of this wonderful world unfolding as you delve into it.

GutterMagic_01-pr_page7_image5GP: I think the sense of discovery you mentioned is definitely a strong point here. Obviously we’ve only read the first issue so far, and so you may not want to answer this, but with any potential sequel or prequel, are there plans to follow a back ground character around in place of Cinder and Blacktooth?

RD: Well, one of the things that has been so amazing for me during the writing process is finding all these characters and plot threads I want to explore. I can’t promise that anything is in the works right now, but no matter what happens with the book’s release, this is a world I want to tell stories in for a long, long time.

And there are plenty of background characters, both from the past and present who I want to expand on and illuminate – and while talking about spinoff a might be a little premature, the material is definitely there to work with.

GP: Cinder looks like he’s a lot of fun to write, reminding me in a couple of ways of the guy that shot first in certain movie.

RD: He’s a blast, and definitely inspired partly by a certain scruffy looking nerf herder. I’ve drawn my influences from a lot of different corners of geekdom, and Cinder sits squarely in the court of (hopefully) likable scoundrel. Blacktooth is a blast, too, and one of my favorite parts of writing Gutter Magic is the banter between them, and showing these two very good friends snark on each other constantly.

GP: The brilliant market chase double spread that Brett Barkley drew; I have to ask – just how did you describe that to him?

RD: Haha, that’s actually a funny story – the first line of my panel description in the script was:  “OK. Time for something crazy.” I tried to describe what I was picturing, as sort of an MC Escher painting, ending the description with “Do 1 panel, do 100 panels, just go nuts and have fun with it.”.

Ultimately, I knew that I couldn’t be too prescriptive with it, or it could easily wind up looking disjointed or stiff. I wanted Brett to really cut loose with his imagination – so we discussed it several times over email, going over different possibilities, and having a couple of false starts – but he sent me a layout he was really happy with, and I agreed that he should run with it – and it paid off, because it’s one of the things people consistently point out as a great part of the book.

GP: Finally, one last question; aliens, pirates, cowboys or ninjas?

RD: Gotta go with the pirate life, because, let’s face it, pirates know how to party. Still, though, not a huge fan of the whole Pirates of the Carribean thing, so let’s say SPACE PIRATES!

GP: Again, I really appreciate your time! 

RD: My pleasure!

Gutter Magic #1 was released on the 14th of January. I urge you to check it out, because on top of it being a great read you need to see the double page spread we were talking about earlier. You can find the comic in your local comic shop or on ComiXology here.

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