Category Archives: Interviews

10 Questions with Weapon Brown’s Creator Jason Yungbluth

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

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

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

-Chuck (Blockhead’s War)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JY: The Jews founded the Nazi party. Gotta love those kooks! has everything a netizen such as yourself needs to pass the time including but not limited to your own personal copy of Weapon Brown, Deep Fried, Clarissa and or associated retail items!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Frank Barbiere discusses his new series Black Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FB: I’ll confirm that is the present.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Paul Jenkins Talks Fiction Squad and Kickstarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP: How did the project come to BOOM!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Women of BOOM! – Stephanie Hocutt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Women of BOOM! – Kris Mukai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

KM: Clients pay me to draw anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interview: Women of BOOM! – Moro Rogers

Moro RogersIt’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 30th “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it! We’re making sure to include the hard-working folks whose contributions are often overlooked in the process.

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

Moro Rogers is the writer and artist of the Archaia original graphic novel, City in the Desert, which is now available in two volumes which you can purchase here and here.

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

Moro Rogers: I was in animation, but I was between jobs and I decided that would be a good time to do something independent, and if I wrote a graphic novel I would have the kind of control I wanted. In animation it’s tough to tell a story with a big scope, especially if you like working alone.

City_in_the_Desert_v2_CoverGP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

MR: I didn’t actually read a lot of comics growing up, I was more into movies. Before the internet, I wasn’t really aware of comics outside of the funny papers and superheroes. My parents had a book of B. Kliban stuff, which I memorized, and I read a lot of The Far Side, but when I wanted a story I’d watch a movie or read a book. I read a lot more comics now. They’re slowly taking over our bookshelf.

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

MR: I submitted my graphic novel to several comics publishers and it got picked up by Archaia. Woo!

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

MR: I draw and write City in the Desert. (I usually work digitally so I spend a lot of time looking at a screen.)

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

MR: If you think you have a story to tell, don’t wait for someone to give you a chance, just find a way to do it. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility. (Also, um, check out your local parks and hiking trails! This advice is for everyone, I guess.)

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

MR: Everyone has a different experience. I’ve been lucky as far as that goes. My parents, teachers and peers have always been very encouraging.Women have more freedom to make comics than ever, and more tools at our disposal, so we just need to keep at it.

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

MR: BOOM!/Archaia seem to be pretty cool about trying new things and giving new people a shot. Sometimes, I think, publishers and producers decide they want to try a story from a different point of view, but then they get cold feet and decide it won’t sell, so it ends up very similar to everything else. BOOM!/Archaia embraces weirdness, so that’s good.

Interview: Brian Buccellato Discusses Foster from OSSM Comics

foster_coverProlific writer Brian Buccellato sees his creator-owned graphic novel Foster come to print courtesy of OSSM Comics in July. Joined by artist Noel Tuazon, the story follows a war vet who must protect a 6 year-old boy as they’re hunted by brutal creatures.

This is the first time the entirety of the story will be in print, as only the first five, of the planned 6-issue mini-series, were.

In leading up to the launch, we got a chance to talk to Buccellato about the series, and how writing it compares to his other high profile gigs.

Graphic Policy: For folks that don’t know, what’s Foster about?

Brian Buccellato: Here’s the catchy log line… Along the lines of WALKING DEAD meets TAXI DRIVER, FOSTER uses a hard bitten Steve McQueen-style hero and 1970’s politics as touchstones to create a neo-noir world with a frightening Jules Verne twist. The story follows haunted war vet, Eddie Foster, who finds himself the guardian of an 6 year-old boy being hunted by a shadowy race of brutal creatures, rising up from the darkness.

GP: What brought the project to OSSM Comics?

BB: Personal relationships. Omar Spahi and I have been friends for a while and he was looking for additional materials for his catalog. He’d been a huge fan of the issue of Foster that I self published in 2012 and so it was a natural fit to do the trade paperback through OSSM.

GP: I came to know artist Noel Tuazon’s work on Tumor, and I can only describe that work ashaunting. How did Noel come on to the project?

BB: Josh Fialkov (writer of Tumor) is another pal of mine, and he was nice enough to make the introduction after I had seen Noel’s work in Tumor.

GP: The project was initially released as single issues, why that format instead of a graphic novel?

BB: I financed and self-published the single issues and the costs prevented me from doing it all as one graphic novel.

GP: Does that difference in format change the story at all?

BB: Not really. It’s a complete story that I had always planned to collect it as a trade and planned for that as I was writing the individual issues.

GP: The story follows a Vietnam vet and takes place in the 60’s/early 70’s, why set it then as opposed to a veteran of one of today’s wars and in modern times? What is it about that time that makes it the needed setting?

BB: There are two reasons… one is practical and one is selfish. The practical reason is that I couldn’t buy the concept of dwellers in today’s social media/internet information age. But back in the analog early 70’s it felt plausible that dwellers could live among us and not be publicly acknowledged by the government. I felt it was akin to the mafia back then. I remember that people still denied the existence of the Italian mob and common folk accepted that. The other reason is that because I have a deep nostalgic love of that time and place because I was born in 1970 in New York City and grew up there.

GP: You said the story is personal to you, as you wanted to write about fatherhood, and the need to protect a child from the dangers of the world. What of your own experiences did you bring to the story?

BB: It’s mostly from an emotional standpoint. My role as a parent has been (thankfully) mundane and without major drama/trauma or tragedy. One memory that I DID pull from is my own childhood. During Christmas 1976, my eldest brother, Jack, took money from my mother and then convinced me and Steve (our middle brother) to run away from home after Mom threatened to take away all of our Christmas gifts if the culprit didn’t confess. So three kids ages 6, 8, and 11 jumped on the #7 train and ran away… to Manhattan. Being alone and fending for ourselves for about 12 hours in the big bad city inspired what happens to 6-year-old Ben in the story.

GP: I haven’t read the original release, and am really looking forward to reading this, but from what I know there’s a shadowy race of brutal creatures, rising up from the darkness. I can’t help but think there’s a metaphor in there….

BB: There certainly is. This story is about protecting you child from the monsters out there in the world… AND inside of us. The dwellers want to do only three things… eat, kill and fornicate. They are primal. They are all id. They are what we would be like if we had unchecked aggression.

GP: You also wrote The Flash and currently writing The Black Bat, and Detective Comics, among other series, what’s different in the approach writing one of those stories as opposed Foster?

BB: I always find these types of questions difficult to address. Each idea or property that I work on has it’s own world with a set of built-in rules. The differences are tonal and genre related and don’t change HOW I go about writing. My method of writing is the same no matter the subject. The real difference with this project over the others is that Foster is created owned and NOT a work for hire… so I didn’t have to answer to any other authority. When you are paid to write, it is with the understanding that someone else ultimately gets to have their say over your creative choices.

GP: Since this is an indie series, what’s the difference in working on this, as opposed to working on a publisher’s property? Is there a different relationship for you with the artist?

BB: It depends on WHICH publisher. Publishers differ in their approach and their editorial style. Some are more hands on, some are more hands off. In the case of Foster, I didn’t answer to anyone. So for better or worse, the final product is what I intended. As far as my relationship to the artist, I have been mostly fortunate in my career, and have had open dialogues with the artists I collaborate with.

GP: You already have a lot on your plate, any other projects coming up that you can talk about?

BB: I am launching a Kickstarter to crowd source funds for a transmedia project that will exist as a SHORT FILM and a COMIC BOOK. It’s a psychological thriller called Sons of the Devil. My hope is to launch the property in an ongoing fashion as a comic book series AND as a digital series. The Kickstarter will be going on for the month of June and I encourage anyone interested in my work to check it… and contribute mightily! :)

Here’s a brief synopsis for Sons of the Devil:

In 1989, the FBI raid the remote compound of deranged Cult leader DAVID DALY– only to find him comatose among the 93 murdered followers he sacrificed in a devil’s bargain. The only survivors are six infants rescued the night before the bloody massacre. Twenty-five years later we meet one of those infants…

TRAVIS, a troubled father-to-be whose rough childhood was spent in Foster Care. He struggles to cope with fear of abandonment and anger issues until a “chance meeting” leads him to his half sister, JENNIFER… and the realization that he has five brothers and sisters. Travis soon discovers that this meeting was not by chance at all… Not only is his father still alive, but he is determined to finish the devil’s work that he started 25 years ago. So Travis and Jennifer have to race against the clock to find and protect their siblings before David can sacrifice them to the devil in a crazed gambit to bring Hell on earth!

 And here’s an early preview!


Interview: Steve Orlando talks the first half of his new series Undertow, plus a promo for issue 5!


Atlantis is the world superpower, and Redum Anshargal is its worst enemy. If you want to break free of the system, he can offer you a place at his side, exploring the wild surface world in his watertight city barge The Deliverer. He and his hostage-protege Ukinnu Alal hunt the Amphibian, a legend that could be the key to an air-breathing life on land. But as they become the hunted, can Anshargal’s team survive long enough to turn the tables on the godlike beast they set out for?

Undertow, by writer Steve Orlando and artist Artyom Trakhanov has passed the half way point, and sees its fourth issue hitting the shelves this Wednesday. The series blends, pulp monster adventure, with deeper socio-political issues, shocker we like it so much.

In anticipation of the latest issue, we got a chance to talk to Steve about the series so far, and some of the various themes that have cropped up.

Graphic Policy: So we’re at the half way point of the series, with the fourth issue soon to be released, and things are bit interesting. To me, it seems like faith in a higher power is a theme of the various stories. The Deliverer’s faith is shaken without Anshargal. Anshargal seems a bit uneasy after meeting the amphibian, and then there’s Atlantas’ faith in its own society’s ability to function with Anshargal on the loose.

Steve Orlando: Definitely! I would say it’s about faith in structures, and what happens when the structures fail you (as Christopher Nolan would like JGL to say). But movienerding aside, it’s true! Safety is really so tenuous in society, and we scoot along smiling ignorantly about it.  As the adage says, society is three missed meals away from revolution. We need to believe there is SOMETHING guiding the ship, watching out backs. And the minute that changes, we start to get edgy. All is right while Anshargal is there, but when their icon is late to return, maybe not returning at all, they flood to fill the gap. This is just like us! Watch as a leader dies, or even a pop icon dies, and the question is always “who will step in?” “who is the next king of pop” “who will take the title?” And more to the point, look at the insecurity we faced in the mainstream until we finally were told Osama Bin Laden was dead, until we say Saddam Hussein’s children’s corpses on the front page of our newspapers. We need proof! And that is why the Atlantean government can’t have Anshargal running around alive, reminding its people that the forces of power are just a bit impotent. It can snowball, it can sow questions, and actual democracy does not mean job security, so they don’t want that. And thus the lies about Anshargal’s death. Thus the lies to keep the faith abated.

I would say, you can’t have a book about a modern, political Atlantis and NOT examine the relationship with blind faith, desperate faith in structures. Otherwise you’re not talking about today.

GP: Lets first focus on the Deliverer. It seems to me that many of the members of the ship have given up the authoritarian nature of Atlantis, for Anshargal’s rule and leadership. They’ve just given up one form of heavy leadership for another.

SO: Have they? That’s a question they wrestle with themselves. Anshargal has high aspirations of giving everybody choice and democracy and freedom, but is also so dedicated to enforcing freedom that he may be stepping on his own toes. He gives the council decision making power, but gives himself the final say reviewing their decisions, in his mind, to ensure that everything happening honestly and true to his vision of freedom. And that says a lot, because despite his ideals, he inherently doesn’t trust people to behave the way he wants them to, that is, honestly. His is the classic conflict between idealism and reality, and its a fight he doesn’t know how to win, despite only wanting the best for his people and his mission. He is, at his core, the opposite of the Atlantean government. He has the best intentions but can’t help but check his idealism with cynicism. Atlantis has the worst intentions, and only rarely departs from manipulation for brief moments of altruism. That is what the Deliverer’s citizens have traded- evil leaders faking goodness for good leaders forced to dabble in evil. And perhaps, in reality, that is the most we can hope for.

GP: They also seem to quickly fall apart with Anshargal’s long departure, as if they need his leadership or they’re lost, even going so far to discuss mutiny, and a change in leadership.

SO: I think this falls back to structures. We, as a race, are needy. We need instant gratification. So it’s not mutiny so much, at least in the mainstream mindset on the Deliverer, as utilitarian panic and problem solving. They don’t necessarily need his leadership, as much as they just need a leader. They need a safety net. Look how quickly destabilized governments replace regimes. Maybe them, maybe we, are all just a little bit hypocritical, and for all their talk of wanting freedom, needing it, they’re too afraid to handle it. Like I said, three meals, revolution. They all love Anshargal, love him so much, as long as he’s perfect, as long as he never falters. We love icons and heroes, but we love to see him fall, we love to cannibalize our own. And the citizens of the Deliverer are only human, or, that is, only Atlantean. They smell blood in the water, we all do, and some rush to defend their pack, others rush to feed.

GP: Bau Zikia has stood up on the ship, filling in that power vacuum, but also seems to be on board with Anshargal and give him a chance.

SO: Zikia and Anshargal are on the same wavelength. As we’ve seen, she is the only one he unclenches around. They have known each other longer than anyone else in the cast, and have seen each other at their worst. In many ways, they’re two sides of the same kind. Or perhaps it’s better to say they are two hands working for the same body- Anshargal, the fist. And Zikia, the open palm. And the body is their goal, their ideals. Zikia is willing to step into Anshargal’s shoes to maintain order, and because she knows better than any how and what he would want. Maybe even better than himself. She, like him, checks the crew, but her powers are in her words and her elegance, not in her stone faced resolve. Zikia’s powers are subtle, she is just as much of a manipulator as Anshargal, but she does not use violence. She doesn’t need to. Imagine the psychological powers of Hannibal Lector with the altruism of Gandhi.

GP: Anshargal’s mission seems a bit different, as he’s on a journey for his own God in a way in the amphibian. While the people look to Anshargal for freedom, Anshargal is looking towards the amphibian for the same. But, I get a sense at the end of the third issue; he’s a bit disappointed in his discovery.

SO: Anshargal’s mission is one of hope, and perhaps that does mean God. But Anshargal is not looking to the Amphibian to provide him freedom in the same way the citizens look to him. The amphibian is a means to an end, like cold fusion or stem cell, he is the chance for a scientific breakthrough. Anshargal has ideas about what the amphibian is like, and what he might be, but in Issue 3 we see not precisely disappointment but shock. The face he sees is one he’s seen before, and that is something he did not expect. But make no mistake Anshargal has not put the Amphibian on a pedestal the way his crew has him. The Amphibian simply has something he needs, and like everything else that will benefit his crew, he will stop at nothing to get it.

GP: There’s also this interesting dynamic of God, country, corps, in the way Anshargal’s world is set up. Anshargal is sees the amphibian as a god, there’s Ashargal’s troops, there’s also the Deviler as a country.

SO: Certainly. Anshargal is making his own new world for people to live in, but he still has a certain set of rules and training. He maybe even doesn’t want to, but then Undertow is all about how sometimes people are fighting against themselves. We are often our own worst enemy, and so maybe Anshargal is falling into the same steps his enemies did. The question may end up being can he defeat himself, in order to do right by his crew? Anshargal is torn between the same things anyone starting a new society is. Our founding fathers created a document that could be questioned and changed. But Anshargal’s crew expects him to be infallible, so he can’t make mistakes, he can’t publicly question himself. He has to be perfect, and no one can do that, so he is falling back on his own life to pull from when it comes to social engineering.

GP: We know Anshargal sees the amphibian as a missing key, and the next step for the Atlantean’s growth. What does he actually want to do with it? How will he actually adapt the amphibian’s ability and use it himself?

SO: The Amphibian is an Atlantean that can breath air or water. He has a labyrinth organ that processes oxygen without using his gills or water as a medium. Anshargal hopes to use his DNA to make his crew able to do the same. He wants to make life on land sustainable. With gene therapy he could alter the DNA of future generations and make it so Atlantis could never touch them. They could live completely on land, and forever be free of the dangers of Atlantis. It’s not a quick fix, you can’t inject DNA into your arm and change your own physical body. He cannot help his generation to breath on land, this is the life they’ve chosen. But he CAN fight for the future. And doesn’t every generation wish greater success for the next?

GP: I can understand how Atlantis sees Anshargal as a threat, whys is it now that Atlantis has decided to take care of him? I’ve gotten the sense he’s been an annoyance for some time.

SO: You’re right! Atlantis has been trying to kill Anshargal for a long time though. As we see int he flashbacks, they’re constantly sending spies into his organization. They’re constantly trying to find him, catch him during a counterstrike, and maybe get lucky. This situation is like Zero Dark Thirty. Notice how that movie covers a decade of them trying to catch Bin Laden. They never stop trying even though they keep failing, and they get more and more desperate as things continue to fail. This latest incursion is their best chance yet, and maybe they’ll get lucky, sending their version of Black Ops after him.

GP: Overall, while I mentioned earlier there was a theme of higher power, there’s also this undercurrent about power corrupting. Atlantis is clearly corrupt, but Anshargal seems to be getting corrupted by his obsession too.

SO: Atlantis is undoubtedly corrupt, as the line between government and corporate interest and media power has completely disappeared. This is one party, selling you your life on every level while you don’t even realize that just by not questioning it, you’re buying it. Anshargal though I don’t think is corrupted by his obsession, per se. It’s more tragic than that. He’s desperate to succeed, he’s desperate to go to lengths to serve his people and be what they want him to be, even at the expense of himself. Think of The Operative in Serenity, “we’re building a better world,” he says, but “[he’s] not going to live there.” Of course he’s a villain, and Anshargal is on the other side of the coin, the other side of the fence. But he is so crushed by his iconic nature that he has perhaps gone too far in the name of the greater good. He’s flawed, sometimes delving into the gray area so that everyone else can stay snow white.

GP: So the series seems to be going strong, can we expect a second volume?

SO: I hope so! Artyom and I have put so much into the first six issues of Undertow and we have a lot more to say about these characters and their lives. We would love to return and tell a second arc, talk more about the true heart of the series: Ukinnu Alal, Redum Anshargal, and Atlantis. We need to delve further into the truth of idealism versus reality, with another, even greater dose of Science Fiction insanity.


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