10 Questions with Jeremy Holt and Bonus Mini-review of Death Tax

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Death Tax coverTwitter is such a wonderful tool.  The ease of communication has allowed this site to network with so many writers and artists we might of never heard of otherwise.  And it seems like more often than not, we come across great comics like the still work in progress Death Tax by Jeremy Holt and Renzo Podesta.  I recently got to read the first 40 pages of the graphic novel which focuses on a few individuals and an economic collapse.

The timely subject of a crumbling economy is not only timely but sets up a great mood for the story.  I’ve described it as “post apocalyptic” without road warriors on motor bikes and the depressing part.  There’s an air and feel of desperation that pervades it, but at no point is it a downer.  What I think is even a better sign, after that first 40 pages, I wanted to read more.  The mystery and meat of the story was just getting shown, and I clamored for more.

It’ll be a while before we get the completed works in our hands, but this is one comic I’m looking forward to.  Here’s my score for the uncompleted work (keep in mind the score might shift on review of the entire graphic novel).

Story: 9 Art: 8.5 Overall: 9

While he was hard at work completing Death Tax, Jeremy Holt has been kind enough to take some time to answer our latest round of ten questions which you can read after the break.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea behind Death Tax come from?

Jeremy Holt: The idea behind DT stemmed from a rather dire situation. I was living in the West Village of Manhattan a few years ago, in an apartment that I couldn’t afford. It was a Tuesday and I had run out of food; my bank account was negative, and I wasn’t getting paid until Friday. I was working very late hours (3pm-Midnight) so my sleep schedule was weird. I was up washing dishes in my 100 square foot basement apartment at 3am when the idea of a financial crisis commentating on consumerism/self-body image/and cannibalism struck me. I didn’t sleep for two nights as I just wrote the rough story that would later become the comic you’re reading today.

GP: The story really focuses on a down economy/depression and what seems like a doomsday type cult. I’m guessing real world events influenced you?

JH: Without a doubt. “Write what you know” is a bit of a cliche amongst writers, but for a good reason. I’ve been fascinated with the financial crisis of ’08 which always felt made for an interpretive setting for a good action/adventure. It did take a considerable amount of research to construct a compelling enough scenario that was believable enough for the reader. I’m a huge fan of stories that are deeply rooted in real-life current events, but manage to entertain and inform us at the same time.  Brian Wood’s DMZ, Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Solider, Jason Aaron’s Scalped, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man have all been major influences.

GP: From what I’ve read so far, it has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, but not depressing at all. Did you find it difficult to balance that?

JH: Great question. This was an aspect that I struggled with early on in the scripting process. It wasn’t until after I received a very insightful critique from an assistant editor at IDW, who picked my blind submission during NYCC last year, that greatly helped refine this for me. Originally the main character was perceived to be too mopey, not relatable, and one-dimensional. I ended up revising his captions by shifting focus from himself, and directing it towards the guilt of his brother’s death. Loss is a universal concept, so by revealing his true feelings towards the loss of his brother, it enhanced the complexity of his character. Writing tip: Always let someone else proof read your work. I’ve revised this script almost a dozen times in the past three years, and after a while, it’s easy to feel completely disconnected from it all. Having someone else read it can help refocus your efforts.

GP: Unease and insecurity seem to be two themes and feelings that permeate the comic. Is this coming from a personal place or are you just using the world around you?

JH:  I’d say it’s more of the world around me. From all the various aspects of life that have influenced my writing, I’ve always found the stories most accessible are the ones that seamlessly have the reader ask, “what would I do in that situation?” The most effective way to achieve this is to create relatable
and grounded characters that the reader aligns with. That’s been the driving force behind this story.

GP: As an independent comic book writer what challenges have you faced trying to get the book to print?

JH:  As a writer trying to break in, it’s a very different struggle than it is for an artist. Art can and is meant to grab your attention. Words on a page? Not so much. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received priceless advice from a former senior editor at Vertigo, an assistant editor at IDW, a senior editor at Dark Horse, and half a dozen established artists/writers that I’ve gotten to know over the years.  To find a talented artist is the first obstacle, and to get them to complete an entire issue is the next. I managed to do both which displayed two important qualities as an up and coming writer: 1. I have assembled a team that works efficiently and meets deadlines, and 2.) I know how to put a book together from beginning to end. Within the creator-owned world of comic book creation, this is all that matters to prospective editors.

GP: Any advice you can give aspiring comic book writers and artists?

JH:  Don’t stop for anything. Especially for writers. It’s perhaps the only profession that requires absolutely zero experience. You just have to do it and not stop. Writing gets better with each attempt, so don’t be discouraged if your first draft of whatever is poorly received. Mine certainly was! But my best skill as a writer is not the ability to write, but the ability to listen. It’s because of this, I took all of the constructive criticism from some very important people in the industry, and used them as tools to better my craft. I’d highly recommend taking a break from the comfortable junk food that is superhero comics, and be brave enough to write something new. The creator-owned movement is what I believe will keep comic books around for decades to come. Max Brooks once told me, “The only way not to fail is to write for yourself.” Also, learn to network and become active within your local comic book community. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing comic books is being part of a tight knit and supportive community. The more people you know, the better it’ll be for your work in the long run.

GP: I’ve only got to read the first 40 pages, but there’s a clear decision to humanize the characters by delving into their personal lives a bit, in this type of story, do you feel the plot/world is more important, the characters, or is it a balance?

JH: It’s all one complex juggling game. I’m very much a character driven writer, but without a progressing plot, the “players” are dead in the water. My choice to delve into the personal lives of these characters is meant to reinforce the reality around them. We as individuals are made up of a culmination of personal choices. It’s these choices that ultimately define who we were, are, and want to be. The plot/world I’ve created serves as an undercurrent of motivation which dynamically alters each character’s personal life. Structuring all of this all happens during the outlining phase which is my favorite part when starting a script. I like to think of it as piecing together a puzzle of my own design. The pacing, emotional beats, and dramatic action, all must fit within an agreeable sequence in order to pack a substantial punch into the cliffhanger at the end. With the inherent space limitation with the comic book format, it’s crucial to know exactly how to interconnect various vignettes of a cast of characters that help illustrate an evolving world by the end of the issue/story arc.

GP: There’s absolutely a political undertone to the story, do you consider yourself a political person?  Do you vote? Read political news?

JH: Ironically, I would not consider myself politically savvy. I do vote, absolutely, but my interest in political news is fairly small. It’s just white noise to me really. I basically let Jon Stewart keep me informed with current news events.

GP: I saw you tweeted that you signed your first publishing/distribution contract. First congrats, but second, is it for this book?

JH:  Thank you! It is for this book. A small press publisher, Alterna Comics has green lit the book for publication.

GP: Any news as to when we can expect the full graphic novel to hit shelves and who’s publishing it?

JH: DT is still in the middle of production with an estimated completion date of January 2012. I suspect solicitation for the book will be a couple months after that.

I want to thank you for this opportunity to discuss my work, and am very happy that you’ve enjoyed what
you’ve read thus far.