Matchett’s Musings: Working at Grayhaven Part V
Working At GrayHaven Part 5: You Are Not Alone In The Abyss
I spent 5 years with GrayHaven comics as a writer, editor and friend to the company. In many ways I still consider myself the last of those things and I have many friends who still work with them. I bother Andrew Goletz far too much on Facebook, speak to great friends and ridiculously talented people on a daily basis that I either met through GrayHaven or grew closer with through the company. I also met people that I genuinely detest through my time there but I am very fortunate and grateful I met more good people than bad.
I’m not completely faultless, however. I made mistakes and not just one or two. I made a number of errors in judgment in ways I dealt with certain situations and dealing with people. No one is perfect, least of all me. However, the past is gone and it’s not coming back. I hope in some ways the stories that I’ve told so far have been somewhat interesting as to my creative process but this article will be a little more educational.
This article will highlight two volumes that highlighted the best and worst of my GrayHaven experiences. Ultimately I am very proud to have my name on both projects, they are both results of many hours of work that I think paid off in terms of output. However, delivering a high quality book sadly isn’t the only mark of how successful a book is.
Before I get to them though, I realized there was one volume I forgot about last week. So to prove that I am by no means perfect, I’m going to do a brief summary of the one GrayHaven story I did, that I honestly completely forgot about.
More than ever, let me stress that the following events I describe here are from my perspective only. Other versions of events can and probably will vary. I will do my best however to give you all the events as they happened. Anyone who would like to offer a different perspective that either is similar to my own or differs from mine is invited to do so.
GrayHaven Presents: Sci-fi/Horror
So yes, this is the one I forgot about, although I’m not sure exactly why, as it is certainly memorable for several reasons. The volume was a part of GrayHaven’s ‘Limitless’ line which was now looking to produce large, graphic novel sized anthologies which would even see some colour stories. By and large, due to cost, GrayHaven rarely had done colour before (with one notable exception we’ll get to shortly) but these volumes had a healthy amount of stories with colour in them.
The first of these was ‘Sci-Fi/Horror’ which was taking GrayHaven’s most successful genre and adding in a large science fiction twist on top. The volume featured a wonderful wraparound cover by longtime GrayHaven artist, Leo Gonzales who should be working on a big three book like 5 minutes ago.
When I was pitching my story, I had already delivered a few horror themed tales during my time with GrayHaven. I wanted something this time that would really stand out though, something that would be genuinely creepy. The first thing that hit me was an image of a man in a restaurant where all the people with him would be the same person. It was an unsettling picture in my mind but I wondered how I could make it practical. I literally built a whole story around this one image in my mind which is how the story that eventually became ‘REMWorld’ came to be.
Essentially REMWorld took place at a point in the future that (for an affordable price) you could customize your dreams. Wanting to get away from it all for reasons that were outlined in the story, the main character chose this new fad to have a wonderful dreaming experience. The trouble was that the tech started to malfunction and slowly but surely, the man’s subconscious turned the dream into a nightmare. When I came up with the concept, I thought it was something really different that I could cram as much creepy stuff as I could think of in. I could also use the advantage of the entire thing being a dream to give myself a certain freedom to do what I wanted and jump scene to scene with little or no explanation. After all, what is a dream if nothing but random?
It was several months later when it was already printed when I realized the story bore some similarities to the movie Vanilla Sky, which in turn was adapted from the Spanish film ‘Open Your Eyes’. I think however that REMWorld took the concept to a much darker place overall and I decided to never really let on about the similarity and hope no one noticed (until now, oops).
I thought the story turned out very well and it was really well illustrated by an artist named James Emmett. I can’t honestly comment what it was like to work with James because I didn’t have any communication with him. I wrote the story, I corrected the story after edits and poof it appeared. Almost like magic. I will say he did a great job and I hope to work with him more directly at some point soon!
The story also featured the debut of ‘Darma’, the virtual guide through REMWorld who took on a sinister personality as the story progressed. I loved Darma, I really did and if I have my way, she’ll be back.
So that brings us to the main points of this article. Sorry for the slight detour but now we’re about to dive in head first. Abandon hope all thee who enter the Abyss.
Tales From The Abyss Vol. 1-4 (and maybe 5?)
It all seemed to be perfect, all the stars and the planets would align and all would be right with the world. Like I mentioned above, horror was GrayHaven’s strongest seller and people wanted colour stories from us and existing creators wanted a shot at telling bigger and better stories. When Andrew decided to start (at the time) the second spin off anthology to accompany the Gathering, a horror prestige anthology that would largely feature colour stories made the most sense. We would even let people tell one story over multiple stories and we even had a top tier creator to tell such a tale over the books initial five volumes.
We had all the boxes checked, a big story for a pro lined up and more ongoing multi-anthology stories green lit from Erica J. Heflin and Inverse Comics super guru Kevin LaPorte. It all seemed like it was going to go well.
Except it didn’t, it really didn’t. Since I had edited the second and third volume of the horror books, I was the natural choice to take charge on this project too. Since the workload was going to be nothing like none of us had ever attempted at the time before, I was joined in the editing chair by Erica J. Heflin.
Ultimately we produced four issues of the anthology that faced a multitude of delays, headaches and enough tales of woe to make anyone sit and wait for nurse to bring them their medication. The first two volumes in my view, quality wise, were among GrayHaven’s best and they both overtook my long standing favorite of Vol. 6 as the best material GrayHaven had produced. The third volume and fourth volumes were not quite as strong I felt but where of a really high quality I was very proud to be involved with. I even had a story in Vol. 3 of Abyss which I’ll get it in a moment.
There was only one problem (on top of all the other problems the book faced).
No one cared. We’d done everything right, we’d seen what people were buying, were requesting and had a pro on board and we gave it to them. Still, no one cared and the four volumes of Tales From The Abyss which were produced were amongst GrayHaven’s lowest sellers.
Then there were the problems involved in actually getting the books out. The book just seemed eternally cursed with problems that included but were not exclusive to the following
- Writers being difficult
- Artists being difficult
- Writers not delivering scripts
- Artists not delivering art
- Writers refusing to change their stories for edits
- Writers wanting their stories removed because they didn’t like another writer/artist in the same volume as them
- Colourists being hard to come by, especially since GrayHaven were not paying talent at the time
- Finding replacements stories/artists/colourists with sometimes not much time between the story needing to be done and the volume being printed
Of course, at the time anyone asked how things were going with the books, Erica and myself would smile and nod. I wonder if we had perhaps pooled our efforts we put into trying to get this book chugging along that we would have accomplished something a lot easier, like say solving world hunger or curing the cold.
Honestly, it was just hellish trying to get the books out. It seemed that the fruits of our labors were worth it because, like I said the volumes were great (by and large) and looked STUNNING but again…no one bought them. Sales were so poor that when GrayHaven revamped their website earlier this year, the volumes were pulled from sale and Vol. 5 (to my knowledge) was never made available for purchase.
I often equate my time editing to like being in a room full of spinning plates. My job was simple, don’t let the plates fall and I think I did that. I think I was pretty good at that but the Abyss plates were like cutlery that fights back or cuts off your hands if you touch it.
I’m a big believer in cause and effect. I think in retrospect that working on Abyss caused a domino effect that ultimately led to me leaving GrayHaven late last year. Perhaps everything would have worked out the same but if Abyss had been handled by another editor, things may have been different.
I do hope that if you find a copy, you do buy it because the stories (by and large) are rather brilliant. The talent that DID deliver and I COULD depend on, delivered in spades and did some of their best work. It also featured the first pairing between me and my future Sparks collaborator, Kell Smith for a story that was in the 3rd Abyss issue.
I’ve complimented Kell a bunch but I can’t stress how much of a fan of her work I was by this point. It was Erica’s idea to pair us together for the horror tale I wrote which was ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ and showed we had some creative charisma that would secure her place as part of team Sparks.
‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’, was something I conceived based on my absolute hatred of flying. It’s not just not liking to fly (which I don’t) but it’s the overall experience of it. Like I said in one of my earlier articles (available right here on Graphic Policy!!!!) I don’t like waiting. Like at all. To me, flying is just a constant state of waiting.
You wait to check in, you wait to get through security, you wait to get on the plane, you wait for the plane to take off, you wait on the plane, you wait to get off the plane, you wait for your luggage. I just despise it and being a tall fellow, I get ridiculously uncomfortable when I fly. I have often fantasized about being on my own on a plane but then kind of thought that would be rather horrible which is where ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ comes in.
I wrote a story featuring a man who woke up alone on board an empty plane. I just poured all my hate of flying into the story and I think it was pretty creepy (even though Andrew and Erica kept calling it ‘Glenn’s Langoleers’, le sigh). I think Kell did a wonderful job drawing the story and I think it stood proud among the usual high quality stories that Abyss delivered.
It was a shame that not many people got to read them. It seems strange now that after all that effort to put out the books that they’re gone now. All that time spent keeping those plates spinning I’ll never get back. Still, I delivered what I thought were great comics and that was my job so I can hold my head high at least in that regards.
Sometimes though, there comes for a need for a comic where sales aren’t the primary force behind making them. Sometimes you’re compelled to make a comic for something higher, something that sadly can emanate from tragedy.
You Are Not Alone Vol. 1 and 2
On December 14th 2012, America went through a great tragedy that is known as the ‘Sandy Hook elementary school shootings’. I won’t the events of what occurred on that day because they are well known and you can find every opinion possible on the tragedy readily available online.
How it affected GrayHaven was down to how the tragedy affected our publisher, Andrew Goletz. He felt compelled to do something in response to this heinous act and that is exactly where the concept of ‘You Are Not Alone’ came from.
The volume was going to be the biggest thing that the company had ever attempted. It was going to be an anti-bullying oversized graphic novel that would help those that looked to help people that were treated differently because of their appearance, their race, their sexuality and other things that people can pray upon. It also looked to help those that were dealing with issues that would perhaps lead to self harm or anorexia and who to call and/or contact in relation to these issues.
It was an extremely worthy project and one I was eager to be a part of. I was heavily bullied when I was younger and wanted to help with the project that would hopefully help others get through similar experiences. I wasn’t part of the initial ‘You Are Not Alone’ (or YANA as it became known) conceptual team but I was eager to offer any help I could.
Sadly, I was told that I wasn’t needed. I’m sure Andrew wouldn’t mind me quoting him directly as he told me ‘I don’t think you’re a good enough editor’.
I was furious and I think that one sentence was another big contributor to me eventually leaving GrayHaven. In retrospect I think I should have been more understanding and realizing that this was the most important thing that GrayHaven had ever done and it was much bigger than any of us. I like to count Andrew as one of my closest friends and although we have had many, many arguments over the years about a number of subjects I don’t think he has ever done anything to intentionally hurt me. Still at the time, I was angry and I just decided to pitch a story to the book in the hope that I could help someone with what I was allowed to contribute to the volume.
I wrote ‘00110001 (binary core for the number ‘one’) is the loneliest number’ which dealt with the very modern and real problem of Cyber Bullying. I was tempted to tell a more personal take based on my own bullying experiences but I thought that there would be a lot of those types of stories. I wanted to tackle an important issue that I didn’t think anyone else would think of (I was right). I think I did a good job on the story and I asked previous collaborator, Paula Cob to do the art chores. She did an exceptional job and I think the story hit all the beats that I intended it to. In truth, You Are Not Alone is filled with many personal and harrowing tales that in truth nearly moved me to tears the first time I read it. I think it truly lived up to its purpose and I was proud that my story was a small part of it.
There was a long gestation period for the project and eventually Andrew asked me to come on board and help get it out. I can’t honestly remember what the problems were or how much work I did to help get the book out, all I remember is how I reacted. I reacted like an utter ass who continually threw Andrew’s words about my ability as an editor back at him.
I did the job I was asked to do because I always did but looking back I should have just swallowed my pride and helped the volume (which again, was much bigger than me) get out but I decided to be difficult while doing it.
Eventually the book came out, it was a big hit and we heard a lot of stories from people who it helped. We also got the most media coverage than I believe any other GrayHaven anthology and a follow up was soon seen as a necessity.
In a true 120, instead of not having me involved at all, Andrew gave me the responsibility of producing ‘You Are Not Alone 2’ all by myself. Although it wasn’t quite as large as the first volume, the second one was due to be larger than any editor had delivered by themselves.
I was intimidated by this and knowing how important the project was, I wondered if I was capable. Then, one of my fellow editors told me point blank that they didn’t think I could do it. Like a bull that had seen a red flag, I swore that I would prove them wrong and worked my ass off to make sure the volume would be ready to go by September 2014.
Along with the other books I was looking after, I can honestly say that You Are Not Alone 2 took most of my attention. I asked for help from as many artists and letterers that I could think of but never once did I contact another editor. The gauntlet had been thrown down and I was going to deliver this volume over the finish line and I was going to do it by myself.
Which I did and I think I delivered a beautiful volume that featured great stories by a multitude of creators. I was told to have it ready for production for September and I did that, only needing lettering done on a handful of stories but I had done everything else. I had read through the hundreds of submissions, I had edited the stories, I had assigned artists, I had dealt with even more submissions once they reopened and I got as many stories lettered as I could without any budget.
In truth, I think the effort to put out You Are Not Alone 2 burned me out. Other things happened after that, things were said about me and to me that along with everything else that had occured, caused me to leave GrayHaven. It broke my heart because I had invested so much effort, time and finances into the company and I was now feeling I was no longer welcome.
Whether that was true or not, I’m not sure. There are people I am still very close to there and there are those that after I left, decided to set fire to my virtual chair at the table and pretend I was never there at all.
On a final note, I want to talk about the story I wrote myself for YANA 2 which was called ‘Someone for Anyone’ that was wonderfully illustrated by Dan Laurer. The story featured an old bear in a toy shop that was never paid attention to and was picked on by the more popular toys. Finally, one day a little girl comes into the shop and takes him home. I had long since been criticized by other editors for the amount of words I would use in a story and decided to tell this one without any words or captions.
I think the story met that challenge and Dan did a great job telling the story without one word of dialogue. I had met Dan through chance when looking for an artist for a sc-fi ‘Alterna’ anthology where he delivered in spades on a story that I’m hoping sees the light of day very soon.
Dan has worked in the industry for years and is a great talent and I hope I am lucky enough to work with him again someday.
Still, I think it’s very ironic to look back at that bear, now my time at GrayHaven has come to an end. It was a good toy but it still sat on a shelf, ridiculed by the other toys on a daily basis which caused it to feel undervalued and alone.
One day, the door opened and someone appreciated the bear for what it was. I hope that one day, the door will open and someone will do the same for me.
Many thanks to Andrew Goletz for letting me do these articles and letting me say what I wished. I’m sure I’ll be annoying him about something before you finish this.
Next: The rise of Indie Comics
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