Category Archives: Interviews

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C2E2 2018: Writer Tini Howard Talks Assassinistas, Euthanauts, and More

Tini Howard is one of comics’ most exciting new writers. She has worked on licensed properties like Rick and Morty: Pocket Like You Stole It and a series of Barbie graphic novels and has breathed new life into classic Image characters like Cassie Hack in Hack/Slash Resurrection and Magdalena in Magdalena Reformation. However, the main subject of this interview was Howard’s creator owned work for IDW’s Black Crown imprint where legendary editor Shelly Bond has kept the spirit of 1990s Vertigo alive in 2018.

Graphic Policy: So, you currently have two series at Black Crown. You’re sort of their flagship writer. Why has that imprint been such a good place for your recent projects?

Tini Howard: I’m a big fan of Shelly Bond’s work. I’m a huge fan of her sensibilities and taste. I’m a huge fan of Philip Bond. I was at a place in my career where I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. Skeptics was my first creator owned work, and it was a gauntlet making that book so I learned a lot about making comics. I was like, “Man, when I do my next creator owned series, I wish someone would call me up on the phone that has experience and say, ‘I want to help you make this book.'”

Shelly Bond was that person. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that she found my work independently of me begging her to like it. She reached out to me, and Black Crown is great. They have lot of support from IDW because the company very much trusts in Shelly’s sensibilities. So, I get to work with two of the all time greats in comics [with Bond] and Gilbert Hernandez as well.

One of the Black Crown sayings is that “We have an old guard and a new guard” so with Euthanauts, I’m part of the old guard so I get to bring someone new in with Nick [Robles].

GP: I love the philosophy that they have. Another thing I like about Black Crown is its intersection between music and comics. What have you been listening to while writing Assassinistas and Euthanauts?

TH: The Assassinistas playlist is a lot of grrrl punk. A lot of X-Ray Spex, a lot of The Go-Go’s, all the way up to Paramore and Natalia Kills. It’s angry girl music throughout the ages is the background of Assassinistas along with some little things. Like I’ve got some Pansy Division on there because Taylor’s super into queer punk.

Then, Euthanauts is Bowie, Bjork, Massive Attack. It’s dream pop, it’s weird, and death-y. Some VNV Nation going back to my Wax Trax! Goth kid days. It’s also got some weird meditative music on there, and then I’ve got “Rocket Man” by Elton John on there. That’s a song I connect a lot to Euthanauts. 

GP: When you’re writing Assassinistas, how do you find the balance and pacing between these super stylized action sequences (Especially the flashbacks.) and the tender mom/son, boyfriend/boyfriend kind of scenes?

TH: For me, everyone is multitudes. Even when I’m “on” at a con, I’m still internally feeling the things I have to deal with. As a writer, you’re like “A character is doing one thing”, but no one is ever really just doing one thing. We’re all doing one thing on the outside and feeling other things on the inside. For me, it’s remembering these people have experienced pain and are trying their best to connect while also doing really stressful things.

As anyone who’s ever done a comic convention, anyone who’s ever planned a wedding, anyone’s who done a move, stress heightens all your familial tensions. Moving is one of the most stressful things for a family. I think they only say that because most families aren’t assassins. Maybe doing an assassin job is one of the most stressful things. It’s also interesting because despite these women being contract killers, what they’re there to do isn’t murder. It’s not a bloody book full of people dying. That’s their past. This is their future.

GP: My personal favorite part of Assassinistas is this budding romance between Dominic and Taylor.  What do you have in store for them going into the second half of the miniseries?

TH: The thing I love about Dominic and Taylor is that Taylor, in a lot of ways, is like the audience character because Taylor was not raised in this world. He’s kind of curiously looking at it the same way that we as the audience are. So, Taylor’s really important to me. He’s got the heart of someone who was raised in a supportive, normal environment, and that’s part of why Dominic loves him. It’s like “Look at you. Look at how normal we can be.”

Dominic craves normalcy, and to a lot of people, dating a boy with a pink mohawk is not normal, but it is his normal. It’s who he is. He loves this kid, and when Dominic looks at Taylor, he sees a white picket fence and them having 2.5 kids together. He gets a business degree, and Taylor has his awesome gender studies degree. He gets a job teaching and is a professor like his parents. When Dominic sees Taylor, he sees normalcy and sees something that’s not like his life.

Having a person that is the normal oasis from crazy family life being brought into his crazy family life, and having that person think it’s really cool is a nightmare for Dominic.

GP: The fights in Assassinistas are really, I guess, funky is the best way to describe them. What is your process like plotting out the fights with Gilbert Hernandez?

TH: The Hernandez Bros can draw anything because they’re great, but they’re not exactly known for these superhero style action scenes. Frankly, I don’t love writing long fight scenes without a purpose. I’m not the person who gets off on writing 18 pages of gory punches. For me, a fight is a reason to do something else. It’s a way to get a character somewhere. It’s a way to start a conversation. I love the way that Beto and Rob Davis on colors are doing the art for these pages. They almost remind me of old Batman ’66 fights. Bam, pow, yeah! We’re there for the kinetic moment, and what it draws.

Beto really understands it. Neither of us are people that love violence and want to make a hyperviolent book. Beto is in Vegas. That’s a place that has seen a lot of trauma. We’ve had moments where we’ve talked about it before. We have these people walking around with automatic weapons and have had that talk. Neither of us are fans of violence for violence’s sake. That’s a big touchpoint.

GP: Moving on to Euthanauts, which I’m really excited for. So, I grew up a Protestant with Heaven, Hell, the afterlife being a big part of my upbringing. What is your vision of the afterlife in Euthanauts, and how does that connect to your own beliefs about death and the afterlife?

TH: I’ve always been scared of space. I’ve also always been scared of death. I think it’s for the same reason. There’s nothing out there. It’s formless and unfriendly. I grew up watching the same VHS copy of Apollo 13 a thousand times, and it terrified me every time because you have duct tape and Saran wrap, you’re in space, and you have to get home.

So, I kind of started of contextualizing it and asking, “What if there’s an afterlife, and it’s not heaven, it’s not hell, it’s not even populated.” When most of us die, we just die. You die, and your spirit goes to that unwelcoming cold place and just fizzes out. Back before we knew what happened to you in space, we used to think people would explode in space or something. We didn’t know what happened to you out there.

That’s what I’m working with in Euthanauts. That’s a frontier. These people are pioneers. But death only goes one way for most of us. It gets into that Egyptian, or in some ways that Christian idea, of living life for the afterlife. Living your whole life just to prepare for the afterlife. For a Euthanaut, that’s what it takes. It takes a massive amount of preparation.

The three main characters we have all view the afterlife in different ways. [There’s] Natalia, our main character, who works in a funeral home. The way I describe her, if you’re a Six Feet Under fan, is she’s a Fisher. She’s very normal. She doesn’t talk about her feelings. She works at a funeral home. She’s a recovering Goth girl. She’s got a lot of anxiety about death and the afterlife, but she buries it deep down and has a very American view of the funeral. When death happens, we shunt it out of our vision and look at someone who’s made up and put them in a box in the ground.

Then, we have Mercy, who is kind of her foil and the lead Euthanaut. Mercy is very scientific. It’s true that in the beginning of the 20th century, you can look at college grants to study the afterlife. Because to this day, we don’t have understanding of if something is there. Mercy is a researcher of that. She’s very much [into] the 21 grams of the soul, moment of death, and trying to understand consciousness and maintain that consciousness into the beyond. That’s really what the core is about.

Then, we have Indi, or Indigo Hanover, who is Nick’s favorite, and was supposed to be a tertiary character, but then became our third protagonist because we loved him so much. Indi is a radical fairy. He was raised by two lesbian witches. He grew up in that whole world. The book opens on him preparing his mother for her funeral, which is a beautiful, joyous event. He believes in reincarnation and the cycle of life and death. Indi doesn’t like the idea of going somewhere else and breaking that cycle. To him, that’s a little upsetting. He kind of gets conscripted into the Euthanauts.

GP: How did you end up working with Nick Robles on Euthanauts, and how does his vision of the afterlife mesh with yours?

TH: Nick is an artist that everyone in comics has their eyes on right now. He did Alien Bounty Hunter at Vault and is so talented. His first Black Crown work was that he drew a piece of Kid Lobotomy fan art, and Tess Fowler saw it was good that she gave up a cover so he could do a cover. (They already had a variant cover.) So, Nick’s fan art of the titular character from Kid Lobotomy became the cover for issue 6. From that, he was just on our radar hardcore. Shelly suggested him, and I said, “Absolutely”. I’m just a big fan of Nick’s work.

Nick loves pretty boys and loves drawing them. A lot of reason for Indi as a character is because of Nick’s instant affection for him. Nick draws him so beautifully and all the characters so beautifully, which is great too because we have some characters, like Mercy, who are not conventionally beautiful. Mercy is sick. Her appearance is that sh’es clearly dying in public. We first see her because she looks so unnerving and scary. But everything is beautifully rendered for Nick even the scary stuff.

GP: Yeah, I saw the first preview, and there were all these blood and guts and viscera going around.

TH: He’s very talented with that. He’s coloring the first issue too. Every time I post art, everyone is like, “Who is the colorist?” And I’m like, “It’s Nick.” He’s a legend in the making.

GP: I actually have a quick Rick and Morty question. How does the fandom missing the whole point of the show with the whole Szechuan sauce debacle affect your writing and working on it as a licensed property?

TH: I was very lucky to engage with the show before I was aware of the fandom at all. I have a really personal connection with the show. It touched me in a lot of ways. I grew up reading hard sci-fi so a lot of tropes they use are ones I’ve thought about. Humor aside, Rick and Morty is some of the best sci-fi around because it takes those tropes and makes them personal. That was good sci-fi does.

Rick and Morty does that while at the same time being gut bustingly hilarious. I always try and engage and touch what I like about the show rather than trying to please any part of the fanbase. I’ve been really pleased with how people respond.

GP: I have one last question, and it has to do with death. What does the Tarot card, Death, mean to you?

TH: That is such a good question, but I can’t really tell you why yet… Death is about change, death is a transference of energy. That is something I say in Euthanauts again and again. Death is not just a transference energy, it’s a state change. So, to the Euthanauts, death is the equivalent of boiling water and making steam. The only difference is that they haven’t figured out how to put the steam back in the water.

With death, it’s one way. And the whole thing about the Euthanauts is let’s say you die, and there’s something you want to write home about, how do you write home from the afterlife. And that’s where our tethers, Natalia, Mercy, and Indi, come up, and that’s their importance in the story.

 

Assassinistas #4 is currently out, and you can buy it here. Rick and Morty: Pocket Like You Stole It is available here. Euthanauts #1 is set to be released in July 2018

Follow Tini Howard on Twitter.

 

Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin Discuss Normandy Gold

When her younger sister is found at the center of a brutal murder investigation, tough-as-nails Sheriff Normandy Gold is forced to dive headfirst into the seedy world of 1970s prostitution and soon discovers a twisted conspiracy leading right to the White House.

Sex, violence and corruption collide in Normandy Gold, a gritty vigilante thriller from best-selling crime authors Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, with artwork by Steve Scott.

I got a chance to ask Megan and Alison about the series which is a must for fans of gritty 70s revenge films and crime fiction.

Graphic Policy: Where did the concept of Normandy Gold come from?

Megan Abbott: Alison and I were on a train back from a crime fiction convention in Baltimore and we talked about wanting to write something based on our mutual love of 70s movies. And, most of all, we’ve always loved those cool, stoic, damaged male characters played by Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, etc. We were both frustrated with how few of those characters are women. And so came Normandy.

Alison Gaylin:  It was really one of those situations where we were both on the exact same page. Talking about those movies so quickly led to the idea, and then the execution of that idea. It was exhilarating.

GP: You’ve both written numerous books, how has that differed from writing comics? Was there something particular about this story that you wanted it to be a comic instead of a prose novel?

MA: Writing novels and writing comics are pretty different, but in some sense we approach them the same way, with a commitment to character and story. That said, the excitement and freedom here was to draw on our love of movies, and to take advantage of the visual storytelling. We kept thinking about how we would tell Normandy’s story visually, as if a lost 70s movie was unspooling before our eyes.

AG: Exactly! The limitations of a graphic novel script were actually very freeing in this case. Whereas in a novel, you describe scenes using all five senses, a graphic novel script requires you to convey everything through visuals. It was the perfect medium, we thought, for such a cinematic idea.

GP: The story takes place in Washington, DC in the 1970s. Why that era and why that city?

MA: We both really love 1970s movies set in and around DC—All the President’s Men, The Exorcist—and in a specific paranoid vibe that you see in other 70s movies like The Parallax View, Klute. We wanted to enter that world.

AG: Yes, the story is both cynical and paranoid, with a real sense of corruption lurking in every corner. What better place to set that mood than Watergate-era DC?

GP: When working on a project such as this with a complicated conspiracy and crime, how do you plan it out? Are there specific tools you use to keep things straight?

MA: Mostly we relied on each other! We had a general plan, but things definitely changed. We helped each other keep track as we went—and then sometimes we’d get lost in our own conspiracy!

AG: It was amazing how well we were able to communicate via email. But when we got tripped up on an idea, we’d call each other and hash things out over the phone. The final series of scenes, we wrote together at Megan’s apartment over a few glasses of wine.

GP: The comic has a lot of personality in its location and look. How closely did you work with the artist to make sure the comic looked like DC and the fashion seemed appropriate for the time?

MA: We’d always inserted a lot of visual references—screenshots, etc.—in the script as we went, be it actors or specific scenes. They were a way of cataloging our inspiration. That said, Steve Scott just got it from the very beginning. And Charles Ardai at Hard Case understood it from the start.

AG: We were so pleased with the way the artwork turned out. From the beginning of the project, we envisioned it as having the same gritty look as a 70s movie. It was very important to us that it didn’t look jokey or cartoonish. And Steve’s panels were more than we even hoped for.

GP: What type of research did you do when putting together this series?

MA: Well, I do remember doing a lot of weaponry research!

AG: Yes! I think it was you, Megan, who found Normandy’s knife. Also, looking up photos from the era really helped in terms of setting the mood. We found a very memorable one of Plato’s Retreat that was pretty much recreated in one of the panels.

GP: Was there any influences on the series? It feels like there’s really good timing as it involves prostitution in DC and politicians, something that’s in the news today.

MA: Other than the movies we’ve already mentioned, we definitely thought a lot about the big scandals and crimes from the 70s (foremost, Watergate), though when we began this, several years ago now, we couldn’t have anticipated how prescient those elements would become…

AG: It’s shocking – and a little frightening — how relevant the story is now.

GP: One thing that really stood out is the flaws in everything from the lead to the smallest character. There’s the sexism, the trauma on display, even a random character displays anti-Semitism. When creating all of these characters, do you write out those flaws or does it come during the writing process?

MA: It comes naturally from the way we approach character, I think—don’t you, Alison? We wanted to be true to the era, so you do see its mores laid bare. But we also both came at character from a place that acknowledges none of us is all good or all bad. We all have our demons.

AG: Yes, we both feel that flaws are what make a character both interesting and real – and they seem to come out quite naturally during the writing process. I think if we had written out those flaws in advance, they might feel forced. The anti-Semitic comment you mention, which involves a Martha Mitchell-like character, is a good example. It seemed a natural thing for her to say, given the world she grew up in and lives in and the way she looks at things.

GP: You both seem to be drawn to crime/noir and thrillers. What do you enjoy about those genres?

MA: For me, they’re a way of exploring big issues—gender, power, trauma, desire, resilience—and the crime becomes the engine to power the story through those other realms.

AG: I agree! I’d add that I’ve always loved to write about the things that scare me most, and in crime fiction, particularly noir, those things are often found within oneself.

GP: What else do you have coming out soon? Any more comics in your futures?

MA: As for comics, I for one would love to collaborate with Alison again! My next novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes out in July. It’s about two female scientists who share a very troubling secret from their past and then find themselves caught in a ruthless competition. They share a secret and, well, bad stuff happens. I’m also working on TV projects including adapting my novel Dare Me as a network series.

AG: I’d love to collaborate with Megan too! My newest novel If I Die Tonight, is currently out from William Morrow. It involves a carjacking/hit and run in a small Hudson Valley Town – and the lives it destroys when a teenage outcast becomes the primary suspect. I’m also working on another standalone crime novel, due out from William Morrow next year.

 

Dan Jurgens and Paul Levitz Discuss the Enduring Legacy of Superman

Before Awesome Con, held in Washington DC March 30th-April 1st, the Library of Congress held a discussion with two comic industry legends, Dan Jurgens and Paul Levitz to discuss Superman who turns 80 years old this year. He debuted in Action Comics #1 which was released in May 1938 and a cover date of June 1938.

Levitz has held numerous roles within the comic industry including writer, editor, and executive and was the President of DC Comics from 2002-2009 and worked for the company for over 35 years in various roles.

Dan Jurgens is both an artist and writer who has taken on Superman numerous times, including the famous death, and wraps up his current run with the character in this week’s momentous Action Comics #1000 passing the torch to the next generation of creators in a way.

Before their panel discussion, I got a chance to sit down with the two of them to talk about their fondest memories of the character and what makes Superman so super to survive 80 years.

Graphic Policy: We’re here celebrating the 80th birthday of Superman. What’s your earliest memory of Superman?

Dan Jurgens: I always had that consciousness of Superman. My earliest solid memory was walking into a drug store, which at that point just had your general magazine stand, which had comics on the bottom wrack and buying at that time Superman #189 for 12 cents. That was my first comic book I ever bought. So that was my first solid memory of Superman. I knew who he was but that was my first tangible experience.

Paul Levitz: It’s amazing how you remember the physicality of buying comics.

DJ: Oh yeah.

PL: I think we all did in out generation. I think I probably experienced the George Reeves television show before the physical comics. The first time I had my own Superman comic was Action Comics #300 which my babysitter gave me to shut me up when I was five years old. It had a subscription ad, a dollar for a year of Action Comics. So I conned my parents into sending for a subscription and I had that subscription for a couple of years after that.

GP: Both of you have worked on this iconic character. How does it feel to have worked on a globally recognized character that means so much to so many people?

DJ: I think we’re reminded often at how iconic Superman is. The reality is as a writer or artist when you work on it, it’s a pretty solitary experience. It’s always somewhat alarming to see how you can do something that goes from the privacy of your office or studio and your privacy of your drawing board to become a national or even an international story. And that’s only because Superman is so iconic. And we get reminded of that quite often.

PL: You feel like you’re being made a custodian of something that’s precious to you and precious to other people. There’s a lot of characters you can writer where it’s a character. It’s a story. You can screw up their life some interesting fashion. You can change them in some fashion. Someone out there will care. But, they’re mostly going to care in a good way because they’re going to be curious, going to be interested, going to be excited by what you do. When you’re working with something like Superman that has survived so long, you know you don’t want to be the one to screw it up. You know what it meant to you and you want to hand it on to whatever is going to follow you hopefully in better shape than you got it and hopefully more successful than you got it.

GP: Is there extra pressure working with this particular character?

PL: Yes.

DJ: Yes.

PL: Yes.

DJ: Yes.

DJ: I know when I started on Superman it was as an artist and that was just fine and I could handle that. When the call came in from the editor at the time, a guy named Mike Carlin, he said “would you like to write a couple of issues?” I said “sure, no problem.” I hung up the phone and said “ok, now what have I stepped in?” I’ve never had that with any other character but there’s something about Superman that’s special in that way.

PL: I mean it’s the level of responsibility. Years ago we did a series of tv commercials with an animated Superman and a live Jerry Seinfeld for American Express. I remember sitting there and arguing with Jerry about a line for one of them that I wasn’t willing to approve. I’m arguing about Jerry Seinfeld about something. Jerry’s basically saying, “I know what’s funny.” And I have to say, “it’s my job to know if Superman would say that or not.” And, I was pulling on my collar the whole time. He loved Superman and was trying to be faithful but it just didn’t sound exactly Superman. You just feel that weight on you that you have to get it right.

GP: For each of you, who is the character to you? If you had to boiled him down to his essence, what would that be?

PL: He’s a guy who could have chosen anything but chose to do the right thing always. We’re all flawed, it’s part of being human. We do stupid stuff. We do stupid stuff in our professional lives. We do stupid stuff in our personal lives. We do things we look back on and think can I get a do-over on that day? And, here’s someone who’s really had the ability to make every choice in a way that could have been self-serving and very consistently chosen to do the right thing. That’s a very critical part of the essence of the character.

DJ: I agree with everything Paul said of course. I’ve written many lines in the comics where people speculate on what Superman’s life is like. They say, “he lives on a secret island with an incredible mansion” or something like that or all sorts of crazy ideas because it would not occur to most people that Superman puts on a pair of glasses, has a job, and goes to work and lives among them. I tried to actually to address a little bit of this in Action #1000. There’s a famous Superman story called “For a Man Who Has Everything.” The title of my story is “From the City That Has Everything” and it’s basically Metropolis saying thank you to Superman. How do you thank Superman? There’s nothing you can really do?

PL: *laughter*

DJ: What are you going to do? Buy him a car? Give him a vacation? I mean it really is that. In part of that story they talk about “we don’t know what sacrifices you’ve made on our behalf, but we know it must be substantial.” So, I think that’s something we try to portray. Even in Metropolis they understand that there’s this sense of moral integrity that is there and the selflessness that even though he doesn’t come out and say it people can understand.

GP: When the character started he was so different than he is today. When he began he was fighting slumlords and crooked politicians and today he’s fighting Brainiac and Lex Luthor. He’s changed over the 80 years a lot. What is it about the character that has made him enduring to last 80 years and survive such change?

PL: I start with the triangle. I think the Clark/Lois/Superman relationship was really the soul of the character that gave it birth. We all have our Clark Kent side. Whether we’re male or female. We have moments where we wish someone would see us, see the real us, what’s great about us, at least decent about us. Instead of focusing in on what’s not so great about us, focusing in on our insecurities. Jerry (Siegel) really captured that brilliantly. That’s been a very powerful engine that has made that character endure. Yes, that relationship has changed over the years, but that central triangle is really a pivotal piece of it.

DJ: I think there’s a couple of things. I think one reason he’s been so accepted is that he doesn’t wear a mask. It’s interesting. If we go back to the time, so many characters wore a mask. You look at Batman who in some ways is the polar opposite, and a lot of people recognize that, but here’s Superman and he’s so open. He’s so open because he doesn’t wear a mask backs up that idea of inspiration and hope and moral integrity. Whenever you see the Justice League assemble there’s two characters that aren’t masked and that’s Superman and Wonder Woman. There’s something about that, I think, is some sort of visual clue that’s laid out there that I’m there for you. I think he radiates that. When written well that comes through and that always endures.

GP: For both of you, is there one Superman moment that really sticks out to you? Maybe it’s something you’ve worked on or just something in general about the character?

PL: It’s experiential. If I had to pick a single moment it’s standing on the street watching Christopher Reeve pluck the cat burglar off the side of the building when I was a young man and they were shooting in New York. We were allowed to go and gawk at what was going on. I made no useful contribution to the first Superman movie. I was way too junior. But, to just be part of that was such an astounding experience.

DJ: I think when I was kid I read a story in reprint form, and Paul you can help me out here with the issue number, but it was called “Superman’s Return to Krypton.”

PL: Mhmm. I don’t remember the issue number.

DJ: At that time it was called a “three part novel from what I recall.” That meant the issue wasn’t broken up into a bunch of different stories. But that was the first time I saw, I remember being exposed to the idea that Superman had some sort of loss in his life. It’s basically the story about Superman getting back to Krypton and seeing the life he could have had and what his parents were like. When I read that I remembered thinking, and I was a little bit older because I read it in reprint form, but thinking that there is loss there. That’s kind of knowing someone personally. We see everyone on the outside and think their lives are great and then we get to know them and see that’s not the case. I saw that with Superman and that’s always stuck with me.

GP: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.

C2E2: Interview with Nightwing Writer Benjamin Percy

Benjamin Percy is a multitalented writer, who excels in a variety of mediums. He has written four novels, a book about creative writing called Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, was a contributing editor for Esquire and taught at the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Along with screenplays and short stories, Percy has written quite a few comic books since 2014, including DC Rebirth’s Green Arrow and Teen Titans. His next project is a run on Nightwing, beginning with issue 44, and I had the opportunity to chat with him about Dick Grayson’s role in the DC Universe and Bludhaven, collaborating with artist Chris Mooneyham, and of course, Dick’s most famous asset…

Graphic Policy: I first saw your name in print in a review of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (2012) for Esquire. I was wondering how your work as a critic and arts writer influenced your work as a writer of superhero comics.

Benjamin Percy: I write novels. I write for magazines. I write comics. I write screenplays. I write essays. And let’s not forget the erotica too, which I’m celebrated for. What I love about writing in different mediums is I’m always challenging myself aesthetically. So, I’m writing comics and learning things from the medium that make me a better novelist. I’m serving as a book critic or a film critic and as a result, I’m looking more sharply at my own work and holding myself to the same standards as these artists I’m putting on the chopping block.

In every single case as I leap from genre to genre, I’m not only keeping myself excited at the keyboard because it’s always fresh. I’m also hopefully becoming a better storyteller.

GP: One thing I enjoyed about your Green Arrow run was that you returned the character to his Bronze Age roots as a “social justice warrior”. What social issues do you plan to explore in Nightwing?

BP: I was part of the Rebirth era of Green Arrow and that meant looking to his legacy and recognizing that in the O’Neil/Adams era, he was a hotheaded liberal. That’s something that had fallen away from the series. I brought that back, and I channeled the zeitgeist. I was making direct reference to the headlines on the page. There were storylines that resembled what was going on at Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline. There were stories that bore some resemblance to what was going on with Black Lives Matter.

This is Nightwing. I’m not taking the same approach. But I am thinking about what makes us anxious right now. I think that’s something that comics do very well. They channel cultural unease. They give you a cracked mirror version of reality. There’s a lot of things we should fear right now. Cybercrime is chief among them.

If you look at what’s happened with Cambridge Analytica. If you looked at what happened with the election results and the possibility of Russian meddling. If you think about how many times a day you turn your face towards a screen, maybe you think about how every time you tap a mouse or swipe your hand across a tablet or click a link that’s feeding into an algorithm that’s following you and profiling you. If you think about how every time your computer makes that carpenter ant sound, or every time your phone glitches, you’re wondering, “Has it already begun? Is a Trojan worming its way through the guts of my hard drive?”

I want to realize those fears on the page. I think it’s especially apt for Nightwing to be taking on these threats.

GP: Why is he the perfect fit?

BP: For a few different reasons. One, I wouldn’t say that Nightwing is a Luddite, but unlike Batman and Batgirl, he doesn’t surround himself with a lot of gadgets. He’s got his batons, and he’s got his acrobatics. I love an antagonist that really challenges a hero. Nightwing is facing a villain he can’t punch.

Nightwing is also interestingly situated in this storyline because he’s incredibly vital to the whole DCU and adaptable. He knows everyone. He’s served as a follower, and he’s served as a leader. He has connections to the Teen Titans and the Titans and the Justice League and the Bat-group. If you think about vulnerable data as being one of the greatest weapons of this time, he is a vault of vulnerable data. If he’s compromised, everyone’s compromised.

So, he’s facing the the dark web, but he’s at the center of his own web, which makes him the perfect person to take on this challenge and the most worrisome person to fail.

GP: Yeah, he’s definitely the heart of the DC Universe. So, one thing I liked about Tim Seeley and Sam Humphries’ runs on Nightwing were that they brought Bludhaven back with its own personality and history. How do you plan to build off this in your own run?

BP: I want to give props to Tim and Sam who did a kick ass job. I also love what Tom [King] was doing with Spyral in his Grayson run. Right now, Bill Gates is funneling 80 million dollars into a plot of land in Arizona to create a smart city. Right now, off the shore of China, they’re building islands. They’re expanding their country and building these “smart islands”.

I’m taking this real world situation and putting it in Bludhaven, a city that has always been in need of rehab. So, a tech mogul has moved there and is trying to rehabilitate the place. Something else might be going on beneath the surface of his intentions. Not only are buildings being demolished and neighborhoods rebuilt within a 5G network, but every address in Bludhaven has a package arrive on their doorstep. Inside that package is a device known as the “Phantasm”. This Phantasm device is a VR unit that bears some resemblance to Alexa, and Alexa, as you know, is always listening.

GP: She’s so scary. I’m never getting one.

BP: I’m taking Bludhaven, and how it’s been established as a city of ruins, a city of scandal, a city that has seen better times. I’m applying to it the same sort of thing you’re seeing on the East Coast with gentrification, except this is sort of tech-laced gentrification.

GP: So, one thing I love about reading Nightwing comics is that he has this exuberant, acrobatic type of fighting style. How do you choreograph his fights differently in the scripting process versus Damian Wayne’s in Teen Titans or Oliver Queen in Green Arrow?

BP: There’s a lot less yelling since Damian isn’t involved. Far fewer insults being hurled. I’m thinking carefully about every action setpiece and trying to create staging that takes advantage of his particular skill set. If you look at the first scene in Nightwing #44, there’s a subway sequence that involves his batons and also involves, I won’t exactly say what happens yet, a kind of high wire act.

Right away, in a really dramatic fashion, I’m trying to say, “This is Nightwing” with an exclamation mark.

GP: Kind of like a Bond cold open. Speaking of James Bond, which you wrote a little bit for Dynamite, are you bringing any kind of spy elements to Nightwing?

BP: We’re starting off in Bludhaven, but the story is not staying there. Arc after arc, it’s getting bigger and bigger.

GP: That’s what I like to hear. Chris Mooneyham (Five Ghosts) is the artist on your first storyline. Why was he the perfect choice for Nightwing?

BP: He’s the second coming of David Mazzucchelli. If you look at the first few pages [of Nightwing #44], which have been released, you will see parallels in Batman Year One and Daredevil Born Again in what we’re doing. It’s shadow soaked, neo noir, intricately detailed, and he takes advantage of every centimeter of the panel. There’s a beautiful grit at work, classic staging, and a more mature sensibility.

GP: I have one last question. Dick Grayson is perceived both in the DC Universe and by fans as a sex symbol. How will you portray that in your run on Nightwing?

BP: I make a crack about it right away. On page 2, panel 6, if you look at the top right corner of the subway station, there’s some graffiti that says “Butthaven”. I’m winking right there at how Dick has been portrayed. There will be romance to come, and I’ll also say that Batgirl plays an essential role in this story. He needs someone who is tech savvy. I’ve always loved their relationship.

Nightwing #44 will be released on May 2, 2018.

Follow Benjamin Percy on Twitter.

C2E2 2018: Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz talk Archival Quality, the new graphic novel from Oni Press

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At C2E2, I had the pleasure of chatting with writer Ivy Noelle Weir (Princeless) and artist Steenz (Elements) about some of themes and characters in their debut graphic novel, Archival Qualitywhich was recently released by Oni Press.

The book follows the life, work, and relationships of Cel, the new archivist at the macabre Logan Museum, which is a medical archive that used to be a sanatorium and is run by the little too young to be a curator Abayomi and a mysterious board of directors. It’s part ghost story, part exploration of mental health issue and full of empathy, spookiness, and humor.

Graphic Policy: I’m going to start out with a big picture question. What are some of the strengths of the comics medium in telling a story about mental health like Archival Quality?

Ivy Noelle Weir: I’m just a writer, a lowly writer, and I don’t draw. Part of the strength of this project was the collaboration between Steenz and I because I was able to tell a story that I wanted to, and maybe prose would have fallen short in some of the emotional factors.

Because Steenz is so good at rendering human expression, I feel like [her art] gave [the story] more weight. There are moments where I’m able to have no dialogue happen in my script that Steenz is able to evoke a really strong reaction by the way she draws the characters. In prose, you get bogged down by description, and you’re prescribing more for people. You can’t just show something. Film works too for discussing this kind of thing.

Steenz: When you think about mental health in general, I feel like if you’re reading [about] it, it doesn’t humanize it as much versus if you actually see it and how it is on people’s faces. Putting a face to something you’re unfamiliar with makes it a lot easier to understand. Being able to draw that out for somebody is a little better than reading. Not that prose sucks… That’s not what I’m saying [laughs]

GP: One thing that I loved about Archival Quality were that the characters, not the ArchivalInterior.jpgGothic mystery story were at the forefront. Why did you guys decide to focus on the characters instead of twist-y plot things?

INW: I’ve always written like that. And I think it’s because people are interesting. When I was in high school, I was in this short fiction writing workshop. This shows the lasting effect a teacher can have on your life, and a teacher said to me, “You write empathy and pathos really well. It’s your strength. You should play  to that.”

And I’m like, “Alright.” I’m gonna do that for the rest of my life, I guess. I thought that was the way to tell it. And when you’re writing about something as personal as mental health, it does not look the same on everyone. Everyone’s experience of anxiety and depression is different. Having the story focus on a very three dimensional character makes it more personal, and not like you’re prescribing one way of thinking or being to everyone.

S: Also, I feel like characterization is as much of a setting as plot is. You can have something that’s super plot heavy, and the characters can be super flat, but it could also still resound with you as much. So, I think they have equal weight. You can play with what works best for the project.

GP: Steenz, I love your art style. How do you balance the adorableness of your art with telling a story with weighty topics like lobotomies and mental health? Especially the flashbacks.

S: I don’t think about it. I don’t let any kind of genre stop me from drawing the way I want to draw. When I’m reading Ivy’s stuff, I let color play into the mood because I can draw things as bright or exciting or super action-y like it was a sports anime or something.

But I can also do something that’s a little more somber or morose. It just has to do with color because the style of characters I draw never changes at all.

ArchivalArtGP: How did you develop that style? It’s very distinct.

S: When I talk to people about style development, I always tell them that it’s not something that you do intentionally. Your muscle memory will create something for you. If you’re looking at a lot of Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) and only Chris Sanders, your work is going to start to look like his. But it won’t look like his because you’re not him, it’s going to look like a “you” version of Chris Sanders.

So, the more kinds of styles that you look into and practice and see what you’re interested in, the more it’s going to combine and create this amalgamation of style mixed in with your own personal attachment to it. That will create your style for you.

GP: Ivy, I know you have a background as a librarian. Did any personal experiences you had as a librarian have an influence on Archival Quality at all? Any crazy stories?

INW:  I was a public librarian for the majority of my career so not as many because the scariest thing that happened to me was somebody returning a book soaked in Axe body spray. Or white ladies driving up in a Porsche demanding that I give back their 25 cent late fee. People saying, “My taxes pay your salary” and all that.

I did my undergrad studies in art history, and then I focused on the ethics of medical photography for my undergrad thesis. During that time, I did an internship at a medical history archive like the one in our book. That was very different from what I portrayed in the book. The book version was a pure fantasy, and I think that if an actual archivist read it that they might be like, “Hmm…”

Whereas the one I worked at was very concerned with ethics and proper procedure. I wish I had a cool, creepy story about when I worked in the medical archive, but it was like having an office job. An office job where I cataloged mummified arms.

GP: So, no handling physical body parts?

INW: I handled some physical stuff. I handled a few things that were bound in human skin. It was mostly documents, but weird documents that were like, “To cure this thing, inject turpentine into the bowels at a full moon.” And I thought about what people were going to think about modern medicine in 100 years.

GP: That’s crazy. You could get hundreds of stories from that. So, Abayomi, when I started reading the book was a straight-laced managerial type, and I assumed he might become the bad guy, but he ended up be my most favorite character in the whole book. How did you build his arc and especially his chemistry with Cel?

INW: I love manga. Aba is every cold manga boyfriend, who turns out to be soft. He comes directly from me growing up and reading shojo manga. I feel like that is characterization you see more in that than in Western comics.

S: That’s basically what my inspiration for [Abayomi] was when I drew him because Ivy didn’t give me any descriptions for what anyone looked like. Basically, here is the character and their characterization, here is the story arc they go through, and here is a little of their work background. That’s it.

Other than that, I got to build what he looked like and his body movements and how he walked and talked. I think what made him so special is that, in manga, there’s always that character, who you’re not sure what they’re about until later on. I think there’s little bits and pieces of [Cel and Abayomi’s] interactions where you can kind of see him melting a little bit. I like that progression.

GP: Like the toaster strudels.

INW: That’s one of my favorite manga tropes. They’re tough, but they have one soft thing they’re into. It was a surprise to us that we spent all this time building Aba as a character, and then, The Good Place came out, and Chidi was him.

S: He’s literally the character we created.

GP: One small-ish thing I liked about Archival Quality was how organic Cel and [her UghKylelong term boyfriend] Kyle’s breakup was. How did you keep this slow burn breakup grounded in this wild world of skulls and ghosts?

INW: We did a book club Skype where, for the first time, I talked  about how I wrote this. The book club we Skyped into were split and said, “50% of us like Kyle, 50% of us hate Kyle.” They asked if he was a good person.

S: It was a tough question.

INW: Yeah, are any of us good people? I think what I said was “Do you like him?” So, I went through a similar breakup in my 20s. I was with my college boyfriend. We had been together for a really long time, and it was that kind of thing where we were growing apart. I think that happens more to people than big, bombastic “I’m gonna throw all your clothes out the window. It’s over! I’m never talking to you again” breakups.

You just start to drift, and the next thing you know, you [realize] you’re on different continents. This is not working. I thought it was a grounding point to Cel’s arc to have that be the first indicator that she’s more aware of herself and her needs. Because prior to the story and the catalyst of her going through this experience, she might not have had the strength to actually break up with him and just have them be together and be unhappy until something bad happened.

S: Another part of it is when it comes to drawing a breakup. When I draw, I use myself as a reference so I basically read and experienced their breakup very personally because I was sitting in that car and feeling like Cel and didn’t know what to do. I was also feeling like Kyle and don’t what to do either.

After drawing that scene, I texted Ivy and said, “I’m kind of emotionally drained right now. I feel like I just went through a breakup.” I had to go through it three times: penciling it, inking it, and coloring it. I kind of put myself into it so that people can also see it and feel it that way.

GP: I really connected to it. This is kind of a publisher question. Why was Oni Press the best company to publish this story?

INW: We originally intended for [Archival Quality] to be a webcomic. I had written this story as a novella, and I wanted to revisit it because it had been years since I’d worked on it. So, I approached Steenz and said, “Do you wanna make a webcomic?”

We thought a webcomic was really low risk because either no one will read it, and we can practice making comics together. Or people will read it, but we’ll have control over the timeline. So, we started banking pages, and Oni had their open submissions period. We were like, “Why not? What’s the worse that can happen?”

S: Because if they didn’t take it, we’d put it online, which is what we intended on doing. We had never intended on pitching this book as something to be printed at all. Until Oni said, “We’re doing submissions”, and we sent it.

INW: It’s funny because we didn’t intend for it to be an OGN. We were picturing it almost as an ongoing comic. Actually, when we came to Oni, and they suggested it as an OGN, I was very thankful for it because it was my first ever comic script. Having that A-to-B, do the thing, whole story helped because if it had been open ended with me never having done comics before, I think it would have been a weaker story.

GP: Have you guys gotten any feedback from librarians or archivists? What have they said about the story?

S: All the time. I’m always surprised about how many librarians and archivists there are out there. I knew there were a lot because we were both librarians, and we’d go to ALA and see how fucking crowded it is. There are plenty of librarians.

We’re kind of like a quiet species so when we’re doing signings, and someone’s like, “Hey, I’m a librarian”. I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Hey, what’s up?” It’s always cool to know there’s librarians and archivists in places that you don’t expect. I did a signing a few weeks ago somewhere around St. Louis, and someone was saying that they work in the botanical gardens as a librarian and an archivist.

I’m thankful to be able to reach out to librarians and archivists and talk about the different stuff that they do. It is a pretty wide job description.

INW: In my day job, I work in publicity for a book publisher and am always like “Don’t read the reviews.” But, if you go on Goodreads, it’s a 50/50 splits with archivists, who are either like “The archivist stuff  is dead on” or “No one here has studied archiving.”

S: Are we right? Are we wrong? Which is it?

INW: I have my Master’s degree in it so I hope that I’m at least a little bit right.

GP: Yeah, use that MLS. I have one last question. What would each of your ideal libraries look like if you had unlimited money and unlimited time?

INW: This is my public library, and they’re sufficiently state funded because this is a fantasy. There’s less books and more community space. I’m the worst for that. I’m like that dermatologist, “Librarians hate him”. When I was a librarian, I was always going to ALA and saying, “Knock out your bookshelves. Put in programming space. Let teens be loud in the library.”

I think that having enough space for youth and young families is the ideal.

S: I’ve been to so many different kinds of libraries, and I think the ones that impacted me the most were the ones that let young readers do what they want to when it came to what they read.

I find that some libraries have a hard separation between the kids’ section and everything else. I like the libraries that are a little more seamless so that if a kid was kind of interested in going over to the mystery books, they absolutely can. They don’t have to stay in one place. So, I guess my ideal would be a layout plan that’s welcoming to all types of people and isn’t too rigid in space.

INW: Yeah, ethically, you’re not supposed to divided libraries spatially because it has what the ALA calls a “chilling effect” on circulation. There’s my graduate thesis. I summarized it for you in one second.

GP: No boundaries. I like it.

Find Ivy Noelle Weir on Twitter.
Find Steenz on Twitter.
Buy Archival Quality here. 

Awesome Con 2018: Bats, Knights, and Art with Sean Murphy

Sean Gordon Murphy is one of the most popular comic artists working today having created visually stunning worlds in Joe the Barbarian, The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus, Tokyo Ghost, Chrononauts, and more. Murphy is taking on writing duties (which he also did for Punk Rock Jesus) giving a new take on Batman and the Joker in his eight issue limited series Batman: White Knight.

We got a chance to talk to him at Awesome Con which took place in Washington, DC at the end of March.

Graphic Policy: I work for Graphic Policy. We do a combination of politics and comics, and I believe that is what peaked your interest when we crossed paths back in August.

Sean Murphy: Yes.

Graphic Policy: Today Sean I don’t want to talk about elections or SJW’s though. I’d like to talk to you about what we couldn’t talk about then: Batman: White Knight.

SM: Yeah.

GP: What you’ve done is flip the entire dynamic on its head. You have decided to make the Jack Napier aka The Joker, the savior of Gotham. Where did that come to you?

SM: Well as a kid I was always a big fan of the animated series (though not really a giant Joker fan) but always thought there was so much more potential to him if he could just get rid of his craziness. I felt he could be a much more effective adversary to Batman, and maybe even be smart enough to expunge his record and possibly get Gotham to forgive him. When I first pitched this, DC said “there’s no way Gotham would elect the Joker for public office.” After the 2016 election, they said “Okay, maybe they would.”

GP: Oh absolutely.

SM: I don’t mean for it to sound like I’m taking a political stand or anything. That is just sort of how it happened.

GP: No, no not at all. I think it is a brilliant take. I like the idea. One thing that you introduced is, and I’m not sure if it was intentional or not to highlight the Joker, but Batman is more of a dick than usual. (laughs)

SM: (laughs) Well Alfred died, and he’s got this Jason Todd thing that happened. I mean he’s only human. So we got to give him a break.

GP: Yeah. I also love the twist you’ve added with Mr. Freeze knowing the Waynes and tying in to that mythos. Obviously this story has a beginning and an end. I mean we all know the Joker will be back true to form at some point. Do you think though had things been truly different and given the chance, that he could have been the White Knight of Gotham?

SM: Well in a way, I think he already is. He really woke everyone up. Yes he started out as a villain with nefarious intentions and he did have an agenda, but throughout the book I think even Jack Napier is surprised at how much more of a good guy he became. He’s not perfect –  in issue 7 he’s forced to admit he’s been rigging the game all along. He did manage to give Gotham a reality check that they were never going to have. At least certainly not with Batman. He’s fixed a lot and put people to work and rebuilt things. As much as Gordon and Batman may hate to admit it, he really did fix a lot of things.

GP: Right, kind of like Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight.

SM: Yeah, yeah exactly.

GP: Tell me, is it so much more freeing to not be bogged down by the continuity of monthly events?

SM: Yes. What was good as with this project there wasn’t a lot of oversight. Not much from my editors at DC. I essentially gave them five finished issues and they were like “Okay, this isn’t what we were expecting – and some of it would probably not have been approved, but it is not in continuity, so we’re just going to publish it and see what happens.” That freedom- while also respecting the character and understanding what readers will tolerate- is kind of what made it a hit I think.

GP: Lots of people refer to your artwork as a very European style. Certainly it is different, what are your influences?

SM: Oh yeah. In broad strokes, the style is generally European. With a little bit of Manga thrown in.

GP: I actually see a lot of Akira.

SM: Akira sure, European artists and actually some South American artists. It really is a mix of a lot of things I like.

GP:  Well it shows. Thank you Sean for your time and everything. Much success to you at the Con.

SM: You’re welcome. Take care.

Robert Kirkman Talks Oblivion Song and How He’s a Comic Book Kind of Guy

A decade ago 300,000 citizens of Philadelphia were suddenly lost in Oblivion. The government made every attempt to recover them but after many years they gave up. Nathan Cole… won’t. He makes daily trips, risking his life to try and rescue those lost, alone and afraid, living in the apocalyptic hellscape of Oblivion. But maybe… Nathan is looking for something else? Why can’t he resist the siren call of the Oblivion Song?

Oblivion Song is the new comic series from writer Robert Kirkman, artist Lorenzo De Felici, colorist Annalisa Leoni, and letterer Rus Wooton being published by Skybound Entertainment and Image Comics.

The series follows Nathan Cole as he goes into another dimension, the Oblivion, looking for survivors, a sci-fi story that’s unique in many ways, not just on the page but also the lead up to its release on March 7, 2018.

Kirkman and De Felici have worked on the comic for over a year allowing them to polish the story which included adding pages to earlier issues after reading later ones. The lesson is not to rush to market, it can help make a much better comic. With a sibling Kirkman felt the

The core concept of the series is the guilt the main character feels and his search for his brother. Unlike Kirkman’s Walking Dead and Invincible, this series is about two brothers as opposed to father and son. There’s unique aspects to the relationship and there’s dynamics there that don’t exist elsewhere due to that relationship. It’s an area that yields to a lot of story potential.

Nathan is an aspirational character who see injustice and wants to do something about it. In an interview roundtable, Kirkman said it was fun to write a character who’s willing to make sacrifices. A character, that can be put on a pedestal and be admired.

De Felici has been in comics for a long time, and Kirkman was directed towards him by Cory Walker about three years ago. The style is unique that lends itself well to a monster heavy series. He has a background in science that is being brought to the series. The series needs someone who can do a scene in a cafe over coffee and an entire alien ecosystem. He’s able to juggle both worlds.

We were able to participate in a roundtable discussion of which you can find our questions below.

Graphic Policy: With your success in other media, has it changed your approach to this at all?

Robert Kirkman: It’s something I try to ignore but I can’t but think the kind of things that get translated into other media have universal appeal. The kind of comics that seem to have universal appeal. The kind of comics I like to do have universal appeal.

It’s not like I sit around with artists thinking about things that can easily be translated into a cool movie or television show.

It’s a goal of coming up with something that entertains yourself. That entertains a lot of people. It could lend itself to another medium. As long as you strive for something as interesting as possible or as cool as possible it somehow is tailor made for this kind of thing.

This doesn’t seem like it’d lend itself to another medium, but we’ll see. It’s always in the back of mind just because I’ve had success in the past. But, I’m a comic book writer first and foremost.

When I sit down to come up with an idea for a comic book it’s really about if it’s something that I’d enjoy doing? Does it excite me? Will it make a cool comic book? Any thought about another medium is secondary.

I’m a comics first kind of guy.

GP: The first issue strikes me as something that reflects a lot on the years after the United States and Vietnam? There’s the wall, not leaving someone behind.

RK: That’s all there. That’s a perfect example of a time in our history of these themes. That’s something I drew from because it’s all there. It’s a perfect example of how people reacted so it’d be foolish for me to not acknowledge that.

GP: The first issue touches on PTSD with a few characters. How much is that explored in the series?

RK: That’s a big part of the first year of the book. What they would have gone through. How they would have survived. And that I think is the aspect that most resembles The Walking Dead. This is the type of Walking Dead story where someone could have lived in a zombie apocalypse for ten years and then somehow could have gone home. I think that’s really exciting because it changes the story dynamic up from what I’ve been doing with The Walking Dead. It’s also a great minefield for story development. How does someone survive in another dimension? Scavenge for food? Fighting for survival? And then one day go through a portal and Starbucks is down the street and rent’s due. You have to get back to life. There’s a great bit of potential there.

That’s something we’ll be exploring with Duncan and newer characters that are being rescued that have to acclimate to life on Earth.

GP: You tackled a bunch of different genres and now sci-fi. How’s it feel to you as a writer to go in a whole new direction.

RK: I’ve done a lot of horror and there’s some horror aspects to this but to have new tools in the tool box and to be able to expand what you can do with your storyline is really rewarding. I think the thing that keeps me energized in comics, that gets me to want to write me, is the fact that you can do a wide range of things. I do have freedom to do whatever I want. To be able to bounce between genres and expand what I’m known for is a great opportunity. TO be able to dive into a whole new genre and tell all sorts of different stories is really excited for me. I’m happy to do it and hopefully I’ll be able to do it all kinds of times on all kinds of books going forward.

GP: There’s a memorial scene in the first issue that’s very interesting and there’s a poem on it. Is there any significance to the poem?

RK: Yeah, there’s significance behind everything. I’m not going to get into where that’s going. There’ll definitely be focus put on that in the future. You were meant to notice it.

GP: The series is heavy sci-fi, how much thought towards the tech of the world have you done?

RK: That’s crazy sci-fi fun. There’s not too much basis in reality there. We try to think of pseudo-science things that sound logical to a certain extent. We talk about molecule vibration and tuning into one dimension or another. As far as functionality of things, we wanted to play up the aspect that this is busted beaten up technology that’s been used for ten years. A belts malfunctioning in the first issue. We wanted it to feel like duct tape and ripping wires apart to get it to work. We wanted it to feel real world but taken for granted.

I’ve always loved George Lucas’ concept of “used future” that he did in THX and then Star Wars. That these are lived in and not being used for the first time. This is not clean in a way that some sci-fi things are clean.

We wanted everything to be used, dirty, and functional. You’ll see this is a guy who’s been doing this for ten years and lost his funding and trying to make it work somehow and often times it doesn’t work.

GP: So, you have one series that hasn’t dealt in the “why” of it. Will this one, will we find out the “why” as to all of it has happened.

RK: Yes, absolutely, we’ll find out. We’ll slowly pull back the layers as to what occurred and how it occurred as the series progresses. There’ll be various different stages along the way. We’ll get a piece here and a piece here. This will be a fun mystery as it comes together. This is not a story where I won’t be answering how it has happened. It will be revealed as the series goes on.

Talking Dead Reckoning, Naval Institute Press’ Graphic Novel Line Debuting in 2018

Dead Reckoning LogoNaval Institute Press is setting its sights on the comic industry with their new imprint Dead Reckoning. Announced in October 2017, the new line of comics and graphic novels will launch in the Fall 2018 with full-length original graphic novels and collections of classic comics with a special focus on military and naval history, military and naval biography, general history, and stories of the high seas.

I got to ask Assistant Acquisitions Editor/Graphic Novel Lead Gary Thompson what we can expect from this exciting new comic publisher.

Graphic Policy: Why did the Naval Institute Press decide to create a graphic novel imprint in Dead Reckoning?

Gary Thompson: For us, it just made sense. Comics and graphic novels are big business, and we think we can make a contribution to the field. Publishing graphic novels was something that I wanted and brought up in a discussion with the press director. He was game and we happened to have a pitch for a graphic novel that was sent to us years prior but withered on the vine because no one knew what to do with it. I contacted David Axe, who had submitted that original pitch, and we started talking. The idea at first was we would take on this project and try our hand at publishing a single graphic novel.

Once we opened that door, though, things began to snowball. There were a number of small factors that we discussed that helped point us in the direction of doing something larger, but seeing how it could benefit our mission and objectives really helped to drive the decision home.

GP: What was the process like coming to the decision? What did you all observe about the comics industry that you felt this was a direction to go in?

GT: Once we decided to commit to doing a single book, we started looking at publishing graphic novels on a broader scale. We discussed everything from the audience to the market to the method and questioned everything all along the way. Why publish only one book? Why would anyone carry a single book from an outlier publisher? Haven’t there been several publishers who came into the market unprepared and ignorant only to go belly-up after a book or two? What keeps us from the same fate? And so on. The more we questioned what came before and the state of the industry now, the more shape our concept started to take.

We looked at the sustained growth in the comics market and saw that there was an opportunity for mutual benefit. In general, more people are reading, and that’s a good sign. With that growing readership, there is also a broadening landscape of stories people want to read, which is also a good sign. To us, that looks like an opportunity. We work with a specific topic that happens to be underrepresented in comics when you compare it to other media. Several publishers do a military or war book here and there, which is great, but with our entrance into the market it provides a chance for us give a broad swath of good stories a logical home and, hopefully, provide an outlet for other stories who typically get no home at all.

GP: You mention having both fiction and non-fiction comics. Will you also have some focused on philosophy or strategy that aren’t narrative focused like your prose?

GT: It depends. There’s some room out there for books that explore concepts like those in a sequential way, but the marketability of the topic is key. I think it’s important that we be open to possibilities that present the right combination of topic and execution when it comes around. Off the top of my head, I don’t see a book like that happening anytime soon. But if there’s someone out there who could make something interesting, informative, and marketable? That would be a hell of a feat and I would love to see it.

GP: Where are you in the process of production? You mention an initial 5 titles then expanding to 10-12 the next year. Do you have the initial five titles already?

GT: They are all pretty much finished and have moved on to the next stages of production. We are all paying a lot of attention to this initial transition from editorial to production so we can establish and solidify a smooth process. I’m also working through the initial 2019 releases.

GP: Is it only going to be graphic novels or will there be ongoing “floppy” comics too? Will these be single volumes or multi-volume stories?

GT: I love my monthly comics, but we have no plans to enter that arena. I want our books to have a beginning, middle, and end, and I think that’s where the readership is going, too. For now, everything we have in development is single volume, but we are open to the idea of multi-volume stories.

Since we are just getting on our feet we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and end up biting off more than we can chew. Any multi-volume series would have to be limited to two or three volumes at most.

GP: What will be the process of choosing the comics to produce? Is it open submission? Will you seek out talent?

GT: It’s a bit of everything. We have books in development where I started with an idea and reached out to people to make it happen, others are books I have solicited after talking to creators at conventions, and for the time being we have completely open submissions as well.

We only just announced the imprint in early October, but this is something I have been working on for years. Once we decided to make an imprint, I immediately I started going to conventions with the sole purpose of introducing myself, talking to people about the imprint, and soliciting pitches. That’s hard to do when no one has heard of you and there isn’t a catalog they can easily look at to reference the type of books you are interested in publishing. But the more conventions I have gone to the more the word got out, and I started getting calls from people that I had never met who got my information from someone else who I never met. The first time that happened was wild.

Going forward, I’ll keep pairing talent for certain titles and adaptations we want made, but we will have open submissions and I will encourage anyone who has an idea they think would work for us to submit.

IIlustration by Bill Reinhold from the upcoming graphic novel The Flying Column.

IIlustration by Bill Reinhold from the upcoming graphic novel The Flying Column.

GP: You have an impressive catalog of prose books, will you be adapting any of them into comics?

GT: Yes! That is something we are actively doing now. We hope to have several adaptations of our previously published books out in the future.

When we first started brainstorming what we wanted Dead Reckoning to be, adaptations were high on this list of desires. One of the biggest opportunities we have in launching this imprint is the possibility of introducing some of these stories to a new audience. Military history is rife with great stories that Hollywood has mined for decades, so why not comics? In fact, comics provides a better medium because Hollywood tends to only be interested in telling a simplified subset of military history. When you have to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into a single film, it better have the kind of appeal only a crowd-pleasing blockbuster can provide. Even though comics are expensive to make, the risk isn’t quite that high. We have more latitude to publish a different variety of stories – more honest and more nuanced.

GP: How do you see comics and its visual power adding to your goals of advancing the “professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues of critical global security?” What does the comic medium add that prose might not?

GT: The comics medium is exceptionally powerful for conveying information. While there is certainly nothing wrong with prose, when one of your stated goals as an institution is spreading understanding and encouraging thought, you must concern yourself with accessibility. Prose works are important and indispensable, but at some point general knowledge becomes specialized knowledge. What we typically publish is very specialized in goals and execution, but many of the building blocks of those books are not. They are the same kinds of history and personal stories that millions of people read about or discuss every day. What comics will allow us to do is to take some of those building blocks that are frequently relegated to the realm of specialized knowledge and bring them into that of general knowledge. Comics makes telling complicated and nuances stories easier and more comprehensible, and that speaks to the heart of the Institute’s mission.

GP: In your announcement you mentioned the long history of comics in telling stories about war and the military. Even Captain America’s debut was advocating for the US entry into World War II. Many of the early giants of the industry were in the military and served in some fashion. What are your thoughts on this “graphic journalism” in capturing military history? Do you all plan on spotlighting some of that history of comics through your publishing efforts or other ways?

GT: The Institute has always done what it can to honor veterans and the contributions they have made in and out of uniform. Dead Reckoning will be no different. We are still discussing some of the specifics on how we will do that, but the contributions of men and women who have both served our country and played an important role in comic’s past and present will never be far from our mind.

GP: The Government has created comics in the past for the use by the military. Any chance you might reproduce some of those for a new audience to see and study?

GT: I think there’s a possibility there that we will be keeping an eye on. Most of the comics the military has created have been very instructional, so finding a way to collect them in print isn’t a priority at the moment. But a graphical historical piece that looks at how the military has used comics — Grampaw Pettibone, Willie and Joe, maintenance manuals – could be interesting.

GP: Digital comics have risen over the years and there’s been some impressive ones taking on history like Operation Ajax which mixed real historical documents and video into the comic to teach. How does that fit into this new venture?

GT: More than anything I am most concerned with putting out quality books on paper. That isn’t to say we aren’t interested in the possibilities that new technologies bring to the table, but we have to stand before we can run.

We are at an interesting nexus in publishing right now where we can see so many possibilities, but knowing which ones to invest in will always be a challenge. You don’t have to look back very far to see people declaring the imminent death of print (for the Nth time) because of ebooks. Today it’s easy to see how that shook out. Ebooks are nice, but their sales aren’t going to change the industry. Instead, they are another arrow in the quiver to introduce new content to new audiences. And what we have now with digital comics and VR comics is another new horizon for the industry. Will they flourish? Will they fade? I can’t say. Both formats offer up some compelling opportunities, but I want to watch them for a little while. If they prove a valuable asset to the mission, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t be considered thoughtfully.

GP: With prose there’s a focus on getting facts down but in comics there’s the visual aspect added in. How meticulous will you be to make sure all of the visuals are accurate to reality for what you produce?

GT: That depends on the book. We certainly appreciate accuracy and readers of military history are passionate about it, but demanding a hard and fast line on accuracy is a good way to stifle creativity. So far, as we’ve been putting together our first books, I’ve gauged how accurate something should be on what kind of story it’s trying to tell. If your book is the graphic novel version of a seminal battle in military history, you bet accuracy is important. But if you are looking to tell a personal story about your internal conflicts while deployed I’m not going to be terribly concerned with how accurate your Humvees are.

GP: Do you know if the Navy currently uses comics to teach or train?

GT: Not to the best of my knowledge. I believe the Army still puts together instructional comics for things like taking care of your weapon or vehicle maintenance, but that might be it.

GP: What’s the most exciting thing you all are looking forward to with this new venture?

GT: There are so many it’s hard to say! I suppose, in a broad sense, I’m most excited about the possibilities that come with doing something new.

When talking to creators, I’ve told them that in our own small way, I hope we can play our part to make the American comic market look a bit more like the European and Japanese ones. Certainly, we have a niche, and while you will see it executed in more ways than the traditional war comic, it’s a relatively well-defined area where we can play, experiment, and try new things. So fiction, non-fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, espionage, traditional comics creators, independent creators, unpublished talents, and pretty much everything between. I want Dead Reckoning to represent all facets of the comics world and, hopefully, offer up something for every type of reader, both present and future.

We all know this is a nearly limitless medium. The possibilities are staggering. But ultimately, my biggest hopes lie on two sides of the same coin: Introducing our topics to dedicated comic readers, and introducing comics to regular readers of our topics.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting and look forward to seeing what you all release!

2018 Schomburg Black Comic Book Fest: Florence Kasumba Talks Black Panther

Florence Kasumba plays Ayo in this February’s Black Panther and previously in Captain America: Civil War “move or be moved”. She’s a broadway actress and martial artist!

At the 2018 Schomburg Black Comic Book Fest she commented that a challenge in Black Panther was fighting with a Spear when she is used to fighting with a sword (badass!!).

Also apparently when a group of physically fit black women with shaved heads in Lycra show up at the Apple store to buy watches the sales clerks ask in hushed and awed tones “who are you ladies?” I’m presuming they thought they were either super models or super heroes.

She is being interviewed by Kevin Young, the director of the NY Public Libraries Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Ian Flynn Takes Us to the Cosmo(s). Plus Exclusive Look at Cosmo #2!

Get ready for out of this world fun in the ALL-NEW sci-fi adventure series Cosmo! Join Cosmo and his Martian crew as they find adventure and dangers in the deepest corners of space!

Writer Ian Flynn, artists Tracy Yardley, Matt Herms, and Jack Morelli bring back this classic character courtesy of Archie Comics.

We got a chance to talk to Ian about the series and its long history.

Graphic Policy: How did you come on board writing Cosmo?

Ian Flynn: I’ve had a long working relationship with Archie Comics. They know I can do a fun, fast-paced kind of story and could update Cosmo just the way they wanted it.

GP: The character was created in the late 50s. Did you go back to read what came out before? Were you familiar with the property when you came on board?

IF: I read the entire original run of Cosmo for research and loved its quirky, unapologetically insane ideas.

GP: I noticed the original run was rather short, so I’d guess there’s a lot more room to work with than a character with decades of continuity. As a writer, is that easier? More difficult?

IF: For me it’s a fantastic opportunity. There’s just enough material there to serve as an inspiration, but not so much that it has generated a hardcore base that is resistant to change. We can update the characters with modern sensibilities, embrace its themes of wacky adventure, and forge new directions with the narrative.

GP: What are you bringing back from the original run?

IF: They’re Martians for one thing (haha!). Most of the original crew is back with a few tweaks: Astra now serves as the daredevil pilot instead of “the girlfriend,” Jojo has some surprises, and Prof. Thimk has been replaced by Medulla – although the old professor may be showing up again one day. There’s some other classic elements set to return, but I don’t want to spoil them!

GP: You’re working with Tracy Yardley and Matt Herms on the series, both of whom you’ve worked with before. How much easier is it to write for a team you’re familiar with? I’d imagine there’s differences than with a new artist?

IF: It’s always nice to go in with a team that I already know since I can write to their strengths. I can expect them to render scenes a certain way and cater to what they do well and what they’ll enjoy. Plus I know Tracy and Matt are a phenomenal pair of artists, so I’m lucky to have my scripts in their hands.

GP: One of the original reasons for the character’s creation was for a family-appropriate comic for children interested in the space race. With all of the talk of STEM and kids today, is today’s space race something you want to touch upon with your take?

IF: Not so much the modern space race as a general appreciation for astronomy. It’s a hobby of my own, and I hope that by having the crew explore our own Solar System and beyond readers will catch on to my love of space and maybe get into it themselves.

GP: You’ve written a lot of comics whose primary audience is kids. Is that and audience you particularly enjoy writing for?

IF: I primarily write for everybody. They may be marketed to a younger audience, but there’s something in my work for everyone.

GP: Are there challenges in writing for kids that you might not have with adults?

IF: Not especially. I treat them the same as adults. I’ll use different language for a kids’ project, be more mindful of what I put in there overtly, but it’s mostly the same process. Kids are a lot smarter than most give them credit for, and will rise to understand something that challenges them.

GP: You’ve worked on Sonic and other Archie titles with long runs. For you as a writer, what’s some of the differences in writing for that as opposed to a brand new series like Cosmo?

IF: They’re completely different beasts. Cosmo is coming onto the scene with very little outside influence and expectations and has a chance to flourish and grow in so many ways.

GP: What else do you have on tap for 2018?

IF: Along with Cosmo I’m writing Mighty Crusaders for Archie, along with co-writing Archie with Mark Waid. For everything else, folks can check out what I’m up to on my website: www.BumbleKing.com.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting!

Check out the exclusive look at Cosmo #2 below!

COSMO #2

Script: Ian Flynn
Art: Tracy Yardley, Matt Herms, Jack Morelli
Cosmo #2 CVR A Reg: Tracy Yardley
Cosmo #2 CVR B Var: Jamal Peppers
Cosmo #2 CVR C Var: Evan Stanley
On Sale Date: 2/7
32-page, full color comic
$3.99 U.S.

NEW ONGOING SERIES! “Space Aces” – Part Two: When a lunar rescue mission takes a turn for the worse, Cosmo and crew must make a daring escape from a chaotic carnival of creatures! This is one thrill ride you won’t want to miss!

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