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Exclusive: Torunn Grønbekk Discusses Faith and Sisterhood in Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle. Plus a Preview of Issue 4

Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle #4

The world of Games Workshop‘s Warhammer 40,000 has come to Marvel Comics! The second series, written by Torunn Grønbekk with art by Edgar Salazar, finds a squad of Adepta Sororitas, aka Sisters of Battle, on a mission and surrounded by the corruption of Chaos.

I got to ask Torunn about her own history with Warhammer 40,000 and what it’s like to work with Games Workshop and write for the Sisters of Battle.

Graphic Policy: What was your experience with Games Workshop before working on Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle? Have you played any of their games?

Torunn Grønbekk: I got into Warhammer back in the Fantasy days (…20 years ago!) It took me a while to discover the glory of Warhammer 40,000, but after reading up on the lore before painting some Warhammer 40,000 minis for a friend, I was hooked.

– Nowadays, I tend to paint more than I play, but I’ve still got my Sisters of Battle army.

GP: The first edition rulebook of Warhammer 40,000 is almost 35 years old, and there’s so much rich history of the world. Is it overwhelming diving into a project like this?

TG: I’d say it’s more inspirational than overwhelming. There’s, of course, a massive amount of lore to get lost in, but I had a fairly good understanding of the universe when I came on board this project. More often than not, taking a deep dive into researching very specific details would spark new ideas, so I wouldn’t have wanted to be without those side quests for sure.

GP: What type of research goes into a project like this?

TG: The extensive kind. Once I had the general idea in place, I needed to make sure if and how what I had in mind would work. Even the smallest detail needed to be researched and considered. For example, one of the characters is a Sister Dialogus who is on the mission specifically to record and translate ancient symbols carved into the walls of the underground city. Now, I knew they have pict-recorders, but are they readily available? Would they actually be used for something like this? Would it perhaps be built into a cherub that silently and creepily followed the squad, recording everything? (The latter being my favorite option, but it would also mean explaining it, drawing more attention to this specific plot point than was necessary — and of course, it would be one more element for Edgar to draw on almost every page) In the end, and after a ton of research, I opted to equip Sister Heda with plenty of war gear, haughty righteousness, and a notebook instead.

Another important thing was to verify the things I thought I knew to make sure my subjective understanding of the universe was both objectively correct and up-to-date. Like for most people, my knowledge of the lore comes from a mishmash of sources: what I read and play, my friends, the codexes, Black Library books etc. An excellent foundation, but not all sources are created equal, and I needed to make sure I got everything right. That meant a lot of re-reading of the codexes, checking sources online, and if all else failed: asking Games Workshop directly.

GP: What has stood out to you about this force and their history?

TG: Pipe organ tank!!! (I joke, but not really.)

Despite being a staunch atheist, it was this idea of faith I first found truly fascinating about the Sisterhood. And, let’s face it, they are just so damn cool. They are well-considered in every possible way, and I find the miniatures utterly delightful. The first time I saw an Exorcist, I squealed.

GP: Something that has stood out to me is the focus of the squad with this series. The previous series was very much about Marneus and his history. Canoness Veridyan is part of the story, but it comes off as she’s a part of a squad, not the center of attention. Was the shift to pulling the focus away from an individual on purpose?

TG: Very much so. I wanted to write a story that rang true to people familiar with The Sisters and the lore, but also one that works as an introduction to The Sisters for those who aren’t. Focusing on the sisterhood, following one squad, and how they worked together seemed more appropriate than singling out one specific Sister. Canoness Veridyan is a great character in her own right, but she is first and foremost a commander in The Order Militant. If you want to get to know her, I believe the best approach is to see how she leads and puts her trust in her squad.

GP: There’s also a very interesting change in that the previous series was very open in its settings while this is very claustrophobic in tunnels underground. Was that intentional?

TG: Absolutely! The tunnels serve a practical function, too: I wanted the squad cut off from the rest of the army, which meant sending them somewhere the Sister’s Vox just couldn’t reach.

It also lends itself well to worldbuilding. Civilian life in Warhammer 40,000 is always interesting (if, y’know, dire), and though we focus mostly on the Sisters and the cult, my goal was to make the underground city a place that felt lived in. I spent a lot of time figuring out how the population would spend its days, what kind of work they do, what they eat, how they worship, and it all began with the architecture of the underground city. (Not all of that makes it into the comic, of course, but some things do, like the giant mirror relay system that transports light from the surface down throughout the city. The idea was that this population that rarely, if ever, sees daylight would find the blinding Emperor’s light transporting – much more a religious experience than, say, a sermon. That fact that we could use it to blind some heretics before killing them was just the icing on the cake.)

GP: Chaos has corrupted the planet Siscia. Was there ever a discussion about another enemy or was it always Chaos? Genestealer Cults feel like they’d work well with this story as well.

TG: Certainly! Genestealer cults were actually very much on the table (so to speak), but as I worked through how I wanted things to play out, how much space we had available to tell the story etc, Chaos ended up as a better choice.

GP: There’s been a lot about the Sister’s faith in the Emperor. It’s absolutely something that makes them stand out from other forces of the Imperium. Was that something you really wanted to highlight through the story?

TG: Definitely. The Sister’s faith is such an integral part of their characters and history, it wouldn’t have been possible to do a story focused around them without prominently featuring their faith. There are no doubting sisters, no agnostics, no “I’m more spiritual than religious” sisters. Their faith is their most prized possession. This fanaticism is partly what I think makes them great, and in some ways, believable. I’ve tried to lean into it as much as possible, as it explains both their tactics and their behavior on the battlefield. I’ve also tried to feature and touch on things like The Repentia, faith healing, and other of the more quirky yet powerful sides of their faith.

GP: What’s it like working with the Games Workshop team? What’s their input on the comic series?

TG: It’s been great! They’ve been extremely helpful during the entire process, from finding correct references to going over the scripts and pages to make sure everything holds up.

GP: What has surprised you the most while working on this series?

TG: I’m not sure surprised is the correct word, but more… continually amazed by the wealth and depth of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I’ve always been struck by the imagination and delight that’s gone into the miniatures and the level of detail you find in both the characters and the lore. (It’s one of my favorite things about painting minis – figuring out what all the little details are, who the character is and what that mean-looking weapon does.) I quickly found that same attention to detail in all the other aspects of the universe, too. Nothing is easy or straightforward in Warhammer 40,000, but that’s in part what makes it work so well. Take something like time; it would be impossible to make a universal time system that would work for all the star systems and worlds across the universe and still feel authentic, so they didn’t. Instead, we get the opportunity to make a time system that would make sense locally, which, though difficult, adds to the worldbuilding.

Interview: The creators behind SOUL PLUMBER are on a mission to make us all aware of Archons and exorcism machines

Soul Plumber #1
Soul Plumber #1

Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski have never been hesitated to go down the belly of the beast and see true horror for the sake of their horror/true crime podcast The Last Podcast on the Left. From serial killers to 9/11 conspiracies to the search for the Archons, the semi-hostile world-creating rulers and lowest derivations of the Godhead.

For reasons that will make sense in the reading of this wildly and unapologetically bizarre book, being aware that these two podcasters possess a wealth of knowledge which knows no bounds is reason enough to get excited for their new DC Horror comic Soul Plumber.

Soul Plumber defies classification as it’s about religious scams, digitized exorcisms, and blind devotion to the point of gratuitous sinning. It follows a man called Edgar Wiggins, a devout Christian desperate to find his divine purpose. He finds it in the form of a machine that exorcises demons by creating a small portal that reaches into a person’s soul to cleanse it. Wiggins sees this and all becomes clear.

Park, Zebrowski, and Ben Kissel, along with John McCrea and PJ Holden on art, have crafted a deliciously sinister and darkly comedic story that finds its strengths in pushing buttons that only bring discomfort. Their will is strong and the comic’s first issue is indicative of the lengths they’ll go to poke fun at the things we shy away from.

Zebrowski and Parks corresponded via email with Graphic Policy to talk all things Soul Plumber, especially on the things that lurk behind reality that we should be aware of to better understand the Easter eggs strewn around the series. It follows below.

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Soul Plumber #1

RICARDO SERRANO: Often when I get my hands on a new horror comic, the influences are very obvious. In your face, even. It’s something along the lines of EC Comics Horror or Tales from the Crypt. Soul Plumber is something different and I think it will haunt me for the rest of my days. How did you land on the concept behind the book? 

Henry Zebrowski and Marcus Parks: We were approached by the Vatican with some very private information. Actually that is not the truth. We were all inspired/traumatized by our various religious upbringings. We wrote a story that weaved our backgrounds into our present love for sci-fi horror. 

SERRANO: Anyone who’s ever heard your horror podcast The Last Podcast on the Left knows that all the madness you guys bring to the show is backed up by an encyclopedic knowledge of all things horror, but also that you each have unique takes on it. Taking all this into consideration, how was the writing process?

Zebrowski/Parks: Our experience writing our book (Last Book On The Left) gave us an inkling of what kind of discipline it takes to sit down and put letters on paper. Then the wonderful guiding hands at DC gave us examples of comic book scripts so we could have an idea on how this type of script structure works. Marcus and Henry break down the outline of each issue together, then write scenes individually and swap back and forth to make sure we have bits of our DNA all over the comic, yum. Long story short, we had fun with it.

SERRANO: You have some heavy hitters on art for this book in John McCrea and PJ Holden. Did you script the story with their art styles in mind or did you go take a different approach?

Soul Plumber #1

Zebrowski/Parks: We knew that the comic was going to be gross and dark, and McCrea was floated as a possible artist. We were like “would he even lower himself to work on our paltry words?” And he did lower himself. He barely lets us know though! Honestly, we couldn’t be luckier to have McCrea and Holden working on our script and bringing it to life. It’s a miracle to write on a page “a war between millions of nude women alien races is happening in the background” and then POOF there it is!

SERRANO: Upon reading Soul Plumber, it’s evident your comedic tastes run dark. It’s reminded me of your book The Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers, which fans of the comic will surely appreciate. Did you bring anything from The Last Book on the Left to Soul Plumber?

Zebrowski/Parks: More so than any information it really was the experience of writing a full book that showed us we could even accomplish this. There are a lot of easter eggs of information from Last Podcast all over the series. You’ll see some true crime familiar faces, perhaps, you’ll definitely see some of our deep dives into cults inspired us greatly.

SERRANO: For fans, both new and old, that want to get hyped for the comic, do you have any particular Last Podcast on the Left episodes you’d suggest they listen to so they can get into Soul Plumber mode?

Zebrowski/Parks: Brush up on your knowledge of Archons and the Intergalactic Committee, I would also revisit the story of Michael Taylor and Anneliese Michel. That’s if you wanna be a nerd about it! I’d say most people could use a brush up on the nature of Archons and their abilities to manipulate humankind. You can’t see them until it’s too late.

Soul Plumber is available wherever comics are sold.

Exclusive: Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing Let us know what they think of Peter Stancheck and their plans for The Harbinger

The Harbinger #1

Can you make the world better if you can’t be better? Writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing explore that question as Peter Stancheck returns in The Harbinger. Launching in October from Valiant, The Harbinger features art by Robbi Rodriguez, color by Rico Renzi, and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

We got to use Psiot telepathic abilities to pick the brains of Kelly and Lanzing to dive into what we can expect in their upcoming run.

Graphic Policy: Hi, how are you both?

Jackson Lanzing: We’re fantastic. We just returned from vacation, it’s a beautiful day in Los Angeles and we’re heading to San Francisco next weekend for the wedding of two of our dear friends.

Collin Kelly: It’s been a bit of a hurricane of work for us these last few weeks (months?), but when you’re working on projects this exciting, it tends to give you more energy than less.

Not great for sleep though.

JL: No, we are not dudes who get a lot of sleep these days.

GP: How did y’all come aboard the project?

JL: The short answer is persistence. I had something of a personal obsession with getting the Hivemind in the loop over at Valiant since 2015, when we started developing a take on Shadowman. But nothing ever quite materialized – largely because the Valiant Universe is so tightly coordinated, which was the thing that drew us there in the first place. So instead of helping steer the ship, we sat back and read the universe as fans – with a special love for the Harbinger line, written by Joshua Dysart, Jody Houser, and Rafer Roberts. We honestly never dreamed we’d follow them up. For that, all credit and blame goes to editor extraordinaire Heather Antos.

CK: NYCC 2019, she asks us “what do you guys think of Peter Stanchek?” And truthfully, we didn’t know Heather that well at the time – we weren’t particularly close, we were all just fans of each other’s work. So we’re a little caught off guard, but we answer with something like, “he’s absolutely amazing as a character, but he’s also done some terrible things, and it would be hard to tell a story that doesn’t take that head on.” And it turns out, she agreed. If Peter’s story was going to continue, it couldn’t be a retelling or a one that forgave his sins on page 1 – he needed to move forward, face his past, and evolve into the version of himself that he was always meant to be. It all started there – and by the end of the con, we had a take that excited the whole team.

The Harbinger #1

GP: How closely does The Harbinger #1 follow the events of Harbinger, and Harbinger Renegade, and do you need to be aware of those events?

CK: To answer your second question first; you can have never read a Harbinger title in your life and still absolutely love this book. That’s not a brag – that’s by design. We want new readers to be able to meet Peter for the first time… because that’s exactly what Peter is doing as well. Our Peter starts as a complete blank slate, discovering who he is hand in hand with the new reader. Of course, for readers who know his story quite well (and now, back to the first question), they’ll realize that we are starting about eight months after Harada’s fall. The Harbinger Foundation has been gutted, its assets sold off. The world seems like it’s constantly under attack… and Psiots are the ones taking the blame. And Peter Stanchek? We all know how dangerous Peter Stanchek is… thank god he hasn’t been seen in months…

GP: There’s been numerous series out with this title and these characters. What is influencing this take?

JL: Harbinger stories all share something in common: they’re always about the moment in which they’re being told. The Harbinger is no different – it’s a story that is reckoning specifically with the reflective and reconstructive moment we’re having across many levels of our society. Written during the height of the Trump Administration, it’s influenced by the police brutality, factionalization, and the self-reflection offered when living in a dystopian world that serves only the rich and powerful. It’s a story about organization and responsibility – about standing fearlessly against injustice. But it’s also got a lot of joy underneath all the madness – like a spontaneous dance party in the middle of a protest. It’s inspired equally by bands like IDLES and artists like RÜFÜS DU SOL – we’re really trying to embrace the whiplash between oppression and community.

The Harbinger #1

GP: Peter being a blank slate is obviously a great entry method for new readers or ones who have forgotten what happened. Where did the idea come from?

CK: Once again, we circle back to Heather Antos. Jack and I are collaborators to the core, so when someone has the best idea, we listen – and that day, she had the best idea. Which for the Hivemind gave us questions of our own: how do we get there, and what happens next? Finding those answers started us on the journey that leads to the book in your hands.

JL: It’s actually a core mystery of the book: who left Peter Stanchek without his memories? Who gave him this second chance – and why? Was it a gift… or an attack? Peter’s going to be looking for those questions, and readers are on that journey with him. We love how relatable that makes the character and his journey, regardless of how mindblowing all his context is.

GP: Peter has always been hovering over the line between hero and villain depending on your perspective; are you approaching this as a redemption arc or as the introduction of a new yet familiar character?

JL: This will sound like a cop-out, but this story is absolutely both of those things. First and foremost, this is the introduction of a new hero to the Valiant Universe – The Harbinger. If you’ve never read a Valiant book, Peter’s journey from Renegade to superhero will hold your hand and walk you into the deep end of the pool. But if you’ve been reading this universe for any length of time, you know full well who Peter Stanchek is and what he is capable of. Moreover, you know some of the terrible things he has done in the interest of selfishness. This book does not offer forgiveness or absolution for those things – but rather a reckoning. And how Peter handles that reckoning is going to define what kind of hero The Harbinger becomes.

The Harbinger #1

GP: You’re working on the origin of Kang over at Marvel – can you talk about the differences in the series and publishers?

CK: Plus, we just announced BATMAN BEYOND: NEO YEAR at DC, so we have a full superhero publisher hat-trick! Seriously though, regarding the publishers… there are small differences, sure, but they’re honestly very similar: we are incredibly lucky to only work with outstanding editors who absolutely love telling stories, and artists who are putting their hearts on the page. Whatever logo is on the front of the book, that’s the experience of making it.

Now, in terms of KANG: THE CONQUEROR and THE HARBINGER… both Kang and Peter have to grapple with the sins of the past, and the hopes for the future. They both have incredible power, and severe impulse control issues. But Kang… his story is a tragedy; we know who Nathanel Richards will become, and it’s not a hero. Peter Stanchek on the other hand… he still has that chance. (And for the record, Terry McGinnis has his own set of problems, which readers can discover in BATMAN: URBAN LEGENDS #7!)

JL: Working on these books at the same time has actually been really psychologically rewarding – every time we get pulled down into the darkness by Kang, we can move back into the sky with The Harbinger. They’re both books that are to some degree about the damaging aspects of imposed masculinity on young men – something we’ve both experienced a lot in our own lives – so these stories come from a very personal, heartfelt place. The feelings on the page are ours.

The Harbinger #1

GP: Valiant has been great about balancing enjoying just a series but the series also playing into a greater narrative and “meta” story of the universe. How does it differ from writing for that?

JL: Honestly, we really thought of this story as standing fully on its own, with only the context of the previous Harbinger books that needed to be woven into our mythos. We’ve had situations where our launch on a book had to serve many masters – our Green Arrow run played clean-up for No Justice and Heroes In Crisis before being cancelled to pivot the characters into Event Leviathan – and this story is just about the opposite working condition. We’re setting the table for the next steps of the Valiant Universe, with new heroes, new settings, new villains, and a new status quo for Psiots. We’re pushing things forward… and looking forward to coordinating tightly with the rest of the universe once our part of the universe is defined and operating on its own.

GP: Valiant has a very vocal fan base; does that add any pressure to what you’re writing?

CK: Not much? The core of everything we write boils down to one thing: can we make you feel something. That’s always our goal, and how we do it doesn’t change because of what we think readers do or do not want. It’s not about them (sorry y’all) – it’s about telling the best story for the character, in the raddest way possible. For us, that means getting out of Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi’s way, so that they can deliver some of the most eye-catching and kinetic storytelling on the shelves. I’m actually very excited to really get to know the Valiant fan base – when they love the book, I hope they’re vocal as hell.

JL: Bring it on, Valiant fans. We love you, we’re into it, let’s geek out.

The Harbinger #1

GP: Speaking of pressure, there’s a film that’s been in the works. Does that play into the creation process at all? Do you think that this might be the possible entry into the comics whenever that film is released?

JL: I’m perfectly happy to report that the movie has nothing to do with anything we’re doing. The Harbinger stands on its own – and we can just wait like the fans to see what comes out of Hollywood for Peter and the gang.

GP: What can you tease about the upcoming issues?

CK: How about questions of my own: What happened to the Eggbreakers? Where are the H.A.R.D.Corps? Who – or what – is The Warning? But most of all… who took Peter’s memory?

What was he forced to forget?

…also, there’s a cat.

JL: It’s a Hivemind book. There’s always a cat.

GP: What would you say is the most exciting thing about writing this series, and comics in general?

JL: In this case, those things are one and the same: the excitement of collaboration with incredible artists of line, color, and letter. Every project brings a different dynamic and alchemy – so the process is always one of discovery. Robbi’s way of seeing the world is so fundamentally unique, so powerful, and so singular that our scripts and stories take on a new life every time. It’s like getting to join a new band on every project – and it really feels like this one is making one hell of a record with The Harbinger.


The Harbinger #1 comes to comic shops on October 27.

Lysa Hawkins Takes Us Into the Shadowy World of Ninjak

Ninjak #1

Valiant Entertainment’s top superspy is stepping out of the shadows…

From Ringo Award-winning writer Jeff Parker and artist Javier PulidoNinjak #1 follows Colin King, aka Ninjak, as the secret operative is on the run after the identity of every MI6 agent is exposed. Now, Colin must embark on a global adventure to evade the deadly people who have him in their sights…

Ninjak #1by writer Jeff Parker, artist Javier Pulido, and letterer Dave Sharpe goes on sale July 14th, 2021, and features covers by David NakayamaCaspar WijngaardDamion Scott, Ibrahim Moustafa, and Javier Pulido.

We got a chance to ask Ninjak editor Lysa Hawkins about the series and what we can expect in the latest take of Valiant’s superspy.

Graphic Policy: Hey Lysa, how’re things?

Lysa Hawkins: I’m fully vaccinated! Things are a lot brighter now!

GP: So, Ninjak. How would you describe him to somebody who has no idea what to expect?

LYSA: I like to say Ninjak is the love child of James Bond and Modesty Blaise, so you really don’t know what to expect.

GP: How has the experience been editing Ninjak? Are there any differences between this book and others you’ve edited?

LYSA: Did I mention I love James Bond and Modesty Blaise? Working on a spy thriller is very near and dear to me. I’ve been blessed at Valiant to have my toe dipped in many different genre pools. Horror, sci fi, action-adventure, supernatural and now spy thriller. I’m feeling pretty lucky.

Ninjak #1

GP: The last time we saw Ninjak he’d severed ties with MI6 – will we see what happened in the immediate aftermath?

LYSA: Yes and no. Our story takes place a few months after he left MI6, but you do learn what Colin has been up to since departing from MI6.

GP: How did the creative team come together?

LYSA: Synchronicity! I actually had Javier on board before I found Jeff, which is unusual as it’s usually the other way around. When I read Jeff’s script I could just see what I thought Javier would bring to the table, of course I was wrong. He brought so much more!

GP: Javier Pulido’s art style is a departure from what we’ve seen in the past when it comes to Ninjak books. Can you talk a little about that?

LYSA: Denny O’Neill once wrote a great article talking about your favorite Batman, as we have seen so many incarnations of the Dark Knight over the years. It’s the same with Ninjak.  He is a universal character that will have many different art styles over the years. If this isn’t your Ninjak, just wait, yours will pop back up eventually. Javier is bringing something new to Ninjak, which I find very exciting and appealing, and while the style is different, the character is thoroughly all Ninjak.

GP: We’ve seen a few pages already, but can you tease any more about the series’ direction?

LYSA: You ain’t seen nothing yet! No, seriously, Javier pushes the boundaries of the art on every page resulting in an exciting, joy ride of action. 

Ninjak #1

GP: The series sees the identities of the MI6 agents exposed. It feels like that’s a pretty relevant story with today’s concerns over data and privacy and even some of the secrets that have been leaked out.

LYSA: Without a doubt, this tale is very much set in our modern world. One of the things I like the most about playing in the Valiant Universe. It walks that fine line of fiction and reality.

GP: Ninjak feels like one of the more high-profile British comic characters out there. How much does that play into the character and is there work to try to get that detail “right”?

LYSA: Well, if it’s done right, you hear his voice in your head sounding British. I happen to think Jeff nails it. Not only is Colin completely British, he’s also deadpan and funny.

Ninjak #1

GP: What sets this book apart from the other Ninjak stories we’ve had from Valiant over the years?

LYSA: It looks unlike any other Ninjak book previously. It gets to push the envelope further because of the art style and the reader gets to go along for the ride.

GP: Valiant has always been impressive to us in that it balances stories that can be enjoyed by themselves and the greater interconnected stories and world. How difficult is it to balance that?

LYSA: We are the Valiant Universe. We are meant to be enjoyed on our own or together, always one expanding universe. 

GP: What are you the most excited for about this book?

LYSA: Gosh! Everything! I think you’ll like Myna. She’s a great new character. 

GP: Thanks for your time!

LYSA: Thank you! And Stay Valiant!

The Good Asian comic with creators Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi

Policing and the model minority myth are deconstructed through a noir genre lens in this hardboiled detective series created by today’s guests, Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi.

A new Image Comics series, The Good Asian stars detective Edison Hark—a haunted Chinese-American detective—on the trail of a killer in 1936 San Francisco’s Chinatown. The series explores Chinese American identity, US immigration policy and the brutal contradictions inherent in being the first Chinese American cop when the target of his policing is inevitably his own community. It’s also a beautifully drawn piece of historical fiction and an exciting mystery.

My guests are:

Pornsak Pichetshote is a writer for comics and TV. He wrote the critically acclaimed horror comic hit INFIDEL that was featured on NPR’s best horror stories of all time. In TV, he’s written for the shows Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, Light as a Feather, and Two Sentence Horror Stories.

Alexandre Tefenkgi is the acclaimed artist of European comics and graphic albums as well as the critically acclaimed Skybound book Outpost Zero by Sean McKeever. Born in Africa and raised in France, he’s an artist of Vietnamese descent.

The series’ colorist is Lee Loughridge and letterer is Jeff Powell.

Learn more here

Behemoth’s New Monster

Steve Ekstrom

A little bit of full disclosure to start: I’ve known Steve Ekstrom for years. He served with me on the Best Shots team at Newsarama, and wrote for my ShotgunReviews.com. I joined him when he spearheaded the Imminent Press Kickstarter for Terminal. He lettered part of Sparkshooter. In a way, that makes me an ideal interviewer rather than a conflicted one, because I know where the bodies are buried; I helped bury some myself. But now, Steve, who has worked in and around comics for years, is back with a new title, a new job, and a new mission. He’s the new Editorial Director for up-and-coming publisher Behemoth Comics. And like that name might imply, there’s here to do some damage.

Graphic Policy: Some people might remember you writing for Newsarama many moons ago. I’ve talked to a lot of other people about this, so here goes: in what way was working in comics journalism a help, and in what ways was it a hindrance, when it came to breaking into comics? Would you do that differently now?

Steve Ekstrom: Wow, big guns first, I still like the cut of your journalistic jib after all this years, my friend.

I think being a journalist in comics for nearly a decade taught me a lot of valuable lessons in professionalism like “Don’t go into business for yourself while you’re working on projects for other people or publishers” or “This is the proper decorum for interacting with established creators” or “Try not to ruin your own career by writing really negative reviews full of hyperbole that attack the creators ability to make a paycheck.”

Those are all lessons I had to learn through experience. I feel like a cat that’s missing three or four lives now but I’m still out here trying to tell stories and make comics. [laughs]

I will admit that journalism did open doors for me in that it gave me a degree of notoriety and the ability to guarantee smaller publishers at least one interview to cover their content because, contrary to popular belief, most major websites do NOT adequately cover lesser-known indie creators who are just starting out. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of needing all your articles to drive clicks and/ or the need to be first with major news items for trending moments on social media.

In terms of doing things differently, I would have played less World of Warcraft when I was still just starting out. I would have tried to save more money to pay professionals to get things done faster. I was very fortunate to get to work with artists and colorists who were starting out just like me and we were all hungry and working for free. We needed small amounts of content to create a body of work to show competency so that’s what we did. Did I offer to pay in exposure? Sure, a little bit. If you’re just starting out and you put the right squad together magic can happen.

Graphic Policy: I think that Matt Brady is an underappreciated figure in comics in the 2000s. What impact did he have on you?

Steve Ekstrom: Let’s be honest here: You gave me my first invite to the party. You saw that I had some writing talent on MySpace of all places way back in the middle of 2006. You offered me a spot in the Best Shots squad. I didn’t even KNOW how big Newsarama was until I spoke to my old college friend, Adam Tracey, who was the Managing Editor of Toyfare Magazine at the time.

Matt Brady gave me my first paycheck as a journalist in the comics industry. He gave me the confidence to be the work horse I wanted to become in my first year at Newsarama and he let me earn my spot. I will always be forever indebted to the two of you.

In all seriousness, I want to see Matt write a Power of the Atom book at DC. He pitched it to me one time when we were heading to a mixer for DC Comics in San Diego and it was glorious. I’ve also had the pleasure of editing some of Matt’s work a couple of years ago; he’s incredibly talented.

Make some more damn pamphlets, Matt.

Graphic Policy: Tell us about your experience with DC’s old ZUDA program.

Steve Ekstrom: It was eye-opening to say the least. I learned so much about actually “making” comics in that time period. The 4:3 format was unique and frustrating because it changed the way you tackled a page and the “grid”.

I also learned a lot about marketing a project for a competition. So much hustling is needed! It was kind of the same sort of month long sprint you make with a crowd-sourcing campaign. This was also way back before everyone and their mother was online every single day for 12 hours a day on their phones. And I totally sucked at Twitter back then…and, well, I still do.

Mostly, I learned a valuable lesson regarding “word economy” in sequential storytelling. I shoehorned a ton of information into our 8 page submission thinking, “Oh, yeah, if they can get past the heavy lifting in the intro, they’ll get action-packed explosions and wrestling with albino crocodiles in the next 8 page segment.” Not so much. We came in third for the month with over 60,000 views for “The Ares Imperative”. [laughs]

Graphic Policy: You’ve been on the positive and the negative side of crowdfunding experiences. What did you learn from both outcomes? And what do you think of the ways the crowdfunding is being used today?

Steve Ekstrom: I know that I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded but that’s just part of the process. You’re not living your life if you’re not failing upward at times.

Truthfully, there’s a lot of nuance to it. Knowing which month to campaign or which extras to add or how to get estimates on everything connected to your funding goals and still hitting a reasonable over-funded benchmark for the project you’re presenting. All of it. It’s a LOT. The goal also has to make sense in regard to what you’re offering. I totally messed up on my first Kickstarter because I had no concept of scope. We were trying to raise $20K and we didn’t even have stories in the can yet. If you’ve never tried to crowd-source a book: DON’T DO THAT. Have stuff to show potential backers.

When we funded on our second outing, I learned how to be a small publisher. I learned how to package an entire book from concept to marketing to printing and distributing it out of my house. It was absolutely exhaustive but I loved every minute of it.

I want to see crowd-sourced comics continue to flourish and I want platforms like Kickstarter to keep creating opportunities for creators to make new comics that don’t have the luxury of bigger publishers’ bank rolls. I think there are murky lines being crossed when bigger companies have the scratch to make their own books without sourcing but I also understand that crowd-sourcing is just pre-ordering with extra steps most of the time. I could talk about the merits of these sorts of scenarios all day with the right group of creators.

Graphic Policy: In addition to writing, you also developed your lettering talents and began picking up work. What motivated you to do that, and is that something you plan to continue?

Steve Ekstrom:
Honestly? I made the same mistake most eager new creators and I devalued paid letterers by trying to learn how to do it cheaply on my own thinking that it would be “easy”. I was incredibly wrong.

Looking back, I got lucky because I have a touch of OCD so I would pour myself over my lettering until it looked professional on my first published story but it was still nowhere near the perfect digital stuff done by Nate Piekos or Richard Starking. I have learned to love the craft of lettering and typography.

The most important lesson I can impart on new creators: PAY THE LETTERER. You’re going to think that lettering is the least important aspect of the book. You’re wrong. Your story is the least important, writer person. The technical aspects of the book can easily carry a shitty story. Lettering is the least important part of production when new creators are considering what’s important. However, bad lettering is the FIRST aspect of a book to take a reader out of their experience reading your project if it’s done poorly.

I’d been lettering my own projects for roughly a decade before I felt comfortable enough to charge money for my services. Now, I offer to edit as I letter and it works really well with well-conceived projects that need minor polishing. They get both services for one low rate.

Going forward, I will be lettering for my limited number of clients as well as on most of the projects I will be writing or editing because it allows me to have tighter control over the production of the overall work. Now that I’m joining up with Behemoth, I may even start lettering some of their books I’m not connected to directly. I’m not allergic to money and I love making comics professionally. Let’s make this bread!

Graphic Policy: How did you first become involved with Behemoth?

Steve Ekstrom:
Mark Bertolini approached me to letter a project called “Feeder” with artist Darryl Knickrehm. Mark worked on Terminal Pulp Anthology with me and I absolutely loved Darryl’s style when I saw his work on The Argus at Action Labs. I jumped at the opportunity to have my name on the cover of this project.

Mark introduced me to Nathan [Yocum] and we got on the phone and talked for like 3 hours. He reminds me of a much more gigantic version of my best friend, Mark. He and I just live on this crazy wavelength made out of frenetic ambition, late night taco bell runs, horror movies and content strategy regarding making comics. He’s a soul brother, for sure.

Graphic Policy: You’ve just been named Editorial Director; can you outline what that job IS and what it DOES?

Steve Ekstrom: For me, I think one of the most important things a small publisher needs is brand identity. The comic industry has a sea of hobbyists and amateur creators who want to make comics so there is a massive body of work you have to swim through to get to the surface, to be seen and sell your products.

Having a clear cut vision for the direction of the creator-owned books is important. Understanding the marketplace and what sorts of books you want representing your brand is so crucial to competing in a large marketplace that has a diminishing number of brick and mortar stores with budgets and fickle readers. We’re all fighting for the same $20 every week. And you know what I’m going to say next…

$20 is $20.

Joking aside, I bring a wealth of practical business experience as a journalist and indie creator to the table. Behemoth was just a natural fit. They approached me about having a role at the company and said, “What would you like to do?” so I told them I wanted to help them create a monolithic brand and I wanted to have my hands on as many projects as a guy with two hands and a Doc Ock harness could handle. I love this industry and I would happily spend the rest of my life making these damn pamphlets.

As for my major role, I am going to be handling a new imprint of direct-to-digital projects called D2D. We’re still relatively small as a brand so investing in up-and-coming creators is a little risky in that we have a narrow margin for error if we pick up a project that doesn’t end up selling as well to retailers as our sales forecasts project. So, we want to create a space for creators who have projects that may not be quite ready for “prime time” but still could use an opportunity for growth and experience through our digital storefront on Comixology. It’s a win-win situation when you consider the outcome.

Rising stars can have a recognizable brand on their product while they learn to market on a smaller scale with less risk of having to worry about print thresholds in a competitive marketplace. In the event that we discover a sleeper hit digitally, we can turn around and produce a print run of a project or collect a trade with minimal overhead costs.

Graphic Policy: You’ve already expressed an interest in assembling unknown talent. Can you speak on why that’s important to you?

Steve Ekstrom:
This is where I guess I should also mention I’m also going to be the editor of a direct-to-digital anthology project that we’re calling PRIMER. One of my first projects was published in an old anthology series called NEGATIVE BURN from Desperado Studios back in 2008. At the time, Negative Burn was the BEST place to find tomorrow’s creators and a lot of big names today got their first big breaks in that anthology.

I want to do the same thing with PRIMER. I know how hard it is to make comics and have them reach the right people so that you can develop yourself professionally. This is my chance to remember where I came from, to honor the people who gave me my first opportunities and to “pay it forward” by helping young creators who have the drive to persevere and the hunger to want to make polished, professional looking products. Again, it creates more opportunities for me to make comics. It doesn’t get any better than that but…

Making comics isn’t easy. Like at all.

The people who make it to the top of this industry are 1% of 1% of 1% of a body of people who all want to tell stories and all want to compete for the same five bucks. If you aren’t competitive and you aren’t constantly growing or developing your skills, you’re probably not going to get to write Spider-Man or Batman if that’s what you aim to do. Most of us have to earn that right with hard work and quantifiable sales figures. Hell, I’m still trying to get to that point in my career, too. [laughs]

All that said, there’s still going to be fairly strict submission process for D2D and PRIMER. I am going to be working with Nathan as well as our other Senior Editor, Kevin Roditeli, to iron out clear cut guidelines for our entire brand.

Graphic Policy: You’ve already worked on an anthology yourself with Terminal Pulp Anthology. What makes for a good collection, and how do you make Behemoth’s stand out?

Steve Ekstrom:
Ironically, the best advice I’ve ever heard about an anthology is this: “Your anthology can only be as good as the worst story” and, let me tell you, that advice is painfully accurate. I have spent a lot of time collecting all the popular anthologies that have come out over the past 20 years. All of them have a range of stories but the one factor that I remember seeing most? Technical proficiency.

As I said earlier, the least important part of a comic is the story and that’s coming from a guy who went to school to be a writer. It’s incredibly humbling to accept this as a truth. Good art, exceptional coloring, technically polished lettering can all elevate a mediocre story. So, yeah, be a good writer and know your craft but this entire medium is still visually based. Bring the quality with the visual elements so that those elements in turn elevate your story.

I plan to curate the line initially by privately approaching folks who are on the cusp of breaking into the big leagues. I want well-constructed shorts so I can set the bar for people who want to submit so they can, in turn, set the bar for themselves.

In 2008, I had my first submission packet put together for a project. It was drawn by a guy who was local to me, my cousin who had experience as a graphic designer helped me flat color the sample art and letter all of it with, yep, you guessed it, Comic Sans and it was atrocious. But I didn’t know any better. I had romanticized my efforts. I was ready to submit this turd straight to Image because I was “ready”.

I was working for Newsarama in San Diego at Comic-Con International and I showed my submission to CB Cebulski who was, at the time, promoting his project called “Wanderlust” at Image. He gave me the best advice of my career when he kindly didn’t rip my heart out of my chest and show it to me after looking at my atrocious submission.

He said, “Okay, I want you to look at your submission packet and look at this copy of my comic. Imagine that you had $5 and you walked into the comic shop and you saw your project sitting next to my project. Not knowing anything about either of these projects, based on your eye for quality as a fan of comics, which one of these two books would you buy based on the quality alone.”

I sat quietly for a short moment as dread built at the base of my stomach because I knew the answer instantly. I pointed at his book. He patted me on the arm and he said, “Look at the books that make it to the shelf. That’s what you’re competing against. Your project has to be as good as all of the other books that make it onto the shelves.”

It was an incredibly humbling lesson and probably the roughest one to learn first but it put me into a frame of mind where I knew I had to make every effort my best effort. I hope to impart that on others through the production of quality content.

Soko

Graphic Policy: Tell us about SOKO.

Steve Ekstrom: Soko is a really awesome police procedural/ crime project in a similar vein to that of Criminal or the movie The Departed and it is set in Serbia. I’m working on it with up-and-coming Serbian writer, Vanja Miskovic, as well as Italian artist Antonio Fuso who is on a hot streak right now with his project Wyrd being developed for television over at Dark Horse and Stargazer finishing up a healthy run at Mad Cave. We also have Antonio’s studio-mate Stefano Simeone on colors; he’s the artist for a Mega Man Fully Charged at BOOM!. We’re also sporting this ridiculously awesome cover on the first issue by one of my all-time favorites, Serbian artist, RM Guera who most folks will remember for his epic run on Scalped at Vertigo.

This book is stacked with talent. Vanja and I both are very proud of what we’ve put together and we can’t wait for it to hit shelves in the late fall.

Without giving too much away because the solicits are coming soon, Soko focuses on systemic corruption in law enforcement while exploring modern dilemmas in that region of the world that are connected to human trafficking as well as fuel smuggling.

Graphic Policy: What other Behemoth books should people be checking out RIGHT NOW, and why? What makes a “Behemoth book”?

You Promised Me Darkness is absolutely chewing up the market right now as it keeps breaking these crazy sales records as a black and white horror comic in a marketplace where four-color comics reign supreme. I am absolutely loving all the excitement looming for this series as it hits shelves over the summer. There are some really exciting licensed books that we’ll be announcing soon enough that will probably turn some heads, too. We’ll have to wait and see! I don’t want to spoil anything just yet.

Also, check out Kevin Roditeli’s Happy Tank imprint. This guy is an absolute animal whose energy is contagious. He’s at the helm of our MFKZ project that I think is going to be big deal book this year.

Graphic Policy: It’s no secret that comics is a volatile field. Behemoth is making important deals with the likes of Simon & Schuster and Netflix. How critical is that to the ongoing success of a young company, and how to those alliances impact the development of new titles?

Steve Ekstrom: I think the most important thing we can do is continue to provide top-notch content. I know that seems like such a generic answer, but when you think about it, quality is really all it boils down to when you’re in a market where two companies hold 90-ish% of the sales figures.

We just have to keep making solid choices on the content we’re going to produce. Nathan and Ryan have some really fantastic concepts for marketable products coming down the pipeline that I would have never conceived on my own. I can’t wait to talk more about this stuff as it comes to fruition.

Other than quality, we just need to keep finding hungry talent with projects that fit our mold. This is a savvy brand that, while we may have sort of an outlier’s sensibility, we’re also determined to put out technically competent, well-crafted comics and graphic novels as well as innovative cross-promotional materials like miniatures, shirts and even records. We’ve got vinyl, man! How cool is that?

Graphic Policy: Last words: what do you personally want the world to know about you and the work you’re about to do?

Steve Ekstrom: I’m an ambidextrous Scorpio with a penchant for 70’s R&B and enchiladas? Nah, that’s pretty much common knowledge…

Right now, I am connected to seven or eight ridiculously amazing projects as either a writer, a letterer, an editor or some amalgamation of those three roles and I cannot wait to share these stories with the world.

I’ve spent my entire life loving comics as a fan. I grew up and went to school to learn how to write because I was a storyteller as a kid. I entered this industry as a guy who wanted to bring reader response criticism from the classroom to book reviews and I knew I wasn’t discovering fire or anything but I wanted to put butts in seats and I did it. I care about this business and I want to give back to it after a lifetime plus some of entertainment and joy.

I get to curate my own line of comics. I want to work with anyone that is hungry and motivated like me. I want to give a platform to new creators who understand how to make professional looking comics. This is a business first and foremost. We have to walk a line between commercially viable products, fine art and counter culture that surfs the edges of the cultural zeitgeist.

Keep your eyes on the Behemoth website and our social media for announcements concerning submission guidelines for D2D and PRIMER as well as other news about shows we will be attending later in the year and the release dates for all of our upcoming projects.

We’ve got content scheduled all the way out until the middle of 2022.

And we’re really just getting warmed up. All hail Behemoth!

Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno Takes Us on a Stoned Kung-Fu Adventure with Stoned Master

Stoned Master

Aubrey Sitterson returns to Kickstarter, this time with his co-creator of The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling Chris Moreno. Stoned Master is about a burnout martial artist using stoned kung fu to defend his Los Angeles neighborhood of Chavez Heights from a rapacious corporation.

With the project now live, we got a chance to talk to Aubrey and Chris about the comics’ influences and what’s the best way to get stoned and read it.

You can back the project now before it ends on May 20.

Graphic Policy: From wrestling to stoned Kung-Fu. How’d Stoned Master come about?

Chris Moreno: I feel like it was a gradual process rather than a bolt of lightning moment, but I recall Aubrey and I had a blast working on The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling, and I mentioned how much fun I had drawing the action scenes, but because we were covering the entirety of the history of the art form I always had to move on to another subject when I would have loved to draw an entire fight scene. That spurred many discussions about doing an all-action/fighty-type book next, and then that led to talking about our favorite kung fu flicks. That’s when I recommended to Aubrey that we watch a little movie from 1977 called Death Promise, the story of two ass-kicking best friends who use martial arts to fight to save their NY apartment building from a syndicate of evil slumlords trying to force them out. It’s a real schlocky hidden gem (with a great titular theme song and a poster by Neal Adams, to boot!) and one of my favorite types of action movies, where it seems like they just got a bunch of stuntpeople and martial artists together and built a movie around them. But it also has this level that we really responded to, which was that it was basically a story about tenants’ rights, but the tenants using martial arts to fight their landlords instead of, say, starting a co-op. Then we started talking about what the better version of that kind of story could be.

Aubrey Sitterson: I remain immensely proud of what Chris and I accomplished with The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling. However, when you’re doing nonfiction – especially something with as broad a purview as CBSOPW – you’ve got a lot of masters to serve. We knew that our next project needed to be something we could cut fully loose on, leaning into all the action and comedy that we excel at, i.e.,  the stuff that makes a comic truly rip. Stoned Master fits the bill, and, like the best collaborations, exists in the big meaty section of the CHRIS & AUBREY’S INTERESTS Venn diagram.

GP: Be honest, you were stoned while making this, right?

CM: I can only speak for myself, but I was not under the influence of any substances while working on this project. I actually can’t draw while stoned, I just get really chill, sit on my couch, and watch movies like Death Promise all day.

AS: Dude, honestly; look at me. Do I look like a guy who gets stoned? Come on, now.

Stoned Master

GP: I’ve seen some of the art. How’d the visual style come about? I notice from the pages I’ve seen it’s very bright in colors.

CM: I was born in CA, but spent my whole life on the East Coast, which has its own beauty, though it’s kind of earthy and neutral compared to living in LA. There’s a vibrance of color everywhere you look– the buildings and local shops, the neighborhoods, the communities with full-wall murals. Even the clothes people wear or the cars they drive. It’s just a place that embraces color. When we talked about setting the story in LA, I knew I wanted to showcase that vibrance in every panel.

GP: The comic has a burnout martial artist using stoned kung fu to take on a corporation. Aubrey, your recent Beef Bros seems like it’d be somewhat anti-corporation. Going through a phase with that?

AS: I believe that all art is political, even self-proclaimed apolitical work, especially in the polarized time in which we currently find ourselves. But something else I’ve learned is that, when it comes to expressing my political beliefs, I need subtlety, nuance, even ambiguity, along with the space to work big issues out in all their complexity. Personally, I haven’t found a way to get any of that on social media, which is why I’ve been making such a concerted effort to explore this stuff in my fiction work, which is a medium perfectly suited to rumination.

GP: I see a comic of taking on an evil corporation in Los Angeles, and I go to Breakin 2. Is there something about Los Angeles being the location for these battles?

CM: Aubrey and I actually put together a “movie mood board” of films for inspiration and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (one is obligated to say the entire title at all times) is definitely high on that board. Fights occur in our book similarly to how the power of breakdancing could make miracles happen in that film. That hospital scene where those surgeons start poppin’ mid-surgery and bring a dead patient back to life? We hope to hit that level.

GP: So, what type of pot would you suggest while reading this? Would you go CBD? Edibles? Leaf?

CM: Definitely edibles. Grab some gummies or brownie bites, something that allows you to have one hand free to turn the page.

AS: Every time Stoned Master readers open their mouths to laugh or gasp at the intense, hilarious, kung fu action, they should take a healthy bong rip. By my estimation, they’ll be fully obliterated about a quarter of the way through. Increases reread value that way.

Stoned Master

GP: Are you basing the “stoned kung fu” on anything real?

CM: Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films are the primary inspiration Frankie’s style. Where Jackie had moves that were based off of drunkard’s actions (hands holding the cup, arms carrying the keg, etc.), Frankie’s moves are all based off the pothead’s actions (pinching the joint, rolling papers, lighting the hash pipe, bong rips). Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung’s “anything goes” improvisational styles from movies like the Lucky Stars films, Project A, or Wheels on Meals are a big reference for Frankie’s moves, too.

AS: After The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling, Chris is used to getting copious amounts of visual reference from me and we kept that proud tradition alive here. Most everything you see Frankie do in Stoned Master is his “Blazed Fist” riff on traditional drunken boxing techniques as seen in Drunken Master and other flicks.

GP: Any kung fu films and stoner films this is inspired by?

CM: Definitely the above films, Pretty much all of Cheech & Chong’s oeuvre, Kung Fu Hustle, Half Baked, Harold and Kumar, Big Lebowski.

AS: Obviously the Drunken Master movies and anything with Sammo Hung, but we also took a lot of structural and thematic influence from classic Lau Kar-leung & Gordon Liu flicks like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho and The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter. Those movies manage to balance aesthetically stunning action, pitch-perfect humor, and a shocking amount of thematic depth and were a massive inspiration for Stoned Master. Also, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a significant amount of Pineapple Express in the mix.

GP: Beef Bros was on Kickstarter, what lessons have you learned from that going into this one?

AS: The BEEF BROS Kickstarter was an absolute game changer for me. No hyperbole, it changed now only how I view the comics industry but what I want out of it. While I love working with my pals at Dark Horse and am so very stoked about The Worst Dudes, Savage Hearts, and my as-yet-unannounced third series launching this year, there are certain projects that, while a tough sell in the direct market for any number of reasons, have a ton of potential with folks on Kickstarter. BEEF BROS was one of those projects and so is Stoned Master.

GP: Any advice you’d give others thinking about doing a Kickstarter?

AS: Calling on my background as an Eagle Scout (shout out to Troop 747!), the absolutely best advice I can give is to BE PREPARED. Running a Kickstarter well is an immense amount of work and the only way to keep from getting overwhelmed during the campaign is by having a firm plan in place and getting all your schedules, spreadsheets, newsletters, Graphic Policy interviews, and sacrificial offerings done before you hit the LAUNCH button.

GP: Thanks so much! We’ll make sure to take a nice bong rip and click back on Kickstarter!

The Truth Shall Set You Free in Blanco

Blanco

Blanco is a 64-page black and white post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery graphic novel currently being funded through Kickstarter. Co-created by writer Marco Lopez and artist David Brame, it features lettering by DC Hopkins and is edited by Derek Ruiz.

In a post-apocalyptic future where mankind has long since been dead and Medieval Kingdoms, control their people with an iron fist. The religious rule is the order of the day and Blanco, is one of the most beloved warriors in the Kingdom of the seraph Azrael.

He and his brother Cain hunt the heretics who dare defy their father’s law. Zealots of a new apocryphal belief that is spreading across the Five Kingdoms and the Middling Lands.

When Blanco discovers a band of heretics is heading through the Outer Zone to a safe haven, they call New Eden. He decides to make an example of them, but what he finds in the Outer Zone will literally change his perception of the world he lives in.

We got to chat with the creative team about the series, its influence and the democratization of comics.

You can back Blanco now and help it reach its goal of $3,900.

Graphic Policy: So, tell us a a bit about Blanco.

Marco Lopez: Well, not to repeat what I said in the campaign. But Blanco is about a Nephilim in the service of the Kingdom of the Seraph Azrael. And he is one of the most beloved soldiers in his father’s service and a fundamentalist who blindly follows his father’s will. But eventually, that blind faith is going to open him up to a truth that, as the old saying goes, will turn his world upside down.

David Brame: Blanco was Marco’s idea. He contacted me and I thought it was a brilliant idea and decided to put my sauce in the mix.

Blanco

GP: Where did the idea come from?

ML: It’s been so long since I came up with the idea of Blanco that I don’t remember the exact details. I vaguely remember thinking about the old 70s Jack Kirby DC comics. The whole 4th world and other titles he created. I’m a huge fan of pulp storytelling. Whether it’s The Shadow or The Phantom or Conan, John Carter and Tarzan. I love the whole aesthetic. I think it mostly came from my love of Kamandi, OMAC and Hanna Barbera, and Ruby & Spears action-adventure cartoons. I also wanted to do something that was postapocalyptic where the world reverted to a past time. It doesn’t really make any sense that we’d revert back to medieval or 18th-century tech or whatnot but, I loved that about cartoons, and I wanted to do something similar. Kamandi but without the last human boy as the lead. All of man is gone, and all that’s left are humanoid animals. Or so they’re led to believe.

DB: I’ve always wanted to work together with someone who wanted to do an andro/anthro story and Marco and I vibed really well on what kinds of stories we liked to tell. We both had a love of ban Dessine and European comics. Large format, cinematic storytelling, sweeping saga-like beauty—we are blending 70s pulp sword and sorcery with contemporary euro stylization all bookended by post-apocalyptic furry content. What’s not to love.

GP: How did the team come together for this?

ML: David was the original artist back in 2010 when I first came up with Blanco but, he had to drop out because of a job opportunity. Fast forward 9 years later, and I was pitching this to publisher 133art. I think I talked to David a bit about it back then, but I don’t think either of us made the connection on the 2010 version. I mean, it had been 10 years. 133art was really high on David drawing this, and so was I, and David loved the idea, so he came on board but then 133art had to back out when they started their distribution arm. So, I talked to David about it, and we took it over to Subsume, and the rest, as they say, is history. During all this, I did find those old designs and realized David was the artist back then. I hit him up about it, and we had a good laugh about how the world is so small. It really shows you this was meant to be that 10 years later, we’re working together again on Blanco.

DB: I partied a lot back then so there is a solid decade of fuzzy memories. I vaguely remembered the Blanco project when Marco hit me up but then things clicked in place once I saw the artwork. My first thoughts were “cool idea—but we can do better” fast forward a few scribbles and doodles and chats we developed the Blanco pages we are previewing.

GP: There’s a lot of fundraising platforms out there. You originally chose Indiegogo but switched to Kickstarter. Why the change?

Marco: The main reason for the change was the political turmoil that was going on back in January. It was the main talk on social media, and unless you’re a name creator, it’s easy to get drowned out in all that talk. Also, we decided to drastically lower the goal. Our aim is just to get this book out. Get it funded. Get it out. There are other avenues after Kickstarter’s success in which we can further release the book.

Also, while I think Indiegogo has better options and is easier to set up and navigate than Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the leader of the pack here. So, it was best when relaunching to start there first. We’re not leaving IGG behind. Our plan is to either go IGG In Demand after the close of the campaign or create an IGG when we reach the goal and have it run for the remainder of the KS campaign and then have that go In Demand.

If you have two top platforms for raising funds, there is no reason to not use both. It would be idiotic to do so otherwise.

David: We agreed the timing and the platform wasn’t a great fit. So we tried again!

GP: Out of the two platforms, what are you noticing the big difference is?

Marco: For me, I think there’s a larger audience for comic books and graphic novels on Kickstarter. Though that’s rapidly changing over at IGG. It’s basically the difference between, let’s say, CGC and CBCS when it comes to who you want to go with grading your comics.

CGC is the older and more trusted brand. But that doesn’t mean you should discount CBCS. Also, I think Indiegogo tends to favor more slam-bang action-type comics. That’s not to say KS doesn’t either, but if you’re a nobody putting out that type of comics, IGG might be more for you.

David: I honestly haven’t put my finger on it. I think any quality project with good visibility can be crowdfunded on any platform. I suppose it seems to be more about luck timing and the hard work that precedes the launch as well as the deliverables. I think most people are hungry for content right now especially those in the sword and sorcery fandom and we are happy to give it to them

Blanco

GP: You mention it a bit on the project page, but there is a lot of comics released, and crowdfunding platforms provide another avenue for consumers. What are your thoughts about the choice’s creators have today for their releases?

ML: Unless the only thing you want to do is write for Marvel and DC. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But you need to get your work out there and build a fanbase. And crowdfunding helps with that. Even the most popular webcomics eventually crowdfund collected print editions or merchandise. Crowdfunding is making it easier than ever to self-publish and build yourself into a force to be reckoned with. It’s not easy, of course, or everyone would be doing it. But it’s another arsenal in the distribution of stories. Especially if you can’t do it all yourself in comics.

DB: Crowdfunding is a boon for independent creators. Initially relegated to hawking your merch in sweaty artist allies and praying for the big 3 to pick you up, being an indie comic artist was a tough road. I would say with all these new accessible options for distribution, printing, and dissemination being an Indie creator now is only based on visibility. We are finding that there are niche markets and subcultures in the comics spectrum everywhere. The crowdfunding independent model has allowed us to tell a plethora of stories and we are excited Blanco gets to be apart of that.

GP: Do you think crowdfunding has democratized the comic industry in a way with consumers voting with their dollar to make projects happen?

ML: I think it has because that is always the answer to any entertainment industry. Does it sell? If the publishers don’t believe your idea or story will sell, you can prove it to them. The American comic book industry still isn’t there with the wide variety it should be publishing. Like, say Manga, or European comics. But it’s getting there, and until it does. Crowdfunding proves even the weirdest or controversial, and even old-school ideas are worthy of people’s money.

DB: Absolutely democratized. However, We are still left with the pay to play model—meaning if you have more money or resources to advertise or connect to your audience you’re likely going to have a higher success rating even within the indie world. But with that said as creators, our goal is to entertain and to craft new and interesting ways of telling stories. Blanco is for sure something that’s not a wasted vote.

GP: You describe the series as Conan with great anthropomorphic characters. Did you always want to do anthropomorphic? Were there thoughts of just using humans or some fantasy race?

ML: The characters were always going to be anthropomorphic. You can thank a childhood of Don Bluth, Rock and Rule, Disney Afternoon, and other animated films and series. It’s always been my dream to combine the aesthetic of something like those titles in a brutal adult world.

DB: For sure. As a young artist from the 80’s lots of start with Disney and Nickelodeon as our understanding of cartoonish characteristics. I’ve always wanted to make anthro work and even more after seeing what was being done with Manga, Anime, and Blacksad.

GP: With that, were there thoughts about the animals and their representation? There’s a lot of stories with anthropomorphic stories where the animals themselves have a deeper meaning.

ML: No, there isn’t really anything behind the different humanoid animal species. They’re not supposed to parallel any human ethnic groups of today or cultures. The one difference, though, is they’re all mammals. You won’t see humanoid birds walking around or anthropomorphic reptiles.

DB: Marco had no directions for me in terms of the animals belonging to specific tribes or whatever there’s just barbarians and not barbarians. Visually though I needed linchpins to help craft the setting, visual mechanics, and how this post-apocalyptic place came to be. Each place we visit will have remixed elements of lots of ancient and contemporary design—I used lots of Bantu, Igbo, Mongolian and Korean elements. Blanco was originally based off a wolf but there are so many wolf stories I opted to base his design on an African Wild dog. I took it a step further and decided the clothing artifacts weapons everything will be distinct to help immerse readers into the world of Blanco.

GP: You mention Conan, Secret of Nimh, and Brian Jacques Redwall as influences, what else are some of the stories influences and inspiration? And are you trying to traumatize people my age with Secret of Nimh!?

ML: Blacksad is an influence, but you won’t see it until the third volume. I’m also inspired by Oscar Martin’s Solo. Everyone in the U.S. should be reading that. He’s an amazing artist and storyteller. Everything Jack Kirby did at DC comics in the 70s. Like I said before, the old action-adventure Hanna Barbera and Ruby-Spears toon and John Carter. And yes, I am trying to traumatize people our age. haha I loved me some Bluth.

DB: I may have a heart of stone because I missed out on the trauma I was like ‘oooh mice’ Blanco will evoke feelings of darkness and brutality but also moments of quiet austere beauty. I have been looking at a lot of HR Geiger, Paul Pope, Jeff Smith, Bill Watterson, Gojima, Otomo and Jae Lee leading up to Blanco as well streaming as many Attenborough docs I can find.

GP: I see the religious rule and I can’t help but think there an overarching influence of religion in our real-world society. Is there some greater themes/meaning to the series or is it just entertaining sword and sorcery?

ML: There will be in the story things I touch on. I grew up Catholic, but I grew up in an open-minded household. I never had communion and was always taught to challenge ideas. But I also grew up with a fascination with religion and the bible. Why people turn to religion and the use of religion for control. I read the Book of Revelations during a major hurricane when I was a teen in Puerto Rico. But as a writer, I believe that in any story character should be first, plot second, and what you’re trying to say third. Anytime you push what you want to talk about in society upfront. Then you’re characters just become a soapbox, and people stop caring. Make them care about the characters, and the rest will find its place.

DB: I have no religious message to convey other than through the art historian aspect of remixing these motifs.

GP: You mention this is hopefully the beginning, how much of the series and world do you have sketched out? Is there a “Blanco bible”?

ML: I’d like to do at least 8 volumes. Each one is the equivalent of a three-issue mini-series. After volume one, I have volumes two through four roughly mapped out, and I know where the series ends and where Blanco ends up. And yes, I have a rough bible and a series of notes I keep every time a new idea, plot, or character piece pops into my head. So, hopefully, with everyone’s help, this first volume becomes a smashing success and will lead the way to more. Adonai speaks to us in our sleep. Adonai wants us to tell the stories of Blanco’s world. Of the world to come. Help us fulfill Adonai’s wishes.

DB: I would love to retire doing Blanco stories. My dream is to have quarterly issues that people ravenously devour and flame me online wondering why there can’t be ten of me making more! But I’ll settle for 8 issues, some spin-offs, and maybe an omnibus hardcover reprint someday in the future.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting and we’re excited to read it. Backed!

Exclusive: Heather Antos Takes Us Into the Shadowy World of Shadowman

Shadowman #1

Shadowman #1 debuts on April 28th! The debut issue from master of horror Cullen Bunn and acclaimed artist Jon Davis-Hunt, with color by Jordie Bellaire and lettering by Clayton Cowles will soon be unleashed on the world.

Jack Boniface is SHADOWMAN, a powerful protector who keeps humanity safe from the demons that claw at the fabric of our reality.

The forces of darkness are awakening and they are hungry for life. Will Shadowman be able to save us all, or will the darkness devour the world as we know it?

We got a chance to talk to editor Heather Antos about the series and its place in the Valiant universe.

Graphic Policy: Hey Heather, hope you’re well! Being completely honest, this book was better than I ever expected – y’all must be excited to finally have it seeing the light of day?

Heather Antos: I’ll take “better than expected” any day — and I expected it to be great! So, huzzah! I am beyond thrilled that Shadowman #1 has finally hit the stands. I first approached Cullen about this project…gosh…a little over TWO years ago now? After pandemic delays it’s hard to believe we’re finally out there!

GP: If you had to describe Shadowman to a new reader, how would you do it?

HA:  A quick TL:DR on Shadowman: Jack Boniface is a musician by day, and a demon hunter by night, essentially (Okay, it’s a liiiiiiiiiittle more complicated than that). He was born into a legacy of protecting the realm of the living from the darkness of the Deadside partnered with the Shadow Loa Bosou, but it’s not the lifestyle he would’ve chosen for himself. Torn between the life of the living and the world of the dead, Jack has to put his responsibility to protect humanity above all else. He’s a little bit Voodoo…a little bit rock ‘n roll, ha!

Shadowman #1

GP: How did the collaboration with Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis-Hunt come about?

HA: Cullen Bunn and I are longtime collaborators, but I’m even a longer time fan of his horror work. For years we talked about trying to do a horror project together but it just never quite worked out…until Valiant. When I started at the company Shadowman was top on my list of characters I wanted to take a stab at — he was the first Valiant character I ever read, after all — and I knew exactly the writer for the job. As for Jon, we had never worked together previously, but I was an instant fan of his work when I saw him in Vertigo’s THE CLEAN ROOM. His open line inking style is great for horror as it misleads the reader into thinking everything is “safe”…and then you turn the page and see the grotesque horror unleash! He’s truly genius in his storytelling and is absolutely bringing his A-game in every panel.

GP: Shadowman and horror feel like chocolate and peanut butter (though maybe fire and brimstone is a more appropriate analogy…). Where did the direction for the comic come from? Was it something you had in mind before Cullen came on board?

HA: Sort of? I mean, yes, I knew I wanted to take Shadowman in a more distinct horror direction going in, but I also knew that Cullen Bunn was the writer I wanted to approach off the bat. Luckily, he said yes and turned in the most perfect pitch. The rest is history!

Shadowman #1

GP: The first issue is (almost) a complete story in and of itself; was that a happy accident or part of a larger plan?

HA: Making sure each issue was a complete story was absolutely a discussion Cullen and I had during the development of this series. One of the biggest things I wanted to make sure we explored in this series is how the Deadside looks and affects other parts of the world outside of New Orleans. The veil between worlds is wearing thin, so in each issue we see Jack travel the world in order to hunt down whatever it is that is causing these “cracks” to break between dimensions.

GP: There’s a fine balance between horror and crossing that line into gore. Is that something you’re thinking about with the series?

HA: One of the cool things about the Horror genre is that the word “horror” paints a different picture in every person’s mind. For some, it’s 90s slasher films…for others, jump scares…monsters in the night…supernatural beings…tension building thrillers…and we want to explore them all! Like every issue is a complete “episode” that adds to a larger story, we wanted to explore the different ‘tastes’ of horror throughout every issue as well.

GP: Shadowman stands out as the “horror” series of the Valiant Universe which right now is very superhero and sci-fi based. What type of work, if any, goes into making sure this series still “fits in” with the rest?

Shadowman #1

HA: What I love about the Valiant universe is the central themes of the characters have less to do with “genre” and more so to do with the characters and the roles in which they find themselves. Exploring themes like “what is the responsibility of power” is a stronger component to tying the universe together — something we see in spades with Shadowman.

GP: This might be the first time I’ve ever felt sorry for a demon. Not to spoil, but there’s a touching moment in all of the horror from an unexpected place. When developing the first issue, what was your reaction to that part? It feels unusual (in a good way) for this genre of story.

HA: Even in horror, there are two sides to every story. And without spoiling TOO much from this first issue (GO READ IT, PLEASE!!!!), it’s important to remember that not all is as it seems on page 1. Shadowman has a mystery on his hands. Why is this demon in the living Earth? And how can he stop it from happening again? What brought it here…now?

GP: If you had to design a soundtrack/playlist to read Shadowman to, what would you include? 

HA: I hear the big fans over at A SOUND OF THUNDER have created just the song for this — “The Veil (Theme from Shadowman)”! Also, from my own collection, I’d HAVE to add Coheed & Cambria’s “The Dark Sentencer”.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting. Now that I’ve read the first issue, I can’t wait to read more!

The Bad Idea Crew Reveals Some Very Good Ideas. We Get the Scoop on the New Publisher

We were joined by the Bad Idea crew to talk about the comic publishing company that’s doing things a bit differently. The publisher sees its first comic release this week with ENIAC #1.

Joining us:

  • Dinesh Shamdasani – Co-CEO & Co-Chief Creative Officer
  • Warren Simons – Co-CEO & Co-Chief Creative Officer
  • Hunter Gorinson – Publisher
  • Joshua Johns – Director of Marketing
  • Atom Freeman – Sales Consultant

Since the filming, we learned how the publisher will handle new printings of their comics.

So dive in and find out about a comic publisher that’s shaking up how it’s done.

Stick around after the interview to see the comics coming only to comic shops.

Almost American
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