Category Archives: Interviews

Daniel Kibblesmith and Derek Charm talk the comiXology original Valiant High

At New York Comic Con last year, comiXology announced a line of original digital comics from various publishers and featuring various genres. One collaboration was Valiant High, a new take on Valiant Entertainment‘s impressive line of characters.

Valiant High is a hilarious reimagining of Valiant’s award-winning superhero universe by writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artist Derek! Before they became the world’s most formidable heroes, they were roaming the halls at a super-powered preparatory academy where Aric “X-O Manowar” Dacia is a record-setting running back, Colin “Ninjak” King is a debonair foreign exchange student, and Coach Bloodshot is way too into dodgeball! Now… Faith “Zephyr” Herbert is about to discover it all for the first time as the newest girl in school!

The first issue was an original fun take on the characters and second issue out this week! We got a chance to talk to Daniel Kibblesmith and Derek Charm about the series and some of its influences.

Graphic Policy: How did you come on board Valiant High?

Daniel Kibblesmith: I had done some miscellaneous work for Valiant, mostly humor shorts in anthology issues, like the amazing Unity #25. Then-Valiant editor Tom Brennan sent me an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in pitching on a “teen soap opera,” without yet revealing what the idea was. It turns out Valiant and comiXology had both been circling the idea of doing Valiant High, and were looking for people to pitch on the concept.

Derek Charm: I was actually initially just brought on to do character designs and help visualize what High School versions of the Valiant heroes might look like. Originally I wasn’t sure I’d be able to draw the book, since I’ve already got a monthly deadline with Jughead, but the designs and back and forth process was so much fun it became something I really wanted to make time for.

GP: How much of it was fleshed out at that point as far as the characters and world?

DK: They had a few preliminary suggestions, all of which I ended up keeping, I think — Harada as the Principal, obviously. Bloodshot as the shouty dodgeball-obsessed gym coach. I also got to see some of Derek’s designs early enough in the process that I could get inspired by the choices he was making, and it helped me flesh out the backstories of characters like Ninjak, or Gilad, based on their look and attitude.

DC: I was sent Daniel’s original pitch document, but was left pretty much on my own to come up with everyone’s looks and how their super suits might transfer to something more casual while still retaining something of their iconic elements. I went back and forth a lot with Daniel and the editors to make sure every character was close to what they were envisioning.

GP: A thing that sticks out to me is that the characters are reduced to their basic self and they really fit the archetypes of teen high school movies. That wasn’t something I really thought about before reading this. Was that something that you noticed before this?

DK: Not until it was part of my job to think of the Valiant cast in terms of archetypes, and then map those archetypes onto OTHER archetypes of high school stories. But that was definitely the goal, same as any alternate universe story, to boil them down into their core character, so you could drop them in a new setting and it would still feel like “them.” Then the fun of it was seeing how all the jigsaw puzzle pieces fit together, like making the armored XO Manowar an “armored” football star, or figuring out Dr. Mirage would be a science teacher and not one of the students, hence being a “Dr.”

GP: The comic really plays for comedy, not just in the story, but the art as well. It could have easily been a teenage drama. Was there thought about approaching it as a drama?

DK: The key phrase for me was always “soap opera” — which means a variety of tones and feelings are in play. I think the most satisfying stories play a variety of notes, and obviously, I love writing the jokes. But I wanted all the emotions to feel real, and the stakes to seem as high as they are when you’re that age. Plus, I tried to put at least one fight in every issue, because at the end of the day, these are still Valiant superheroes. I think the premise is so inherently heightened that it has to be on the baseline of comedy, but I hope it’ll dredge up people’s actual teen angst as well.

DC: It’s pretty light for the most part, but there are definitely some dramatic and action-oriented moments that come up later on in the story that were a lot of fun to draw.

GP: It being a digital series, how does that impact you as a writer and artist. Is there any difference than a physical comic?

DK: I’m new enough to scripting comics in general that I don’t play with the medium too much, but I definitely had a few rules in mind for a digital-exclusive release. For one thing, there’s no double-page spreads, just single-page splashes. Part of that was needing the real estate for telling a story with so many characters, but I was also aware that it affects my reading experience when I have to turn the device sideways and adjust to new dimensions.

DC: It was something we talked about. For the most part, I’m treating them as regular comic pages, but definitely keeping comiXology’s Guided View in mind as I go.

GP: Have either of you thought about taking advantage of some of the things you can do with digital like panel flow?

DK: I didn’t write in anything in particular, but as a commuter, I was really excited to read it in Guided View on my phone for the first time.

DC: For sure, I’ve found jokes work really well with the Guided View pacing. There’s a lot of repeated panels and held expressions that underline punchlines when you can’t see what’s coming. It’s like every panel is a page-turn.

GP: Were there any Valiant characters you wanted to include but didn’t get a chance to?

DK: It’s such a huge cast that a few got cut for time, or were reduced to background extras. I don’t want to reveal who, because I’d love to do a follow-up where we get to expand the world a little. For now, we packed in as many heroes as we could fit, and there’s still more coming in the next few issues that haven’t been revealed yet. Stay tuned.

GP: Do you have any favorite teen movies or stories? Any influence this series?

DK: My major influences were other High School Alternate Universes, of course, like the X-Men: Evolution cartoon show, or the weird, self-contained world that is the Avengers Academy App. Other big ones, oddly enough, were Power Rangers, or even Saved By The Bell, in the way they had such a limited cast of characters outside of the heroes and kept the action more or less confined to one location. I came to it late, but Archie and The Riverdale universe was obviously an influence. The big difference being that for our first glimpse of Valiant High, it felt early to expand the world to include the kids’ parents, pets, bedrooms, etc. But the biggest influence, and not-at-all high school related, was Marvel’s 1602, which is another AU that turns everyone into archetypes and then looks for the way they click in another time and place (in this case, the Elizabethan era).

DC: Daria and Strangers With Candy are probably my top High School-comedy influences, not just for this series but for everything. A lot of accidental Daria References worked their way in to this series.

GP: What other projects do you have up this year?

DK: Reading everything drawn by Derek. And some things not yet confirmed, so the best way to keep up would be to follow me on Twitter at @Kibblesmith. And watch The Late Show With Stephen Colbert at 11:35 ET on CBS (after your local news).

DC: I’m still on Jughead through the rest of Ryan North’s run, and then the beginning of the next one with the new team. It’s been fun jumping between the sci-fi/super hero aspects of Valiant High and the more down to earth world of Riverdale.

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Shelly Bond, Kristy Miller, and Brian Miller talk Femme Magnifique

FemmeFI

Femme Magnifique is a recent  successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $97,447 to publish an anthology of comics about inspirational women from history and the contemporary world. The Kickstarter was run by Kristy Miller, the VP of Development at Hi-Fi Colour Design; Brian Miller, a comic book colorist and the founder of Hi-Fi Colour Design; and Shelly Bond, the former executive editor at Vertigo and the current editor of the Black Crown imprint at IDW. Hi-Fi has colored many bestselling comic books, like Harley Quinn, Batman: The Dark Knight, and various Doctor Who comics for Titan ,and Bond has been the editor or assistant editor on such comics classics as SandmanLucifer, Fables, and iZombie.

A couple big reasons for Femme Magnifique’s appeal as a KickStarter is the all-star lineup of comic book creators, like Marguerite Bennett, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gerard Way, Kieron Gillen, Annie Wu, Mags Visaggio, and many more. There is also the variety of women featured in the book from historical figures, like Harriet Tubman, Ada Lovelace, and Hatshepsut to more modern women, like Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Michelle Obama, and Bjork. Actors, musicians, scientists, politicians, writers, astronauts, and even cartoonists are represented in the pages of Femme Magnifique. A few I personally am looking forward to are Gail Simone and Marguerite Sauvage‘s Kate Bush story, Gerard Way and Marley Zarcone‘s (Shade the Changing Girl) Joan of Arc comic, Chynna Clugston Flores‘ (Blue Monday) story about Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of the manga Inuyasha, and Tini Howard (Skeptics) and Ming Doyle‘s comic about the Beat poet and artist Diane di Prima.

I had the opportunity to chat with Kristy MillerBrian Miller, and Shelly Bond via email about the inspiration for the Femme Magnifique Kickstarter, switching from creating fiction to non-fiction comics, the role of the anthology in the current American political climate, and most of all, about the amazing women whose stories will be told in this anthology.

First, I asked Shelly Bond about the inception of the Femme Magnifique project.

Shelly Bond: The idea for Femme Magnifique was simmering for a while, but crystallized in early November thanks to two quite disparate events that occurred back-to-back.

Of course, the first one is obvious: discovering the outcome of the US presidential election.  I had just returned from a convention in the U.K. We sleep with the TV on so while I was enjoying (?) a fitful slumber I was rudely awaken from my jet-lagged haze by what I thought was a Black Mirror version of the news. I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears. Clearly, it was a devastating, missed opportunity for women.

The second event occurred on the following night.  I had a ticket to finally see Roisin Murphy, my favorite female frontwoman, perform live — at LA’s legendary El Rey Theatre no less. There’s no magic quite like a seeing a singer/performance artist whose lyrics are clever and insightful, replete with poetry and bombast. Bowie would have applauded her seamless, onstage costume changes, with resplendent masks that would look at home on a  Dave McKean comic-book cover. The show was at once mesmerizing, decadent, discordant — but it was the crush of the enraptured dance crowd that ultimately sold me on bringing Femme Magnifique to life: A group of people coming together in art and appreciation.

I couldn’t wait to put out a call-to-arms within the comic book community, to turn the onslaught of anger about the Trump election results into positivity. So, we could become a fortress of knowledge. And change.

The following day I reached out to fellow comics pros Brian and Kristy Miller of Hi-Fi Colour Design, and we agreed to put our skills to good use and turn this social and political firecracker into Femme Magnifique, which is nothing but a celebration of women. Dreamers, achievers, glass ceiling crackers, fearless innovators of our history.

Next, I asked Kristy Miller and Brian Miller several questions about the role they played in Femme Magnifique.

Graphic Policy: How did you all get involved in the Femme Magnifique Kickstarter, and what day to day role do you play in the project?

Brian Miller: The election result came as a shock. I didn’t know what it would mean for my friends in the LGBT community and for women’s rights, but like many I was concerned. Frustration and anger weren’t the answer, and I was wondering how I could use my talents to effect change in a positive way. When Kristy and I spoke with Shelly, we knew Femme Magnifique could be the voice of positivity for women, who are feeling threatened or oppressed by the incoming administration.

In addition to coloring some of the stories in Femme Magnifique, I’m also helping with the layout and design of the book and much of the behind the scenes work on the Kickstarter campaign. When you are crowdfunding a graphic novel anthology, like Femme Magnifique, the Kickstarter campaign can become a second full time job. I’m so thankful for the fans and contributing creators who have helped get the message out about the campaign. If it were not for their tweets, Facebook posts, and helping to keep Femme Magnifique at the forefront, I don’t think we would be as far along as we are today. It’s been thrilling to see the outpouring of support so far.

Kristy Miller: Shelly was the driving force of starting this project.  She came to Brian and me with the idea, and we immediately jumped on board.

I joke that my role is the voice of reason. Shelly and Brian are visionaries and artists, who want to do as much as they possibly can creatively.  I want to know how much is it going to cost, what are the deadlines, is that even possible? I am handling the back-end business aspects and things like contracts, money, trafficking the art etc.  The not-so-glamourous-but-keep-eveything-in-order side of things.

GP: Why should comic book fans pick up Femme Magnifique, and what can they expect from the book?

BM:I hope many comic books fans will take a look at Femme Magnifique. There are incredible stories in the book written and drawn by fan favorite creators. I believe if you enjoy Michael and Laura Allred on Batman ’66 and Art Ops, you will love their story about Jane Fonda in Femme Magnifique. Fan favorite writers, like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Alisa Kwitney, Matt Wagner, Gerard Way, and others, are each contributing unique stories about women, who inspired their lives and enhanced their journeys.

Anyone who is a fan of Gail Simone’s writing for Red Sonja, Deadpool, and Batgirl will be delighted with her story about Kate Bush in the book.  Bringing the visuals to these stories is a roster of artists including Brian Stelfreeze, Marley Zarcone, Tess Fowler, Elsa Charretier, and Sanford Greene just to name a few. There are so many talented creators contributing to this graphic novel anthology, and I believe all comic book fans will be thrilled to own a copy.

GP: Kristy, how did your background as an archaeologist and anthropologist inform your work on Femme Magnifique?

KM: I have taught a variety of college classes on women in history and women in other cultures. I am always amazed when my students have never heard of women I think of as household names. Women, like Hatshepsut (Egyptian Pharaoh,) Pauline Cushman (American Civil War spy), and Margaret Mead (Cultural anthropologist), should be role models for everyone, yet many have not heard of them.

I ask my students to compile a list of their favorite/most inspirational woman in politics, music, science, history, the women’s movement, their family etc. There are a lot of blank lists. Why can you think of 20 men in those roles, but are hard-pressed to think of one woman?  I am also a PhD candidate in Education, and I created the Teacher’s Packet reward level for the Kickstarter. I will be writing curriculum based on Femme Magnifique that can be used in a variety of classes and for a variety of ages.

Femme Magnifique will showcase women as the role models they have always been. Hopefully, we will share the lives of some women that you may not have known about before. Not only are we spreading the stories of these women, but we are also sharing the medium of comics. Comics can be a hard sell, not fine art, not literature, but in Femme Magnifique, we will show you that comics are indeed both.

GP: Brian, how did your background as a comic book colorist inform your work on Femme Magnifique?

BM: Shelly, Kristy, and I all agreed color should be an important aspect of Femme Magnifique. Part of that meant inviting a handful of other colorists to join Hi-Fi on this project. While Hi-Fi is comprised of female and male flatters and colorists, we wanted to be inclusive and bring in some talented people who we had not had the opportunity to work with one-on-one previously. I’m proud to say colorists Tamra Bonvillain, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Rick Taylor will be joining Femme Magnifique along with Hi-Fi to color these inspiring stories based on real women.

When it comes to coloring the individual stories, our goal is always to serve the story the writer has crafted and complement the artwork. In my mind, the color should never distract from the story or overwhelm the art. When we get it right, the color is good, but also subtle. It doesn’t shout unless needed, for a special moment in the story, or perhaps an effect like a flashback. I also believe it will be key for each story to have a color palette that suits the subject of the story and the time period. The color choices for the story of Brenda Starr creator Dale Messick set in the 1940s will be unique when compared with the color selections for Joan of Arc. When the book is complete, the stories should flow from one to another naturally, without shocking the reader, yet each have their own distinct flavor. This is the challenge we attempt to answer when coloring a large graphic novel anthology like Femme Magnifique.

GP: For the most part, Hi-Fi Colour Design works on superhero comics. What have been some of the challenges and rewards of switching from telling the stories of masked heroes and Timelords to depicting real people?

BM: Hi-Fi has been fortunate to color a variety of super-hero, independent, and alternative comics over the years. We love coloring the Justice League, The Flash, or Spider-Man, just as much as we enjoy working on Doctor Who, The X-Files, and G.I. Joe. At the end of the day, our focus is on great visual storytelling, and being able to apply those storytelling skills to stories based on real people is incredibly rewarding.

SallyRide

As an example, while I was reading Cecil Castellucci’s script for “The Right Stuff”, featuring real-life astronaut Sally Ride, I was inspired to research more about NASA’s space shuttle missions than I ever knew before. Artist Philip Bond shared information about various women astronauts and the different space suits they wore in flight. This motivated me to dive deeper and look through hundreds of reference photos to see the colors and materials used in the space suits and read more about women astronauts. All of this information informs the storytelling in the colors for the story. It also allows me to better complement the words written by Cecil and the artwork drawn by Philip. Plus I discovered more about space exploration than I knew before.

This sense of discovery and being inspired to learn more about the amazing women in Femme Magnifique is one of the reasons I enjoy this graphic novel anthology so much. Coloring one story changed my life and inspired me to get outside my comfort zone and learn something new. I can only imagine how I’ll feel after I’ve colored 20 or more of these stories.

GP: Since Femme Magnifique is all about shining a light on inspirational women, what are some women that have personally inspired you in your own lives?

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An example of Adrienne Roy’s colors.

BM: I did not grow up with very many strong female role models in my life, but fortunately I have met many in the comic book industry, who have inspired me and and led by example. First is comic book colorist Adrienne Roy, who passed away in 2010. Her coloring work inspired me as a child and continues to influence me to this day. Her use of warm and cool colors for visual storytelling remains the gold standard for all colorists.

Cartoonist Paige Braddock inspires me with her strength and vision. She works in a corporate environment by day and creates amazing comics like Jane’s World and Stinky Cecil after hours. She’s a true role model for our industry. I had the pleasure to work with writer Gail Simone on Birds of Prey for several years at DC, and she set the bar for putting female heroes at the forefront in comic books. She showed readers the characters could be strong, smart, and sexy without being sexualized. Gail broke down barriers and opened a lot of doors in the industry. Readers and creators owe her a debt of gratitude for dragging the comic book industry kicking and screaming into this century.

Shelly Bond is more than a super-editor, she is a visionary. When you look back on her body of work, you see brilliance at every turn. I’m so grateful she has shared this with me on projects like Bite Club, My Faith in Frankie, American Virgin, and New Romancer. Read one of these stories, and you will understand how she sees the world, why she makes the creative decisions she makes, and why she keeps pushing for greatness and never stops. When you see the big name comic creators associated with Femme Magnifique, that’s all Shelly. She doesn’t have to convince, cajole, or beg anyone to be here creating this graphic novel anthology… We all want to do this, we all want to work with her again and again!

This list would not be complete without including my partner in Hi-Fi, and in life, Kristy Miller. She commands respect in our industry. Everyone in the industry wants to work with Hi-Fi because they know, with Kristy in charge, their comic will exceed expectations and meet the deadline.

KM: I’m lucky to have had many strong women in my life.  My grandmother was a librarian and my mother was a teacher, both went to college and always told me I could be anything and do anything I wanted in life.  I knew at an early age I wanted to be an archaeologist, but most people didn’t even know what that meant.  The only role models they could come up with were Indiana Jones, and that guy who found King Tut.  When I went to college, one of my advisors told me I should probably switch majors to history or mythology so I could stay home and maybe teach.  That just made me try harder to become an archaeologist. I was on my first dig in the Middle East by age 22.  There were a few mentions of women in my textbooks, but nothing substantial.

I will never forget, in 1994, a book came out called Women in Archaeology. It covered women working in various parts of the world and even the pitfalls of being a female archaeologist.  I read that book cover to cover and wondered why no one ever told me about these women before. I want Femme Magnifique to be a book that girls and women can turn to and say , “See, I can do that.” or even better find that their career path isn’t mentioned in one of our stories but still be inspired enough by other women to know she can make it on her own.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview featuring some of the creators of Femme Magnifique!

Mina Elwell talks InferNoct, Scout Comics

infernoctEarlier this year, publisher Scout Comics announced an impressive slate of new comics to be released throughout 2017. I talked to Mina Elwell, Media Director at Scout Comics and writer of InferNoct, an upcoming horror comic from Scout.

Graphic Policy: First, thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Could you please tell us a little about yourself?

Mina Elwell: Thank you! I think of myself as a research-based writer. I love hearing about bizarre things –history, mythology, biology, muttering on the subway. (InferNoct is mostly the last one.) Talking to me could go off in any direction.

GP: You’re writing InferNoct, which has been described as a “Lovecraftian” horror story. What can readers expect from this comic?

ME: There’s a kind of looming existential dread associated with Lovecraftian horror, going back to HP Lovecraft’s stories, that I wanted to capture with InferNoct. As horror fans, we’re a little desensitized to extreme gore. A lot of us grew up watching American slashers – we’re hard to shock. What makes Lovecraftian stories disturbing is the sense that we do not really understand each other, nothing we do really matters, and our sanity is fragile.

And tentacles. There will be tentacles.

GP: As a filmmaker, what is it like to switch between writing for film and writing for comics? Are there things that each allows you to do as a writer that you can’t do with the other?

ME: One of the things I really like about comics is how small our team is. Eli Powell and I are co-creators. Tristan Elwell is our color artist, Marshall Dillon is our letterer, and James Pruett is our editor. That’s it. I’m able to write for them and to them, with their specific styles in mind. My scripts have notes and suggestions for Eli, links to hats and sea creatures he might like to draw.

A film script, even for an indie film, is going to be seen by a lot more people. You’re writing for the lighting techs, and the PA’s, not just the director and the editor.

GP: How do these different genres and mediums allow you to explore different kinds of storytelling?

ME: Films (and TV of course) allow a wide variety of people to come together to create the same thing – it’s music, it’s cinematography, it’s costumes and props and makeup, it’s editing, it’s writing. It feels like you’re watching one vision, but you’re really watching the work of hundreds of people working for months.

Eli and I have always been on the same page. What you’re seeing is pretty close to what I first imagined.

GP: What were some of InferNoct’s influences? What drew you to the horror genre?

ME: Other than Lovecraft…

When I was creating the world of InferNoct, I thought a lot about the original 1973 Wickerman, and the way that our perceptions of the townspeople switch several times throughout. InferNoct is an American love letter to folk horror.

With Sam, the protagonist, thought about The Crying of Lot 49, my favorite Pynchon novel. She’s a very different kind of person than Oedipa, but they’re both trying to reinvent themselves, and struggling to face a new reality… or what reality means, depending on how you read it.

I really looked at Thomas Ligotti’s stories when I was thinking about fear. Nobody does fear better than Ligotti.

GP: Based on the description, InferNoct has a really intriguing and unique concept. It’s also not your first horror story. Do you find yourself trying to break or avoid horror tropes when conceptualizing new stories?

ME: In general, I try not to worry about it too much. If two people started out with the exact same concept, they’d probably end up with entirely different final projects. At the same time, most people are pretty familiar with the horror movie archetypes (thank you Scary Movie and Scream Queens) so there’s a danger that anything set in a cabin in the woods with several promiscuous teens will become a parody pretty quickly. Eli and I made the decision to take out a “Hello?” shouted into an empty house the other day… everyone knows that’s how you get killed.

GP: Though the comic isn’t out yet, you’ve been releasing Trauma Cleanup Reports on InferNoct’s Facebook page. This is a pretty awesome way to market the book, set the tone for the story, and show off Eli Powell’s art. How did idea for the trauma reports come about?

ME: I wrote the first Trauma Report as something to hand out at conventions – my first one was Flame Con. I was hoping it would be something to give people a taste of what the series would be like, through the eyes of a different protagonist. Once I started to actually meet people at the cons, and they were excited about the series, I realized I wanted to have something running until release that would help them remember us.

GP: Eli Powell’s art looks absolutely incredible in the previews I’ve seen. What does he bring to the story?

ME: Eli brings a lot of depth to the characters, especially Sam, who is the main character but doesn’t have a ton of dialogue. I think my favorite thing about Eli’s work on InferNoct though is that every time I look at it I find something new. He brings something so funny and twisted to it. I feel like I’m playing Where’s Waldo, except “Waldo” is the name of something slightly sticky with too many teeth.

GP: I was reading an article the other day that suggested humor is a necessary counterpoint to fear because it makes the fear more conquerable. For you, what role does humor play in InferNoct?

ME: Humor is a great way of dealing with fear. It’s probably the best way of exposing things for what they really are — though given our current political situation, it’s pretty clear that we can laugh at something and find it terrifying at the same time…

The humor in InferNoct is pretty dark. There are definitely a few “it’s funny because it’s so awful” moments. We meet a fairly absurd cast of characters who have some terrible things happen to them. Eli’s art is wonderful in that respect as well. In issue 1 I described our character Joey as distracted, and Eli did the most hilarious zoned out expression for him. Keep an eye out for that one…

GP: You’re also Scout Comics’ Media Director. As readers and comic fans, we get to see the final product rather than the behind-the-scenes. What are some of your responsibilities as Media Director? Is there anything that would surprise readers about your job?

ME: There are some really cool new series coming out of Scout at the moment, but since they’re brand new characters, you don’t necessarily know what to expect. I want to make sure it’s getting to the audience that’s going to fall in love with it. Michael Sanchez, our editorial director, is a real master of that as well.

GP: Last year, Scout announced an impressive slate of new comics. What Scout books are you looking forward to in 2017?

ME: There are so many good Scout books coming out this year. I’m really excited about Smoketown, which is coming out right now. Mindbender, written by our wonderful editor James Pruett, is available for preorder this month. If you’ve ever seen InferNoct at a convention, we’re often tabling with AC Medina, whose series Welcome to Paradise really developed alongside InferNoct. I’m looking forward to experiencing it as a reader.

GP: What are your favorite comics/comic-related movies or games?

ME: I grew up on Sandman. Is it surprising that I love horror and dark fantasy? For games, I’m all about Telltale right now. I love that style of episodic storytelling.

GP: I played through Telltale Batman about a month ago and am so ready for Season Two! I love comics because I find the episodic, interrupted narrative immerses you in the story and yanks you right back out. It’s really effective in building suspense between issues, and I was surprised how well that translated to video games.

ME: Absolutely, I think immersing the player in the world is something that Telltale does really well. They do a wonderful job expanding on existing universes. Wolf Among Us had some fantastic original characters that fleshed it out and made it feel real. Obviously, I love a strange cast in a strange world!

GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you?

ME: Most commonly asked question: Yes! The colorist Tristan Elwell is my father. I’ve been watching him make incredible pictures my whole life; it’s pretty exciting to have him working on something with me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to actually get him to come to a con.

GP: Having grown up with comics like Sandman and an artist/illustrator father, did you always know you wanted to enter the comics field in some capacity?

ME: I’d be happy to be telling stories in literally any medium you can think of, but I’m thrilled to be working on a comic with my dad, who introduced me to comics as a little kid. Does it get better than that?

GP: Thanks again!

Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will talk Årkade

Meet Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will, creators of the retro-inspired comic Årkade, which debuts this year at Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The team is campaigning on GoFundMe, and I had the opportunity to talk to them about the campaign and the comic.

Graphic Policy: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please tell us a little about yourselves?

Mark Allard-Will: No, thank you, Madison. It’s a real pleasure to be interviewed by you Crowdfund_Team_PNGand for Graphic Policy. My name is Mark Allard-Will and I am a Writer, specialising and focussing on Comic Books, Graphic Novels, etc. Although I now call Canada home and call myself a Canadian, I’m British born and raised. My previous project, and most successful project to-date, was Saskatch-A-Man; a Canadiana comedy comic book that focussed on the Province I live in, Saskatchewan.

Elaine Will: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Madison! I’m Elaine Will and I’m a cartoonist and illustrator also residing in Saskatchewan, Canada. My main claim to fame is the graphic novel Look Straight Ahead, a story about mental illness which was a 2012 Xeric Award winner, from the very last grant cycle (a fact I’m pretty proud of!) The book was very well received and can still be read online on my website blog.e2w-illustration.com (I admit, the site is in desperate need of a revamp – soon, I swear!)

GP: Your comic Årkade is currently up on GoFundMe. Can you describe the project?

MAW: Sure can. Årkade, in a nutshell, is a metafiction comic book that fuses styles and genres; which, for us, is the old ham-fisted American and British produced Viking movies where the cast knowingly misused Middle English and late ‘80s, early ‘90s family adventure movies. Our medium to fuse the two is defunct Video Games (albeit fictional Video Games of our creation). This story is a one-shot, it’ll be perfect-bound like a graphic novel and we’ll be adding some goodies in there too, like a Pin-up/Tribute Art Gallery that features some Artwork by a diverse range of Canadian Cartoonists, Artists and even an American Comic Book Artist.Crowdfund_Story

So, the GoFundMe page acts just as any other Crowdfunding page would and does, people who help us pay off our printing bill by backing the project can get preorders of the physical Book, digital download and a plethora of other goodies, including some advertising opportunities, limited signed and numbered sketch cards and the chance to receive some art of yourself drawn as an Årkade character.  

EW: What Mark said – one thing I’ll add is that I wanted to do a comic that incorporated glitch art (as I have yet to see that – although, it may exist now) and asked Mark to write a story which might allow me to indulge in that.

GP: What were some of the movie and game influences for Årkade? What inspired the AxeMan character?

MAW: For me, when I writing the script, I absolutely wanted to throw some homage to, what in my mind is the pinnacle of adventure metafiction movies, The Neverending Story; and that’s certainly where the fiction-to-“reality” crossover and the race against impending doom narratives of Årkade take their base from. I think for many of us whom grew up before story-driven video gaming, we have a certain love affair held out for the old side-scrollers and Arcade house games and certainly a big motivator for how I envisioned the video game world of the Vikings was a Sega Genesis titled called Golden Axe.

EW: I was born in ’85 and pretty much only played side-scrolling platform games growing up – I was given a SNES for my 7th birthday with Super Mario World as the pack-in game. A couple of years later I got a Sega Genesis as well, because I was a rather spoiled only child. In fact, I never really grew into a next-gen gamer…at some point I just couldn’t keep up and I still enjoyed the old games enough I didn’t feel a need to upgrade. I definitely know that I’m missing out on some great modern games and I really want to find the time to play a few soon.

Sorry to go off on a bit of a tangent there – there’s a little bit of pixel art in the comic that’s definitely inspired by the graphics of the old 2D sidescrollers. I actually usually point to Sonic the Hedgehog as my biggest artistic inspiration, as it was the original comics published by Archie that instilled the desire in me to become a cartoonist!

GP: This isn’t the first comic you have done together, how has your storytelling evolved as your comics have progressed?

MAW: Well, I think that’s a really neat part of working together and furthering together as we do; as we’ve moved on to different projects together, Elaine will give me some ideas of what she’d like to see in the visuals of the World, etc, and I’ll see if I can make it work in plot development and later in scripting. We’re definitely very good at bouncing ideas off of each other, which I think helps to flesh out something really exciting.

EW: I think we definitely make a good team. Mark’s scripts are so easy for me to visualize. Due to his background in film, he’s able to nail down what he wants to see drawn in each panel and describes that in great detail, so much of the work is already done for me before I ever sit down to do thumbnails.

GP: Though there have been other comic adaptations of video games, Årkade is unique in that it incorporates the side-view angles and pixelated graphics of a side-scroll video game. What were the challenges of adapting the medium for print while staying faithful to the style?

Pixel_Panel2EW: When designing the pixel art I went so far as to make sure the character sprites didn’t contain more than 16 colours – the standard for a single “palette line” in a 16-bit game. Depending on the console, there could also be anywhere from 64-256 colours on screen at one time, so I stuck pretty firmly to that in the pixel art as well.

For the rest of the artwork I went for a pretty cartoony cel-shaded style.

GP: Elaine, Årkade is different from your other projects Look Straight Ahead and Dustship Glory. How do these different genres allow you to explore different forms of storytelling in comics?

EW: I decided to go for a much more straightforward storytelling style for Årkade. One of the hallmarks of my style is tilted, oddly-shaped or jagged panels corresponding to moments of tension in the story. I think I sometimes have a tendency to create odd page layouts or differently shaped panels just for the sake of it, and not always when it serves the story. So, I wanted to draw a comic that didn’t have any of that for once and then slowly start to bring it back in later on (you see a bit of it towards the end of Årkade, once the game world starts to fall apart).

GP: As an artist, what is your favorite part of telling different types of stories?

EW: I suppose, trying to figure out the best art and storytelling style to set the mood! And the challenges that presents. It can be frustrating sometimes, of course, when I’m sitting down to draw a new story and realize it’s full of things I don’t really know how to draw…but this always ends up being beneficial later on, even if I don’t realize it at the time. I think the horses in Årkade are pretty sweet looking, and that’s because I had plenty of practice drawing them in Dustship Glory! ;)

GP: Mark, were there challenges in capturing the spirit of a video game in a print medium?

MAW: That’s a really great question. For me personally, not so much; it’s introduced very early on in the story and falls in to place as AxeMan reminiscing about the days gone by when he and his game cartridge were played with routinely and beloved by players and continues with a Jay and Silent Bob-esque retro game collector and restorer in our modern timeline. Despite the story being metafiction (where you have at least some free reign to ham things up), the only real challenge was to make sure I didn’t get too quirky on any one particular element in those dynamics.  

GP: Nostalgia is kind of “in vogue” right now, with the return of 1980s and 1990s fashion and the popularity of movie and television show reboots. What role does nostalgia play in the comic? Was there a game or movie you were feeling particularly nostalgic for when developing the story?

MAW: Definitely. For me, it was movies such as Neverending Story, The Goonies, The Last Action Hero and ET. In terms of games, beyond the aforementioned Golden Axe, I’d have to say the Sonic The Hedgehog games and a great Sega Genesis title called Wiz ‘n’ Liz.

EW: As I mentioned above, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a big influence (particularly the art direction of Sonic CD, as it’s just so different from the rest of the classic series and has a really interesting “technology bonded with nature” thing going on). I think that we were also inspired by the movie Wreck-It Ralph, its existentialist themes and the wonderful feeling of nostalgia it created from an entirely fictional arcade game – in fact, I usually Elevator Pitch Årkade as “Wreck-It Ralph With Vikings.”

GP: What are you most excited for readers to see in this comic?

MAW: For me, I’m really excited for readers to see my quirky, fun writing take on new legs outside of Canadiana into something that’s fun for all ages. I’m also really hoping this will just be a nice big blast of nostalgia for people too.

EW: Everything! We really gave it our all for this one and I think lots of folks will love it – not just for the nostalgia factor, but because I think it’s a really fun story.

GP: Congrats on being able to debut Årkade at Toronto Comic Arts Festival! Where will this comic be available after TCAF?

MAW: Thank you. After the show, the comic will be available in stores across Canada and from our online webstore, we’ll be updating people of the exact purchase link on our Social Media platforms when it goes live. The best place for people to keep up-to-date is on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CuckoosNestPress

GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you about?

MAW: Just to say a huge thanks for having us and putting us up on Graphic Policy and to say a huge thank you to all the backers and sharers of the crowdfunding page, it really does mean a lot to us.

EW: Yes, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with us and for featuring us on Graphic Policy! The crowdfunding campaign is up until April 9th.

GP: Thank you so much for your time!

EW: Cheers! :)

Ken Garing Discusses Planetoid: Praxis

planetoidpraxis_01-1Planetoid: Praxis is the long-anticipated sequel to the popular 2012 miniseries Planetoid. The inhabitants of a distant planetoid have fought off their robot overlords and established a thriving settlement on the planetoid’s mechanized surface. Now, years later, their de facto leader, Onica, must grapple with a new complication when their isolated way of life is threatened by the arrival of an unexpected visitor!

Writer and artist Ken Garing discusses his latest series.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Planetoid: Praxis come from?

Ken Garing: The first series, Planetoid, was meant to be a single story arc, but after I finished it I kept having ideas about where things could go with the characters and story. I worked on a series of different projects after Planetoid but Praxis kept on growing and developing, which eventually lead to me fully committing to it.

GP: It’s been quite some time since Planetoid was published. Did you hesitate at all revisiting this world?

KG: A little bit. It’s a lot of work to do a series like this single-handedly. But once I got the ball rolling it all felt very right and natural. I have many other non-Planetoid stories I want to tell, but once I had the story sorted out, I felt like Praxis needed to come out first.

GP: You’ve had quite a lot going on in your life in between the publishing of the two volumes. Did any of that impact the story?

KG: Definitely. Like when I first began working on Praxis I was staying in this industrial area of Chiba, Japan. I could see flames from the steel mill from the house I was staying at. So, in that case I literally wound up using my own living environment as reference. I’m sure there are other examples that I’m unaware of where real life creeps in. I’m always reading something, both fiction and non-fiction, and I’m sure that material influences what I’m working on.

GP: I personally think good sci-fi acts as an allegory to our world. Reading the first issue, I immediately think of immigration, fear of others, a lot of the xenophobia that’s going on in the world? Was that something you were thinking of when writing this series?

KG: For Praxis #1 I was thinking about the act of “othering” generally. People have very weird ways of rationalizing the harm done against those labeled as “others”. There’s a lot of seemingly very nice, moral people that are completely unbothered by the murder or harming of innocent people if it fits a certain criteria. We’re supposed to be in this modern interconnected world but simple geography is still enough to warrant human life meaningless in certain regions of the world. Ever since I was young this has bothered me. Praxis gives me a chance to explore issues like this.

GP: In your letter in the back of the first issue you talk about a lack of, then flood of science fiction comics on the market. Why do think there’s been a change like that?

KG: Saga, Prophet and Planetoid all came out around the same time and there was talk about Image being the new home for science-fiction comics. But later that same year Star Wars was sold to Disney, so surely that was the biggest influence.

But science-fiction covers a huge spectrum of material. Some of what I see now is really interesting, but honestly, a lot of it looks like the cheesy sci-fi from the early 2000’s, which Planetoid was reacting against. Most sci-fi that is purely escapist comes off as vapid in my view. Even as a kid I was attracted to the big ideas more than the big tech. If the imagery isn’t charged with some kind of idea then it doesn’t do much for me.

GP: The world you’ve put together feels very fleshed out. Have you made a “bible” of this world and its history?

KG: I do have a text document with all my notes but it’s all pretty messy. I try to be very careful about what I reveal, because I don’t want the world-building to become unwieldy or inconsistent.

Also, I think it’s interesting to let readers wonder about things. For example, in the Planetoid comics, the current state of Earth has never been revealed, even though I have very specific ideas about that.

GP: You write, draw, and letter the comic. How much time does it take you to put together an issue?

KG: The first issue took me almost a year. But there was a lot of false starts in the beginning and revisions later on. The later issues took me less than 3 months.

Going forward, I’m hoping to switch up my style and do something more loose. That way I can put out more comics while still doing it all myself.

GP: Does how you put together an issue vary with this than if you just wrote it yourself? Do you, script, then draw, just do it all at once?

KG: It does vary. If you’re working for a client, you have to make things intelligible. You can’t give them a bunch of loose notes and sketches and tell them that the rest is in your head. But that’s kind of how I work when I’m on my own. Also, with the Planetoid comics, sometimes I’ll revise things at the last second… which is something you really shouldn’t do if you’re working with other people.

But still, even with Planetoid I do follow the general framework of breaking down the scenes per issue, loosely scripting, doing the art and then revising the script during the lettering phase.

GP: Do you think there’s an advantage to doing it all yourself? Do you have a preference as to writing and drawing? Just writing? Just drawing?

KG: I did some issues of TMNT as just a straight penciler/inker and it was fun. And I also like just writing. I have some prose science-fiction short stories that I’d like to have published someday.

But as a comics reader, I was always mostly drawn to work by a single writer/artist. For me, that’s the norm. Comics like; Moebius’ Airtight Garage, Miller’s Ronin, Kirby’s DC work, McFarlane and Larsen’s Spider-Man, Corben and Crumb’s underground comics, Clowes’ Eightball, the Hernandez brothers’ Love & Rockets

And most Manga artists write and draw their own work; Otomo, Shirow, Tezuka, etc.

Praxis is a science-fiction comic by genre but, ultimately, it’s personal work. That’s the type of work I’ve always wanted to do. Weirdly, the industry at large doesn’t seem to make this distinction, but for me it’s a big one.

GP: Any advice for folks wanting to get into the comics industry?

KG: Complete your work, make sure it’s good, and then share it with people. Those are three things you can do independent of anyone or anything else.

GP: Any other projects you’d like to plug?

KG: Just Praxis for now. Thanks!

GP: Sounds good! Thanks so much for chatting.

Omar Khouri Discusses Think of a City and Middle Eastern Comics

Created and managed by Alison Sampson RIBA and Ian MacEwan, Think of a City is a project that’s part architectural investigation, part international art collaboration, it’s a mass storytelling project.

The idea is that every city has a story, and this project brings the background to the forefront delving into ideas of setting.

I got a chance to talk to Omar Khouri whose contribution “Aleppo” is a deeply layered image that challenges the viewer both artistically and a reminder of the real world horror occurring there.

Graphic Policy: Lets start with an easy question. How’d you come involved with the project?

Omar Khouri: In December 2015, Alison Sampson got in touch with me via email, introduced me to the project and asked if I would like to participate. I found it very interesting, like a slow-motion collaborative stream-of-consciousness vision of the world that I would like to be part of. A little over a year later, my turn arrived to submit a drawing and here we are.

GP: For “Think of a City” you chose Aleppo. Why did you decide to choose that city for your art?

OK: I usually tend to spend my time in the imaginary, in the possibilities of what the world might or could be, rather than is. But every now and then I take a well needed visit to the “real”, in order to remind myself that the goal of imagination should ultimately be to influence the external universe around us.

What has been going on in Aleppo, not just recently but for the past few years, is only one example of the many horrors that take place constantly around the world that i feel powerless to influence, much less stop. In frustration, I make images and stories with the hope that they might positively influence the mind of someone that will one day take part in choosing the next decision makers on our planet, or, even better, someone who will take part in creating a whole new system all together. Perhaps that way these horrors and injustice would be reduced in frequency, if it is impossible to eliminate them entirely.

Balfour's Promise II (Gaza by Night 2014)

Balfour’s Promise II (Gaza by Night 2014)

GP: The piece stands out to me as it feels like a patchwork mixing in destruction with complete buildings. How do you see that reflecting what’s going on there?

OK: First, having been born into, and grown up during, a 15 year long civil war in Lebanon, I learned that what at first seems to belong to the realm of special exceptional cases, such a state of destruction, fear, and tension, has to soon shift to the realm of the norm, because life has to find some way of continuing even in terrible conditions and situations. This shift brings one’s reality to a fractured and precarious state of being that teeters on the edge between normal and exceptional, not unlike a house of cards, where one has to keep moving forward with building their life but with the constant and real external threat that it might all crumble at any moment.

Second, this mix of destruction and complete buildings, combined with some of the more futuristic and scifi inspired forms (particularly in the upper third of the image), are an attempt at an extra-temporal look at the city where one can at once observe memories of its past, life in its present, and possibilities of its future.

GP: I noticed you use stars in many locations. What’s the significance of that?

OK: I’m glad you noticed that. In truth, there is an underlying geometrical structure that I used to stitch together a number of images that create this “patchwork” drawing (see the figure 1 below). It is a device that is inspired directly from the relationship between the comic book page and the panels that divide it.

Figure 1

Figure 1

In a basic comics page, the use of panels allows you to describe a period of time that progresses from the the top left panel (past) and ends with the bottom right one (future), and you can “read” this passage of time almost as if you are watching a scene in a movie (see figure 2 below). However, and this is the magical and unique thing about comics in my opinion, it also allows you to see all the panels, i.e.  all the moments in this period of time at once, as if you are an observer outside the flow of time, and the past, present and future are happening together.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Now if we use a pattern such as Figure 1 to divide a page, there is no imposed temporal hierarchy to the resulting panels created and you can no longer “read” the passage of time from panel to panel, from past to future, as you could in figure 2 or any other narrative comics page. As a result, you are left with an image that represents a place in the 4 dimensions of Space/Time without the imposition of the a story that limits it to a specific timeline. Instead I am implying that multiple readings of the past and multiple possibilities of the future are simultaneously required for a better understanding of a place in the present. I also often use this same technique in my paintings of people for similar effect (see figure 3, entitled “Alpha Betti”).

figure_03

Furthermore, the fact that these structures I use, whether in Aleppo (i.e. figure 1), Alpha Betti, or a number of other pieces, are traditional Arabic geometric patterns is a deliberate choice with conceptual implications as well. First, it externalizes one side of my cultural background, in the same way as the presence of an influence from Cubism and the reference to a style of cityscape drawing in Manga imply two more. Second, I use only the most basic unit of the pattern which can in theory be repeated in all directions infinitely, and all the information needed to derive this infinite pattern is already contained within the most basic unit, like a pearl of Indra’s net in Buddhist philosophy. This implies that every unit is both at the center of the universe, as well as just another normal unit exactly the same as all others. So, it is a way of looking at a specific instance while never losing sight of the fact that it is intrinsically connected to everything else, and that ultimately the goal of trying to understand one thing only has meaning if it serves to better understand everything. When we look at Aleppo, we are also trying to understand Beirut, Baghdad, Sana’a, Gaza, London, Lagos, Kyoto, Baltimore…

GP: How are comics addressing the shifting world of the Middle East? How have you seen the comic industry change over the years?

OK: The Middle East is not really shifting at all. It has been this way for decades, if not centuries. This place is, and always has been, a politically and economically significant strategic location that connects three major continents, while containing one of the most economically valuable resources on the planet. The shift is actually happening in the view and understanding of the rest of the world towards this troubled area because of the spread of the internet, media, and terrorism, which are reaching beyond our borders.

In order to discuss the role of comics in this, as well as how its role has changed over time, let us take my case as an example. When I founded Samandal Comics magazine in Beirut in 2006, Lebanon was going through a particularly tumultuous time of unrest after the start of political assassinations in 2005 and the Israeli war in 2006. Censorship had reached new heights because people feared that addressing any of the sensitive issues at hand would quickly plunge the country back into the civil war that devastated it for 15 years. At that time I was working on a dystopian story that focusses on many of these issues, and wanted a space were I can freely and continuously express my ideas and engage in dialogue with others like myself, both within and outside of the country, that have similar concerns that lie outside the allowable discourse. I decided to turn to comics for a number of reasons, one of which was that there was no comics industry at the time in Lebanon and the Arab world, which meant that the watchful eye of censorship could not yet consider it a threat to be scrutinized. In order to maintain this underground aspect of comics for as long as possible, the magazine had to also be self-published, because going through any publishing house would bring it back into the field of vision of the censor.

Cover of Samandal issue 6

Cover of Samandal issue 6

With that in mind, I gathered a small group of like-minded individuals, and together we began to not only publish a periodical called Samandal, but also created an association by the same name in order to reach out to others around the country and the Arab region – through workshops, comics jams, lecture, artist residencies and more – that wish to create, read and interact through the medium of comics and foster a continuing underground industry that can progress and evolve. Sure enough, we began finding such people all over that were interested in engaging and publishing their work with us, some of whom eventually established their own collectives and publications, such as Tok Tok in Egypt, or Skefkef in Morocco. Yet even today, with the current unprecedented boom in the industry here, we remain a pan-Arab community that is still founded on collaboration and interaction.

Unfortunately, with the spread and growth of the industry in this way, it can not remain “under the radar” for too long, and the powers that enforce the status quo begin to feel its threat. As a result, for example, Samandal was sued by the government for breach of censorship laws and the “intent to create unrest between the different religions and communities” in Lebanon. The court case lasted 5 years, until we finally lost in 2015 and had to pay an exorbitant fine or spend 3 years in prison. This and other incidents like it around the region have two particular consequences. On one hand, the mainstream both inside and outside the country begin to be aware of comics and their power, so more people take interest in the medium, prompting a boom in consumption, production and analysis of it. On the other hand, this leads to the institutionalization and regulation of this art form, through the establishment of university courses, centers for comics research and archiving, more specific censorship laws, etc… so that the freedom of expression once found in it becomes gradually more and more limited. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should in anyway self-censor in order to avoid trouble: the last anthology published  in November 2016 by Samandal (subtitled Behind Closed Doors) focuses on the theme of Sexuality, which is still one of the major taboos of discussion here, and quite a high priority for the censors.

Another major and obvious turning point in the comic book industry of the middle east is the series of events that are collectively dubbed “The Arab Spring”. One of the very few positive outcomes of that is the attention of the outside world that it attracts, not only to the horrors that are occurring, but also to the art scene and cultural production, thus injecting money and possibilities of wider exposure into these industries.

GP: Thank you so much for chatting. You definitely taught me a lot, it’s much appreciated.

J.T. Krul Discusses Sand + Bone, Plus an Exclusive Cover Reveal

Out this April, from writer J.T. Krul and artist Andrea Mutti, Sand + Bone is a graphic novel that brings together the Iraq War, PTSD, and a mystery in a small town.

Sean Hitcher has just returned from war. He didn’t die in Iraq, but part of him wishes that he did. He’s home now, back in the small Midwestern town where he grew up. But he is haunted by nightmarish visions of killing and carnage that seem to be the result of severe PTSD. But are they? Is there something he’s missing…

As mysterious acts of violence spread throughout the town, Sean begins to wonder if there’s more going on than he originally thought. What terror did he experience on the battlefield, and what horrifying secret did he bring back with him?

We got a chance to talk to Krul about the new series and have an exclusive reveal of the cover. Sand + Bone will be available at Barnes & Noble April 18.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Sand + Bone come from?

J.T. Krul: Stephen at Adaptive and I had been talking for some time about working together and when he mentioned the idea behind Sand and Bone I was all in. We were both drawn to the concept of exploring the life of soldiers after service and their struggles to return to anything resembling normalcy. Add to it the more mysterious and supernatural aspect and I was hooked.

GP: How long have you been working on it?

JTK: In all, the project took about a year from the time I started talking with Adaptive. Working from the source material, we revised and largely reimagined the story and the overall focus of the story.

GP: How did Andrea Mutti come on board for the art?

JTK: That credit goes to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. They are veterans in the comic industry and have been consulting with Adaptive on their projects. We talked about a lot of potential artists, but it was Jimmy and Justin that first suggested Andrea. And right away, we all knew it was going to be a perfect fit. There is a very gritty and dark vibe to the tone of the story we are telling, and Andrea’s heavy ink style really drives that aspect home.

GP: The story deals with the current war in Iraq, what got you to want to focus on that particular war?

JTK: Essentially, because that’s the war of our lifetime. Hard to believe it’s been more than 15 years since 9/11, and the struggle continues on. The deployment goes up and down, but there is a lingering presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, honestly, is there even an end in sight? Ever?

And yet, at the same time, it’s the war that we as Americans are rather far removed from. You think about World War II and the sacrifices people made to support the effort. Being citizens during wartime required us to be aware. With Vietnam, the protests against the war were front and center. The controversy was part of everyday life. But today, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing is asked of the people. The soldiers represent like 1% of the American populace and the powers-that-be seem to do everything they can to keep it in the background. The war is “over there” and not here. I’ll never forget in the days following the attacks on 9/11 and the government’s response, President Bush essentially urged us to go about our business. He actually encouraged us to go shopping. The whole war and those fighting in it and forever changed by it are largely ignored. People “support the troops” and wear yellow ribbons. They cheer soldiers for two seconds before a sporting event, but they really don’t do anything to support them. For the most part, it is nothing but lip service.

GP: I’ve read some studies that estimated about 20% of veterans from Iraq suffer from PTSD, and to me, it’s a health crisis we don’t focus enough on. How did that become a part of the story?

JTK: That was always a central part of the story. I mean, yes, we are telling a tale of suspense and the supernatural. It’s a thriller. But, at its core, the monstrous elements play into the hidden pain so many soldiers struggle with. We ask them to go into harm’s way, to risk their lives on behalf of our nation, and yet we don’t want to deal with the messy truth of war. Again, we as a nation want to cheer the soldiers before a game, or a salute a flag, or applaud when Air Force jets do a flyby at half-time, but we don’t want to deal with their pain. We don’t want to deal with their substance abuse, their isolation, and their struggles to re-engage with civilian life.

GP: Did you talk to veterans with PTSD or anyone that is involved with treatment of veterans to research it?

JTK: Absolutely. Working in the comic industry, there is a large segment of the fans that are current and former military, so I have been privileged enough to meet quite a few from around the country over the years. I’ve had a lot of talks with them, as they described what it was like overseas, the dread of multiple deployments, and the difficulty readjusting to life outside the service. One friend in particular, I watched literally deteriorate before my eyes over the years as his duty took its toll. His smile lessened, his hair fell out, his body grew frail. He shared stories about fighting just to get treatment through the VA. Sadly, it reminded me of watching someone struggling with cancer and going through radiation therapy. The physical and psychological toll is unbelievable.

GP: I haven’t read the comic yet, but already have some ideas running through my mind about the mystery that’s teased and the PTSD. Can you give us any hints as to how the two are related?

JTK: I think I mentioned that a bit already, but at its core the supernatural mystery of it mirrors the struggles with PTSD. It’s that sense of isolation and the inability to reconnect with society. You feel like a stranger in your own body.

GP: Entertainment can raise awareness of issues like PTSD and veterans. Is that something you’re thinking of while putting this together?

JTK: Definitely. I mean, yes, its entertainment, and I am not trying to equate our story with something like the movie Platoon. It is an effort to catch a glimpse into territory that doesn’t get covered as much. It’s all about connectivity and empathy and getting beyond the stigma associated with PTSD. It’s about putting these stories out there. The suicide rate for veterans is shameful, and the lack of the government, and we as a nation, to help those you have given so much to us is inexcusable. If our story can move readers to reach out, to lend a hand and support veterans’ causes and legislation, that would be great.

GP: Thanks so much and looking forward to reading the graphic novel.

Check out the exclusive cover reveal below!

sand-bone-cover

Chris Roberson Discusses The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, Out Today!

visitor-1-cvrGraphic Policy: The Visitor: How And Why He Stayed is an interesting series in that it expands upon somewhat minor characters we saw in Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. What got you to want to expand on that?

Chris Roberson: Having been a fan of Hellboy since the very beginning, I’ve always been intrigued by the aliens that we glimpsed briefly in Seed Of Destruction, and particularly by the one Hellboy met in Conqueror Worm, who had been observing him from a distance his whole life. I brought up the idea of exploring that alien’s story to Mike Mignola and editor Scott Allie the winter before last, which led to a series of long conversations in the months that followed, and now here we are!

GP: When I hear Hellboy, I think horror series, but The Visitor is very much a sci-fi concept. As a writer how do you get science fiction like this work so that it’s seamlessly in a Lovecraftian world.

CR: One of the strengths of the world that Mike and his collaborators have built for Hellboy over the years is that it isn’t limited to the tropes of a single genre. There’s a lot of horror elements to it, definitely, but also a fair amount of secret history, a healthy dose of fantasy, and from the beginning science fiction has been in the mix, as well. It’s all a matter of perspective, I think, and choosing which aspects of the world to feature in any given story.

visitor-2-cvrGP: You’ve got a character that reminds me a lot of the Watcher, but even more focused. There’s an interesting concept of having this potential disaster and not intervening. It kind of gets into that “would you kill Hitler as a baby” debate. Is that concept part of the series? Am I reading too much into it?

CR: No, I don’t think you’re reading too much into it at all! At its core this story is very much about the capacity for redemption, and the potential for individuals to rise above the circumstances of their birth. The Visitor was sent to kill Hellboy the moment he arrived on Earth because of his demonic parentage, but recognizes in him the potential for humanity, seeing that he is as much his human mother’s son as he is his demon father’s.

GP: How much of these aliens’ world has been fleshed out beyond this story?

CR: Quite a bit, actually. A lot of the conversations that Mike and I had as we were working out the story revolved around who the aliens were and where they came from. We won’t be revealing ALL of the mysteries surrounding them, but we’ll be pulling back the curtain enough for readers to get a better idea of what they’re all about.

GP: We’ve seen the BPRD world through the eyes of Hellboy and his team mostly. What’s it like exploring these moments from a different perspective?

visitor-3-fc-solCR: It’s been a really interesting opportunity to see moments in Hellboy’s life that we haven’t gotten to see on the page before now. Having the chance to get even a glimpse of “gawky teenage Hellboy” was a real treat, especially when drawn by the amazing Paul Grist.

GP: Will we see familiar moments from that perspective?

CR: Definitely. We tried to strike a balance between revisiting moments that will be familiar to readers and moments that we haven’t seen before. And many of those familiar moments will be put in new contexts, as well.

GP: With the science of it all, have you created rules for all of that? There’s a moment in the first issue about losing contact that makes me think some of it has been fleshed out.

CR: I think it’s less a question of “science” and more one of “rationalization.” We don’t dig too deeply into the mechanics of how the Visitor’s technology works, but instead, establish the basic parameters and then work within those.

GP: You’ve worked on some big properties and done creator own work. The Mignolaverse has been around for so long now and has such history, how does it feel as a writer to step in and add to it like this?visitor-4-fc-sol

CR: It’s both an incredible thrill and also a little intimidating. I’m a fan of these characters first and foremost, and I’m keenly aware of the obligation to make sure that anything that I bring to the table is a necessary and worthy addition to that world.

GP: Will we see more of these strange Visitors?

CR: This miniseries is a finite story with a beginning, middle, and end, but we certainly could see the Visitor pop up in other stories set in Hellboy’s world further down the line. (Hint: We definitely will…)

GP: What else do you have going on this year that readers can check out?

CR: I’m still hard at work on new storylines for the Hellboy And The B.P.R.D. series set in the Cold War, and there are several other Hellboy-related stories in the works that I can’t talk about yet!

GP: Thanks so much! For folks interested, we have a preview of the first issue below!

Redline Takes Us to a War Torn Mars This March

redline-1MARS. The near future-ish. A bomb takes out a city block on Harrison Station. The media rush to blame the local terrestrials (re:aliens,) however Superintendent Denton Coyle has a feeling that it may not be so simple… or maybe that feeling is Coyle’s hangover gut bomb. It’s unclear… like a 50/50 shot, it’s a mistake or explosive diarrhea. Maybe it’s both? In other words, it’s yet another Tuesday on Mars.

Out this March from Oni Press, Redline is written by Neal Holman with art by Clayton McCormack and Kelly Fitzpatrick.

I got a chance to talk to the team about this upcoming intriguing new series.

Graphic Policy: So where did the idea for Redline come from and how long has this been in the process of being put together?

Neal Holman: Years ago, I was doing research for a police procedural pitch, interviewing anyone who would talk to me online. I stumbled into meeting some people in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), who opened my eyes to a different world of detective stories. The police pitch stumbled and died, but I kept my research thinking I might use it later on. Fast forward a bit, I was working on a Mars colony pitch but couldn’t find an angle that I liked. Everything felt a little too forced. (I did way, way too much research on the soil content of Mars.) It wasn’t until I started thinking of it from a military lens that the pitch began to come together. I dug up my old research, and it was a fairly easy write from there on out.

GP: With sci-fi series, I personally think the look and design can be as important as the story itself. How did you all work together to put together this futuristic world?

NH: I gave Clay and Kelly a bunch of vague and probably contradictory notes to begin with, and they crushed it.

Clayton McCormack: Neal made it pretty clear right away that this was not a sleek, clean vision of the future, but one where technology is constantly busted and bulky. He also presented the Mars colony as being not too different from the way modern desert warfare looks and feels, so what we tried to do was create a future that definitely had more sci-fi leanings, but was also very relatable. So for me that meant making a lot of the weapons, vehicles and uniforms feel futuristic but still plausible.

Kelly Fitzpatrick: As a colorist, I’m typically last to the team equation. I took notes from Clay and Neal and I sent back some pages. We talked a bit about aliens and environment and uniforms, but overall it was a really smooth process- especially after the first issue. :)

GP: The colors are very limited in many ways yet avoids the stereotypical red you sometimes see with stories set on Mars instead going more for browns and even some green. Was this a specific choice to avoid the stereotypical Mars style?

KF: I wanted something dusty and gritty outside to conflict with the sterile environments inside. Mars isn’t super red in reality anyway. Keeping the colors muted helps create diversity when changing between places.

GP: How scoped out is this world that you put together? Is there some bible you created?

NH: I have a loose bible starting at the first Mars landing and progressing through the decades up to the start of Issue One. It is written in my weirdo shorthand and hopefully will never be seen by anyone else.

CM: I’ve seen Neal’s bible – it’s like John Doe’s diary in Se7en but with rocket ship drawings and all done in crayon.

GP: I noticed the military all have American flags on their chest and it’s not some united world government you sometimes see in sci-fi stories. Was there a specific reason you went that route?

NH: I personally don’t believe we will ever be under one utopian (or dystopian) world government. There may be joint task forces and etc, but our power structures are pretty set in stone. In later issues, we will start to hear about other countries getting their own footholds on Mars.

CM: Maybe I’m just a cynic, but I have no reason to think colonizing Mars would be different from any other colonizing in history. Maybe they work together in GETTING to Mars, but once they get there, it’s all countries for themselves.

redline-2GP: What are some of the influences to the series as far as stories or look?

NH: From comics – Queen & Country, Powers, Criminal, Hawkeye (Matt Fraction/David Aja version)
From books – The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Stranger in a Strange Land,
From TV – The Sandbaggers, The Wire, True Detective (Season One), Justified, a billion episodes of Dateline
From Film – Three Kings, The Hurt Locker, Waltz with Bashir, a ton more I’m blanking on.

Working on Archer with Adam Reed has greatly influenced how I think about story and dialogue.

CM: I actually had been thinking about Italian Westerns a lot for the overall feel. Those movies do a great job of really accenting how hot and gross the desert is, constantly dusty, constantly sweaty, and for me that’s Coyle in a nutshell. He’s in a constant state of discomfort. For the more futuristic aspect, I had a little bit of Elysium in mind, as well as Dredd – both futuristic, but still fairly relatable in their designs of tech and buildings etc.

KF: I’m a big fan of Matt Hollingsworth! I love his grit that he’s incorporated into several of his books. I also try and make all of my books look separate with their own identities. I wanted to incorporate something like The Wake meets Pretty Deadly. It seemed more western.

GP: I think some of the best sci-fi is allegories for what’s going on in the world. After reading the first issue, I get the feeling there’s quite a few real world issues this series touch upon. Am I reading too much into it?

NH: There are some definite ties to the present, sure, but honestly, I was really thinking more about world history in general, which is pretty loaded with these types of occupation and conflict. I also started writing it sometime in 2014, so anything that seems topical is a coincidence. My goal, however, was to push these larger themes to the background, while the mystery unfolds in the foreground. That said, our aliens (the Locals) aren’t representative of any group of people or people at all, really.

Lots of sci-fi either goes the Avatar route with sympathetic, human-like aliens or the Aliens route, where they’re more or less hungry sharks. Both of those opposing viewpoints are how colonists in our story view the Locals as well. We have no Teal’c or Seven of Nine to give us perspective. Some of us want peace. Others just want to bomb the Locals off the planet.  The Locals are intelligent. They have a society. They have clothes and technology. They can move rocks with what seems to be telepathy. They may help you…but they also may disembowel your daughter and wear her intestines as a belt. It’s that last bit that gives the war hawks all the ammo they need.

GP: The first issue feels like a sci-fi Sheriff of Babylon in some ways. Both are really crime stories set in a war zone. What is it about a war zone that opens it up to a crime story so well?

NH: Tom King will probably answer that better than I can, but I think it’s that right now, war imagery is something we are very, very used to seeing. It is omnipresent. That familiarity is an easy entry point to story, but rather than focusing on WAR in all caps, we are centered on a mystery.

CM: I also think that there is an inherent sense of lawlessness that comes with a war zone, fewer rules (or at least more rules being broken), power in flux, much more of a world of grey than black and white that really lends itself to that crime/noir genre.

GP: The first issue had some solid comedy to it. Was that something you specifically wanted to add?

NH: Absolutely. I am a huge fan of dramas that have solid jokes, moments of sincere levity – the “peaks and valleys.” My favorite comedies all have dramatic veins. Conversely, anytime I watch a movie or show and it’s all doom and gloom and insanely serious, at a certain point I tap out. Everyone points to The Wire for being this earth shaking series – and rightly so – but I rarely ever see anyone acknowledge the humor in it. There are some solid jokes in that series, and I think that goes a long way into making you care about those characters.

redline-3GP: All of the characters have very unique, diverse, and solid designs about them. These aren’t generic soldiers in their armor. How did you come up with all of the specific characters? Was some of that done in the writing or was it more collaborative?

NH: Thanks! Most of the main cast are based on people I’ve known or a combination of personalities. Design-wise, Clay took the reigns there.

CM: Thanks, I appreciate it! Neal went out of his way to make sure that even background soldiers had some character to them, and I think his description of the main cast, as well as the way he wrote each of them, made my job a lot easier. For instance Coyle read as road-weary and desert-worn, so his gruff beard, constant slouch, and receding hairline felt pretty appropriate. And Simon is more or less the lighter, comic relief character, a little less cynical overall, so I tried to make him brighter and a little more animated when I could (just to name a few).

KF: I’m a big fan of using skin tone to differentiate characters! I actively make sure even the background characters have slightly different skin tones in all of my books. Everyone has a different skin tone in reality- so why should comics be white washed?

GP: Any plans on doing more stories set in this world?

NH: I would love, love to do the next arc (and more,) but we need to see if sales can justify it.

CM: I hope so, if sales warrant it – so as the man once said,  “get your ass to mars!”

GP: Any advice you have for folks wanting to get into comics?

NH: Keep writing and keep being your own worst critic. You have to be brutally objective about what’s working and what’s not and more importantly, why. If you’re on the art side, don’t ever stop going to figure drawing classes, and keep your online portfolio current.

And don’t be an ass. The world has enough.

CM: Don’t let anything stop you from just going out and making comics. I can speak from experience in saying that I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now if I hadn’t decided to start producing and publishing my own book about 8 years ago. I guarantee you you’ll learn a ton, and your work will just keep getting better. There’s never been a better time to get out and there and do it, so get out there and do it!

KF: Use social media! I can’t stress that enough. It’s a great tool to show you are a human being and that you are passionate. Twitter is my preferred go-to.

GP: Any other projects you all want to plug?

NH: Archer Season Eight debuts April 5th on FX, and it’s probably our best looking season to date.

KF: I’m really excited about the newest issues of Bitch Planet, Josie and the Pussycats, Shade the Changing Girl, Rockstars, and Supergirl: Being Super! Go check out my work!

Talking All Time Comics with Josh Bayer and Mixing “Contemporary” with “Old School”

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-jim-rugg-cover-2In December, Fantagraphics announced a new superhero universe All Time Comics headed up by Josh Bayer. The line will feature a series of six comics featuring stand alone, interconnected adventures with a focus of retro crime fighting bringing together new cartoonists with classic creators.

The line of comics features the creative talents of Bayer, Herb Trimpe, Ben Marra, Jim Rugg, Johnny Ryan, Al Milgrom, Das Pastoras, Tony Millionaire, Rick Buckler, Victor Martinez, and Noah Van Sciver.

I got a chance to ask Josh some questions about the line, its influences, and what we can expect.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for All Time Comics come from and how long did it take from the initial idea to the announcement?

Josh Bayer: That’s a good question. It was an incredibly long time, from 2014 ‘til now. Looking back, that three years represents a ton of work under the bridge, writing scripts, editing contacting talent, getting worked lettered, colored, not to mention promoting and getting the work ready to print.

GP: With a shared superhero universe starting from scratch, that has to feel a bit overwhelming. How’d you go about figuring out what to characters to highlight with this initial batch?

JB: Beginning points are always hard. With All Time Comics, we started eating the sandwich from the middle. Not only did we jump into the middle of this endeavor, but we wrote the books as if there was a whole history, as if these are from an alternate universe where All Time Comics were an ongoing thing for decades. I wrote most of the books, or co-wrote them with Ben concurrently with each other, so if one book wasn’t the best beginning point the next one might be. That lessened some of that anxiety.

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-johnny-ryan-cover-2GP: What were your influences while putting this together? What are some of your favorite shared superhero universe?

JB: I don’t know if they influenced but inspired yes: Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics, Alan Moore’s 1963 line and some of Mark Grunewald’s Dp7 comics, and a few of the other New Universe books. Definitely, but mostly Mark Grunewald.

GP: One of the big things you hear folks talking about when it comes to shared universes is accessibility. Was that on your mind when you went about creating everything?

JB: Yes, but that’s more like something which makes sense in retrospect rather than something I planned.  I just wanted to make some books with my brother and my friends, and then with my heroes, it got more interesting as it went on.

GP: How much detail have you go into creating all of the characters? Is there years of backstory or is this the “birth” of these characters and universe?

JB: Not all the backstory is present, we really scratch the surface. We show Crime Destroyer’s origin in a one-page montage that is my favorite Herb Trimpe page. We don’t go into the other three heroes’ backstories, so there is a lot of that to delve into in the future, potentially.

At the same time Phil Jimenez was my teacher at SVA, he used to say that the modern comics industry sometimes thinks that everything needs a reason behind it and an explanation, but not everything needs an explanation all the time. So there’s checks and balances, we know the past of the characters, but you don’t necessarily need all that information to make them the best comics they can be.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-das-pastoras-cover-rgbGP: The folks participating on the project is an impressive roster of talent. How’d you go about recruiting everyone and what were some of their initial reactions?

JB: The younger cartoonists were mostly people I already knew. For the older artists I asked around. One of my friends Cliff Gailbrath was instrumental in getting me in touchy with Herb, and I think I contacted Al through his commission website. Once Herb vouched for me it opened a lot of doors. Aside from that I was really lucky and worked hard to impress those guys. I had never done as polished as script as I produced for Herb, but I wanted it to be as impressive as I could manage. I have no complaints about how that evolved I look back and I was very fortunate that this thing worked.

GP: How’d it get decided who would work on what project?

JB: I just made lists of my favorite people, made them offers, and shifted teams around based on their needs and availability. Each one was an experiment, and each one worked out. Believe me, I’d love to have 15 more teams of unlikely collaborators working together. It’s just a matter of time, money, and basic resources, not a lack of inspiration.

GP: Diversity seems to be on the mind of so many in the industry. Was that something you thought about when creating the characters and recruiting the talent?

JB: Having older and younger artists working together is a nice step towards representing those older and younger faces, but I’d like All Time Comics to be more diverse. Season one, we had four artists, all from similar backgrounds, even if we’re from different eras.  If there’s a Season Two, you’ll hear from a broader array of voices in some All Time Comics books we have coming out after these first issues.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-tony-millionaire-coverGP: The announcement talks about “old-school comics” and “contemporary storytelling.” What are those things to you?

JB: That’s a good question, since those are broad terms and are meant as a calling card to the public. Old School comics had a texture and an energy I liked. That energy was embodied by people like Al and Herb, and that energy is still around, not just in our books — it’s not like mainstream comics are done by robots. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve seen that I like in other people’s superhero comics. People like Ben and Noah are both contemporary and old school, they are traditionalist, and at the same time are interested in speaking to people in today’s world. And so am I. Old school and contemporary means the combination of all our efforts.

GP: There’s been the initial announcement and launch, can we expect more down the road?

JB: First, we need everyone to go out and dig Crime Destroyer, Bullwhip, Atlas and Blind Justice. After that? To be continued….

GP: Thanks so much for chatting.

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