Comic book writer Gene Luen Yang continues to make the rounds as an ambassador for comics. Around Christmas, PBS NewsHour released a feature spotlight Yang who was one of 2016’s MacArthur Fellowship winners and a national ambassador for young people’s literature. If you haven’t gotten to hear Yang speak it’s well worth it and very inspiring and insightful.
Category Archives: Interviews
The Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County investigates crimes committed inside county jails. With a limited number of suspects who can’t escape, these are usually easy cases to solve-but not this one. As Detective Linda Caruso gets closer to the heart of the case, she discovers uncomfortable truths about her friends, her job, and herself.
Perfect for fans of crime and prison television, Dead Inside is written by John Arcudi with art by Toni Fejzula.
I got a chance to talk to Toni about the series and he provided some cool sketches and art for the comic series.
Graphic Policy: How’d you come on board Dead Inside?
Toni Fejzula: John offered me to work on this at the end of 2015. I was available so I didn’t hesitate. We’ve known each other since 2011–when he saw my blog and decided to contact me. Since then we’ve been talking about doing something together. Dark Horse hired me to work on Veil (with Greg Rucka) thanks to him, then came a Lobster Johnson one-shot issue with John (subtitled The Glass Mantis) and finally this. I heard that John had this idea a long time ago in his head, so I guess when he finally decided to realize it, he thought I was the right person.
GP: What about the series intrigued you that you wanted to work on it?
TF: The possibility to design realistic characters and develop them in a closed space and realistic environment, but even that doesn’t mean the approach needs to be entirely realistic. I love to feel that the characters I’m drawing have a real emotional background. As there are no fantastic elements here, you really focus on these people’s drama and you try to reflect it on paper.
GP: One of the things that stands out to me after reading the first issue is the diversity of the look of characters. When it comes to the design of each, how’d that come about?
TF: I always start emphasizing the differences between characters regarding their silhouettes, proportions or shapes. I make sure there’s no confusion between them so each of them has a unique form. I influenced by the mid-20th century modern painters (Lucien Freud. Francis Bacon, etc.), and some sculptors (Brancusi, Giacometti, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, etc.) and they all had a very peculiar sense of volume that I tried to learn from. Sometimes, to set down the style for inking, I try to imagine that I’m carving on paper, for instance.
GP: A lot of your art that I’m familiar of has more of a horror tinge to it and this being a murder mystery there’s some overlap. What do you think the two styles of story have in common as far as looks?
TF: Technically speaking, the tools I’m using to create the oppressive and dense atmospheres in each type of stories are quite the same, therefore I don’t feel they’re distinct in that sense. I mean, a murder is something quite horrific too, so the main difference is that the terror is based here on something real, not supernatural. It’s stronger in many senses because it’s tangible.
GP: An aspect of the art I really enjoy is how grounded it looks, not just with the look of the world, but also the clothing everyone wears. It feels realistic. As an artist, are you looking at fashion and thinking through what they’d actually wear in real life?
TF: Oh, yes, when I imagined their clothing I tried to make them realistic. John helped me pretty much in that sense too. The only aspect that’s a bit old fashioned are those women’s jeans or trousers, they’re inspired from the seventies era because I like them far more then these that I see nowadays. I chose the orange prison dresses because they seemed like the right aesthetic to me, although I’m not sure these are really used in this kind of prison. For Linda, I chose a jacket I saw Rachel Weisz wearing in The Whistleblower, by the way.
GP: The issue takes place in a prison and morgue, locations we see a lot of in movies or tv shows. What type of research have you done as far as that? Have you mapped out where everything is in the prison?
TF: Although I watched many documentaries, John had a very clear idea on what environments he wanted to employ, so he’d send me huge zip files with many reference images before starting every issue. My notion of this prison is completely psychological. I draw the atmosphere and lighting on what each moment of this story needs dramatically speaking. I have a vague idea of the map of the prison because I analyzed a lot of them, but there are no fixed placements here.
GP: How long does it take you to usually complete an issue?
TF: Two months, that’s what we accorded when I started working on this. I’m still a bit slow for US market work, I know, but I’m working on that…
GP: Technology seems to have really changed how artists and writers collaborate and the artistic process. Generally, how do you work? Is it digital? Pencil and paper?
TF: My finished black and white art is usually pencils, inks, and paper because I love traditional inks. Although I worked a lot with computer art I never managed to reproduce the fluidness, precision, and manageability of traditional brushes and pencils. It’s also not that easy with layouts and pencils because I often change my methods. Sometimes I do digital pencils because these can be faster, but I control better the composition when I work on real paper. On the other hand, I love having originals …
GP: What advice would you give an artist trying to break into comics?
TF: I think that your art (because this industry is based on artistic values) is a game you must play very seriously. The game notion is about the idea that you should never lose your sense of joy and enthusiasm to discover new things in your work. The seriousness concept is referred to the idea that the only way to achieve the previous notion is through the strict professionalism and hard work.
Very hard work is the only way to get somewhere, I think. The sense of sacrifice and, most of all, the fight against your doubts are very important concepts, because you most certainly won’t have immediate compensations for what you’re trying to do. You must convince people you’re working with that you’re doing the best for the project. When you work on something that’s the only thing that matters. Do the best art you can, try new things and try not to be late. There’s nothing worse than the feeling that the person you’re working with isn’t really involved in what you’re creating together.
GP: What else do you have coming up in the new year you can tell us about?
TF: I confess I still have no specific stuff. There are some ideas and projects I want to do, but still nothing concrete, I’m afraid… I was so focused on Dead Inside since April this year that I had no time to work on new things.
Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 introduces the League to Amanda Waller’s Task Force X for the very first time! And while they’re busy fighting each other, a character from the League’s past makes his REBIRTH return (hint: bringing his nosebleeds with him) and creates his own team of bad actors, villains you never saw coming! Written by Joshua Williamson and art by Jason Fabok (with different artists for each issue) the first issue is action-packed.
Announced in September, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is a six-issue mini-series with two being released in December and four in January and will tie-in with Suicide Squad #9 and 10, and Justice League #12 and #13.
The series has been a long time in the making beginning even before Rebirth started. Williamson was initially pitched with the idea by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok had been on a break after drawing the previous DC epic “Darkseid War” but was lured in by the epic nature of the story.
I got a chance to talk to the two and get the scoop as to what we can expect from the event series and a bit about the first issue.
Graphic Policy: With the two teams being so high profile, what pressure do you two feel as creators knowing that there’s possibly more than comic fans looking at this?
Joshua Williams: One of the rules is that you never know when it’s someone’s first comic. Every time I try to write a book I try to keep that in mind. When I was a kid I didn’t start reading a comic at number one. Sometimes the numbers were super high when I started reading. As a kid I was able to pick up what I needed to do and move forward. Part of the challenge is how do you do that? How do you create a comic that feels familiar and allows it to be open to someone coming in. That part wasn’t too intimidating. A book of this size was definitely intimidating. But I think that’s something for creators to do with the title they’re working on no matter the number. You always have to prepare yourself that it might be their very first comic. You have to keep that in mind. With a book this big, we did the same thing.
GP: What about you Jason? People might be coming in from the cinematic or live action worlds. How does that influence what you try to do with the art?
Jason Fabok: I do find that I do draw upon a lot of the looks you see in the films and movies. I like a lot of the designs coming out of Hollywood you see for superheroes. They’re not afraid to tweak things and change things. At the same time I want to always make sure the characters have that classic look and feel to them. This book here I was the least stressed out in that sense thinking about what are people going to think because I had just gone about that for two years with Justice League and I felt like that was the pressure cooker. This was the biggest book I ever worked on, Justice League with Geoff Johns, all eyes are going to be on this. After that I feel like I passed the test so coming on this I was prepared.my
My philosophy is the same as Josh. Every book is somebody’s first comic. Every book is an opportunity to do your best, put the most time you can into it, work for excellence, not for perfection, and try to put out the best comic you can so when they buy that comic book, no matter how much it costs, they’re going to get their monies worth. That’s something I’ve always tried to do. I always tried to go that extra mile to make sure each story is special and each book has all the detail and epic feel that someone is expecting when they buy a comic called Justice League vs. Suicide Squad. I’m very happ
I’m very happy with how it all turned out. I just got my copies and looking through them. I’m really happy with the colors that Alex Sinclair did on the book. It looks spectacular. I’m pumped for people to read it.
Graphic Policy: There’s obviously implications for other series and characters. With this type of story, how does that differ than doing a comic like The Flash?
JW: I think with Flash, one of the advantages of Flash having, beside the fact I love the Flash, is Barry’s perspective and I really focus everything around it. It comes down to what does this mean to Barry and how is this a Barry story and does it impact Barry? For this it really comes down to how does it impact all of these characters and all of these characters’ perspectives as well as how does it impact the DC Universe going forward. That definitely was a challenge there. But, with The Flash I get to write all of these personal stories with him and that takes precedence over these big budget action stuff. With this event, I didn’t have to worry about the supporting cast or all of these smaller moments. There’s lots of that character stuff in this series but I got to focus on something bigger. I got to focus on this non-stop blockbuster action.
JF: This book is a little unique in the sense that it’s a one-shot. Josh is on there and scoping out this epic story. He’s been in there working on this since the spring or even sooner and he’s now seeing it come to fruition. I’m just the first batter up I guess taking on issue one. For me it was really a unique perspective to be working with other artists. I didn’t work too closely with the other artists but I was seeing other pages come in while I was still working on issue one and they were tying in things I had put in issue one into issue two, issue three. I was just blown away by the art coming in. It made me step up my game. I was seeing what Tony Daniel was doing in issue two which is fantastic. It was a unique project for me to take part in, in that sense. Josh made it very easy to transition into this book. Josh and Geoff Johns’ writing style is very similar. So I felt right at home working on issue one. I’m very proud of this work. Josh should be very proud of what he has written. And I think fans are really going to enjoy the series and the book. There’s going to be lots of twists and turns and surprises. I hope the really dig issue one, especially the last couple of pages.
GP: It’s some great splash pages. Thanks so much and can’t wait to see what comes with the rest of the series!
In 2013 Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner and writer/producer Don Handfield created The Combine, a production company focused on high quality, dynamic and emotional storytelling. The company is currently producing The Founder starring Michael Keaton and the new scripted series Knightfall premiering on The History Channel in 2017. Now they’ve set their sights on the comics industry with a plan to bring the same high-quality dramatic storytelling to the graphic novel format. Partnering with Red 5 Comics, The Combine will present its first comic series in January 2017.
Presented by Renner and written by Handfield and Richard Rayner, The Rift tells the story of a single mother, Mary Ann, and her son, Elijah, whose lives change forever after witnessing a WWII fighter pilot from 1941 crash-land in present-day Kansas. They find themselves drawn into the work of Section 47, a secret government organization responsible for responding to Rifts that open in space and time. Section 47 – so named because they have only 47 hours before these Rifts close – must safely send all matter from the past back through these portals before time runs out or else the Rifts go nuclear.
Past disasters have been covered up by well-known incidents like Roswell, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. The scientists believe it’s a matter of physics, but Mary Ann suspects something more spiritual in nature. She believes people arriving from the past have unresolved problems that must be settled before the rifts can close without harm.
The Rift will be four issues running from January to April 2017 with an additional story in the Red 5 2017 FCBD issue.
I got a chance to ask Hanfield some questions about what we can expect from the series and their concept of time travel.
Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for the Rift come from?
Don Handfield: My grandfather was a test pilot in World War 2 who was a father figure to me I lost young. I was in traffic on the 405 one day and missing him and had this daydream of a sonic boom and a WW2 plane crash landing on the freeway, then seeing that this plane was my grandfather coming back to me through a rip in time and space. The idea sprung from there.
GP: The Combine is currently producing a film, what got the company interested in comics?
DH: Whether it’s Jeremy (Renner) and I as producing partners, or Richard Rayner and I as writing partners, our job and our passion is to tell stories and create content in whatever medium. The beauty of comics is we can really control the process from start to finish with a singular vision. It’s been an amazing experience on this book for everyone involved.
GP: You’re releasing The Rift with Red 5 Comics. How’d you get involved with the publisher?
DH: Honestly, we went to comic shops and found books we liked, then reached out to the publishers. We thought RED 5 had great books and speaking to them they really talked us through the process in a clear, straight forward way that made it easy to partner with them.
GP: The first two issues I read had this real solid Twilight Zone feel to it. What were some of the influences for the comic series?
DH: Twilight Zone certainly is a bit of the vibe, but we were really influenced by the magical realism and emotion of movies like Field of Dreams. Spielberg was a big influence, whether it’s Amazing Stories or how he took a subjective entirely everyday character approach to an alien encounter in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We always loved how it wasn’t the expert taking us into the world, it was these everyday characters.
GP: Though the series is very sci-fi, there’s a touching human aspect to it. The second issue is really emotional on top of the ticking clock aspect to it. As creators how hard is it to properly balance the two?
DH: The high concept was always conceived as a vehicle for emotion with a ticking clock. As the series develops it really becomes more supernatural than science fiction. We always saw the Rift as living more in the real of Star Wars as far as being more about fantasy/magic and dealt with feelings/emotion, than Star Trek or other science fiction series which are much more about the science and cerebral.
GP: How did Leno Carvalho get involved with the series on art?
DH: We put an ad on Digital Webbing and got hundreds of artists submitting work. His art was so perfect for portraying the realism slash Spielberg movie feel we wanted for this.
GP: There’s tons of time travel stories out there each with their own rules in how it all works. Did you sit down to figure all of that out?
DH: We established a set of rules to drive the series, but the biggest thing was that this would always be more about personal connection and emotion of the characters within it rather than changing or righting the course of historical events. A lot of these shows do the big moments in history thing effectively and it’s fun, but the stakes are a bit removed and the emotion is a bit binary, we either fail or succeed to kill Hitler, etc. We wanted the time travel aspect to bring in characters that could deal with different emotions almost in the vein of Highway to Heaven — a couple dealing with saying goodbye, a little boy dealing with abuse, a father looking to find out who killed his daughter. Personal stakes that lead to real emotional catharsis for our main characters was always the aim of this concept. 11/22/63, the Hulu series and Stephen King novel did a great job of making the story personal for the lead character beyond the stakes of the time travel stop Kennedy’s assassination element. We too want to make sure the focus of the series is always emotion and character over high concept. We were set from the beginning on the high concept always serving as a vehicle to increase the stakes in service of the character and emotion as opposed to the other way around.
GP: What have you found to be the biggest differences with putting together a movie compared to putting together a comic series?
DH: There are a lot of similarities as far as production flow — but with a comic you are responsible for a lot more aspects as a creator – and have a lot more creative control which is amazing.
GP: The series is four issues, do you have more plans for it?
DH: You will see volume one ends with questions — questions we hope people will want answered!
GP: Thanks so much and look forward to reading the rest of the series!
This week sees the release of Suicide Squad #8, which has Harley Quinn actually sane as she battles the prisoners and staff of Belle Reve to save the day! But the eighth part of “The Black Vault” isn’t the only key part of the issue, it also has a backup story featuring Killer Frost being conscripted into the Suicide Squad which ties directly into Justice League vs. Suicide Squad!
I got a chance to talk to writer Rob Williams about the newest issue, Killer Frost, and writing as part of the team to a major event!
Graphic Policy: The concept for the Suicide Squad has been pretty consistent for a while now, but the team is what changes, like a lot of team books. When you came on board, how did you decide on this particular team and what’d you see as a writer in them?
Rob Williams: The dynamic of the Suicide Squad is that they all are nasty pieces of work and all pretty much hate one another. It’s an immediately fun dynamic to write with no shortage of interpersonal conflict going on. Of course they all have the bombs placed in their brains by the US government. That’s nice of the US government to do that. It’s a huge amount of fun
It’s a huge amount of fun. You’ve got bad guys. A team of the worst, most reprehensible people in the DC universe. The worst of the worst. You send them out on these suicide missions. And that’s all something I was keen to play up to. This is why in issue two you saw Captain Boomerang get incinerated by General Zod. It’s called Suicide Squad, you have to have pay off. These stories have to have weight.
But, more than anything they have to be fun, action packed and fast paced stories. They have to be very acerbic and sort of punk edge. That’s the type of book it feels like it should be to me.
GP: Speaking of the fast pace and that punk edge. As a writer, how does it feel to be able to just cut loose, go crazy, kill whomever, and let the bad guys actually be bad?
RW: We do go over the top which is part of the fun. You’ve got Enchantress and Harley riding Killer Croc in an ice cube in this issue. That kind of shows we’re coming from this from a very serious point of view.
RW: No, I think it’s meant to be a fun book. It’s meant to be a blast and a roller coaster ride. You have what’s meant to be these acerbic creepy people jammed in together. We never lose sight as to what it’s supposed to be about. Any story though has to have an emotional resonance. When you see these characters, you need to care about them as they put their bodies and their souls on the line. Even though they’re reprehensible villains, they still have things they care about. I try to mix all of those things in. With any bad guy in other media, just when you think they’re reprehensible they do something that makes you like them and when they do something that makes you like them they do something reprehensible. That’s pretty much what Suicide Squad is I think.
GP: With last issue and Suicide Squad #8 we get to see Harley Quinn as the sane character. How does it feel to write that character so against what people would expect?
RW: One of the things that’s interesting to me is how smart she is. She was a psychotherapist at Arkham Asylum long before she fell in love with the Joker and went crazy. That for me was an interesting flip on the character. You’re always looking to turn things on their head because usually that’s where you find the most interesting things with characters.
In our story everyone is driven insane in Belle Reve Penitentiary and want to kill one another. It has the opposite affect on Harley since she’s already insane. She gets what she wants more than anything else in the world, she gets her sanity back. She has to sacrifice that to save everyone, to save the world really. It just seemed like a good way to put her heart and soul on the line and show some more depth really. That she’s not just this cooky, hot character. She is that, but she’s a lot more involved.
GP: These characters are always supposed to be harden criminals, but the one that scares me the most is Amanda Waller…
GP: What are your thoughts on that? They’re supposed to be bad by Waller is so much worse.
RW: Yeah, I completely agree. There’s the line, I forgot which issue it was, where she turns to them and asks them if they want to see the biggest monster in Belle Reve, and it’s her. In the issue in the back-up she’s the boss at the end of the level where Killer Frost is going through and she’s the final one. Frost sees all these folks and thinks through how she can take each one then she comes upon Waller and knows this is the big monster in the depths.
One of the fascinating things about Waller is that she wants to do all of the right things. She wants to protect people. She believes the only way to do that is undertaking the actions she does with Task Force X. She’s willing to make the hard choices. She’s Jack Nicholson saying “you can’t handle the truth.” That’s her. She’s willing the pay the price as well. She’s very gray area and that what’s make her a fascinating character.
GP: This is our intro to Killer Frost and she’s going to be a pivotal character for Justice League vs. Suicide Sqaud. As a writer how’d you work with everyone in the build up? Is it going to turn out that the previous seven issues have been building to this and we just don’t know that yet?
RW: There’s a lot of aspects of that. We all work in the same office with the same editors. Joshua Williamson is writing the main story and a lot of things get discussed, and I’m cc’ed on emails, or told what’s going on in the event. Josh is being told what’s going on in our book. Certain things are feeding what’s coming down the line. That’s the fun of working in a shared universe.
Killer Frost is a big deal because people know her from the Flash television show and there’s been a positive reaction to her there so there’s a desire to bring her forward more in the comics. She’s a member of the new Justice League of America in Steve Orlando’s book launching in the new year. Yeah, it’s fun to write.
In terms of our book she’s the rookie. It’s day one in a terrifying prison and she’s going to be shown the ropes and bravado of the big bad super villain. But having said that hopefully you see she’s quite vulnerable as well. She’s a heat vampire that can suck the life directly out of you. She’s an interesting one.
GP: With the back-up stories, they’re really good, but they also free you up as a writer since you don’t need to explore the characters as much in the main story. How do they impact your writing? Does it free you up?
RW: Partly. When Jim and I set out to do the book we set out to do these twelve-page all action episodes, a bit like the old Republic Studios. With a book coming out every two weeks we felt like we could do that. There’s not a huge amount of room… you always want emotional beats to show off the characters. But, taking a step back showing there’s more to these characters you can do that in the personel files. To me that’s really interesting. You can have a character doing one thing in the main book where the action is happening and the bullets are flying. Then you see a different side of them. It helps for a 3 dimensional character.
It’s helped we’ve had such amazing artists for the personel files. They’ve been doing beautiful amazing things like Gary Frank with the Harley/Rick Flagg story and Ivan Reiss and the Boomerang story. That’s been a huge amount of fun in what you get to do.
The main story is the main even which is a good action movie and then you get a character piece as well. I think hopefully it creates a fulfilling twenty pages.
GP: You’ve touched upon it with Killer Frost, but Suicide Squad is much bigger in the public square with their film. As a writer how does that impact you?
RW: Yeah, it’s a completely positive thing. You get more eyes on the book. You sell more copies. It’s more high profile. That’s an exciting thing. In terms of the movie, when I was writing the first arc I hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t know a lot. I saw the trailers which I thought were fantastic. The trailers influenced the ton. I think they just nailed it. It was funny, high action, they looked sassy with attitude. There’s no point anyone in the company said you have to do this because of the movie, which you’ll see in the first arc. The only similarities is the characters, we went off in our own direction.
It is interesting when you see it more and more. Especially with DC with The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl. When I was writing Martian Manhunter last year and he turned up on the Supergirl tv show, that was fun. We’re on seperate tracks in that regard. I think it’s a healthy thing because that limits us as storytellers.
GP: This issue feels like it wraps up this arc. What can you tell us about what’s coming up and where the team is going from here?
RW: I can say too much about the next arc. What I will say is a lot of the things have been seeded like Zod and this shady group called the Peopel and Annihilation Brigade, they are our “A” plot. What you will see that we’ll come back to that, but you’ll see other things. The new arc is something a reaction to Justice League vs. Suicide Squad. We have a long-term plan. We’re constantly seeding things and we’ll get there eventually and that’s kind of fun. You’re going to see what we’ve been planning from the start which was part of my original pitch. We’ll get there eventually.
GP: Can’t wait and thank you so much.
Black Manta, with the powers of N.E.M.O. At his command, will wreak havoc on the life of Aquaman and everything he loves. Arthur, still injured from his devastating battle with the Shaggy Man, has now been drawn into a war with the United States, though neither Atlantis or the United States started it. With the help of Mera, Arthur knows that a mysterious secret world power is behind all of this, but he has no way to prove their innocence. Who will believe him? And what is to stop the war from spreading across the world?
Things are looking pretty grim for Aquaman as “The Deluge” begins in Aquaman #12.
I got a chance to talk to writer Dan Abnett about this new arc and all of the politics we’ve seen so far in the series.
Graphic Policy: I’ve been a fan of what you’ve been doing with the series. Since we deal with politics on this site that idea of Aquaman being the leader of a sovereign leader is something that really interests me as a reader. For you, though, who is Aquaman? He’s clearly more than a superhero, but also a leader of a nation.
Dan Abnett: Right. I’m not the first writer to look at that aspect of Aquaman but to me it’s essential. It’s something that marks him out from the other members of the Justice League. He’s a superhero. He’s a man. He’s a surface dweller. He’s an Atlantian. But he’s also a head of state and that’s something that I thought was one of the most interesting aspects to pursue in the Rebirth run, to look at that. Not to look at it in a political way, but to see what would the responsibility of state leadership, to be a king, what affect would that have on him as a person? Also, what are his ambitions?
It’s not just that he’ll look after Atlantis but that very proactive effort he’s making to find a place for Atlantis on the world stage and to get the world to take it seriously. It’s not just a case of convincing the surface countries that Atlantis is ok and not a threat, but there’s also the convincing of his own people that the surface world is ok to deal with.
I’ve really enjoyed that. We’re seeing a very rocky road and his problems and the complications are coming from all directions. It feels like a very fruitful thing to do as a source of drama.
GP: The other thing I noticed that you’ve been emphasizing with the character is the lack of confidence within himself. We’ve seen him in other versions of his being a bit stubborn, but we see him expressing how he feels like he’s a second tier hero and a joke.
DA: He knows he’s not a joke and Aquaman fans know he’s not a joke. He’s extremely powerful as a superhero. He has an extremely significant responsibility looking after a nation of people, an entire culture. But, I was aware fairly early on recognizing that Aquaman in popular culture is the go-to joke character. He is that joke, he can talk to fish. Well, I thought we could combat that perception which exists beyond the audience of devoted Aquaman fans, the comic fans who don’t aren’t fans and beyond that in the audience worldwide. I could to try to write him as amazing as possible and we just say “he’s amazing,” or I could embrace it and actually make what we feel in the real world about Aquaman and make it how the world feels about Aquaman in the DC Universe. That to me makes me feel it has much more potential. The idea that they’d regard him as a second tier member of the Justice League. Not a proper superhero. A bit of a gimmick, a bit of a novelty. And a bit of the unknown in that he represents the strangeness of the ocean, something that’s a bit creepy. All of that is stacked against him.
I wanted to really show Aquaman trying to do something about that. Trying to change the world’s perception of him. But, also having to deal with that perception, every time he tries to do a bold political move being thwarted by that reputation. I wanted to embrace it and put it in the book.
GP: There’s a big emphasis on politics in the book with how nation-states interact like his being arrested as the head of a nation as a terrorist. What type of research are you doing concerning that as a writer?
DA: I certainly am, yeah. I’m thinking very much about that nitty gritty. I’m doing lots of research. I’m not doing research in any specific research, just general research. Writing about Aquaman. Writing about Atlantis. Setting this in the DC Universe. It’s a fantasy idea, it’s a city undersea. The best science fiction works most effectively when it feels authentic, when you can really believe it’s genuine. I thought one of the ways to make Aquaman and Atlantis feel sort of authentic to imagine what it’d be like if it really existed, what would the world do about it, and what would be the interaction with the world be. Every step of the way in the story I think about what the real world interaction would be and research what that real world reaction would be and then slide that sideways into a parallel format.
A lot of the research I do doesn’t get there on the page, it just informs the tone of the story. Otherwise, it’d be pretty bogged down in detail. A good example is going to the White House and being dealt with by the Chief of Staff and not the President was a nice touch and I think that whole idea of the world reacting to a nation that’s considered a rogue nation, it’s almost like to get the readers to forget that Atlantis is underwater and get it to imagine it as any other nation in the world where it’s trying to make its way and the response is it’s a rogue state, it’s dangerous, it’s out of control. That to me makes it much more credible.
And part of that process for me is trying to make Atlantis feel as credible as possible by making sure there’s texture and character and lots of people around him so that you can feel there is genuinely an Atlantis to care about and identify with.
GP: Another thing that stood to me was in issue eleven Black Manta using the term “false flag” which is a term that’s really been used a lot in recent years. Did you explicitly use that term due to that?
DA: Oh yeah. Absolutely. A lot of the terminology that I’ve used is meant to resonate with things you hear being talked about on the news and global events. I wanted to make it genuinely feel like a global event that these things are happening.
Aquaman is quite clearly a superhero book. There’s no pretending he isn’t. It’s part of the DC Universe. He’s a member of the Justice League. All the trappings of a larger aspect of being a part of a superhero book. Part of my brief when beginning to write the book was that the Aquaman as a comic works best when it leans towards the realistic aspect and horror angle science fiction as opposed to too far overtly superheroic angle. To deal with much more of the X-Files, Fringe, aspect of science fiction suits Aquaman and the adventures he has tonally than the brightly colored over the top superheroic like Batman with his iconic villains or Superman as a hero. I’ve leaned into that heavily which means having the real world respond to him in that realistic term. Buzzwords from the news, media terms, makes it feel that much more credible.
GP: With Rebirth a lot of it was bringing back the old and the new and setting a different tone. Black Manta is front and center. N.E.M.O. I think is new…
DA: N.E.M.O. is new, yeah.
GP: Right there with the villain you’ve done that with the old and the new. What is it about Black Manta that you think epitomizes the Aquaman villain?
DA: Aquaman doesn’t have the hugest Rogues Gallery to be fair. There are several villains, but when it comes down to it his chief villains are Black Manta and Ocean Master and to me it was time for Black Manta’s turn to be the main antagonist. I was also intrigued by Black Manta’s potential to be a cool character but he’s so singular in his motivation. He wants to get his revenge on Aquaman. I wanted Manta to be the villain right in the opening issues. For Aquaman to defeat him and try to break that curse that this is a cycle of violence we’re stuck in. It’s ruining both their lives. He breaks him psychologically. I really like the irony by making Manta feel so stupid in singularly seeking revenge that Aquaman makes is own arch-nemesis worse. He creates his own monster. Manta goes away and gets recruited by N.E.M.O., which is a brand new invention but is layered into the story as if it’s been there forever. They recruit him and Manta says he can be more than he was before. Manta says he can be more than he was before. He becomes much more a potent villain with a much greater range of ambition which is quite nice.
It may take Aquaman quite a while to realize all of that. That he’s empowered his own enemy into something that was much worse than he was before. I’m a big fan of irony and that’s about as ironic as you can get.
GP: Speaking of new, you introduce the Aquamarines in issue twelve. Where did the idea come from and how vital are they going to be going forward? I can see them becoming a pretty solid villain going forward years down the line.
DA: I hope so, yes. They certainly have potential. It goes back to a moment ago when we were talking about the real world flavor of things. It did occur to me in this set of circumstances that if you were to regard Atlantis as a rogue state and you needed to deal with the leader of that country, that the US would have a contingency treat him like a Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden and need to take him out. They’d need people to do that and it wouldn’t be a case of sending in the Navy SEALS because this is comics. So the Aquamarines are sort of purpose built US military created to stop the threat of Atlantis. That’s going to lead to an interesting place in the comic. Certainly for this story, but I’ve got ideas for other things we can do with the Aquamarines. And yes if they were to become a part of Aquaman’s rogues gallery in the future I’d be delighted.
GP: How long does the “Deluge” storyline go on for and any hints as to what happens after?
DA: Yes, the story is four parts and is pretty major and dramatic. Immediately afterward we get a very different story, a different change of pace to make sure nobody is getting bored. We do something very different with a brand new villain we introduce. This story will have repercussions. There will be fallout for what will be a war that will impact things to come often in unexpected ways. There’s lots of consequence but we’ll also deliver fresh stories that are part of it to make sure Aquaman doesn’t get stuck in a rut. There’s really nice big things with some old villains and new ones and some guest stars.
GP: Thanks so much and can’t wait to read the rest of the story!
Fifteen years ago, the world’s most famous soccer star and his former supermodel wife – pregnant with their unborn child – disappeared without a trace. The world believes they are dead… But, in reality, their private jet crash-landed on a mysterious, unknown island ruled by prehistoric creatures from another time…
This is the story of how they lost their humanity. This is SAVAGE!
Out this week from Valiant, Savage is an all-new series (and characters) written by B. Clay Moore. I got a chance to chat with Moore at Baltimore Comic Con about what we can expect when it comes to shelves.
A science-minded adventurer gets mixed up in the mysteries of a fantasy world in this charming new adventure from an award-winning creative team. Boone Dias is an interdimensional explorer, a scientist from Earth who has stumbled into great responsibility. He’s got an explanation for everything, so of course the Ether’s magical residents turn to him to solve their toughest crimes. But maybe keeping the real and the abstract separate is too big a job for just one man.
Ether is the latest creator-owned comic from writer Matt Kindt who is joined by David Rubin on art.
The first issue is fantastic (the second as well) and I got a chance to ask Kindt some questions about where the idea came from and the difference between working with an artist and doing the art and writing himself.
Graphic Policy: Where did the concept of Ether come from?
Matt Kindt: Well, like most ideas I think it came from a place of boredom and hatred (laughing).
I’ve never been a big fan super natural and magical stories. Ghosts and spirits and that kind of thing never really appealed to me. So creatively, I think I’m a little bit of a masochist. I want to take the harder road. I like setting up rules and obstacles to sort of shake up the way I think and approach stories and characters. It’s pretty easy to fall into a comfort zone creatively after a while. You figure out how to do things in a certain way that is successful and then you end up repeating that because you know it works. That’s where the boredom comes in. So I feel like I’m constantly trying to avoid that with every new project.
I always felt like the magic was too convenient. Ultimately it ends up being a way to cheat the story or it’s so grounded that magic wielding ends up like using a gun or a sword in physical combat…so why bother with magic. But that got me to thinking – if someone made me write a comic about magic, or with magical elements, what the heck would I do? How would I handle it?
GP: How did David Rubin come on board the project?
MK: Ether was on my list of projects I wanted to do next. I’ve been drawing a lot of really grounded stuff lately which has been giving me a hankering to draw some crazy stuff. I share a studio with Brian Hurtt and he’s always drawing nutty stuff in The Sixth Gun and it looks like so much fun. Sowhen I was writing Ether, I purposefully seedes a ton of really fun oddball visuals into iit because I was looking forward to drawing all of it. But, as a creator, I have a problem. Creatively, I’m like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I want ALL of the food – but the reality is my stomach is only so big. And my time that I can dedicate to projects is limited as well. I can’t draw more than one monthly comic (Dept. H) which is going to keep me occupied for the next couple of years. But I really was excited to get Ether going anyway. And David was available. I am a huge fan of his work. His book “Hero” is just amazing. He’s an artistic genius. And honestly, his availability convinced me to give up the idea of drawing Ether myself – since I knew what he was turning in would be better than anything I could do. The choice was easy.
GP: You’ve done a lot of series where you’ve written it and done the art as well. What’s different in your process when you’re working with an artist as opposed to just on your own?
MK: It’s different every time. Even when I’m drawing it for myself. Each book I’ve worked on is completely different and always driven by the content. I sometimes wish I had it “all figured out” process-wise. And I’m aware that there are formulas for this kind of stuff – but it’s so boring that way. Half the fun of taking on a new project is that adrenalin and terror I feel right before I’ve figure it all out and all the pieces fall into place. It’s the difference between figuring out a puzzle or riddle on your own or just googling the answer and finishing it. If you cheat and look up the answers you don’t get that thrill of discovery – which is honestly the best part of writing and making comics.
When you introduce an artist that’s not yourself into the mix – it makes it that more interesting. Now you’ve got a new personality and talent in the mix. So it become more like a team effort – and playing/writing to the strengths of both of us. I love working with someone as talented as David – so that the scripts I end up writing become more like suggestions rather than dictates.
Since I’d initially planned on drawing the entire thing, I had character sketches and ideas for some of the look of the characters that I sent that to David after asking him if he wanted to see ‘em. I hesitated – I didn’t want to sort of poison his creative well you know? But he was interested so I sent them along with the pitch and outline for the series and he took it on himself to draw over twenty pages worth of set designs and characters and other elements that we could weave into the story. David’s imagination is boundless really. He’s one of those rare artists that writers get to work with, where they just take an idea and run with it – making it visually bigger and crazier than anything you’d been picturing.
GP: The worlds and how they work seem to be pretty thought our. How much have you sketched out and put together about the magical world? Are there rules you’ve created with how things work as an example?
MK: It’s pretty well mapped out. That was a lot of the fun and attraction of creating this series – the world building. Getting to come up with a new world completely from scratch which is something I haven’t gotten to really do before. I’ve re-worked our Earth in MIND MGMT in some fun ways – but it was always based on an existing sort of architecture. With Ether, I got to play creative god in a lot of ways. But it’s not all just arbitrary.
There aren’t necessarily rules for all of Ether – instead – each little pocket and neighborhood in Ether has its own set of rules. Ether is really based on every myth that’s ever been written or imagined. That’s how the entire Ether was created – sprung out of the minds of all humanity from all of history. So this is where all the afterlife’s reside…all of the mythical beasts and creatures – but they’re all sort of relegated to their own neighborhoods. They can meet and mingle – and at the edges, that’s where the friction in the Ether happens. When opposing cultures and ideas sort of butt up against each other. There’s not a lot of “made up” ideas or creatures or characters in the Ether – everything in it is based on myth and folklore and things that we’re all kind of aware of or read about or have seen in fairy tales and that kind of thing.
GP: Something I’ve loved about your work is the amount of small details you put into the comics. Mind MGMT had all of the items in the margins and added so much to the series. The end of the first issue had the creature guide at the end, but do you have ongoing plans for the series?
MK: For sure. You know I love a good plan! That said, each issue sort of dictates what the “extras” are going to be. A lot of times I’d leave the back covers or inside illustrations until last – so I can stand back and see what that particular issue is really about. Then I can go in and use the extra stuff, the back covers, the inside front covers – the little details – to shade the issue – to give the reader a new insight into it or make them feel a little differently about what they’ve just read. Or give them an epiphany when they go back and look at it again. It’s really fun to plant those little mental time-bombs at the beginning or at the end and have them go off after you’ve read the issue. So yeah, we’ll have maps and diagrams and excerpts from books and all kinds of crazy things seeded into each issue. I really want every issue to be a kind of strange art-object/artifact. That’s what keeps the monthly issues vital to me. Making that single issue experience unique.
GP: As a writer, having a magical world where you can literally do anything, how do you keep it focused and not go over the top?
MK: Characters ground the story – which allows me to go over the top on everything else. I think one thing that doesn’t change when I write a story – from project to project is my general overall approach. And maybe that’s the thing, they way that I found my voice as a writer…is this approach…and it’s really just one question I constantly ask myself when I’m writing. “What if this happened…but for real.” It’s a sort of mental exercise that I do after I’ve got the “big idea” or concept for a story. I go back and attack from the POV of it actually happening. These characters become real and I put myself in their shoes. A simple explanation of how this works with my writing would be this: If you play video games, the next time you play a first-person shooter, or a jumping game – or anything where you control a “character” – approach that game as if you have only one life and if you die or miss your jump…it’s going to happen for real. Try it once and see how that makes you feel. It completely transforms the experience. I think a lot of writers end up writing and they’re writing like they have unlimited lives and can just reboot and they’re playing the same game over and over again…and I think that gets boring. It’s the same with that video game – as soon as you go in and approach that game as if you only have one life and it’s “for real” it completely changes your experience. It gives everything seemingly real stakes.
GP: The first issue feels like it turns into a murder mystery. Was there a reason you went with this genre for the story specifically? You’ve also done a few of them, Dept. H is one. What draws you to that genre?
MK: Mysteries are like genres to me. They’re the hook to get you in to the story. The thing that keeps you motivated to turn the pages and it has to be good. It’s what I need as a reader and it’s fun to write, but ultimately, this story isn’t as much about the mystery as it is about the journey of Boone and his sort of growth as a human being that thinks he has an answer for everything being placed into a world that doesn’t necessarily want to be answered or classified or labeled. It’s what makes Sherlock Holmes such an enduring character. It wasn’t the fantastic nature of the mysteries he was solving that made the stories so great. It was the characters – the interplay between Watson and Holmes and his clients that makes the stories enduring.
GP: When creating the world, it feels like almost a Dr. Seuss vibe about it. Are there any influences on the series?
MK: I can’t speak for David – but I completely get a Seuss vibe to it. And at first it really caught me off guard. The pages David was turning it were…they were just sheer FUN. I was writing what I thought was going to be this dour and dark meditation on obsession and loss. Really dark. And then when David’s art started coming in and I saw how his fun sort of cartooning and character design meshed with my words…it honestly shocked me. It’s like hearing a melody and then the harmony starts joining in and makes the song into something different and bigger and more powerful. I’ve never had a collaborative experience catch me off guard like that and surprise me. What Ether turned into is a testament to David’s personality and style.
GP: Any hints as to what we can expect?
MK: I’m not going to spoil it – but Boone has already lost a lot by the time we catch up to him. There’s a terrible twist to the entire story which relates to how the Ether works on its visitors…it’s definitely going to break your heart in a sucker-punchy kind of way. Hopefully (laughs).
But also fun! – we’re going to see…a wizard giant, a 12-year-old-girl who happens to be the most dangerous magician/scientist ever — and Boone’s worst nightmare. An army of oxidized copper robots, a city of insane, perverted immortals, and a mythical Manhattan at the center of the earth. And a grumpy, talking, purple ape – which no story is complete without!
On October 16, Black Enterprise invited a group of comic book creators including Micheline Hess, Regine Sawyer, N. Steven Harris, Naseed Gifted, Tim Fielder, Dilettante J. Bass, George Carmona, Joseph P. Illidge, and Roye Okupe, to the BR headquarters in Manhattan to have a round table discussion about Black comic and Black comic book creators.The Blerd Gurl has posted up the live Periscope recording on her YouTube channel. You should check out the almost 30 minute video which is a fantastic group of individuals to hear talk comics.
This Wednesday sees the release of three election themed stories by DC Comics in two comics. Catwoman: Election Night Special features a special Prez back-up story while The Flintstones #5 also tackles the topic.
Written by Meredith Finch and Mark Russell the two stories skewer, satirize, and reflect the current Presidential election.
I got a chance to talk to both about their stories and a bit about the election itself.
Graphic Policy: Meredith, I read the Catwoman: Election Night Special. You’re clearly channeling a certain politican with Penguin. Is there any reason you went with that as opposed to having him do his own thing?
Meredith Finch: I think the whole idea of doing the election issue was to have, to be a charicature of the current election. I wanted it to be, at least on some level, play up the fact. He’s clearly not Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is a politican who you wouldn’t expect to be a politician. That’s exactly what Penguin is. They have a similar background coming from business, never having done politics before, and being larger than life personalities that say what they’re thinking without any consequence of it actually sounds when its out there. I felt it was a good fit for Penguin to take on that role.
GP: Is there anything about Penguin in particular that makes him fit for that role? When you go through his history, he’s run for office a bunch of times, weirdly often in Presidential years. You don’t see that as often with Harvey Dent for example, and he’d have had to run for District Attorney. So what is it about Penguin that makes him perfect fo this type of story?
MF: When you’re looking at villains within the Gotham universe, in a lot of ways he’s the one that seems the most sane from an insane point of view. You couldn’t imagine anyone voting for the Riddler, the Joker, or any of these other characters which are much darker with a murderous undertone. People have an almost cuddly association with Penguin. He’s been made fun of a lot more in the Batman universe than any other character. People, I think, love him in a different way. He’s a fun character and works so well for this. Even though there’s some darker undertones to the story, it’s intended to be a fun take on the election. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and Penguin lends himself to that.
GP: How’d the issue come about? What was the genesis of the story and issue?
MF: I was talking to DC about some ideas I had for a Catwoman story. They threw out the idea to me about this election themed one-shot. I thought it was great. I thought it’d be a lot of fun. I’m Canadian, so it’s fun to sit back and look at what’s going on. We just had gone through a election, so I could look at what’s happening south of the border for the election, and bring a neutral bystander approach to the story and to the candidates.
GP: Is there any particular reason you used Catwoman for the story and the overarching murder mystery in it?
MF: I think Catwoman lends herself to this simply to the fact that whether it’s an election or not in Gotham, she has nothing to lose. She doesn’t care if Penguin is the Mayor. She doesn’t care if Hill is the Mayor. She doesn’t care if some ten year old kid is the Mayor. She does not care about anything but Catwoman. So it makes sense to do wat we’ve done with this election issue, she’s going to be the one perfectly willing to blow it all up because she has nothing to lose.
GP: With the end of the story, we get to see a certain character show up and proclaim she’s going to be President some day.
MF: We wanted to lead in to what was coming next.
GP: It’s as simple as that? Nothing more to it?
MF: It’s a dark story and it’s a challenging time in politics and you always want to know there’s hope and optimism. Putting that character at the end of the Catwoman issue is a way of saying “things may be really tough right now, they really suck, there’s always something new and positive coming up. There’s always a possibility of that.” Putting that character at the end of the issue is saying in Gotham there’s hope and optimism. In the DCU there’s hope and optimism. And hopefully at the end of the election cycle there’ll be some hope and optimism.
GP: Mark, at the end of the issue there’s back-up with Prez and Beth. Looking over the story as a whole, not just this one piece, everthing you’ve written with Prez has been prescient in many ways with this election. Looking back as a writer, how does it feel to see these satirical ideas brough to life?
Mark Russell: That was kind of chilling to discover how hard it was to make up something so far afield from how crazy things have gotten, to be constantly be outflanked by the reality of the political circus. But, it’s not just the politics, a lot of the inventions that populated Prez have become real. I was shocked, because I set this thing 20 years in the future. The taco drone and a lot of these things are coming out right now, happening sooner than later. I don’t feel very prescient so much as I feel that I’m writing about a reality that’s becoming increasingly incredible.
GP: The story in this issue is interesting in that you take on a lot of real world issues that are debated today. As a writer, how do you decide what you want to comment on? This issue deals with gun control and birth control. How do decide what you want to take on for each story?
MR: I think I have a lot of ideas that I write down notes for. I choose the ones that work best for Prez. I choose the ones that have the most fleshed out storylines or the ones that relate to each other the most. I have a hundred things I could write about, but only a small fraction of them I can write about in a story or makes sense in conjunction with a backstory about a similar issue. I think that’s what I do. I try to talk about two issues that dovetail in some way so they really resonate with the reader as opposed to writing a polemic in some way that’s divorced from any sort of story conencted to a human being or any other issues.
GP: What strikes me about this story, and much of what you’ve done with Prez, is that you take these issues, mix in some humor, but also have really intelligent solutions to them that seems like they could work in the real world. You present these realistic goofy solutions. It all makes sense in a messed up way. For you coming up with these solutions, what do you do as a writer to think this through and especially how two issues can come together? There’s some really interesting out of the box thinking and solutions you don’t see in real world politics.
MR: I feel like people who are cynical about politics and those that are idealistic are two sides to the same problematic coin. They expect perfection. And if they can’t be perfect then it’s not worth doing anything which I think is a problem in politics. That perfection gets in the way of improvement. I’m more of a pragmatist, I like improvement. I like gradual change for the better. And that’s what I try to write about. You might not get everything you want, but you might be able to coble together some sort of solution that pushes the human race forward a step or two.
Politics is not just about failure and cynicism. It’s also about coming up with solutions. The solutions are going to be practicle, incomplete, and not always what you want. I think that’s the one thing I tried to capture in the election special of Prez.
GP: For both of you. It’s interesting in that both of the election issues, Catwoman: Election Night Special and The Flintstones #5, the main character is a bully that’s trying to get people to vote. It’s obviously a real world thing that’s going on. Out of everything that’s going on with this election, why focus on that in particular?
MR: For me it was the most obvious analog for Donal Trump. The idea of the cafeteria bully. And for me to examine why do people who have nothing, or who have been ripped off and kept down by people like Donald Trump, why they are so adamant about supporting him. In a lot of ways it felt best explained as to why people rally around the cafeteria bully who makes their lives miserable. I just wanted to make that allegory clear about Donald Trump.
MF: As for myself, I wanted it to reflect what was happening in the election. It’s something… bullying is an issue that seems to go from school yards up through the Presidential election and it was necessary to point that out because we need to continue to point that out. There’s other ways to get things done. We don’t need to bully and intimidate people to get them to change their minds. I wanted that reflected within the story.
GP: Both issues, in both of them, the main candidates in both are rejected by the voters. Each in a way gives a nod to third parties and reflects a lot of individuals not supporting either candidate and looking for alternatives. Was that on purpose?
MF: In Canada we have a different election system since we have three parties. I wanted to explore what happens when you have two candidates and neither are great options. Because, for us we always have a third option. In Gotham, they’ll have to re-run the election. I did want to explore that.
MR: For me, I wasn’t really trying to comment on the need for a third party in the American electoral system. I just wanted to say the only way to run against a bully is to call them out on it. Give themsevles enough rope and make it clear you’re not afraid of the bully. I want to make it clear America’s two party system, as flawed as it may be, is a natural outcome of the American electoral process. I think the two party system for better or worse is a result of how its set up. In other countries where there’s a parliamentary system, you have to build coalitions between the parties to form a majority and elect the President. Where in the United States all that coalition building is done within the parties themselves. You have two major parties with constituencies within the party that don’t necessarily have things in common but come together in common voting interests in hopes of getting a majority.
GP: This election is ludicrous on so many levels. As a satirist or story teller, how does that impact a writer? Do you say to yourself it’s so crazy or messed up, there isn’t anything more I can say or comment?
MR: Oh absolutely. And I think I’ve kind of given up on it. I just want to write and let it fall where it may where it might be too crazy or not crazy enough to comment on reality.
MF: I know for myself I really worried about going to far. And I have since learned that I could not have possibly gone far enough to match with what’s going on.
GP: With the election coming up, you’ve each got comics about elections. For each of you, why do you think it’s important for people to go out and vote in November? Or do you even think it’s important?
MR: I certainly do because voting has very real world implications. Depending on who gets elected this cycle, the fate of 22 million people who have healthcare under the Affordable Care Act will be decided. Two or three Supreme Court justices will be decided and will send the country’s legal system in one direction or another for the next 30 or 40 years. You will have massive implications for people not just in the United States but around the world based on who occupies the White House these next four years.
MF: I know for myself I agree with Mark 100% on that. As a woman, we fought so hard for the right to vote, shame on me if I don’t go out and vote. You really can’t sit back and complain unless you make your voice heard and you can do that by voting.
MR: It’s something you can do in the mean time while you work to make the bigger changes you want to see in the world.
GP: Thank you both.