Category Archives: Interviews

General DC

With 24 Hours to Go on the L.U.C.H.A. Kickstarter we Talk Comics and Wrestling with CW Cooke

Co-creator/writer CW Cooke, alongside co-creator/artist Travis Hymel, are getting into the ring with a Kickstarter for the brand new comic series L.U.C.H.A.!

L.U.C.H.A. is the story of Agente, a luchador detective who spends his life solving low level crimes and murders, taking on any job that falls in his lap. He just so happens to get wrapped up in a murder campaign that involves vampires, wrestlers, and other notorious figures before the rug gets pulled out from under  him…and the readers! The elevator pitch is: Lucha Underground meets The Truman Show.

With less than 24 hours to go on the Kickstarter, we got a chance to talk to CW Cooke about comics, wrestling, and what’s next.

Graphic Policy: So where did the concept for L.U.C.H.A. come from? It debuted in Kayfabe but how’d the idea start?

CW Cooke: The idea started on Facebook as a Luchador detective in a noir world. Travis and I met through the Kayfabe group and then just started tossing crazy ideas back and forth on what we wanted to do and it started with a Luchador.

GP: How’d the team come together for the series?

CWC: Travis and I met as stated above. I’ve known Micah (Myers) for years and he’s pulled me out of a number of jams with other comics so he’s the first person I always go to when I’ve got a new idea. Jeremy (Kahn) has been working on Solitary vol 2 and building a good and solid rep as a great worker and colorist.

GP: Wrestling seems to have a big following in comic fandom and there’s been a resurgence recently with a bunch of series and graphic novels released. What is it that the fandoms seem to overlap a lot?

CWC: Comics and wrestling both are soap operas. Wrestling is exactly like comics in that the storylines continue and develop over time with new characters joining the story in progress and old characters coming back seemingly lost to the sands of time. The fandoms seem to overlap because there’s a lot of similarities between both. And comics and wrestling have colorful characters doing insane things that seem out of this world.

GP: Luchador wrestling has such a history and some amazing wrestlers. Why focus on that subset of wrestling as opposed to some of the other variations?

CWC: I’ve loved Lucha for a long time, going back to being a kid and loving the El Santo movies. So this is kind of my love letter to that and the 80s and 90s movies and comics I grew up with. I’m a big fan currently of Lucha Underground and think Luchadors have always been something people should know more about. It was more fun to explore that aspect than just a big sweaty wrestler dude yelling at people.

GP: Why did you decide to bring this to Kickstarter?

CWC: Kickstarter is a way to hit an audience that I may not have access to otherwise. Plus I’m broke and need to make sure my team is paid and taken care of for the work they’ve done. So Kickstarter helps us to build a bigger audience and world of followers while ensuring the team is taken care of.

GP: During the campaign it was announced the comic would also be published by Action Lab. How’d that come about?

CWC: Pretty much because of the success of the Kickstarter. We had been pitching the book for awhile to no avail and we had been looking for a home, but Travis and I knew our book could make it regardless of who or what happened. I announced my Solitary movie/TV deal which was an amazing thing that I have to imagine helped everything out, the book hit Kickstarter and then in 5 days hit the goal, and then we had an announcement on the Action Lab pick up. It’s been a crazy year.

GP: Did that change your plans at all? You mention you’re working on the second issue, how many do you have planned?

CWC: The first arc is planned at 4 issues and then we have an entire world (or worlds) to explore. After that we have a lot of ideas on where to take the book and the characters and we believe that Action Lab is behind us 100%. The only thing that changed is we know where our home is for the book and we are excited to explore this world fully.

GP: Will those also get Kickstarters?

CWC: No. The plan is to do issues 2 through 4 and beyond with Action Lab. Might need to do another one later for a collection but currently there are no other plans for Kickstarter to be used for our book.

GP: I take it you’re a wrestling fan. What are some of your favorite wrestling moments and wrestlers?

CWC: Big time wrestling fan. Besides El Santo, I’ve been a big fan of Macho Man, Rey Mysterio Jr, Matt and Jeff Hardy, and many many more. Favorite moments? I’ll give you one as some of the favorites might be used for various moments throughout the series. But one of my favorites was Robocop saving Sting. That one I know I can’t utilize so definitely that one.

GP: What else are you working on?

CWC: Solitary continues to move forward both as a comic series and with the TV/movie development (news coming soon), I’ve got more L.U.C.H.A., I’ve got Luther Frankenstone coming from Source Point Press, a sasquatch project with Kelly Williams, Westerly which is an anthology I wrote for Outland, a few more pitches out in the wild, a few more things I can’t announce yet, more Kayfabe, more Always Punch Nazis, and a ton more. I’m keeping as busy as I possibly can and always writing.

GP: Thanks for chatting and can’t wait to get our backer copy!

SuperMegafest 2018: Inside the ropes with Scott Steiner

A week ago in my stomping grounds of New England, there just so happened to be a gathering of geek and fan alike that takes place once a year in Marlborough, MA called Super Megafest. The name might seem like a mouthful but that is only because there is so much to contain inside these walls. There was something for every type of fan, new and old alike. However only one thing drew me there: the man called Big Poppa Pump: Scott Steiner.

As a self proclaimed Wrestling Geek or a “smark” as insider terms would have it, I was looking forward to this greatly. I have met many a wrestler in my day, but this one always eluded me. So I relished the opportunity to make so chit chat and talk some shit with one of my favorite wrestling personalities with Big Poppa Pump. His legacy is a big one in the annuls of Pro Wrestling (I refuse to say Sports Entertainment) he was a WCW World Heavyweight Champion, US Champion and of course Tag Team Champion.

Never one to mix words and not afraid to speak his mind, I was looking forward to it.

Graphic Policy: Hi my name is Joe on behalf of Graphic Policy, and I am here at Super Megafest talking to the Genetic Freak, Big Poppa Pump himself: Scott Steiner. How are you Scott?

Scott Steiner: Pretty good Joe, thanks for asking man.

GP: So Scott you were at the forefront of Professional Wrestling when it was at its apex, something it has never quite reached again. What is missing from today’s product that you all had back then?

SS: Another company. It’s always good when there is competition. You know what I mean? Now it is a monopoly. When we had the “Monday Night Wars” there was a point where we dominated for 83 weeks straight. That means we were drawing better ratings than them (WWF/E). That means people didn’t want to watch their shit. Now that we are gone, they still don’t want to really watch their shit. That’s what it is, shit. The reason being is you have two idiots in charge who basically think they are geniuses and they’re not. The ratings reflect this.

GP: I agree with your point there, to a point. They feed you what I feel is scraps. It’s nowhere near the caliber of what it could be, but they don’t have to be forced to change because they are the big game in town and they know it.

SS: Thing is though, on top of that they feed you a line of bullshit. They tell you we are giving you what you as fans want. They don’t. They give you what they want.

Graphic Policy: I agree. There is certainly an agenda to who they push.

SS: Exactly. For them to say otherwise, it’s really an insult to the fans. I think many fans are smart enough to realize this themselves and it shows. They aren’t featuring who the people want to see, they feature who they want to see. They feature who they can control. It’s all about the control. The people who do work for that company I mean they are not even considered employees. They are self contracted. Which I think is a damn shame. They don’t want to pay employees tax or insurance and a bunch of other stuff they don’t want to get into.

GP: That is unreal.

SS: Yeah. It really is unreal, how they can operate like that. Just a shame.

GP: Do you have advice now for guys that are coming up, on how to navigate that kind of system?

SS: Well the thing you gotta do, is stick together. Unfortunately with Vince, really the whole WWE is that it is set up so you don’t stick together. They have it so everyone is at a distance and they can’t become friends so that way you don’t form a union. That is why when you look back at when Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and all those guys stuck together, he hated that. They ended up controlling the industry. That is what it takes is sticking together but it is set up in a way that you can’t. Or he won’t allow you to.

GP: I think, hearkening back to what you said about competition it just breeds true for anything. If you don’t have competition then you are going to have shit and not get the best you could.

SS: Right.

GP: That is why it is so great to see what Cody Rhodes and the Bullet Club have done. Both here and in Japan. They were told no one would ever want to see them put on their own Pay Per View and they did it. They sold out a big venue faster than anyone ever expected with “All In”. They thumbed it right at everyone too. Do you think we should see more of that?

SS: Well hopefully. I hope so. What happened in Chicago, is now going to happen in Madison Square Garden too. That was basically a large scale independent show. I mean that is the first time in history that has ever happened. On that scale. That just goes back to that people are sick of WWE product. You can’t take people’s memories away from them. They remember when they watched wrestling growing up, how good it could be. So now they have this crap on TV and they are forced to watch and they don’t have to.

GP: Is there a company out there that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?

SS: Well it’s not going to really work unless you get another big conglomerate like a Ted Turner or FOX that can compete. Basically it will take a large TV company that can compete with Vince. Like a Ted Turner or something along that. It has to be someone who likes Wrestling and understands it as well.

GP: I think it would be great if a large network like a FOX would back it because the production values would be off the charts and with the correct backing could be visually stunning.

SS: That’s really the only way you could compete. You would see so many guys jump on that ship. They know how it is. When it comes down to it, Vince, the WWE they don’t really care about the people they employ. They don’t care about them. They use them and then kick them out the door.

GP: It always boggles me that whoever says wrestling is fake, I feel is a damn moron because you do this 365 with barely any off days and the toll it takes on your bodies is tremendous. What makes me happy is you get to do conventions like this and hopefully the people pay it back to you. How much it means to us. All that you’ve done and given us over the years. I especially speak for myself.

SS: Thank you so much.

NYCC 2018: Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Talks Comic Conventions and Politics

Conventions are becoming a regular location for folks to get political. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con saw numerous groups registering voters. So, how odd would it to see a Presidential candidate at one? New York Comic Con had a visit from 2020 Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a first.

Andrew’s platform is centered around the idea of providing a “Freedom Dividend” – a form of universal basic income (UBI) – to every American adult. It’s a concept that’s been seen in pop culture like Star Trek and The Expanse.

Andrew has been endorsed by technology futurists like Y Combinator founder, Sam Altman, as well as labor leaders like former head of the SEIU, Andy Stern.

He’s a big sci-fi and comics fan (particularly of Star Trek and the Marvel Universe) and is heading to the convention this week to meet the attendees and build support.

Listen in and find out what it’s like to campaign at a comic convention and what we can learn from comics.

You can learn more at Yang 2020.

Baltimore Comic Con 2018: Phillip Kennedy Johnson Takes Us on the Low Road West

Phillip Kennedy Johnson is an Eisner nominated comic writer behind The Power of the Dark Crystal, Smoketown, Last Sons of America, Warlords of Appalachia, Adventure Time, Aquaman, and his latest Low Road West published by BOOM! Studios.

We got a chance to talk to him at Baltimore Comic Con 2018 about this genre bending new series and attempt to get him to spill on what’s next.

Baltimore Comic Con 2018: Talking Ahoy Comics with Tom Peyer and Stuart Moore

AHOY Comics — the startup publisher that has been asking readers to “expect more” from its comic book magazine format — is made its first ever appearance at Baltimore Comic-Con with took place September 28th to Sunday September 30th.

We got a chance to talk to two original editors of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, Tom Peyer and Stuart Moore who each have series at AHOY. Tom is the writer behind The Wrong Earth and High Heaven and Stuart is the writer behind Captain Ginger.

We talk to them about their series and this new publisher that’s showing that comics can be so much more than 22 pages.

Those Two Geeks Episode Twenty Nine: The World Needs A Punching, With Rafer Roberts

On the docket this week: The geeks sit down with Rafer Roberts to talk about his upcoming comic Grumble published by Albatross Funnybooks. Featuring art by Mike Norton, colours by Marissa Louise and letters by Crank, Grumble is an urban fantasy featuring an anthropomorphic pug and a half demon and will be released in November.

We highly recommend you ask your shop to reserve you a copy.

As always, the Alex and Joe can be found on twitter respectively @karcossa and @jc_hesh if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter or email ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

FlameCon 2018: Artist Kris Anka Talks Runaways and Gert’s Redesign

Kris Anka is one of Marvel’s superstar artists making a splash drawing some of the X-Books before moving onto titles like Captain MarvelStar-Lord and his current series Runaways with Rainbow Rowell of Fangirl and Eleanor and Park fame and colorist extraordinaire Matthew Wilson (The Wicked + the Divine, Paper Girls). He also redesigned Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman costume and has a keen eye for character design and fashion.

I had the opportunity to chat with Kris Anka at FlameCon about his work on Runaways, approach to storytelling and costume design, and more.

Graphic Policy: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Why are your characters of all genders drawn so sexy? Why are they so attractive?

Kris Anka: It feels like in superhero comics that it’s always been part of it. If it’s people with powers, why not make everyone hot? Everyone can enjoy it. You’ve got something for everybody. It’s fun to make everyone hot, and they’re hot in different ways. Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.

GP: One thing I like about your art is that the character clothing reflects their personality. What’s your favorite outfit that you’ve drawn in Runaways, and what are your inspirations for the outfits?

KA: Addressing the second question and specifically talking about Runaways, a benefit is that they’ve been around for a while. Hopping into the book, Rainbow [Rowell] and I know these kids. We kind of equate our run and the original run. The original run was looking for them, and now we know them. So, we’ve hit the ground running, and there’s not a lot of questions in our head of who these kids are.

Inspiration is fairly easily, especially since I’m from L.A. I was a freshman in high school when Runaways #1 came out. I was the same age. I went to high school with all of these kids so I knew them. It’s really easy for me to equate what their looks are and who they are in kind of a 2018 vibe.

Inspiration comes from life, and I can sort of string it all together and combine it into who they are. Because they’re growing and hitting their later teens. Chase is 20. That’s kind of the age where people start changing. We can grow with and kind of experiment a little bit. It’s kind of fun with Karolina where she used to be so young hippie. She was a vegetarian and health conscious. And, in L.A. now, people who are health conscious are fitness conscious. She’s part hippie, but she’s also a festival kid. There’s also athleisure, and she’s very active.

We’re kind of able to grow them into new looks that still feels like them. That helps narrow and specify your focus on them. It’s really fun building wardrobes and all these things. There’s not a lot of guesswork. I know exactly where to go.

In terms of a favorite outfit, it’s in [Runaways] #12, and one of them you can see on the cover for issue 13, which is Karolina’s dress. That dress took me eight hours to design. When you see issue 12, it took me so long to draw these pages. But it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had.

GP: What do you think sets apart the Runaways from the other Marvel superhero teams, who might get more buzz or bigger movies?

KA: The Marvel Universe has always prided itself on being the world outside your door. The Runaways is even more specific where it feels like kids you might actually know. On a superficial level, the fact that it’s West Coast already sets it way far apart. That kind of allowed Runaways to live in its own world. In a lot of ways, it feels like a creator owned book that just happens to be in a world where you understand the powers.

It’s got this different of these feel like actual teenagers you may know. I think that’s what it’s survived on. The personalities are so specific, and it never forced them to be a big superhero book. Because Teen Titans and Legion [of Superheroes] and all those teen superhero books have that to them, but also have the huge, overarching superhero plot. We kind of don’t, and this allows it to be much more about them as people than things they have to deal with.

So, you get a lot of melodrama, a lot of teen heartthrob drama when you’re 18 and all the bad decisions you make. It makes the Runaways feel more whole because we don’t always have to figure out, “Who’s punching this issue?” We can spend a whole issue just crying and look at what they’re going through.

GP: Speaking of crying, the big Karolina/Julie Power breakup in Runaways #10 tore at my heart strings. How do you get in the mindset to draw such a big emotional beat that rips the Internet in half?

KA: That was a big one because Rainbow and I had talked about it for months. We needed to be very clear on what it was, especially in a world where there’s so many kinds of media with bad queer relationships, especially with how messy sometimes breakups can be. We didn’t want to sugarcoat it and not make it real because they’re also eighteen. Eighteen years old don’t make exactly the easiest decisions. They’re pretty damn rough about things. We wanted to ground it in who they are and what they’re going through.

Even if people don’t like the decision, they can understand why these two characters are in that same place and why this is happening. [Rainbow and I] talked about this scene a lot to get the right kind of nuance for it. This thing is happening, but they both have an agency to this decision rather than someone just getting thrown under the bus. I like Julie and Karolina together, but [the breakup] also felt right with this overarching story of bringing the family back together. How messy it got made sense with all the buildup.

So when we got there, it was kind of tough, and it worked with the rest of the story. It wasn’t something where we were like, “We gotta do this.” It felt right.

GP: Yeah, it didn’t feel like the comics version of a sweeps week plot twist. So, I was a big fan of Gert’s new look in Runaways #11 and her walking through L.A. What was your thought process in designing her new look?

KA: We had been talking about the Gert look since I started on issue one. When I signed back onto the book, one of the things that Rainbow really wanted to do was: A- bring Gert back. B was the fact that there’s this huge important factor of (The timeline stuff with her is so strange with the Marvel Universe and sliding timelines.) when Gert debuted in 2003, the idea of having crazy hair colors was so counter culture and a little taboo.

Gert’s whole character was about acting taboo. The guys’ clothes to hide her, having purple hair, and cynical and crabby. She wanted to be the antithesis to all the other girls around her. Now, that we’re in 2018, and [dying hair] is so commonplace, all these things that she had that were countercultural are common. What does that do to someone who is also coming back from the dead and seeing all her friends grow up without her.

Rainbow always wanted [to change Gert’s look], but I don’t remember the beginnings of that conversation. The big thing was that this allowed us to do the lost character arc that she was going through, superficially. Where she’s like, “What do I look like now?” We wanted to have a scene where she sees all these people with purple hair, and she’s like, “Shit, this thing I did to spite the adults and be this kind of rebel, everyone has”. [She’s] no longer a rebel in this world.

We wanted to have Gert refocus on herself where she doesn’t need to be this counter to everybody. She can kind of calm down. She’s still Gert, but we can have it where she doesn’t need to be so loud any more. [Colorist Matthew] Wilson also wanted to hint at the future Gert [who leads the Avengers] so a lot of that first outfit based on design cues from future Gert like the green corset top and the grey skirt. We wanted to allude to all of that, and the fact that she goes back to her natural hair color. It’s kind of fun to go in the middle of [her timeline] and find something that still feels Gert, but doesn’t feel like she’s trying. Because one thing we did in our whole run is that Gert doesn’t have her own clothes. For the entirety of the first two arcs, she’s wearing Chase’s clothes or hand-me-downs because she doesn’t have a wardrobe.

That’s part of it. She never was herself yet. She’s still looking. That’s our first moment. We spent a long time thinking about what Gert’s look was going to be. It took us a year. I remember one day that we arrived at the same thing where [Rainbow Rowell] saw a photo of Chadwick Boseman with this t-shirt with kind of a military button pattern. She saw that, and separately, I thought that Gert seems like someone who would see Hamilton and get really into Hamilton and dress like that. We both brought military jackets to the table and said that should be the Gert look. Also, that’s her parents’ look too: these steampunk military time travelers. We alluded to that, she would definitely be a Hamilton fan, and this was the look that Rainbow wanted so it all fit. That’s new Gert.

And stylistically, it also keeps her separate from all the other girls on the team. She doesn’t look like Karolina. She doesn’t look like Nico. She doesn’t look like Molly. There’s a lot for the individual, but not in a forced way any more. It’s only on one page, but that one outfit took 11 months of work.

GP: It’s cool. I love hearing about behind the scenes stuff. I have one final question not related to Runaways. I’m a big fan of the WicDiv Christmas Annual that you worked on, especially the Baal and Inanna male nudity part. How did you get onboard with that unique project?

KA: I had done the Baal cover of him getting out of the pool [for WicDiv #19], and it kind of became a thing. When [Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie] were coming up with the idea for a Christmas issue, they said one of the stories was about Baal and Inanna doin’ it. They were like “We should get Kris to draw it.” It was all very nonchalant. The amount of nudity that showed was up in the air, and they said, “As much as you want and whatever you’re comfortable with.”

We didn’t want to go super over the top with it, but we wanted to just get some dicks in there. It was very chill job. Let’s just draw these two guys having a good time and draw some dicks because there’s never dicks in comics. It was all fairly easy.

Runaways #12 is out on August 29, 2018.

Follow Kris Anka on Twitter

FlameCon 2018: Writer Sina Grace Talks Iceman, Dad Jokes, and Li’l Depressed Boy

Sina Grace is a veteran L.A. based comic book writer, artist, and former editor whose body of work ranges from graphic memoirs like Not My Bag, Self-Obsessed, and Nothing Lasts Forever to an Iceman ongoing series for Marvel Comics. He has also done the artwork for the cult Image comic The Li’l Depressed Boy, which is written by Shaun Steven Struble. Self-Obsessed was made into a webseries starring Grace as himself and co-starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Amber Benson and Adam Busch.

At FlameCon, I had the opportunity to catch up with Sina Grace and chat about his upcoming Iceman miniseries and some other projects.

Graphic Policy: You’ve got the new Iceman coming up. What sets apart this miniseries from your initial run on the character?

Sina Grace: I’m really excited that I get to come back to the series after a passage of time. So, Bobby’s sort of done with the chapter of growing he went through in those first eleven issues, and in this one, we get to see him a little more settled in his skin. The reader will have so much more fun watching him do what he wants to do now that he’s like, “I am an omega level mutant. I am awesome.” He’s finally settling in.

With that comes a lot more fun and also some new challenges.

GP: What are some of those challenges?

SG: I’ve always thought that if you’re known for being an omega level mutant that means people with good and bad intentions are going to be paying more attention. Their eyes are on you. I’ve made it no secret that Mr. Sinister is the bad guy, and he kind of realizes that there’s something special about Bobby. Because Bobby is realizing there’s something special about Bobby. And you don’t want Mr. Sinister to be obsessed with you, I’ll leave it at that.

Then, similarly, we see Emma Frost come back into the fold, and their relationship is so rife with tension. I think one of the last times they had a very big talk about him, she seemed to be disappointed by his immense potential and how he never lived up to it. This series is really going to focus on him living up to his potential and being around people who can bring more out of him.

GP: I’ve talked to a lot of Iceman fans online, and they’ve wanted him to have more romantic and definitely more sexual relationships. What is Bobby’s dating and romantic life going to be like in the new series?

SG: I’m excited to keep Bobby single for a while. I think it’s going to be really fun to have him be single in the Marvel Universe and sort of show what that whole world looks like. How easy or how hard is it to be a mutant and in the X-Men and looking for romance. Usually, with all these other X-Men, they can date within the pool, but aside from Pyro, who they just wanted it to be what that evening was, there aren’t a lot of suitors out there.

He is dating. We get to see what that looks like for him. It’s adorable, but I’m not ready to have him fall in love just yet.

GP: You’re working with a new artist on the series, Nate Stockman (X-Men Blue). What has collaborating with him been like?

SG: Nate Stockman, and I’ve been so lucky because I’ve been saying this about the other artists, is really collaborative and so open minded in terms of taking notes from a writer who knows how to draw and has drawn comic books. Nate is injecting this level of humor that we didn’t quite hit with the previous artists, and I’m so happy because again and again I will say that this arc is a celebration. We got the book back. Bobby is a happier person. We’re just here to have a blast. It’s like a bonus round.

Nate really brings that energy. He’s just so happy and kind, and that’s all you can ask for in a collaborator. He also has really good insights as a storyteller and has helped me become a better writer in the end too.

GP: I saw Bishop on the cover of Iceman #1. What role is he going to play in the series?

SG: He’s mainly in issue one. He does show up at the end of the arc. I wanted a character where it’s the same thing as Bobby Drake. He’s always kind of around. But he’s always in the periphery. Bishop is like that too. There’s a lesson to be learned in the first adventure with them preventing the Mutant Massacre together that I felt he was able to speak to Bobby in a different way and help him understand things. I’ve always been drawn to the character, and I wanted to spend some time with him and see how his brain works. He’s cool.

GP: Yeah, wielding that big gun in X-Men Legends was when I fell in love with him.

SG: He’s also lived out the thing he needed to do in this timeline, and again, he’s in the periphery and on a similar, but different journey. So, I wanted to have these two personalities next to each other for that adventure.

GP: One thing that stands out about your Iceman is that he makes a ton of dad jokes. Why did you decide to make that a big part of his personality?

SG: It’s one of the consistent things about him. If you go through all these books, he makes really dumb jokes. His humor is a little stale, but I had to lean into as a writer because if you only do one or two, people think you can’t write a good joke. So, I kind of had to write 10 or 15 so readers would understand this is about the character kind of cracking wise.

Also, we talk a lot about how Bobby had been hiding a part of his identity from everyone. He’s filling the air. He’s nervous. These are nervous jokes. We’re going to be massaging that in the story talking about that, and how he changes on a micro-interaction level. Maybe, he’s gonna fill the air a little less with dumb jokes, or maybe his jokes will just be good. We shall see.

GP: Yeah, they’re a big part of his character. So, the X-Men have been used as a metaphor for LGBTQ themes for years. What experiences do you as a gay man bring to these characters that a straight writer couldn’t?

SG: I talk a lot about how the power of diverse storytelling lies in the details and specificity. On the way to the interview, we were talking about how opening up the restrooms at FlameCon and making them gender free opened my eyes to “Now I can’t just pop in and pop out. I have deal with a line.” But, cool, I’m aware of my privilege.

There’s no way you can have insight into a story so it’s not even in your eye line. But we bring the specifics of what the experience feels like. Case in point, in issue six of the first series, he falls head over heels with a guy he meets in L.A., Judah Miller. And he thinks about wanting to move to L.A. Resisters, and people who didn’t the like book as a whole, thought that was dumb, and gay Twitter had my back and was like, “No, girl, listen. This is what happens when you just come out, and you’ve spent your whole life thinking you can’t have something.”

You do latch onto the first person who gives it to you and make very questionable decisions about moving across the country. I almost moved to Seattle for love. So, the thing I bring where I can have a character do something that works for the sake of dramatic storytelling, but is still rooted in a reality. I think if a hetero, cis writer did this, it would come off more problematically.

GP: Speaking of your experience, you’ve written a lot of autobio comics, like Self-Obsessed and Not My Bag. How do you switch gears from writing so personally about yourself to writing about a corporate property?

SG: I think actually switching back and forth makes doing both easier for me. I have a space where I can be myself and talk about myself and reconcile questions about the world that I have that may not be interesting to everyone. I have a space for that with an audience that is willing to watch me go down these paths. And, then, because I have this safety valve, I can really look outside myself when I’m speaking to an audience that is 10,000 to 20,000 readers, and I can think about stuff that a larger group of people would want to have explored.

I like that I have both. What’s awesome is that Marvel readers aren’t like, “Let’s go look at your slice of life tales.” They love action books so it’s very safe space to go down some deep ends.

GP: In those autobio books, you have playlists, and I low key got into Jenny Lewis because of Nothing Lasts Forever. Do you have playlists for Iceman?

SG: I create playlists for any character with a big speaking role in my comics because I find music to be a fascinating look into someone’s psyche. On a very surface level, it’s a good way for me to be like “My brain is different from his brain.” So, Bobby listens to stuff I don’t listen to.

I joke that I don’t much care for The Weeknd, but Bobby likes him. He likes the War on Drugs a lot. I don’t mind them. They’re actually good. But I wouldn’t have pursued them. They’re in his wheelhouse. They’re what he likes. I was dating a guy, and we spent the date joking about what he would listen to versus us. The great debate is if Bobby Drake listens to Coldplay. I don’t have the answer yet.

It’s a good exercise. Like for Daken, I was listening to a lot of dark, nihilistic, and loud music like Health and Nine Inch Nails. Dirty Beaches too. He’s a very swagger-y guy. It’s a cool tip to tell burgeoning writers. This is how you get into a different groove and force yourself into something: a different conversation.

GP: That’s good advice. I have one last question. I’m a big fan of The Li’l Depressed Boy. Any news on that front?

SG: Our only goal with this new series of The Li’l Depressed Boy is to have the entire arc done before we put it on the calendar. I don’t think anyone likes when a book ships late, and the series comes from a personal place for both [me and Shaun Steven Struble]. We’re just letting it take the time it needs. But there are pages drawn. There is a ton of script written out.

Shaun and I are lifelong friends and partners so as long as we’re in love with each other and the book, it’s always going to be on our minds and always going to be made. Having the book come out on time and having it be the best it can be is more important than anything. No rushing for us.

Iceman #1 will available from Comixology and local comic book stores on September 12, 2018

Follow Sina Grace on Twitter.

FlameCon 2018: Writers Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein Talk Their New Comic, Renegade Rule

FlameCon 2018 marked the debut of the creator owned comic book Renegade Rule #1. It’s a slice of life comic about an all female VR eSports team called Manhattan Mist featuring the team members Amanda, Sasha, Jessie, and Tonya. It is written by Ben Kahn (Heavenly Blues) and Rachel Silverstein, a J.D. student and member of Marvel’s Agents of GIRL with art by Sam Beck (Verse).

At the convention, I got the latest scoop from Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein on this exciting new book.

Graphic Policy: How did you all meet creatively and decide to work on this comic together. Ben, I know you’ve done a lot of solo books in the past so why did you want to bring on Rachel as a co-writer?

Ben Kahn: We met at the first Five Points festival last year.

Rachel Silverstein: It was totally random, and Ben was one of those hecklers, who had a table. And I walked by, and he said, “Hey, buy my comic.” And I bought the first two issue. Then, we somehow got into the topic of Judaism on Twitter, and I was in Israel at the time. Then, we kind of became friends after that.

BK: Rachel was in law school. I’ve been there when I wanted to make a comic and didn’t have the resources to sink into it, and I’m like, “Hell, let me pay it forward.” Because I had read scripts by her and knew she was an amazing writer. This will not stand if she goes out and becomes a lawyer without ever gracing the comic book pages. We’re gonna make something happen.

What does Rachel like? Girls and video games. There’s a comic there somewhere.

GP: Renegade Rule is all about video games. What has your experience been of gaming over the years?

BK: I feel like the old fogey. [in cranky old man voice] Back in my day, platformers and JRPGs ruled the land. I was into more of the single player games. I loved all these fantastical plots and worlds. I don’t really like the gameplay as much. I wish I could find a medium that only did the plots and the characterization. And then I found comics, and that was all I cared about.

I always enjoyed Halo growing up. It’s probably the biggest influence on me. I spent a lot of middle school playing Halo at a friend’s house until two in the morning.

GP: Me too.

BK: For me, with a lot of the modern games like Team Fortress, Overwatch, and Fortnite, I’m an outsider looking in. Especially the fandom element and the culture that builds around it. I’ve never played Overwatch except at [Rachel’s] house a few times. But I read all the comics, watch all the cinematics, read all the wikis. So, I was definitely intrigued at the idea of having this fun, fictional crazy world to throw on top of a sports story narrative [in Renegade Rule].

RS: For me, I would never call myself a gamer, but when Overwatch came out, I remember seeing the first posts on Tumblr of the cinematic for Widowmaker and Tracer. I was like “This looks really gay. What is it?” I thought it was a movie.

BK: Let the record show that Rachel is wearing a Pharah hat and a color matching jacket.

RS: And a D. Va backpack. I was like, “What is this?” So, I watched a lot of gameplay and thought it was really cool. I actually bought an Xbox One just so I could play Overwatch. That’s pretty much the only thing I’ve gotten into that’s relevant to Renegade Rule. When Ben wanted to make a comic with similar elements to a video game, I figured, “I can do this. I can totally do this.”

GP: Why did you guys decide to do a VR game?

BK: I just think it would be super fucking boring to have characters holding controllers for twenty pages.

RS: We also wanted it to be a little futuristic. We could add the element of them moving around and have action in it.

BK: It’s like that .hack//Sign/Ready Player One old school trope of the VR game, especially with the sports movie narrative of physicality and training. There’s a real physical element to the gameplay beyond them holding controllers.

GP: Break that whole workout scene with Amanda, the team leader, towards the end of comic because when I think of video games, I think of just sitting on the couch. But she’s pumping iron and stuff.

RS: We wanted to make it so they’re not sitting on a couch and wanted to add an element where they have to maintain their physical bodies and have the dexterity to play a video game.

BK: Because I love exercise. It’s a part of my daily routine. I went on a whole run before coming to the convention. I wanted to capture the sense of pushing yourself, and Amanda wanting to overcome her limits and being better than she is. We were trying to get the invigorating feeling of training and communicating that on the page.

GP: Renegade Rule is a self-published comic. What have been some of the challenges of doing it by yourselves?

RS: Nothing at all.

BK: Nothing unexpected. I’ve gone through the production process enough to know what it’s going to be, and our whole hope was to have issue one ready for FlameCon.

RS: Sam [Beck] really came through with that. We have to give her kudos. We never gave her a time frame to do anything. We were like “Do it at your own pace. There’s no rush”, and then we were going to be at FlameCon so let’s debut it here.

It was halfway through June, and she said she took on a few other projects. And we were like “Can you have this done by the beginning of August?”, and she did an amazing job considering the time crunch.

BK: Sam’s work on the book was so good. I look at the pages, and the colors are stunning and the atmosphere and the characters. There are some facial expressions that just make me laugh looking at them. I can’t say enough good things about Sam’s art. The girls feel like real people, and a lot of that is the way Sam brought them to life and communicated their attitudes from their fashions to their faces to the way they carry themselves. The acting she’s able to do through an image is fantastic.

GP: How were you all able to get her join Renegade Rule? Why was she the best artist for the project?

RS: We actually search on Twitter. We looked at the #VisibleWomen hashtag. I remember I saw it and sent a link to her Twitter and said, “Ben, this the artist we need. Please make this happen.” It actually worked. She was the first person we asked and was like “Okay”.  We were really lucky.

GP: I love the team name Manhattan Mist and that you named it after a character’s vape. Which member of Manhattan Mist are you, and why?

BK: We read the script out loud.

RS: We sit down to write it together. We Skype together.

BK: We’re writing every panel together. When we break down who reads what voices, Rachel reads as Amanda and Tonya, and I read for Jessie and Sasha. I feel like that’s a good breakdown personality-wise.

GP: So you treat it like a stage play.

RS: Yeah, whenever we try to think of emphasis when we bold the words for lettering, we try to read the script in different voices.

BK: We figure out the best way to read the line and then figuring out the best way to communicate that line to the reader. That’s always been a big part of my writing process. Reading the dialogue out loud and then seeing how it sounds. That’s why I’ve been kicked out of a lot of coffee shops, but I think it’s worth it for the dialogue.

RS: But to answer your question, I would definitely be a Tonya. When I had sent the PDF of Renegade Rule to one of my friends, I asked, “What are your thoughts?” And all she said back was “When you think that you’re Sasha, but really you’re Tonya.” That is so accurate. I think a lot of people would relate to that. Everyone wants to think that they’re this badass who picks up all the girls. But you’re really just the one in the bar going “I’m gonna die alone.”

GP: So relatable.

BK: I think I’ve always been more of a Jessie. I’m not quite always on the ball. “Yeah, yeah that thing we’re doing, but also that thing that has nothing to do with that relevant thing.” Jessie is all about the sloth videos.

GP: I like the romances set up in Renegade Rule #1. You’ve got Jessie and her boyfriend and Amanda with her crush on Gabby. What role will romance play in the book going forward?

BK: In sports stories, you’ve seen the rivals that launch a thousand fan fics. So, we thought what if that subtext was very textual. We want to do that love story with a rival story.

RS: We’re doing cliche. Number one enemy becomes the love interest.

BK: I think this is gonna have a few more punches to the face than the cliche love story.

RS: We have a lot of big things planned for Amanda and Gabby.

BK: It’s gonna be fun because these are two very driven, very competitive, very compassionate women that are gonna find a lot in common. Sparks and punches will fly to use my marketing poster line.

GP: Do you find writing the action/video game scenes or the slice of life scenes more enjoyable?

RS: I love the slice of life stuff.

BK: The slice of life stuff is really fun. I always love that intersection between fantastic and mundane so it feels unique to write an eight page stretch of friends hanging out at a bar. Action is fun, especially when we get to play with because what I like about having the video game motif is we get to have very epic sci-fi action visuals without having to do the whole epic sci-fi war part. Fuck it, lizard man, cyborg, and ninja that’s who they’re gonna fight this issue.

GP: Can you guys tease out any of the teams that Manhattan Mist is facing?

RS: Yes. We spent a long time coming up with teams, and we trashed a couple of them. The big thing for us was coming up with the names.

BK: Let’s see, we’ve got their Y-chromosome doppelgangers, the Nashville Banjos coming up. It’s the Mist, but with slightly relationship dynamics. They can very much get in the heads of our girls.

RS: Then, we’ve got the Brooklyn Sharpshooters, who are the best team.

BK: Their colors are purple and gold. ‘Cause even in Brooklyn, it’s totally not a take on the L.A. Lakers. One thing I like, starting in issue two, is the differing play styles and the philosophy behind it. There’s the Santa Fe Shinobi, who represent regimented training in all areas. It’ll be fun putting that up against a bunch of friends and that mess around, have fun play style of the Manhattan Mist.

GP: I have one last question. Ben, you have the Heavenly Blues trade coming out from Scout Comics in December. Why should fans of Renegade Rule pick up Heavenly Blues?

RS: Why shouldn’t they?

BK: So, the basic plot of Heavenly Blues is about a group of thieves in Hell from throughout history, who team up to pull the ultimate heist on Heaven. If you like a team full of chaotic scoundrels who come together to be more than the sum of their parts going up against impossible odds and pulling off an impossible job, Heavenly Blues is the book for you. Also, it has weaponized gay kissing. I guess if you can’t imagine that you’re just gonna have to buy the book.

Buy a physical copy of Renegade Rule #1 on Etsy.

Follow Ben Kahn on Twitter.

Follow Rachel Silverstein on Twitter.

FlameCon 2018: Writer Leah Williams Talks Emma Frost, X-Men, and More

Leah Williams is one of Marvel Comics‘ brightest and most enthusiastic new writers. Before making her Marvel debut with a Lady Hellbender story in Totally Awesome Hulk #1.MU, Williams penned the 2015 young adult novel The Alchemy of Being Fourteen. She has a story in the upcoming Domino Annual #1 as well as the X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1 one-shot drawn by Chris Bachalo, What If? Magik #1, and a yet to be announced creator owned title.

At FlameCon, I had the opportunity to chat with Leah Williams about her upcoming comics, love for the X-Men, and relationship with fictional characters, especially Emma Frost.

Graphic Policy: Let’s start with a general question. How did you become a fan of Marvel Comics, and what is kind of like your “origin story”?

Leah Williams: I am deeply entrenched in fandom culture and never really stopped once I started writing for Marvel. But the way I really got obsessed with Marvel and the X-Men comics specifically was when I first started working at a comic book shop. I worked there for maybe a year and half to two years, and in that time, I just spent all day, every day reading comics and studying them and thinking about them. It was transcendent.

GP: How has your fandom influenced your writing?

LW: For me, they’re never separated. Being active in the fandom is a way that, I think, gives me an advantage as a writer because it allows me to keep this ongoing and current knowledge of what people are saying and what they’re feeling and where there’s a lack of their favorite character and the kind of stories they’d like to see.

GP: Most of your books for Marvel so far have involved the X-Men corner of the universe. What draws you to the mutant side of the Marvel U?

LW: What I find most fascinating about X-Men comics is how flawed they are. It’s the same thing that draws me towards Peter Parker as well. The fact that they make mistakes, and they learn from those mistakes, but they’re always trying to do better. They don’t come out the gate being correct and right in every decision that they make. And I think that it’s seeing those kind of flaws in our heroes that makes them more compelling because it does humanize them.

With mutants, in particular, my obsession largely spawns from the fact that you have characters like Beak or Maggott or the gross mutants, who in a different body of work would exemplify genre conventions of body horror. They’re disfigured and grotesque in other works. But because they’re mutants in X-Men comics, they get to be the heroes. Their disfigurement or what would inhibit them in a different genre is their power. I roll hard for that. I think it’s great.

GP: So the X-Men have been used a metaphor for LGBTQ themes since at least the 1980s. How have your experiences as a bisexual woman set apart your writing of the X-Men versus a straight person writing them?

LW: I can tell there’s a difference in what I bring to the table as a writer and as a bisexual woman than the existing canon. For example, the way I depict different characters is informed by different life experiences. That’s true of all the Big Two comics in general. As characters get handed off down the line, when they pass hands, they take on new qualities and different aspects. So, I’m excited to be part of the fresh blood at Marvel now when we’re getting to do some really exciting stuff. It’s just thrilling.

GP: Speaking of exciting stuff, you have an Emma Frost one-shot coming up. It’s part of X-Men Black, which is focusing on the villains. Do you consider Emma Frost to be a hero, villain, or antihero, and why?

LW: I think she exists in a moral grey area. To me, I’m a flagrant Emma Frost apologist. She can do no wrong, including blowing up [Firestar’s] pony. She had her reasons. At the same time, she has this brutal heart, and she’s deeply compassionate, radically so. That’s what informs her actions. All she ever wanted to be was a school teacher, and people often forget that about her. It’s one of those things where she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way.

Being able to tell a story with her is (I don’t know how to do a sports metaphor.) that I picked up the ball and ran as far as I could with it. And it’s deeply exciting.

GP: So what can fans expect from your Emma Frost story?

LW: It’s a love letter to Emma Frost. It is going to be cathartic, and it’s going to show Emma at her best.

GP: What has been collaborating with artist Chris Bachalo been like?

LW:  He is amazing and so humble. When my editor Jordan D. White said that he had a line on a good artist, I replied by sending him a whole bunch of “eyes” emojis. Then he was like, “Are you sitting down?”

I was, but when he told me it was Chris Bachalo, I burst into tears and had to go lay down and breathe for a minute. It was during the time when we were outlining, but then I started to see the script come alive in Chris’ style and artistic voice because his work is so meaningful to me. It is so formative. Working with him has been incredible. He’s very kind and an all around awesome guy.

GP: You also have a story in the Domino Annual coming up. I really enjoyed your Domino and Emma Frost story in Secret Empire: Brave New World. There’s a line in there I still remember, “Being a hot girl is weird.”

LW: That’s another thing. In each script, there’s something where I think there’s no way they’re going to let me get away with it, but they do. It was that line, and it was super exciting.

GP: Do you play off that line of dialogue at all in your new story at all?

LW: It’s a part of her character because Domino is open about these things. She’s playful. She’s flirty. The Domino Annual is going to be very exciting because there’s a sexiness to it. While she doesn’t talk about the reality of being that insanely hot, you still get to see her in these different scenarios and different outfits and running around town getting stuff done.

GP: That sounds like a lot of fun. You’re also a doing a Magik What If? story. What attracts you to writing characters that people might consider to be morally flawed or antiheroes? I kind of sense a theme in your upcoming works.

LW: I roll hard for female characters who I don’t think are getting their due and need to be developed so much more. I was actually approached to write the Illyana Rasputin one-shot by my editor Annalise Bissa, who is amazing and a huge fan of the character. In her words that she straight up put in the actual press release, Illyana deserves better. That’s what were doing in the one-shot to show the world where she never joined the New Mutants. It’s when she gets out of Limbo and never joined the New Mutants.

GP: What have been some of the challenges of creating your own reality in this story because Marvel does the different Earth designations for the What If stories?

LW: Specifically, with [Magik], we had to think about kind of long term consequences because it becomes a butterfly effect. We change this in this world, well, how will it effect different kinds of things? We had to account for readers’ questions they would have while reading it and try to anticipate the questions they would have and answer them proactively so we could get on with the worldbuilding of this different universe. It’s a very practical technique. It’s a logistical thing.

GP: Do you have any favorite What If? stories from the past?

LW: I can’t think of anything specifically off the top of my head, but have you ever read the What The–?! stories?

GP: Yeah, when Marvel was making fun of their own stuff MAD Magazine style.

LW: Jordan D. White just introduced me to those, and that’s my current obsession. They’re super goofy. And there’s this panel where Angel is strapping down his massive eight foot wings to his body. And he’s like, “This’ll be fine. No one will notice this when I go out.” Then, you see him put on a jacket and walking out, and he’s got like camel humps under his jacket that are taller than his head. It’s the funniest thing.

GP: Most of your comics for Marvel have been one shots. What has been a challenge of doing this versus a miniseries or an ongoing?

LW: It’s all been fun so far. It’s all been wildly thrilling. The backup story “Super Hot” in Secret Empire Brave New World  had its own challenges because it was four pages. Working with those kind of constraints has the same kind of exhilaration as completing an obstacle course where if you can pay respect to continuity, represent the characters authentically, have all the necessary plot elements you need to have in there, and make it visually appealing and compelling in four pages that’s an adrenaline rush to let off.

The most difficult thing, for me, that I’ve worked on is the Emma Frost one-shot because working on it was terrifying. From the moment Jordan D. White asked me to write it, I knew what was at stake and how incredible it was. While I was writing it, I was terrified the whole time because it was the first time I realized that loving a character is not enough. Being a fan of a character is not enough. You write these stories. You have to stay the course. You have to stay true to your outline, and that kind of thing.

The reason why it was scary for me during the Emma Frost is there is nothing rational about the way I feel about Emma Frost. It is a blind devotion, and realizing that while I was writing her was so scary. I was like, “I’m gonna fuck this up.” I’m gonna mess this up so bad, and they’re never gonna let me do it again.

At the same time, I felt honor bound as someone who loves her so much to do as much with her as I could in the space I had available. God bless Jordan D. White, he’s letting me.

GP: When did you fall in love with her? When did you know that Emma Frost would be so influential to you?

LW: I honestly don’t know. It’s been a long time coming for sure. It’s gotten really pronounced in the last few years, I’m not sure why. I’ve always had a respect for her, but it didn’t become irrational and crazy until I had started writing for Marvel a couple years ago and was doing a lot of research. I read her origin story and read the solo miniseries.

GP: With the terrible covers.

LW: Listen, they’re Trojan horses. People give comic covers a lot of shit for being male gaze-y. You gotta keep in mind they’re Trojan horses.

GP: I like that because people have been talking about the J. Scott Campbell cover for your one-shot.

LW: Exactly. People are gonna pick up this book who don’t know anything about Emma Frost and are picking it up because she looks sexy on the cover. But what you’re gonna get is an intense character study.

So, it was reading the original solo miniseries with her and learning her background and how she set out on her own, the tragic family dynamic, and she was a stripper. All of it. I love it.

GP: I have one last question. You’ve teased about doing creator owned work. Do you have any more info on that?

LW: The only thing I can do is build mystery hype about it because it hasn’t been announced yet. I am working on my first original comics series, and I am calling it X-Files, but lesbians and magic. It’s cyberpunk, neo-noir in an island setting. It’s one of the most wildly indulgent projects I’ve ever worked on.

You can find Leah Williams on her website.

Follow Leah on Twitter.

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