Category Archives: Interviews

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We Rock Out With Jeremy Holt to Talk Skip to the End

The bassist of a breakout ’90s punk band, Jonny falls apart when his band mate and best friend Kirk commits suicide. Twenty years later he struggles with heroin addiction, lost in the songs they created and desperate to relive the past, when he discovers that he can-literally. With the aid of a mysterious guitar, Jonny begins to make trips back in time, searching for the roots of Kirk’s unraveling. At Nar-Anon meetings and in conversations with his sponsor Emily, he starts to cope with the events that led to Kirk’s death. But by the time Jonny realizes that his visits can’t change the present, he might be too addicted to stop.

Writer Jeremy Holt tackles music, addiction, suicide, fandom, and more in Skip to the End whose hardcover collected edition is released this week by Insight Comics. With art by Alex Diotto, the comic is layered with multiple interpretations and absolute enjoyment for those who enjoy comics and music.

I got a chance to talk to Jeremy about the series and its multiple interpretations.

Graphic Policy: Skip to the End is clearly driven by your love of music. How did that go from your own fandom to a graphic novel?

Jeremy Holt: It was a freak accident. Early on I was fairly certain that I couldn’t pull it off. Trying to translate an audible medium through static images seemed like oil and water. Fortunately, what made these two compatible was a well written song that not only conveyed the sound of the times (early 90s), but more importantly complimented the on-going narrative. I have my good friend John Merchant to thank for that. He was my music guru in college. He truly shaped my passion for finding new bands.

GP: The story is inspired by Nirvana. What’s your earliest memory of them?

JH: My earliest memory would have to be hearing about Kurt’s death from a friend. Granted, the news wasn’t current. I had just moved from England to Norway, and was finishing 7th grade, which would have been ’97? I didn’t listen to any of that music then, but a friend Bastian Scholz told me that the lead singer of his favorite band had died a few years back.

I want to say that I vaguely remember getting crazy to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at a middle-school dance, but I’m probably projecting my current love for them.

GP: There’s this concept of time travel which is really interesting. Where did that concept come from as opposed to just focusing on a band member’s struggles after fame?

JH: I have long believed that music is time travel. Smell too. We all collect sounds and scents that are time machines. I just didn’t know how to translate that into a story. Then I discovered Nirvana about five years ago, and the story started to fall into place quite quickly.

GP: The series was originally released as single issues and now is collected. Are there things you might have changed if it was just a graphic novel?

JH: I would have extended the page length. Due to a myriad of factors, me and my team wanted to contain the story to four issues. If I had a chance to re-work it, I would have extended the story by another forty pages at least.

GP: This might be a bit spoilery but the character of Emily is really interesting and how I thought about her and the story changed from single issues to the collection. At first I thought the story was just about Jonny but on a second read it also feels like a story about fandom and coming to acceptance with it. Was there a dual story there?

JH: Honestly? No. But having re-read it as a complete story, I totally see this new narrative thread that I accidentally created along the way. I believe that seeped in due to my profound love for the band. That’s definitely something I would have shined more of a light on if I could have gone back in and re-engineered things.

GP: My personal theory and spin is the story is like Fight Club and Emily is imagining Jonny. Anyone ever come up with that theory before?

JH: There have been a slew of reviews that have been getting posted for the past few weeks. Two others had the exact same thought, so you’re not alone!

GP: How did the rest of the creative team come on to the book?

JH: It’s a long story, so here are the cliff notes: Alex and I had co-created on another series entitled Southern Dog, that was published through Action Lab back in 2012. Adam Wollet and I have been friends for a while, and he stepped in to replace Ed Brisson on letters for Southern Dog. Renzo Podesta and I collaborated on a pitch way back in 2009, and he had been on my radar after I saw his work on Charles Soule’s series 27. Tim Daniel and I go back even further, and he’s been gracious enough to design all of my logos. It so happens that he’s a huge Nirvana fan, so this project appealed to him instantly.

GP: The story has to do with suicide which is the news due to the loss of two celebrities. Are you hoping to raise awareness of it through the graphic novel and why do you think so many creative people do it?

JH: Initially my intention was to shed light on the complexities of addiction, and all the forms that it can come in. The byproduct of that has been suicide awareness and the topic of mental health. I did not believe that my story would connect with anyone other than comic book readers, but I have received some amazing letters from people that have gone through depression, addiction, and rehab, who have told me that STTE resonated with them on a very personal level. These messages remind me of the power that a comic book can have on a reader.

I’m not sure why so many creative people end things so abruptly. Multiple factors are certainly at play, and I think the immense pressure of living one’s life in such a public forum only exacerbates underlying issues in that person. More often than not, it seems to be a tragic recipe for disaster.

GP: There’s a meta aspect to it all as well. There’s the story and then there’s music lyrics which are themselves a story, so you’re transported to a story within a story. Obviously the difference between the two storytelling platforms is one has music and one pictures but what do you think comics and music share when it comes to storytelling?

JH: I think it’s fairly clear. They both share a story. At least the good ones that stand the test of time do. Examining it a bit deeper, comic book pages contain a pacing that reminds me of music. Where a comic book has plot twists, page turns, and cliff-hangers, a song has beats, bars, and refrains. Even though both are polar opposites in fundamental ways, they both share a lyricism.

GP: What else do you have coming out that folks can check out?

JH: Other than Skip to the End and Skinned, I have another series that’ll be debuting at New York Comic Con, and is also through Insight Comics. It’s a two-book series entitled After Houdini (October ’18) and Before Houdini (May ’19).

GP: Thanks so much for chatting!

Gail Simone Takes Plastic Man Out for a Stretch and Explains Why He’s the Favorite of So Many Writers

Out this Wednesday, Plastic Man returns to his own comic in a new six-issue miniseries written by Gail Simone and featuring the art from Adriana Melo and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. The first issue features a cover by Aaron Lopresti and Amanda Conner has have a variant.

Simone is the fan-favorite, award nominated writer whose run on DC Comics‘ Birds of PreySecret Six, and Batgirl, are all considered classics. She’s also written Clean Room for Vertigo.

The series mixes so many different tones and genres stretching things out and mixing them back together, something that’s rather appropriate for the character of Plastic Man.

I got a chance to ask Gail questions about the upcoming series and find out if having a hero that can do so much is a challenge.

Graphic Policy: How’d you come on board Plastic Man?

Gail Simone: Most of my projects at DC come from Dan DiDio himself. He knows me, he knows what kinds of books I enjoy writing, probably better than anyone else aside from myself. So we go have lunch at a con, and he will casually drop a few different projects, and he always knows how to choose the things that really interest me.

In this case, Plas is a favorite of mine, he knows I love that guy, and people have been asking me to write him for a long time, readers have wanted to see it. So when he asked, I was very happy. It felt right.

But it’s intimidating, a lot of brilliant people have written and drawn this character, I didn’t want to just repeat their take.

GP: To you, who is the character? What makes him stand out from other superheroes?

GS: Well, there’s the humor, but I also love that he’s this guy with this unbelievable power, it almost makes him immortal, and he still has doubts beneath the jokes. I think a lot of us underestimate ourselves, and Plas is that guy to the bone.

GP: Having read the first issue, it blends comedy, traditional superhero, and a bit of noir together. As a writer, how do you approach crafting a story that can dip its toes into so many genres and get that right balance?

GS: Oh, man, I don’t think of them as distinct, in that way. To me, the superhero thing, that’s your canvas. That’s what you’re painting on, and we’ve all made a contract that both the reader and the creative team understands that foundation. I don’t have to explain that he stretches, and he’s in the same universe as Batman.

What you put on top of that, that’s your take, that’s what makes the book different. And to me, the first set-up for Plas is still the greatest, he’s a criminal who almost died, he had to be thrown out of a moving car to reconsider his life. And it’s so grim in that origin, that’s a harsh life he’s led, that humor comes out a bit as a safety valve, so he doesn’t look at his past and just surrender.  It’s like the cop who tells jokes at a crime scene, you have to be able to maintain your own balance, even in a dark place.

That said, I don’t think Plas is a TRAGIC character. I think he became something of a trickster god.

GP: The character has a much higher profile due to the events of Dark Nights: Metal and was seen in Justice League #1 and also The Terrifics. Did that change what you might have done with the series as opposed to if this was published a year or two earlier?

GS: No, we started with a blank slate, but editorial matched everything up in those other books.

GP: Plastic Man is known for his crazy shapes. Do you as the writer come up with that? The artist? A combo?

GS: I come up with them, I write full script always, BUT Adriana Melo has a full talent for comedy that I didn’t know about, so she is always, always able to change something to make it better. She’s amazing. She and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick make this book look happy and rich and seedy and sexy in a way like no other book out there right now.

GP: Has there been a moment where you’ve wanted Plastic Man to take a certain shape but couldn’t work it in the story? Does the story drive the shape or can the shape drive the story?

GS: I’ve joked about this a lot, but I have never had a book have to go to standards and practices over so many things. Even Secret Six, we didn’t have to get approval as often. They’ve been great, but we take some shots. We were able to get everything we’ve asked for, so I am delighted.

GP: I noticed in the first issue you do a solid job of telling the story but also working in an origin and a lot of background to the character. There’s a focus to introduce him to new audience. Was that something you focused on for the first issue and knew there might be a need for this?

GS: Oh, sure, I am a big believer in that thing about every comic being someone’s first, and Plas hasn’t had a spotlight in a while. But also, it’s a fun origin. It’s very close to the Joker’s origin in some ways, I always felt they sort of pilfered it from Plas. But it’s a good one to write, and I get to have him utter a classic line, that was a blast.

GP: The character has been a favorite of so many creators. What is it about him that gets creators to like him so much?

GS: I think he’s a bit saucy and cheeky, you have to bring your wit to the table, and that’s challenging. He’s just one of those joyful characters we all fight to use!

It’s a fun book. It has some grit in it, it’s not all zany, but I really am kind of burned out on superheroes that are purely dark. For me, it’s fun to write some fun and colorful characters again, I think it’s a great time for a book that makes you smile or laugh.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting!

Goblins, Trees And Hope: Talking Farlaine The Goblin With Pug Grumble

Pug Grumble, the pen name for the mysterious creator behind one of the most effortlessly charming series you’ll ever come across, would rather your attention be on his creation rather than himself, which is fine because his creation is wonderful. Farlaine is a book about a goblin shaman desperately searching for a home for his best friend, the tree Ehrenroot. With the sixth book en route very soon, Graphic Policy  recently sat down for a quick chat about the on going creator owned book series.

farlaine banner.pngGraphic Policy: For those who haven’t heard of, or read, Farlaine the Goblin before, can you tell us what it’s about?
Pug Grumble: Sure! Farlaine the Goblin is a story of a little tree goblin shaman named Farlaine who’s been searching for a forest to call his own for a looong time. He’s been searching for years, has gone through hundreds of lands, and is down to his final 10 lands left to explore. His only companion on this journey is his best tree Ehrenwort, who he carries in a pouch on his back. Ehrenwort is from his parents forest where Farlaine grew up, which means Ehr provides a conduit back home to the magic of that forest. This magic lets him make seeds grow really, really fast!
The series is 7 books long and each book is a self-contained story about one of those lands. And they’re all weird lands! In The Saltlands everything is made of salt, even the people. In The Racelands you need to race everywhere you’re going or get stuck in an invisible box. The Twistlands is full of twisters and tornadoes of every shape and size. The idea being – there’s a reason he hasn’t found his own forest yet!
GP: Where did the idea for the story come from?
PG: It all started with a drawing. I started doodling this big ogre/troll with big horns and a grass skirt and all these skulls and potions on his belt. He was casting a spell and was a very scary looking dude! But I also gave him an empty backpack that I didn’t know what to put in. I did the rest of the drawing first, and while pondering what to put in the backpack it suddenly clicked – a tree! If this guy was a shaman, that’s what he’d carry with him if he went on vacation. He’d take a tree so he could cast spells away from home!
It seemed perfect. I labeled the drawing “shaman from another land”.From there I started to ponder him and draw him more. He just stuck in there, and over the next year or two he became more polished, his personality emerged, and a story started to take shape. Finally, I got to a point where I really wanted to bring this character to life and read his story myself. So I did :)GP: The story has a very all ages feel to it without being overly kid like, which is wonderful. Do you find it more challenging to write in a style that appeals to both young and old kids? 

PG: When I first started writing the series I wrote it entirely for myself. There was no plan to write for any specific audience; I just wrote what I wanted to read.

After I finished the first three volumes and started showing it to people I began hearing the phrase ‘all-ages’ bandied about and realized I’d accidentally written a book that appealed more broadly than I’d guessed. I think I just have a silly view of life that accidentally translated well :)
After I made that discovery I tried to keep it in mind going forward. There were some stories where I might have thrown in a swear word or made something a little more adult, but intentionally toned it back down to avoid crossing the line I’d accidentally set up. I still remember one book where I wrote “helluva”, thinking nothing of it, and had a reviewer complain it wasn’t a kid-friendly word. In my mind I was using a word common enough to be found on a brand of cheese, but to some, it was too adult. I changed that word for subsequent printings and made sure to now read for those kinds of perspectives.
I also tried hard to simplify some of the wording and length, especially after Book 3 where I felt I got too wordy and over-explained things. I tried to use less words, tighten things up, and be ready to break apart panels or add pages if it made for an easier read.
Even now I still overwrite a page or scene and find myself chopping out and rewriting dialogue to keep things within reason. I never want to talk down to kids, but I also don’t want to intimidate them with word balloons :)
farlaine pageGP: Personally, I’d never have considered “helluva” to be a crass word, but then I’m probably less offended by certain words than most. That being said, I think the all ages tag line lends a much purer feeling to the book; I couldn’t imagine the story any other way at this point. How long does it take you to create each issue? Can you talk us through the process?

PG: Yeah, I can’t really fault the original comment too much. If you’re reading the book to a 5 year old it could force a tricky explanation for a parent. And in general, it probably helped send me down a safer path going forward :)

WARNING: Rambling Ahead!

The books have taken me more and more time as I’ve gone, pretty much the opposite of what I was expecting when I began!

When I first started I’d left a job and had some savings and unemployment to last me a year. I had the first book written before I started and had the plot and story well defined for books 2-3, so I had a good sense of where I was going with those first 3. Those 3 books I finished drawing in 9 months, roughly 110 pages of art.

But from there things slowed down dramatically. I had to go back to a desk job and a long commute, so the next year was spent editing the first three books, drawing the covers, pitching to publishers, and finally designing and printing copies of Book 1 in order to submit it to Diamond so I could get in their catalog and into stores.

When Diamond accepted me I then had to do all the publishing work of releasing 3 books, getting reviews, hitting conventions, etc. It was a lot of work to fit around the day job, so by the time I started writing Book 4 it had been a year since I’d finished drawing Book 3.

My goal was always to tell the best stories I could and not focus on a release schedule, so even though I knew it wasn’t great to have huge gaps, I tried to think longterm about the quality of the finished series. In my mind Farlaine had potential as a fairy tale that could appeal to audiences for decades.

Starting with Book 4 the stories weren’t set in stone, which meant a lot more time building the stories out. The process for Books 4-7 has been different from those original 3.

Book 4 I wrote and drew while working a full time job, so it took me more than a year to complete. I realized at that rate it would take me 5 years to finish the series, so I saved up some money and left the job with an eye on finishing Books 5-7 in one run.

Which finally brings me back to your original question – how I work now.

First I collect ideas for months, throwing story ideas, tidbits, lines of dialogue, plot points, world building, and everything else into a bunch of text files in a folder. Once I collect enough ideas and reach critical mass, I start to coalesce them down to a real story. I spend a lot of time on the plotting and writing side of things to try to not do obvious stories or repeat things I’ve already read. My hope is to come up with something a little different that I haven’t read before.

It usually takes me a month or two to write an issue of Farlaine, with my focus mainly on the dialogue and overall plot points and not as much on the visuals.

Once I finish the script I start drawing, but it’s almost like a different part of my brain, so I just print off a page or two at a time and draw what’s on that page. I don’t memorize it or look ahead, letting myself be surprised by things I forgot.

I generally draw one page at a time. For me layouts get boring and lose a lot of their enjoyment and creativity if I plan too far ahead. I prefer surprises and giving ideas the space to grow as I go. I often end up drawing things that weren’t in the script but came to me as I was working. I like that organic aspect a lot.

I also draw really slow. Most guys in comics seem born with a pencil in their hand – I didn’t start drawing until I was 15. So I’m slow and need to figure things out. What I discovered by issue 3 of Farlaine was an approach I stole from David Petersen of Mouse Guard. I started drawing pencil versions of all the characters and angles on separate pieces of paper, then scanning them in and Photoshopping them together with the dialogue onto a template page, which I’d then print out and lightbox. This allowed me to manipulate the sizes I drew characters and move them around to fit the dialogue properly. In that first issue or two you can see a lot of places where the proportions are off, the dialogue is covering art, body parts are randomly arranged or cut off. Most of that was my weak spots showing through:)

So once I started the ‘layout and lightbox’ approach I think the art got a lot better, but also took a lot longer. These days I usually spend one day on all those layout drawings, scanning them in, and printing off that 11×17 rough template. It then takes another day to re-pencil the page, tighten things up, add backgrounds, and finally ink it. I work traditionally with a nib and bottles of ink, so it adds time for ink to dry, pencils to be erased, etc.

From there I scan the finished art back in, do some digital whiteout, and letter the page, before finally printing off the next page of the script and moving on.

In general, I average about 2-3 pages of finished art/week when I’m in a groove. If I get caught up with publishing duties or the rest of life, sometimes that dwindles to a page or less in a week.

Since my stories are now ranging between 40-50 pages each, this means a single volume can take me 6+ months to write and draw, as opposed to those early ones that were cranking along in about 3 months!farlaine page 2.jpg

GP: It sounds like you prefer a very fluid process when creating the comic. Have you ever found that the art can take you in a different direction than the original script?
PG: Yes, for sure. That’s a large part of the reason I try to keep it fluid. Many times I’ve overwritten what can fit on the page and need to consolidate it down, which can lead to creative solutions. Other times I’ve had ideas on one page that completely altered the next few that followed it. I’ve even had a few characters that grew organically out of what I was drawing. A good example would be in the third issue, The Racelands. I didn’t have a lot established for the other race participants in the original script. I knew one was going to be the pirate mushroom and another the timberjack, but little else. As I was drawing the book I really enjoyed drawing the pirate mushroom, so I tried to not only include him more, but tweak part of the end of the story to incorporate him.The fungal end of that story came from that fluid approach. And now he’s popping back up in Book 7, which I’m drawing right now. Originally, he was just a background character for a few pages.
GP: So it’s safe to say that the way you create the comic keeps the essence of Farlaine’s creativity?
PG: Yeah, I think of Farlaine as a fairly creative character, often having to think his way out of situations, and the comic is certainly similar. It’s a lot of writing or drawing yourself into a corner and then having to figure out a way out of it that works and feels authentic to the story and characters. There have been a few times I’ve certainly cornered myself and then spent a month trying to figure out how to get out of it!!

I’m sure there are a lot of parallels between the story and the creation of the book :).



Farlaine
is available for purchase here.

Jason Porath Talks Tough Mothers and Rejected Princesses

With the blogosphere on fire and the news media following the trends set, the past year has shown that strong women, are prominent in the world and they are everywhere and has always been. This truth has only become more relevant with #MeToo Movement, and the recent array of books which showcase the talents of many female creatives, only shows their staying power. As this movement grows, its allies include those who seek to spotlight the unknown, underrepresented, the under told heroes of our past. One such author who aims to bring this to the forefront is Jason Porath. He started the Rejected Princesses blog a few years back to highlight forgotten female heroes. Since then, he has put out a collection named after the blog and recently released another volume, this one dedicated to matriarchs who possesses ferocity and grace, entitled Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs. I recently got a chance to interview this “truth-teller “and found a humble author.

Graphic Policy: What was your inspiration for your Rejected Princesses blog?

Jason Porath: My mom. She’s an utterly brilliant, tenacious badass –  but she felt like an aberration growing up. She was born in Kentucky in the 40s, and was constantly told boys didn’t like smart women. She never had a connection to this endless line of brilliant, bold women, and felt like something was wrong with her because she was different. I can’t go back in time and give this book to her then, but I can give it to kids who maybe feel the same as she did.

GP: How was the research? Anything you were more than surprised to find out about?

JP: It was difficult – I think there’s 200-some-odd citations at the back of the second book, and more than 300 in the first one?  Very time consuming.

One of the things that really surprised me when writing about (Armenian Genocide survivor) Pailadzo Captanian was how few first-hand accounts of the Genocide were written in the immediate aftermath of it. She had written one of the only ones, and it was never translated to English. I ended up finding a copy of it, photographing every page, using software to turn those pictures into (very rough) text, and then getting two dozen bilingual readers to each take a chunk of the book and translate it. They’re finishing the last parts up now. I plan on donating the translation to Armenian groups. The copyright on it is a bit baffling but hopefully they can find a way to use it.

GP: Has your research lead you to travel to different countries just to find out more? If so, any personal stories you can share?

JP: Not yet – the life of a writer is not a lucrative one! I am heading to the UK later this year for a convention, though, and I hope to visit a couple sites while there – castles defended by rad women, that sort of thing.  There’s a statue of Boudica in particular that I’d love to see in person.

GP: I read in your blog, you have over 2,000 different women you have yet to illustrate, how do you choose who goes into the next book?

JP: I keep a massive spreadsheet that tracks a lot of different things about each potential entry – era, maturity rating, geographic location, religion, and other representations like LGBT and  disabilities. I then have a column that shows the totals. I aim for maximum diversity, without having stories that are too much an echo of one another.  I’m not always successful, but I do try really hard.

GP: Which one of these heroines—within either of your books: Rejected Princesses or Tough Mothers— do you think would make a great movie (just like along the lines of Wonder Woman or Black Panther etc.)

JP: I think most of them would be great movies! In terms of ones that audiences would go wild for, it’s hard to top Julie d’Aubigny, the bisexual sword-slinging opera singer from 17th century France. WW2 spy Noor Inayat Khan deserves a movie  more than almost anyone I’ve ever written about, but given how her story ends, it wouldn’t be the feel-good hit of the summer.

GP: On your website, you offer prizes to readers if they catch an error in any of your entries. Can you tell me about the first prize you gave and why?

JP: The first official prize I gave out was for a correction on (hideously evil Merovingian queen) Fredegund, where a reader asked about how she could have sought sanctuary in Notre Dame before Notre Dame was built (answer: there was a church there prior to Notre Dame) . It wasn’t the first corrections I’d made though! The first twelve entries I put on the site were sourced purely from Wikipedia and riddled with errors. I made a huge batch of corrections after that. I’ve come a long way since then as regards research.

GP: What can you tell me about the women of Tough Mothers?

JP: I think our society tends to picture mothers as kind of just support systems for families, lacking in other pursuits or interests. The women I write about were far more than that – doctors, musicians, politicians, even pirates. I really try to show all the good, bad, and ugly of their personalities, and bring them to life as actual people, instead of just “person X’s mom.”

GP: Since we just celebrated Mother’s Day, what is one intangible you can credit your mother for giving to you?

JP: Man, what didn’t my mom give me? I’d credit her with giving me her temperament, her curiosity, her perfectionism, and her unstoppable work ethic.

GP: The importance of your two books underscore your belief in equality of women, so would you consider yourself a feminist?

JP: I’d be happy to say so, but I believe that’s a title you earn, not a hat you decide to start wearing. There’s  nothing fishier than a self-described male feminist. If others would like to describe me as a feminist, nothing would make me happier.

GP: With the rising of the #MeToo movement, do you think your work has become even more important?

JP: I’d hesitate to use the word “important,” but maybe “resonant.” There are a great many women reckoning with some very heavy struggles – to the extent that I can give inspiration in the form of heralding historical women who also struggled but came out victorious, I’m happy to.

GP: What do you want readers to take away from your books?

JP: That not only can women do anything, they already have. That we’ve been systematically cut off from a shared history that should be everyone’s birthright. That those who don’t fit the mold aren’t alone, and never have been.

GP: What are you working on next?

JP: I continue posting new entries online all the time! I am looking into collaborating with librarians and academia, making more of my research publicly available, and collecting my comics into school-usable formats. I’m also percolating various fiction concepts and seeing where they go. After four-plus years of nonstop historical research, it’s a much-appreciated break!

Avengers Infinity War: A Conversational Inter-Review With A Casual Fan

Avengers Infinity WarContrary to what you might expect, my wife isn’t a huge comics fan and hasn’t seen every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But because she loved Black Panther (didn’t we all?) she wanted to see Avengers: Infinity War with me. I thought it would be interesting to see how the movie held up for somebody who doesn’t gobble up every possible aspect of the MCU within days of it being released. Can this movie be enjoyed by somebody who has only seen a handful (in no order: the first Captain America, Guardians 1 and 2, Thor 3, Ant Man and Black Panther) of the 18 previous movies? Let’s find out!


The burning question; did you enjoy it?

Yes! While I certainly went in blind, not knowing everything I felt I should about the characters and their previous story lines, I found it easy to follow along with  and quickly found myself intrigued by the storyline. I also found myself wanting to watch some of the previous films so I could get to know some of these folks better. Dr. Strange in particular caught my eye. Sorry Iron Man, but you will never get me on board. I don’t know what it is about RDJ that just doesn’t do it for me. But what I do know is that it’s hard to pick which Chris is the hottest of them all. Ok, well maybe not *that* hard… I see you there C. Hemi. But in all seriousness, I was so excited when Black Panther showed up. That was a film that truly grabbed my attention and going in I was most excited to see this character again. Avengers Infinity War certainly was action packed and a fun film that crosses so many familiar characters, that even a casual comic fan (whether I want to be or not, love ya babe) can quickly find themselves hanging of the edge of their seat. I would certainly recommend it.

Did you feel that there was enough of the characters you were unfamiliar with shown so that you got a sense of who they were? 

Yes and no. I couldn’t quite place all the new to me characters, but it didn’t take away from the other all story line. but as mentioned previously, some of the character intrigued me enough to want to get to know them more.

In comparison to the other films you have seen from the MCU, how did the movie compare? 

I think that for me I personally prefer some of the stand alone films more, such as Black Panther and Guardians because as a casual fan, it gives me more of their own stories, but I did like that I knew enough about some of the characters to be able to enjoy this film and get a good sense of how stories develop and cross over in the pages of so many comics.

Speaking of comics; did the movie encourage you to pick up a comic or two? 

Never say never, but it’s likely not my first medium of choice.  That said (as you well know) I do own a few comics of my own already :)

And finally, do you feel the need to see the next Avengers film after having seen Infinity War

Absolutely! I mean, that ending tho!!!!!


Stan Lee has said that any comic could be a person’s first, a view shared by at least one other publisher, and in the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the same can also be said. Do you need to watch everything to be able to enjoy the movie? No, not at all. But some familiarity will help you.

Now excuse me so I can continue guiding my wife deeper into the MCU…

Panels to Chords: Talking Instrumental with Creator Dave Chisholm

In this latest episode, Ben and Madi chat with the creator of the musical comic Instrumental, Dave Chisholm. He tells us about how the book came to be and how creating a concept album adds a new layer to the reading experience.

Instrumental is available from Z2 Comics and can be purchased at Amazon, local comic shops and bookstores.

The concept album is available at Bandcamp:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Follow Tini Howard on Twitter.

 

Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin Discuss Normandy Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dan Jurgens and Paul Levitz Discuss the Enduring Legacy of Superman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ: Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

PL: Yes.

DJ: Yes.

PL: Yes.

DJ: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

PL: *laughter*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C2E2: Interview with Nightwing Writer Benjamin Percy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP: Why is he the perfect fit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Benjamin Percy on Twitter.

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