Category Archives: Interviews

Talking Aquaman and the Deluge with Writer Dan Abnett

aquaman-12-4Black Manta, with the powers of N.E.M.O. At his command, will wreak havoc on the life of Aquaman and everything he loves. Arthur, still injured from his devastating battle with the Shaggy Man, has now been drawn into a war with the United States, though neither Atlantis or the United States started it. With the help of Mera, Arthur knows that a mysterious secret world power is behind all of this, but he has no way to prove their innocence. Who will believe him? And what is to stop the war from spreading across the world?

Things are looking pretty grim for Aquaman as “The Deluge” begins in Aquaman #12.

I got a chance to talk to writer Dan Abnett about this new arc and all of the politics we’ve seen so far in the series.

Graphic Policy: I’ve been a fan of what you’ve been doing with the series. Since we deal with politics on this site that idea of Aquaman being the leader of a sovereign leader is something that really interests me as a reader. For you, though, who is Aquaman? He’s clearly more than a superhero, but also a leader of a nation.

Dan Abnett: Right. I’m not the first writer to look at that aspect of Aquaman but to me it’s essential. It’s something that marks him out from the other members of the Justice League. He’s a superhero. He’s a man. He’s a surface dweller. He’s an Atlantian. But he’s also a head of state and that’s something that I thought was one of the most interesting aspects to pursue in the Rebirth run, to look at that. Not to look at it in a political way, but to see what would the responsibility of state leadership, to be a king, what affect would that have on him as a person? Also, what are his ambitions?

It’s not just that he’ll look after Atlantis but that very proactive effort he’s making to find a place for Atlantis on the world stage and to get the world to take it seriously. It’s not just a case of convincing the surface countries that Atlantis is ok and not a threat, but there’s also the convincing of his own people that the surface world is ok to deal with.

I’ve really enjoyed that. We’re seeing a very rocky road and his problems and the complications are coming from all directions. It feels like a very fruitful thing to do as a source of drama.

GP: The other thing I noticed that you’ve been emphasizing with the character is the lack of confidence within himself. We’ve seen him in other versions of his being a bit stubborn, but we see him expressing how he feels like he’s a second tier hero and a joke.

DA: He knows he’s not a joke and Aquaman fans know he’s not a joke. He’s extremely powerful as a superhero. He has an extremely significant responsibility looking after a nation of people, an entire culture. But, I was aware fairly early on recognizing that Aquaman in popular culture is the go-to joke character. He is that joke, he can talk to fish. Well, I thought we could combat that perception which exists beyond the audience of devoted Aquaman fans, the comic fans who don’t aren’t fans and beyond that in the audience worldwide. I could to try to write him as amazing as possible and we just say “he’s amazing,” or I could embrace it and actually make what we feel in the real world about Aquaman and make it how the world feels about Aquaman in the DC Universe. That to me makes me feel it has much more potential. The idea that they’d regard him as a second tier member of the Justice League. Not a proper superhero. A bit of a gimmick, a bit of a novelty. And a bit of the unknown in that he represents the strangeness of the ocean, something that’s a bit creepy. All of that is stacked against him.

I wanted to really show Aquaman trying to do something about that. Trying to change the world’s perception of him. But, also having to deal with that perception, every time he tries to do a bold political move being thwarted by that reputation. I wanted to embrace it and put it in the book.

aquaman-12-12GP: There’s a big emphasis on politics in the book with how nation-states interact like his being arrested as the head of a nation as a terrorist. What type of research are you doing concerning that as a writer?

DA: I certainly am, yeah. I’m thinking very much about that nitty gritty. I’m doing lots of research. I’m not doing research in any specific research, just general research. Writing about Aquaman. Writing about Atlantis. Setting this in the DC Universe.  It’s a fantasy idea, it’s a city undersea. The best science fiction works most effectively when it feels authentic, when you can really believe it’s genuine. I thought one of the ways to make Aquaman and Atlantis feel sort of authentic to imagine what it’d be like if it really existed, what would the world do about it, and what would be the interaction with the world be. Every step of the way in the story I think about what the real world interaction would be and research what that real world reaction would be and then slide that sideways into a parallel format.

A lot of the research I do doesn’t get there on the page, it just informs the tone of the story. Otherwise, it’d be pretty bogged down in detail. A good example is going to the White House and being dealt with by the Chief of Staff and not the President was a nice touch and I think that whole idea of the world reacting to a nation that’s considered a rogue nation, it’s almost like to get the readers to forget that Atlantis is underwater and get it to imagine it as any other nation in the world where it’s trying to make its way and the response is it’s a rogue state, it’s dangerous, it’s out of control. That to me makes it much more credible.

And part of that process for me is trying to make Atlantis feel as credible as possible by making sure there’s texture and character and lots of people around him so that you can feel there is genuinely an Atlantis to care about and identify with.

GP: Another thing that stood to me was in issue eleven Black Manta using the term “false flag” which is a term that’s really been used a lot in recent years. Did you explicitly use that term due to that?

DA: Oh yeah. Absolutely. A lot of the terminology that I’ve used is meant to resonate with things you hear being talked about on the news and global events. I wanted to make it genuinely feel like a global event that these things are happening.

aquaman-12-15Aquaman is quite clearly a superhero book. There’s no pretending he isn’t. It’s part of the DC Universe. He’s a member of the Justice League. All the trappings of a larger aspect of being a part of a superhero book. Part of my brief when beginning to write the book was that the Aquaman as a comic works best when it leans towards the realistic aspect and horror angle science fiction as opposed to too far overtly superheroic angle. To deal with much more of the X-Files, Fringe, aspect of science fiction suits Aquaman and the adventures he has tonally than the brightly colored over the top superheroic like Batman with his iconic villains or Superman as a hero. I’ve leaned into that heavily which means having the real world respond to him in that realistic term. Buzzwords from the news, media terms, makes it feel that much more credible.

GP: With Rebirth a lot of it was bringing back the old and the new and setting a different tone. Black Manta is front and center. N.E.M.O. I think is new…

DA: N.E.M.O. is new, yeah.

GP: Right there with the villain you’ve done that with the old and the new. What is it about Black Manta that you think epitomizes the Aquaman villain?

DA: Aquaman doesn’t have the hugest Rogues Gallery to be fair. There are several villains, but when it comes down to it his chief villains are Black Manta and Ocean Master and to me it was time for Black Manta’s turn to be the main antagonist. I was also intrigued by Black Manta’s potential to be a cool character but he’s so singular in his motivation. He wants to get his revenge on Aquaman. I wanted Manta to be the villain right in the opening issues. For Aquaman to defeat him and try to break that curse that this is a cycle of violence we’re stuck in. It’s ruining both their lives. He breaks him psychologically. I really like the irony by making Manta feel so stupid in singularly seeking revenge that Aquaman makes is own arch-nemesis worse. He creates his own monster. Manta goes away and gets recruited by N.E.M.O., which is a brand new invention but is layered into the story as if it’s been there forever. They recruit him and Manta says he can be more than he was before. Manta says he can be more than he was before. He becomes much more a potent villain with a much greater range of ambition which is quite nice.

It may take Aquaman quite a while to realize all of that. That he’s empowered his own enemy into something that was much worse than he was before. I’m a big fan of irony and that’s about as ironic as you can get.

GP: Speaking of new, you introduce the Aquamarines in issue twelve. Where did the idea come from and how vital are they going to be going forward? I can see them becoming a pretty solid villain going forward years down the line.

aquaman-12-19DA: I hope so, yes. They certainly have potential. It goes back to a moment ago when we were talking about the real world flavor of things. It did occur to me in this set of circumstances that if you were to regard Atlantis as a rogue state and you needed to deal with the leader of that country, that the US would have a contingency treat him like a Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden and need to take him out. They’d need people to do that and it wouldn’t be a case of sending in the Navy SEALS because this is comics. So the Aquamarines are sort of purpose built US military created to stop the threat of Atlantis. That’s going to lead to an interesting place in the comic. Certainly for this story, but I’ve got ideas for other things we can do with the Aquamarines. And yes if they were to become a part of Aquaman’s rogues gallery in the future I’d be delighted.

GP: How long does the “Deluge” storyline go on for and any hints as to what happens after?

DA: Yes, the story is four parts and is pretty major and dramatic. Immediately afterward we get a very different story, a different change of pace to make sure nobody is getting bored. We do something very different with a brand new villain we introduce. This story will have repercussions. There will be fallout for what will be a war that will impact things to come often in unexpected ways. There’s lots of consequence but we’ll also deliver fresh stories that are part of it to make sure Aquaman doesn’t get stuck in a rut. There’s really nice big things with some old villains and new ones and some guest stars.

GP: Thanks so much and can’t wait to read the rest of the story!

Talking Valiant’s Savage with B. Clay Moore

Fifteen years ago, the world’s most famous soccer star and his former supermodel wife – pregnant with their unborn child – disappeared without a trace. The world believes they are dead… But, in reality, their private jet crash-landed on a mysterious, unknown island ruled by prehistoric creatures from another time…

This is the story of how they lost their humanity. This is SAVAGE!

Out this week from Valiant, Savage is an all-new series (and characters) written by B. Clay Moore. I got a chance to chat with Moore at Baltimore Comic Con about what we can expect when it comes to shelves.

Matt Kindt Talks His New Comic Series Ether

ether-1-cvr-bcA science-minded adventurer gets mixed up in the mysteries of a fantasy world in this charming new adventure from an award-winning creative team. Boone Dias is an interdimensional explorer, a scientist from Earth who has stumbled into great responsibility. He’s got an explanation for everything, so of course the Ether’s magical residents turn to him to solve their toughest crimes. But maybe keeping the real and the abstract separate is too big a job for just one man.

Ether is the latest creator-owned comic from writer Matt Kindt who is joined by David Rubin on art.

The first issue is fantastic (the second as well) and I got a chance to ask Kindt some questions about where the idea came from and the difference between working with an artist and doing the art and writing himself.

Graphic Policy: Where did the concept of Ether come from?

Matt Kindt: Well, like most ideas I think it came from a place of boredom and hatred (laughing).

I’ve never been a big fan super natural and magical stories. Ghosts and spirits and that kind of thing never really appealed to me. So creatively, I think I’m a little bit of a masochist. I want to take the harder road. I like setting up rules and obstacles to sort of shake up the way I think and approach stories and characters. It’s pretty easy to fall into a comfort zone creatively after a while. You figure out how to do things in a certain way that is successful and then you end up repeating that because you know it works. That’s where the boredom comes in. So I feel like I’m constantly trying to avoid that with every new project.

I always felt like the magic was too convenient. Ultimately it ends up being a way to cheat the story or it’s so grounded that magic wielding ends up like using a gun or a sword in physical combat…so why bother with magic. But that got me to thinking – if someone made me write a comic about magic, or with magical elements, what the heck would I do? How would I handle it?

ether-1-cvr-bc-variantGP: How did David Rubin come on board the project?

MK: Ether was on my list of projects I wanted to do next. I’ve been drawing a lot of really grounded stuff lately which has been giving me a hankering to draw some crazy stuff. I share a studio with Brian Hurtt and he’s always drawing nutty stuff in The Sixth Gun and it looks like so much fun. Sowhen I was writing Ether, I purposefully seedes a ton of really fun oddball visuals into iit because I was looking forward to drawing all of it. But, as a creator, I have a problem. Creatively, I’m like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I want ALL of the food – but the reality is my stomach is only so big. And my time that I can dedicate to projects is limited as well. I can’t draw more than one monthly comic (Dept. H) which is going to keep me occupied for the next couple of years. But I really was excited to get Ether going anyway. And David was available. I am a huge fan of his work. His book “Hero” is just amazing. He’s an artistic genius. And honestly, his availability convinced me to give up the idea of drawing Ether myself – since I knew what he was turning in would be better than anything I could do. The choice was easy.

GP: You’ve done a lot of series where you’ve written it and done the art as well. What’s different in your process when you’re working with an artist as opposed to just on your own?

MK: It’s different every time. Even when I’m drawing it for myself. Each book I’ve worked on is completely different and always driven by the content. I sometimes wish I had it “all figured out” process-wise. And I’m aware that there are formulas for this kind of stuff – but it’s so boring that way. Half the fun of taking on a new project is that adrenalin and terror I feel right before I’ve figure it all out and all the pieces fall into place. It’s the difference between figuring out a puzzle or riddle on your own or just googling the answer and finishing it. If you cheat and look up the answers you don’t get that thrill of discovery – which is honestly the best part of writing and making comics.

When you introduce an artist that’s not yourself into the mix – it makes it that more interesting. Now you’ve got a new personality and talent in the mix. So it become more like a team effort – and playing/writing to the strengths of both of us. I love working with someone as talented as David – so that the scripts I end up writing become more like suggestions rather than dictates.

ether-1-pg-04Since I’d initially planned on drawing the entire thing, I had character sketches and ideas for some of the look of the characters that I sent that to David after asking him if he wanted to see ‘em. I hesitated – I didn’t want to sort of poison his creative well you know? But he was interested so I sent them along with the pitch and outline for the series and he took it on himself to draw over twenty pages worth of set designs and characters and other elements that we could weave into the story. David’s imagination is boundless really. He’s one of those rare artists that writers get to work with, where they just take an idea and run with it – making it visually bigger and crazier than anything you’d been picturing.

GP: The worlds and how they work seem to be pretty thought our. How much have you sketched out and put together about the magical world? Are there rules you’ve created with how things work as an example?

MK: It’s pretty well mapped out. That was a lot of the fun and attraction of creating this series – the world building. Getting to come up with a new world completely from scratch which is something I haven’t gotten to really do before. I’ve re-worked our Earth in MIND MGMT in some fun ways – but it was always based on an existing sort of architecture. With Ether, I got to play creative god in a lot of ways. But it’s not all just arbitrary.

There aren’t necessarily rules for all of Ether – instead – each little pocket and neighborhood in Ether has its own set of rules. Ether is really based on every myth that’s ever been written or imagined. That’s how the entire Ether was created – sprung out of the minds of all humanity from all of history. So this is where all the afterlife’s reside…all of the mythical beasts and creatures – but they’re all sort of relegated to their own neighborhoods. They can meet and mingle – and at the edges, that’s where the friction in the Ether happens. When opposing cultures and ideas sort of butt up against each other. There’s not a lot of “made up” ideas or creatures or characters in the Ether – everything in it is based on myth and folklore and things that we’re all kind of aware of or read about or have seen in fairy tales and that kind of thing.

ether-1-pg-05GP: Something I’ve loved about your work is the amount of small details you put into the comics. Mind MGMT had all of the items in the margins and added so much to the series. The end of the first issue had the creature guide at the end, but do you have ongoing plans for the series?

MK: For sure. You know I love a good plan! That said, each issue sort of dictates what the “extras” are going to be. A lot of times I’d leave the back covers or inside illustrations until last – so I can stand back and see what that particular issue is really about. Then I can go in and use the extra stuff, the back covers, the inside front covers – the little details – to shade the issue – to give the reader a new insight into it or make them feel a little differently about what they’ve just read. Or give them an epiphany when they go back and look at it again. It’s really fun to plant those little mental time-bombs at the beginning or at the end and have them go off after you’ve read the issue. So yeah, we’ll have maps and diagrams and excerpts from books and all kinds of crazy things seeded into each issue. I really want every issue to be a kind of strange art-object/artifact. That’s what keeps the monthly issues vital to me. Making that single issue experience unique.

GP: As a writer, having a magical world where you can literally do anything, how do you keep it focused and not go over the top?

MK: Characters ground the story – which allows me to go over the top on everything else. I think one thing that doesn’t change when I write a story – from project to project is my general overall approach. And maybe that’s the thing, they way that I found my voice as a writer…is this approach…and it’s really just one question I constantly ask myself when I’m writing. “What if this happened…but for real.” It’s a sort of mental exercise that I do after I’ve got the “big idea” or concept for a story. I go back and attack from the POV of it actually happening. These characters become real and I put myself in their shoes. A simple explanation of how this works with my writing would be this: If you play video games, the next time you play a first-person shooter, or a jumping game – or anything where you control a “character” – approach that game as if you have only one life and if you die or miss your jump…it’s going to happen for real. Try it once and see how that makes you feel. It completely transforms the experience. I think a lot of writers end up writing and they’re writing like they have unlimited lives and can just reboot and they’re playing the same game over and over again…and I think that gets boring. It’s the same with that video game – as soon as you go in and approach that game as if you only have one life and it’s “for real” it completely changes your experience. It gives everything seemingly real stakes.

ether-1-pg-06GP: The first issue feels like it turns into a murder mystery. Was there a reason you went with this genre for the story specifically? You’ve also done a few of them, Dept. H is one. What draws you to that genre?

MK: Mysteries are like genres to me. They’re the hook to get you in to the story. The thing that keeps you motivated to turn the pages and it has to be good. It’s what I need as a reader and it’s fun to write, but ultimately, this story isn’t as much about the mystery as it is about the journey of Boone and his sort of growth as a human being that thinks he has an answer for everything being placed into a world that doesn’t necessarily want to be answered or classified or labeled. It’s what makes Sherlock Holmes such an enduring character. It wasn’t the fantastic nature of the mysteries he was solving that made the stories so great. It was the characters – the interplay between Watson and Holmes and his clients that makes the stories enduring.

GP: When creating the world, it feels like almost a Dr. Seuss vibe about it. Are there any influences on the series?

ether-1-pg-07MK: I can’t speak for David – but I completely get a Seuss vibe to it. And at first it really caught me off guard. The pages David was turning it were…they were just sheer FUN. I was writing what I thought was going to be this dour and dark meditation on obsession and loss. Really dark. And then when David’s art started coming in and I saw how his fun sort of cartooning and character design meshed with my words…it honestly shocked me. It’s like hearing a melody and then the harmony starts joining in and makes the song into something different and bigger and more powerful. I’ve never had a collaborative experience catch me off guard like that and surprise me. What Ether turned into is a testament to David’s personality and style.

GP: Any hints as to what we can expect?

MK: I’m not going to spoil it – but Boone has already lost a lot by the time we catch up to him. There’s a terrible twist to the entire story which relates to how the Ether works on its visitors…it’s definitely going to break your heart in a sucker-punchy kind of way. Hopefully (laughs).

But also fun!  – we’re going to see…a wizard giant, a 12-year-old-girl who happens to be the most dangerous  magician/scientist ever — and Boone’s worst nightmare. An army of oxidized copper robots, a city of insane, perverted immortals, and a mythical Manhattan at the center of the earth. And a grumpy, talking, purple ape – which no story is complete without!

Black Enterprise’s Black Comics Roundtable

On October 16, Black Enterprise invited a group of comic book creators including Micheline Hess, Regine Sawyer, N. Steven Harris, Naseed Gifted, Tim Fielder, Dilettante J. Bass, George Carmona, Joseph P. Illidge, and Roye Okupe, to the BR headquarters in Manhattan to have a round table discussion about Black comic and Black comic book creators.The Blerd Gurl has posted up the live Periscope recording on her YouTube channel. You should check out the almost 30 minute video which is a fantastic group of individuals to hear talk comics.

Meredith Finch and Mark Russell Discuss the Catwoman: Election Special, Prez, and The Flinstones

Catwoman Election NightThis Wednesday sees the release of three election themed stories by DC Comics in two comics. Catwoman: Election Night Special features a special Prez back-up story while The Flintstones #5 also tackles the topic.

Written by Meredith Finch and Mark Russell the two stories skewer, satirize, and reflect the current Presidential election.

I got a chance to talk to both about their stories and a bit about the election itself.

Graphic Policy: Meredith, I read the Catwoman: Election Night Special. You’re clearly channeling a certain politican with Penguin. Is there any reason you went with that as opposed to having him do his own thing?

Meredith Finch: I think the whole idea of doing the election issue was to have, to be a charicature of the current election. I wanted it to be, at least on some level, play up the fact. He’s clearly not Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is a politican who you wouldn’t expect to be a politician. That’s exactly what Penguin is. They have a similar background coming from business, never having done politics before, and being larger than life personalities that say what they’re thinking without any consequence of it actually sounds when its out there. I felt it was a good fit for Penguin to take on that role.

GP: Is there anything about Penguin in particular that makes him fit for that role? When you go through his history, he’s run for office a bunch of times, weirdly often in Presidential years. You don’t see that as often with Harvey Dent for example, and he’d have had to run for District Attorney. So what is it about Penguin that makes him perfect fo this type of story?

MF: When you’re looking at villains within the Gotham universe, in a lot of ways he’s the one that seems the most sane from an insane point of view. You couldn’t imagine anyone voting for the Riddler, the Joker, or any of these other characters which are much darker with a murderous undertone. People have an almost cuddly association with Penguin. He’s been made fun of a lot more in the Batman universe than any other character. People, I think, love him in a different way. He’s a fun character and works so well for this. Even though there’s some darker undertones to the story, it’s intended to be a fun take on the election. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and Penguin lends himself to that.

ctwen-8GP: How’d the issue come about? What was the genesis of the story and issue?

MF: I was talking to DC about some ideas I had for a Catwoman story. They threw out the idea to me about this election themed one-shot. I thought it was great. I thought it’d be a lot of fun. I’m Canadian, so it’s fun to sit back and look at what’s going on. We just had gone through a election, so I could look at what’s happening south of the border for the election, and bring a neutral bystander approach to the story and to the candidates.

GP: Is there any particular reason you used Catwoman for the story and the overarching murder mystery in it?

MF: I think Catwoman lends herself to this simply to the fact that whether it’s an election or not in Gotham, she has nothing to lose. She doesn’t care if Penguin is the Mayor. She doesn’t care if Hill is the Mayor. She doesn’t care if some ten year old kid is the Mayor. She does not care about anything but Catwoman. So it makes sense to do wat we’ve done with this election issue, she’s going to be the one perfectly willing to blow it all up because she has nothing to lose.

GP: With the end of the story, we get to see a certain character show up and proclaim she’s going to be President some day.

MF: We wanted to lead in to what was coming next.

GP: It’s as simple as that? Nothing more to it?

MF: It’s a dark story and it’s a challenging time in politics and you always want to know there’s hope and optimism. Putting that character at the end of the Catwoman issue is a way of saying “things may be really tough right now, they really suck, there’s always something new and positive coming up. There’s always a possibility of that.” Putting that character at the end of the issue is saying in Gotham there’s hope and optimism. In the DCU there’s hope and optimism. And hopefully at the end of the election cycle there’ll be some hope and optimism.

flint_5_maincover_cmyk_57b3aca7d7d0a2-70220519GP: Mark, at the end of the issue there’s back-up with Prez and Beth. Looking over the story as a whole, not just this one piece, everthing you’ve written with Prez has been prescient in many ways with this election. Looking back as a writer, how does it feel to see these satirical ideas brough to life?

Mark Russell: That was kind of chilling to discover how hard it was to make up something so far afield from how crazy things have gotten, to be constantly be outflanked by the reality of the political circus. But, it’s not just the politics, a lot of the inventions that populated Prez have become real. I was shocked, because I set this thing 20 years in the future. The taco drone and a lot of these things are coming out right now, happening sooner than later. I don’t feel very prescient so much as I feel that I’m writing about a reality that’s becoming increasingly incredible.

GP: The story in this issue is interesting in that you take on a lot of real world issues that are debated today. As a writer, how do you decide what you want to comment on? This issue deals with gun control and birth control. How do decide what you want to take on for each story?

MR: I think I have a lot of ideas that I write down notes for. I choose the ones that work best for Prez. I choose the ones that have the most fleshed out storylines or the ones that relate to each other the most. I have a hundred things I could write about, but only a small fraction of them I can write about in a story or makes sense in conjunction with a backstory about a similar issue. I think that’s what I do. I try to talk about two issues that dovetail in some way so they really resonate with the reader as opposed to writing a polemic in some way that’s divorced from any sort of story conencted to a human being or any other issues.

GP: What strikes me about this story, and much of what you’ve done with Prez, is that you take these issues, mix in some humor, but also have really intelligent solutions to them that seems like they could work in the real world. You present these realistic goofy solutions. It all makes sense in a messed up way. For you coming up with these solutions, what do you do as a writer to think this through and especially how two issues can come together? There’s some really interesting out of the box thinking and solutions you don’t see in real world politics.

MR: I feel like people who are cynical about politics and those that are idealistic are two sides to the same problematic coin. They expect perfection. And if they can’t be perfect then it’s not worth doing anything which I think is a problem in politics. That perfection gets in the way of improvement. I’m more of a pragmatist, I like improvement. I like gradual change for the better. And that’s what I try to write about. You might not get everything you want, but you might be able to coble together some sort of solution that pushes the human race forward a step or two.

Politics is not just about failure and cynicism. It’s also about coming up with solutions. The solutions are going to be practicle, incomplete, and not always what you want. I think that’s the one thing I tried to capture in the election special of Prez.

Gflintstones-1P: For both of you. It’s interesting in that both of the election issues, Catwoman: Election Night Special and The Flintstones #5, the main character is a bully that’s trying to get people to vote. It’s obviously a real world thing that’s going on. Out of everything that’s going on with this election, why focus on that in particular?

MR: For me it was the most obvious analog for Donal Trump. The idea of the cafeteria bully. And for me to examine why do people who have nothing, or who have been ripped off and kept down by people like Donald Trump, why they are so adamant about supporting him. In a lot of ways it felt best explained as to why people rally around the cafeteria bully who makes their lives miserable. I just wanted to make that allegory clear about Donald Trump.

MF: As for myself, I wanted it to reflect what was happening in the election. It’s something… bullying is an issue that seems to go from school yards up through the Presidential election and it was necessary to point that out because we need to continue to point that out. There’s other ways to get things done. We don’t need to bully and intimidate people to get them to change their minds. I wanted that reflected within the story.

GP: Both issues, in both of them, the main candidates in both are rejected by the voters. Each in a way gives a nod to third parties and reflects a lot of individuals not supporting either candidate and looking for alternatives. Was that on purpose?

MF: In Canada we have a different election system since we have three parties. I wanted to explore what happens when you have two candidates and neither are great options. Because, for us we always have a third option. In Gotham, they’ll have to re-run the election. I did want to explore that.

MR: For me, I wasn’t really trying to comment on the need for a third party in the American electoral system. I just wanted to say the only way to run against a bully is to call them out on it. Give themsevles enough rope and make it clear you’re not afraid of the bully. I want to make it clear America’s two party system, as flawed as it may be, is a natural outcome of the American electoral process. I think the two party system for better or worse is a result of how its set up. In other countries where there’s a parliamentary system, you have to build coalitions between the parties to form a majority and elect the President. Where in the United States all that coalition building is done within the parties themselves. You have two major parties with constituencies within the party that don’t necessarily have things in common but come together in common voting interests in hopes of getting a majority.

GP: This election is ludicrous on so many levels. As a satirist or story teller, how does that impact a writer? Do you say to yourself it’s so crazy or messed up, there isn’t anything more I can say or comment?

MR: Oh absolutely. And I think I’ve kind of given up on it. I just want to write and let it fall where it may where it might be too crazy or not crazy enough to comment on reality.

MF: I know for myself I really worried about going to far. And I have since learned that I could not have possibly gone far enough to match with what’s going on.

GP: With the election coming up, you’ve each got comics about elections. For each of you, why do you think it’s important for people to go out and vote in November? Or do you even think it’s important?

MR: I certainly do because voting has very real world implications. Depending on who gets elected this cycle, the fate of 22 million people who have healthcare under the Affordable Care Act will be decided. Two or three Supreme Court justices will be decided and will send the country’s legal system in one direction or another for the next 30 or 40 years. You will have massive implications for people not just in the United States but around the world based on who occupies the White House these next four years.

MF: I know for myself I agree with Mark 100% on that. As a woman, we fought so hard for the right to vote, shame on me if I don’t go out and vote. You really can’t sit back and complain unless you make your voice heard and you can do that by voting.

MR: It’s something you can do in the mean time while you work to make the bigger changes you want to see in the world.

GP: Thank you both.

Totally Talking Turtles with Peter Laird

peterFrom Northhampton, Ma to New York City to Hollywood and back to New England here in Wells, ME. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a most unlikely but remarkable journey. I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to get to speak with the man who helped create everyone’s favorite wise-cracking and shell kicking brothers himself: Mr. Peter Laird.

Graphic Policy: First of all I’d like to thank you for your time today.  I work for Graphic Policy. We are an independent press that covers comics and everything to do with the medium. This is an honor for me personally. I have been a life long fan of your work.

Peter Laird: Well thank you.

GP: So I was fortunate enough a couple months ago at a con in New Jersey to get Kevin’s (Eastman) story about the beginning of the Turtles and the early days. I really wanted to create a bookend here and get your insight of that time. I mean you guys came up with this at the time, sort of crazy idea. It was independent from anything the major publishers were doing. I have to ask how scary was that when you first started?

PL:  Well it was slightly scary. It was more exciting than anything else. Kevin and I from back in the time we met in 81′ both had the idea that we wanted to do some type of comic book. We meshed together very well and we hit it off. Most of it was because of our shared profound love for Jack Kirby. One of the first things we did was we penciled something over and passed it to the other guy to ink it. That was like a test and it worked out really well. So there and then we knew our styles fit and we had something. A few years later Kevin and I were living together in Dover, NH and we still really, really wanted to do a comic book. The actual act of creating a comic book, the difficult part is the writing and the drawing. Once you have the start-up money for a printer to publish your work, which for us is like $1,300 you are pretty much good to go. However, the scariest step is trying to find places willing to take a shot and sell your work.

We originally thought, that we were going to sell mostly single copies through the mail and well (laughs) that didn’t work out. We only sold maybe 15 or 20 copies. We lucked out though and quickly learned the advantage of solicitation through the comic book distributors like Diamond and  Pacific and the others. So truly the only unknown was how was it going to be responded to? How were people going to take this?

GP: Sure, absolutely.

PL: As a matter of fact in a light joking way but not completely, he (Kevin) and I had concerns we would be burning the copies that winter to stay warm since they would be sitting around in our living room. They didn’t though. As fate would have it they sold out quite quickly. We did 3 printings of that issue in the course of the first year. That was the moment we realized we had something going on. That’s when we truly started to go to work, several months after the publication of that first issue. The way it went was something to behold for sure.

leo

GP: I’ll say. As a matter of fact, I always refer to the Turtles as my first taste of comic book rebellion. Up till that point, I had been shown and given all the DC and Marvel stuff and of course the Jack Kirby Fantastic Four run which was probably my favorite. That stuff was incredible but the stuff that you guys were doing there was nothing like it. I just adore that original Mirage run. I got my first Turtles graphic novel when I was just four.

PL: Oh wow.

GP: That book resonated with me for so long. I know people grew up with the cartoon and the movie with the live action big screen Turtles and Judith (Hoag) who is just fantastic by the way. With that being said, the Mirage run is the all-time favorite for me. Everything about it. I loved the red masks and I never wanted that to change but then Steve (Lavigne) told me at a show which made a lot of sense, that you couldn’t have them all in red it would be a marketing nightmare for networks and kids alike. It was so different then what was out there with the Big Two at the time. It was grittier and had a realism to it. As much realism as one can have with giant talking Turtles (laughs) but it didn’t talk down to us as readers. Who would have thought that anthropomorphic turtles running around doing Ninjitsu would be so successful. Even the villains were fantastic. Kevin gave my good friend Dante and I the origin of that when we met him and it is so funny how all these so far out there concepts just… worked. Everything about it was just brilliant. Nuff said right?

PL: (laughs) Ha ha well put.

GP: What I really want to get down to though, is how do you feel being surrounded by all this history, and to us it IS history. What does it mean to have a line of people waiting all out the door for hours on end and coming from everywhere just to see you and more importantly thank you for all you’ve done for them. So when you look back on this at the end of the day, what is it that sticks with you about this creation the most?

PL: Well that’s a good question. Probably one that needs and is worthy of a lot more time to think about it.

mikey

GP: Yup it’s my fault I always try to ask the good questions. (laughs)

PL: (laughs) You certainly do. You know when Kevin and I first did the books, we did it out of a pure love and desire to do just comic books. We just wanted to reach the comic book buying public and hopefully have it be enjoyed. We had no conception of it ever going further. We were just so in love with comic books. We were so incredibly happy when the first issue sold out. Then we had the second issue come out and I crunched the numbers and I couldn’t wait to tell Kevin. I called him like “Kev, you’re not going to believe this but we are each going to make $2,000 from this issue.” He was so excited and then came the third issue and gained more steam and so forth. For a long time that was all our concern was putting out the best comic we could in terms of quality and story. We were no way prepared for all to come our way. Looking back it was only three years after the first issue then came along all the major licensing and marketing everywhere. As you said we are surrounded by Turtle stuff here and there is so much more of it elsewhere. That being said it has been over thirty years. So the thing that will stick with me the most is that is has come to mean so much to so many people. One truly fond memory I have and I wish I could contact this person and get her to write this down… we met this one young lady once at a signing and she told me about her autistic sibling. She told me that her sibling never liked to be touched at all. However, she stated that person suddenly came alive when watching the original Turtles cartoon and would allow her to cuddle or hug while they watched the show together and it was a special bonding experience for them. That completely moved me. I mean where do you go beyond that? It’s something so meaningful to have contributed to that person’s life in such a unique way. Lots of things will stick with me, but that always will.

GP: Exactly that’s what I mean. It’s taken such life and splintered off into so many facets…

PL: No pun intended.

GP: (laughs) Oh.. I didn’t even mean to. Back to point though. To touch any person’s life in that way has to be completely rewarding. 

PL: It is.

GP: The last thing I’d like to say is that, you have created something. You and Kevin, a universe of its own with so much reach that will continue to live on in some way, no matter who is involved. So I have to ask you in closing, how does it feel to be like Jack Kirby? 

PL: Wow. I don’t know if I can agree with you. Jack Kirby was beyond incredible with all he did.

GP: To me there is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Bob Kane and Bill Finger and Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. So like or lump it you not only deserve but you are part of that conversation.

PL: I am honored and I will take it in the spirit of it but I can’t agree.

GP: As they say, agree to disagree then.

PL: I thank you so much. It’s really touching.

GP: Well this was well worth the trip sir. Best of luck to you.

PL: Cool man. Thank you.

Gary Phillips Talks The Vigilante: Southland

In July, DC Comics announced The Vigilante: Southland, a new miniseries updating the classic character! The series will be written by Gary Phillips with pencils and inks by Elena Casagrande, colors by Giulia Brusco and covers by Mitch Gerads. The series hits shelves this week.

I got a chance to talk to Gary about the series at San Diego Comic-Con 2016 about the series and what we can expect.

Chatting about the Comic Industry with Omar Spahi, founder of OSSM Comics

ossm1In 2012, Omar Spahi began building his dream to create comic books. Starting his own company at 23, Omar finished his first comic book script, Xenoglyphs.

Since then OSSM Comics has not only released numerous series by Spahi, but also worked with talent such as Brian Buccellato, Noel Tuazon, and is co-publishing Hadrian’s Wall with Image Comics.

I got a chance to talk to Omar about the comic industry and his co-publishing venture with Image.

Graphic Policy: At age 23 you decided you wanted to dive into comics and you came up with Xenoglyphs. What got you interested in creating comics and your own series?

Omar Spahi: I think I’ve always had stories in my head that I’ve wanted to tell. I grew up reading comics and so once I found out people were making comics, that’s just what I started to do.

GP: What comics did you grow up reading? What impacted you so much that you wanted to do that for a living?

OS: I grew up reading Flash and the Simpsons. The Flash is what got me hooked, the characters felt so real and personal. I knew I wanted to be a part of that world, to make someone feel the way that I felt.

GP: What were some of the hurdles you came up against with doing a creator owned series and what are some lessons you’ve learned when building your own publishing company?

OS: Comics is an incredibly difficult industry, nothing comes easy and it’s hard to build a fan base. Finishing comic books, each and every time is like giving birth. Each time I finish the book I’m overwhelmed with the sense of accomplishment. The next step is marketing the titles, and that works through good recommendation and word of mouth. People listen to their friends and read what they’re reading.

GP: You mention that it’s hard to build a fan base, but it seems like some of the most successful creators are doing just that through social media, Kickstarter, and other digital tools. It’s much more of a two-way conversation now where fans expect interaction and feedback in some ways. How are you seeing that as a publisher?

OS: It’s so important to build your fan base one person at a time. You never know who will end up crossing paths with you in an important way. I can’t stress the important of staying kind and open to everyone. As a publisher it’s exactly the same, you want people to embrace your brand and develop a positive experience.

GP: You’ve recently gone into co-publishing comics especially with Image. How’d this come about and why’d you go that route?

OS: It comes from working with amazingly talented creators. They’ve told amazing stories and I’ve been lucky enough to come along for the ride.

GP: How’d that come about? Image has an open submission policy but is this something you approached them with or was it the creators you worked with?

OS: It’s been through the creators, they come out with amazing books and I’m lucky enough to be a part of it. Our Image titles have come through creators that already have a relationship at Image and it’s just grown from that.

GP: What do you see as the benefits of that route as opposed to building up your own publishing brand?

OS: We couldn’t be luckier to be working with Image. They embody what comics should be about, the mission and purpose is about empowering creators instead of using them. At the end of the day, it’s easier to generate interest for our stories when we work with a powerful brand like Image. They’re known for their amazing quality and that inherently draws people in.

GP: You get better presence in Diamond and some social media presence, but what else do they bring? Talking to other creators, they still have to do a lot of the promotion for their comics.

OS: Image books do better because of a few things, first of all. Image books produce quality. They tell great stories that grab peoples attention. Another reason is comics is really an investor business, you want to invest in the next Walking Dead # 1 or Saga # 1 because you think it will be worth more in a few years. The goal is to take the comics we’ve created and take them from Comics to TV and films. Lastly, stores order Image books because they know it’s a brand their customers crave and stores are the one that are responsible for driving consumers to new titles.

GP: There’s be a lot of talk about distribution and the role of distributors, stores, readers, and publishers. What do you see as the “state of comics?”

OS: The sad truth about comics is it’s tough for everyone, even the big name creators aren’t raking in huge paychecks every time they’re putting out an issue. I feel like most comic book creators have it tough because there are so many great books coming out. It’s hard to make it as a independent creator, but with hard work and perseverance you can become the top tier creator that is very successful.

GP: Since it’s tough, what is OSSM doing to break the mold? There’s so many new distribution, marketing, business models out there than the traditional ones that’s existed since the direct market was formed. Has OSSM explored breaking out of the traditional system?

OS: We’re doing everything we can, including searching how to grow outside of comics. We live in a world where Batman and Superman are billion dollar characters, the goal is to create stories on that level. We’re always trying new ideas and pushing the envelope creatively and looking to take our titles to new media.

Simon Oliver Talks The Hellblazer with a Look at the Third Issue

hlb_cv3_dsDC’s Rebirth for John Constantine meant moving the character back across the ocean to his home of England where he could cause his usual trouble. The first few issues has had Constantine teaming up with Swamp Thing in some ways as a bigger threat is slowly teased.

I got a chance to talk to writer Simon Oliver about the series and what we can expect next for DC’s resident bad boy.

Graphic Policy: For you, who is John Constantine?

Simon Oliver: A lot of people see him as a magician and a grand wizard. I see him as a con man and a wanker who isn’t really all that good at magic. I think he’s far more con man than he is magician.

GP: Interesting.

SO: It’s what we used to call in England a blagger. Only in this world he’s a supernatural blagger.

GP: In the first three issues it feels like there’s an emphasis that his magic isn’t as good as he thinks it is. He doesn’t have his act together. In the past he’s gotten people injured, but seemed to know what he’s doing. But here it feels more like it’s being made up on the fly and he doesn’t.

SO: I think he wants everyone to think that John Constantine is the man with a plan, that he’s always in control. But the truth of it is he doesn’t really have a plan. He’s making it up as he goes along. I think he’s not really that good at magic. That’s not his strong point at all.

hlb_3_dylux-5GP: The first three issues deals a lot with Swamp Thing. They’re two characters that have revolved around each other for quite some time.

SO: Yeah.

GP: What go you to want to bring Swamp Thing so early into the story arc as opposed to just focusing on Constantine and saving Swamp Thing for down the road?

SO: I was a little apprehensive to put him in just because I’ve dealt with Constantine in the past. Swamp Thing I was a little more apprehensive because to me he feels even more like an iconic figure. When I went back to really look at it and read all of the points in the past and where they’ve interacted, I love the interaction that they’ve had and for me it’s always where those two characters are at their best, is when they’re interacting. I think it brings out a certain side of John I really like and I think it brings out something in Swamp Thing. I think he’s really funny. There’s a sort of sense of humor in Swamp Thing that Constantine manages to bring out. Before the word frenemy existed, those two characters epitomized the meaning. They’re kind of friends, but they’re kind of not. They kind of use each of other. They kind of distrust each other. But they kind of like each other as well. I think it’s really interesting complex relationship that I really enjoy.

hlb_3_dylux-6GP: With the two it strikes me as buddy cops in a way. You have the straight man. You have the loose cannon. Is that how you see the two?

SO: I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but it is. I think a lot of the Constantine character lends himself to that. He definitely has a little bit of that with his relationship with Chaz. But Chaz and Constantine aren’t always on equal footing with Chaz pressured, tricked, dragged along on these adventures. There is the inherent craziness of one of them being a plant. I tried to double down on that. Constantine finds it pretty funny that he has this relationship with a plant.

The whole thing has become, even to me, a very real three-dimensional character. Every now and again when I’m writing it… it’s a fucking plant. I think that’s what Constantine does that every now and then.

There’s the scene where Constantine doesn’t tell him where they’re going and to get in to the car and then he just complains about the cigarette smoke and the whiskey from last night. It’s the little things like those moments and their history together like the tattoo on Constantine’s ass, to me those are the touchstones of their relationship.

GP: The history is an interesting part. I’ll admit I’m still relatively new to Constantine and Swamp Thing. Talking to others, your series does touch upon a lot of the past. For you as a writer, how do you find that balance in touching upon past events without being off-putting for new readers?

SO: Yeah. It’s tricky. You try to write that line. I went back and read the first 220 Hellblazers from Vertigo in order. I really wanted to see what there was and get into the mythology and really prepare me to go toe to toe with any Hellblazer fanatic. I wanted to be on top of that.

It has felt like the most recent New 52 run neglected that history which is a shame because there’s so much there. It was crazy not to.

It’s a fine line.

hlb_3_dylux-7For some people there’s complaints that there’s too much continuity. For other people they really enjoy it and enjoy the fact you’re tipping the hat to past characters and events.

For me it was possible to touch upon those things while laying the groundwork for the greater story arc I’m writing at the moment which is primarily between John Constantine and the Mercury character.

I think the Mercury character for me was interesting because I wanted to find a character that I could pick up from the old continuity but then I could reinvent on my own. Mercury first made her appearance in issue 14 I think, so way book as a child. I could use her and bring her up to date. She’s a character that knows him but I could make her my own. So to me going forward that Mercury character is key to connecting this version of Constantine to the old one.

It’s funny because when I do signings at stores I always make of point of asking people of their experience of picking up the book. A lot aren’t even old enough to have read it when it first came out. And it’s interesting and the answers are from all over the place. There’s people who got to know him from the movie, or television show, or the New 52 run. I always ask them if there’s anything you’re not quite sure about? And most of them say “no” and if there is anything it makes them want to go back and find out more about it.

It is a balancing back. Hopefully you don’t lose people in old continuity and going forward you’re able to explain who these characters are and how they fit in.

GP: That’s my experience. It doesn’t hamper the story at all for me.

SO: I had a really good time going back to the beginning and watching the evolution of the character. I knew who he was when they offered it to me. I had done with stuff with him before so I knew what I was getting in to and who that character was. But going back and rereading all those issues I learned exactly where all those pieces of those characters came from.

hlb_3_dylux-8GP: The character has had live action. There’s the movie and television show. The show has a cult following about it. Does that weigh in at all? Those are two different takes on the character than the comics.

SO: I didn’t watch all of the episodes. I saw what I thought what I needed to. I thought the character had the John Constantine DNA. At the same time it was omitting certain things. It felt like the network version. It felt like a monster of the week. The point I knew my version and their version was going to be different was in the pilot where he does a magic trick to save the day in the final act. With that character you try to avoid that as much as possible. With that, I did do that with the Rebirth issue where he saved the day by doing that at the end. But we’ll give me a pass on that. I think Matt Ryan did a really good job. He got the DNA of the character.

Initially when they offered me the book I was picking up on the last run and nothing about Rebirth was mentioned. So I was picking up on the character in the States and theoretically I could have picked him up and moved him anywhere. But with Rebirth I asked if I could pick him up and move him back to England? And they’re like sure. To me, that’s where he’s grounded and he lives in the real world. In the tv show I didn’t think he was living in the real world.

With Constantine it’s about the characters around him and help ground him and I didn’t the tv show was grounded enough.

GP: With Rebirth I think of that as a renewal and getting them back to their roots. With Constantine the biggest thing was moving him back to England. What is it about that location for the character? He’s one of the few characters as a “British hero” like Superman or Batman are “American.”

SO: I left England in 1992 and for me, John Constantine is rooted in that preserved in amber version of England I have in my head. Nasty pubs filled with old men spitting in their beers so you don’t steal their beer when they go to the bathroom. It’s packets of cigarettes and bottles of cider and sad couches in sad apartments. To me, he’s rooted in that version of England which I don’t think exists anymore. But to me, he’s rooted in that and mentally I have to go back to for that character.

There’s definitely for some to be had of putting John Constantine in a fish out of water situation. And New York is about as close to London as you can get. I think he’s very much at home but England is where he’s most at home and where the characters are. It’s hard to separate him from those elements for a long time.

GP: The third issue is coming up. Where can we expect the series to go?

SO: We’re going to finish that arc out in London with John realizing the genies are taking over London and bad things are going to happen. Then we pick him up and move him to Paris for an arc  and ultimately we look at the root of the genies and the old legends. I definitely wanted to move it away from the Heaven and Hell angels and devils and wanted to move it a bit Middle Eastern in some ways. So we’re going to move it out to the desert and a little Indiana Jones. John’s going to save the world from itself.

GP: Thank you so much for chatting and looking forward to what’s next!

David Justus and Matt Sturges Discuss Everafter: From the Pages of Fables

Everafter: From the Pages of Fables is a new Vertigo series that picks up where the popular Fables left off. At New York Comic Con I got a chance to talk to David Justus and Matt Sturges about the series, what we can expect, and working with such famous characters.

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