Category Archives: Interviews

Anthony Desiato Takes Us on a Tour and Talks My Comic Shop Country

In 2010 Anthony Desiato began his chronicle of Alternate Realities, a comic shop in southern Westchester, where he had once worked, manning the counter along with a cast of characters that is not easily forgotten. He would follow My Comic Shop Documentary with a series of short features and My Comic Shop History, a podcast that explores one store’s place within the broader framework of the comics industry at large. In his latest feature, My Comic Shop Country, he sets off on an odyssey to discover what makes some of the best local comic shops in America so great.

Anthony was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new project over email.

Graphic Policy: You’ve spoken a lot on your podcast about how you became interested in comics but my impression is that you’re almost as much of a film guy as a comic guy. What was it that got you interested in making films instead of say creating comics?

Anthony Desiato: It’s hard to say why I never really felt that pull to try my hand at writing a comic (at least not yet). As far as film, though, Clerks was a big early influence in my thinking that maybe I could make my own movie one day. Couple that with my journalism background in undergrad, and I think the path to documentary filmmaker gets a little clearer. And since most of my creative output as a documentarian has involved comics, I’ve been able to combine my two greatest interests.

My Comic Shop Country

GP: One thing that struck me about the proprietors of a lot of the stores you visited was that very few seemed to have much, if any, retail experience prior to opening up or being hired at their shops. How much do you think that has helped them to succeed or held them back?

AD: I loved putting that little sequence together where some of our retailers reveal their backgrounds. We have a former teacher, house-builder, and insurance salesman, to name a few. I don’t think the lack of formal business training is necessarily a roadblock, especially since the comics retail model is sort of its own beast. I think the harder task is taking your hobby and turning it into a career and finding the balance between fan and businessperson.

GP: You and I both grew up in Westchester County between the early nineties and the early 2000s, you in Scarsdale and me in New Rochelle. We both remember the vibrant community of shops that existed throughout the county in those days and which has since contracted quite a bit despite its proximity to the heartland of comics publishing in NYC. Did you notice a similar pattern in other areas you visited where a large number of shops had been whittled down to a few?

AD: Not particularly, though I can’t say I was investigating that angle in a significant way for this project. To your point, though, the Westchester comics scene was certainly something to behold, and it’s striking to see how much it’s changed. It’s weird to think that you once had Dragon’s Den and 1 If By Cards 2 If By Comics across the street from each other and Alternate Realities half a mile up the road, and now only one of them (1 If, now American Legends) is still operating and only does a little bit of comics. Westchester is quite the microcosm for the industry as a whole in terms of its contraction.

GP: One thing a lot of comic shop programming like Comic Book Men or You Tube’s Comic Book Palace tend to focus on is talk about actual comic stories but your features have tended to focus on things like personalities or business rather than whether Plastic Man is better than Punisher. What’s the thinking behind this more sociological approach?

AD: It’s definitely a conscious effort on my part to chart a different path, and there are a few factors driving this approach. At my old comic shop, Alternate Realities, we certainly all came together initially over a shared love of comics, but in terms of what fascinated me about that place, the comics were really secondary. It was the personalities, particularly of the owner and some of our more colorful community members. So that was my starting point: the people. For me, comic shops have been a wonderful backdrop and vehicle to tell human interest stories, and I suppose that’s where my ultimate interest lies. Regarding that Plastic Man v. Punisher debate in Country, I’m far more interested in the fact that those guys are having that conversation, and why they feel comfortable to do so, than I am about the specifics of their argument. Also, as much as comics fans are the natural target audience for my projects, I genuinely believe they can speak to a wider audience, and the more sociological approach, as you put it, is sort of aimed at that.

GP: Were there any stores you would have liked to include but couldn’t due to timing, travel issues or lack of a personal connection to the store owner?

AD: I’m genuinely pleased with the mix of shops in the film, and I 100 percent believe I was able to tell the story I needed and wanted to with them. Would someplace like Mile High Comics been cool to visit and include, especially given the sheer size of their operation? Sure. But no regrets on the casting front.

GP: This is a time unlike any other in the history of the comics industry. How are the stores you profiled coping with the pandemic and the hopefully temporary implosion of the comics distribution system? What’s the most interesting response you’ve seen to Covid-19 as you’ve followed up with your subjects?

AD: Almost every shop I follow is adapting in some way, whether it’s curbside pickup, mail-order, live video sales, or some mixture. They’re spotlighting older content, making mystery boxes, and engaging more via social media (and video in particular). It’s legitimately inspiring to see what they’re doing to keep product moving. I don’t know that there’s any one thing I can point to as most interesting per se, but I have been very impressed by the speed with which they’ve adapted. Necessity is the mother of invention, of course, but still. I tip my hat to them. And it’s amazing to see customers rally around these efforts.

GP: Now more than ever change is inevitable. What do you think is the biggest change that is needed for the American comic book store as we know it to survive? What does the future of comic book retail look like in 2025?

AD: There’s a lot to unpack there. People always seem very quick to declare the comics retail industry dead. I certainly do worry about shops weathering this, especially smaller, younger stores with maybe a small customer base or lack of reserve funds. But overall, I think shops will endure as they have in the past and as they are right now. We’ve seen shops pivot in so many creative ways during this time when they’ve had to keep their doors closed and didn’t even have new product flowing. I definitely think that many of these innovations–Facebook and Instagram Live sales, online ordering, and so on–will become a regular part of the workflow. I am curious about whether DC will continue to distribute through other channels besides Diamond once this crisis has passed. Big-picture, though, as far as what change I feel is most needed? I’m sure a lot of retailers would point to returnability or something along those lines. But I genuinely think there needs to be a large-scale awareness campaign about comics undertaken not even by publishers, but by their parent companies. Improving efficiencies in the day-to-day of the comics retail industry is certainly needed, but really taking a wide view, there needs to be true growth.

GP: Do you think that there is anything more for you to say about comics after three documentaries and 6 seasons of the podcast? What other topics would you like to explore within comics and without?

AD: Ha, are you saying I should give it a rest? Candidly, I’m currently weighing my options about where to take the podcast in the future as well as where to turn my attention film-wise. On the film side, I don’t necessarily see myself doing something shop-centric again. I feel I said what I needed and wanted to say about shops in Country. Looking ahead, I was developing an idea for another film elsewhere in the comic book world, but the pandemic and its fallout have made me rethink it a bit. As far as the podcast, you know I like to shake up the theme each season. I definitely feel like I told a full-circle story on the podcast from 2015 to 2020. What the next story is hasn’t quite revealed itself to me just yet, but I’m sure it will. The aftermath of the pandemic sure seems like the obvious choice, but I think there may actually be a different path forward.

GP: If Alternate Realities were to somehow return from the dead in true comic book fashion as a permanent store, what would be the perfect location for it to return assuming its old spot were unavailable?

AD: While the spirit of AR could theoretically be reborn anywhere, in my ideal scenario it’d be somewhere on Central Avenue in lower Westchester. While rents tend to be quite high there, it’s such a major artery in the area that you can pull folks in from all parts. And given AR’s long history on Central, its return there would make quite a splash.

Julia Mechler Takes Us Through Time with Hymn of the Teada

Hymn of the Teada

Time doesn’t work the same for all. As an imminent invasion looms over old Ryukyu, the high priestesses are engaged by Ryotetsu, a court official in the old kingdom. He embarks on a mission to find the one with the power to change the course of history, and discovers it’s a 17-year-old high schooler from far away.

One of the debut series from Heavy Metal‘s Virus imprint Hymn of the Teada was created by Julia Mechler, written by Morgan Rosenblum and Matthew Medney, featuring art by Santa Fung, color by Julia Pinchuck, and lettering by Voodoo Bownz.

We got a chance to talk to Julia about this brand new series and how much it’s based in reality.

Graphic Policy: Where did the concept for Hymn of the Teada come from?

Julia Mechler: The concept of the Hymn of the Teada, in many ways, comes from my upbringing and roots in Okinawa. It is a tiny island off the southern tips of Japan, which used to be a kingdom, just like Hawaii, before being annexed to Japan. Okinawa has a peculiar history and culture, which has not been conveyed well to the rest of the world. I wanted to make use of the creativity of today’s Okinawa (Japan) to convey Okinawa’s culture and history.  

Right after I graduated from college I worked at an anime/video game company in California as a motion graphic designer. During that time I felt the representation of Japan from the anime was lacking in true colors of diversity in Japan. I saw many Samurais, Kendo, and other traditional mainland Japanese cultural themed anime, but none about Okinawa.

Since I practiced Okinawan traditional dance since my childhood, and loved hearing the mythologies of the Ryukyu Kingdom, I wanted the focus to be on traditional performing arts and the myths. In order to fully convey the uniqueness and the interesting side of them, I thought it will make sense to show the history of Okinawa, when it used to be the Ryukyu Kingdom. I didn’t want the story to be just about the history, so I decided the characters who are living in the current world will need to travel back in time to make it more relatable and interesting.

Hymn of the Teada

GP: The story is steeped in Japanese and Chinese mythology and history. How much research went into the series?

JM: I think that history and mythology is a tremendously rich resource for creativity. A lot of research was put into them as I was forming the concept. When I just moved back to Okinawa to start this project, I needed to get a job on the island. I thought, if I had to work, might as well work at a place where I can fully research the history of Okinawa. So I worked with the foundation that managed all the history/art museums and the old castle from the Ryukyu Kingdom (Shurijo Castle). There I worked with the Research team where I was able to get hands on with the ancient artifacts, scripts, scrolls, art pieces, and even saw the excavation sites where archeologists were unearthing the ancient coins and jewelries. I also spoke with history professors to get the facts correctly with the timeline of the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

GP: Was there anything about this time period that surprised you?

JM: Along the research, there were lots of surprises. According to the account written by Basil Hall, a captain of the Navy from the UK who visited the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 1800s, people of the Ryukyus possessed no weapons nor army. They strictly relied on diplomacy. When he reported to Napoleon, he did not believe such country could exist.  In addition to that, as I read through the journal of the last king of the Ryukyu (King Sho-Tai 1843-1901), the king described in details how his court officials have warned him that the Japanese Imperial Army was going to come to the Ryukyus to take over and conquer the island. Instead of arming for defense, he ordered everybody to go to the prayer sites to pray to God. That really surprised me as it is difficult to understand the concept of being completely disarmed and choosing a path without war in such situation. As a result of him not fighting back, the lives of the Ryukyuan people were saved as the Japanese Imperial Army only had to take the king away and occupy the castle.

Hymn of the Teada

GP: How did the team come together for the comic?

JM: I am truly grateful for having been able to put together a truly global, diverse, and talented team thanks to this project. I have to thank Matt (CEO of HERO and Heavy Metal) for introducing me to his wonderful production team. Matt and Morgan (creator of Treadwater and CCO of HERO Projects) brought the concept I had to a beautiful script, and that became the foundation of Hymn of the Teada. The artists visualized what I had in mind beyond my expectations. The characters became alive and the Shurijo Castle which has burned down from last year’s fire was revived.

GP: The comic is one of the debut series from Heavy Metal’s Virus imprint. What drew you to Virus and how does it feel to be one of the launch titles for something that’s so new?

JM: I’m very excited to be part of the launch titles for Virus! I was drawn to this because I already know that whatever the CEO Matt does will be exciting and fun and also I liked the title of it. It turned the name “Virus” which can be so depressing with the current outbreak, to something positive and exciting. I was feeling down for the past few months as I work in the entertainment industry and all of my big projects in NY and Vegas has been postponed, but when I was told about the Virus, I thought it as a great opportunity for not just myself but for all creators.

Hymn of the Teada

GP: I got a bit of a Studio Ghibli vibe from reading the first two chapters. What influences were there on the story?

JM: Ghibli is always my favorite and its series have affected my creative thoughts. I love all the little creatures in Ghibli and the nostalgic feeling I get from watching Ghibli anime. I wanted to incorporate some of the elements from Ghibli such as the little Shisas in Maka’s room. In addition to that, I think it is interesting how they are able to show the social problems or political issues without describing them directly into their stories. While it is nice to be known as a popular resort destination in Asia, I wanted to shed a little light to Okinawa’s complicated history and political situation just how Ghibli does with difficult social and political issues.

GP: The story involves time travel and there’s a lot of different ways for time travel and timelines to work. Did you come up with your own? Any rules the reader should know about?

JM: During the brainstorming phase of the story, I thought about having Maka to time travel through the cave under the Shurijo Castle which was used to do religious rituals to pray and make offering to the God of the Ryukyu. After discussing with the team, we realized that the use of cave limits the location of the time traveling. Another way we came up with was using a magical stone to time travel, as many worshipping sites in Okinawa has large rock formations and stones. There is a belief that rocks or stones can emit some sort of energy. We also wanted to make it more interesting by limiting the numbers of the time travel, so Maka cannot go back and forth easily. Therefore we came up with the rule that only by breaking the stone in half you can travel in time. When you can no longer break the stone in half, you’ll no longer be able to travel in time.

Hymn of the Teada

GP: The art is fantastic and the design of the characters in the past to me feel authentic (not that I really know this history). What research went into the outfits and design of the buildings of the 1800s? Was it important to try to be accurate?

JM: I wanted to be as accurate as possible. When I worked at a foundation who managed the history museums, I was able to look at the picture scrolls, paintings, and clothing that were made during that era. The foundation also managed the castle (world heritage site) which unfortunately has burned down due to a massive fire last year. I wanted the audience to know how the castle looked like so I wanted to be as accurate as possible. Although most costumes are accurate, I made changes to the main characters’ costumes so they stand out from the rest of the characters.

GP: The real history of the region seems to be a lot of tension between China and Japan with Ryukyu caught in between. There’s still a lot of tension in the region today and I was wondering if that crossed your mind at all while creating this?

JM: The tension has definitely crossed my mind. Growing up, there were always political tensions (constant protests around the US military base, etc) on the island as it is the host to 75% of the US military bases in Japan. My father was in the US Air Force, and my mother is Okinawan. Growing up in an American Okinawan bicultural family gave me a unique perspective on the political tensions in Okinawa, which led me to study a lot about WW2, Okinawa’s history, and the relationship between Okinawa and mainland Japan. I thought Hymn of the Teada could be the “bridge” between the different cultures and countries. I wanted show how we should learn from history and think what we as individuals can do for the future, instead of repeating it. I want the readers to think what we can do for the future to solve political or social issues.

GP: The issues are coming out digitally. Did you make any changes to the series to play off of the digital aspect at all?

JM: I assumed from the beginning that this series will be distributed digitally, so I didn’t have to add any changes. I do hope to make this into an anime series someday.

GP: Any other projects coming up?

JM: Right now I’m still working on completing the Hymn of the Teada series. I’m hoping I can finish the series by next year. After Hymn of the Teada, I’m thinking of making a series completely different with a more realistic drama type of story, with the element of Okinawa in there.

Mathew Klickstein Talks You Are Obsolete in a Post-COVID World

A disgraced journalist is called to cover a mysterious story on an isolated European island. As she investigates, she discovers the children have taken control and are somehow killing off all adults by their 40th birthdays. Now, she must discover the truth behind the killings while staying on the good side of the children’s harsh leader…or she’s next.

Published by AfterShock Comics, You Are Obsolete is a spine-tingling thriller that evokes 1970s horror. Written by Mathew Klickstein, with art by Evgeniy Bornyakov, color by Lauren Affe, lettering by Simon Bowland, and a cover by Andy Clarke and Jose Villarrubia, the trade paperback is out June 16, 2020.

We talked to writer Mathew Klickstein about how this series has changed in a post-COVID-19 world.

Graphic Policy: Where did you come up with the idea for You Are Obsolete?

Mathew Klickstein: For quite a while, I’d been considering writing a sci-fi/horror story revolving around a kind of Logan’s Run meets Children of the Corn with a twist of John Carpenter’s They Live concept involving apps, cell phones and such “devices.”

Coincidentally, it was around this time that a film development guy at the literary agency at which I was repped sent out a memo suggesting to clients ideas for books/stories that might be adaptable to film/television, considering current trends. One such vague idea was something along the lines of “a video game that kills people.”

BOOM: Seemed like a reasonable impetus to start back on that concept of mine. I brought it up to a trusted friend I was having drinks with at a bar – we even brought in the bartender to the conversation, and I joked with him that we’d have to give him “associate producer” credit if the story were to ever become a movie – and later that day, I got home and the three-page “confessional” from the perspective of protagonist Lyla Wilton just poured out of me and essentially “pitched” the fuller, more specific narrative of what would ultimately become YOU ARE OBSOLETE.

Everything else built off of that three-page summation. Blame it on the Angel’s Envy bourbon I was guzzling at the bar that day with my friend and our bartender.

GP: It’s your first comic, what prompted you to create a comic and what were some of the surprises you didn’t expect when doing so?

MK: I’ve brought this up multiple times in the past (and, boy, wouldn’t it be just dandy if it were still to happen?), but I was originally pitching around what would become YOU ARE OBSOLETE as a film.

Courtesy my extensive background in film and television production, I was able to reach out to a number of people and organizations to whom I could send the aforementioned three-page “confessional”/summation from Lyla’s perspective. I received a great deal of positive feedback, but after a few months I began hearing from friends in the comics industry that the idea sounded like a good fit for a comic.

Two or three of them nudged me toward AfterShock, I connected with executive editor Mike Marts over there, we had a good series of email and phone conversations, the company evidently flipped over my concept/Lyla’s confessional and we very shortly after that had a deal.

I’d say the one real “surprise,” which was very positive, was just how refreshingly quick everything moved. Normally, while working on a project – particularly one of my documentaries or non-fiction pop culture history books – things move at a glacial pace. Working on the comic, however, we moved so swiftly from concept, to story meetings/development, to writing the scripts, to going over them with my editors Mike Marts and Christina Harrington, to incorporating the edits and working with the production team on how each issue would look before off it went to the printers and, finally, the stores.

It was a real shot in the arm to my creative anima. To be able to come up with an idea, mold it and work on it in such a frictionless and efficient way, before so quickly seeing it realized was truly thrilling. It doesn’t typically work like that in the other mediums in which I’ve engaged over the years.   

GP: How did the rest of the team come on board?

MK: This was one of the many advantages of working with an established and robust brand such as AfterShock. They brought on the team, all of whom did a spectacular job and made the process of collaboration as joyful and easy-going as earlier indicated. I was especially pleased with the stellar artwork of Evgeniy Bornyakov and work of colorist Lauren Affe.

GP: The comic is a horror thriller and in a COVID-19 world, it’s even more unsettling. Just wanted to get some of your thoughts about how the series might be viewed a bit differently now.

MK: Yes, this is certainly something that has come up more than once while we’ve been dealing with the release of the trade paperback of YOU ARE OBSOLETE. The original release of the trade edition was of course postponed a few months and during the time we’ve been waiting on that, I’ve been going over elements of the story that are, perhaps serendipitously enough, now rather “obsolete” themselves.

The story and concept turned out to be quite prescient about various aspects of what would happen to our society psychologically and culturally (among other ways) if we were suddenly driven far more profoundly toward our dependence on and addiction to our mobile devices, online engagement and interfacing with screens in general.

Well, now all of a sudden here we are, we’re stuck inside for the most part, we have little else to depend on for communication, entertainment, education, supply delivery and social connection aside from our screens/devices/online engagement. So, yes, it’s been fascinating to see how the world of YOU ARE OBSOLETE turned out to be rather apt and how its “speculative”/futuristic sci-fi elements are no longer necessarily “speculative”/futuristic nor sci-fi anymore.

The most direct example, for instance, is an entire page in Issue 2 in which the protagonist Lyla Wilton is exploring an abandoned schoolhouse with her new friend Kadunud and Kad is explaining to her how all the children on their island have taken to going to school online. Certainly, and as Kad elaborates during this scene, online schooling is nothing particularly new, but during the COVID-19 containment period, it’s not the least bit uncommon or peculiar.

Luckily, we can more or less reconcile such anachronisms brought on by YOU ARE OBSOLETE perhaps being a little too prophetic in its speculative sci-fi machinations by the fact that the entire five-part series is told from that point of view of Lyla’s confessional of what happened a little while back … So, I guess we have our excuse for having components in the story that proved my inner Cassandra wasn’t just whistling dixie, I suppose.

And, besides, I think now the series could also be seen as something of a very pertinent time capsule of the period of time just before the pandemic took hold.   

GP: Let’s dive into some of that specifically. The comic’s horror is driven by the young outliving the older individuals and technology used to choose who dies. It eerily has some echoes of today with the young’s mortality rate so low and in this case the lack of available technology resulting in higher mortality.

MK: Yes, the theme of the elders in our society being put out to pasture before their time and replaced by the next generation – with the aid of new technology, in particular – is a running motif throughout the entire series (hence the series title as well as Issue 2’s title of “Planned Obsolescence”). And it wasn’t lost on any of us later when the actual pandemic to come turned out to follow a similar pattern of mostly going after the elderly, something that has been heartbreaking and worrisome for all of us to behold, of course. 

While working on the series, the “OK Boomer” slogan/epithet/memes etc. really started becoming more ubiquitous even beyond the online realm. To play off of the idea in something of a darkly ironic way that I hoped would showcase how horrific and repugnant that slogan is, I had AfterShock nearly last-minute change the title of the final/fifth issue to “OK Boomer,” later disclosing my apprehension about the decision in the intro for the upcoming trade paperback edition.

For some years now, ageism has been a blight that has devastated many people in my life (and, believe it or not, more than a few times rather explicitly, myself despite only being in my late thirties). It’s been really hard watching friends and family who are 50+ treated so poorly and feeling (and, sadly, being) pushed out or left out of collective society solely because of their age.

Personally, I’ve never understood why anyone would attack someone who happens to have far more life experience and sage wisdom and a far more developed understanding of how the world works than they: It’s one of the reasons most of my friends, even when I was much younger, were usually older and why I’ve enjoyed a lifelong love of older movies, books, TV, radio shows and music.

I’m with late, great playwright Herb Gardner who reminds us in his immortal play dealing with the subject of ageism, I’m Not Rappaport, that older people are survivors and because of that might just have something to teach us if we give them a chance and we keep our ears open.

I would hope that post-COVID, those who so gleefully bandied around the “OK Boomer” epithet or were ideologically influenced by the commensurate mentality will think better of it in the future and be more compassionate and empathetic toward those who are older than they. This was always one of my goals with YOU ARE OBSOLETE.

GP: There’s also the kids having so much more control over technology than adults. We’re seeing that with the hijacking of technology as lives move online, like school Zoom presentations, by kids. That generation technology gap seems really important to the comic but we’re also seeing it play out in real life now.

MK: When I was still living and working in LA some years back, one of my production partners on a series of film projects I was engaged in had a grandfather who I absolutely adored. He was funny, extremely bright, a terrific storyteller and had had many adventures in his life that he recounted for us often. We’d go to his apartment for a visit every now and then, and he’d show us classic old movies like 42nd Street and Pal Joey, and he’d make us little dinners and we’d scarf down Hershey Kisses from his always-filled candy dish on the coffee table. It was great. I had a profound degree of respect for the man.

But every few days or so, wherever we were in the city, if my production partner’s grandpa needed to get some cash, we’d have to do our best to go find him wherever he was … because he was so incapable of using a computer, he had never learned how to use an ATM machine. He just couldn’t do it.

We might have to drive twenty, thirty minutes – sometimes an hour or more – to go find this man and help him get his cash out of the ATM. I didn’t mind it so much and it never interfered with our work. But I’ll never forget having to go all over the city to get to this guy and help him use an ATM just so he could get his money out of the machine.

And I remember thinking how dreadful it must feel to be in a world where you can’t even get access to your own money that you spent a lifetime earning solely because you may not be able to interface with the new technology that has sprung up so rapidly around you.

True, an ATM machine is incredibly user-friendly and there was really no reason that my friend’s grandpa couldn’t just give in and learn how to press a few buttons so he could get his money himself.

But ever since then – more than ten years ago now – I can’t help worrying every now and then about what might happen if the new technology that does continue to so rapidly spring up all around us – whether we want it to or not, whether we agree with how it functions or not, whether it’s deleterious to our environment/minds/bodies/culture/economy or not – were to become so inaccessible and so arcane to certain segments of our society (or, yes, myself) that we too were to suddenly find ourselves in a world where we can’t get our money, can’t pay our bills, can’t communicate with the outside, can’t buy supplies, etc.

What will we do when that day comes – and the wizards in Silicon Valley funded by their billionaire CEOs are doing all they can to bring that day as close as possible – in which suddenly we turn around and realize you’re “obsolete” from this society if you don’t put that chip in your head?

These are the themes I wanted to explore in YOU ARE OBSOLETE and which has been particularly frightening to witness developing further in real life during our COVID-19 containment.  

GP: The other thing that stands out to me now is this attitude of older adults resigned to sacrificing themselves for that next generation. We’ve seen that attitude echoed by politicians in the real world, as hollow as it might be. But, in a pre-COVID world, that thought of the next generation felt like it waned a bit. In the comic I got a sense it’s almost a feel of inevitability that this is just the way it is and a cycle of life in a way.

MK: One of the more ominous aspects of what’s happening in YOU ARE OBSOLETE – the children of the isolated island we’re on killing off anyone over 40 with a new app they’ve developed – is that there are those adults in the community there who are actually in favor of this gruesome development.

A scene that I’m so proud of how it came together includes the talent show in Issue 4 in which the kids are rolling out a newer version of their murderous app, just as a tech company would exhibit such an upgrade at a trade show or something … and we show in the audience that whereas there are of course those parents/adults watching who are understandably terrified by this, there are also those who are clapping and proud of the “creative innovation” and vision of their children.

Rather than everyone in the community being scared of what’s going on, wanting to do what they can to stop it from happening, wanting to stop the mindless killing of anyone over 40, I thought it would be much more interesting if there were a lot of those who were actually in favor of this, who supported if not were complicit with the vicious children’s mission.

It gives some dynamic nuance to the story, takes the reader on some unpredictable turns they might not expect (including alliances forged and broken throughout the story with other characters, etc.) and, I believe, this is also – sadly – more realistic to how our culture actually operates.

I talk both directly and indirectly about the work of Hannah Arendt in YOU ARE OBSOLETE, and though she later rather regretted it, she popularized the notion of “banality of evil.”

A contemporary analogue here would maybe be something like the so-called “hive mind” or what some refer to as “mob mentality,” or what more recent psychological mavens might call “pluralistic ignorance” or “cognitive dissonance.” The idea that people tend to follow along with something that might be utterly reprehensible or despicable (in Arendt’s case, she spent her career analyzing how/why something like the Holocaust could happen) because of some kind of collective mindset or ideological imperative they’re not even aware of.

They simply become like lemmings, “following the leader” or following the party line, more to the point, and if they’re made to believe that new technology is always beneficial no matter what – even if it’s leading to the death of the elderly because of “inevitability” in the eyes of those pushing that agenda – well, they’re only following orders and doing “what everyone else is doing.” It’s similar to the more abstract idea behind the “Nuremberg defense.”

Being so influenced by Arendt throughout my own career, it’s no wonder I delved into these notions in YOU ARE OBSOLETE. But I have to say, that really the principle inspiration for having some of the adults in the story’s village actually supporting if not condoning what’s going on with the children came from similar dystopian sci-fi stories like 1984, its semi-pastiche Brazil and other books such as Fahrenheit-451 and Brave New World. It goes back to Logan’s Run here, or a similar film such as Soylent Green in which older people are killed off as a daily part of life.

You have in these stories parents of children who are proud that their kids might rat on them to the oppressive government officials lurking all around, proud of the fact that their kids have become such dedicated soldiers to “the cause,” so to speak. People who are actually proud and supportive of the terrible things being wrought by the totalitarian governments, technology and culture they rules their lives.

I’ll add that I also see a connection here to how there are those among us who actually seem to think that staying inside and, more or less, forever connected to the online realm is a good thing. I find it pretty frightening myself, and anyone who’s read or watched enough speculative sci-fi that deals with such super-technological dystopian societies (e.g. the “Fifteen Million Merits” episode of Black Mirror or George Lucas’ THX-1138) know better.

I’ve for a long time felt there’s a growing push in our society toward staying locked up inside, afraid of the outside world, afraid of other people, away from anyone and everyone … except those we connect with through the computer, through the screen. “Buy things on Amazon, watch things on Netflix, meet mates on Tinder/Match.com, talk to people on social media, order food on Grubhub, etc.”

This fear I had about such social nudging toward this isolated, technologically-dependent lifestyle was another driver for my creating and writing YOU ARE OBSOLETE.

And now, once again, here we are, and this technological/isolated terror is not only much more real … but, yes, there are people who seem to be championing it and almost appear to want it to be our new way of life. Like it’s the next step in evolution. Like it’s inevitable anyway.

Rather like how the children in YOU ARE OBSOLETE justify what it is they’re doing in killing off those over 40 with their new app while some of their parents and other adults in the community applaud them for their efforts as a mode of “progress” and that all such “progress” should always be supported or at least not interfered with.

Of course, what they’re forgetting is such so-called “progress” can also lead to the atomic bomb, Global Warming and – as we’ve seen more recently – at least two generations whose attention spans are so depleted they probably can’t even finish reading this very sentence.     

GP: There’s this interesting use of a journalist to reveal what’s going on. As she discovers the truth, we discover it as well. I couldn’t help but think about “fake news” and how this might play out in the real world. Did that cross your mind at all?  There’s also this conspiracy aspect of it all that I couldn’t help but think about.

MK: I have a uniquely complex connection to the news/Media due in large part to the fact that I’ve been a professional in the field since I was 15 years old, more than half my life, and most of my friends and colleagues nationwide are in some way connected to the sector as well. I see a lot of things go on and have seen a lot of things go on beyond the velvet rope, behind the Wizard of Oz curtain that not everyone gets to see, that not everyone would believe and that I’ve learned to more or less keep to myself.

I’m also something of a student of the Media and am voraciously reading books on the subject – both old and new, both criticisms and paeans alike, and everything in between. I enjoy documentaries on the subject. I enjoy going back to the oldest records and analyses and data on the subject I can find and truly get excited when I discover some century-old article or comic strip or interview or something that might so compellingly connect with what’s happening with our modern Media milieu today.

For whatever reason, I find “the Media” as a thing unto itself extremely fascinating and have both written extensively on the subject and have instructed various seminars/classes on Media analysis, as well. So, it’s no wonder my fascination with the Media crept into the topicality of YOU ARE OBSOLETE.

It also helped that I knew I wanted to tell the story in a relatively modern or even post-modern way, and that by having it told from the perspective of a confessional by a member of the Media, I could really have some fun with how I played with the storyteller’s credibility, biases and nuances – all things we’re regarding more and more these days when it comes to how we as news consumers relate to the news and those behind it.

This gave the story a bit more relevance, I hope, and connected well with the general themes of new tech, generational shifts and – again – the idea of “banality of evil” or the “hive mind” concept that run throughout the series.

The idea of the main character of my story being an “unreliable narrator” who was once a prestigious journalist hopefully will be a reminder that whereas news/Media is vital to any society/culture, we also need to make sure we’re not taking in everything we read/see from that societal sector at face value. Always dig deeper, is perhaps the message here.

GP: We see a cold calculation from the kids’ leader and we’re seeing that today. It feels like compassion and empathy is lacking in the comic and real world. Was that part of what you were conveying?

MK: Absolutely. As described earlier, this was one of the reasons I decided to have my editors change the title of the fifth issue right before it went to print to “OK Boomer.”

I was so repelled by how blatantly ageist, hateful and intolerant certain pundits, celebrities and even government representatives were being in declaring this phrase while espousing its underlining ethos that I felt like I wanted to do something about it with what platform I had available to me at the moment and thus, yes, decided to subvert its meaning by titling the final installment of a horror story with (spoiler alert, kind of) a rather horrific “downer” ending with the same despicable phrase.

I hoped that in connecting with the story, its themes and the characters within, readers of YOU ARE OBSOLETE would indeed maybe revisit and investigate any superficial generational rancor they might be holding onto so stubbornly. Now with the pandemic impacting these older generations more than the young, I do also hope that those who were more ageist before will find it in their hearts to be more compassionate in the future.   

GP: The comic takes place on an isolated European island. What made you choose that location?

MK: It was actually fairly arbitrary. I knew I wanted the locale to be some place rather isolated and unknown, but I also wanted the atmosphere to be rather hauntingly cold and eerie. I’ve long had a strange predilection for Eastern Europe – despite still not having had a chance to go there, which perhaps bolsters its strange “mystique” for me in my mind (especially after I had many friends in bands back in the early 2000s who toured around the region and would come home with this outlandish and amazing stories of what it was like over there).

So, I thought Eastern Europe might be a good fit for the mood I was trying to establish and, honestly, I just began looking up basic search terms such as “Eastern European island” and that sort of thing. I found a few candidates, and – again, rather arbitrarily – just looked through pictures and decided on Estonia’s Muhu because it looked rather like how I saw the village where the story would take place in my head.

Because I do hope to one day go to Eastern Europe, I thought I would find a place that I may actually want to go to if the story were to ever become a film/TV show and I was able to head out to the production, should it be filmed on location. (What can I say? Muhu just looked cool.) A little silly and immature, sure. But, it was my thought process and I do have to say, I wonder if anyone in Estonia or especially Muhu is even aware that I set my story on their island.

GP: Steeped in horror, what were some of the comic’s influences?

MK: Obviously, one of the big ones is The Twilight Zone. I really love the eerie, slow burn, atmospheric terror throughout much of the episodes, and having grown up on the series, I’ve always been extremely influenced by its storytelling and methodology regarding character development, messaging, style and tone. As source material for my artists, I more than a few times used screenshots from the episode “It’s a Good Life” in which the little boy thinks people away to the cornfield or turns them into horrible monstrosities just by looking at them.

In fact, in the earliest stages of development, when we were trying to come up with what would happen when the kids in YOU ARE OBSOLETE used their new app on a person over 40, for a brief period I was considering an outright homage to this episode and actually having people transported in some horrific manner to a cornfield. But, I thought that would be a little too fantastical, would take the reader out of the “reality” of the story and, frankly, would also seem too similar to Children of the Corn, which also of course is comprised of certain elements that inspired YOU ARE OBSOLETE along with, not surprisingly, Village of the Damned (both old and new).

As per the introduction to the trade paperback of YOU ARE OBSOLETE, I’m also (again, quite obviously) a huge fan of the films of David Cronenberg, and these definitely had a very direct influence on how the comic came together. I’m particularly thinking of what I believe to be Cronenberg’s masterpiece, Videodrome and also somewhat of the semi-update he did some years later which is also quite good (and, as with the former, extremely prescient in its vision of how we would interface with technology in the future), eXistenZ.

For the tone and feel of the township in which the story takes place, I really wanted there to be a kind of disquieting and eldritch quality, hence the idea of making sure it would feel very cold, very isolated, even when it was day time a la what you feel in that incredible opening sequence to Night of the Living Dead or throughout much of Carnival of Souls. I pulled some shots from the similar village in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness for same. 

The almost gentle creepiness of the atmosphere in these films works so well, I wanted a piece of that in YOU ARE OBSOLETE and took inspiration too from similar scenes in The Stepford Wives (original), The Shining (original), The Wicker Man (original), Rosemary’s Baby (original), Repulsion, Jacob’s Ladder (original), the Australian film Wake in Fright (aka Outback), ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (aka Who Can Kill a Child?) and the opening sequences of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original).

When you’re watching these movies and scenes, you don’t know why, but even when it’s light out, you feel unsettled and disturbed, uncomfortable and unnerved. This is what I was trying to achieve with YOU ARE OBSOLETE, especially since I believe so much of the horror aspect is about the environment and atmosphere of the world created.

This is why I also wanted to be sometimes a little absurdist or playful – to create this kind of “carnival-esque” and childlike feel at times and to grant little tonal shifts to make sure the reader doesn’t ever get too comfortable. For instance, there’s a scene where Martina, the main child running things, is mindlessly playing with the dead body of a person she’s just killed with the same indifference as if she was shoving her thumb onto a colony of ants on the sidewalk or something.

There’s also the opening sequence of the story in which everyone’s wearing these cheesy and garish birthday hats with this big, bright pink cake … despite the fact that clearly something awful is going on between the lines. It’s the whole Twin Peaks melding of horror and absurdity that David Lynch is so adept at, and so of course that show helped me to consider how I would walk that line myself in YOU ARE OBSOLETE.

Lars von Trier, at his best, is quite good at this too – melding brutal, visceral horror with playful, almost cartoonish absurdity at times, particularly in his short-lived television series Riget (aka The Kingdom) and his most recent film, The House That Jack Built.

Eric Wareheim of Tim & Eric fame nailed what I’m talking about here with his psychedelically nightmarish music video for Tobacco’s “Streaker.”

Actually, if you truly like this kind of thing, you can’t do better than the Japanese horror/musical/comedy film from 1977, House. It’s truly unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, even if you think you’ve “seen ‘em all.” 

GP: Any favorite horror films?

MK: Aside from those I’ve already mentioned, I suppose I should add that though I’ve been pretty disappointed over the past few years over what the new crop of horror films has to offer, there’s a handful that I’ve not only really enjoyed and have found truly scary on a visceral level but also had some impact on how I developed YOU ARE OBSOLETE.

These include Midsommar and  Assassination Nation (you put those two together and I firmly believe you have the film adaptation of YOU ARE OBSOLETE!), The Final Girls, Relatos salvajes (aka Wild Tales) and Michael Haneke’s original version of Funny Games, which for the longest time after I first saw it in theaters I thought was the best movie ever made.

In fact, I tend to gravitate toward “horror” films that are much more realistic and “colder” in tone. Less monsters and jump scares, more eerie and peculiar human nature along the lines of the great classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Combat Shock (aka American Nightmares), Cannibal Holocaust, Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q or the boss of it all, Pasolini’s Salò. (Although, I must confess to an obsession with guilty pleasure 80s slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night, too.)

Horror along the lines of A Serbian Film or my good friend Adam Rehmeier’s The Bunny Game possess a unique quality that connects with the viewer in ways that feels much more intense and authentic than what the more “mainstream” horror scene (such that it is) seems to be spewing out at the moment.

Among my COVID containment reading has been the collected short stories of Franz Kafka, which I revisit every few years and I felt would be apropos to what’s going on right now. I realized I never read the back cover before. The description reads in part that “Franz Kafka created a new genre of fiction, combining fantasy and horror in his narratives of quotidian life in a way that has come to symbolize the terrors and anxieties of the twentieth century.” If I accomplished even a hint of that with YOU ARE OBSOLETE for the twenty-first century, I suppose I did my job.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting and giving us such a deep dive and look into your thoughts and process about the series!

Graphic Policy Talk With Ray Fawkes and Jeremy Haun about Valiant’s Upcoming The Final Witness

The Final Witness

I have been all-in on Valiant‘s comics for a long time. But, sometimes a series comes along that really sings to me. The Final Witness is one of those books. The promise from the creative team that nothing will be the same after a comic isn’t an unfamiliar one. This is one of the few times that I genuinely believe that will be the case.

What is The Final Witness?

It seems to blend a murder mystery with superheroes in what promises to be something Valiant fans haven’t seen before. It’s from the creative team of Ray Fawkes (writer), Jeremy Haun (art), Nick Filardi (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters).

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to ask Ray and Nick a few questions about the upcoming series.

Graphic Policy: The Final Witness has really got me intrigued; where did the idea come from?

Ray Fawkes: The idea was a collaborative effort with Heather Antos, our great editor. We bounced the basic concept of the killer this book is based around, and the new hero who would face them as his first challenge back and forth until we settled on The Final Witness – something totally new for the Valiant Universe!

Jeremy Haun: It was one of those concepts that I knew I wanted to be a part of the second I read it.  We’ve read all of the superhero stories that are out there by now. This series— this point of view is something new. That’s incredibly exciting.

GP: How long did it take you to get from the conception stage to the finished product?

RF: We really worked it over for several months even before scripting began in earnest, just making sure we had the core concept as strong as possible, and making sure that the folks at Valiant were completely happy with the direction we were taking. Then the scripting started up – so we’re looking at about a year from the seed concept to finished product. 

JH: A lot of projects have a release date even before things are ready to go. I love that Valiant really let us take the time and build this story the way we needed to. I got working drafts of the first two issues when I came onto the project. They’d been developing things for months at that point. I came in and we built and added to things even more. 

GP: You’ve both worked together a lot over the years; did you know coming into the project you’d be teaming up again? It must be fun to work with somebody you know, eh?

RF: When I started putting together the plans for the script I didn’t know yet that we were going to be able to get Jeremy on board – but as soon as his name was mentioned I began to see this book as a project I didn’t want to do with anyone else. We’ve had such great synergy in the past, and I knew we’ d be speaking each other’s language from day one of the collaboration.

JH: There are certain creators that you’ll work with any chance you get. Ray is one of those folks. He’s the kind of collaborator who not only gets good storytelling, he gets the type of storytelling I get excited about. The second Heather reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to work on an all-new superhero noir book with Ray, I was in.

GP: Ray, you’ve said that you really got to cut loose with this story; how different has working with Valiant been from your previous gigs?

RF: Valiant has been one hundred percent supportive of the direction this book is taking – something new for the company and for its in-continuity characters – and it’s been really great seeing what kinds of boundaries we can push. All any writer wants to do is to be free to explore a concept to the hilt – Valiant has given me that chance with The Final Witness.

GP: With this being a limited series, can you tell us if there are any plans to do more with the characters you introduce down the road?

RF: I’ve already outlined a second story with the characters, and have ideas for more. It’s really up to the readers – if the book gets the kind of support I’m hoping for, there may be much more to come. I mean… with the characters who survive this story, of course…

JH: Oh— you’re going to want more of this. I want more of this.

GP: Will Final Witness change the way that fans look at the Valiant universe going forward? It certainly seems like it’ll be different than what we’ve seen before…

RF: I truly believe it will. What happens in this story may call into question some of the ethical problems certain heroes in the Valiant universe face – and some of the problems they represent. Both in-universe and out of it, for readers – there will be a new element brought to Valiant in this book, and once it hits, it can’t be taken back. For the worse in some heroes cases, and for the better in some – and, I like to think, very much for the better for readers.

JH: This is a story that adds a new layer to the Valiant universe in the best way. It’s already a world filled with a fantastic array of characters. THE FINAL WITNESS is going to give us something new— something we need…and might not even be ready for. Things aren’t going to be the same from here on out. 


The Final Witness is due for release April 29th, 2020

Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum Talks About X-O Manowar #1

X-O Manowar #1

Aric of Dacia, a 4th-century Visigoth warrior bonded with a powerful sentient alien armor, is facing a whole new kind of threat in the new series by best-selling writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and amazing artist Emilio Laiso. Can Aric become the hero the world needs today?

X-O Manowar #1 launches on March 25th, 2020, featuring colors by Ruth Redmond, letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and covers by Christian WardJeff DekalRod ReisGreg Smallwood, and Raúl Allén. We got a chance to ask Hallum a few questions about the series and Valiant in general.


Graphic Policy: Hey Dennis! How’re you doing?

Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum: I’m exhausted right at the moment but otherwise good. My kids and I have been living through a major house renovation for a few months and we’re all crawling up the walls a bit.

GP: You’re following in the footsteps of Robert Venditti and Matt Kindt’s run on what is arguably Valiant’s flagship character – do you feel any pressure when taking on the character?

DHH: Arguably hell. Aric is the tip-top, no doubt about it.

I’m sure I would feel pressure if I let myself think about it that way. We’re stepping into some hefty shoes and I absolutely love what the previous teams did with the character. Fortunately, our story is totally new direction with a brand-new mission statement for the character. It very much feels like its own fresh thing. That saves me from trying to live up… Also, I’m a fantastic writer.

GP: How do you approach writing a fifth-century man wearing a super-advanced sentient armor?

DHH: With caution, right? 

I think the built-in anachronism there is what makes Aric so fascinating. The juxtaposition of ancient warrior and sci-fi alien technology just works. It’s a constant push and pull, old and new. This badass Visigoth warrior wearing an impossible powerful weapon… That happens to be a brilliant sentient alien who can tell him when he’s screwing up. Aric and Shanhara’s relationship is the heart this comic, and I mean that like 3 different ways.

GP: From what I understand, you’re taking a slightly different approach to the character, focusing more on how he impacts the general public (which I think is going to be awesome). Can you tell us a little about why you wanted to explore that? 

DHH: You have a man from the distant past wearing an alien super suit that is as futuristic as anything in fiction. Showing how the present deals with all that just makes a lot sense. We’ve seen X-O deal with alien invasions and massive military threats. It was big and explosive and awesome. Now we want to show what it’s like when this guy shows up on your block looking to save the day. What do people think of him? How is his presence changing the world… And what will those changes mean to Aric and Shanhara?

GP: Without getting too far into spoiler territory, what can you tell us about where you want to take Aric over the course of your run?

DHH: Full-fledged superhero status. That’s the goal. Aric wants to help people. He wants so save the kitten, save the world, save the day. But he has to do it in a very grounded, realistic universe in which actions have hard consequences. This story is full of repercussions and grassroots world-building. We’re trying to change the whole game for X-O but in a way that makes real sense.

GP: How much guidance has there been from Valiant editorial in regards to hitting certain beats/events in the story you want to tell in the series?

X-O Manowar #1

DHH: Heather Antos is a Godsend. Valiant has a very specific plan for who these characters are and how they need to be presented. That sort of thing can be a nightmare to navigate as a writer, but Heather made everything super clear and easy from the beginning. From pitch to script, she’s helped us thread that needle and we’ve had a ton of creative freedom. The notes we do get make the stories and characters stronger. At this point, I’m just having fun.

GP: If you suddenly found yourself in possession of Shanhara, where would be the first place you would go?

DHH: The moon maybe? Seems like a relatively short trip to a place not many people have been. Also, imagine the TikTok hype you’d get from that video.

GP: Finally, if you had to choose just one; aliens, ninjas, zombies or pirates?

DHH: Choose for what? I feel like all of those things would either immediately try to kill me… Or have zero interest in my company. Aliens, I guess? Nice ones?

Dave Chisholm Talks His New Series Canopus

Canopus

Helen wakes up marooned on a lifeless alien planet 300 light years from Earth with no memories beyond a hazy sense of extinction-level urgency to return to Earth. Joined by Arther, her strange robot companion, she explores the planet to find materials necessary to repair her ship. However, circumstances are not as straightforward as they seem. Along the way, Helen’s most painful memories return as monstrous manifestations hell-bent on her destruction. Canopus is Castaway meets Annihilation, with a healthy dose of Phillip K. Dick trown in for good measure! 

–From Previews website

Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Dave Chisholm‘s. Awhile back, my fellow Graphic Policy writer Madi Butler interviewed Dave about Instrumental about an inspiring jazz trumpet player whose ambition leads him to a mystical horn that may give him masterful skills, but could also result in the end of the world. Ever since reading this masterful book, I’ve been following Dave and eagerly waiting for his next big project.

That last desire has recently come in the form of Canopus, his new sci-fi miniseries from Scout Comics. I had the pleasure of reading Dave’s book beforehand, and I immediately knew this would be on par with Intrsumental and give a medium clouted with many sci-fi stories that just about look the same. I sat down with Dave to discuss Canopus, how sci-fi can be used to funnel personal issues, many of the new bag of tricks he learned along the way during the making of this project.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Canopus come from? 

Dave Chisholm: I had a speaking engagement in Boston. I was sitting on the flight toward it, and at that point I had just a basic idea for the main conceit of the story which I’m not going to give away.

GP: No spoilers!

DC: Right, no spoilers. Basically, I was just flying out and ruminating on some big ideas I had. Not the characters yet, but more the bigger sci-fi stuff. The character ideas stemmed from a deeper place from my struggles of learning to let go of resentment and pain from my past. I had tendencies to hold onto grudges. It reached a point where I was like, “Man, that’s not good for me.” I couldn’t really figure out a way to let go of it, so I decided to take that angst and channel it through the story with a character who is going through a similar issue. That character’s Helen. That’s the basic origin story for this book.

GP: I’m familiar with your first book, Instrumental, and Canopus is a totally new idea, which is what I admire about you. You’re not just repeating yourself. You’re going with something fresh. Instrumental was a surreal urban fantasy; Canopus is surreal sci-fi. What made you want to do that kind of story now?

DC: I’m a huge fan of sci-fi media. I love Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clark, and writers like that. I wanted to throw my hat in and do that kind of hard sci-fi story. One thing that draws me to Philip K. Dick, in particular, is how he will take a really personal idea and filter it through this completely bananas sci-fi setting. He’s trying to understand his own struggles with hanging onto reality or his other well-documented struggles. He uses a book like his own personal diary, therapy, or exploration of ideas for topics that might be a little more personal for him. I love the ability of sci-fi to explore a big concept, like healing from trauma or love or parenthood. Something like that.

I could’ve told a story about someone living in Rochester, New York in 2019 who’s trying to understand the trauma that they’ve been through, the pain that they’re feeling, and that stuff. I think it would’ve been a good story, but I also had these bigger ideas. Why not merge the two together?

GP: Helen seems like the perfect protagonist for your story because she is the type of protagonist you would expect: an adventurous scientist type, but she’s also working through her personal issues from the past. Not going to spoil that because, again, no spoilers. How did you conceptualize her character?

Helen looking over landscape

DC: It boiled down to essentially writing her life story, figuring out events in her life that led her to point we first meet her, then figuring out which one of those life events would be featured in the book. Specifically, these flashbacks that occur from time to time in the story. From there it was sort of, like, reverse engineering it in a way that made sense to who she was as a character, what she wanted, and how she grows.

When the story starts off, she (Helen) is a pretty intense person. She’s very on edge. She’s not a warm or nurturing person. She is very stern in getting things done.

GP: “You’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna do it NOW!!”

DC: Yeah, that kind of vibe. Hopefully the reader will be wondering why she is that way and get a clear picture of her life.

GP: Sympathize with her.

DC: Yeah. As far as what she wants vs. what she needs, and what her goals are–some of those are plot driven, some of those are character driven. Hopefully there will be a nice marriage between the two.

GP: The only other character that exists along with Helen is her companion Arther. I won’t spoil too much about him because he’s so unique, but I want to know how did you come up with him?

DC: How Arther came into the picture is a fascinating story. A lot of it had to do with workshopping with a cabal of editors. For example, my wife, Elise, is an amazing editor. She has the keenest eye for plot holes. I’ll give her something to read, like “You gotta read this!” She’ll read it and say “I just love it…here’s a plot hole”, and I’ll be like “OH NO!”

GP: Oh no! The ego has been pierced!

Arther

DC: Haha yeah! She was so helpful with this project. Thanks to her help and those of my friends who also workshopped it, Arther evolved over time so much. He started as something that was pretty different from what he ended up being. I hate to say this, but one of the last, big revelations for Arther, when I put the last piece of the puzzle in, was quite late in the process, even as I was pitching this to publishers and had a couple of issues drawn. Probably wasn’t the smartest thing. It’s one of the bits in the story that I’m most proud of, too. So, for people working in comics, publishing, working on art and stuff, you should work on it all as you go, like re-examining plot points or anything really. You’ll figure those things out, you’ll find something.

Anyway, Arther turned out to be a great character. His look didn’t really ever change. His look was based on a character I’ve been doodling for years, and he’’s really fun to draw. I really liked the idea of a robot that was squishy and plushy, not hard and geometric. I struggle with those shapes, so if someone asked me to draw a Transformers, I would have a hard time. I think Arther’s design makes him cute and adds to that child-like quality of who he is. Arther’s always curious, always wondering what’s going on, and everything like that.

GP: What strikes me about Arther’s relationship to Helen is how complicated it is. It starts off with her relying on Arther to act as a guide given that she has lost her memory. As those memories slowly resurface though, it turns their relationship into a parent/child kind of deal, except there’s some serious resentment toward the child. Was figuring out that out part of conceptualizing Arther, and does it tie back to Helen’s issues with letting go of past grievances?

DC: That’s a little bit of a difficult question, mostly because the answer would give away too much. I’m just going to embrace the fact that their relationship does get complicated over time as those memories are revealed, and I’m just happy those story beats fell into place.

GP: I’ll move on to a less sticky question then. Canopus, the star. Up until I read this comic, I was not aware that it actually existed. It’s such a unique choice for a setting. It’s not something generic like Mars or creating a phony-baloney planet. You chose something that actually existed in space. Why did you choose Canopus? What is its significance to the story beyond just the setting?

DC: I knew the comic was going to take place on a star that was far away, and, frankly, I just googled star names thinking “Maybe I’ll find a star with a cool name.” There isn’t a whole lot more to it than that. It does sort of tie thematically into the story, again without spoiling anything. I’ll leave it at that.

GP: I noticed that instead of a full-length graphic novel like Instrumental, you decided to make Canopus a four-issue miniseries. Is this your first time doing single issues?

DC: My first series in single issues was a book I did called Let’s Go To Utah! That was self-published from 2007 to 2009. It was a 9-issue series that was done before Instrumental. I did that back in my 20s. I still sell it when I go to conventions, but let’s just say I look forward to when I have enough books on my table that I don’t have to sell that one anymore.

GP: Haha. I get it. Not all darlings are precious. Some you look forward to killing.

DC: HA!

Monster

GP: Another difference I see is that Canopus is in color. Did you know this was going to be in color? Like did you have a deeper reason for that choice? I feel like Instrumental was purposefully black and white because the visuals you put in that book had to be that way. Canopus seems like a book that works more with color and uses it to tell the story.

DC: Right! It’s cool because the story behind that is I got hired to draw a children’s book a few years ago that I don’t think is out yet. It was a really cute children’s book, independent contractor, and it was a very fun gig. I didn’t realize until after I signed the contract that they expected me to color the art as well. My coloring experience before that was pretty limited in terms of the workflow, meaning that it took me a really long time to color a page or an image or whatever.

Over the course of the 20-some illustration images I did for this children’s book, I really learned how to have a good workflow for coloring and just how to color in general. It was really just a great education for me. I’m a real autodidact. I can mostly teach myself, go at my own pace, find my own approach, and always be critical of my own process. I learned from that experience that I really like working in color. It’s super fun and adds this element of storytelling I had been ignoring as a creator. In that moment I was like, “Oh man. I gotta color the next project I do!”

The first project I wanted to get to was a much larger one than Canopus, but I wasn’t in a place with my comics career to pitch it. I sat on it and decided to pursue Canopus instead. With how the color plays into the story…hoo boy, this is going to be a long-winded answer, but the one thing I’ve really learned in music school, like 10 years of music college, is this idea that sometimes crafting a narrative is about what you don’t put into it, like setting up really rigid boundaries for yourself. That way when you do reveal to the reader that thing that’s been missing all this time, it’s mind-blowing.

Let’s say that you have a song and for the first two minutes there are no bass or drums. The listener thinks they’ve figured out the song. “Oh, it’s just guitars and vocals. There’s a little bit of piano in there.” Then come along the bass and drums into the song. It’s like BAM! It’s loud as hell. Their (the listeners) whole paradigm explodes. With Instrumental, I attempted this with the formal structures of the pages. Remember when Tom blows the trumpet, and all of reality is bent?

With Canopus, I’m taking a similar approach with color. I don’t want to spoil it, but it has to do with what is left out and with a limited, more focused color palette to set up a sense of normal for readers. I’m really happy with the way the colors turned out. With that said, I can’t wait to take all the stuff I learned working on this comic and level up with whatever comes next.

GP: One thing Canopus does share in common with Instrumental is surrealism. Although Canopus is more restrained than how off-the-walls, bonkers Instrumental got, there is still some zany elements. The first that comes to my mind are the panel layouts for Helen’s flashbacks. It shows a sequence in linear format, but there are repeated, multiple images of every panel. To me this symbolizes how she processes memory. I want to know what was your thought process in designing those panels?

DC: The first inspiration behind those particular scenes is from the graphic novel Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, if you’re familiar with that.

GP: I know the book you’re talking about. I just haven’t read it yet.

DC: Oh my god. I recommend you read that as soon as possible. There’s this beautiful scene where the character gets a blister on his foot…and the story is that we get present day scenes along with flashbacks, so kind of similar to Canopus is, although I would hate to compare my book to this book because it’s the most genius book I’ve ever read. Anyway, the main character has a blister on his foot, and it opens to this whole sequence where it triggers his memory with an ex, then that triggers another memory, and soon it becomes a kaleidoscopic display of all these different memories about his ex, all surrounding this basic narrative of her breaking a Q- tip in her ear and getting scared as he tries to fish it out with a pair of tweezers.

It sounds like such a mundane scene, but it’s profound with how it associates with all these separate memories that are blinking in and out of this single narrative. So, the memory scenes of Canopus were inspired by that and also pages from Chris Ware books where, like, the way a single object will generate a memory field in a person. Like, when you pick up a favorite toy from your childhood, and all of a sudden you have this visceral recall of the most significant memories around that object. Now those memories tend to be non-linear. I didn’t quite have the courage to do so in my comic, but I still wanted to hit that feeling. I hope the way I laid out the panels is a good stand-in from the fuzzy, more grid-like layouts you see in the “present day” story proper.

GP: I get the feeling that, since these scenes are related to Helen, it’s a representation of her trauma and trying to piece back together these memories, where and when they happened and all that. I do know from reading about PTSD that it can affect memory. I know there’s the concept of certain things triggering bad memories, but also I’ve read elsewhere it can cause emotional distance from them. In a way, does Helen’s amnesia symbolize all that, especially now that all those memories are coming back to her?

DC: I think that this idea of how PTSD works in people is definitely some kind of inspiration, although I can’t say it dictated the layouts. The way someone has a PTSD trigger or an anxiety attack has a more physical response, but I don’t know. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to come down strongly in this book. Her (Helen) character is definitely inspired by the idea of someone going through therapy. It’s sci-fi as therapy though. Inspirations for that are stuff like Russian Doll, Maniac, and The OA. These Netflix shows are, from my point of view, really like therapy in a fantastical presentation. All of those are about people learning to change their mind and reconcile their traumas. It’s just so inspiring.

Toys

GP: Another detail of the surrealism I wanted to ask about are the obstacles and enemies Helen faces. They’re all these twisted manifestations of her memories. Remembering those memories seems to be part of her defeating or getting over them. It’s like the whole therapy thing you’re talking about. I just want to know how you came up with them because each are so unique and utterly terrifying.

DC: Thanks, man! I think that, even in Let’s Go To Utah, it follows a thread of thinking where let’s take this really normal-looking thing and give it a charge of weirdness, like capital-W Weirdness. In Let’s Go To Utah!, my goal was to make this ice-scraper an extremely profound thing. In Instrumental, it’s a trumpet. In one of the very first story beats for Canopus, Arthur falls into this hole or crater on this surface, and it’s full of dolls and children’s toys. That imagery was just so creepy, compelling, and weird. It’s taking the normal, mundane and giving it a profound twist by associating it with something 300 light years away from normal, with symbolism and motifs. It’s an attractive idea to me, and I just hope it pays off.

GP: One last thing I wanted to mention was the twist. I have to say, I’ve never seen a twist this crazy in a comic before! When I got to it, my reaction was “Wait, he went that far?!” I’ll say it, your twist tops even Rick Remender’s twists.

DC: Hahaha! Thanks, man.

GP: Seriously! I want to know how your twist ties back to the theme of the story.

DC: The twist is something I’m really proud of. I’m happy the way it turned out, and I hope readers really get something out of it. If I tried to say anything further though, it would give it away. I’m just going to leave it at that and let everyone see for themselves when that issue comes out.

GP: This is just such an audacious series with a fresh sci-fi story and pulls off a lot of great storytelling ideas. It all comes together and has a very important message to people going through a lot of similar issues, me included. Do you hope it engages your readers on an intellectual and emotional level as much as it entertains them? I know you as a creator, and you always go into a story with something to say. You don’t just entertain, but help, if not enlighten, engage readers with new ideas and ways at looking at things.

DC: Absolutely! That’s everything to me. So, my answer is yes. Definitely yes. I have high hopes that it will connect with people and gets into the awareness of people who need it or can empathize and identify with the story. That’s the goal.


Pre-order number: DEC191848
Follow Dave Chisholm
Check out his comics and other projects

Cullen Bunn Talks Going Full John Wick Style in Roku #1

Roku #1 Cover A
Cover A by Dave Johnson

Coming to shelves October 30th, we’ll find out how many lives the lethal assassin Roku must take in her first series! Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Ramón F. Bachs launch the four-issue series that has Roku killing her way around the globe.

We got to ask Cullen Bunn about the brand new series that goes full-on “John Wick style action.”

Graphic Policy: Hi Cullen! How’s it going?

Cullen Bunn: Going great! I just returned home from a couple of trips (to New York and Baltimore), so I’m a little behind, but I’m writing comics during Halloween season! What could be better?

GP: You’ve recently finished a pretty damn good mini-series featuring Punk Mambo; Now that you’re scripting Roku is there a difference in how you approach the two characters?

CB: Oh, yeah. Roku and Punk have such different personalities, different themes, that it is impossible to treat them the same. With Punk, I wanted to spin a fun horror yarn. With Roku, I went for full on John Wick style action. I listened to different music, wrote at a different pace. Everything, down to the pacing of the books, is different… in a good way.

Roku #1 Cover B
Cover B by Viktor Kalvachev

GP: Roku hasn’t really been shown as a protagonist yet in the Valiant universe; what are the challenges, or opportunities, that come from placing her in that position for the first time?

CB: Maybe she’s still the villain!

GP: Touche!

CB: I wanted to approach this as Roku’s first appearance. We’re not seeing any major Valiant heroes here. I didn’t want anyone to steal Roku’s time in the spotlight. Since she hasn’t been the lead before, it was so much fun helping her shine. Of course, she has backstory, and getting that across without slowing this story down, was a bit of a challenge. I think I found a pretty good middle ground, though.

GP: Valiant’s got a reputation of being very new reader friendly with first issues. How familiar does a reader need to be with Roku’s past to enjoy this?

CB: A new reader doesn’t need to know anything about Roku when they pick up this book. As I mentioned, I treated it as her first appearance. We’ll fill you in on anything vital along the way.

Roku #1 Cover C
Cover C by Marc Laming

GP: You’re using Roku to explore a side of the Valiant universe that we haven’t really seen before. Can you tell us any more about that without revealing too much?

CB: As we jump into this book, Roku has been working with a sinister criminal organization—a gathering of faceless movers and shakers. That’s where we start, but we used that as a springboard to introduce a number of criminal groups and (especially) a number of assassins, mercenaries, and killers. Some of these ne’er-do-wells have big roles. Some have brief appearances, but all of them hint at new factions that will be part of Valiant moving forward.

GP: Is there anything different you need to do for your own processes when centering a story around a character that has been seen primarily as villainous?

CB: I’ve made a career out of writing villains and anti-heroes. For this, I was kind of able to do my own thing. I did want this book to feel different, though, and I put a lot of thought into how to make that happen. Here, I wanted to focus on action and violence and the criminal underworld.

GP: Do you think that we’re still going to view her as a villain after this series?

CB: She certainly starts that way! As for how she ends up… it all depends on how that final act plays out.

Roku #1 Cover E
Preorder Cover by Howard Chaykin

GP: You’ve introduced a couple new characters in the first issue; what can you tell us about them without revealing too much about the story?

CB: Elena is Roku’s contact and handler in Russia. I wanted someone who could counterbalance the seriousness and darkness of Roku. She is a talented character, and I really came to love her over the course of the series, even though she seems a bit bumbling.

Ember-1, on the other hand, is every bit as serious and lethal as Roku. She is an enhanced British operative loaded with the very best gear. What makes her really dangerous, though, is that she seems to know more about Roku than Roku knows herself!

GP: Finally, is there any other Valiant character that you’d like to get your hands on?

CB: Oh, yeah. There are some characters I feel like I was born to write. I’m not mentioning them right now, though, because my secrets run deep.

GP: Thanks so much for answering our questions and can’t wait to check out the series!

Daniel Kibblesmith: writing Loki, Colbert & being funny on the Internet

Daniel Kibblesmith is an Emmy-Nominated writer for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and the writer of comics like Marvel’s “Loki” (2019), “Black Panther Vs. Deadpool” (2018) and others. He’s also the author of picture books like “Santa’s Husband” (2017) and the upcoming, “Princess Dinosaur” (2020). He was one of the founding editors of ClickHole (2014) and his humor writing can be seen in places like The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.

We talk about the differences between writing humor in comics, TV, movies, and Twitter.

Also:

  • The universal appeal of a High School AU
  • Loki as a 60 year redemption project
  • Is Loki immune to woobification?
  • “Like you’re all playing MST3K together but with the entire world”
  • That Low Key t-shirt
  • A hierarchy of 4th wall breaking

Follow @Elana_Brooklyn on Twitter.

Matt Miner and Christopher Peterson Talk Haunted Muscle Cars and Death Trap!

Kickstarter chase variant cover, art and color by Darren Lo (@DLo168)
Kickstarter chase variant cover, art, and color by Darren Lo (@DLo168)

From the Death Trap Press Release:

A haunted muscle car, a circus crime family, a dancing bear, bearded women, methed out carnies, crab twins, and a young woman teamed up with the ghost of her dead father on a mission of vengeance: just some of the utter insanity that awaits you in the hot new comic Death Trap, now launched on Kickstarter!

The 4-issue mini-series is the high-octane brainchild of creators Matt Miner (Toe Tag Riot, All We Ever Wanted) and Christopher Peterson (Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight). Josh Jensen and  Matt Krotzer are the colorist and letterer on the book.

Recently, Matt and Chris took the time to answer a few questions for Graphic Policy about Death Trap and its inspiration.

Adam Cadmon: So the obvious question, why a Mercury Cougar? Does that model have personal significance?

Matt Miner: I mean, it’s a badass muscle car that doesn’t see enough love in pop culture.  Look at those hidden headlights – just makes that front grill so sexy.  It’s also the car I’m looking to buy, you know, when I can afford it, and find one with a manual transmission that’s in good running shape, because I’m a comic writing dog rescuer, not a mechanic.

Christopher Peterson: I think Matt decided to find a car that no one has any extensive reference for me to draw … so I hope he likes 1968 Ford Mustangs in half his panels. But seriously, it’s cool to have something different instead of the usual muscle cars.

AC: The book’s press release states that Death Trap is a “love letter to carsploitation and revenge flicks of the 1970s and 1980s…” What made you want to explore this type of book now?

MM:  Most of my previous work has more of a political edge, but I think right now in the world of 2019, we need fun escapes more and more.  I’ve been a huge fan of B-movies my whole life, and am stoked to partner up with Chris, who has experience bringing the exploitation film feeling to comics.  This comic is an enormous amount of wild and bloody fun.

CP: I like this era/style/genre because it’s got a lot of clunk to it. I enjoy the grounded foundation where there’s no magic or anything, just people in a rural area without all this slick technology and style … and then we dump the wacky onto it. I love realism, but with a slight kick to it – everything has just a bit of an aberrant or bizarre quality to it that makes it fun

AC: You’ve done some socially conscious stuff in the past, Matt, will Death Trap address current events or is this a more localized story as regards Ollie and her family?

MM: Death Trap steers clear of real-life politics in an overt sense.  At least for me, it’s nice to get a break from that stuff that hangs over our heads every day, and dive into a world of circus freaks and vendettas and dancing bears.  My fingerprints are all over this thing, though – it’s not like we kicked our progressive sensibilities to the curb when creating the book.

And our albino dancing bear’s name is Wojtek (pronounced Voy-tek) after the World War 2 Polish bear who carried artillery shells and smashed Nazis. 

CP: I think the main thread going through all this is that we treat these characters like people, including backstories. We’re not here to make fun of people with differences or laugh at their situation – we hope we’re empowering them – and that hopefully comes across.

AC: This book crosses into several genres, that said, what overall tone are you going for?

MM: F’n bananas fun.

CP: Finding peace in chaos.

Check out the Kickstarter for Death Trap here!


Adam is a writer, an explorer of consciousness, a dog owner (times 2) and a decent fellow if you ask him. He currently lives in a suburb about 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta.

« Older Entries