Category Archives: Interviews

Awesome Con 2019: David Pepose Talks the Return of Spencer & Locke and Going to the Chapel

At Awesome Con 2019 we got a chance to catch up with writer David Pepose to talk two new series, Spencer & Locke 2 and the upcoming Going to the Chapel.

Spencer & Locke 2 is the follow up to the hit first volume that’s a twisted take on childhood favorites like Calvin and Hobbes but thrown in to Sin City.

Going to the Chapel is an upcoming comic series of a wedding gone wrong due to robbers.

Find out about both, which are awesome, and you can get Spencer & Locke 2 in stores now.

Spencer & Locke

Adam Gorham Talks Punk Mambo’s Punk Style and the Balance of Horror Plus an Early Look at Punk Mambo #2

Punk Mambo #2

Punk Mambo is out now courtesy of writer Cullen Bunn and artist Adam Gorham. Punk Mambo is a hard-living voodoo priestess who grew up in London, then relocated to Louisiana’s Bayou Country. Now, she’s a mystical mercenary for hire. In her first-ever solo series, Punk Mambo investigates a series of abductions in the New Orleans gutter punk scene, stumbling upon a deadlier mystery that takes her to the haunted shores of Haiti.

We got to talk to Cullen about this new series and now we get to talk to Adam Gorham about the punk influences of the comic and the balance of horror visuals.

Punk Mambo #2

Graphic Policy: Punk Mambo has the word “punk” in it and brings up that aesthetic. Did that music and style have an influence on how you approach the look of the series? Did any particular music influence you?

Adam Gorham: I don’t listen to much punk or very hard music; my tastes lean toward the folk-y alternative end of the musical spectrum. The punk aesthetic is one I’m familiar with, though, and is a lot of fun to explore in terms of drawing this character. With Punk’s overall look I kept it simple because I’d have to draw her on virtually every page, so I did away with many accessories I once considered for efficiency’s sake. My variant covers are where I did the most digging for punk rock influence. Early on, my editor, Lysa [Hawkins], had the idea of treating my covers as punk show flyers, giving them that vibe. So we looked at numerous album covers, posters, flyers, etc. It’s been very fun.

Punk Mambo #2

GP: Voodoo plays into the series. Did you do some research into that when designing the look and art? Was there anything about that religion as far as that that stood out to you?

AG: Early on I thought about how best to incorporate Voodoo iconography into my pages. I wanted to be sensitive because I came to the property largely unfamiliar with Voodoo folklore or as a religion. We are exploring the folklore. [Writer] Cullen [Bunn] is very courteous in his scripts because he’d write notes about what imagery he wanted in there, and what the mythological backgrounds of the Ioa are. It was very helpful. It reminded me of American Gods, seeing deities portrayed through a contemporary lens. In other words, I shied away from using symbols and iconography I didn’t fully understand and instead gave the supernatural elements in our series my own flavor.

Punk Mambo #2

GP: The character is relatively new. When it comes to the art, does that free you up at all as far as style and look?

AG: Working on Punk Mambo has been really gratifying for me because I’ve been able to draw it in a way that feels naturally to me. Valiant as a whole is so supportive. They’ve allowed me to up my game here by allowing me to make this character and series my own. I was new to the character, and I’ve come to adore her.

GP: Horror can be over the top scary and also relatively mild, it really runs the gamut. Does that cross your mind at all? Was there anything you’ve done for the series that was too over the top you needed to go back and tone down?

AG: Here and there, I toned down gore and violence for certain action beats. I’m not opposed to getting nasty with horrific violence, but the tone of Cullen’s scripts just didn’t call for anything too mean. Cullen obviously is skilled at writing horror, but horror has many notes and I believe he knows when and how to play them. While Punk Mambo is certainly in horror territory, I think the heart of this story is about Punk Mambo discovering the roots of her magical abilities and how to appreciate them when they’re gone.

Punk Mambo #2

GP: When tackling that, there’s in your face horror and psychological where the reader/viewer’s mind does the real scares. Did you think about that at all as you put together the series?

AG: I certainly did. I really love composing a scene where something gnarly happens, but building atmosphere is important, too. I’ve been able to do plenty of both so far. Hopefully, readers feel they’re getting a bit of everything in Punk Mambo as it progresses.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting and looking forward to what the rest of the series brings!

Cullen Bunn Delivers Punk Action with Punk Mambo

Punk Mambo #1

Punk Mambo comes to comic shelves this week courtesy of writer Cullen Bunn and artist Adam Gorham. Punk Mambo is a hard-living voodoo priestess who grew up in London, then relocated to Louisiana’s Bayou Country. Now, she’s a mystical mercenary for hire. In her first-ever solo series, Punk Mambo investigates a series of abductions in the New Orleans gutter punk scene, stumbling upon a deadlier mystery that takes her to the haunted shores of Haiti.

We got to talk to Cullen about this new series, his affinity for horror, and a comparison to a certain other British horror comic.

Graphic Policy: Punk Mambo; she’s full of spit and vinegar, and must be a blast to bring to life?

Cullen Bunn: She’s so much fun! You don’t write a character like Punk Mambo and not have fun. She’s all attitude! And she has magic to back her up! In the early stages of the book, I spent a lot of time trying to get into Punk Mambo’s head. I really wanted to make sure I understood where she was coming from, where she was going, and how she tackled challenges. Once I figured her out, it was just such a blast!

GP: Even within the Valiant universe, Punk Mambo isn’t seen as often as some of the other characters. How much freedom does that give you when framing the story?

CB: I had a lot of freedom here. I really took the character and ran with her. I treated Punk Mambo as if I created her from scratch, that I was telling her first story. I really felt like I could take the character anywhere.

GP: A name like Punk Mambo has a musical feel to it; what’s your sound track when writing/drawing the comic? Do you have a go to playlist?

CB: I have a hard time listening to music while writing. Even film scores can be distracting to me. I do listen to music sometimes to set the mood, and for PUNK MAMBO I know I listened to a wide range of stuff, from the soundtrack to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD to Joy Division (“She’s Lost Control” would likely be Punk’s intro music if she were a pro wrestler) to Dead Boys to The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets to the Dead Milkmen.

GP: Voodoo isn’t anything I’m overly familiar with; how familiar were you with Voodoo prior to the series, and how much did you need to research to stay faithful to the religion (pun not intended)?

CB: I’m familiar enough to make myself dangerous. I’ve done plenty of research on the subject. In this book, though, I’m absolutely leaning into a much more cinematic version of Voodoo. I’m more concerned with defining Voodoo in the Valiant Universe going forward. We’re establishing some rules, showing off some new “powers” in the world, and developing some new villains who will haunt the world for a long while to come. 

GP: With the character being a Brit who is more than familiar with the supernatural, she does invite Constantine comparisons; in your mind, what differentiates the two?

CB: Oh, sure. I knew there would be comparisons. In fact, even I sometimes said that I wanted to establish Punk Mambo as the Hellblazer of the Valiant Universe. But Punk is a lot more action-oriented than Constantine. Constantine isn’t a superhero, but I think Punk Mambo is—even if she doesn’t see that. She is surrounded in magic and ritual, but she is also ready to jump into a fight and kick some teeth in when she needs to.  

GP: You’re writing a lot of horror series and becoming well known for that genre. What draws you to it?

CB: I’m just really messed up.  I’ve loved horror stories for a long time. I think there is so much great material to mine when it comes to fear. I also think that the best horror, for me for all the doom and gloom, is a hopeful genre. It shows that no matter how bad things get, the heroes must hold onto hope and keep on fighting.

GP: That it does. Thanks so much for answering our questions!

Vita Ayala Talks About Livewire

Livewire #5

Livewire #5 kicks off a brand new story arc “Guardian.” Investigating the disappearance of a young psiot girl, Livewire stumbles upon Omen’s answer to the psiot “problem,” a facility where young psiots are taken and taught to control their powers. Is this facility the safe haven Livewire’s dreamed of or is there something more sinister to this sanctuary?

Featuring art by Kano and covers by Kenneth Rocafort, Will Conrad, and Grey Williamson, the comic is written by Vita Ayala and edited by Heather Antos.

We got a chance to ask Vita a few questions about the series, creating comics, and what it’s like to work on one of Valiant’s biggest names.

Livewire #5 is out in stores April 10, 2019.

Graphic Policy: The first arc felt very personal, and dealt heavily with Amanda’s image as a villain in the post Harbinger Wars II landscape, but this one gives me the impression of her trying to be a hero regardless of what people think of her. Is there a general theme you’re exploring with each arc (that you can share)?

Vita Ayala:: The core of this story arc is about self-control.

For Livewire, having had to take responsibility of the consequences of shutting down the country and moving forward, the question of self-control is especially important. It’s at the forefront of her mind as she navigates a world that views her as a terrorist and the ultimate threat while trying to be a hero.

There’s also a juxtaposition that will go on between Amanda and the other women in the book. We were interested in touching on some of the “path that could have been” sort of ideas, between Amanda and Serena especially.

GP: Despite being very accessible for new readers, the series also plays heavily with what’s gone before. Is it difficult to keep the balance as well as you have so far?

VA: It can be tricky to navigate, yes! Especially in the first and fifth issues, because they both begin story arcs and have the heavier burden of hooking new readers.

I think it helps to approach the stories as if they are sort of the start to a television show. When you begin a series, you want the characters you introduce to have weight—to feel real and rounded and like they existed before we jumped into their lives—even though we have never seen them before.

Hopefully, we succeeded!

GP: With Livewire being one of the bigger names in Valiant’s warehouse, does that add any pressure when you write?

VA: You know, it doesn’t. That SHOULD be a factor, but I think when I pitched the character, I purposefully didn’t think about it or incorporate that weight into how I approached Livewire, if that makes sense.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous, though! Having it be the first time she has her own solo title—THAT was daunting. Collaborating with [arc 1 artists] Patricia [Martín] and Raúl [Allén] following their run on Secret Weapons with Eric Heisserer? Terrifying! Writing my first ongoing book? I can’t think about that without getting anxious.

But I think when it comes down to it, I want to write the best possible story no matter WHO the character is. That it is Amanda, who I fell in love with in
Secret Weapons, actually makes me more determined to succeed than scared to fail.

GP: One of my favorite things about this series is how you’re looking at the actions of “heroes” in less than positive ways. In a book with so many grey areas, who do you find yourself rooting for?

VA: At the end of the day, I root for Amanda. She is striving to help people and keep the more malicious powers that be from succeeding.

But, rooting for Amanda doesn’t mean always agreeing with her methods, or thinking she is perfect. Sometimes, rooting for someone means you want someone to knock some sense into them (metaphorically), because they are not able to see the bigger picture in a way that is ultimately harmful to them and their goals.

So, I root for Amanda, as a character, and also, I root for her continuing to learn better and do better.

GP: With Livewire #5 opening the door to another group training and developing psiots other than those we’ve seen in previous series, what are the chances this one is more benevolent than the others?

VA: You’ll have to read to find out, haha!

GP: Last time we got a chance to chat, you mentioned you tweaking the comic three or four times. How do you know when a comic is “done”?

VA: It’s done when my editors are happy, haha.

No, but seriously, I think it is done when the editors and I agree that the comic is serving the story we want to tell, in the way that we want it to. This process is a long one—even after art is locked in, there are tweaks to be made in lettering that can change the entire meaning of an issue.

GP: You’ve been able to make it out to some conventions recently; how has the reception been for the book from the fans?

VA: People have been incredibly supportive and wonderful! I was a little nervous, because I know Valiant has a very tight-knit and dedicated fan base, and I was a newcomer on a high-profile title, but everyone was super welcoming! They really are some of the absolute best fans in comics.

GP: Finally, perhaps the most important question of all: Which is better, pirates, zombies or ninjas?

VA: Oof, hard-hitting question! Well, I am happy not to live in a world with the living dead, so I’ll leave the zombies to others.

And, while I am low-key obsessed with pirates (I am a total mark for swagger, cool coats, and swashbuckling rogues wielding cutlasses), I enjoy not having scurvy, so, I’m gonna go with ninjas.

Full disclosure, my first tattoo ever was the symbol from Flame of Recca, a manga about ninjas with elemental powers, so I am a LITTLE biased…

C2E2 2019: Interview with Punk Mambo Writer Cullen Bunn

Cullen Bunn is one of the most prolific comic book writers of the past decade. He has worked on Dark Horse’s Eisner nominated horror comic Harrow County, The Sixth Gun for Oni Press, comics like Sinestro and Earth 2 World’s End for DC, and worked extensively on titles starring Deadpool, the X-Men, and Venom for Marvel. Now, he turns his attention to Valiant where he will be writing the first solo series for Victoria Greaves-Trott aka Punk Mambo, a British voodoo priestess created by Peter Milligan and Roberto de la Torre as a supporting character in their relaunch of Shadowman.

Due to sickness, I wasn’t able to chat with Bunn in person at C2E2 about Punk Mambo, but was able to interview him via email.

Graphic Policy: Punk Mambo has had a lot of guest appearances in Valiant books since 2013, but apart from a one-shot, she’s never had a series of her own.  Why is now the perfect time for her to have one, and how will the solo series explore her character?

Cullen Bunn: Valiant is launching several new titles, offering readers something fresh and exciting with new characters and new settings and new adventures. Punk Mambo is a character a lot of readers might be unfamiliar with. She is a great gateway to Valiant’s supernatural world. I’m hoping this new initiative will bring in readers unfamiliar with the character, and maybe even unfamiliar with Valiant as a whole. I’ve talked to many people, who know little or nothing about Punk Mambo, but who are interested in finding out more now that there is a spotlight on her!

GP: Punk Mambo is one of several new #1’s for Valiant. How will you make this series accessible to new readers?

CB: I have written this series in such a way that you need not know anything about this character in order to enjoy the book. In a lot of ways, I’m treating this like her first appearance. Yes, if you are familiar with the character, you’ll get something different out of the book than if it is your first encounter with Punk, but first time readers will not be lost at all. Punk narrates this book so she brings the reader right along with her. And she’s encountering new threats, new enemies, and new allies; most of whom are appearing for the first time in this book.

GP: Punk Mambo is set in Haiti instead of New Orleans or London. What does this new setting bring to the series?

CB: I have written a lot about New Orleans of late, and I love the city as a setting for this kind of story, but I thought it would be fun to bring Punk Mambo to an area where we haven’t seen her. That gives us fertile ground to tell a new tale and keep the characters (and the readers) on their toes. This is a corner of the Valiant Universe we haven’t really seen, and it fits so perfectly with Punk’s ties to voodoo.

Or it doesn’t.

Part of what I wanted to do here is show that Punk Mambo doesn’t really fit into the typical voodoo paradigms. We get to play her against aspects of traditional voodoo culture, and I love that sort of thing. 

GP: How did you write to Adam Gorham’s specific strengths as an artist in Punk Mambo?

CB: Punk Mambo needed to feel action-packed and fun and a little dirty. Adam manages to bring that aesthetic to every panel of every page. The action is kinetic and frenzied. The horror beats are scary as Hell. I’m so lucky to be working with him on this book. 

GP: Even though it’s technically a superhero universe, Valiant has always had a strong supernatural corner. What will you add to that corner in Punk Mambo?

CB: With this story, I want to establish Punk Mambo as a kind of roaming paranormal investigator. Only, she doesn’t just investigate paranormal threats. She kicks their teeth in. I also wanted to expand the “pantheon” of voodoo spirits and gods. Finally, I’m introducing a couple of new villains to the Valiant Universe. These villains will be firmly rooted in the supernatural.

GP: Punk Mambo has an interesting relationship between her and her various Loas. How will you develop these relationships in her own series?

CB: The relationship with the Loa—and with voodoo as a whole—will be a key part of this series. You’ll see both sides of this… partnership. Punk Mambo has been using the Loa for some time now, and she never really stops to consider how the Loa feel about that. 

GP: You have a strong background in horror comics, and Punk Mambo seems to have some horror elements. What are some tricks you use as a writer to make a comic frightening and/or unsettling?

CB: It’s important in a horror comic to make the reader worry about the characters. There are real threats facing Punk Mambo, and if I’ve done my job, you’ll care about her and worry if she’ll survive or not. In a book like this, no one is safe so don’t assume that having a character’s name in the title means that character will make it to the end.

GP: A lot of your recent works (Dark Ark, Blossoms 666, Punk Mambo) have touched on religious elements or rituals. What do you find fascinating about faith and belief, and why do you continue to incorporate them in your stories?

CB: I’ve always been fascinated by faith and by ceremony and by the rules associated with religion. All these different characters allow me to approach those things from different angles, to pull at the frayed edges from different directions, and to explore my own questions without really smashing the reader over the head with them. My hope is that readers will come away with their own questions and their own answers. With Punk Mambo, I really wanted to look into the rules of faith and how someone who doesn’t follow any rules might still be faithful.

Punk Mambo #1 is set to be released on April 24.

Follow Cullen Bunn on Twitter.

C2E2 2019: Interview with Writer Ryan Cady

On Sunday at C2E2, I had the opportunity to talk with writer Ryan Cady about his work on the Image/Top Cow sci-fi series Infinite Dark with artist Andrea Mutti as well as his upcoming Z2 graphic novel, Genesis 1 about Internet music star Poppy that he is co-writing with Poppy and Titanic Sinclair. Previously, Cady has done work for Marvel (Old Man Logan), DC (New Talent Showcase), Lion Forge (Rolled and Told), and Archie (Big Moose) as well as co-writing the Magdalena relaunch for Top Cow with Tini Howard.

Graphic Policy: You were a part of the DC Talent Development Workshop. How did that impact your work on Infinite Dark?

Ryan Cady: I developed Infinite Dark before the workshop and started scripting halfway through the workshop. When I started Infinite Dark, it was much more isolated story, and Scott Snyder, in the workshop, was good about getting us to examine higher stakes. From the beginning, Infinite Dark was going to be an end of the universe/last people on Earth story.

The initial pitch was more inward, character focused and weird Grant Morrison-y stuff. Not that’s a bad thing. I love that stuff and could do it well. After working with Scott and the DC projects in the class and focusing on the balance between character and action, I really decided to start ramping things up. And, obviously, something like [the workshop] makes you a better writer. It’s 10 weeks of doing scripts, getting them reviewed by not just Scott Snyder, but a bunch of really talented peers and examining your own work really critically. It forces you to think “What do I suck at? How do I need to get better?”

GP: From the first page of Infinite Dark, it’s all about staring into the abyss. How do you get into the zone to write about characters who gaze into literal nothingness?

RC: When I was really developing Infinite Dark in earnest, I was in the midst of a really bad depression. I kind of had the basic ideas there, but when I sat down to write the project, I was really miserable. At that point, it felt like a bleak work. (This was before the DC Workshop.)

When it came time to script, I focused a lot on staring into [nothingness] and overcoming it and survival as a virtue. In the script, I tried to tiptoe between those two. About how coming out of this I feel stronger and what it means to survive the worst year of your life versus diving back into those feelings a little bit if I wanna get grim. Sometimes, to write the darkest parts of the book, I have to dive back into those bad, weird feelings because it’s my first creator owned story.

GP: Infinite Dark has a big monster in the book called the Entity that I really enjoyed. What was your inspiration for them?

RC: In the very original pitch for the book, the Entity was something that claims to be God. I’m not an atheist, but I really thought the “No, fuck you, God” idea would be a cool take. God, in the original pitch, was like “I seem like a monster, but it’s because I need to create a new universe, and you guys are getting in the way.” [The protagonist] Deva was going to shoot God. That was the very Grant Morrison part of it. God was going to be like “I made you guys. You’re the best thing I ever made, but I’m making a new thing.” And Deva was gonna be like “No, you made us to survive.” and shoot God.

That was early days. It’s changed a lot since then. The initial idea was always the shadows. A thing you can’t understand, not even a Lovecraftian thing from beyond, but something that doesn’t interact with physics like we do.

GP: My favorite character in Infinite Dark was Smith, the A.I. I love him so much. In a lot of these kind of sci-fi stories, the A.I. is always evil. Why did you decide to make Smith more of a humanist and an ally to humanity?

RC: Thank you for that reading. I’m always antsy if it’s going to make it in or not. I play with [the humanism] a lot in the next volume without spoiling anything. Because that’s such a trope, I believe we as people are always like “The next thing is going to usurp us.” It’s tied into the whole killing God thing. This thing we made is going to hate us for a reason, maybe, because we think we’re putting our worst selves in it.

But my whole thing with Smith is that I don’t know if I believe in that trope. [Some] people (Granted a lot of people who work in tech and in Silicon Valley are awful and scary technocrats.) make stuff earnestly with the idea you would make a life with the idea of “This is designed to love all the good things about humanity.” Smith’s creators are like “We believe in all these things.” I wanted to emphasize that and double play on “The A.I. is so evil.”, but not at all.

My favorite thing that I’ve written for the whole series is Smith’s speech in issue 3. I’m glad people liked it, and it landed. When I wrote this, I turned to my girlfriend and said, “I never say this, but I’m really proud of what I wrote here.” This is great, but the rest of the issue sucks.

GP: Yeah, that speech is awesome. Lots of text, but it’s definitely one of things I’ll remember about Infinite Dark.

So, the antagonists of Infinite Dark are the technolinguists. How did you come up with this cool, sci-fi concept?

RC: The idea came up because I’m not good with computers. Also, it makes sense if you’re setting a story fifty years from now to extrapolate what we have. Infinite Dark takes place 10,000 years from now so computing is going to be something that’s so fundamentally different. There’s the idea of people who can interact with this future’s version of code on an informational language level. Linguistically, they interact with computers.

I made them bad guys because really early on, there was a notion that the Entity could interact with them because the techno-language they speak is similar to the fundamental building blocks of reality. You know that theory that the universe is just a VR simulation? In Infinite Dark, they have simulations they go into sometimes, and we wanted to play with that. If we end up having more issues then these eight, I might go into that even deeper.

GP: Yeah, I Googled “technolinguists”, and I guess they’re not a thing yet.

RC: They’re antagonists, but they might not be bad guys.

GP: Your book’s definitely in a moral grey area.

RC: I like to play with that when I can. Except Smith. He’s just good.

GP: Could you tease the upcoming arc of Infinite Dark?

RC: The next volume of four issues starts in April, and without spoiling anything if you haven’t read the first volume, weeks have passed in issue five. But it’s not gonna feel like “Bam, bam, things are happening again.” It’s a lot of aftermath and cleanup stuff. But, also, oops, an act of saving everybody doesn’t necessarily save everybody. There’s still so many things that can go horribly wrong.

It’s very character conflict focused. All these people have survived the end of the universe twice, and yet, that alone is not enough to have them cooperate and get along because we have such fundamentally different ideas about what it means to do the right thing. How do these people faced with impossible choices, who have survived so much, reconcile that? I talk a lot philosophically in the book about survival being a virtue, but this arc is about what the next “good is. If we survive, how do we move past that.

GP: Like the whole “survive and thrive” Pinterest board idea.

RC: Yeah, we’ve reached “survive” on our Pinterest board. How do we “thrive” without it becoming worse or inequality or dooming ourselves again?

GP: I had a couple questions about the Poppy graphic novel Genesis 1. With these musician graphic novel projects, I’m really curious about how much input Poppy had on the graphic novel and what that collaborative process was like. She has all those YouTube followers.

RC: I’ve never met Poppy because she’s a robot, probably. I’m sure she’s very nice and only has our best interests at heart. And her church is not a cult. I’ve been given absolute freedom, and I speak in total earnestness. This is 100% me and mine. I’m nobody’s mouthpiece. This is my version of her story, and I believe it 100% and am not part of a cult.

GP: A lot of Poppy’s ideas are about how she’s beyond humanity and is very post-human. Why is her origin story being told in an older medium like comics?

RC: Even though it’s an older medium, comics is still really dynamic. It’s not limited to what you can get across on one side in a YouTube video. It’s not limited by time. I talked to an editor who brilliantly said, “In comics more than any medium, you can do a good job of controlling the flow of time.”

Also, there’s a weird element of apocrypha to it. Is this Poppy’s origin story? It’s this comic, and we play on this in the story. If this is really Poppy’s gospel and her origin, why would it be in this graphic novel? Why would it be told in this way, and how would that be obtained? Is the story true? Is the story stolen? It’s about to get too religious in here. We’re playing a lot with a sense of time and futurism, and how that blends with the occult and weird hacker people.

Infinite Dark #5 is set to be released on April 10, 2019 from Image/Top Cow Comics. Genesis One will be released in summer 2019 from Z2 Comics.

Follow Ryan Cady on Twitter.

C2E2 2019: Interview with Cecil Castellucci

Cecil Castellucci

Cecil Castellucci is a talented novelist, comic book writer, and musician, who won a Joe Shuster Award for her work on 2007’s The Plain Janes. Recently, she has written the comics Shade the Changing Girl and Shade the Changing Woman for DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint. At C2E2, I had the opportunity to chat with Castellucci at the DC Comics booth about her new series, Female Furies, that brings the Me Too Movement to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.

Graphic Policy: I’m a big fan of your Young Animal work, like Shade the Changing Girl and Shade the Changing Woman. Why should fans of Shade check out Female Furies?

Cecil Castellucci: With Shade, I was looking at what [Steve] Ditko did and what [Peter] Milligan did, and I was trying to honor and echo some of things they did. But then me and Marley [Zarcone] would stake our own claim to that universe. I feel like with Female Furies, I’m looking at Kirby and his magnificent work and looking at the Female Furies and trying to put it through a different lens.

Shade the Changing Girl is dealing with a lot of the things that original Shade did and Milligan’s Shade did, but where Milligan explored a lot of darkness and cruelty, I staked a claim to heart. It complements it. I feel the same way with Female Furies. I think that Tom King did an amazing job with Mister Miracle, and it’s just got a tenderness to it. It’s very domestic drama and asked, “What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a father?” Those are wonderful things. I’m taking those same characters. Just like he took one lens on it that was different than Kirby, I’m taking a completely different lens from the same characters and showing a different point of view. One thing I love about these characters is that they’re so flexible and can withstand being put through their paces in a different way.

GP: Speaking of these characters, I came into Female Furies expecting for it to focus on Big Barda because she’s a popular, big name character. But you decided to focus on Aurelie. Why did you decide to do that?

CC: One thing I knew going in was that I was going to do the Me Too movement on Apokolips. And a feminist awakening on Apokolips. When I read the whole Fourth World omnibus, it really struck me how women and the Furies were talked about. They’re on the side all the time. They never really go to battle. They’re on the fringes. They’re badasses, but they’re on the side.

So, I wanted to bring their story forward. But, also, the way in those original texts that their bodies are talked about and the way that Granny Goodness is in charge of the children when she’s an equal too. I wanted to look at that and focus on that. When I read Kirby’s Mister Miracle, I discovered the character of Aurelie, who is Barda’s inciting incident. She is Barda’s origin story. When I read that issue, I was like “This is a way in to tell this story” because it’s part of the original thing, but it’s expanding who Aurelie is and how she got to Himon’s place. And the dancing. I really tried to stitch that in.

GP: Why is the Fourth World such a good setting about gender inequality in the world?

CC: I want to go back and say that even though I’m focusing on Aurelie, I still think that my Female Furies is the story of Granny and Big Barda. It’s just the way we’re gonna get there.

First of all, I think that the Fourth World is operatic. It is enormous with highs and lows and drama and betrayal. And Apokolips is also a hell planet. So, when you’re talking about really hard things with bad guys, you can go harsher than what you would do if it was reality or Earth based and dial up the tension of the horribleness of systemic misogyny, of sexual harassment and abuse in that way.

I think that it made it a great landscape to explore the current issues. Sometimes, it’s hard for us when we’re living in a moment in time to look at that moment in time. When it’s in outer space on hell planet, I don’t want to say it’s easier because it’s not. But it is.

GP: Yes, Female Furies is a tough read.

CC: It’s tough to write too.

GP: In Female Furies #2, you had this big character beat where Big Barda is a victim blamer. Why did you decide to make her a victim blamer?

CC: Because I think what happens sometimes is that it’s so impossible for people to believe that something has happened. I think that it’s human tendency to keep the status quo because if you actually awaken to what’s really happening, too many things have to change, and it’s very difficult. Your whole world has to change. Not just society, but your whole personal world.

I think it’s easier for people, and Barda falls victim to that because it’s quite common. You look at women who are raped or domestically abused, or men. They’re usually blamed for what happened. It’s a cycle. I wanted to mirror that to make us look at ourselves, and how we deal with people when they’re telling us the truth. That’s why there’s that thing, “Believe women.” When someone tells you something has happened, it costs them so much to speak. We still have that lesson to learn over and over.

GP: Especially in issue 2, the visuals of the sexual assaults are very explicit. How do you do these kind of scenes without being overly gratuitous like some previous comics put out about this topic?

CC: I have to give a shout out to Adriana Melo. I think that Adriana does such an amazing job of handling those brutal moments with a tenderness and a care toward what’s happening to the characters. I think a lot of that has to do with our collaboration and her masterful way of doing that. I think that’s one of the hard things. Nothing that I or Adriana put in there is gratuitous. I’m not doing it willy nilly. It’s not to be titillating in any way. It’s to talk about harsh circumstances.

Also, they’re all terrible people. They’re villains. Even the people being abused are terrible people. It’s tough to write. It’s not an easy thing.

GP: Granny Goodness is the first protagonist you focus on in Female Furies. In previous stories, she’s been this caricature of evil like when Ed Asner voiced her in the DC cartoons. How do you make her sympathetic?

CC: The Female Furies have always been a part of Kirby’s Fourth World, and they’ve been on the fringe or on the side. You know that they’re all complex. When you take a sliver of the story, and you say, “I’m gonna tell this story of an awakening.” Then, you have more time to explore of how people got there.

I think that you can’t have someone like Granny Goodness without knowing that she came from somewhere. The way that she is is because she learned she had to be like that. I was really interested in figuring out how to crack that. Who is she, and how did she become such a terrible person?

GP: Your take on Darkseid is so unique. I’m used to him being a total nihilist. How do you make him go from being all about “Anti-Life” to a sexual assaulting CEO?

CC: First of all, I think that a lot of men in power express their power in many different ways, and to me, that seemed very natural. It also seemed to me that he would have a very particular relationship with Granny because she is the only woman. I think that he know that she’s probably just as powerful if not more powerful than he is. He needs to keep her under his thumb.

I looked to the history of man and womankind and sort of plucked from there. I think it’s obvious that Darkseid would have those kind of power moves.

GP: It reminds me a lot of Zeus in Greek mythology.

CC: Absolutely. You wouldn’t be like “Zeus doesn’t do it”. He did it a million ways. That’s also how he kept power. I think that Darkseid is a very smart man, and he knows how to manipulate people.

Female Furies #3 goes on sale, April 3, 2019.

Follow Cecil Castellucci on Twitter

C2E2 2019: Interview with Daniel Kibblesmith

Daniel Kibblesmith is a true dual threat, who has written for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Onion News Network as well as comics like Marvel’s Lockjaw and Valiant’s Quantum and Woody. He also has a hilarious Twitter account. At C2E2, I had the opportunity to chat with him about the connections between comics and comedy, his work on Black Panther vs. Deadpool, and his upcoming picture book, Princess Dinosaur.

Graphic Policy: Is it harder to be funnier in comics or prose, and why?

Daniel Kibblesmith: I think it’s harder to be funny in comics because everything has to serve the story and the characters, and in most mainstream cases, the action. So, when you’re funny in comics, I think it has to either have information in it that moves the story forward, or it has to be an icing on the cake. If you’re writing capital “C” comedy, then the comedy is the end that you’re trying to get to.

In narrative stories, it’s one of the tools in the toolbox. I think with superheroes it works really well. It’s one of the reasons the Marvel movies are so popular. They do a great job using humor to explain things and to break tension and to make exposition a little more interesting. So, it’s always a bigger, more diverse project when I have to write something that’s a story instead of writing a humor column, or in the case of Twitter, a million bad jokes.

GP: Do you find parallels between writing for a famous comedian like Stephen Colbert and writing stories in a big, shared universe like Marvel or Valiant?

DK: I think that, at the end of the day, you’re a collaborator with a person or a brand that people have an emotional relationship with so the audience is expecting a certain thing from that person or those characters. You want to make sure that you know their voice inside and out, and that you can deliver what the job requires. In a weird way, I think it can be similar at times. But the subject matter is so different so who can really say?

GP: Let’s talk Black Panther vs. Deadpool. I know Deadpool has these team-up books that pop up every now and then. Was there already a “Versus” story set up, or did you pitch it?

DK: My editors, Wil Moss and Sarah Brunstad, brought the project to me. We had just finished Loki and had a really good time. They were looking for another project to put me on, and in 2018, given how many “Deadpool Vs” titles there were, it seemed weird there wasn’t a Black Panther one. So, it seemed like a project we could get everyone to buy into very quickly from both a behind the scenes and audience perspective.

It was really easy to get excited about this. It was always going to be Black Panther vs. Deadpool. I think the other big decision we made was giving Black Panther top billing because, one, we could make jokes about it, and Deadpool always gets top billing in these. Which I guess we made jokes about it. I think Hawkeye got top billing in one of these though.

GP: That was my favorite “Versus” series.

DK: I really liked the Hawkeye one. I really liked the Gambit one. I read all of them coming into this. For “research”. Because it was Saturday. I had a blast reading all of them, and everyone’s take on Deadpool is slightly different. I loved seeing all the interpretations. I think people think he can be very one note, but if you look into all the different writers, there’s a lot of variation there.

GP: One thing that I found interesting about Black Panther vs. Deadpool was that you decided to focus on T’challa more as a scientist than a superhero. Why did you decide to do that?

DK: It wasn’t really a decision. To me, that’s the character. I grew up reading Silver Age comics from my dad’s collection, and T’challa’s first appearance is when he sends a fake out siginal to the Fantastic Four, hands them their asses with his traps, and he defeats them as a scientist and as a king. I love Black Panther as a superhero. But I think that the Black Panther superhero adventures I really like are when he’s doing stuff in Wakanda that’s either pertaining to being a king or a deposed king, or he’s in Manhattan. Then, he’s much more of a conventional superhero.

But, to me [the scientist] is Black Panther. He’s as much Reed Richards as he is a Daredevil type.

GP: So, Black Panther vs. Deadpool was actually a serious story about curing death. How do you balance the fourth wall breaking jokes with the heavy stuff like death, mortality, and legacy?

DK: People have asked me that a lot, but if you read the [Jonathan] Hickman stuff that I’m a big fan of, Black Panther is King of the Dead. And Deadpool has “dead” in his name. These are two characters who are obsessed with mortality and legacy and indestructibility. Deadpool literally, and Black Panther needing the project the image of being more than a person.

I think all good comedy has an emotional core where the stakes are very real. Whether that’s as dark or sad as I took it or just something human you can relate to. But [both Deadpool and Black Panther] needed to be coming from a real emotional place. And it’s a “versus” title where they’re both protagonists so they both had to 100% know they were in the right even if Deadpool’s version of “in the right” comes with a healthy layer of denial.

GP: Deadpool has been written so many ways. Some write him as a kind of hero, and some as completely amoral. Do you think that he can ever be consistently written as a hero and change, or is he completely set in his ways?

DK: So, my book is about two men. One who is resistant to change. One is desperately pursuing it and is terrible at it. You can guess who’s who. My point of view is that the whole underlying philosophy of superhero comics is that they’re all on a very slow path to change. It might take 75 years.

Because the whole point of serialized storytelling and making sure you stay true to the characters, hitting the beats fans want, and doing it cyclically is that there all protagonists in a story on a journey. They’re looking to change. Or solve some unsolvable problem. Or repair the damage from their childhood.

I definitely believe that Deadpool could be a full-on hero, but it’ll take a minute because of the things people like about him is that he’s relatably flawed. I don’t think Deadpool will ever be Black Panther, but I think he might be a better Deadpool.

GP: I had a lot of fun reading the interplay between Black Panther and Deadpool in this comic. What do you like most about writing “mismatched” heroes?

DK: I realized that I had just finished doing Quantum and Woody. I just realized I had done another odd couple story where one of them was really straight laced and by the book while the other was this criminal wild card. It didn’t even occur to me until I was deep into the Black Panther vs. Deadpool scripts.

I think what’s fun about these characters in particular is that we all know them so well. When you pick up Black Panther vs. Deadpool, you know what it’s like for them to be in a room together. So, as their writer, I got to put them in the room together, and let would naturally happen happen and allow the conversation that I assume would happen to unfold.

I liked getting to bounce them off each other, and getting to test their limits a little bit like getting T’challa to bend a little bit and crack a joke here and there. He’s kind of softened to Deadpool a little bit. Then, the same with Deadpool to express some real melancholy and uncertainty and let his vulnerability show.

GP: I was definitely getting some Gerry Duggan vibes from the way you wrote him.

DK: I’m a huge fan of all of Duggan’s Deadpool. I read so much of it even before I got this gig. What I wanted to is synthesize what I liked by other writers. That’s the fun of writing characters that came before you.

GP: That are icons.

DK: The fun of writing icons is that you get to come in and be like “
I know what Black Panther would do if he had this problem because he’s the Black Panther.

GP: I had one last question about your upcoming picture book, Princess Dinosaur. What are some of the challenges of doing a picture book versus a story for adults or even an all ages comic?

DK: I would say in some ways that a picture book is easier because it’s not necessarily sequential storytelling. There’s less directing. But the artist of our two picture books, Princess Dinosaur and Santa’s Husband, is my friend Ashley Quach, who is just a master illustrator. She does this incredible cartooning in watercolor, and she has done a lot of comics. I think that she and I speak the same language about what we’re going for, and how we’re able to tell jokes with body language and facial expression.

The biggest difference is probably the audience. Princess Dinosaur is aimed at toddlers. So, you want everything to be boiled down to its simplest, most archetypal ideas. But, in a weird way, that’s not that different from comics with these big characters that embody their themes. People who are representative of who their characters are on the inside.

In some ways, it’s really similar because you’re writing these iconic character whether they’re capital “I” iconic because they’re created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, or they’re instantly recognizable, self-contained archetypes.

Follow Daniel Kibblesmith on Twitter.

Vita Ayala and Heather Antos Talk Livewire Plus an Exclusive Look at Livewire #5

Livewire #5

Livewire #5 kicks off a brand new story arc “Guardian.” Investigating the disappearance of a young psiot girl, Livewire stumbles upon Omen’s answer to the psiot “problem,” a facility where young psiots are taken and taught to control their powers. Is this facility the safe haven Livewire’s dreamed of or is there something more sinister to this sanctuary?

Featuring art by Kano and covers by Kenneth Rocafort, Will Conrad, and Grey Williamson, the comic is written by Vita Ayala and edited by Heather Antos.

We got a chance to ask Vita and Heather a few questions about the series, who Livewire is to them, and what it’s like to work with a character and world that’s so fresh.

Livewire #5 is out in stores April 10, 2019.

Graphic Policy: If you could sum up Livewire in a half dozen words, which words would you use?

Vita Ayala: Brilliant. Strong. Powerful. Empathetic. She can be gentle and kid, but she’s not the one to mess with.

Heather Antos: Fearless. Curious. Driven. Proud. Amanda is an extremely intelligent woman, with a passion for protecting those she feels responsible for. Unfortunately, like any of us, sometimes she makes mistakes. And sometimes, like any of us, it takes a good hard look in the mirror before she realizes that she could, in fact, have made the wrong call, despite the best of intentions.

GP: Comics have some very noteworthy villains who can have some very sympathetic motives; Magneto and Toyo Harada immediately spring to mind as villains of circumstance (and the story) rather than being outright evil. Livewire deals with Livewire’s actions in Harbinger Wars II, and how she’s viewed more as a villain now than a hero. What approach do you take when writing a (perceived within the universe) villain as a hero?

VA: For me, the saying that no one is the villain of their own story is very much accurate here. Part of making a character sympathetic is to align readers with them. I think that, for me, one way to do that effectively (and quickly) is to present the world through Amanda’s viewpoint. Not literally through her eyes, but figuratively. We are her, and we know the WHY of her actions and motivations like they are our own.

GP: Heather, you’ve worked on some really well-established properties. What might be different for someone in your role working with a relatively new character and series?

HA: When working on high-profile properties and characters, publishers have the luxury of a pre-established fanbase for their books. New characters don’t have that same privilege of years of loving and adoring fans. But that’s what makes creating new characters and new worlds such a fun and unique challenge! It’s all about how we can make characters like Livewire interesting and relatable to a new audience. How do we, as readers, see ourselves in Livewire? How can we get people to love to love her, as well as love to hate her? How do we make her HUMAN?

GP: What got you to come back to comics and Valiant?

HA: Technically, I never left! You can see my work on Image comics like Redlands, Injection, and Bitter Root. However, when I first met with Publisher Fred Pierce and Senior Editorial Director Robert Meyers about joining the Valiant team full-time, I was intrigued with the idea of creating new characters and titles in an already established universe. The Valiant Universe is still so young and fresh and there’s so much here ready to explore. I can’t wait until you see what we’ve been cooking up!

GP: In preparation for this, I had read the script for issue 5. This is the first comic script I’ve ever read, so I’m curious about how many changes do you find you typically make to the script during the creation process of the comic? It must be exciting seeing your vision come to life at the artist’s hands?

VA: Some scripts go through some pretty intense overhauls, so there are minor tweaks and adjustments in the dialogue phase. It depends on the goal of the issue, I think. Issue #5 may have some real changes in the dialogue, but the art is already on the way. I remember rewriting issue #1 three or four times, then going back and tweaking it a few more times after that (and then doing more tweaking in the lettering stage).

There is no way to really describe the awe I feel when I get to see the art for the first (or fifth, or one hundredth) time! There are usually things that are different from the script, so there is that thrill of newness – which, whatever I had in mind always pales in comparison. To see the story come to life in the hands of such incredible collaborators is a blessing, every single time.

GP: Phoebe Daniels seems like a very interesting character; where did she come from? Was she created because of the story, or did the story form because of her?

VA: We wanted to tell a story about self-control, coming off of her realizing her mistakes during Harbinger Wars II. We wanted to put Amanda in a situation where she couldn’t just snap her fingers and make everything better. We wanted to pit Amanda against an enemy that seemed – on the face of things – to have the same motivations as her. We also wanted a character who could almost remind Amanda of herself during her most vulnerable time. So I guess in a real way, it was a little of both?

GP: I LOVED the idea of the between panel art in the early pages, which leads me to my next question. You seem very open to allowing your artists room to create and do their thing; how important is it for you to give freedom to your collaborators?

VA: It is VERY important to me. I try and stay out of an artist’s way as much as possible, unless I have a very specific thing I want to convey (like with the art between the panels), and even then, ultimately it is up to them if they want to incorporate it. I trust my collaborators WAY more than I trust myself – I can’t draw! They have a much better sense of what will work with their style.

I think that the more freedom artists have, the more of themselves they can put into a project – and comics are a VISUAL medium. The artists (line and color, and lettering, too) are the ones that spend the most time with the book, so it makes sense to want them to feel as much ownership of it as humanly possible. I am happy to adjust any text that will appear on page to that – and usually, I end up cutting a lot of on-page text because the art says it better than my words ever could.

GP: As an editor what different approaches might you take working in the Valiant universe than your previous roles?

HA: As an editor, I’ve always seen my job as handling all the outside bullshit so that my team of writers and artists only have to focus on what it is they do best: create great stories. Whether with Marvel or Image or Valiant, that vision and responsibility hasn’t changed. It’s an insanely exciting time to be a creator at Valiant – there is an endless universe of new ground just waiting to be built upon. And I’m just here to help them do it.

GP: Thanks so much for chatting!

Livewire #5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP: Will those also get Kickstarters?

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

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

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

GP: What else are you working on?

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

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

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