Category Archives: Interviews

Return of the Toe Tag Riot! A chat with series creators Matt Miner and Sean Von Gorman

Return of the Toe Tag Riot

Toe Tag Riot, the comic book series that the infamous hate group Westboro Baptist Church claimed would “split Hell wide open” is back for round 2 and on Kickstarter, with the Return of the Toe Tag Riot.

Guest contributor Adam Cadmon got to talk to writer Matt Miner and penciler/inker Sean Von Gorman about the series which features colors by Gab Contreras and letters by Taylor Esposito.

ADAM CADMON: So, where did the concept for a zombie punk rock band originate?

MATT MINER: I grew up in the punk scene, and never really left, so all my work has a punk rock vibe to it because that’s the world I know and love – some books, like this one, are just a pure love letter to punk rock and the accepting and cool people I’ve known through my life.

SEAN VON GORMAN: I remember at some point at a convention we started talking about what if Matt was a vegan zombie, and what he would eat? Obviously he would have to eat people because zombies can’t survive on grains. And being an ethical punk if he HAD to eat people he would pick the worst people to eat. I think there is a sketch somewhere of a zombie Matt eating a little tofu person.

MM: Oh, yeah!  I think I have that sketch around here somewhere, actually.

Return of Toe Tag Riot

AC: Why did you go with the “thinking” zombie angle opposed to the mindless eater?

MM: The undead-zombie comic has been done to death, pun intended.  With Toe Tag Riot it was kind of like “What if you weren’t always a zombie?  If you knew what you were doing, who would you choose to eat?”  I mean, everyone’s gotta eat, but they can choose a more ethical course.

SVG: I feel no epic kill is ever complete without a snarky comment like an ’80s action movie star. For example, right before a zombie punk bites into a bad dude he says something like “It was nice to EAT you!”  Wait, that was pretty good. Matt, write that one down.

Return of the Toe Tag Riot

AC: Let me springboard a little; the choice to have the band cursed instead of turned always interested me…where’d that idea come from?

MM: I don’t remember how that came about, really, but what really appealed to me about the idea was this way you see both sides of the character – the ravenous zombie and the human toll it takes on them when they eat the wrong skinhead and have diarrhea for hours.

SVG: I remember part of the initial conversation on this was that the group’s bodies would start to physically breakdown as they rotted. A punk band in a tour bus smells bad enough when they aren’t zombies.

AC: You’ve had several guest stars in the past, can you give us anything–anything at all–in terms of who we should expect as either allies or foes in volume 2?

MM: Sean and I have some rock star pals, and we like to drop them in here and there.  Andy Hurley, from Fall Out Boy, is a returning regular and the band’s number one roadie, and I sure would like to sneak GWAR into the pages at some point since they’re such a huge inspiration for this book.

AC: Are there any plans to expand the Toe Tag universe, i.e., web series, movies, etc.?

MM: Sure, why not?  Would love to see a B-movie a’la Troma Films, but, you know, money and all.

SVG: I would love to see a big screen Toe Tag Riot!  I want toys of Toe Tag Riot!  We had considered the idea of doing a series of comic shorts. There are so many horrible people out there that it’s hard to keep up with in print.

AC: Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to talk about?

MM: I have Lab Raider out currently from Black Mask Studios – it’s the story of these 2 women who take on dog fighters and animal abusers.  These are characters I’ve written in a few series now, and this particular volume gets really weird.  Also, the new GWAR graphic novel is in production and you can pre-order that at right now!

SVG: I have School Lab Raider, basically Lab Raider but for they are kids. Which may possibly come out as a back up in an upcoming issue of Lab Raider. I also have a story in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Freshman Force from Devils Due that is going into its 2nd printing.

MM: I think that Lab Raider backup is scheduled for issue 3, as long as we get it in time.  Issue 1 is on stands now – get it! HEY! The Kickstarter for Return of the Toe Tag Riot is live! Click the link to learn more!

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.

Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn Talk Taking Archie to War in Archie 1941

Archie 1941

Archie has been around for decades and while we might know the Riverdale kids for their high school hijinks they’ve also seen unique and interesting takes.

Archie 1941, recently released in trade, is a tale set in Riverdale during World War II. It finds Riverdale dealing with the impact of the impending conflict on the small town and in the personal lives of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie.

We got a chance to talk to writers Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn about the research that went into the series and its honest look at the homefront during that time.

Graphic Policy: Where’d the concept for Archie: 1941 come from? Was that something you pitched to Archie or did they come to you?

Mark Waid: That was cooked up by the home office and was a great idea.

Brian Augustyn: The front office at Archie came up with that, 1941 being the year Archie made his debut in Pep Comics. Great inspiration.

Archie 1941

GP: What type of research did you do for it? There seems to be an eye for the design and detail of the time.

MW: Both Brian and I dug in deep. We wanted to get it all right — the language, the homefront shortages, the hints of an isolationist, “keep us out of this” movement — we hit every internet resource we could.

BA: We lived on the internet, of course, and a trip or two to libraries. Movies from the time helped, too. Also, my parents and grandparents lived through that time and I, fortunately, remembered a lot. Alas, they’re gone now, so I hope Diamond ships to the great beyond.

GP: Some of the scenes, especially in the fourth issue are very cinematic. Were there any influences in the war sequences as far as the visuals and pacing?

BA: Pete brought his dedication and talent to capture the period and the combat scenes brilliantly.

Archie 1941

GP: The series really stands out in the beginning as it doesn’t have everyone completely on board with the war. You could easily have fallen into a jingoistic trap but you didn’t. Why was it necessary to show this side of history?

MW: Again, accuracy. In today’s era of instant global information, where worldwide news is delivered to us 24/7, we forget that in 1941 most people got their news from the local daily newspaper or occasionally from radio, neither of which was in a position to really, truly convey the drama happening in Europe.

BA: I don’t think either Mark or I are jingoists anyway, but especially when working with history, there’s no need to impose opinions over the true drama. Also, that period and the war presented us with great real-life stories. We found some really awesome true events and personal stories.

Archie 1941

GP: Is there anything particular about Archie and his friends that makes it a bit easier to explore history with them?

MW: They’re elastic characters, as proven by the fact that they’ve been around, vital, and a recognized part of pop culture for 80 years. They can adapt to any circumstance, any era.

BA: We all know them so well after all these eras, and because they’re such everypeople they are perfect in any kind of story.

GP: There’s a death of a well-known character in this. How freeing is it for you as writers to be able to do that sort of thing?

MW: Tremendously. The flip side to the characters having been around and vital for 80 years is that it’s dangerous to shake up the status quo too much — you never know what you might accidentally break.

BA: It was driven by the story, and layered the last chapter with tragedy over the layers of joy and relief. It was a fitting turn of events.

Archie 1941

GP: Visually for that sequence, and the battles as a whole, you all shied away from blood and gore when you could have easily gone that route. What went in to the thinking about going that way?

BA: We don’t need gore, and anyway, the combat played out to be mostly seen from a distance, with planes buzz bombing the scattering troops.

GP: So many stories surrounding the war focus on the battles themselves. In Archie: 1941 there’s also a focus on the impact at home. Did you have a more war focused take at one point? Why was it important to show the impact on the home front?

BA: Not at all; it was always going to be Riverdale-centric. The war’s effect on the families at home was ultimately our favorite part.

Archie 1941

MW: It was always largely — at first, exclusively — about the homefront. Riverdale is as much a “character” in the Archieverse as are the kids. It was Brian who suggested we follow Archie overseas, and it was a good call.

GP: On the home front aspect, you also dive into topics like profiteering and cooperation with Germany and Nazis by some Americans. This is a pretty brutally honest and truthful take on the war you don’t hear in school. Thoughts on that?

BA: Those were realities of the period and added texture to our historical tale.

MW: Again, historical accuracy. That, second only to telling a good story, was of great importance to us. Getting back to what I said earlier, not every average American had a true perspective on what was really happening overseas. Veronica’s father, Mr. Lodge, would certainly have been doing business with the Germans prior to Hitler’s declaration of war — he was wealthy because he was a globalist when many millionaires were nationalists.

Archie 1941

GP: It’s interesting to explore history through comics. Is there anything to the medium that benefits those sort of lessons?

BA: Any entertainment that uses history as the spine of the narrative both gains depth and is made palatable to a consumer who might not want a “history lesson.”

MW: It’s a vital storytelling medium. By that, I mean it’s more visceral than simply words on the page of a history book. And unlike a TV documentary, comics allows the reader to take his or her time reading the story, absorbing it at their own pace and being given the luxury to dwell on — and really think about — the parts that move them.

GP: Thanks so much and look forward to seeing what you do with the next decade in Archie 1955!

Tyler Chin-Tanner Discusses Shaking Up Comics with A Wave Blue World

A Wave Blue World

A Wave Blue World announced this week they would be changing their release model in hopes to better serve the market. Instead of the monthly floppy release we’ve come to expect, the publisher will be releasing a “premium” first issue followed by digital releases of the subsequent issues and then a trade collection. The entire release schedule for a series/story has been compacted into a two-month window.

Things kick off this October with two series. Mezo is “a daring Mesoamerican-inspired Game of Thrones-type epic.” Dead Legends is a “martial arts throwback series” that’s described as “Kill Bill meets Enter the Dragon.”

We got a chance to talk to A Wave Blue World’s co-founder Tyler Chin-Tanner about this bold initiative, his view as to where the industry stands, and why this direction is the right one.

Graphic Policy: Before we get to the big announcement, there are lots of conversations about the “state” of the comics industry and how to move forward. What are the challenges facing the industry and what opportunities do you see in the future?

Tyler Chin-Tanner: That depends on what part of the industry we’re talking about. If we’re talking single issues, not very well. There are way too many comics released every week by companies whose main objective is to dominate the market share while making their money through other forms of media.

But if we’re talking graphic novels and tpb collections, it’s doing really well. New readers are picking up comics in book form everyday. Many of them are young readers, a demographic that this industry has ignored for too long. They’re starting to read with comics and sticking with it. 

It’s become almost two entirely separate markets. The direct marketing competing against the book market. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our new Premier Program aims to integrate the two. By releasing only a single issue in comic form, there’s never a question of which issue number the reader will find on the shelves. This issue will provide the perfect introduction to the series and if they want to read more, they can order the trade paperback right there in that same store.

GP: Your announcement is a shift in how comics are sold. You’re selling a “premier” first issue and then subsequent issues digitally every two weeks or the collected edition within two months. What brought you to the conclusion that this was the direction to go?

TCT: Well, the Premier Program is a shift in how our comics are produced, but it’s actually based on how comics are currently purchased. Looking at the market, there’s generally a lot of interest in the first issue but then there’s a drop in sales from there. This is the result of a growing number of readers waiting on the trade or a loss of interest during the month-long gap (if not longer) between each subsequent issue. We’ve eliminated the wait. 


GP: Was there something special about the two-week release schedule for the digital releases?

TCT: We’re reducing the wait time from the typical monthly issue to better fit with how people consume media. The monthly comic schedule is an old model established by companies who would put out an issue of the same title every month and the creative team needed at least that much time to pump out another story. But now, we’re all about the story arc. We put out 4 to 6 issues and then it gets collected into a trade paperback. Issues are like chapters and who wants to wait a full month to read the next chapter?

GP: There are a few other publishers who have moved to this model or adding more material to print issues. Is there anything in particular that you’re seeing as success when it comes to this or feedback from readers that makes this approach stand out as the right way to go?

TCT: Our Premier Edition is more than a #1. Sure, it includes the full first issue, but there’s also a lot of content not found anywhere else that provides a full introduction to the concept and characters. It’s a peek inside the mind of the creators and the world they’ve built. We’re inviting you to the Premier and we want it to be a special experience. 

GP: It feels like marketing this approach would be a big shift, especially the digital aspect. Do you have particular plans regarding that?

TCT: Our plan is to make it all work seamlessly. Readers have their individual preferences, but there’s no reason to put up walls between digital and print or single issues and trades. We want to amplify the strength of each format.

GP: When it comes to the digital, where will the issues be available? Is the first issue going to be available digitally as well and have the premier material? Are you going to advertise that in the physical first issue?

TCT: The digital issue will be readily available on a number of platforms including Comixology and our new partner, Spinwhiz. We also plan on making downloads available directly from our website,

Each digital issue will have its own unique cover that’s different from the one on the Premier Edition. Anyone will be able to read the full story through the digital issues, but they won’t contain the same back matter as the print issue. That’s exclusive content for the Premier Edition.

GP: There also seems like there’s a tighter time frame to market the comics, which can be good. It’d allow you all to focus a bit more on a few releases in a short time period as opposed to numerous releases spread out over months.

TCT: That’s exactly right. It’s a singular story arc so why spread it out any longer than it needs to be? Readers prefer a shorter timeframe and to know exactly when they’ll be able to get the full story.

Dead Legends

GP: From the outsider, it seems like there’s both more and less risk involved with this. More in that you’re not having single issues to possibly make a bit of a profit off of and you’re basically funding a full graphic novel but there’s a bit more opportunity with the digital aspect.

TCT: There’s really not much risk here. We’re putting together some really great stories and we’re going to have them ready to go so that readers can find them easily and read them in whatever format they prefer.

GP: One of the things that stands out from the announcement is that the full series will be done. Some high profile series has been plagued with delays. Are you going to be emphasizing that this is a guaranteed release?

TCT: Yes, and this is really the strength of the Premier Program. We’ve built up the material in advance so the trade is ready, but we’re just also going to have a little fun first for those who like first issues or prefer to read each chapter bi-weekly online. 

GP: It sounds like this is partially driven by retailers. Did you receive feedback from them?

TCT: We spoke to retailers and they want publishers who are driving readers to their stores. Retailers want #1 issues that appeal to their customers with beautiful cover art that collectors find appealing and the ability to sample stories at a reasonable price before purchasing the entire story in trade paperback form. This is why our Premium issues will have high-quality cover stock and exclusive extra content while keeping to a price point of $3.99. 

GP: One thing that does stand out is that comics need to be ordered in advance but there’s a two-month gap between the premier first issue and then the collected edition. How are you approaching that challenge?

TCT: The Premier Editions come out right when the collected edition becomes available for preorder, so anyone who likes what they see from that first issue can go order the full book or go straight to the digital issues where the story immediately continues.

GP: What’s the feedback from creators been like? This is definitely different for them.

TCT: The creators are very excited about the Premier Program. All it comes down to is that they want the chance to tell some really amazing and unique stories and have them reach an audience that will appreciate them. It’s a win-win situation all around.

GP: This all sounds really interesting. Thanks so much for chatting!

B. Clay Moore Talks Valiant’s Killers with an Exclusive Look at Killers #2’s Covers

With the August comic solicits being revealed, we’ve got an exclusive look at the covers for Killers #2! Writer B. Clay Moore drops some insight as to what we can expect from this new series!

But, what is Valiant’s new series Killers?

Killers spins out of the world of Ninjak! Five deadly assassins are recruited into a game of cat and mouse by the mysterious Jonin! But what does the Jonin want from them, and what do they gain out of helping him? Each of these assassins can channel their ki in different ways, granting them incredible abilities!

Killers #1 is out July 31 from Moore, artist Fernando Dagnino, colorist José Villarrubia, and letterer Jeff Powell.

We got a chance to ask Moore some questions about the new series. After that is the reveal of Killers #2‘s covers!

Graphic Policy: Based upon the early solicits, Killers clearly takes its cues from Ninja-K. Does a reader need to be familiar with that series in order to enjoy Killers?

B. Clay Moore: No, not at all. While readers of Ninja-K will be glad to see an element of that book expanded upon, this is, for all intents and purposes, ground zero for a new group of characters.

GP: There are so many possibilities and stories to tell when it comes to MI6’s Ninja Programme. What can readers expect from Killers

BCM: An expansion on the nature of those MI6 ninjas who were trained by the Jonin, for starters. Mainly, though, Killers is an example of picking up seeds from previous stories about the Ninja Programme, and watching them grow into a related but wholly separate concept. That’s a testament to the work previous creative teams have put into fleshing out a three-dimensional world for us to plunder.

GP: Killers expands upon and delves a little deeper into some former Ninja Progamme operatives; what made you decide to go with the letters you did? What makes them stand out from each other?

BCM: Editor Karl Bollers and I sort of kicked around the eras in which we figured the various Ninjas had operated, and then examined how much information had been previously revealed about each operative. In most cases, there was a lot of room to build almost from scratch, so we took that opportunity to do so. We then constructed separate sets of abilities for each character, and then mapped out what they’ve been doing since leaving the Programme. In essence, once they’ve left the Programme behind, any similarities—beyond their killer natures—are left behind, as well. 

GP: With a cast of characters to focus on, what were you looking for as far as a gateway character?

BCM: Ninja-G, who has been fleshed out the most in the Ninja-K book, was our natural choice as a gateway character. Enough had been established to give us a solid base upon which to build, and the fact that she was a seventies-era badass was also appealing. And a relationship that had been hinted at previously became the springboard with which to launch her into the story. 

GP: Other than the operatives, will we also get a little more insight into the Ninja Programme, and the lengths they went to train their operatives?

BCM: Very much so. New revelations about the nature of that training is sort of at the heart of the book, and defines not just the characters, but also their motivation for coming together.

GP: Are there any other Ninjas you would like to explore a little more in the future?

BCM: Oh, sure. Now that we’ve established some new dynamics regarding former Programme operatives, I’d love to play a part in actively inserting other Ninjas from the past into the present. There’s still a lot of unearthed potential there. 

GP: Valiant does an excellent job of balancing the individual series and their bigger picture storyline. You can enjoy a single series or the richer story of everything. How does it work as a writer thinking about those two things?

BCM: As with the last Valiant book I wrote, Savage, I try to focus on creating something new and self-contained that still slots in logically with what we already know about the Valiant Universe. And, of course, everything is written with an eye toward how the characters we’re creating might interact with other Valiant characters in the future. With that said, I think Killers will definitely provide fodder for future stories beyond this initial title. The characters introduced here could logically find themselves tangling with any of Valiant’s heavy hitters somewhere down the road.

Check out the covers for Killers #2!

Killers #2 Cover A by JONBOY MEYERS
Killers #2 Cover A by JONBOY MEYERS
Killers #2 Cover B by SANFORD GREENE
Killers #2 Cover B by SANFORD GREENE
Killers #2 Cover C by FERNANDO DAGNINO
Killers #2 Cover C by FERNANDO DAGNINO
Killers #2 Cover D by JOHN K. SNYDER
Killers #2 Cover D by JOHN K. SNYDER III

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.

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