Working At GrayHaven Part 1: Learning to Walk and Talk
I spent five years with small press publisher, GrayHaven Comics. It wasn’t always easy or pleasant but I loved it. In some ways my heart is still there and my path might lead me back there someday but for now, I have a lot of good memories.
It all started as just something to do for fun that GrayHaven publisher and owner Andrew Goletz suggested on a whim. It has since become so much more and I like to think I played some small part in that. Over the next few weeks I’d like to talk about some of the anthology stories I wrote for GrayHaven. I want to talk about how I came up with the stories, who I worked with, some stuff I learned and some things the company had to deal with that made it better.
It isn’t always pretty but I hope people will find it informative and interesting none the less. I’ll only be talking about the anthologies I wrote stories for here and most of my information is based on my own perspective. Other perspectives may vary.
Thanks to Andrew for some info and his blessing to do this!
Vol. 1: The Thing With Feathers
If Andrew had been physically been in a room with us when he asked who was interested in doing the first anthology that became ‘The Gathering’, I would have shot my hand up immediately. I’d wanted to work in comics for a few years at that point but I had no clue how to start. I’d done a few web comics but nothing substantial and this just seemed like a good place to start.
When he found that people were interested and he found a number of talented artists to help out. He came up with the theme ‘Hope’ because it reflected the feeling a lot of us had going into the volume. The majority of us wanted to pursue a career in comics and the theme of the first volume perfectly reflected our optimism and dreams going in.
When I was trying to come up with my story, I thought I’d wait to see who I was paired with before really making a start. I’ll be honest, nothing was hitting me initially and I thought perhaps after seeing what type of artist I was working with would get the creative juices going.
I was extremely fortunate to be paired with Brent Peeples, who after checking out his work seemed as if I could tell him to draw the phone book and he’d make it look amazing sent me back to the drawing board on crafting a story. I don’t remember much about the initial script and I don’t seem to have it on my computer. I think I didn’t really give Brent many details beyond the outline when I did come up with the idea.
Throughout my writing for GrayHaven anthologies it wasn’t just enough to write a good type of story. After editing a number of volumes, I know that coming up with a story isn’t enough sometimes. You have to sometimes come up with a concept that also stands out a little, something that is good and unique that no one else will come up with. It’s a tough one to try and balance.
So I opted to go for something completely outside the wheelhouse and do a story about a post-apocalyptic world decimated by aliens. Because why not?
Essentially I wanted to have a father scourging supplies for his wife who was giving birth. We’d learn a little about the world, see some creepy images of the world and I was very keen to not actually see the aliens responsible. I thought it would give the whole story a creepy undertone which Brent of course knocked out of the park.
I was so proud to actually have a story in a real printed comic. Getting the first volume in my hands is a feeling I won’t soon forget and seeing my name on the back (a feature in early volumes of the Gathering that I miss) is something that still makes me smile. Looking back, I know the quality of Brent’s art carries the story.
It is overwritten, over soppy and has more post-apocalyptic cliché’s than you can count. The story pales in comparison to the ones written by other long-time GrayHaven staples like Ray Goldfield, Doug Hahner and Jason Snyder. The story itself did get some praise from comic pro Gail Simone but when I read it, I can’t help but despair. The biggest problem the story has is the lettering. Likely because I had written too much for the two pages I had, the lettering was contained all in caption boxes. This made it difficult to tell who was speaking when and it seemed the letterer took it upon themselves to change the final line that is so cheesy it makes me want to vomit out my window.
There are still some elements of the story I like though. It was a world I revisited briefly with future collaborator Paula Cob in the short lived web comic ‘After The Gathering’ and some part of me wants to go back to it. Since then though, shows like Falling Skies have explored similar themes and the story is perhaps too dusty now to go back to. It holds a special place for me though as my first printed work and was a place where I learned a lot of lessons as a writer.
While I obsessed over every word I chose, Brent only returned to GrayHaven once briefly for the first ‘You Are Not Alone’ volume. I remember approaching him shortly after the Gathering Vol. 1 was printed, asking if he was interested in expanding the world we had created. He gave me a very polite no before going on to much bigger and better things with companies like Image and Dynamite. I hope our paths cross again someday creatively.
The book itself was a big success and despite those awkward first steps some of the creators had, there was a lot of heart and passion in the book. There were some great talent still contained in the book and it sold well enough to warrant a sequel. The company still carries on but there was something really special about that first book I was flattered to be a part of.
Vol. 3: Heroes
Ah Heroes, one of our best volumes in terms of quality and due to many mistakes was one of GrayHaven’s worst sellers.
A little background on that, before I get going. I contacted Andrew about speaking about Vol. 3 and asked him how blunt I could be. He responded with a list of mistakes and the following quote ‘I have vivid recollections of that disaster.’
Now don’t get me wrong, the book itself is great. I would still rank it one of the company’s best but the problem was that no one bought it. The first problem (which I had forgotten about but Andrew kindly reminded me) was that ‘Heroes’ was supposed to be two volumes. It was supposed to be one volume that would deal with real life heroes along the lines of police, firefighters, etc and a second volume that would deal with the more fantastical comic book heroes.
We knew the latter would be a risk, outside of Marvel and DC it is difficult to get a super hero book to sell. The market is coming down with super heroes and the consumer we were trying (and had) appealed to would likely not be interested if we made a book involving super heroes. Sadly, neither got enough of one type of pitch for their own full book so Andrew combined both into one book.
Former GrayHaven art director and art guru Aaron Bir, delivered an amazing cover but it was very much further conveying that this was a book about super heroes…when it wasn’t really. In fact, Vol. 3 contained only a number of super hero stories by really talented writers who offered the stories in that genre with a bit of a twist. Still even though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, people did and a comic called ‘Heroes’ with a super hero centric cover did nothing to help it sell. There have been many talks over the years of getting another artist to redraw the cover and rerelease the volume but that never quite came to fruition.
The final mistake, Andrew revealed to me was that he ordered a lot more of the book than Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 given that both of them had sold well. Having a big, expensive volume that was geared at the wrong audience with a huge amount of copies was a recipe of disaster. It pretty much killed any possibility of other super hero orientated stories when we did get more of an audience which shows you how much of an impact it had on the company’s future decisions.
Of course, all this is great in reflection and when coming up with a story I didn’t know what the future would hold for ‘Heroes’, I just wanted to tell a different story. Since my first story had been quite dark (and wordy) I thought I would go for something more light hearted. I’ve heard over and over that writing good comedy that actually makes people laugh is the hardest thing to do creatively. I took this as a challenge and thought ‘well if I can make people laugh I can do anything!’
So I created the super hero Commander Cosmo, who essentially was Superman but a complete idiot. In ‘My Day With Commander Cosmo’ the intellectually challenged hero would land in the front yard of his biggest fan where he would basically hang around. In true ‘you should never meet your idols’ fashion the kid would soon get sick of Cosmo and soon remove him from his home. Sadly for the boy, his mother had a new boyfriend who turned out to be the secret identity of Cosmo himself.
The story hit really well and Cosmo became something of a GrayHaven favorite. I love writing the big goofball and have brought him back in parody web comics, other strips and he even was on the cover for GrayHaven’s ‘Hey Kids: Sunday Funnies’ volume.
On my part, the story is a bit slow to get going but it really was brought to life by artist Nathan Lee James. His animated style and perfect comedic timing brought an extra layer to the story and once again, I found myself very fortunate to work with someone very talented. He’s even been gracious enough to return for most of Cosmo’s subsequent appearances.
One thing in this story that Nathan did which wasn’t in the script, is one of my favorite things in any story I’ve done.
It turns out that Cosmo lands in the front yard after flying into a lamppost because he was too distracted by a *ahem* men’s magazine. What Nathan included in the background of the initial few pages is the bent lamppost which foreshadows the eventual reveal that it was Cosmo who flew into it. When I first spotted it, I laughed and thought it was something so small yet so brilliant, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.
Whether it’s with GrayHaven or not, I hope that Commander Cosmo will someday return but I think it’s safe to say that we shouldn’t hold our breath for ‘Heroes 2’.
Vol. 6: Further Into The Abyss
The fourth GrayHaven volume was the first horror volume and was a big hit so we quickly did another one. People seemed to love horror and because of that we’ve done four books under the banner as well as some similar themes and even made a book especially for it.
The tale of said spin off book ‘Tales From The Abyss’ is quite the horror story in itself but that of course, was all ahead of me. The second volume was also the first one I was involved in editorially. Not very heavily but this is the book I learned the ropes on until editing a book on my lonesome with ‘Vol. 8: The Fifth Dimension.’ It was also my favorite GrayHaven book for quite some time. Everyone just knocked it out of the park on this one and it contains a story I wrote that I got quite a few good reviews on.
‘The Station’ originated as a prose novel which to this day sits on my hard drive begging for my attention. Essentially it features a crew going to check in on a space station that hasn’t sent any communication for a number of days. It turned out that the space station crew had discovered a special space rock that essentially turned them into monsters.
Every space horror is in danger of ripping off the brilliant Ridley Scott ‘Alien’ and mine was no exception. The novel I had written really delved into the crew dealing with monsters but in the walls of the station and within themselves. When I adapted it into a five page story a lot of that was lost obviously but it still made for a good story. It got a number of shout outs from a few sites that reviewed it, even ahead of one written by former Supergirl writer, Sterling Gates.
Even though it works pretty damn well as its own five page story, I did contemplate writing a pitch for ‘the Dark’ anthologies that GrayHaven would publish down the road that would essentially be a prequel to this one. I liked to build on universes I had created, even though generally GrayHaven didn’t really like follow on stories. I think it’s probably best that this story stayed as a one off though.
It was however, the first appearance of the MaX corporation who I tried to cram into every story I wrote afterwards. Go over all the stories I wrote and the logo will be there somewhere, I’ll wait.
The story was brilliantly illustrated by David Aspmo who brought exactly the right mood and tone the story needed. He only appeared one other time for GrayHaven following this and I hope another company is putting his considerable talent to good use.
Vol. 7: Dreams and Nightmares
Two volumes in a row! Go me! I was really thrilled to be a part of this volume because…hey wait.
I’m not in this volume.
I was supposed to be though…the story which I’ll go into more, next week.
Next: Wizards, Time Travel, Cowgirls and ghost stories that don’t feature ghosts.
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett