Working At GrayHaven Part 4: And the rest
During my tenure at GrayHaven there was a lot of evolution and expansion, especially considering the fact that we were smaller than small press. Our publisher and leader, Andrew Goletz was a fearless man who wanted to make comics that in some way would not only help build the companies profile but also create the comics he thought should be made.
These is why GrayHaven released books that were outside the Gathering, books that we wanted to make and could make because there was no one around to tell us we couldn’t. Isn’t that the main appeal after all of indie comics? It may not work out of course but there was no one to tell us we couldn’t try.
These are the tales of those volumes that I penned stories for. I’m not sure if there as chronologically correct as my previous GrayHaven related articles but I’ll do my best.
Once again this only deals with volumes I was involved with as a writer and is from my own perspective. Other versions of events may vary, I can only tell you what happened from my perspective
The Dark Vol. 1
The line of comics that would eventually become known collectively under the banner of ‘Limitless’ was, the brainchild of Andrew and one of GrayHaven’s founding editors, James O’Callaghan. It was basically going to be GrayHaven’s answer to DC’s ‘Vertigo’ line of books where creators could craft ‘darker’, more adult stories. We very much wanted to keep the Gathering as ‘all ages’ as possible so it was logical for us to create a line of books specifically targeted towards an older audience.
My story in this volume was adapted from a short story I had submitted on a contest the Bendis Board ran back in 2006 or so. I believe the contest was called ‘the horror story meltdown’ or something like that. The interest in the contest was low and there were only 3 submissions (including mine) so it was basically declared a 3 way draw. The story was called ‘In Treatment’ and featured a physiatrist having a session with a seemingly very violent and homicidal patient. When I was writing it, I took inspiration from ‘horror tales with a twist’ that were frequent staples of shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and such. Basically, at the end of the story it is revealed the psychiatrist is in fact the murderer and she has kidnapped her therapist and is sedating him while torturing him with sessions like the story outlines.
When I wrote my previous article, I talked a lot about how comics can be used like no other medium to ‘mislead’ the reader. I tried to do that here but I don’t feel I quite pulled it off with the same success I did in ‘The Saloon’. In truth, I believe that this story was the worst one I produced during my time at GrayHaven (opinions on that one may vary).
The main problem the story had was the amount of words in it. I just CRAMMED the story full of words that didn’t allow the art to do its job. Keeping dialogue under control has never been my strong suit (I have gotten noticeably better, I think. Still working on it.) I wish I could take a second shot at the story sometime, I think with all I’ve learned in the time since I wrote it, that it would come out significantly better.
I worked on this story with Arcadio Bolanos who was an early GrayHaven workhorse. Sometimes, Arcadio would illustrate 2 or 3 stories per anthology in the early volumes and was a big help to the company. I actually think his work on ‘In Treatment’ was among his strongest but the story overall is among my worst. I’m not sure what he’s up to these days, knowing Arcadio I’m sure he is drawing something somewhere.
After a period of time, the Limitless line was overhauled and driven by fellow GrayHaven editors, James O’Callaghan and Erica J. Heflin. One of the main things they wanted to do with this line of GrayHaven books was produce prestige anthologies that had darker themes and fancy things like colour.
The first that Erica wanted to do was ‘The Archives’ which was based on history (either famous history or personal history) and she invited the GrayHaven editorial staff at the time to participate. I believe at the time her logic was reaching out to people she knew would deliver while we tested out to see if this format would work for us or not.
With all of history available to me, I felt a bit spoiled for choice. My first instinct was to do a story relating to the Kennedy Assassination (a subject I am fascinated endlessly by). I then became torn because I also felt like I should do a story involving the Titanic. Being from Belfast, where the Titanic was constructed and given that it was the 100 year anniversary since the ships doomed voyage, I felt obliged to do a story on it.
The concept stuck with me, so I wrote a story about the Titanic leaving Belfast and its final night, using Thomas Andrews (also from Belfast) as my central focus of the story. I think I crafted a great story which was wonderfully illustrated by Fabio Jansen. The story included a jaw dropping double page splash page of the ship in dock that may be some of the best art in any story I’ve ever written. I believe that Fabio is currently working on a new Inverse project as of this typing.
This was a story I was very proud of and the volume overall was very strong. I still perhaps need to get around to tell that Kennedy story that was kicking around in my head however…
This was another attempt from GrayHaven to produce a comic that had told one story featuring various different writers and artists. In many ways, I believe you could almost count it among one of GrayHaven’s first one shots. It was a murder mystery with a quirky twist that was primarily the brainchild of one of GrayHaven’s earlier unconventional writers in Sasha Makarewicz.
The story featured a killer that used his victims to make ‘sand angels’ and featuring a protagonist in the style of Dale Cooper by way of Neil Gaiman. The other writers (including me) were given the first few pages of the story, the overall outline of the story and a specific scene to write. I was tasked with writing a scene where the protagonist (whose name escapes me) would be questioning the parents of the victim.
I felt I wrote a decent scene and it had some cool stuff I decided to throw in like making a splash page featuring dozens of pictures of the victim formed like mini panels. I like trying to come up with unusual panel layouts or unconventional ways of telling the story because that takes (to me) as much skill as forming the words on the page.
The segment of the story I wrote also featured a line of dialogue I was particularly proud of. Essentially the protagonist felt that because he was exploring the latest victims death and absorbing every aspect of her life, he felt he knew her better than even her parents. The story overall was very non-linear and I felt had an ending that I’m still trying to fathom but was an interesting experiment I was happy to partake in.
The artist who worked on my segment was Gary O’Donnell who is a fellow Irishman. I didn’t have much direct contact with him on the story and he did a few other projects with GrayHaven. Last I spoke to him, I believe he was still on the small press scene looking for work.
Hey Kids: Fairy Tales
At GrayHaven it was felt that there aren’t a lot of comics for a younger market. By and large, comics are usually for older readers with little to no effort put towards getting kids to pick up books. So we decided to do it ourselves, with a mix of success. There was a lot of debate during the short lived (as of this typing) ‘Hey Kids’ line about what was or was not appropriate for kids. For the volumes I contributed to, I very much tried to go along the lines of Disney or Pixar. I wasn’t looking to talk down to any of my potential readers, I wanted to write stories that not only younger readers could enjoy, but anyone could.
The first ‘Hey Kids’ volume was a follow up to the Gathering’s Fairy Tale issue which had been met with some success. For this volume, I crafted a traditional fairy tale with a twist that I was very proud of. In ‘My Darling Hero’, I told a story of a girl who was told by her mother since a young age that the only good way to meet a man was to get herself kidnapped by a brutish monster!
It was very much a tongue-in-cheek tale that sort of turned traditional fairy tale stereotypes on their head, much like Disney’s ‘Enchanted’ or ‘Frozen’ did. It relied a lot on visual gags that I felt were effectively pulled off by artist, Devon Taylor.
Since his debut in the first fairy tale volume, I fell in love with Devon’s work. He had a magnificent, highly professional style that I was desperate to apply to a story I wrote. Poor Devon was likely tortured by my over eagerness but I honestly couldn’t help myself. As I suspected he would, he knocked it out of the park on the story. It’s one of my favorites I ever did for GrayHaven.
I think Devon only did a handful of GrayHaven stories, so I was very lucky to have him. He was long appointed as the artist of a comic the company was released called ‘Tomorrow’ (the status of which I am unsure of) but I hope someone has snatched him up. If not, I would honestly work with him again any day of the week.
Hey Kids: Superheroes
Another superhero volume after our non-superhero book that everyone thought was a superhero book didn’t perform well in Vol. 3 was always a puzzling decision to me. Still, at this point I wasn’t involved much in any decision making and since I love superheroes, I looked to contribute a story.
Going again with a slightly unconventional slant, I introduced a rather ineffective group of super villains who look to induct their leaders son into the way of all things evil and such. The majority of my GrayHaven stories had taken on a darker tone and I loved writing humour so this story (along with ‘My Darling Hero’) let me do just that.
I think this is another story that was restricted by the space I had and was probably too big an idea to cram in to so few pages. Still, I heard quite a few positive things regarding this story and a lot of people said it made them laugh so…who am I to argue? I would love to bring these villains back in some fashion (there’s me not wanting to let go of characters again). Who knows what the future might bring for these characters and all the other ones who I’d like to see more of.
Longtime GrayHaven artist, Nick Francis was my partner on this tale and he did a lot of fun character designs for my cast of villains. Although a relative latecomer to GrayHaven, Nick did a lot of stories with us and was the penciler for one of the many ill fated ‘Phase 2’ books ’11.59’ which was written by publisher, Andrew Goletz and was bloody good. I can’t be accused of sucking up either because I left like 5 months ago or so, it really was bloody good.
I believe Nick found himself paying work with another publisher so keep an eye out for his name!
Hey Kids: Sunday Funnies
The idea of this book was to do one page, ‘newspaper’ strip style tales in the style of such classics as ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Calvin & Hobbes’. This book had a lot of production issues sadly and a lot of drop offs that led me to having not one story but two.
The first was ‘Coltard The Conqueror’, which was a one page light hearted story starring a Dark Vaderish evil space lord in a day in his life. I basically went ‘Saturday morning cartoon villain’ and went all the way to the end goal with this one. I had a lot of fun writing it and it all came from when I met someone called ‘Colton’ and called them ‘Coltard’ by mistake. I thought ‘Coltard’ sounded like the name of an angry villain and the rest, as they say, is history.
I have yet to see this story or recall who drew it sadly. I’m waiting on my copy of ‘Sunday Funnies’ and let you all know how this one turned out, if anyone out there read it and enjoyed it, let me know!
The second story, featured a meta tale bringing back my haphazard hero from ‘Vol. 3’ of the Gathering, Commander Cosmo. I was luckily enough to be teamed again with Nathan Lee James on this story and I had a blast bringing the character back with him. I was even more pleased (and pleasantly amazed) to find that Cosmo featured on the cover which I really was touched to see.
At this stage, I was starting to see the ‘exit’ sign burn brighter and brighter with ‘GrayHaven’ and I wrote this story with that in mind. I told a story that I felt was funny and ignored nearly every rule that had been drilled into me by various GrayHaven editors over recent times. I thought the story turned out pretty good (Nathan was kind enough to send it to me) and I hope that somehow, somewhere that Cosmo will live again.
I had some good stories over these volumes. Largely they were quick hits to keep my writing muscles going while editing was becoming more and more of a priority.
Still, I haven’t even begun to mention the two GrayHaven volumes that would represent my best and worst experiences with the company.
Next: You Are Not Alone In The Abyss (Except you kind of are)
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