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Matchett’s Musings: Working at Grayhaven Part V

Matchett’s Musings

Working At GrayHaven Part 5:  You Are Not Alone In The Abyss

I spent 5 years with GrayHaven comics as a writer, editor and friend to the company.  In many ways I still consider myself the last of those things and I have many friends who still work with them.  I bother Andrew Goletz far too much on Facebook, speak to great friends and ridiculously talented people on a daily basis that I either met through GrayHaven or grew closer with through the company.  I also met people that I genuinely detest through my time there but I am very fortunate and grateful I met more good people than bad.

I’m not completely faultless, however.  I made mistakes and not just one or two.  I made a number of errors in judgment in ways I dealt with certain situations and dealing with people.  No one is perfect, least of all me.  However, the past is gone and it’s not coming back.  I hope in some ways the stories that I’ve told so far have been somewhat interesting as to my creative process but this article will be a little more educational.

This article will highlight two volumes that highlighted the best and worst of my GrayHaven experiences.  Ultimately I am very proud to have my name on both projects, they are both results of many hours of work that I think paid off in terms of output.  However, delivering a high quality book sadly isn’t the only mark of how successful a book is.

Before I get to them though, I realized there was one volume I forgot about last week.  So to prove that I am by no means perfect, I’m going to do a brief summary of the one GrayHaven story I did, that I honestly completely forgot about.

More than ever, let me stress that the following events I describe here are from my perspective only.  Other versions of events can and probably will vary.  I will do my best however to give you all the events as they happened.  Anyone who would like to offer a different perspective that either is similar to my own or differs from mine is invited to do so.

GrayHaven Presents: Sci-fi/Horror

So yes, this is the one I forgot about, although I’m not sure exactly why, as it is certainly memorable for several reasons.  The volume was a part of GrayHaven’s ‘Limitless’ line which was now looking to produce large, graphic novel sized anthologies which would even see some colour stories.  By and large, due to cost, GrayHaven rarely had done colour before (with one notable exception we’ll get to shortly) but these volumes had a healthy amount of stories with colour in them.

The first of these was ‘Sci-Fi/Horror’ which was taking GrayHaven’s most successful genre and adding in a large science fiction twist on top.  The volume featured a wonderful wraparound cover by longtime GrayHaven artist, Leo Gonzales who should be working on a big three book like 5 minutes ago.

When I was pitching my story, I had already delivered a few horror themed tales during my time with GrayHaven.  I wanted something this time that would really stand out though, something that would be genuinely creepy.  The first thing that hit me was an image of a man in a restaurant where all the people with him would be the same person.  It was an unsettling picture in my mind but I wondered how I could make it practical.  I literally built a whole story around this one image in my mind which is how the story that eventually became ‘REMWorld’ came to be.

Essentially REMWorld took place at a point in the future that (for an affordable price) you could customize your dreams.  Wanting to get away from it all for reasons that were outlined in the story, the main character chose this new fad to have a wonderful dreaming experience.  The trouble was that the tech started to malfunction and slowly but surely, the man’s subconscious turned the dream into a nightmare.  When I came up with the concept, I thought it was something really different that I could cram as much creepy stuff as I could think of in.  I could also use the advantage of the entire thing being a dream to give myself a certain freedom to do what I wanted and jump scene to scene with little or no explanation.  After all, what is a dream if nothing but random?

It was several months later when it was already printed when I realized the story bore some similarities to the movie Vanilla Sky, which in turn was adapted from the Spanish film ‘Open Your Eyes’.  I think however that REMWorld took the concept to a much darker place overall and I decided to never really let on about the similarity and hope no one noticed (until now, oops).

I thought the story turned out very well and it was really well illustrated by an artist named James Emmett.  I can’t honestly comment what it was like to work with James because I didn’t have any communication with him.  I wrote the story, I corrected the story after edits and poof it appeared.  Almost like magic.  I will say he did a great job and I hope to work with him more directly at some point soon!

The story also featured the debut of ‘Darma’, the virtual guide through REMWorld who took on a sinister personality as the story progressed.  I loved Darma, I really did and if I have my way, she’ll be back.

So that brings us to the main points of this article.  Sorry for the slight detour but now we’re about to dive in head first.  Abandon hope all thee who enter the Abyss.

Tales From The Abyss Vol. 1-4 (and maybe 5?)

It all seemed to be perfect, all the stars and the planets would align and all would be right with the world.  Like I mentioned above, horror was GrayHaven’s strongest seller and people wanted colour stories from us and existing creators wanted a shot at telling bigger and better stories.  When Andrew decided to start (at the time) the second spin off anthology to accompany the Gathering, a horror prestige anthology that would largely feature colour stories made the most sense.  We would even let people tell one story over multiple stories and we even had a top tier creator to tell such a tale over the books initial five volumes.

We had all the boxes checked, a big story for a pro lined up and more ongoing multi-anthology stories green lit from Erica J. Heflin and Inverse Comics super guru Kevin LaPorte.  It all seemed like it was going to go well.

Except it didn’t, it really didn’t.  Since I had edited the second and third volume of the horror books, I was the natural choice to take charge on this project too.  Since the workload was going to be nothing like none of us had ever attempted at the time before, I was joined in the editing chair by Erica J. Heflin.

Ultimately we produced four issues of the anthology that faced a multitude of delays, headaches and enough tales of woe to make anyone sit and wait for nurse to bring them their medication.  The first two volumes in my view, quality wise, were among GrayHaven’s best and they both overtook my long standing favorite of Vol. 6 as the best material GrayHaven had produced.  The third volume and fourth volumes were not quite as strong I felt but where of a really high quality I was very proud to be involved with.  I even had a story in Vol. 3 of Abyss which I’ll get it in a moment.

There was only one problem (on top of all the other problems the book faced).

No one cared.  We’d done everything right, we’d seen what people were buying, were requesting and had a pro on board and we gave it to them.  Still, no one cared and the four volumes of Tales From The Abyss which were produced were amongst GrayHaven’s lowest sellers.

Then there were the problems involved in actually getting the books out.  The book just seemed eternally cursed with problems that included but were not exclusive to the following

  • Writers being difficult
  • Artists being difficult
  • Writers not delivering scripts
  • Artists not delivering art
  • Writers refusing to change their stories for edits
  • Writers wanting their stories removed because they didn’t like another writer/artist in the same volume as them
  • Colourists being hard to come by, especially since GrayHaven were not paying talent at the time
  • Finding replacements stories/artists/colourists with sometimes not much time between the story needing to be done and the volume being printed

Of course, at the time anyone asked how things were going with the books, Erica and myself would smile and nod.  I wonder if we had perhaps pooled our efforts we put into trying to get this book chugging along that we would have accomplished something a lot easier, like say solving world hunger or curing the cold.

Honestly, it was just hellish trying to get the books out.  It seemed that the fruits of our labors were worth it because, like I said the volumes were great (by and large) and looked STUNNING but again…no one bought them.  Sales were so poor that when GrayHaven revamped their website earlier this year, the volumes were pulled from sale and Vol. 5 (to my knowledge) was never made available for purchase.

I often equate my time editing to like being in a room full of spinning plates.  My job was simple, don’t let the plates fall and I think I did that.  I think I was pretty good at that but the Abyss plates were like cutlery that fights back or cuts off your hands if you touch it.

I’m a big believer in cause and effect.  I think in retrospect that working on Abyss caused a domino effect that ultimately led to me leaving GrayHaven late last year.  Perhaps everything would have worked out the same but if Abyss had been handled by another editor, things may have been different.

I do hope that if you find a copy, you do buy it because the stories (by and large) are rather brilliant.  The talent that DID deliver and I COULD depend on, delivered in spades and did some of their best work.  It also featured the first pairing between me and my future Sparks collaborator, Kell Smith for a story that was in the 3rd Abyss issue.

I’ve complimented Kell a bunch but I can’t stress how much of a fan of her work I was by this point.  It was Erica’s idea to pair us together for the horror tale I wrote which was ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ and showed we had some creative charisma that would secure her place as part of team Sparks.

‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’, was something I conceived based on my absolute hatred of flying.  It’s not just not liking to fly (which I don’t) but it’s the overall experience of it.  Like I said in one of my earlier articles (available right here on Graphic Policy!!!!) I don’t like waiting.  Like at all.  To me, flying is just a constant state of waiting.

You wait to check in, you wait to get through security, you wait to get on the plane, you wait for the plane to take off, you wait on the plane, you wait to get off the plane, you wait for your luggage.  I just despise it and being a tall fellow, I get ridiculously uncomfortable when I fly.  I have often fantasized about being on my own on a plane but then kind of thought that would be rather horrible which is where ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ comes in.

I wrote a story featuring a man who woke up alone on board an empty plane.  I just poured all my hate of flying into the story and I think it was pretty creepy (even though Andrew and Erica kept calling it ‘Glenn’s Langoleers’, le sigh).  I think Kell did a wonderful job drawing the story and I think it stood proud among the usual high quality stories that Abyss delivered.

It was a shame that not many people got to read them.  It seems strange now that after all that effort to put out the books that they’re gone now.  All that time spent keeping those plates spinning I’ll never get back.  Still, I delivered what I thought were great comics and that was my job so I can hold my head high at least in that regards.

Sometimes though, there comes for a need for a comic where sales aren’t the primary force behind making them.  Sometimes you’re compelled to make a comic for something higher, something that sadly can emanate from tragedy.

You Are Not Alone Vol. 1 and 2

On December 14th 2012, America went through a great tragedy that is known as the ‘Sandy Hook elementary school shootings’.  I won’t the events of what occurred on that day because they are well known and you can find every opinion possible on the tragedy readily available online.

How it affected GrayHaven was down to how the tragedy affected our publisher, Andrew Goletz.  He felt compelled to do something in response to this heinous act and that is exactly where the concept of ‘You Are Not Alone’ came from.

The volume was going to be the biggest thing that the company had ever attempted.  It was going to be an anti-bullying oversized graphic novel that would help those that looked to help people that were treated differently because of their appearance, their race, their sexuality and other things that people can pray upon.  It also looked to help those that were dealing with issues that would perhaps lead to self harm or anorexia and who to call and/or contact in relation to these issues.

It was an extremely worthy project and one I was eager to be a part of.  I was heavily bullied when I was younger and wanted to help with the project that would hopefully help others get through similar experiences.  I wasn’t part of the initial ‘You Are Not Alone’ (or YANA as it became known) conceptual team but I was eager to offer any help I could.

Sadly, I was told that I wasn’t needed.  I’m sure Andrew wouldn’t mind me quoting him directly as he told me ‘I don’t think you’re a good enough editor’.

I was furious and I think that one sentence was another big contributor to me eventually leaving GrayHaven.  In retrospect I think I should have been more understanding and realizing that this was the most important thing that GrayHaven had ever done and it was much bigger than any of us.  I like to count Andrew as one of my closest friends and although we have had many, many arguments over the years about a number of subjects I don’t think he has ever done anything to intentionally hurt me.  Still at the time, I was angry and I just decided to pitch a story to the book in the hope that I could help someone with what I was allowed to contribute to the volume.

I wrote ‘00110001 (binary core for the number ‘one’) is the loneliest number’ which dealt with the very modern and real problem of Cyber Bullying.  I was tempted to tell a more personal take based on my own bullying experiences but I thought that there would be a lot of those types of stories.  I wanted to tackle an important issue that I didn’t think anyone else would think of (I was right).  I think I did a good job on the story and I asked previous collaborator, Paula Cob to do the art chores.  She did an exceptional job and I think the story hit all the beats that I intended it to.  In truth, You Are Not Alone is filled with many personal and harrowing tales that in truth nearly moved me to tears the first time I read it.  I think it truly lived up to its purpose and I was proud that my story was a small part of it.

There was a long gestation period for the project and eventually Andrew asked me to come on board and help get it out.  I can’t honestly remember what the problems were or how much work I did to help get the book out, all I remember is how I reacted.  I reacted like an utter ass who continually threw Andrew’s words about my ability as an editor back at him.

I did the job I was asked to do because I always did but looking back I should have just swallowed my pride and helped the volume (which again, was much bigger than me) get out but I decided to be difficult while doing it.

Eventually the book came out, it was a big hit and we heard a lot of stories from people who it helped.  We also got the most media coverage than I believe any other GrayHaven anthology and a follow up was soon seen as a necessity.

In a true 120, instead of not having me involved at all, Andrew gave me the responsibility of producing ‘You Are Not Alone 2’ all by myself.  Although it wasn’t quite as large as the first volume, the second one was due to be larger than any editor had delivered by themselves.

I was intimidated by this and knowing how important the project was, I wondered if I was capable.  Then, one of my fellow editors told me point blank that they didn’t think I could do it.  Like a bull that had seen a red flag, I swore that I would prove them wrong and worked my ass off to make sure the volume would be ready to go by September 2014.

Along with the other books I was looking after, I can honestly say that You Are Not Alone 2 took most of my attention.  I asked for help from as many artists and letterers that I could think of but never once did I contact another editor.  The gauntlet had been thrown down and I was going to deliver this volume over the finish line and I was going to do it by myself.

Which I did and I think I delivered a beautiful volume that featured great stories by a multitude of creators.  I was told to have it ready for production for September and I did that, only needing lettering done on a handful of stories but I had done everything else.  I had read through the hundreds of submissions, I had edited the stories, I had assigned artists, I had dealt with even more submissions once they reopened and I got as many stories lettered as I could without any budget.

In truth, I think the effort to put out You Are Not Alone 2 burned me out.  Other things happened after that, things were said about me and to me that along with everything else that had occured, caused me to leave GrayHaven.  It broke my heart because I had invested so much effort, time and finances into the company and I was now feeling I was no longer welcome.

Whether that was true or not, I’m not sure.  There are people I am still very close to there and there are those that after I left, decided to set fire to my virtual chair at the table and pretend I was never there at all.

On a final note, I want to talk about the story I wrote myself for YANA 2 which was called ‘Someone for Anyone’ that was wonderfully illustrated by Dan Laurer.  The story featured an old bear in a toy shop that was never paid attention to and was picked on by the more popular toys.  Finally, one day a little girl comes into the shop and takes him home.  I had long since been criticized by other editors for the amount of words I would use in a story and decided to tell this one without any words or captions.

I think the story met that challenge and Dan did a great job telling the story without one word of dialogue.  I had met Dan through chance when looking for an artist for a sc-fi ‘Alterna’ anthology where he delivered in spades on a story that I’m hoping sees the light of day very soon.

Dan has worked in the industry for years and is a great talent and I hope I am lucky enough to work with him again someday.

Still, I think it’s very ironic to look back at that bear, now my time at GrayHaven has come to an end.  It was a good toy but it still sat on a shelf, ridiculed by the other toys on a daily basis which caused it to feel undervalued and alone.

One day, the door opened and someone appreciated the bear for what it was.  I hope that one day, the door will open and someone will do the same for me.

Many thanks to Andrew Goletz for letting me do these articles and letting me say what I wished.  I’m sure I’ll be annoying him about something before you finish this.

Next:  The rise of Indie Comics

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

Matchett’s Musings: Working For GrayHaven Part II

Hey everyone!  Sorry about the delay, had some personal issues both comic and non-comic to deal with.  I’m back and will be posting from my regular Thursday (ish) from next week.  

Working At GrayHaven Part 2:  Bigger and Better (Part 1)

Welcome back to my memories of the stories I published with GrayHaven during my tenure with them both as writer and editor.  Last time we spoke about some of the early volumes I was involved with and some of the early lessons I learned as a creator and some lessons the company learned too.

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.

I won’t waste much time and take you right to where we left off last time with Vol. 7, which I actually wasn’t in…but I was meant to be.

Note:  This section is a lot larger than I anticipated so I have decided to split in half.

Hope you enjoy!

Vol. 7:  Dreams and Nightmares

I don’t really remember much of the submission criteria for this volume but I do remember the story I put forward.   The entire volume was themed with ‘Myth’, which again was a genre I hadn’t played in much and was eager to explore.  I remember really taking a long time coming up with the story that became ‘Until The End’.

The story featured two wizards named Garth and Rex (short for Rexmus) who represented the light and dark side of magic respectfully.  Starting off in modern times the six page story told a tale of them essentially fighting each other since medieval times.  It was a story I was really looking forward to seeing published and I was paired with a new artist to GrayHaven.  I don’t remember this artist’s full name now but I believe his first name was Robert, who upon initial communication was very eager to bring my warring wizard’s to life.

After the initial communication though, he stopped answering e-mails from me and the editor on the book.  He vanished from the face of the earth and by the time we realized he wasn’t going to draw the story, it was too late to find a replacement.  This was my first experience with an artist who had let me down and flash forwarding to today it is something I have come across far too often.

There was nothing that could be done.  There was some talk of turning the story into a webcomic but that never really came to fruition.  The story likely needs a lot of polishing from what I’ve learned in subsequent years (this story was written in 2011 and I would say I’ve grown quite significantly as a writer) but I would still like to see it come to life at some point.

It is true what they say, there is no such thing as a wasted idea and some of this story may even appear as apart of something else entirely down the road, who knows.

My disappointed was short lived however as I was about to begin my most prolific period as a writer for GrayHaven.  The company as a whole was getting bigger and better and it seemed that I was going to face the challenge to do the same creatively

Vol. 9:  Once Upon A Time

Like I’ve said many times before, growing up my biggest influences to me for the rest of my life were likely ‘Batman The Animated Series’ and a complete collection of Arthur Conan Doyle ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories.  I can likely link everything I have liked or been passionate about back to those two things in some fashion.  Another big influence growing up that I don’t talk about very often is the steady diet of Disney movies I enjoyed in my youth…and even until today.

I’m a big fan of animated films and it all started with Disney films like ‘Aladdin’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’.  I was really eager to participate in a volume based around Fairy Tales such as Vol. 9 of the Gathering was.  The only stipulation this time was that all stories had to have some moral undertone or ‘lesson’ for readers, just like all good fairy tales do.

I quickly came up with a story where the moral would be ‘always listen to your elders’ and would feature a cast of talking dragons.  I found it hard at the time to think of many fairy tales to feature dragons as protagonists and thought it would be something a really talented artist could sink their teeth into.  Essentially the story revolves around an older dragon telling a younger generation about a volcano where the most dangerous dragon of them all resides.  The young dragons are told to stay away but of course, one of them decides to check out the legend for himself and comes across the dangerous creature first hand.

Upon reflection it’s a pretty simple, straightforward story that really benefits from the art of Paula Cob who I worked with on this story and a few subsequent others.  Paula is a very talented artist whose work I adored when I first saw it in ‘Vol. 3: Heroes’.  She had worked primarily to date with a writer who also happened to be her husband in Ignacio Segura but I was eager to see if she would lend her manga style art to my little fairy tale.

Fortunately for me, she said yes and I’ve had the pleasure of working with Paula on a number of occasions.  I’m still a big fan of her work and find it sad that she doesn’t participate in GrayHaven stories as much as she used to due to her and Ignacio working on a personal project.  Her art style gave my story the scale it needed and I think added a lot to my fairly straightforward tale of doing what you’re told.

I also edited the book but don’t have many memories of it.  This likely means it all ran fairly smoothly which is always something to be celebrated.

Vol. 10:  The Unbelievable Arthur Richmond Is One Smart Cookie

Previously known as ‘the adventure’ volume I believe Vol. 10 is something that to this day sends editor James O’Callaghan into traumatic flashbacks.

A little background about Vol. 10, which began like any other Gathering volume and had people submit stories with a different take on the ‘adventure’ theme.  The trouble was that the amounts of submissions were low so it was decided that the interested parties would take their individual stories and combine them.

The new main story would feature a character called ‘Arthur Richmond’ who would serve as our Indiana Jones style protagonist.  It was up to our editor to figure out how all our individual stories would figure into a larger hole.  For that task, I cannot give but the highest praise to James who took several different stories (including one that had talking birds) and somehow made it work.  I would say he made it work more than any of the rest of us on the editorial staff would have in any case.

My section basically served at the books epilogue where we would discover that the entire tale was one told by an aged Arthur to a pair of young men in an adventurers club.  Of course they don’t believe his story of talking birds and magical cookies (you had to be there) so Arthur goes home, clearly dejected.  The closing scene has him go down in his home to a sizable trophy room, where indeed we discover his stories were all true.

It wasn’t conventional but it somehow did work.  I was proud to be a part of it and thought my epilogue gave it a suitable note to end on.  On this story I was fortunate to work with artist Sam Tung, who was an early GrayHaven fan favorite.   He only worked on a handful of GrayHaven projects before going on to do some production work for Iron Man 3 and GI Joe 2.  Apart from my misfortune regarding my Vol. 7 story, my extremely good fortune with artists seemed to continue.

Volume 11: Silver Age

This volume was a big passion project for GrayHaven publisher, Andrew Goletz.  He wanted to do a volume that would harken back to the classic ‘silver age’ of comics where Marvel where just coming into the eye of the public and comic took themselves a little less seriously.

I was initially tempted to bring back my inept hero from Vol. 3 ‘Commander Cosmo’ when submitting for this volume but it wasn’t an idea Andrew was in favour of.  He wanted to avoid stories that connected to each other as he did not want customers to feel pressured into buying several volumes in order to get a complete story.

Understanding and agreeing with his logic, I decided to do a story revolving around time travel.  I love time travel as a storytelling device and if you meet me for more than five minutes, I would say you’ll soon learn that.  I also decided that I would have a female protagonist as that was something I had yet to do in any of my stories to date.  Regular readers of these articles will know that I feel very passionate about the portrayal of female characters and having more of them in comics, so with that in mind I created Lucy Letwood.

Having stole a time band that her father invented, Lucy was a young woman who finally found herself LOST IN TIME!!!!  I basically wrote this story with a big stupid grin on my face and tried to have as many silver age callbacks as I could cram in.  I was especially proud of having the classic Stan Lee moment where a character would point out that something was crashing through a wall even though we could clearly see it.

It was drawn by an artist named George Amaru who has become something of a GrayHaven staple and is one of my favorite artists to work with.  Not only is George a really nice guy but he is extremely talented.  He gave the story the exact tone it needed and made my silver age multi panel pages work flawlessly.  I’ve worked with George a couple of times since, even tasking him with a Living With Death short ‘The Reporter’ which I released on the comics Facebook fanpage a number of months ago.  I’ve been wanting to work with George on something long term for years but at that time, it wasn’t possible.  These days he is a very busy guy working for GrayHaven, Bluewater and Inverse press on a variety of projects.  When his schedule clears up, I hope to work with George on something long term.

I brought Lucy back in a future volume and would love to tell more of her story at some point.  It was really with this story that I started to get more attached to the characters I was creating.  I didn’t just want them to be there and then gone forever, I saw life in them beyond the stories.

This was when I really wanted to creating larger stories starring some of the Gathering featured characters.  I knew that would have its own problems however.

Next:  More characters I didn’t want to say goodbye to, ghosts that aren’t ghosts and the final Gathering stories.

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

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