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Festival poster by Tim Lane
Whitney Taylor continues to be my favorite investigative comics journalist—well, maybe investigative is too strong a word, but if “talking to a lot of people and painting a picture” is the criterion, Whit is it, as her report on Comic Arts Brooklyn shows. This was a strong show but one that experienced an unexpected glitch: a lot of people thought it was a two day show and didn’t come to the exhibits on Saturday. This resulted in a smaller crowd and, for some, lower sales. On the day there was a lot of anxiety—it’s like basing your business plan on Christmas sales and then there’s a big blizzard the day of the big sale—but everyone seems to have survived intact.
And yet, is a financial model this precarious one that is “sustainable”? I predict sustainable will be THE word of 2015, as a the last few days of posts here have been exploring. Taylor talks about the model with many publishers and creators and key behind the scenes people like publishing rep Tony Shenton, and while everyone is optimistic, there is no real consensus on whether things are working, improving or just providing a false illusion of hope:
Sustainability is a word that I hear floating around the small-press comics world. This is an industry people choose to get into primarily because they love the medium of comics, not because of the money, but that doesn’t mean that financial concerns aren’t real, albeit complicated and often frustrating. “Art and commerce is always a troubled combination,” says Fowler. “It’s a contradiction. I’m an idealist, and I like to see artists making work apart from considerations of the marketplace, but I’m involved in a commercial enterprise related to the sale of artwork. These issues are larger than comics, but they’re predicated by living under the dominant economic model of capitalism. Artists shouldn’t think about commerce when they’re making work, but in America people vote with their pocketbooks, and it feels good when a stranger gives you money for your art. It’s important.”
The piece is full of great pull quotes, like Kevin Czapiewski:
Czapiewski also emphasized the dynamic nature of the industry. “I get the sense that the landscape is the middle of a transition, like our ideas about comics shows are evolving, largely in response to this question of whether or not they can be sustainable. I’m optimistic,” he says. “That said, I have to recognize that even my role models need to supplement their publishing operations with one or more other sources of income. We may not be able to completely sustain ourselves on selling comics, but maybe there are ways to make money from the infrastructure of comics, like printing and distribution (those webcomics guys were trying to make a business as Kickstarter campaign consultants… did that go anywhere?). Also, it may sound counter-intuitive, but I feel like the continuing diversification of the playing field, with more and more different people making and selling comics, is a good thing overall.”
After a lengthy hiatus, the creative team behind Image Comics’ EGOs is back in action and ready to serve up more interplanetary crime drama with their upcoming fifth issue. Writer Stuart Moore and artist Gus Storms were kind enough to take some time to chat with the Beat about their series, in addition to humoring some ill-fated Beyoncé puns.
Comics Beat: So let’s start with the basics. Give us the gist of what’s going on in EGOs for new readers.
Stuart Moore: EGOs is basically about a superhero team in the far future, but what’s it’s really about is a marriage between two of the founding members. They’ve been together a long time, and they’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and it’s kind of a show business marriage because they’re both stars in a way. Deuce, the leader, is a former pretty boy who now uses a thing called an “imager” to make his face look younger than it is whenever he’s on camera. Pixel was very young when she joined the team, and she’s become her own brand and has sponsors and products and stuff like that. So they both basically have their own lives. In the course of the first storyline which is collected in the first trade, Quintessence, Deuce decides to re-form the team. Mostly because of a huge threat to galactic peace, but also because he wants to be relevant again and he kind of feels Pixel slipping away from him, and thinks this could be a way to bring them together again.
CB: And what will be going on in the forthcoming issues?
SM: So having set all that up, in this arc we’re setting up a big galactic conspiracy – a sort of invisible threat to the entire galactic economy. And in the course of investigating that, what happens is we meet a lot of new characters, and it becomes a bit of a mystery. Some combination of these characters are behind this gigantic plot, and it’s up to the two EGOs teams on two different planets to unravel and solve this mystery. So what we’re doing with the two main characters, Deuce and Pixel, they were together in the first story, but now they are completely apart. Deuce is involved in the core of the conspiracy on Earth, while Pixel is leading a stealth team on the remote, lawless planet of Tortuga with a subset of the team. So they’re off in two different places. It’s kind of weird because their relationship is still the heart of the story, it runs through every page of the book, but we’re really seeing them do their jobs here, and we’re seeing them do it separately. So it’s this weird mix of superhero and science fiction and in this story, crime drama.
CB: There’s quite a time gap between the release of the last issue and the date for the upcoming fifth issue. What caused the extended break?
SM: Well, I needed time to rethink the thing. Gus isn’t quite a monthly comics artist, he needs more than a month to do a book. And it ended up being a little longer than we planned because the two of us are doing a two part story for DC as part of their Convergence storyline. So that wound up delaying our return a little bit. But it should work out nicely since Convergence will come out during the middle of this EGOs run, so hopefully people will notice the two things together.
CB: Is there anything different about how you’re approaching the making of the book this time around?
SM: The biggest difference for me is that it’s a much longer, more extended storyline. I had to plot it out in great detail. The first part is sort of a teaser, issue six is almost a little self-contained story within the story, and then it’s full-barrel to the end with a lot of twists and turns for the next three issues.
Gus Storms: I had fun with the art – it’s totally more terrestrial. It’s more location based and there’s nothing I love more than drawing location, as in the people in it and world-building. So I didn’t approach it differently, I just think that art-wise it’s more in my bailiwick and my natural inclinations.
SM: I actually had Gus in mind for Tortuga, which is a former prison planet that’s now sort of a lawless trading world. A lot of the long-time inhabitants are missing limbs and have artificial limbs and I thought that was just right for Gus. “Shankers” are a mass produced sort of artificial limb, and they’re a very important element to the story, as in who has them and what they’re used for.
CB: So does a lot of research go into the writing for this, science and space-wise?
SM: Well, I try and make it a little more plausible than a lot of comics! I have sort of a background in science fiction, and my father was a nuclear physicist, so I don’t come from that side of the family at all. I don’t understand any of that stuff, but I like bashing my head against it every once in awhile. So I try to keep current, but at the same time I’ve written stuff much more hardcore sci-fi than this. This is at core a superhero story with a science background, and when you get down to people’s powers… there is only so plausible it gets. In terms of the story-telling approach, I want to work as drama first, and then make it as plausible as possible, rather than the other way around.
GS: And this one is more cyber-punk than space opera. The first one is really sort of a more space opera, and this one is dystopia noir.
SM: That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about it as cyber-punk, but it probably seems that way because of the noir influence. There’s a pretty hard edge to issue six when you meet some of the suriviors of the Crunch War. One of the new characters, the Commander, fought it in. What that war did to these people, and these planets, is a crucial part in where the story is going. I’m very fond of an old subset of noir that focuses on damaged WWII veterans and the crimes they committed, and it was something people were writing a lot about in the 1950’s and that influenced this story as well, but in a more futuristic context.
CB: So in to your first collected trade, you had an essay on why you took on the mantle of writer/editor and how Gus is also sort of an artist/editor. Are you sticking to those titles this time around?
SM: So what I said, for those who haven’t read it, is that I very purposefully gave myself the title of writer/editor on this book, which I got some criticism for, and I expected. But I did it for a couple of reasons. One was there are projects I do where I need an outside editor, I could absolutely not do without one, and then there’s EGOs where I pretty much know where I’m going. Gus backstops me, he’s absolutely invaluable in story matters, and so does Marie Javins who has been our co-publisher and co-editor all along. But I don’t really need a traditional editor on this book. I’ve been a comics editor myself, I’ve edited a lot of books, so I pretty much know what I’m doing. More than that, it was almost a little tribute to the fact that in the 1970’s and 80’s when I start really reading comics, a lot of people had that title, and a lot of the best comics published were under that title. Howard the Duck, Firestorm, Conan, even things like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four were done that way for awhile. It fell out of favor partly because most of the major companies don’t work that way anymore, but it’s kind of my way of showing that this can still be a valid way to work on the right project.
GS: We don’t have a lot of continuity stuff to manage, which is a big part of the Big Two editorship. I think [Moore] needs an enforcer, you need someone to hassle the artist more.
CB: So let’s talk about the art. It’s been great seeing it develop across issues and tighten up to where it’s at now. It seems like you draw a lot of inspiration from French comics and the like, so did you have anything in mind when you started creating these designs?
GS: The process of the artist is just trying to shore up your deficiencies. So I’m just trying to occlude my poor drawing as much as possible. As far as inspiration… definitely a lot of the European guys. I like static shots. Not a huge fan of the forced perspective, sort of fish-eye lens type comics bombast you see in American mainstream. Lifetime Moebius devotee, and Darrow and Quitely. I always have trouble with people – with drawing handsome and attractive people. I find them way less interesting than the weird, grotesque side characters. Part of the evolution of EGOs art wise is that EGOs started as my first all-digital thing, working on the Cintiq, and there’s a big learning curve there. The most recent book has a lot of zipitone, and you can just sort of throw it on willy-nilly, so that’s sort of a different look. I like in particular the bar scenes. I would just draw weird back-water bars all day if I could.
SM: When I plotted out the first storyline, Gus wasn’t onboard yet, but I had him much more in mind on this arc.
GS: I found a lot of difficulties in the first one, there was just so much “people floating in space.” I had a hard time making that interesting. And some people can do it so well, like aerial fights. I had to figure out how to do it.
CB: Tell me a little about what it’s like to design such unique characters. Masse, for example, seems like he would have been very difficult to take from concept to execution.
GS: Yeah, that was maybe the most design discussion we had. I had originally wanted to make him more ambulatory – give him sort of malformed arms or something. But I think Stuart guided us in the right direction with that. He was a lot of fun. The other one I really enjoyed was Quark, which is the pink, constantly-shifting, energy dude. And the most high concept design guys come a little later in the story, and they’re an interesting… firm-type thing.
SM: Oh yeah, the Quantum Trust. This story is a little more grounded, as we said, and most of the characters are human or humanoid. But there are some pretty strange looking people coming.
CB: Is there anything you hate drawing that you found yourself having to improve on this series? Maybe something that you’re now good at drawing?
GS: I meannnn, I don’t think I got GOOD at drawing any of the stuff. This is my first job pretty much save for one little comic project I did out of school. And in school, when I was drawing, everyone was just really ugly and monstrous, so I guess I just had to draw allegedly attractive people. You know, Deuce and Pixel are supposed to be good-looking – they’re celebrities. I did have to focus on trying to make people look comely.
SM: I’ll add one other thing – these are not easy scripts. One of the games with EGOs for me was to pack as much into each story as I could without seeming crowded. That was one of the things I really wanted to do. Partly because I think if you’re going to do an original indie comic where people aren’t buying it for Batman, you need to really give people their money’s worth. If people are going to pay three dollars for an issue of this comic, I want them to walk away thinking they really got an experience. And that means there’s a lot of scene-changes, there’s a lot of characters, there’s a lot going on. These scripts are not easy to draw, and Gus has done a beautiful job at every stage.
GS: The best part is design, and it’s just been an option to constantly design little pieces, like Shara’s home world that you see just for a second. That kind of thing is all over the comic, which is a real treat.
CB: Anything else you’d like readers to know about what’s to come?
SM: Well, there are a lot of twists and turns. Not all the characters will necessarily survive… Basically what I had wanted to do with this story is do a large-scale epic where the villain is hidden. The villain is not out in plain sight, you don’t know who it is. And kind of bring some of the ways a good police procedural story work into this and see what happens. Hopefully that’ll work, hopefully people will like it…
I’ll just say one more thing. When it came time to decide whether or not to continue this book, and how long to continue it for, I plotted out the story and I sat down and wrote issue five. I know I’m too close to really know, but I think it’s the best script I’ve ever written for comic books. And then issue six is good, but I think issue seven is even better. So if people have read my stuff this is the one I would recommend, because out of all the comics I’ve written, I’m as happy with this one as anything I’ve ever done.
GS: I second that. I love it. It’s been a lot of fun to work on. It’s a great story, it’s exactly the type of thing that I like to read.
EGOs #5 is due out February 4th from Image Comics. Item Code: DEC140641
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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It’s that time of year when we start thinking about NEXT year, and publishers nveil their schedules. And few unveilings are as pretty as those from Nobrow—their books are routinely gorgeous and display a level of artistry few other publishers can match. ANd next year’s line-up (through August) are as gorgeous as you’d expect. Among the goodies: a full color expansion of Sam Bosma’s award winning Fantasy Basketball, and the print debut of Jen Lee, whose webcomics Thunderpaw
we’ve long been fans of. The latter is part of a relaunch of Nobrow’s 17X23 line of “pamphlets”—24 pages long and priced at $5.95. The line also includes two french full length graphic novels. Definitely some good reading to come.
The Spectators, by Victor Hussenot
April 2015, 128 pages, hardcover, full color
What if we are merely shadows of our choices? If our characters are defined by simple inflections of light and chance? What if, instead of actors, we are mere spectators? Awash in subtle color, gently carrying the narrative and allowing readers to envelop themselves in the lyricism of the work, this 128 page graphic novel by one of France’s hottest young cartoonists is a beautiful watercolor story that will demand as much attention as it will reward with its poetic and philosophical introspection of man. Reminiscent of French New Wave cinema with its clipped dialog, gentle pacing and departure from a classic narrative structure, The Spectators is a gorgeous, forward-looking example of what comics has become and what the artform can share.
Fantasy Sports, by Sam Bosma
July 2015, 56 pages, hardcover, full color
An oversized graphic novel expanding the Ignatz-award winning Fantasy Basketball to feature length and full color, Fantasy Sports tells the story of a young explorer and her musclebound friend on their trip treasure hunting in a mummy’s tomb. Brooklyn’s own Sam Bosma blends the flavor of 1960’s sports manga with the boldness of a Mike Mignola line, and the hilarity begins when their bandaged adversary demands a game of hoops! With riches in the wings (and eternal entombment as possible consequence), it all comes down to one intrepid young woman and her slam dunk skills in this YA adventure.
750 Years in Paris, by Vincent Mahé
August 2015, 120 pages, hardcover, full color
War. Revolution. Architecture. Art. If you could stand still and just look for 750 years, what could you learn about the world? In August, it will be time to find out in this unique graphic novel that tells the story of one single Parisian building over the course of seven and a half centuries through all the upheavals of French history. Following his work in Nobrow 8: Hysteria, 750 Years in Paris finds Vincent Mahé grappling with the edges of communication that illustration allows in this hypnotic study of time and place.
Vacancy, by Jen Lee
April 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
Jen Lee (the cartooning powerhouse from an Idaho farmhouse responsible for the popular webcomic Thunderpaw) is coming to print for the relaunch of Nobrow’s 17X23 single issue comic line. Now with a new, much lower price ($5.95), the 17X23 line that launched the careers of Luke Pearson (Hildafolk) and Rob Hunter (The New Ghost) will see five new releases in 2015, starting with Vacancy—the story of a dog in a hoodie and glasses who might not be ready to live in the wild, no matter how much the post-apocalypse might need him to. A funny (and best of all, kind) take on Homeward Bound if all the animals were millennials and all the people were dead, Vacancy is the sort of comic that you’d hand to someone who just woke up from a coma—by they time they finished it, they’d be all caught up on what today’s culture gets right.
The Hunter, by Joe Sparrow
May 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
The Hunter, the second release in the 17X23 line sees Joe Sparrow taking a cue from Frozen and Super Nintendo with his 16 bit remix of a long, long time ago. In this acerbic fairy tale, one arrogant young hunter has grown tired of the simple bloodsport that occupies his friendless days. But when he hears of a mythical beast that sounds strangely like the animals he’s already conquered, mania takes hold. Can our (anti) hero survive with his arrogance intact? There will be (video game style) blood!
Golemchik, by William Exley
June 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
Abandoned by his friends, one young boy goes searching for fun – and finds a golem on the hunt for the same, in this 17X23 comic by British cartoonist William Exley. But as the two go about living out their dreams of having the best summer ever, the boy realizes that golems don’t know how to take it easy! To save his town, he’ll have to get his new friend under control…or else everybody else in the neighborhood is going to do it for him!
Lost Property, by Andy Poyiadgi
July 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
From the pen of British cartoonist Andy Poyiadgi, Lost Property is the story of a young mailman named Gerald who comes across something pretty fantastic: a small shop, packed to the brim with everything in his life he has ever misplaced. From socks to yearbooks, this surreal repository of his life sends our confused friend into the maelstrom of memory, whisking him back through the crossroads that shaped his life. But what really matters, of course, is what he decides to do next!
Cyber Realm, by Wren McDonald
August 2015, 24 pages, saddle stitched, full color
Wren McDonald—another Brooklynite, this one by way of Florida—brings us the darkly hilarious story of a father’s revenge in a cybernetic world of horror. In a dismal future ruled by a tyrannical nerd who has taken all technology for himself, one man is making his way through the type of trials that usually face a Liam Neeson kind of guy. But instead of relying on a gravely voice and guns, our protagonist enlists the help of whatever old piece of robotics he can attach to his sweaty torso, in the hopes of an earth-shattering, revenge-earning brawl.
Over at PW I reported on Consortium starting to distribute Alternative Comics and Secret Acres to bookstores. They currently distribute Uncivilized, Toon Books, Nobrow and Koyama Press, as well as publishers such as Fulcrum and Enchanted Lion who put out a lot of graphic novel material. (And a lot of other distinguished small press publishers as well.)
I understand that Consortium has been very important for publishers like Uncivilized and Koyama—and that Consortium is pretty aggressive about bringing new comics publishers into their fold. At CAB I also heard a bunch of griping about Diamond—mostly shipping dates catalog listing and so on. Small things, and Diamond is pretty much the rock of the industry, but if people are getting better service elsewhere they are likely to move.
One thing about the publishers picked up by Consortium—they may be small presses that publish a lot of indie cartoonists, but many of their books aren’t necessarily limited in audience to hardcore indie comics readers. For instance, Wendy, shown above, is a popular webcomic and a devastating take on socialite culture. Sam Henderson’s books are just funny gags, Nobrow puts out a ton of books that are just great to look at, Uncivilized books are smart and accessible, Edie Fake’s work has gotten acclaim many places, Toon Books are award winning crowd pleasers and so on. Getting better distribution seems to be a very important move for all these publishers and I expect we’ll hear more about this in 2015
Robyn Chapman has some thoughts about this and what it means to micro presses here.
Well, sort of. It’s well known that some used book prices on Amazon are just kind of…loony. Take for instance, Monsters by Ken Dahl, an excellent book about a guy who thinks he has herpes by Ken Dahl, published by Secret Acres but now out of print. (A new edition is planned for next year.) In the meantime, you can get a used copy for a mere $394.94… or brand new for $11,964.08.
Is this real? I doubt it. I know most of these books mentioned below can be found placidly waiting in bargain boxes at cons. Paging Frank Santoro!
I know a lot of old manga books do legit go for some high prices. For instance, TokyoPop’s Rave Master (4,5,6,7,8,9) in a nice set, goes for $168 in library binding (that’s hardcover) and
but $8,038.21 used. And they wonder why people turn to piracy!
Some other pricey old books: Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 5 (v. 5) = $499.00
Julie Doucet & Michel Go W/DVD – $173.16
The recent Passion of Gengoroh Tagame by now defunct Picturebox is listed at $226.73 used, and $598.77 new. I know this book does have a loyal fetish following so…supply and demand.
Another Picturebox book, C.F.: Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 by Fort Thunder alum CF is listed at $134.62 used, $154.47 new. Glad I saved my copies!
Digging around some more long gone publishers, I found this from Highwater, Mat Brinkman’s Teratoid Heights at $220.00. That was a great book!
And then there’s Buenaventura Press, which published Souvlaki Circus by finnish artist Amanda Vähämäki $265.35 used, or $331.68 new/
Oddly, the book that you’d think would be the most valuable, the huge epic Kramers Ergot 7 goes for a mere $140.00 used and only $112.50 new! The retail price was $125 so this is a bargain. Some people in the comments mention copies going for $1000 back in the day—the print run was destroyed by mold under mysterious circumstances—but obviously now its just another large, beautiful object to keep around the house.
Not just out of business publishers. I checked Dark Horse and found The Hellboy Collection: The Story So Far Volumes 1-7 Bundle going for $2,881.50. I used to have all these but I think I sold them to the Strand for $20. =(
The moral of the story? Never throw anything out! I don’t!
Gary Spencer Millidge‘s Strangehaven may well be the best comic you’ve never read. Originally self-published in eighteen issues over the course of ten years, between 1995 and 2005 (with three collected editions, Arcadia, Brotherhood, and Conspiracies), it has been on what seemed like a permanent hiatus since then, despite the plaintiff pleas of tear-drenched fans like myself. Now, though, Strangehaven has returned in the pages of Soaring Penguin Press‘s anthology magazine Meanwhile…, whose first issue has just been published, which very nicely suimmarises the story to date, for all you new readers.
Briefly, Strangehaven is the story of a man who crashes his car in deepest rural England, and wakes up to find himself in a small village called Strangehaven. From there on, strange things happen. Very strange things. Not only does Strangehaven have a compelling and nicely convoluted storyline, with all sorts of odd and interesting characters, but Gary Spencer Millidge’s art is beautiful too, being a gorgeous photo-realistic depiction of the people, their lives, and the village they live in. If you’re wondering where you heard Gary’s name before, you probably heard it as the author of 2011’s Alan Moore: Storyteller, or of 2009’s Comic Book Design: The Essential Guide to Creating Great Comics and Graphic Novels, both of which come recommended. Since I started reading Strangehaven myself, I’m corresponded with, met, and got to know Gary, the creator of the book, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him a few questions about it…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: for those arriving late to the party, gave you give us a brief, bullet-point synopsis of what Strangehaven is about?
Gary Spencer Millidge: Not really. This is the one question every interviewer used to start with when I first started self-publishing Strangehaven in 1995, and I used to hate it with a passion. Partly because I didn’t know how to answer it. I didn’t know what Strangehaven was about for a couple of years, and giving a brief synopsis of the plot would, I felt, reveal too much about it. I also hated repeating myself in every interview, and I used to churn out the same, “Strangehaven is a village on the edge of Dartmoor in the rural south-west of England, blah, blah, blah” until I realised I could actually answer the question any way I damn pleased.
So what I’d want to say about Strangehaven today is that it’s a number of storylines that weave in and out of each other concerning the lives of the inhabitants of an improbably isolated village, very much in the vein of British ‘60s television like The Avengers and The Prisoner, but was also inspired by Twin Peaks. At the time, I was reading the new vein of naturalistic comics like Heartbreak Soup, Big Numbers, Dave McKean’s Cages, Strangers in Paradise, and I think you can probably spot various influences from those in my work as well. [Not to mention on this noticeboard, from the first volume, Arcadia – PÓM]
I originally called it a surreal soap opera, but I think that turned out to be off-base, and it might be better to describe it as a magical reality mystery, or something. I wanted to reflect real life rather than clichéd and predictable soap opera plotting even if many of my characters were tongue-in-cheek archetypes.
As for what it’s actually about, I’d say it’s about the perception of reality, but that sounds terribly pompous and dull.
PÓM: There are three previous volumes of Strangehaven – is this storyline going to be the fourth and final one?
GSM: The short answer is yes. There is a twinge of regret and uncertainty when I say that, but that probably is the case, if only for the sake of my long-suffering readers.
I was very much inspired by Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus, which for those that don’t know, was self-published monthly for 300 issues. I always loved the ongoing serial aspect of the comic book, but even by the late 1990s, this was changing. Trade paperback collections were beginning to emerge as a viable business model, and it was hard to convince new readers to join the party at issue 11 or whatever. Paperback collections were the answer to a degree, but the difficulty then was keeping all the books in print. There was no print-on-demand, and for a self-publisher to have to print at least 1000 copies at a time pretty much absorbed any profit the endeavour was making.
Not only that, but new readers invariably had to be pointed towards the first book, which for obvious reasons contained some of the weakest material (certainly art-wise). So at what became the halfway point, I decided a four volume series would be symmetrically and structurally pleasing.
PÓM: Have you known from the start how it’s all going to end?
GSM: There wasn’t ever meant to be an end. I wasn’t sure how the first issue was going to end when I started, to be honest. The first issue alone was more comics pages than I had ever drawn in my life before, put together. As I say, it was intended to be an ongoing, open-ended series. I figured that there could be collected editions by character arc – e.g. a Megaron and Chippy one, and Alex and Janey one and so on. I had imagined Strangehaven as a sort of anthology of different stories set in the same village, at the same time.
But pretty soon, the characters had increasingly become such large parts of each other’s story arcs that I abandoned this idea. Strangehaven was never meant to be built around a single plot. What I ended up with was numerous plotlines and characters that entangled themselves so intricately that I couldn’t pick them apart; which satisfied my perverse desire to be unconventional, but made Strangehaven a hard sell to foreign publishers and film producers and the like.
So, way back in 1999, after I had completed volume two, I decided that Strangehaven really needed to be a finite series and sat down and plotted out the next two books there and then. That’s pretty much the template I’ve been following ever since, and that’s when the ending (such as it is) was cast in stone.
PÓM: Is it rude of me to ask how long it’s going to take to get to the end of volume four, if you’re doing sixteen pages every two months? Call me cynical, but I’m just wondering how long it’ll be before I can sit down and read the entire things through, in actual book form…
GSM: Most episodes will be a tad shorter than that, about 13-14 pages. Essentially, it’s about half an old Strangehaven issue’s worth per Meanwhile… issue. Twelve episodes in all. Assuming that Meanwhile… maintains its intended bimonthly basis, it’ll take two years before the last episode’s published.
How soon after that any collection is published is dependent on a couple of factors; there are contractual considerations and so on, and of course, that’s all dependent on everything going smoothly, which, looking back over the previous twenty years, isn’t a given.
PÓM: Have you given any thought to re-releasing the first three volumes of Strangehaven, or are they still readily available?
GSM: They are, and have always been, in print, and theoretically available to order from comic stores, book shops and the usual Internet retail outlets, as well as directly from my own website, or from Top Shelf in the USA.
I say theoretically because there have been various distribution hiccups, one in particular that led to Amazon claiming volume three was out of print and only ‘available from these sellers’ for a couple of years, one of which was testing the waters by offering copies at £150 each. And it’s an incredibly difficult task to get Amazon to change factual errors, especially when going through a third party distributor.
I do believe all those wrinkles have now been ironed out (at least for the time being), so you should be able to order a copy in any of those places. Or if you’re lucky enough to live in Nottingham, Page 45 always stocks them.
PÓM: Do you have any misgivings about this new work being in colour, seeing as the work up to now was in good old black & white?
GSM: Well no, I wouldn’t say ‘misgivings’ exactly. Certainly when I originally signed up to producing new episodes for Meanwhile… I was expecting to do them in monochrome. John the publisher had floated the idea of colour in the early stages of negotiation, but I had dismissed it out of hand. I thought it would add an unnecessary additional stage to production and cause a potential conundrum for any future collected editions. And I am possibly correct about both those things.
But as plans for the anthology developed, it became apparent that John would be very keen to see these new episodes in colour, and after thinking about it, I thought it may be worth adding that string to my bow, especially as the cost of the colour printing wouldn’t be coming out of my pocket. I thought it might also possibly broaden the appeal of the series.
But it has been difficult to settle upon a technique that I could implement fairly quickly and yet keep the familiar look and feel of Strangehaven. I’m still finishing the art in grey wash tones, the same method with which the previous volume was produced, and adding colour digitally at a later stage. I’m fairly happy with the way it looks on the SEQUENTIAL digital edition, but the printed version of the first issue has turned out a little dark and desaturated. That’s something I’m looking to correct for future episodes. Not that anyone’s commented upon it anyway.
PÓM: Seeing as you were saying that you originally intended this to be ongoing, are there any plans for further Strangehaven stories, after you’ve finished up this initial storyline. Hope springs eternal, etc!
GSM: I’m not sure if anyone will be hoping for more Strangehaven once I finish this fourth volume; it may be the last thing anyone wants. From a personal point of view, after working on this behemoth for twenty years, and trying to get the damn thing resurrected for so long, it would certainly be refreshing to work on something different. I have enough ideas for comics already to keep me busy for the rest of my days, and I’m starting to feel a little restricted by the format I initially devised all that time ago.
You can never say never of course, and I suppose, there’s always the possibility of a ‘twenty-eight years later’ story emerging at some point, but let me finish this damn volume four first, okay?
PÓM: What sort of ideas for comics, do tell?
GSM: Maybe it would be advisable for me to attempt something a little less ambitious than an open-ended ongoing series with a cast of thousands, maybe a self-contained graphic novel to start off with. Obviously I don’t want to say too much about any potential ideas as it’ll be a while before I’d be able to start any serious work on anything new; plans are always shifting and morphing, and I don’t want to get anyone excited about something that may or may not happen.
But I will say I have a couple of well-developed projects that I’ve been fiddling around with for as long as I’ve been doing Strangehaven. In fact one pre-dates Strangehaven; after my Dad unexpectedly died in the late 1980s I wanted to do a memoir in comic book form celebrating his life and I even started work on it, but I soon realised that I didn’t have the chops at that time. So that’s always been on the back burner.
There’s also a globe-spanning Hitchcockian mystery/thriller and a time travel/moral paradox story that I’d like to get done, although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to draw either of those. I have come to the conclusion over recent years that I’m not likely to live long enough to draw all the comics I want to draw and working with a high quality artist would be a good compromise. That would probably mean that I’d need to get a publisher involved, so those projects are a few steps away from happening.
I’ve also become intrigued with the atheist/deist/theist debate and how that relates to current scientific theories about the creation of the universe and quantum mechanics and so on and I think I have a pretty strong idea for a vehicle that could explore that a little bit. That’s not all by any means, but you get the idea.
PÓM: One of my brothers lives on a small island off the south-west coast of Ireland, which has a population of 124, more than half of whom are non-natives, originally not only from various parts of Ireland, but from Germany, Scotland, Canada and elsewhere, so it seems to have that same sort of geographic gravity as Strangehaven does, although possibly not as inescapable. Are we ever going to get any sort of explanation for that?
GSM: That sounds like an interesting island to live, or even visit. Does your brother have any explanation for the diverse nature of the immigrants to his island? Is there one or sixty different explanations? As far as Strangehaven’s concerned, I think it’s pretty well established that it does have an apparent ‘geographic gravity’ as you’ve characterised it, or at least some of the inhabitants seem to think so. Whether it’s relevant to the central themes of the series (if there are any) may or may not be explored in future episodes.
But it is essentially the backbone of the series; it enables me to have a disparate cast with substantially different back stories to explore. At the highest of high altitude maps, Strangehaven is a simply a place full of weird people with their own views on the world.
PÓM: Does it not do your head in having to wrote Adam Douglas’s dialogue? [A character who claims that he’s from another planet – PÓM]
GSM: I’d say no, not really. It’s hardly Hob’s Hog*. You come up with the character, and his speech patterns, and if it’s difficult to write, then that’s part of the challenge of being a writer. It’s probably easier for me than it is for the reader as I know what he is supposed to sound like. Adam’s character is defined well enough in my head to let him ramble on while I merely transcribe what he’s saying.
I have to admit that I introduced Adam as a bit of a novelty, but I immediately became aware that he was a hugely popular character and as a result has become an increasingly important cast member.
Ronnie did say in one issue that she thought he was from Düsseldorf which suggests a Teutonic accent. But some astute readers may wonder why his distinctive use of grammar isn’t entirely consistent – is it because of the writer’s lack of skill, or is Adam not being entirely honest about his origins?
PÓM: I believe that the publication date for Meanwhile… #1 is a bit complicated. What can you tell me?
GSM: For a definitive answer, you would have to ask my publisher, Soaring Penguin Press. They’re essentially a book and graphic novel publisher, and they tend to have different publication dates for the UK and the US. Obviously the direct comics market is a bit different in that periodicals tend to get published simultaneously worldwide. There are some contractual concerns regarding dates which may have complicated things as well, and two British comics festivals – The Lakes and Thought Bubble – were close enough together in the calendar this autumn to make it an irresistible time to launch the anthology in the UK. So it’s been available in the UK at selected outlets since October, but will be getting its full international direct market distribution as from February. (Meanwhile… #1 is listed in the December issue of Diamond Comics’ Previews and can be ordered from your favourite comics retailer from that point. It’s also available on the SEQUENTIAL digital platform as well.)
PÓM: Thanks for taking the time to answer all these, Gary. And I’ll just mention here that we’re part of the way through a longer interview, which might even get finished before Volume 4 of Strangehaven runs its course!
GSM: Well thank you for wading through all that drivel that I’ve supplied in lieu of proper answers to your respectful and pertinent questions. Let’s hope it entertains someone somewhere who’s lost their internet connection and only has this one page to read. And as far as the ‘other’ interview is going, well let’s resolve to have a race to see who finishes first.
[*Obligatory obscure Alan Moore reference.]
By: Heidi MacDonald
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While at SPX this year, I was able to grab a quick word with seven amazing cartoonists about their work in Hana Doki Kira, a Shōjo comic and illustration anthology released earlier this year after a rather successful Kickstarter campaign. Not only filled with gorgeous work inspired by Shōjo – a sub-genre of manga covering a wide variety of subjects, often with a strong focus on human and romantic relationships. As the anthology itself describes:
Shōjo is known for its distinctive use of flowery imagery, magical plot devices, and romantic themes. Out book takes its title from three key elements of the Shōjo world: Hana meaning flower, Doki echoing the sound of a pounding heart, and Kira – the impression of sparkling beauty.
Contributors to Hana Doki Kira in attendance at SPX were: Alice Meichi Li, Carey Pietsch, Kris Mukai, Megan Brennan, Rebecca Mock, Tim Ferrara, and Annie Stoll – who served as “art director” on the project. I asked each their introduction to Shōjo, how it has influenced their work, and what working on an anthology was like.
Captive of the Roses by Alice Meichi Li
One of the most popular and influential Shōjo series, Sailor Moon was named as a gateway for many not only into the genre, but into comics in general.
When I was very young, one of my babysitters introduced me to Sailor Moon and at the time I had a serious need for stories about ladies and stories about girls who are fully-realized characters who got to be silly and dumb and got to express their wants and needs; but also be powerful and have agency in their own world. That started a life-long love affair. [...] I love stories about girls, about things girls love by women – it’s a wonderful thing. – Carey Pietsch
Megan Brennan: I wasn’t really into comics until some of my friends started reading Sailor Moon and other Shōjo comics and I realized that comics could be something completely different and I connected with it [Shōjo] really strongly. It was the only comics I read for a really long time because it was telling these stories I couldn’t get elsewhere; girls were the main characters, girl-things were important, and the things they cared would we life-changing and monumental; it was great. – Megan Brennan
Someone handed me Sailor Moon volume 10 in middle school at a school dance; I sat down, read the whole thing, my life was changed forever and I never looked back. – Rebecca Mock
It’s an understatement that there’s a drought in comics for stories starring or aimed at girls and it seems that many readers left wanted found what they needed in Shōjo such as Sailor Moon. Though he didn’t interact directly with Shōjo until later, Tim Ferrara remarked on how it informs his current work:
I didn’t actually grow up reading Shōjo; it was always a genre I thought should exist but I never knew that it did. [...] I’m glad it exists; it’s a needed genre – especially here in the States where we don’t have a lot of things that are representative for that demographic. – Tim Ferrara
Art by Janet Sung
Each artist is influenced or at least informed by Shōjo, many in the depiction of specific themes or use of ornate illustration.
There’s a lot of tropes that I use – a lot of decorative elements, lots of flowers, lots of sparkly things. [...] I also focus a lot on the clothing design and the hair. In Shōjo manga, there’s always beautiful, gorgeous, flowing hair. I love putting that in my art. – Alice Meichi Li
An untranslated copy of Candy Candy volume 10 was one of the earliest comics that I read and absorbed – and since I couldn’t read it, all I could do was look at their facial expressions and try to understand what was going on through the artwork alone. [...] One of the earliest things I learned from that was how to do was how to convey an emotion in a comic. – Kris Mukai
I think the themes and the beautiful linework have always been a big influence on me. My style is very sketchy and bold – you might think I would be more drawn to Shōnen, but there’s something beautiful about personal relationships as well as flowing lines that have always captured my heart. You may not think I’m a very Shōjo-inspired person, but I’m always thinking about beautiful lines and interesting stories. – Annie Stoll
It’s easy to latch onto the evocative beauty of how the work, but the influence Shōjo has had goes beyond that – granting an underserved readership access a necessary more.
It’s made me more conscious of writing all characters with agency; that’s something Shōjo manga does well – expanding beyond a traditional, mainstream narrative. I think some of the aesthetic seeps into my work too, I’m a fan of expressive faces and the ability to show emotion very clearly. – Carey Pietsch
It was a way for me to connect with comics. There’s a void in comics. [...] There’s comics for young kids and comics for young adults; but theres a gap there for pre-teens and young teens; there aren’t comics that speak to them and specifically not a lot of American comics that speak to girls. Shōjo fills that void, even if it’s cultural appropriation. These comics are coming from Japan – it’s an entirely different culture, we don’t really understand it, but even then there’s something there that we connect to viscerally and you can see how much they’ve caught on in a culture that they weren’t made for; there was such a hunger for that kind of comic. – Rebecca Mock
Art by Joyce Lee
Lastly, I was happy to hear that all were pleased with the process of working towards an anthology and though many only had the responsibility of working on their own pieces, they came together and pulled off the project with aplomb, befitting an homage a spectrum of manga.
I do participate in a lot of anthologies; I take it as a way of making new friends. I love getting to know new artists and just getting to be part of that group is an honor. – Alice Meichi Li
It was so cool seeing the final book come together because everybody else’s stories fit together but they were all so different. You could see completely different perspectives of the same basic ideas. – Megan Brennan
It was at times exhilarating; we felt very powerful with all the possibilities available to us. At other times, it was very stressful because we were taking on a huge responsibility for no reason other than we sat down one day and decided we wanted to do this. We had to commit to this idea that you just come up with without any set due date, nobody backing you; it was really empowering to know that we were able to create something from nothing. – Rebecca Mock
It was so much fun; we really lucked out with Rebecca [Mock] and Annie [Stoll], and the Year 85 Group is so wonderful. It was so excited to get to see other artists talk about their themes and show sneak-peaks of their process along the way, and they did a wonderful job putting it all together. – Carey Pietsch
It was good having that initial group of six people who were really interested in helping out; everyone had a very unique job or position – it was a little bit like a Shōjo manga honestly. [...] It was a really good balance of personalities that all worked together – it never felt like a competition. – Annie Stoll
On the actual process of putting together the Hana Doki Kira anthology, Stoll described how it was born out of love for Shōjo.
There was a core six of us who hung out and drew and once we realized that we all loved Shōjo manga and started talking about making some kind of anthology. We ended up structuring it kind of like a pyramid scheme where each of us would invite two or three more people into it, so before you knew it, we had 26 amazing artists that were all making new friends and talking about Shōjo. – Annie Stoll
Stoll is a seasoned veteran in the world of comic anthologies, contributing in the astronomically successful Valor campaign, actively working on the second volume of Hana Doki Kira, and launching an extraordinarily ambitious project, 1001 Knights - a people-positive, feminist bent collection, aimed at making a tome of illustrations, comics, and unconventional art representing no less than 1001 characters.
Here is the full list of the Hana Doki Kira contributing artists: Aimee Fleck, Alex Bahena, Alice U. Cheong, Alice Meichi Li, Anna Rose, Annie Stoll, Becca Hillburn, Carey PIetsch, Catarina Sarmento, Catherine, Chelsie Sutherland, Elisa Lau, Endy, Janet Sung, Kaitlin Reid, Kelly / Hkezza, Kris Mukai, Lindsay Cannizzaro, Megan Brennan, Rebecca Mock, Sarah O’Donell, Shelly Rodriquez, Sloane Leong, Stefanie Morin, and Tim Ferrara. For more, check out their Facebook and Tumblr pages!
SF’s sole remaining comics show, the Alternative Press Expo, aka APE, kicks off tomorrow at Fort Mason. Guests include Bob Fingerman, Spike, Robert Williams and Paul Pope.Programming is here.
APE is a fun show, or was when last I went in 2004, but the Bay Area’s soaring rents and general artisanal toast scarfing ‘tude seems to mitigate against the kind of indie comics spirit that the show exhibits. However, as always APE has the best program art, in this case by Faith Erin Hicks.
D&Q sent out a promo for the show: they’re signed copies of The Hospital Suite and Earthling, advances of the new Moomin book, and John Porcellino is on tour in Cali:
John Porcellino is passing through California for two days only! He’s launching his brand new graphic memoir The Hospital Suite, of which the Los Angeles Timessays: “the rawness of Porcellino’s work, its unfiltered directness, is the essence of its charm.”
Both events will consist of a reading, screening of the Root Hog or Diedocumentary about John Porcellino’s life, and a signing.
Wednesday November 19th, 6pm
Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission Street in San Francisco
Thursday November 20th, 7 pm
Giant Robot, 2062 Sawtelle Boulevard in Los Angeles
While nerdlebrity comics lines are common now—from Shia LaBeouf to DMC—a pioneer in this regard and still one of the best in terms of quality is Burlyman Comics, which is owned by the Wachowskis, the directing siblings behind The Matrix, the much beloved Speed Racer and the upcoming Jupiter Ascending. The company has been around for about a decade and launched about a decade ago with Doc Frankenstein by the Wachowskis and Matrix storyboard artist Steve Scroce, and Shaolin Cowboy by the all around genius Geof Darrow. Burlyman put out 7 issues of Shaolin Cowboy before fading away—the seriesfollow the adventures of a nameless Shaolin and his mule in an apocalyptic American West—a concept that seems maybe too simple until you know that Darrow is drawing it with all his hallucinogenic detail. The tagline “A buddy picture with a body count” explains it all.
When Burlyman more or less disappeared, Dark Horse picked up the series, starting last year. But now the original 7 issues, long out of print, are coming back in a collected edition…from Burlyman. According to pr, the issue includes “ass-ologues by the Wachowskis” and many other extras—including art and alternative covers (what they used to call variants‚ by Moebius (Jean Giraud), Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, Ricardo Delgado, Scott Gustafson, And John Severin. At a mere $19.99 it sounds like a bargain.
Retailers note, the FOC on this is the 23rd, order code OCT141229. On sale date is December 3rd.
And in case you need any more persuasion here’s a preview—to say it is mind-boggling does not do it justice.
By: Heidi MacDonald
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I’m pretty sure we’ve posted some of Eric Haven’s creepy cool Mancat comics before. But not it’s all being collected by AdHouse, in UR. The publisher describes these comics as “Dark, absurdist, and deadpan, these stories reflect the apocalyptic undercurrent of the modern era. Also included is Haven’s long-running comic strip “Race Murdock” which appeared in The Believer magazine.”
Haven is among those cartoonist’s whose work is just inherently spooky. In the past his work has appeared in various anthologies, but when he isn’t cartooning he’s producing the TV Show Mythbusters. A real hyphenate for the season.
This book was accidentally left out out Previews a few times but THIS IS THE PROPER INFORMATION to order and make your customers happy:
48 FC pages
6 ” x 9 ” SC w/ DJ
$14.95 US funds
Shipping January 2015
Diamond Order Code: NOV14 0925
By: Heidi MacDonald
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by Edie Nugent
From L to R: Diana Pho, LeSean Thomas, Alice Meichi Li, Daniel Jose Older, I.W. Gregorio and Tracey J. John
The main stage spectacles of NYCC saw panels filled with celebrity actors and moderators alike, whipping thousands of screaming audience members into a frenzy. No less intense or enthusiastic, however, were the panels scheduled towards the end of the night in the smaller conference rooms at the Javits Center. Once such panel —Geeks of Color Go Pro —filled its room to capacity with a diverse audience of fans and comic book industry hopefuls cheering just as passionately as fans in the rooms twice its size.
“Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo,” declared Tracy J. John, writer for such marquee video game franchises as Oregon Trail and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This comment, which came later in the proceedings, proved to be a kind of mission statement for the panel as a whole. Moderated by Tor Books editor Diana Pho, the panel participants represented a diversity of gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Pho opened by asking the panel to tell their “origin stories,” referring to how they arrived at their current careers within an industry that has long suffered from a dearth of diversity. Tracey J. John kicked things off, saying: “a long long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…I went to NYU and got a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies.” She went on to say that she garnered an internship at MTV News, which led to a job working for MTV.com. “We wrote about these things called ‘music videos,’” she joked. This job placed her in the perfect spot to capitalize on her World of Warcraft addiction when MTV looked to launch a video game focused section of its website. She recalled thinking, “whoa, I can get paid to write about video games?” She later turned to freelance work for Wired, NY Post, and Playstation Magazine. Desirous of a more stable paycheck, she turned to a job at Gameloft and worked in game development. Recently she decided to shake things up again, and has returned to freelance work.
I.W. Gregorio, who claims she’s still getting used to being addressed by the pen name her day job requires, opened by speaking the question on the minds of many an audience member: “How did a urologist end up being a YA author?” She went on to explain she felt the better question to be “why would an aspiring author become a doctor?” She spoke of her racially isolated childhood where she knew immediately she wanted to be a writer, but felt family pressure “like a lot of kids of color” to enter either law or medicine to be deemed a ‘success’ culturally. Her talents in math and science led her to choose the path of medicine, “enough people had told me that I wanted to be a doctor that I ended up being one.” She did attempt, in her words, to “try to have my cake and eat it too” also studying English while in college. She went on to pursue medicine and take a 10 year break from writing before her passion was reignited during her residency. She is, however, grateful to be a doctor because it “enables my writing career…and gives me a lot of stories.” She described how her new book None of the Above was inspired by an intersex teenager she treated during her residency.
Daniel Jose Older, author of the upcoming Half-Resurrection Blues, the first book in what is to be an ongoing urban fantasy series for Penguin Book’s Roc imprint, began by saying that Gregorio’s story “actually really connects to mine. In 2009 I was a paramedic and community organizer doing work on gender violence and intersections of racism. I was trying how to figure out how to have a voice and what that meant as a writer.” He explained that he loved Star Wars and Harry Potter, but that he and the kids of color he was working work didn’t see themselves in those stories, “and there was a disconnect.” This inspired him to “sit down and write Shadowshaper which got picked up by the folks at Scholastic that put out Harry Potter, so it was this really big dream come true.” He went on to explain that the process of publishing that first work took over 6 years and that “publishing will make you learn patience” which drew a big laugh from the crowd. He continued to work on stories during that time, and work on adult fiction, which led him to Half-Resurrection Blues, due out in 2015. He explained that his background as a paramedic directed inspired the new book, saying: “a lot of this comes from being on the front lines…dealing with life and death.”
Author Alice Meichi Li knew she wanted to be an artist since the age of five. “I grew up in a Chinese restaurant in a really rough part of Detroit,” she said. She explained how this kept her indoors for her own safety, drawing on the back of the placemats of her parents’ restaurant. She also felt pushed towards a career in more economically dependable fields like law, medicine, or IT technologies. “When faced with the prospect of applying for college, all I could think about was arts school. I was in Army Junior ROTC and my Staff Sargent saw some of my art and he said: what are you doing here? You should be taking art class, you should be pursuing this.” She eagerly took his advice, worrying her family regarding her future. As she graduated High School at the top of her class, they told her she should be making “six-figures somewhere”—not becoming a starving artist. She conceded that’s “pretty much what happened” to the amusement of the audience, “I did have to end up balancing a day job,” with her art career, working at the well-known comic book store Forbidden Planet. “But I was doing Artist’s Alleys and that’s how I made a lot of my connections. If you’re trying to be an artist in comics that’s pretty much your best bet.”
“Everybody’s got all these cool stories,” remarked Black Dynamite producer and director LeSean Thomas. “I was born and raised in the South Bronx, John Adams projects at 152nd Street,” some in the crowd applauded at this mention—then laughed as Thomas joked that he was in the part of the Bronx that exists “past Yankee Stadium” where most New Yorkers’ familiarity with the Bronx begins and ends. “I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, reading comics books, “ he recalled, saying that he felt comic books was a more realistic career path for him, as the tools used to produce comics were more affordable than that of cartoon animation: “they don’t sell light-boxes at the bodegas,” he quipped.
Thomas ended up in a High School arts program called Talent Unlimited. Following High School he took a job at a sporting goods store to make ends meet. While working there, he was spotted sketching by his store manager whose wife worked at a children’s accessories company. The company quickly employed him to work on designs for accessories featuring licensed characters. Through his work there, he met Joe Rodgers who mentored the young artist and eventually Thomas “became a flash artist/storyboard artist on this web-cartoon called WorldGirl, and it got picked up by Showtime, I think it was the first cartoon to get picked up by a major network.” His success there led to his meeting Carl Jones, who moved to Los Angeles and teamed with The Boondocks creator Aaron MacGruder on the now famous Cartoon Network series based on MacGruder’s comic strip of the same name. “He needed people who could understand Hip-Hop culture, Anime, and social political racial satire, and it was very hard to find that kind of talent in Hollywood,” he paused as the crowd laughed before putting it bluntly: “let alone somebody who could draw a black person.” This led him to move to Los Angeles to work on the show, which he feared would soon be canceled due to its controversial and sometimes “wildly inappropriate” content.
The series proved a critical and ratings success for Cartoon Network, and Thomas felt liberated by the mostly black racial makeup of The Boondocks’ creative team. “I grew up in a society where the White male was the dominant character…to be able to work on a show where my boss was Black, the characters we were creating were Black and we were saying the things we wanted to say without caring what other people thought, Black or White, was really liberating and was one of the best experiences for me.” He went on to comment that his experience working on The Boondocks “catapulted his career,” gave him the chance to move overseas, and opened many career opportunities for him-not the least of which was his teaming up producer Carl Jones to produce the Adult Swim series Black Dynamite. He noted how rare it was to have three shows in a row to his credit that found him working under Black people, on shows starting Black characters: The Boondocks, Legend of Korra, and Black Dynamite.
“I guess I should pitch in about myself, and I thought: oh, I’m the moderator—just sit here and look pretty,” joked Diana Pho, before continuing: “I grew up in New England, in a very White town. I was always the only Asian girl in my class and my family is from Vietnam: no one knew where Vietnam was, because actually in my High School they never talked about the Vietnam War.” This statement elicited shocked sounds from the assembled crowd, but also some knowing murmurs that appeared to understand all too well the sort of erasure her statement described. Pho explained that she found escape from her outsider status through books, especially science fiction and fantasy novels. While studying English at college, she knew felt her options for employment were limited to work as a teacher, continuing her studies of Russian-her minor field-in order to obtain her Master’s Degree in it, or something else. “I chose something else,” she said, “and that was publishing.”
She explained she felt publishing to be a small field, insular in nature-and a field where it “has to do with the connections you make, that’s what I learned” and mentioned that her first job involved editing test books for college admissions for a summer. “What it did provide me was internship experience in marketing,” Pho remarked, explaining that this led to her getting a job with Hachette Press. She worked there in sales and marketing for several years before a colleague recommended her for a position at the Science Fiction Book Club making catalogues. She ended up following this with a Master’s in Performance Studies-doing her thesis in Steampunk performance-and graduated to assume her current role at Tor Books.
The panel then opened up for questions from the audience where Pho asked that the questions be “tweet-sized” to try and get to everyone’s question , but the line for the microphone grew long enough that the panel was forced to wrap up with audience members still on line. When asked: “what was one thing that you wish you knew when you started out that you know now?” Gregorio explained that as a representative of the We Need Diverse Books campaign (weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com) “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that there are obviously challenges for diverse authors, the first book I wrote had and Asian-American multicultural protagonist-and three different editors said: oh, it’s too similar to another book with an Asian-American character.” She explained that she knew other authors of color who had run into enough of the same problem that they feared they might have to only write about White characters going forward. “The We Need Diverse Books campaign is most effective because it’s been showing the gatekeepers that they are wrong. Fifty percent of children in schools today are children of color, but only ten percent of books have minority protagonists.” She also called upon the audience to open up their wallets and support works by authors of color and/or featuring main characters of color.
John added on to Gregorio’s comments by telling the audience to not be afraid of the status quo, and gave an example of her work in gaming journalism. “Things that I did…aside from asking the questions I needed to do my job, I’d throw in some poignant questions, I’ve asked Shigeru Miyamoto: why does Princess Peach need saving again? Didn’t she get some self-defense classes by then? Or the developer of a family game why there wasn’t an option to be a Black person, they just had different tans? Ask those kinds of questions. It can be intimidating: Oh I have this opportunity to interview a game developer, I don’t want to screw it up. I’d say ask the normal questions and then save those for the end.”
“When you’re starting out as a writer there’s a lot of advice given out to you, like: you have to build your platform, you have to network! And there’s this very common, very White Western narrative of breaking out as an author. Where you’re that singular rocket ship that flies away to become famous overnight…what it requires us to do, especially as writers and creators of color, is to really reimagine what success means to us anytime we’re entering into any kind of project or career.” He went on to emphasize the need to build community, outside of a “putting points on your resume” style of thinking. “What will sustain you is unity. That’s what will have your back when things are hard, and things will be hard.” He noted that more than fans, writers need people who will tell them the truth-people who will give them the “hard critique.” He also said he wanted to shout-out to: fanbros.com, nerdgasmnoire.net as well as blackgirlnerds.com, saying of the organizations: “these groups are collectives of people of color, proudly nerds, proudly of color, talking about racism, talking about Sleepy Hollow. We need to talk about these things because that’s community” to many loud cheers.
Li wished to add “a piece of advice I hear a lot: you are the average of the five people you interact with most in life. So if you have a bunch of people who are ambitious, who are trying to do what you’re trying to do you’re going to kind of automatically get lifted up with them. So you want at least three of them to be in a place where you aspire to be. I add that you should look for someone who is: 1) an older mentor, to get advice from, 2) an equal, that you can be a comrade-at-arms with and share you career path with and 3) someone you can mentor, because you can learn a lot from teaching.”
“The thing that I wish I’d known before getting into animation, that I do now is that all the animation jobs are in California,” said Thomas, to the laughter of the crowd. Thomas clearly meant the comment seriously, adding: “I wouldn’t have stayed in New York as long if I’d have known there were no real animation jobs in New York the way there are in California…I probably would’ve made my pilgrimage a lot sooner.”
Another attendee asked how the artists dealt with accusations of racism. “I just got called racist the other day, so that was fun,” recounted Older, saying that because the bad guys in a recent story were White he had the accusation leveled at him. “There’s no easy answer, but you have to go with your gut and trust your instincts because when the shit flies, you have to be able to stand up for your work. I know what I did in that story—and I have much worse stories about White people than that,” he said, laughing.
Gregorio added: “publishing is a team sport, you’re going to have editors and marketing people-they’ll catch anything really bad. And also you have to realize we’re all going to get criticism. Haters are gonna’ hate, it’s alright!”
A reporter asked if the panel felt any responsibility towards social justice storylines. Thomas replied, “You know on Black Dynamite me and Carl Jones, the executive producer, always used to joke that we were like social workers in animation, not to belittle social work, but we liked to joke that because we were one of the few [shows] that touched on those issues. The most important thing for us is that it has to be funny, that’s the golden rule. The second rule is that it has to be genuine. If it’s honest, if it comes from a good place there’s always humor in it….and the third is to make people uncomfortable, not in a negative way but to make them think outside what they normally expect.”
The final question came from a Bleeding Cool reporter who asked, “Why are we still having this conversation? I feel like we’re constantly having the same conversation: do you see an end to it, do you think? Where we’re not going to need to have ‘Geeks of Color’ in the corner at 8:00pm?”
“So you’re saying Geeks of Color needs to be at noon, is what you’re saying? I agree I think it should be much earlier.” Thomas joked.
Pho added: “we’re going to keep having this conversation until we hit critical mass,” she explained that critical mass was not when people stopped asking questions, but rather that “we need a critical mass of answers from all over the place, not just from us but from you guys—not just from you guys but from everyone at this convention, and not just this convention—about how pop culture functions, how media functions…we all have to hit that critical mass point and that’s when the conversation stops.”
“I feel your point a lot,” Older added, indicating the reporter, “we do need this and part of the reason is the industry is still very racist, still very White, and so we need to have these conversations…the job and the struggle and the challenge for us is to push the conversation forward so it’s not so circular. So that’s why we need diverse books, which is such an important way to get everyone together. We need to talk about power analysis.” Older also stressed that he felt there were necessary conversations that weren’t had before this generation of creators and it was important to recognize: “we’re here because the folks before us fought their fight, so we’re fighting our fight for the next generation of artist of color, writers of color…and that involves getting together and having ‘geeks of color’ panels which makes people uncomfortable, which is good, as it should.”
By Matt O’Keefe
There’s no one doing as pure a form of worldbuilding as indy fantasy comic Cartozia Tales. Not only does it have a map that it intends to explore every part of (unlike the majority of fantasy stories that leave most of their maps untouched), it has a rotating list of creators who take turns furthering the adventures of characters created by their peers. The world of the characters and Cartozia itself is expanded every issue with charming short stories by some very talented cartoonists. It fills a lot of voids in the mainstream comic book market today as a black-and-white fantasy that can be read by kids but doesn’t talk down to them. I interviewed the man running the show, Isaac Cates, to learn more about the inner workings of the fantastic, ambitious Cartozia Tales.
The map of Cartozia.
How did Cartozia Tales come together?
If you mean “where did the idea come from,” it was mostly developed from three sources:
1. An experimental world-building “jam” that I’d tried a few years earlier, using the same format where cartoonists move to a different part of the map in each issue. That was a really fun project, but it was sort of doomed because no one could give it priority.
2. A series of books that I really love, the Dungeon comics by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim, that just always make me want to create a shared fantasy world every time I read them.
3. My sense that there aren’t nearly as many smart, engaging all-ages fantasy comics as there ought to be.
I figured that to make the “map-jam” idea work, to justify printing enough copies that I could afford to pay the contributors enough to get the stories off the back burner from time to time, we’d need a substantial audience — and kids (and grown-ups) who like magic and odd creatures are a pretty big audience of readers.
After I’d put those three things together in my head, I spent maybe a month trying to dissuade myself from doing it, because I knew it would involve a huge commitment of time from me. But I couldn’t let it go, because I kept thinking that it might turn out amazing. And, thank goodness, Cartozia Tales has been more awesome than I could have hoped.
How did you connect with the wonderful contributors to Cartozia Tales?
That’s actually a long and cool story. Gathering the group of core contributors — the people without which there would be no Cartozia Tales, because we’re inventing the world and its stories together — was sort of like the first act of Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven. I recruited people I knew were good storytellers, with different but compatible drawing styles, most of whom hadn’t worked together before.
I’ve been friends with Sarah Becan for a long time, since meeting her and reading her comics at some SPX many years ago; I’ve known Shawn Cheng for even longer (he was a student of mine when he was in college, back in 2001); Mike Wenthe and I have been collaborating on comics for like thirteen years. Once they all said they wanted to do this thing, I was pretty sure I’d be able to gather a good group.
I’ve been exchanging weird formalist experimental comics with Tom Motley for almost as long as I’ve been making comics. Lupi McGinty and our secret eighth core cartoonist Caitlin Lehman are both people I met online during the “Animal Alphabet” Tumblr project, and they were both people that I really wanted to collaborate with based on what they’d done there. I knew Jen Vaughn from her CCS days (and from conventions). I tracked down Lucy Bellwood on someone else’s recommendation, and invited her in after reading a couple of her minicomics. And that completed the core group.
As for the guest artists and cover artists, it was mostly a matter of asking my most high-profile friends, like Dylan Horrocks and Jon Lewis, first — then letting their participation embolden me to ask people I don’t know quite as well. A lot of people said no, but a lot of other people were willing to pitch in, given that there’s a sort of mission for the project (smart comics for kids) and the page-count commitment isn’t very high.
It takes a lot of faith for someone to leave a character they created in another creator’s hands. Has that been hard for the writers and artists of this series, including yourself?
You know, I think we see it kind of the opposite way. I mean, we all have that faith in each other, I think, and mostly we are really eager to see what everyone else will do with our characters. I know I’ve been really blown away with the things the other cartoonists have done with Minnaig (the otter-girl) and Ibbacod (the heron-headed incantor), two characters that Mike Wenthe and I created together. I really love to see other cartoonists “recognize” or “get” the characters, and the other cartoonists help me understand the characters better.
Think of it like this: If you have cool toys, you want to share them with your friends. Maybe your toys are special to you, but if the person you’re sharing with is really your friend, then you have to trust them to play nice.
Can you walk me through the process of creating and sharing a character?
Here is the way we came up with Wick the Wind-Up man:
First, during the early planning stages for the first issue, Shawn Cheng suggested that there might be wind-up men in Cartozia:
Then I suggested that Mike Wenthe and I might use a wind-up man in among the characters we were including on the image that wound up on the back cover of the first issue. Some of the other characters in that image (Ottie the phibbit, Reshii, Blip, Lila, Tierce and Gandria) were from stories that we had already seen; we just needed a short creature to be in front.
These are my “thumbnails” (a doodle, really) for the image:
… and this is how the little wind-up man wound up looking in Mike’s completed inks, which I would color later.
Around the time we finished this image, Dylan Horrocks gave me an outline for his story in issue 1, which featured a wind-up man named Wick. Dylan didn’t have a design in mind for Wick yet, so I sent him the drawing Mike and I had done, and suggested he might do something like that.
That’s why Mike and Shawn get co-creator credits when Dylan introduces Wick in the first story, though Wick’s personality in that story is totally Dylan’s doing.
In the next issue, when Lupi McGinty drew Wick, she gave him what has become his signature catch-phrase, “Oh, Cogs!” …
Though it’s only in the moment when Kevin Cannon repeats the line that it really becomes a catchphrase:
… And a little later Mike and I added the detail that wind-up men, like some other robots, have storage compartments, though we don’t know yet what Wick is or isn’t carrying. (The drawing here is Caitlin Lehman from my thumbnails on a script Mike and I worked out together.)
Wick’s personality has been sort of gradually evolving as we’ve taken turns writing him, though most of it is in place when Dylan writes him: talky, oddly formal, willing to sacrifice everything for Taco (the servant girl who wound him up). I can guess now that he (and, probably, those other wind-up men) will have something to do with deposing Prince Malo and restoring the true prince of Neenorra to the throne, though of course when Dylan finished his first story there was no necessity that Wick and Taco would even appear again.
It’s a big part of the fun of working on this book: you add what you can to the creation of a character or a place or a story, then hand that work in progress to someone else who takes it a little farther, expands it a little more, makes it a little more complete.
I was talking to some people last week about the way Cartozia Tales gives you the same character drawn by a bunch of different hands, and I think it actually makes the character seem more real — as if there has to be some objective entity that all the different cartoonists are referring to, and you as reader are sort of triangulating the actual character through a series of versions.
Back cover of Issue 6. Art by Mica and Myla Hendricks
You make it a goal to challenge kids instead of making content that’s easily digestible. I love that; the opposite seems like a big reason some all-ages comics don’t catch on.
Yeah. When I was a kid, I could always tell when a book or a show was simplified because it was pitched at kids, and it bothered me. I felt condescended to. I would always rather read something I don’t totally understand, instead of being pandered to, and I think a lot of kids enjoy the challenge of slightly complex reading.
At comics conventions, what I tell parents is that we use big words, but not bad words.
It’s actually pretty easy to tell interesting and compelling stories without getting into “adult” levels of violence or sexuality — you just have to make the stories about some other aspect of our emotional lives. Curiosity about the world, social acceptance, friendship, justice … none of those require gore or strong language or anything else a parent wouldn’t want to explain to his or her kids.
How wide-reaching was the Cartozia fanbase before the Kickstarter? After?
We had about a hundred subscribers before we launched the Kickstarter; now I think we have about five hundred, plus another hundred or so who have subscribed for PDF delivery.
That’s enough to keep us in the black for about one more issue, maybe two. But, fingers crossed, we’ll get enough new subscribers in the coming months to keep me from going into debt before we reach issue 10.
The breakdown of where the money from the Kickstarter went.
What happens if you fall into the red?
If I don’t have working capital for the last few issues, I’ll have to eliminate some of the extras—no more map inserts or paper dolls— and I’d print fewer copies so it’s really mostly going to subscribers. I’ll still pay the artists and put the book out. It might hurt me financially, but that’s the risk I took when I signed up for this thing.
An unfortunate stumbling block for a lot of Kickstarters during the fulfillment stage is that things cost more than the runners of the campaigns expected. Have you experienced anything like that for Cartozia?
International shipping is just absurdly expensive, and the rates have gone up since our Kickstarter campaign. Regular domestic postage is a little more expensive, too, and our print shop is charging me a little more now because the price of paper has gone up. But mostly what I mis-estimated was time.
Cartozia Tales #5 is now available to order. Art by Eleanor Davis.
I didn’t realize this until preparing for this article because the release of Cartozia has seemed pretty dependable, but your original goal was to release all ten issues by September. Have you had any backlash for not being able to meet that goal?
There are like one or two backers who have complained, but I think everyone is still happy to get it at the pace we’ve been managing, which is about one book every two or three months. Some backers might like to get updates from me more often, but I bet there are even more who would prefer that I not fill their inbox with gradual updates.
When you gather up the first six issues, it’s definitely a good stack of reading (about 250 fairly dense pages). Plus there are the various bonus books. I was just at a convention, and people looking at the whole full table would ask me how long we’d been putting out Cartozia Tales; when I said “a little over a year,” they seemed pretty stunned.
What’s your audience like? Is there a lot of enthusiasm there?
I don’t get to see a lot of the audience in person, but I can tell you that the kids who subscribe are often seriously into the book, which is exactly what I had hoped. I mean, when I have met some of these kids they have just sort of gushed about their favorite characters, and the places on the map that we haven’t explored yet, and the things they’re wondering about upcoming issues.
The core contributors to Cartozia Tales: Shawn Cheng, Jen Vaughn, Mike Wenthe, Sarah Becan, Tom Motley, Lupi McGinty, Lucy Bellwood and Issac Cates.
Who’s your youngest reader? Oldest?
I know at least one five-year-old is really into it, because Mica Hendricks collaborated with her daughter on a really fun drawing of Minnaig and Wick for the back cover of issue 6.
I think we’ve got a lot of readers between ages seven and fifteen, but we’ve also got a lot of grown-up readers who are enjoying the book just as much. There are parents who read the book to kids who are too young to read; there are probably also some grandparents who enjoy the book on the same terms, but I haven’t heard from them yet.
Back cover of Cartozia Tales #1. Art by Mike Wenthe.
Is there any one thing you want people to know about Cartozia other than the information that I’ll include in the opening paragraph?
One of the things I’m loving about it as the books grows is that Cartozia itself feels like a coherent world — full of strange things, as any fantasy world would be, but unified by tone and oddball imagination in a way I didn’t exactly anticipate. Everyone involved is imagining stuff in his or her own way, and there are a lot of different flavors of influence making up our world, but they all make sense together. Partly that’s because everyone is so generous about collaborating carefully with each other. It’s really like a shared world, and not like a world where each balkanized fiefdom runs by its own logic. I think it’s one of the most satisfying things about the experience of reading the book: you feel like you’re visiting someplace that’s personal and idiosyncratic, but it also belongs to a bunch of different people.
You can sample Cartozia comics and subscribe to the series at its online shop.
Matt O’Keefe is a writer for hire of comics, comics journalism and even things mostly unrelated to comics. Visit his blog to see his current musings and his portfolio to view his previous work.
Koyama Press is making many of its current and past graphic novels available in digital editions via the Sequential app. The titles available are yet to be announced, but according to the PR it will include some titles that have been out of print.
“From cosmic art critiques to despondent, down-on-their luck cats, we’ve got you covered.”
The launch is kicking off with a sale on Koyama Press titles this weekend, just in time for CAB. In a statement, Koyama Press wrote:
As always, we remain dedicated to making high-quality and highly awesome print books, but we are excited to be working with SEQUENTIAL creators Panel Nine who share the same alternative and artists-first mindset as us. SEQUENTIAL’s founder, Russell Willis, said, “We’re really delighted to have Koyama Press coming on board. They represent some of the most exciting and innovative comics coming out of the small press scene, and they’re a fantastic and valuable addition to SEQUENTIAL’s expanding lineup.”
Print is the cornerstone of Koyama Press, but we are really excited about its new digital companion. Moreover, this is just the first batch of Koyama Press digital editions, so keep your eyes and apps open for more exciting releases!
It’s encouraging to see a publisher with such a high print standard finding a digital partner with Sequential, which has similar taste about superior digital presentation. While the beauty of print remains a priority for many comics publishers, the audience building opportunities of digital are a tool that more and more are opening up to.
by Zachary Clemente
Well, this is a wonderful surprise! Panel Syndicate announced today that a new digital comic by Albert Monteys (of El Jueves fame) is being hosted on their platform. Panel Syndicate, launched by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin with the purpose of hosting their spectacular 10-issue series The Private Eye with colorist Muntsa Vicente, is holding true to their word and opening up the publishing platform up to other creators.
The reason this is super-noteworthy (other than gracing us with more of Montey’s wonderful work) is what makes Panel Syndicate’s platform so unique. Their comics are digital-only, DRM-free, widescreen-oriented, and available in multiple file formats costing as much as you’re willing to pay. This digital pay-what-you-want method, while undoubtedly around previously, was popularized when UK music group Radiohead released their acclaimed In Rainbows album in 2007 self-produced on their website.
For me, Panel Syndicate’s method is one of the best available – for those willing to take the risk. If you receive enough purchases from readers, there is literally nothing standing between you and the full payment other than the costs of hosting and the time spent making the work. It goes without saying that The Private Eye has been a smash hit as it was launched soon after it became clear that Saga was well on its way to becoming the titan it is today, but I’m thrilled that we’re getting work from a creator who is less known in the United States. I didn’t consider the possibility of a place like Panel Syndicate being leverages as a way to expose the US audience to comics from other countries, but it makes so much damned sense. If Monteys wants Universe! available in Spanish, Catalan, and English; that’s an easy option, no second printing needed. It’s ultimate control for the creator with nothing but gain for the reader, so long as we have an open heart and open mind when choosing what we buy.
You can find the first issue of Universe! and all released issues (8 0f 10) of The Private Eye at Panel Syndicate.
The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo takes place this weekend, and the show really seems to have ramped it up to take its place among the big CAFs around the world. You can see all the debuts and info and events above but they sent along the programming, which I present as a sample of what to expect.
Chicago has an important heritage as an indie comics town, and CAKE is a great way to bring it forward.
Saturday, May 31st
Evolution of The Artist with Anya Davidson, Lizz Hickey, and Inés Estrada, Moderated by Max Morris
In a time of online social media and new methods of self-publishing, the role of the cartoonist has changed shapes and intentions from previous forms. In this panel, CAKE organizer Max Morris asks three Special Guests from the new generation of cartoonists what started them on the path of comics, and where that road is leading them. Inés Estrada is the editor of the comics section of Vice Mexico, manages the Gatosaurio webstore, but she has also worked with publications such as Kuš (Latvia), The Believer (US) and Ediciones Valientes (Spain.) Anya Davidson has published innumerable self-published books, and in 2013 her first graphic novel, School Spirits was published by Picturebox Inc. Lizz Hickey exists as a cartooning force to be reckoned with, with her book Jammers (Hic and Hoc) existing alongside a bevy of side-splitting-mind-melting self-published work. To join the Facebook event and share, click here!
This panel and Anya Davidson’s appearance at CAKE are sponsored by Print Ninja
Saturday, May 31st
Magikomix, Queer Comics, and Visionary Cartooning
Edie Fake, Eric Kostiuk Williams, Elisha Lim
Moderated by Brian Cremins
In this panel, artists Elisha Lim, Eric Kostiuk Williams, and Speical Guest Edie Fake will read short selections from their work and then discuss their innovations with narrative form. How have magic and the Magical shaped their sensibilities? Elisha Lim—cartoonist, filmmaker, Queer People of Color activist—describes their new Koyama Press collection 100 Crushes as “an excerpt of the most magical undertaking of my life,” one that began when a fortune teller advised them to “go back to doing what you loved as a child.” Edie Fake’s Ignatz Award-winning 2010 graphic novel Gaylord Phoenix is the adventure of a bird man who searches for his true self in an 8-bit universe of flaming creatures who often resemble Pamela Colman Smith’s Tarot card lovelies. And in his ongoing autobiographical series Hungry Bottom Comics, Eric Kostiuk Williams conjures with stories of Goldilocks charming the Three Bears, Jean Genet crooning Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake,” and a young apprentice making a pilgrimage to Beyoncé’s House of Deréon. These visionary cartoonists explore the line between the real and the imagined as they celebrate Queer history and community from Chicago and Singapore to Toronto and Berlin. Writer and comics scholar Brian Cremins will moderate the discussion. To join the Facebook and share, click here!
This panel is sponsored by Quimby’s Bookstore
Sunday, June 1st
Seduction of the Innocent with Tony Millionaire, Liz Prince, and Tucker Stone, Moderated by Marnie Galloway
Comics are still for kids?! While the comics medium has grown up in the eyes of the public, of course there are still creators making work for younger audiences. What is the inspiration for creating work for a younger age group, and how will authors stay connected to new generations who will be born in a world of digital entertainment? CAKE organizer and author of In the Sounds and Seas, Marnie Galloway will lead a panel discussion with the multi-faceted Special Guest Tony Millionaire (Sock Monkey), Liz Prince, author of the upcoming memoir for teens, Tomboy, and Tucker Stone representing Special Guest Nobrow Press.
This panel is sponsored by First Aid Comics. Tony Millionaire’s appearance is sponsored by Graham Crackers and Fantagraphics.
Sunday, June 1st
24 panels a second with Hellen Jo, Jesse Moynihan, and Jo Dery, Moderated by Jeremy Tinder.
Since the days of Winsor McCay and Osamu Tezuka, cartoonists have found time between the gutters to trade page layouts for storyboards and motion lines. Jeremy Tinder, a founding member of Chicago’s Trubble Club and character designer for “Paranormal Roommates” leads a panel discussion on the parellel paths between cartoonist and animator. Joining him on stage is Special Guest Hellen Jo, author of Jin & Jam and storyboard artist for “Steven Universe,” Jesse Moynihan, author of Forming and storyboard artist for “Adventure Time,” and Jo Dery, Chicago artist and assistant professor of graphics and animation at Depaul University. To join the Facebook event and share, click here!
This panel is sponsored by DePaul Animation Program
Sunday, June 1st
Sequential Story Yelling with Sean Christensen, Otto Splotch, and Sara Drake, Moderated by Lyra Hill
Comics are often compared to film, but rarely to performance. What does it mean for comics to step out of the page and onto the stage? How does one read a drawing out loud? Come explore the budding art of performative comics in a panel discussion led by Lyra Hill, creator and host of the of Chicago’s comics performance event “Brain Frame.” With panelists Sean Christensen, of Portland’s own comics reading series “Gridlords,” Sara Drake, cartoonist and founder of Chicago’s “Pup House” puppet group, and Otto Splotch, author of Quarter Vomit and the graphic novel Stink Helmet, the enigma of performative comics will be center stage. To join the Facebook event and share, click here!
CAKE takes place this weekend May 31st-June 1st, from 11am-6pm, at the Center on Halsted at 3656 N Halsted Ave.The festival will feature over 200 exhibitors ranging from local artists to international publishers, creating the best that alternative comics has to offer! Visit cakechicago.com for more information. We look forward to seeing you this weekend!
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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by Benjamin Rogers
Once again the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo was a huge success. CAKE 2014 featured over 120 exhibitors and drew 2,200 attendees over the course of the weekend, a ten percent increase from last year’s show. Conference organizer Neil Brideau said that CAKE was excited to continue increasing its scope, noting that “this was the first year we’ve had a large international presence.” He highlighted some artists who travelled a long way to attend the show such as Inés Estrada of Mexico, and Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson of the UK.
Brideau also emphasized that a major part of CAKE’s mission is to support the local comics scene in Chicago. “We’re working to become a non-profit right now, and we’ve funded some scholarships. John Porcellino is doing a week-long workshop immediately following CAKE at the Chicago Publishing Resource Center. We did two half tuition scholarships for that workshop. Today, we’ve announced the Cupcake Award, which is a grant and a guaranteed half table at next year’s CAKE for someone’s who is working in minicomics and has not been published by a major publisher. Annie Koyama from Koyama Press is our special guest juror for that award this year.”
CAKE, now in its third year, has made its home at the Center on Halsted. After an especially crowded show last year, CAKE expanded from a single exhibition hall to a include a second space while simultaneously reducing the number of tables. The show was much easier to get around than in previous years, but still packed the house later in the afternoon on both days.
The goal of the CAKE organizers is to create a “balanced show, that brings a lot of different styles and experience levels together.” To achieve this, the CAKE organizers crowdsource feedback on CAKE applicants from the Chicago comics community but also retain curatorial oversight over the final list of exhibitors. It’s a hybrid approach that attempts to sidestep the gatekeeper problem of a fully curated show while also avoiding the free-for-all of a lottery show.
I asked many of the exhibitors what makes CAKE such a special show, and Chicago’s comics community such a strong one. Isabella Rotman and Amara Leipzig suggested that the city’s art colleges such as Columbia and School of the Art Institute are incubators for a lot of comics talent. Lucy Knisley noted that Chicago’s climate was ideal for cartoonists — having 7-8 months of cold weather forces folks inside and encourages the hermit-like conditions that are ideal for comics making, while the welcome arrival of summer allows time for self-promotion and energizing interaction with other artists during the convention season. Michael DeForge said that it is one of his favorite shows because there is a heavier emphasis on zines and minicomics than there is at other comparable shows. Many, many exhibitors mentioned the importance of Chicago book, zine, and comic superstore Quimby’s in promoting the work of emerging artist and providing a focal point for the local comics scene.
Now let’s hit the show floor!
Sophie McMahan had her latest issue of You Were Swell, her comic that combines loose dream-inspired narrative with 1950s and ’60s pop culture characters (such as the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Elvis). Sophie was one of many artists who was also showing off non-comics handmade objects — in this case, funky earrings made from Shrinky Dinks of her characters.
Jack Gross was among a significant contingent of Minnesota based creators at the show. Jack debuted Wizard Friends at the show, which she described as a departure from the “moody pencils” of her earlier work. I asked Jack about her unusually keen backgrounds, which are drawn from real locations in her hometown. She said she worked hard on that aspect of her comics after an especially tough critique from an art school professor. That’s the American higher education system working for you, folks.
Dawson Walker, also lately of Minnesota, showed off his latest work, The Granville Syndrome, which grew out of his thesis project at MCAD. The Granville Syndrome tells the story of a group of amateur stormchasers and deals with Walker’s own experience of migrating from Alaska to the Midwest. Walker’s cinematically wide panels are meant to evoke the wide-openess of the Midwest landscape.
One of the most physically beautiful objects I saw at the show was a CAKE debut from Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, a twelve page silkscreened mini called Amarinthine. Featuring a heavy gold metallic paper cover and three-color interiors, every page of this comic is a single panel that captures a moment in the life of a pair of childhood friends as they grow together and grow apart. This comic was a great example of how the care and craftsmanship of the physical object can add to the emotional impact of the narrative within.
Speaking of handmade books, Mita Mahato of Seattle creates beautiful comics that combine collage and traditional comics. For Mahato, the physical layering of images relates to the layered quality of her narratives. Her comics deal with nature, magical realism, and the grieving process. She is a board member of Seattle’s Short Run comics festival.
Carrie Vinarsky, who designed the poster, badges and other print materials for this year’s expo, also had some wonderful bespoke objects on display at her table. Each copy of the limited edition debut Fried Coolaid was individually bedazzled with glitter and googly eyes, and interior pages feature such surprises as a spray-painted page which is different in every copy.
At CAKE, comics come in all shapes and sizes, from massive tomes like Raymond Lemstra’s Big Mother 4 (left, with Tucker Stone for scale) to tiny volumes like Rebecca Mir Grady’s She is Restless. She is Restless volume seven, subtitled “Lost at Sea,” debuted at CAKE. Each volume contains a single fold-out page that deals with a current event from an environmental perspective. Previous volumes have been inspired by wildfires and drought conditions in the Southwest and of course, the Polar Vortex.
Leigh Luna was displaying the latest minis collected from her webcomic Clementine Fox. She told me that Clementine Fox was recently picked up by major humor comics house Andrews McMeel, who are looking to market Luna’s first major publication next year.
Ben Passmore and Erin K. Wilson’s table featured the debut of Passmore’s Daygloayhole: The Beast in Me and Wilson’s micro-mini Server. Wilson talked to me about her graphic novel Snowbird and the Kickstarter that helped her fund and create it. “I had mixed feelings about the Kickstarter,” said Wilson. “I don’t know who I thought I was that I was going to write my first graphic novel in three months.” It ended up taking about two years. “It was really hard because I had 368 backers, who were for the most part really supportive, like ‘hey, you got this! We’re just happy that you’re making it!’” But a vocal minority ended up making things uncomfortable for Wilson. In order to appease some less patient fans, Wilson began posting every page online as she finished it. “It’s not how you’re supposed to do it. You’re supposed to storyboard the whole book, pencil the whole book, ink the whole book, shade the whole book, and release it all at once. But I did it one page at a time.” Although she was still very happy with the end result, she felt that the pressure from her Kickstarter backers did compromise the process in some ways.
Hellen Jo, one of the convention’s Special Guests this year, also expressed some trepidation about Kickstarter. She admitted to having toyed with the idea of leveraging her popularity online to get funding for comics, but ultimately decided “I’m scared of Kickstarter.” She cited her slow work rate, saying that she wasn’t sure that Kickstarter backers could ever be patient enough for her. Jo is currently working on the second volume of Jin & Jam, a minicomic whose first volume appeared in 2008. But Jo has a good reason for working slowly on her comics: for the past year, she’s been working on a series of Girl Gang paintings which were recently collected as a monograph by Youth in Decline. She also has had full-time gigs doing storyboards for Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe and Regular Show.
Hellen Jo joined Jesse Moynihan and Jo Dery on a panel titled “24 Panels a Second,” moderated by Trubble Clubber Jeremy Tinder. The panelists started by citing some of their earliest animation influences, which included, Goofy, Garfield, Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, and Wizards by Ralph Bakshi. All of them mentioned how important their parents were in getting them into cool cartoons early in life. Although all of them loved animation from a young age, they didn’t consider it as something to pursue. Said Jesse Moynihan “Watching cartoons doesn’t translate to ‘I can do that.’ … the thing that made me think I could tell stories was comics.” Self-published comics like Cerebus and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired Moynihan to create his own comics, which only later led to his work as a storyboard artist on Adventure Time. Hellen Jo’s story was similar – it was the circulation of her comics online that led to her first animation job as a Storyboard Revisionist at Cartoon Network.
What was the biggest hurdle for these creators in transitioning from comics to animation? For Hellen Jo, it was the pace: “I’ve never drawn so fast in my life.” Jesse Moynihan cited a cultural difference between comics creators and artists with formal training as animators: “All of the comics people who work on [Adventure Time] are very precious and protective about their work. The people who come from an animation background are more willing to collaborate and have less ego.”
Jesse Moynihan also took time out to sign Forming II at the Nobrow table. It’s the second volume of Moynihan’s full color trilogy that combines mythology, science fiction and humor in an epic battle for the soul of humanity. Also at the Nobrow table were samples of the new concertina book from Kellie Strom, Worse Things Happen at Sea. This intricately detailed Leporello features beautiful colors created through a chromolithographic process, a near-extinct hand color separation technique that was once used in the production of currency. Those interested in how Strom achieves the fine level of detail and vibrant coloration of his work will be interested in this process video.
The highlight of Fantagraphics’ table this year was the debut of Twelve Gems by Lane Milburn. The 150-plus page chaotic space opera, which had not been previously serialized, was sold out by 11:30 AM on Sunday. Fantagraphics’ Jacq Cohen called it Fantagraphics’ book of the year, noting that the book “sold out faster than we could have possibly imagined. It’s incredible to see Chicago supporting a local artist like Lane.” Milburn was tabling with Conor Stechschulte, whose graphic novel The Amateurs is also new this summer from Fantagraphics. The Amateurs tells the story of a pair of butchers who suddenly find that they have completely forgotten how to do their craft. Stechschulte says it was inspired by a story from Werner Herzog about an unbelievably inept butcher shop he encountered in Quito while filming Fitzcarraldo.
More from the Fantastical Epic Narrative Department: Downfall Arts’ Alan D. Caesar told me all about his ambitious series Rena Rouge. The series started with volume 37, and Caesar plans to continue the series by alternating volumes that are numbered forwards and backwards, so that eventually, volumes one and 74 will be released simultaneously. Volume 38 debuted at CAKE, and Caesar had this to say about the project: “ I like worldbuilding. I want people to feel like they’re entering a world that’s fully realized.” The comics feature jam-packed interior pages and lush covers created by offset printing colored paper with fluorescent inks — the covers look even better when viewed under a black light.
Founded by a group of Columbia College grads, Yeti Press has released eighteen books since starting in 2011. One of the eye-catching new releases at their table this year was Andrea Bell’s Rose From the Dead, which Bell described as a “dude in distress” tale. Officially debuting at CAKE was Erik Nebel’s Well Come, the first print edition of his popular tumblr comic. Well Come tells an interwoven fantasy narrative with many characters, all conveyed without words in a simple, geometric style with bold colors. Nebel told me about the origins of the vibrant color palette he employs:
“I read this book called Environmentalism in Pop Culture , and she [author Noël Sturgeon] has this point of view she calls Global Ecofeminism. She analyzes all of the stories of the last 100 years of American pop culture and makes a convincing argument that in all of the stories we tell, we’re creating this false dichotomy. Pitting things against each other that aren’t even separated, for example men and women. That’s a societal construct, the idea of gender identity. The same thing with nature and civilization. And in advertisements and general imagery, there’s black and white. Black is associated with nature, white is associated with civilization. And women, and black, and nature are lumped together, and men, and white and civilization are on the other end. It sets up this superiority where the lighter colors have this symbolic meaning where they represent something pure, more clean, sophisticated. Darker colors are natural, wild, ethnic, tribal. So when I was thinking of the color palette [for Well Come] I started out with human creatures and made them a dark red, and animals I made a light orange, because I wanted to reverse that idea that dark colors are nature and light colors are human. I wanted to take that whole idea and flip that around.”
Uncivilized Books’ CAKE presentation featured the first bound volume from the white-hot Sam Alden. It Never Happened Again includes a pair of stories in Alden’s soft pencil style. I asked Alden about the many formats and media he experiments with: “The pencil stuff is like my wife…everything else is just a fling.” Uncivilized publisher Tom K was also very excited to debut Truth is Fragmentary by Gabrielle Bell. Part travelogue and part surreal adventure, the book explores the intersections of memory, reality and imagination across three continents.
Canadian boutique publisher Koyama Press has been at CAKE every year of the conference. According to marketing manager Ed Kanerva, Koyama considers smaller conferences like CAKE as essential to the publisher’s mission of being at the forefront of the graphic arts. Like many artists at the show, Michael DeForge, who released Very Casual with Koyama last year to great acclaim, still self-publishes zines and minis even after having found a publisher for his work. DeForge said he “couldn’t imagine” not making minicomics. Asked if his rapid rise in popularity had affected him or his work, DeForge said it hadn’t and told me “I still spend most of my time in a basement.”
Koyama’s newest release at the show was Elisha Lim’s 100 Crushes. Elisha, who is based in Toronto, told me about their roots in the queer comics community and said they broke through when “Alison Bechdel wrote an intro for a comic that I dreamed of doing.” Koyama and Elisha were connected through a mutual friend, leading to the publication of 100 Crushes. “Basically it’s all different ways that I’ve met queer people on three different continents. The first chapter is about butches and having crazy crushes on them…another chapter is going with friends to the men’s changing room in stores and what it’s like to try on men’s clothes…and there’s one at the end that’s not really queer content, it’s about jealousy, and trying to draw what it feels like to feel jealous.” Elisha said they create comics primarily for the queer community but that their real audience is any “intelligent, or informed” one, and that’s they’ve been blown away by the way their work has been embraced by the comics community at large.
Another Toronto-based artist, Eric Kostiuk Williams, was debuting the first collected volume of his Hungry Bottom comics. Hungry Bottom combines Williams’ own story of self-actualization in the Toronto queer community with wide-ranging pop-culture reference and sampling. Like the three individual volumes, the Collected Hungry Bottom features a four-color risograph cover and two-color risograph interiors in an oversize 7”x10” format.
Some of the most talked about comics at the show were Gina Wynbrandt’s works inspired by “sexual humiliation” and her status as a True Belieber. Wynbrandt debuted her minicomic Someone Please Have Sex With Me earlier this Spring at Chicago Zine Fest and her comic “Fish Vagina” was featured in the 2014 CAKE anthology.
Miranda Harmon, who was singled out to me by a CAKE organizer as one of the artists to watch at the show, was tabling at a comics show for the first time ever. She had previously only brought her comics to SPX as an attendee. Harmon, a recent graduate of Goucher College, had four debut minis at CAKE: Journal Comics, More Good Demons (a menagerie of not-so-scary monsters), Peat in the Woods, and Bad Comics. Regarding the comics collected in Bad Comics: “They’re okay,” said Harmon.
Emily Hutchings was also tabling for the first time. Trained as a sculptor, Hutchings decided to try her hand at exhibiting this year after her friend Ian McDuffie sold a book of her drawings at his table last year. Hutching’s offerings included the beautifully assembled Doesn’t Matter, a starkly minimalist collection of illustrated nihilist poems.
Anna Bongiovanni debuted a minicomic collecting the Grease Bats strip they draw for Autostraddle.com . The (Mother Fuckin’) Grease Bats has the tone of a buddy comedy or sitcom even as it addresses serious issues of identity and acceptance in the queer community. Also on hand for the show was the awesome educational comic A Cheap and Easy Introduction to They/Them Pronouns. Bongiovanni created this comic in order to explain and promote the use of gender neutral pronouns for those that choose to use them. It’s a great tool and as a writer I can say I found the guide really positive and helpful. They made it accessibly priced to make it easier for people to share with friends, family and coworkers, and they plan to release more comics in the Cheap and Easy series including an upcoming pamphlet on consent within the queer community.
The Comic Nurse, MK Czerwiec, was at the show to inform about the burgeoning world of medical comics. She told me about the scene: “I started making comics during the AIDS crisis when I was working as a nurse and was so overwhelmed by what I was experiencing and couldn’t figure out how to process it. I stumbled into making comics, and it turned out to be a really effective way of dealing with what I was seeing as a nurse. I ended up getting a degree in Medical Humanities, and, this was about ten years later, I wanted to look back critically and ask ‘why did that work?’ what was it about the form that helped me process experiences, and a large question, can comics have a serious role in medicine, in education, and what can they do for our patients and providers?” Around the same time, Ian Williams was creating the website Graphic Medicine to catalog comics that told of the experience of severe illness for patients and loved ones. Soon, MK and Williams were arranging a conference based around comics and medicine. This year that conference will celebrate its fifth anniversary at John Hopkins University in Maryland. MK herself teaches at Northwestern Medical School using comics in her classrooms.
Continuing in the practical-comics vein, Isabella Rotman debuted Gatherer, an easily-pocketed illustrated guide to fifteen edible plants which can be commonly found on the East coast and in the Midwest. Her tablemate Amara Leipzig had a gorgeous new book called The Ruins, which asks, “If a person grew up with no preconceptions, would they choose science or religion?”
Rotman will be one the artists featured in the upcoming anthology Speculative Relationships. The kickstarted anthology reached its funding goal on Saturday of the convention. I spoke to editor Tyrell Cannon about the book. “Anthologies are usually bad,” he said. One of the problems is a lack of cohesion. Speculative Relationships has a tight focus: Romance comics with a science fictional setting. The PDF of the anthology should be ready this month, with print editions headed to backers by the end of July.
Odin Cabal debuted the eighth issue of his self-publishd series Midwestern Cuban Comics, which collects several stories including the multi-part epic “¿O hermano, donde esta usted?” Cabal’s comics incorporate everything from baseball to MMA to one-night stands to the fairy godmother. He’s based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but like many artists at the show, he got his start in comics when Quimby’s began carrying his work.
Scott Roberts, creator of the Star Spangled Angel, took a long break from making comics and returned to the form about four years ago. I asked him what brought him back: “It was what had exploded, the alternative world was so much different. It was a combination of art, printing and illustration. I hadn’t really thought of comics as such a great means of expression before. I mean I loved it, I loved RAW back in the ‘80s, but I always thought you had to have a publisher.” Though Roberts said he wouldn’t mind working with a publisher, he said that’s not the goal. He encourages younger artists to think of making their comics as an ends in and of itself, and not always a jumping off platform to more money and success: “There’s no real money in [comics] anyway. If there was a lot of money in it, you’d have a lot of different personalities involved. Some of the young kids go around passing out business cards. What in the world would I do with that? Just make some comics, and I’ll look at your comics!”
At the same table, Keiler Roberts had the latest issue of Powdered Milk available. “It focuses on my daughter who’s three years old, the things she says, domestic moments. It’s more structured than some of my other work.” It was the funniest comic I read at the show.
CAKE was an amazing show this year. The event continues to grow and expand and is quickly gaining recognition as one of the significant alternative comics shows on the crowded summer festival roster. There were many more brilliant self-published and small press comics than I could ever hope to chronicle here — the only way to see everything is to check out the show. Hope to see you at CAKE 2015!
Director Chris Butcher has a wrap-up post for the 2014 TCAF that has many thanks and observations. Also the news that next year’s fest will be May 8-10, basically the same weekend as this year. Also, applications open up on August 1st. Attendance for 2014 was 22,000, up from 18,000 in 2013. And next year will be more of the same wonderful.
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is thrilled to announce that it will return to Toronto Reference Library and The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon for 2015. The dates are Friday May 8th (Professional Development), and Saturday May 9th & Sunday May 10th (Exhibition Dates). This continues the wonderful partnership between TCAF and its Presenting Sponsor Toronto Public Library, and secures a beautiful, large, and central location from which to continue building the Festival.
In addition, TCAF will continue to spread its programming and exhibitions through the surrounding neighbourhood and the city, by partnering with venues including The Marriott Bloor Yorkville, St. Paul’s on Bloor, The Pilot, The Japan Foundation, and more. TCAF will continue to grow through its programs and exhibitions, maintaining a strong mix of exhibiting and participating artists each with something unique to offer.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Who even is Emily and where did she go? Those are the first two questions that spring into the mind when reading ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ by John Lees, Iain Laurie, Megan Wilson and Colin Bell. A mystery series which quickly leaps into the horrific and fantastical without a word of warning, this month sees the book head out into the previews catalogue. The first series published by ComixTribe, the series was originally published last year in black and white – however, for this second time round, it’ll be in full colour. Each member of the creative team is known for their own work, making this a bit of a Scottish supergroup thing – like The Reindeer Section! Lees is probably best known for writing superhero series ‘The Standard’, and Laurie for a whole load of books including Metrodome and Horror Mountain. Wilson can also be seen colouring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,whilst Bell is the writer of Dungeon Fun and owner of Dogooder Comics. They’re busy people.
But they all very kindly took the time to talk to The Beat about ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ – delving into all aspects of the creation of the book, and the journey it’s been on. With the first issue about to launch at Glasgow Comic-Con this weekend, it felt like the perfect time to take a closer look at the series. Read on!
How did you meet each other, specifically for this project? And what was it that made this the project you decided to collaborate on?
JOHN: Well, I’ve been a fan of Iain’s for years, so I’d been wanting to work with him for some time: it a quite large-scale anthology with a pretty big publisher interested, and had enjoyed that taste of the partnership. So, when that project stalled, Iain and I decided we were going to develop a comic of our own to work on together. And so what made this the project we decided to collaborate on is that, from the ground up, it was something we cooked up together as essentially our dream project, a mash-up of a whole bunch of ideas and influences that we shared a passion for.
IAIN: I saw a copy of The Standard and was really impressed. I was trying to move away from the more experimental stuff I’d done with Craig Collins or on my own with Powwkipsie and Horror Mountain, and I thought John would be the best guy to do that with. Luckily he wanted to do something with me. In terms of collaborating on this, it’s very much everything that both of us are into thrown into a meat grinder really.
Where did your respective interest in horror stories come from?
JOHN: I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember. Monster Squad was an early favourite film in my house, and one of the earliest toys I can remember having was of Frankenstein’s Monster. Me and my cousin were equally mad for scary movies at a very young age when we really should have been watching cartoons, and while other kids were playing Cops & Robbers or Soldiers or whatever, my cousin and I would play “Horrors,” where he’d pretend to be Freddy Krueger and I’d pretend to be Chucky from Child’s Play, and we’d take turns murdering invisible victims. I had a very happy childhood, it was only fucked-up in retrospect!
IAIN: I’m not a huge horror guy in the traditional sense but a lot of what I do is influenced by being a teenage Stephen King fan. I really like the idea of the horror beneath the surface stuff he was so good at. And that also plays into my love of David Lynch too. But most modern horror leaves me pretty cold.
Is it difficult to translate a horror experience to comics? Is there still a capacity to shock and startle within a comic page?
IAIN: If I’ve got a technique its always to try and make something that looks like a normal comic but isn’t, so your mind traditionally expects a certain progression of the story and framing choices – close-up, wide shot – that reflect the story and the intentions of the writer and artist. By refusing to follow this it unsettles the reader. So if you have a really intense scene where you would expect a close up if you instead use a long shot it throws you and you’re not sure why. Hopefully that makes sense a bit.
JOHN: It’s certainly a challenge. Much of the power of horror books comes from the words inspiring you to imagine in your head something far more terrifying than any visual that can be reproduced, but comics are a visual medium and so you have to create something that’s as terrifying as what the reader pictures in their mind’s eye in order to be successful. Meanwhile, in horror films, so much of the scares come from the use of sound – be it atmospheric sound design or a Luton bus jump-scare – and with comics that’s a whole box of tools that just isn’t at your disposal. But I think it is still possible for a horror comic to frighten. Just look at manga cartoonist Junji Ito, in my opinion the master of comics horror. With a combination of expert pacing and skin-crawling imagery he’s been able to make some really scary comics.
In the American comics industry there’s been a flourishing of genuinely frightening horror in recent years, with Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Severed by Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki immediately springing to mind. I think something that is an effective strategy in horror across all mediums is to make your audience uncomfortable, to make them feel like they’re in a world that isn’t quite right and where something horrible could be waiting around the corner.
And that’s what we’ve tried to do with And Then Emily Was Gone: create a comic that reads like a bad dream, drifting gradually deeper into nightmare.
What has the collaborative process been like, as a whole, for the story? Were there any points where you surprised each other with where you took the narrative?
JOHN: Working with Iain Laurie has been an absolute joy. Because we co-created this comic and developed it together, when I was scripting each issue I constantly had an eye to thinking up stuff I, as a fan of Iain’s, would be excited to see him draw. Some of that was hoping to stretch him and have him tackle stuff that was a little different than his previous output, but a big part of it was relishing in writing “Iain Laurie’s Greatest Hits,” repurposing some of the most notable recurring motifs in Iain’s unique body of work.
But even so, Iain has managed to constantly thrill and surprise me in the pages he’s sent back, taking my weird ideas and pushing them so much further into the realm of bonkers invention. There’s one page in issue #1 where the script says, “Close-up of Hellinger, looking worried,” and what I got back was this jaw-dropping collage of Greg Hellinger and the monsters that hound him. There’s been loads of experiences like that, Iain finding grimy little details between the scripted panels and blowing them up to add a whole new dimension to the storytelling, or portraying a bit-part character so powerfully that I want to go back and write a bigger role for them!
IAIN: Yeah it’s been great, and I’m not the easiest person to work with as I’m sure anyone I’ve worked with in the past will tell you. I very much like to do things my own way which can annoy writers and I totally get it but with John it’s been a really great time. I think were both aiming for the same things so while we might argue about directions, we both want to get to the same destination.
MEGAN: I’m jumping in here too. There is this one particular panel in issue #3 that comes to mind where John wrote something seemingly normal in the panel description and what Iain translated it to was hilariously bizarre. It stayed true to what John’s script was trying to convey, but I have no idea where Iain came up with his interpretation of it. You guys completely feed off of each other and it turns into this wonderfully charming collaborative thing and I wish everyone could see the scripts to really see this dynamic.
COLIN: Having known Iain and John and their respective work prior to Emily it’s been really fun to watch the two of them bounce off each other and see the effect this has on what they produce. Iain’s artwork, at least for the first couple of issues, is the most restrained I’ve ever seen from him, played totally straight - and I mean no disrespect to the vast body of his wild work that we all fell in love with prior. It’s like there’s an insanity, caged, just bristling to get out, and it’s unnerving – which is the desired effect, I’m sure. Meanwhile, John’s scripts feel like Iain’s work has goaded him to being the most evil, terrifying, horrific version of himself. It’s fascinating. We should get to what that narrative actually is. The story starts off with a series of disconnected strands, but the core of it is a mystery disappearance. How did you approach structuring the series? Did you start off with this central mystery, and build around it?
JOHN: While that central mystery of “Where is Emily Munro?” is the through-line that spans across the series, I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to say that the whole story is built around it. While we’ve billed And Then Emily Was Gone as a horror mystery, I’d certainly say the pendulum progressively swings more and more towards horror as the narrative unfolds. While I love a good whodunnit, I feel like the problem with many serialised mysteries is that they are most interesting at the beginning and the end, while what happens in between can be a lot of going through the motions with false leads and red herrings. I wanted to avoid that here, so I’d say it was more the desolate atmosphere of Nordic dramas like The Killing that we incorporated rather than the plot mechanics.
What interested me was the notion of stepping away from that procedural element, and crafting a mystery that would only become more horrifying and unknowable the deeper you dig into it. I’d say the focus is more on the characters and their deeply damaged headspaces. If anything, it was them – Hellinger, Fiona, Vin – that were our starting point, fully formed as individuals, and the plotting from there was more about what dark places we wanted to take those characters.
What prompted the idea of incorporating Scottish folklore into the story? Was part of your intent to make this a uniquely Scottish storyline?
JOHN: It certainly was for me. I wrote a graphic novel called Black Leaf, in the process of being drawn by Garry McLaughlin, which was another Scottish horror, set in the Scottish Highlands. And Then Emily Was Gone takes place on a remote island community in Orkney. I just feel like Scotland is such a fascinating, diverse country with locations rich in storytelling potential that has been largely untapped. And given that Iain and I (and Colin) are Scottish, why not make the most of that and inject a unique flavour into our comic that might set it apart from its American counterparts?
Iain, I read your interview with Multiversity where you said that your artwork was inspired by, amongst other things, Reeves and Mortimer. And it’s noticeable – they have that same mix of dark comedy, surrealism and a little horror which marks your style. How have you found the balance of horror and comedy within the story? Is it a difficult line to balance?
IAIN: Yeah, I’m pretty open about the fact that the biggest influences on my work are Reeves And Mortimer, David Lynch, Dennis Potter. Creepy blue-collar surrealism. In terms of Emily, I don’t really see any comedy in there. Other people have told me they find it funny but I’m never going for that. To me it’s a bit like Chris Morris’ JAM in the sense that some people found it hilarious (me) while others thought they were watching something really disturbing. One of the more interesting things about the way you structure page layouts is how much negative space you leave. There are several points where you ‘skip’ a panel, essentially [you can see this in the below images]. Was this a conscious design choice on your part?
IAIN: Yeah absolutely. This plays into my earlier answer of throwing the reader off by not giving them the panel or the facial expression they expect. Again, I take a lot of this from film directors. My drawing styles got a million influences from Ken Reid to Frank Quitely to Peter Howson but my framing is very much influenced by movies rather than comics.
There are a series of strange characters in the book, marked by Iain’s sense of facial design. Where do you begin with a character? Do you bounce ideas back and forth – the scripted personality affecting the design, the design then deepening or changing the scripting, and so on?
JOHN: I would say the process of character design was very much a symbiotic one. With the main characters, Iain and I started off by talking about them, their role in the story and their personalities. Based on that Iain did some sketches, which were so evocative that they’d further inform those characters and give them a voice in my head. And that translated into how I’d write them in the script. Then when it came time to draw them on the page, Iain would often further refine his design of those characters based on how I’d written them.
With supporting characters who we perhaps discussed less beforehand, and whose roles in the scripts were more limited and functional, so much of their personality comes from how Iain draws them. There’s no such thing as a background character in Iain’s artwork: every character, even ones who only appear in one panel, has a story written into their faces. A lot of the time, it’s hard to tell where I end and Iain begins when it comes to these characters… we’re like a comic Human Centipede!
There was a certain starkness in the black and white version of the series. What prompted you to bring in Megan Wilson as colourist?
JOHN: It was actually Nick Pitarra’s idea! Iain and I had originally envisioned the comic as being black-and-white, and had produced the first issue with that in mind. Iain had been showing pages to Nick, who’s been incredibly supportive of the book and a major cheerleader for us. While we thought this would be a little personal comic destined for the British small press scene, Nick was perhaps the first person to suggest that And Then Emily Was Gone could work in the American market, and that colouring it would make it more appealing to that demographic.
And so he suggested letting Megan Wilson, who he’d worked with before, try her hand at coloring. And the rest is history. Looking at the book now, with Megan’s spectacular covers and how they compliment Iain’s art, I can’t imagine the series without her now.
IAIN: Yeah, Megan’s amazing. I love how her stuff complements my drawing.
MEGAN: This is probably a weird part of the interview for me to add to, but whatever. You guys always have such wonderfully nice things to say in interviews about me and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to chime in, so I just wanted to add that YOU guys are amazingly talented and infectiously enthusiastic and I’d be happy to work with you forever and always. What do you think the transition to colour lends the book?
JOHN: Megan has become an integral part of the creative team. She’s the ideal tag team partner for Iain, as her colouring seems to fit Iain’s art like a glove onto a gnarled, clawed hand. When I’ve seen Iain’s stuff coloured in the past, it sometimes seems like the effect has been to mute the weirdness of the linework and make things a bit smoother and more palatable. Not so for Megan, who has brought this askew, almost rotten aesthetic to the colours with sickly, grainy shades that actually accentuates the inherent “Laurieness” of the image. Looking at the book now, with Megan’s spectacular colours and how perfectly they compliment Iain’s art, I can’t imagine the series without her.
IAIN: Yeah exactly. It just plays into how I want the book to be read, beautifully. She’s a wee genius.
Megan, is it daunting to work colours on a comic which has previously been released in black and white, or do you enjoy that challenge?
MEGAN: I live in the US and have still never seen a hardcopy of the B&W version so I actually hadn’t thought about this before – of course I’ve seen the original B&W as digital, but I suppose that doesn’t have the same impact since scans are always my starting point.
It can be daunting to realize there is an existing fan base and that you could do something that they completely hate, but I elbowed my way into the project because I loved it and wanted to be a part of it, so I guess the worrying part became somewhat irrelevant (notice I didn’t say non-existent!). But yeah, I guess I’m up to the challenge!
How did you develop the colour palette for the series? What were your aims as a storyteller?
MEGAN: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I didn’t really develop a specific palette for this, I just kind of make it up as I go. I’ll go back and grab colours off of pages from earlier pages as needed for consistency, but other than that, it’s pretty much a free for all. From a storytelling perspective, to me this felt like an escalating fever-dream, and so the colours start to get a little more weird the further into the book you get.
And Colin, how do you approach lettering horror? Do you find that you have to work in specific ways in order to maintain or enhance that atmosphere?
COLIN: It was a conscious decision to utilise lower-case lettering because there’s a kind of innocence to it that I thought would play well against the art and lull people into a false sense of security. I can echo Megan in the sense that as the issues progress, I’m able to crank up the weird factor to accentuate what’s happening on the page. Also worth mentioning is the logo for the book. When we started we talked about these filmic covers like movie posters, and it inspired me to go down the rabbit-hole of 80s horror movie poster typography.
When there were no typefaces that really sold what we were going for (or were basic pastiches of existing horror film typography), we got Iain to scrawl the title in his own inimitable terror-screed, which I tidied up a bit, coloured and now happily slap across every cover sent my way. I feel like knowing that it’s Iain’s handwriting on them lends a kind of unity to his covers as a whole. But really it’s just my job to try and help guide the reader’s eyes where appropriate and for the most part stay the hell out of the way of Iain and Megan’s work, which I’m very happy to do.
Alternate cover for issue #1 by Riley Rossmo and Megan Wilson
There’s an interesting group of Scottish comic-makers right now, with yourselves, the Master Tape team, Team Girl Comics, Dungeon Fun, and many others. What has been your experience of this Scottish community?
JOHN: Scotland is certainly a major comics hub, and my native Glasgow is a great comics city: not just in terms of the dedicated readers – enough to support 9 comic shops, 2 comic cons and multiple marts, clubs and public events – but also in the volume and quality of creative talent. I’m a founding member and the current chairman of the Glasgow League of Writers, a kind of writing circle for comics where creators meet to discuss and critique each other’s scripts, so I get to see first-hand some of the amazing talent in the Scottish community.
Iain McGarry is a writer who’s been quietly producing some excellent short stories for various anthologies over the past year or two, and once he collects them all into a volume of his own and gets his name out there some more, he’s going to become a big deal fast, mark my words. John McCusker is like 21 years old, was totally new to writing comics when he first joined, and already he’s better than me. His debut book, The Alchemist, is in production with artist Jason Mathis, and is going to be incredible. You mentioned Master Tape, and Harry French is another guy primed to blow-up: his other series, Freak Out Squares, is even better. And Freak Out Squares artist Garry McLaughlin is also kicking ass on his own series, Gonzo Cosmic.
NeverEnding, by Stephen Sutherland and Gary Kelly, is a hidden gem of a comic which should be getting distributed by a big publisher yesterday. Gordon McLean won a SICBA award for No More Heroes, which was ace, but the stuff he’s been quietly working on since is so much better. Dungeon Fun by the sublime Neil Slorance and our own Colin Bell - the first issue was one of the best single issues produced by anyone of any level last year.
Team Girl Comics, Black Hearted Press, Unthank Comics, there’s so much going on I can’t hope to cover it all.
IAIN: Yeah, there’s so much interesting and diverse stuff coming out of Glasgow, and I think John’s covered most of it. I live in Edinburgh and older than most people in that group but they’ve always been really welcoming and friendly to me.
MEGAN: I’m completely jealous of the vibe you guys have got going on over there. Can someone please adopt me so I can be Scottish too?
JOHN: Working on this comic has made you an honorary Scot, Megan!
COLIN: Congratulations Megan! The Broons are your Gods now. My experience of the community has been nothing short of lovely. Everyone’s dead nice. And talented! I could sit here for ages and reel off so many Scots comickers deserving of attention we’ve not mentioned yet - Craig Collins, Edward Ross, Stephen Goodall’s IMR, Chris Baldie and Holley Mckend’s Never Ever After… there’s LOTS.
Do you feel there is a movement in Scotland, and the UK as a whole, where different groups of creators are all starting to rise up together? Even Colin Bell?
IAIN: Colin Bell is the sun we all revolve around.
COLIN: Shucks. But also, correct.
JOHN: EVEN Colin Bell!? He’s going to hit the big-time quicker than any of us. He’s already a comics mogul who seems to have lettered just about every comic in Scotland and now half the comics in the UK as a whole. As for whether or not there’s a movement with groups of creators all rising together, I’d say, “yes and no.”
Yes, there are many indie creators – both in Scotland and the UK as a whole – on the cusp of breaking out, producing quality work, and I take pleasure in seeing their successes, but ultimately everyone is doing their own work, and I think most would rather get recognition based on the merits of that work rather than through riding the wave of a movement. Though I’d say the one exception is that I’m happy to ride on Iain Laurie’s coattails to comics glory!
How did ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ find a way across to ComixTribe, who’ll be publishing this five-issue run?
JOHN: I worked with ComixTribe on my debut comic, The Standard, and that experience has been a pleasure and a privilege. You won’t find a more passionate, professional group of people than Tyler James, Steven Forbes, Joe Mulvey, Samantha LeBas and co at ComixTribe, and they’re super-nice people too. Anyone who works with them once would want to work with them again in a heartbeat, so when the opportunity presented itself I jumped at the chance to pitch And Then Emily Was Gone to them.
They’re the kind of publisher who will get behind their titles and their creators 100%, and given that a comic as weird and out-there as And Then Emily Was Gone might not be the easiest sell, I wanted that kind of support network behind us. ComixTribe took a chance on us, and thankfully that seems to have paid off, as initial Diamond order numbers suggest that And Then Emily Was Gone #1 will be the biggest first issue Diamond launch they’ve ever published!
How do you feel about the story, as a whole now, looking back across it as it heads to the new colour printing
IAIN: Well I’m still drawing #5, so I’ve not had time to reflect yet!
JOHN: Looking back at the story as a whole now, which at the time of this interview has been 100% written and 80% drawn, I’d say this could be the proudest I’ve been of any comic I’ve ever created. I don’t know, choosing between this and The Standard is like choosing between my children! But with The Standard, right from the beginning I approached it with this goal of escalation, of having every issue be better than the last building up to a blow-out final issue that was the best of the bunch. And I think I’ve been consistent with that in my approach to And Then Emily Was Gone.
Looking back, as a reader, I feel like each issue is not only better than what came before, but darker too, scarier, and by the time you get to the last couple of issues hopefully it’ll be a bit of an onslaught. As I touched on above, the story starts relatively grounded, but steadily gets scarier and more bonkers with each passing chapter!
MEGAN: I’m in last place here (colouring #4) and I have no idea what happens in #5 yet since I have been purposefully not reading ahead so I can experience the story and art together. That being said, I’m really excited to see how this all wraps up!
COLIN: Well, I’m after Megan, but having been in the Glasgow League of Writers I’ve been privy to the scripts for the whole series. I’m still recovering.
What are you working on next? Where can people find you online?
JOHN: I’ve got more work with ComixTribe on the horizon. I’m currently co-writing Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare with Tyler James. It’s a spin-off from Tyler’s comic series The Red Ten, taking the villain from that book – masked psychopath The Oxymoron – and removing all superhero trappings and dropping him into more of a crime procedural milieu where regular cops have to deal with this larger-than-life, monstrous master criminal. Alex Cormack is on art duties, and the pages I’ve seen thus far are delightful. Looking further ahead, Iain and I have also been talking about further collaborations, since we had such a blast working together on this.
In general I’m looking to do more work in the horror genre. As for where you can find me, there’s the official blog for And Then Emily Was Gone. You can find out about my other comic, The Standard, while my personal blog is here. You can follow me on Twitter, and can follow And Then Emily Was Gone on Facebook here.
Remember, And Then Emily Was Gone #2 is currently available to order in this month’s Previews, order-code JUN141021, and you should still be able to order issue #1 – due for release July 30th – with the order-code MAY141251!
IAIN: Next thing for me is a story with Sam Read (Exit Generation) for Grayhaven, then a Standard story with John and a few other things in the wings with Owen Johnson (Raygun Roads) and Tim Daniel (Curse) hopefully. And then onto the sequel to Emily: AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE AGAIN, where they all go on holiday to Spain!
Right! This is me, Steve, back again. A few extra credits and links for you, because there’s so much more still to find! You can also find Megan Wilson’s work over on her facebook page, as well as on her twitter account right here.
Colin Bell, meanwhile, will be launching Dungeon Fun Book Two this weekend at Glasgow Comic Con, and is also the letterer for a number of projects – Exit Generation #2 being one of the most recent. You can find him on twitter here.
Many thanks to the whole of the creative team for being so generous with their time in the interview. I hope you enjoyed it! As mentioned above, issue #1 of And Then Emily Was Gone will be released on July 30th.
By Matthew Jent
Ben Costa is a maker. He makes comics, games, and deadpan jokes.
I caught up with Ben at the tail end of this year’s San Diego Comic Con to chat about the Kickstarter-funded second collection of Pang, the Wandering Shaolin Monk, his new webcomic Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo, and making the kinds of games you want to be able to play.
Ben exhibited in the Small Press area of SDCC as Iron Crotch University Press.
Ben Costa at the Iron Crotch University Press booth.
How long have you been coming to SDCC?
I’ve been exhibiting for five years. I attended for a few years before that.
How’s your show been this year? What are you most excited about?
The Sakai Project. I have an illustration in there, and Stan Sakai has been one of my inspirations for a long time. Every year everyone says the show isn’t about comics anymore, but it’s still one of my best shows of the year.
And that’s probably because it’s five days long? It’s usually consistently good, but this year wasn’t the same way. Wednesday through Friday were kind of bad. A show like SPX is my best show, per day. One day at SPX I sold 40-something books, which I don’t do at San Diego.
But there were noticeably more people coming through Saturday and Sunday. The aisle would get full sometimes. And on Sunday, it felt like a bunch of people who have walked by and maybe didn’t buy anything came by, like, “Alright, I’ll take that print.” So I sold a bunch of prints on Sunday, whereas on previous days it was very few prints.
Do you still mostly sell the first volume?
Yeah, it seems that way. 90% of people coming past still seem like they have no idea what it is. One out of ten people will be like, “Kung-fu, this is awesome!,” or I’ll recognize them from previous years.
The last time we talked, your Kickstarter had been successfully funded but the book wasn’t out yet. How has the publication of volume 2 of Pang been?
Pretty good, overall. It’s been a little harder to get the word out than the first volume. It seems to be getting less press. I got several reviews from the first one, but I’ve only gotten one for the second one. I sent out review copies for both books. It wasn’t ordered into as many comic book stores. But both volumes were in Previews, and both volumes were Previews Staff Picks.
Pang started online, and you’ve self-published the two hardcover volumes that are currently out. Are you interested in working with larger publishers, or doing more work-for-hire projects?
Work-for-hire, on the right project. Like if it was Star Wars, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — sure.
Twist your arm, and you’ll write Star Wars. Do you have a Turtles story you’re dying to tell?
No? I’ve never been a great plot generator. If I sit there a long time and think about things I can come up with stuff. But the relationships are what draw me in. But with Turtles, you can also have cool ninja fights.
A lot of Turtles stories, after the first 10 original issues, are good stories, but they don’t get the core of the characters. What’s at the core for me.
What’s at the core of a good Turtles story?
They’re brothers. And Raph, he jokes and acts like he’s having a good time, but really, you know — it’s painful inside. So it’s that family dynamic.
Let’s talk about webcomics. Your new project is Rickety Stitch & the Gelatinous Goo.
It’s a fantasy. It’s about a skeleton minstrel and his trusty gelatin sidekick.
Rickety Stitch, caught up in a march to monsterdom.
You’re serializing it online, like you did with Pang — do you want to collect it as a physical volume somewhere down the line? Or partner with a larger publisher to put it out?
There are webcomics that gain enough of a following that when they produce merchandise — books, shirts, prints, whatever — they can make a living through their audience without having to go through a publisher. But you have to be really popular, and it’s geared more toward gag comics that update every day. Although there are exceptions.
I didn’t want to work on this, get it to a publisher, then have wait and just be silent for 2-3 years while everyone forgets I exist. So, we’re putting it online. I dunno if that will effect how a publisher might react to it later. On the first volume of Pang — the beginning is a little rough, compared to the rest of it, so I could see why publishers might not want it. But once I self-published the first volume, the vibe I got was always, “This is great. Show me what you’re doing next.”
The question I have is — at what point do you start pitching it? I feel like comic book publishers like to get in early on the editing process. When you have a novel, you’re supposed to just write it, completely, and then show it to people. But with comics, it seems like they don’t want to see a completely finished thing.
Is it fun to make? Rickety Stitch?
Yeah, it is. James Parks, my co-writer, and I could have easily let this project die. We showed it to Slave Labor a while back, and they turned it down. But it was so fun to make that we wanted to just do it.
Stitch searches for a song. The Goo is afraid of the dark.
The Pang table-top role-playing game was a Kickstarter reward, and you’ve been selling some physical copies at the show this year.
One of the guys from Fantasy Flight came by and bought a copy. He says they have a group there that gets together and plays indie games.
Are you interested in game design? Or is it more about adapting the story and the spirit of Pang, and fitting that into game mechanics?
Adapting the story and spirit is more appealing to me, though I do like design mechanics. My friend Amir Rao, from Supergiant Games, is my regular Dungeon. All his life he’s been making games and RPGs that we would play. It rubbed off on me.
What did you approach adapting Pang’s story and turning it into a game?
The obvious things is kung-fu fighting. I wanted to have a combat system that felt different, that wasn’t just “I attack, you attack, I attack.” I wanted defense to be something you actively think about.
Having played it — it feels like really squaring off with an opponent. You spend points or save them, and you can react based on your opponents actions. You can hold back and defend, or make a big offensive move but leave yourself open to be pummeled.
I thought there was good opportunity to make abilities around that. And trying to make it feel Ancient China.
How did you do that?
I started with choosing stat names that were a little different. Stuff you couldn’t just pin down as exactly representing the skills. Like “Benevolence” — you can’t exactly know what you would put under that off the top of your head. It was a long process. It took way longer than I thought it would.
I also made a Star Wars game, for fun, from which I pulled a lot of the abilities for Pang. I made a Rickety Stitch game, then Star Wars, then Pang. So I have a fully functional Star Wars game.
When did you make a Star Wars game?
Why did you make a Star Wars game?
I had three-year campaign in the d6 system that was great, but we could probably never play it again. I started working on the new game towards the end of that. I’d added a bunch of custom rules to the d6 game, which has no classes. I added a “rebel ranks” ability system, so as you go through the ranks with rebels you get new powers. Sort of like Pang, they build on skills. You use your skills to activate them. Same idea as the Class Masteries in Pang.
It was sort of in response to the Fantasy Flight game, because I’d gotten the Beta book, and I was really excited about it, but for my own personal taste there was something lacking. I’m particularly proud of the space combat, which in my own games, has not been satisfying.
I like that spirit. If there’s something you don’t like, you just create the thing you do like.
I justified it to myself by saying I would use this game for a science fiction comic I want to eventually do.
I love it. Almost everyone else in comics is making a comic book to spinoff into a movie. And you’re making comic books so you can spin off role-playing games.
It’s like the way to not make money.
The hope — in any of my games — is to capture the abstraction of the story.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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By David Nieves
We’re all still recovering from copious amounts of walking around taking pictures with people and wishing the people in front of us taking pictures would just move. Yes another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone. By now all the news is out and we’re still reeling from the Batman V Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron footage. Every Comic-Con comes with two things, a ridiculous hotel bill and for a lot of us the empty promise of this being my final one. For me the one take away from this show is that, now more than ever, Comic-Con has the power to be a boom for every industry if affects but it doesn’t always accolade with the full potential of its crown.
I’ve been going to SDCC since 1994, back then I was a snot nosed adolescent who knew nothing about panels or even that comic books had writers. In those days all I would do is walk laps around the exhibit hall. There were no Petco Park events, or Indigo Ballrooms. Hall H was a gleam in the eye of some up and coming PR person. You might not believe it but I managed to have fun simply by trying to get as many of those door sized Knightfall Batman posters from the DC booth that year as my grubby pin seeking hands could carry.
Fueled by studio funds and rabid fandom, SDCC has turned into a monster. A hydra mated with Cousin It, if you get that reference then you’re old enough to appreciate what SDCC once was. Now Comic-Con is the cradle of fandom, and it’s divided everyone. There those who feel that the show is no longer something they want to be a part of, and there are also lots who live for the spectacle it currently encapsulates. Understand that fandom is never a bad thing; it fuels economies and brings people together who would otherwise never leave the comforts of their basement. You might as well get use to it because the extravaganza isn’t going away.
(It isn’t all bad sometimes you can catch up with old elfish classmates)
This year was no exception. From the moment I arrived in the Whale’s Vagina on Wednesday; my senses were overloaded with promotions for Guardians of The Galaxy, Blacklist, Gotham plastered everywhere from busses, trains, to hotel elevator doors. Pedicabs were already huffing people over to different parts of the Gaslamp for meager tips. Comic-Con had already been in full “on” mode days before I even arrived.
Preview night was just as bad in overcrowding as any regular day of SDCC. Five years ago it was still hard to get that exclusive collectible you wanted but still within the realm of possibility. Five seconds into the exhibit hall opening this year and almost every line from Peanuts, Tokidoki, to Hasbro was either capped or full beyond reasonable time to wait for a tote bag. After, I walked to the Gaslamp to try and meet some friends for late dinner, to no one’s surprise there were already convention goers with bags and bags full of T-shirts, toys, and I can only assume remnants of the first borns they sacrificed to get their loot. I even witnessed an elderly woman who was barely 5’0 tall hoist two Comic-Con souvenir bags filled with –who knows what– above her shoulders like they were bags of dog kibble.
My preview night finished with old “good one big G” when I got back to my hotel room to upload photos; this wallet draining douche status symbol macbook of mine decides it’s time to die. Forcing me at 2am to smoke signal Heidi and figure out just how I’m going to handle the next four days of news and rabid fandom. Like any good sibling would my sister back home came through with a old tablet that was the size of a Speak and Spell. Which in retrospect would have been better to type on than this HP monstrosity. The next three days would be characterized by a lack of italicization, which kids never let anyone tell you isn’t important.
To open the first hour of the con, I foolishly tried to procure my wish list. Anyone who attends Comic-Con knows that list mostly comes from those people who tell you “hey can you pick me up a..” At least we can say SDCC disappoints people around the world even if they don’t attend. It creates lots of those disappointments that turn youngsters towards a life of stripping. After the first hour I’d given up that hope and simply abandoned my home address and phone in a feeble attempt to hide from crushed loved ones, but carried on to the convention floor where I had my first interview of the show. This was also by far my most nerve racking interview.
I got to speak with none other than the amazing Becky Cloonan, who I’m not afraid to say I totally swoon over. Yes, I’m one of those stereotypical comic book readers who’s confused and terrified by women. In fact there’s one doing that to me as I write this. But let’s talk about Becky. Though I was more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs; she was nothing short of a delight who has so much insight on how to live life to the fullest. You can listen to that entire thing here. Feel free to throw your grade school taunts at me you smug socially well adept bastards. Sorry, Comic-Con will do that to people. We cool? Yeah. Okay.
(Becky Cloonan is amazing at being amazing)
My first panel of the show was the DC Collectibles panel. Originally I had a spotlight and a Batman panel scheduled but with my productivity situation in question, I wanted a panel that I could easily go back to and dig up info on later. After that panel it was time to see if my laptop workaround was going to prove fruitful. Nope. Can’t bold type, can’t upload images, looks like this is all going to be eyewitness accounting and Lochness monster reports.
(Bombshell girls invade the DC Collectibles Panel)
Thursday closed out with another interview I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. Ever since I saw Karloff’s Frankenstein and read the IDW published 30 Days of Night, I’ve always wanted to talk about monsters with Steve Niles. I can proudly attest, we did that sh**! Not only did I find Steve to be every bit the punk rock scholar I imagined him to be, but he also made me feel like I belonged in my comics fandom. Just as anyone in life does, you gravitate towards like minded people (Booze/Drug Free hell yeah!). When you feel like you’ve been accepted because of who you are or what you love there’s no feeling like it. Thanks to Pam for letting me conduct this interview in her place.
(Steve Niles is the legend that lives up to the legend)
Naturally the kickoff of Comic-Con sees tons of parties and people in the streets that look like a World War Z scene come to life. Some of you who are reading this can vouch for the pain in the a** that train –which just stopped in front of the convention center for what felt like hours– was. It got so out of hand at one point that the hundreds of people waiting to cross the street into Gaslamp would brave oncoming traffic and hop the guard fence over the train tracks. Stay classy San Diego.
Thursday night I was invited by my main man Gaz from Rocksteady (developers of the Arkham game franchise) to the Batman: Cape Cowl Create exhibit party at the Hard Rock across the street from the convention center.
Since I showed up at about 11:30pm most of the party had moved on and there was nothing left but a few odd dancers and the remanence of a once open bar. Curious because I’d never stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, I wandered into the elevator and hit the button for the secured 4th floor pool area. Miraculously the box moved and when the doors opened I found myself in the midst of the IGN/Sin City party. Yep I crashed a party. Even got to run into IGN’s Greg Miller who was kind enough not to have me tossed out for crashing.
(Gameovergreggy oreo dude extraordinaire)
Celebrities, a seemingly drunk Joe Quesada, everything any SDCC party could want. It was a fun time mingling with those I had no business talking to. A pro tip, if you ever find yourself at an industry party you weren’t invited to: act like you belong. You’d be surprised how people will welcome you by just peacocking a bit. I had a few cokes, told Amanda Conner where she and Jimmy should go eat after the party and then I called it a night.
(Somewhere in that blurry mess is Amanda Conner and friends)
The next few days are a bit of a blur between overpriced pretzels, someone yelling out the Hall H news, talking to people on the floor and mistaking Geoff Johns for my long lost cousin at the DC booth. Friday was the convention grind in full force. Like I do at just about every show I’ve ever covered, I attended the Aspen Comics panel. If you’ve never checked out their books, I highly recommend that you do. They’re comic books made by people who care about comic books. Last year my 10th anniversary submission was picked for the souvenir book and I’d met editor Vince Hernandez. This year we talked again before the panel and during their presentation he acknowledged my contribution to their celebration in 2013. It was one of those surreal con moments you hear about. The house that Michael Turner built will always hold a special place for me.
Later in the day, I was involved in a BKV moment. First of all, if you ever see Brian K Vaughan’s name for anything immediately go to it. You’re guaranteed a memorable encounter. You can read all about his self hosted spotlight panel here. During the panel I thought to myself “I need a picture with this guy,” with SDCC eliminating all common sense I thought to myself what better time than in the middle of his panel. Voilâ.
One of the things that should stand out about BKV’s words is his passion for the comic book industry. This is a guy who has written and spearheaded successful television. If he really wanted to he could have left comics behind, but he came back. Not only did Vaughan come back, but still continues to champion the industry. He’s a comic book guy’s comic book guy.
My Friday would end with an eye opening interview with Naughty Dog’s Creative Director, Neil Druckmann. He’s the American success story come to life. A kid from Israel, who came to America at a young age and found comics. A medium which would inspire him to tell the incredible stories he does today. Listen to our full interview and hear how Sin City actually inspires part of The Last of Us.
Saturday had memories of its own, but what I can really recall is going over to an Age of Ultron preview showing and putting the whole shindig into perspective while talking with my friend and frequent collaborator Kevin Johnson. Fandom is never a bad thing, but SDCC has so many things working against it that the fact they are able to pull of this logistical nightmare every year is a little bit of a miracle. Bravo to Comic-Con International for it all.
First let’s get an observation out of the way. Most of you probably already see this but it dawned on me this year. Comic-Con has the same problem that social security does in the United States. Just like we don’t always retire at 65 and live longer than in previous years, so does this problem affect SDCC. I’m not saying the reason people can’t go to Comic-Con is because no one’s dying, it’s because we don’t outgrow this in our fandom anymore. Not only do we turn 30 and still go to SDCC, we make little versions of ourselves to add to our counts as another group of kids becomes of age to attend the coolest show on earth. This year I saw fewer solo attendees than ever before. It’s a very encouraging sign on a social level, especially when we live in the age of not talking to each other (right Robin!).
Where I take issue with San Diego Comic-Con isn’t with the overcrowding, the glitz and glamour, or masses of people who prevented me from picking up my Jim Lee T-Shirt. No I fault the people who should be influencing convention goers to try comics every chance they get. The Zack Snyders’, the Evans’, even the Samuel L Jacksons’. There’s so many celebrities, directors, and multi-media personalities that go to SDCC and say they love the medium but have never once said in their Hall H spectacles, “I’m here cause I love comics and everyone should be reading them!” So many publishers like Marvel say the books are what drive everything but Hall H has nothing to do with comics. I want to hear Sam Jackson talk about the first time he read Nick Fury for research or have Andrew Garfield tell me what issues of Spider-Man I should pick up. The passioned speeches and the gimmicks are fun to see but I can hear about their lives and movies on the news or TMZ. Talk to me about comics.
Obviously the Entertainment Weekly shoot and whatever story comes out of it is a step in the right direction. It definitely signals the beginning of comics getting their time in the limelight. There are tons of great creators and characters out there who should be talked about everywhere. We shouldn’t have to wait for a 75th anniversary or a movie announcement for them to make Hall H size news during the biggest comic book convention in the world. Comics need to survive and Comic-Con has the potential now more than ever to be the biggest part of that.
(Random Dan Slott picture I don’t remember taking)
Like most people who’ve been doing the con since before 2000, I’ve come to peace with the big show, but I just wish Comic-Con did everything it could to get people talking about comic books. But we don’t have to wait for SDCC to push the industry. Comics are for everybody, we can talk about them anywhere/ anytime; on the internet, at Portillo’s Hot Dogs, while we’re on dates, waiting in line to see Guardians of The Galaxy for the seventh time. Comics aren’t just for everybody, they’re for everywhere. No other medium can spawn such new and innovative ideas. It’s my big take away from the show, realizing how much I missed writing and talking about comics.
(Obligatory Rocket Pic)
Will I ever attend another SDCC? Who knows, my body recovers slower at my age; but I was an LA Kings fan long before 2012 and a Dodgers fan through the 80′s till now. I’m a glutton for punishment so you just might see me there, after all Becky Cloonan promised to take another picture with me.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Recorded at Publishers Weekly, it’s More To Come, the weekly podcast of comics news, interviews and discussion with Calvin Reid, Kate Fitzsimons and The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.
In this week’s podcast Heidi interviews comics creator, Tumblr personality and podcaster Mike Dawson, creator of Freddie & Me and Troop 142 about his trials as a mid-career creator, his recent Tumblr musings on the subject and the unexpected comics blogosphere notoriety that followed.
Download this episode direct here, listen to it in streaming here and catch up with our previous podcasts on the Publishers Weekly website, or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes
The Best of Comix Book: When Marvel Went Underground
is in B&W/ and Full color, HardCover an exclusive Kitchen Sink Press imprint under Dark Horse ISBN:978-1-61655-258-9
Intro by Stan Lee
Forward by Denis Kitchen
Designed and Edited by John Lind
Tall, affable, plain spoken Wisconsinite, Denis Kitchen smiles wistfully, “I loved putting this collection together. It’s a nice anniversary.” Hardly the hippie, bomb throwing revolutionary Nixon might associate with with the words: “Undeground Comic Artist.”
In 1973 Denis Kitchen and Stan Lee pulled off what can only be considered, in hindsight, a coup. Bringing together the Marvel and Underground Comic Book Creators in almost unimaginable collaboration. Taking place during the turbulent spill over from the 1960s with the The Vietnam War winding down; Watergate; white flight from cities; social unrest and a New York City as grey and dilapidated as “Taxi Driver” depicts.
At the time, Stan Lee and his bullpen at Marvel were struggling to churn out Super Heroes, Westerns, Science Fiction, Fantasy, War Comics, Hot Rods, Romances and whatever would keep the company alive and paying their bills.
Reacting to and expressing the societal upheaval and the angst of the times, Underground Comics emerged first in Head Shops, then local Bookshops. Artists like Spain, Bill Griffith, R. Crumb, Trina Robbins were free to do what creators at DC and Marvel could not, express freely and personally what they saw going on in their own lives and the world around them without having to censor for profanity, nudity or subject matter. Expressing their own visions through writing and artwork.
It may seem quaint now, in the time of a Deviant Art Digital hyperspace, where one can upload and share with just about everyone anything conceivable, from Justin Beiber fan fiction to Banksy’s or Shepard Fairey’s latest and greatest. Yet, once, Underground Comic Art was not only ground breaking, but dangerous and could have serious consequences such as shutting down businesses, along with jail time and financial ruin.
Back then, the US Mail was your only delivery system or your car. Your tools–paper, pencil, ink, mimeographs, with Xerox Copiers expensive even for Marvel. Your only means of distribution were friends, Comic Shops, Head Shops, and some Bookshops. Marvel’s were mainly Newsstands, local groceries, local bookstores and candy shops. Getting kicked off of any one of those racks could mean never making a cent again.
Among those first to collect and publish his own Underground Comics was Denis Kitchen with his Mom’s HomeMade Comics in 1969. Issues of which Kitchen sent to publishers like Stan Lee and Harvey Kurtzman. Kitchen later went on to publish other Comic Book creators under Kitchen Sink Press. Such legal issues of censorship and community standards is why Mr. Kitchen is one of the Founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
By the ’50s and ’60s Marvel, DC, and Harvey Comics were squarely aiming at the growing demographic of Baby Boomers while laboring under a self imposed Comics Code to protect minors.
Which made the explosion of Underground Comics during the hey day of suburbia and the middle class all the more “subversive” and “scandalous” with its humor, nudity, crudity, and profanity, would feel so refreshing and right for the times.
Clearly not meant for the young teens or little kids the major Comic Book publishers were catering to. These comics dealt with political and social issues were generally called, “anti-establishment”, made for a slightly older, “hipper” crowd–late high school to college crowd. Many Underground Cartoonists would find their way into the glossy folds of “Mad magazine” and “National Lampoon“, but others like Mr. Kitchen and, others of his cadre like Art Speiglemen, were charting a more independent, less conventionally commercial path. Creating space for other self-published Independent Comics to flourish in the ‘80′s, like those of Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and the Hernandez Bros, then Terry Moore and Peter Bagge in the ‘90′s and so on into the future.
With ever a sharp eye on popular culture, Stan Lee, no doubt , was eager to capitalize on the Underground audience hoping to expand Marvel’s.
Maus–Marvel Comix Book
According to Kitchen, his collaboration with Lee, “Stems from a time when Underground Comics were florishing and suddenly we had what we called ‘the Crash of ’73.” A glut of material in Head Shops and local book stores and a Supreme Court ruling that threw obscenity laws into local jurisdictions. It was deadly to the Undergrounds, a lot of Head Shops and Bookshops were suddenly paranoid that they would be busted due to obscenity. I genuinely feared Kitchen Sink Press and all my cohorts would go under.”
Luckily, Denis had been corresponding with Lee. “We had this curious pen pal relationship. He offered me a job a couple of times. Of course, I was flattered but said, ‘No,’ until the Crash. He happened to call and I said, ‘Let’s talk.’ I flew to New York City and found he was amazingly receptive to an experimental magazine. One where we hoped to take the essence of the Underground and plug it into Marvel’s distribution system.
It took a lot of negotiating to find out how far Marvel could compromise. Stan ended up being amazingly receptive to using four letter words, and we even got away with full frontal nuditity, anything we wanted.”
Comix Book –Wonder Person by Katrina Robbins
But don’t think it was a collaboration without conflict.
“There were fights over copyrights and getting art back, too “But we wore him (Stan Lee) down, so by the Third issue he said, “Goddamit, you can have your rights back, you can have your art back.’ So all this stuff that they had never done before, I was able to persuade him to do.”
The end was nigh when word of this new magazine began reaching the ears of Stan’s regular bullpen of writers and artists “it turned into a Pandora’s Box for Stan. The regulars and freelancers were like, ‘How come you’re doing this stuff with these Hippies? And you’re not letting us? We’ve been with you longer?’ And it was hard for Stan to walk that back.”
Consequently, “After the third issue, Stan pulled the plug. I had a couple of issues in the can and I asked him if he’d let me print the rest under Kitchen Sink, and he agreed, which was amazingly generous. ”
The Corpse Goblin Ogre by S. Clay Wilson
“In retrospect it’s kind of astonishing. When I look back at it now, that it happened at all and the kind of latitude we had. Artists like S. Clay Wilson, Justin Green, Trina Robbins, Art Spieglman (including the first national appearence of “Maus”). You can go down the list, all the big guys in Underground Comics, except Crumb, were in it. And most Underground Comic fans today don’t even know it happened.”
“When we decided to collect it Stan, graciously agreed to the intro. He actually called it one of the greatest things he ever did,” Denis Kitchen beams.
Denis Kitchen and Stan Lee signed a special insert in 250 special copies ot the The Best of Comix Book only available only from Things From Another World, Dark Horse’s online retail outlet.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Author D.J. Kirkbride has been an important force in the comics’ industry for years now spearheading projects like Amelia Cole for Monkey Brain Comics with Co-Author Adam Knave and artist Nick Brokenshire. As Amelia Cole continued to grow larger, the author then shifted gears along with Adam Knave to work on Never Ending, a book about an immortal superhero. Now the author is going solo, and launching a new title from IDW Comics entitled The Bigger Bang, a story about a second of the fabled Big Bang events spawning a Superhuman golden age type hero. Through the unique vision of artist Vassilis Gogtzilas, the two are likely going to craft a superhero tale unlike any other with The Bigger Bang. Author Kirkbride shared some further insight into the project:
Where did your interest in Superheroes stem from, and what do they mean to you?
There is nary a memory from a time in my life where, if I were being honest, I didn’t wish I was wearing a cape. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE came out when I was still very new to the world (yeah, I’m old), and it is the basis of my entire outlook on everything somehow. I love heroes, and super ones are, you know, even better. The idea of bigger than life characters helping the regular folk, having epic struggles and battles… what’s not to love?
After NEVER ENDING, why continue to deconstruct the modern Superhero? Is this going to be a better deconstruction of the superhero than WATCHMEN (no pressure or anything)?
THE BIGGER BANG has nothing to do with WATCHMEN. It is as far from “what if superheroes were real?” as a comic could get. In my notebook, I one time wrote “THE BIGGER BANG: A Cosmic Fairy Tale”. That’s what it really is. It is not a deconstruction of anything. I don’t really like taking things I love apart, to be honest. Superheroes are great. I don’t want to pick at them. People much smarter than me already have.
How did the creative team come together?
Vassilis and I met on some anthologies I was editing. We worked together on a short story for an anthology called TITMOUSE MOOK Vol. 2, along with my co-writer pal Adam P. Knave. It was a lot of fun, and we tried to get some other things going that never worked out for whatever reason. After a while of doing our own things, Vass sent us a picture of a big, amazingly over muscled superhero guy floating in space and asked if we wanted to do a cosmic superhero book with him. Adam and I were (and still are) writing AMELIA COLE together, but he was (and still is) also co-writing a series called ARTFUL DAGGERS, plus who knows how many novels and stories and… the guy’s way more prolific than me. So, he didn’t feel he had time. I had plenty and was hungry to try something new, without the crutch of writing with someone way smarter than me, so I went for it. Vass is obviously very involved in the story piecing and development, visually and thematically, plus our IDW editor Justin Eisinger has helped me a great deal, being a sounding board and a source of ideas. And mainly saying, “LESS WORDS, MAN!” which has worked out well, I think.
Is the group worried about the series possibly touching on religious implications, or is the team instead looking at the incident from an alternate history touchstone?
We do go along with the Big Bang origin of life, but I’d be surprised if there was any controversy or anything. This is a crazy science fantasy adventure with far out ideas and drama so I personally find it pretty funny, but we don’t talk about religion at all, actually.
This is D.J. Kirkbride’s first solo writing effort for a while isn’t it? What was it like to tackle a project with fewer collaborators?
Vass and Justin have really helped guide the story with me, and our letterer, Frank Cvetkovic, has helped keep the words and the art together, the glue, honestly. But, to be perfectly frank, it’s been scary. Aside from a few anthology shorts, I’ve co-written all of my comics’ work with Adam. Doing this without him was a challenge I really felt I needed though. He has read different edits of the first issue, because his feedback means a lot to me, but, yeah, I wrote the words without him. It freaked me out and is still freaking me out. The wacky part is that Adam is far better versed in big cosmic comics than I am, and this kind of huge space opera madness is right up his alley, whereas I tend to lean toward smaller, more personal and dialog-heavy writing. How did the team decide that IDW was the right home for the project?
Vass has worked with IDW on a great mini-series called THE ADVENTURES OF AUGUSTA WIND, written by none other than J.M. DeMatteis, one of the best comic writers of all time — no pressure to be his next writer, right? I also work with them on the AMELIA COLE print collections, so it seemed like a good fit. They put out good books, but it wouldn’t have happened without Justin Eisinger. Something about the core of our pitch, the basic idea of this character’s birth causing so much destruction with pseudo-science and fantasy spoke to him, I guess. He championed us, and this book wouldn’t be happening with out that fella.
What does the supporting cast for the book look like?
It’s a diverse group. The lead character, Cosmos, is the only one that looks traditionally human — at least an amazingly muscular human. There’s a kinda heavy, tentacled, green monster in a crown called King Thulu who kind of runs this sector of the multi-verse. His best warrior pilot is a three-eyed darker green lady named Wyan. She’s the character that has maybe the most interesting arc to me, and it grew very organically. There are many other aliens of various shapes and sizes, some of which started with brief descriptions from me, many just visualized from Vass’s amazing mind.
Is it difficult to compress a story into a limited space of pages in four issues after working on the AMELIA COLE series from Monkey Brain?
Actually, AMELIA COLE is the first ongoing series I’ve ever worked on, so that was the challenge at first. Before that, I’d gotten very used to writing really short stories for anthologies. I like stories with endings, even AMELIA COLE will have one someday (hopefully far, FAAAAAAR off into the future), so that’s how we designed and pitched THE BIGGER BANG. We had a story with a beginning, middle, and end. If possible, I’d love to do more one day, but if not, these four issues compose a complete story that I think folks will enjoy. Is Vassilis Gogtzilas’ work completely painted in the title?
No, he is doing pencils, inks, and digital colors for the interiors. The painted covers were his idea, and I love them. It’ll be great seeing it in print and looking at it up close, because he is not a careful, timid painter. You can see the chunks and textures of the paint. It’s really cool. I love all the covers and can’t wait to be able to share them. I think they get better with each issue.
Does his work and style alter from the different projects he draws?
Oh yeah, Vass is eclectic. His style can vary within a project–from page to page. It’s not random. He’s a very emotional artist, and he’s more concerned with how the art FEELS than realism. It’s been an interesting challenge writing for him sometimes because his mind moves so differently than mine. It’s amazing, and I would have never come up with something like this on my own. It is a true collaboration.
When can fans dash out to their local comic book shops to pick up THE BIGGER BANG #1?
Issue 1 is out November 19, 2014. If anyone out there is interested, please pre-order it with item code SEP140487. Pre-orders are way too important, but that’s the way it is. There is a lot of competition for comic shop shelf space, so an indie book like this can use all the pre-help it can get. I’m really excited to see what the reaction will be. We’ve put together something really interesting and fun. I’m happy to get to be a part of it.
Thanks for your time!
Thank YOU, good sir!
by Zachary Clemente
This past weekend, the 20th annual Small Press Expo (SPX) brought an explosion of independent and small press comics to the Marriott hotel in Bethesda, MD. Literally overflowing with an abundance of talent, the weekend was filled with amazing creators, signings, panels, even a wedding and a prom. One of the panels, Micro-Press and Beyond, discussed the findings of a study on micro-press comics publishers by moderator Robyn Chapman, who runs mini-comics publisher Paper Rocket, as well as posing the study’s questions to the panel participants. From left to right, the publishers are Chuck Forsman (Oily Comics), Keenan Marshall Keller (Drippy Bone Books), Anne Koyama (Koyama Press), and Raighne Hogan & Justin Skarhus (2D Cloud).
Chapman kicked off the panel by showing her findings, collected in The Tiny Report, a mini-comic she published, based on questions she sent to 52 micro-press publishers, which she defines as being “one-person publishing houses”. The purpose of the Tiny Report is to be a “micropress yearbook”, serving to be an aid in understanding and chronicling the comics micro-press movement. One by one, she took the panel through some of the questions she posed for the report, seeing how they affect each representing publisher. While the responses for Forsman, Keller, Hogan, and Skarhus were fairly uniform; Koyama, as a more established publisher had slightly different answers. Although all agreed the major challenge of publishing was funding, seeing it as the root of any other discussed challenges, such as distribution or marketing.
Data Collected by Robyn Chapman
The majority of the panel was an informative and lengthy discussion about how micro-publishing is in essence a massive clustercuss. Selling books to comic stores often requires very precise book-keeping, dealing with printing and shipping costs is a measured act of a madness, running the convention circuit can be emotionally and physically punishing, and even trying managing an online store or crowd-funding campaigns can be a full-time job. Despite all these hurdles, micro-press publishers have been springing up left and right to print minis and floppies, filling the void left by publishers left by publishers like Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly, who now focus more on graphics novels, collections, or art books. Ultimately, the issues voiced come from a lack of steady funding as it’s not uncommon for an independent publisher to see a check for books sent to a store 6 months after the fact.
During the audience Q&A portion, a question I’ve been curious about was raised about artist contracts and compensation. Most of the publishers pay in copies or small royalties, depending from artist to artist and many don’t really bother with formal contracts. Only Koyama utilizes formal, customized contracts and pays a lump sum up front to each artist she works with.
“You’re an angel from Heaven.” – Forsman to Koyama
Data Collected by Robyn Chapman
Lastly, on the word of submitting, all but Koyama takes submissions through email or convention drop-offs – all stating that finished or nearly finished work is ideal. Koyama bemoaned the fact that she often cannot find the names of people on their websites or tumblr pages and won’t be able to contact them. Koyama press rarely takes submissions, only publishing 10 books a year, all handpicked by Anne herself. Everyone agreed that the best possible policy for getting published is just “make a good comic.” When asked about the “Beyond” of micro-publishing, all wished for a climate where sustainable and local printing was a more affordable option, but for now, overseas printing is the most economical option.
This was my first time at SPX and it was an exceptional experience. I’ll be back next year and (hopefully) continuing small press coverage!
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The indie comics world and The Beat are recovering from the yearly love in also known as the Small Press Expo. You can see lots of photos on the SPX tumblr including the above of the alt-weekly summit of (clockwise) Derf, Shannon Wheeler, Dan “Tom Tomorrow” Perkins, Charles Burns, Mimi Pond, Keith Knight, Jen Sorenson, Ben Katchor, Lynda Barry and Jules Feiffer. The pound for pound genius in that one photo could probably move the world, given a lever long enough. I’ll have fuller thoughts later, I hope, but in the meantime, the wedding/prom Saturday night was EPIC. I’d be surprised if the prom doesn’t become a regular thing. It was great to see Chris Oarr, who established so many of the great traditions of SPX, back again, and he was greatly impressed to see what the baby had grown to be. Lots of people sold lots of books, lots of love flowed every which way, and it was generally* awesome.
It was so awesome that I started a new sketchbook! I haven’t done one of those since 2002. So many great people to get in it.
There are more photos by Jody Culkin up at PW Comics World. Below, all the lovely badges.
• I am aware that there were a few sad faces here and there. That wll be covered in a longer report.